Jordan Rejects HRW Accusations of Forced Deportation of Syrians


Amman – Amman rejected on Monday claims by Human Rights Watch (HRW) that the country has been “summarily deporting Syrian refugees — including collective expulsions of large families”.

Minister of State for Media Affairs Mohammad Momani said his country was abiding by international law in this regard, calling for accuracy before publishing such reports.

The report, released on Monday, said that the “Syrians are not being given a meaningful chance to challenge their removal and Jordan has not assessed their need for international protection”.

“Jordan is abiding by the international law in this regard…The return of the Syrian refugees is voluntary and in such cases the return is to areas where there is no threat or danger to their lives,” Momani told the local media.

Underlining that the security of the Jordanian borders was above all considerations, the minister noted that his country has offered a lot of help to the Syrian refugees.

According to the 27-page report, the Jordanian authorities deported about 400 registered Syrian refugees each month during the first five months of 2017.

It added that around 300 registered refugees each month returned to Syria during that time under circumstances that appeared to be voluntary.

Another estimated 500 refugees each month allegedly returned to Syria under circumstances that are unclear, the HRW report said.

Bill Frelick, Refugee Rights Director at HRW, was quoted in the report as saying: “Jordan shouldn’t be sending people back to Syria without making sure they wouldn’t face a real risk of torture or serious harm and unless they have had a fair opportunity to plead their case for protection.”

Jordan hosts around 1.3 million Syrian refugees of whom more than 600,000 are registered with the UNHCR.

HRW: Israeli Forced Deportation of Palestinians from Jerusalem Maybe ‘War Crime’


Human Rights Watch revealed on Tuesday that Israel has forcefully deported some 15,000 Palestinians since it occupied Jerusalem in 1967, in what could be deemed as a “war crime.”

“Residency revocations often effectively force Palestinians from east Jerusalem, who are protected by virtue of Israel’s occupation under the Fourth Geneva Convention, to leave the territory they live in,” Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director, said in a report.

“Deportation or forced transfers of any part of the population of an occupied territory could amount to war crimes.”

“Israel claims to treat Jerusalem as a unified city, but the reality is effectively one set of rules for Jews and another for Palestinians,” said the report.

Israel occupied east Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War in a move never recognized by the international community.

The more than 300,000 Palestinians there have permanent residency status but are not Israeli nationals.

While east Jerusalem residents are allowed to apply for citizenship, most do not as they view it as recognition of Israeli sovereignty.

Since 1967, 14,595 Palestinians have had their residence status revoked, effectively barring them from remaining in the city of their birth, the HRW report said citing interior ministry figures.

The majority of these revocations were due to spending periods of time out of the city, with Israel arguing their “center of life” was not in Jerusalem.

The Israeli interior ministry spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.

The HRW report came shortly after a visit by Jordan King Abdullah II to Ramallah where he met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday.

Discussions focused on efforts to revive the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, as well as the latest tensions over the al-Aqsa Msoque in Jerusalem.

Jordan serves as the Muslim custodian of the Aqsa Compound, home to the Al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques.

On Sunday, Abdullah told lawmakers in Jordan that “without the Hashemite custodianship and the steadfastness of the Jerusalemites, the holy sites would have been lost many years ago.”

“Our success requires one stand with the Palestinian brothers, so that our cause wouldn’t be weakened and our rights would be maintained,” he said.

Jordanian Parliament Approves Annulment of Article 308

Protesters in front of Jordan's parliament in Amman hold banners calling for the repeal of a provision that allows a rapist to escape punishment if he marries his victim.

Amman- The Jordanian parliament on Tuesday voted to repeal article 308 that allowed a rapist to escape punishment if he married his victim, knowing that the Parliament has been rejecting to revoke it since two decades.

Prime Minister Hani Mulki stressed that the government is committed to abolishing article 308 in order to protect Jordanian family values. Similar provisions have already been repealed in Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia.

The Minister of Social Development, Hala Lattouf stated on Tuesday that the parliament decision to annul article 308 is a step towards safeguarding children, young girls, and families.

She added that families are usually based on mercy and love, two things that wouldn’t be achieved through article 308.

“Annulling the article doesn’t ban marriage or interfere with decisions of individuals regarding marriage, but in the case of a complaint, it must be investigated to achieve justice,” Lattouf noted.

The international group Human Rights Watch said that this is a positive step. Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at the HRW called article 308 “a blight on Jordan’s human rights record.”

Further, Eva Abu Halaweh, Executive manager of Mizan for Law, said that annulling this article is a victory for all rape victims.

Two days earlier, the parliament stated that killing “in a fit of rage” can no longer be considered a mitigating circumstance in such cases and maintained the stipulated sanctions that might reach execution or life-imprisonment.

A total of 12 women and six children were killed in the first half of 2017 in household crimes, some under the pretext of honor.

Foreign ISIS Terrorists Surrender in Mosul


Erbil – Foreigners, who have joined the ranks of the ISIS terrorist group, have surrendered in the Iraqi city of Mosul after US-backed forces managed to recapture it earlier this week.

Iraqi security forces aired videos of ISIS foreign militants as they surrendered in the city, reported Reuters.

It is likely that Arab and western intelligence will scramble to obtain any information they have to offer, especially in revealing the location of ISIS cells around the world, how they travel to Syria and Iraq and the fate of their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Conflicting reports had emerged this week over the death of Baghdadi.

Meanwhile, as the city picks up the pieces after the battle, warnings were issued on Thursday against alleged violations committed by members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).

Social media sites have circulated videos of the execution of prisoners, suspected to be ISIS members, in images that are reminiscent of the atrocities that the terrorists committed in the city as soon as it captured it in 2014.

Arab tribes in Iraq’s Nineveh province urged Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi to “liberate” Mosul from the Iran-backed PMF. It accused the forces of carrying out kidnappings, arbitrary arrests and the murder of civilians “under the pretext of destroying ISIS.”

Spokesman for the tribes Sheikh Mzahem al-Hweit told Asharq Al-Awsat that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Quds Force have been setting up offices “left and right” in the city.

They now have some 80 offices that harbor Iranian soldiers and experts, as well as armed members of the PMF, he revealed.

“These offices are committing the most heinous crimes against innocent civilians in Mosul,” he added. On a daily basis, they carry out abductions and arbitrary arrests and torture civilians, he continued.

He also accused them of committing mass murder and displacement, warning that the area will be on the verge of civil war if the violations continued.

“We urge Abadi to launch a new military campaign to liberate Mosul, this time however against these Iranian militias,” declared al-Hweit.

Al-Arabiya satellite channel meanwhile aired a video of the violations. It showed gunmen clad in military uniform as they committed crimes against unarmed civilians. One scene showed the gunmen throwing civilians off building while they are still alive before later shooting them.

Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Saad Maan said that the video is being inspected, rejecting any violations against any civilian.

In a related development, a high-ranking official in Mosul denied to Asharq Al-Awsat that there was a campaign to expel the families of ISIS militants.

He confirmed that a Mosul judicial council unanimously voted to transfer them to camps outside of the city in order to “rehabilitate” them. This decision has not yet taken effect because it needs to be ratified by the province council.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the move. It accused Iraqi security forces on Thursday of forcibly relocating at least 170 families of alleged ISIS members to a closed “rehabilitation camp” as a form of collective punishment.

“Iraqi authorities shouldn’t punish entire families because of their relatives’ actions,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at HRW. “These abusive acts are war crimes and are sabotaging efforts to promote reconciliation in areas retaken from ISIS.”

Speaking with reporters in Washington, an Iraqi military spokesman said he was not aware of the specific cases but denied that Iraqi forces relocated families by force.

“This topic, we didn’t have precise information about what is going on, however there is no situation or scenario where the Iraqi forces will forcefully get people out of their homes as Iraqi citizens,” Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, a spokesman for the joint operations command, said.

“However, we try to secure safe pathways for them to avoid the battle area,” Rasool added.

The HRW statement said the camp, which Iraqi authorities have described as meant for “rehabilitation”, amounted to a detention center for adults and children who have not been accused of any wrongdoing. Fakih called on the families to be allowed to go where they can live safely.

HRW said forced displacements and arbitrary detentions taking place in Anbar, Babel, Diyala, Salahuddin and Nineveh provinces had affected hundreds of families. It said Iraqi security and military forces had done little to stop the abuses and in some instances participated in them.

On the ground, intermittent clashes still erupted in Mosul despite the liberation of the city.

Deputy chief of the security and defense council in the Nineveh province Hashem Brefkani told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The battle may be over, but some pockets where ISIS members are still present appear from time to time.”

“These members have not turned themselves into the security forces so they are being eliminated,” he explained.

Calls for ‘Independent Inquiry’ into Death of 4 Syrian Detainees in Lebanon

Beirut, London- Human rights organizations called on Wednesday for an independent probe after the Lebanese army announced that four Syrian nationals, who were arrested last week during raids on refugee encampments in the border town of Arsal, have died in custody.

Last week, five suicide bombers blew themselves up in Arsal in response to pre-emptive raids by the Lebanese army, which had received information about terrorist attacks being plotting in the area. During the raids, soldiers arrested more than 300 people.

But, on Wednesday, the army said in a statement that four Syrian nationals who were arrested in Arsal have died “after they suffered from chronic health issues that were aggravated due to the climatic conditions.”  

The announcement came following photos published on Wednesday showing dozens of Syrian refugees, stripped to the waist and handcuffed, while lying on the ground and covered with stones.  The photos showed Lebanese soldiers standing next to them.

Commenting on the development, Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The army acknowledged not one but four deaths in custody without revealing the chain of events that led to these deaths. A formal, transparent, and independent investigation must be launched and in case of wrongdoing those responsible for the deaths should be held accountable.”

Human rights lawyer Nabil Halabi also called for an independent probe.

The Lebanese army did not issue an immediate reply to Fakih’s statement and the calls for such independent investigations.

Meanwhile, in the wake of the cabinet session held on Wednesday, President Michel Aoun was quoted as praising “the performance of the army and the security forces,” warning “against the transformation of Syrian refugee camps into hosts for terrorists.”

Prime Minister Saad Hariri also mentioned during the cabinet session the “death of four arrested Syrian refugees at a hospital.”

Iraq: Jaafari Calls on Kurds to Avert Provoking Neighborhood


Vienna- Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has called for taking into consideration neighboring countries when tackling the Kurdish file, warning of any unwise act that might cause the rage of these countries as a hint on the independence referndum Iraqi Kurdistan is willing to hold in September.

During his visit to Vienna, he stated to Asharq Al-Awsat that there is no fear over rights of various Iraqi components, responding to a question on the planned Kurdish referendum that “Iraq is no longer as it was before.

Kurds today enjoy their full rights and the president was Kurdish after ousting Jalal Talabani as well as the second president Fouad Massoum.

He added that Kurds are found in the three authorities, sovereign ministries and the parliament – not only Kurds but all the components.

Jaafari saw that everyone has the right to express himself and that although the Iraqi nation is only one but the Iraqi communities are many.

“There is a community of Arabs, Kurds and Turk-men. There is no suppression or forbidding of voting or conducting referendum – the constitution remains to be the ruler and we agree upon all what is endorsed by it,” he added.

The Iraqi minister stressed that when dealing with the Kurdish file, it should be taken into consideration that Iraq is part of other Kurdish components in neighboring countries in Turkey, Iran, Syria and Russia and that any unwise act would provoke these states.

Jaafari defended his visit to Vienna to intervene in the case of two members from the Popular Mobilization Forces militias who were accused by international rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch of committing anti-humanity violations and crimes during the fight.

Human Rights Watch Criticizes Anti-Corruption Efforts in Tunisia

Human Rights Watch Criticizes Anti-Corruption Efforts in Tunisia

The referral of a businessman to trial before a military court, and the incommunicado detention of seven other men in undisclosed locations, is a threat to human rights in Tunisia, Human Rights Watch said on Friday.

Authorities arrested the well-connected businessman, and seven other men, between May 23 and 25, 2017. They placed them under “house arrest” in an unknown location, a procedure allowed under the country’s state of emergency. Authorities said the men were involved in corruption and represented a threat to state security.

“A genuine democratic transition has no place for military trials for civilians or secret detention, no matter how serious the charges,” said Amna Guellali, Tunisia director at Human Rights Watch. “Just as transparency and the rule of law are the best safeguards against corruption, they should also guide the fight against corruption, if that is indeed what these cases are about.”

Under Tunisian and international law, all detainees have the right to be promptly informed of the charges against them, to contact their family and lawyer, and to have their detention reviewed by a judge. International law views house arrest as a form of detention that warrants basic safeguards that the government must respect even during a state of emergency.

HRW called on the authorities to promptly disclose the whereabouts of the detainees, ensure they can freely communicate with their lawyers, and ensure they and their lawyers have access to incriminating evidence against them. All the detainees should be brought promptly before a judge to review the legality and necessity of their detention.

The Interior Ministry stated earlier on its website that it had “place[d] under house arrest a number of people, based on information proving their involvement in acts threatening public security and order.” The ministry described the measures as preventive, limited in duration, and warranted by the need to protect security and fight corruption. The ministry asserted that it would respect the legal guarantees enshrined in the constitution and in the laws pertaining to people placed under house arrest, and would stop using this measure when the state of emergency was lifted.

Tunisia’s state of emergency is based on a 1978 presidential decree that gives the Interior Ministry the authority to order the house arrest of anyone whose “activities are deemed to endanger security and public order.” The emergency decree does not stipulate that authorities must disclose the location of the house arrest.

Human Rights Watch: Houthis Used Banned Mines in Yemen

Human Rights Watch has accused Houthi putschists, and their allies, of using banned landmines in Yemen, resulting in the maiming and deaths of “hundreds of civilians.”

“Al-Houthi rebels and pro-Saleh forces have used antipersonnel landmines in at least six provinces since the Arab coalition began its operations in Yemen in March 2015,” the Organization said in a report released on Thursday.

“Houthi-Saleh forces have been flouting the landmine ban at the expense of Yemeni civilians,” Steve Goose, director of the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch, said.

Both Houthis and armed militants backing ousted former president Ali Abdullah Saleh have joined each other in their attempts to reign over Yemen. Backed by Iran, Houthis overran Sana’a in 2014 and established a coup capital there, after driving out legitimate authorities.

Yemen has banned antipersonnel mines for nearly two decades, but Iran-allied Houthis have violated the ban which led to killing and maiming hundreds of civilians, disrupting civilian life in affected areas and impeding the safe return of thousands of displaced civilians to their homes, said the Saudi state-owned news agency SPA.

Human Rights Watch also highlights that landmines will make the return of the millions of people who have fled their homes far more difficult — even after the conflict ends. However, such an end is nowhere in sight.

The use of anti-personnel landmines by Houthis and Saleh loyalists forces violates international laws of engaging in battle and such actions instate war crimes.

Human Rights Watch says that the use of landmines has been used in six governorates of Yemen since March 2015.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines reported that at least 988 people were killed or wounded by landmines or other explosive remnants of war in Yemen in 2015.

Hamas Executes Three Men Accused of Collaborating with Israel

Ramallah – Hamas on Thursday executed three men it accused of collaborating with the Israeli authorities, few days after launching “redemption week”, during which the movement asked Israeli “agents” to turn themselves in or face punishment.

The Hamas-run Interior Ministry said in a statement that the three men have been executed in Gaza.

The Palestinians – aged 32, 42 and 55 – were hanged after being convicted by a court of treason and conspiring with foreign parties, the statement added.

On Tuesday, Hamas announced it would offer a “week of redemption” for collaborators with Israel to avoid arrest and punishment, within a campaign to avenge last month’s assassination of Mazen Faqha, a senior official in Ezzeddine al-Qassam Brigade, Hamas’ military wing.

A security official in the Gaza Strip said Hamas security bodies have launched a major campaign against “agents” for Israel, during which several collaborators have been arrested.

However, the organization announced giving amnesty to those who turn themselves in over the next week.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) denounced the executions, and said Hamas’ policies in Gaza increased Palestinian political divisions and provided further justifications for the continued Israeli siege of the coastal city.

PA spokesperson Tareq Reshmawi said: “The government rejects the execution orders in Gaza, as they come against the law, and were not made through a fair trial and due process standards.”

Human Rights Watch also condemned the executions as “abhorrent” and warned Hamas that they projected “weakness, not strength”.

“Hamas authorities will never achieve true security or stability through firing squads or by the gallows, but rather through respect for international norms and the rule of law,” according to Sarah Leah Whitson, the US-based group’s Middle East director.

U.N. Rights Office Rails at Excessively Lenient Israeli Sentence

Relatives and friends chant slogans during the funeral of Abdul Fatah al-Sharif, a wounded Palestinian assailant who was shot dead by an Israeli soldier in the city of Hebron in March in the West Bank city of Hebron, on May 28, 2016

The United Nations’ human rights office decried on Friday the 18-month sentence handed down by a Tel Aviv military court to an Israeli soldier for killing a badly wounded Palestinian as “excessively lenient” and “unacceptable”.

The soldier, Sgt. Elor Azaria, was sentenced for manslaughter in the March shooting of Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in the head after he was incapacitated following a knife attack in March 2016 in the volatile West Bank city of Hebron. Hebron is the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank and a frequent flashpoint for violence.

The show of leniency provoked Palestinian outrage.

“We are deeply disturbed at the lenient sentence given by the Tel Aviv Military Court earlier this week to an Israeli soldier convicted of unlawfully killing a wounded Palestinian in an apparent extrajudicial execution of an unarmed man who clearly posed no imminent threat,” U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a news briefing in Geneva.

Manslaughter carries a maximum punishment of 20 years under Israeli law, she said.

“This case risks undermining confidence in the justice system and reinforcing the culture of impunity,” Shamdasani said. “This is a chronic culture of impunity we are talking about.”
More than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces since the most recent upsurge in violence began in the West Bank in September 2015, she said.

Azaria is the only member of the Israeli security forces to have been brought to trial for such a killing, she added.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is due to address the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday at the start of its main annual session that lasts until March 24.

Israel, backed by its main ally the United States, says that the 47-member state forum is biased against it due to its frequent resolutions condemning Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and practices in the Gaza Strip.

In the meantime, Israel has denied a work permit to a Human Rights Watch researcher after receiving Foreign Ministry advice that HRW works “in the service of Palestinian propaganda under the false banner of human rights,” the immigration authority said.

HRW said the move was unexpected, since the organization regularly meets and corresponds with Israeli government officials, including representatives of the military, the police, and the Foreign Ministry.

Israel’s decision was criticized by the U.S. State Department, which said, “we strongly disagree with that characterization of HRW … (which is) a credible human rights organization.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said the decision was taken because of HRW’s “extreme, hostile anti-Israel agenda which was working at the service of Palestinian propaganda … in a totally biased manner.”

The group said in a statement that “the decision marks an ominous turn after nearly three decades during which Human Rights Watch staff has had regular access without impediments to Israel and the West Bank.”

It added that Israel has refused HRW access to Gaza since 2010, except for one visit in 2016.

Acting U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that “even though we do not agree with all of their assertions or conclusions, given the seriousness of their efforts, we support the importance of the work they do. We reference HRW reports in our own reporting, including our annual human rights reports.”

HRW’s Iain Levine said that it was “disappointing that the Israeli government seems unable or unwilling to distinguish between justified criticisms of its actions and hostile political propaganda.”

The decision to bar the HRW representative is a latest move by authorities to curb foreign non-governmental organizations who have issued reports critical of Israeli government actions, particularly concerning Palestinians.

It was initially unclear whether the decision heralded the start of a new policy by Israel towards foreign citizens working for NGOs.