Featured: Russian Invasion of Ukraine
Amnesty International released a new on-the-ground investigation on Apr. 1 documenting the Russian military’s wanton disregard for civilian life in Ukraine. Amnesty field investigators in Ukraine have collected testimony that documents the Russian military’s repeated use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in densely populated urban areas, killing civilians. They have also verified physical evidence of banned cluster munitions, the use of which violates international law.
Russian attacks have struck and killed civilians in and around bread lines, preschools, and hospitals. The aftermath of these attacks has been marked by denial and obfuscation by Russian authorities despite overwhelming evidence of what transpired. The following list is illustrative of the abuses documented by Amnesty but it is not meant to be exhaustive:
- Mar. 6: Two attacks killed at least four civilians, including two children, at an evacuation crossing point in Irpin.
- Mar. 4: A cluster bomb killed one civilian in Kharkiv.
- Mar. 3: A “dumb bomb” killed 47 civilians in Chernihiv.
- Feb. 28: Three Smerch rocket attacks killed at least five civilians in Kharkiv.
- Since Feb. 28: Extensive bombardment on civilian structures killed at least eight civilians in Izium, including two children.
- Feb. 26: An explosive weapon hit a kindergarten in Chernihiv, starting a fire.
- Feb. 25: A missile damaged a school in Mariupol.
- Feb. 25: An Uragan rocket hit a preschool in Okhtyrka, killing three people, including a child.
- Feb. 24: A strike near a restaurant in Uman killed a civilian.
- Feb. 24: A ballistic missile struck a hospital in Vuhledar, killing four civilians and wounding ten more.
- Feb. 24: A large missile or rocket struck a residential block in Kharkiv, killing at least one civilian and injuring two.
- Feb. 17: Russian-backed forces struck a kindergarten in Stanytsia Luhanska, wounding three civilians.
Amnesty International notes with appreciation the U.S. government’s efforts to speak out against these violations. Still, given the gravity of the situation, we urge the Congress and the Biden administration to take further measures to protect human rights, including:
- Ensuring the State Department’s public statements about the situation in Ukraine prioritize the risk to human rights.
- Identifying individuals who may face retaliation for peaceful activism and, if necessary, facilitating their safe exit out of Ukraine.
- Continuing to push for accountability for human rights violations in the Crimean Peninsula and in separatist-controlled Eastern Ukraine.
- Ensuring dedicated resources for Ukrainian civil society, including organizations providing public health assistance, monitoring violations of human rights, fighting corruption, and engaging in other worthy causes, is dispatched promptly.
- Working with partners across Europe and humanitarian organizations to ensure appropriate resources are in place for refugees moving out of Ukraine.
The Biden administration’s Apr. 1 announcement on the termination of Title 42 expulsions marks a victory for asylum-seekers and their allies. For two years, the U.S. government misused Title 42 to expel over 1.6 million Black, Brown, and Indigenous asylum-seekers at the border. Amnesty welcomes the repeal of this unlawful and unnecessary policy, but the U.S. government must do more to ensure the human right to seek asylum is respected in the United States. We call upon Congress to continue to press the Biden Administration to restore full access to asylum without delay.
Amnesty is deeply disappointed by provisions in the FY22 omnibus which increase funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) and expand so-called “alternatives to detention” that still criminalize, surveil, and harm immigrant communities. FY23 is this Congress’ last chance to put forth an appropriations bill that cuts funding for ICE and Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) and reinvests in real community needs.
While we commend the recent designations of Afghanistan and Ukraine for Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”), we are dismayed by the Biden administration’s failure to grant TPS for Cameroon, a Black-majority country ravaged by armed conflict. Congress should demand the Biden administration grant TPS for Cameroon and provide life-saving protection to over 40,000 Cameroonians in the U.S.
Amnesty International welcomes the passage of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) within the FY22 omnibus, particularly historic provisions that restore tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Native perpetrators of sexual violence against Native women. Native women experience rape at over twice the national average rate, and of those who have experienced sexual violence, 96 percent have experienced sexual violence by at least one non-Native perpetrator. Tribal courts will now be able to exercise jurisdiction over non-Native perpetrators of sexual violence. This is a critical step in the right direction to better preventing sexual violence against Native women.
U.S. MUST CONTINUE TO PRESS FOR BROAD COVID-19 TRIPS WAIVER, EXPAND GLOBAL PRODUCTION OF VACCINES
While much of the developed world is now vaccinated against COVID-19, less than 15 percent of people in low-income countries have received their first dose. Amnesty is concerned with reports that a compromise reached for a World Trade Organization (“WTO”) TRIPS waiver for COVID-19 products would limit eligible countries and exclude much-needed waivers for tests and treatments. As Amnesty and others have emphasized, it is critical that intellectual property waivers are not limited to vaccines. Congress must continue to press the Biden administration to ensure low and lower-middle income countries have equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments.
On Mar. 8, nearly 200 organizations including Amnesty International issued an open letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, calling for the immediate release of her office’s long-delayed report on Xinjiang. The delay compounds the Chinese government’s impunity for crimes against humanity in the region, forestalling Uyghur and other groups’ justice under international law.
Amnesty welcomes Sen. Risch’s (R-ID) remarks sharing our concern regarding the Commissioner’s announced travel to Xinjiang. Instead of releasing the report, he wrote,
“Bachelet is bowing to Beijing & will go on a propaganda visit to Xinjiang.” Legislators must engage the U.S. Mission to the U.N. to pressure Bachelet to release the Xinjiang report and to uncover the extent of her coordination with Chinese government officials on her upcoming visit which risks whitewashing human rights violations.
Recent threats to UK nonprofit Hong Kong Watch signal the ever-expanding effort of the Hong Kong government to use the draconian national security law (“NSL”) to limit free expression within and outside of the region. The NSL asserts jurisdiction over people who are not residents of Hong Kong, including those who have never even set foot there. Members of Congress should ensure that U.S. Consul General to Hong Kong and Macau Hanscom Smith raises the Hong Kong Watch case with local officials and coordinates with UK and other governments to mitigate the NSL’s use as a tool for transnational repression.
Security with Human Rights
Amnesty is grateful to 46 House members who signed a Mar. 14 letter to Secretary Austin urging him to improve Department of Defense policies to prevent and respond to civilian casualties caused by U.S. military force. In recent years, Amnesty has documented a sharp increase in civilian casualties caused by U.S air strikes in Syria, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Congress should continue to press the Pentagon to report back on its forthcoming Instruction, Center of Excellence and Civilian Harm Mitigation Response Action Plan, which should respond to the important lessons learned from recent conflicts, take major steps to improve civilian protection, and acknowledge and provide assistance to those harmed.