International Human Rights Weekly News Roundup

by  Pauline Canham and Lauren Ng


This week’s stories in focus:


Authoritarian police tactics threaten democracy in the US

20UNREST-PORTLAND-VETERAN-videoSixteenByNineJumbo1600-v2The Mayor of Portland, Oregon, has called the strong-arm tactics of federal agents in his city as a “direct threat to democracy” and warns other officials that their cities could be next.  Mayor Ted Wheeler has asked for the agents to be removed, stressing the tactics are “abhorrent” and “are leading to more violence”, rather than quelling it.   Trump has responded by saying local leaders have lost control and he is trying to help.

Portland has seen a wave of protests since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May and rallies have become increasingly violent with clashes between police and protestors escalating in recent days.  Language coming out of the White House has done little to calm the situation, with the Homeland Security Secretary calling protestors “anarchists” and Trump blaming democratic leaders for the chaos.  Federal agents have appeared to snatch people off the streets into unmarked vehicles and detained them without justification.

A video has emerged of a Navy veteran being attacked by camouflaged agents, striking him with batons, which resulted in a broken hand, and pepper spraying him at close range directly into his face, without provocation.   David Steel said he had wanted to talk to the officers about why they were “violating their oath to uphold the constitution” and he was standing still with his hands by his sides when he was attacked.  This can clearly be seen in the video that’s been viewed over 3 million times.

The Oregon Attorney General has sued the federal government for unlawfully detaining protestors, requesting a restraining order to prevent federal agents from making any more arrests.  Ms Rosenblum stated “These tactics must stop”, adding that the tactics used by The Department of Homeland Security, US Marshals Service, US Customs and Border Protection and Federal Protection Service, are preventing people exercising their First Amendment right to protest and are “out of character with the Oregon Way.”  Meanwhile, the mothers of protestors have come out onto the streets to protect their children’s right to protest but linking together to provide a barrier between protestors and federal forces.

President Trump, however, has applauded the actions of officers in Portland, saying they’ve done a “fantastic’ job and threatened to use similar tactics in more liberal democratic cities.


1921 Tulsa Race Massacre – a new horizon for US reparations?

Tulsa_dig2Nearly 100 years after one of the most brutal racial events in US history, a test excavation for the mass graves of the Tulsa Race Massacre victims will begin this week.

Between May 31 to June 1 in 1921, a white mob burned Tulsa’s local Greenwood community, a thriving black neighborhood, then known as the “Black Wall Street”, to ashes. Within 24 hours, thousands of Black Americans were displaced from their homes and an estimate of 300 people were killed.

For years, it has remained unknown as to where the victims of the massacre were buried. An investigation was initially initiated in 1991, yet discontinued shortly after. The Tulsa Race Riot Commission’s in 2001 made clear in their recommendations that officials should investigate the location of the graves, but Tulsa failed to comply.

However, due to the unresolved questions surrounding the massacre, Tulsan Mayor G.T. Bynum reopened the investigation in 2018. In December 2019, forensic scientists of the State of Oklahoma Archaeological Survey detected anomalies in the ground that could indicate the existence of two mass burials on city-owned property. The senior researcher of the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey, Scott Hammerstedt, felt confident that this discovery was “something associated with the massacre”. While the test excavation was initially postponed in March due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Bynum announced it will be restarting this week:

“As a city, we are committed to exploring what happened in 1921 through a collective and transparent process – filling gaps in our city’s history and providing healing and justice to our community. In the past 99 years, no other agency or government entity has moved this far into an investigation that will seek truth into what happened in Tulsa in 1921.”

Furthermore, earlier in May this year, Human Rights Watch published a detailed report highlighting how city officials have continued to obstruct rebuilding of the Greenwood area and reject offers of medical and reconstruction aid. In addition, ongoing police brutality in the area have destroyed the prosperity and livelihood of the local community. It is hoped that unearthing this truth will allow the start to an important part of restoring justice for Black Americans – that of reparations.


Other stories making the headlines around the world









Australasia and Oceania


North America


Latin America


Middle East



Analysis of India’s contact tracing application vis à vis digital rights

by Ritwik Prakash Srivastava


In the wake of COVID-19, the Indian government came up with a contact-tracing application Aarogya Setu (application). The Indian Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, in his address to the nation on 14 April 2020, urged the citizens to download the application to supplement the State’s struggle against the contagion. What started as a voluntary step, was first made mandatory for employees, including in the private sector, then a directive extended it to entire districts, and failure to comply resulted in a criminal penalty.

It brings to the forefront the conflict between public health and the right to privacy of an individual. While the effectiveness of contact-tracing has been proven, it is also pertinent that such a mechanism is developed within the frameworks of existing laws and a regard for human rights and constitutional rights. Interestingly enough the Supreme Court of India, in its landmark judgment of K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India (the judgement) in 2017, made the right to privacy a fundamental right in India. Even stating that “if the State preserves the anonymity of the individual it could legitimately assert a valid state interest in the preservation of public health…

This piece seeks to address the viability of the Indian government’s order of making the download of Aarogya Setu application mandatory, against the touchstone of the right to privacy.



The Court in its judgment recognised every individual’s right to decide for themselves the extent of information about them that could be shared with others. However, every fundamental right in India comes with its reasonable restrictions, and is not absolute (see Article 19 (2) of Constitution of India). Some of the grounds of restriction could be to preserve public order, maintain sovereignty and integrity of India, and security of the State. These restrictions have to be mandatorily in accordance with procedures established by law (see Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India).

As per paragraph 180 of the section of the judgement authored by the then Chief Justice of India, Justice Khehar, Justice R.K. Agrawal and Justice Dr D.Y. Chandrachud, before such restrictions on the right to privacy can be placed, the State must show the existence of a valid legislation, which permits the restriction to be put into place. Secondly, the restrain must be in pursuit of a legitimate aim; thirdly, it should have a rational nexus with the such aim; fourthly, it should be the least restrictive method to achieve such aim and lastly, it should be proportionate to the aim that is required to be achieved.

The Aarogya Setu application fails on the first prong itself. Not even the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, currently enforced in India, grants such permissions to the State. In the absence of any legislative framework to restrict its ambit, there is no guarantee that the sensitive data about individuals’ health and movement will not be used for mass surveillance, or will not be stored and used for profiling once the pandemic subsides.

Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

As the Terms and Conditions of Aarogya Setu stand currently, a user has no mechanism to seek deletion of their data uploaded on the servers of the application. Removal of the application merely means they cannot use the services, and not that they get their data erased. Without a comprehensive framework to regulate data protection, a contact tracing technology may as well mutate into a system of movement control and data profiling. The possibility of this becomes greater in the absence of any protocol which mandates a limit on the time for which such sensitive personal data of citizens can be stored by the government.

These shortcomings may have been eliminated if India had a dedicated privacy framework, as demanded in the judgement. However, even after substantial discussions and impending need of such a law, the framework is yet to be enacted, it currently exists merely as a bill. As far as international standards and European regulations on contact-tracing are concerned, the Aarogya Setu application fails on various counts.

The European Data Protection Board (“EDPB”) in its “Guidelines on the use of location data and contact tracing tools” (“Guidelines”). The foremost caveat the guidelines provide against contact-tracing is that are a grave intrusion into the privacy of an individual. The guidelines make it very clear that use of application must be voluntary. However, the orders of Indian government of mandatory download go directly against such a provision. There is an inherent lack of transparency on how the accumulated data is to be processed, or for how long it would remain in the possession of the government. The government has not shared any policies with respect to data retention and grievance redressal against the collected data.

A basic technical requirement any application which seeks to collect and process data is that of security. The guidelines mandate “state-of-the-art” cryptographic techniques to secure the data collected. However, there are already serious questions being raised at its sophistication when an ethical hacker took to Twitter to reveal the flaws with the application’s security. There have also been reports of the Aarogya Setu application exposing the users’ location data to third-party actors like YouTube.



Since the Supreme Court’s reasoning in the Puttaswamy judgement, the Indian government has had collisions with the concept of privacy multiple times. First with the nation-wide citizen identification scheme AADHAR, then with the inordinate delay in the delivery of the personal data protection law. While the current circumstances around the pandemic are nowhere near normal, the concerns arising out of unwarranted surveillance cannot be set aside.

The threat that the pandemic poses to digital rights was specifically addressed in a joint-statement issued by United Nations, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, and the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The joint-statement provided that the use of any technology for surveillance should  conform to the strictest standards of protections provided by the domestic law and the principles of international human rights.

New privacy concerns arise every day out of ever-developing technologies, be it in terms of facial recognition, mass surveillance, or tracking online activities of citizens.  The digital ecosystem has become an intricate part of the personal life of every citizen. While the current status quo with the Coronavirus pandemic is largely out of the ordinary, it is important nonetheless that the governments remember that privacy rights of citizens cannot be suppressed even during an unusual situation.  Now more than ever, it is important that any derogation from or limitation to digital rights remains lawful, and is appropriately scrutinised by the states and their respective courts.



Ritwik Prakash Srivastava Ritwik Prakash Srivastava is a third-year B.A.LL.B. (Hons.) student at National Law Institute University, Bhopal.  He is currently the Co-Convenor of the Centre for Research in International Law at NLIU, Bhopal. His research interests include technology and media law, cyber law, and public international law.  He may be reached at

International Human Rights Weekly News Roundup

by Pauline Canham & Amita Dhiman


This week’s stories in focus:


BREAKING: Shamima Begum wins the right to return to Britain to fight her citizenship case

The Court of Appeal has ruled that Shamima Begum, who travelled to Syria in 2015 and married a Dutch ISIS recruit, could not make her citizenship case from a Syrian refugee camp.   Human Rights Organisation, Liberty, has welcomed the ruling saying “equal access to justice must apply to everyone”.  But the UK Government hopes to appeal the decision, saying it was “very disappointing”.

US drone strike on Iranian General was unlawful, UN report concludes

CallamardA report by Agnes Callamard, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial and summary executions, has concluded that the US drone strike that killed a senior Iranian General violated international law.  The report states that evidence does not support any justification for the strike that killed Qasem Soleimani in January this year.  In particular, the UN expert said that the US had not provided enough proof that Soleimani’s activities constituted an “imminent threat to life”, and therefore the attack amounted to “arbitrary killing.”

The UN Special Rapporteur went further, calling for greater regulation on the military use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), warning that the proliferation of UAVs (known as drones) risks destabilising global peace and security.  She also noted that the states using them to fight the ‘war on terror’ currently face no accountability for their deployment.  She proclaimed that the “targeted killing of General Soleimani….is not just a slippery slope.  It is a cliff.”; appealing for the UN Security Council to meet to debate the self-defence claim (the justification most commonly used to carry out drone strikes in counter-terrorism operations).

President Trump ordered the strike on Soleimani in early January, and shortly afterwards, the Pentagon released a statement saying “General Suleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region….. This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.”  Professor of International Law at the University of Copenhagen, Kevin Jon Heller, cast doubts on the legality of the strike, commenting “the legality of an attack depends on the immediacy of the threat that it aims to avert”.

Defenders of the use of drones point to their apparent ‘precision’ which they claim reduces the numbers of civilian casualties.  However, the UN expert called this claim “illusory” and the idea of the ‘surgical strike’ a “myth”.  The lack of oversight and the secret nature of the drone program have given rise to a significant underreporting of the harm caused to civilian populations targeted by the ‘war on terror’.

Following the release of the report, the United States hit back, saying Ms Callamard was effectively “giving a pass to terrorists”.  Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo strenuously defended the strike adding that Ms Callamard “gives more cause to distrust UN human rights mechanisms.”


Coalition to defend freedom of expression in Lebanon announced

lebanese flag 2A “Coalition to Defend Freedom of Expression in Lebanon”  was announced this week by 14 Lebanese and international organizations . The initiative was prompted by an expanding campaign of repression by the Lebanese Government against the people.

Lebanese authorities launched a crackdown on activists and people who posted defamatory posts against the government during the ‘2015-2019 Anti- government protests’. As many as 60 activists and people were detained and questioned in regard to their social media posts concerning accusations of corruption towards high ranking officials such as the President and reporting on worsening economic and political situation in the country.

The documented cases are proof of mistreatment by prosecution and security agencies as a tool to intimidate and silence voices that were raised against the President. Before any case was transferred to the Court, there were a range of physical and psychological interrogation tactics used to coerce signed pledges that activists would not resort to writing any defamatory content against the government in future. The promises have no legal sanctity since they violate the fundamental right of free speech and expression.

On June 15th this year, the country’s top prosecutor ordered a security agency to investigate social media posts deemed offensive to the president labelling it a move to amend the old Media Laws and bring it in line with today.  “Parliament should urgently bring the media law in line with international law and prioritize the decriminalization of defamation and insults” said the coalition.

Lebanon’s constitution guarantees freedom of expression “within the limits established by law.”  The Lebanese penal code criminalizes defamation against public officials and authorizes imprisonment of up to one year in such cases.  The code also authorizes imprisonment up to two years for insulting the president and up to three years for insulting religious rituals.  These laws, many of them older than the country’s independence, are enforced by prosecutors today.  The country will see a dark future if the laws are not soon amended and implemented in line with international human rights obligations.

Other stories making the headlines around the world











Middle East











Human Rights in Asia Conference 2020

by Alana Meier

Last week the 12th annual Human Rights in Asia Conference took place in the form of two virtual panel discussions. Originally scheduled to happen in person at the University of Essex 21 March, the event was postponed due to the sudden COVID-19 outbreak. However, the students pushed through to find a new way to bring this important event to light.


The Origins of the Essex Human Rights in Asia Conference

Despite ongoing violations and the need for a stronger focus on human rights, Asia is a region often overlooked in western human rights education. The absence of a regional human rights mechanism for Asia is one of the reasons often attributed for this. Yet, this absence actually compounds the existing challenges faced by human rights defenders and practitioners in the region.

To compensate for this gap, postgraduate students from the University of Essex launched the Human Rights in Asia Conference in 2009. This now annual conference is predominantly student run, with the support of Dr. Sanae Fujita and the Essex HRC Events and Communication team. Each year a specific country situation or thematic area is chosen. Past years’ themes included development and human rights in Asia, natural disasters and human rights, human rights in Myanmar and human rights in South Asia.


A Focus on Human Trafficking

The inspiration for this year’s theme – Human Trafficking – came following the heartbreaking and horrific incident that occurred on 23 October 2019 whereby 39 people were found dead in a lorry container in Essex. The victims included ten teenagers, the youngest of whom were two 15-year-old boys, are believed to have come from Vietnam. The driver of the lorry has since been charged with 39 counts of manslaughter as well as human trafficking and immigration offences, and five other have been charged in connection with the investigation on ground of conspiring to assist unlawful immigration.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s 2018 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons indicated that the overall number of identified and reported trafficking victims has increased. Their research found these numbers are most pronounced in the Americas and across Asia; a reality which is illustrated in the Counter Trafficking Data Collaborative (CTDC) global map on victims of trafficking data. This could mean more people are being trafficked, but it could also be because countries have increased their capacities to detect this crime and identify victims in addition to the international community’s focus on in developing standards for data collection.

Most of the victims detected across the world are female – the majority of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation and 35 per cent of those for forced labour are female. These are also the two most common forms of exploitation associated with human trafficking taking place across Asia.

The Human Rights in Asia conference offered attendees an opportunity to learn more about the different patterns of trafficking that have emerged in the respective countries in which each of the panelists live and/or work. As well, different areas of research interest and approaches to combating human trafficking – from policy implementation to grassroots prevention- were explored.


An event in 2 virtual parts…

The first event of the two-part series took place Tuesday 7 July and focused on broader international and legal perspectives on human trafficking in Asia. The panel was moderated by Dr Marija Jovanovic and featured presentations by:

  • Professor Parosha Chandran – Human Rights Barrister and Professor of Practice in Modern Slavery Law at King’s College London
  • Sarah Mount – Senior Program Officer for Freedom Fund’s Thailand and Ethiopia hotspots.


The second panel occurred Thursday 9 July and offered approaches at a more national level with a focus on Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal and India. It was moderated by post-graduate LLM and MA students, Anila Baskar and Alana Meier. The conference organisers aimed to have representation from working in difference regions and disciplines such as non-governmental organisations, journalism, and academia. The speakers included:

  • Hannah Bondi – Community Human Rights London’s SDG 8.7 Programme Officer
  • Veerawit Tianchainan is Executive Director of The Freedom Story, Thailand
  • Dr Shovita Dhakal Adhikari – Lecturer in Criminology and Joint Programme Lead for BA Sociology and Criminology Programme at Bournemouth University
  • Giang Nguyen – News Editor at BBC Vietnamese World Service



Overall, the conference had another successful year providing the platform for over 200 attendees to deepen their understanding of human rights in Asia. Recordings of both events will soon be made available by the Human Rights Center. Additionally, the report for this year which will be published in coming weeks, as well as access to past year’s reports, can be found here.

Calamitous coronavirus xenophobia: A new-age predicament

by Tushar Behl and Medha Patil


Sunset Park, in southwest Brooklyn, houses New York City’s largest Chinese community. Chinese immigrants have settled and built their lives for more than two decades after being moved from Manhattan’s Chinatown due to the overflowing population. People from all over the city visit Sunset Park to buy fresh meat and eat at the authentic Chinese restaurants but it is no more. From the beginning of this pandemic, the Asian community across the world has been subjected to serious racial discrimination and xenophobia. The xenophobia compounded with general fears of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus has taken a great toll on the livelihood of Chinese immigrants and workers, especially those in smaller communities.

This article examines contemporary issues faced by Asian Communities amidst the outbreak of the novel coronavirus by highlighting the previous historical instances of xenophobia, coupled with racism, its implications, and also proffering recommendations to address such prejudice.


The Problems

There are currently more than 12,964,809 cases of COVID-19 around the world, as evident from the WHO Coronavirus Disease Dashboard.  As of today, the majority of these cases are present in the United States of America (“USA”) since not long ago it surpassed China where the disease was first detected in November of 2019. Unfortunately, this divide that COVID-19 has created travelled great lengths and continues affecting the innocent Asian population.

Most recently, a single but highly derogatory remark made by President Trump in his press briefing at the White House stood out and captured a lot of angry attention. In the President’s note, the word “corona” had been replaced by the word “Chinese” which sparked a fury, too deep to be a mere offense. Critics have said that such a deliberate use could lead to increased discrimination and racism towards Asian-Americans who are a marginalized group with a long history of being painted as scapegoats in instances of public health crises.

This anti-Asian harassment is not just limited to the USA, rather, various international outlets have reported such cases in major white nations such as Canada, where Chinese-Canadian students have been isolated from local school districts; in Australia, where people have refused to get treatment from Asian doctors and in Germany, where an Asian woman was asked to move her “corona-riddled body” while she was on her train to work.

‘Sinophobia’ is another specific type of prejudice that is magnified by the news of coronavirus outbreak. It is a type of aggression against China, its population, or people of Chinese descent. In the past, President Chester A. Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that banned the immigration of Chinese laborers to the USA for 10 years. President Donald Trump has also been restricting the immigration of Chinese students and scholars since 2018. Today, increasing migration means that a growing number of states have become or are becoming more multi-ethnic, and are confronted with the challenge of accommodating people from different cultures, races, religions, and languages.


Pandemics and Racism

Viral outbreaks or pandemics go hand in hand with racism. When we look into the past, dating back centuries, just like the xenophobic attacks and actions amidst COVID-19, the denigration of certain populations sounds more of a familiar symptom of virus-related outbreaks. These gruesome diseases, causing mass human suffering are often used to rationalize bias. For instance, yellow fever, one of the most dangerous infectious diseases, was pegged to the Africans initially, owing to the first epidemic reported in Yucatan in 1648. But later, the 1853 epidemic in the USA targeted European immigrants, since they were more vulnerable to it. On the other hand, the 2003 SARS outbreak in Toronto, billed the east-Asians.

Xenophobic reactions are not limited to Asians, it mostly depends on the origin of the disease. Reference can be taken from the Ebola virus, which was discovered near the Ebola River (Now, the Democratic Republic of Congo) in 1976, and soon the Africans were targeted with hate.

Although the WHO came through, by opting this practice of not naming the disease based on geographical location, an animal, an individual or a group of people, as it did in the case of Ebola and now COVID-19, xenophobia stimulates quickly, interlaces with politics and paint’s the ideology of people and their Governments.


What Does the Law State?

International human rights instruments generally prohibit racism and racial discrimination, the same cannot be said for xenophobia and resulting discrimination. Xenophobia itself is rarely mentioned in international instruments and distinctions made between citizens and aliens on the basis of race is predominantly rampant when it comes to exercising fundamental rights. It is therefore, sometimes expressly prohibited to make such a distinction which would in turn lead to hampering of such rights.

The ICESCR and ICCPR under Article 2, and the ECHR and IACHR under Article 1 respectively, enable protection against any form of racial discrimination but the same is silent when it comes xenophobia. Moreover, the status of Customary International Law is quite ambiguous than that of treaty law since there exists a divergence of opinion on whether the norms of xenophobia and discrimination have become part of Customary law.



The issue of racial discrimination and xenophobia has a tough influence on state legislations. Owing to such fundamental divergence in legal measures of various states, where one has adopted comprehensive anti-discrimination laws and the other has enacted a sectoral legislation, is problematic. Avoiding all forms of racial segregation and setting out a comprehensive legislation is the need of the hour since common human rights ideals are the main antidote to the persistence of racism.

The pandemic is taking a massive toll on people’s lives all over the world. A disease like COVID-19 does not discriminate while spreading and yet new cases of racial discrimination and xenophobia are coming up every day. Unfortunately, this divide, is in turn, causing additional damage to this existing calamitous situation. Therefore, our willingness to understand each other will protect us from fear and its disastrous consequences.



TUSHAR BEHL__1590856734_106.215.2.102
Tushar Behl LL.B. (Hons) is a 2020 Graduate from the School of Law, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies. He is an Advocate from India and currently working as a Research Associate at the Supreme Court of India. He is an avid reader, writer, and interested in International Relations and Politics. 

Medha Patil.
Medha Patil is a final year Law Student from Maharashtra National Law University, Nagpur, India.  She is an avid writer and interested in Human Rights and Public International Law.