TIME Cambodia

Cambodian Guards Drank Wine With Human Gallbladders, Says Genocide Survivor

Skulls are stacked on top of each other at a "Killing Fields" memorial in Batey district in Kampong Cham province
Skulls are stacked on top of each other at a Killing Fields memorial in Batey district in Kampong Cham province, 125 km (78 miles) east of Phnom Penh on March 28, 2009 Chor Sokunthea—Reuters

Horrific testimony made at atrocity trial

In the 1970s, Khmer Rouge guards would drink wine infused with human gallbladders, according to a survivor of Cambodia’s infamous Killing Fields.

Former detainee Meas Sokha told the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia Khmer Rouge (ECCC) — a special tribunal created to investigate the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime — that guards at a prison in Takeo province would dry out the gallbladders of inmates and steep them in wine, reports the Cambodia Daily.

“Whenever there were killings, the guards would drink wine with a gallbladder. I could see gallbladders drying in the sun and I knew these were from human beings,” said Meas Sokha, who was imprisoned for three years in 1976. “There were so many [gallbladders] dried by the fence, it was put in wine for drinking and to make people brave.”

Sokha also told the U.N.-backed ECCC that he witnessed between 20 and 100 killings in a single day.

In some East Asian medical traditions, the use of animal bile in drinks — usually snake or bear bile — is thought to promote virility.

From 1975 until 1979, Cambodia experienced one of the most savage genocides of the 20th century, during which around 1.7 million people — a quarter of the national population — perished as the Khmer Rouge, the nation’s communist party led by the French-educated Pol Pot, pursued its agrarian utopia.

The court is currently investigating genocide charges against Khieu Samphan, 83, the regime’s head of state, and Nuon Chea, 88. Both were sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity in August.

TIME Philippines

Pope Francis and the Mystery of Manila’s Vanishing Street Children

A homeless child in the streets of Manila in 2014.
A homeless child in the streets of Manila in 2014. Noel Celis—AFP/Getty Images

Was the Philippine capital really purged of unsightly urchins for the Pope's recent visit, as media reports allege?

Pope Francis took the helm of the Catholic Church last year, vowing to refashion the institution “for the poor.” Yet during his recent five-day visit to the Philippines, where he presided over Mass for more than six million rapturous worshippers, it appeared many of the nation’s most impoverished were cruelly banished from view.

As the Pontiff touched down in Asia’s most Catholic nation, reports emerged that street children had been rounded up and caged in order to sanitize Manila’s streets. Local authorities vehemently denied this was a case, pointing out that the accompanying photographs of an emaciated toddler and young girl handcuffed to a metal pole had in fact been taken months earlier.

However, rumors continued to swirl as more anecdotal evidence arrived. So was the Philippine capital purged of unsightly urchins? In a word, yes, although only a small fraction of this was anything new.

According to local activists, street children are constantly being rounded up across this sprawling metropolis of 12 million. This is generally for vagrancy and petty crime — they are often scapegoats for the deeds committed by organized gangs — and, although numbers are hard to pin down, the Pope’s visit seemed to herald a slight uptick.

“There’s definitely been a ramp up,” Catherine Scerri, deputy director of the Bahay Tuluyan NGO that helps street children, tells TIME. “They were definitely told not to be visible, and many of them felt that if they didn’t move they would be taken forcibly.”

Those detained end up a various municipal detention centers sprinkled all over Metro Manila, says Father Shay Cullen, the Nobel Peace Prize-nominated founder of the Preda Foundation NGO. These local adult jails each adjoin euphemistically named “children’s homes,” which, like the adult facility, has bars on the windows.

Children are summarily kept for anything up to three months without charge, with little ones sharing cells with young adults. Many fall prey to serious sexual and physical abuse: Kids just eight-years-old are often tormented into performing sex acts on the older detainees, says Cullen. (Amnesty International documented such abuses in a December report.)

“They are locked up in a dungeon,” says Cullen, explaining that some 20,000 children see the inside of a jail cell annually across the Philippines. “We keep asking why they put these little kids in with the older guys.”

Nevertheless, Philippines Welfare Secretary Corazon Juliano-Soliman explicitly denies that homeless children were rounded up for the Papal visit, highlighting that they were, in fact, central to the 78-year-old Pontiff’s reception. Some 400 homeless kids — albeit in bright, new threads — sang at a special event (and posed awkward theological questions.)

Any children detained, explains Juliano-Soliman, were “abandoned, physically or mentally challenged or found to be vagrant or in trouble with the law, and we are taking care of them.” Father Cullen’s allegations, Juliano-Soliman suggests, are a sympathy ploy to win donations “One can’t help but think it’s a good fundraising action,” she says wryly.

However, Juliano-Soliman did confirm that 100 homeless families — comprising 490 parents and children — were taken off the street of Roxas Boulevard, the palm-fringed thoroughfare arcing Manila Bay along which Pope Francis traveled several times, and taken about an hour and a half’s drive away to the plush Chateau Royal Batangas resort. Room rates there range from $90 to $500 per night.

This sojourn lasted from Jan. 14, the day before Pope Francis’s visit, until Jan. 19, the day he left. It was organized by the Department of Social Welfare’s Modified Conditional Cash Transfer program, which provides grants to aid “families with special needs.”

Juliano-Soliman says this was done so that families would “not be vulnerable to the influx of people coming to witness the Pope.” Pressed to clarify, she expressed fears that the destitute “could be seen as not having a positive influence in the crowd” and could be “used by people who do not have good intentions.”

For Scerri, though, this reasoning doesn’t cut it: “It’s very difficult to believe that children and families who have lived on the streets for most of their lives need to be protected from what was a very joyous, very happy, very peaceful celebration.”

In fact, families involved were only told two days prior that they were to make the trip to Chateau Royal Batangas. “Many felt that if they didn’t participate that they would be rounded up,” says Scerri, adding that those who returned to their usual digs by Malate Catholic Church found large signs had been painted in the interim that prohibited sleeping rough.

Ultimately, whether jailed or stashed in a resort, “there’s nothing new,” says Father Cullen. “Every time dignitaries come it’s a common phenomenon for more children to be locked up.”

So where did Manila’s street children go? The truth is that most people didn’t really care, just as long as they did.

Read next: Pope Calls Out Philippines on Corruption and ‘Scandalous’ Inequality

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Media

Amal Alamuddin Clooney and the Rise of the Trophy Husband

When George drags his human rights lawyer wife to the Golden Globes, we realize how petty these awards truly are

It started when she arrived on the red carpet, the star of the Golden Globes show, the woman who came across as the big winner at last night’s ceremony. The funny thing is, she wasn’t nominated for anything. She has never even been in a movie or TV show or even a high school musical. But the Guardian got it exactly right when it said, “Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney and her husband have arrived.”

It’s not an overstatement to say everyone fell in love Sunday night with Amal Alamuddin Clooney, the woman who finally nabbed confirmed bachelor George Clooney.

I can’t say it better than Amy Poehler and Tina Fey (can anyone say anything better than these two?), who joked, “Amal is a human rights lawyer who worked on the Enron case, was an adviser to Kofi Annan regarding Syria and was selected for a three-person U.N. commission investigating rules of war violations in the Gaza Strip. So tonight her husband is getting a lifetime-achievement award.”

MORE Watch George Clooney Pay Tribute to Wife Amal in Golden Globes Speech

On the red carpet, when asked what she was wearing, Amal didn’t discuss the designer who made her dress (it was Dior), perpetuating the marketing scam in which celebrities, the richest people around, are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by billionaire designers to get attention for their gowns. No, she pointed out that there was a “Je Suis Charlie” button on her purse to show solidarity with the men and women of Charlie Hebdo who were killed by terrorists for exercising their right to free speech. She couldn’t care less about the garment industry; there are real-world issues that she wants to give attention to.

She wasn’t the only celebrity to show solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Paris, but she was one of the few wearing gloves on the red carpet, a choice many of the professional fashion advisers thought was tacky. But Amal does not care. Those gloves said, “O.K., fine, I will play along and get dressed up in formal wear for this event, but I think these gloves are cute and I’m wearing them, and I don’t care how many episodes of Fashion Police I’m on because I don’t even own a television set, so there.”

When George finally had his big moment, he tried to make it not about himself but about his wife and the Charlie Hebdo attacks. “Amal, whatever alchemy brought us together, I couldn’t be prouder to be your husband,” he said, before reminding people about what was going on in France. Clooney’s speech tried to take away the importance of his movie roles (remember Leatherheads, anyone?), and instead focused on what is important—and that is Amal. Even George defines himself not as a movie star but as a man who is married to an amazing woman. He could have settled for Stacy Keibler or Renée Zellweger, but instead he married an Oxford graduate who could probably beat Hillary Clinton for President, if only she were American.

MORE Review: From Cosby to Charlie, This Golden Globes Had Something to Say

Husbands were getting ignored all over the place Sunday night. Channing Tatum, currently one of the biggest box-office draws in Tinseltown, was on “train patrol” for his wife, the much-lesser-known Jenna Dewan Tatum, fanning out her long dress for the wide shots on the red carpet. When Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber walked down the red carpet, he was generally ignored next to his wife, even though they were both nominated. That’s what being on television will do to you, Liev. Reese Witherspoon’s power-agent husband was with her at her table inside the event, but Cheryl Strayed, the woman she played in Wild, was the one who walked beside her when they stood next to Ryan Seacrest.

Maybe Reese’s man just didn’t want any part of the spectacle. When the camera would cut to her at any time during the evening, it was like she was considering all the things she would rather be doing with her time, like fighting for civil rights and making the world a better place. For her part, Amal looked like she was barely tolerating being there, like a wife dragged to her husband’s boring work dinner. And that’s all this was with her in attendance: someone else’s professional convention.

In fact, having Amal at the ceremony certainly threw the whole thing into perspective and threatened to undermine the legitimacy of the proceedings. We’re being duped into thinking that very rich people who are given every advantage in life, getting more accolades and awards, is somehow news. That it is something that should be covered rapturously by every news outlet in the world, with even more slide shows and reviews than the protests in Paris or Ferguson or wherever they’re happening these days.

MORE Golden Globes 2015: See All the Winners

When George drags Amal to the Golden Globes, we realize how petty these awards truly are, just more of Hollywood breaking its arm patting itself on the back and duping us into buying more movie tickets, watching more shows, consuming more commercials, feeding the consumerist beast that Amal Clooney is trying to fight back into a cage every damn day. We always thought that she was the woman who finally snared George Clooney, but it’s the other way around. And we’re all better off for it.

Moylan is a writer and pop-culture junkie who lives in New York City. His work has appeared in Gawker, Vice, New York magazine and a few other safe-for-work publications.

Read next: Great Storytelling Was the Real Winner at the Golden Globes

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TIME conflict

Global Arms Treaty Comes Into Force on Christmas Eve

STR—AFP/Getty

But the U.S., China and Russia have still not ratified it

A global arms treaty aiming to cut off the weapon supply for human-rights violators comes into force Wednesday, and campaigners vow to enforce its implementation.

“For too long, arms and ammunition have been traded with few questions asked about whose lives they will destroy,” Anna Macdonald, director of the Control Arms coalition of NGOs, told Agence France-Presse. “The new Arms Trade Treaty which enters into force this week will bring that to an end. It is now finally against international law to put weapons into the hands of human rights abusers and dictators.”

A total of 60 countries including France, Great Britain and Germany have all pledged to adhere to the the treaty, while 70 others, including China, Russia and the largest exporter of all, the U.S., have approved but are yet to ratify it.

Campaigners note that much work remains to implement regulation of the $85 billion global weapons trade, and a first meeting between the signatory states will be held around September.

ATT, as the treaty is known, is the first major arms accord since the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1996.

TIME Argentina

In Argentina, a Court Grants Sandra the Orangutan Basic Rights

An orangutan named Sandra, covered with a blanket, gestures inside its cage at Buenos Aires' Zoo
An orangutan named Sandra, covered with a blanket, gestures inside its cage at Buenos Aires' Zoo, December 8, 2010. Marcos Brindicci—Reuters

The ape has spent the last 20 years in a zoo

An orangutan named Sandra has been granted certain legal rights by a court in Argentina.

Lawyers for Argentina’s Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights (Afada) argued that Sandra was a “non-human person” and was being detained illegally in Buenos Aires’ zoo, the BBC reports.

The case rested on whether the court decided the orangutan was a “person” or a “thing” and after judges rejected the writ several times, they finally ruled the ape had rights that needed protecting.

In a similar case earlier this month, a New York court decided that a chimpanzee did not have legal personhood and therefore was not entitled to human rights.

If Sandra’s case isn’t appealed, the orangutan will live out her days enjoying greater freedom in a sanctuary in Brazil.

[BBC]

TIME foreign affairs

Lifting the Embargo Means Cuba Can No Longer Play Victim

Many tourists visit Cuba despite embargo
The number of U.S. citizens increase despite embargo laid on since 1960 in Havana, Cuba on 2 May, 2014. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Jose Miguel Vivanco is the Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

The status quo has allowed the Cuban government to exploit U.S. policy to garner sympathy abroad

President Obama’s new approach to Cuba diplomacy is a breath of fresh air and a chance to make some real progress on human rights if the U.S. government uses the policy wisely.

Some critics contend that President Obama’s decision to re-establish full diplomatic relations with Cuba means that the United States has abandoned its commitment to protect human rights in the island. Some even argue that Obama’s new approach actually rewards Cuba, giving up leverage the United States allegedly had against the Cuban authoritarian government. This view is profoundly mistaken.

The confusion arises from the U.S. government’s own misguided rhetoric to maintain a costly embargo. For decades, U.S. authorities stubbornly held that the embargo was necessary to promote human rights and democratic change in the island. In fact, though, the embargo did nothing to improve human rights in Cuba. Instead, it imposed indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban population as a whole, and provided the Cuban government with an excuse for its problems and a pretext for its abuses.

Rather than isolating Cuba, the policy has isolated the United States, enabling the Castro government to garner sympathy abroad while simultaneously alienating Washington’s potential allies.

Not surprisingly, advocates in Cuba and abroad, as well as a majority of countries in the UN General Assembly —188 out of 192 in an October resolution — have repeatedly called for an end to the U.S. embargo.

Meanwhile, despite some positive reforms in recent years, the Cuban government continues to engage in systematic abuses aimed at punishing critics and discouraging dissent.

In 2010 and 2011, Cuba’s government released dozens of political prisoners on condition that they accept exile in exchange for freedom. Since then, the Cuban government has relied less on long prison sentences to punish dissent and has relaxed draconian travel restrictions that divided families and prevented its critics from leaving and returning to the island.

But the Cuban government uses other tactics to repress individuals and groups who criticize the government or call for basic human rights. Arbitrary arrests and short-term detention have increased dramatically in recent years and routinely prevent human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others from gathering or moving about freely. Detention is often used pre-emptively to prevent people from participating in peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics. Detainees are often beaten, threatened, and held incommunicado for hours or days.

The government controls all media outlets in Cuba and tightly restricts access to outside information, severely limiting the right to freedom of expression. Only a very small fraction of Cubans are able to read independent websites and blogs because of limited access to – and the high cost of – the Internet.

Let’s be clear: the responsibility for the crackdown on dissent in Cuba lies with the Cuban government. Yet, the status quo has allowed the Cuban government to exploit U.S. policy to portray itself as a victim.

Empirical evidence shows that it was irrational to continue insisting on a policy that never achieved its proposed objectives. The unilateral approach, a relic of the Cold War, has been ineffective for decades, and that’s precisely why this new policy by the White House provides a golden opportunity.

To promote human rights, judicial independence, free elections, independent unions, and free expression in Cuba, the U.S. government must understand that a multilateral approach is necessary. Involving key democracies in the region in reaching out to Cuba is much more likely to move the Cuban government toward respecting fundamental rights. It seems that Obama gets it.

No one should be under the illusion that the human rights situation in Cuba will improve overnight. On the contrary, it will be a long and frustrating process. But there is no doubt that with Obama’s new approach toward Cuba we are in much better shape to go in the right direction.

Jose Miguel Vivanco is the Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME United Nations

UNICEF Declares 2014 a ‘Devastating’ Year for Children

Turkey Syria
A Syrian Kurdish refugee child from the Kobani area holds another's hand as he walks between tents at a camp in Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border on Nov. 14, 2014. Vadim Ghirda—AP

Up to 15 million children are caught up in armed conflicts

A new report by the United Nations grimly labels 2014 one of the worst years for children on record.

The United Nation’s Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, reports that up to 15 million children have been exposed to violence in Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Ukraine. Across the world, the agency adds, 230 million youth live in lands torn by armed conflict. That figure includes those who are internally displaced or who have been refugees.

In West Africa, where the Ebola outbreak has proven deadly for more than 6,000 people, an estimated 5 million children ave been kept out of schools.

“This has been a devastating year for millions of children,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s executive director. “Never in recent memory have so many children been subjected to such unspeakable brutality.”

The agency called for a greater outpouring of humanitarian funding to help missions reach children in volatile and inaccessible areas.

TIME Bahrain

Three Years in Jail for Bahraini Activist Who Tore Up Picture of King

Bahraini human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja, sister of jailed prominent rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja, sits at a cafe near the Bahrain court building after she was barred by authorities from attending the hearing, in the capital Manama on Sept. 6, 2014.
Bahraini human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja, sister of jailed prominent rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja, sits at a cafe near the Bahrain court building after she was barred by authorities from attending the hearing, in the capital Manama on Sept. 6, 2014. Mohammed Al-Shaikh—AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. ally has repeatedly been condemned by human-rights groups for flouting international standards in how it treats its citizens

A Bahraini human-rights activist has been sentenced to three years in prison for tearing up a photo of the Gulf state’s King, the human-rights group Amnesty International said Friday.

Zainab al-Khawaja was sentenced to the jail term and $8,000 in fines for insulting King Hamad, after she destroyed a picture of the kingdom’s top leader during an appeal hearing for the committing the same offense in 2012. Bahraini law allows fines and a jail sentence of up to seven years for publicly insulting the nation’s monarch.

“Tearing up a photo of the head of state should not be a criminal offense,” said Said Boumedouha, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Amnesty International.

Al-Khawaja rose to prominence during the 2011 uprising in Bahrain, when protesters roared into a traffic circle in the capital city of Manama on Feb. 14 and demanded a place for their state in the Arab Spring, a regional call for rights and democratic reform.

Yet police made quick work of the protests, and the Bahraini government sought immediate fixes to quell political dissent. Al-Khawaja’s father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, was one of eight opposition figures given life in prison for their role in the pro-democracy protests. Zainab al-Khawaja also spent a year in prison for joining the demonstrations.

Her sister Maryam, who is a co-director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, said in Twitter posts that the sentence was not immediately carried out and al-Khawaja will seek an appeal. Al-Khawaja is also appealing convictions in three other cases, including for insulting a police officer while in prison. The mother of two was not in court for her most recent sentencing, after giving birth just a week earlier.

Al-Khawaja has sharply criticized American officials for failing to lean harder on Bahrain to address its human-rights abuses. The Gulf state hosts the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet, and the kingdom has been a U.S. ally in fighting the meteoric rise of jihadist cult the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syrian (ISIS) in Bahrain’s neighbors.

The U.S. State Department’s highest official on human rights, Tom Malinowsk, concluded a trip to Bahrain on Thursday, his first visit to the state since he was told to leave five months earlier. The Bahraini Foreign Ministry had accused the Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights of violating “conventional diplomatic norms” by meeting with the leader and members of the country’s largest opposition party.

Asked by a reporter on Tuesday if the U.S. State Department had comment on al-Khawaja’s sentencing, a spokesperson said: “I don’t think I do. I’m happy to check with our folks.”

TIME Thailand

The Two Men Charged With the Thai Backpacker Murders Face a Dubious Trial

Parents of Myanmar workers suspected of killing British tourist in Thailand, show their passports as at a monastery outside Yangon
Parents of Burmese workers suspected of killing British tourists in Thailand show their passports as at a monastery outside Rangoon on Oct. 16, 2014 Soe Zeya Tun—Reuters

Observers have been left aghast at a litany of procedural irregularities

The two Burmese migrant workers accused of killing a pair of British backpackers on an idyllic Thai beach appeared in court to be formality indicted Thursday. But there are growing fears that any trial will be a sham.

The two men say they were tortured into a confession and various domestic and international human rights groups have raised concerns about their interrogation.

There are serious doubts about the evidence linking Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 21, with the brutal slaying of David Miller, 24, and rape and murder of Hannah Witheridge, 23, on the Thai Gulf island of Koh Tao.

The victims’ bodies were discovered bludgeoned to death near rocks on Sairee Beach on Sept. 15. A fumbling investigation initially assumed Burmese migrants were to blame, then local hoodlums, then a jilted suitor of Witheridge. Eventually, police picked up Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, who were both working on the island illegally at the time.

“[The police] can see a wider investigation is needed but they are not interested,” Nakhon Chompoochart, the lead lawyer on the defense team, tells TIME. “They are only focused on the accused.”

Thai Metropolitan Police Bureau deputy commissioner Pol Maj Gen Suwat Jaengyodsuk denied the suspects had been coerced when speaking to the Thai National Human Rights Commission on Wednesday. He had been summoned by the commission on four previous occasions but failed to appear.

Allegations of torture aside, observers have been appalled by procedural irregularities. Tourists were allowed to wander through the crime scene, the suspects were forced into a reconstruction that may prejudice their chances of a fair hearing, and there was a lack of a forensic experts to collect evidence. Foreign nationals were also immediately blamed for the crime because, a police spokesman claimed, “Thais wouldn’t do this.”

“The prosecution has said that this is an important case and must be dealt with quickly,” says Andy Hall, a Thailand-based migrant labor expert aiding the defense. “There’s a real fear that justice will not be served.”

Under Thai law, the 900-page police report, upon which the prosecutors will base their case, will not be disclosed to the defense team until the trial commences. Instead, the defense lawyers will be given a summary containing a list of names and addresses of witnesses as well as a cursory inventory of evidence.

According to Felicity Gerry QC, a prominent British defense lawyer specializing in high-profile sexual-assault cases, “Not to have any access until the day of trial can’t possibly be fair.”

In many other jurisdictions, including the U.S. and U.K., as soon as charges are brought the defense has access to all evidence, including witness statements, physical exhibits and expert testimony. This allows lawyers to take instructions from their clients and call their own experts to refute any testimony relied upon by the prosecution.

“Sometimes the analysis takes time,” says Gerry, citing the checking of telephone records or the disputing of forensic conclusions. “My concern would be it’s all far too rushed and unfair to the defense.”

The arrival of British police observers has not helped. A team from the U.K., including a senior homicide detective and crime scene analyst, was dispatched to Thailand early last month in order to assist in the investigation. However, they spent only two hours on Koh Tao after arriving by helicopter and did not meet with either the accused or their legal team. Their findings have still not been released.

“You’d expect the Thai police to welcome the additional assistance,” says Gerry. “My suspicion is that [the British police have] been limited regarding what they’ve been allowed to do.”

Meanwhile, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, who face a death sentence if convicted, stay cut off from their families. “They are in good spirits but really miss their parents,” says Hall, who has met with the suspects three times each week since they were arrested.

Two British families have already been devastated by the Koh Tao killings. The Thai authorities must now ensure two Burmese families don’t needlessly experience similar anguish.

TIME Human Rights

WHO Condemns ‘Virginity Tests’ as HRW Calls for a Universal Ban

The building hosting the World Health Or
The building hosting the World Health Organization headquarters is pictured in Geneva on April 28, 2009 Fabrice Coffrini—AFP/Getty Images

Calls come in the wake of a report condemning the Indonesian police force for administering "virginity tests" to female recruits

Human Rights Watch (HRW) urges governments to end the “virgin testing” of women and girls, in accordance with the recommendation of a new handbook released by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The handbook emphasizes: “There is no place for virginity (or ‘two-finger’) testing; it has no scientific validity.”

Though focusing on health care after sexual and domestic violence, HRW claims that the recommendation has relevance for all cases of “virginity testing.”

“The WHO handbook upholds the widely accepted medical view that ‘virginity tests’ are worthless,” says Liesl Gerntholtz, women’s rights director at HRW. “Health authorities worldwide should end the practice of ‘virginity testing’ in all cases and prohibit health workers from perpetuating this discriminatory and degrading practice.”

HRW notes that the test is applied in many parts of the world. In Afghanistan, it is routinely used on women and girls accused of “moral crimes” such as “running away,” usually fleeing domestic violence and forced marriages. A couple of weeks ago, HRW reported that “virginity tests” are carried out in the physical examination of female applicants to the Indonesian police force. The Middle East and North Africa are other regions where the practice is still in use, and India has not yet systematically put in place a new protocol banning the test on rape survivors.

“Virginity tests” have been acknowledged internationally as a violation of human rights, especially the prohibition against “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

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