On the 2. February 2022 the bodies of 19 migrants were found on the border between Greece and Turkey. They had been stripped of their clothes and shoes. They had all frozen to death.

Greece has since been accused by Turkey of forcing the 19 migrants back across the border, to prevent them from applying for asylum in Greece. This narrative has been rejected by Greek authorities, who maintain that it is Turkey who turns a blind eye to the people who attempt to cross the border, and bear the responsibility for the deaths.

The story of the 19 dead migrants on the border between Turkey and Greece is not the first of its kind. When refugees and migrants are forced back in this manner, back to the countries or the waters from which they came, it is called pushbacks – and it is a practice that has been documented on the border between Greece and Turkey for many years.

But pushbacks do not only occur on the border between Greece and Turkey. It is also happening in the English Channel, on the border between Poland and Belarus, and in the waters between Italy and Libya.

NGO’s and experts agree - they say that pushbacks violate international human rights law.

In spite of the critique raised against pushbacks, the EU Commission is currently in the process of expanding the controversial practice, through a proposal that would change the rules governing the Schengen Area.

The Commission is proposing, amongst others, to limit the number of border crossings, increase border controls, and allow Member States of the EU to send people on the border back in emergency situations. These changes will improve the governance of EU’s external borders, the Commission argues.

NGO’s and human rights experts see it very differently.

Martin Lemberg-Pedersen, Head of Policy and Society at Amnesty International in Denmark, fears that the proposed changes of the rules governing the Schengen Area will lead to more pushbacks.

“We fear that the changes would essentially institutionalize the possibility for pushbacks”, says Lemberg-Pedersen, who has formerly researched Western asylum, border, and deportation practices, and is one of the leading experts in this area.

Widespread practice 

Pushbacks have, since the refugee crisis in 2015, become a widespread practice at European borders.

One of the explanations for the widespread use of this practice is that European states – according to international human rights law – are required to give foreign citizens the opportunity to apply for asylum, when they have first cross the border to a European country.

“This is something European states have agreed to and committed to, but do not like anymore. And now they think they can escape from their responsibility, and reduce the number of refugees on their territories, simply by pushing people away”, Matteo de Bellis, a researcher in migration and asylum from Amnesty International, explains.

A pushback commonly occurs with refugees and migrants being met with threats, force, harassment, or violence by border- or coast guards, when they attempt to cross a European border, or try to reach European waters.

Another pushback method that has been documented, is the removal of refugees and migrants from motorboats onto dinghies without motors, and thereafter leaving them to drift at sea. 

Pushbacks can also occur with refugees and migrants being picked up at sea, and thereafter brought back to where they came from before they attempted to cross the border.

There are several actors involved in pushbacks. First and foremost, there are the EU Member States, who themselves manage their external borders on both land and sea.

Beyond that, the EU is itself involved by, amongst others, entering into agreements, that are associated with pushbacks.

The EU has entered into and supported a number of deals, where economic benefits are given to non-EU countries, who in exchange agree to stop migration flows to Europe. The EU has signed such agreements with countries like Turkey and Libya, two countries that refugees and migrants commonly travel to the EU from.

Finally, the European border- and coast guard agency, better known as Frontex, has also been accused of pushbacks. Frontex is responsible for the governance of the Schengen area, where they patrol borders and coasts. NGO’s have documented that the agency has been implicated in pushbacks of at least 957 asylum seekers in the Aegan Sea.

The Turkish Coast Guard rescue a group of refugees and migrants in the Aegean Sea on the 2nd July 2021. The Turkish Coast Guard say they were pushed back out to sea by Greek border guards.

Photo: Ivor Pricket/New York Times/Ritzau Scanpix

A problem of considerable size

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Danish Refugee Council, all state that the practice of pushbacks is a problem of considerable size.

Pushbacks have been documented on the border between Greece and Turkey, in the English Channel between England and France, on Croatia’s borders, between Italy and Libya, in Hungary, between Spain and Morocco, on the border between Poland and Belarus, and in Tunisia.

It is difficult to state exactly how many pushbacks occur along European borders, as many of them go unreported. Nonetheless, estimates gathered by a range of NGO’s and newspapers give an indication of the size of the problem.

  • In a report from 2021, Amnesty writes that more than 1.000 refugees and migrants experienced pushbacks on the Greek border between November 2020 and April 2021.
  • The Italian government signed an EU-sponsored agreement with the Libyan government in 2017. This agreement led to more than 32.000 refugees and migrants being pushed back to Libya only in 2021, says Matteo de Bellis, from Amnesty International.
  • According to an investigation by The Guardian, Frontex has been involved in pushbacks on European borders of at least 40.000 asylum applicants since the beginning of the Corona pandemic. These pushbacks are linked to the death of more than 2.000 people.

In the last few years we have seen European member states persisting with a policy of exclusion that is designed to keep refugees and migrants out at all costs.

Matteo de Bellis, researcher on asylum and migration at Amnesty International

Deterrence

It is with the above underpinning that experts and human rights organizations agree that pushbacks along the European borders are both widespread and systematic. And there is even much to indicate that pushbacks have become an integrated part of EU’s migration policy.

In fact, in a research article, Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen argues that the European approach to refugees and migrants is based on deterrence. Gammeltoft-Hansen is a professor with expertise in migration and refugee law, from the Faculty of Law at the University of Copenhagen.

The deterrence happens in numerous ways. For example, through the pushbacks that European states, the EU and Frontex are involved in.

It also happens by decreasing the number of legal border crossings, to criminalize those who attempt to cross the borders to a greater extent. 

In the past couple of years, pushbacks have also in certain contexts happened in conjunction with pullbacks, another form of deterrence. This is the case in the territorial waters between Italy and Libya, where the Libyan coast guard pull back refugees and migrants who attempt to cross the sea to Italy.

All of the methods listed above, have as their ultimate aim to decrease the number of refugees and migrants that cross European borders, Gammeltoft-Hansen writes in the article.

Martin Lemberg-Pedersen from Amnesty similarly argues that there is, amongst certain governments, an idea that the above methods have a deterrent effect on the people who are considering crossing European borders.

“However,” says Lemberg-Pedersen, “basing one’s migration policy on deterrence is an extremely dangerous, cynical and human rights abusive road to go down”.

Background

Schengen-Rules

  • The Schengen Area was established in 1955. It abolished border checks at EU’s internal borders. This means, for example, that as a Danish citizen, you do not need to show your passport when flying to Italy. The Schengen Area is considered one of the most important initiatives from the EU in terms of European integration. Within the Schengen Area free movement is guaranteed for citizens of all EU Member States. This means that citizens can live, study and work in any of the countries encompassed by the Schengen area.
  • Today, the Schengen Area encompasses 26 countries. All EU countries, except for Ireland, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania, are part of the Schengen Area. However, four non-EU states, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein, have joined Schengen.
  • As a counterpart to the free movement within the Schengen Area, border controls are tightened at the external borders. The Schengen countries therefore agree to establish more or less similar rules in relation to border control, and to increase their cooperation to fight illegal migration.

Changing the Schengen rules

There is not much to indicate that the EU’s current approach to migration will change anytime soon. On the 14th of December 2021, the European Commission released a proposal to update and reinforce the rules governing the Schengen area.

The Commission states that the aim of the proposed changes is to improve the governance of the external borders of the Schengen area. They want to increase efficiency and deal with the “instrumentalization of migrants”.

The term “instrumentalization of migrants” is used by the Commission to refer to those situations, where migrants are taken advantage of for political purposes. Specifically, to put pressure on EU’s external borders.

This specific phenomenon has been documented recently on the border between Poland and Belarus, where Belarus has been accused by Poland of using refugees and migrants as a political instrument against the EU, by attempting to escort a large number of refugees and migrants to the Polish border.

To address the “instrumentalization of migrants”, the Commission proposes decreasing the number of border crossings, treat asylum applications at the border, and additionally, the Commission wants to open for the possibility of imposing a fast-track procedure for returns in emergency situations.

The Commission’s proposal now lies with the European Parliament, who will decide whether the changes will be implemented.

Amnesty has warned against the Commission’s proposal. They say that deviations from normal asylum-standards based on a vague term about “instrumentalization”, will only increase the risk of illegal pushbacks along European borders. They furthermore maintain, that the possibility of imposing a fast-track procedure could violate the rights of asylum seekers.

Danwatch has been in contact with EU’s Department of Home Affairs and asked them to respond to the critique from Amnesty. In their written reply they state that the term “instrumentalization” demands a certain degree of flexibility, to be able to encompass different scenarios. They furthermore assess that several of the proposed changes simply clarify what can already be done under the current legal framework, and that Member States continue to be obliged to comply with high standards of asylum law.

Martin Lemberg-Pedersen, from Amnesty, nonetheless evaluates that the proposal hollows out existing EU-responsibility and increases the risk of pushbacks.

Background

UN Conventions

  • The UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees was adopted in 1948. The Refugee Convention defines who can be given the status of a refugee, and the rights refugees have. The Refugee Convention defines a refugee as a person who, due to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, political views or similar reasons, is seeking protection outside their country of origin. Countries who have signed the Refugee Convention must assess applications for asylum individually, to decide whether or not the person that is seeking asylum is a refugee. The Refugee Convention prohibits countries from returning a refugee to a country where there is a danger that the refugee will be persecuted, or where their life or freedom is in danger. This is called the principle of “non-refoulment”.
  • The UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment was adopted in 1948. It prohibits all forms of torture. Torture is defined as any act that is intentionally inflicted on a person and causes severe pain or suffering. The Convention prohibits any of the signatories to the convention to return (“refouler”) a person to another state, where there is reason to believe that the person would be in danger of being tortured.
  • The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea was adopted in 1982. The Convention regulates nearly everything that is related to the ocean, be it fishing, or oil and gas industries, environment, or maritime traffic. Under the heading of maritime traffic, is the duty of seafarers to perform search and rescue if a person is in danger at sea, and to come to their aid as fast as possible.

Violation of UN Conventions?

Concurrently with the EU possibly paving the road for pushbacks to become even more widespread, experts in migration and asylum law warn that pushbacks constitute a serious violation of human rights.

First and foremost, there is the principle of “non-refoulement” in the UN Refugee Convention. This principle compels states to assess all asylum applications individually, to ensure they do not send asylum seekers back to a country where there is a risk the person will be subjected to persecution, torture, or other serious violations of their human rights.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Migration, Felipe Gonzáles Morales, asserts in a comprehensive report on pushbacks, that because pushbacks occur without consideration being given to the individual situation of the people who attempt to cross the border, pushbacks violate the prohibition of “refoulement”.

Martin Lemberg-Pedersen also states that pushbacks violate the prohibition of sending refugees back to persecution or other degrading treatment. Furthermore, he adds, it violates the prohibition against collective expulsion.

In addition, in certain circumstances, those pushed back are also exposed to violence, and even torture, in the countries they tried to leave, Lemberg-Pedersen explains. This violates the UN Torture Convention, which prohibits governments from returning people to a country, where there is a risk that they might be tortured or exposed to other inhuman or degrading treatment.

Danwatch has previously written extensively about how refugees and migrants are exposed to human rights violations, including torture and rape, in Libyan detention centers. Matteo de Bellis, the migration researcher from Amnesty, explains that this entails that the EU and Italy are violating international human rights law, specifically the principle on non-refoulment in the UN Conventions, when they are complicit in refugees and migrants being pushed back to Libya.

In addition to the above Conventions, there is also the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. According to this Convention, ships have a duty to conduct search and rescue operations for persons in danger at sea.

This means, for instance, that if the English Coast Guard detects a boat with refugees and migrants within their so called “SAR-Zone”, who are in danger, they have a duty to come to their rescue. Ignoring a call for help in such a situation, would therefore be a violation of the UN Sea Convention.

Accused of human rights violations

It is not only in the press that EU countries are accused of being at odds with international human rights law.

A number of cases are currently pending before different international and regional courts, where a number of EU countries are accused of violating international human rights law.

In June 2019, the International Criminal Court (ICC) were asked to investigate the possible complicity of the EU in crimes against humanity, due to their treatment of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.

In 2022, the ICC has furthermore been asked to investigate the involvement of Malta and Italy in pushbacks of asylum seekers and migrants to Libya. The claim before the ICC refers to comprehensive reports, which show that refugees and migrants who are returned to Libya have experienced torture, abuse, and sexual assault – and in some cases, been murdered. 

In 2018 a case was brought before the European Court of Human Rights against Italy. In the case, Italy is accused of sharing responsibility with Libya for violations of human rights, by assisting the Libyan Coast Guard in stopping asylum seekers and migrants from crossing the waters to Italy.

There are also several cases pending before the European Court of Justice on the issue of pushbacks. In one of these cases, Frontex itself is accused of violating the human rights of asylum seekers who have been exposed to pushbacks in the Aegean Sea.

There has not been a final judgment in any of the cases above, yet. However, Matteo De Bellis expects there to be a decision in the case made before the European Court of Human Rights against Italy this year. And he stresses how important it is that European states are held responsible for their actions in courts of law.

To reach global climate goals and halt the loss of biodiversity, it is essential to protect the areas that absorb and store CO2, as well as host the majority of the world’s biodiversity – forests, and especially, rainforests.

This has also been acknowledged by the EU, who have proposed a new regulation, which will give European companies increased responsibility in ensuring that they do not contribute to deforestation. The legislation will require that companies do not import products like coffee, cocoa, and beef, from areas that have been cleared of forest.

This is an important step, as the EU is the second largest importer of deforestation globally, explains Margrete Auken, a representative from the Green party in the European Parliament.

There is just one crucial element which the European Commission has forgotten in the draft regulation: the indigenous peoples, who according to research, experts, and the UN, are best at protecting nature.

After the regulation was proposed, 22 indigenous groups sent an open letter to the EU, where they made it clear that the proposal as it stands, does not protect their rights – and without that, the law will fail in its aim to end deforestation, they warn.

In the open letter, the EU is urged to change the regulation, so European companies are obliged to respect indigenous peoples’ land rights. Additionally, they request that the EU acknowledge the important role that indigenous peoples play in protecting the worlds forest, and the threats that companies pose to indigenous peoples livelihoods.

The open letter has received support from a host of NGO’s who work with promoting indigenous peoples rights.

According to Stefan Thorsell, an expert in climate and environment at IWGIA, an international organization fighting for indigenous peoples interests, European countries firstly need to live up to the content of the declarations, that they themselves have been part of creating and adopting in the UN, that seek to protect indigenous peoples.

“But additionally, in a cynical way, we also need to acknowledge that we will not be able to end deforestation, if indigenous peoples rights are not protected”, Thorsell emphasizes.

  • The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the UN General Assembly on the 13th September 2007. The Declaration sets out a framework which establishes both individual and collective rights for indigenous peoples.

  • The Declaration emphasizes that indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions. The Declaration also prohibits any discrimination against indigenous peoples. It furthermore gives increased protection for indigenous peoples unique cultures.

  • The Declaration also strengthen indigenous peoples opportunity ability to decide over their own territories and resources, and it emphasizes that indigenous peoples have a right to be involved in all matters that concern them.

Protectors of nature

Indigenous peoples have a unique relationship to nature and to their territories, Stefan Thorsell explains to Danwatch – it is their livelihood, as well as an essential part of their culture.

“However, this unique relationship, is something that is constantly under pressure”, he continues.

Indeed, there are numerous examples of indigenous peoples territories being encroached on, and their rights violated, by companies who want to use their land for agriculture and extractive purposes.

It is these types of threats to indigenous peoples livelihoods, which paved the way for the adoption of a UN Declaration on indigenous peoples rights.

“This declaration is unique in comparison to all the other UN declarations and human rights conventions, because it focuses on indigenous peoples collective rights. They have, as a people, collective rights to self-determination, which includes the right to autonomy and self-government on their territory”, Thorsell explains.

The UN Declaration also includes the principle that indigenous peoples are to give their free, prior and informed consent, prior to any decision being taken, which affects them and their territory.

The principles enshrined in the UN Declaration are significant because indigenous peoples own land in a different way than others. They seldom have a title to the land, as most do when they have a right to the land.

Nonetheless, through the UN Declaration, it is internationally acknowledged that one cannot displace indigenous peoples from the territories that they have traditionally lived on, and rely on for their livelihoods, without their free, prior, and informed consent.

The Member States of the UN have committed to upholding the principles in the Declaration. “But, in spite of this, the challenges and the fight continue every single day for indigenous peoples all over the world”, says Thorsell.

Violations of indigenous peoples rights is thus, first and foremost, in violation of the UN Declaration and their human rights.

But violations of indigenous peoples rights are also a massive problem in relation to the global loss of biodiversity.

Indigenous peoples only make up around 6% of the world’s population, but in spite of this, they protect almost one fourth of the world’s surface – “and this is typically tropical forests and other entirely unique ecosystems”, says Thorsell.

Indeed, research from the World Bank shows that indigenous peoples protect almost 80% of the world’s biodiversity.

In addition to the repercussions for biodiversity, violations of indigenous peoples rights also have detrimental effects on the climate.

Emissions from deforestation are, second to fossil fuels, the main cause of climate change, according to the IPCC. This is, amongst others, because forests are essential for storing and absorbing CO2. And when forests are cleared, large amounts of CO2 are released into the atmosphere.

A new report from Forest Declaration Platform, a collaboration between the UNDP and three organisations with expertise in climate solutions, conclude that it will not be possible to reach the goals in the Paris Agreement, if indigenous peoples rights and territories are not protected. In fact, the report establishes that, in countries like Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, areas that are controlled by indigenous peoples, absorb more than double the amount of CO2.

FAO and IPCC similarly report that combatting climate change and reaching climate goals depends on recognizing and protecting indigenous peoples territories.

Anne-Sofie Sadolin Henningsen, advisor for the organisation Verdensskove with expertise in climate, points out that as these studies show, that in the areas where indigenous peoples live, forests are far more biodiverse and better protected.

“And the forests are essential. We are inherently dependent on forests being protected if we are to, in any way, ensure that we do not get global temperature increases with very serious consequences”, Henningsen continues.

  • The European Commission presented their draft regulation on deforestation free products on the 17th of November 2021. The proposed regulation gives European companies responsibility for ensuring that their import of the following commodities: soy, beef, palm oil, wood, cacao and coffee, does not come from land that has been cleared of forest after 2020.

  • Companies will be required to collect geographic coordinate of the land where the commodities they place on the market were produced. The EU will in this way be able to ensure that only deforestation-free products enter the EU market.

  • The European Commission expects that the regulation will contribute to decrease CO2 emissions and halt the loss of biodiversity.

A flawed regulation

The EU have also come to recognize that it is essential to halt deforestation if global biodiversity is to be protected and CO2 emissions are to decrease.

On the 17th November 2021, the Commission presented the draft regulation, “Regulation to minimize EU-driven deforestation and forest degradation”.

The draft regulation gives companies responsibility for ensuring that their import of soy, beef, palm oil, cocoa and coffee, does not come from land that has been deforested after 2020.   

The draft regulation is part of a broader strategy that was first outlined in 2019: Commission Communication on Stepping up EU Action to Protect and Restore the World’s Forests”.

In this original strategy, the Commission emphasized that protecting indigenous peoples rights was essential to halt deforestation.

In spite of this, the final draft regulation from the Commission is limited, to say the least, when it comes to indigenous peoples rights – indigenous peoples’ rights is only referred to one time in the draft.

This has caused a reaction from many indigenous peoples and NGO’s working to promote indigenous peoples rights – resulting in, amongst others, the open letter sent to the EU.

The 22 indigenous organisations, who signed the open letter, represent hundreds of thousand indigenous peoples from all over the world – from Bangladesh to Brazil, Congo to Indonesia, the Philippines to Tchad. In addition to this, 161 environmental- and human rights organizations have signed the letter.

Stefan Thorsell, from IWGIA, also reacts strongly to the lack of reference to indigenous peoples in the draft regulation.

In the draft it says that European companies must:

  • Comply with national laws in relation to rights
  • Cooperate with third countries in promoting indigenous peoples rights

But, the national laws in many of the countries where deforestation is a severe problem, often provide very limited protection for the rights of indigenous peoples. And the draft regulation does not mention international rights and standards at all.

This is very problematic, Thorsell explains to Danwatch, and adds that there are many states who do not see themselves as obliged to protect the rights that are included in the UN Declaration on indigenous peoples rights.

For example, there has been a disturbing development in Brazil over the past years. Between 2016-2018, the FAO reports that deforestation on indigenous peoples territories in Brazil increased with 150%.

This situation has deteriorated even further since Jair Bolsonaro became president in 2018. According to critics, Bolsonaro is promoting the “death agenda” against indigenous peoples.

“This is exactly why, it is not sufficient that the EU is saying that companies must comply with national laws”, Thorsell cautions.

Thorsell still sees potential in the draft regulation from the EU, because it at the very least raises the current standards. “However, it is essential that the text on indigenous peoples rights is strengthened in the regulation”, he continues.

Margrete Auken is similarly sceptical of the current reference to national – rather than international – law. Auken sits in the European Parliament, the body who initiated the work of seeking a European solution to deforestation, and who will also decide whether the draft regulation is adopted.

“The draft regulation from the Commission is very poor in comparison to what we first tabled in the Parliament. It is much weaker than what we initially suggested”, Auken tells Danwatch.

Companies’ interest is first and foremost profit. Also in the instances where the rights of indigenous peoples are on the line.

Stefan Thorsell, expert in climate and environment for IWGIA

Lives on the line

​​Already in September 2021, the two NGO’s Global Witness and Client Earth released a report where they warned the Commission against disregarding the people who live in, depend on, and protect the forests, in the regulation.

Anne-Sofie Sadolin Henningsen, who works for the organization Verdensskove, emphasizes that the EU bears a large responsibility in this matter – “EU is the second largest importer of deforestation, and deforestation is, unfortunately, very often tightly connected to violations of indigenous peoples rights”.

Thorsell from IWGIA says that, in some instances, we are talking about a lack of understanding from companies when it comes to indigenous peoples and their territory. But, there are also many examples of deliberate violations, he emphasizes.

“In the past six years, companies from the EU have been either directly or indirectly connected to around 10% of all documented attacks by companies on rights defenders around the world”, Thorsell explains to Danwatch. 

Concurrently with the severe consequences that deforestation has on global biodiversity and our climate, deforestation is thus also connected to violence and violations of indigenous peoples rights.

A number of companies have today agreed to and signed international initiatives such as the UN Guiding Principles on Businesses and Human Rights (UNGP). The UNGP sets out a framework for companies’ responsibility in ensuring that they do not violate human rights. Similarly, many companies have set up large CSR-departments, who work on companies’ social responsibility.

“In spite of this”, Thorsell says, “on indigenous peoples territories, far away from the public’s eye, the reality is a very different one. This is obvious by, amongst others, the number of human rights- and environmental defenders, who are attacked and killed”.

In a recent report from Global Witness, it was documented that in 2021 alone, no less than 227 human rights- and environmental defenders were killed. And out of these, over a third were indigenous peoples. The report furthermore showed that a significant number of the murders were connected to deforestation and agriculture.

This is exactly why it is essential that the text concerning indigenous peoples rights is strengthened in the draft regulation, says Thorsell, “the EU must use their position of power to support and promote the global declarations, that the European countries themselves have adopted in the UN”.

“Indigenous peoples rights must be respected”

The draft regulation that the Commission proposed now lies with the European Parliament and the European Council, where it is expected that a decision will be made, in relation to potential changes made to the regulation, in June this year.

Margrete Auken from the EP says it is essential that the Parliament pushes for a number of changes in the regulation before it is adopted.

“First and foremost, there are human rights and there is nature that has been completely ignored in the draft regulation”, she tells Danwatch and adds that indigenous peoples rights have been disregarded:

“Their rights are not included in the draft. This means, that it will be all too easy to come and force them away from their territories”.

In the final regulation, it should therefore be clear that indigenous peoples rights must be respected, and that one must look to international standards, Auken emphasizes.

“One should not toss away the draft from the European Commission, but one needs to acknowledge that at present, it is too flawed to be able to do what it set out to do meaningfully”, she concludes.

No amount of green electricity, good press or generous development projects can outweigh the
violation of a nation’s constitution by politicians or corporations.

This was the message of Justice Peter Muchoki Njoroge’s verdict, issued on October 19 from
a modest courthouse in northern Kenya. The judge knows his subject well, since he has heard testimony and received evidence from the opposing parties on numerous occasions over the course of the last seven years.

The conflict concerns the land on which 365 gigantic windmills now stand. On one side is the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project, which took possession of the land, and the politicians that gave it to them. On the other are local tribal communities, who say they had never heard of the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project before their land was taken from them.

The case may end up providing a lesson as to how green energy projects should be undertaken in the rest of the world. And in the middle of it all is the Danish company Vestas, which built the wind turbines and owns a 12.5% stake in the consortium known as the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project.

Seven years have passed since, in 2014, the residents of Laisamis and Marsabit in northern Kenya sued their local politicians, public prosecutor, the national land commission and, chiefly, the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project, calling for a halt to the 620 million-euro project.

The consortium behind Lake Turkana Wind Power Project consist of:

Source: Lake Turkana Wind Power

The money behind the project comes from several international investors,including: 

  • Finnfund
  • Norfund
  • The Investment Fund for Developing Countries (IFU)
  • The Export Credit Fund (EKF)
  • Vestas, the constructers of the wind turbines and owner of 12,5 percent of the shares in the project. 
Sources: Lake Turkana Wind Power

In spite of Justice Njoroge’s stern words, the wind farm will remain standing after the verdict, since the green energy it provides is in the public interest of the Kenyan people. But the deed to the land is “irregular and unlawful,” according to the judgment of Justice Njoroge and his two colleagues on the bench.

This means that the politicians responsible now have one year to ensure that the sale of the land is legitimate. In addition, the consortium behind the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project must ensure that future risk assessments – so-called due diligence – are much more “careful and foolproof”, according to the decision.

The case is not completely closed yet, since it is unclear whether the consortium will mount an appeal. In an email to Danwatch, its administrative director, Phylip Leferink, wrote:

“LTWP is still in the process of studying the ruling. We are, therefore, not yet in a position to determine the next steps”.

Vestas declined to comment on the court’s decision, but referred Danwatch back to the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project.

March 2016 – The Vision

The view stretches over kilometres of barren, stony desert, interrupted only by small clusters of acacia trees huddled against the strong winds. Along the line where the sky meets the desert, a cloud of dust rises as nomads lead a flock of camels to pastures farther up the mountain, where the rock-strewn cliffs give way to verdant grassland.

I visit Lake Turkana with a photographer in 2016 because I have heard that something has
gone awry with a widely-praised green energy project: one that Vestas, the Danish Investment Fund for Developing Countries, and Denmark’s Export Credit Agency have promised millions to and have celebrated in the press. We decide to visit the four local tribal communities to try to get to the heart of the matter: What did they know about the wind farm project, and when? Perhaps they just want a share of its profits…or perhaps they were never consulted to begin with.

Read the investigation: A people in the way of progress

The sun beats down upon us, but we don’t feel it because of the wind, which blows stronger
here than anywhere else in Kenya. Here, in 2005, in the corridor between an extinct volcano, Mount Koulal, and the blue-green Lake Turkana, two Dutchmen had a flash of inspiration. The friends, Harry Wassenaar and Willem Dolleman, saw potential; they undertook analyses and discovered that the wind in this corridor could increase Kenya’s energy production by 15
to 20 percent. Clean, green energy, no less.

At that time, only 26 percent of the total population of 35 million in Kenya had access to electricity. It was not long before governments, international investors and corporations got on board with Wassenaar and Dolleman’s vision: on April 3, 2007, the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project writes to Marsabit County, asking to take possession of twelve square kilometres of land along the shores of the lake. In August the same year, Marsabit County transfers the land to the consortium. The vision will be a reality, and the Danish firm Vestas will build the windmills.

Eight years later, on October 20, 2015, Vestas writes in a press release that Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google, will purchase the 12.5% stake belonging to Vestas in 2017, when the project is expected to be completed. The Global Wind Energy Council, an international forum for the wind power industry, calls it a “leading example” of how businesses invest in green energy in order to obtain advantageous economic returns and scale up sustainable energy production.

2021 – The gifts the majority didn't want

Today, 365 enormous windmills dot the rocky landscape beside Lake Turkana like monuments to a lost civilization. Every day, these turbines deliver green energy to between eight and nine million Kenyans, accounting for 16-17% of Kenya’s total energy consumption, according to Phylip Leferink, the administrative director of the consortium.

Since its inception, public and private investors have contributed more than 4.6 billion Danish crowns to the project, and the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project has won several prizes for innovation, sustainability, and for being “best in class” among energy and infrastructure deals. The project quickly became part of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Vision 2030, a program promising to deliver Kenyans a “high quality of life” before the end of the current decade.

Vestas not only built the windmills; the company is also present through CSR projects in Loiyangalani, a small village close to the project. Over the years, the windmill project’s foundation, called Winds of Change, has built schools with solar panels enabling children to go to class in the evening, wells to water livestock, and a significant expansion of local road networks. Before this, the desert was nearly impassable. Today, 350 kilometres of roads provide a paved path for the heavy trucks ferrying windmill parts through the desert from Laisamis-South Horr to the shores of the turquoise lake.

On the surface, all seems well; but upon closer inspection, problems begin to appear. From the beginning, the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project promised 2000 new jobs. Unfortunately, this proved to be somewhat of a mixed blessing. Rumours of the new positions spread throughout the region, and new arrivals began streaming into an area that
was accustomed to making do with little. Foreign governments and NGOs had distributed food aid to the region for years, and pressures exerted by the increasing numbers began to reignite old conflicts. Livestock theft, in particular between the Turkana and Samburu tribes, had long been a source of tension, and was not improved by the new arrivals. The wind power project hired guards to deal with these issues, but this seemed to cause only new problems when locals accused the guards of abuses. For his part, Phylip Leferink maintains that the arrival of the guards brought order to the region.

Local residents are not unequivocal in their gratitude for the work done by Winds of Change, according to Mali Ole Kaunga, director of IMPACT, an NGO working to advance the interests of the various tribal communities in the area.

To begin with, the green energy produced by the wind farm is not for them, but is transmitted via huge power lines to Suswa, 428 kilometres away, he says.

“The vast majority of them are unhappy with the windmill project. All the households in Marsabit run on dirty energy, and yes, there are roads and health clinics, but that’s because the consortium needs them to transport windmills and care for their own employees,” says Ole Kaunga.

Mali Ole Kaunga recognizes that local residents value the new schools in the area, but in reality the CSR projects are part of the problem, he believes. They distract from the issue that has led the inhabitants to sue the consortium and their politicians: the wind farm is on land that local tribes believe they have rights to.

“Health and education are the responsibility of the government. CSR projects cannot compensate for the value that corporations are deriving from being here, and they shouldn’t be used to pacify the residents into giving up their rights,” says Ole Kaunga.

He identifies the right to be heard and compensation for the surrender of land claims as examples of these rights.

March 2016 - The Conflict

The chairs before the judge’s bench are filled with men and women in suits, seated close together in row after row. The air is heavy and stagnant, even though all windows are wide open behind their protective grates. The court session is delayed a moment while the
judge weighs whether my photographer colleague and I may observe. I am permitted to stay, but the photographer is sent out, and a few more people find seats in the last rows. In the open doorway, women in traditional necklaces, jewellery and wrap dresses stand alongside men in work clothes and suits. Behind them, a line of local tribal members stretches far down the street.

They squat on a slope outside. Some hold walking sticks; they have walked for as much as three days to get to the courthouse in Meru for this moment, they say. For centuries their tribes have lived side by side in northern Kenya. Their coexistence has not always been peaceful or without conflict, but today they are united. They are suing the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project and the county council in Marsabit for giving their land away without consulting them.

The plaintiffs are from the Rendille tribe, but they claim to represent the tribes of the entire area: Rendille, Samburu, Turkana and El Molo. They are nomads who have lived in the region for thousands of years, settling wherever the climate and provisions were best for man
and beast. They live off the land and use it for ceremonial and spiritual purposes, which they
say makes them the “original and true owners” of the land.

In the courtroom, everyone listens to Justice Njoroge. The parties are exhorted to find a solution, and court is adjourned.

Outside the Meru Land and Environmental Court stands Abdi Hassan, a lawyer for the consortium behind the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project. A group of men in shirts, trousers and red shawls shout and wave their telephones at Hassan, but he dismisses all their accusations. The consortium has repeatedly insisted that the project proceeded after careful consultations with the four tribal communities. Abdi Hassan says that the lawsuit is merely “camouflage.”

“What they want is revenue that is accruing from [the windmill] project,” he says, as the last part of his sentence is drowned in the sounds of protest from the men around him.

I cross through the crowd outside the courthouse to find Roger Sagana, the prosecutor in the case, to ask if Hassan is right. Sagana dismisses it.

“No, actually the issue of revenue is not an issue at all in this particular dispute,” says Sagana.

“This was community land that belonged to the greater part of Marsabit County, with the Rendilles traditionally inhabiting the land. And there is a process that Kenya has in the Trust Land Act for the conversion of community land into private lands. And this process involves quite extensively public participation, it also involves compensation, and it is an elaborate process that was not followed at all,” he insists.

The promises made regarding jobs, health clinics, schools and wells for livestock in the parched regions cannot outweigh a central point: that the tribes do not believe they were consulted before their land was given away to the wind farm project.

Danwatch lavede i 2016 undersøgelsen "A people in the way of progress".

 A few days later - March 2016 

We sit in the broad shade of a group of trees in the town of Loiyangalani, by the shores of the Lake Turkana. Behind Christiana Saiti walks a man in a hat and shawl. A boy wearing nothing but trousers runs behind the man down to the lake, where the waves rise with the wind. The lake’s fishery provides food to the area’s fishing families, who live in domed clay huts along the lake, putting their boats and nets in the water every day for centuries.

This is where the El Molo people have lived since they began to migrate here from Ethiopia around 1000 BCE, says Christiana Saiti, spokesperson for El Molo Forum, which represents the El Molo people. Today, the town has approximately five thousand residents and very
few tourists.

“There was no free, prior and informed consent on the issue of land especially,” says Christiana Saiti about the wind farm project.

“We didn’t agree to that size of land to be given to the consortium. And yet, attached to that parcel, there is another extra parcel, which they say is private.
Private belonging to whom? Our land is never private, it is public land. The land belongs to the communities. It is communal land, and it is in our constitution,” she says.

Farther in from the coast live the Rendille, Turkana and Samburu peoples, nomads who have lived in the region for centuries following their herds of goats and camels. Over the course of ten days, we interview 24 members of the local tribal communities. All say independently of each other that they had never heard of the windmill project until after 2007.

At that point, in August 2007, the Town Planning Committee for the region of Marsabit had already gathered around a table in the principal town of Marsabit and crafted the agreement that gave the land to the wind farm project.

But Marsabit is 264 kilometres from Lake Turkana, where the local tribes had no idea what
had just happened. Fourteen years later, this will prove decisive.

In 2016, Danwatch interviews representatives from several nomadic tribes i the areas around  Lake Turkana. Photo: Shafiur Rahman / Danwatch.

2017 - Costly Delays

The windmill project is ready on schedule in 2017, ten years later. The transmission lines needed to convey the power from the turbines to Suswa and onward to the citizens of Kenya, however, are not. Ketraco, the national power company, is charged with the construction of the transmission lines, so they must pay penalties for the delay to Lake Turkana Wind Power.
As a public utility, however, the bill is really being paid by Kenyan taxpayers. In other words, consumers that in many cases lack electricity to begin with are now paying for green energy that never makes it to the outlets in their walls.

Read: Danskstøttet vindmølleprojekt giver ekstraregning til kenyanere

The delay eventually costs the Kenyan taxpayers 1.2 billion Danish crowns in all during the years when the power generated by the windmills is unusable. The expense is financed by making electricity more expensive.

The delay has other consequences, too. Alphabet Inc. withdraws from its pledge to buy Vestas’ one-eighth stake in February 2020 because of the setbacks with the transmission lines, Vestas tells Reuters.

Pressure had been mounting on Alphabet on another front, however. The company’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, received a letter from 38 “concerned investors” who read the Danwatch investigation “A People in the Way of Progress” about local tribes’ resistance to the wind farm and want Alphabet to drop its investment in the project.

“I think Danwatch’s report should make Google seriously reconsider their plans to buy out Vestas,” says Steve Heim of Boston Asset Management, an Alphabet shareholder. “Google should not be associated with violations of indigenous people’s rights in Lake Turkana.”

Whatever the reason, Vestas is forced to seek other potential buyers. Today, Vestas still owns 12.5% of the shares in the consortium.

It is not until two years after the completion of the project, in July 2019, that President Uhuru Kenyatta can declare the wind farm open, accompanied by congratulatory speeches and a gigantic brass band.

“The successful implementation of Lake Turkana Wind Power demonstrates Kenya’s outstanding credentials as an investment destination in Africa and is a perfect example of the immense potential of the public private partnership model of implementing development
projects,” says the president.

Just over two years later, this “successful implementation” is found by a court to be in violation of the country’s constitution.

October 2021: The Verdict 

Back at the Meru Land and Environmental Court on an October day in 2021, seven years after the case was filed, the final verdict is rendered. The three justices, Peter Muchoki Njoroge, Jemutai Grace Kemei and Yuvinalis Maronga Angima, have once again listened to
arguments and witness testimony.

They have voted, and their decision is unambiguous.

The land was transferred unlawfully. A divisional board consisting of local and national politicians and members of the local communities was never established to ensure that all parties were heard. There were no notices posted in the Kenya Gazette, a government publication disseminating information to the citizenry, business community and public institutions as required by law regarding legislation and other matters of public interest.

Adequate public hearings were not held, and the relevant government minister did not take action to correct any of these matters. Therefore, write the justices in their decision, the consortium’s titles to the land are declared “irregular and unlawful.”

The politicians responsible have one year to renegotiate the rights to the land. If their efforts do not succeed, the property “shall revert to the community,” say the justices.

The Lake Turkana Wind Power Project does not escape blame, either.
“As an investor in a project involving billions of shillings, it should have undertaken careful and foolproof due diligence. The court has, however, taken into account that the impugned project is already complete and is supplying a substantial portion of the national electricity needs,” the verdict says.

In a statement to Danwatch from Lake Turkana Wind Power Project, its administrative director, Phylip Leferink, says that the company is studying the verdict, and that time will tell whether any of the parties seek an appeal.

“It would appear that the judges sought to strike a balance between ensuring strict compliance with the law, and preserving a national government and Vision 2030 project. It will be interesting to see how the rectification will be done or if any of the parties will seek to appeal the judgment,” he writes.

Companies have a responsibility, too

Steve Heim at Boston Asset Management supports the Kenyan court’s verdict, because “it provides access to remedies for the impacted Indigenous Peoples.”

He believes that the directness of the court’s statement demonstrates that investors and companies need to ensure that indigenous peoples grant “explicit consent” before they move into new areas.

“The Court stated it well: ‘[Lake Turkana Wind Power Ltd.] should have undertaken careful and foolproof due diligence’,” writes Heim in an email to Danwatch.

At the Danish Institute for Human Rights, Birgitte Feiring, head of the Departement for human rights and development, likewise emphasizes the need for businesses to investigate possible problems ahead of time and ensure that consultation takes place with indigenous peoples before their land is appropriated for infrastructure projects.

“The decision illustrates how you will run into huge problems if you don’t follow the proper procedures for acquiring land, especially in cases where indigenous peoples are involved. If you don’t identify the correct people and groups as owners or users of the land, then you might for example not identify the right camel routes, and so the risk increases that you violate people’s rights. And this represents an increased risk for businesses as well,” she said, calling attention to the need for due diligence from both governments and companies.

In this case, the justices chose to place blame with the local politicians instead of the consortium, but their decision included a reprimand to the wind farm project as well.

“We often see that courts choose to acquit companies and convict governments instead, since the state has the primary responsibility to uphold human rights. But businesses also have a responsibility to investigate whether their projects are in conflict with human rights. That is why the court asserts that the consortium behind a project worth billions ought to have exercised greater vigilance,” says Feiring.

Vestas declined to comment for this article.

State-of-the-art fighter jets, modern tanks and the best air defense system in the world.

These are some of the sophisticated weapon systems on Irans wish list when given the opportunity to trade more freely in the global arms market.

For thirteen years, a UN embargo has prevented Iran from buying major arms and sophisticated military equipment but on the 18th of October 2020 the embargo was lifted. 

For the first time in decades, Iran now has the opportunity to buy everything from tanks to fighter jets, which especially Russia and China are ready to deliver. 

Especially American experts have been alarmed by Irans ability to buy sophisticated weapons warning that it might spark a new arms race in the Middle East. 

One of these experts is Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council and a former adviser to several U.S. governments as well as the CIA.

"Iran will have the opportunity to buy weapons systems and so-called dual-use equipment on the open market, which will trigger a new arms race in the Middle East. If Iran rearms the country's opponents, especially Israel and Saudi Arabia will do the same to make sure they can defend themselves against a possible Iranian attack", he says. 

A number of European experts on Iran and Middle East security believe however that the risk of a significant Iranian rearmament is exaggerated.

Both the EU and the US have arms embargoes in place that will prevent Iran from acquiring advanced weapons systems from Western arms manufacturers, they say. And in addition, Iran's economic crisis will hamper the dream of a major shopping spree.

“Lifting the UN embargo will give Iran an option to buy sophisticated weaponry from Russia and China but it will not allow Iran to shop freely on the international arms market in the foreseeable future”,  says Iran specialist Ellie Geranmayeh from the reputed think tank  European Council on Foreign Relations (EFCR)

She expects that Russia and China might sign some agreements on future deliveries of more sophisticated weapons to Iran, but abstain from delivering the equipment.

“Neither Russian nor Chinese state companies will dare being sanctioned by the US", she says referring to the US embargo that includes so-called secondary sanctions against foreign companies selling arms to Iran.

About this investigation

For the past thirteen years, Iran has been subject to a UN arms embargo, but on October 18th 2020 it was over. Danwatch and the Iranian exile media Zamaneh have been investigating who has been selling military equipment to Iran during the embargo and talked to experts about the possible outcome of lifting the embargo. 

Time line

The UN arms embargo on Iran

Iran has been under a UN arms embargo for the last thirteen years. On October 18th 2020 the embargo was lifted, allowing Iran to resume the purchase of most major weapons systems on the market.

The UN Security Council imposes an arms embargo on Iran, which bans the export to and import from Iran of certain items and technology potentially related to nuclear weapons or delivery systems. Included in the ban are ballistic missile systems, space launch vehicles and sounding rockets, unmanned aerial vehicle systems, cruise missiles, target drones and reconnaissance drones capable of delivering at least a 500 kg payload to a range of at least 300 km.
The UN embargo is tightened to include an embargo on the export from Iran of all arms and related materials, thereby banning all states and groups from purchasing or receiving arms from Iran.
The UN arms embargo is amended to prohibit the supply of major conventional weapons, battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large caliber artillery, combat aircrafts, attack helicopters, warships, certain missiles and missile launchers. The ban includes spare parts, assistance and maintenance of the same items. Not included in the ban are some weapons including larger land based surface-to-air missile systems and most small arms and light weapons.
Iran signs the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) also known as the nuclear agreement. The embargo is relaxed, allowing all member states to supply major conventional arms to Iran after receiving a case-by-case approval from the Security Council.
On October 18th the UN embargo on Iran is lifted. Until 2023 all transfers of goods and technology that could contribute to the development of nuclear weapons must still be approved by UNSC on a case-by-case basis.
2006
2007
2010
2015
2020

Friends of the past

An investigation into Iran's arms procurement conducted by Danwatch and the Iranian exile media Zamaneh reveals that Russia and China have been the main suppliers of advanced military equipment to Iran during the UN arms embargo.

Among the equipment that Russia has been supplying to the Islamic government of Iran are ground attack aircrafts, a sophisticated air defence system, surface-to-air missiles, short range air-to-air missiles and a mobile surface-to-air missile system. 

OVERVIEW

Major arms import to Iran from 2006 to 2019

Since 2006 a UN arms embargo has been in effect prohibiting member countries from selling most major arms to Iran. Russia, China and Belarussia has however been providing Iran with a number of weapons systems that were allowed according to the embargo.

Hover the mouse over the cards to see more details
Click the cards to see more details

From Russia

  • 9M111 Fagot/AT-4

    Anti-tank missile.
    Delivered: 1993-2019
    Quantity: 5400
    Company: Probably Vazov Engineering Plant (VMZ)
  • RAAD/9M14M/AT-3

    Anti-tank missile.
    Delivered: 1996-2019
    Quantity: 4950
    Company: Unknown
  • Towsan-1/9M113 Konkurs/AT-5

    Anti-tank missile.
    Delivered: 1999-2019
    Quantity: 3250
    Company: Probably Vazov Engineering Plant (VMZ)
  • BMP-2 turret

    Infantry fighting vehicle turret.
    Delivered: 2000-2012
    Quantity: 130
    Company: Unknown
  • R-60/AA-8

    Short range air-to-air missile.
    Delivered: 2006
    Quantity: 40
    Company: Unknown
  • SU-25T

    Ground attack aircraft.
    Delivered: 2006
    Quantity: 6
    Company: Probably JSC Sukhoi Company
  • 67N6E Gamma

    Air search radar.
    Delivered: 2009
    Quantity: 1
    Company: Probably Rosoboronexport
  • 9M338/SA-15

    Surface-to-air missile.
    Delivered: 2006-2007
    Quantity: 750
    Company: Probably Almaz-Antey concern
  • Tor-M1/SA-15

    Mobile surface-to-air missile system.
    Delivered: 2006-2007
    Quantity: 29
    Company: Probably Almaz-Antey concern
  • 1L119 Nebo-SVU

    Air search radar.
    Delivered: 2009-2010
    Quantity: 2
    Company: Probably Almaz-Antey concern
  • Kasta-2E2

    Air search radar.
    Delivered: 2009-2010
    Quantity: 2
    Company: Probably Rosoboronexport
  • IL222 Avtobaza-M

    Air search radar.
    Delivered: 2011
    Quantity: 2
    Company: Probably Rosoboronexport
  • 48N6/SA-10

    Surface-to-air missile.
    Delivered: 2016
    Quantity: 150
    Company: Probably Almaz-Antey concern
  • 64N6/Big Bird

    Air search radar.
    Delivered: 2016
    Quantity: 2
    Company: Probably Almaz-Antey concern
  • S-300

    Surface-to-air missile.
    Delivered: 2016
    Quantity: 4
    Company: Probably Almaz-Antey concern

From Belarus

  • Vostok-E

    Portable air search radar for dection of air objects.
    Delivered: 2011
    Quantity: 2
    Company: BelTechExport

From China

  • C-802/CSS-N-8

    A supersonic, long-range, land-attack cruise missile variant of the YJ-8 anti-ship missile family.
    Delivered: 1994-2012
    Quantity: 380
    Company: Probably China Aerospace Science And Industry Corporation (CASIC) 3rd academy
  • Misagh-1/QW-1 Vanguard

    Portable surface-to-air missile.
    Delivered: 1996-2006
    Quantity: 1.100
    Company: Unknown
  • Boraq/Type-86

    Armoured personnel carrier/Infranty fighting vehicle.
    Delivered: 1997-2011
    Quantity: 150
    Company: Probably NORINCO - formally known as CNGC
  • Fajr-e Darya/FL-6

    Anti-ship missile.
    Delivered: 1999-2015
    Quantity: 260
    Company: Probably Hongdu Aviation Industry Corporation
  • TL-10/FL-8

    Light weight fire anti-ship missile designed to engage naval vessel with displacement up to 800 ton.
    Delivered: 2004-2015
    Quantity: 150
    Company: Probably Hongdu Aviation Industry Corporation
  • Nasr-1/C-704

    Short range anti-ship/air-to-surface missile.
    Delivered: 2006-2015
    Quantity: 50
    Company: Unknown
  • Kosar or Sagheeb/C-801

    Portable surface-to-air missile.
    Delivered: 2006-2015
    Quantity: 50
    Company: Probably China Aerospace Science And Industry Corporation (CASIC) 3rd academy
  • Misagh-2/QW-11

    Portable surface-to-air missile.
    Delivered: 2006-2015
    Quantity: 650
    Company: Unknown

Also Russian air search radars have found their way to Iran along with several types of anti-tank missiles, parts for infantry fighting vehicles and some portable air search radars, originating in Belarus, a close ally of Russia.

The second largest supplier to Iran is China, that has been contributing with technology for a number of advanced missile systems allowing Iran to build its quite extensive missile capability, comprising a number of different missile types with a range up to 6,000 kilometers, according to the American intelligence agency DIA.

Also the Iranian army has benefited from Chinese technology, making Iran able to produce a large number of armoured personnel carriers, according to SIPRI. 

A substantial wish list

According to the SIPRI researcher 96 percent of Iran’s arms imports in 2014–18 came from Russia and the rest from China, and this pattern is likely to continue.

Iran is keen to require new equipment and now when the embargo is lifted, China and Russia will be able to supply Iran with the major weapons it wants",  says Pieter D. Wesemann.   

According to other experts, Irans wish list does worry the country's adversaries in the Middle East as well as those being afraid of Iran developing a nuclear capability.

According to press reports Iran hopes to procure the S-400 air defense system from Russia as well as the Sukhoi 30 SM fighter jet, an advanced fighter plane which according to military experts is a match to the ultramodern Joint Strike Fighter produced by the US and procured by many allies.

Also the Chinese Chengdu J-10 multi role fighter jet is on the wish list of the Iranian air force, being able to carry a lot of different bombs and missiles.

Iran also has its eye set on new additions to its indigenous produced missile arsenal. Among the systems that Iran has been looking at is the Russian Tor M2 short-range surface-to-air missile system designed for destroying airplanes, helicopters, cruise missiles, precision guided munitions, unmanned aerial vehicles and short-range ballistic threats.

Another is the Russian Pantsir missile system, a family of self-propelled, medium-range surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery systems. 

And for the army Iran is looking to acquire the modern RussianT90 M tanks which is described by experts as “head and neck higher than previous tanks and its class".

Maximum pressure

The one thing that might prevent Russia and China from actually delivering on Iran's wishes, is the unilateral embargo imposed by President Trump in September 2020 in defiance of the UN planning to go through with the planned lifting of the thirteen year old UN-embargo. 

OVERVIEW

Iran's missile programme

Despite various arms embargoes, Iran has managed to build a comprehensive missile defense based on the copying or further development of previous missiles. The technology comes from China, North Korea and Russia, among others.

Several of Iran's missile systems can reach thousands of kilometers from Iran's border.

The unilateral US embargo is designed to prevent US as well as foreign companies from supplying or in any other way assisting Iran’s nuclear, ballistic missile, and conventional weapons pursuits. 

And it will definitely scare most countries away from exporting military equipment to Iran, experts say. 

The embargo is part of the so-called “maximum pressure” policy that the Trump administration has been adhering to since the US left the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018.

“The United States will not allow the Iranian regime to further advance capabilities to directly threaten and terrorize the rest of the world. My administration will use every tool at our disposal to stop Iran’s nuclear, ballistic missile, and conventional weapons pursuits,” as President Trump put it when introducing the unilateral arms embargo.

The aim of the embargo is to keep Iran's military strength firmly below that of US allies in the Middle East, according to experts. 

From a US perspective Iran is the most destabilising country in the Middle East and in outright opposition to its most important strategic allies in the region; Israel and Saudi Arabia", Ellie Geranmayeh of ECFR says. 

“The US aim is to keep Iran at a clear disadvantage by denying Iran access to sophisticated weapons".

European restraint

The EU is also worried about Iran's missile programme and Iran's role as a destabilising factor in the Middle East. Since 2007 the EU has had its own embargo on arms export in place, prohibiting “the supply, sale, or transfer to Iran of all arms and related material” to the Islamic Republic.

The embargo has been preventing European companies from selling arms to Iran and will likely remain in place also after it is due to expire in 2023, according to experts.

Naysan Rafati, Iran senior analyst with the International Crisis Group think tank says that the EU is somehow caught in the middle, trying to limit Iran's procurement of sophisticated weapons and at the same time salvaging the nuclear deal reached in 2015 after a decade of negotiations.

“The EU is trying to provide some of the dividend that Iran was expecting from the nuclear deal and at the same time hoping to prevent an renewed arms race in the Middle East, making Russia and China abstain from any major arms sales to Iran, either officially or unofficially”, he says. 

The nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JPCOA) was signed by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Germany, and Iran, imposing strict control of Iran's nuclear programme. But in 2018 the US withdrew from the deal imposing unilateral trade sanctions on Iran that have made European trade with Iran plummet and put the nuclear agreement on life support.

In brief

The Nuclear Deal

The agreement is also known as The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

It was signed in 2015 by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council; USA, Russia, China, France and Great Britain as well as Germany and Iran.

The agreement introduced a series of strict control measures at the Iranian nuclear facilities to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

In return, the international community promised to lift all trade sanctions against Iran.

In 2018, the United States withdrew from the agreement and reintroduced trade sanctions against Iran.

The US sanctions include both US and foreign companies trading with the Iranian state, which has caused EU trade to plummet.

The agreement is currently being kept alive in the hope of getting the United States to re-enter after the November 3, 2020 election.

Sources: The Arms Control Association et al.

Pushing Iran to the East

The experts that Danwatch and Zamaneh have spoken to agree that continued US and EU sanctions will push Iran into an even closer alliance with Putin and Xi Jinping in the future.

"With sanctions, especially those imposed by the US over the past two years, Iran has been more and more looking toward Russia and China", says Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi, senior Iran expert at the british Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI).

“When every other option is closed this will be the only one way left for Iran". 

The most likely deal to be signed in the near future is Iran's purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft weapon system, which according to SIPRI researcher Siemon Wezeman is one of the most advanced air defense systems available.

As the S-400 is a defensive system such a deal might be less controversial than any offensive weapons system finding its way to Iran.

According to the expired UN-embargo certain defensive weapon systems were allowed, but it seems not to be the case according to the recently imposed US embargo. 

“Iran would surely like to purchase the S-400 air defense system from Russia but it might take a while to deliver. The previous S-300 delivery took a decade and happened during the UN embargo, which was possible because that embargo excludes defensive weaponry”, Ellie Geranmayeh says, suggesting that Russia might follow “a similar line now". 

Massive investments underway

Also China seems keen to expand its cooperation with Iran.

Four years ago China offered Iran a 25-year strategic cooperation agreement with Iran, which according to a leaked draft  includes everything from increased trade and oil purchases to massive investments in Iranian infrastructure.  g

The deal is being described as a landmark expansion of bilateral relations between the two strategic partners, comprising massive chinese investment in Iranian “railways, ports, energy, industry, commerce and services”, as a joint press release from the Iranian and Chinese governments have stated. 

The details of the agreement are unclear, but experts expect it to include military cooperation like sharing of military bases, transfer of advanced military technology as well as arms sales. 

“The Chinese offer is substantial and likely to include military cooperation as well as investments in infrastructure and trade", says Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi of RUSI.

Chinese aid can also be expected to help bolster the Iranian regime’s hold on power. 

More than a decade ago, Chinese tech conglomerates played a crucial role in assisting Iran’s government in reasserting domestic control in the wake of the 2009 “Green Movement". 

And this activity and assistance has persisted, despite U.S. sanctions, according to US Iran-specialist Ilan Berman.

Iran in defiance 

As this investigation shows Iran does not respect any of the international arms embargoes and have consistently attempted to procure missile technology and other military equipment from Russia, China and at least five European countries.  

A modus operandi that Iran is expected to continue, according to experts. 

“Iran does not recognize the sanctions, so it is only natural that they will try to find a way around them”, says Ellie Geranmayeh. 

“Oil exports might be more important to Iran than arms, but surely Iran will try to obtain the same advanced technology that European companies have been delivering to Iran's adversaries Israel and Saudi Arabia during the years“.  

Iran's economic crisis

From an Iranian perspective the continued arms embargoes are only one of many obstacles to the procurement of sophisticated military hardware. 

The general trade embargo that the US imposed in 2018 is targeting all kinds of foreign companies doing business with Iran, making it virtually impossible to find an international bank willing to facilitate financial transactions with the Iranian state or Iranian companies.

The result is a rapidly developing economic crisis in Iran.

According to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) Iran’s oil revenues have declined to just 19 billion dollars in 2019, down from 110 billions dollar in 2011.

According to the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, foreign direct investment in Iran has also declined to a mere 1.5 billions dollars in 2019. The amount is down from 5 billion dollars in 2017, leaving Iran with the lowest level of direct foreign investment in nearly two decades. 

Experts believe that the economic crisis will also limit Iran's purchasing power on the global arms market, even if Iran so far has prioritized defense spending in spite of the economic crisis. 

“The economic crisis that Iran is facing will of course have an impact on procurement, but during sanctions Iran's defense spending has been quite constant”, says Ellie Geranmayeh. 

“So far the Iranian government has prioritized defense spending over other expenditures, making the country able to develop quite an extraordinary indigenous missile capability", she says.   

Asymmetric defense strategy

Decades of sanctions and international isolation has made Iran develop a so-called asymmetric defense strategy consisting of a significant missile capability, which came to the test in january, when a US drone killed the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps elite forces general Qasem Sulaimani. 

The attack was retaliated by Iran attacking a US military base in neighbouring Iraq, killing no one but injuring more than 100 US servicemen.

Iran also supports, trains and arms a number of loyal proxy forces in friendly Middle Easterns countries, Hezbollah of Lebanon and the Popular Mobilization Forces or Hashd al-Shaabi of Iraq being the most famous. 

Besides conventional army, air force and naval forces Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps are running a parallel military structure comprised among other forces of a socalled “guerilla” navy based on small vessels and  speed boats patrolling the Persian Gulf and a significant cyber warfare capability, that has been used to attack Iran's adversaries, among them US banks and Israeli water supplies.

The latest branch on the asymmetric military tree is the development of a military drone programme, according to experts and intelligence reports. 

Unlike other countries, Iran has two parallel military structures. The conventional military (Artesh) solves ordinary military tasks, the other is controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards fighting internal unrest and waging war in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, among other places.

Islamic Republic of Iran َArmy Ground Force (IRIGF) 

Type: Regular army
Strengt: 350,000
Role: Iran's first line of defense against an invading force
Equipment: 50 combat arms brigades, many of which are light infantry units with a sizable contingent of armored and mechanized infantry units. The army has its own special operations units and helicopter force.
Commander: Brigadier General Kiomars Heidar
Recent theater: Syria

Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF)

Type: Conventional
Strength: 52,000
Role: Operates the majority of Iran’s combat aircraft as well as multiple combat, transport, and tanker squadrons across 11 major fighter bases.
Equipment:  U.S. F-14 Tomcat, F-4 Phantom II and F-5 Tiger II; Russian MiG-29 Fulcrum and Su-24 Fencer; and Chinese F-7 Airguard
Commander: Brigadier General Aziz Nasirzadeh
Recent theater: Iran

Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN)
Strength: 25,000  
Role: Protection of the Gulf of Oman and Caspian Sea, safeguarding the flow of commerce in the region from piracy and interdiction, out of area operations and naval diplomacy in the region and beyond.
Equipment: Smaller and larger surface ships, 8 corvettes, coastal defense cruise missiles (CDCMs), naval mines, surface combatants and 16 submarines.
Commander: Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi
Recent theaters: Counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and the Persian Gulf

Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guards Corps Ground Force (IRGCGF)

Role: Counter ground invasion and internal unrest
Strength: 150,000
Equipment:  31 provincial corps and a Tehran city corps consisting of primarily light infantry and commando units. Has its own  artillery and helicopters.
Commander: Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpur
Recent theaters: Syria, Iraq, Iran 

Revolutionary Guards Corps, Quds Force:

Force type: Elite force
Strength: 3,000-5,000
Role: financial, training and materiel support to regional Shia militant groups ideologically aligned with Iran.
Commander: Major General Esmail Ghaani
Recent theaters: Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Palestinian Terrritories

Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guards Aerospace Force (IRGCASF) 

Role: Controls Iran's missile program (Al-Ghadir Missile Command (AGMC), primary operator of Iran’s growing fleet of drones
Strength: 15,000
Equipment: A substantial inventory of close-range ballistic missiles (CRBMs), short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), and medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) that can strike targets throughout the region up to 6,000 kilometers from Iran’s borders.
Commander: Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh
Recent theaters: Iraq, Syria 

Islamic republic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) 

Role: Responsible for protection of the Persian Gulf and the Iranian coast
Strength: 23,000
Equipment: Hundreds of small, fast-attack vessels  armed with guns, rockets, torpedoes, and missiles
Commander: Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri
Recent theater: Persian Gulf

Islamic Republic of Iran Air Defense Force

Strength: 15,000
Role: Part of "Khatam Al-anbia Air Defence Force’’ of IRGC and military branch split from IRIAF that controls Iran's military land-based air defense established in 2008.
Commander: Brigadier General Alireza Sabahifard

Basij - Organization of the Oppressed 

Role: Iran’s voluntary reserve paramilitary force  tasked to counter internal threats and social outreach. It is a core part of the regime’s internal security apparatus used to quell domestic unrest.
Strength; 450,000 plus 500,000 + inactive members
Commander: Brig. Gen. Gholamreza Soleimani
Recent theaters: Iran and Syria

Other forces:

Iran's regular military and the IRGC also command each of their own set of special operations forces and intelligence services

Sources: US Defense Intelligence Agency, Iranian military websites, Russian and American think tanks a.o.

Out of reach

In the long term Iran will want to bring its military capabilities up to standard after decades of modernizing and amending and copying old military equipment, experts agree.

“Iran is keen to require new equipment”, says  Pieter Wisemann from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

“It will most likely be looking for items to improve its armed forces, to strengthen its defence and to improve its prestige”. 

But experts also agree that for the foreseeable future large scale shopping on the global arms market is neither likely nor possible.

US intelligence is warning that Iran will go on a shopping spree once the arms embargo is lifted, buying tanks, fighter aircrafts and other major weapons, but the Iranian economy is not in great shape so we might not see any huge orders signed - at least not in the immediate future”, says Naysan Rafati from the International Crisis Group. 

He does however predict that Iran might sign memos of understanding with Russia and China about future deliveries.

Ellie Geranmayeh from the European Council of Foreign Relations stresses that Iran will want to catch up with its main adversaries in the Middle East who have been free to build their military arsenals, outgunning Teheran on all parameters.

“The US and Europe have been arming Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE heavily in the last years. The arms race genie has already left the bottle and Iran will want to follow to keep up with the advanced technology their adversaries have acquired as soon as it is possible”, she says.

Waiting for Biden

The financial crisis in Iran is sure to affect the ability to procure everything on the Iranian wish list, experts are stressing.

“It is unlikely that Iran will have the financial capacity to buy a large quantity of major weapons”, Pieter D. Wesemann from SIPRI says.

“Iran might buy two or three eskadrons of modern combat aircrafts, but I think that will be it for now”, he says warning that when talking about “massive” Iranian rearmament “its all in the eye of the beholder".

“Saudi Arabia is in the process of buying 150 modern combat aircrafts at the moment, and I don't think Iran will come anywhere near those figures. Iran might buy 30 which is nothing compared to 150”, he says.

Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi from Royal United Services Institute predicts that Iran as well as potential suppliers will wait for the result of the upcoming US elections before taking any decisive steps.

All parties will wait and see what happens on november 3rd. If Joe Biden wins the American elections, the whole Iran game might change”, she says. 

According to an op ed at CNN the Democratic candidate wants the US to reenter the nuclear agreement with Iran, opening the door to the lifting of at least some of the many US  sanctions on Iran.

“Most sanctions are imposed by executive orders that can easily be ignored by a future president, but he might face political problems in Congress, especially if the Republicans will have the upper hand in Senate", says Ellie Geranmayeh.

Also Iran is waiting to see who will be in the White House after the 21st of January 2021, when the next US president takes office.

“Iran has reacted quite moderately so far. The strong opposition in the UN Security Council against a continuation of the UN embargo, as proposed by the US, has shown Iran that there are many countries trying to salvage the nuclear deal”, says Naysan Rafati from International Crisis Group.

“Biden has said on CNN that he wants the US to rejoin the nuclear agreement, and Iran expects that to employ lifting the sanctions".

Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi from RUSI agrees.

“The nuclear deal has been hanging by a thread since 2018, when the US left the agreement. But a lot of countries including Iran wants to keep it alive. Just now everybody is waiting to know who wins the American election. If Biden wins Iran expects a more positive approach which will be in its favor”, she says.

“If Biden wins it might bring an end to hostilities towards Iran and therefore a more peaceful situation".

My name is Sarah. I’m 23, and I live in Northern Iran with my mother and my younger sister.

Those who have visited villages in Gilan province, know that most people living in this breathtakingly beautiful, rich nature are poverty-stricken. 

Even those who own a piece of land or a rice paddy, are idle for at least six months of the year. 

We have neither a land of our own, nor any savings. In a word, we are the poorest of the poor.

 When I was younger, my father used to work on rice paddies as a land worker for half the year, and the other half he worked with his motorcycle, giving rides to people. 

When I was 12, my father got run over by a ten-wheel truck and passed away. My sister and I were left orphans, and my mother had no choice but to earn our living by cleaning houses. 

But the pressure of physical labor was too much for her, and when she couldn’t bear it anymore, I had to drop out of school and get a job.  

An acquaintance helped me find a job in a beauty salon in a nearby city called “Sowme’eh Sara”. I didn’t earn much, but as the saying goes “something is better than nothing”. 

My job was to do the cleaning, but I dreamt of learning the profession and becoming a hairdresser so my poor mother can retire. But about a year ago everything suddenly changed, and my life took a turn for the worse. 

The owner of the salon where I worked decided to close down the salon and move to another city and I lost my job. Around the same time my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. We sold all we had and borrowed from anyone we could think of to pay for her treatment. 

It has been a few months since my mother started chemotherapy and we cannot afford to pay the medical bills anymore. The drugs, the hospital bills, the specific diet, … it’s all too much. 

There is no one left I can turn to for help. I even went to several charitable organizations, including Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation in our province, but to no avail. In order to be able to pay at least part of my mother’s treatment expenses, and take care of my sister, I need to have at least tens of millions of Tomans, but all I have is debt.

One night, when I was sitting by my sick mother’s bedside, I decided to do what many other people in my situation would do: I decided to sell my kidney. 

I had seen it before and I knew in order to sell a kidney people would post some kind of a flyer or write their contact number on the walls in specific streets of the city so the potential clients/buyers could contact them. 

I talked to a relative of a friend whose brother had had a kidney transplant to find out how dangerous it could be. He told me it depends on the broker I choose to work with. 

If I end up in the hands of a shady person –and let’s face it, they very often are shady- there could be some problems, but the transplant itself is not a particularly complicated or dangerous operation.  

Different people have different ideas of what constitutes “danger”. 

But even if one decides to accept the physical and psychological risks of such a surgery –risks that are usually understated-, there is still a complicated procedure to be completed before the actual organ procurement operation; a procedure which is neither that easy nor straightforward. 

How could Sarah manage to sell her kidney under such circumstances? 

***

Actually my name is not Sarah Salehi. My name is Kolaleh Parsa and I am a journalist at the Iranian exile media Zamaneh, based in Amsterdam.  But I had to tell you the above story to take you on the same journey I had to take to research a complicated phenomenon called “commercial kidney trade”. 

Sarah is a fictional character which helped me circumvent the prohibitions I would have faced as an Iranian journalist residing abroad had I used my true identity. 

I still remember the first time I saw a flyer advertising a kidney for sale. Back then I still lived in Iran. 

I was shocked and asked myself how a person could resort to selling an organ, and whether this was legal. The shock and astonishment stayed with me for years as I watched the number of advertisements grow. 

They were everywhere: on city walls, on different websites, on social media, even on texting applications. A while ago, I finally decided to take a closer look at the process of selling a kidney in Iran.

The present article is the outcome of this research.

  •  Living non-related donation (LNRD) of kidneys has been legalized in Iran and is controlled by The Charity Association for the Support of Kidney Patients (CASKP). 
  • The recipient’s family, benevolent charity donors, the Ministry of Health and the Charity Foundation for Special Diseases (CFSD) pay an amount of about 20 million Tomans to the donor as a ‘reward for making a sacrifice’. 
  • The price offered for a kidney in the black market is around 300 million Tomans. 
  • While the capacity of the medical system for organ transplants is 2.000 annually.
  • More than 8.600 patients have been placed on the waiting list for receiving an organ from a dead body or a living donor. 
  • Every day around 12 people die because of not receiving an organ transplant.    

Organ trafficking is illegal in nearly all countries except Iran. 

Several international organisation have passed declarations and decisions against organ trafficking, but there is no UN treaty on the matter

 

There is however no doubt about the opinion of the UN system. In 2018 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on organ trafficking which encouraged all member states to prohibit and stop organ trafficking.

The World Health Organisation WHO has also passed a number of resolutions on the matter. Among them one from 2010, encouraging member states to fight transplant tourism and organ trafficking. 

The WHO’s Guiding Principles on Human Cell, Tissue and Organ transplantation states:

“Cells, tissues and organs should only be donated voluntarily and without monetary payment or other reward of economic value. Buying or offering to buy cells, tissues or organs for transplantation or sale of these from living persons or from relatives to deceased persons should be prohibited ”.

The International Society of Nephrology passed The Declaration of Istanbul on Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism in 2008. It says that commercial organ transplants affecting the vulnerable must be banned. They also urged all professionals working with transplants individually and through their organizations to stop these unethical activities.

One of the most important characteristics of this phenomenon is that living non-related donation of kidneys has been legalized in Iran. 

Everywhere else in the world commercial organ trade is criminalized, and is carried out in black markets and in underground situations. According to the World Health Organization, organ trade should be criminalized because it could lead to profiteering and human trafficking. 

But in Iran, in addition to organ donation in case of brain death, receiving a transplant from a living donor has also been sanctioned and is regulated by a government-sponsored “nonprofit organization”. 

The legal framework for kidney transplantation has been addressed in the Organ Transplantation from Cadaver and from Brain Dead Patients Act (5 April 2000). While this act legalizes organ transplantation, it has chosen not to address the issue of organ trade and transplant tourism. Although, the government and judicial authorities claim that any kind of organ trade outside the legal framework is punishable by law as organ trafficking. 

The official organization in charge of policy making for kidney transplantation is The Charity Association for the Support of Kidney Patients (CASKP). Patients in need of a transplant and those who are willing to donate a kidney should both apply through this association to be placed on the national waiting list.

But the waiting list is very long, and patients, while struggling with financial, physical, and psychological nuisances of dialysis, usually have to wait for years before they get an organ. 

The latest statistics indicating the number of patients waiting for a transplant dates back to 2019. 

According to Mahdi Shadnoosh, head of The Transplantation and Treatment of Diseases Department at the Ministry of Health, 8.600 patients have been placed on the waiting list for a transplant, while the number of transplantation surgeries carried out each year is about 2.000 cases. 

In other words, the average wait time for a transplant is around four years. 

According to Farahnaz Sadeqbeigi, head of the Organ Procurement Department at Shahid Beheshti University, 12 people die every day due to not receiving a transplant, of which eight to ten are kidney patients. 

Even if we only take the official statistics into account, one can see why patients would be willing to pay an extra amount to shorten the waiting period. When it comes to one’s life, most people would not shy away from the possibilities that the black market has to offer. 

But of course, not everyone can afford to go to such extraordinary lengths. 

***

Every year more Iranians are falling below the national poverty line. Volunteering to donate an organ, when not incentivized by altruism, can only have one reason: coercion by poverty, given the fact that one can live with just one kidney, but not without money!.

In such circumstances, if the impoverished seller can get a higher bidder in an unofficial market, she would choose that over the government-sanctioned system without thinking twice. 

It’s not hard to imagine that someone like Sarah Salehi, who needs more money than the compensation offered by CASKP, would also overpass the legal procedure and go directly to the black market; where some are shopping for their lives, and others haggle over the price for a part of their body. 

But how independent this market actually is from the legal framework? In other words, what doors can this market open to the desperate buyers and sellers? Do any of these doors open to legal organizations’ hallways?

The black market for kidney trade is not covert in Iran. Before the rise of social media, flyers could be spotted all over big cities and in crowded streets. 

Today, such advertisements can still be seen on walls and they are not restricted to kidneys, either. With the growing poverty, they are taking over the social media as well: name and surname, age, blood type, and a contact number. 

Just like old days when entering the market was as easy as picking up the phone and dialing a number, today a simple text message or a comment can put you in touch with a buyer or a seller. 

Instagram is one of the platforms widely used by third-person kidney trade brokers. 

Unlike other popular social media platforms, access to Instagram has not been blocked by the authorities in Iran. A more thorough search in Google or Instagram using keywords like “kidney”, “kidney-for-sale”, etc. will put you through to hundreds of posts and users. 

Apparently, users active in this market use simple, easy-to-remember names as a rule, for example you will find IDs like: “looking for a kidney” or “I sell my kidney”. 

***

In Iran you can make a lot of money selling your kidney on the black market. The price of a kidney is equal to approximately ten annual salaries for an unskilled worker on minimum wage.

  • On the legal marked a kidney is compensated with a reward of  400-1.000 euro  
  • On the black market you can sell a kidney for 4.700-6.000 euro (240-320 mio Touman)
  • The yearly minimum wage in Iran is 450 euro (22,8 mio Toman)
Note: All values are calculated according to the officiel Iranian exchange rate.

I replied immediately. 

Mahmoud: Hi there, Sister! Did you sell your kidney?

Me: Hello. Not yet, how come? Do you need a kidney?

Mahmoud: No, sister! But if you really want to sell, I can help you. 

Me: I want to sell my kidney. How can you help me?

Mahmoud: How old are you, sister? Where do you come from?

Me: (I’m) 23 (and I’m from) Gilan.

Mahmoud: I sold mine 3 months ago. In Tehran, though. Sorry if I ask, why do you want to sell?

Me: Financial need.

Mahmoud: Have you got all your documents?

Me: What documents? I have no idea what I should do. Could you please tell me?

Me: I’d really appreciate it if you could help me. 

Mahmoud: I found a broker in Tehran, sister. There is this street, everyone calls it “the Kidney street”. I myself am from Shiraz. 

Me: What is the real name of the street?

Mahmoud: He charged me 300 thousand Tomans and put me on the donors’ registry. It only took 2 weeks. The real name of the street is “Farhang Hosseini”, if I’m not mistaken. I’m not sure. 

Me: So it only took 2 weeks before you got your surgery?

Mahmoud: That’s right, Sister. 

Mahmoud: (It took) 2 weeks till all the documents were ready. I went to Tehran with the (organ) recipient, we did all the necessary tests, and I had my surgery 3 days after.    

Me: Don’t you have any health problems now? I’ve heard you can easily live with one kidney, right?

Mahmoud: Thank God, I have no problems. That’s right, sister. You are going to be fine. 

Me: Thank God, then. So I will definitely have to go to Tehran, right?

Mahmoud: Look sister, if you want to do it yourself, you will have to apply through CASKP. You will have to pay about 1 (million) 200 thousand (Tomans) for the documents, tests and stuff, and they won’t pay you more than 35 (million) Tomans for the kidney. Of this amount, 34 million (Tomans) is paid directly by the recipient, and the other 1 million (Tomans) by CASKP. But if you decide to work with a broker, just like I did, your application fee will be 300 (thousand) Tomans. I sold my kidney 3 months ago in Tehran and I got 240 (million Tomans). I don’t know how much a kidney is worth now. 

Me: I have no money (to pay for the application). 

Mahmoud: I understand, sister. I know what you mean.   

Me: Are you saying that you sold (your kidney) for 240 (million Tomans)?

Mahmoud: That’s right. First I went to CASKP. There, the highest price was offered by a man from Tabriz who said he would pay 70 (million Tomans). But I didn’t have the 1 million something to pay for the application, either. So I paid 300 (thousand Tomans) to a broker and all the other expenses, including tests and stuff, were covered by the recipient. 

Me: 300 (thousand) Tomans?

Mahmoud: That’s right, sister. 

Me: How did you find the broker? I have only written on Instagram (that I want to sell my kidney).

Me: It’d be great if you could put me in touch with your broker.

Mahmoud: But you will have to hurry if you want to sell, sister. The New Year’s holidays are coming up. What’s your name, sister?

Me: Yes, you’re right. I’m Sarah. Can I ask your name, please?

Mahmoud: I’m Mahmoud. (This is the broker’s ID): @khak_6587. Send him a message and tell him Mahmoud N. has introduced him. 

I didn’t have to wait long. After just two days, on 5 February 2020, I received a message from a page whose user ID was “kolie_bi_m”.

He later introduced himself as Mahmoud N. (I will not use his full name here)

In order to be able to get in touch with brokers, like a playwright, I created a character called Sarah Salehi.

I then created an Instagram account for Sarah using sara.salehi948 as her ID and in her Bio I wrote: “Looking to sell a kidney. Send me a message in direct for more information. Blood type: O+”. 

Then I posted a picture, repeating the phrase, I had used in Bio adding hashtags like #kidney-for-sale, #buy-a-kidney, etc. 

After I was done creating the page, I again set to search, and found a number of pages where buyers and sellers had left posts and comments. I followed all the pages that seemed relevant to my purpose.  

Afterwards, I found some posts that were related to selling a kidney and I left comments saying: “I want to sell my kidney. Blood type: O+”. 

***

Me
Me
Read More
My weight is 58 kg, my blodtype 0+, I was born in Gilan, I am single.
Mahmoud
Mahmoud
Read More
Are your documents ready?
Me
Me
Read More
What documents? I have no idea what I should do. Could you please tell me? I’d really appreciate it if you could help me.
Mahmoud
Mahmoud
Read More
I found a broker in Tehran, sister. There is this street, everyone calls it “the Kidney street”. I myself am from Shiraz. .
This is an English copy of the original chat that took place in farsi.

Me: Thank you very much. That was really kind of you. Is this his Instagram ID?

Mahmoud: Don’t mention it! Yes, That’s Insta(gram).

Me: Thanks again. I will definitely contact him, because I don’t really know what I need to do. You’ve been a great help.

Mahmoud: I will send him a text telling him that you are an acquaintance of mine. He’ll do whatever he can. 

Me: That would be great, thank you! God bless you!

Mahmoud: Thank you, you too. I hope everything will go fine. 

Me: I hope so. Good bye. 

(After a few hours, I got another message from Mahmoud):

Mahmoud: I talked to him, sister. You can send him a message now. 

***

As you can see from the chat, Mahmoud is not exactly a broker. He is a middleman between the broker and the seller, and in order to gain my trust, he pretends to be a former seller and a well-wisher who knows the market well. 

GALLERY

Who is who

Quite a number of people are mentioned in the course of this investigation. Here is short presentation of the main characters and their role in Iranian organ trafficking

Mahmoud
Middleman

Working to catch customers for a broker.
Claims to have sold a kidney recently (three months earlier) through a broker he had found on ‘kidney street’ for a higher price and with less costs. 

Khashayar
Broker

He is collecting my personal information, and estimates my kidney’s price to range from 270 to 310 million Tomans. He claims to have been working in kidney black market with the help of his relations at Labbafinejad Hospital in Tehran for more than 10 years without ever encountering a problem. 

Karim
Middleman

He is catching customers, much like Mahmoud.
Claims to have sold his kidney with the help of a broker.
He gives me his broker’s contact number. 

Razieh
Patient

A direct buyer, working as a teacher
Offers me 70 million Tomans for my kidney.

Masoud
Patient

He is a kidney patient under 30 years of age.
After four years of dialysis has recently received a kidney transplant.
Has gone through the legal framework but has finally managed to buy a kidney through a person pulling the strings for him at CASKP.

Shaghayegh
Patient

A kidney patient. After waiting for a long time and since her family could not afford to buy her a kidney, she received a kidney from her father who was a match for her. 

According to Mahmoud, anyone like Sarah, who wants to volunteer to donate a kidney, needs to pay 1,2 million Tomans as an application fee at The Charity Association for the Support of Kidney Patients (CASKP), and then get in line for a long wait. 

On their website, the registration portal for organ donors is not accessible for residents outside Iran and therefore, I could not personally confirm the application fee that needs to be paid. 

I asked a friend who lives in Iran to help me, but she also got a similar message. It seems that the online registration option has been included on the website only as a formality. All I could find on other related provincial websites was a list of required documents. 

In any case, an application fee – no matter how small it might be compared to the amount the seller will receive - gives an opportunity to Mahmoud and people like him to offer less costly, faster ways of approach to the market. 

***

In the meantime, there are those who, taking advantage of the situation and without having an actual role in the trade process, charge oblivious patients for this non-existent sign-up process. 

The street Mahmoud is talking about is also interesting. 

Those who are somehow involved in kidney trade, know “Farhang Hosseini” street in Tehran as Kidney Street. Word has it that the best brokers are to be found here.

But why is this street called the Kidney Street? I looked up the street and came upon an interesting fact; The Charity Association for the Support of Kidney Patients (CASKP) is located on this street.

And according to eyewitnesses that I have spoken to, brokers usually hang out right in front of its head office. This is confirmed by some of the brokers I have chatted to during this investigation. 

So this is where patients are supposed to go for help and medical support, and yet brokers hang around undisturbed, waiting for a wealthy prey.

Like in any other trade the final profit in the kidney trade is determined by the amount of money that  the seller manages to get in exchange for the goods. 

The legal terminology in Iran classifies any kind of organ transplantation, including transplants from a living person as organ ‘donation’; which one should expect to be an altruistic act denoted by its nonreciprocal nature. 

Nevertheless, the CASKP offers compensation in order to encourage “donors”. 

In October 2019, Majid Ramezani, head of the Association, announced this compensation to be 20 million Tomans to be provided either by the recipients’ family, benevolent charity donors, the Ministry of Health or the Charity Foundation for Special Diseases (CFSD). 

Ramezani called this compensation a ‘reward for making the sacrifice’.

What is interesting is that according to Mahmoud, the amount of money offered by the Association  is actually higher (35 million Tomans) than the official amount.

Mahmoud also mentios that even at the CASKP a kind of auction is practiced and some patients might offer (in this case a man from Tabriz) to pay twice this amount.      

Another important point Mahmoud makes, is that the brokers seem to be able to get a much higher amount from the buyers, and this, be it true or not, is an important factor in inducing the would-be sellers to sell through brokers instead of the CASKP. 

***

After talking to Mahmoud, on 6 February 2020, I sent a private message on Instagram to the ID Mahmoud had given me. He responded shortly after. Unlike Mahmoud, who tried to be warm and friendly, the broker had a rather unfriendly, standoffish tone. 

Me: Hi! I’ve got your ID from Mr. N.

Broker: Hello! What can I do for you?

Me: I want to sell my kidney. Mr. N. said you could help.

Broker: Age, height, weight, blood type, city of residence, marital status?

Me: Age 23, height 164 cm, weight 58 kg.

Me: weight 58 kg, blood type O+, place of residence Gilan, I’m single. 

Broker: Have you got all your documents?

Me: Not yet. I don’t know what I need to do exactly. Mr. Mahmoud said you can help me. 

Broker: Your kidney is now worth something between 270 to 310 (million) Tomans. That’s if I sell it for you. 

Broker: and all you will have to pay for the sign up process will be 300 (thousand) Tomans. But if you decide to sign up yourself, the cost will be 1 million 400 (thousand Tomans) and you will receive something between 35 to 50 (million Tomans) for your kidney. If I take care of it for you, everything will be done in up to 3 weeks and if you want to do it yourself, it could take between 3 months to a year. 

Me: Well, if it’s as you say, it’ll be great. Because I’m in a kind of a hurry and I need the money urgently. 

Broker: Is your father around?

Me: Unfortunately, no. He passed away. 

Broker: God bless him. Do you have his death certificate?

Me: Yes.

Broker: Good.

Me: He passed away when I was a child. 

Broker: Send me a clear picture of you ID. Your birth certificate, too. Do you have a driver’s license?

Me: I have my ID and birth certificate, but I don’t have a driver’s license. 

Broker: Are you sure about your blood type?

Me: Yes. 

Broker: (Send me) a clear 3*4 cm picture. 

Me: I found out when I donated blood once. 

Me: Ok, just a quick question.

Broker: (Send me) all the pages of your birth certificate, and both back and front of the ID card. 

Me: When should I give you the 300 (thousand Tomans)?

Broker: Whenever you want to start the process. If you want to start today, you will have to wire the money and send the documents by 2:00 pm. Otherwise, you will have to wait till Saturday. 

Me: Okay, I’ll try to find the money somehow. Do I have to wire it to your bank account?

Broker: Yes. 

Broker: This money is not for me. It’s the cost of your registration on the donors’ registry. 

Me: Yes, sure. Thanks a lot for your help. God bless you. 

Broker: If you wire the money by 2 (o’clock) today, we will start right away. All transportation costs will also be covered by the recipient. The money will be transferred to your bank account on the day of the surgery before you are admitted at the hospital. You can stay at the hospital from 3 to 10 days –your choice- but a minimum of 3 days is obligatory. Hospital fees are also taken care of by the recipient. 

Me: How long do I have to stay at the hospital?

Broker: at least 3 days, but you can stay up to 10 days at the recipient’s expense. 

Me: Yes, I got that. 

Broker: You wouldn’t have any problems for coming to Tehran, would you?

Me: I don’t think I can prepare the money today, but I sure will till Saturday. 

Broker: No problem. Send me your documents.

Me: No, I wouldn’t have any problems. 

Broker: We’ll start as soon as you have the money. 

Me: I won’t be able to stay long, though.

Broker: Just make sure the photos are clear. We will need to scan them later. 

Me: because I have to take care of my mother. Ok, sure. 

Broker: You can go back 3 days after the surgery. Are there any other questions?

Me: How much of this money they pay do I have to give to you?

Broker: My commission is 30 (million?) Tomans and it will be paid by the recipient. If someone sells their kidney or liver, it’s obviously because they need the money. 

Me: Thank you very much. God bless you. 

Broker: You, too. Have a nice day!

Me: You have a nice day, too!

***

A couple of days later, I sent another message to the broker. 

Me: Hi. Sorry, I just have a quick question. 

Broker: Hi. What’s your question?

Me: In which hospital am I going to get the surgery?

Broker: Labbafinejad Hospital.

Me: Is this my only choice? Is it a good hospital?

Broker: They call it “the kidney hospital”. Most kidney transplant surgeries are done here. Besides, I know all the medical staff there and I can get everything done. 

Broker: The surgery will be done by an attending physician. We haven’t had any problems whatsoever over the past 10 years. 

Me: Ok, great! Thank you! I’m relieved to hear that. 

Broker: You are welcome. Why haven’t you sent me your documents yet?

Me: I have to have them scanned. I’ll send them.

Broker: have what scanned?

Me: My documents.

Broker: Ma’am…

Me: You said yourself they need to be clear. 

Broker: You just send me clear pictures of your documents. I’ll scan them myself. 

Me: Ok, sure. 

Broker: You don’t need to spend your money on such stuff. 

Me: Ok, thank you very much. 

Broker: You are welcome. 

Me: Could you please give me your account details so I could wire the money by Saturday?

Broker: 6037xxxxxxxxxxxxxx. This is a debit card number. Name of the card holder: Khashayar A. 

Me: Thank you. I’ll do it as soon as I can. 

***

Me
Me
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Could your please give me your bank account information, so I can send the money on Saturday?
Broker
Broker
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6037XXXXXXXXX. That is a debit card number. The card holders name is Khashayar A.
Me
Me
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Thank you. I’ll do it as soon as I can.
This is an English copy of the original chat that took place in farsi.

From this conversation I figured the broker Mahmoud had introduced is probably called Khashayar A. I looked up the card number he had given me through my bank application. In Iran is is possible to search for a specific account number through you own account - probably meant to be a safety measure when you want to make sure you are transferring money to the right person

And the account actually existed in the well known Iranian Bank Melli - under the same name the broker had given me. 

Besides the great difference in the amount that brokers offer, my conversation with this particular broker, who very casually and without reserve gave me a real name and a debit card number, and the name of the hospital without even trying to verify my identity first, shows how much they feel safe in their field. 

According to him, selling through a broker gives the benefit of paying 300 thousand instead of 1,2  million Tomans for the application and registration process, and thanks to the relations the brokers have with hospital managers, the patient would not have to wait more than two weeks to get the surgery. 

The much higher price haggled by the broker for the seller is also symptomatic of the huge commission he is looking to receive from the clients i.e. patients with kidney disease. 

Khashayar A. claims to have been involved in the illicit Iranian kidney trade for more than ten years and he calls the medical staff of Labbafinejad Hospital his “acquaintances”.

Labbafinejad Hospitalet in Tehran, where the broker claims that my operation will take placeer, at min transplantation skal foregå. Foto: Google

Labbafinejad Hospital in Tehran is one of the most prestigious hospitals for kidney transplants. 

According to the latest statistics, as of May 2018 more than 5.000 kidney transplants had been done by this hospital. Telling Sarah that her surgery will take place at this hospital could have been a mere strategy to gain her trust. 

But if we assume what the broker says is actually true, and we allow that there are brokers who can admit sellers for surgeries at hospitals outside the official waiting list, we have no choice but to hold doctors, who knowingly perform illegal operations with illicit organs, liable and a part of the black market who probably have their own share out of the kidney recipient’s pocket. 

***

After a few hours I got another private message on Instagram from another ID, Parixs, who introduced himself as Karim. 

Karim’s role was more or less similar to that of Mahmoud, except this time, even before I had seen his message, he had told me all about himself. 

He had also included lots of details about the surgery. But most importantly, in order to put my mind at ease about what I wanted to do, he had posted a picture of the tests he had done before the surgery, alongside his broker’s contact number. 

Yet, one of the most important points in Karim’s information was that, there is nothing you cannot buy for a price in this process; for example, the brokers can get you the consent forms you need from your father, mother, or spouse in exchange for 150.000 Tomans, or at least that’s what they say.  

Karim: Hi. Do you want to sell a kidney? Advertising it is not the way to go. It’s all a sham. I sold mine through a broker a few months ago. 0905xxxxxxx. This is his phone number. If he doesn’t answer, send him a message on WhatsApp. 

Tell him you got his number from Karim. He’ll sell it for you. All you need is a consent form signed by your father, and a blood type card. Even if you don’t have the consent form, they’ll get one for you for 150.000 Tomans. They have people who can do that. 

The document Karim had sent me was apparently a drug test, probably belonging to a would-be seller. Whether it actually belonged to Karim or to another person cannot be determined. 

Me: Hi. Yes, I’m looking to sell. I don’t have the documents yet. 

Karim: What (don’t you have)? The consent form, you mean?

(Karim sent me another picture of an envelope containing test results which did not include any significant information and continued:)

Karim: Tell them your father lives abroad. Pay them 150.000 Tomans and they’ll take care of it for you. That’s what I did. 

Me: I don’t have a father. 

Karim: If you tell them that, they’ll ask you for his death certificate. Tell them that he is not here, and that you need the form under your mother’s name instead. You pay 150.000 Tomans and they’ll take care of it for you. 

Me: I’m completely broke (and I can’t afford the 150.000 Tomans for the consent form). I’m of legal age, why do I even need a consent form?

Karim: Take a look at this picture.

He then sent me a picture including the requirements for kidney donors. It said that kidney donors must:

  1. Be between 22 to 45 years old.
  2. For married donors, a consent form signed by the spouse, and for single donors, consent form signed by the father is necessary. In case the single donor’s father has passed away, the death certificate must be included, and the mother will provide the consent.
  3. Donor’s birth certificate + a copy. Donor’s ID card (front and back), the ID card of the person who signs the consent form + a copy (front and back) 
  4. A blood type certificate
  5. 2 photographs (3*4 cm)
  6. A promissory note for 1 million Tomans
  7. Donor’s weight must be under 80 Kg
  8. The donor will receive his/her reward after the surgery through a cheque for 18 million Tomans at the Association’s office. 
  9. The donor will also receive a reward of 1 million Tomans from the Association.
  10. All tests and analyses will be paid for by the recipient.Days later, I received another message from Mahmoud.Mahmoud: Hi, sister! Has your problem been resolved?Me: Hi. I texted your acquaintance and he told me what I need to do. I haven’t been able to prepare the money, though.Mahmoud: Damn it, that’s too bad. I’ll tell you what, you come up with half the money, and I’ll give you the rest myself. 

***

Me
Me
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Hi Sister, has you problem been solved?
Mahmoud
Mahmoud
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Hi, I wrote to your contact and he has told me what to do. But I have not been able to raise the money
Me
Me
Read More
Damn, that too bad. You know what, if you can get half of the money, I will give you the rest!
This is an English copy of the original chat that took place in farsi.

Besides middlemen and brokers, I also got some messages from people who seemed to be kidney patients in need of a transplant. 

A woman, whom I will call Razieh, contacted me and offered me 70 million Tomans for my kidney; a price much lower than what the brokers had promised. Razieh said she is just a teacher and she won’t be able to pay more than 70 million Tomans. I told her brokers can get me about 300 million Tomans for my kidney. 

She warned me: “Don’t let them fool you! That’s what they say to make you sell through them. But as soon as you give them the kidney, they are going to give you much less than they had promised.” 

I was contacted by all the aforementioned persons on Instagram in less than a week. 

At a point I had to end my conversation with them lest they want to find out more about my identity. After the Covid-19 pandemic broke out  the brokers stopped trying to reach me.

Almost all of them deleted their messages.

My last attempts to contact them to reveal my true identity and ask for their permission to use their names and the information they had given me were futile as many of the accounts had already been deactivated or deleted.

***

Discerning the great number of poverty-stricken individuals (either Iranian or non-Iranian citizens) who are willing to participate in illegal organ trade out of necessity is not that difficult. 

You wouldn’t even need to do what I did on social media. Just type in “selling a kidney” in any search engine, open any related article, and go to the comments section. 

For example, an article titled “A Guide to Kidney Trade with a Table of Prices” published in 2018 has gotten many comments, of which more than 90 percent include personal information and contact numbers provided by potential sellers who are desperately in financial need. 

Another example is a website that published an article related to the topic of illicit kidney trade last year and in about a year, they have received more than 1200 requests including personal and medical details from would-be kidney and liver sellers.   

Other websites chose names similar to that of the CASKP so they can attract donors, for example Kidney Donation Foundation. 

Some websites go so far as to publish cautionary guidelines for the donors, teaching them how to protect themselves while dealing with brokers. 

Local media in Iran is also well aware of the existence and immensity of the black market dealing in kidney trade. 

Etemad Newspaper quoted ISNA News Agency on the use of Telegram application by kidney sellers. Before it was filtered by the authorities, this application was as widely used for this purpose as Instagram is used today.

Back in 2014, Salamat News Website, in an extensive report, mentioned illicit kidney transplantation surgeries and quoted Mostafa Qasemi, head of CASKP at the time, that had said: “out of 1800 kidney transplant surgeries, 1000 have been done out of sight of the law and without the Association’s knowledge or cooperation.” 

In September 2019, another article was published in Resalat Newspaper which included a long interview with a broker who claimed he would make a minimum of 250 million Tomans a month. 

Although, due to the severe regime of restrictions and censorship that govern the news and media in Iran, the media does not address questions like how the brokers manage to skip the long waiting list, or how these under-the-table sales happen with the help of those “inside the legal framework”. These restrictions and censorships have also affected doctors and patients struggling with this problem.

Many patients who have had a kidney transplant confirm the role brokers play in the market and the relationship they have with the CASKP. 

***

According to a patient, whom I will call Masoud, brokers’ role is quite significant in this trade. Masoud suffered from kidney malfunction, and after going through dialysis for four years, he recently got a transplant. 

When his problem started, he was only 24 years old, and although according to the policies, patients under 30 should be ranked prior on the waiting list to receive an organ from a cadaver, he was forced to buy a kidney at last. I asked him:

Me: You were young. Why did you have to wait for four years?”

Masoud: Because I had neither money, nor someone to pull the strings for me. 

Me: Do you need those to get a transplant?

Masoud: Sure, CASKP’s waiting list is just a sham. They pretend they want to help the patients but the reality is totally different. 

Me: What is the reality?

Masoud: Brokers and bribery. Let me tell you how it works. Those who have kidney problems have to apply for a transplant through the CASKP. So do those who want to volunteer to donate a kidney. Of course, donors receive about 30 million Tomans, so donating does not exactly mean you do it for free. Everything is fine up to this point and there seems to be no problem. But the problem is, the managers at CASKP respect the waiting list only partially while they sell most places on the list.

Me: Are you saying that CASKP itself is responsible for selling places on the waiting list?

Masoud: Exactly. If you have money, you’ll let them know you are willing to pay good money provided they give you a closer date for surgery. If there is a suitable donor available, they will inform him/her about the offer behind closed doors and the rich person will get his kidney outside the waiting list.   

Me: How did you manage to solve your problem?

Masoud: I had to go through dialysis for 4 years till I finally found someone inside CASKP to help me and I finally managed to buy a kidney. 

Me: You mean even after 4 years, and despite the fact that you were under 30, you still did not receive a transplant from a cadaver and you had to pay for a kidney?

Masoud: Yes. I was just lucky, because I found someone inside CASKP who helped me find a kidney for a reasonable price and get my surgery in due time. 

***

Masoud says there is nothing money can’t buy. He has witnessed how the brokers managed to get a transplant for a patient who was not an Iranian citizen (he was an employee at a foreign embassy).

According to “The Instructions for Kidney Donations and Transplants from Living Donors” ratified by the Ministry of Public Health, Iranian citizens cannot neither give nor receive an organ from the citizens of other countries and participation in the market would be confined to citizens of Iran. 

This ruling is not free from racist qualities and it has been executed at least about citizens of Afghanistan who live in Iran. Nevertheless, this law has not eliminated transplant tourism. 

 

There have been cases where foreign patients have entered the country as a tourist and again, thanks to brokers and large sums of money changing hands, managed to get fake documents and receive an organ without having to wait their turn on the waiting list. 

***

I will call another patient I talked to, Shaghayegh. Shaghayegh’s family, who survives on a shoestring budget, had to pay for her dialysis for years until she got a transplant. When I called her, she answered with a shaky voice. I tried to reassure her, and told her I was calling from a secure line, but she was still very scared and couldn’t speak freely.

Me: Did you apply for a transplant through the CASKP?

Shaghayegh: At first, yes. But after we found out receiving an organ from a cadaver may take years, and since we didn’t have the means to buy a kidney, my father got tested and fortunately, he was a match and gave me one of his kidneys. 

Me: What would you have done if he was not a match?

Shaghayegh: We would have found a way. The Association would have found a way to help me. 

Me: Do you know anything about the mafia of kidney trade?

Shaghayegh: I really don’t. I mostly keep to myself. 

Me: So you don’t know anything about brokers in the kidney black market?

Shaghayegh: I know they exist, but I don’t know anything about the mafia stuff. I’m sure the government will deal with them. I’m not a political person, I don’t know much about such things. 

Me: This is not a conversation about politics. I’m doing research on organ trade networks and the problems patients have to deal with. Don’t you have any worries or problems?

Shaghayegh: I do, I mean most of the times I worry what would happen if my body rejects this kidney, because that could happen, you know? We are not a well-off family and can’t pay for treatments or another transplant. It takes years to receive a kidney through CASKP, so we would have to go to the brokers and that costs a fortune. But I’m sure the authorities will help, so I needn’t worry. Thank God they take good care of patients. 

***

Shaghayegh was very worried and didn’t talk much which was not surprising. If you have ever lived in Iran, you know that tapping lines, especially when it comes to international phone calls, is “normal”. 

The broad definition of what constitutes a crime in Iran means that the authorities could turn anything into a political issue and a crime against national security. Shaghayegh, besides worrying about the phone call, was worried about her body rejecting the kidney she had received in which case she would have to go to the brokers. 

Of all the physicians I called, none agreed to their names or their workplace being revealed, in view of security concerns. A physician, whom I will call Nasser, told me: “Look, Ma’am! I’m not looking for trouble. Go find someone else to talk to!” and hung up. 

Another physician, whom I call Samaneh, refrained from answering any of my calls. So I had to email my questions to the person who had introduced her. This way she could answer the questions in person and not over the phone. Samaneh had commented: “This is a very dangerous issue to get involved with. It’s not just about a few brokers. Important authorities are involved in the organ trade mafia.” She had advised my acquaintance not to get involved in this “dangerous issue”, either. 

A third physician, who was also introduced to me by a friend, refused to be interviewed, saying it was risky and that he didn’t want to get into trouble.   

A physician from a prestigious hospital in Tehran did however  agree to talk to me and he confirmed my findings. According to this person, besides trading organs donated by living donors, organs procured from brain dead patients can also somehow be bought at a higher price, outside the waiting list. 

As I mentioned before, names of the hospitals will be kept secret out of regard for the interviewees’ privacy. 

***

As you have noticed, entering black market as a kidney seller is quite simple and the vastness of this market is easily perceivable. But little have been done to change this situation, and all comments made are rather vague and general. 

In 2019, the Ministry of Public Health announced that organ donations from a living person will be exclusively restricted to kidney transplants, and that new policies and a new registration portal will be set up to minimize the illegal kidney trade. 

Although, it was not possible to determine if the new portal actually eliminates the chance of illegal organ trade without being able to access the portal. 

Access to the Ministry of Public Health’s website is denied to residents outside Iran, so I asked a friend in Iran to look up the portal on the website of the Ministry of Public Health. 

The only thing that could be found was a link that led to Iran’s Center for Organ Donation; a non-governmental organization which claims to be promoting organ donation. Therefore, the new online portal mentioned by the Ministry of Health does not actually exist. 

The head of the Transplantation and Treatment of Diseases Department at the Ministry of Health has only contended that the Ministry will, from now on, categorize and prioritize patients with kidney diseases according to new criteria which are specified in the “living” guidelines. According to the new policies, unless the donor is a first degree relative, all patients will be subject to and ranked by the criteria.

The question is how are these new policies going to help patients waiting the line, whose days are numbered, and whose numbers are four times as much the annual capacity for kidney transplants? 

Even more important is the fact that the Ministry of Public Health has turned a blind eye to brokers and their potential accomplices inside the legal framework, at the same time ignoring the existence of a long line of sellers struggling with financial needs. 

The lives of kidney patients and destitute sellers is being traded by several layers of criminal and legal middlemen. The hidden doors of CASKP, which open to organ black markets, are not unknown to the patients, and if they can afford it, they would inevitably go through these doors to buy themselves some extra time. 

After all this is just a glimpse into a bigger medical care system in which people’s lives are reduced to commodities to be sold and bought by money. 

***

Read more: Instagram used for illegal organ trafficking

Barrel bombs filled with poisonous chlorine gas landed on the village of Kafr Zita at 10.30 pm, when most inhabitants had gone to bed.

The attack on this village in the northern Syria was the fifth in just a week and just one of thousands of attacks on civilians during the eight-year Syrian civil war.

At least 35 residents were wounded or killed by the poisonous gas, according an investigation conducted by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, OPCW.

Several residents used their mobile phones to film how victims were brought to the two small hospitals of Kafr Zita, and show how doctors and volunteers desperately tried to save lives by washing their faces with water and giving victims oxygen.

The videos were uploaded to YouTube and other social media in an attempt to draw international attention and prove that war crimes were being committed by in this case president Assads regime.

But today several of the most important videos have disappeared, deleted by robots that automatically remove posts with inappropriate content.

Dying children on a hospital floor in Kafr Zita apparently belong to this category, notes Hadi al-Khatib, head of the NGO ‘Syrian Archive’, that collects and preserves evidence of war crimes and abuse civil war-torn countries such as Syria, Yemen, Libya and Sudan.

"It's a huge problem," he says.

“Every minute, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are trawling their platforms, removing material that one day might be crucial to convict war criminals, and there’s nothing we can do about it. We can just try to save as much evidence as possible before it disappears,” Hadi Al-Khatib says.

The material collected by Syrian Archive are often used by media, human rights organizations and in court cases dealing with war crimes.

Lost evidence

Three videos deleted by Youtube

The videos are all from the village of Kafr Zita in northern Syria, which was attacked was attacked with barrel bombs containing chlorine gas on 18 April 2014. The chemical attack was later confirmed by an fact finding commission from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, OPCW. The attack was the fifth in a series of chlorine gas attacks on the city.

1

Youtube

Search for video id: 4d85f824

2

Youtube

Search for video id: 25e8d229

3

Youtube

Search for video id: bd3cc1a3

Invaluable evidence is lost

According to Hadi al-Khatib, a very large part of the material uploaded from the Syrian civil war has already disappeared.

And more disappears every day as the search engines used to find violent material, child pornography, etc. become increasingly efficient.

"We have ongoing contact with Facebook, Twitter and Google who owns YouTube about the problem, but despite years of negotiations it seems like they still don’t understand the problem," Hadi al-Khatib says.

In some cases the Syrian Archive or similar NGOs have succeeded in preserving some of the important evidence. For instance from the chlorine gas attack in Kafr Zita. At least three crucial videos from the attack, that took place on the 18th of April 2014, have been removed from YouTube.

One video from Kafr Zita shows several young men wearing oxygen masks. They are located in what looks like a hospital room and seem to have trouble breathing.

The second video shows a larger group of men, women and children in a hospital. Several of them are coughing, having difficulty breathing. Later more people enter wearing gas masks.

The third video shows an unexploded chlorine gas bomb being disarmed.

Luckily the Syrian Archive managed to save the three videos in its database, where they are included as evidence of the attack. But this is not always possible.

We have a responsibility

At Facebook Scandinavia Peter Münster, head of communications, acknowledges that it is a problem if historical evidence disappears.

"We do not take down content just because it is offensive or unpleasant to look at. Vi sometimes put up a warning, but Facebook is also a platform you can use to create awareness about abuse, including violence against civilians”, he says

“We usually only take down violent content, if it is shared in order to i.e. glorify the violence. And if we take something down by mistake, you can appeal the decision and we will restore it.”

According to Peter Münster, Facebook uses artificial intelligence to trawl the huge amounts of material uploaded by the more than to billion daily users.

But later humans review the posts and decide whether or not the content is in violation of Facebook guidelines.

In the past Facebook relied on notices from its users, but that's no longer sufficient.

“The problem is that in closed groups and forums, the users tend to agree and often they do not report each other for violating guidelines,” Münster explains.

"We have had several unpleasant eye-openers lately. We have seen how our platform has been used to distribute misinformation during the 2016 US elections and to advance persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar."

"These experiences have made it crystal clear to us  that we have to take a much wider responsibility for the use of our platform."

According to Peter Münster Facebook currently has more than 15,000 employees who are evaluating potentially harmful material reported by users or found by the automatic search engines.

Not our problem

At Twitter, spokeswoman Ann Rose Harte declined to comment on the allegations that the service deletes posts that e.g. can be used as evidence in war crimes cases. 

But in general Twitter exists to serve the public conversation, including the conversation about important political events, shes says. 

But  it has to happen within the limits of Twitter guidelines 

“Our guidelines prohibit terrorism, hateful behavior, manipulation of our platform and abuse”,  Ann Rose Harte says in an email to Danwatch.

“We enforce our guidelines in the same well-considered and impartial way for all our users. And we work with the authorities and assist with investigations when required by law, ” Ann Rose Harte states.

Google who is the owner of YouTube communications manager Jesper Vangkilde does not want to be quoted in this article.

However, on its official blog, Google has commented on the decision to use robots to remove problematic material from YouTube.

"While these tools are not perfect and not applicable in all situations, our systems have proven to be more accurate than humans when it comes to stopping videos that should be removed," Google wrote a couple of years back.

In response to questions from the Danish Daily Information Google has urged users to make sure the proper context is clear when uploading videos that risk being taken down because of violent content.

In that way evaluators have a better chance of assessing whether a video should be preserved or removed, a Google spokesman wrote in a response to the newspaper.

At Syrian Archive, however, Hadi al-Khatib is not reassured. 

He believes that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube should use more resources to make sure that humans are reviewing the material that the robots propose to remove.

“It should be people who speak the language and understand the context, who evaluate the individual notices. It is the only way you can ensure a proper decision whether a posting should be removed or not, ”he says.

Denmark - a key player

  • The Danish producers of fish meal, fish oil and fish feed play a significant part in the global cycle for aqua culture. Denmark is the biggest producer of fish meal and fish oil, as well as eager traders in the global market.
  • Nearly half of all fish meal and fish oil imported for the EU, goes to Denmark, numbers from European Market Observatory for Fisheries and Aquaculture Products (EUMOFA) show.

We have become better at eating fish over the last years, but we can do better, Danish Health Authorities say. Fish are full of selenium, iodine and d-vitamins, hence, we should all eat about 350 grams of fish per week.

However, the wild fish stock of the World are not doing well. The UN Agricultural Organisation (FAO) have warned about overfishing, whilst breeding of especially salmon and trout have exploded over the last few years. 

Norway is the World’s largest producer of farmed salmon. Every year Norway produces around a million tons of salmon to markets around the world. In comparison, Denmark produced around 48.000 tons of fish and shellfish in 2017, according to Danish National Statistics. 

But farmed fish also eat fish. And this is where the problems start to occur. 

Catching fish for fish feed instead as food for humans drains the World's oceans from small, so called pelagic fish. The pelagic species are sandeel, anchovies and krill, which are all an import food source for larger fish. That worries experts that Danwatch have spoken to. 

“The increasing demand for fishmeal for aquaculture is putting a lot of pressure on pelagics worldwide and aquaculture demand for animal protein is increasing, today this demand is in competition with human consumption, says Philippe Cury, senior scientist at Institut de Recherche pour le Développement in Belgium.

The pelagics should be used for food not for feeding animals”.

Cheaper and healthier dietary in the world

Fish farming means cheaper fish, which again can lead to more nutritious dietary around the world, supporters of fish farming says. Critics, however, say that the increase in the number of aquaculture farms make the demand for fish for fish feed larger. Fish, which could have been eaten by humans instead, they claim. 

A study from 2017, Most fish destined for fishmeal production are fool-grade fish, concluded, that 90 percent of the fish used in fish feed could have been eaten by humans. 

Daniel Pauly from the University of British Columbia is one of the authors behind the study, and have been researching fishing populations in West Africa for two decades:  

“If edible fish are made into fish meal, it increases the price of fish for humans, who have to eat them and that affects food safety. West Africa have a large problem with food safety, especially because of climate change”, says Daniel Pauly. 

In June 2019, Greenpeace published a report, A Waste of Fish, which concludes that “food safety and livelihood for the local community in West Africa is being threatened by the expansion of the fish meal and fish oil industries in Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia”. 

Dr. Ibrahima Cisse, Oceans Campaign Manager for Greenpeace, says: 

“We are losing hundreds of thousands of edible fish to the fish meal and fish oil exporters, and this potentially affects 40 million African consumers”.

Mauritania

The fishing boats are busy in the port of Nouadhibou, Mauritania.

Five kilos of fish for one kilo of fish meal

Just like in oceans, lakes and rivers species like zander, turbot, salmon and trout in farms live of fish, small pelagic fish. Therefore, industrial fisheries around the world catch species like sardines, anchovies and krill, which are made into fish meal and fish oil, and then sold as animal feed. 

About one fifth of the world's catches of wild fish are used for fish meal or fish oil, and the majority of this is turned into fish feed. 

Now back to the salmon. 

If a farmed salmon is caught, when it weighs between two and five kilos, it has eaten between two and nine kilos of fish feed. Fish feed consists mainly of plants, algae or soy and cut offs from fish factories, which are heads, tales and fish bones, and about 30 percent fish flour. In total, five kilos of pelagic fish are needed for one kilo of fish meal

This means, that a farmed salmon between two and five kilos have eaten between three and 13.5 kilos of pelagic fish, when it is ready to be caught and sold in stores.

Facts

What did a 5 kg salmon eat before it goes on the dining table?

9 kg of fish fead, which consist of

about 6 kg of plants, algae, soy and cut offs from filet factories

3 kg of fish meal

It takes approximately 13,5 kg to produce 3 kg of fish meal

Sources: Marine Ingredient Denmark, Seafish.org, Greenpeace ect.

Fish to fish from poor countries

One of the places that experiences overfishing of pelagic fish is Mauritania in West Africa. Once, there was plenty of fish in the seas of Mauritania, but today the three largest pelagic species, round and flat sardinella and bonga, are disappearing, according to FAOs latest evaluation.  

Bonga, round and flat sardinella are all used for fish meal and fish oil.  

“These species are widely overfished”, says Daniel Pauly. 

On average, every Mauritian eat between eight and 20 kilos of fish per year, according to FAOs calculations, and many of these fish are sardinella and bonga.   

During recent years, these species have been increasingly attractive to an increasing amount of factories located along the coast, east of the countries largest coastal city, Nouadhibou. 

The fishermen in Nouadhibou sell a lot of their catch to these factories that make the fishes into fish meal and fish oil, which is exported to Russia, China and the EU. The fish meal and -oil industry is increasing and have made Mauritania into one of West Africa's largest exporters of pelagic fishes.  

“This industry will destroy the Sardinella stock in the region, but not before it will have reduced the local consumption of fish, i.e. affected the incomes and food security of the people in West-Africa”, Daniel Pauly writes in an email to Danwatch. 

Danish import from West Africa

Most of the fish meal and - oil imported to Denmark comes from Iceland, Norway and Chile, and the West African countries, Morocco and Mauritania, are number seven on the list. In 2018, Mauritania was the seventh largest supplier of fish oil to Denmark, and Morocco was the seventh largest supplier of fish meal, statistics from the Danish Fisheries Agency show.  

We asked Philippe Cury, what companies could do to refrain from affecting food security in West Africa, when they buy fish meal and fish oil from Mauritania and Morocco. 

“They should stop”, is his answer in short.

“West Africa has a large problem with food security, and it is serious”.

Danish Fish  industry - a key player

  • The Danish producers of fish meal, fish oil and fish feed play a significant part in the global cycle for aqua culture. Denmark is the biggest producer of fish meal and fish oil, as well as eager traders in the global market.
  • Nearly half of all fish meal and fish oil imported for the EU, goes to Denmark, numbers from European Market Observatory for Fisheries and Aquaculture Products (EUMOFA) show.

Today, fish is the most important source of protein for 17 percent of the world’s population, and in about 30 years, we will urgently need cheap and healthy sources of protein. In 30 years we will be around nine billion people on the planet. This is pointed out by UN agricultural organization FAO in their report, The State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Report 2018

In short, if we want to feed the entire world’s population, we need to produce more fish. 

Therefore, fish farming is supposed to deliver 109 million tons of healthy and relatively cheap fish to consumers around the world in 2030, FAO says. By that time farmed fish will make up for 60 percent of the world's fish production, and the pressure on wild fish will ease, and hence the climate pressure will be less. 

That is the UN’s valuation. Marine Biologists seem to disagree. 

Aqua culture puts pressure on wild fish

“You do not ease the pressure on wild fish by using pelagic fish in feed to farmed fish”, Daniel Pauly writes in the scientific magazine Nature. 

Farmed fish has to be fed with fish - in the shape of fish meal- and an increase in farmed fish will naturally lead to a larger pressure on fishing”, says Daniel Pauly.

Philippe Cury is a senior scientist at the french research institute for development, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement in Belgium. 

“The increased demand for fish flour used for fish farming puts a large pressure on pelagic fish all over the world”, he says. 

According to FAO, 85 percent of the world’s fish stocks has reached its maximum limit for fishing, or is about to collapse. And the future does not look any brighter.  

The state of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Report 2018 says: 

“It seems unlikely that the world’s fishing fleets in a near future will be able to restore the 33.1 percent of fish species, which today are overfished, because a restoration takes time, usually to-three times the species life cycle”. 

 

Some of the world’s largest companies within fish oil, fish meal and fish feed are located in Denmark. This makes Denmark a large consumer of fish meal and fish oil, which is used for animal feed, especially for fish. A smaller part of fish oil is being sold as a health supplement for Danes. 

The companies buy large quantities from the US, Peru, Iceland and Norway, which are among the largest exporters to Denmark. According to numbers from the Danish Fishery Agency, Morocco and Mauritania are seventh on the list of countries who last year exported fish meal and fish oil to Denmark. 

FAKTA

The fish meal industry in Morocco and Mauritania has grown extensively the past couple of years. But when fish from West Africa are made into fish meal and oil for other fish, fish prices increase, and the fishstocks are being overfished, which is are damaging to food security, critics say.

A survey

We’ve asked six danish companies that imported fish meal and fish oil from Mauritania and Morocco from 2017-2019, what they have done to ensure sustainable procurement.

TripleNine Group, Pelagia and FF Skagen confirm that they are buying fish meal and fish oil from Morocco and Mauritania:

CEO of Pelagia, Egil Magne, says, that Pelagia have traded with Mauritania for 10 years, but he won't disclose their suppliers or the volume of the quantities they have bought. 

“I find it hard to believe that increased fishing for the use of fish meal and fish oil will affect food security for Mauritanias' population”, he says and elaborates that Pelagia will “cut off companies if they have any suspicion of illegal fishing or other intolerant activities”.   

TripleNine Group call themselves, “Europe’s largest and one of the world’s largest producers of fish meal and fish oil”. CEO, Jes Bjerregaard, writes in an email to Danwatch:

“In 2019, we bought 600 tons of certified fish meal from Morocco. In general, we are careful with only buying from suppliers, who are certified and operates sustainably”. 

FF Skagens CEO, Johannes Palsson writes in an email that the company in the period of 2017-2019 got “quite a volume from Morocco and Mauritania”: 

“The most of the import was certified and came from the filet industry. We have been told that Mauritania is on its way to becoming certified with the intent to improve the future of fishing”, Johannes Palsson writes. 

They do not wish to inform of their suppliers

The fish feed producer Biomar imports from West Africa, and Assistant Director for the EMEA division in Biomar, Ole Christensen, informs in an email, that “information about commodities is found on our website, but we do not wish to disclose information on individual suppliers”. 

From the Ocean Disclosure Project Database it is shown that Biomar bought sardinella from Gambia, Mauritania and Senegal in 2018. 

The company ED&F Man Terminals do not wish to disclose their suppliers, but an acces to documents through the Ministry of Food show, that ED&F Man Terminals have imported fish oil for human consumption from both Morocco and Mauritania from 2017-2019. 

Sustainable alternatives on its way

EUFishmeal and Marine Ingredient Denmark are respectively the European and the Danish marine branch organisation for fish meal producers, and Anne Mette Bæk is the CEO of both organisations. 

She points out that the industry is already working on sustainable solutions. Today, the amount of fish meal in fish feed is about 30 percent opposed to 70 percent in the 1990’s. As an alternative to using the whole fish in the production of fish meal and fish oil, the industry now buy cut offs from filet factories, which means head, tale and fish bones, which can be used for fish feed. 

“Last year around 15 percent of fish meal and fish oil came from cut offs”, Anne Mette Bæk writes in an email. 

In addition, import of fish meal and fish oil from West Africa is limited, she writes. 

“In both Mauritania and Morocco certification schemes are used, and they are in the process of developing Fisheries Improvement Programme”. 

Fisheries Improvement Programme (FIP) is the first step towards being certified as an sustainable fishery under the Marine Stewardship Council, also known as the MSC-label. 

At MSC in London, Henry Appleton says, that there currently are no MSC certified fishing in Mauritania and Morocco.

According to Daniel Pauly, a marine biologist and professor at University of British Columbia in Canada, those certifications are not worth much to West Africans. 

“Certifications do not ensure food security. The fish meal industry will destroy the sardinella population in the region, but before that happens, it will have reduced the local consumption of fish and thereby affect livelihoods and food security for the population in West Africa”, says Daniel Pauly.  

 

My husband was beaten to a pulp. We left him behind on the other side. I couldn't find my youngest child.

Doulu

Danwatch photographer Shafiur Rahman has visited the border area of Bangladesh close to Myanmar. At the moment members of the Muslim minority, Rohingya are fleeing murder and rape committed by Myanmar’s security forces.

Shafiur’s portraits and the testimony of the women describes a horrifying situation in Myanmar, one which the writer Azeem Ibrahim describes as a hidden genocide in his aptly named book “The Rohingyas – Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide” ( 2016).

These developments are not new and a UN report from last week suggests that gang rapes, beatings, and killings of men, women, and children are common in the northern Myanmar. Of the 204 interviewed people, the vast majority reported witnessing killings. Half reported having a family member who was killed, while half of the women interviewed reported having suffered rape or other forms of sexual violence.

They kept me as long as they wanted to. Those who came at 8pm raped me till 12am; and those who came at 12am, stayed till 1am. In this way, they did whatever they wanted to.

Anwara

The conflicts in Myanmar

The violent attacks against the Rohingya’s are primarily committed by Myanmar’s security forces in the Rhakin State, but there is a general tendency in the predominantly Buddhist population towards discrimination and exclusion of the Muslim minority. A UN report shows that the segregation between Muslims and Buddhists is excessive in Myanmar, especially in the Rhakin State where the majority of Muslims live.

The Muslim minority Rohingya is not recognized as a distinct ethnic group in Myanmar because the Buddhist minority view the Rohingya population as illegal immigrants. This means that the majority of the Muslims are stateless and have no civil rights.

The same UN report shows that the conflicts in the Rhakin State have increased during the last couple of years while the military has become more and more aggressive. The military junta surrendered in 2011, but the military still has excessive influence in Myanmar and in the Rhakin State. The UN report shows that the military controls the western province of Myanmar.

UN estimates that 66,000 Muslims have fled to Bangladesh since October 2016.

They taunted me and tortured me. They put pictures of my rape on the internet. Even the people of my neighbourhood tormented me a lot.

NurQaida

My husband was a religious scholar. They took him away. How will I manage with my children?

Amina

Rashidas daughter was slaughtered in front of her. Husband taken by the military. Raped.

Yasminas mother and father was slaughtered in front of her. Gang raped.

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