information and news on accountability.

aid workers
Humanitarian aid is certainly a term with which we are all familiar, but do we really know what it takes to be a successful aid worker? The job is full of sacrifices: leaving friends, family and an entire lifestyle behind to complete humanitarian work in a foreign country. But aid workers also leave something else behind: safety.

As recent as June 16, a hospital organized by Doctors Without Borders in a South Kordofan province in Sudan was struck by two aerial bombs. Although it is unknown if this hospital was simply one of the many targets in this attack, six innocent people–including a Doctors Without Borders aid worker–were injured.

Completing humanitarian aid can be difficult enough as it is, and aid workers in developing countries have increasingly faced more dangers over the past several years. According to former Navy SEAL and humanitarian aid worker Kaj Larsen, “It’s become increasingly difficult to help victims of conflict without becoming a victim of the conflict as well.” As an aid worker in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Kenya and Somalia, Larsen has seen firsthand how security concerns lead to a decrease in international responses to crises.

Although there have always been risks involved with becoming an aid worker in a foreign country, never before have aid workers been the direct targets of these attacks. According to the annual reports released by Humanitarian Outcomes based on the Aid Worker Security Database (AWSD), the number of attacks against aid workers first set a new record in 2011, and the number only increased in 2012 with a total of 167 incidents resulting in the kidnappings, injuries or deaths of 274 aid workers in 19 countries.

It was revealed in the 2013 Aid Worker Security Report that the most common form of attack on aid workers is kidnappings, as an average increase of 44 percent has been seen every year since 2002. While there are several aid organizations in place that manage how these kidnappings are handled and resolved as quickly as possible, these organizations have yet to directly address the threat itself, which is one reason why this particular form of attack occurs most frequently.

What may be surprising is that ambushes and attacks–and not raids or bombings–are the second most common way aid workers experience an act of violence against them. Since these workers are seen as easy targets while they are traveling on the road, many organizations are working to decrease the danger of transporting both workers and supplies in conflict zones by adding more road security.

Despite progress organizations have made to make conditions safer for aid workers, attacks are still happening throughout these conflict zones, with Afghanistan, South Sudan, Somalia and Pakistan being among the most dangerous areas for aid workers. As the safety of thousands of aid workers from across the world are threatened, it is important for agencies to continue preventing and responding to these attacks in the most efficient way.

– Meghan Orner

Sources: VICE News, The Aid Worker Security Database 1, The Aid Worker Security Database 2
Photo: ABC News

Flagellation, beating and electric shock are among the injustices migrants and refugees have allegedly suffered in several Libyan detention centers, according to testimonies gathered in a Human Rights Watch investigation carried out in April. These detention centers, which are operated by the Libyan government, are home to as many as 6,000 people, most of whom are captured either while trying to flee to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea or attempting to illegally enter Libya.

Though the government has been unsuccessful in catching the majority of those illegally entering or exiting the country–approximately three million illegal immigrants reside in Libya, while over half a million individuals are estimated to have their sights set on Europe–these detention centers remain extremely overcrowded and those detained are subject to poor sanitation conditions. In addition, the detainees are denied not only proper medical care, but also legal representation and trial prior to entering the detention facilities.

A representative from HRW who reported accounts of male guards inappropriately strip-searching women and girls noted that the unstable political situation in Libya is no excuse for the “torture and other deplorable violence” occurring in detention centers run by the government. Other testimonies detailed incidents in which guards violently attacked men and boys, digitally raped women and girls, and hung individuals from trees in order to beat them.

HRW has instructed Italy and the countries comprising the European Union to withhold international aid to the detention centers until the abuses cease. In the next four years, those countries were to invest a combined 12 million euros (roughly $16.4 million) into rehabilitating these centers. Now, most of that money will be invested into Libyan NGOs. A small amount will be still committed to rehabilitating several of the detention centers violating Libya’s international obligation to protect all on its soil, including those in detention centers.

Should the abuses stop, Italy and the EU are to convene with the Libyan Interior Ministry on how to best use aid to bring all detention centers up to international human rights standards.

These reports of torture come at a crucial time, as the numbers of migrants and refugees in Libya is not only at a record high but expected to continue to grow within the next few years, especially if the political uncertainty currently plaguing Libya persists. Those who have already experienced torture in these detention centers are at increased of risk of poverty upon their release, as the psychological and physical stress they have endured may prevent them from seeking or sustaining employment.

Ending torture, wherever it occurs in the world, should be at the forefront of international aid agendas not just because it endangers those who currently suffer from it  but also because it will affect their lives negatively thereafter as well.

– Elise L. Riley

Sources: The Guardian, IRCT, Human Rights Watch
Photo: The Guardian

educational rankings
Although a recent study indicates that the United States spends more on student’s education than other developed nations, a report by Pearson only ranks the U.S. 14th in the world for educational performance.

Pearson’s The Learning Curve 2014 report uses a “global index” to measure the educational rankings of 39 countries. This global index was gathered by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The ranking of the countries is based on cognitive skills and outcome of students, which balances a number of factors such as test scores, school attendance, teacher salaries and employment rates.

The study found that the countries that had the best educational performance focused more on basic skill development than other countries. The top three countries, the study found, were South Korea, Japan and Singapore.

The results of the study also indicate that countries that spend the most on education do not necessarily have the highest educational rankings.

In 2010, the U.S. spent over $11,000 on each elementary student in the public school system and over $12,000 on each high school student. While the U.S. moved up since the last rankings — when it was ranked 17th in 2012 — based on the amount of spending on education, a ranking of 14th out of 39 countries is lower than would be expected.

The U.S.’s education ranking was negatively affected by its low college completion rate of 50 percent. This college graduation rate is 20th in the world.

The leading countries in the study had graduation rates of up to 90 percent.  

In addition, the report indicated that the countries with the best educational performance have a “culture of accountability.” This “culture” means that teachers, students and parents all play a key part in education and holding students accountable for completion of work. The leading countries also tend to value teachers more than in lower ranked countries.

Although the U.S. allocates a large amount of spending toward education, teachers are not compensated well compared to the compensation they receive in other countries. In the nations where teachers’ salaries were tracked between 2000 and 2011, salaries increased between 17 percent and 20 percent. In contrast, in the U.S., teachers’ salaries increased by only three percent in this time period.

By putting more of the educational spending on encouraging college completion and higher teachers salaries, causing better quality teachers to be attracted to the teaching profession, the U.S. could potentially rise in the global education rankings by 2016.

 — Lily Tyson

Sources: Education Week, Forbes, Huffington Post, Pearson
Photo: EDC Compass Blog

At least 5,000 migrants floating in overcrowded boats have been rescued off the coast of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea since Thursday, June 5. Varying reports have indicated a range of 5,200-5,470 people having been rescued so far. As a result of this most recent rescue effort, the total amount of migrants that have reached Italy from North Africa has exceeded 50,000 in 2014.

The most recent rescue effort has been spearheaded by one operation led by the Italian government, called Mare Nostrum. This operation has been in effect since October 2013, and was launched in response to 366 migrants drowning after their boat collapsed just off the shore of Sicily. That disaster not only spawned Mare Nostrum into being, but also prompted a one-off response from the EU in the form of a $30 million euro emergency fund that focused on land facilities.

Ever since that initial disaster and relief fund, Italy has been repeatedly asking for more help from the EU, with very little, if any, response. This is highlighted by the fact that only Slovenia offered one ship for the span of two months last year, and that a U.S. Navy ship and a Maltese merchant vessel rescued a combined 307 migrants in the most recent event on June 5.

This most recent event is only another vivid example of the continuing problem of migrants risking their lives to flee North Africa in the hopes of a better future in Europe. This past May, an unknown number of migrants died and 17 bodies were recovered after a similar shipwreck occurred. Throughout 2013, at least 40,000 migrants landed in Italy, and this year is on track to top the record of 62,000 set in 2011 during the Arab Spring revolutions.

The Director General of International Organization for Migration, William Lacey Swing, recently released a statement trying to utilize this incident as a means to raise awareness and take action on this recurring problem. “The tragedy of migrants drowning at sea is unfortunately a global phenomenon, not just a Mediterranean emergency,” Swing said. “The unnecessary deaths of these migrants and asylum seekers is an affront to all civilized nations.”

Swing went on to state that “the international community must develop a more comprehensive approach to protect migrants and uphold human dignity. No single action is enough to address the root causes of these mixed migration flows, but lives will be saved if action is taken now to help both migrants and countries during the entire length of the migratory route.”

The International Organization for Migration has since called for a high level debate on migratory flows in the hopes of bringing together nations of destination and origin. As Swing put it: “We need to urgently look at a comprehensive range of actions that we can take together to prevent further loss of life. These include the enhancement of legal avenues for migrants seeking better prospects in Europe and the establishment of various mechanisms and measures in countries of transit in North Africa to provide migrants and asylum seekers in need of protection with opportunities to receive legal counseling.”

With any luck this most recent occurrence will cause more nations to pay attention and provide a sustainable solution to the ever-present issue of migrants attempting to leave their home countries to find a better future elsewhere.

– Andre Gobbo

Sources: International Organization for Migration, Reuters, HUffPost

Before becoming an advocate to fight to end global poverty, you should understand what poverty actually is.

What is poverty? There are plenty of textbook and Google definitions for poverty.

Miriam-Webster defines poverty as “the state of being poor.” The definition works, but poverty is so much more than words on a page; it is a living, breathing problem that millions of people live with every single day.

Another dictionary definition for poverty is “the state of being inferior in quality or insufficient in amount.” When you think about that in terms of human life, it can sound clinical, cold or cruel to refer to other humans as “inferior” or “insufficient” simply because they are living in poverty.

The world works that way. Many people question those who live in poverty and how some of them have “nice” things when they can barely afford simple goods like food or clean water. Other people view impoverished people as dirty or beyond help.

Poverty is people who live on a dollar a day, people who can’t find shelter, people who are dying from curable diseases all because they can’t afford treatment. Poverty is the fear that you will not make it to the next day.

When people think of poverty, they often think about people in Africa or just people who don’t live in their immediate country. However, poverty, even extreme poverty, is not localized to just the African continent. There are people struggling, suffering and barely getting by everywhere.

In America, one in six people struggle to make ends meet; to have just enough food and health care to feed and take care of their families. Over 600,000 people in America alone suffer from extreme poverty; the lack of shelter, food, health care and income.

So, what is poverty, because poverty is more than being poor and it’s more than having nothing to your name. Poverty is being terrified of not being able to make it to the next day without having something else taken from you and not being able to do anything about it.

The image of poverty is often a cruel and unforgiving one, but there can also be hope in the people who hang on day after day.

These people are the reason for the fight to end global poverty. The fight is for the people who hang on to life and struggle for the chance to one day be free of their demons and for the people who couldn’t make it, so no one will ever have to feel like them again.

– Cara Morgan

Sources: Feeding America, Google Definitions, Merriam-Webster, New Nouveau
Photo: Productive Flourishing

June 6 is the 48th anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s “Ripple of Hope” speech. On this day Kennedy gave his speech at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. He called it a day of affirmation, defined by the freedom for which it stood. It was an incredible statement at the time to come to a third world country ruled by apartheid and express to the people that they are human beings, and that they do matter.

Senator Kennedy went on to talk of equality and its vital importance to progress and a better world. He noted the sad reality of discrimination, and that as a result, many never reached their full potential. As Kennedy notes, it is for this reason that we lost many great contributions to the world.

It was Senator Kennedy’s desire that equal opportunity exist for all and for the simplest of reasoning: “We must do [this] for the single and fundamental reason that it is the right thing to do.”

Where do we stand today? Have we eliminated discrimination and the poverty and suffering it brings with it?

Ideally, we would like to think we have, but there is much work still to be done. The best way to combat this ongoing struggle is to continue to create opportunity. We do this by empowering every man and woman on earth to lift themselves out of poverty so that they may realize their potential as well.

We have had many successes with eliminating poverty, including a reduction in extreme poverty by over half since 1981. However, with 1.2 billion people still living in extreme poverty, there is no doubt that there is much more potential to be realized.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, where Kennedy spoke 48 years ago, there lives more than one-third of the world’s extreme poor. That is the equivalent of more than 400,000,000 people living in extreme poverty. The average income of these individuals is 84 cents a day.

It is discouraging to realize that of all the wealth we have amassed, we still have not eliminated extreme poverty. A 2012 report by Oxfam showed that, in 2012 alone, the world’s 100 wealthiest individuals earned enough money to end extreme poverty four times over.

This distribution of wealth does not represent the equality that Kennedy and so many others sought. The term equality encompasses more than rights and protection. It encompasses access to resources, income equality and fairness in general.

However, it is too early to get discouraged. In 2010, the world achieved Millennium Development Goal One, which was to decrease poverty in developing countries by half. The number of those living in poverty is still declining and if we as an international community keep working toward this goal, then ending extreme poverty is possible in our lifetime.

In the words of Kennedy on this day 48 years ago, “they are hoping and they are gambling their progress and their stability on the chance that we will meet our responsibilities to them, to help them overcome their poverty.”

– Christopher Kolezynski

Sources: Day of Affirmation Speech, The Huffington Post, Policy Mic
Photo: NPR

korean human rights
The United Nations will be setting up a new office in South Korea to investigate North Korean human rights violations.

Claiming the South to be an important location for human rights activism, many influential South Korean human rights leaders have voiced their support for the move, including Tae-kyung of the governing Saenuri Party.

Tae-Kyung said the move  is inevitable and voiced the importance of the country’s cooperation with the U.N.

North Korean citizens are facing an oppressive governmental regime under their supreme leader, Kim Jong-Un. While the country’s constitution includes human rights protection, Kim Jong-Un’s regime has continuously banned, among others, political opposition, free media and religious freedom: all pillars of basic human rights. More grievous, the death penalty and prison camps are punishment for basic “crimes against the state” acts.

Many of these offenses are non-violent acts, such as stealing plate glass from a hanging photo of Kim Jong-Un. Once subjected to these camps, the prisoners are provided little to no medical care and face severe food shortages, torture and execution.

Between 80,000 and 120,000 prisoners are being held captive in these camps today.

Michael Kirby, the former Australian high court justice, demanded that North Korean leaders be tried in international court for their wrongdoings.

Kirby claimed that North Korean citizens may be the world’s most victimized population. In response, the U.N. has begun to act in accordance: Kim Jong-Un was sent a copy of his report indicating his severe crimes committed in order to ensure due process.

Jong-Un has yet to respond.

The U.N.’s new South Korean office, which is to be located in Seoul, is hoping to improve the efficacy of its investigations toward North Korean human rights violations. The U.N. believes its proximity may even help to limit the frequency and intensity of the crimes.

An important step toward ending North Korea’s crimes, South Korea’s role in the process to alleviate human rights grievances is a monumental step forward.

– Nick Magnanti

Sources: Business Standard, The Guardian, HRW, The Wall Street Journal
Photo: The Sydney Morning Herald

Edward Wytkind’s new plan for foreign aid might hurt people. It’s probably not his intention to do so, but if he gets his way, lives will be lost. By inserting a destructive rider to H.R. 4005, the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014, Wytkind has taken the first step to sidetrack millions of dollars of food aid. So who is Edward Wytkind and why does he want to move money away from food aid and into the shipping industry? Simple, he’s a lobbyist.

Wytkind is the president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), a labor organization based out of Washington, D.C.  This organization has been lobbying hard following a move by Congress to remove previous restrictions that required the majority of food aid to be shipped via American vessels. The move by Congress increased the amount of aid getting to the people who need it but removed an easy source of income from the shipping industry. It’s no wonder that Wytkind, who is transportation labor’s chief spokesman in Washington, worked so hard to get this measure put back.

One of the first and foremost duties for food aid is to feed people. This is a no-brainer. For all the benefits of food aid that the world enjoys, the mission remains to provide meals to people in need. This is most often achieved through short-term direct aid mixed with long-term build up of sustainability practices. Any modifications to a program that result in a net reduction in the amount of aid making it into the hands of the needy will need significant justification.

The rider inserted into H.R. 4005 does not have that justification.

The bill mostly concerns matters of shipping and Coast Guard activity. Readers who are curious about the upcoming budget for maintaining operations in the Coast Guard or who need clarification of what constitutes “high risk waters” when shipping goods by sea need look no further. Tucked away in the language of the bill is a small provision that mandates 75 percent of all food aid be shipped exclusively through American vessels. What this translates to is 2 million individuals throughout the world who will not be receiving food aid should the bill pass.

Let that sink in for a moment; 2 million people who would have received aid at a critical time in their lives might not because of one man working on behalf of special interests.

The money set aside for food aid is best spent buying from suppliers near where the aid is headed. Shipping goods becomes expensive, and by minimizing the logistical costs the dollar to aid value increases. This is basic business. If your goal is to deliver aid, as is the goal of the food aid programs in the U.S., it only makes sense to get the most value for money spent. Should H.R. 4005 pass, the American taxpayer is purchasing $75 million worth of overhead instead of the aid the money was originally slotted for.

Of course, taking money from other programs and cramming it into the shipping industry is exactly what Wytkind wants. In an article published in the Wall Street Journal, Wytkind is quoted as saying, “If you’re going to use public resources to engage in humanitarian aid, you should do so while maximizing the use of the U.S. industries and to create good jobs in this country.” In other words, why invest in humanitarian aid when we can simply give the money to U.S. shipping?

What Wytkind fails to mention is that there are other bills that do just that. H.R. 4105, the Maritime Goods Movement Act, specifically addresses American shipping without stealing money away from other programs. Legislation that address an issue directly, like the original H.R. Why Wytkind feels that humanitarian aid programs are less deserving than the shipping industry is anyone’s guess.

– Dylan Spohn

Sources: Congress, Gawker, GovTrack, McDermott, New York Times,

Photo: Oxfam America

Spring is upon us but in many places April showers don’t necessarily bring the hope of May flowers, instead they promise environmental disaster and damage to surrounding communities.

Every year, floods ravage Haiti’s countryside, injuring, displacing, and economically crippling many of its rural villages and townships. Rainfall, though necessary for agriculture in the hot Caribbean nation is more feared than it is welcomed these days. Due to widespread deforestation, the soil around riverbanks has eroded, the land has become arid, and there is nothing to anchor the foothills and prevent devastating mudslides.

Between 1954 and 1984 alone, nearly 90% of Haiti’s once abundant rainforests were depleted. An estimated 2% of what was once there remains today, and even that is at risk. Without tree cover or a natural means to replenish the soil with nutrients, the mountain region is now agriculturally useless, only perpetuating a cycle of poverty and harmful environmental practices.

Deforestation has been made significantly more prevalent by corrupt business practices and irresponsible regulations. Under the abusive dictatorships of Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier, many Haitians was forced to rely on the production of charcoal for subsistence, turning to the harvesting and burning of trees to supplement widespread unemployment. Charcoal is now, unfortunately, one of Haiti’s most thriving markets.

Additionally, like other developing nations, economic instability and unaffordable trade options have forced millions of Haiti’s inhabitants to rely on this “woody biomass” for fuel.  More viable options of electricity, petroleum, and even kerosene, though also not earth friendly, are less encroaching on the communities themselves. However they are nearly unattainable in many areas.

In more recent years, illegal logging, price negotiations, structural trade agreements, and the seizure of property rights from outside actors has also contributed to an economic environment that leaves many Haitians without much choice but to contribute to cutting down the forests.

For example, Swine Flu paranoia in the 80’s essentially wiped out Haiti’s once successful pork market. This forced pork farmers to annihilate their own acclimatized pigs and replace them with the more delicate North American variety which was too expensive to keep. This paved the way for Reagan’s “American Plan” for the country, which implemented a weak export economy of cheaply and inhumanely manufactured goods. With such bleak options, charcoal and deforestation are increasingly chosen out of necessity.

Journalist and political analyst Amy Wilentz states, “You can read about deforestation and its affects in the books and pamphlets written by these experts, and then you can read about it in the faces and bodies of Haitian peasants…. The summation of a story of dry earth, of the need for sustenance and comfort, of crops that are impossible to raise, even with the hardest and most grueling work, of rain that never falls, of food that just isn’t there.”

People continue to fight back, such as Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, who is a renowned in the world of environmental activism for his work in Haiti. After receiving a formal education in agronomy, he went on to found the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) in 1973 with the expressed goal of establishing principles of sustainable agriculture. The Movement has been effective in the fight against deforestation and other contributions to soil erosion.

His life of activism has not been without contention though. Before winning the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2005, he suffered multiple assassination attempts, death threats, and periods of forced exile. His outspokenness regarding forest protection and his role in sparking political dissent made him highly targeted. Still, he leaves an unwavering legacy of land protection in a previously colonized nation, and the MPP continues to be a strong political force.

Deforestation’s effect has been horrible, for the people, the infrastructure, and the very landscape of Haiti, which has seen its fair share of economic and political storms over the past half century. However, scientific awareness, increased environmental consciousness, and a climate of political activism provide hope that Haiti’s rainy season will come to an end.

— Stefanie Doucette

Sources: The Energy Journal 1, The Energy Journal 2, The Ecological Society of America, The World Today, The Journal of Developing Areas, Nathan C. McClintock, The Rainy Season

In a recent address, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and General Assembly President John Ashe stated that a framework of accountability is essential in the development of post-2015 goals and their success. President Ashe expressed that such a mechanism “must be inclusive, transparent and based on mutual respect; it must promote mutual learning; it will need to contain feedback and/or inputs from the national to the regional and global levels; and it must fully utilize the new potential of data and technology.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also recognized the possibility of failure if a system of accountability is not put into place, or if it is not implemented properly. “Any framework for accountability must apply to all, taking into account their different capacities and responsibilities. Accountability mechanisms and platforms should be nimble and decentralized.”

Established by the UN in 2000, the Millennium Development Goals were an attempt to increase development and meet the needs of a global community. The goals include:

1. Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger

2. Attaining universal primary education

3. Promoting gender equality

4. Reducing child mortality

5. Improving maternal health

6. Combating diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria

7. Ensuring environmental sustainability

8. Establishing a global partnership for development

The target date for the completion of these goals was set for 2015, and with less than two years left until the deadline, the UN and other global partners have begun discussing a post-2015 development agenda.

The Secretary General also stated in a report that four fundamentals must form the foundation of the post-2015 agenda: a far-reaching vision of the future firmly anchored in human rights and universally accepted values and principles, a set of concise goals and targets aimed at realizing the priorities of the agenda, a global partnership for development to mobilize means of implementation and a participatory monitoring framework for tracking progress and mutual accountability mechanisms for all stakeholders.

UNESCO released a document summarizing their own concerns of the future of the Education for All (EFA) goals after 2015. Their stated “thematic priorities” include:

1. Establishing early childhood care and education as the foundation of learning

2. Enhancing youth and adult literacy

3. Recognizing the central role of teachers for delivering quality education

4. Increasing emphasis on skills for life and for work

5. Strengthening of education for sustainable development and global citizenship

In their statement on the operationalization of a post-2015 agenda, UNESCO also recognized the need for an accountability framework that is flexible enough to account for different educational priorities across countries and adapt to changing global situations.

As development of the agenda has progressed, it has become clear that the intention is not to abandon the Millennium goals in favor of more easily attainable markers, but to continue their pursuit through more effective means.

– Kristen Bezner

Sources: UNESCO, UN General Assembly Report, UN News Centre
Photo: UN News Centre