United States history is rife with racial and sexual discrimination. This history has shown, however, that systematic alienation of particular social groups comes with costly economic consequences.

For example, the 381 days long 1955-1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott, spurred by the arrest of Rosa Parks, reportedly ameliorated 75 percent of the city bus line’s revenue. The damage translated to approximately a loss of $3,500 per day, calculating a total loss of over $1.3 million.

It is no coincidence that as segregation was outlawed, U.S. economic growth accelerated.

Discrimination based on race, gender or sexual orientation in the U.S. business practices are still rampant today. A report from the Center for American Progress revealed the significant costs involved in discriminatory practices—an estimated $64 billion of revenue per year.

On February 24, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed an anti-gay law. The legislation called for a 14-year prison sentence for each initial homosexual act committed and the possibility of life imprisonment for continued homosexual relations.

In response to this discriminatory law, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has frozen all of the Bank’s loans, totaling $90 million, to Uganda.

Kim has also harnessed the seismic forces of this bold move to address further forms of discrimination worldwide, such as sexism and racial discrimination. He stressed that discrimination in any form is not only destructive in a moral sense, but harbors the growth of economies around the world.

In a recent public statement, Kim used the negative economic impact of he marginalizing women from job opportunities as a key example. In countries with low economic participation from women, a World Bank study revealed income losses of 27 percent in the Middle East and North Africa. The same study showed that raising female employment and entrepreneurship to equal male levels could improve average income by 19 percent in South Asia and 14 percent in Latin America.

Marginalizing people based on gender, race or sexual orientation is destructive to economies. Legislation that aims to alienate potentially some of the most talented and efficient of a country’s or business’s workers is nothing short of self-mutilation on a macro scale. As Kim said, “Eliminating discrimination is not only the right thing to do; it’s also critical to ensure that we have sustained, balanced and inclusive economic growth in all societies — whether in developed or developing nations, the North or the South, America or Africa.”

– Malika Gumpangkum

Sources: The World Bank, HuffPost, Bloomberg, The Washington Post, Robert J. Walker
Photo: Economic Times

There are many women in Iraq who have faced and continue to face abuse within the Iraqi judiciary system, as outlined in a new report from the Human Rights Watch (HRW). According to the HRW, although both men and women suffer from the severe flaws of the criminal justice system, women suffer a double burden due to their second-class status in Iraqi society.

Iraq has had other allegations challenging its reputation for gender discrimination in the past. During the 1970s, Iraq guaranteed equal rights to women before the law by mandating compulsory education through primary school for both genders and changed labor, employment, and personal laws to grant women greater equality in the workplace, marriage, divorce and inheritance. These advancements were done, however, in order to create loyalty to the ruling government and Baath Party.

After losing the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein tried to boost his power and popularity by embracing Islamic and tribal traditions. This led to the rapid deterioration in social status for women in Iraq, which has only worsened since the Iraq War.

Although there has been some debate in the international community as to the legitimate use of interrogation tactics like water-boarding, the abuses these women sustained seem to have amounted to torture. Nearly all of the women in Iraq that were interviewed by the HRW were handcuffed, kicked, punched, beaten with cables, subjected to electric shocks, and subjected to falaqa, which is the practice of tying someone upside down and beating their feet.

Many also reported being raped and sexually assaulted by security officials who also threatened to do the same to their daughters. After succumbing to torture, these women were forced to sign and fingerprint confessions they could not read, or in some cases, that were just blank pieces of paper.

Although prohibited by both Iraqi and international law, corruption and a lack of government oversight ensures that these abuses continue with no repercussions for the abusers and no relief for the victims. By detaining women without arrest warrants, holding them for indefinite periods before allowing them to see a judge and demanding bribes for their release, the actions of the government are synonymous to kidnapping.

The current situation is also influenced by religious strife, as the vast majority of these women and girls are Sunni and being illegally detained by the Shia-led government solely because of their branch of Islam. The majority of the women interviewed were held for allegedly covering up for crimes committed by male family members, and charged under Iraq’s Anti-Terrorism Law. Many were convicted not by evidence, but based on coerced confessions and testimony from “secret informants.”

The response from Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s administration has been criminally insufficient. They have yet to begin investigating allegations of abuse, and many government officials have denied that there is a problem, with some even accusing the women of lying. To move past the legacy of corruption left by Saddam Hussein, a greater sense of transparency of and accountability for government procedures could greatly improve the situation.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: Human Rights Watch, Al Jazeera
Photo: Aljazeera

china's soldiers
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the largest army in the world, recently released a report on the physical well-being of its troops. The study, published in the PLA’s official newspaper, reported that China’s soldiers have gotten physically bigger in recent years, growing .8 inches taller and two inches larger around the waist in the last 20 years.

While this increase in size has caused some problems with army equipment, experts are celebrating the news and attributing better nutrition in China for the growth.

Malnutrition has long been a problem in China, especially in rural areas. Poor Chinese soldiers were traditionally more likely to be malnourished and underweight. As China modernized, so did its military, which was forced to design its own military technology due to trade sanctions.

The equipment created during this period, however, is based on a now-outdated body type. Rifle butts are proving too short for soldier’s arms; tanks are becoming more crowded by the bigger average bodies of soldiers.

The United States military is experiencing similar problems, but it is largely due to higher obesity rates.

The size increase in both the U.S. and China is related to development. As China has modernized and become a wealthier nation, the Chinese population, including China’s soldiers, have become more nourished. In the case of the U.S., as nations move from middle-income to high-income status, obesity rates tend to increase.

Experts warn that as the nation continues to develop, China may be headed on the path towards an obesity problem.

According to the World Health Organization, only 5 percent of Chinese people are obese, but that figure can jump to 20 percent in certain parts of the country. Furthermore, 45 percent of Chinese men and 32 percent of women are overweight.

Youth in urban areas are those particularly represented in the increased obesity rates, with wealthier people having higher obesity rates than those with less money. This economic link to obesity is the opposite of many nations such as the U.S.

Along with greater wealth, access to fast food and better nutrition, placing less emphasis on physical activities starting in childhood is contributing to the average size increase of Chinese people.

Athena Foong of University of Southern California’s Institute for Global Health explains, “The only way people look at the way you advance in life [in China] is getting a better education so you can get a better job, and sports is not considered a job.”

Despite rising obesity rates, many Chinese people are also still going hungry. In China, there are roughly 12.7 million children with stunted physical growth caused by chronic nutritional deficiency in the first 1,000 days of life. In low-income, rural parts of the country, 10 percent of children under the age of 5 have stunted growth.

While these figures are concerning, they have also been steadily declining in recent decades. In 1987, 22 percent of Chinese people were underweight. This number decreased to 12 percent by 1992.

Improvements in the health of Chinese people have many causes including economic advances, better access to clean water, increased distribution of food and better health facilities and resources.

China’s rapid development has brought better health and nutrition to its populace, but as long as childhood malnutrition and obesity rates persist and rise, the nation will be combating development-related public health issues.

– Kaylie Cordingley

Sources: The Washington Post, Telegraph, UNICEF, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, World Health Organization, US-China Today, National Geographic, Financial Times
Photo: Growing Taller

death penalty
A decreasing number of nations around the world utilize capital punishment, but according to Amnesty International, countries that use the death penalty do so at an “alarming rate.” Between 2010 and 2011, known executions increased from 527 to 676, a 28% rise.

In 2012, the number increased again to 680. There are many executions in nations such as Iran, China and Syria that go unreported. Amnesty International has not published Chinese reported figures on executions since 2009 because the organization declares that the government’s official numbers are exceptionally inaccurate. The organization estimates that annual executions in China are likely to be in the thousands.

Iran faces similar criticism. Amnesty states that it has received “credible reports” of a high volume of clandestine and unconfirmed executions in the country. Adding in these reports would effectively double Iran’s death penalty numbers.

In 2011, only 20 out of 198 countries, or roughly 10%, performed executions, and in 2012 the number of countries that had abolished the death penalty was five times higher than those that had not.

Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the United States have the highest total number of executions from 2007 to 2012. The Middle East has the highest number of executions of any region (557 executions in six nations.) With the notable exception of the U.S., most countries that still use the death penalty are in the developing world.

The U.S. is the only G7 country where capital punishment is legal.

Methods of executing prisoners vary globally but include lethal injection, beheading, hanging and shooting. In some nations such as Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Somalia, public executions still occur.

Crimes that are punishable by death also vary but can include drug offenses, rape, sorcery, adultery, “crimes against the state” and murder. Amnesty International also articulates concern over an increase in military courts sentencing people to death in Bahrain, Egypt, Lebanon, the U.S. and other nations.

Japan, India and Pakistan, contrary to global trends, all reinstated the death penalty after long periods of not executing prisoners. In these nations, changes generally occur because different political parties come into power, which leaves sentenced prisoners’ fate to the politics of the moment.

More than half of the world’s nations voted in December 2012 for a United Nations resolution, creating a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty. And the international pressure on countries like the U.S. has intensified.

Due to stated ethical obligations, the European Union banned the export of drugs such as sodium thiopental to the U.S. because they were being used for lethal injections.

Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center states that the E.U. embargo has stalled, but not ended, executions in the U.S. He asserts, “It has made the states seem somewhat desperate and not in control, putting the death penalty in a negative light, with an uncertain future.”

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and many other human rights groups oppose the death penalty in all circumstances. HRW states that capital punishment violates people’s innate dignity, is “unique in its cruelty and finality and is “inevitably and universally plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error.”

When asked if he thought the world was closer to abolishing the death penalty, Brian Evans, acting director of Amnesty International’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign, seemed to remain hopeful, if hesitant.

“They’ll come around when they take a longer look at their death penalties,” Evans states, “but it’ll be a while.”

– Kaylie Cordingley

Sources: National Geographic, The Atlantic, The Huffington Post, The Huffington Post, Amnesty International, Amnesty International, The Guardian, Death Penalty Information Center
Photo: Amnesty International

young migrants
On February 14th, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) released the 2013 World Youth Report, aimed at addressing the significant impact of young migrants on both origin and destination countries. The report also highlights the specific concerns, challenges and successes faced by migrants across the globe.

Whether it be for work, study or family reasons, voluntary migration continues to increase every year. The UN estimates that there are 232 million international migrants worldwide, representing 3.2% of the world’s total population. More than 30% of these migrants are considered youth migrants under the age of 29 and approximately half of these are female.

Youth migration has a significant impact on not only individual lives, but also global economies. Many young migrants leave their country of origin in search of better job opportunities and often send remittances home to benefit their families. These individuals improve their financial situations while engaging in economic transactions that will benefit their destination country.

However, countries of origin often suffer the negative effects of “brain drain,” or human capital flight. This is the process by which professionals, often in the fields of health or education, leave developing countries in search of a higher salary and better living conditions.

The report also goes into detail about the specific struggles and opportunities that young migrants can face.

In the preparatory stage, migrants cited the difficulties they faced in obtaining accurate information about their intended destination, as well as in obtaining needed documents and making travel accommodations.

On arrival, migrants noted experiencing both culture shock and loneliness. Often communication barriers had to be overcome and in the long term, many faced both stereotyping and discrimination.

The report notes some recommendations made by migrants to ease the transition from origin to destination country. Among these is the development of tools to assess the readiness of a migrant and to help facilitate decision-making and planning. They recommended peer-to-peer initiatives, pre-departure orientation programs, and awareness-raising campaigns.

Despite these challenges, many young migrants have become exemplary examples of what can be achieved in the face of adversity.

As the report notes, “their capacity as agents of social change and development should not be underestimated.”

Mollie O’Brien

Sources: UN News Centre, United Nation Regional Information Centre for Western Europe
Photo: Caritas

Russia's LGBT
Russia has been in the spotlight recently for its part in playing host to the Winter Olympics. Hosting the games is an opportunity in which a country can reap the benefits of great publicity and a surge in business from all the people that flock there for the historic event. Russia, however, has had more negative press than positive because of its blatant disregard for ethical treatment of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, causing recent uproar among many.

Many are quick to point fingers and blame President Vladimir Putin for not implementing laws to protect them. While Putin deserves some of the blame, Russia has had a long history of homophobia.

Homophobic laws have been enacted as early as the 17th century, with Peter the Great’s punishing homosexuals by flogging or by male rape. As the years progressed, the law extended to punish any adult man that voluntarily participated in sodomy-like behavior.

In 1835, Tsar Nicholas made sure that ban was still being withheld against homosexuals with them being stripped of their Russian citizenship and exiled to Siberia.

Of all the Tsars and rulers, Joseph Stalin was the most intolerant of the LGBT community. Homosexuals were sentenced to hard labor prison camps for 4 years to 5 years under his reign and made-up propaganda had run rampant. Stalin was a huge proprietor and believer that homosexuals were pedophiles who were constantly lurking for young boys. His paranoia that homosexuals were praying on children and that they had “politically demoralized various social layers of young men, including young workers, and even attempted to penetrate the army and navy” compelled him to have his secret police spy and arrest anyone that was perceived to be gay.

Violence against Russia’s LGBT community has only worsened. Putin endorses violence against the community not only because he sees them as “foreign agents” or as a danger to the well-being of children, but as a political tactic as well. Milene Larson, a United Kingdom-based journalist, states, “Putin is looking for enemies. In Russia, homosexuals and gay rights activists are labeled as foreign agents… You have such a vast majority of people who are Orthodox who potentially feel this way, those are his voters…he is not going to step back and say ‘actually gay people are ok.’”

For anti-gay groups like Occupy Paedophilia, Putin’s views on the LGBT community are green light for vicious mob attacks to try and “cure” them. These mobs upload their videos using WhatsApp (a YouTube like clip-sharing application) to humiliate their victims even further. These groups will pose as a homosexual on an Internet dating site or go to gay clubs where they can find someone that falls under the impression that the perpetrator is interested; the victim is then ambushed or kidnapped.

One horrifying account was of a teenage student from Uzbekistan who was lured by the mob group, kidnapped, beaten, stripped and raped. All of these atrocious acts were being filmed while they were being done, with the group telling the victim that they were punishing him for his own good. Another account tells the story of a 23-year-old man who was killed for coming out to his friends while they were drinking.

Russia’s LGBT community faces physical and verbal harassment every single day. For such a large and diverse country, the LGBT community has few allies. With a leader that will not speak out and condemn these attacks, they have nobody to whom they can turn. They cannot turn to the police for help because police officers often commit the crimes and do not report the issues. While the fight rages on for activists to achieve equal rights for the LGBT community, this is going to be an uphill battle for a long time to come.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: The Moscow Times, The Star, Human Rights Watch, Russia Today
Photo: Peter T. Atchell Foundation

Although Nike has established itself as a leading athletic brand and even as an endearing icon of American athleticism, it was not too long ago that the company was publicly scorned for its shameful use of child labor. Since its heyday, Nike had secured its success in part by an efficient, albeit ethically-questionable, business model where its manufacturing was outsourced to underpaid, under appreciated and often underage factory workers. The money that Nike saved by utilizing this business model was often invested in topnotch advertising.

After becoming the face of aggressive mega-business abuses of power and wealth, and suffering markedly due to a dwindling public image, Nike has taken steps to alter its practices and image. In 1998, one of the first significant steps that the company took to change its business model took place with a speech given by then-CEO Phil Knight. Knight proclaimed that “the Nike product has become synonymous with slave wages, forced overtime and arbitrary abuse.” Knight further stated that, “I truly believe the American consumer doesn’t want to buy products made under abusive conditions.”

Ever since Knight’s 1998 speech, Nike has enacted an onslaught of redemptive measures, such as the company’s 1999 creation of the Fair Labor Association. This nonprofit group fuses business and human rights in order to maintain a fairer work-place consisting of a minimum age for labor, increased company monitoring and a 60-hour work week.

Furthermore, in 2005, Nike became the first in its specific sportswear industry to publish a comprehensive list of its contracting factories in addition to thorough reports on its factory environments, factory pay and persisting factory issues in order to maintain its still-nascent pledge to corporate social responsibility.

However, despite these amendments to its business policy, Nike is still dogged by allegations of mistreatment in its factories. In 2011, workers at Nike’s Indonesian Sukabumi plant claimed that supervisors would physically and verbally abuse them. Specifically, workers alleged that supervisors would throw shoes at them and equate them to dogs.

In response, Nike has disclosed that such abuses do indeed remain extant in a handful of its factories, thereby acknowledging that the company, despite its immense progress over the decades, still has a long road ahead of itself in order to completely abolish its history of sweatshop abuse. With increased transparency and a continued allegiance to the humane treatment of workers, Nike may eventually be able to recover its public and industrial image.

– Phoebe Pradhan

 Sources: Business Insider, Daily Mail
Photo: An Focal

The world in the past two decades has progressed in leaps and bounds in the name of women’s rights. Women today are less likely to die during childbirth, more likely to know how to read and write as well as participate in politics and in general have increased control over the health of their families and themselves.

September 1994 saw the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, which highlighted increased efforts for empowering women. Consisting of over 200 recommendations, the program earned acceptance from 179 countries. In 1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing pledged to reach gender equality and create an equal decision-making environment by further opening both public and private life to women.

The 1994 Conference in Cairo was the first time states officially agreed on the necessity of equal rights and access to health services as a fundamental stepping stone on the path to sustainable development. Efforts toward equality, however, have not prevailed in equal numbers throughout the world.  While equality numbers have improved on average, the United Nations claims progress is exceedingly fragmented.

Poor communities are not seeing the results of sweeping women’s rights reforms. Over the same 20-year timeline, women in less developed societies have witnessed little to no positive change. On the contrary, the results in some cases are worsening.

One third of women have experienced some sort of physical abuse, with men in some regions overtly admitting to having raped at no consequence to themselves. Furthermore, more than 140 million girls and women live with the uncomfortable results of female genital mutilation. No matter how many U.N. Resolutions have expressed the need for female involvement in matters of conflict resolution, women continue to go uninvited from peace talks. Moreover, women’s rights groups, the groups relied upon to make improvements in this arena, are largely underfunded.

In March 2014, the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women will convene in New York to discuss these issues and the progress of the millennium development goals. The needs of young people will be of primary concern, due to reports noting that, of those aged 10 to 24, 90% live in developing countries.

With improved access to education, healthcare and economic rights, perhaps benefits of reforms on behalf of the world’s female population will reach the poor as well as the rich. The journey toward women’s equal rights will not be complete until all women, across the globe, have attained successful equality.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: TIME, The Guardian: Key Year for Women’s Rights, New York Times, The Guardian: Access Still Unequal
Photo: Uncornered Market

After 25 years, the civil war that plagued Sri Lanka and claimed thousands of lives is finally finished. The war, between the Sri Lankan government forces and the Tamil Tigers separatist group, is estimated to have killed over 40,000 people in its final months.

The long war was between the Sri Lanka government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE,) or simply the Tamil Tigers. The LTTE desired an independent state for the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.

The Tamils claim to have been victimized by the Sinhalese majority once the country became fully independent in 1948.

But, just because the war is finished, does not mean its opponents are any less quiet. In fact, many human rights groups are accusing the Sri Lankan government of destroying mass burial sites in order to cover its fingerprints on various human rights abuses.

Australia’s Public Interest Advocacy Center detailed an in-depth report chronicling the various abuses perpetrated by both sides of the conflict. The Tamil Tigers have been accused of using civilians as human shields and recruiting child soldiers. While these violations are heinous, the report lays the majority of the blame at the feet of the Sri Lanka government forces.

A United Nations report shows the majority of those 40,000 killed in the war’s final months can mostly be attributed to government action.

The team of investigators highlight the years 2008 and 2009, where the Sri Lankan government is accused of mass civilian bombardment. For example, in 2009, civilians were blocked by rebel fighters from leaving the war zone; the government shelled the entire area.

U.N. satellite images show the area the government shelled was occupied by up to 50,000 noncombatants. The government forces are also accused of purposefully targeting hospitals as well as blocking food and medicine to civilians and miscounting the number of civilians located in the war zone.

The abuses have been noted by the United States Government, resulting in intensified relations between the two countries. Recently, the U.S. has floated the idea of a third U.N. resolution against Sri Lanka. It responded by denying a visa request for a State Department official.

The government remains obstinate in the face of international pressure. Its President Mahinda Rajapaksa stated that it would be a “great crime” to accuse the government of war crimes. He went as far as to say that those bringing these allegations against the Sri Lankan government shows they are “opposed to peace.”

It is uncertain where these U.N. resolutions will lead or if they will be effective at all in finding justice for the many thousands that were needlessly slaughtered by their own government.

– Zack Lindberg

Sources: Al Jazeera, CFR, ABC News
Photo: The Telegraph

The region of West Papua does not make the news often; in fact, it rarely merits a news blurb in most Western headlines. However, West Papua is arguably one of the most under-reported cases of exploitation an indigenous groups in the 21st century.

Since 1969, the people of West Papua have been in conflict with the government of Indonesia in one way or another. The University of Sydney’s Center for Peace and Conflict Studies put out a report stating that for the better part of 40 years, the people of West Papua have been under the boot heel of the Indonesian Security forces.

The report goes on to state that due to wide scale incursions by Indonesia’s armed forces, West Papua has seen over 100,000 of its citizens die and much of its national resources depleted.

A report by The Guardian also notes the devastating effect that Indonesian resource extraction is having on the people of West Papua. It notes the case of the Mooi people, who are one of the 250 indigenous tribes that are having their way of life destroyed due to the deforestation of their lands by timber and palm oil companies.

The oceans off the coasts of West Papua are also being devastated due to nickel mining in the area, which is flooding the bountiful coral reefs with polluted sediment.

It is not only the eco-system of West Papua that is being destroyed. Even though it has been close to 45 years, the Indonesian military is still cracking down severely on people who are part of the Free Western Papua Movement.

Last year, the Free Western Papua Movement’s Facebook published the photo of a dead Papuan named Edward Apaseray, who was reportedly tortured and killed by the Indonesian Special Police Forces for being a “separatist.” The Diplomat, a current affairs magazine for the Asian-Pacific region, published a report in which a recent study noted that in West Papua, an incident of torture occurred every six weeks for the past half-century.

The human rights organization Tapol that monitors human rights abuses in West Papua published the story of Yawan Wayeni. He was a tribal leader and formal political prisoner who was tortured and killed by Indonesian security forces in brutal fashion.

The media have long overlooked the plight of the people of West Papua. It has only recently begun to receive real traction in Western media. The International Parliamentarians for West Papua (IPWP) is a group of politicians around the world who support the right self-determination for the people of West Papua.

One of its members, Benny Wenda, an exile from West Papua, recently had an article published in which he decried the recent statement of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot, who stated that things in West Papua are “better and not worse.”

West Papua is one of the forgotten atrocities of the 21st century; the responsibility making sure that it does not continue to be rests with us and our elected officials. The Arab Spring occurred with the help of Facebook and a determined populace. The plight of West Papua needs the same type of support from those who have the ability to stand up to the Indonesian government.

– Arthur Fuller

Sources: Amnesty International, The Guardian, Tapol,  The Diplomat, The University Of Sydney, Tapol,  CNN, The Guardian, Tempo, Australia News Network
Photo: London Mining Network