Human Rights in LatviaLatvia – a former member of the USSR – is nestled in northeast Europe. It boasts a free market economy and has joined both the EU and NATO. However, with a long history of oppression of human rights, Latvia has struggled to acknowledge and enforce equal rights for all people. Stemming from violence suffered while under the Soviet Union, there are a few key concerns regarding the status of human rights in Latvia.

Latvia has a large number of stateless individuals – over 250,000 of the population. These people, many of whom are children, are not recognized as citizens of Latvia and do not enjoy many of the benefits that come with being a citizen. A lot of these stateless people are ethnic Russians who have difficulty becoming citizens of Latvia due to discrimination.

Discrimination against Russians carries over to many aspects of daily life. People who are not citizens of Latvia endure heavy restrictions in the professional world and are also limited regarding land ownership. Several people have been fired from positions due to possessing an unsatisfactory mastery of the Latvian language. Recently, the mayor of the capital of Latvia was fined for using Russian in a media post. This discriminatory behavior creates a barrier to achieving equal human rights in Latvia.

The U.N. has also raised concern about human rights in Latvia for the disabled. These concerns are specifically regarding the mentally disabled, and representatives for human rights have insisted the Latvian government prioritize the education of disabled children.

Latvia has the EU and the U.N. to hold them accountable for the preservation of human rights, and these organizations have certainly being doing so. While many issues create barriers to attaining the equal treatment of all people, Latvia continues to create reform to try to combat these issues – though there are definitely some areas still needing work. As long as the country is held accountable for its treatment of people, surely progress will be made.

Julia Mccartney

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in SwedenAs the first country to legislate freedom of the press in 1766, Sweden has had a history of being a vanguard for human rights for hundreds of years. Human rights in Sweden are a top priority for both its citizens and its government. With its seat on the U.N. Security Council and the establishment of the Human Rights Watch offices within its borders, Sweden sets a remarkable example for other developed countries to follow for upholding human rights.

The strong human rights record in Sweden is due to its governmental determination in uplifting its humanitarian tenets, include fighting discrimination, protecting the rule of law, building democracy and strengthening freedom of expression. Government officials fervently believe in protecting human rights in Sweden because it promotes global development and national security. In 2008, the Swedish government took detailed measures towards eradicating discrimination as much as possible by mandating that human rights must be incorporated into all realms of foreign policy.

Sweden’s international leadership in human rights is a defining characteristic of the country’s view on foreign policy. Given that extensive laws protect Sweden’s citizens within its borders, the country’s current agenda is to protect these rights abroad and to introduce laws that protect those whose rights are not as guaranteed. Sweden assists various international organizations such as the United Nations in extending human rights to those living in developing countries.

In order to combat domestic discrimination, the Swedish government introduced the Swedish Discrimination Act of 2009. It counters discrimination in professional and educational sectors by allowing compensation to be given to those who have experienced discrimination. Although Sweden exerts significant effort to protect human rights, there are still certain demographics that its legislation is not protecting completely. Specific groups that have been targeted include Roma, African, and Muslim Swedes. However, the Swedish government is aware of these reports and strives to assist those who encounter discrimination. According to Sweden’s official website, “Human rights largely begin at home. As Sweden strives to walk its talk, it is important to ensure that the values promoted abroad are upheld at home.”

Kaitlin Hocker

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in SlovakiaThe state of human rights in Slovakia, an EU member state located in central Europe, is in need of major reform. The discrimination against the Romani people – also known as Gypsies – has been carried out in various forms, such as restrictions on the right to education and ill treatment by police forces.

The Roma population, which constitutes approximately two to four percent of the Slovakian population, is the second largest minority group in Slovakia. The most prevalent type of discrimination against the Romani people in Slovakia has occurred in the education system, in the form of segregating Romani children. A joint report by the Amnesty International and the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), published on March 1, 2017, revealed that Romani children are regularly assessed as having “mild mental disabilities” and are sent to special schools that provide an inferior education. Although Slovakia had already received a threat of fines from the European Commission two years ago for breaching EU discrimination laws, racial segregation in schools is still rampant across the country.

Another form of discrimination that is representative of the current state of human rights in Slovakia is the ill treatment of Roma by the police. According to the Slovakia 2016 Human Rights Report published by the U.S. Department of State, a number of NGOs and members of the Romani community have reported incidents of police officers abusing suspects both while being arrested and after being imprisoned. For instance, in 2010 a Romani minor who was arrested for robbery claimed that police officers committed acts of violence against him in order to force him into giving a confession. In July 2016, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the state failed to carry out an adequate investigation into this incident and ordered the Slovakian government to pay €1,500 to the minor, in addition to legal costs.

The aforementioned cases of discrimination illustrate that human rights in Slovakia are in need of substantial improvement. While numerous members of the Romani community are already fighting for social inclusion and equal opportunities, efforts from the civil society and government will be crucial in eliminating such deep-rooted human rights issues.

Minh Joo Yi

Hunger in Gibraltar
Twenty-first-century Gibraltar is drastically different from what it was just thirty years ago. According to the CIA’s World Fact Book, the self-sufficient British Overseas Territory benefits from an extensive shipping trade, offshore banking, its position as an international conference center and tourism, among many other economic drivers. Low tax rates have also attracted plentiful foreign investment, driving British military presence to decrease to seven percent from the original 60 percent in the mid-1980s and hunger in Gibraltar to near dissolution.

Although no data exists to date for the percentage of Gibraltar’s 34,408 citizen population living below the international poverty line, the territory’s unemployment rate was listed as one percent in 2016, suggesting that Gibraltar has come a long way since the 19th century, when malnutrition, disease and economic instability were widespread. With improvements in the economy, poverty and hunger in Gibraltar have naturally become less and less concerning.

Gibraltar is currently a member of the European Union as a Special State territory, joining the European Economic Community under the United Kingdom in 1973. Despite its membership, Gibraltar is not subject to the same taxation requirements as other members. As a result, the territory has no capital gains tax, wealth tax, sales tax or value added tax. Non-resident businesses do not pay income tax unless the sources of this income are Gibraltar proper, and there is no tax on capital income. This plethora of “tax-free” conditions has made international trade a large player in the Gibraltarian economy, as non-resident companies can take advantage of such regimes to reduce taxation.

With recent Brexit developments, however, a debate over Gibraltar’s continued status as a member of the EU has arisen. Over 96 percent of the territory’s population voted to remain in a referendum held in June 2016 on the issue of continued EU membership. Since the referendum, Spain has offered a plan to keep Gibraltar in the EU on the condition that Madrid shares sovereignty over Gibraltar with London. Gibraltarian citizens overwhelmingly rejected the proposal.

Gibraltar currently benefits from the tourism industry and trade with Spain through its membership in the EU. Not only would leaving the EU mean leaving the European common market, a risky move for an extremely dependent territory like Gibraltar, but Spain’s economy would suffer as well. In 2007 alone, Gibraltar imported more than £174 million of goods and services from Spain, excluding petroleum imports, and enabled both Spanish and Gibraltarian frontier workers to earn £82.8 million from within the economy of Gibraltar.

On the surface poverty and hunger in Gibraltar may no longer be major issues of concern, but looming economic policy decisions could drastically change and shape the future of the territory.

Katherine Wang

Poverty Rate in Andorra
Andorra is a small nation in Europe, landlocked between the French and Spanish borders. For the majority of the country’s history, both French and Spanish leaders ran the government. This form of rule continued until 1993, when the feudal system that ran the nation was modified, leaving the co-princes of the nation to work alongside a parliamentary democracy to execute the rule of the country.

The Poverty Rate in Andorra

Before World War II, the majority of the citizens in Andorra lived in the same way they did in the Middle Ages. They primarily survived on small-scale farming and smuggling. In the modern day, this trend persists, and many citizens continue to live in old farmhouses from this era in history.

The subsequent increase in European tourism in the 1950s aided the country in developing its more rural regions. As tourism increased, old farm houses and undeveloped land became family hotels and restaurants, allowing for people in a lower income bracket to participate in the economy. When measured in 1996, Andorra had a GDP per capita of $18,000, which was higher than its neighbor, Spain.

The service-based economy has proven to be effective at maintaining a low poverty rate in Andorra. When measured in 1998, the country had a 1.62 percent rate of inflation. This low inflation rate and participation in the country’s economy have allowed even the poorest people to have a high standard of living. No extreme cases of poverty have been recorded in the country in recent history.

The Takeaway

Andorra is a country that made the most of the increased tourism in Europe after World War II. By allowing its citizens to convert their small farms into business, the poverty rate in Andorra has managed to remain low. Other European nations that have small economies should emulate the model that Andorra practices due to its effectiveness in maintaining a low poverty rate.

Nick Beauchamp

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in The Czech RepublicThe Czech Republic is in Central Europe between Germany, Poland, Austria and Slovakia. After World War I, the Czechs and the Slovaks of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire came together and formed Czechoslovakia. A political revolution caused the nation to split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on January 1, 1993.

The country has since opened up to free market capitalism and has a parliamentary republic. These factors have contributed to only one in ten Czechs living below the poverty line when last measured in 2016. The Czech Republic is among the countries in the EU with the lowest rate of poverty, which has allowed hunger in the Czech Republic to be almost non-existent.

The Effects Of Hunger For Czechs
Hunger in the Czech Republic is not a primary concern for the country’s government due to its .48 percent malnutrition rate. This rate means that .48 people out of every 100,000 in the Czech Republic will die of hunger, making it one of the least hungry countries in the world.

When UNICEF last did a study of hunger in the Czech Republic, it found that hunger was not an issue that was affecting many in the nation. Currently, only two percent of Czechs under the age of five suffer from stunted growth caused by malnutrition. On top of this, only one percent of Czechs under the age of five suffer from being underweight due to malnutrition.

Babies do not suffer from hunger in the Czech Republic due to the abundance of food in the nation. When last measured, only eight percent of babies were born with a low birth weight and the majority of babies born underweight quickly grew to a healthy weight.

The Takeaway
The shift from a socialist government to a government that practices free market capitalism alongside its parliamentary republic have allowed hunger in the Czech Republic to be non-existent. For the one in ten citizens in the nation who are impoverished, social welfare programs ensure these people get adequately fed. Overall, hunger in the Czech Republic is almost a non-issue.

Nick Beauchamp

Photo: Flickr

Luxembourg Poverty Rate
While Luxembourg is a wealthy European country, some of its people still live in poverty. In 2015, one in five citizens – 19 percent – lived under the threat of poverty. Unfortunately, there has been an uptick in the Luxembourg poverty rate since 2003, when the rate was 15.8 percent. This was at least partly due to the financial crisis.

The European definition of poverty, which is used to determine the Luxembourg poverty rate, includes people whose income, including social benefits, amounts to less than 60 percent of the country’s median income and therefore are unable to afford basic necessities like rent and transportation.

There is, however, good news when it comes to jobs. The unemployment rate in Luxembourg is 5.7 percent. This is the fourth-best in Europe after Germany, Austria and Malta. The European average is 10.4 percent, making Luxembourg’s rate quite low in comparison.

The average household available income in Luxembourg is $40,914 U.S., much higher than $29,016 – the average of member countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation Development (OECD). While income inequality has increased in Luxembourg since the financial crisis, it is still below the average of all OECD countries.

According to a study by EurWORK, about 12 percent of workers in Luxembourg are paid minimum wage. However, it is much more common for younger workers to be working for minimum wage than older workers. Unfortunately, nearly half of workers between the ages of 18 and 24 make so little that they fall below the poverty line.

Address Luxembourg’s Poverty Rate

Nevertheless, the government has introduced plans to help the working poor. The minimum wage is tied to the rate of inflation, so people with resources less than the legal limits are now given a guaranteed minimum income so they are able to support themselves. In 2009, the government also introduced childcare vouchers for families at risk of poverty to help them pay for daycare or after-school babysitting. Employers generally support these reforms.

Though poverty remains an issue in Luxembourg, the government has a history of implementing proactive solutions which gives citizens reason to be hopeful about their country’s poverty rate being reduced in the near future.

Brock Hall

 

Human Rights in PolandPoland has been a liberal democracy ever since it transitioned from communism in 1989. It is a nation that enjoys free and fair elections and civil liberties protections; however, there is a strong partisan divide in Poland. The Law and Justice Party has become skeptical of the efficacy of liberal democracy; it has enacted a number of authoritarian reforms, enhancing the power of the party and undermining checks and balances enshrined in the Polish constitution. Here are seven facts about human rights in Poland:

  1. Speech is free in Poland, but there are some limitations. A person with a public platform can be fined and even jailed for promoting anti-government activity, amorality and disrespect for religion. However, these restrictions are rarely enforced.
  2. Freedom of the press is a constitutional human right in Poland, but recent laws enacted by Poland’s governing party have limited that freedom. Starting in 2017, journalists must be pre-approved in order to interview legislators in the halls of Parliament. The Law and Justice Party has also made moves to have more influence on public media. The party amended Polish law so that the treasurer has the power to choose the heads of public media, rather than an independent board. Polish public media officials were quickly replaced with Law and Justice party officials after the amendment was passed.
  3. Roma, LGBT and Muslim communities experience frequent discrimination in Poland. In 2016, violent hate crimes rose by 40 percent and most of these attacks targeted Muslims. Despite this, Poland has shut down its Council for the Prevention of Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance.
  4. Women have equal rights in Poland, but domestic violence and sex trafficking are still significant issues. The Polish government recently defunded the Women’s Rights Center, which had played a major role in aiding female victims of domestic violence. Polish officials have claimed that they shut down the institution because it did nothing to help the male victims of domestic violence.
  5. Poland has been going through a constitutional crisis, as the Law and Justice Party has taken steps that increase the power of the party and reduce the power of the Constitutional Tribunal – the nation’s highest court. The crisis began when the Law and Justice Party refused to seat five judges appointed to the court by the previous ruling party, and instead nominated their own. The tribunal ruled this act unconstitutional, but the government refused to release the ruling, making it technically non-binding. The Polish government has passed several laws designed to make the tribunal run less efficiently, and has appointed party ally Julia Przyłębska to be president of the tribunal. These actions have raised concerns among the EU and the U.S. that the Polish government is eroding democratic checks and balances.
  6. In 2016, Poland passed a counter-terrorism law that gives the government far-reaching surveillance powers. The law allows for the government to wiretap and monitor the communications of people the government fears might be involved in terrorism-related activities. The government has the power to continue these activities for three months without oversight, as well as use illegally obtained evidence in court and detain suspects for up to two weeks.
  7. Polish prisons fail to meet the standards set by other European countries. The minimum legal size of a jail cell in Poland is 32 square feet, which falls below the internationally recognized standard. Many prisons are in need of renovations and lack adequate healthcare and accommodations for prisoners with disabilities.

Though the Polish ruling party is encroaching on the nation’s civil liberties, there are still actions that can be taken to protect human rights in Poland. Poland still has free and fair elections, and if that remains unchanged, the Polish people have the power to democratically reject these illiberal reforms by voting in candidates that promise to restore power to the Constitutional Tribunal. The EU also has the power to sanction Poland if it goes too far – something it threatened to do last month in the face of efforts to stack the Constitutional Tribunal with even more party allies. Both of these situations should bring hope to the people of Poland, as it makes the improvement of their human rights a very possible outcome of the future.

Carson Hughes

Causes of Poverty in HungaryThe latest official statistics that can be found regarding poverty in Hungary are from 2015 by the Hungarian Central Statistical Office (KSH). According to their definition of the poverty line, 35 percent of the Hungarian population were living below the poverty line in 2015. More recent statistics have not been released due to a controversy over the KSH’s definition of poverty. However, by the United Nations’ standards, 46.6 percent of Hungarians in 2014 were impoverished, living on less than $300 a month.

There are three leading causes of poverty in Hungary that persist today:

  1. The price of real estate in Hungary is high and still rising, considering the devaluation of Hungarian currency. After Sweden, Hungary has the second-fastest rising real estate prices. The average Hungarian family spends $465 a month on rent and utilities alone, leaving little remaining for other bills and necessary items. Also, rent is only affordable for the average family in cities where it is near impossible to find work. Due to the high price of real estate, the average family with two children can hardly save $30 a month.
  2. Unemployment in Hungary remains a problem, though the number of unemployed Hungarians is seemingly decreasing. The current unemployment rate in Hungary is 9.3 percent, which is an improvement compared to earlier years. However, this rate does not take into account the approximately 300,000 people who are employed but receive no employment benefits. This is due to the Hungarian Work Plan that was launched in 2011, which forces the unemployed into employment programs. These employment programs pay a maximum of $200 a month, preventing any forward mobility. Keeping in mind that Hungary ranks eighth internationally regarding work hours, the employed and unemployed alike are both on the verge of poverty.
  3. Private debt is also largely responsible for poverty in Hungary. The government of Hungary offers $39,000 in loans to families with children – which many families accept but cannot afford to pay back. There are many Hungarian families that end up in a circle of debt, in which they accumulate more and more debt they cannot afford to pay off. The rapid devaluation of Hungarian currency adds to this cycle as it has caused private debt to dramatically increase.

The Takeaway

Addressing these causes of poverty in Hungary is necessary in order to help impoverished Hungarians. Approaching these problems effectively will take reforms from the Hungarian government as well as outside assistance. The programs currently being enacted have had major effects on reducing the rates of poverty in Hungary.  Thus, these efforts should continued to be pursued by the Hungarian government and the NGOs enacting them.

Haley Hurtt

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in Austria
While holding a position as a peaceful and democratic society, Austria’s human rights record still leaves something to be desired. On the one hand, Austria chooses its leaders in free and fair multiparty elections, and freedom of the press is alive and well; however, there are still many complex institutional problems with human rights in Austria.

In 2008, there were several reports of excessive force by police, societal discrimination against Muslims, Jews and members of unrecognized religious groups, violence against women and children and human trafficking. In addition, several isolated incidents were reported of neo-Nazi and xenophobic extremism towards members of minority groups.

Complaints of police ill-treatment towards minorities are still often met with insufficient investigation and action both by the police and the judicial system. In a study done by the Vienna-based EU Fundamental Rights Agency, over 50 percent of immigrants and minorities believe that Austria has a widespread problem of discrimination.

Going hand in hand with this sentiment, racial profiling is also a major threat to human rights in Austria. For example, in 2009, the Viennese police based a large-scale operation almost entirely on racial profiling; after a string of burglaries, the police carried out searches of all houses known to be owned by people of Georgian or Moldovan origin, all without any grounds of suspicion.

This comes along with several other incidents of police discrimination around the same time, including the killings of a Chechen asylum seeker and a Sikh religious leader, both of which were under-investigated. It was later revealed that in both cases the Austrian police had ignored warnings or requests for personal protection.

This police mistreatment can even go so far as torture, as in the case of Bakary J., a Gambian citizen who was tortured by three Viennese police officers in 2006 when it became apparent that he was residing in the country illegally.

While authorities were at fault for failing to implement safeguards against torture and have not revised any official protocol, the Disciplinary Appeal Commission decided to fire two of the three officers involved and cut off the pension of the third.

Since these incidents, human rights in Austria have come to the forefront of the country’s consciousness. In 2011, Austria was officially elected as a member of the Human Rights Council by the U.N. General Assembly. With this new membership, Austria pledged to combat threats to women’s rights, failure of law enforcement and human trafficking. Also, there is a priority for protection of freedom of religion and the protection of religious minorities.

These are important first steps but, like many countries, Austria still struggles with racism and the role of police. Through these conflicts, the country will work to improve human rights for all its citizens.

Audrey Palzkill

Photo: Flickr