Alternatives to Refugee Camps
Refugees are a reoccurring topic in the global news cycle recently and yet their living situations are rarely understood. The common picture on the news of long lines at refugee camps is a sad one that illustrates the unfortunate conditions displaced people often live in. Fortunately, it does not need to be this way. According to the U.N.’s official policy, alternatives to refugee camps should be pursued whenever possible as they increase the freedom of their inhabitants, build a sustainable community and reduce costs.

The Problems with Camps

While camps are one of the first things that come to mind when talking about refugees, they are far from an ideal setting. The most glaring issue with camps is that they restrict the freedom of their residents. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the defining feature of a camp…”is some degree of limitation on the rights and freedoms of refugees…”. This usually refers to restrictions on things like moving around, starting businesses or even protection services.

While restricting the freedom of refugees is bad from a human rights perspective, it also has negative implications for the countries hosting them. A key failure of camps is the inability to create a community. This makes it difficult for refugees to reintegrate to either their host or home countries after they leave the camp.

Despite these problems, there are always going to be situations where camps are unavoidable. Thankfully, by finding alternatives, the U.N. and other organizations would be better equipped to make the few necessary camps as hospitable as possible.

A Way Forward Through Alternatives

In contrast to camps, the U.N. says alternatives “will be defined by the degree to which refugees are able to exercise their rights”. One common feature of alternatives is that they allow refugees to hold jobs and participate in the local economy. This allows refugees to have somewhat of a normal life while they are displaced and lets them live with dignity in a community.  Refugees also integrate better back into their home communities when they have greater freedoms while displaced.

A shining example of this is an alternative employed with Sudanese refugees living in Nigeria. The group of refugees came from a tribe of nomads. Having restricted movement in a camp would have been such a disruption for their way of life that it would have been hard for them to reintegrate into their communities. The UNHCR recognized this and set them up in a situation where they could continue to move nomadically with their livestock. Out of this situation, a community market formed organically, allowing the refugees to live richer lives and integrate back into their home easier.

Alternatives can also provide an answer to conflicts that arrive between host countries and refugees. The clash of cultures that often occurs can alienate refugees and disrupt the host country’s citizens. A camp only exacerbates this problem by further isolating each group without taking either’s concerns into account. A key focus for alternatives is to pay attention to everyone’s perspective. The Nigerian example illustrates this well since the nomadic culture of the refugees allows them to live peacefully rather than struggling against being kept in a camp.

Alternatives to refugee camps should be pursued whenever possible. Protecting the freedom of refugees is vital to maintaining their dignity and helping them reintegrate once they can go back to their homes. While some sort of camp will always be necessary, the worst parts of them can be avoided and alternatives offer a bright path forward.

– Jonathon Ayers
Photo: Flickr

The stories of female Afghan writers and reporters are critical to the journalistic landscape of a country that sharply discriminates against women. Founded in 2015, Sahar Speaks brings these unique voices to light, providing mentoring, training and publishing opportunities for Afghan female journalists.

According to the organization, the name “Sahar” translated into English means “dawn,” meant to imply that a new period in time is commencing in which women can share their narratives and bring them to light. The program is transforming the journalism career path, allowing female correspondents to participate in international media and fostering their representation in the global field.

Women represent a marginalized group in Afghanistan and many cannot even openly speak with men. While the press corps is comprised of 9,000 journalists, only about 1,000 are female. After the 2001 expulsion of the Taliban, many news offices were established in Afghanistan by foreigners who primarily hired men and their close relatives. Until the origination of Sahar Speaks, no female reporters worked at foreign news outlets in Kabul.

British-American journalist Amie Ferris-Rotman founded the program to address this issue of gender inequity, giving women a platform through which they can freely communicate their perspectives. The project has helped to support insight into the lives of Afghan women whose experiences and accounts have been absent from the public eye.

While Afghan men or people from different countries are usually the ones telling the stories of Afghan women, the organization aims to return agency to Afghan female correspondents. Sahar Speaks has trained 22 Afghan female journalists and has prepared them for work on an international level. Through the program, budding reporters are paired with mentors and learn foundational journalism skills while addressing the challenges that they may face in the workplace.

Women face obstacles such as security threats and social barriers, including disapproval from family, yet Sahar Speaks aims to equip these women with the confidence to tell accurate stories. In 2016, 12 members of Sahar Speaks were selected to have their work published in The Huffington Post. Subjects ranged from the experience of having to dress like a boy in order to attend school to the practice of being married as a child. In 2017, journalists worked with The Huffington Post again to tell visual stories.

Alumnae of Sahar Speaks have gone on to pursue careers at the BBC, al Jazeera and The New York Times. In the fall of 2017, Ferris-Rotman collaborated with her mother, Lesley Ferris, to stage the stories that journalists had developed for The Huffington Post into a theatrical production.

Working with Ferris’ London-based drama company, Palindrome Productions, the performance debuted at Theatre 503 and brought to life three half-hour plays based on the experiences of the Afghan reporters. By presenting issues of gender and cultural restrictions through this medium, the production brought new attention to commonly overlooked conditions and sources of conflict, raising awareness on an international level.

Sahar Speaks is doing the essential job of giving Afghan women a voice in international media that has been absent for too long a time. By training reporters and equipping them with the skills they need to pursue a career in journalism, the organization is creating a changing culture where women can share accounts and seek out equity in society. While the perspectives of Afghan women have been obscured until recently, Sahar Speaks is shining a light on a new era where women will be empowered to express their stories and join a global discussion.

– Shira Laucharoen

Photo: Flickr

Article 19The United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in article 19 that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Named after this assertion, Article 19 is a human rights organization whose mission is to protect the freedom to speak globally. The group has worked in many different nations to address censorship, access to information and equality and hate speech, among other subjects.

Founded in 1987, Article 19 is based in London but has regional offices throughout the world, working with 100 organizations in more than 60 countries. The organization protects free speech on a global level by lobbying governments, intervening in individual incidents of rights violations and shaping legal standards relating to media and access to information.

With a commitment to combatting censorship, Article 19 has advocated on behalf of journalists arrested in Gambial, as well as Tanzanian politicians imprisoned for insulting the president. It has launched a petition that calls for a binding agreement for Latin American and Caribbean governments to guarantee access to information and justice in environmental matters, asserting that openness and transparency can help to monitor political corruption.

The organization has also written on the need for hate speech to be addressed in Myanmar and has taken a stance on racial discrimination in Tunisia, stating that racism inhibits pluralism of voices. Article 19 is a founding member of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange, a global network of 119 organizations committed to defending the basic liberty of freedom of expression. The nongovernmental organization raises awareness, acts through advocacy coalitions, forms petitions and conducts conferences and workshops.

Article 19 is also a founding member of the Freedom of Information Advocates Network, a group connecting organizations and individuals promoting access to information. The coalition runs projects such as a discussion list of lawyers, academics and civil society representatives concerned with the right of access.

In March 2017, Article 19 participated in a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council to draft The Global Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy, a document that will protect the openness of the media and safeguard the liberties of individuals and organizations internationally. The document is intended to inform policy makers and legislators in navigating liberties online and offline.

The Global Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy affirms the right of individuals to exercise freedom of expression anonymously and to use secure communication tools, while calling for the regulation of mass surveillance, describing this practice as interfering with privacy and freedom of expression. Additionally, the plan calls for the protection of confidential information given to companies online, as well as the right for confidential journalistic sources to not be disclosed. Through these measures, The Global Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy safeguard fundamental liberties in light of the digital age.

Article 19 is taking a stand against political censorship, the spreading of misinformation and the challenges that journalists face across multiple countries, calling for greater transparency and accountability. The organization operates on an international level, envisioning a world where freedom of expression and information are held in value. Navigating the digital era and the dangers of an oppressed media presence, Article 19 continues to fight for a diverse global community of voices, intervening in cases across the world and engaging in policy work to advance human rights.

– Shira Laucharoen

Photo: Google

2018 women's marchOne year ago, on Jan. 21, 2017, the largest day of protests in the history of the United States took place: the 2017 Women’s March. This protest originated from the palpable tension many felt after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. After its conception, however, the campaign exploded, exponentially growing into something greater than just a protest against a particular president and inspiring the 2018 Women’s March on its anniversary.

The message of the 2017 Women’s March was heard around the world. From Washington to Kenya, Saudi Arabia and many more, women and men alike took to the streets and commenced their mission to obtain health, economic security, representation and safety. These are the four pillars that first brought millions of people from all different backgrounds together for the 2017 and 2018 Women’s Marches.

Although this is a step in the right direction, there are still many countries that need to recognize the strength of their female citizens. Here are several active issues that women in developing countries faced during the 2017 and 2018 Women’s Marches.

Kenya’s Constitution

According to the Constitution of Kenya, women are required to hold at least one-third of government positions. Unfortunately, this parameter has never been met since the constitution’s inception in 2010.

On Jan. 22, 2018, hundreds of Kenyan women marched in defiance of President Uhuru Kenyatta, who had just recently dropped all of the female members of his Cabinet. The nine new nominees he chose were all be male. A petition has been established to require the government to follow its constitution, but the courts have, so far, remained silent.

A Driving Force

During the 2017 Women’s March, one of the largest issues that Saudi Arabian women fought for was their right to drive. This freedom has the power to vastly improve the lives of these women and the country as a whole.

Fortunately, their pleas were heard; on Sep. 26, 2017, a royal decree declared that, for the first time, Saudi Arabian women had the right to drive. Now, a few months later, the country has seen modest economic growth as women are given more freedoms, and thus are presented with more economic opportunities.

The Sky is the Limit

The next objective for Saudi Arabian women during the 2018 Women’s March was to allow women into the field of aviation. This new freedom is the brainchild of the Saudi Arabian government’s 2030 Vision, a strategy designed to relieve the country’s dependence on oil exports. The Saudi government may be giving women more freedom mostly in the pursuit of economic stability, but it is still a powerful victory for womankind.

In a country where more than half of the graduate degrees are earned by women, but only 20 percent of women are in the workforce, it is easy to find talent in this untapped market. Saudi Arabia may have a long way to go, but its quest for modernization should prove very beneficial to the country’s economy as well as its female population.

With the power of the Internet and modernization in general, developing countries like these can be a part of the global conversation. The 2017 and 2018 Women’s Marches are shining examples of what can happen when technology, activism and passion collide.

– Nicolas Lennan

Photo: Pixabay

strongest democraciesFreedom House’s annual nonpartisan report on the state of global democracy, Freedom in the World, had grim findings in its newly released 2018 version. According to the report, 2017 marked the “twelfth consecutive year of decline in global freedom” in which civil liberties and political rights eroded in multiple democracies, both young and old.

That said, the focus in this post will be highlighting the world’s top 10 strongest democracies, moving from last to first, based on various economic and social factors:

  1. Uruguay
    Uruguay is known for its strong record on legal equality and social tolerance of minority groups. It has a strong economy, an informed populace and a national identity based on democratic freedoms rather than ethnicity. It is also highly regarded for its notable lack of government corruption, an issue that has long plagued other democratic nations in South America.
  1. Ireland
    Despite instances of corruption, Ireland has upheld its strong and stable democracy throughout the political turmoil of the past few years. Balanced and fair elections have maintained the country’s tradition of equal protections under the law, though Ireland could stand to dedicate more to foreign aid, giving just 0.33 percent of its Gross National Income (GNI) in 2016.
  1. Switzerland
    Notable as one of the only countries in the world to operate as a confederation, Switzerland follows a tradition of decentralizing power and allowing citizens to weigh in on government decisions through referendums, making the nation closer to a direct democracy than a representative one.  Switzerland has a long history of civil rights and political liberties, having been a democratic nation since 1848.
  1. Denmark
    A parliamentary representative democracy with open and fair elections, Denmark remained one of the world’s strongest democracies in 2017. Despite pressures following the 2015 migrant crisis, Denmark has maintained its core democratic structures. It has strong checks on power and corruption, a robust set of civil liberties for its citizens, and some of the most beautiful scenery in Europe.
  1. Australia
    Australia is widely recognized as a strong democratic system, with free and fair elections and a system of obligatory voting. The country encourages the sharing of powers, with a bicameral parliament designed to mitigate extreme divides between opposing views.
  1. New Zealand
    A nation that contains immense and stunning scenery, New Zealand is perhaps best known for its appearances in the popular Lord of the Rings movies and its thriving tourist industry. But the nation also possesses a thriving democracy. With regular elections and a system of checks on governmental abuse of power, New Zealand remains a destination for those who wish to combine epic scenery with the modern attributes of a prospering democracy. Its only shortcomings relate to combatting global poverty, as the country contributed just 0.25 percent of its GNI to foreign aid in 2016 despite strong economic growth.
  1. Finland
    Competition between multiple parties with diverse views, along with deep respect for the law and a resulting lack of corruption, made Finland one of the best democracies in 2017. It boasts a free press and independent judiciary that respects the political rights of citizens. It is above average in terms of foreign aid contributions, contributing 0.44 percent of its GNI to foreign aid in 2016, but could still improve in this regard.
  1. Canada
    A country recognized by its broad social welfare system and vast landscapes, Canada remains an admirable democratic society. A strong electoral system combined with governmental respect for diverse opinions among citizens has led to a solid and functioning country. Canada could do better in foreign aid, however, contributing only 0.26 percent of its GNI to helping less fortunate nations in 2016.
  1. Sweden
    A parliamentary monarchy with a robust and independent judiciary, Sweden remains one of the best multiparty political systems and one of the strongest democracies, incorporating the viewpoints of most members of society and benefitting from a respected judicial branch that largely upholds civil liberties. Sweden also contributes the most toward fighting global poverty among members of the United Nations, with 1.09 percent of its GNI going to foreign aid in 2016.
  1. Norway
    Despite the political and social turmoil that defined 2017, Norway preserved its status as one of the strongest democracies in the world. Norway sports strong protections for freedom of speech among its populace and has a civil society and independent media that is encouraged to critique the government and promote responsible behavior by public officials. Key to Norway’s success is its modest population, which makes it easier to represent all viewpoints in government and mitigate the societal divisions that plague larger countries. Norway also has done more than most democracies to address the issue of global poverty, contributing 1.1 percent of its GNI to foreign aid in 2016.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s democracy index found in its July 2017 report that democracy was in retreat across the globe, including in the United States, which is considered one of the world’s oldest and strongest democracies. It is important to examine the strongest democracies in the modern world in order to study how they have maintained strong systems of civil and political liberties, as well as what they are doing to improve other nations’ economic well-beings, a key foundation for democratic stability.

– Shane Summers

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

How Art is Enriching Free Expression in PakistanIn Pakistan, every citizen has the right to freedom of expression. However, this is subject to restriction. Article 19 of the Constitution of the Islamic State of Pakistan (1974) explains:

“Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defense of Pakistan or any part thereof friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, [commission of] [sic] or incitement to an offence.”

Censorship is an ongoing practice that often restricts freedom of expression in Pakistan. The 2017 Human Rights Watch World Report expressed concern for political influence by the Pakistani government on the media. Throughout 2016, media outlets were allegedly pressured to circumvent coverage on human rights violations. Terrorist regimes like the Taliban were also known to impact media outlets. According to the report, “many journalists increasingly practice self-censorship, fearing retribution from security forces.”

Since the year 2000, 110 journalists have been killed in Pakistan, only four of which cases have led to convictions. Despite this fact, there are artists throughout the republic ignoring the fear and embracing their passion. Pakistani artists are exercising their right to free expression and challenging the unspoken but palpable restrictions on freedom of expression via their artwork.

Fouzia Saeed, head of Lok Virsa, a Pakistani culture and history museum just outside of Islamabad, explains to Journal & Courier that he sometimes receives death threats. Despite this, Saeed continues to educate the public and provide an outlet for freedom of expression in Pakistan, often hosting poetry and folk music night.

Asia’s largest theater festival is an annual 11-day event hosted in Lahore, Pakistan. The World Performing Arts Festival, organized by Rafi Peerzada, is designed to reaffirm the democratic notions that Pakistan has been striving for since 2013.

The festival features some 90 performing groups. The event often evokes social commentaries, promotes dialogue and represents a celebration of local and global culture. This is an ambitious event that funding and support aren’t exactly there for, as Peerzada laments to say. “We’ve never had a policy for culture,” he says in response to the difficulty of fundraising. The program has never received government funding, and other sources are hesitant to associate their name with the festival, as it is considered “risky.”

When the festival started in 2008, it found itself the target of an attack. Three bombs detonated as the event was reaching full capacity. Some were injured, but luckily no one was killed. “The arts are seen as un-Islamic,” Peerzada explains in an interview with Christian Science Monitor.

Though artists, galleries, festivals and other forms of artistic expression are often targets of forced silence, this group collectively remains resilient.

“It feels like we are closer to that than a year ago, but we’re certainly not close to being all the way there. What appears to be a country divided is not that divided at all — it is just scared,” Peerzada says. In the transition to democracy and modernization, art plays a key role in strengthening freedom of expression in Pakistan.

– Sloan Bousselaire

Photo: Flickr

How to Help People in AzerbaijanMany have probably heard very little about the small Eurasian country of Azerbaijan. Even fewer have considered how to help the people in Azerbaijan. With regions like the Middle East and countries like North Korea flooding mass media, major human rights violations in lesser known areas can go unnoticed and relatively unspoken of.

Does Azerbaijan need global help? Is the country in some sort of civil struggle requiring foreign assistance? If the breach of free speech and unlawful imprisonment of Azerbaijani antigovernment activists constitutes this need, then the answer is yes.

At the heart of the issue lies what the Human Rights Watch calls a lack of “space for independent activism [and] critical journalism.” Critics of the practices of the Azerbaijani government are not only given no space to speak, but are also being persecuted unfairly for crimes they did not even commit.

“In August, in the lead-up to the constitutional referendum, the government arrested eight activists on a range of false, politically motivated charges, including drug possession, hooliganism, incitement and illegal business activity,” states the Human Rights Watch’s 2017 report on Azerbaijan.

Most of this activism is in reaction to allegations made against Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan. He first gained office in 2003 in a landslide election, reportedly winning over three-fourths of the votes, and then winning twice more in 2008 and 2013 with even higher percentages of votes. A 2015 report from the U.S. State Department recognizes that Aliyev seems to have dictated both the legislative and judicial branches of government as well as his own office and calls suspicion toward the legitimacy of the 2013 presidential election.

How to help people in Azerbaijan is a difficult question to consider, as human rights violations like genocide are often more readily addressed as opposed to a lack of free speech. However, there is a way foreign aid can benefit Azerbaijanis’ rights to free speech and press.

There are strict laws governing nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Azerbaijan as the Azerbaijani government sees them as a threat against governmental media control. Some of these NGOs such as the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety and the Media Rights Institute have been harassed by the Azerbaijani government through both legal and economic means. As these NGOs are meant to oversee the freedom of speech and press in Azerbaijan, it is imperative that they remain secure from the government’s mission to seize their influence.

Protecting these NGOs and organizations like them is how to assist people in Azerbaijan. This can be achieved by bringing awareness to the issue or through monetary donation. Contacting a congressperson or donating to one of these NGOs can help secure that the Azerbaijani government does not gain full control of the media and free speech in the country.

Michael Carmack

Photo: Flickr