Information and stories about human rights.

Human Rights Violations in Ukraine
The international laws of war dictate what nations can and cannot do in accordance with human rights during times of conflict or war. All parties involved in a conflict have to abide by international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions of 1949, The First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions and Customary International Law. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 resulted in the creation of four treaties and three additional protocols that establish international legal standards for humanitarian treatment in war. The First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions aims to help strengthen the protection of victims of armed conflicts and place limits on the way of fighting wars. Finally, Customary International Law holds nations accountable to the international obligations that establish international practices such as those laid out in the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

Social and Economic Costs

Laws of war prohibit willful killing, acts of sexual violence, torture, the inhumane treatment of captured combatants and civilians and pillaging and looting. Armed forces that have effective control over an area have to follow the international law of occupation and international human rights laws. If a nation violates the laws of war, then they are responsible for committing war crimes. With this, the commanders of the occupying forces who know or suspect such crimes are taking place, but fail to act are criminally liable as a matter of command responsibility.

Conflicts such as the one going on in Ukraine cause immeasurable social and economic costs. These include loss of life, destruction of infrastructure, human capital, political instability and uncertain economic growth and investments.

Ukrainians will feel these effects for years to come, especially with a future of economic uncertainty in the country. This conflict however does not just impact those living in Ukraine economically, but worldwide as well with soaring rates of inflation. Within the first three months of the invasion, an estimated 51.6 million people fell into poverty living on or below $1.90 per day. Along with this, 20 million people fell to the poverty line of living on $3.20 per day. The continuous effects of Russia’s invasion are not Ukraine’s burden alone, but trickling into other nations as well.

Current State of Ukraine

Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, several bodies such as the United Nations and Human Rights Watch have been carefully monitoring the conflict for human rights violations in Ukraine and war crimes. The Human Rights Watch has documented several cases of Russian military forces committing war crime violations against civilians in occupied areas such as Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Kyiv. Russian soldiers were a part of repeated acts of sexual violence, unlawful executions and looting of civilian property. With this, Human Rights Watch has documented multiple reports on the deliberate cruelty towards Ukrainian civilians.

In September 2022, an U.N.-appointed independent committee of human rights investigators confirmed that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine. Most of the committee’s work has centered around investigations in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy. These are the regions where the most serious allegations of war crime violations against Russia have occurred.

Those Working to Help

There are currently multiple different bodies working diligently to prevent human rights violations in Ukraine and make sure that people have access to life necessities. Ukrainian officials suspect that more than 15,000 war crimes have taken place since Russia invaded. That makes humanitarian aid even more crucial for those who are still in the nation and refugees.

In May 2022, the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom announced the establishment of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group (ACA). The ACA aims to reinforce accountability for war crimes and it seeks to advance the commitments made by the European Union, the United States and the U.K. They are also making it their mission to support the war crimes units of the Office of Prosecutor General of Ukraine (OPG) in its investigation and prosecution of conflict-related crimes.

Along with this, they are working to bring together multinational experts to provide strategic advice and operational assistance to OPG specialists and other stakeholders in areas such as collection, preservation of evidence, operational analysis, investigation of conflict-related sexual violence, crime scenes and forensic investigations. Accountability is key when human rights are at stake. If there is no accountability then nations in conflict can commit disastrous war crimes as they please. This group aims to demonstrate international support and solidarity for Ukraine, along with holding those taking part in the conflict accountable for their actions against civilians.

USAID Helping Ukraine

Along with the efforts of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group, in July 2022, USAID announced it would provide $74 million in aid to Ukraine. This brings the total amount of USAID spending to help Ukraine to $1 billion. With the continued support of the U.S. and other nations, humanitarian organizations have been able to assist around 11 million people. Their continued efforts are crucial in ensuring the protection of human rights in Ukraine and that Ukrainians are safe from war crimes. The additional funding from USAID will provide emergency hygiene items, health care, mental health care, shelter and cash assistance to Ukrainians. It is also important to recognize that vulnerable populations disproportionately bear the burdens of war. As an acknowledgment of this, the funding will also aim to support those who are within these populations to help meet their life-saving needs.

The continuous commitment of wealthy nations to support humanitarian aid is detrimental to preventing human rights violations in Ukraine and ensuring that nations are held accountable for war crimes. The actions now set a precedent for conflicts in the future. Therefore, nations like the U.S. should continue to set an example of what humanitarian aid should look like, thus creating a model for others to follow.

– Emma Cook
Photo: Flickr

Cuban Doctors
One of the most significant exports that Cuba continually delivers is doctors. Offering quality services at a price that the most vulnerable and impoverished patients can afford, these medical practitioners are changing the world. In 2020, patients worldwide called upon around 800 Cuban doctors and nurses at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, Human Rights Watch, an international NGO that advocates and researches human rights violations and other organizations claim a dark side to the philanthropic efforts that Cuba presents. Moreover, controversy surrounds Cuba’s medical internationalism with claims of Cuban doctors working under repressive regulations that violate their fundamental human rights.

Cuba’s History of Medical Internationalism

After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the socialist government addressed its main societal concerns: universal health care and free education. As a result, while revamping the health care system in the country through strategic methods, the government achieved its goals of providing free healthcare and quality education. Using these values, the Cuban government began a program to bring humanitarian medical aid worldwide. According to the BBC, Fidel Castro himself described the exported medics as Cuba’s “army of white coats.”

Its history of medical altruism began in 1963 when Cuba sent 56 doctors to replace the French doctors that left Algeria, according to TIME. After Algeria gained independence from France in 1962, one of the newly formed country’s main issues was the mass exodus of French doctors. According to Granma, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, more than 3,000 doctors left the nation. Cuba supported the country while it rebuilt its health care system.

Cuba would also help other nations in times of catastrophes, such as Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. With equipment and valuable knowledge, 380 Cuban health care providers were some of the first doctors to respond to the crisis. They operated four clinics in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince, providing life-saving procedures such as amputations, sutures and antibiotics. In an interview with pharmacist Ildilisa Nunez, a member of the Cuban Miracle Mission, National Public Radio (NPR) reported that 605 people came to the clinic within 12 hours of the earthquake.

In that critical moment, Cuban doctors could provide the aid that the citizens needed, especially during the pandemic.

Cuban Medical Personnel During COVID-19

Forty countries worldwide received the aid of Cuban health care providers during the pandemic. While Cuba is often helping nations with weak health care systems, wealthier nations such as Italy and Andorra have received Cuban aid too. For example, in Lombardy, Italy, the region’s health minister Guilio Gallera asked for the help of Cuban medics in March 2020, according to The Economist. On March 22, 2020, 52 Cuban doctors arrived from Havana to help.

Some host countries, according to NBC, are learning from Cuba how to handle the pandemic effectively. These strategies include “isolating cases, tracing their contacts, screening for sufferers and swiftly applying therapeutic treatments like the antiviral agent interferon.” Even nations that have ended agreements, such as Brazil, have requested aid once more because of the pandemic’s damage. Brazil received 1,012 Cuban doctors that allowed them to practice in “basic primary medicine for two years without having to requalify to practice,” NBC reports.

The pandemic caused nations worldwide to turn to Cuba for aid. Still, there is a darker side to their humanitarian assistance.

A Violation of Human Rights

Human Rights Watch accused the Cuban government of imposing regulations that have violated Cuban medics’ fundamental rights. Some of these liberties included “the right to privacy, freedom of expression and association, liberty and movement, among others,” as Human Rights Watch reported.

Under the Resolution 168 of 2010 that the Ministry of External Commerce and Foreign Investment wrote, it is a disciplinary offense to have any relationships with others who are not consistent with the values that Cuban society holds. In addition, personnel deployed abroad, under the same order, must disclose all “romantic relationships” to their supervisors, Human Rights Watch reports. The government also limited the freedom of expression using regulations that the Human Rights Watch said were “unnecessary and disproportionate to any legitimate government aim.”

Not only do Cuban medics suffer from restrictive bans that limit their freedom, but they also endure threatening situations. Around 41% of Cubans that worked abroad say they experienced sexual assault while at their posts. If the deployed personnel wanted to leave the program, they would face an eight-year ban from Cuba, according to VOA News.

Though, the string of infractions does not stop. Multiple organizations, including Human Rights Watch, accused the Cuban government of exploiting the medical personnel wages. Prisoners Defenders reported that “doctors on average receive between 10% and 25% of the salary from the host countries,” with Cuba’s authorities keeping the rest, according to BBC. With lucrative missions that bring Havana $8.5 billion a year, a large sum of money is continually withheld from Cuban doctors, according to VOA News.

The Future of Cuba’s Medical Internationalism

While Cuban medical aid has helped countries worldwide, there has been a call to question how humanitarian the government has been to its employees. Only the future will tell if Cuba will end up before the International Criminal Court and the United Nations to face their crimes. However, in the end, the world needs the aid that Cuban doctors have provided for over half a century.

– Gaby Mendoza
Photo: Flickr

north korea defectorsNorth Korea’s refugee outflow started in the 1990s when North Koreans began fleeing a devastating famine. From then until 2020, more than 33,000 North Koreans defected to South Korea with others dispersed throughout the world. Defectors continued to leave because of food shortages and grave human rights violations. However, since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, North Korea’s border security tightened considerably, making the possibility of escape incredibly difficult. But, some North Korean defectors who have made it to freedom are now dedicating their lives to raising awareness for the millions of people still locked within North Korea. Here are the stories of three North Korean defectors who became human rights activists.

Kim Seong-Min

Born in 1962, Kim Seong-Min served 10 years in the North Korean military before working as a propaganda writer for the totalitarian regime. In a harrowing journey, he fled to China in 1996 only to face capture, repatriation and an execution sentence. Miraculously, he managed to escape once again and arrived in South Korea in 1999.

Seong-Min became one of the first and most active North Korean defector-turned-human rights activists. Most notably, he founded Free North Korea Radio (FNKR) in 2004. FNKR broadcasts news into North Korea and counters the regime’s propaganda. Only North Korean defectors now living in South Korea produce and voice the station. The station’s programming includes defectors’ personal narratives as well as news related to North Korea and knowledge about the outside world.

While it is impossible to track FNKR’s exact audience numbers, research consistently ranks it as the most popular broadcast in North Korea. Many listeners also covertly spread the broadcast’s news to their neighbors by word of mouth, creating a significant “secondary audience.” Seong-Min’s numerous awards include the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy’s Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award and the Reporters Without Borders’ Media Award.

Ji Seong-ho

As a teenager in the 1990s, Ji Seong-ho helped his family during the famine by hopping on coal trains, taking pieces of coal and trading them for food. At one point, falling from a coal train onto the tracks, a train crushed his left hand and foot. Several sections of his limbs were amputated, leaving him dependent on crutches. At age 24 he escaped to China, nearly drowning in the Tumen River in his attempt. From there, he traveled on crutches thousands of miles to freedom through China, Laos and Thailand before finally reaching South Korea.

Ji Seong-ho founded Now Action & Unity for Human Rights (NAUH) in 2010. The organization reaches out to North Koreans to inform them of their rights and helps prepare both North and South Koreans for the peninsula’s future unification. As of July 2019, NAUH had rescued 450 North Koreans and brought them to South Korea. Once in South Korea, NAUH  provides education on democracy, human rights and leadership development. The organization runs a number of national and international campaigns geared toward raising awareness of North Korea’s human rights violations. It also broadcasts a radio program targeting North Korean youth. Ji Seong-ho received the 2017 Oxi Day Foundation Oxi Courage Award for the work he and NAUH continue.

Yeonmi Park

Yeonmi Park fled North Korea with her mother in 2007 when she was 13 years old, only to discover that her brokers were human traffickers. After several years of bondage in China, she and her mother walked across the freezing Gobi Desert to Mongolia. From there, she moved to South Korea, and eventually, the United States.

Park debuted as a human rights activist at the 2014 One Young World Summit in Dublin. She gave a widely popular speech detailing her experiences. After that, she published her memoir, became a sought-after speaker on North Korean human rights issues and conducted countless interviews.  Perhaps most impactful is her YouTube channel, which, as of January 2022, claims more than 81 million views and is the leading English-speaking channel hosted by a North Korean defector. She was also selected as one of the BBC 100 Women 2014, and in 2017, the Independent Institute awarded her the Alexis de Tocqueville Award for her contributions to liberty as the foundation of free, humane societies.

Fighting for Freedom

The lives and missions of these three North Korean defectors demonstrate their incredible tenacity and the many different ways that activists can bring awareness to human rights issues. Whether through radio broadcasts, education, direct rescue missions, speeches and even Youtube channels, human rights activists can reach millions and change the world for the better.

-Andria Pressel
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Paraguay
In the last few decades, human trafficking has become rampant in many Latin American countries. Landlocked by Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil, Paraguay finds itself grappling with this issue, putting many of its citizens at risk of becoming victims of trafficking. For the year 2021, the U.S. State Department ranks Paraguay at Tier 2 in regard to the nation’s handling of human trafficking. This ranking means that Paraguay does not meet the minimum requirements for combating trafficking as outlined in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 but “is making significant efforts to do so.”

Victims of Trafficking in Paraguay

According to the Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) of 2021, men, women and children are all susceptible to human trafficking in Paraguay. However, the most prevalent and concerning act of human trafficking in Paraguay involves the exploitation of children under a practice called “criadazgo,” which entails the exploitive labor of children as domestic workers.

A child, usually from an impoverished family, provides domestic work to middle and high-class families in exchange for “varying compensation that includes room, board, money, a small stipend or access to educational opportunities.” Estimates indicate that about 47,000 Paraguayan children work under this practice, often girls. However, this practice is a form of exploitation “similar to slavery.” In fact, many victims of criadazgo experience physical abuse and sexual abuse. Although officially outlawed in Paraguay due to child rights violations, the practice continues.

Barriers to Combating Human Trafficking in Paraguay

Law enforcement officials are often complicit in human trafficking crimes. Allegations include accepting bribes to overlook acts of trafficking in “massage parlors and brothels” and “issuing passports for Paraguayan trafficking victims exploited abroad.” According to the TIP, Paraguay’s national law against human trafficking does not “align with international law.” Furthermore, the official anti-trafficking unit lacks the resources to operate effectively. Considering the significant number of trafficking victims in Paraguay,  the nation does not have adequate services and infrastructure in place to adequately serve victims.

The Good News

Paraguay developed the Ministry of Adolescents and Children (MINNA), which “maintains a unit dedicated to fighting child trafficking and a hotline to report cases of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children.” This unit also offers “social services” to child victims of trafficking.

MINNA created Program Abrazo (Embrace Program) in 2005 to aid children within exploitative child labor by supplying the children and their family members “with health and education services, food deliveries and cash transfers conditioned on children’s school attendance and withdrawal from work.” In 2020, MINNA collaborated with “local institutions” to “open new Embrace Program attention centers for street children and to strengthen services at existing centers.”

In 2017, Paraguay created a child trafficking awareness initiative to reduce “child commercial sexual exploitation” within the tourism industry. The initiative made use of flyers, banners and stickers “at hotels, airports and places of mass circulation” in Ciudad del Este, the second-largest city in Paraguay, as well as the Paraguay border area.

Looking Ahead

These efforts are placing the country on the right path for Tier 1 categorization as a fully compliant nation. It is important to raise awareness of human trafficking to help eliminate it. Human trafficking can put any one of the 7.6 million people residing in Paraguay at risk. Most importantly, the vulnerable population, such as children and impoverished people, face this risk at a higher proportion than anyone else. Through continued efforts to combat human trafficking in Paraguay, the government can safeguard the well-being of vulnerable Paraguayans.

– Kler Teran
Photo: Unsplash

Human Trafficking in Mali
Mali is a country where human trafficking is widespread, according to the U.S. State Department. This suggests that the government of the western African country is failing to achieve the bare minimum for abolishing the practice. Instead, Mali has increased some of its prevention efforts — at least since 2017. Mali is not overlooking trafficking, according to many observers. In fact, the government is attempting to stop human trafficking in Mali.

The Situation in Mali

Despite its ranking, the Malian government is making strides to remedy its human trafficking conundrum. These initiatives include educating judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers on human trafficking, as well as issuing a directive prohibiting minors from entering military installations.

Further actions aimed at combating human trafficking include government collaboration with international groups such as the Fodé and Yeguine Network for Action, and the Ministry of Women, Children and Families. In addition, the government has concentrated efforts amending an old anti-trafficking law as recently as 2019.

Mali’s justice minister has issued an order requiring judicial officials to give priority to cases brought under the original statute. Due to the absence of an integrated process to gather anti-trafficking statistics, law enforcement material previously was fragmentary and thereby challenging to access. The 2019 amendment sought to establish a unified strategy for data collection.

Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world, with more than 42% of its total population living below the poverty line, according to the World Bank. The coronavirus pandemic didn’t help, as a recession dropped Mali’s gross domestic product by nearly 2%. Additionally, nearly seven in 10 adults in Mali cannot read or write, indicating a scarcity of education.

The Correlation Between Malian Poverty and Human Trafficking

Mali has been beset by instability and violence since a 2012 military coup d’état and the capture of the northern territory. The country remains in a state of desperation due to its economic and social crises. The financial insecurity has made it simple — as many observers viewed — to fall victim to human trafficking practices.

Mali falls short of meeting the minimal benchmarks for the abolition of human trafficking. As a result, human traffickers can continue to exploit both internal and international victims. Many of these migrants are fleeing crisis zones in Mali, Nigeria and Senegal.

Mali is a supplier, route and destination country for international trafficking, according to the State Department. Lured to Mali with assurances of high-paying jobs, organizations, which include violent fundamentalists like Al-Qaeda “affiliates” abduct many of them. Job seekers also labor to “pay off” fictitious debts that the organizations that invited them to the country in the first place tell them they owe.

Why Mali?

Despite its poverty, Mali is rich in gold and oil. Yet, to benefit from those resources, Mali needs miners. This attracts refugees, women and children, who traffickers could ultimately coerce. Juvenile prostitution and child sex trafficking are common at mining sites. In fact, more than 12% of sex workers at these locations are as young as 15 and as old as 19, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.

A disproportionate number of males work in certain mines, exposing them to the most heinous types of child labor, including physical, sexual and psychological abuse. “Children are being forced to fight by armed groups, trafficked, raped, sold, forced into sexual or domestic servitude or married off,” Gillian Triggs, the Refugee Agency’s assistant high commissioner for protection, told Reuters in December 2020.

Assistance to Mali

There are many human trafficking solutions, yet they are difficult to implement. Global attention and vigorous effort to alleviate Mali’s exploited and trafficked workers dilemma remain in initial phases. While the U.N., the State Department and a number of non-governmental organizations said they are aware of trafficking issues in Mali, the magnitude and precise volume of trafficking and coerced laborers continue to remain unclear.

To help with these issues, the Roman Catholic Church-affiliated Caritas Mali has assembled an international team to build an initiative alongside the International Catholic Migration Commission,  providing underprivileged individuals and children with alternative income and skill development opportunities.

Mali’s education system is deficient, and this new initiative may make fewer people desire to work in deplorable conditions. Many believe that human trafficking thrives on the instability that poverty creates. Thus, eliminating poverty could then, in turn, mitigate trafficking problems.

Many groups are attempting to assist those in poverty in Mali including Action Against Hunger. To date, it has helped more than 400,000 people gain access to nutrition and health programs, food security programs and sanitation programs. Another organization providing aid is the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Food for Peace, which collaborates with the U.N. World Food Program to deliver financial assistance and meals to families that dislocation, violence, environmental catastrophes and other crises have impacted.

Save the Children is another organization helping nearly 1.5 million Malian children in 2020 by giving food and protection. The organization says it effectively raised 232,000 children out of poverty.

The work of Save the Children, Action Against Hunger and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Food for Peace are helping reduce the symptoms of poverty such as food insecurity and poor sanitation. These efforts should subsequently reduce people’s vulnerability and eliminate human trafficking in Mali.

– Tiffany Lewallyn
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in CuracaoEfforts to address human trafficking are now more widespread, but the epidemic continues. Curaçao and other foreign governments are fighting to stop this crime — a consistent battle that requires consistent efforts to eradicate it. Human trafficking in Curaçao stands as a complex issue with no set solution but there is cause for optimism. Many organizations are directing their resources toward human trafficking task forces and prevention. Understanding human trafficking, its origin, prevention measures and progress are the first steps to becoming an advocate.

Human Trafficking: The Basics

More than 35% of the world’s population currently lives on less than $2.00 a day. There are “2.5 billion children, women and men are at risk of human trafficking.” Curaçao identified only three victims of trafficking in 2019 compared to 44 in 2018, indicating a backtrack in progress. The government of Curaçao can do more to identify and help victims of trafficking. Prosecution for traffickers is in place; however, without investigations to pinpoint perpetrators, few incidents reach prosecution.

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery that uses force, coercion or fraud to exploit sex or labor from victims. The three most common types of human trafficking are sex trade, forced labor and domestic servitude. Any person is at risk of trafficking, yet women and children are disproportionately vulnerable to sex trafficking. In fact, “women and girls make up 80% of the people trafficked.”

How Trafficking Links to Poverty

Curaçao’s economy relies heavily on tourism, and therefore, faces fluctuations that explain the nation’s 25% poverty rate. This has become worse with the onset of COVID-19 and travel restrictions. This resulted in a 19.1% unemployment rate in 2020. Poverty is dangerous in itself and brings with it several threats to one’s safety and well-being.

Women and girls are the main targets of sex trafficking in Curaçao. According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report, these female victims come from countries such as Venezuela, Curaçao and the Dominican Republic. “Bar owners recruit women and girls to work as waitresses or ‘trago girls,’ and subsequently, force them into commercial sex.” Individuals faced with poverty struggle to meet necessities, making them extremely vulnerable to human traffickers. Acknowledging poverty and its direct link to sex or labor trafficking vulnerability is the first step to dismantling it.

This Dutch Caribbean island, part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, is on the Tier 2 Watchlist for human trafficking. This ranking shows that Curaçao is making efforts to alleviate human trafficking within its borders but is still not meeting the minimum standards of elimination. The primary reason for the country’s underperformance is a lack of funding since the implementation of its written plan would meet minimum standards. Curaçao’s government also lacks adequate protection, prosecution and prevention.

Trafficking affects locals and tourists in Curaçao. In 2019, displaced Venezuelans who were working illegally and overstaying their visas held a high risk of trafficking in Curaçao. The Kingdom of the Netherlands’ involvement is crucial for anti-trafficking efforts, which puts it in a position of leadership and funding. The Netherlands is responsible for foreign policy in Curaçao, Aruba and St. Maarten.

Combating Human Trafficking is a Global Effort

Countries should work together to fight human trafficking. Due to these crimes’ international occurrence, it is every country’s responsibility to do its part. Interpol, the global police organization, works exclusively to prevent international crime, making it a significant activist in the fight against trafficking.

Operation Libertad, coordinated by the Interpol Global Task Force on Human Trafficking, joined forces with 13 different countries, including Curaçao. It rescued nearly 350 victims of sexual and labor exploitation in 2018. Interpol exemplified how creating a platform is powerful. It has more than 500 participating police officers arresting traffickers. Efforts and projects like Operation Libertad are in progress around the world.

Other methods of improvement are underway, such as training and educational seminars. In 2021, the Dutch Caribbean Islands received training from the U.S. Department of Justice Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, solidifying the communal cooperation to fight human trafficking. The Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women (GAATW) pushes for legislation to combat trafficking with “more than 80 non-government organizations” and support from countries such as the Netherlands. Many more organizations exist and each plays an essential part in eliminating human trafficking in Curaçao.

Help End Human Trafficking in Curaçao

The U.S. Department of State gives 20 different ways one can help fight human trafficking. Human trafficking in Curaçao will improve with consistent efforts. Global efforts present a hopeful future for trafficking victims but stringent measures are the only ways to ensure such hope. Understanding human trafficking, its origin, prevention measures and progress are the first steps to becoming an advocate.

– Anna Montgomery
Photo: Flickr

Cobalt Mining
In recent years, the world has seen a growing demand for mined materials because of the growing popularity of crystals and semiprecious gems. Included in the demand for mined materials is cobalt, which is increasingly necessary due to its role in electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing. In fact, about “24% of the total cobalt demand” stems from EV production and the demand will continue to increase as more people continue to buy EVs. A prominent stakeholder in the crystal and mineral industry is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which produces “more than 70% of the world’s cobalt,” along with other semi-precious gems, crystals and gold. Of the cobalt mined, smaller mining operations, many without licenses, produce 15%-30%. The DRC government has failed to enforce proper accountability and ethics within cobalt mining in the DRC. This, combined with years of strict rule and war, has resulted in many people in the mining sector suffering human rights issues.

Human Rights Violations in DRC Mines

Cobalt mining in the DRC is rife with human rights abuses, such as the use of child labor. According to Amnesty International, an estimated 40,000 children are employed in artisanal mining in the DRC. A lack of proper safety precautions is also common practice and accidents frequently occur. Additionally, miners are usually subject to opportunist, abusive and exploitative mining firms, earning unlivable wages.

While it would be ideal for people within the mining industry to look toward alternative work, conditions in the DRC mean employment opportunities are scarce. Data from 2018 indicates that about 73% of the DRC lives in extreme poverty, surviving on less than $1.90 per day — an effect of previous wars and dictatorships. These factors have led to skyrocketing costs of living in the DRC and ravaged land, leaving people desperate to take up any opportunity they can find to survive. Since the nation sits on top of a large cobalt reserve that experts estimate holds more than 50% of the world’s cobalt supply, working in the mining industry in the DRC has more financial promise than other sectors, which imports dominate.

The lack of industry regulation allows exploitative practices to continue, but it also presents a public health crisis. Without the proper safety gear, miners of all ages experience continuing exposure to dust and particles that result in lung and skin diseases, like tuberculosis or dermatitis.

Solutions to Mining Injustices

In recent years, awareness around mining exploitation has been increasing, largely due to the fact that the industry is expanding along with technology. In 2020, several online activists brought attention to the human rights abuses within the artisanal mining industry by creating “the hashtag #NoCongoNoPhone to fight against the cobalt supply chain that fosters child labor and the exploitation of small-scale artisanal miners.”

Additionally, cobalt mining in the DRC is about to experience a regulation shift. Reuters reported in May 2021 that the DRC government is working with the Enterprise Generale du Cobalt (EGC) to establish control over the artisanal cobalt mining sector and obtain a monopoly over Congolese cobalt production. EGC is also partnering with PACT, an NGO in the global artisanal mining industry, to oversee and implement mining condition reforms in the DRC. Furthermore, EGC is working with a commodity and logistics giant, Trafigura, in order to provide “support on traceability down the supply chain.” The EGC will create “a price sharing formula” that splits mining profits between the private company, the miners and the government.

This model underwent testing at the Mutoshi copper mine and proved to be extremely helpful to local economies while also bringing about socio-economic benefits. In the trial, about 5,000 workers were part of a formal system, with PACT and Trafigura regulating the mining activities and pay. Miners reported reduced health expenditure due to better working conditions and “reduced workplace harassment for women,” among other positive impacts.

Looking Ahead

The mining industry in the DRC has suffered because of the lack of mechanisms put in place for accountability. While NGOs do important work on advocacy and mitigating the effects of broken systems, they have not been able to reach the roots of mining exploitation. However, the efforts of NGOs are now combining with those of the government and offer much hope in tackling human rights abuses within the mining industry.

– Hariana Sethi
Photo: Flickr

Jarawa tribe
“Dance,” pressured the policeman to the tribal women who were naked from the waist up. “Dance for me,” he pestered, offering them food in exchange for coercing the semi-naked tribe members to put on a performance for his entertainment. This was a viral video from 2012 that brought mainstream attention to the Jarawa tribe. The video shows a tourist fantasy for those who encroach upon the land for a “human safari” experience. The Jarawa, a tribe that some once hunted down during colonial British rule, now runs the risk of extinction due to growing modern-day threats.

About the Jarawa Tribe

According to scholar George Weber, the Jarawa tribe are Pygmy Negrito people living in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India who are “a remnant population representing perhaps the earliest migration out of Africa of modern Homo Sapiens.” This Paleolithic tribe that still lives a Stone Age hunter-gatherer lifestyle has around 450 members in total. The tribe represents one of the four tribal communities (Great Andamanese, Onge and Sentinelese) living in the region who for the longest time refused contact with modern society. Unlike the Sentinelese tribe who refuse contact violently, the bow and arrow-wielding Jarawa tribe first established peaceful contact with the Indian government in 1997.

The Threats the Jarawa Tribe Faces

While making half-naked women dance is common, poachers similarly lure young tribal women with groceries, alcohol and meat to harm them physically and sexually exploit them. The government-approved “contact” resulted in alcohol and smoking addictions as well as the spread of diseases (the tribes lack the immunity of modern people) with COVID-19 now becoming one of their gravest threats. Additionally, a growing number of settlers is encroaching on tribal land. With one Jarawa for every 1,000 settlers, the wealthier settlers tend to deplete tribal land of resources.

But the most threatening thing to the Jarawa tribe today is “mainstreaming.” Mainstreaming refers to the policy of pushing a tribe to join the country’s dominant modern society. This most notably strips the tribe of its self-sufficiency and identity, leaving them struggling at the margins of society. The Borgen Project spoke with Yash Meghwal, the spokesperson of Tribal Army, a leading organization in India that has been fighting against tribal injustice. According to Meghwal, hunter-gatherer, tribal populations like the Jarawas are “not equipped to survive in a market-based economy.” Elaborating on this, he stated that “to move into the upper echelon of society, one must have proper education and then the adequate business or job opportunity” which governments have failed to provide to the tribes.

The Latest Threat: Human Safaris

Interactions with modern society increased after the construction of the Andaman Trunk Road. The road cuts through the Jarawa tribe’s reserve forests and brought in a large population of refugee settlers. Tour companies now allow “human safari” experiences along this road. This does not just exacerbate abuse, addictions and the spread of diseases from interaction with modern people. It also encourages the treatment of tribes as if they are zoo animals. This cultivates the dehumanization of tribal people. As Meghwal put it, “we are failing if our citizens are equated with wild animals.” Human safaris exist to profit from the poor, powerless tribal population. Thus, the tourism industry has emerged at the expense of their privacy, dignity, health and human rights.

When referring to the road, Meghwal said that “the state is only interested in making new roads as infrastructure. Modern society does not care about the ecological and environmental balance; their focus is more on the extraction from the tribal land.”

Larger Problem of Tribal Discrimination

Discrimination in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is emblematic of a larger problem of tribal discrimination. Unfortunately, this level of discrimination is far bigger than the confines of the Islands. Meghwal claimed that this discrimination comes from conflating the tribal population with the Dalits. The Dalits are among the Indian lower caste. The Indian caste system is a hierarchal system that ascribes supremacy to one group and untouchability to the other. “Both Dalits and tribes suffer similar nature problems such as deprivation, discrimination and exclusion,” Meghwal claimed.

The Borgen Project also spoke with Jarken Gadi. He is a former sociology professor who is now a fellow for the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. According to Gadi, this discrimination is a product of “the lack of awareness supplied by educational institutions and media houses.”

Tribal Army as a Solution

Hansraj Meena, one of the most prominent tribal activists in India, founded Tribal Army. This organization may hold the solution to the discrimination of the Jarawa tribe and other tribes across the country. Meghwal claimed that people should grant tribes rights in the case of land and forests. He also mentioned that “we should avoid [letting] too many outsiders into tribal territory.” Additionally, he stated that there is also a need for constitutional measures to protect tribes as they participate in the market economy. Tribal Army has also called for requirements of “reservation in the private sector and in business,” stating “it is the most necessary step for tribal welfare.”

Gadi’s solution to discrimination and threats is a call for awareness programs which the government initiated. These programs would teach the public about the different tribes and how they should treat them. The education system and media can influence thought, change negative attitudes and stop harmful actions toward the tribal community.

Organizations like Tribal Army constantly advocate for policy change. People are challenging the status quo of tribal discrimination. With advancements like these, positive change can come for the Jarawa tribe and for overall tribal welfare.

– Iris Anne Lobo
Photo: Flickr

Lewis Hamilton’s Fight for Bahrain Human RightsLewis Hamilton is a seven-time Formula One World Champion and is famous for his domination in the series. However, Hamilton has also made efforts to use his platform to make the world a better place to live in. He is a vocal advocate for social equality and racial justice, most recently joining the fight for Bahrain human rights. Formula One, a form of international auto racing for single-seater formula racing cars, holds a race in Bahrain every year, which draws in many fans worldwide. However, in Bahrain, there are several human rights violations that many may not be aware of.

Human Rights Abuses in Bahrain

A report from Amnesty International states that online critics of the government and protesters in Bahrain are submitted to unfair trials that suppress freedom of expression. Prison conditions are poor and detainees are subject to ill-treatment and torture. In addition, women face discrimination under Bahraini law. Moreover, immigrant workers are more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 due to appalling living conditions. These issues influence Hamilton’s determination to fight for Bahrain human rights. Hamilton does not want to just race in Bahrain, he wants to raise awareness and combat human rights abuses in the countries Formula One visits.

Freedom of Speech

Some citizens of Bahrain are punished for speaking out against human rights violations. The Head of the Outlawed Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab, served four years in prison for criticizing the government’s human rights record on Twitter. In addition, some of the country’s religious and political leaders are in prison for participating in opposition demonstrations. According to Amnesty International, 11 leaders have been in prison since 2011. One of the leaders, Shi’a cleric Sheikh Isa Qasim, had his citizenship revoked and was forced to exile in Iran. Moreover, the Bahrain government owns and manages local newspapers and broadcasters. There are no independent media outlets, which explains why freedom of speech is a Bahraini human rights issue.

Medical Negligence in Prisons

Medical negligence is common in Bahraini detention facilities. According to Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, political prisoners are denied medical treatment. Sayed Kadhem Abbas complained to Bahrain prison officials of headaches and vomiting for two years and went without treatment before succumbing to cancer in February 2020. Political prisoners Abbas Mallah and Husain Barakat were refused medical care for their illnesses before dying within two months of each other at the same Bahraini prison.

Women’s Rights

Several women face prison time for demanding equal rights. Ifex states that 330 Bahraini women remain in prison since 2011 for demanding their rights at demonstrations. Women in Bahrain are prevented from passing on their nationality to their children. Although the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is working with local and international institutions to enforce women’s rights, there has been little change in the legislation or laws.

The Ministry of Interior’s Ombudsman, the government’s National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR) and the Office of Public Prosecution’s Special Investigation Unit (SIU) have been unsuccessful in protecting human rights and punishing violations. The Americans for Democracy and Human Rights for Bahrain have called for the U.S. and U.K. to request Bahrain to allow an independent investigation into human rights abuses. The Bahrain government seems to have the last say on whether that happens.

Formula One and Human Rights Violations in Bahrain

In December 2020, Hamilton received a letter from an 11-year-old boy from Bahrain. The boy’s father was facing the death penalty and asked Hamilton for help. The letter led Hamilton to educate himself about human rights issues in Bahrain, meeting with law officials to implement change. Prior to the Formula One race in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Hamilton met with the U.K. ambassador and officials in Bahrain. While details of the meeting are confidential, Hamilton expressed hopefulness in implementing change with regard to the country’s human rights issues.

Before the Bahrain Grand Prix, Hamilton stated that Formula One has a “consistent and massive problem” with human rights abuses in the places it visits. Executive Chairman of the Formula One Group Chase Carey adds, “we are very proud of our partnership here in Bahrain” and “Formula One is in fact working with partners to improve and advance the human rights issues.” The Bahraini government told CNN that “Bahrain has a zero-tolerance policy toward mistreatment of any kind.”

Fighting for Bahrain Human Rights

Hamilton expresses that joining the fight for Bahrain human rights is important for him. Hamilton does not want the series that he drives for to remain silent about these issues. Since Hamilton is an advocate for equality, he wants to use the platform to implement change in every country Formula One visits. If Hamilton learns of human rights abuses in that country, he will speak out about it. In the Formula One Series, when Hamilton speaks, most listen. Media outlets from all over the world report his views against inequality, not to mention, his 23.5 million Instagram followers.

An independent investigation into Bahrain’s human rights abuses could be the result of Hamilton speaking out. While there have been many unsuccessful investigations, Hamilton’s voice could be the start of a new beginning for oppressed Bahraini people.

– Dana Smith
Photo: Flickr

Human trafficking in Saudi ArabiaThe nation of Saudi Arabia is working to address a modernized form of human trafficking — apps that allow for the quick purchase of a domestic worker. According to the United States Department of State, during the 2019 reporting period, Saudi Arabia investigated 79 human trafficking cases and prosecuted 42. While this represented a significant decrease from the previous year, it still demonstrates the large scope of forced labor operations and human trafficking in Saudi Arabia.

The Transaction of Human Trafficking

The digital world has changed the transaction process of many dealings. Unfortunately, this is also the case for human trafficking. Following the investigation of an undercover BBC News Arabic team, it is understood that modern slavery has moved to the online black market. Now, a buyer can purchase a domestic worker by downloading an app, such as Haraja or 4sale, and picking from a catalog of domestic laborers, ranging from maids to construction workers. Each person has a short description attached with comments on their character and work ethic. The apps also allow users to filter findings based on race. In one instance, a listing reads, “African worker, clean and smiley.”

Laborers are often bought for $2,000 to $3,000. When someone buys a laborer in the Middle East, a legal framework called the Kafala system places the worker under the control of their employer, who is responsible for their visa and legal status. The laborer cannot quit or leave the country without the permission of their buyer, and workers have no rights under the host country’s labor laws. The Kafala system is a program meant to monitor migrant workers in Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. However, because employers can abuse and exploit their workers, the system inevitably creates a lucrative human trafficking market.

An employer can also sell their laborer for a profit. Whoever will pay the most will acquire the worker. Moreover, popular apps now power this negative cycle of buying and selling workers. Although this form of extortion is illegal in Saudi Arabia, the magnitude of immigrant workers and the corruption in law enforcement make it difficult to stop.

Who are the Laborers?

The laborers who end up in Saudi Arabia often come from surrounding developing nations like Ghana and Guinea. Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia is not the only nation facing this kind of online human trafficking. For example, people buy and sell laborers through apps in Kuwait in the same manner.

In 2019, the undercover BBC News Arabic team went to Kuwait to discover how easy it was to buy another person online through these human trafficking apps. The journalists posed as a married couple interested in buying a maid. They searched the websites and apps in hopes of talking to one of the laborers. Eventually, a seller offered them a 16-year-old maid. Having an underage worker is both illegal in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and is also in violation of international human rights laws. The journalists took their information to the police. Within a few days, they found the girl a new home with an adopted family in Guinea. Unfortunately, many laborers cannot escape the cycle of human trafficking because of the Kafala system and continue to experience extreme abuse and dehumanization. 

Government Efforts

The nation of Saudi Arabia has been labeled a Tier 2 on the U.S. Department of State watch list for human trafficking in 2020. According to the U.S. government, “The Government of Saudi Arabia does not fully meet the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.”

In 2020, Saudi Arabia moved from a Tier 3 to a Tier 2. This is because of the implementation of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). The plan is to help victims of extortion by establishing prevention measures and protective resources. This program hopes to stop or reduce the amount of slavery and human trafficking in Saudi Arabia.

The NRM works alongside the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Organization of Migration (IOM) to end human trafficking. The NRM has many facets to reach this goal. It provides help phone lines, data collection and training to spot and stop human trafficking. The program uses the combined efforts of education and policy to reduce and eventually end human trafficking in Saudi Arabia. Although the issue is still prevalent, efforts to stop human trafficking in Saudi Arabia are moving in the right direction.

– Rachel Wolf
Photo: Flickr