Information and stories about human rights.

Human Trafficking in Hong KongHuman trafficking is a persistent problem all around the world, including in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region located in the People’s Republic of China. The Justice Centre Hong Kong produced a study in 2016 on human trafficking in Hong Kong and it was found that one in six of the 370,000 migrant workers in the city were forced labor victims. While Hong Kong does take steps to eradicate human trafficking, it is important to study human trafficking in every region of the world so that it can be prevented in the future.

Recent Changes and Legislation

Lawmakers in Hong Kong proposed that the government pass an anti-slavery bill based on Great Britain’s “Modern Slavery Act.” However, two of those lawmakers, Dennis Kwok and Kenneth Leung, were removed from Parliament, leaving many questioning whether the bill would ever get passed. A member of The Mekong Club, a group in Hong Kong dedicated to fighting modern slavery said, “There is little chance that this important bill will move forward.” This, in conjunction with the current protests in Hong Kong likely means that lawmakers have had little time to focus on anti-human trafficking legislation.

Another recent development on human trafficking in the nation is that in mid-2020 the U.S. demoted Hong Kong from Tier 2 on the Trafficking in Persons Report to Tier 2 Watch List, suggesting that Hong Kong “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.” The government of Hong Kong disputed the U.S. human trafficking report’s claims, arguing that the report was not based on evidence and looks at minor flaws rather than the big picture.

Hong Kong’s Approach to Resolving Human Trafficking

One problem with the nation’s current anti-human trafficking legislation is that the city only defines human trafficking as “involving cross-border sex trafficking for prostitution,” which means the legislation does not cover “labor exploitation, debt bondage, domestic servitude or similar practices.” Unfortunately, the legal system can make it difficult for those who are trafficked in Hong Kong to get the help they need or support from legal authorities.

While anti-human trafficking laws could be amended, lawmakers and academics have shown there are creative solutions to the problem. Reed Smooth Richards Butler, a law firm, worked with Liberty Asia, an anti-slavery charity, to create the Legal Gap Analysis report, which explains how other laws can be used to persecute human traffickers. For example, individuals responsible could be arrested for false imprisonment rather than human trafficking directly. Creative efforts like these are important to find solutions to salient issues, including the trafficking of people.

Protecting Human Rights

While the government can certainly improve its response to human trafficking in Hong Kong, the country has implemented many measures to help reduce human trafficking and protect human rights. Human trafficking needs addressing and analyzing the nuances in human trafficking policy can help incapacitate the industry globally.

Madelynn Einhorn
Photo: Flickr

Forced Uyghur LaborForced labor stemming from human rights violations in the Xinjiang province of China has been linked to at least 83 major corporations. In a report released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) in February 2020, companies such as Nike, Gap, H&M, Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen all have connections to the use of forced Uyghur labor in China. The report identified 27 factories in China that employ the use of labor transferred from Xinjiang.

Human Rights Violations of the Uyghur Population

Between 2017 and 2019, it is estimated that over 80,000 Uyghurs were moved out of Xinjiang to work in factories across China through labor transfer programs known as “Xinjiang Aid.”  The Chinese government refers to these job assignments as “vocational training” while maintaining that they are part of the “re-education” process assigned to the Uyghur population. These programs have all been identified in connection to the human rights abuses of the Uyghur population as a whole.

It is reported that surveillance tools are being used to monitor the Uyghur population in these programs and to restrict their freedom of movement. Additionally, it has been reported that they are subject to threats, arbitrary detainment and abusive working conditions.

Factories Identified and Company Responses

The companies identified in connection to this forced labor use include international brands that span across the technology, clothing and automotive sectors.

In the technology sector, Apple, Amazon, Samsung, Sony and Microsoft, among others, have been connected to factories that utilize forced labor in China. Amazon has issued a statement saying they do not tolerate the use of forced labor and will be investigating these findings further.

The Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co. Ltd has been specifically connected to forced labor of the Uyghur population. Workers at this factory also attend a night school that seems to closely resemble the “re-education camps” in the Xinjiang province. Nike is this factory’s primary customer and released a statement saying that the factory has not recruited new workers from Xinjiang since last year and that it is seeking advice on the most responsible path toward handling the employment of the remaining workers from this region.

The Haoyuanpeng Clothing Manufacturing Co. Ltd is also identified as using forced labor. This factory’s corporate website cites partnerships with the companies Fila, Adidas, Puma and Nike. Adidas specifically stated that it does not have a current relationship with the company and is investigating this claim. Nike has also released a statement that it has no current relationship with the factory.

Since the release of ASPI’s report, H&M has ended a relationship with a Chinese yarn supplier due to its ties to forced labor.

The Global Supply Chain

The complexity of the global supply chain has undoubtedly made it more difficult for global corporations to monitor the connections of their suppliers to forced labor in China, but ASPI reached out to all 83 brands included in the report to confirm details of their suppliers as listed in the report.

Unfortunately, companies and consumers are now put at risk by purchasing goods that connect to forced labor. Investors in these 83 companies are potentially at risk as well. U.S. Congress has recently introduced legislation to protect investors through the requirement of disclosure of goods sourced from Xinjiang.

The End Uyghur Forced Labor Coalition

There are several advocacy groups dedicated to spreading awareness and furthering tangible steps to end the persecution and exploitation of the Uyghur population. The End Uyghur Forced Labor Coalition has written to 17 companies regarding the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (S. 3471), which is intended to end the use of forced labor from this region in supply chains. The coalition has also issued a call to action that aims for brands to remove all connections with suppliers that have used forced labor. This has been endorsed by investor organizations from more than 35 countries as well as more than 300 Uyghur groups, trade unions and civil society groups.

Ending Forced Uyghur Labor

Though most companies were not aware of the use of forced labor of Uyghurs, along with the awareness that was brought to light, action is also being taken by these companies to show that they do not support forced labor by any means. The End Uyghur Forced Labor Coalition is doing important work to continue bringing awareness to the issue and to protect the rights of this vulnerable minority population.

– Katherine Musgrave
Photo: Flickr

Belarus Welcomes in Democracy and Human RightsThe country of Belarus is both physically and politically stuck between Russia and Western Europe, who have been at odds for the past several years. Currently, Belarus is in the wake of recent political protests and social unrest. Additionally, the country is reaching a tipping point and the people are demanding change. The first step is the introduction of a new democracy and human rights bill in the U.S. Congress.

The Presidential Election

Belarus’s current president is Alexander Lukashenko, a man given the nickname of “Europe’s Last Dictator.” In August 2020, a presidential election was held and a high majority of the country’s population claims that the election was entirely fixed. Lukashenko won in a landslide victory and claimed his 26th straight year as Belarus’s leader. Consequently, massive waves of political protest immediately followed the election. It demonstrates a demand for the president’s removal of office. Lukashenko showed no indication of planning to resign. Vladimir Putin politically supports Lukashenko. However, there is strong evidence that suggests that Putin’s support comes from the worry of a potential social rebellion of the Belarusian people. As a result of the social outcry, protestors and police forces have violently clashed.

The election in August created a chain reaction of historical change for the country. Belarus’s citizens have a history of being private about their personal political opinions. Nevertheless, the severity of this matter encourages people to break their silence. This social upheaval brought with it an extreme push back from law enforcement in the result of above 7,000 arrests of political demonstrators within seven days after the election. In addition, these arrests include accusations of extreme abuse and the disappearances of inmates. This has gained the attention of the U.N. Like everywhere else, Belarus also has significant cases of COVID-19. In response, the U.N. put $7.5 million toward medical aid and spread prevention. Furthermore, basic universal human rights now become one of the main focuses of Belarus’ and the U.N.’s plan for positive reform.

A Democracy Bill

In October 2020, a team of U.S. politicians introduced a proposed plan of solution for the situation in Belarus. It proposed The Belarus Democracy, Human Rights, and Sovereignty Act of 2020. This act would grant the U.S. an opportunity to help introduce democracy to the people of Belarus. In a recent press release from The Committee On Foreign Affairs, each house member who supports the Act explains their reasons for supporting the bill.

Moreover, one of the most notable quotes came from Republican Leader Rep. McCaul. He said, “We stand with the historic numbers of peaceful Belarusian protesters that continue to flood the streets to demand a more democratic country. Their voices must be heard and the Belarusian authorities using violence, arbitrary detentions, and repression in an attempt to stifle their calls to chart their own future must be held accountable.” He went on to clarify that Lukashenko’s victory would not be considered legitimate by the United States.

Basic human rights belong to every person, no matter their geographical location or political situation. This serves as a reminder that not every country shares the same rights globally. The introduction of democracy and freedom is an important piece to the puzzle of trying to make circumstances better for a nation and its people.

Brandon Baham

Photo: Flickr

The EndSARS Movement in NigeriaSocial media is becoming a diversified platform that has been vital to the fight against police brutality in Nigeria. Nigerian citizens have experienced years of unjust violence by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), including armed robberies, rapes, torture and unsystematic killings. For Nigerian citizens, media censorship on television has led to the circulation of the hashtag #EndSARS on social media sites. People have taken to Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok and other platforms to post news and videos of the violence incurred. Through the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria, young Nigerian activists are emerging and are critical to the new wave of international awareness.

What is SARS?

The Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a police force, was assembled in 1992 by the Nigerian Government to cope with the failings of the Nigerian Police Force. Emboldened by their power to arrest and monitor crimes, the group has increasingly used its authority to engage in dangerous tactics and fear-mongering.

Among protests and complaints, Amnesty International has investigated and determined numerous unlawful killings and human rights abuses. 2015 marked the first set of promises, made by Nigerian President Buhari, to disband and restructure SARS. However, after years of promising reform to appease citizens, the government has not implemented any effective actions to deter the unit.

SARS has promoted corruption and violence toward citizens, especially against an evolving population of youth. There are many reports of youth being harassed by SARS for their new technology, clothing styles, hairstyles and tattoos. In protest, Nigeria’s youth have been leaders and catalysts in organizing the #EndSARS movement. A viral video in December 2017 depicted a murder committed by SARS, and since then youth have consistently used social media to document violence done by SARS. A revival of the hashtag #EndSARS occurred in October 2020 and has created a resurgence of conversation about the issue.

Leading the International Awareness of SARS

With a limitation on media coverage of protests and SARS criticism, Nigerians have taken to social media to spread the message. Protestors have created a unified voice among supporters without endorsing an individual leader of the movement. Private citizens with their phones are the main information source and record first-hand videos of the violence. For example, an Instagram Live of protestors being shot and wounded by Nigerian military officials garnered global media coverage. The shift from traditional media to social media has been an advantage to the #EndSARS movement.

The grassroots movement has diverted from the repressive Nigerian media and toward an inclusive citizen-led campaign online. Twitter, Instagram and Tik Tok are serving as major platforms for Nigerians to organize protests, volunteer and donate. Twitter users offered to pay phone bills of protestors to continue the spread of information online. Other protestors began crowdfunding donations to supply food to protestors, posting specific details relating to peaceful protests or sharing medical aid, legal aid and mental health hotlines. The variety of evidence and resources circulating on social media has bolstered the international podium of #EndSARS.

The turmoil of police brutality in Nigeria has been fiercely combatted by a new generation of youth activists. Social media has ignited an international drive to end the corruption of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. Tangible change is coming about with protests and aid spread globally on social media. The Nigerian youth are using technology to their advantage and are moving to end a period of instability through the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria.

– Eva Pound
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Ghana
Human trafficking is a wicked global business that involves kidnapping people for slavery, forced labor or exploitation, robbing millions of people (largely women and kids) of their homes. Many children experience human trafficking in Ghana.

Human Trafficking in Ghana

Human trafficking in Ghana is a nationwide affair but is more prominent in the Volta region and the oil-producing Western region. Research from August 2016 reported that 35.2% of households consisted of trafficked children with 18% working in the fishing industry, 10% in domestic servitude and a few reports of early and forced marriage.

Since 2002, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), along with several NGOs and international organizations, has aimed to combat human trafficking in Ghana. These organizations mainly work towards rescuing, sheltering and rehabilitating victims.

The Importance of Community Outreach and Education

International Organization for Migration (IOM) organizes programs in the Volta, Central, Greater Accra and Brong-Ahafo Regions of Ghana to strengthen the ties between communities to effectively condemn and prosecute traffickers, provide intensive care for distressed victims and prevent trafficking altogether. The programs intend to educate the villagers about the dangers of child trafficking, international and national legislation on child rights and human trafficking as a culpable offense.

Traffickers do not always realize the immorality of keeping the kids away from their parents and schools. “For instance, Benjamin Tornye, a fisherman for 15 years, used to visit parents and ask them if their children could help him with his work. As he said, “children are good fishers.” He would teach them how to use the boat, swim and dive, and he believed he was doing the right thing.”

Therefore, rescuing trafficked children is much more than just freeing them from the clasps of exploitation. To make a real impact, the authorities must sensitize and educate people about human-trafficking; and create and maintain a peaceful environment for the well-being of the children.

Rehabilitation and Reintegration

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and APPLE, a Ghanaian NGO founded in 1977, both rescue children from trafficking and bring them back to their families. Rescued children first go to a government-run shelter for up to three months before they reunite with their parents. At the shelter, they receive medical checks, health treatment, psychological counseling and basic education.

Additionally, a clinical psychologist inspects the victims to identify the ill-treatment that they have experienced which informs the creation of a personalized plan for rehabilitation. Next, the children attend school or undertake an apprenticeship with the necessary supplies. Otherwise, if they are fortunate enough, they go back home to their parents.

The children who return to their parents get to fulfill the fundamental right of all the children in this world: to grow up with a family. The authorities organize a background test and a compatibility test to ensure that the caretakers are suitable before handing over the child.

The development of the kids –in the family environment, school and apprenticeship– receives monitoring over a period of 2.5 years to ensure the safety and well-being of the child. Further, watchdog groups and surveillance teams have merged to prevent re-trafficking of children. Parents also receive livelihood assistance upon the homecoming of the children.

International Organization for Migration (IOM) educates the locals, national government officials, and the traffickers about the appalling effects of human-trafficking on a child. Further, it raises awareness on the issue and encourages a shift in the mindset of the people.

Accomplishments

With these wonderful initiatives and generous donations by people and organizations from all over the world, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), along with its partner NGOs, has been able to help victims of human trafficking in small ways.

As of now, IOM has rescued 732 trafficked children in Ghana and rehabilitated and reintegrated them into their respective communities. Additionally, of these children, 690 have been able to attend school with 20 graduating high school. Moreover, 10 have completed apprenticeships and are supporting themselves now, while 191 children have been able to reintegrate due to the sponsorship of private donors.

Beyond the apparent benefits to child victims of human trafficking, IOM has aided in other ways as well. In fact, it has granted education regarding trafficking to 130 communities and 48,533 community members. It has also benefitted 468 parents/guardians of trafficked children with micro-business assistance.

Finally, IOM has offered training to 50 social workers in the rehabilitation of child and adult victims of trafficking. It has also provided technical assistance in capacity-building on human trafficking issues to 150 government officials from the Police, Immigration, Naval and Judicial Services.

Government Support

The Government of Ghana introduced several policies, legislation and programs to address the main grounds of human trafficking. Consequently, to set up an all-inclusive approach, the government devised the Human Trafficking Act, 2005 (Act 694), providing a robust authorized framework to prevent human trafficking, prosecute the perpetrators and protect the victims.

The government of Ghana and the NGOs have had a modest impact in curbing the enormity of human trafficking by implementing preventive strategies. The government successfully established a capable board and conducting training sessions for law enforcement, immigration officials and the citizenry. Despite the best efforts to eradicate human trafficking and persecute domestic and international offenders, the number of human trafficking cases remains disappointingly high.

– Prathamesh Mantri
Photo: Flickr

border campsThe United States’ Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, better known as “Remain in Mexico,” is a policy that requires those seeking asylum within the United States entering from the southern border to wait outside of the United States in Mexico while their cases are reviewed by immigration judges. Since its implementation in January 2016, this policy has led to the build-up of camps of asylum seekers around Mexico. These U.S.-Mexico border camps are ridden with crime, disease and other dangers.

Rampant Crime in US-Mexico Border Camps

The NGO, Human Rights First, has reported more than 1,314 cases of rape, kidnapping, murder, torture and other violent crimes against migrants forced to return to Mexico. Of those cases, 318 have been kidnappings or attempted kidnappings of children. Rampant police corruption in border cities means nothing is done to protect migrants. Crimes including extortion, assault and sexual harassment have all been reported against members of the Mexican police. These reports come from individual interviews held by Human Rights First in order to determine the scale of crime within migrant camps. Given that about 55,000 individuals have been returned to Mexico as part of the Migrant Protection Protocols program, the organization believes that those 1,314 cases are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to violent crime in U.S.-Mexico border camps.

The Dangers of Mexican Regions

The United States Department of State periodically releases travel advisories on countries and regions throughout the world to warn citizens of dangers they may face when traveling there. This includes the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, Matamoros, a hotspot for gathering migrants awaiting entrance into the United States. Thousands of migrants, returned to Mexico by immigration officials to await their trials, live in tented border camps in a place that the United States considers dangerous. This has led to scrutiny by organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for endangering asylum seekers by sending them to places that the United States admits are dangerous.

Vulnerable Populations in Camps

Despite the fact that vulnerable populations are supposed to be exempt from the “Remain in Mexico” program, many individuals that should not have been sent back have shown up in U.S.-Mexico Border camps. The period from the programs start through June 2019 saw 13 pregnant women and 4,780 children sent to await their trials in Mexico according to Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch also reports that people genuinely afraid of returning to Mexico, including kidnapping and assault victims, have been denied exemption from the Migrant Protection Protocols program and were sent back across the border anyway. Human Rights Watch, the ACLU, Human Rights First and others, have all found that people including the disabled, the young, the sick and members of the LGBTQ+ community, have all been sent back to Mexico despite qualifying for an exemption from the policy.

Unsanitary Conditions Spread Disease

The unsanitary conditions along the U.S.-Mexico border have led to diseases spreading among migrants. Reportedly, there is little clean water and migrants often bathe in the Rio Grande River, which is known for containing E. coli, other bacteria and human feces. Few cases of COVID-19 have been officially recorded. However, with border camps’ proximity to COVID-19 hotspots both in the U.S. and Mexico, there is likely an abundance of unknown cases.

NGOs Assist Migrants

Immigration to the United States has basically come to a complete standstill as the border between the two countries has remained closed throughout the course of the pandemic. Because of this, NGOs have gone into border camps in order to assist those in need. The UNHRC has set up hand-washing stations and isolation areas in some migrant camps. It has also provided cash relief to migrants who have lost jobs due to the pandemic. Other organizations like Global Response Management and  Doctors Without Borders have provided medical assistance by building medical centers, distributing PPE and providing medical treatment for those infected with COVID-19.

The United States Migrant Protection Protocols, or the “Remain in Mexico” policy, has without a doubt led to an increase in concerns for the health and safety of people along the U.S.-Mexico border. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic bringing the already slow asylum process to a standstill, poverty and disease has spread throughout these camps. However, NGOs like the UNHRC have been stepping up and providing assistance to those most in need.

– Aidan Sun
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in EritreaMilitarism and instability are endemic to Eritrea. The degradation of civil society is a result of those two factors. Child poverty in Eritrea is rampant due to such foundations; however, the country is not without benefactors. UNICEF’s aid efforts are improving children’s health within Eritrea despite the current conditions.

A Brief History

Eritrea is one of the few countries that can truly be considered a fledgling state in the 21st century. After a decades-long secession war, the Eritrean government achieved full independence from Ethiopia in 1993. They solidified the totalitarian one-party dictatorship that has retained power since. A brief period of peace followed, during which promised democratic elections never materialized. Then, Eritrea’s unresolved border disputes with Ethiopia escalated into a war that lasted from 1998 to 2000. It killed tens of thousands and resulted in several minor border changes and only formally ended in 2018. In the wake of this war, the Eritrean government has sustained a track record of militarization, corruption and human rights violations that has continually degraded civil stability. As of 2004, around 50% of Eritreans live below the poverty line.

Eritrea’s Youth at a Glance

Housing around 6 million people, Eritrea’s youth make up a significant proportion of its population. Eritrea has the 35th highest total fertility rate globally, with a mean of 3.73 children born per woman. It also has the 42nd lowest life expectancy at birth at a mere 66.2 years, with significant variation between that of males (63.6 years) and females (68.8 years).

Forced Conscriptions of Children

Under the guise of national security against Ethiopia, Eritrea has maintained a system of universal, compulsory conscription since 2003. This policy requires all high school students to complete their final year of high school at Sawa, the country’s primary military training center. Many are 16 or 17 years of age when their conscription begins, which led the U.N. Commission of Inquiry to accuse Eritrea of mobilizing child soldiers.

The Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) report also blamed Eritrea’s conscription practices for a number of grievances. Its prolonged militarization has wide-reaching effects for the country. Many adults are held in service against their will for up to a decade, but it is particularly damaging to Eritrean youth. Students at Sawa face food shortages, forced labor and harsh punishment. Many female students have reportedly suffered sexual abuse. Besides fleeing, “Many girls and young women opt for early marriage and motherhood as a means of evading Sawa and conscription.”

Further, “The system of conscription has driven thousands of young Eritreans each year into exile,” HRW claims. They estimate that around 507,300 Eritreans live elsewhere. Because of its conscription practices, Eritrea is both a top producer of refugees and unaccompanied refugee children in Europe – they not only result in child poverty in Eritrea, but in other regions as well.

Education Access

HRW claims that Eritrea’s education system plays a central role in its high levels of militarization. It leads many students to drop out, intentionally fail classes or flee the country. This has severely undermined education access and inflated child poverty in Eritrea.

Eritrea currently has the lowest school life expectancy – “the total number of years of schooling (primary to tertiary) that a child can expect to receive” – of any country. Eritrea has reportedly made strides to raise enrollment over the last 20 years. However, 27.2% of school-aged children still do not receive schooling, and the country retains a literacy rate of only 76.6%. Illiteracy is much more prevalent among females than among males, with respective literacy rates of 68.9% and 84.4%. In general, girls and children in nomadic populations are the least likely to receive schooling.

Refugees and Asylum-Seekers

As mentioned earlier, over half a million Eritreans have fled the country as refugees. Around one-third of them – about 170,000, according to the WHO – now live in Ethiopia. A majority reside in six different refugee camps. As of 2019, around 6,000 more cross the border each month. Reporting by the UNHCR shows that “children account for 44% of the total refugee population residing in the [Eritrean] Camps, of whom 27% arrive unaccompanied or separated from their families.” Far from being ameliorated by domestic education programs, child poverty in Eritrea is merely being outsourced to its neighbors.

Children’s Health as a Site for Progress

Adjacent to these issues, UNICEF’s programs have driven significant improvements in sanitation, malnutrition and medical access. Its Health and Nutrition programs, among other things, address malnutrition by administering supplements, prevent maternal transmission of HIV/AIDS during birth and administer vaccines. Teams in other departments improve sanitation and lobby against practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation.

In its 2015 Humanitarian Action for Children report on Eritrea, UNICEF wrote that Eritrea “has made spectacular progress on half the [Millennium Development Goals],” including “Goal 4 (child mortality), Goal 5 (maternal mortality), Goal 6 (HIV/AIDs, malaria and other diseases) and is on track to meet the target for access to safe drinking water (Goal 7).”

Figures illustrate this progress on child poverty in Eritrea. Since 1991, child immunization rates have jumped from 14% to 98%, safe water access rates are up at 60% from 7%, iodine deficiency has plummeted from 80% to 20% in children and the under-five mortality rate sits at 63 deaths per 1000 births, rather than at 148.

Child poverty in Eritrea is a far cry from being solved, but it is not a lost cause.

Skye Jacobs
Photo: Flickr

Tanzanian GovernmentOn October 23, 2020, Senator Mendez issued S. Res. 756, urging the Tanzanian Government to protect democracy in the wake of its upcoming election. The text outlines multiple infringements on the media since President John Magulifi was elected for the first time in 2015. Repressive laws such as the Media Services Act of 2016 and the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations Act of 2020 have curbed expression in the country.

Such laws have translated into multiple arrests and penalizations for journalists and bloggers who publish information deemed “biased” by the Ministry of Information. Headlines were made last year when two independent journalists, Erick Kabendera and Joseph Gandye, were arrested after opening reports into corruption in the government.

Tanzanian Government’s Coronavirus Response

The repression of free speech has become even more alarming during the pandemic. “Access to information is an essential part of the fight against COVID-19, yet the Tanzanian government is choosing to censor journalists and media outlets who report on the disease,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

According to the World Health Organization, the Tanzanian Government has not reported a single case of Coronavirus since April. North Korea is the only other country that has not provided data. Back in June, the President spoke of the power of prayer in eliminating the virus at a Church Service. “Corona in our country has been removed by the powers of God,” said Magufuli. Since the beginning of the virus, the President has fired health officials who issued warnings, suggested against the use of masks. Furthermore, he has supported an unproven herbal drink from Madagascar as a cure. The International community was quick to criticize the Tanzanian Government for denying the spread of the virus.

In July, journalist Ruud Elmendorp reported from inside the city of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Elmendorp spoke with multiple locals who believed that there was no virus in Tanzania. He even visited graveyards, surprised to see there was no surge of activity for new gravesites. According to Elmendorp, the city was conducting business as usual. “The shops are open, there are street markets and there are men seated on the street having their conversations. There are the people with sewing machines, the street food kiosks, all connected by the hooting of passing cars and tuk-tuks,” Elmendorp reported.

Magufuli Re-Elected

A week after Senator Mendez issued S.Res. 756, President Magulifi was re-elected with a landslide vote of 84% in his favor. His opponent, Tundu Lissu, said his party’s agents were prevented from entering polling stations. The United States will now look at the question of election fraud. The Senate bill will task lawmakers with considering a review of the U.S. assistance to Tanzania “for the purposes of reprioritizing such assistance should neutral observers determine that the October 2020 polls do not meet internationally accepted standards for credible elections.” Among considerations, would be targeted sanctions and visa restrictions on actors involved in humans rights abuses.

The situation in Tanzania faces disputes over handling the virus, the role of the media and the vitality of electoral systems. The Tanzanian Government will be under further scrutiny if S.Res. 756 passes.

Miska Salemann
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Afghanistan
Wandering the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan in the 1960s, one passed lively, miniskirt-clad women alongside male friends as they strolled to their university classes. Heiresses to a new age of freedom, these women voted, laughed and lived freely, invigorated by the progressive spirit that pervaded every corner of the city. Beginning in the 1970s, however, conflict and poor governance gradually weakened women’s societal freedom. Then in 1996, the Taliban dismantled what semblance of equality remained. The United States’ post-9/11 occupation in Afghanistan ousted the Taliban and has helped to revive and work toward improving women’s rights in Afghanistan for nearly two decades. Yet in February 2020, the U.S. endorsed a deal with Afghanistan to withdraw from the country called The U.S.-Taliban Peace Deal. Although the agreement heralds a much-overdue peace between these long-warring countries, the departure of American troops may facilitate the return of Taliban rule and the subsequent eradication of women’s rights in Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s Unchecked Oppression of Women

The first half of the 20th century saw great progress toward gender equality in Afghanistan. The era’s feminist vigor enfranchised women and integrated them with men. When the 1960s constitution cemented women’s rights in the fabric of the nation, true gender equality seemed imminent.

Hardship soon befell Afghanistan. The country’s status as a Soviet proxy state in the 1970s, and later, the jihadist activity by Mujahideen groups, eroded women’s rights. Additionally, these conflicts contributed to the political fragility that ultimately enabled the Taliban to take power in 1996. In pursuit of establishing an Islamic state, the Taliban implemented a doctored, repressive interpretation of sharia law.

This Islamist code drastically encroached on women’s rights in Afghanistan and effectively confined them to the domestic sphere. Depriving them of the right to vote, to receive an education or to seek employment, the Taliban subordinated women. Even minor defiance to these restrictions met with violent floggings, abuse and even stonings. Such atrocities extended beyond legal sanctions; women were frequently subject to sexual assault. The Taliban’s message was clear: womanhood itself was punishable.

US Occupation and Female Empowerment

After al-Qaeda-engineered the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. deployed thousands of troops to Afghanistan to depose the Taliban. This maneuver catalyzed nearly two decades of bloodshed. Though it has been hotly contested, America’s involvement has boosted women’s rights in Afghanistan. During the U.S. occupation, women have regained considerable economic opportunity and social freedoms.

Post-Taliban legislative actions have codified gender parity. The new constitution recognizes women’s legal equality with men. Rape, violence and physical abuse, previously an unrelenting threat to Afghan women, are now indictable offenses.

Women are also profiting from widening economic and educational opportunities and changes in societal attitudes. After decades of flatlining, the female labor force participation rate has increased by 7% since 2010, with women foraying into education, medicine, law enforcement and even public office at record levels. Women’s recent vocational advances have contributed to shifting ideologies across the country. In February 2020, NBC News reported that most Afghans have discarded misogynistic views in support of improving women’s rights in Afghanistan. Such a cultural transformation seems to herald women’s long-term empowerment and civic engagement.

Repercussions of the US-Taliban Peace Deal

Tragically, the U.S.-Taliban peace deal, signed Feb. 29, has the potential to reverse these last two decades of progress. With robust backing from both sides, the document provides for the departure of American troops from Afghanistan. This deal promises an end to the United States’ longest war. For its part, the Taliban has agreed to reject terrorism in pursuit of negotiating peace with the Afghan government.

The deal aspires to pacify a country too long battered by conflict, but it contains a grave flaw: it makes no provisions for women’s rights in Afghanistan. Despite its previous claims that harmony would “not be possible” without securing equality for women, the U.S. deferred the determination of gender parity to intra-Afghan discussions.

The Taliban has committed to granting women the rights that Islam guarantees. However, it claims to have upheld this pledge during its brutally repressive rule from 1996 to 2001. Given that the Taliban’s understanding of women’s rights has proven alarmingly narrow, its recent promise is hardly a consolation. Moreover, according to the U.S.’s most recent report, the territory that the Afghan government commanded in 2019 had dwindled to a record low. Without foreign aid or military backing, many fear the Taliban will easily overthrow the weakening Afghan government following the withdrawal of American troops.

Progress

In the past 20 years, Afghan women have shattered thousands of glass ceilings as they have built successful careers and enjoyed their hard-won freedoms. As the terms of the peace deal are actualized. However, the potential return of Taliban rule threatens to obliterate these advances. In order to avert a revival of misogyny and secure women’s rights in Afghanistan, Women for Afghan Women’s (WAW) Peacebuilding Program is preparing women to participate in future intra-Afghan talks. Along with stimulating meaningful political discourse among citizens, the program has coached 3,065 women in advocacy and negotiation. Politically and socially empowered, these outspoken women are joining the everyday conversations and monumental peace talks that will dictate their and their country’s future, and work toward improving women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Rosalind Coats
Photo: Pxfuel

Poverty in XinjiangMore than 40 different ethnic groups live in China’s northwest region known as Xinjiang. The largest of these groups are the Han Chinese and Uyghur Muslims. The two groups do not speak the same language or share similar traditions, creating a wide cultural divide. Socioeconomic disparities and the Chinese government’s exploitation of the Uyghur further exacerbate the divide between the two groups. Poverty in Xinjiang, China has contributed to the oppression of Uyghurs and given the Chinese government a justification to detain and exploit millions.

Poverty in Xinjiang, China

The poverty in Xinjiang, China is the highest of the Chinese provinces at approximately 6%. However, certain regions within Xinjiang face more poverty than others. Yutian County, for example, has a poverty rate of around 25%. Even so, the region has made great strides in poverty alleviation in recent years, lifting 2.3 million out of poverty. Xinjiang’s resource-rich areas have caught the attention of Han Chinese, driving migration and economic growth. Additionally, the government has promoted various industries, employment transfers and citizen relocation. This has the result of further driving down poverty rates.

Unfortunately, many Uyghurs are excluded from the benefits of reduced poverty. Employment discrimination prevents Uyghurs from getting jobs in these growing markets. As a result, a disproportionate amount of Han Chinese receive better jobs. This furthers the economic disparity between the two groups. On top of this, the rising number of Han Chinese in the region has made the native Uyghurs feel distant from one another and worry their culture is disappearing.

Conflict

The unhappiness caused by exclusion and poverty in Xinjiang, China pushes many Uyghurs closer to Islam. They increasingly support Xinjiang’s independence from China to create East Turkestan. Some even commit acts of violence. Despite the fact that Chinese policy and Uyghur poverty cause much violence, many Han Chinese believe it results from Islamic extremism. This leads to widespread fear and distrust among the population, further driving exclusion.

The Chinese government agrees with the Han Chinese, claiming that Islamic extremists cause violence. It specifically argued that it must “reeducate” the Uyghur Muslims. Since 2014, China has been suppressing the Uyghurs’ culture, language and religion in the name of national security. All the while, it claims that Uyghurs have full freedom. Police stations and cameras now line the streets of Xinjiang. Some public areas are full of razor wire, and the police stop people on the street to see their ID. Furthermore, the government has taken passports from many Uyghurs, preventing them from leaving the region.

Crackdown

Since 2017, the government has reportedly detained approximately a million Uyghurs in reeducation camps. Detainees’ only crime is their Muslim identity. Hundreds of camps exist today, 39 of which tripled in size from 2017 to 2018. Construction funds for these camps have increased by nearly $3 billion in recent years.

Although China’s secrecy makes information on the exact conditions in the camps difficult to discern, previous detainees have spoken out. They speak of a prison-like environment, sexual assault and forced abortions or contraceptives, extreme surveillance, torture and more. Some say they witnessed people taking their own lives.

On top of this, many Uyghurs in these camps must work in factories across China, often against their will. The products they produce are so widespread that approximately 83 international companies use this forced labor in their supply chain. In fact, one in five cotton products around the world rely on this forced labor. These products are therefore the result of severe human rights violations.

Ongoing Efforts to Reduce Violence and Poverty in Xinjiang, China

Many U.S. companies benefit from this system, making it crucial that legislation prevent forced labor and condemn China’s actions. Most recently, the U.S. Senate passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 (S3744) in late June 2020. This act placed sanctions on many of the officials who complicit in the detainment and abuse of Uyghurs.

Additionally, representatives introduced the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in March of 2020, but it has not passed into law yet. Many Uyghurs are also stuck in U.S. immigration limbo, making it far more difficult for them to seek refuge. Both of these proposals are crucial in helping significantly reduce the demand for forced labor. Both also urge the Chinese government to stop committing human rights abuses against the Uyghurs.

NGOs Step in to Help

Many NGOs have been working to bring attention to this ongoing crisis and help the Uyghurs. Despite the difficulties present in aiding Uyghurs directly, a coalition of more than 250 organizations made the End Uyghur Forced Labor campaign. The coalition demands that companies eliminate any Uyghur forced labor in their production lines within a year. Companies that agree must sign a pledge, and the coalition will apply pressure to all companies that have not yet signed.

The coalition has also organized advocacy days, written petitions, and called on Congress for a ban on cotton from the Uyghur region. Although it’s difficult to determine the exact effects these campaigns have had, this additional pressure on companies will help end Uyghur forced labor. In turn, the group will reduce demand for Uyghur labor and prevent their exploitation.

Poverty in Xinjiang, China has reduced significantly and will likely continue to decrease in the upcoming years. But the Uyghurs do not benefit from this progress. Numerous countries have applied pressure on the Chinese government, and it is crucial that the U.S. does the same. Many NGOs have worked together to raise awareness and pressure governments and companies to eliminate Uyghur forced labor. In spite of the many challenges that the Uyghurs face, there is still hope for conditions to improve with the support of the global community.

Elizabeth Lee
Photo: Flickr