Information and stories about human rights.

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

the Oil IndustryIn the Ecuadorian Amazon, indigenous communities have fought a decades-long legal battle against the oil industry polluting their environment. In January 2021, a provincial Ecuadorian court overturned a previously held court ruling and ordered major oil companies to cease the use of gas flares. This environmentally degrading act has been practiced since the late 1960s when Chevron-Texaco began drilling prospects in the region. Within the affected areas of Sucumbios and Orellana, residents blame gas flares for the increasing cancer rates within their communities as well as other health complications that have led to the deaths of multiple community members, dating back to the beginning of the practice.

The Dangers of Gas Flaring

The burning of natural gas releases fine particulate matter into the airspace. Over time, exposure to these particulates leads to the onset of serious health problems. A group of Amazonian girls from an affected Ecuadorian community filed a lawsuit in an Ecuadorian court in February 2020. Their case claimed that members of their community live within a few hundred meters of gas flares and have documented more than 200 cancer cases associated with gas flaring in the area. Nearly three-quarters of the cases involved women.

The girls also claimed that the use of flares affected other environmental resources, aside from the air. The flares also contaminated the rainwater, which is the primary source of water for these communities, affecting drinking water, sanitation and the irrigation of crops. The legal action hoped to shut down 447 flares in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The lawsuit was unsuccessful at first, until January 2021, when a court ruled in favor of the girls and ordered an end to gas flaring in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Oil Spill Contamination

However, other legal battles are still ongoing. In April 2021, hundreds of indigenous activists took to the streets on the anniversary of a devastating oil spill that unleashed nearly 16,000 barrels of crude oil when two pipeline ruptured in 2020. The oil polluted two essential rivers and affected the water security of nearly 30,000 people. Protesters demanded both recognition and action from their elected leaders. Litigants seeking reparations from the oil industry are still struggling against the bureaucratic framework of the nation’s court system.

The 2020 oil spill severely contaminated the Coca and Napo rivers, both in the Amazon region. Pipeline operators failed to decontaminate these rivers after abandoning an ineffective clean-up attempt. The tens of thousands of Amazonians who depend on these rivers come in frequent contact with the contaminated water, leading to various health consequences. The oil spill has without a doubt increased regional poverty and illness. Members of these communities claim that such flagrant contaminations of vital waterways violate their constitutional rights as indigenous people of Ecuador. While the court system weighs the legal authority of these claims, the pollutant’s negative social impact in the region cannot be denied.

The Road Ahead

The Ecuadorian court’s ruling to end the practice of gas flaring by the oil industry brings relief to communities whose voices have gone unheard for decades. The court distinctly acknowledged violations in terms of constitutionally enshrined rights to health, a safe environment and sustainable development, further recognizing the state’s obligation to take measures to avoid negative environmental consequences. The ruling is a major victory for the people of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Jack Thayer
Photo: Flickr

Germany's Supply Chain Law
On March 3, 2021, the German cabinet proposed a supply chain law (Lieferkettengesetz) obliging companies active in Germany to ensure that their entire supply chain meets human rights standards. Under the National Action Plan (Nationaler Aktionsplan), Germany has promoted human rights among companies since 2016, but a study in 2020 found that only 22% of responding firms had undertaken the recommended measures. Under this plan, modeled on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the German government agreed to consider imposing a mandatory due diligence law if fewer than half of German firms satisfied the human rights monitoring criteria.

Although the cabinet had planned to present a draft of the law in March 2020, Peter Altmeier, the Minister of Economic Affairs and Energy, held up the proceedings. On February 2021, the two ministers driving the law announced that they reached a consensus with Altmeier. Hubertus Heil, Minister for Development Co-Operation, and Gerd Müller, Minister for Labor and Social Affairs, both pushed for more impactful human rights protection, while Altmeier was adamant about safeguarding German economic competitiveness.

What Germany’s Supply Chain Law Imposes

Germany’s supply chain law requires firms active in Germany to perform various due diligence procedures in order to monitor, prevent and ameliorate potential human rights abuses in their supply chains. In its current form, the law would come into effect in 2023 and in its first year only apply to the 600 largest companies, all with more than 3,000 employees. After the first year, it would apply to a further 2,900 companies, all with more than 1,000 employees. By 2026, the government or a contracted body will carry out an evaluation of the law’s effectiveness and, if necessary, provide ideas for improvement.

For suppliers with whom they have a contractual relationship, companies have to set up a risk management system, conduct regular risk analyses and take action against known human rights breaches. They also have to establish a procedure through which to hear complaints. For example, people working in unsafe conditions can theoretically voice their situation through this channel. That being said, many of these people are often not aware of their right to do so, nor are many of them able to navigate the German legal system. To overcome this problem, Germany’s supply chain law grants civil society organizations the power to file lawsuits on behalf of these mistreated workers.

Remaining Problems of the Draft

For suppliers they do not have direct contact with, companies only have to perform risk analyses if they are aware of a potential human rights breach. If, for example, Amnesty International publishes information about human rights abuses in Congolese mines that supply electric car batteries for Volkswagen, then the law requires Volkswagen to conduct a risk analysis.

However, as this demonstrates, companies have less monitoring responsibility for more removed suppliers. Many non-governmental organizations argue that this provides too little protection for the mining industry. Moreover, many direct suppliers of the largest German companies are already located in Germany, potentially limiting the law’s impact abroad.

How Germany’s Supply Chain Law Monitors and Enforces Compliance

The German Federal Bureau for the Economy and Export Control (Bundesamt für Wirtschaft und Ausfuhrkontrolle) will monitor whether companies are complying with Germany’s supply chain law. Companies judged to fall short of what the law demands will face fines and sanctions. Fines will not exceed 8 million euros or 2% of annual revenue for companies with annual revenue of over 400 million euros. If a company receives a fine of more than 175,000 euros, it also cannot compete for public procurement contracts for three years.

Aside from these punitive measures, the law also requires companies to hire or designate an employee who is responsible for evaluating whether the company is abiding by the law or not. The company’s leadership, whatever form it may take, must regularly meet with this employee.

Next Steps

In April 2021, Germany’s supply chain law will enter into discussion in the Bundestag, Germany’s lower chamber of parliament. Non-governmental organizations are trying to galvanize public support in order to convince or pressure parliament into making the law more comprehensive and stringent. In addition to arguing that the restriction to direct suppliers makes the law too small in scope, they have criticized that companies face neither civil nor criminal liability.

Whether they will successfully strengthen Germany’s supply chain law is too early to say. However, the government aims to approve the law before Germany’s elections in September 2021. By then, the extent and potential impact of Germany’s supply chain law on global human rights will be clearer. For now, it is a promising and hopeful, yet somewhat restrained, step in the right direction.

– Alex Vanezis
Photo: Flickr

Las Damas de BlancoLas Damas de Blanco (The Ladies in White) is a peaceful civic movement of wives and female relatives advocating for the release of jailed political protestors in Cuba. The group has been active since 2003 and is internationally acclaimed for its dedication to human rights advocacy, having won the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2005. Currently, the movement is the subject of a resolution on the Senate calendar.

History of Las Damas de Blanco

Las Damas de Blanco formed in 2003 following an event known as the Black Spring. The Black Spring was a mass arrest of 75 journalists and political protestors in Cuba. Each of the arrested had either spoken out against the Castro regime or advocated for democracy in some way. The people arrested ranged from librarians to human rights activists who were all peaceful in the dissent and yet were arrested for threatening Cuban national security. In response to the arrests, the wives and sisters of the protestors decided to band together and form a countermovement. Every Sunday, the women gather and attend mass wearing white, and then, march silently through the streets. The white clothing symbolizes peace and the message is centered on family and freedom.

Overcoming Barriers

As a women-led movement, Las Damas de Blanco faces many challenges in its advocacy efforts. The movement is agitated by other citizens and particularly by Cuban authorities. The Cato Institute reports that the women “are routinely harassed, threatened, beaten and arrested” for the peaceful protest. Despite this, the movement has never weakened. The Ladies in White continue to march every Sunday and the members have brought global awareness to the issue. All 75 of the protestors arrested in the Black Spring were freed by 2011, in large part due to the efforts of the Ladies in White. The women-led movement still protests consistently and will not cease until all Cuban political prisoners are freed.

US Recognition

In March 2021, Sen. Mark Rubio introduced a resolution honoring Las Damas de Blanco and adding the Senate’s voice to the call for the release of all political prisoners in Cuba. The resolution acknowledges the efforts of the women-led movement and the Cuban regime’s consistent attacks on the movement. It particularly honors the legacy of the movement’s founder, Laura Ines Pollán Toledo, on human rights advocacy.

A more recent event highlighted in the resolution is the second arrest of Las Damas de Blanco member, Xiomara de las Mercedes Cruz Miranda, which took place in 2018 and resulted in Miranda developing a rare skin disease in prison. Miranda’s health deteriorated and she was hospitalized in Cuba for more than six months. In 2020, the U.S. government granted Miranda a humanitarian visa and transferred her to a hospital in Miami.

The resolution’s direct calls for the Cuban government to release all political prisoners and allow Las Damas de Blanco to attend mass in peace are vital actions of solidarity. If it is agreed to in the Senate, the resolution will further amplify the voices of Las Damas de Blanco and all peaceful Cuban dissidents hoping for liberty.

Samantha Silveira
Photo: Flickr

APHRThe Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority group who have lived in Myanmar for centuries. The Rohingya follow Islam and have their own language and culture. In 2017, there were one million of the Rohingya population living in Myanmar. However, the government considered them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and refused to recognize the Rohingya as citizens. The government targeted the Rohingya, leaving thousands fleeing as a result of discriminatory violence and abuse. However, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) works to help the Rohingya.

The Targeting of the Rohingya

The government officially forced the Rohingya out of Myanmar on August 25, 2017, by burning Rohingya villages and attacking and killing the population. Hundreds of thousands had to flee by sea or foot. A minimum of 6,700 Rohingya, including at least 730 children under 5, died in the month after the conflict occurred. Furthermore, at least 288 villages burned down in northern Rakhine State.

In January 2020, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Myanmar to protect the Rohingya from genocidal attacks. The country’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, denied all allegations of genocide or ethnic cleansing.

The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) is a network of parliamentarians promoting democracy and advocating for human rights in Southeast Asia. Founded in June 2013, the APHR’s mission is to create a safe place where all people can live without fear of violence and discrimination. Specifically, the APHR focuses on preventing democratic and human rights violations.

The APHR is an organization consisting of public figures in positions of power working with government officials and upholding political freedom. The APHR targets public figures and organizations based on specific strengths and the ability to persuade. The organization emphasizes the importance of international relations and environmental sustainability. Founding members include Charles Chong from Singapore, Son Chhay from Cambodia and Walden Bello from the Philippines.

The APHR works to implement democracy and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion or belief programs. The organization brings officials together through workshops, forums and conferences while working with the United Nations, parliaments, international governments, communities, shareholders and grassroots actors.

The APHR in Myanmar

The APHR is currently focused on assessing regional response to the Rohingya crisis in the Rakhine State in Myanmar and holding the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, accountable for the recent attack on Armed Forces Day. Tens of thousands of people protested in support of democracy in Myanmar and security forces responded by killing 114 people, including children, on March 27, 2021. The APHR called upon the international community to take action against these atrocities.

The APHR members spoke to refugees to gather information on the human rights violations being experienced by the Rohingya in Myanmar as well as the situation in Bangladesh that led them to flock to Myanmar. The APHR requests that Myanmar’s government allow U.N. agencies and others looking to provide humanitarian assistance access to the northern Rakhine State. Journalists should be allowed to investigate and report accurately on the abuses happening, and “impartial and independent” investigations leading to fair trials seeking reparations ought to take place.

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights has worked effortlessly to help many other people and causes in addition to the Rohingya people. Overall, the APHR shows its dedication and commitment to protecting the most vulnerable populations.

– Lauren Peacock
Photo: Flickr

Nepal’s Refugee Resettlement Program
Much of the world struggles to assist refugees and other forcibly displaced people. However, Nepal stands out as a rare success story. The nation accepted more than 100,000 Bhutanese refugees since the 1990s. Nepal’s refugee resettlement program has proven to be effective. The program has relocated about 113,500 refugees to third countries. Additionally, many of the camps that emerged have shut down because they were no longer necessary. However, it is still challenging to provide refugees with their basic needs.

Origins of the Bhutanese Refugee Crisis

Ethnic Nepalis people whose origins lie in Bhutan primarily partake in Nepal’s refugee resettlement program. The Lhotshampas are Nepali people who reside in the southern portion of Bhutan and maintain a distinct culture.

The Bhutanese government initiated the One Nation, One People policy to promote the dominant Bhutanese culture. Many perceived this policy as an attempt to suppress Nepali culture in Bhutan. Additionally, this policy replaced the Nepali language with Dzongkha as the primary mode of instruction in schools. Furthermore, it forbade Nepalis from wearing their traditional clothing, forcing them to dress like the Bhutanese majority.

Bhutanese officials became wary of the substantial Lhotshampa population in the south after the 1988 census. Additionally, accusations emerged of them being illegal aliens along with instances of violence and discrimination. As a result, large numbers of ethnic Nepalis left Bhutan for refugee camps in Nepal.

Nepal’s Refugee Resettlement Program

The population of Lhotshampa refugees in Nepal has increased to more than 100,000 people. Unfortunately, talks with Bhutan failed to produce any solution. Thus, the government of Nepal developed a plan to resettle the refugees in other countries.

Nepal’s refugee resettlement program started in 2007. In addition, Nepal and eight other countries collaborated with each other. These countries are the United States, New Zealand, Norway, Canada, the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia and the United Kingdom. These nations agreed to accept Lhotshampa refugees, allowing them to lead new lives outside of refugee camps.

Organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the government of Nepal have aided in the program’s success. UNHCR and the Nepalese government underwent efforts to provide documentation for each refugee. Photos and listings of details of each person provided an accurate number of refugees. This made monitoring the program much easier. In addition, IOM oversaw the practical side of the program. This included arranging flights and teaching refugees how to navigate through an airport.

Challenges That Those in the Camps Face

As a result of Nepal’s refugee resettlement program, the number of Lhotshampas in the country has decreased to about 6,000. Furthermore, out of the seven camps that began in the 1990s, only two remain in the Jhapa and Morang districts of eastern Nepal. While this constitutes a success, the Lhotshampas who remain in the camps still face challenges.

Many people feel isolated because they are unable to join their families abroad. Additionally, they suffer a lack of emotional support and income. As a result, many suffer from depression, substance abuse and suicide in these camps. Furthermore, the camp’s dwindling population has led to a shortage of teachers. UNHCR established a suicide prevention program and youth centers to combat these issues.

Nepal’s refugee resettlement program is effective in relocating most of the Lhotshampas refugees since the 1990s. UNHCR, IOM and the government of Nepal have allowed refugees to have the opportunity to lead new lives in other countries. Many challenges remain for those in the camps. However, the government has made significant efforts to address them.

– Nikhil Khanal
Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in BrazilHuman rights in Brazil are under attack by the country’s own presidential administration. Having campaigned on his famous “anti-human-rights rhetoric,” President Jair Bolsonaro is now turning his words into concrete actions that affect millions of Brazilians. Activists in Brazil are not backing down, relentlessly fighting for the human rights of the Brazilian people.

Human Rights Concerns in Brazil

  • Bolstering of police impunity for use of illegal force
  • Government complicity with torture in detention facilities and the systematic disassembly of government monitoring programs tasked with preventing torture
  • Funding cuts to environmental protection programs, approval of new pesticides for use without proper monitoring of toxicity levels in rural communities, minimization of consequences for illegal logging and ignoring reports of increased deaths of forest defenders
  • Civil and property rights of indigenous people, quilombolas, women and LGBTQI communities
  • Limiting the independence of nongovernmental agencies and restricting access to government information and public records

Despite the wave of policy change threatening human rights in Brazil, there is an equally powerful movement rising to meet it; real people and organizations dedicated to the fight for all humans and their right to exist freely in a peaceful, healthy and safe country.

Damião Braga

At 54 years old, Damião Braga is an experienced activist. He is the leader of Pedra do Sal, a community of African slave descendants in Rio de Janeiro called quilombolas. For 30 years, Braga has been in a judicial struggle over land in a historical part of Rio because he believes it should belong to his people whose ancestors arrived there as slaves.

This land is currently owned by the state and claimed by the Catholic Church, two formidable opponents. Braga says granting quilombolas the property rights is an essential step in making reparations for these descendants of slaves. Because slaves freed in Rio were never given property to live on in the first place, forcing them to settle in the margins of the city that became known as favelas, many believe it is time the government makes amends.

It is not only important for the quilombolas to fight against racism and systematic marginalization but it is also important for them to fight for the right to have a place of their own. Here they can build a future in a land they did not arrive at willingly but now call home.

The Guardians of the Forest

This group, formally established in 2013, is made up of around 120 indigenous activists in the Araribóia Indigenous Reserve. Located in the Brazilian state of Maranhão, this reserve is one of the regions most at risk of illegal logging. Emboldened by the relaxing of consequences for illegal loggers by the Bolsonaro administration, violence is increasing and the local people are taking matters into their own hands.

At first, most of the group’s work entailed destroying the camps of illegal loggers, using guerilla tactics to make them feel unwelcome. The Guardians are now working to set up an NGO and website in order to raise awareness and donations to help fund a more organized resistance.

It is indeed dangerous work. In 2019, the Indigenous Missionary Council released a report saying that violence against the indigenous peoples of the Amazon went up 23% from 2017 to 2018, making for a total of 135 people murdered in 2018 alone. Thus, the Guardians take this work very seriously. Most of them are Guajajara, the indigenous people of the area, therefore, they see it as a sacred duty to protect the land they have lived on for centuries. “We will continue to confront the wrongs committed by the Brazilian system of justice against the lives of Brazilians.”

Marielle Franco

Born to a very poor family who immigrated to Rio, Franco grew up in the favela Maré. Because she was exposed to the injustice of police brutality at a young age, Franco’s experiences fuelled her political career.

In 2016, she became a councilwoman for the Socialism and Liberty Party, officially enlisting in the fight for human rights in Brazil. She worked hard in this position to improve the situations of women and people living in favelas.

The councilwoman proposed 16 bills but only two were approved while she was alive. Another five would pass after her death, a small comfort to those who saw her as a leader.

In March of 2018, a now-charged man shot the 38-year-old Rio councilwoman in an alleged assassination. Now, after her death, her life is celebrated by supporters wearing shirts that read, “Fight like Marielle” and her name is the inspiration and strength people need to keep fighting for their rights.

Inspiring Activism in Brazil

The danger of these and thousands of other activists fighting for human rights in Brazil is tangible and constant. Thus, the courage to continue this work even in the face of such great risk shows the world their commitment to stand up against an authoritarian government.

Kari Millstein
Photo: Flickr

human trafficking in the NetherlandsHuman trafficking in the Netherlands is a serious issue and one that the Dutch government is attempting to alleviate. According to the Human Traffic Victims Monitor, there were 958 registered trafficking victims from 2013 to 2017. Hopefully, with aid from the government and help from organizations, the Netherlands can see a decrease in human trafficking.

10 Facts About Human Trafficking in the Netherlands

    1. Tier 1 Category: Local government officials are not ignorant of the prevalence of human trafficking in the Netherlands. The U.S. Department of State designated the Netherlands as Tier 1, meaning the Dutch government fully complies with the minimum requirements for eliminating trafficking as set forth by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, passed by the U.S. government in 2000.
    2. Legalizing Prostitution: The prostitution industry has been legal in the Netherlands since 2000. Once it was legalized, the demand for services increased but the supply did not. Human traffickers bring in international women to meet the demand.
    3. Labor Exploitation: In addition to sexual exploitation, human trafficking also takes place in economic fields where victims are subject to employment under deplorable conditions. It is not uncommon for these jobs to involve human rights violations.
    4. Criminality: Another form of human trafficking involves forcing individuals to commit crimes. Criminal exploitation is when an individual is forced to steal, beg or otherwise illegally acquire goods or monies and hand them over to the individual doing the exploiting. Perpetrators are often members of highly organized criminal organizations.
    5. Underreporting: The number of victims of human trafficking in the Netherlands is nearly five times the reported estimate. More than 6,000 individuals fall victim to human trafficking each year in the Netherlands, with roughly two-thirds of cases involving coerced sexual exploitation.
    6. Police Officer Training: It is standard practice in the Netherlands to complete training on how to handle human trafficking before passing the police academy. There are also officers who specialize in the handling of human trafficking. These officers must pass an examination before completing the academy.
    7. Sheltering Victims: The Dutch government has funded shelters for victims of human trafficking. It offers victims of human trafficking a stay of up to three months in a shelter. During this time, victims are provided with a safe space to begin the healing process. Here, victims also think about pursuing legal action against their trafficker. After three months, victims who agree to work with police to pursue their traffickers are permitted to stay longer in the shelter.
    8. Human Trafficking Task Force: In 2018, the Dutch government implemented its new anti-trafficking plan. It focuses on identifying victims, strengthening communication between shareholders, encouraging governments to take anti-trafficking action at a local level and amping up the work done to prevent labor trafficking. Since then, the task force has moved into inspecting brothels, training community leaders to identify human trafficking in order to safely intervene and has increased efforts against child trafficking.
    9. Not For Sale Campaign: Born in the early 2000s, the Not For Sale campaign is based in the heart of Amsterdam. The organization works with victims of human trafficking. It works especially with those victimized by sexual exploitation. The organization helps victims gain job experience and life skills needed to support themselves financially. Not For Sale also works to provide food, housing, healthcare and education for victims.
    10. GRETA: The Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings is an organization responsible for monitoring the implementation of anti-trafficking legislation. In 2018, GRETA published a report making note that even though the trafficking situation in the Netherlands requires much focus, the Netherlands is making significant improvements in the battle against trafficking.

By working at a local level to examine economies and conditions that perpetuate the cycle of human trafficking, the government and organizations can successfully alleviate human trafficking in the Netherlands.

Jessica Raskauskas
Photo: Unsplash