Information and stories about human rights.

Human rights violations
Across the globe, human rights violations are committed by official law enforcement personnel far too often. In Africa and other parts of the developing world, such violations often occur in the context of extreme poverty. Although there has been some progress in protecting human rights, there is still much work to be done. A recently created website, WhoWasInCommand.com, seeks to help victims locate their perpetrators in order to bring about justice.

Restricting the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Amnesty International reports that in Africa in 2017 and 2018, “intolerance of peaceful dissent and an entrenched disregard for the right to freedom of peaceful assembly” had become all too commonplace. This includes arresting as well as beating and sometimes even killing, peaceful protestors. They also note that “these trends occurred within a context of slow and intermittent success in reducing poverty.”

Within the past two years, Angola, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Sudan and Togo all undertook measures that restricted or banned peaceful protests. All of these countries have poverty rates more than 30 percent, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo having the highest rate at 63 percent.

The restriction of peaceful protests does not always violate human rights, but law enforcement personnel sometimes resort to extreme measures to crack down on protesters. In Togo, a crackdown by security forces, which involved beatings and the firing of tear gas and ammunition at protestors, resulted in the deaths of 10 individuals, including three children.

Identifying the Perpetrator

Of course, protestors are not the only individuals suffering from human rights violations committed by law enforcement. Such violations can occur while an individual is being detained in jail, in their home or on the street. One of the largest barriers of bringing perpetrators to justice, however, is the inability to identify them. In fact, many victims of human rights abuses do not know the names of those who violated their rights, making it nearly impossible to develop a legal case. Even when perpetrators are identified, sometimes they are moved around to prevent prosecution.

In 2016, a 12-year-old was detained, tortured and left almost paralyzed by security force officers in Nigeria. His lawyer, Chino Edmund Obiagwu, who is also the director of the Legal Defense and Assistance Project in Nigeria, would have been unable to cite the officers because he could not have access information on their names if it had not been for the work of provided by the WhoWasInCommand.

Holding Officials Accountable for Their Actions

In response to difficulties in identifying law enforcement personnel who violate human rights, Tony Wilson, the director of Security Force Monitor, a project of Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute, started the website WhoWasInCommand in June 2017. The site publishes data on law enforcement, including names, ranks, commanders, location, history of service and previous allegations held against them.

Security Force Monitor was created to support researchers, investigative journalists and litigators that work specifically on human rights violations. Those behind the project believe that it is important to hold security force officials accountable for their actions, but also recognize that, as data on these groups is generally decentralized, difficult to locate and sometimes costly, individual lawyers or victims often do not have the resources to access it. The Security Force Monitor team analyzes thousands of public records to provide relevant information on WhoWasInCommand about law enforcement officials.

The Increasing Popularity of the Website

Initially, WhoWasInCommand only included research on Mexico, Nigeria and Egypt, but as of October 2018, six new countries have been added, including Bangladesh, Myanmar, Philippines, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and Uganda, making the site the largest public database on security forces in the world. Countries are chosen based on the existence of longstanding concerns about human rights abuses by law enforcement as well as the consistent inability of lawyers and journalists to identify perpetrators in those areas.

In addition to the assistance the Security Force Monitor is providing, there have been some successes in cracking down on human rights violations through legislation. Nigeria passed an Anti-Torture Bill in December 2017, Burkina Faso’s has committed to increasing human rights protections in their draft Constitution, the Gambia pledged to abolish the death penalty and Kenya decided not to close a refugee camp that houses over a quarter of a million Somali refugees who could not return home without the risk of violence and abuse. While progress is slow, small victories such as these are not inconsequential, but are, in fact, an essential step in ensuring human rights across the globe.

As WhoWasInCommand continues to grow, hopefully, there will be a notable increase in successful prosecutions of law enforcement personnel who commit human rights violations. A researcher at Amnesty International, Aster van Kregten, expressed hope that nations may eventually begin freely contributing information about security forces, making a site like WhoWasInCommand unnecessary. Governments also need to continue to pass laws that ensure the protection of human rights for all individuals.

Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr

Civil Rights SongsMusic has an undeniable connection to civil rights movements. As Gregory Harper, a former museum director and archaeologist turned musician says, music has often been used in the service of civil rights and political awareness. Songs were chosen based on the influence in specific civil rights movements, as well as their popularity and legacies. In the text below, the top 10 civil rights songs are presented, but due to their importance and quality, they can be deemed as the top 10 of the best songs ever recorded. They are listed in alphabetical order and there is no importance in their specific ranking.

Top 10 Civil Rights Songs

  1. “Glad to Be Gay”- Tom Robinson Band. Written for a London gay pride parade, “Glad to Be Gay” was banned by the BBC upon its release. It became an anthem for the LGBTQ community in London. Tom Robinson has said that “Glad to Be Gay” was about the non-conforming, from lesbians to transgenders. With this proud song, Tom Robinson gave a voice to the people that might have never had a voice before.
  2. “Free Nelson Mandela”- The Specials. “Free Nelson Mandela” was a Top 10 hit in the United Kingdom in 1984. The song became an anthem for the anti-apartheid movement for people outside of South Africa and forced the privileged, white populations of the West to become aware of the issues in South Africa. Undoubtedly, this song influenced the citizens of powerful nations to beg their leaders to aid the fight against apartheid in South Africa.
  3. “From Little Things, Big Things Grow”- Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody. Written by two Australian artists in the early 1990s, this song tells of the inspiring story of the Gurindji people and their struggle for land rights. The lyrics tell of the 1966 Wave Hill walk-off that was originally focused on poor working conditions and low wages. The walk-off turned into much more since eight years later, Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam gave these people their land back, igniting the Aboriginal land rights movement. Today, this song continues to symbolize the struggle for recognition of natives all over the world.
  4. “Mannenberg”- Abdullah Ibrahim. Released in 1974, “Mannenberg” combined South African-jazz with African-American jazz-rock fusion. The outcome was a song that South African blacks clung to as their own. The influence of this song in South Africa’s fight against apartheid, along with its mixture of cultures, solidifies it as one of the best civil rights songs.
  5. “People Get Ready”- Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions. Released in 1965 during the American Civil Rights Movement after Curtis Mayfield watched the March on Washington, this gospel song turned mainstream hit has been covered countless times by many artists.
  6. “Redemption Song”- Bob Marley. To pick Marley’s best civil rights song is difficult, but “Redemption Song”, that was released on Marley’s last studio album appropriately named “Uprising”, seems fitting. Using words from a 1937 speech of Marcus Garvey’s, Marley tells of physical and mental freedom, the hallmarks of all civil rights movements.
  7. “Strange Fruit”- Billie Holiday. The most popular version of the song is Billie Holiday’s version, a symbolic mosaic of the pain that black people have endured in the United States, selling one million copies in its first year. Originally written by Abel Meeropol in reaction to the infamous photograph of the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, 1999 Time Magazine named “Strange Fruit” the best song of the century.
  8. “Sunday Bloody Sunday”- U2. As Irish rock band U2 was gaining momentum, soon to become the biggest rock bands of their time, they used their platform to share a perspective on the Bloody Sunday massacre, incident that occured in 1972 in the area of Derry, Northern Ireland. In 2010, United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron apologized on behalf of his country for the incident. The progress that was made by the Northern Irish in order to receive such an apology could not have been done without U2’s true-life tale that told those all over the world about the violence that was done to the people of Northern Ireland.
  9. “We Shall Overcome”- Pete Seeger. In 2018, the song’s lyrics became part of the public domain which is appropriate as the lyrics have traced back to the 18th century as slaves would sing similar verses while working. Pete Seeger brought it to mainstream consciousness, after hearing a group of mostly black tobacco workers sing the song during a strike. Joan Baez sang the song during the March on Washington. President Johnson uttered the words “we shall overcome” in his defense of the Voting Rights Act. The song continues to be sung at countless global, civil rights protests.
  10. “Zombie”- Fela Kuti. In a rebuke of the Nigerian military’s violent tactics, Kuti wrote “Zombie”. The Nigerian army acted swiftly, noting the song’s message as well as Kuti’s influence on the poorer populations of Africa. They pillaged Kuti’s commune and threw his elderly mother out of a window, resulting in her death. Kuti did not stop making music, symbolizing the resilience of those he gave a voice to. The legacy of “Zombie”, as well as the direct influence Kuti had in promoting civil rights, make this one of the best civil rights songs.

These songs listed above are masterpieces, but it is the people’s emotional connection to them what makes them even more valuable. They are directly connected to fight for human rights and will be surely used in the future as well.

– Kurt Thiele

Photo: Flickr

Red Notice Abuse

Interpol was founded as a means to coordinate law enforcement agencies, allowing for the international pursuit of criminals, thwarting the wild-west cliché of outlaws crossing the border and escaping justice. The notice system is the primary tool of that coordination. While each category of notice has its own color code and significance, Red Notices are by far the most famous. Akin to an old-school wanted posters, Red Notices serve as a request from one member country to another asking for the location, arrest and, ultimately, extradition of a wanted individual.

Bill Browder Case

This system provides a valuable service to the whole world. However, it has come under the criticism for the way in which repressive governments have been able to use it to target political refugees. Labeling peaceful protestors, journalists and dissidents as criminals and tricking law enforcement into extraditing them to suffer sham trials and grim fates. Nations like Russia, Turkey and China have been able to do this virtually free of consequence.

The name Bill Browder has become synonymous with Red Notice abuse. Mr. Browder is a prominent critic of Russia, having been instrumental in the creation of the global Magnitsky Act, named after Browder’s lawyer who was murdered after exposing corruption in the Russian government. As recently as May 2018, while giving a talk in Madrid, Browder was arrested by Spanish authorities. Two hours later, after the intervention of Interpol’s General Secretary, Browder was a free man. By his count, “this is the 6th time that Russia has abused Interpol in his case.”

Other Specific Red Notice Cases

While Mr. Browder’s case has received international attention, many others never caught public attention. Baran Kimyongür, a Turkish activist, interrupted an exchange between the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee and the Turkish foreign minister in 2000. Later, the Turkish government gave a Red Notice for him, holding this act as proof of his connection to a terrorist organization. Kimyongür has been arrested three times by the authorities in Netherlands, Spain and Italy. Each government refused to extradite him due to the lack of any proof as well as the human right to self-expression.

Another hidden tragedy is that of Dolkun Isa, a renowned activist and member of the World Uyghur Congress. After fleeing China, now living as a German citizen, Mr. Isa has been subject to a Chinese Red Notice abuse since 2003. The resulting travel restrictions have hobbled his advocacy work to promote Uyghur self-determination. This and many other cases have been collected in a report published by the Council of Europe, an official U.N. observer.

Massive Increase in Red Notices

Each Notice is supposed to be reviewed before publication. Yet, stories like these illustrate the shortcomings of that process. The number of Notices has almost tripled over the past decade, growing from 5,020 to 13,048 by the time of the 2017 Annual report. With such a dramatic shift in volume, the potential for missteps and need for reform come into greater focus.

Each Interpol officer serves as a representative of his home government. Now, after the surprise resignation of Meng Hongwei, the recent election of Kim Jong Yang gives this organization a sorely needed opportunity to improve on the reforms made in 2016 and the organizations’ desire to create safer and more transparent processes.

– John Glade

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in VietnamThe state of human rights in Vietnam is dire and has hit an all-time low level in 2017. Activism, religious diversity, political variance and even integrity within the judicial and police systems are almost non-existent. Vietnam has seen backlash for its controversial and rigid ways from the U.S. and other Western countries, but the country continues to ignore it and even fights opposition to their government in favor of preserving the authority of the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party.

Vietnamese Political Situation

The Vietnamese Communist Party is the sole state of leadership in Vietnam and has been in this position since 1980. The 1992 constitution, however, delegated more authority to the president and to the cabinet. The party, nevertheless, maintained responsibility for overall policy decisions. Challenges to the Vietnamese Communist Party are not tolerated, and often end in incarceration.

In fact, Vietnam actually prohibits the establishment or operation of independent political parties, labor unions and human rights organizations. Approval from Vietnamese authorities is needed for public gatherings. These authorities can refuse permission for meetings, marches, or public assemblies they believe to be politically unacceptable.

In 2011, the U.S. Department of State did a report on human rights in Vietnam and deemed the country to be “neither free nor fair” and claimed a large contributing factor for this state was the corruption of the judicial and police systems. The report stated that the Vietnamese judicial system was inefficient and experienced political influence and endemic corruption. Moreover, there were multiple cases of police brutality in both arrests and later detention, denial to a fair trial, ambiguity in arrests, and inhumane prison conditions. A government official from Vietnam fired back at the report stating that Vietnam supports human rights but opposes initiatives by outside nations interfering in internal affairs.

Reports on the Current Situation

The Vietnamese government has proven to be untrustworthy in their claims about human rights in Vietnam as well. The Vietnamese government has continuously claimed, since 2010, that there are no political prisoners in Vietnam. Yet as of April 2018, there have already been approximately 97 prisoners of conscience in the country.

In 2012, the U.N. ran their own human rights report on Vietnam and the results were increasingly positive, relative to the U.S. report in 2010. Though, the report still urged the government to implement major human rights treaties, like the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment which is an international human rights treaty meant to prevent all acts of cruel and inhuman treatment across the world.

Yet, despite this relatively positive report, human rights in Vietnam took a decline in 2017. The Human Rights Watch reported at least 36 cases of violence against activist from January to April 2017. Moreover, the Human Rights Watch found that the judicial system was still very much under the control of the government and that it has failed to meet international standards.

In Vietnam, people who suffer from a drug dependency, including children, are sent to governmental detention centers where they are forced to do menial work or “labor therapy.” It was reported by state media that during the first six months of 2017, about 3,168 people were sent to centers in Ho Chi Minh City. It was also found that those that are most at risk of violent treatment in these centers are children, women and ethnic minorities which goes directly against the Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment treaty the U.N. urged Vietnam to implement back in 2012.

There are organizations who are actively attempting to intervene in the high number of arrests being made by law officials of The Vietnamese Communist Party, and who are also fighting for the improvement of Human Rights conditions in Vietnam.

Organizations Involved in improving Human Rights in Vietnam

Organizations like the Human Rights Watch and the International Federation For Human Rights (FIDH) have urgently been asking for donations and letters to intercede the Human Rights violations being made in Vietnam. Moreover, there has been an increase in the number of activists for Human Rights, within Vietnam, in the last decade.

However, Vietnamese activists have to remain relatively quiet in their effort to bring these violations to the attention of the rest of the world due to the high probability of being arrested. Since 2014, there have been a little over 160 human rights activists that have been jailed in Vietnam, and this number continues to rise.

Thus, it remains to be seen if the conditions of Human Rights in Vietnam will improve in the coming years, but with the high number of arrests already in 2018, the outlook does not look so bad. The government has to change it’s attitude towards this issue if the country plans to grow in this aspect.

– Isabella Agostini
Photo: Flickr

 

Human Rights in CrimeaOn Feb. 27, 2014, less than a month after the Sochi Winter Olympics, Russian troops stormed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and took control of the regional Parliament. Two weeks later, on March 16, Russian forces administered a referendum not recognized under the Ukrainian Constitution. Despite a 32.4 percent turnout rate, the Kremlin claimed that an abnormally high percentage of yes votes—96.6 percent—warranted annexation.

Control of Crimea

On March 21, 2014, Putin declared Crimea an administrative entity of Russia. The United Nations challenged his declaration in a resolution passed on March 27, affirming the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the importance of preserving human rights in Crimea.

Ethnic divisions and political disagreements have fueled tensions in Crimea. The Kremlin claims that the peninsula has historically belonged to Russia, yet history shows that different empires—from the Roman to the Ottoman Empires— have controlled Crimea over the years.

The Kremlin also argues that Nikita Khrushchev gifted Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 illegitimately, even though the decision was made collectively by the Soviet political bodies, and the constitutions of Ukraine and Russia were amended to reflect the transfer of territory.  

Human Rights In Crimea

Russian authorities have committed a wide range of human rights abuses in their effort to assert control over the peninsula. A 2018 Freedom House report gave Crimea a 7/7 (the lowest) ranking on political rights and civil liberties, a 6.5/7 for its freedom rating as well as a press freedom status of “not free.”

The situation regarding human rights in Crimea is riddled with harassment of political opponents, violence against ethnic minorities and severe restrictions on the freedom of speech, assembly and religion.

  • Imposition of Citizenship: Even though imposing citizenship on an occupied territory’s inhabitants is forbidden under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Russian authorities have instituted a ruthless “Russianization” campaign in Crimea; that is, they have coerced Crimeans into renouncing their Ukrainian citizenship and obtaining Russian passports.

    The punishments for rejecting Russian citizenship are severe. A State Department report discovered that authorities poured sunflower oil over the personal belongings of a female detainee who refused a Russian passport. Biologist Guriy Kornilov was fired from his position at the Nikitinsky Botanical Gardens after he did the same. At best, individuals who reject citizenship receive no access to education and healthcare. At worst, they get deported from Crimea.
  • A Ban on Assembly: Prosecutors wield Russia’s anti-extremism statutes, supposedly intended for terrorist groups, against independent political organizations. In a crackdown on the freedom of assembly, a Crimean prosecutor ordered a ban the Mejlis, the representative body of the Crimean Tatar people, in February 2016, calling to have the group labeled as an extremist organization.Ilmi Umerov, a Mejlis official, was sentenced to two years in prison on separatism charges, and his lawyer was detained separately. In April 2017, The International Court of Justice criticized Russia’s dissolution of the Mejlis, ordering Russia to “conserve its representative institutions.” Even so, the Mejlis has remained banned.
  • Harassment of Opponents: A climate of intimidation and fear has effectively suppressed speech and degraded human rights in Crimea with opposition leaders being subject to arbitrary arrests, torture, detentions and extrajudicial executions. In July 2017, a Crimean Tatar man received a year and three months in prison for a series of Facebook posts critical of the occupation.Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov, who criticized Russia’s annexation of Crimea, was imprisoned in 2015. The Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB, encourages Crimeans to report individuals who oppose the occupation, breeding an atmosphere of paranoia. Overall, activists estimated that 57 Crimean opposition figures have been jailed as of 2017.
  • Media Freedom: Since a 2015 re-registration process, the number of media outlets in Crimea has been reduced by more than 90 percent. Crimeans no longer have access to Ukrainian television, and outlets with a pro-Ukrainian stance, as well as those serving the Tatar community must now operate underground. Radio Liberty journalist Mykola Semena received a two-year ban on journalistic activity after lamenting the annexation of Crimea. 
  • Religious Freedom: Russian authorities have forced religious groups to re-register, which has in turn allowed officials to eliminate organizations that do not support The Russian Orthodox Church. In 2014, there were 1,400 registered religious groups; as of September 2017, that number has dropped down to 818. All 22 Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations have been deregistered, as have mosques associated with Crimean Tatars. Authorities have also confiscated the property of The Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
  • Property Rights: In addition to confiscating the land of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, authorities have used courts to legitimize the seizure of 3,800 plots of land. These plots are redistributed to pro-Russian entities.
  • Discrimination: Russian authorities frequently harass Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians, both of whom are minorities on the peninsula. Between the occupation in 2014 and September 2017, more than 150 raids have been conducted, the majority targeting these minorities, with the pretext of searching for weapons, drugs or “extremist literature.”Authorities have gone as far as to censor songs by Ukrainian singers on radio stations and reduce the number of Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian language classes in schools. Crimean Tatars can no longer speak their language in public or in the workplace, nor are they allowed to celebrate their national holidays.

What is Being Done To Alleviate the Crisis?

The United Nations has been vocal about its concern over the deterioration of human rights in Crimea. In November 2017, 71 member states in The U.N. General Assembly Third Committee approved a resolution that condemned Russia’s human rights violations, including its discrimination against Crimean Tatars.

Non-governmental organizations have also come to the aid of Crimea. In 2017 alone, The Red Cross donated medical items to 145 healthcare facilities, sent over 375,000 food parcels to 86,000 people, delivered 11,000 metric tons of humanitarian aid and helped release 306 conflict-related detainees.

Even though these figures encompass all of Ukraine, aid was concentrated in the conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine and Crimea. While The Red Cross’ contributions serve to improve human rights in Crimea in the short term, Russia will need to restore the rule of law as well as begin protecting political and civil liberties to help the peninsula recover from the crisis of 2014.

– Mark Blekherman

Photo: Flickr

Global Alliance Against Traffic in WomenPeople often think of slavery as a thing of the past. They think of cotton plantations and the transatlantic slave trade, the Abolitionist movement and the Civil War. Yet, slavery remains present all over the world today in the form of human trafficking. In 2016, more than 40 million people were victims of human trafficking. Of this number, 25 percent were children and 75 percent were women or girls. These people are subjected to inhumane conditions, forced labor and sexual exploitation. Many organizations and movements are fighting to end this modern slavery. The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) is one of those organizations.

5 Things to Know about the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women

  1. The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women is a group of more than 100 non-governmental organizations from countries all over the world that promotes human rights and fights human trafficking, specifically trafficking of women and girls, as they account for a great majority of human trafficking victims.
  2. The network was founded in 1994 at an international conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand, by a group of women mainly from the Global South, many of whom had personally experienced migration, displacement and/or trafficking. The alliance, now based in Bangkok, revolutionized the way human trafficking is perceived as it was one of the first entities to apply a human-rights approach to the issue. This involves recognizing that human trafficking is both a “consequence and cause of human rights violations” and emphasizing the need to protect victims’ rights.
  3. Member organizations include anti-trafficking groups as well as human rights, women’s rights and migrants’ rights organizations from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. Though member organizations work independently, they must adhere to the GAATW’s basic principles and abide the certain conditions. Collaboration among members is crucial to the network’s success and is coordinated by the International Secretariat.
  4. Every three years the GAATW’s member organizations and other relevant actors meet at an International Members Congress and Conference, where the network’s strategy to fight the trafficking is refined and updated. The alliance’s strategy has three central themes: increasing accountability of different actors to implement anti-trafficking plans, access to justice and the protection of victims’ human rights and power in migration and work, which involves analyzing how labor and migration policies affect women and empowering women in these areas.
  5. Raising awareness of human trafficking, conducting research and advocating for victims’ rights are a central part of GAATW’s operations. In 2012, the GAATW began publishing the Anti-Trafficking Review, the first peer-reviewed open-access journal centered on human trafficking. Through these processes, the Global Alliance in Traffic Against Women has made remarkable progress. The GAATW helped establish an internationally recognized definition of trafficking. It also created the Human Rights Standard for the Treatment of Trafficked Persons, a system of standards that are used around the world to protect the rights of those who have been trafficked.

Human trafficking is modern slavery and represents a severe violation of people’s rights. The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women is an incredible network that is raising awareness of this problem and pushing governments and other parties to do more to end it. As history has taught us, eliminating any form of slavery is a long and difficult process, but with the GAATW and many other important organizations working tirelessly, ending human trafficking is achievable.

– Laura Turner
Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in Nagorno-KarabakhIn 1994, the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a ceasefire agreement that many politicians hoped would put a stop to years of conflict between the two states. When the Russian tsarist regime collapsed in 1917, Azerbaijan and Armenia fought over control of the landlocked mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh, a region in the Caucasus the size of Connecticut. After the Red Army annexed the Caucasian republics to the Soviet Union, the Armenian-majority territory of Nagorno-Karabakh became an autonomous region of Azerbaijan.

Seven decades later, when the Soviet Union began disintegrating in the late 1980s, Armenian secessionists and Azerbaijani troops launched a war over Nagorno-Karabakh. The outbreak of violence claimed around 20,000 lives and created one million refugees. After the 1994 ceasefire, Nagorno-Karabakh declared its independence, but the international community continues to recognize the war-torn territory as a part of Azerbaijan.

Five Facts About Human Rights in Nagorno-Karabakh

The “Four Day War” in April 2016—an outbreak between the two warring parties that killed at least 200 people—ended more than two decades of ceasefire and put the human rights records of Azerbaijan and Armenia into the spotlight. Here are five facts about human rights in Nagorno-Karabakh:

  1. High-ranking Azerbaijani officials have spread hate speech and incited violence against the country’s Armenian minority, according to a 2016 Ombudsman Report. In November 2012, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev took to Twitter to declare that Armenia “is actually a colony, an outpost run from abroad, a territory artificially created on ancient Azerbaijani land.” Public statements like Aliyev’s violate Article 4 (c) of the U.N. International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, which bars authorities from promoting racial discrimination.  
  2. Azerbaijani forces ruthlessly murdered civilians when they invaded Nagorno-Karabakh on April 2, 2016. Soldiers shot the elderly, infirm and young, and the targeted shelling of residential buildings killed or wounded more than two dozen civilians, many of whom were minors. The Ombudsman found Azerbaijan in violation of the Geneva Convention of 1949, which delineates special protections for the sick, wounded and pregnant during war.
  3. While Armenia has instituted civil and political liberties since its independence in 1991, Amnesty International has called out the Armenian government for silencing journalists investigating the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. According to the report, Armenians show little tolerance for “unarmenian” views of the conflict, with individuals disagreeing with mainstream opinion labeled as traitors. In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights delivered 12 judgments concerning Armenia, 11 of which found the country in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights.
  4. With the exception of The HALO Trust and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which helps reunite family members who have gone missing in combat, the international community provides little support for human rights in Nagorno-Karabakh. Many NGOs know that entering Nagorno-Karabakh would make them ‘persona non grata’ in Azerbaijan, preventing them from returning in the future.
  5. Despite Azerbaijan’s threats, the Lady Cox Rehabilitation Center—an organization that helps individuals with disabilities—has made substantial progress for human rights in Nagorno-Karabakh. Wars in the early 1990s and, more recently, in April 2016 injured many civilians, leaving some with physical disabilities; infrastructure for wheelchairs and medical facilities for treatment, however, were scarce. The Lady Cox Rehabilitation Center provides treatment for 1000 patients annually and supports therapists that travel to individuals who cannot travel to Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, to receive care. In 2017, the Center opened a department for children with autism.

Human rights in Nagorno-Karabakh will improve with increased stability. In July 2018, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced that he was ready to talk peace in Nagorno-Karabakh. A month later, Russia and Germany proactively offered to facilitate a settlement that would secure long-lasting peace. Once Armenia and Azerbaijan come to terms with the fate of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, it is hoped that humanitarian organizations will step in to monitor conditions on the ground and heal old wounds.

– Mark Blekherman
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Human Rights in SyriaOn the shore of the Mediterranean Sea and surrounded by Muslim, Jewish, and Christian nations, Syria has long been at the crossroads of Middle Eastern and Western commerce and culture.

In March 2011, during the Arab Spring, pro-democracy protests erupted in the city of Deraa. The unrest triggered nationwide protests demanding the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad. The government attempted to crush the dissent with force, but merely fueled protesters’ resolve. As the conflict escalated, more pro-government and rebel factions have emerged and a number of outside parties, including Lebanon, Iran, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, the U.S., the U.K. and France involved themselves as well.

Throughout this conflict, innumerable Syrians have suffered. Human rights abuses have been perpetrated on all sides. This article will discuss the top 10 facts about human rights in Syria that are mostly related to the current situation and the war in the country.

Top 10 Facts About Human Rights

  1. The Syrian government has launched numerous airstrikes on civilians in opposition-held areas. With support from Iran and Russia, Syria’s government has conducted attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure. At the end of 2016, in their operation to regain rebel-held land in Aleppo, the Russian-Syrian military coalition conducted airstrikes on serval medical facilities, killing 446 civilians, including 91 children.
  2. The government has employed starvation as a war tactic and has unlawfully restricted access for humanitarian aid. The U.N. estimated that around 540,000 persons were trapped in besieged areas as of June 2017. The deteriorating humanitarian conditions have forced residents into surrendering to brokered ceasefires and evacuation deals with the government. The U.N. Commission of Inquiry and Amnesty International found that some of these evacuations were unlawful.
  3. Hay’et Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), the dominant rebel group in Idlib province, continues to commit human right violationsIn response to civilian protests in Idlib province, HTS group members shot at protestors, killing and injuring civilians. HTS has also interfered with humanitarian aid delivery in the province and targeted religious minorities with car bombings. In March 2017, HTS took responsibility for two explosions in the Bab al-Saghir cemetery. The attacks killed 44 civilians and injured 120.
  4. Airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS increased. A local group, the Syrian Network for Human Rights, reported 2,286 civilian deaths at the hands of U.S.-backed airstrikes up to September 2017. These strikes raise concerns that the U.S.-led coalition did not take precautions to avoid and minimize Syrian civilian casualties.
  5. The Syrian government continues to use chemical weapons. Nerve agents have been deployed throughout opposition strongholds in Syria. In September 2017, the U.N.-appointed Commission of Inquiry’s report concluded that “the Syrian air force used sarin in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib, killing dozens, the majority of whom were women and children.” Human Rights Watch also documented government helicopters dropping chlorine on at least eight occasions in an attempt to recapture Aleppo.
  6. Arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, torture, and enforced disappearances continue. In 2017, the Syrian Network for Human Rights documented more than 4,252 individual unwarranted arrests. As of August 2017, over 80,000 individuals were “disappeared.”
  7. Abuses of civilians by ISIS continue. During its defense of Raqqa and other towns, ISIS used civilians as human shields and used internationally banned landmines. The U.N.-OPCW’s (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) joint investigation found that ISIS has used chemical weapons, sulfur mustard gas specifically, against civilians.
  8. The Kurdish Democratic Union Party (or PYD) has detained and harassed members of the political opposition and activists. Human Rights Watch received reports of torture and ill-treatment in facilities controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces, the majority of which are members of the PYD.
  9. More than 6.9 million people have been displaced. Women and children account for 75 percent of the refugee population. The neighboring countries of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey have sought to curb the massive inflow of refugees through unlawful administrative, legal and physical barriers. Incidents of Turkish border guards shooting at Syrians and smugglers trying to cross the border continue, including the fatal shooting of a 3-year-old in 2017. In the first five months of 2017, the Jordanian government deported around 400 Syrian refugees per month.
  10. The true scope of the war’s death toll is unknown and is still growing. As the Syrian war drags many international monitoring groups ceased counting the dead. The U.N., which regularly released death toll reports during the war’s first years, gave its last estimate in 2016 and stated that it had become impossible to verify how many people have died, but at least 400,000 people were killed by that moment. In March 2018, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated that at least 511,000 people have been killed in the war since March 2011.

These top 10 facts about human rights in Syria hopes to make evident the suffering of millions of people and inspire additional diplomatic and humanitarian efforts to stop the war. The U.S. has the important diplomatic part to play in the support of the Syrian people and it cannot supplant that role with military force. Military involvement cannot replace diplomacy. The people of Syria are in dire need of humanitarian aid. Politics and military force alone will not build the trust needed to get that aid to the country’s besieged populace.

– Carolina Sherwood Bigelow
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 facts about Human Rights in Kenya
The World Bank, in its latest report on Kenya, credited the country with possessing the potential to become one of Africa’s success stories.  From its growing youthful population and dynamic private sector to its highly skilled workforce, improved infrastructure and new Constitution, Kenya plays a pivotal role in East Africa. However, Kenya continues to struggle with the protection of the basic human rights of its people. The top 10 facts about human rights in Kenya below shed light on the inequalities faced by the Kenyan people and the organizations working to improve conditions.

Top 10 Facts About Human Rights in Kenya

  1. From 2007 to 2008, Kenya received international attention and criticism for severe violation of human rights after the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta. While the political party in power challenged the independence of the judiciary, and the police manhandled opposition protestors, the NGOs Coordination Board threatened to close down human rights organizations. Administrative and legal measures were adopted to curb the activities of civil society, media and human rights organizations.
  2. Human Rights Watch confirmed that the post-election human rights violations included sexual and gender-based violence against men, women and children in Kenya by the police and security forces.
  3. In 2010, in an attempt to address the past human rights abuses and injustices, Kenya adopted a new Constitution alongside a Commission to implement it.
  4. The Human Rights Watch, in its 2016 report, criticized the country’s inaction. The criticism was aimed at Kenya’s ineffective implementation of the new Constitution and lack of addressing the post-election human rights violations of 2007 and 2008.  These violations left at least 1,200 people dead and 650,000 people displaced.
  5. Amnesty International questioned the government’s legislative curtailment of basic rights of the people, media and refugee communities. As a response to the persistent terrorist attacks and killings orchestrated by Somalia-based Islamist group Al-Shabaab, the Kenyan government increased the power of the police and security agencies. This, in turn, led to extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary detentions, raids on communities, harassment and extortion of money.
  6. The Amnesty International Annual Report for 2017/18 lauded the “landmark judicial decisions on human rights” by the Kenya High Court stopping the government’s decision to close the Dadaab refugee camp. Dadaab is the world’s largest refugee camp, and the decision prevented the return of 250,000 refugees to Somalia, where they would have been at risk of abuse.
  7. Outside the scope of political turmoil, there are also issues of the rights of women and children in the country. In 2016, the National Gender and Equality Commission released a report titled Gender-Based Violence in Kenya. According to its study, 39 percent of women and girls aged 15 years and above have encountered physical violence, and more than one-fifth of the women have been victims of sexual abuse. Domestic abuse has also been noted as a common problem in Kenya. Acts like the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (2011), Employment Act (2007), the Protection Against Domestic Violence (2015) and the National Policy on the Prevention and Response to Gender-based Violence (2014), have been introduced to promote social justice and preserve the rights of women in the country.
  8. Kenya’s Vision 2030’s Medium-Term Plan II (for 2013 to 2017) outlined the establishment of gender-based violence recovery centers in all health care facilities in Kenya. The National Gender and Equality Commission has also developed a National Monitoring and Evaluation Framework to prevent such violence. Organizations like Childline Kenya in partnership with the government have been trying to stop the high instances of child abuse prevalent in the country. The National Policy on the Elimination of Child Labor and the Kenyan police’s Child Protection Unit have been introduced to prosecute and investigate child exploitation.
  9. Clashes between different ethnicities in Kenya, which initially began in 1991, have also emerged as one of the human rights issues in the country. Certain ethnic communities, like the Sengwer, have been in conflict with the government. This year, the European Union suspended it’s Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Programme due to the killing of a person by the Kenya Wildlife Service. The EU stated that the rights of indigenous people must be respected and balanced with the conservation work on water towers.
  10. The Kenya Human Rights Commission has been striving to foster human rights and democracy at all levels in Kenya. To add to that, The Kenya National Commission of Human Rights acts in an advisory role and as a watchdog to promote a culture of human rights in Kenya.

In July 2018, members of The United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights, following their visit to Kenya, appreciated the new Constitution’s efforts to improve human rights conditions and democratic institutions. In addition, the group underscored the need for delivering the promises of the constitution in order to secure human rights protection. Kenya is set to become the first country in Africa to develop a National Action Plan based on business and human rights. While these top 10 facts about human rights in Kenya demonstrate many areas in need of improvement, the Kenyan government has begun to take steps in a promising direction.

Jayendrina Singha Ray

Photo: Flickr

facts about human rights in TaiwanIn August 2018, Taiwan was selected to host the Human Rights Forum. The Forum, according to the New York Times, is run by the New York-based Human Rights Foundation and has been held in Oslo every year since 2009. The Human Rights Foundation’s chief strategy officer Alex Gladstein explained that the forum’s goal is to inform activists around the world about Taiwan’s transition to democracy, which is an example of democracy in a Chinese society. As international human rights organizations recognize Taiwan’s unique position in Asia as an advocate for human rights and democracy, it is important to highlight several key facts about human rights in Taiwan.

Judiciary reform

According to the Taiwan 2017 Human Rights Report, there are no acknowledged instances of torture carried out against accused persons. Furthermore, to address issues of overcrowding in prisons, in June 2017, Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice gave prison inmates the right to maintain jobs outside the prison. The report indicated that 19 inmates had minimum monthly salaries of 690 U.S. dollars of which 60 percent was used as restitution to crime victims. Even more encouraging is that detention centers allowed both government and non-governmental inspections of the prisons. It is also important to note that prisoners have rights to legal counseling.

Also, arrests of individuals require warrants or summons. The report emphasized that all defendants are innocent until proven guilty. Regarding civil issues, an “impartial judiciary” is provided.

Freedom of speech

Freedom of speech and the press are observed in Taiwan, especially involving internet access. Taiwan also does not restrict academic freedom or cultural events.

In April 2018, the New York Times noted that Reporters Without Borders are going to open their first Asian bureau in Taipei, the Taiwanese capital. They decided to do so after considering, but rejecting Hong Kong. Taiwan’s selection over Hong Kong is tied with increasing pressure from the Government of China to Hong Kong, allowing Taiwan to surpass Hong Kong as the synonym for free speech in Asia.

Voting rights and protection of sexual assault victims

While Taiwan currently does not offer refugees protection, it does allow its citizens to migrate within its borders, emigrate from, and travel internationally. Such policies are not necessarily permanent, however, as Taiwan offers citizens the rights to elect government leaders through “secret ballot.” Suffrage is given to all citizens, including women.

Taiwan law prohibits rape, especially spousal rape, and domestic violence, but it is important to note that these crimes are often not reported. In addition, rape survivors are given protection in a way that they can endure their trials away from the public eye and the law permits a charge of rape even if the victim chooses not to press charges. This provision is one of the key facts about human rights in Taiwan, as charges for sexual assault can still be carried out, regardless of the social pressures that discourage victims to report. Also, the Sexual Assault Crime Prevention Act allows the use of one-way mirrors, video conferencing, or other practices to protect victims during questioning and trial.

In recent years, Taiwan became the front-runner of human rights in Asia, as seen through its shift toward judiciary reform, freedom of expression and increased protections for sexual assault victims. These key facts about human rights in Taiwan merit activists’ decision to host the upcoming Human Rights Forum and showcase Taiwan’s accomplishments and the path towards achieving even better results in the future

Christine Leung
Photo: Google