Information and stories about human rights.

 UN Calls for Implementation of Anti-human Trafficking Treaties
At the UN General Assembly meeting Monday, UN Officials urged those in attendance to continue to work towards “full implementation” of major anti-human trafficking treaties. The treaties are central in the fight against the US$32 billion global human trafficking industry.  Global estimates of those in forced labor, sexual prostitution, and military labor range from 2.4 million to 27 million. Regardless of the numbers, the industry will continue to grow without support and implementation from UN member countries.

Vuk Jeremic, General Assembly president, opened the two day UN conference aimed at improving coordination among nations in the fight against human trafficking.  When talking about stopping the crime of human trafficking and helping victims rebuild their lives, he said “no effort must be spared.”  We must increase our attention to the matter and collaborate to fight against human trafficking.  Increased sensitivity and awareness training for law enforcement, border control, embassy officials, and peacekeepers is one such area where coordination must be improved.

The two-day meeting will also serve to provide an update on the UN Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons.  The plan was adopted in 2010 and includes measures for integrating the fight against human trafficking into broader programs within the UN as well as increasing development and security globally.  Discussions throughout the meeting built upon the plan and addressed preventing human trafficking, prosecuting offenders, protecting victims, and forming partnerships to fight human trafficking. The Plan also set up the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons. Jeremic requested member countries to provide greater support for the fund.

With almost a third of victims worldwide identified as children, the need for greater collaboration is great. Awareness on the part of government officials, humanitarian organizations, and citizens is necessary to continue in the fight against human trafficking. The UN conference is a huge step in this direction.

– Amanda Kloeppel
 Source: National News Agency of Malaysia
Photo: UN


The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is partnering with the Swedish International Development Corporation Agency, the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute, the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law and Olivia Companies to combat discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities in third world countries.

Together, these groups will contribute $11 million to protect LGBT groups against violence and discrimination and allow them to expand to include more people. USAID will also become more involved in the political processes of developing countries and help pass anti-violence and anti-discrimination laws.

Currently, homosexuality is illegal in over 80 countries and territories, seven of which enforce the death penalty for people caught in same-sex relationships. USAID and its partner organizations hope to change this. As Hilary Clinton said in a 2001 speech, “gay rights are human rights.” Now that President Obama has spoken in support of the gay rights initiative, advocacy groups and USAID have the backing they need to push the agenda forward.

When training begins at the end of May, we will begin to see the LGBT community become more involved in the political process. USAID and its partners are starting their program in Colombia, where the local mayor and the head of the city’s welfare agency, a transgender woman, will attend the training event.

There are 19 countries where it is illegal to discriminate against homosexuals and about 12 countries that permit same-sex marriage. These countries include Argentina, Canada, Spain and South Africa. As more LGBT leaders are elected and gay people become involved in politics, it is likely that more countries will be added to this list.

Mary Penn

Source: Washington Blade

Child Marriage: A Promise of Poverty

The average teenager worries about hanging out with friends, getting good grades, and fitting in with a group of people—not marrying a stranger and creating a home.

However, child marriage is a reality in the world’s 51 least-developed countries.  Half of all girls living in these countries are married before the age of 18, according to the United Nations. Parents arrange the marriage, and the groom can be more than twice the bride’s age.  Girls are ripped from their communities and forced into social isolation. These abrupt marriages sever a girl from her support network—a group of people necessary for helping the girl face the physical and emotional challenges of marriage.

Many cultures view girls as economic burdens, subservient individuals, or family mistakes. Marrying girls off as soon as possible alleviates the household expenses and restores the family’s reputation.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) established that the minimum age of marriage is 18 years old. This is considered the upper limit of childhood, and the individual is fit to decide whether to be married.  Many countries continue to practice child marriage despite proven physical and psychological effects.

World Vision reported that child marriages are increasing due to the increase in global poverty crises. 14 million girls under the age of 18 are married each year.  Child marriages are most prevalent in rural, poor areas and are associated with areas of low education and healthcare.  Polygamy is common, and these marriages are bargaining chips between two parties.

South Asia (46%) and Central Africa (41%) are the top areas for child marriages.  These regions do not monitor the age of spouses carefully.  Girls who live in countries with humanitarian crises are most likely to be subjected to child marriages. Fear of rape, unwanted pre-marital pregnancies, family shame, and hunger are the main motivators for child marriage. Poverty, weak legislation, gender discrimination, and lack of alternative opportunities reinforce these motivations.

Anti-poverty organizations, such as CARE, are working in various countries to combat child marriage.  According to CARE, “As levels of education and economic opportunities increase, so does the average age of marriage.”  CARE mobilizes community organizers, parents, and tribal and religious leaders to lobby against the child marriage law in Ethiopia. Leaders are constructing savings and loans groups to empower families financially. Though child marriage still exists, this will eliminate one major cause of child marriage. Community forums now focus on the elimination of bride price, bride abduction, and child marriage.

Whitney M. Wyszynski

Source: NBC News

World Water Day: Palestine Edition

In honor of the World Water Day, March 22nd, the Thirsting for Justice Campaign has called for solidarity with the Palestinian people and children who lack sufficient clean and safe water. The campaign suggests to all supporters to organize “community teach-ins” to gain factual insight and spread awareness regarding the Palestinians’ challenges under Israeli occupation, specifically their challenges when trying to access clean water since water supply is controlled by the Israeli army. The teach-ins would also push for discussion on the courses of action that must be taken to achieve Palestinian water rights.

As a Thirsting for Justice initiative, along with the Jenin Freedom Theater, “hundreds of Palestinians and internationals in the West Bank” occupied the Jordan Valley and walked leaving their footmarks on this global Water Day; the West Bank demands to be heard and is taking action through its people’s “walk for water justice.”

To join the teach-in action, check out Thirsting For Justice

Leen Abdallah

Source: Thirsting for Justice
Photo: Thirsting for Justice: Visualizing Palestine

Kenyan Elections Delayed, Recount Requested
The party of Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has called for a cessation of vote counting, accusing the results of being “doctored.” Campaign officials are requesting a fresh count, with oversight on all parts of the tallying process. The final results were supposed to be transmitted electronically, but a server malfunction resulted in a complete failure of the digital voting system. As the results are now being tabulated by hand, citizens nervously await an official result in the Kenyan elections.

In Kenya’s first elections since 2007, Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first president, is the front-runner, despite being accused of war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC asserts that in the violent aftermath of the 2007 election, Kenyatta helped to organize attacks against members of different ethnic groups. If elected, his position as Head of State would make the ICC’s case all the more difficult to see through.

Though many politicians are calling for peace, there is no guarantee that peace will last. Violence has flared in recent months, although the overall level of fighting is far below where it has reached in the past. Further reforms, like the new constitution and election procedures instituted after the 2007 violence, are necessary to ensure that all Kenyans can vote freely and peacefully for whomever they feel best represents their interests in the Kenyan elections.

Jake Simon

Source: New York Times

North Korean Prison Camps Uncovered Using Google Earth
Using new Google Earth images, analysts and human rights groups have uncovered visual proof of several prison camps operating in the oppressive North Korean state. Long an unconfirmed and secret program that the country continually denied as foreign propaganda, the regime’s prison camps are now verifiable through high-definition satellite imagery.

The UN has been encouraged by rights groups to investigate the situation that has persisted for nearly 50 years, as there are thought to be nearly 200,000 political and civilian prisoners held in a series of camps – many detained as punishment for attempting to flee North Korea in search of food or work, according to a report by the National Human Rights Commission.

With the release of the latest satellite imagery courtesy of Google Earth, a newly constructed prison camp can be seen in Kaechon, South Pyongan Province, that did not exist when the last images were released in 2006, according to the North Korean Economy Watch website. Analysts were able to determine such details as a 13-mile-long fence, with two checkpoints and six guard posts, and a seemingly nonoperational coal mine.

Reports of conditions inside North Korea’s prison camps have been few and far between, as very few prisoners have ever escaped alive, with little chance of ever leaving the prison at all once they are in. The accounts of life inside, where perceived “enemies” of the regime and three generations of their family can become imprisoned for the rest of their lives, are extremely harrowing. Such stories include prisoners “forced to to survive by eating rats and picking corn kernels out of animal waste.”

Other such conditions include abuse, torture, sexual violence, and disease; analysts suspect that nearly 40 percent of prisoners die of starvation and malnourishment, while those who survive are worked to death in harsh conditions for up to 16 hours per day. Prisoners who attempt to escape and are caught face execution.

The role of Google Earth has played a large part in the increased amount of knowledge that rights groups have available on the prison system. Former prisoners have, with the improvement in imagery that is now high-definition, been able to work with analysts in pinpointing the exact features of the prison camps that they were in, including their barracks and camp execution grounds.

Although the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navanethem Pillay, stated that steps are needed in order to take stronger action against the regime, she also acknowledged that the UN had hoped that the change in leadership would improve the human rights situation in the country. Ms. Pillay stated that the UN will look into creating an international investigation into the North Korean prison camps system since it is clear that the situation is not improving.

Christina Kindlon

Source: The Telegraph

 

Who is Benefiting From Land and Water Grabbing?It is assumed that the already existing gap between developed and developing nations is large and apparent enough that wealthier nations would try and fill this gap and bring these opposite ends closer together. According to an ABC Environmental article, however, wealthy nations are instead competing over ‘land’ and ‘water grabbing’ to appease their growing populations and the “stressed” supply of basic necessities such as food and water. Investors in a foreign land, or better yet, the land-grabbers, are countries and investment firms from biofuel producers to large-scale farming operations (agricultural investors).

Since 2000, the major countries that have contributed to this land purchasing are the U.S., Malaysia, the U.K., China, and the U.A.E. Experts aren’t sure of these investors’ motives but it is clear that they are only focusing on buying land where there is clear access to water.

‘Land grabbing’ is defined by Paolo D’Odorico, a professor at the University of Virginia, as “a deal for about two km2 or more that converts an environmentally important area currently used by local people to commercial production.” According to an environmental study, 454 billion cubic meters sums up the ‘water-grabbing’ per year by corporations on a global scale, which is about 5 percent of the world’s annual water consumption. According to the public database Land Matrix “1,217 deals have taken place, which transferred over 830,000 square kilometers of land” since 2000, with 62 percent of such deals happening in Africa alone.

From 2005 to 2009, during a major food price crisis, land purchases, which fall under a very low level of regulation, skyrocketed. In 2011, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the U.N. released guidelines that advise investors to consider the people and communities whose land is being used. However, such guidelines are viewed as humanitarian concerns and have little enforcement, meaning that they aren’t strict enough to have corporations and investors abide by them or even care for them.

Governments who are interested in and have been leasing and selling land to foreign countries and investors are mainly those in Eastern Africa and Southeast Asia. They are interested in these sales because they want to modernize their farming and believe this is the way to do it. However, the reality is that the resulting development from such ‘land and water grabbing’ depends on the investors’ terms and conditions, as well as their sense of morality.

The main problem is that the majority of these sales are happening in poor countries in which there are high rates of hunger and where resources valuable to the local populations are being purchased by wealthier developed nations or even by private corporations. The main question of the matter is this: Who is benefiting from land and water grabbing? Are these sales helping the local people since it is their land? Or are these purchases only concerned about foreign benefits and the population concerns of developed nations?

– Leen Abdallah

Source: ABC
Photo: Water Governance

Heroes of AdvocacyEvery wrong in the world has been addressed and corrected through some kind of advocacy, the most prominent kind of which is social advocacy. Well-known leaders throughout time from all over the world have led social movements, revolutions, and non-violent protests all in the face of injustice. Here are some of the most influential social leaders; the heroes of advocacy:

  1. Mahatma Gandhi: Named “Mahatma” by one of India’s best-known writers, Tagore; the title ‘Mahatma’ stood for ‘Great Soul.’ It was in South Africa, while serving as an Indian businessman’s legal adviser, that he became aware of European racism and injustice. While in South Africa, Gandhi found himself “politically awakened” and began to use non-violent strategies to fight injustice. He wrote a book about the Indians’ struggles to claim their rights in South Africa. He returned to India in 1915 and found himself involved in several local struggles involving workers and working conditions. He then went on to initiate the non-cooperation movement, advising Indians to be self-reliant and withdraw from British institutions. In February 1922, when Indian policemen were killed by a crowd, Gandhi was arrested, and the movement was suspended. At his ‘Great Trial,’ where he was tried for sedition, he delivered a powerful indictment of British rule. After his release from prison, he worked hard towards maintaining relations between Hindus and Muslims in India. Gandhi was the most prominent figure in his engagement in the constructive reform of Indian society. Gandhi used “satyagraha,” systems of non-violence, to try and make the oppressor and the oppressed identify with one another as humans. Gandhi recognized that “freedom is only freedom when it is indivisible.”
  2. Nelson Mandela: Born in Transkei, South Africa, Mandela joined the African National Congress in 1944 and engaged in resistance against the racist apartheid government of the ruling National Party. The African National Congress sought to create democratic political change in South Africa. In 1956, he was tried for treason. It was during his time in prison on Robben Island, from 1964 to 1982, that Mandela’s reputation became more famous. “He consistently refused to compromise his political position to obtain his freedom.” Upon his release from prison in 1990, he dedicated himself to achieve the goals that were sought after four decades earlier. In 1991, he was elected President of the African National Congress (ANC). He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for his work for the “peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa” – Official Nobel Prize Website
  3. Martin Luther King Jr.: Known for boycotts, demonstrations and civil movements to express civil disobedience, King was the symbol of a nonviolent civil rights revolution. He changed politics. According to The King Center, African Americans achieved “more genuine racial equality” under the leadership of Dr. King with the American Civil Rights Movement than they did before him. King was heavily influenced by his Christian faith and the teachings of Gandhi, both of which guided him to lead nonviolent movements in the 1950s and 60s to achieve African American equality in the United States. Martin Luther King was quoted during his delivery of the “I Have a Dream” speech, saying that African Americans were still not free, that they still lived in poverty and segregation, that they are exiles, and so now they had to “dramatize a shameful condition.” This is precisely what the Borgen Project is doing by fighting global poverty.
  4. César Chávez: The Mexican-American who brought on agricultural reform and whose works led to the creation of the National Farm Workers Association, later named the United Farm Workers. He witnessed the harsh labor conditions that farmers had to endure and the employers’ exploitation of workers: they were unpaid, had poor living conditions in return for their services and had no medical or basic privileges. He organized marches, boycotts and strikes, forcing employers to provide adequate payment/wages to workers and provide them with benefits. Chávez was recognized for his commitment to social justice and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

There are many more social activists or heroes of advocacy who dedicated their lives to social reform and political change by fighting for people’s rights and freedoms. The activists listed above were a few of the most prominent and most influential throughout history.

Today, we’re fighting for a different kind of freedom, although it is not any less important: we’re fighting to end global poverty and free people from the shackles of poverty. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” during his fight for equal rights for colored people in the United States.

With advocacy, we deliver information and vital knowledge to the masses, thereby engaging them and mobilizing them to stand up for an issue and demand justice as the heroes of advocacy did.

– Leen Abdallah

Sources: Gandhi, Nelson Mandela: Biography, Mandela: Nobel Peace Prize, The King Center, I Have a Dream, Nobel Peace Laureates
Photo: Daily Good

Super Bowl Sex Trafficking_opt
Human trafficking is one of the most prevalent, discerning issues of our time. The fact of the matter, which has been professed by organization after organization for years now, is that there are more slaves now than there have ever been in the history of mankind. In the US alone, The Huffington Post has estimated that the industry brings in over $9.5 billion annually.

While this truth is distressing, there is a silver lining. At no point in mankind has there ever been so much support against human trafficking, nor the technology or infrastructural support to combat it, as there is now.

Human trafficking generally implies either forced labor or sex trafficking, the latter occurring in higher frequency around large gatherings of people, where there may be a larger pool of potential clients. An example of such a situation was the Super Bowl XLVII, which passed on February 3rd.

Fionna Agomuoh of The International Business Times writes that there was an “estimated 10,000 women and minors that were trafficked in the Miami area during the 2009 Super Bowl in Tampa, Fla., according to the Florida Commission Against Human Trafficking.” One can only assume that the issue of trafficking around this annual event has only increased in the four years since then.

In anticipation for sex trafficking at Super Bowl XLVII, local businesses, advocacy groups, and law enforcement agencies joined together in a public campaign to support victims and make themselves available to individuals looking to escape the sex work industry by raising awareness in the form of “handing out pamphlets to local clubs and bars detailing how to spot and what to do if sex trafficking is suspected, as well as distributing bars of soap to hotels with hotline numbers etched on them to aid victims looking to escape.”

USA Today also posted a full-page ad against human trafficking prior to the Super Bowl and the “A 21 Campaign, established in 2008, released several Super Bowl-related info-graphics about human trafficking this year.”

Awareness will breed more advocacy on the issue, of course, so while sex trafficking is one of the largest understated issues of American life, much like poverty, arming ourselves and our communities with knowledge and facts about the issue is definitely a step in the right direction.

– Nina Narang

Source: International Business Times
Photo: ChicagoNow

Women UNICEF 2_opt
140 million women across the globe have been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) or cutting, otherwise known as female circumcision. The age-old practice could involve removing the clitoral hood, clitoridectomy, or the removal of the inner labia or outer labia, ensuring pre-marital virginity as well as preventing extra-marital sex. February 6th is the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, an observance that raises awareness of the harmful effects of this practice.

This year marks the 10th commemoration of the declaration of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting since the first conference was held in Addis Ababa in 2003. In 2000, USAID officially introduced the eradication of FGM to its development agenda. Significant development has occurred since, but there is much more to be accomplished.

USAID acknowledges the incredible progress that has been achieved thus far. In 2004, UNICEF presented an important publication, “Changing A Harmful Social Convention: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting,” providing extensive facts and information on the practice while promoting change.  In 2008, UNFPA and UNICEF joined hands to create “Accelerating Change”, a program that strives to fund and implement official policies to affect change. Last year, the UN General Assembly called for states to denounce harmful practices against women and girls, specifically FGM.

Despite the progress made, every year 3 million girls remain at risk of this cruel procedure. The International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation serves to remind us to work towards ending this cruelty that had been disguised as the norm in many societies.

Pimrapee Thungkasemvathana

Source: USAID

Photo: eLearning Africa