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

Recent Changes and Legislation

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

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

Hong Kong’s Approach to Resolving Human Trafficking

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

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

Protecting Human Rights

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

Madelynn Einhorn
Photo: Flickr

Farming Reform in IndiaToward the end of November 2020, more than 250 million people around the Indian subcontinent protested for farming reform in India. Protestors are pushing back against the three-piece legislation passed by the Indian Parliament which attempts to liberalize the agricultural sector by increasing Indian farmers’ access to bigger markets. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, argues that the recently passed agricultural bills intend to grant farmers autonomy and increase their income. However, Indian farmers fear these laws will threaten their livelihoods by leaving them vulnerable to exploitation by powerful agricultural corporations.

The Indian Agricultural Sector

The agricultural sector is an essential part of the Indian economy, as it generates livelihood for nearly 60% of the Indian population. Despite the vital role of Indian farmers, the agricultural sector only makes up 15-16% of the subcontinent’s GDP, leaving farmers grappling for livelihood. According to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, almost three million farmers have committed suicide in India since 1995. Having one of the highest suicide rates in the agricultural sector, Indian farmers have long suffered despair from tyrannical policies, debt, low income and climate change inducing production risks. On September 28, 2020, the Parliament attempted farming reform in India by passing three bills that the government and Modi claim will benefit farmers’ livelihoods by decreasing financial burdens and increasing profit.

The 3 Farming Acts Passed

Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act

  • Allows for intra-state trading, inner-state trading, electronic trading and e-commerce of produce.

  • Abolishes the imposition of government-determined financial burdens.

Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act

Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act

  • Withdraws the previously determined list of essential commodities.

  • Removes stockholding restriction on essential commodities.

  • Demands that levying of stockholding limit on produce emanates from increased price.

The Reason Behind Protests

With support for farming reform in India from all over the world, hundreds of thousands of farmers and those in solidarity have taken to the streets with a common goal: to have the acts repealed. The laws spark deep worry that transitioning to a free market will enable powerful agricultural businesses to take advantage of the farmers, potentially leading to loss of land, income and autonomy. Indian farmers, who sell their produce at a set rate, are certain that a market-aligned system will solely increase private equities welfare while continuing to forbade domestic benefits. Farmers are also concerned that differences in business objectives could leave farmers at risk of financial consequences from market unpredictability. Finally, farmers are fearful that the abolition of stockholding limits will empower corporations to distort prices for personal monetary reward.

Global Support for Indian Farmers

There is a consensus among Indian farmers that their agricultural sector requires reform. Although the new laws of farming reform in India promise to improve farmers’ livelihoods and freedom, the lack of trust in a market-friendly reform and the government’s incentive has prompted a collective demand for change. As the protestors persist with force, the demand for alternative farming reform in India is being heard by Prime Minister Modi who is beginning to listen to farmers’ concerns. The exploitation of farmers continues to spark global support for farming reform in India from organizations, advocates, politicians and humanitarians until fairness and justice is achieved.

– Violet Chazkel
Photo: Flickr

Period Products Bill in ScotlandOn November 24, 2020, a groundbreaking moment occurred that changed the struggle against period poverty. The Scottish Parliament passed the Period Products Bill in Scotland. This new bill guarantees free access to necessary hygienic period products to all who require them. Member of the Scottish Parliament, Monica Lennon, championed the fight against period poverty in Scotland and played a significant part in passing this revolutionary legislation.

Ending Period Poverty in Scotland

Even with the United Kingdom being one of the world’s wealthiest countries, period poverty remains a recurrent problem. In 2018, more than 20% of those polled in Scotland stated that they either had limited or no access to period products. Another 10% had to sacrifice food and other necessities to afford them. One in 10 experienced bacterial or fungal infections due to a lack of sanitary products. These rates have gone up to nearly one in four during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new Period Products Bill in Scotland practically eliminates these problems. Accessibility to sanitary products must be made by the Scottish Government and organized countrywide. Public restrooms in educational institutions must contain a variety of period products without charge and it also allows oversight over local jurisdictions to ensure enforcement of the law.

Ending Menstruation Taboos

Menstruation has become a stigmatized topic worldwide, despite half the population experiencing it. The dangerous and outdated idea that periods are not appropriate for discussion and seriousness is damaging to those subjected to these taboos.

From South America to Africa, antiquated menstruation views have led to long-lasting negative consequences for those suffering from period poverty. In some cultures, menstruating girls and women must separate themselves from the rest of their community. In Nepal, so-called ‘menstruation huts‘ have dire consequences for women, with local organizations stating that many deaths associated with the practice go unreported.

The importance of ending taboos about menstruation is evident. The Period Products Bill in Scotland is a meaningful step to engage the rest of the world over these unsound presuppositions of menstruation and begin addressing period poverty globally.

Implementing Period Poverty Legislation Worldwide

There has already been worldwide attention brought to the neoteric Period Products Bill in Scotland. Lennon has been fielding communications from leaders and lawmakers around the world, ready to implement similar laws in their own countries. According to Lennon, “Scotland has provided a blueprint and shown how it can be done.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, logistical problems of supplying period products and economic suffering are causing governments to reevaluate the impact of period poverty. Countries with strong infrastructure can utilize Scotland’s approach to combat the worsening situation fast and effectively. The rest of the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia have already taken note of the problem and Scotland’s practical policy.

Ending Global Period Poverty

In underdeveloped countries, Scotland’s lead in the battle against period poverty can pave the way for education and destigmatizing menstruation. Poverty-fighting organizations can create similar international implementation plans in developing nations with little investment. Thanks to Scotland’s leadership, period poverty may soon become as antiquated as the stigmas surrounding it.

– Zachary Kunze
Photo: Flickr

ADVOCATE FOR GLOBAL POVERTY LEGISLATIONThe mission of The Borgen Project differs from many other foreign aid organizations in that it focuses on combatting through ongoing legislation rather than one-time donations to countries in need. In order to make the most significant impact on the world’s poor, it is necessary to call, email and lobby members of Congress to support beneficial foreign policy. With this more complex mission comes the task of becoming an informed advocate for global poverty legislation. Not unlike many vital humanitarian causes, self-education is not only increasingly crucial but increasingly accessible. There are simple ways to become more well-versed in global poverty and foreign policy.

1. Read About Fighting Global Poverty

There is no better time than now to invest in reading informative books about worthwhile topics. Popular books surrounding the topic of global poverty legislation and advocacy include “How Change Happens” by Duncan Green and “Freedom From Want: The Remarkable Success Story of BRAC, the Global Grassroots Organization That’s Winning the Fight Against Poverty” by Ian Smillie. These books offer analyses on the history of grassroots organizations fighting poverty, as well as actionable steps to contribute to these efforts.

It is also vital to read about the intersection of global poverty and social identities, such as gender and race. One such book is Pulizer-Prize winner “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” By Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Reading memoirs is also particularly useful for this. Two notable titles in this category include “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi and “They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan” by Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng, Benjamin Ajak and Judy A. Bernstein.

2. Subscribe to Online Newsletters

For a brief daily dose of education, anyone can subscribe to a foreign policy newsletter from a reputable source. On Foreign Policy’s website, one can subscribe to a variety of free newsletters containing global updates. Some newsletters arrive daily while others arrive weekly. Such newsletters are Editors’ Picks, Flash Points, and Morning Brief. There are also frequent newsletters available from the Center for International Policy, the World Bank, and the Council on Foreign Relations.

3. Follow Global Poverty and Advocacy Instagram Accounts

A picture says a thousand words and many Instagram accounts use vivid photos to convey global poverty and advocacy updates. Many of these photos feature eye-catching graphics containing statistics about global poverty and brief but comprehensive captions always offer context for the images. While social media often contains vapid or fleeting content, these accounts demonstrate how social media can educate anyone willing to follow along. Examples of such accounts are UNICEF, the International Rescue Committee, the United Nations, U.N. Human Rights, and the U.N. World Food Programme.

4. Keep Up with Senators and Representatives

The most direct way to advocate for global poverty legislation is to contact members of Congress on an ongoing basis. Each person has one representative and two senators, which can be easily located using the “Find Your Elected Officials” tool on The Borgen Project website. In addition to subscribing to representatives’ and senators’ newsletters and social media accounts, it is enlightening to do more research on their previous actions for poverty-reducing legislation.

More often than not, there will be a tool on a congressperson’s website to view the bills they have recently sponsored or co-sponsored as well as pages that specify which committees the congressperson resides on. On the U.S. Congress website, there are pages detailing several Foreign Policy Committees, including who the committees consist of. By conducting research, it is easier to determine what any given congressperson’s stance is on global poverty legislation and foreign aid. With this information, one can go beyond the typical call or email and additionally bird-dog or lobby congress with an informed perspective of the congressperson’s past efforts and priorities.

Becoming an informed advocate for global poverty legislation may seem like a massive undertaking but the amount of dedication to the challenge distinguishes true solidarity from fleeting, temperamental advocacy. Using these accessible resources, anyone can learn about the importance of poverty-reducing legislation and aid and play a part in reducing global poverty.

Stella Grimaldi
Photo: Flickr

Kamala Harris' Foreign PolicyJoe Biden’s Vice President pick, Kamala Harris, is a new player when it comes to foreign aid and international relief. A strong arm with U.S./Mexico relations and domestic advocacy, Harris has some experience with addressing poverty. However, the question remains: what could this potential vice-presidential elect bring to the global table? This article will focus on Kamala Harris’ foreign policy. Specifically, her previous commitments to international humanitarian issues and what she outlines as her future focus.

Global Problems, Smart Diplomacy

Kamala Harris’ foreign policy, first and foremost, centers around a single axiom: “Smart diplomacy”. Harris is committed to preventing global conflict and believes that the U.S. is most successful when it stands in support of its global allies. She is an advocate for the ending the conflict in the Middle East, the deconstruction of nuclear arsenals and humanitarian relief efforts in Syria. Furthermore, Harris holds a staunch position on international threats. Abstractly, Harris’ policy could perhaps be described as proactive, rather than strictly reactionary. Regarding the human and financial toll that war often brings, Harris has been vocal and understands the direct correlation between conflict and economic instability. She hopes to reduce both.

Women of the World

As a freshman senator, one of the keystones of Harris’ policy focused on enriching the lives of women across the globe. In this vein, a (paraphrased) statement, “when women do better, we all do better” reflects this aspect of her policy. Harris recently co-sponsored the bill “Keeping Women and Girls Safe from the Start Act of 2020” (s.4003). This legislation’s aim is at reducing gender-based violence and providing sustained, humanitarian support for at-risk women. It is no secret that when destitute women have access to resources, agency and support — their communities flourish.

COVID-19, the Future and Cooperation

Kamala Harris is vocal when it comes to domestic COVID-19 relief. However, that is not to say that she has neglected the global perspective. Harris’ collaboration of the resolution s.res.579 illuminates her stance on what the U.S. needs to accomplish on the global stage. I.e., continued international support, cooperation with scientists across the globe to combat the new coronavirus and relief packages aimed at poorer communities and countries. Kamala Harris also introduced the “Improving Pandemic Preparedness and Response Through Diplomacy Act” (s.4118). This is a comprehensive bill that looks to the future of pandemic response and what will be done to combat and recover from future global pandemics. Notably, Harris’ foreign policy could potentially incorporate such radical legislation.

Africa and Beyond

Kamala Harris’ foreign policy regarding Africa is one that recognizes the continent’s diversity, potential and struggles. Harris has made statements advocating for strengthening diplomatic relationships with all of Africa to “foster shared prosperity” and “ensure global security in the near future”. Harris has also opposed reduced, foreign assistance to Central and South America. Instead, she advocates for greater investments in tackling the root issues of destabilization in Southern America.

Kamala’s Co-Sponsorships

Here is a collated list that takes a deeper look into what Kamala Harris has co-sponsored in recent years:

  1. No War Against Iran Act (s.3159): A bill proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders [I-VT] that would prohibit further expenditures and military activity in Iran.
  2. Global Climate Change Resilience Strategy (s.2565): A bill proposed by Sen. Edward J. Markey [D-MA] created in hopes to address a future affected by climate change and the displacement of climate-refugees.
  3. International Climate Accountability Act (s.1743): A bill, sponsored by Jeanne Shaheen [D-NH] to prevent the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Agreement.
  4. Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2019 (s.1186): Legislation proposed by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin [D-MD] to both address and aid the humanitarian crisis in Burma (Myanmar).

The Outlook, TBD

Kamala Harris’ foreign policy, in principle, is burgeoning but spells positivity and action for tackling some of the world’s greatest issues. Carefully cultivated, diplomatic relationships, pandemic relief and response legislation and a fresh outlook on familiar problems may be a positive step forward.

Henry Comes-Prichett
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

immigration proposal
On July 16, 2019, the White House advisor, Jared Kushner, submitted a new 600-page immigration proposal from President Donald Trump. The administration urged Congress to review and consider the proposal prior to the August Congressional recess.

The proposal’s key aspect establishes a merit-based system for individuals seeking legal entry into the United States, effectively ending legal loopholes in the American immigration system. Kushner acknowledged that though “a 100 percent fix is difficult,” the administration believes its new plan has the ability to fix 90 percent of legal loopholes in immigration legislation.

The American Immigration Crisis

The United States of America has more immigrants than any other country in the world. Forty million people living in the United States came from another country and this number makes up one-fifth of the world’s migrants as of 2017.

Though there is disagreement over the cause of the crisis at the border, there is bipartisan agreement that the situation at the border between America and Mexico is a crisis. In January 2019, a CNN survey found that 45 percent of Americans felt this way, and in July 2019, the survey found that 74 percent of Americans see a crisis at the border. Additionally, the survey concluded that despite partisan divides, there is a majority agreement across party lines supporting a plan to allow some illegal immigrants living in the United States to become legal residents; 80 percent overall agree, including 96 percent of Democrats, 81 percent of Independents and 63 percent of Republicans.

As of May 2019, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was detaining an all-time record of 52,000 immigrants in jails around the United States. Two weeks prior, that number was 49,000, indicating a huge spike in jailed immigrants. The Trump administration made a decision to expand arrest priorities to nearly every undocumented individual in America, and as a result, the number of immigrants in ICE custody in the Trump administration has increased tremendously from the Obama administration’s average of 35,000 immigrants imprisoned by ICE.

Passing the Legislation

Previous legislation has focused on supporting humanitarian assistance and immigration enforcement, but with a goal of ending all legal loopholes, the immigration proposal from President Trump asks Congress to address problems that do not have funding. For example, there is no funding for changing asylum laws, indicating that President Trump’s new immigration proposal could face several hurdles to passage.

The immigration proposal from President Trump comes at a particularly partisan moment in Senate proceedings, following an eruption on the House of Representatives floor over Democrats’ decision to denounce a series of tweets from President Trump. Many believe that White House senior advisor Kushner will face difficulty in gaining bipartisan support for the bill due to the persistently rocky waters between Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

– Orly Golub
Photo: Flickr

Corruption Around the World
Corruption, which Transparency International defines as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain,” is one of the most significant roadblocks facing developing countries today. The World Bank points out that corruption disproportionately hurts the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world, increasing the cost and reducing access to basic services like health care, justice and education. According to a 2017 survey by Transparency International, 25 percent of respondents worldwide said they had to pay a bribe to access a public service within the last 12 months. According to the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, bribery and stolen money drain the global economy of $3.6 billion every year.

This past June 2019, congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN9), along with a bipartisan group of cosponsors, introduced legislation to the House of Representatives designed to crack down on corruption around the world. The bill, titled the Kleptocrat Exposure Act, seeks to expose actors on the international stage who have attempted to undermine democracy or have promoted corruption around the world and to punish those actors with various sanctions. This article will explore the history of U.S. and international efforts to combat corruption around the world, before examining the details of congressman Cohen’s legislation.

The History of Global Anti-Corruption Efforts

In the late 1990s, regional groups of states began to sign anti-corruption treaties. In 1996, a group of Latin American states entered into the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption. Since its adoption in 1999, dozens of African countries have signed the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption. However, the most comprehensive and far-reaching international anti-corruption treaty is the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which went into force in 2005. One hundred and eighty-six countries around the world have ratified the Convention, which has pressured 86 percent of its signatories to adopt tougher anti-corruption measures.

U.S. efforts to fight corruption around the world started with the Foreign Corrupt Services Act, which it enacted in 1977. The Act prohibits U.S. individuals and firms, as well as certain foreign individuals and firms operating on U.S. soil, from making bribes to foreign officials in order to advance a business deal. The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) has worked on the ground with foreign governments to strengthen their ability to resist corruption. For instance, the INL worked with the Ukrainian Ministry of Interior to replace the country’s notoriously corrupt police force with 16,000 new patrol police.

The Kleptocrat Exposure Act

Steve Cohen introduced the Kleptocrat Exposure Act to the House of Representatives on June 24, 2019. The Act, which has four Republican and two Democratic co-sponsors, has entered the House Judiciary Committee for debate and has yet to enter to the House as a whole. The Act primarily aims to amend another piece of legislation called the Immigration and Nationality Act. In its current form, the Immigration and Nationality Act generally keeps information about visa refusals confidential, but with certain exceptions, such as when information about an immigrant’s visa status is necessary in cases going before a court.

However, this amendment would allow the Secretary of State to release information to the public regarding visa refusals to foreign individuals who have committed human rights violations or corruption. Under the Kleptocrat Exposure Act, the Secretary of State’s release of information about an individual’s visa refusal would have to be based on credible evidence that:

  • The individual carried out “extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” against people trying to promote democracy or expose corruption within their country.
  • The individual acted as an agent for a person described above.
  • The individual himself was a government official in his/her country who participated in some act of corruption, such as “the expropriation of private or public assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, bribery, or the facilitation or transfer of the proceeds of corruption to foreign jurisdictions.”
  • The individual provided technological, financial or material support for one of the acts of corruption described above.

According to Skopos Labs estimates, the bill only has a three percent chance of becoming reality. However, the fact that this legislation has at least some bipartisan support could be a sign that U.S. lawmakers might be starting to recognize the U.S.’s role in exposing and punishing human rights abusers and kleptocrats. Even if the legislation fails in Congress on its first try, the Kleptocrat Exposure Act could just be the first step towards more sustained policy efforts to get the U.S. more involved in cracking down on corruption around the world.

– Andrew Bryant
Photo: Flickr

Combating Global Corruption
Cosponsored by six congressmen, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) re-introduced the Combating Global Corruption Act of 2019 on May 2, 2019. The bill requires the Department of State to rank countries into three tiers by how the country complies with the anti-corruption standards established in section four of the bill. This bill previously died in the 115th Congress. However, the 2019 re-introduction has already proven to be more successful. In mid-July 2019, the Senate placed the Combating Global Corruption Act of 2019 on its legislative calendar.

Cosponsor Sen. Young says, “I am proud of this bipartisan effort to combat corruption around the world by standing with the world’s most vulnerable and holding those in power responsible for their actions.” Global corruption is a direct threat to democracy, economic growth, national and international security. It increases global poverty, violates human rights and threatens peace and security.

Corruption and Global Poverty

Bribery negatively impacts literacy rates and access to adequate health and sanitation services. Eight times more women die during childbirth in places where over 60 percent of the population report paying bribes compared to countries with rates below 30 percent. Bribery significantly increases the costs of services like education and health care while decreasing a family’s disposable income. For example, in Mexico, the average poor family spends one-third of its income on bribes. Some families must use the income meant for school or dinner to pay a bribe to local law enforcement.

Corruption and Human Rights

Article six of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”

However, UNICEF reports that every five seconds, a child under the age of 15 dies of generally preventable causes. Over five million of these deaths occur before the age of five due to lack of water, sanitation, proper nutrition and basic health services. Impoverished families living in corrupt communities often do not have access to these services. Therefore, they suffer from higher rates of child mortality. Children are 84 times more likely to die before their fifth birthday in Angola, the sixth most corrupt country in the world, than Luxembourg, the 10th least corrupt country. Corruption denies children their right to life.

Peace and Security

Transparency International’s report “Corruption as a Threat to Stability and Peace” found that corruption fuels conflict and instability. Consequently, more than half of the 20 most corrupt countries have experienced violent conflict. Iraq and Venezuela have violent death rates above 40 per 100,000 individuals.

Further, one of the most profitable forms of corruption is human trafficking. UNICEF estimates that human traffickers generate $32 billion by smuggling approximately 21 million victims each year. Human trafficking occurs in unstable environments where corrupt officials allow criminal activity to persist. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that addressing human trafficking and combating global corruption together will generate better results.

Combating Global Corruption Act of 2019

The Combating Global Corruption Act of 2019 will establish a three-tiered system of countries by their level of corruption and efforts to combat injustices.

  1. Tier one includes countries complying with the minimum standards stated in section four of the bill.
  2. Tier two includes countries attempting to comply with the minimum standards in section four but are not succeeding at the level of a tier-one country.
  3. Tier three includes countries to which the government is making little, to no effort to comply with the minimum standards in section four.

The minimum standards set expectations about national legislation and punishments to deter and eventually eliminate, the corruption inside a country’s borders. The second part of the Combating Global Corruption Act sets forth a procedure to conduct risk assessments, create mitigation strategies and investigate allegations of misappropriated foreign assistance funds to increase the transparency and accountability for how the U.S. provides foreign assistance to tier-three countries.

Sen. Cardin has four points of focus:

  1. Fighting corruption must become a national security priority.
  2. The U.S. government must coordinate efforts across agencies.
  3. The U.S. must improve oversight of its own foreign assistance and promote transparency.
  4. The U.S. can increase financial support for anti-corruption work by using seized resources and assets.

According to Sen. Cardin, the Combating Global Corruption Act of 2019 “recognizes the importance of combating corruption as a hurdle to achieving peace, prosperity and human rights around the world.”

– Haley Myers
Photo: Flickr

Democracy in Cambodia
Cambodia is a country in Southeast Asia that has struggled to maintain a robust democracy for nearly its entire history. For decades, military coups and civil war have made democracy difficult to implement in Cambodia. Generally, the international community has struggled to find a way to successfully institutionalize democracy within the country. Back in January 2019, U.S. congressman Ted Yoho introduced the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019 in order to deal with this problem. However, before delving into the details of the legislation, it is important to understand that democracy in Cambodia has a troubled history.  Furthermore, it is essential to understand how those troubles have prompted a response from U.S. lawmakers.

History of Democracy in Cambodia

Prime minister Hun Sen is a key piece in understanding why democracy has struggled to firmly take hold in Cambodia. He became prime minister of Cambodia in 1985. At the time, various armed factions had plunged the country into civil war.

In the early 1990s, a massive United Nations peacekeeping force attempted to disarm and bring ceasefire between the various factions, run national elections and promote democracy in Cambodia. Nearly 20,000 military, police and other personnel made up the force.

In 1991, the Paris Peace Accords officially brought the conflict to an end, which outlined basic protections for human rights. The agreement also promoted free and fair elections within the country.

The 1991 agreements led to the creation of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). The UNTAC facilitated national elections in 1993. During these elections, guerillas carried out violent attacks on U.N. peacekeepers. The Hun Sen-led Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) engaged in a massive campaign of violent intimidation against people who might vote against them.

The royalist Funcinpec party won the majority of seats in the National Assembly. Norodom Ranariddh, the son of the former Cambodian King Sihanouk, led the party. Hun Sen and the CPP did not accept the results of the election. As such, they were able to force their way into a power-sharing agreement. This ultimately allowed Sen to serve as deputy prime minister alongside Ranariddh.

However, this agreement broke down in 1997 when Hun Sen seized power from Ranariddh in a coup. Cambodia then elected him prime minister in the following elections. The CPP would go on to win elections in 1998, 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2018. In order to preserve his grip on the country, Hun Sen has wielded increasingly autocratic power to crush the opposition. In 2017, authorities arrested the leader of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), the leading opposition party to the CPP, on trumped-up charges of treason. Two months later, the Supreme Court suspended the CNRP entirely. In the 2018 elections, which international observers considered illegitimate, the CPP won more than 100 of the 125 contested seats in the National Assembly.

The Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019

Following Hun Sen’s crackdown on dissent prior to the 2018 elections, U.S. lawmakers became increasingly vocal about promoting democracy in Cambodia. Ted Yoho has been chief among these lawmakers. He is a Republican congressman representing Florida’s 3rd congressional district.

Yoho introduced the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2018 during the 115th Congress. The bill managed to pass in the House, but the Senate did not pass it. Yoho re-introduced the bill during the 116th Congress as the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019. Five Democrats and four Republicans co-sponsored the bill.

According to its description on GovTrack, the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019 aims to “promote free and fair elections, political freedoms, and human rights in Cambodia.” Specifically, the bill would authorize the president to impose various sanctions on Cambodia’s security, military and government senior officials. It would also authorize sanctions on those who might be undermining democracy in Cambodia and controlled by said individuals. The International Emergency Economic Powers Act outlined these sanctions. It includes economic sanctions such as asset freezes and visa restrictions. Penalties for undermining democracy would be the same as those under the IEEPA, which can reach fines of up to $1 million.

There is a 4 percent chance that Cambodia will enact the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019. This is an estimate according to Skopos Labs. However, Congressman Yoho is still confident about the bill’s prospects. In a phone interview with VOA Khmer, Yoho said, “We had a lot of bipartisan support last year and I think you’ll see the same amount this year…”

U.S. Support of Democracy in Cambodia

Overall, the fact that the legislation is drawing support from across party lines is an encouraging sign that the U.S. is willing to promote democracy in Cambodia. Additionally, there is a possibility that the U.S. could pressure the Hun Sen regime to put an end to its autocratic abuses of power.

– Andrew Bryant
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Poverty in Central America
Recent news has increasingly mentioned the Northern Triangle, which includes Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and its migration crisis. Each of these countries have economic systems that have similar financial agreements with outside countries. These 10 facts about poverty in Central America will identify issues, solutions and trends that lead back to Central America’s poverty crisis.

10 Facts About Poverty in Central America

  1. The Economy: The political economy of Central America has parallelled that of the world for the past five decades. A combination of factors such as a vulnerable bureaucratic system, a shifting population and aggressive globalization are causing Central America to experience gentrification on a national level, creating more significant gaps between economic classes.
  2. Climate Change: Changes in nature such as unusually warm temperatures, nutrient-poor water and the comeback of the southern pine beetle are occurring throughout the region of Central America. This insect is a result of a change in climate where the ocean temperature rises significantly, placing additional demand on presently strained water reserves.
  3. Population: In the past five decades, Central America’s population has continued to increase with the most considerable change occurring up to the mid-1970s, after which the difference in community numbers became highly sporadic. As the population continues to increase, resources like infrastructure and the economy struggle to match demand. As a result, the levels of poverty and extreme poverty have increased by approximately one percent between 2014 and 2017 and extreme poverty increased two percent between 2014 and 2016. Congresswoman Alicia Barcena mentioned the need for public services such as social security and labor inclusion, and how pairing these resources with increased wages could lessen the amount of poverty.
  4. Legislation: Central American countries are making efforts through previous legislation to alleviate their economic hardships. Since 2004, the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement has promoted stronger trade and stability throughout these regions. FTA reduces the barriers that countries previously had to access U.S. exports. As a result, traded goods all originate between Mexico and Canada with the exceptions of agricultural commodities. These areas give considerable attention to the conditions and the rights of workers in their countries. Countries are currently updating NAFTA to address additional concerns such as how to verify labor standards and eliminate the time restraint on labor violations.
  5. Clean Water Accessibility: Nicaragua is the only country in the region that has substantial access to waterways but the surrounding countries, like Honduras, Guatemala and Peru, do not due to the steep terrain that can make up significant portions of their countries. These collections of water are rarely safe for consumption even if they are accessible. For many households, accessing water is a timely chore that can take hours traveling back and forth between sources of water and homes, and limit people’s ability to attend work or school. For example, around 63 percent of Honduras’ population is living below poverty and those who live in rural areas work as farmers; as a result, their earnings rarely go to education, but rather daily tasks like water collection. To help with water accessibility, Doc Hendley started Wine to Water. Wine to Water is a nonprofit organization that works to bring clean water to underserved communities. It has served over half a million people in over 300 communities, across five continents. To date, it has worked in Honduras within eight communities and aided over 11,000 people.
  6. Literacy: Many regions have limited water supplies that are safe or close in the distance, meaning that in a single day, a trip for a container of water takes several hours. As a region, Central America has lower literacy rates with an average of 79.4, compared to the global average of 83.7. The countries in Central America with the highest literacy rates are Costa Rica and Panama, while the country with the lowest is Guatemala.
  7. The Northern Triangle: The Northern Triangle is a subregion in Central America between El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. These countries have a secure connection with each other economically due to legislation that passed during the 1980s and 1990s. The majority of those changes, however, have had macroeconomic effects on the region leaving large portions of the population enduring unequal access to resources and encouraging many to migrate elsewhere, working against stimulating its economy. The House Committee of Foreign Affairs introduced legislation to address the causes of migration and authorized $577 million in foreign assistance for the years 2020.
  8. Women in Central America: Central American women are facing challenges to raise their economic status while being met with social obstacles. For example, some women in El Salvador meet with sexism, fragile protection and few rights. These challenges, along with limited assets, the possibility of extortion and insufficient education about business management and finances make some businesswomen wary of growing or succeeding with their activities.
  9. Migration: Many people have made efforts to migrate to other countries due to the rising concern of survival. Droughts, economic instability, increased violence between gang members and civilians, corrupt legal systems and a weak government have made daily life challenging.
  10. Violence: The violence in Central America has been on the rise for decades, causing hundreds of thousands of migrants out of the region. Of those who remain in the area, the violence, extortion and corruption are frequent. Legislation such as the Global Fragility Act of 2019 prevents and addresses the primary causes of violence in various countries.

These 10 facts about poverty in Central America emphasize the point that poverty is a broad issue with a number of solutions. While situations in Central America may seem dire, the efforts by nonprofits like Wine to Water and legislation like the Global Fragility Act of 2019 should aid in improving the area’s conditions.

– Kimberly Debnam
Photo: Flickr