Japan’s Indigenous PeopleIndigenous people everywhere have struggled with prejudice, the challenge to keep their cultures alive and the societal pressure to assimilate. They also comprise “15% of the world’s” most extremely impoverished despite only making up 5% of the global population. Now, living predominantly in the prefecture of Hokkaido, Japan, the Ainu are Japan’s little-known native people and have faced all of these challenges since the 14th century. It was not until 1991 that the Japanese government acknowledged the group as an ethnic minority. Furthermore, it was not until 2008 that the government recognized the Ainu as Japan’s indigenous people. While legislation has improved conditions for the Ainu people over the years, problems of government accountability remain. The Ainu Association of Hokkaido continues to defend the group’s rights and culture.

A History of Hardship

The Ainu people’s current circumstances of poverty come from a history of colonialism. During Japan’s Meiji era, which lasted from 1868 to 1912, the Japanese government prioritized settlers’ land rights and disregarded the Ainu’s rights. This disrupted the livelihoods and economic activities of Japan’s indigenous people, who largely relied on fishing salmon and hunting deer. A greater effort to strip the Ainu “of their culture and traditions” took root as well. As part of the government’s forced assimilation efforts, the Hokkaido Aborigine Protection Act of 1899 encouraged Ainu people to shift to an agriculture-based economy, but the land they were relocated to was known to be largely barren.

Japan’s indigenous people are still marginalized. Many reside in lower-income areas of Hokkaido. According to CNN, “High levels of poverty and unemployment currently hinder the Ainu’s social progress.” As of 2013, 44.8% of the Ainu received welfare assistance from the government, 11.7% more than Japan’s total population. Relatively few Ainu attend institutions of higher education.

Support for the Ainu​

Founded in 1946, the Ainu Association of Hokkaido exists to advocate for Ainu rights. In an interview with Minority Rights Group International, Ainu Association of Hokkaido Deputy Head Yupo Abe said that, for many years, Ainu people did not know that the government was exploiting them. This was because their indigenous identities went unacknowledged and many did not have education regarding land entitlement. It was only until the Ainu Association of Hokkaido met with other organizations doing similar work for indigenous groups that it realized the Ainu needed to reclaim their culture and fight for their rights.

Discussions with other native people who had experienced similar cases of discrimination led the Ainu Association of Hokkaido to utilize various platforms. This includes the United Nation’s Working Group on Indigenous Populations. The group lobbied for concrete actions from the government to improve the lives of Japan’s indigenous people.

Pushing for Progress

With the establishment of the Advisory Council for Future Ainu Policy in 2008 and the Council for Ainu Policy Promotion of 2009, the Ainu Association of Hokkaido has had some success in bettering conditions for the indigenous of Japan. A shifting focus to Ainu cultural awareness also stands as a positive trend. Driven by Ainu pressure and economic desire, the Japanese government spent at least $220 million building the Symbolic Space for Ethnic Harmony in Shiraoi, Hokkaido to honor Ainu culture. Though the pandemic led to many delays, the museum and park opened in July 2020.

Some still recognize the need for more work. Hokkaido University law professor, Kunihiko Yoshida, expressed in a BBC interview that the space is not likely to create meaningful change. “The Ainu still cannot fish their salmon and dams are still being built that submerge sacred sites. There’s no self-determination, no collective rights and no reparations. It’s just cultural performance,” he said. However, some Ainu believe that the project is beneficial because of job creation, which could potentially lift some out of unemployment and poverty.

As the ethnic minority of Japan, the Ainu people still struggle with discrimination in multiple ways. At the same time, growing cultural awareness and action suggests a broader desire for change. The Ainu Association of Hokkaido supports the Ainu community, and in time, steps toward progress might spark a national journey toward change.

Safira Schiowitz
Photo: Flickr

COVID Aid

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the tenuous position of large swathes of the developing world as upwards of 100 million additional people could be pushed into extreme poverty this year. Consequently, the invaluable impact of humanitarian aid organizations in providing COVID relief has become clear. One such organization is American Jewish World Service (AJWS). AJWS is a leading Jewish aid organization focused on global poverty and human rights.

AJWS is a major contributor in the humanitarian field, investing more than $30 million annually to improve the lives of the world’s most vulnerable citizens. Using a collaborative, transnational approach, AJWS identifies grassroots organizations in 18 countries around the world to become grantees. However, the relationship between AJWS and its partners is far from simply monetary; the organization has staff on the ground in all 18 countries to provide hands-on support and expertise. In an interview with Sam Wolthuis, the associate vice president of programs at AJWS, says, “We get to know [partners] very well before we even talk about funding and supporting the organizations.”

Four domains make up the main focuses of all AJWS partners: Land, Water, and Climate Justice; Civil and Political Rights; Sexual Health and Rights; and Disaster Response. The latter of these domains encompasses COVID aid. Since the onset of the pandemic, it has proven to be hugely significant.

Filling in the Gaps

AJWS and its partners have attempted to compensate for the insufficiency of governmental actions towards coronavirus. A common shortcoming AJWS has identified is rampant misinformation about the virus, an issue the World Health Organization has dubbed an “infodemic.” In response, AJWS’s staff assembled an infection prevention toolkit for partners to disseminate vital information on the ground. Translated into 10 languages, the toolkit has been delivered via loudspeakers, billboards, and community radio programs.

In addition to quashing misinformation, AJWS’s partners have worked to eliminate more tangible threats. The Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand has created community farming projects. These projects aim to reduce food insecurity and provide additional income for ailing Thais. In India, a tidal wave of coronavirus cases crushed the healthcare system. This has left pregnant women seeking care in limbo. For example, the New York Times published an article this past summer about an Indian woman who died during labor after being turned away from eight hospitals. Sama Resource Group for Women and Health, an AJWS partner, has filed a petition in Delhi’s High Court. This petition aims to prevent such horror stories and ensure pregnant women receive care.

While protecting citizens from the universal dangers and disparities of the pandemic, AJWS has also focused on the plight of the marginalized. For example, the organization has worked with Estrellas del Golfo (“Stars of the Gulf”) to establish community kitchens in LGBTQI communities within El Salvador which suffer from discrimination and violence. Wolthuis (Who specifically is this person?  She was not formal introduced in the context of this paragraph) expresses pride in this essential form of COVID aid. She says this crisis has disproportionately affected these groups, but they have remained a constant focus for the organization.

Fighting for the Vulnerable

AJWS-focused countries such as Uganda have scapegoated and demonized LGBTQI individuals. Homosexuality is criminalized there, and Ugandan authorities have repeatedly conducted mass arrests of such individuals. The latest crackdown occurred when 19 LGBTQI youths staying inside a shelter in the city of Kampala were arrested. “Negligent act to spread disease” is the charge they all face. The Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), a legal aid organization and AJWS partner, mobilized to secure the prisoners’ release. However, obstructionist authorities and strict lockdown procedures stymied them at every turn. Only after a 52-day legal blitz by the HRAPF were the 19 youths released from prison.

Organizations like the HRAPF have had an especially difficult task during pandemic-induced shutdowns. However, their work has arguably never been more important. Take Kenya, for example, where the Pastoralist Girls Initiative (PGI) has been working to empower young girls in the Tana River and Garissa counties for two decades. In response to rising reports of rape, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, and child marriage since the pandemic began, PGI has pivoted its focus toward engagement with local enforcement. By communicating with government officials and judges about cases of gender-based violence, the initiative is working to ensure justice is served for survivors.

Wolthuis says that such flexibility is the norm among partner organizations. This is because AJWS defers those on the ground who determine the most pressing issues demanding attention. “Partners dictate what the gaps are, and what the needs are and how they’re going to solve them. And we support them in their vision to do that.” This vision may have blurred at the onset of the pandemic, but AJWS extended a crucial lifeline to its partners through its COVID aid.

Keeping the Vision Alive

The incredible work of AJWS’s partners during the pandemic obscures the enormous difficulties they have had to battle themselves. The movement-building of AJWS partners typically involves a good amount of face-to-face interaction. This interaction had to move online when the pandemic struck, despite barriers to technology access. AJWS prioritized the safety and economic well-being of partners’ staff first in its COVID aid. Then, they worked to help them re-open digitally by helping with Zoom set-ups and moving advocacy efforts online.

Such adjustments proved to be critical in providing COVID aid as the pandemic unfolded. However, AJWS and its partners have also extended their focus to the long-term. Wolthuis points to rising global hunger and disruptions to vaccine campaigns for other illnesses as effects of the pandemic that could sting for years to come. At the very least, the world’s most vulnerable can rest assured that AJWS will continue to support organizations that tirelessly work on their behalf.

– Jack Silvers
Photo: Flickr

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

Human Rights Violations of the Uyghur Population

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

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

Factories Identified and Company Responses

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

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

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

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

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

The Global Supply Chain

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

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

The End Uyghur Forced Labor Coalition

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

Ending Forced Uyghur Labor

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

– Katherine Musgrave
Photo: Flickr

eradicating rural povertyThe Huanjiang Maonan Autonomous County lies in Guanxi in southern China. A majority of China’s Maonan ethnic group live here in rural villages. Once considered one of China’s most impoverished places, the poverty rate has now dropped to under 2% thanks to efforts by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). By using advanced farming techniques and relocating people to more arable areas, CAS has provided a model for eradicating rural poverty in China.

CAS Goals

Just over 100,000 Maonan live in China, most in small rural villages. About 70,000 of them live in Huanjiang. In the 1990s, Maonan farmers grew mostly corn and sweet potatoes, barely scraping by. The Chinese government identified Huanjiang as one of the most impoverished counties in China.

Maonan villages were located in mountainous, rocky regions known as karst landscapes. These areas are prone to desertification and are unsuitable for farming. CAS started the Kenfu Huanjiang Ecological Migration Pilot Zone in 1996. Its two goals were to relocate people to new villages in areas more suitable for agriculture and to improve the livelihoods of those that refused to relocate.

New Farming Techniques and Solutions

CAS introduced advanced farming techniques that better suit the area. An important change was the shift from farming to livestock. Huanjiang is highly flood-prone so CAS helped plant various grasses that can support animals. Zeng Fuping, a researcher with CAS who has been in Huanjiang since 1994, remarked that “the farmers were unsure initially and they questioned growing something that they could not eat.” However, the results speak for themselves. Income has increased tenfold since the introduction of 200 cattle into the region in 2001. Not only do the grasses support livestock but they also help prevent soil erosion. They have helped prevent widespread desertification, which is a common problem in karst landscapes. This serves as a model for maintaining arable land in karst areas across China.

Eradicating Rural Poverty

The speed of poverty reduction in Huanjiang has been staggering. In 1996, the average resident only earned the equivalent of $45 per year. That number rose to $835 in 2012 and $1600 in 2019.

In 2015, more than 14,000 Maonan people in Huanjiang lived below the Chinese poverty line of $345 per year. This accounted for around 22% of all Maonan peoples living in the county. By 2019, less than 1.5% of Maonan lived in poverty, amounting to 548 people. Due to the efforts of CAS, Huanjiang is no longer an area of extreme poverty in China.

In all of Guanxi, CAS has helped facilitate 400,000 people with relocation to new villages. This includes a majority of the Maonan community. Poverty percentages in Huanjiang have dropped to single digits. Livestock farming has reduced soil erosion and given locals much more disposable income. UNESCO dubbed this strategy the “Kenfu Model” and it is an important example of eradicating rural poverty in China.

– Adam Jancsek
Photo: Flickr

Religious Persecution in China
The idea of a Chinese monoculture is integral to the Communist Party’s control over its citizenry. As a result of the Chinese centralized government, religious persecution in China has arisen as a consequence of the country’s ethnic composition.

Chinese nationals are predominantly Han Chinese (more than 90 percent), while the remaining population is divided into 56 minority ethnic groups—each having distinct cultures and belief systems. As a communist nation spanning an enormous territory, China has strategically excluded these minority groups from its vision of the Chinese nation-state. 

Since assuming power, President Xi Jinping has exerted intensifying pressure over China’s religious and spiritual communities. This affront on global religions—including Buddhism, Christianity and Islam— continues to take place in China. The surveillance and detainment of clergy members and religious dignitaries have accompanied the closure and destruction of churches and monasteries.

In Western China’s Xinjiang province, the Communist Party has begun to corral and ‘re-educate’ the Muslim Uighur demographic under the guise of national security. This targeted campaign against the Uighurs has been the subject of worldwide criticism and stands as a blunt example of China’s disregard for basic human rights.

The Uighur Muslim minority experiences the highest degree of religious persecution in China, primarily because of their proximity to the Middle East and supposed threat to the Chinese Communist Party. Xi Jinping has attempted to curb the potential for domestic terrorism and insurgency in the majorly Muslim province of Xinjiang through a series of legal measures to police, deny and indoctrinate.

Indoctrination Camps

In response to an escalation in anti-government violence in 2014, the Communist Party launched a large-scale indoctrination campaign against the Uighurs. Following an attack that year, the Communist Party expanded its surveillance and grip on the region. Such efforts culminated in the building of a ‘re-education’ facility located in a remote part of the Taklamakan Desert. 

Today, the world recognizes this facility as an internment program; the re-education camp quickly became the site of the most alarming religious persecution in China. Under these oppressive living conditions, Uighurs must renounce Islam and submit to party dogmas. To date, estimates determine that these facilities have detained at least 1 million Uighur Muslims.

Limitations on Movement

Beginning in 2016, the Chinese government imposed a Passport Recall Policy on the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. With the pretense of terrorism prevention, the policy restricts Xinjiang residents from being able to freely travel, especially to zones that it deems high-risk (i.e. the Middle East). When applying for passports, Xinjiang residents are subject to rigorous and invasive bureaucratic procedures not required of citizens hailing from other provinces. These include arbitrary application and passport renewal fees, as well as the processing of biometric data (DNA, blood samples and 3D imaging, etc.). 

Forced Labor

The idea of indoctrination through labor is reminiscent of inhuman labor practices from the Cultural Revolution, which had the intention of bolstering party loyalty. Comparatively, Uighurs and other Muslim detainees released from the Xinjiang camps must work in Chinese factories. Accepting lowly factory jobs is often a condition of release from the camps. In many cases, preexisting restrictions on mobility leave factory jobs—such as textiles and agribusiness—as the only employment options available for those released. As early as April 2018, the local government hatched the factory labor program, aimed at utilizing citizen labor to bring lucrative industries to the region. 

Solutions

While Uighur religious persecution in China has gained international attention the issue persists; there are various ways to aid protection of human rights for the Uighur population.

One way to advocate for the human rights of the Uighur population is to support the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), a nonprofit subsidiary of the Uyghur American Association (UAA). UHRP works to advocate for democracy and human rights in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People Republic of China. The sensitive geopolitics of the region can cause the relief efforts of international human rights organizations to become ineffective. UHRP helps to bolster relief efforts by supporting victims in telling their stories, increasing global media coverage of the religious persecution in China and exerting pressure on the perpetrators of this crisis.

Additionally, with increased awareness in the United States, the U.S. House recently passed an Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act. If enacted, this legislation would direct resources to China that will address human rights infringements and abuses. Supporting endeavors such as these will aid to end arbitrary religious persecution in China.

Elena Robidoux
Photo: Flickr

 

Banning Bull Slaughter Makes Vulnerable Populations Poorer
Earlier this year, the government of Maharashtra, India, decided to ban bullock and bull slaughter. The slaughtering of cows, which are considered to be sacred in Hinduism, had already been prohibited since 1976. This new law has faced opposition from many sectors of society that claim it destroys businesses, makes farmers’ livelihoods more vulnerable, and hurts the very animals it hopes to protect.

Another argument against the law is that is promotes Hindu extremist interests over the nation’s secular principles. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the force behind the new law, argues instead that it protects religious beliefs. However, even one of the BJP’s strongest allies, the Republican Party of India (RPI), has expressed discontent with the law.

Farmers from the state have protested that banning bull slaughter means they can no longer sell their old animals that have outlived their usefulness. Many farmers count on the money made from the sale to pay back loans. In India, where huge numbers of farmer suicides have been a pressing concern, the new law has made farmers’ limited sources of income more precarious.

Some people have even argued that the law will lead to farmers simply abandoning their cattle because they cannot afford to look after them. They will be left on the streets to starve and die, or be smuggled in terrible conditions to Bangladesh, where they will be slaughtered. The very purpose of the law—to protect bulls—would be left unfulfilled.

The law has also eliminated the only type of meat poor people can afford. In India, beef is commonly called the “poor mans’ protein,” as it is much cheaper than mutton or chicken. Buffalo meat, while still legal, is predicted to become more expensive because of a lack of alternatives. In a country where more than half of children under five are malnourished, this ban is feared to increase rates of starvation and sickness.

Specific castes have also been negatively affected. The Qureshis, a Muslim community that has been synonymous with bull slaughter for generations, can no longer practice the only livelihood they know.

The Dharavi leather market has also lost its bearings. Dharavi, one of the biggest slums in Asia, obtained much of its income from its once-thriving leather industry, where workers would make wallets, belts, jackets and handbags. Now, hundreds of workers have been left jobless.

Sources: The Hindu 1, The Hindu 2, The Hindu 3, Times of India, The Independent, Al Jazeera, New York Times 1, New York Times 2
Photo: Stock Photos

UN Reinventing the Approach to European Roma Poverty-TBP
The Roma people are a large ethnic minority living in Europe whose population totals to 10 to 12 million people. Despite the existence of laws aimed at protecting this group of people from discrimination, the Romas experience harsh prejudices. The lack of opportunities to available to them often keeps them below the poverty line. They have low literacy rates, little access to healthcare centers and high rates of hunger.

The countries with the highest percentage of Roma communities are Macedonia, Slovakia, Romania, Serbia, Hungary and Bulgaria. They make up between 7 and 10 percent of the populations of these countries.

Roma people suffer from many health issues, but their access to health insurance is limited. Their cause is further hurt by the high price of healthcare. More than half of Roma households cannot afford prescriptions and about 20 percent say that they have had overnight stays in health centers. (Non-Roma people ranked at 1/3 and about 12 percent, respectively.) Vaccination rates are also low among the Roma, while births outside the hospital are high.

Education is another area where there is a significant lack of support and progress. Because of child marriages, many young girls are taken out of school before they are able to finish. In most of Central and Eastern Europe, about 50 percent of the Roma have, at the very least, a lower secondary education than their non-Roma counterparts. Schools are often ethnically segregated.

The United Nations had a mission to help lower Roma poverty and improve their living conditions. In 2007, the UN opened centers to help the Roma people receive affordable and accessible healthcare and proper education. However, the programs were highly inefficient and slow moving and accomplished little. That is why the UN is out to reinvent the Roma outreach.

After experimenting with three prospective methods in Macedonia to engage the Roma people and to improve their situation, the UN settled on the Roma Centre of the Future.

Using Roma and non-Roma peoples, the centers work to help the Roma people access education, healthcare and other public services. This time, the centers have the skills, knowledge, tools and technology needed to run such an idea efficiently and effectively, with the goal being to reach as many Roma people as possible. The workers help people through complicated paperwork, direct them to opportunities like job trainings and provide useful community programs. There is also a special focus on the elderly, a concentration that did not exist in the earlier programs.

The program is already seeing success. Within the first five months the center reached 820 people, which was more than the old centers used to help in a year! This new, dedicated focus on reaching the needs of the people appears to be working, as the Roma people are seeing the positive effects the centers have on the community and are thus going to these centers for help.

Katherine Hewitt

Sources: EC Europa, UNDP 1, UNDP 2, New Int
Photo: UNDP

minority_groups_in_albania
Since the fall of socialism in 1991, Albania has made great strides in establishing itself as an economic and political power in Europe. The country has joined the United Nations, NATO, World Trade Organization and the Council of Europe. It is poised to join the European Union.

One of the factors holding the country back has been the exclusion of its minorities, primarily the Roma and Egyptians. This exclusion has left 75 percent of Roma and 70 percent of Egyptians categorized as very poor, compared to the 28.8 percent of Albanians with the same rating.

This socioeconomic status is due largely to of a lack of education, employment and basic infrastructure.  This has led many members of these groups to seek wages in the informal labor market, which includes prostitution, women and child trafficking and drug trafficking.

While the government has claimed to include these minority groups in Albania, Egyptians have not been given minority status. The government claims they have not met the criteria necessary. Egyptians must share the same language (other than Albanian), have documentation to prove its distinct ethnic origin or national identity and have distinct customs and traditions or a link to a kinship state outside of the country.

However, the Roma have met these criteria, and, as of 2005, the Albanian government has signed up for the Decade of Roma, a World Bank initiative designed to help in four key areas: education, employment, health and housing and gender and non-discrimination. To date however, the results are not very encouraging, as the number of Roma still labeled as very poor continues to rise.

Against this very bleak picture, several rays of hope have begun to shine on the Roma and Egyptian communities from several organizations. One of these organizations is the United Nations Development Plan, implemented by the Ministry of Social Welfare and funded by the European Union.

These organizations have constructed a project designed to promote social inclusion of Roma and Egyptians through vocational training to increase their employability and strengthen artisan and entrepreneurship skills, especially for women and girls.

The training entailed learning how to cultivate medicinal plants. It was a week-long program where participants were trained how to cultivate, collect and dry medicinal plants. They also learned how to start a business. Additionally, women who owned pieces of land were given sage seeds to help get them started.

Within six months, several of the women who took the course were entrepreneurs employing up to three other women in their businesses. The UNDP recruited sage specialists to assist farmers throughout the process and help them in timing their sales and marketing their product.

Luan Ahmetaj, Director of the Medicinal Plant Institute in Tirana, Albania said, “What makes this intervention unique is the involvement of women in business dominated and run by men. This contributes in empowering those communities.”

There is a huge potential for Albanian medicinal plants. According to the U.S. Agricultural Department, 57 percent of sage imports into the U.S. come from Albania. There are close to 300 members of Roma and Egyptian communities in the regions of Berat, Korca and Vlora that are now benefiting from the initiative, almost half of them women.

Another aspect of this program has been the support of interventions into infrastructure identified by Roma and Egyptian Community Councils, such as kindergartens, road rehabilitations and other interventions. These programs also support the Government of Albania in its efforts to achieve the objectives set forth in the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005 – 2015. It also promotes respect for human rights and appreciation for cultural diversity, as prerequisites for the country’s EU accession.

Frederick Wood

Sources: Minority Rights 1, Minority Rights 2, UNDP, UN Albania, ERRC
Photo: Flickr

doctors_without_borders_flag
The Myanmar government banned Doctors Without Borders (DWB) from operating in one of its most impoverished states, following rumors of ethnic tension.

Most of the disenfranchised Muslim minority reside in the Rakhine State. The government accused the DWB of favoring this minority over its rival group, the Rakhine Buddhists. This tension led to widespread violence, killing 100 people and displacing nearly 140,000 others. The government regards Muslims as “interlopers” from Bangladesh, as opposed to a legitimate minority. President Thein Sein granted DWB permission to resume its work in other regions, but continued its ban on operations in Rakhine.

Presidential spokesman Ye Htut accused DWB of “not following their core principle of neutrality and impartiality.”

Rakhine State government accused the NGO of intentionally fueling tension between the minorities, according to Htut. The perception of bias led to large-scale protests in the state capital against DWB.

The organization responded to these accusations in a statement, asserting “services are provided based on medical need only, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or any other factor.”

This January, DWB released a statement contradicting the government on an alleged massacre in Rakhine. This reportedly “triggered” the ban on its operations in the region. The United Nations report the death of more than 40 Rohingya Muslims, and DWB confirmed treating 22 victims. Wounds occurred at the hands of state security forces, yet the government denounced these claims, reporting the death of one police officer.

Following the ban, the Ministry of Health plans to provide health services for the “whole community.” Myanmar President Thein Sein also dispatched the emergency response workers and ambulances to the region, replacing the DWB clinics.

These services cannot match those provided by the NGO. The national health services rank “among the most rudimentary in Asia,” according to the New York Times. The government also confines Muslims to their villages, preventing the group from receiving medical care.

Banning DWB deprives nearly 750,000 people of proper healthcare.

The NGO acted as the largest provider in northern Rakhine, a region largely populated with Muslim Rohingya. It managed five permanent clinics as well as 30 mobile units. Within these clinics, workers operated an intensive feeding center for undernourished children. Medical professionals report diagnosing more than 20 percent with acute malnourishment.

The government ban forced these centers to close, following the removal of DWB.

The organization also served those living in displaced camps outside the state capital, Sittwe. Tuberculosis, a disease endemic to Muslim neighborhood Aung Mingla, threatens the health of displaced Muslims. HIV and malaria also threaten resident health. With limited medical attention, the supplies of medicine continue to dwindle.

The government prevents these patients from leaving the area, surrounding the camp with “barbed-wire security posts and police officers.”

As head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Myanmar, Mark Cutts expresses concern for the present healthcare shortage. Rather than antagonizing the government, though, the U.N. has chosen “quiet diplomacy.”

For the time, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other organizations can provide care. Myanmar deputy health director Dr. Soe Lwin Nyein plans to accept tuberculosis and HIV medication from DWB. These concessions help patients in the region receive more than the minimum government care, yet negotiations over the medicine distribution appear ongoing.

Cutts plans to coordinate with the government and reinstate DWB “as soon as possible,” protecting the minority from disease. As ethnic tension continues to incite violence, the government banned professionals in the best position to serve its people.

Ellery Spahr

Sources: CNN, New York Times
Photo: Richard Roche