Looting in South AfricaIn early July 2021, South Africa experienced deadly riots and mass-scale looting in response to the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma. The Wall Street Journal reported on July 16, 2021, that at least 212 people have lost their lives, with thousands arrested during the civil unrest. Authorities dispatched the South African military to combat the violence and destruction. The riots were particularly intense in the KwaZulu-Natal province where Zuma’s ethnic group, the Zulus, makes up 80% of the population. COVID-19 caused the South African economy to enter a recession in 2020, putting the country in a vulnerable economic state. The recent looting has not only caused more damage to the already vulnerable economy but has also led to food and fuel shortages, exacerbating poverty in affected areas.

Origins of the Riots

Jacob Zuma was arrested on July 7, 2021, after refusing to testify in court on alleged corruption in the African National Congress. The former president led the country from 2009 until his resignation in 2018 under the pressure of corruption allegations. The African National Congress (ANC) has been in power every year since the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994. However, the political party’s support waned over the last two decades. The response to Zuma’s arrest reveals the factionalization within the ANC as well as the amount of support the former president still commands. Current President Cyril Ramaphosa made the decision to send in the military to quell the riots after the South African Police Services struggled to do so.

Rioting Exacerbates Poverty

The end of apartheid did not usher in an era of equality in South Africa. South Africa consistently ranked as one of the most unequal countries in the 21st century, with a Gini coefficient of 0.63 in 2015. According to the World Bank, “High inequality is perpetuated by a legacy of exclusion and the nature of economic growth, which is not pro-poor and does not generate sufficient jobs.” The recent looting in South Africa highlights the desperation that many impoverished South Africans face and the zero-sum nature of inequality’s violent outcomes.

The rioting disrupted supply chains and caused food and fuel shortages that hurt impoverished South Africans. Distributors and suppliers halted operations in fear of the violence, destruction and theft arising from the riots. Many supermarkets and grocery stores were emptied by looters, forcing stores to close their doors and leaving many South Africans without a source of food. In some suburbs, no stores were operational at all.

Even the South African National Blood Services facility was not spared as looters ransacked the Queensmead Mall center on live television. The riots forced a number of facilities in the Kwazulu-Natal province to close, impacting the “movement of blood and samples to SANBS processing and testing facilities, among other functions of the blood bank.”

Looters went as far as ransacking humanitarian aid organizations such as Food Forward SA. The organization, which provides food aid to vulnerable South Africans, had to temporarily close, leaving 125,000 vulnerable people without food. Still reeling from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the South African economy now faces another setback due to the recent political riots.

The Future of South African Civic Society

Like many countries around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic accentuated South Africa’s social cleavages. As a country with an apartheid history, racial and ethnic tensions were also apparent in the riots and looting. Community militias, private security contractors and even citizens themselves have taken up arms against the looters to protect their lives, businesses and property.

While the recent riots display the instability of South Africa, the unrest has also highlighted the humanity still present. The riots, lasting roughly a week, have since died down. South Africans of all backgrounds have been working around the clock to clean up the streets and repair the destruction caused by the riots. Activists have taken to social media to organize volunteers to repair communities and heal South African civic society. The hashtag #CleanUpSA has gained traction on Twitter as the country comes together to rebuild in the wake of violence.

Organizations such as Gift of the Givers are working to provide food parcels to areas impacted by food shortages. Give of the Givers also provided food packages to health workers so that they “could concentrate on their patients and not stand in long queues to access groceries.”

With reparation and restoration efforts underway, South Africans stand as a united front to recover and rebuild in the aftermath of the riots and looting in South Africa.

Will Pease
Photo: Flickr

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

History of Las Damas de Blanco

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

Overcoming Barriers

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

US Recognition

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

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

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

Samantha Silveira
Photo: Flickr

Farmers' Protests in IndiaOn January 21, 2021, Jai Bhagwan Rana, aged 42, committed suicide by digesting Sulphas tablets during an ongoing protest near New Delhi, India. In his suicide note, he wrote about the current fight to protect Indian farmers’ rights from three new agriculture bills signed by India’s parliament. The note states “The government says it is a matter of only two to three states, but farmers from all over the country are protesting against the laws. Sadly, it is not a movement now, but a fight of issues. The talks between the farmers and the center also remain deadlock.” The farmers’ protests in India have received international attention as people look to protect the rights of farmers in India.

Farmers’ Protests in India

The protests have escalated since the bill signings in late September 2020, with major marches to the capital city of New Delhi following in late November. Violence has disrupted between the stoic farmers and paramilitary troops armed with water cannons and tear gas guns. Mental health counselors have been disbursed to the protest sites and have reported that farmers are burdened with hypertension, anxiety and trouble sleeping and are afraid of losing their homes and their families. Sanya Kataria, a clinical psychologist, reports that “the farmers are not being heard so there is frustration and aggression,” also adding that her patients regularly report feeling anxious.

Violence and Conflict

Five major highways surrounding New Delhi are now filled with protester camps fighting their way through police since November 2020 and thousands of farmers surrounding the northern regions of India settled within the state’s borders. The farmers have rations of food with cooking equipment and shelter supplies on-site and have propped up microphones and stages to keep their mission potent.

Farmers broke the two-month peaceful protest on January 26, 2021, breaking through law enforcement barricades by mobilizing 10,000 protesters on tractors as well as horses and storming into India’s most important 17th-century landmark, the Red Fort. Protesters wielded ceremonial swords, ropes and sticks, overwhelming the police force with their strength in numbers. Meanwhile, India was celebrating Republic Day, a holiday that exemplifies the country’s strength in military and culture with the attendance of important leaders. The casualties injured more than 300 police officers. Reportedly, one protester was killed by his own tractor and many farmers were bruised and bloodied.

The 3 Farming Bills

The three bills that were approved in early September 2020 were rushed through parliament by the Modi government.

  1. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price and Farm Services Bill. The primary purpose of this act is to form contracts between privatized businesses and farmers and legally allow companies to have control of agricultural remuneration, transportation and methodology. Protesters are weary that corporate investors would simply dominate production and exploit farmers through legal clauses.
  2. The Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill. This bill takes agricultural produced trade outside of India’s state-mandated restrictions, allowing food to be sold outside of mandis (food markets) to cold storage, warehouse, processing units and more. Farmers will be able to do direct marketing, eliminating intermediaries, and therefore, securing higher prices for produce. However, this bill cuts ties between government and farmers, releasing all businesses into competitive markets and cuts farmers from government subsidies or procurement in case of low or fluctuating market demands.
  3. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill. This act removes particular commodities from a federally approved requirement list, which is predicted to boost farmer revenue and ultimately raise retail prices on non-essential items. The bill specifies that non-perishable items can only be deemed essential if the market price rises 50% and perishable items will be essential if the market price rises 100%. This can lead to hoarding, black market activity, and ultimately, raises food prices for everyone.

Support for the Rights of Farmers in India

More than 50% of the population in India works in the agriculture sector, and in 2019, at least 10,281 citizens ended their lives, mostly due to bankruptcy and debt. The protest continues internationally by relatives and families of Indian farmers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and more, demonstrating their frustration outside of embassies. Since December 2020, millions of international Indian protesters have answered the call to cause. Non-resident Indians have been helping protesters by sending money, arranging transportation and sending rations for the farmers camping outside of New Delhi.

Influencers like Rihanna and Greta Thunberg have used social media to show support for the farmers’ protests in India. The Indian government has banned more than 250 Twitter accounts, blaming specific tweets and hashtags as a “motivated campaign to abuse, inflame and create tension in society on unsubstantiated grounds.” Since the beginning of the protest, 60 farmers have died in just 40 days from illness, suicide and the blistering cold. Yet, a protester named Kuldeep Singh forebodes that “We will sit here for the next three years. We will sit till the elections, till the laws are scrapped.”

Matthew Martinez
Photo: Flickr

Farming Protests in India
Nearly 150 million Indians rely on farming to make a living. The farming protests in India started when the Indian government passed new laws that could negatively affect small farmers, leading farmers to band together in protest.

The New Government Laws

Government involvement in agriculture, which has included a minimum price guarantee for certain crops, emerged to help India overcome the 1960s hunger crisis. A major drought that hit the country between 1966 and 1967 caused the hunger crisis. The Indian government set the food pricing guarantee in place in order to allow India to be able to feed itself with less support from other countries. These laws were in place until 2021.

This support guaranteed a minimum amount of money for certain produce, but roughly 60% of farmers felt that it was not enough anymore. In addition, many designated markets with governmental price protection have become corrupt with private sellers from larger corporations being able to lower food prices below the standard. This has forced smaller farmers to cut their guaranteed prices and take serious revenue losses.

In late 2020, the government passed three new bills known as The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020. These bills have the intention to minimize government involvement in agriculture and further open up the market for private investors.

Supporters of the laws claim they will free farmers from government prices and allow them to be more independent. Farmers, however, fear that the loss of government involvement will leave them at the mercy of large corporations they cannot compete with.

The Protests

Protests against the proposed laws began outside of New Delhi on November 26, 2020. Farmers, many from the Sikh religious minority, demanded that the Indian government change the law. Sikhs have predominantly relied on agriculture since the government prices have taken effect. Protestors took action on December 20, 2020, taking down hundreds of telephone wires, protesting the fact that large companies such as Reliance industries and the Adani group were joining the large contract farming business.

On January 26, 2021, India’s Republic Day, farmers organized a 100 km tractor protest. The government tried to prevent the protest from happening, enacting laws to prevent the protest. Some states even stopped the sales of tractor fuel to help mitigate the situation. These efforts did not deter the protestors, who continued to march down the streets.

These protests have been extremely symbolic, demonstrating to the government the need to support the country’s struggling working/lower classes. But the protests soon became violent. Hundreds of farmers, some still on tractors, dismantled police barricades and charged police with traditional weapons. Police tossed tear gas at the crowd and online videos showed police beating protestors with batons. Reports determined that 300 officers experienced injury and one protestor died.

The Importance of the Farming Protests in India

The protestors show no sign of stopping until India’s government meets their demands for more government protection. The farming protests in India aim to promote equality.

– Claire Olmstead
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

Women's Rights in Sudan
Public discourse surrounding political, human and women’s rights in Sudan is experiencing a major shift. Issues of political and social participation and freedoms have been at the forefront of Sudanese protests in recent years. Women have played a major role in breaking down norms and building up a new female identity.

The Protests

Sudan still faces major internal conflict due to the secession of South Sudan and the ensuing conflict in 2011. In recent years, the role of women and their rights has come into question for the Sudanese people. Women in Sudan have specifically felt subjugated due to legal regulations and celebrated when the country eradicated these laws.

A key facet of these issues is class. Upper-class women wear different clothes than poorer women in Sudan. This discrepancy is not only troubling but deeply rooted in socio-political inequity. BBC reported that “in recent years it was common to see rich Khartoum women wearing trousers in public—while those targeted by the morality police were often poorer women from the marginalized areas on the periphery of this vast country.”

The Reason

The Global Fund for Women outlines the varying causes for many of the protests in Sudan. Some of the protests took place at military headquarters. The protestors staged a sit-in and called for “civilian rule, women’s rights and an end to the nation’s civil wars.”

Some of the specific regulations that women want to change are in regard to their physical appearance. Some examples Sudanese would like to change include how they must dress or cover their hair. Breaking any of the current rules can result in harsh and demeaning punishments. GFFW reported that “thousands of women have been sentenced to floggings under the laws, with poor and minority women particularly affected.”

Violent Response

The protestors filling the streets are primarily women, an estimated 70%. These women come from many backgrounds ranging from students to housewives to street traders. This diverse group of females march the streets while chanting, clapping and singing. Amidst the clamoring for change, human rights violations also occur.

There was an increase in violent attacks during many of the protests in favor of women’s rights in Sudan and the ending of the civil conflict. There have been instances of rape, disfigurement and burnings. The military more subtly uses sexist language and insults as another weapon against those protesting for women’s rights in Sudan. Human Rights Watch asserts that this retaliatory violence “escalated following the Arab uprisings, the secession of South Sudan in 2011, Sudan’s economic downturn and the proliferation of new wars in southern Kordofan and Blue Nile.”

Looking Forward

The push for women’s rights in Sudan is progressing forward and incorporating the issues of class and poverty. The country now realizes that the need for comprehensive human rights laws (and specific laws protecting women) is urgent.

The women’s movement is strong but needs continued organizational support. There are few laws currently in place to protect women and children and this must change. Protests, as well as the documentation of human rights violations, are not enough. The government needs to create change and protect its citizens. Women, just like all other citizens, deserve human rights.

Kiahna Stephens
Photo: Flickr

Women's rights in India
India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is the product of a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) effort to formulate strict guidelines on the question of who is is not an Indian citizen. The CAA has damaging effects on women’s rights in India.

In December 2019 this harmful legislation became law. Two days after it passed through the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s parliament, it was approved by the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of India’s parliament. To fulfill a BJP campaign promise, Indian President Ram Nath Kovind swiftly signed the CAA into law.

Protests

The CAA became law on December 12, 2019. Protests began immediately. On December 16, 2019, women gathered at Shaheen Bagh, a neighborhood in South Delhi, to protest the CAA.

These protests continue today, although tactics have shifted as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Protesters like Kanchan Yadav have utilized online channels in ongoing protests against the CAA. A highly controversial law, the CAA has devastating implications for India’s Muslim minority, as well as for women’s rights in India.

The Effect of the CAA on Women’s Rights in India

In order to secure one’s status as a citizen, the CAA requires Indians to provide scrupulous documentation proving that he or she has been an Indian citizen since before March 25, 1971, or that one’s family claims citizenship back to that date. Many Indian women lack such documents for various systemic reasons. For example, of the total number of child brides in India, half were married before the age of 15, prior to the age at which they would have begun what Americans think of as secondary education.

Illiteracy disproportionately affects Indian women compared with Indian men. Just over half of all women in India are literate, whereas the literacy rate of Indian men surges to over 80% of the male population. This disparity contributes to circumstances in which Indian women are more susceptible to unemployment, poverty and hunger than their male counterparts.

In rural areas, Indian women are often unemployed or underemployed. Less than 10% of the total number of households in India are headed by women. These factors contribute to the looming reality that when the BJP run government comes looking for proof of citizenship, many women will be unable to provide the required documents. Indian women whose citizenship is revoked as a result of BJP policy will lose their right to property and their right to vote.

Global Solidarity With Protests in India

In India, protests against the CAA are unrelenting. Indian women have rightfully identified the threat that the CAA poses to their already unsteady status in Indian society, and protests continue throughout the country and in the digital sphere. These protests are a big step in defense of women’s rights in India. From Shareen Bagh to San Francisco to South Africa, the call to civil disobedience resounds.

Taylor Pangman
Photo: Wikimedia

 

Protests in Belarus
Often considered the last dictator of Europe, Alexander Lukashenko has been the autocratic leader of Belarus since 1994. After Belarus split from the Soviet Union, it prospered better than most other Soviet republics. Lukashenko effectively tackled extreme poverty. But Belarus’s economy suffered due to its reluctance to privatize and its reliance on Russian subsidies. However, lawmakers are apathetic of the wellbeing of the majority due to corruption. In response, tens of thousands of citizens, unhappy with the current systems, participated in protests in Belarus. Protesters demanded the current leader step down and allow for free and fair elections.

Poverty in Belarus

Despite suffering the economic effects after 1991, Belarus has made leaps in poverty reduction from 2003 to 2013. As of 2018, the poverty rate is at 5.6%, compared to 41.9% in 2000. However, much of the market is dependent on Russian energy, so recent subsidy slashes and rising gas prices jeopardize the Belarusian economy. Additionally, since the days of Soviet power, few free-market reforms have worked in the economy, hindering growth.

Although Belarus’s poverty rate is decreasing, the median income remains low and stagnant for the majority of the population. The average Belarusian adult possesses a wealth of about $1,500, lower than a Kenyan or Nepalese citizen. Nearly 10,000 experience food insecurity and social protection programs are ineffective. Unemployment relief is only around $12 to $24 and less than 10% of unemployed individuals receive these benefits.

Further, inequality in Belarus continues to rise. Authorities have shifted the effects of the economic crisis away from the wealthiest to ordinary people through policies, such as higher taxes and a raised retirement age. Many wealthy people have managed to avoid taxes altogether. To exacerbate the issue, 10% to 25% of employed Belarusians work in a shadow economy, meaning the state is unable to accurately track sales and loses tax revenue. In response, Belarus has attempted to create unemployment taxes, causing an uproar. However, authorities are dismissive of the people’s requests, believing Belarus’s autocratic system shields them from consequence.

Citizen Response

In response to the corruption and subsequent poverty in Belarus, upwards of 100,000 people have taken to the streets in massive protests and walkouts. They have been demonstrating outside Lukashenko’s palace for weeks, demanding he steps down. They claim that the August 2020 election was rigged in favor of long-time president Lukashenko with an 80% win despite an approval rate of only 24%.

Initially, the protests in Belarus were met with violent crackdowns. Riot police injured hundreds of people while using stun guns, rubber bullets and water cannons. During these protests in Belarus, the police arrested thousands. The government also silenced the news and social media sites. NGO investigations obtained evidence of detained citizens being beaten and harassed, which violates international law. Pressure from many of these NGOs and international governments has caused violence to stall, but Lukashenko has not yet acquiesced to protester’s demands.

Support for Belarusians

Following the violent response to protests in Belarus, volunteers worked to provide aid to the protesters. Many protesters fear going to hospitals for treatment because police have confiscated vital supplies and arrested doctors for helping protesters. In response, travel agent Anna Koval turned her office into a refuge for injured protesters. She and her group have also sent doctors directly to the homes of injured protesters for treatment and collaborated with the Red Cross to distribute humanitarian aid from hospitals to people in jail.

Internationally, 17 NGOs have called for a special meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council, urging for an investigation into the violence against Belarusian protesters and detained citizens. One Dutch NGO has even begun sending aid in the form of BitCoin to the Belarus protests. It is hoping to create a new economy for those stuck in poverty.

In the U.S., Resolution 658, which recognizes Lukashenko’s dictatorship in the region and urges for free and fair elections, was affirmed in the Senate. Targeted sanctions have been active since 2004, and the U.S. continues to provide aid in the form of private sector development and democratic cultivation within the region.

Since its departure from the Soviet Union, Belarus has struggled with the creation of a stable economy and a fair political system. However, it has still made major advancements across the board. There is no reason to believe the people will struggle forever. The firm resolve of Belarusians to fight for their freedoms and well-being, with assistance from the international community will hopefully lead to major reforms that will benefit future citizens.

– Elizabeth Lee
Photo: Flickr

Police Reform in India
In January 2020, protests over a citizenship law targeting Muslims ravaged India’s streets. The Citizenship Amendment Act uses religion as a gateway to citizenship in India for illegal immigrants. However, not all religions are created equal in the eyes of the Indian Parliament: the bill favors South Asia’s major religions except for Islam, even though Muslims comprise 14.2% of India’s population. The bill created outrage throughout India’s Muslim population, leading the nation’s police to detain protesters and rioters in often forceful ways. Regulations and NGO movements are emerging to help decrease cruelty in India’s police system. Here are three actions advancing police reform in India.

Media Outlets

When the Citizenship Amendment Act protests and riots occurred, media outlets extensively covered these events. Their coverage helped to expose the bill’s injustices as well as police abuse. In an interview with the BBC, one family had a platform to share their son’s tragic story: “My son started running when he saw protests turning violent. He was shot in the stomach by police,” Muhammed Shareef stated. Shareef’s son, Raees, died three days later. The police denied the allegations. If the media had not illuminated Shareef’s story, fewer people would understand the severity of police violence in India. If this extensive media coverage continues, stronger advocacy and international awareness could be achieved.

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

NGOs have also become powerful in encouraging police reform in India. These groups hold significant influence in supporting policy implementation. For example, in 2016, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative focused its efforts on improving the relationship between citizens and police in India. NGO initiatives like these are proving effective: since 2016, the violent crime rate with police in India has dropped by 5.88%.

Indian Police Foundation

The IPF’s goal is to act as a primary force in improving the humanity of India’s police system. The organization researches constructive management tools, effective methods of combating police brutality and procedures for hiring responsible police officers.

The Future of Police in India

With robust initiatives like those that media outlets, NGOs and the IPF implement, police reform in India is on the horizon. Despite this progress, there remains a clear need for improvement: a study that the National Campaign Against Torture performed found that 1,731 people died in police custody in 2019, averaging to five deaths per day. Although the extent of their impact is still developing, NGOs are becoming a powerful voice for change. With these three groups advancing police reform in India, there is hope for saving lives and creating constructive police reform.

– Grant Ritchey
Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in Hong Kong
As a British crown colony for more than 150 years, Hong Kong served as the gateway between the East and the West. With its unique position, this singular city rose and secured itself as the top trade hub of the Asian region. This resulted in Hong Kong’s GDP skyrocketing, topping 180 times the GDP of 1961 in 1997. This economic prosperity marked the birth of the first Asian Tiger. Moreover, as a British crown colony, the people of Hong Kong enjoyed basic human rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press – to name a few. However, the colony’s lease, which it signed in 1842, expired. In 1997, the British returned Hong Kong to China under the strict “One Country, Two Systems” agreement, which proclaimed that Hong Kong shall retain its rights until at least 2047.

China’s recent legislation, the Hong Kong National Security Law, effectively ends the ‘“One Country, Two Systems” agreement that was codified in The Basic Law adopted in 1990. The Basic Law defined the relationship between China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and included the protection of specific rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents. Now, under the new National Security Law, these human rights in Hong Kong – along with Hong Kong’s political, social and economic autonomy – are all but dissolved.

What Led to the National Security Law?

In February 2019, the Hong Kong Security Bureau proposed amendments to the then-current extradition laws, allowing extraditions from Hong Kong to mainland China and other countries. This proposal resulted in immediate social outrage. Protests erupted in Hong Kong, with tens of thousands taking to the streets, demanding the revoking of the bill. For months the conflict continued to worsen – protestors rampantly vandalized public property and government police increasingly brutalized the citizens.

It was not until October 23, 2019, that the bill was officially withdrawn. By then, Hong Kong plunged into a recession. The people continued their protests, now a pro-democracy movement, and Beijing became increasingly agitated. In response to the upheaval and the pro-democracy movement, China’s legislature unanimously passed the Hong Kong National Security Law on June 30, 2020, effectively taking complete control over Hong Kong.

What is the new Hong Kong National Security Law?

The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is an ambiguously worded 66-article legislation that covers a broad spectrum of political crimes, some of which are punishable by imprisonment for life. The legislation is for political crimes such as collusion, separatism, subversion and terrorism. However, these crimes have such broad definitions that they cover most criticism of the Communist party.

For instance, on Monday, August 9, 2020, claiming “collusion with a foreign country,” the Hong Kong police arrested pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai. This arrest dispelled all hope that the law was only for rioters. Continuing their attack against the democracy movement, more than 200 police officers stormed the Apple Daily, Mr. Lai’s publication. The police arrested four executives of the company and then also arrested Mr. Lai’s two sons, who did not have an association with the publication.

On August 10, 2020, the Hong Kong police made its second prominent apprehension under the National Security Law, arresting Agnes Chow for “inciting succession.” Politician Agnes Chow’s pro-democracy views also disqualified her candidacy for running for election. According to the National Security Law, Hong Kong can hold the trials of those arrested in secret, without a jury or bail, and it can also extradite them to mainland China (Articles 41, 42, 46, and 56).

International and Local Responses

The people of Hong Kong are suffering. After enduring months of police brutality and civil unrest, they are now facing an economic recession and a totalitarian takeover. The adversity standing before the citizens of Hong Kong is truly overwhelming.

Countries are trying to help in the wake of this unprecedented violation of human rights in Hong Kong. The United Kingdom has pledged a path to citizenship for almost 3 million Hong Kong citizens. Those who were born before 1997 are receiving recognition as having British national overseas status. As a result, they can either enter and stay in the U.K. for five years, granting them “settled-status,” which allows them to apply for citizenship.

Taiwan has been helping Hong Kong citizens for months by offering asylum to pro-democracy activists. Furthermore, on July 1, 2020, the day after the passing of the National Security Law, Taiwan opened the Taiwan-Hong Kong Office for Exchanges and Services in Taipei city, which will provide relocation and humanitarian aid to Hong Kong refugees.

The United States responded to Beijing by passing the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which imposes sanctions on Chinese officials who are crushing democracy in Hong Kong. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), one of the act’s cosponsors, stated: “This legislation sends a strong, bipartisan message that the United States stands with the people of Hong Kong. We urge the Government of China to abandon their ongoing efforts to repress freedoms in Hong Kong. There will be a price to pay if they continue down that path.”

On August 9, 2020, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States issued a Joint Statement on the Erosion of Rights in Hong Kong. Countries around the world are condemning the Hong Kong National Security Law and are urging the Chinese Communist Party to reconsider.

In response to the foreign criticism, senior Chinese official Zhang Xiaoming replied: “It’s none of your business.” However, hopefully, with both local and foreign pressure, human rights in Hong Kong will improve over time.

– Jacob Pugmire
Photo: Flickr