Everything You Need to Know About the Protests in India
People in India gathered on December 19, 2019, to protest the government’s intensified religious discrimination. Around 25,000 people filled the streets of Mumbai and 10s of thousands more protested other major cities in India. On Dec. 11, the Indian government passed a new Citizenship Amendment Act. This act makes religion a qualification to gain citizenship. As the people continue to disagree with the actions of the state, here is everything that people should know about the protests in India.

Reasons for the Protests

The Citizenship Amendment Act promises to expedite the citizenship statuses of people of religious minorities in the countries neighboring India. This includes Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and many more, however, it excludes Muslims. Many of the protestors view the bill as an anti-Muslim sentiment in India, coming to a legislative light under Prime Minister Modi, even though Islam is the second-largest religion in India. It also sparks the fear that the 200 million Muslims with citizenship currently living in India could have their status called into question in the future.

Who are the Protestors?

Most of the protestors at the forefront are students from some of India’s most acclaimed universities, like Jamia Milia Islamia University (JMIU) in New Delhi, Tata Institute of Social Sciences and IIT-Bombay. The first protest at JMIU turned violent. In addition, there was rampant police brutality against Muslim students. Consequently, this sparks other universities to stand in solidarity against police brutality. Police officers threw tear gas into the library and hit some nonviolent students with batons.

Violence in the protest

The protests in India as a whole have resulted in the arrests of thousands of people, of which authorities arrested around 5,000 “preventatively” and 23 died. Six people alone died in Uttar Pradesh, a city in the north. However, the police chief of the area, Prakash Singh, claimed that the police did not fire any bullets and that they used only tear gas and batons on peaceful protestors. Despite these claims, the causes of death have yet to receive a public release. The most recent wave of peaceful protests in India has been in violation of an act temporarily preventing gatherings of more than four people at a time, heavily restricting the right to protest at a time of mass civil unrest.

Internet and Cellular Service Shut Downs

The internet and cellular services shut down in parts of the country, specifically the state of Uttar Pradesh. Prior to the cut, authorities arrested over 100 people. As of the end of 2019, there were inflammatory or inciting posts on social media regarding the CAA. Additionally, the police chief backs this move as a means to prevent the circulation of fake news and to stop the apparent fear-mongering of the CAA opposition.

The scale of the public outcry against the Citizenship Amendment Act shows that the fight to maintain India’s position as a secular state is far from over, although the authorities have stopped protestors. Protestors have had international support as well. On December 18, 2019, many people protested outside of the Indian consulate buildings in New York City, Chicago and San Francisco. As the protests in India rage on, the country remains torn over the discriminatory nature of this new law, and what it means for its democracy as a whole.

Anna Sarah Langlois
Photo: UN Multimedia

10 Facts about Corruption in IraqOn October 1st, violent protests broke out in Iraq. The Iraqi government struggled to quell the protests, which resulted in the deaths of more than 60 people. The protesters cite corruption and failing public services as the sources of their outrage against the government. Prime minister Adil Abdul Mahdi responded by claiming that the government is in the process of starting big reforms that will benefit the nation economically and eradicate poverty. However, past instances of corruption have left many protesting Iraqis hesitant to give the government the benefit of the doubt. These 10 facts about corruption in Iraq provide a brief overview of why Iraqis are fed up with their government.

10 Facts about Corruption in Iraq

  1. Transparency International’s corruption index rankings are comprised of 180 countries. Iraq comes in as the eighteenth most corrupt nation. The index measures perceived levels of corruption in the public sector of countries based on ratings by experts and business people.

  2. About a third of Iraqis report having paid a bribe for police services, registry and permits. It is not uncommon for police members to advance in ranks thanks to bribes directed at politicians. Companies with connections to political leaders also benefit more from bribes and kickbacks.

  3. Billions of dollars in public money have been taken due to corruption. In 2013, it was estimated that Iraq “lost” $20 billion to corruption. That is relatively conservative when compared to the $100 billion lost in 2003.

  4. In May, Iraq’s Integrity Commission seized $445,900 from the house of a relative of a former Iraqi official. Iraq’s Integrity Commission found the money while investigating a former Director of the Engineering Department for the Nineveh province. Kickbacks and bribes are rampant in Iraq, and the government is struggling to maintain its integrity.

  5. Iraq’s last Chairman of the Integrity Commission, Judge Ezzat Tawfiq, was killed in a car crash in March. Many Iraqis and members of the commission mourned his death because they supported his work and considered him one of the most important figures in the battle against corruption. Although the car crash was officially categorized as an accident, some Iraqis were quick to question whether foul play was involved given the influence and power of the commission’s adversaries.

  6. Iraqi officials arrested and abused aid workers in Mosul. Some Iraqi officials actively subvert the business of aid workers in the impoverished region. Police have been slandering and detaining individuals by making fictitious claims about them having ties to ISIS. These extortion tactics are aimed at diverting the funds of some organizations to corrupt local authorities.

  7. In September, the Iraqi government had to shut down the nation’s border crossing with Mandali, Iran because of corruption. All of the employees at the location were transferred to different border crossings. An armed group had commandeered the crossing, which generates about 600,000,000 dinars of revenue a month.

  8. In July, 11 ministers and ministerial-level officials were arrested and charged for corruption. In Iraq, members of parliament are considered immune from being charged with corruption charges stemming from their previous work as public officials. Lawmakers must lift this immunity before charges can be brought against those suspected of corruption.

  9. In 2016, Hoshyar Zebari, the former Finance Minister of Iraq, estimated that there were 30,000 ghost soldiers in the Iraqi army. Corrupt officers are able to pocket the money received for the fake soldiers. Some blame the fall of the city of Mosul to ISIS in 2014 on these ghost soldiers because there were far fewer soldiers defending the city than records indicated.

  10. The state-run Basara oil company was accused of corruption for paying two international firms $80,000,000 more than market price for loading equipment. Iraq has one of the largest oil reserves in the world, but the riches it provides are being stolen from the Iraqi people.

These 10 facts about corruption in Iraq provide the backdrop for the protests in Iraq. Many Iraqi executives and public officials are stealing money from those that need it the most. Iraq has won a battle against ISIS, but defeating entrenched corruption may be a more difficult struggle.

Grant DeLisle
Photo: Flickr

5 Celebrities Fighting the Water CrisisIn 1989, spurred by economic stagnation and political discontent, the Velvet Revolution ushered in a post-communist, democratic era in the emerging states of the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. In the late 1980s and 1990s, along with the rest of the Soviet-aligned states, the authoritarian regime of Czechoslovakia had begun to collapse. Popular unrest, which had been repressed for decades, boiled over into nonviolent revolution. The outcome of this uprising was a transition to democracy. November 2019 marks the 30 year anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. To commemorate this moment in history, House Representative Peter Visclosky introduced a resolution to Congress. Here are 9 facts about the Velvet Revolution.

9 Facts About the Velvet Revolution

  1. The Velvet Revolution began on Nov. 17, 1989, when a peaceful, government-sanctioned ceremony to commemorate Czech-resistance against the Nazis erupted into a massive protest against the communist regime. Ten days after this demonstration, anti-communist activists led a two-hour general strike to show the popular support for the opposition. By the end of the year, democratic activists forced the communist regime out of power and instituted a democratic regime in Czechoslovakia.
  2. An important precursor to the Velvet Revolution was the Prague Spring of 1968. In the Prague Spring, Alexander Dubcek, then-leader of the communist party in Czechoslovakia, created major social reforms, including a free press and human rights. However, Soviet leaders in Moscow feared such reforms and sent Warsaw Pact troops to suppress the upheaval. This Soviet crackdown erased the 1968 reforms and significantly restricted the economic and political rights those reforms sought to grant, such as freedom of speech. Even though the Soviets successfully suppressed the political unrest, civil resistance prevented them from being able to gain full control over the country for eight months. Thanks in part to the Prague Spring, Czechoslovakia had a strong civil society and history of nonviolent resistance by the late 1980s. Thus, the Velvet Revolution was a result of long-term developments and movements rather than one immediate catalyst.
  3. Ratified by the Czechoslovak Federal Assembly on Nov. 11, 1975, the Helsinki Final Act was one of the key structural factors that allowed for democratization in Czechoslovakia. It forced the communist leaders of Czechoslovakia to abide by the human rights commitments made in the agreement. A failure to do so would mean breaking with Moscow, something the Czech regime could not afford to do. The Act gave activists the ability to form organizations such as Charter 77 because they could claim the group’s purpose was to assist the government in carrying out its new policy on human rights.
  4. Charter 77 was a civic initiative that laid the groundwork for the Velvet Revolution. In the first week of 1977, anti-communist activists, former communists and non-political intellectuals came together to form Charter 77. It was a group of activists working to hold the government accountable for its human rights record. Charter 77 demanded that the Czech government abide by its own human rights commitments in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. Václav Havel, one of the leaders of Charter 77, became president of Czechoslovakia following the Velvet Revolution.
  5. Gorbachev’s reforms of Perestroika and Glasnost also set the stage for broader political reform in Czechoslovakia. Perestroika, meaning restructuring, was a set of political and social reforms, which Gorbachev set in motion throughout the Soviet Union. Perestroika led to the decentralization of the Soviet economy and the loosening of the communist party’s grip on power throughout the Soviet bloc. Similarly, Glasnost, meaning openness, legalized criticism of the communist government and allowed for a free press.
  6. The Civic Forum (CF), a successor to Charter 77, was created in the immediate wake of the Velvet Revolution’s protests on Nov. 17. A nonviolent coalition, CF professed itself to be non-political and allowed anyone who wanted to be a member to join. It organized large grassroots demonstrations, including one in which citizens clinked their keys to signal the end of the communist regime. Along with Charter 77, CF was the most important organization during Czechoslovakia’s transition to democracy.
  7. One of the central social movements in the Velvet Revolution was the student movement. Nov. 17, the day the Revolution began, was International Students’ Day, and Prague students filled the streets of the city in what turned out to be a massive anti-regime protest. In the coming days, students around the country began striking and speaking out against the regime on an almost daily basis. A committee of Prague students worked with the Civic Forum to organize the general strike on Nov. 27.
  8. The Civic Forum and its allies achieved even greater concessions than initially asked for. On Nov. 29, the communist regime struck down a clause in the Czech constitution that permitted a one-party rule. In the coming days, the Czech people voted in free elections for the first time in three decades. The first non-communist Parliament since 1948 was formed on Dec. 10 of that year. On Dec. 29, the Czech parliament unanimously elected a democratic president.
  9. In June 1991, the Soviets withdrew the last of the Soviet Central Group of Forces from Czechoslovakia. On July 1, they terminated the Warsaw Pact. The fall of the Soviet Union gave Czechoslovakia more independence and confidence to turn westward. Elections in June 1992 set the stage for a break between the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic as both agreed remaining together was not economically profitable. In 1993, Czechoslovakia split in what was called a “velvet divorce.”

H.Res. 618

On Oct. 4, 2019, House Representative Peter Visclosky [D-IN-1] introduced H.Res. 618. The resolution congratulated “the peoples of the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic on the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution” and the progress that each country has made in gaining independence. The House referred the resolution to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which will debate the resolution before it is brought to the entire chamber.

The Czechoslovakian Velvet Revolution of 1989 catalyzed the process of democratization in the Czech Republic and Slovakia through a nonviolent, popular uprising against an oppressive regime. Civic society and grassroots movements were essential to this revolution. Thus, these 9 facts about the Velvet Revolution prove the importance of civic protest to change a society’s political, economic and social culture.

Sarah Frazer
Photo: Flickr

Protests in Hong KongIn February 2019, the Hong Kong government proposed new changes to its extradition law that would change the country’s security and judicial laws altogether. The new changes will allow people to be tried in mainland China for crimes committed in Hong Kong. This has caused multiple protests in Hong Kong.

Why People in Hong Kong Are Protesting

The cause of the uproar lies in the inequality between freedoms and liberties for citizens of China versus citizens of Hong Kong. On a late Sunday in March, people in Hong Kong began protesting against changes to Hong Kong’s current extradition law. What began as peaceful protests about 11 weeks ago, turned violent after many protesters clashed with police during one of the largest protests ever held in Hong Kong.

Due to the authorities’ violent response to the protesters, including the use of beanbags, tear gas and rubber bullets, the protests slowly turned into a movement against Hong Kong’s government as a whole. The indefinite suspension of the bill that began the protest movement just sparked more controversy, given that many are speculating that the chief executive, Ms. Lam, does not have the authority to formally withdraw the bill. As many as 2 million people walked the streets to show their displeasure with the government’s response.

As of yet, the protesters have five demands. They want the resignation of current chief executive Carrie Lam and to keep mainland Chinese tourists out of Hong Kong. They also demand the removal of the word “riot” to describe the demonstrations, the release of those that have been arrested during the protests and an investigation into the police and its alleged excessive use of force.

Relation Between Protests and Poverty in Hong Kong

These protests are likely to have detrimental impacts on the poor population. Approximately one in five Hong Kong residents live below the official poverty line. Many receive a monthly income of less than $700. Additionally, monthly rent currently makes up 70 percent of the median household income for half the population in Hong Kong. This further contributes to people’s economic demise while also allowing avenues such as illegal housing markets to open up.

The minimum wage in Hong Kong has not increased in the past several years. To make matters worse, the government began outsourcing jobs in 2002 as a way to downsize and reduce spending. However, the plan led to the development of a poor working class, which now must rely on social programs like the Low-Income Working Family Allowance (LIFA) scheme and the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) scheme. These schemes help families who cannot support themselves solely with their monthly wages.

As the situation further deteriorates in Hong Kong, the government will continue reducing expenditures. This will be more costly for those living below the poverty line as social programs are the first to be cut. The economy will worsen as tourism declines and the effects of the trade war with China fully sink in. In turn, this will leave approximately 1.38 million people without any form of government assistance.

How to Help

For situations like this, it is important to have bills like the Global Fragility Act passed in Congress, since this bill would not only work towards preventing conflict from occurring but it would also address those regions that are more at risk of developing violent conflict.

Protests and poverty in Hong Kong are deeply intertwined. As the government cracks down, the poor will be the first to suffer. That is why it is important to urge Congress to take action and help those who need it the most. By contacting your representative in the Senate and encouraging them to pass the Global Fragility Act, also known as S.727, each person can be a part of the movement that is improving living conditions across the globe.

Laura Rogers
Photo: Pixabay

Maxima Acuña

News about native peoples fighting for the rights to their land is, sadly, nothing new. For many years, the indigenous populations of many nations around the world have struggled to keep their rights to their land. They are often ignored by their own country’s governments as well as international entities. However, that didn’t stop Maxima Acuña from fighting against the powerful Newmont and Yanacocha Mining Companies in defense of her land.

The Case

Maxima Acuña’s battle started one day when the Peruvian Mining Company Yanacocha, through the Newmont Mining Company, claimed rightful ownership of her property. Acuña’s land, as well as four lagoons near it, were the new grounds for the Conga mining project. While Conga was projected to be one of the most ambitious gold extraction projects, it didn’t sit well with the farmers that live around the land.

For the successful extraction of the materials, four critical lagoons would have to be “sacrificed” as they would be turned into waste pits or be completely dried out. Since 2011, the Newmont Mining company has been trying to claim the rights to her land. Maxima and her family were told to move as they were on official mining grounds. But, there was no way Maxima Acuaña would go out without a fight.

The Brutality of the Authorities

Because of her refusal, Yanacocha and the Newmont committed several acts of brutality and abuse of power against Maxima Acuña and her family. On more the one occasion, armed men destroyed her home and crops. They sent death threats and even “beat her and one of her daughters unconscious.” Despite all of this, Maxima refused to leave her land. The local authorities accused her of invasion of private land and sentenced her to three years in prison with a $2,000 fine. Luckily, through the help of an environmental NGO called GRUFIDES, Maxima Acuña was released from her sentence and granted legitimate property rights.

With the majority of the local population opposing the Yanacocha and the Conga project and the unconditional support of Grufindes, Maxima Acuña had the means to fight the mining companies. GRUFIDES fights for the environmental rights that were ignored by the Conga Project. With their help, Maxima Acuña was able to overturn the court’s decision. This huge win was not only for her but also for the farmers protesting the Conga project and protecting the lakes. Maxima Acuña now had the support of the local and even the international community.

The Lesson of Hope

In 2016, she became the winner of The Goldman Environmental Prize, making her case known in America. In March 2019, Maxima Acuña and her family won a vital appeal against the Newmont Mining Company against the company’s abuse. The motion guaranteed a fair trial for both parties, something big for Peruvian Farmers.

For many years, the abuse against indigenous farmers has been a topic that many choose to ignore. However, Maxima Acuña’s case is not the first and won’t be last. Her case shows that the fight is not over yet. Even with all the stakes against the environment, even the big companies can overthrow a fighting spirit.

Adriana Ruiz
Photo: Flickr

China's Protests Affect its Poverty and Economy
As protests in Hong Kong have continued to escalate between protesters and China’s ruling Communist Party, each side appears to become increasingly distant from the other. The term One China is not new, but what is new is the number of protests that have occurred and the amount of support that it is receiving from citizens. The protests in Hong Kong began to occur in April 2019 following an extradition bill that would have allowed the extradition of the citizens of Hong Kong to the mainland. Here is how China’s protests affect its poverty and economy.

Tourism and the Economy

In Hong Kong’s top tourist area Tsim Sha Tsui, many shop workers tend empty shops waiting for consumers. This district holds an assortment of luxury hotels, restaurants and boutiques that attract tourists. In recent months, however, it has seen an inverse of traffic as shoppers occupy it less and protesters occupy it more. At the beginning of 2019, businesses started to struggle from the strained U.S. and Beijing trade war. In the months following, the economic state worsened and the protesting has lasted for months to date.

Similar to the tourism business, other industries across the region have felt comparable effects from the protests as well. A large number of startup companies are beginning to consider other areas like Singapore for future operations. Some economists believe that China may be one step closer to a recession as GDP has decreased. Select industries are seeing a decline rate in the double-digits from previous years.

Immigration

As the economy of China has been on the decline for months, immigrants from the mainland have moved to Hong Kong at high rates for the past 10 years. Estimates determine that between 60 to 70 percent of China’s population came from the mainland. In 2017, approximately 40 percent of immigrants from the mainland to Hong Kong were living under the poverty line.

Success So Far

Chinese leaders have held a goal to eliminate national poverty for several years now. Even with the protest and political tension that the region is facing, it still seeks to eradicate poverty. In the last seven years, nearly a billion citizens have risen from their impoverished status. In 2018, official counts determined that there were only 16 million people living below the poverty line. If the country continues at the rate it has been going, there will be just a few million people still in poverty by the end of 2019.

Distractions or Support

People have made numerous cases against the middle class, the largest class in the country. Some believe that this initiative has drowned out other issues that impact the nation. Topics such as extreme poverty and class status are beyond the realm of politics and legislation that people typically see. Another claim is that the economic frustrations of China’s citizens are pushing the protest to expand. What initially was about an extradition bill also serves as an opportunity for protesters to speak out about their concerns.

In the last decade, China has reduced the number of people living in poverty substantially, however, it has been occurring at a decreasing rate. In recent months, the discussion of China relates to the increasing rate of protests in Hong Kong. Many people have taken notice of how China’s protests affect its poverty and economy. The nation’s finances have been a point of interest as numbers fail to match those of previous years.

Kimberly Debnam
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Social Change
Social change is an instance in which people reform the conventions of society. The behavior and attitudes of people determine the direction and significance of change, while the environment or society influence these behaviors. Here are 10 facts about social change.

10 Facts About Social Change

  1. Modernization and Technology: Social change is a combination of many factors. Different events, technologies or people can affect the behavior or norms within society. Modernization and technology have been two of the largest driving forces of social change throughout history. The Industrial Revolution in many countries forced governments to become more liberal as their citizenry became more valuable and leveraged for more rights at work.
  2. Social Order and Coordination: Social norms are central in social order or social coordination. Social norms are informal laws that dictate a group’s or society’s behaviors. A social norm can range from wearing a suit to work or holding the door for someone behind you to voting in the presidential election. Social change does not occur without a significant number of people coming together and changing the traditional behavior within a society.
  3. Social Justice: Social change often looks to change social norms that negatively affect social justice. Social justice is the idea that every aspect of society can achieve justice and equity rather than in only certain cases or for some individuals.
  4. Causes of Social Change: There are different types of social changes. Since social changes are whenever a group changes social behavior and consciousness, many factors can cause such an outcome. War, protests, strikes and nonviolent demonstrations are all ways social change comes about.
  5. Negative Social Change: Social change is not always a positive form of change. An extreme example is the Nazi regime and its persecution of the Jewish population that occurred because of a change to Germany’s social norms. It is up to people to choose which form of change is worth pursuing.
  6. Length of Time to Instigate Social Change: Often change takes place over many generations. The breaking down of social norms requires time to turn new ideas from fringe to conventional. Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela and Gandhi are prominent social figures. These men exemplify the multiple generation struggle, as all of them inherited a society in need of change and utilized the time to achieve social justice.
  7. Importance of Nonprofits: Nonprofits are vital in social change. Nonprofits are often the driver of awareness, bringing solutions to communities affected by a lack of progress. Groups like Oxfam International strive to uplift the poverty-stricken and decrease poverty around the world. By working in more than 90 countries, the organization has affected millions of people. The group looks to provide clean water and food to those without such necessities and diminish the effects of climate change in developing countries. In many of its efforts, it also looks to increase the economic well-being of developing countries to ensure their citizens are provided with enough resources to live and flourish.
  8. Theories About Social Change: Sociologists and anthropologists have studied social change and social norms extensively. These significant studies have led to many different theories of the causes and reasons for social change. Many see Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber as the most influential sociological thinkers, each offering differing theories on the progression of society. All three focused on the division of labor and how that affected social progress. Durkheim argued that with an increase in population, there is more competition for resources. To obtain social harmony as opposed to constant competition, people will look to specialize their skills and find new ways to make a living. Marx also analyzed the division of labor and the effect of work on people and society. Marx, however, believed that people often look to meet their human needs, and are in a constant struggle with the market or their owners of production to obtain financial security to live. Marx believed that life was a constant struggle between classes and that social change emerges from this struggle. While Marx believed that class solidarity would lead to social change, Weber believed that society required a charismatic leader to spark such change. Weber emphasized a transition to rational thought, and because rationality usually comes with collaboration, Weber believed bureaucracy would be essential to change.
  9. Difficulty to Instigate Social Change: Traditions are often difficult to change and violence is a common response to social movements. People in power often do not want to relinquish their power and the traditional system often provides the parameters and rules for those people to rise to that position. As a result, they see a change to the system as a threat to their status. What started as peaceful protests against an extradition bill has turned into months of clashes between protestors in Hong Kong. Pro-democracy activists began protesting in March 2019 against a bill that would extradite citizens of Hong Kong to Beijing. Activists saw this bill as an encroachment on their autonomy and held demonstrations to voice their opposition. After multiple peaceful demonstrations, police responded with force against protestors, and this use of force caused protestors to increase the intensity of their protests. Since the beginning of these protests, there have been constant clashes between protestors and police, including batons, rubber bullets, tear gas and even the shooting of multiple protestors with live rounds. Protestors have attacked businesses and police. Awareness and pressure are powerful deterrents to violence on both sides.
  10. Nonprofits for Peaceful Change: There are groups all around the world working for peaceful change. The Borgen Project is just one among many groups that look to uplift the impoverished and oppressed peoples of the world. Bill Gates, the former CEO of Microsoft, started the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to promote public health around the world. Bill and his wife Melinda look to provide millions around the world with resources and education to live healthily. The Foundation strives to reduce inequities in healthy by providing resources and education to countries with insufficient health care programs.

These 10 facts about social change show that change is constant within society and that with the level of technological advancement, the rate of societal change will only increase. With so many groups working for social justice and their ability to reach more people with their message, the time is right for societies around the world to become more inclusive. Inspired by social justice figures of the past, there has been an emphasis recently on the peaceful pursuit of social change. The number of groups striving for social justice around the world encourages people to live without conflict, without injustice or prejudice and to receive the necessary resources to live a healthy, fulfilling life. With technology as a spark for social change and the technological advances of today, there is the possibility of creating a world where uplifting those in need, even in different countries, is the norm.

– Jared Hynes
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Human Rights in Venezuela
People have long associated the current humanitarian crisis in Venezuela with the autocratic governance of late President Nicolás Maduro and decades of socioeconomic downfall. Gross political corruption persists in Venezuela that constitutional violations show. These began in 2017 and have barred acting president Juan Guaidó from assuming the duties of his office. In September 2019, The UN Human Rights Council dispatched a team to the country to investigate alleged human rights abuses, including state-sanctioned killings, forced disappearances and torture. With this information in mind, here are the top 10 facts about human rights in Venezuela.

Top 10 Facts About Human Rights in Venezuela

  1. The Situation: Deteriorating social and economic conditions in Venezuela have incited a refugee crisis in the country. Since 2014, more than four million Venezuelans have fled (a figure which excludes unregistered migrants). Displaced by violence and corruption, Venezuelan migrants struggle to obtain legal residence, food security, education and health care resources in the nations they flee to. These bureaucratic hurdles and unstable living situations force many to return home.
  2. Maduro and Corruption: The dismantling of Venezuela’s National Assembly in March 2017 was the Maduro Administration’s first attempt of many to silence political opposition. The move stripped the opposition-led parliament of its legislating powers and immunity—important checks against potential exploits by the executive branch. Research from Amnesty International confirms that Maduro’s government used torture, unhinged homicides and extrajudicial executions to maintain support in the years following this constitutional scandal.
  3. Protests and Arrests: Nationwide protests and demonstrations began in 2014 in response to human rights violations and a buckling economy. According to the Penal Forum, authorities have arrested more than 12,500 people between the years 2014 and 2018 in connection with protests. Security personnel and government-backed militias often use excessive force—tear gas, firearms, asphyxiation, severe beatings and electroshock, etc.—against protesters and detainees in order to quell resistance efforts.
  4. Censorship: Maduro’s regime has used censorship of mainstream media to control Venezuelan civilians and eliminate its critics. A pervasive fear of reprisal effectively denies Venezuelans their freedom of expression and speech.  During times of global scrutiny, the government has blocked online news broadcasts, VPN access and streaming services to curb bad press and anti-government organizing. The government staged an information blackout in February 2019 in response to a clash between the military and aid convoys at the Colombian border.
  5. Political Bribery: The Venezuelan government has used political bribery to keep Venezuelans compliant. The government has used its monopoly on resources to withhold food and other basic goods from dissenters and reward supporters with the same incentives. In 2016, Maduro launched the government-subsidized food program, Local Food Production and Provision Committees (CLAPS). Through this insidious program, Venezuelans received monthly (oftentimes late or empty) food shares in exchange for having their voting activity tracked.
  6. Human Rights Crisis Denial: In February 2019 Maduro denied claims to the BBC that the country was undergoing a human rights crisis. He has repeatedly used the same rhetoric to reject foreign aid and unassailable evidence of health and welfare shortages in the country, by equating the acceptance of aid with the fall of his regime. That same month, there were disputes over $20 million in U.S. and European aid shipments at the Colombia-Venezuela border.
  7. Venezuela’s Inflation Rate: The International Monetary Fund forecasts Venezuela’s inflation rate will reach 10 million percent in 2019. Food scarcity and hyperinflation have led to millions of cases of malnutrition and premature death, especially amongst children.
  8. Doctors and Hospitals: Twenty thousand registered doctors have left Venezuela between 2012 and 2017 due to poor working conditions and growing infant mortality rates. Hospitals are unhygienic and understaffed, lacking the medicine and medical equipment to accommodate the excess number of patients. Tentative water sources and power outages make most cases inoperable, presenting a liability to doctors and causing untreated patients to become violent.
  9. Death Squads: In June 2019, the UN reported that government-backed death squads killed nearly 7,000 people from 2018 to May 2019. Maduro attempted to legitimize the killings by using the Venezuelan Special Police Force (FAES) to conduct the raids, which he staged through family separation techniques and the illegal planting of contraband and narcotics. Again, Maduro devised this strategy to threaten political opponents and people critical of the Maduro government.
  10. Human Trafficking: A 2016 report conducted by the U.S. Department of State condemned Venezuela’s handling of human trafficking in the country, in both regards to sex trafficking and internal forced labor. Venezuela lacks the infrastructure to properly identify and assist trafficking victims due to governmental corruption and rampant gain violence which facilitates human trafficking and forgoes accountability. Traffickers often trick or coerce Venezuelan migrants into the sex trade. In fact, 10 percent of 1,700 recorded trafficking victims in Peru between 2017 and 2018 were Venezuelan.

The top 10 facts about human rights in Venezuela should read as a call to action. Global aid agencies and national governments are currently working to bring humanitarian aid to Venezuelans and the growing Venezuelan migrant community. While the current political climate complicates internal relief efforts, spreading awareness about the state of human rights in Venezuela is the first step in addressing the crisis.

Cuarto Por Venezuela Foundation is a nonprofit organization conceived in 2016 by four Venezuelan women living in the United States eager to alleviate the situation at home. The Foundation works to create programs and partnerships to deliver comprehensive aid to Venezuelans in need. In 2018, the organization shipped over 63,000 lbs. of medicine, food and school supplies to Venezuela (four times the number of supplies shipped the previous year). Additionally, its health program has served nearly 40,000 patients to date through vaccination and disease prevention services.

– Elena Robidoux
Photo: Flickr

Protests in Honduras
People have accused Juan Orlando Hernández, current president of Honduras, of corruption, electoral fraud and drug trafficking since his reelection in 2017. With his sudden change of the Honduran constitution that allowed him to run for two terms instead of just one, the people of Honduras have felt his corruption and repression. The lack of involvement from the government to end organized crime and gang violence and provide aid to those suffering from the poverty that affects 60 percent of the country’s population has caused hundreds of protests across the country.  Although finding asylum in the United States is the reason so many Hondurans are migrating north, others are using their right to protest as their biggest weapon towards finally receiving the justice and aid that they deserve. Here are 10 facts about the protests in Honduras.

10 Facts About the Protests in Honduras

  1. The protests in Honduras first began through trade unions that represented doctors, nurses and teachers. The Hernandez Administration and Congress were working on an initiative to restructure the country’s health care and education systems which would have resulted in mass layoffs and privatization. These first protests led to them dropping the initiative, however. This positive result made many people believe that they could also make their voices heard. Soon protests made up of university students, the poor, ministers and their churches, civil rights defenders, land rights activists, other unions and even some branches of the police began to take place in the streets of Honduras and these have not stopped.
  2. Despite the many different groups of people in the streets, one common demand that all protesters share is the removal of President Hernandez from office. Cid Gallup’s recent survey showed that the president’s approval rating dropped from 61 to 36 percent since 2017. It also found that more than 80 percent of interviewees did not trust the country’s main judicial and political institutions. Many Hondurans believe that President Hernandez has been receiving money from drug cartels to not only fund his campaigns but to let drugs go through Honduras. The people see him as the main source of the corruption found in their country and believe his removal would allow them to begin to rebuild its democratic government once again.
  3. According to the human rights organization, CONADEH, violent protests that were post-election in mid-January 2018 led to the killing of 31 people, the wounding of 232 people and the detainment of 1,805 people. The United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed concern about the excessive use of force that the Military Police of Public Order, released by President Hernandez, have been using on the crowds of protestors. Many of them are throwing tear gas at the crowds, homes and shopping centers which not only harms the protesters but children and senior citizens in the area. The police have also gone as far as shooting into crowds with live ammunition. This type of repression that the president issued is not only putting the people of Honduras in danger but also their right to protest peacefully.
  4. The Military Police of Public Order is a force of around 5,000 troops who are under the control of the president. It comprises of soldiers who patrol neighborhoods as policemen and are the first to arrive at protests to break them up. Honduran human rights organizations have been calling for the dismantlement of this force since its introduction into the country’s streets due to the lack of training that the soldiers are receiving. According to the Latin America Working Group, training periods for these soldiers only last a couple of months. Unlike the Military Police of Public Order, some members of the police department and the COBRA Special Forces have refused to take action to repress their fellow citizens.
  5. An Amnesty International report in 2018 stated that Hondurans who authorities arrest during protests are oftentimes denied their right to due process and held in inhumane conditions. Authorities have prolonged pre-trial detention for many prisoners in attempts to suppress the formations of more protests. Authorities also seek after the leaders and activists of these protests to discourage and instill fear in fellow protesters. Authorities hold many of these prisoners in terrible conditions for months and even after their release, they still face criminal charges. Although the government is attempting to generate fear through prison time, many Hondurans refuse to be silent and continue to protest in places like the United States’ Embassy in Tegucigalpa.
  6. In an attempt to discredit the protesters, Security Minister Julian Pacheco Tinoco and other government officials have claimed that the people participating in the protests are drug traffickers and gang members. No government institution has followed these allegations taking measures to protect Honduran citizens from the Military Police of Public Order’s repressive actions during protests. The government human rights office, CONADEH, did report on the killings and called on authorities to avoid the use of lethal arms against protesters. It even went as far as asking the Public Ministry to investigate cases of abuse but its calls for justice did not receive any attention from the Public Ministry or the government. No investigations launched on the abusive measures that the Military Police of Public Order partook in.
  7. Despite the violence, deaths and abuse of power from the President’s Military Police, Hondurans continue to protest and limit their silence. From March to June 2019, at least 346 protests have occurred throughout the country. Protests can range from 40 to 50 people to a couple hundred and even thousands. The want for change in their country is greater than the fear the Miltary Police is administering. As the protests grow in numbers and people, the thirst for change also grows within the country’s people.
  8. Social media has become a huge tool for the protests in Honduras. Due to the large and fast reach of the internet, young protesters are able to call on fellow Hondurans and create spontaneous protests at any time of the day. Because people often believe that the government manipulates Honduras’ media due to the harassment of dozens of reporters, social media and personal networks are helping protesters create a community online. They not only set up protests but also use their platforms to share reliable news articles with one another.
  9. These protests have also inspired smaller groups of people such as the LGBTQ+ community. In May 2019, an LGBTQ+ march occurred in Tegucigalpa and 350 members walked through the streets asking to end the violence against the LGBTQ+ community. Since 2009, more than 300 gay and transgender people have been murdered in Honduras. Activists within the group, such as the coordinator of Lesbian Network CATTRACHAS, are also asking the Supreme Court to establish a process by which transgender people can change their name and gender on official documents while also asking for same-sex marriage to be legal. The fact that these people, who usually are victims of violence, are not afraid to protest shows how courageous they are and how determined they are to rebuild their country.
  10. Women are also making their voices heard in their fight for human rights despite the violent turns a protest in Honduras can take. According to the National Observer, there is one woman murdered every 16 hours in Honduras. In the first six months of 2017, there were 99 murders of women in the country. The women of Honduras ask for a country that provides security to them. More and more women are holding rallies and forming marches. Women’s groups in the country are even creating legislation that will protect them in the hope that Congress will pass them. This is yet another way that protests are having an impact on Honduras.

These 10 facts about protests in Honduras show that it is necessary to have a democratic institution to protect and serve the people. President Hernandez is continuously using his power to repress his people in the hopes of silencing them and their protests. But the people of Honduras have not let themselves be discouraged and are gaining the will to continue to fight. Protests are the biggest tool for Honduran citizens to call for change and gain the attention of the government and the rest of the world. As protests in Honduras continue, Hondurans hope to rebuild the democratic government that they deserve.

– Jannette Aguirre
Photo: Flickr

Save the State Protests

Liberia, or officially the Republic of Liberia, is a small country located on the western coast of Africa. Coming from a rich history of international involvement, the nation holds the title of the first African state to declare independence and, therefore, is the oldest African modern republic. The Save the State protests are currently gripping Liberia.

On June 7, 2019, in the capital city of Monrovia, ongoing tensions and disappointment in the current regime reached a head, resulting in the largest anti-government protest since the end of the civil war in 2003. This was the first of the Save the State protests, which a coalition of politicians, professionals, students and regular citizens called the Council of Patriots organized.

The main goal of the demonstration was to protest high inflation rates and governmental corruption. These two points of frustration have been amplified during the current presidential administration, as these were the two major campaign promises behind the 2018 election of President George Weah. However, these issues merely represent the breaking point of decades-long tensions and it is necessary to understand the socio-economic situation in Liberia which has caused so much unrest, especially as protests continue.

A Damaged Economy

Liberia has continued to feel the effects of two civil wars that took place between 1989 and 2003 and resulted in the death of a quarter of a million people. The wars crippled the Liberian economy by 90 percent and the economy has struggled to fully recover ever since. It suffered another blow with the outbreak of Ebola from 2014 to 2015 that claimed the lives of thousands.

After these crises, foreign aid flowed into the country to help in the restoration of the economy and offer assistance to those struggling in the aftermath. But, as international funding began to dissipate – most recently with the withdrawal of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in 2018 – the country has struggled to develop on its own.

The country continues to rank among the poorest nations in the world, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook. The fact that inflation reached a record high of 28.5 percent in 2018 and an International Monetary Fund growth rate projection of only 0.4 percent in 2019 compounds this.

Disillusioned Voters

The socio-economic situation of sustained, long-term poverty and poor living conditions due to rising prices and financial mismanagement have escalated since the election of President Weah. This is as a result of the lack of changes he made following his campaign promises. His connection to the people of Liberia as a former football star who achieved international acclaim initially spurred people’s excitement for his presidency.

However, hope for improvement has soured as prices continue to rise, fiscal growth continues to slow and the president’s personal wealth appears to be growing. This dissatisfaction brewed alongside a huge scandal where $102 million in new banknotes was allegedly missing. Although no one found evidence to support this claim in an investigation, people cited accuracy and completeness as major issues in the central bank’s records.

As 64 percent of Liberians continue to live below the poverty line and the people have planned more Save the State for the coming months, it is clear that long-term poverty engenders long-term instability and, therefore, a constant state of tension. This kind of unstable environment becomes a powder keg for tensions to erupt, making the future of these peaceful protests uncertain.

Despite President Weah’s opposition to the demands of the protestors thus far, their message remains clear: they want to save their state and improve the lives of their compatriots. It is a prime example of citizens wanting their voices be heard.

– Alexandra Schulman
Photo: Flickr