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

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