human_rights_abuses_sri_lanka
After 25 years, the civil war that plagued Sri Lanka and claimed thousands of lives is finally finished. The war, between the Sri Lankan government forces and the Tamil Tigers separatist group, is estimated to have killed over 40,000 people in its final months.

The long war was between the Sri Lanka government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE,) or simply the Tamil Tigers. The LTTE desired an independent state for the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.

The Tamils claim to have been victimized by the Sinhalese majority once the country became fully independent in 1948.

But, just because the war is finished, does not mean its opponents are any less quiet. In fact, many human rights groups are accusing the Sri Lankan government of destroying mass burial sites in order to cover its fingerprints on various human rights abuses.

Australia’s Public Interest Advocacy Center detailed an in-depth report chronicling the various abuses perpetrated by both sides of the conflict. The Tamil Tigers have been accused of using civilians as human shields and recruiting child soldiers. While these violations are heinous, the report lays the majority of the blame at the feet of the Sri Lanka government forces.

A United Nations report shows the majority of those 40,000 killed in the war’s final months can mostly be attributed to government action.

The team of investigators highlight the years 2008 and 2009, where the Sri Lankan government is accused of mass civilian bombardment. For example, in 2009, civilians were blocked by rebel fighters from leaving the war zone; the government shelled the entire area.

U.N. satellite images show the area the government shelled was occupied by up to 50,000 noncombatants. The government forces are also accused of purposefully targeting hospitals as well as blocking food and medicine to civilians and miscounting the number of civilians located in the war zone.

The abuses have been noted by the United States Government, resulting in intensified relations between the two countries. Recently, the U.S. has floated the idea of a third U.N. resolution against Sri Lanka. It responded by denying a visa request for a State Department official.

The government remains obstinate in the face of international pressure. Its President Mahinda Rajapaksa stated that it would be a “great crime” to accuse the government of war crimes. He went as far as to say that those bringing these allegations against the Sri Lankan government shows they are “opposed to peace.”

It is uncertain where these U.N. resolutions will lead or if they will be effective at all in finding justice for the many thousands that were needlessly slaughtered by their own government.

– Zack Lindberg

Sources: Al Jazeera, CFR, ABC News
Photo: The Telegraph

Mahatma_Gandhi_Human_Rights_India_Apartheid
An oft heard phrase, some cynics go as far as to call the title of this piece, which is also a famous quote, corny, utopian  or unrealistic. Yet the individual who said it would be defined by the antithesis of the spirit behind those words. As it stands, Mahatma Ghandi is remembered as the father of a nation, much like the way that we refer to our founding fathers: Thomas Jefferson, Benajmin Franklin and James Madison to name a few.

Gandhi is certainly one of those historic figures of the past that a great many people have at least heard of. Especially concerning his bravery and courage to stand up to an empire, beginning just with himself. His choices and principles inspired a people to rise up against authority. Few have truly come to understand how, and maybe even more importantly, why he choose to do what he did.

Mahatma Gandhi is, for the most part, unanimously regarded as the leader and motivational spearhead of the Indian Independence Movement that overthrew the British empire. Almost exclusively using his rights of civil disobedience, always grounded in non violence, he managed to topple one of the largest and most sophisticated military conquerors in history.

Born on October 2, 1869, to a prominent father in the local empirical government, and to a mother whom was the fourth wife of the former. At the age of 14, as was customary, he wed by an arranged marriage, and by 15 had his first child that died soon after birth.

In his early adulthood he moved to South Africa for a job prospect. What he experienced, through the Apartheid segregation system, profoundly affected him. Soon he began learning civil disobedience tactics, and became a social activist. In 1915 he returned to India, equipped with the knowledge and skills he would employ and later became revered for.

It was not long before Gandhi became deeply involved with the independence movement. Through his steadfast persistence in following the Sacred Male and Sacred Female behaviors, he became the figurehead and emotional leader of the campaign.

The Salt March is one of his hall mark actions, when he lead a walk through rural India, encouraging civil disobedience and non-compliance to the British Empire imposed salt tax. Though he was arrested many times during the action, it is considered a pivotal point in his rise to prominence amongst the Indian people.

Babo as the Indian people affectionately call him, achieved one of his major goals on August 15, 1947. That is to say, on this day, India became independent from the ruling British empire.

On January 30, 1948, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated.

His legacy of forgiveness, non-violence in the face of overwhelming odds and his persistence have left a deep impression of the conscience of the world. We end this piece as we started. The brevity and truth behind his words cannot be improved upon.

“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”
– Mahatma Ghandi

Tyler Shafsky

Sources: Times of India, MensXP, PBS
Photo: Daily Photostream

tahrir_square_egypt_protests
During a 2011 revolution in Egypt, filmmaker Jehane Noujaim set out to document the downfall of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Armed with cameras, the people of Egypt took to the streets in protest.

The documentary follows six protesters that meet Noujaim in the Tahrir Square tent city. The main characters are Khalid Abdalla, the British-Egyptian star of “The Kite Runner,” Magdy Ashour (a hesitant Muslim Brotherhood member,) Ahmed Hassan (the star activist,) Ramy Essam (the singer-songwriter of the revolution,) Aida El Kashef (a young filmmaker) and Ragia Omran (a human rights lawyer.)

The group sets out to capture the injustices of the regime and the following military dictatorship. The film is wrought with brutal scenes of torture and police brutality.

Magdy is tortured, Ahmed is shot and many of their friends are killed. Originally, the film ended with the overthrow of Mubarak’s regime and military rule, but as discontent with the election brought people back into the square, Noujaim returned to Egypt to continue shooting.

After the overthrow of the regime, Muslim Brothers, secularists, leftists and Coptic Christians, who once joined hands on the front lines, turned on each other.

Magdy is left conflicted, as he finds his organization firing upon his friends from the square. Discontent with President Mohamed Morsi’s policies, the people of Egypt took to the streets in the largest public demonstration on record—20 million people.

The film ends with Mori stepping down. People seem hopeful for the future of Egypt. They know the people of Egypt are a powerful force, capable of taking down dictators and unjust regimes. However, no clear leadership has emerged that unites the many sectors of Egypt’s population.  It is unclear how the Egyptian Revolution will end.

Noujaim’s film is a standout for best documentary of 2014. It is powerful, moving and gives a face to the headlines coming out of Egypt.

– Stephanie Lamm

Sources: The Square Film, IMDB
Photo: Ramesh Srinivasan

Chile_Education_reform_protests
The nation of Chile underwent significant change during the 1970s. At the time, General Augusto Pinochet established a military coup d’état (overthrow of the state) aimed at dismantling the Salvador Allende regime. By means of violence, warfare and eradicating opposition, Pinochet was able to come to power and eventually appoint himself as the President of Chile in 1974. Pinochet was a free market fundamentalist policy permeated throughout much of Chilean society.

In 1981, Pinochet privatized the educational system of Chile by slashing government support for public schools. Fearing that government funded schools were inciting social activism and communist ideals, schools became private under the contemporary military regime. Because of Pinochet’s private education policy, the educational system of Chile suffered greatly. Schools became for-profit institutions with extremely high tuition costs that people were unable to afford. Those who were able to afford private education were often forced to paying off years of debt.

The education policies stemming back to Pinochet’s authoritative rule are still largely in effect today, which has recently sparked a significant amount of civil unrest. Preceding the Chilean elections in November of 2013, tens of thousands of students took to the streets of Santiago to voice their protest against the current education system. Ultimately, about 80,000 people took part in the protest to call for progressive education reform in Chile that would make it both affordable and universal.

Popular polls indicate that the demands of the students protesting are supported by roughly 85% of Chileans and the current administration has certainly taken notice. Although they have been criticized for not making any considerable strides in education reform, former Head of State Michelle Bachelet stated that she would make college education free within six years. Many continue to be skeptical, but hope that Bachelet will follow through with her promises of education reform in Chile.

In December of 2013, Michelle Bachelet won the election to solidify her second term as the President of Chile and exclaimed in her victory speech that she would work to improve education and establish equality through her policies. As a nation with poor framework that perpetuates economic discrimination in education, Bachelet will have to address the pressing issues presented by the thousands of students protesting. On an international scale, nations are moving towards establishing systems that allow for affordable and universal education—and with Chile lagging far behind, the people hope to see significant changes made.

– Jugal Patel

Sources: CNN, BBC, Global Post, Merco Press
Photo: SuleKha

violence_protests_ukraine
Since November, Ukraine has been rocked by intense public protests over the government’s apparent rejection of the West in favor of closer ties to neighboring Russia. The protests have taken a violent turn as many demonstrators clashed with riot police over new anti-protest legislation that was recently passed this week.

The new legislation aims to quell the public’s right to protest against government officials. The specifics of the law ban the placement of tents, stages and loud speakers in public spaces.

The law also puts in place hefty jail sentences for those deemed to have played a part in “mass disorder.” Other points in the law state that wearing face masks or helmets is prohibited, threatening violators with long sentences.

Probably the law’s most egregious violation pertains to journalist’s ability to report on government officials. Any criticism of officials by the media is deemed illegal under the new legislation.

Tensions boiled over on Sunday as protesters resorted to violence against police forces. Demonstrators beat officers with sticks and attempted to turn over a bus blocking access to parliament. Fireworks and smoke bombs hurled through the air, injuring many.

A total of thirty police officers were injured during the protests. Later that night, police fired upon protesters with large water cannons in an attempt to disperse them.

A central figure in the middle of the public outrage over recent anti-western moves by the government is former professional boxer Vitaly Klitschko. He has made repeated calls for protests to remain peaceful despite the government overreach.

Recently, Klitschko was joined by his fiancé, American actress Hayden Panettiere, in a show of solidarity with the protesters.

Despite his efforts, Klistchko’s repeated calls for restraint fell on deaf ears, as tensions proved too much for many involved in the protests.

The country’s recent pivot away from a proposed joint economic partnership with the European Union toward Russia leads many to see Russia’s influence in the new anti-protest legislation. Heather McGill of Amnesty International reports the new law is almost an exact copy of existing Russian legislation that dealt a severe blow to the civil society in Russia.

The new economic partnership with Russia aims to reverse the decline of trade among the respective nations. Under the new deal, Russia will buy up $15 billion of Ukraine debt and cut natural gas prices.

The new prices will be slashed to $268.50 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas from $400.

The proposed partnership will reach across many economic sectors including industry, agriculture, defense, construction and transport.

This new partnership has created a split among the citizenry throughout Ukraine. The eastern section of the country desires increased relations with Russia, while the West favors closer ties with the E.U.

As Ukraine moves closer to Russia, many fear the nation will emulate the authoritarian tactics associated with the Russian government. The brazen passage of anti-protest legislation with complete disregard for the public’s disapproval is a clear sign Ukraine is moving in that direction.

– Zack Lindberg

Sources: CNN, Amnesty International, Reuters
Photo: TPM

Ukrainian Government
Following new legislation that outlawed the right of protest in Ukraine, people have taken to the streets in a display of anger and violence. The situation seems to have gotten out of hand for Ukrainian police and officials, as they are unable to peacefully control the protests. Resorting to brute force to hinder the people, the international community is beginning to call the situation a human rights violation for the people of Ukraine.

International leaders such as United States Vice President Joe Biden are stepping in to urge Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov to resolve the issue peacefully. Biden also went on to state that relations between Ukraine and the U.S. may be hurt as a result of the Ukrainian government’s treatment of the issue. Unfortunately for Azarov, the people are calling for the resignation of Azarov as well as other government leaders.

Opposition and government leaders have met multiple times to try to reach agreements on the issue, but no progress has been made as of yet. After meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko states that the President disagreed to the demands of resignation for both he and his cabinet members. Nevertheless, Yanukovych is determined to continue negotiation talks to reach a resolution.

Recently, news sources in Ukraine reported Yanukovych “has promised a government reshuffle, an amnesty to detained activists and other concessions, after protests against his rule engulfed Ukraine.” However, opposition forces have denied Yanukovych’s offers and seek to continue protesting.

In the city of Lviv, hundreds of protestors gained control of regional governor Oleh Salo’s office and forced him to sign off a resignation letter. Opposition movements in various cities across Ukraine have also sought to gain control of regional government offices but have not been as successful.

Although negotiation talks have stalled, what is certain is that opposition forces are not expected to give in quietly to Yanukovych’s offerings. The protesters are calling for early elections to replace their government and until then, protests are expected to continue.

Jugal Patel

Sources: Voa News, CNN, FOX
Photo: Microsoft

protesters_push_for_bangkok_shutdown
Anti-government protesters are trying to shut down the capital city of Bangkok in order to stop next month’s election. While the protesters have not yet shut down the city of 10 million people they had succeeded in shutting down many intersections and plan to make government offices inaccessible and take over the homes of top government officials where they plan to shut down water and electricity supplies.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is set to win the upcoming election on February 2.

Protesters used double-decker buses, pick up trucks and sandbags to block roads. The police have been taken over by protesters in the streets and government has called in 8,000 military personal to help tackle chaos and destruction.

Businesses, tourist groups and some of the countries top scholars are worried that Thailand is at risk of becoming increasingly violent and are pleading with protesters to cease their protests and allow the election to go ahead. Government supports in the North and Northeast have also lashed out at the protesters and asked for more support from the military.

The protest movement is being led by educated middle and upper class citizens who are highly motivated and idealistic, these individuals reside predominantly in Bangkok and southern Thailand. Protestors are acting out on hatred of Ms. Yingluck and her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire and former president who has left the country but hold significant influence over the country.

Human rights activists and others are requesting that protesters, police and the government respect human rights and avoid violence during these demonstrations in Bangkok.

The protests have been predominately peaceful with raising Thai flags, blowing whistles and spreading tents and picnic blankets across seven major intersections. However, authorities say 8 people have died and 470 people have been injured since the protests began in November.

Amnesty International has recognized that violence could erupt and asked officials to allow the citizens their right to peaceful process, but also warned protesters not to commit human rights abuses either.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke over the telephone to both Ms. Shinawatra and the opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiv in attempts to bring a peaceful end to the protests and help them to reconcile their differences. Ms. Shinawatra has already made an attempt to calm the tensions; in December she arranged the February 2nd re-election. This move has not eased protestors who are asking Ms. Shinawatra to step down and allow an unelected “people’s council” to take over and put in place political reform.

A travel advisory has been put in effect for the region and the U.S. Embassy has warned America’s to avoid travel to Bangkok until the situation becomes more stable.

Elizabeth Brown

Sources: CNN, New York Times, CBC News
Photo: Daily Mail

mongolia
It is no secret that the concerns and rights of ethnic minorities in China fall to the wayside in favor of the Han, the ethnicity with the majority in the country. Inner Mongolia serves as an example of the cultural and economic strife caused by marginalizing one group over another. The result is what the Mongol minority believes is outright economic exclusion and the watering down of their culture.

One of the key issues within the region is the migration of the indigenous nomads from their native grasslands to the cities. The Chinese government waves off the migration as a move into modernity for the nomads. A removal from what Chinese authorities refer to as a “backward” culture, but as Nick Holdstock of the U.K. Independent points out, the natives have no say whatsoever when it comes to moving to the cities. This outflow of ethnic Mongolians to urban centers has raised fears among Mongolians that their culture, language and lifestyle are being threatened.

Another point of tension lies in the regional mining of rare-earth metals. Various mining companies have entered the region to take advantage of the lucrative prospects, especially since the value of these metals is demonstrated in their ubiquity among high-tech electronics. However, the mining has been accompanied by a degradation of the surrounding environment as well as the health of the nomads.

For example, the town of Baotou, a major mining hub, has seen its groundwater polluted to toxic levels, their crops ruined and much of their livestock destroyed. Moreover, the use of underground water sources, essential to the removal of impurities from the coal, has lessened the water available to crops and livestock. Many farmers, unable to deal with destruction of their livelihood, have moved away. The Guardian points out that the population within the surrounding villages of the Baotou plants has decreased dramatically. Those that have remained in the area are plagued by severe illness.

All of these factors have coalesced, creating serious economic problems for the ethnic minority. Environmental devastation of their grasslands has degraded some of the main forms of their economic livelihood; the mining industry in the region tends to hire workers from other provinces, excluding the nomads from many of the economic benefits the industry might bring.  Furthermore, those who have migrated to urban areas have discovered cultural barriers to finding gainful employment, namely an inability to speak passable Mandarin.

Tensions have, moreover, reached the point of violence in some instances. In 2011, a herder was killed by a passing coal truck when he attempted to prevent coal trucks from crossing into his land during his protest against the mining industry. Several days later another protester was killed by a forklift driver. Tensions finally boiled over and several thousand Mongolians went out to voice their opposition toward the mining activities.

Unfortunately, the case of Inner Mongolia is a harsh reminder among ethnic minorities in China of their second-class citizen status. Perhaps in time, the Chinese government will listen to the voices of protest among the disenfranchised minority groups that populate many rural areas throughout China. Until then, Mongolians and other ethnicities face major economic and cultural challenges.

Zack Lindberg

Sources: The Independent, The Guardian
Fabio Ghioni

Fast_For_Families
On the 11th day of a hunger strike, Vice President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to a Fast for Families strike tent on the National Mall in Washington. The Vice President then prayed with the group and encouraged their efforts to bring immigration reform.

The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill (S.744) in June. However, the House of Representatives has been deadlocked on the issue. Fast for Families supporters have vowed to fast until the House votes on the immigration reform bill that has already passed in the Senate. The Fast for Families effort in Washington is in conjunction with local fasts and events taking place in congressional districts all over the country.

The Vice President’s visit inspired the fasters as he addressed the crowd saying, “[w]e’re going to win this.” Vice President Biden and President Barack Obama have struggled to keep immigration issues in the spotlight since the President made a promise to bring immigration reform in his campaign.

Biden also said during his visit to the Fast for Families tent, that the 11 million undocumented men, women, and children working for citizenship are already Americans. Throughout the first eleven days, Fast for Families has been visited by many public officials including Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Reverend Jesse Jackson.

Fasters have vowed that they will continue fasting until they can no longer sustain themselves or are “medically prevented” from continuing. Long time immigration reform activists participating in the fast received the Vice President’s visit and message as inspiring. In fact, Biden’s visit, in connection with House Speaker John Boehner’s recent comments at a news conference on November 21 that immigration reform is not dead, has offered hope to immigration reform advocates and a sign that the change they hope for is coming.

For more information and Fast for Families updates, please visit fast4families.org.

Daren Gottlieb

Sources: Time, Los Angeles Times, Fast for Families
Photo: Media Heavy