Fighting radicalization in Mauritania

The Mauritanian government, with the help of outside organizations, has been working to decrease radicalization in Mauritania since the early 2000s. While Islamic terrorist attacks have been effectively stopped, there are still concerns about the spread of extremist views throughout the nation as well as in the surrounding countries. Several Islamic extremist groups have bases in Mauritania, including Al-Qaeda. Fighting radicalization in Mauritania requires a multi-faceted approach that tackles the factors contributing to radicalization and proactively dissuades extremist views from being able to gain traction.

Factors Contributing to Radicalization

The common problems many impoverished countries face include high unemployment, food insecurity, violence and political turmoil, all of which cause great suffering. These issues can sometimes make individuals more likely to adopt extremist views.

In Mauritania, unemployment is high, particularly for the youth with approximately 18.6 percent of 15 to 24-year-olds unemployed. Combined with poverty and a disconnect from political and civic life, this creates a population of young people who feel disillusioned by the options available to them. These individuals may then look for alternative and sometimes extreme methods through which they can exhibit their frustrations.

A majority of the Islamic jihadists in Mauritania are middle or low-income people, the majority of whom are below the age of thirty. Underemployment and delinquency are two additional factors common in the experiences of these individuals.

Racism in Mauritania

Another contributing factor to radicalization in Mauritania is ethno-racial tension. Conflicts between Arab and black Africans go back as far as the 1960s with the government giving preference to the Arab population. For example, when Arab leaders gained control of the nation’s education system, they reformed the system according to their values and mostly excluded black Africans from administrative positions.

Black Africans are also excluded more generally from society. Even those who have assimilated to the Arab culture are more likely to be illiterate, viewed as second-class citizens and sometimes denied basic rights. In combination with the poverty that many black Africans face, these genuine grievances contribute to the appeal of extremist views.

Additionally, it is important to note that much of what Islamic extremists are protesting – authoritarianism, torture, corruption and Mauritania’s relationship with the West – are genuine grievances. While extremism is never tolerable, the presence of these significant problems will continue to create a context in which extremist ideas are considered attractive.

Fighting Radicalization in Mauritania

The government’s efforts to combat terrorism have included arrests, raids, strengthening border control, improving military and intelligence capabilities and cooperating with the United States. While this is an important part of reducing the threat of terrorism, it is also important to implement programs and policies intended to prevent radicalization in Mauritania.

In 2015, the Ministry of Youth and Sport and UNDP created the National Strategy for Youth and Sport to encourage youth participation in society as a method for preventing radicalization. A youth center in the city of Nouakchott began providing opportunities for young people to discuss the problems as well as their aspirations for the future. Young people also participate in educational programming that teaches them important skills for employment. Discussion forums hosted by the center help train young people to recognize and resist extremist rhetoric and give them the tools to engage in productive dialogue in their communities.

One high school student indicated that her goal is to become a surgeon, but without the support of the youth center, she wouldn’t be prepared for this level of education. Another student expressed the desire to become a teacher and noted that he was “struck by the ignorance that still exists in poor suburbs, and by the lack of teachers in rural areas.” His hope was to be able to help by teaching in those communities.

Another participant noted that being unemployed and religious, he had been “tempted in the past by extremist ideas because of intense frustration,” but the center steered him away from radicalization through training sessions and debates. Over time, he recognized that he had a place in society and began to feel less disillusioned. Centers like the one in Nouakchott are essential for preventing extremism amongst Mauritania’s youth by providing an opportunity to engage in dialogue as well as prepare for a successful future.

Moving Forward

UNDP is also working with the government to create other projects aimed at fighting radicalization in Mauritania. It is focused on tackling the root causes. Starting with the youth is important, but based on the contributions poverty and ethno-racial tensions play in promoting extremism, these issues also need to be addressed more fully in counter-terrorism efforts.

Moving forward, extremism needs to be more fully recognized as a product of poverty and inequality. Efforts to decrease radicalization in Mauritania, therefore, should focus on decreasing poverty more broadly as well as promoting human rights for all Mauritanians. Only through a multi-faceted approach that seeks to tackle the factors contributing to extremism in the nation will fighting radicalization in Mauritania become truly successful.

Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr

Racial Inequality in South Africa
The World Bank recently released a 147-page report extensively detailing the root causes of economic struggle in South Africa. Researchers found that one of the most prominent factors behind poverty is racial inequality in South Africa.

Apartheid, the government-enforced segregation and discrimination against non-white people, came to an end in 1994 with the introduction of a racially mixed, democratically elected parliament under the leadership of Nelson Mandela. But although discriminatory policies stopped being imposed by the government, that unfortunately does not mean that racism vanished from the country. In fact, South Africa remains the most racially unequal country in the entire world.

The residual effects of apartheid have had tremendous impacts on the poverty rate, and the remnants of racial inequality in South Africa are still playing a role in the nation’s economic structure to this day.

Employment Disparities Remain After the End of Apartheid

Because apartheid took place relatively recently, many non-white people in South Africa who lived through it are still recovering from being discriminated against during that time. The report states that non-whites statistically have fewer skills, simply because they were excluded from the workforce for so long. This means that they are still more likely to be unemployed than white people. In fact, black South Africans saw a 31.4 percent unemployment rate in 2017, while among white South Africans the rate was only 6.6 percent.

Employment is hard to come by for non-whites because of how the education system was set up during apartheid. White education focused on reading, language and math, while non-white education mainly trained people to become unskilled laborers so that white people would not have to compete with non-white people for high-paying jobs.

This plan worked exactly as it was intended to, and many non-white people are doomed to a life of working low-paying jobs simply because they were never taught the skills to advance in their careers. As of last year, white South Africans still bring in an average income that is five times greater than that of black South Africans.

Race-Based Displacement Caused Lasting Inequality

Another measure taken to promote racial inequality in South Africa during apartheid was the passage of the Group Areas Act of 1950. This resulted in millions of people being forced out of their homes and sent to live in specific areas based on their race. White people were able to live in the most developed areas, while non-whites were usually placed in barren rural townships. Even if non-whites happened to live in decent areas, their neighborhoods could be demolished to make room for white residences if the land appealed to them.

Because of this mass displacement, many non-whites still live far away from developed regions (even though it is no longer mandated by law) because it is too difficult to find somewhere else to live. For instance, the Western Cape province–home to Cape Town, one of South Africa’s biggest tourist destinations–is the most developed province in South Africa. The Western Cape has the lowest black population out of all the provinces at 32 percent. However, the Eastern Cape, South Africa’s most underdeveloped province, has the highest black population at 86 percent.

The distance from their townships into more populous cities makes it harder for non-whites to find employment in commercial areas, and even if they are able to secure a job, the cost of transportation to get there is very high. In fact, the average South African commuter spends about 40 percent of his or her income on transportation.

Government Efforts to Address Racial Inequality in South Africa

The South African government has taken measures to combat poverty related to racial inequality. The first of these was the establishment of minibus taxis, a cheaper form of public transportation from rural areas into cities. This has helped alleviate some of the cost and inconvenience that comes with living outside of populous areas.

Another important step taken by the government to overcome racism was the passage of the Employment Equity Act. This act made it illegal for employers to discriminate against their workers based on race and requires employers to promote diversity in the workplace through affirmative action programs.

Though these are great initiatives for helping those who were unfairly affected by apartheid and the racism that still lingers today, much more can be and needs to be done to reduce poverty by battling racial inequality in South Africa.

– Maddi Roy
Photo: Flickr

laws aren't enough to end povertySocial justice does not work like a movie. Even if a climactic event results in the removal of unjust systems, the after-effects of injustice persist decades after the fact. Though apartheid was eliminated decades ago, South Africa still sees stark divisions between the living conditions of blacks and whites. These divisions continue due to economic barriers and reveal that laws are not enough to end poverty or prejudice.

The removal of apartheid laws brought several economic opportunities to poor, black South Africans. Unfortunately, this victory did not change ownership of land and capital from its predominantly elite white holders. Without a solid foundation for business creation, few black men and women could find substantial gain pre- or post-apartheid. Even in 2016, ten percent of South Africans own 90 percent of the nation’s wealth, and that ten percent is mostly white.

In an attempt to house black South Africans, the African National Congress built townships around major cities. Though these townships settled close to major centers of business, they were not business centers themselves. With no money flowing into these government-owned lands, the townships became ghettos with dangerous buildings and poor education. South Africa’s unemployment rate neared 28 percent in 2017 and more than half of the black population is officially unemployed.

In a 1997 Regional Review article, Ed Glaeser of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston examined the creation of ghettos and found features of segregated areas that apply all over the world. Concentrating resources in cities brings great wealth only to those working there. When certain areas of a city are deprived of incoming wealth due to artificial barriers, like in a township, racial tensions increase. An expanding economy in the 2000s doubled the size of South Africa’s black middle class, but the financial crisis of 2008 destroyed that decade’s gains.

Though Glaeser based his studies on American ghettos, his findings easily apply themselves to South African townships. “The ghetto walls themselves, not any increase in racism they may engender, thus seem primarily responsible for the poor black outcomes associated with increased segregation,” he stated. Both black and white South Africans consider themselves victims of racism. 44 percent of whites and 73 percent of blacks believe that the two races will never trust each other.

So what has helped South Africans escape destitution? Though laws are not enough to end poverty, they can create situations that allow people to overcome their struggles. In 2014, South Africa cut the rate of extreme poverty in half. In a press release from 2014, the World Bank credits this victory to redistributed income through tax benefits. Through a progressive tax system and an investment in infrastructure, South Africa achieved higher poverty reductions than Brazil, Mexico, or Argentina that year.

The fight is not yet over. The World Bank concludes its press release with the notion that “reducing poverty and inequality further in a way that is consistent with fiscal sustainability will require a combination of better quality and more efficient public services but most importantly greater employment opportunities.”

The New York Times compared South Africa post-apartheid to Europe post-WWII. Both regions had to rise from adversity by re-engineering their economy and challenging the legacy of colonialism. Just as the Marshall Plan restored Europe to prominence, so might foreign aid bring South Africa to the glory it seeks. Although laws are not enough to end poverty, persistent intervention from other countries could help.

– Nick Edinger

Photo: Flickr

Facts About the Ustase GenocideMost people know little about or have never heard of the Ustase – a Croatian, racist, Nazi-like movement formed in 1929 that ruled Croatia during World War II. Modeled after the Italian fascists, the Ustase sought to separate Croatia from Yugoslavia in order to attain Croatian independence and create a “pure” Croatian state, using genocide to rid the country of “impure” people. This dark period for Croatia resulted in the Ustase genocide.

Top 10 facts about the Ustase Genocide:

  1. The targets of the Ustase genocide were mainly Serbs, Jews and Gypsies. These groups were also the main targets of the German Nazi genocide (the Holocaust).
  2. Initially, the Ustase’s enacted race laws against the groups they saw as non-Croatian and who they felt threatened Croatian identity, much like how the Nazi’s established race rules against those who weren’t considered pure Germans.
  3. Additionally, like the German Nazis, the Ustase also established concentration camps to carry out their ethnic cleansing. The largest was Jasenovac where the Ustase murdered around 70,000 to 100,000 people.
  4. The Jewish population of Croatia was practically eliminated – almost all of the 40,000 Jews that resided in Croatia were murdered.
  5. It is estimated that about 30,000 Croatian Gypsies were murdered as well. The most number of deaths comes from the Serbs killed by the Ustase; it is estimated (on the low end) that 300,000 to 400,000 Serbs were murdered in the Ustase genocide. Some reports estimate that around 750,000 Serbians perished.
  6. The leader of the Ustase movement, Ante Pavelic, fled to South America after the end of World War II in 1945. He eventually moved to Spain and died in 1959 at the age of 70 and was never prosecuted for his crimes.
  7. The racism in Croatia did not end after the end of World War II, it continued into the later twentieth century with Serbs still being persecuted and even murdered as late as 1991.
  8. Even the United States was complicit in the continued racism in Croatia. The Assistant US Secretary of State who served as the American Ambassador to Germany during the beginning of the Yugoslav War, Richard Holbrooke, represented the US view that “The Serbs started this war.”
  9. Unlike the German concentration camps, which most often used gas chambers to murder the innocent people they targeted, the Ustase genocide was carried out through much more brutal means. Croatian Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies were cruelly beheaded, drowned and murdered in other barbaric and torturous ways.
  10. Even the German Nazis noticed the brutality of the Ustase. A Gestapo report to Heinrich Himmler from 1942 stated, “The Ustaše committed their deeds in a bestial manner not only against males of conscript age but especially against helpless old people, women and children.”

The shocking cruelty of the Ustase genocide has gone forgotten but should be remembered as an example of the senseless tragedy that occurs from allowing nationalism and racism to fester rather than rooting it out immediately.

Mary Kate Luft

Photo: Flickr

Facts About Myanmar RefugeesMyanmar was previously known as Burma until the ruling junta changed the country’s name in 1989. It is an ethnically and religiously diverse country with a history of conflict and violence. This history has resulted in thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) fleeing and/or settling in Myanmar’s borders. Here are 10 facts about Myanmar refugees:

  1. According to The Border Consortium, a total of 108,407 refugees fleeing political upheaval, civil strife and economic stagnation in Myanmar were living in refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border as of April 2015.
  2. In addition to refugees, the IDMC estimates that there were up to 662,400 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Myanmar as of March 2015.
  3. The Rohingya Muslims are Myanmar’s largest group of stateless people and number 1.45 million as of 2014.
  4. The government does not recognize the Rohingya as a “national race” and has stripped them of their citizenship.
  5. Under the Rakhine State Action Plan that was drafted in October 2014, the Rohingya must demonstrate their family has lived in Myanmar for least 60 years to qualify for a lesser naturalized citizenship and the classification of Bengali, or they are put in detention camps and face deportation.
  6. Bangladesh struggles to accommodate the 29,000 Rohingya Muslims living as refugees in Cox’s Bazar.
  7. None of the countries harboring large refugee populations from Myanmar have signed the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Several countries changed their policies in order to cultivate better relations with the Myanmar government.
  8. As a result of not signing the Geneva Convention, refugees found outside refugee camps in Thailand are treated the same as illegal immigrants.
  9. Thai authorities have not allowed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to register more than a few refugees since 2006. Without registration, refugees cannot apply for resettlement or for most university scholarships abroad.
  10. Mae La is the largest refugee camp in Thailand. Established in 1984, the camp houses 50,000 refugees. Although over 90 percent of the refugees are Karen, Mae La is the most ethnically and religiously diverse camp along the Thai-Myanmar border. The Border Consortium—a union of 11 international NGOs that provide shelter, food and non-food items to Myanmar refugees—oversees and runs the camp.

While these 10 facts about Myanmar refugees are not an exhaustive list, they provide insight into how thousands of underprivileged people live in a system that seems to work against them.

Alexis Pierce

Photo: Reuters

The World’s Children’s Prize (WCP) is awarded annually to a children’s rights hero. Phymean Noun, Kailash Satyarthi, and Javier Stauring are up for a $50,000 grant given to the winner. Stauring is based in the U.S. and advocates for imprisoned children.

Stauring’s work is primarily based in California, which has a “zero tolerance” policy against children committing crimes. As a result of this “zero tolerance” policy, children are imprisoned for small crimes or for being an assistant to the crime, even if they weren’t physically involved.

Half of children imprisoned for life were not physically involved in a crime and children receive longer sentences than an adult if the two committed a crime together.

Every night, ten thousand children spend the night in adult jail. Some children are kept in a special isolation unit made just for children; they receive three hours per week of time outside of the cell.

Others in maximum security jails spend their lives enclosed by bulletproof glass, heavy gates and barbed wire sensors. They are tried as adults and their imprisonment reflects that.

However, the imprisonment of children, as with adults, reflects a system of racism and inequality. 85 percent of imprisoned children are black or Latino. Black children are nine times more likely to be imprisoned than white children; Latino children are four times more likely to be imprisoned than white children. This is correlative with poverty rates in California; persons of color are more likely to be living in poverty.

250,000 children are tried annually as adults, including children as young as eight. This is countered with various arguments, including how children’s brains aren’t fully developed until age 25, and how costly it is to keep children in jail.

California spends $45,000 per year on an inmate and only around $8,000 per year on a student. However, with the implementation and enforcement of this “zero tolerance” policy, the state has invested significant funds into the construction and upkeep of prisons; the state also receives income from fines from people committing minor crimes.

Javier Stauring, who spent time growing up in the U.S. and Mexico, works as an advocate and mentor for imprisoned children. He spends much of his time visiting children in jail; he had been doing so since he was a young adult. From the start, Stauring has been shocked at the treatment of children in jail.

He advocates for their rights while in jail, such as being able to get an education, play sports, and call their families. He protests against life sentencing, the use of solitary confinement and inhumane treatment for children in jail. He also fights for children who are victims of violent crime in adult prisons.

Stauring works on the ground and also through partnerships. Stauring works for the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles as the Co-Director of Restorative Justice; through this, he promotes dialogue, education, and community service as a form of justice rather than outright punishment through imprisonment. He works with religious leaders, politicians, educational institutions, and nonprofits to increase the impact of his work.

What is increasingly troubling is the lack of transparency for the juvenile justice system. At one point, Stauring was banned from prisons until he sued. Furthermore, it is difficult to find statistics on the exact number of children in jail.

Statistics on children are vaguely categorized in the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ report on prison populations; they are grouped under “other offenses.” Little of this receives significant press.

In addition, in a state such as California whose population is 10 percent immigrants, it raises questions on how the U.S. handles children of immigrant families in the legal system.

Immigrants make up 19 percent of the prison population in California, double their rate in the general population; this incarceration rate does not match that of who is actually committing violent crimes. Therefore, Stauring’s work for restorative justice for all, regardless of citizenship or ethnicity, holds critical weight in the fight for children’s rights in jail.

Ultimately, as immigration, the movement for racial equality and how to handle illegal immigrants become increasingly politicized with the upcoming 2016 presidential election, it also becomes important to consider children’s rights, particularly those of children in jail.

The U.S. remains one of only two countries in the world to have not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which has powerful implications for how the U.S. approaches foreign policy and helps children in poverty around the world. As we continue to support legislation for foreign aid, it is important to think about the example we set and the rights we support at home, too.

Priscilla McCelvey

Sources: Bureau of Justice Services, Center for Immigrant Studies, CNN, Equal Justice Initiative, Huffington Post, Public Policy Institute of California, World’s Children’s Prize
Photo: Human Rights Watch

For 21 years, Shared Interest has helped end poverty in South Africa by connecting farmers and handicraft makers with legitimate and supportive investors. In 1994, South Africa had its first democratic elections, and Shared Interest was launched to help bring South Africa out of poverty. The organization was initially started by black South Africans, who had been sent into exile, in the United States in 1985. Shared Interest established a partner organization called the Thembani International Guarantee Fund in South Africa in 1995 to work with banks to invest in low-income black townships and rural communities and help bring them out of poverty.

Shared Interest is the only nonprofit committed to providing guarantees and supplies to black townships and rural communities in South Africa. While South Africa does not suffer from a lack of capital, the country has issues with evenly distributing capital to its residents. Shared Interest works to alleviate this problem by helping banks enhance their financial principal.

The organization was founded by Donna Katzin, who served as executive director from 1986 to 1994. All of the board members have continued to assist South Africa with social justice, education and development.

When people receive the investments, they are able to afford houses, start businesses, support their families and create jobs. This also allows community institutions to expand their operations to better serve more clients, strengthen their finances and increase their commercial viability. Financial institutions and banks benefit as well, as it allows them to build their capacity to serve the underprivileged.

There are more than 400 individuals and institutions in the United States investing in rural communities in South Africa, with investments totaling over 12 million dollars. As of right now, all of the investments have been paid back and the investees have utilized the loaned funds to bring themselves out of poverty. As of 2012, 79,657 people have received assistance from investors, with 100 percent of them being able to pay them back. Because of this support, 43,429 jobs have been created and 36,219 small businesses and microfinance clients have benefitted. In total, 145,473 people have served as guarantee beneficiaries.

Every August, Shared Interest hosts a month-long celebration honoring women in South Africa. The celebration focuses on empowering women who run businesses and are struggling with upholding their economic, social and political rights. The celebration brings together investees to commemorate making it out of poverty and to overcome other issues together.

Julia Hettiger

Sources: Shared Interest, Matador Network
Photo: BrazilWorks

Democratization in Burma, now Myanmar, seems to have opened up a can of worms. Freeing political prisoners, allowing freedom of speech, granting access to social media and tolerating freedom of assembly has allowed many Burmese people to express what had long be suppressed, albeit incompetently at times – a deep-seated hatred for the Rohingya Muslim minority.

The Rohingya make up five percent of Buddhist-majority Myanmar and have been discriminated against for centuries. They are denied citizenship and many basic rights because they are not seen as Burmese, even though their families were brought over from what was then Bengal many generations ago. But while the military junta was in power, it jailed anyone who incited violence against the Rohingya in the interest of keeping peace.

In 2011, the regime finally started opening up and passed a series of political, economic and social reforms. Among other developments, Myanmar freed opposing politician Aung San Suu Kyi after placing her under house arrest for fifteen years. It also gave general amnesty to hundreds of political prisoners, one of which was a monk named Ashin Wirathu.

Wirathu had been jailed for twenty-five years for inciting anti-Muslim hatred. Now free to resume his activities, Wirathu helped instigate a wave of resentment toward the Rohingya that cumulated in the deadly 2012 Rakhine State riots and the 2013 nationwide anti-Muslim riots. He now heads the fanatic 969 movement, which has a large following among the Buddhist population.

The movement calls on all Buddhists to refuse to do business with the Rohingya and demarcate their homes and businesses using the “969” sticker. They are already pervasive on many shop windows, cars and motorbikes across Myanmar. The economic boycott against Muslims is only one of the four propositions of 969; the others are to restrict marriage between Buddhists and Muslims, forbid religious conversions and prohibit polygamy.

The general intent of these laws, according to Wirathu, is to prevent a much-feared Muslim “population explosion.” He calls Muslims “African carp” that “breed quickly and eat their own kind.” The Rohingya, he claims, are a threat to Buddhism and the Burmese national identity.

The movement has already succeeded in getting a “population control” bill signed into law. The bill gives the government the power to stop mothers from having another child for 36 months. Human rights groups are certain that this law will only victimize Rohingya women.

These racist attitudes are not marginal, according to Richard Horsey, a political analyst from Yangon. In fact, these extremist views are mainstream. Matt Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, said that people often get together in community meetings similar to American town hall meetings to discuss how to get rid of the “Bengali problem.” In Karen State, host to Myanmar’s capital Hpa-an, fliers exhort people to stop Muslims from leasing homes and farms, and some threaten Buddhists who act as their middlemen.

Facebook, which had long been suppressed under the junta regime, is now also being used as a means to spread hatred. Users encourage their friends and family members to support the 969 movement. Groups such as the “Kalar Beheading Gang” (“Kalar” is a highly derogatory word given to Muslims) have popped up.

Attacking the Rohingya has therefore become good politics in Myanmar, Jonathan Head, the BBC correspondent for Southeast Asia, asserts, and rhetoric is heating up as elections approach in November. Fear mongering has allowed new and rising politicians to curry favor with the Buddhist majority. Aung San Suu Kyi, once seen as the symbol of human rights in the country, and now head of the National League for Democracy Party, has been conspicuously silent.

The Rohingya were also recently stripped of their right to vote. Just before the end of military rule in 2008, the junta had allowed them to vote and even put up candidates for election. But in 2013, when the government said it would maintain the Rohingya’s right to vote in a constitutional referendum, Buddhists staged massive protests. Hoping to appease the population, the government made the Rohingya turn in their identity cards.

Many international organizations have said that the recent events amount to genocide. More than 170,000 Rohingya live in internally displaced persons camps throughout the country after their houses and villages were burned to the ground in riots. They are circled by hostile Buddhist populations that do not allow them to leave the camp. The camps rarely have medical facilities and the Rohingya often have to sell their meager food rations to obtain medicines for their children. Jonathan Head calls the conditions “ghetto-like.” The government has actively refused to count casualty rates.

During a recent international conference in Norway that aimed to address the Rohingya crisis, George Soros, a business magnate turned philanthropist, said that “In 1944, as a Jew in Budapest, I, too, was a Rohingya…Much like the Jewish ghettos set up by the Nazis in eastern Europe during World War II, Aung Mingalar has become the involuntary home of thousands of families who once had access to healthcare, education and employment. Now they are forced to remain segregated in a state of abject deprivation. The parallels to the Nazi genocide are alarming.”

More than 150,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar in overstuffed and rickety boats within the last three and a half years of democratic reforms. Smugglers promise to take them to Malaysia or Indonesia, Muslim majority countries. Jonathan Head voiced concern over the appalling conditions of the boats, which he said “were akin to the 18th century slave trade.” People cannot stand or sit properly, and are beaten if they try to stretch their legs. They are given a cup of rice, a single chili and two cups of water a day until the food runs out, as it often does.

Many boats never reach their destination and are instead handed over to traffickers, usually in Thailand, where people are then held ransom for up to $2,000. This often means that relatives in Myanmar have to sell their remaining land and homes to get them out. If they cannot, the traffickers simply leave them to starve. Recently, mass graves were uncovered in Thailand and Malaysia.

Myanmar refuses to admit responsibility for the crisis. Major Zaw Htay, director of the President’s Office, said that the country would “not accept allegations by some that Myanmar is the source of the problem.”

 — Radhika Singh

Sources: Bangkok Post 1, Bangkok Post 2, Foreign Correspondants Club of Thailand, Bangkok Post 3, Al Jazeera, Asia Nikkei, Global Post 1, The Guardian, Global Post 2, BBC
Photo: Flickr

Yuri Kochiyama
Yuri Kochiyama, a prolific civil rights activist, died this past Sunday in Berkeley, Calif. at 93 years old. Known for her friendship with Malcolm X (she held him in her hands as he lay bleeding from gunshot wounds the night of his assassination,) Kochiyama was equally a revered activist in her own right. She, along with her husband, pushed for reparations and a government apology for the many Japanese-American internment camp victims under the Civil Liberties Act, and her legacy and determination has inspired a slew of young activists.

Kochiyama was born in San Pedro, Calif. to Japanese immigrants. After leading a figuratively normal teen life, it would not be until Pearl Harbor in 1941 that she would become involved in political issues after her father was taken into custody by the FBI. Like many other Japanese-Americans, Kochiyama and her family were just one of 120,000 Japanese-American victims who were unjustly sent to internment camps following the attack.

Kochiyama and her husband lived in the housing projects in New York City, where her African American and Puerto Rican neighbors inspired her to become involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Upon meeting Malcolm X, she reportedly challenged his harsh stance on integration — a move causing him to move away from the strict Nation of Islam viewpoint he preached to a more inclusive acceptance of all kinds of people. Upon Malcolm X’s death, Kochiyama continued to fight for the rights of those whose voices needed to be heard. She was constantly fighting.

Her home, which was the permanent “meeting place” for activists in the area, will be forever remembered by Kochiyama’s eldest daughter, Audee Kochiyama-Holman, who described her upbringing as a “24/7” movement. And that it was: until her death, Kochiyama continuously fought for the under-represented voice. Her activism against the discrimination of South Asians, Muslims, Arabs and Sikhs after 9/11 was just one example; her fight toward equality was all-inclusive.

Shailja Patel, poet and activist, is just one of many who remembers Kochiyama in this light. “She made us all larger, reminding us always to think globally and organize locally,” she says. “She emphasized that all struggles for justice are connected — and she lived that truth.”

– Nick Magnanti

Sources: Huffington Post, NPR, The New York Times
Photo: Casa Atabex Ache

Too often we forget that America has not always enjoyed its position as a human rights watchdog. Only a few generations ago, Americans were legally segregated with women and African-Americans barred from the voting booth. And looking back a few more generations, America was engaged in one of the most devastating slave trades the world has ever known.

As a nation, we have come a long way since then. But that is no excuse for forgetting our history. Remembrance for that arduous journey and reverence for the great men and women who led the way is in order.

The year 2014 gives us a unique opportunity to reflect on the long road to freedom that Americans have endured.

One hundred fifty years ago, the city of Atlanta was ravaged in one of the final battles of the Civil War. The Battle of Atlanta sealed the fate for the war-torn South, and it paved the way for the important, yet only marginally successful Civil Rights Amendments: the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. Combined, those amendments to the U.S. Constitution made slavery illegal, guaranteed equal rights for all and made it unconstitutional to deny a voter on the basis of color.

Sixty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that separate did not mean equal. The ruling deemed segregation of schooling facilities to be unconstitutional.

The basis for the ruling was the 14th amendment, which was added to the Constitution nearly a decade prior to the decision. Progress for the human rights movement in America was by no means swift.

This month also marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Along with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, these laws were able to finally instantiate the ideals set forth in the 14th amendment.

But that was not the end for the human rights movement in America. True equality remains an elusive dream for the two aforementioned groups: women and African-Americans.

According to a 2012 Associated Press Poll, the majority of Americans — 51 percent — “now express explicit anti-black attitudes.”

Likewise, studies show that women earn somewhere between 77 and 84 percent of what their male counterparts earn.

Despite the great strides that we have made in the human rights movement, there is still much work to be done if we are to realize the full equality guaranteed to us by the First Amendment.

Even still, the progress that has yet to be made in America pales in comparison to the dismal condition of human rights globally.

Given our relative success in realizing human rights, and given our dominance on the global scale, America stands in a unique position where we can sacrifice a portion of our time and money to rectify human rights violations around the world.

If  a superpower like the U.S. had existed in the midst of our earlier struggles, a helping hand would have dramatically expedited our social development process.

Human rights are being advanced around the world, but at a relatively sluggish rate. America stands in a position to help move that process along, both with our bountiful resources and our invaluable knowledge of how to successfully lead a human rights movement.

We learned from the American human rights movement that progress takes time. It takes a monumental struggle. It requires trial and error. And more than anything else, it takes sacrifice.

– Sam Hillestad

Sources: US Courts, Historynet, SaportaReport, Stanford, Pew Research, USA Today
Photo: Civil Rights Teaching