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Emerging Social Activists
There are many people around the globe who are standing up and advocating for themselves and the human rights of the people around them. Whether their countries allow them to speak freely about their oppression or try to silence them, these social activists are making an impact. These are some of the top emerging social activists from around the world.

Shamma bint Suhail Faris Mazrui – United Arab Emirates

The youngest government minister in the world, Shamma bint Suhail Faris Mazrui became Minister of State for Youth Affairs in the UAE in 2016. One of her main views on what youths can add to public affairs and relations is resourcefulness, arguing, “Hopelessness results when youth are not seen as resources, and apathy results they’re not seen as assets.”

Mazrui’s vision is to bring more youths into the private sectors of the UAE and not just into public affairs. She believes that the change of a nation starts with the investment of the youth. Ultimately, her goal is to set a vision into the youth’s eyes that there is something more important than living solely for yourself.

Majandra Rodriguez Acha – Peru

In 2009, the government of Peru released its jungles from protection and opened them for scavenging and oil extraction. That year, nineteen-year-old Majandra Rodriguez Acha decided she would not stand for her jungles to be exploited. A group of activists including Ahca chanted “La selva no se vende, la selva se defiende.” In English, “You don’t sell the jungles, you defend them.”

Since then, Acha has formed a group called TierrActiva Perú. The group advocates for the voice of the jungle. It reconciles urban youth groups to indigenous youth groups in Peru directly affected by the exploitation of the jungles.

In 2014, Acha organized a conference that brought together over 100 indigenous and urban youths, mainly under 30 years old. Acha says, “We believe that people are experts of their own reality” and the conference was one of little convention. The people were free to come up to the stage, write on a whiteboard, and express their own emotions and ideas towards bettering Peru.

Li Maizi – China

China has been under the rule of the communist party for sixty-six years. The country runs on the traditional principles of efficient work and a conventional, stable family-core. However, in 2015, emerging social activists like Li Maizi challenged these values.

China has no laws or allowance for activism which does not conform to the structure of society within the country. Maizi and others handed out stickers on International Women’s Day in 2015. They were protesting and raising awareness of sexual abuse and harassment. These women were detained and interrogated. Maizi herself was imprisoned for over thirty-five days but was released after being labeled a spy.

Four other women were detained alongside Maizi. All either queer or labeled as free-women, meaning they do not wish to have children, they have been called the Feminist Five. The group realize public rallies in their country are not possible. To succeed in fighting against the oppression of women,  they have to formulate different tactics to raise awareness.

Maizi believes that the U.S. is a breeding ground for social activism. She believes it has the right political and social atmosphere to transcend borders and empower China. “If we don’t set up this group in the U.S., China’s feminist movement will become too passive. The position of our core activists is extremely fragile and we don’t know when the police will come and arrest someone again—it could be today or tomorrow,” she says.

Alioune Tine – Chad

The government of Chad has cracked down on social activism and freedom of speech within the last two years. It has also banned peaceful protests within the country. Alioune Tine is the Amnesty International West and Central Africa Director. He has said that officials have made criticism of their government something that cannot be voiced or acted upon.

Many of the known political and social activists in Chad have reached out to Amnesty International, stating that they have received phone calls and harassment. They allege that the calls include interrogatory questions which leave them afraid and confused.

Tine says that Chad is at a crossroads. It must choose between muzzling citizens and critics of its government or to walk in the promises made by the president during his election.

These emerging social activists are just a few among many around the world who are standing up and speaking out despite opposition. As Acha said, “people are experts to their own reality.” These experts believe people have a right to be heard.

– Hannah Vaughn
Photo: Flickr

Living Conditions in Turkmenistan
Central Asia displays memories of ancient ruins and powerful empires. Turkmenistan is no exception due to its most recent invasion by the Russian Empire (1881-1998) which is what shapes most of its modern history. Today, the world knows the country for its natural resources, dictatorial leader and marble cities. Here are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Turkmenistan.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Turkmenistan

  1. Authoritarian Media
    The close eye of Presiden Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow administers daily life in Turkmenistan. The government oversees all media outlets to determine what can and cannot be published. Only 17.9 percent of the population uses the internet due to the high expense. People have access to little online information as authorities ban websites against the government. Since 2006, the government imprisoned two journalists (Sapardurdy Khadjiyev and Annakurban Amanklychev) for not complying with government media regulations.
  2. An Ongoing Economic Recession
    Turkmenistan was the poorest nation during the USSR. Today, the country’s GDP per capita is $6,587 and 10 percent of 5.8 million Turkmen live in extreme poverty. However, this is a massive stride for the nation. In 1990, more than a third of the country lived in extreme poverty (less than $1.90 per day) making 10 percent the lowest poverty rate the nation has ever seen.
  3. Developing Education
    Nearly 100 percent of Turkmenistan people are literate. The country has a 12-year educational system, however, the average student drops out of school after 10 or 11 years. The government has partnered with UNICEF to continue the development of its education through the Child Friendly Schools (CFS) model. This framework aims to help children not only in terms of education but also in terms of their well being.
  4. Gender Equality on the Rise
    Only 40 percent of women in Turkmenistan will attend tertiary school. Women often marry by the ages of 20 or 21 and will thus have few opportunities to obtain a higher education or career. Luckily, the United Nations has aided in the recent 2017 presidential decree of Turkmenistan’s first national action plan on gender equality. This plan includes improved legislation, equal access to health services and data collection to monitor progress.
  5. Poor Health
    The state does not widely fund health care. Turkmen are likely to spend more money on health care than the government. In 2017, the average citizen spent $2,052 on health care in comparison to the government which only spent $741. The lack of accessible public health care leads to an average life expectancy of just 67.8 years, with the highest cause of death being lower respiratory infections.
  6. Urban vs. Rural Life
    There are 5.8 million people living in Turkmenistan and 49.2 percent of that population living in urban areas. The sale of cotton, silk, Karakul sheep and homemade carpets and rugs are essential to rural development. Ashgabat remains the capital city and is the center point for business and government officials. Cars and railways connect the cities and towns within the country.
  7. Jail Brutality
    Prisoners within Turkmenistan and political prisoners especially are often abused. The exact number of political prisoners held by the government is not public knowledge, however, Prove They are Alive, an international organization fighting to reduce disappearances within Turkmenistan, states that 121 people remain forcibly disappeared. Ovadandepe is the most infamous jail and was the point of death for former government official Begmurad Otuzov. Mr. Otuzov’s body was returned to his family weighing just 99 pounds after having been missing for 15 years.
  8. Natural Resources and the Economy
    Turkmenistan’s economy is largely dependent upon hydrocarbon resources. The country leads as the world’s fourth-largest natural gas distributor and had 265 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves in 2016. Its largest customers include China, Russia and Iran. Petrofac is one of the largest energy producers in the country and employs 1,700 people across the nation.
  9. Environmental Resolutions
    Turkmenistan has no renewable energy sources and 13.9 percent of the population does not have access to clean water. However, UNICEF developed a strategy in 2017 to help the country promote sustainable practices. The project aims to raise awareness around environmental sustainability through education in schools.
  10. A Housing Crisis
    In 2015, the government evicted 50,000 people from their homes in the capital. The government forcibly removed people from their houses so they could build new buildings for the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games. Forced evictions are a common and recurring issue within Turkmenistan. Amnesty International is combating this housing crisis by publicizing homes that continue to be demolished.
  11. Low Unemployment Rate
    Last on the list of the top 10 facts about living conditions in Turkmenistan is employment. The country maintains a low GDP and a minimum wage of just 535 Turkmenistani ($152.55) per month. However, it also maintains a rather low unemployment rate. Only 3.8 percent of the country was unemployed in 2018, even lower than the United States’ unemployment rate of 4 percent.

Turkmenistan, like any country, has its challenges. As displayed in these top 10 facts about living conditions in Turkmenistan, the government’s high levels of surveillance and poor infrastructure can make life challenging at times. On the other hand, several NGOs such as the U.N. and Amnesty International are fighting to create a more equal society. Overall, the country has seen progress and today it maintains an improved education system as well as higher employment rates.

– Anna Melnik
Photo: Flickr

 

al otro ladoMore than 4,000 asylum seekers in Tijuana have written their names on a waitlist in hopes of presenting themselves at the U.S. port of entry. It is unclear how the list began since the U.S. government doesn’t claim jurisdiction and neither does Mexico. Regardless, the waitlists are followed and migrants’ names are slowly crossed off as they are brought to state their cases. Most asylum-seekers are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, many of whom are fleeing gang violence, political instability and extreme poverty. Al Otro Lado and other nonprofits are helping the migrant crisis.

The Migrant Crisis

Central Americans from the caravan have been labeled everything from refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants to invaders, aliens and criminals. However, despite widespread disagreement and confusion about the caravan, U.S. immigration and international laws dictate that people have the legal right to seek asylum. Asylum seekers’ have the right to present their cases to an immigration officer, but with so many asylum-seekers to process, thousands of individuals and families are left waiting in limbo.

As Policy Analyst at the American Immigration Council Aaron Reichlin-Melnick explains, “The government would argue that high [asylum] denial rates indicate they’re fraudulent asylum claims… the more likely answer is that people are genuinely afraid for their lives–they may not know the ins and outs of a complex asylum system.” For many nonprofits, the situation is clearly a refugee crisis, and they treat it like one. Since caravans began arriving at the border, humanitarian organizations have been on the ground providing shelter, medical care and legal assistance. This is one way that Al Otro Lado is helping.

Al Otro Lado

Al Otro Lado is a legal services nonprofit based in Los Angeles, San Diego and Tijuana. Over the last four months, Al Otro Lado has helped more than 2,000 migrants in Tijuana while also fighting larger battles to protect the legal rights of asylum seekers. Operating out of an Enclave Caracol, a three-story community center turned migrant shelter, Al Otro Lado provides legal orientation and know-your-rights training to asylum seekers waiting in Tijuana.

Though Al Otro Lado is focused on upholding international and U.S. law, it is not immune to the controversy and violence that has accompanied the migrant caravan. The organization and its staff have received death threats, and co-directors Erika Pineiro and Nora Phillips were detained and forced to leave Mexico in January. Still, Al Otro Lado continues their operations in Tijuana, but now they just unplug their phones between calls to cut down on the death threats.

Other Notable Organizations Helping the Migrant Crisis

  1. In April 2018, Food Not Bombs served food to migrants out of the Enclave Caracol community center. They accepted donations of food, spices and reusable plates among other items.
  2. UNICEF works with the Mexican government to provide safe drinking water and other necessities to asylum seekers. The organization also provides psychosocial services and trains authorities on child protection.
  3. Save the Children provides emergency services, legal representation, case management and works to reunite migrant families.
  4. Amnesty International, like Al Otro Lado, is concerned with upholding immigration law. The organization monitors the actions of Mexican authorities at the border and also documents the situations and conditions that migrants face.

Organizations like Al Otro Lado, Save the Children and Amnesty International see the migrant caravan as a humanitarian issue beyond party politics. They have wasted no time supporting migrants and asylum-seekers who have risked their lives journeying to the border. However, unless governments and organizations address the larger issues that led the people to leave in the first place, they will continue migrating. Faced with violence, persecution and poverty, it’s hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t do the same.

Kate McIntosh

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in NicaraguaIn recent weeks, the previously peaceful country of Nicaragua has been rocked as social protests have been combated with violent repression. At the end of April, citizens of Nicaragua took to the streets after President Daniel Ortega proposed cutting pensions and social security. Since then, Ortega has abandoned these plans, but Nicaraguans are now protesting and calling for his resignation. The government has responded violently to these anti-government protests, and an estimated 200 people have been killed; although, many have reported that this is a low estimate.

Despite this blatant disregard for human rights, the government’s violent response to these protests has received limited news coverage. It is for this reason that the work of human rights activists and defenders highlighted below is more important than ever. The first two organizations defend human rights as researchers and activists, and the last two organizations are working to provide basic human rights such as shelter, food and clothing. Each organization is protecting human rights in Nicaragua in different but equally important ways.

Amnesty International

This well-known organization is similar to The Borgen Project due to its focus on advocacy, campaigning and action. Amnesty International fights human rights abuse around the globe and campaigns for a world where everyone has human rights. One of the ways they help countries like Nicaragua is through researching and reporting on human rights abuses.

Throughout the current conflicts in Nicaragua, Amnesty International has both reported on the issues and called on countries and governments around the world to do more. At the end of May, the organization released a report on Nicaragua that explains the repressive strategies being used on protesters, which was used as a reference by larger news sources reporting on the country. Throughout the month of June, the organization continued to release news stories on the violence in the country and called for international leaders and organizations to not turn their backs on the Nicaraguan people. The spotlight and voice they are providing for victims of violence have been one of the ways they have fought to protect human rights in Nicaragua.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)

Started in 1959, the IACHR is an independent body in service of The Organization of American States whose goal is to improve human rights in the American hemisphere through promotion and protection. It also operates with The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, or “The Court,” under a charter that calls for the full respect of human rights.

This organization plans to set up a Rapid and Integrated Response Coordination Unit (SACROI in Spanish) in order to focus attention on human rights in Nicaragua. By the end of May, the Commission had sent groups to four locations in Nicaragua. The purpose of these trips was to observe the human rights situation after the violence that happened in April, to document these events and to create recommendations for the current state of the country. The groups visited State facilities, hospitals, detention centers and healthcare facilities and produced a lengthy report of their findings.

The findings show that police violence, unlawful detentions and limiting access to medical care have been used to keep people from demonstrating. According to this report, as of June 19, 212 people had been murdered and 1,337 people injured. The report argues that the government’s repressive reaction to demonstrations has created a serious human rights crisis. Their findings were presented to the OAS and have shown how important it is to protect the Nicaraguan people.

Nicaragua Nonprofit Network (NNN)

The NNN is different than other nonprofits in Nicaragua because it’s mission is to bring development together by providing a common platform for all nonprofits in the country. Volunteers and organizations are able to share resources, knowledge, accomplishments and experiences with others to improve efficiency and development. Basically, it is a way for the people working for basic human rights in Nicaragua to work together to share what has worked and what hasn’t in order to have a bigger impact on the country.

Their technologies and strategies are extensive making the organization more effective. They include comprehensive profiles of nonprofits, search tools, like maps and databases, allow one to search for nonprofits in certain areas and what they do, forums for members, news and reporting, custom Google Map tools, event calendars and staff/volunteer listings. Currently, the NNN is made up of 152 organizations spread across the country who are using this platform to work together with other nonprofits.

Other than networking nonprofits together, the NNN has had an active Twitter feed throughout the protests in Nicaragua. They share updates and news stories about these human rights abuses and have acted as social media activists.

CARE

CARE is a nonprofit that protects the basic human rights of people all around the world in areas such as gender equality, social justice and fighting poverty.

In 1990, CARE started clean water, preventative health, and sanitation programs and is working to establish sustainable agriculture in rural areas. Through these programs, CARE has touched over 300,000 lives in Central America and provided food security to many families. Other areas of focus in Nicaragua include ending child poverty, improving girls’ education, youth empowerment and maternal health.

Each of these organizations is protecting human rights in Nicaragua in equally important yet different ways. As the Nicaraguan government continues to abuse its people, these organizations are working for good and will continue supporting human rights.

– Alexandra Eppenauer
Photo: Flickr

Boko Haram InsurgencyDespite its economic and resource potential, Nigeria, the most populous country in the African region, remains a poor country with a rising poverty rate, now projected at 60.9 percent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Besides government planning and expenditure, the activities of the Boko Haram Insurgency remain one of the most significant problems.

The Boko Haram Insurgency, a jihadist rebel group, is internationally recognized and condemned as a terrorist organization. Its ideology stems from the concept of Haram, or a rejection of western education, social and political systems.

Consequently, the following facts encompass some of the most crucial details of the Boko Haram Insurgency.

  1. The inception of the Boko Haram Insurgency can be traced back to 2002. The group declared a supposed ‘caliphate’ in Nigeria back in 2014. Its activities are closely associated with that of a so-called Islamic State. Owing to the widespread influence of the group, the Nigerian government was forced to declare a state of emergency.
  2. The group is infamous for its influence and indoctrination of youth and for perversions against the education system in Nigeria, in concentrated areas like Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. The group is known to operate from its stronghold in the town of Borno.
  3. Over the course of eight years and since the beginning of the group’s activities, over 20,000 people have lost their lives, with many bodies often unaccounted for. Recently, Borno state declared that over 52,311 children have lost their families in the fight against the Boko Haram group.
  4. In 2014, the group gained ubiquitous condemnation for the kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok. Even though many of them were freed with the help of collaborative discussions between the Nigerian and Swiss governments and the rebels, Amnesty International cites that over 2000 children remain in captivity.
  5. A majority of the civilians caught in the violent actions of the Boko Haram Insurgency are often housed in ramshackle government refugee camps, where resources and necessities are scarce.
  6. Since 2009, a lot of the violence has been concentrated in the Lake Chad region. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), over 800,000 children under the age of five around the area are deemed ‘severely malnourished’. An estimated $2.2 billion is needed to address the humanitarian emergency. Fortunately, the UNDP and Germany are working collaboratively on an integrated project that could potentially reach over 20 Nigerian communities.
  7. In recent years, the Nigerian Army has been able to recover a large portion of lost territory and reduce the group’s influence in the country. The Army recently captured a Boko Haram commander and freed around 212 hostages in the process. Moreover, the U.N. has spent a lot of effort on strengthening Sahel security forces in Lake Chad.
  8. In October 2017, the U.K. government pledged its support to Nigeria in the fight against the Boko Haram Insurgency. Currently, they will help the Nigerian military bolster its capacity by providing effective training. The British Military Advisory and Training Team (BMATT) and the Liaison Support Team (LST) will play a crucial role in further actions in Nigeria.
  9. According to a recent report by BBC news, the home of the founder of the Boko Haram Insurgency, Mohammed Yusuf, will be converted into a museum. The founder died during a police interrogation in the early stages of the group’s activities in the year 2009.
  10. According to many Nigerian researchers, a community- based approach toward combatting the problem is recommended.

Overall, the activities of the Boko Haram Insurgency seem to be at its final stages as governments and other stakeholder groups come together to mitigate the negative effects caused by the terrorist group and finally restore peace and order after many years of turbulence.

– Shivani Ekkanath
Photo: Flickr

Chronic Violence in Rio's Favelas and the Apps Helping to Save LivesDespite the Brazilian government’s efforts to protect favela inhabitants from drug and gang-related violence, concerns over public safety and security in Rio de Janeiro are at an all-time high. The prevalence of gun violence amid the struggle to wrest control of favelas away from drug traffickers has resulted in a staggering number of bystanders to be hit, often fatally, by stray bullets in police shootouts. As the embattled Brazilian state struggles to find effective solutions, two humanitarian organizations have developed applications whose aim is to help keep citizens out of harm’s way.

Translated literally from Portuguese, “favela” means slum or shantytown, but the diverse nature of these urban communities often belies such narrow labels. Typically colorful and teeming with life, favelas are low-income, informal housing centers that have become ubiquitous in Brazil’s largest cities.

Brazil’s first favela, now called Providência, was built in the center of Rio de Janeiro in the late 19th century by soldiers who found themselves homeless following the civil conflict known as the Canudos War. Today, an estimated 1,000 favelas are home to about 1.5 million people in Rio, which means that about 24 percent of Rio’s population lives in these communities.

Though the term “favela” has a historically negative connotation, conditions in favelas vary widely today and have over the past decade. While some of these centers are typified by destitution and the lack of resources, not all favela inhabitants identify with the negative labels typically applied to their communities. In fact, a 2013 study found that 85 percent of favela residents like the place where they live, 80 percent are proud of where they live and 70 percent would continue to live in their communities even if their income doubled.

Since this study, however, Brazil has entered into its worst economic recession since the 1930s. In 2014, Brazil celebrated its removal from the U.N. Hunger Map and prosperity seemed to be on the horizon. Just three years later, however, 14 million people are currently unemployed, hunger is yet again a pressing issue, and the number of incidents of gun violence between the police and drug traffickers has significantly increased.

Urban violence related to drug trafficking, which was largely believed to be a problem of the past, has reemerged in Rio de Janeiro. In 2008, the state established 38 Pacifying Police Units (UPPs) across the city’s favelas in response the problem of drug and gang-related violence, which has historically been centered around favelas. This program, which represents the state’s largest public monetary investment in the favelas to date, is dedicated to protecting inhabitants from gang and drug-related violence in Rio and removing the physical manifestation of the drug trade.

Initially, studies demonstrated that the UPPs were affecting positive outcomes in the favela communities. Crime rates fell and the price of real estate was on the rise. In the last three years, however, Brazil’s economic crisis has caused an uptick in crime rates, and the UPPs are struggling to maintain control of favelas.

Public safety concerns and the perception that the UPPs are not up to the task at hand have been exacerbated by the recent rise in the number of killings by police officers. In Rio, 569 people died at the hands of on-duty officers from January to October 2015, which represents an increase of 18 percent over the same period in 2014.

Sadly, shootings and assaults have become routine in Rio. This year, at least 2,800 shootings have been recorded since January, which equates to an average of more than 15 per day.

Last month, the Brazilian Army was called in to dispel a shootout that had emerged between police and an armed drug gang in Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio. Just under 1,000 soldiers were dispatched to surround the favela and bring an end to the violence, which had forcibly closed schools, offices and other public buildings and added to the number of civilian fatalities.

Endeavoring to help protect citizens caught in the crossfire of the embattled police and military forces and drug gangs, two humanitarian organizations have developed applications that notify citizens of the location of gunfire in their locality. Amnesty International and a local researcher created “Fogo Cruzado,” or Cross Fire, and “Onde Tem Tiroteio” (Where Are the Firefights) was created by a volunteer group of Rio citizens. Operating in real time by collecting police and eyewitness reports, both applications are available for Android and iOS users.

As a home to millions, the reemergence of violence in Rio’s favelas despite past endeavors aimed at its eradication is extremely disheartening, and the resultant deaths have been mourned as tragedies. Though these applications are only temporary aids rather than the comprehensive solutions that the city desperately needs, they can help protect its residents and reduce the number of deaths caused by gun violence in Rio.

Savannah Bequeaith

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in Guinea-Bissau
While the nation does possess legitimate political rights, including free and fair elections, lack of human rights in Guinea-Bissau continues to make victims out of its citizens. As of 2016, these included abuses such as corruption of government officials as well as violence and discrimination of women and children.

The list continues on, according to the U.S. Department of State. Other abuses included unfair and abusive treatment of detainees, lack of due process and human trafficking. No effective action was taken against the perpetrators of human rights in these situations.

In particular, prisoner detention stands out as one of the most grotesque human rights abuses. The conditions of detention facilities are life-threatening, according to the state departments.

“Cells lack running water, adequate heating, ventilation, lighting and sanitation. Detainees’ diets were poor and medical care was virtually non-existent,” stated the human rights report in 2016. The means by which detainees arrive in these deplorable conditions often violates another human right, lack of due process, as authorities often “arbitrarily” arrest and detain people.

Police are, for the most part, ineffective and corrupt, which might result be a result of their lack of regular payment by the state. Lack of funding results in insufficient of training as well as scarce resources for police to carry out their duties properly. Unfortunately, almost all levels of law enforcement are susceptible to coercion, threats and bribes, including the attorney general’s office.

Consequently, unlawful arrests continue to be made, violating human rights in Guinea-Bissau. These include arrests without warrants and the holding of detainees for longer than the permitted period of time. Additionally, military detainees were often not informed of charges against them.

To add to the human rights abuses conducted throughout the justice system, the independent courts, including judges, were “poorly trained, inadequately and irregularly paid and subject to corruption.”

It appears that those accused of suspected of crime in the state have very little security, as human rights in Guinea-Bissau are not enforced. Furthermore, there continues to be no administrative means of addressing human rights violations.

Little progress had been made in improving these conditions, and the justice system remains extremely weak to this day. One of the only few actions of accountability undertaken by the state was in July 2015 in the Oio region, where three officers were sentenced to imprisonment for human rights abuses.

Investigations continue to be made by human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International. The citizens of Guinea-Bissau are desperately in need of intervention from the international community.

Melanie Snyder

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in Colombia
Although the five-decades-long civil war in Colombia ceased in 2016 with the signing of a peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), human rights in Colombia continue to be violated.

According to Amnesty International, the very group who signed the agreement, FARC, and another rebel group, National Liberation Army (ELN), commit numerous violations of international humanitarian law including high profile kidnappings. Currently, the most susceptible populations are human rights defenders, women, farmers, unionists, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. These groups face constant threats to their security and are terrorized by guerillas and paramilitaries. The violence from internal conflict has forcibly displaced 6.8 million Colombians, creating the world’s second-largest population of internally displaced persons (IDP) after Syria, according to Human Rights Watch.

Marino Cardoba, an Afro-Colombian advocate for the Association for Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES), is executing a campaign to protect the human rights of Afro-Colombians. He feels this community is particularly vulnerable because they were not included in the peace agreement. His colleague, Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, is also a researcher and advocate for human rights in the Americas. In a presentation the two gave called “Peace and Human Rights for Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Peoples in Colombia,” they stated Afro-Colombians lived in areas with valuable natural resources such as oil, and the government and paramilitary forces both wanted this land. Perhaps this is why that population remains a target for forcible displacement.

Another flaw of the peace agreement includes a lack of accountability for wrongdoers and punishment that matches the crime committed. The current peace agreement allows members of FARC who committed war crimes to run for and hold political offices. Human Rights Watch reached out to the Colombian Constitutional Court and requested that war criminals be held fully responsible for their crimes and receive sanctions through the newly established Special Jurisdiction for Peace.

Despite the shortcomings of the peace agreement, it does have strengths. According to Amnesty International’s 2016-2017 annual report, FARC is required to provide an account of assets it acquired in conflict. The resources the group gained would then be used to provide reparations to victims of crimes of human rights in Colombia. If implemented this would certainly be a positive gain.

The peace agreement also established a Special Jurisdiction for Peace – to come into force once approved by Congress – to investigate and punish those responsible for crimes under international law, a truth commission and a system to locate and identify those missing as a result of the conflict.

Achieving security for human rights in Colombia has been a long process. However, citizens in Colombia are more open to securing those rights for all as indicated by the historic 2016 peace agreement. With continued aid and accountability from groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all Colombians is a very real possibility.

Jeanine Thomas

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in the UAE
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is one of the richest nations on earth, best known around the world for the city of Dubai and its glitzy developments and jaw-dropping skyscrapers.

A darker side of the Emirates exists concurrently with the nation’s modern image. Human rights in the UAE are sorely lacking, and the experience of some Emiratis, particularly for its migrant workers, is one of labor abuses, indefinite detention and even torture.

Amnesty International has identified repeat offenses where human rights are violated in the UAE. Peaceful critics of the ruling royal family regularly face prosecution without sufficient trials; arbitrary detentions have led to “disappearances” of critics altogether and female Emiratis are largely unprotected under UAE law from sexual violence or domestic abuse.

The UAE is a nation of immigrants who make up 88 percent of the population; 65 percent of these are migrant workers from South Asia and this community often faces harrowing violations of their human rights. The ‘kafala’ system requires workers to receive sponsorship from an employer before arriving, making them legally dependent and vulnerable to abuse.

On projects like Saadiyat Island, soon to be home to an NYU campus and a surrogate of the Guggenheim Museum, striking migrant workers have been deported, others have had their passports confiscated and wages have been withheld. In a 2009 report, Human Rights Watch urged the UAE government to reform the kafala system to prevent these abuses taking place. However, subsequent visits to Saadiyat revealed violations to have continued and any reforms put in place to have been inconsequential.

Human Rights Watch, under pressure from the UAE authorities, has to conduct their research and interviews discreetly. As a result, the extent of human rights violations is unclear and difficult to address effectively with any third-party organizations.

However, organizations such as the Tourist Development and Investment Company (TDIC) have taken steps to address the abuse. TDIC has introduced new labor guidelines for employers to prevent passport seizures and ensure fixed working hours. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) acts as a compliance monitor.

Reforms to the kafala system that enable workers to change employers more easily have so far failed to be properly implemented. Under the auspices of the TDIC and the Abu Dhabi Executive Affairs Authority (EAA), human rights in the UAE and its situation for migrant workers could improve significantly.

Jonathan Riddick

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in ArmeniaHuman rights is an internationally discussed topic, with the issues spanning from free speech to the rights of detained suspects. International councils have long harbored an interest in building alliances to eradicate violations of human rights in as many nations as possible. Human rights in Armenia are of special interest now. In June 2017, a human rights defender, Artur Sakunts, received death threats.

Sakunts is the director of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor Office (HCA-Vanazdor). HCA-Vanazdor is a high-profile defender of human rights in Armenia. Sakunts received a highly specific death threat via Facebook, which illustrates that the issue of human rights is hotly debated in Armenia. The Armenian government’s record with respect to human rights is somewhat uneven. In 2008, the government pledged to combat violence against women. However, no legislation was passed since. For example, there is no law criminalizing domestic violence.

LGBTQ populations also do not have anti-discrimination protection or legal protection against hate speech. The lack of legislation makes it difficult for women and LGBTQ groups to find a legal solution to advocate for their rights. Peaceful protesters are sometimes met with excessive force and with ill treatment in custody.

Founding Parliament, a radical group opposed to the government, seized a police station in the capital of Armenia, Yerevan, killing a policeman and taking several others hostage on July 17, 2016. The gunmen eventually surrendered on July 31. Yet the seizure of the police station proved to be a catalyst for protest movement against the government.

In late July, peaceful protesters were showing their support for Founding Parliament in the same neighborhood of the seized police station. Without warning the protesters, police fired stun grenades into the crowd. The protesters sustained first and second-degree burns and fragmentation wounds. Other protesters were beaten with clubs.

Journalists covering the protest were warned by the police, but some journalists suffered the after-effects of stun grenades fired specifically at them. Protest leaders and participants were detained, with the authorities citing criminal charges leveled against them. Detainees were held up to 12 hours without documentation. Authorities relied primarily on police testimony to press criminal charges. Detainees were also denied access to lawyers and were not permitted to inform relatives about their detentions.

The explosive events of July 2016 demonstrate the palpable tensions between Armenian citizens and the government.  Fortunately, groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch continue to report violations of human rights in Armenia. Generating awareness for human rights issues can pave a path towards finding legal, political and more permanent solutions for such human rights violations.

Smriti Krishnan

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