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Human Rights in Nicaragua

In 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 ColombiaAlthough 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 UAEThe 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

Photo: Pixabay

Human Rights in GeorgiaIn the summer of 2008, international attention was directed at the human rights in Georgia, and violations surrounding the Russo-Georgian War. But while eyes have shifted to other zones of conflict, the disputes about the Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia still entail insecurity and human rights abuses.

Ethnic struggles and disputes over independence had already lingered in South Ossetia and Abkhazia for years, when armed conflict broke out between Russia, Georgia and the Georgian breakaway regions in August 2008. All sides were accused of abusing human rights in Georgia during or after the conflict. Human Rights Watch reported that the Russian army fired on civilian vehicles in numerous cases, killing and wounding many. Russia and Georgia also allegedly both made use of cluster ammunition, inflicting further deaths upon civilians and leaving behind unstable “minefields,” according to the NGO.

The war only lasted for five days, but the withdrawal of Georgia from the breakaway regions did not end the suffering of civilians. The South Ossetian army was accused of conducting a violent “cleansing” campaign against ethnic Georgians in the aftermath of the war: destroying villages, killing civilians, torturing prisoners of war and displacing tens of thousands of Georgians. Reportedly, the Georgian population of the conflict zone was reduced by at least 75 percent.

In 2016, the International Criminal Court has launched an investigation into possible war crimes, such as pillaging and attacks against civilians and peacekeepers, as well as crimes against human rights in Georgia, including forced transfer of populations and murder.

South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s independence has been recognized by the Russian government after the war, as well as by Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru. But the regions are still generally regarded as Georgian territories currently occupied by Russia by the majority of the international community. The breakaway regions have their own governments but are dependent on support from Russia. The boundaries are guarded by Russian forces in addition to the de facto forces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and both regions receive financial aid from the Russian government.

Tensions about the future of the Georgian breakaway regions remain. In a referendum earlier this year, almost 80 percent of South Ossetia’s population voted to rename the region the “State of Alania,” mirroring the name of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, which is part of the Russian Federation. The referendum was perceived as a provocation in Georgia since the name stresses an ethnic distinction from Georgia and suggests unity with North Ossetia-Alania, and therefore with Russia. Georgia, as well as the United States and the EU, have condemned the referendum as illegitimate.

As Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International state in their most recent reports, the tensions around South Ossetia and Abkhazia still infringe on the rights of residents living and working in the frontier area.

In the past year, Russian and South Ossetian authorities conducted an effort to fence what they consider to be a “state border.” Therefore, some local residents’ access to their land or homes was cut off, impacting their “rights to work, food and adequate standard of living,” according to Amnesty International. Russia also continues to move the border, thus increasingly creeping further into former Georgian territory. In October 2016, the New York Times reported on the plight of the residents of the border village Jariasheni. One of them does not dare to return home after his house was suddenly on the other side of the elastic boundary line. Some residents have been arrested after finding themselves on the wrong side accidentally, because of the line’s uncertainty. “[W]ho knows where Russia will start tomorrow or the next day,” one resident is cited.

Abkhazia has also increasingly tightened the control over its border: in 2016 and 2017, all but two border crossings have been closed. NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu criticized these closures for impacting local residents’ livelihood and for restricting the freedom of movement of hundreds of citizens who used the crossings daily. As Voice of America reports, they were used, for instance, by ethnic Georgians to visit their schools or medical facilities. The closure also cuts through family ties and hampers some residents’ access to their property and crops, affecting human rights in Georgia.

The boundaries are not recognized as borders by Georgia and its allies, who see them merely as “administrative boundary lines” – but crossing these boundaries can have very real and serious consequences. In the past year, dozens of people were reportedly detained by Russian or regional authorities while trying to cross the boundary lines. Several of them accused the authorities of torture and ill-treatment, for example, of beatings. In May 2016, a Georgian man was killed by an Abkhazian border guard while trying to enter Abkhazia.

As Georgia strengthens its ties with the European Union and NATO, Russia continues to enhance its influence over the Georgian breakaway regions, seemingly heading for an outright annexation. A permanent, peaceful solution to the conflict and thus an end to the insecurities experienced by the local residents are not yet in sight.

Lena Riebl

Human Rights in GambiaHuman rights in Gambia remain limited. The small West African country struggles to provide its citizens with freedom of expression. Meanwhile, politically driven police brutality and arbitrary arrests continue.

In April 2016, Gambian citizens were beaten with batons and exposed to tear gas while protesting the death of Solo Sandeng, who died at the hands of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) while in custody. Nineteen of those protesters faced three years imprisonment. Forty more people were arrested while protesting the trial of the 19 sentenced, and 14 of those 40 went on trial near the end of 2016.

Gambians were reportedly beaten and tortured, and others died due to insufficient medical care while in custody. The president admitted that people die in custody regularly. Political and religious leaders are arrested and abducted, including leaders of the United Democratic Party (UDP), which opposes the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) and President Yahya Jammeh.

Anyone who speaks against the government runs the risk of retaliation, representing a huge denial of human rights in Gambia. In fact, many journalists avoid strong criticism of the government for fear of arrest or death, and many have left the country out of fear.

The government would not allow the U.N. or outside organizations to record prison conditions, but some NGOs report poor air flow and pest problems. Furthermore, many members of the UDP were held in solitary confinement.

A separate, but important issue for human rights in Gambia is human trafficking. Women and children continue to be sold into sex and domestic slavery, and yet the government has not taken adequate action to resolve this.
Although human rights in Gambia desperately need improvement, major gains in women’s rights were made recently. Gambia made child marriage illegal in July 2016. Previously, “according to the U.N., 40 percent of women aged 20 to 49 in Gambia were married before the age of 18, while 16 percent married before they turned 15.”

Gambian women also suffered significantly from female genital mutilation. However, in late 2015, legislation passed to make this illegal as well.

The victor of the 2016 presidential election, Adama Barrow, shows promise for progressing toward less corruption and stronger human rights in Gambia. Gambia must have fair and lawful leadership in order to leave behind its history of injustice.

Emma Tennyson

Photo: Google

Human Rights in Turkmenistan
Human rights in Turkmenistan have a long-held reputation as among the harshest in the world, a reputation still held today. The current president, Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov, and his close advisers control nearly every facet of public life.

In September 2016, the Turkmen parliament enacted a new constitution, removing the 70-year-old age limit for the office of the presidency and also eliminating presidential term limits.

According to the Turkmenistan Human Rights Watch report of 2017 and the U.S. State Department’s 2012 Turkmenistan Human Rights Report, three primary liberties appear to be at the forefront of persecution. Listed below are these freedoms and details describing the severity of these particular human rights in Turkmenistan.

1. Social Activism

Those who publicly and even sometimes privately advocate for a civil or free society in Turkmenistan take a great risk. They live in constant fear of governmental retribution, and not only endanger themselves but often their families too.

In October 2016 three activists were arrested. Two were sentenced to supervised, forced labor. While one was released after ten days, the other was sentenced to three years in prison based on fabricated fraud charges. The third, Galina Vertryakova, while in police custody awaiting trial, managed to post dissenting comments about the Turkmen government on Russian media channels. Shortly thereafter, he was arrested on unfounded extortion charges.

In August 2016, Akmukhammet Baikhanov, a Turkmen exile, was in Moscow when two men in masks attempted to abduct him. This took place one month following his publication of a book that revealed specific abuses of human rights in Turkmenistan prison “Ovadan-Tepe,” a facility known for torture and terrible conditions. In April 2016, the Turkmen government detained Baikhanov’s brother, stating that they did so because of Baikhanov’s book.

However, the case of Geldy Kyarizov best depicts the lengths to which the Turkmen government will go to silence activists. In the early 2000s, Kyarizov sustained a six-year prison sentence, convicted on fabricated criminal charges. But, the government finally granted him permission to leave the country in 2015. In November of 2015, Kyarizov interviewed publicly for the first time and described his experience at the prison. Following this interview, Turkmen government officials cut off all communication between him and his family, threatened his siblings and briefly jailed one of them after alleging drug charges.

2. Press and the media

Freedom of the press does not exist in Turkmenistan. Instead, the state oversees all media, whether print or digital, and almost never allows foreign media outlets access to Turkmen media. Also, if someone catches a Turkmen citizen providing media content to foreign media agencies, that citizen will face retaliation from the government. The government also has eradicated most private satellite dishes, and the internet remains heavily restricted and monitored. In fact, the internet in Turkmenistan is among the most expensive in the world.

Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, a journalist for RFE/RL and Alternative News of Turkmenistan, an exile-run news outlet, received a three-year prison sentence in August of 2015 for unfounded drug charges.

In the early 2000s, former dissident and journalist, Chary Annamuradov, fled persecution from Turkmenistan. He gained asylum and citizenship in Sweden in 2003. When going on vacation to Belarus in 2016, Belarusian authorities arrested Annamuradov upon arrival for having an outstanding international arrest warrant for leaving Turkmenistan illegally. However, shortly after Belarus denied a Turkmen extradition request for Annamuradov in September, unknown individuals kidnapped Annamuradov’s brother from his home in Turkmenistan, holding him for four days. During that time the kidnappers severely beat and interrogated him about his brother. Altymurad Annamuradov died shortly after his return home by his kidnappers.

3. Political imprisonment and enforced disappearances

The abuses of human rights in Turkmenistan society is arguably seen most ostensibly in their treatment of political dissidents. The number of individuals jailed for political reasons remains unknown, due to the lack of transparency within the justice system. Trials often close off the public; independent monitoring of criminal cases can result in imprisonment or other forms of punitive action.

Due to this lack of transparency, the whereabouts of political dissident Gulgeldy Annaniazov, arrested in 2008, was not known publically until 2015. Annaniazov continues to serve an 11-year sentence. The fate of at least dozens of other political dissidents remains unknown. Despite its membership in the U.N., the Turkmen government ignored all requests to release certain victims of these enforced disappearances.

According to the “Prove They Are Alive,” campaign, three government officials died of unknown causes within the last two years. This includes Yolly Gurbanmuradov, a former deputy minister in charge of the gas industry, who died in December 2015; Annadurdy Annasakhedov, the former head of the department of counterintelligence, who died in February 2016; and Vekil Durdyev, a former state security officer, who died in August 2016.

In addition to this, both the U.S. State Department’s report, as well as the Amnesty International’s report, details the treatment of many inmates in Turkmen prisons. Torture appears as a commonality and is carried out in various ways including electric shocks, asphyxiation with a plastic bag, rape, forcing inmates to stay outside in extremely hot or cold temperatures for long periods of time and even forcibly administering hallucinogenic or psychotropic drugs.

Unfortunately, despite its constitution declaring the country as a presidential republic and secular democracy, an authoritarian regime runs the nation; ensuring that the citizen’s ability to change the government is futile. In order to reform the abusive human rights in Turkmenistan, a reform in government is mandatory.

Hunter Mcferrin

Photo: Flickr