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Beirut port explosionUnited States President Joe Biden pledged $100 million in aid to Lebanon on the one-year anniversary of the Beirut explosion. On the evening of August 4, 2020, more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded at the port of Beirut. More than 200 people died as a result of the tragedy, thousands more suffered injuries and 80,000 children lost their homes. A year later, the Lebanese people continue to grapple with the shattering of their capital and families are seeking some form of justice. As Beirut continues on the road to recovery, a global leader investing in Lebanon is a step in the right direction.

Lebanese Government Culpability

After the initial shock of the explosion, the Lebanese people searched for explanations as to why the disaster occurred. According to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) compiled with the assistance of “investigative journalists and independent researchers,” Lebanon’s leaders were in fact aware of the precarious storage of the explosives. The leaders, including the president and prime minister, allegedly did not take the steps necessary to stow the ammonium nitrate properly. Moreover, HRW declared that evidence “strongly suggests” that some Lebanese government officials anticipated the potential destruction from the ammonium nitrate’s storage and “tacitly accepted the risk of the deaths occurring.” Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned after the outrage surrounding the Lebanese government’s alleged implication.  A year after his resignation, there have been no prosecutions issued and no Lebanese senior politicians have taken responsibility for the tragedy.

Grassroots Support in Beirut

According to HRW, the explosion damaged 77,000 Beirut apartments and displaced more than 300,000 people. Coupled with the business shutdowns and economic uncertainty produced by the COVID-19 pandemic, Lebanon is facing the “most severe economic crisis in its modern history.” Consequently, 55% of Lebanese people currently live below the poverty line. Without the support of the Lebanese government, Beirut has had to rely on the resilience of its people to recover. In particular, women-led organizations play a vital role in the city’s initial recovery efforts. Grassroots organizations including Live Love Lebanon, Stand for Women and the Lebanese Democratic Women’s Gathering are significantly helping to aid victims. The organizations have helped clean the streets and remove debris. In addition, U.N. Women is partnering with these organizations to aid the recovery of women-owned businesses.

The Need for Internal Reform

In addition to the $100 million pledge, Biden conveyed his condolences to the families who lost loved ones. He also urges other global leaders to “step up their support for Lebanese people.” Moreover, Biden explains that Beirut’s economic recovery largely depends on the Lebanese leaders’ dismantling of the country’s political corruption. Although Biden affirms that the United States will “be here every step of the way” to support the Lebanese government’s efforts to create a stronger future for the Lebanese people, he notes that unless Lebanese leaders commit to reform, no outside aid will be truly effective.

From the Syrian humanitarian crisis to the Beirut blast, the United States asserts its position as a global leader by assisting vulnerable people across the world in their most dire times of need. With further support from the international community, hope is on the horizon for the full recovery of Lebanon.

– Madeline Murphy
Photo: Unsplash

Awareness to Honor KillingsThe Human Rights Watch (HRW) defines honor killings or honor crimes as “acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members who are perceived to have brought dishonor upon the family.” The practice is not specific to any region but is instead an international issue that goes largely unrecognized and is sometimes even condoned by the apathy and inaction of certain governmental bodies. Advocacy efforts by groups like the HRW have made strides in educating the public on the prevalence of this issue. Through filmmaking, individuals are also bringing awareness to honor killings. Films about honor killings detail the many facets of the practice and its impact on families and communities.

“A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness” (2015)

In this 40-minute-long documentary, director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy tells the story of Saba, a Pakistani woman who was sentenced to death for falling in love and marrying a man who was once promised to her. Her story of survival is harrowing and heart-wrenching and the aftermath offers one of the most scathing indictments of honor killing in recent years. This Oscar-winning short film is undoubtedly one of the best stories about honor killings in the cinematic canon and is a must-see for anyone interested in international women’s rights.

“Sairat” (2016)

This popular Indian film tells the story of two star-crossed lovers on opposite sides of the economic and social spectrum. Parshya is the son of a fisherman while Aarchi is the daughter of a powerful politician who will not sacrifice his status in the caste system under any circumstances. This romantic tragedy is a slightly more macabre adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet but accomplishes more than simple entertainment. The film takes place in the progressive state of Maharashtra, disrupting the common narrative that honor killings occur exclusively in traditional states.

“A Regular Woman” (2019)

Based on a true story, “A Regular Woman follows a young, self-determined German woman of Turkish descent. Her deeply patriarchal family frequently stands in the way of her living her own life, rejecting her lifestyle as improper. Eventually, tensions escalate to the point where she no longer feels safe at home so she runs away with her child. She then reports her brother, the chief agitator, to the police. While primarily a story about an honor killing, the film also examines the greater threat of patriarchal oppression and a women’s struggle to be heard.

Artistic expression plays a pivotal role in giving voice to people silenced by oppressive forces in the world. It offers perspective and situates observers in a world that they would not otherwise understand. Cinema offers viewers visceral and visual experiences which become more and more important as we hear stories about the unimaginable. These three films are examples of how artistic expression can bring awareness to honor killings and give voice to victims as well as survivors.

Matthew Hayden
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in EritreaMilitarism and instability are endemic to Eritrea. The degradation of civil society is a result of those two factors. Child poverty in Eritrea is rampant due to such foundations; however, the country is not without benefactors. UNICEF’s aid efforts are improving children’s health within Eritrea despite the current conditions.

A Brief History

Eritrea is one of the few countries that can truly be considered a fledgling state in the 21st century. After a decades-long secession war, the Eritrean government achieved full independence from Ethiopia in 1993. They solidified the totalitarian one-party dictatorship that has retained power since. A brief period of peace followed, during which promised democratic elections never materialized. Then, Eritrea’s unresolved border disputes with Ethiopia escalated into a war that lasted from 1998 to 2000. It killed tens of thousands and resulted in several minor border changes and only formally ended in 2018. In the wake of this war, the Eritrean government has sustained a track record of militarization, corruption and human rights violations that has continually degraded civil stability. As of 2004, around 50% of Eritreans live below the poverty line.

Eritrea’s Youth at a Glance

Housing around 6 million people, Eritrea’s youth make up a significant proportion of its population. Eritrea has the 35th highest total fertility rate globally, with a mean of 3.73 children born per woman. It also has the 42nd lowest life expectancy at birth at a mere 66.2 years, with significant variation between that of males (63.6 years) and females (68.8 years).

Forced Conscriptions of Children

Under the guise of national security against Ethiopia, Eritrea has maintained a system of universal, compulsory conscription since 2003. This policy requires all high school students to complete their final year of high school at Sawa, the country’s primary military training center. Many are 16 or 17 years of age when their conscription begins, which led the U.N. Commission of Inquiry to accuse Eritrea of mobilizing child soldiers.

The Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) report also blamed Eritrea’s conscription practices for a number of grievances. Its prolonged militarization has wide-reaching effects for the country. Many adults are held in service against their will for up to a decade, but it is particularly damaging to Eritrean youth. Students at Sawa face food shortages, forced labor and harsh punishment. Many female students have reportedly suffered sexual abuse. Besides fleeing, “Many girls and young women opt for early marriage and motherhood as a means of evading Sawa and conscription.”

Further, “The system of conscription has driven thousands of young Eritreans each year into exile,” HRW claims. They estimate that around 507,300 Eritreans live elsewhere. Because of its conscription practices, Eritrea is both a top producer of refugees and unaccompanied refugee children in Europe – they not only result in child poverty in Eritrea, but in other regions as well.

Education Access

HRW claims that Eritrea’s education system plays a central role in its high levels of militarization. It leads many students to drop out, intentionally fail classes or flee the country. This has severely undermined education access and inflated child poverty in Eritrea.

Eritrea currently has the lowest school life expectancy – “the total number of years of schooling (primary to tertiary) that a child can expect to receive” – of any country. Eritrea has reportedly made strides to raise enrollment over the last 20 years. However, 27.2% of school-aged children still do not receive schooling, and the country retains a literacy rate of only 76.6%. Illiteracy is much more prevalent among females than among males, with respective literacy rates of 68.9% and 84.4%. In general, girls and children in nomadic populations are the least likely to receive schooling.

Refugees and Asylum-Seekers

As mentioned earlier, over half a million Eritreans have fled the country as refugees. Around one-third of them – about 170,000, according to the WHO – now live in Ethiopia. A majority reside in six different refugee camps. As of 2019, around 6,000 more cross the border each month. Reporting by the UNHCR shows that “children account for 44% of the total refugee population residing in the [Eritrean] Camps, of whom 27% arrive unaccompanied or separated from their families.” Far from being ameliorated by domestic education programs, child poverty in Eritrea is merely being outsourced to its neighbors.

Children’s Health as a Site for Progress

Adjacent to these issues, UNICEF’s programs have driven significant improvements in sanitation, malnutrition and medical access. Its Health and Nutrition programs, among other things, address malnutrition by administering supplements, prevent maternal transmission of HIV/AIDS during birth and administer vaccines. Teams in other departments improve sanitation and lobby against practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation.

In its 2015 Humanitarian Action for Children report on Eritrea, UNICEF wrote that Eritrea “has made spectacular progress on half the [Millennium Development Goals],” including “Goal 4 (child mortality), Goal 5 (maternal mortality), Goal 6 (HIV/AIDs, malaria and other diseases) and is on track to meet the target for access to safe drinking water (Goal 7).”

Figures illustrate this progress on child poverty in Eritrea. Since 1991, child immunization rates have jumped from 14% to 98%, safe water access rates are up at 60% from 7%, iodine deficiency has plummeted from 80% to 20% in children and the under-five mortality rate sits at 63 deaths per 1000 births, rather than at 148.

Child poverty in Eritrea is a far cry from being solved, but it is not a lost cause.

Skye Jacobs
Photo: Flickr

International Law and Global Poverty
To understand the relationship between international law and global poverty, it is important to first acknowledge which laws are relevant. Among others, these include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which provides the right to life; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which provides the right to social protection, an adequate standard of living and access to food, health and education; and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to an education.

Philip Alston, the former Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, states that poverty is a political choice that countries make. There is a clear relationship between poverty and failure to fulfill basic human rights. Some indicators of poverty that are relevant to international rights laws and standards include primary school enrollment, nutritional indicators, life expectancy and disease.

Is a Rights-Based Approach Better?

The World Bank indexes poverty rates across countries using the International Poverty Line (IPL). A wide range of institutions use the IPL — including the U.N. — and is based on an absolute line that is well below the national poverty line of some countries. According to Alston, this leads to less than optimal progress and a false perspective of the state of global poverty.

Low-income individuals can rise above the IPL that the World Bank established yet continue to face barriers in accessing basic human rights, which suggests a need for an alternative approach to addressing poverty. David Woodward, a British economist, developed one such alternative, which he claims resolves the problems inherent to the World Bank’s measurement and the wider way in which poverty is addressed. His alternative, termed the Rights-Based Poverty Line (RBPL), recognizes the relationship between income, poverty, and economic and social rights, which are enshrined in international law.

A rights-based approach to poverty eradication garners support across a wide range of international organizations. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights directly references poverty as the gravest impediment to the fulfillment of human rights globally. The Human Rights Watch and the United Nations Development Programme establishes that a rights-based approach can result in a higher degree of effectiveness due to the legal obligations for states to ensure those rights. The United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural organization maintains that poverty eradication will only occur when poverty receives acknowledgment as a violation of human rights.

Leveraging International Law to Eradicate Poverty

COVID-19 represents a serious challenge to the eradication of global poverty; however, it may also provide an opportunity for utilizing a rights-based approach. Estimates determine that the global population of people who will fall into poverty will increase by 8% as a result of the economic shocks that the pandemic brought on. Other figures estimate an additional 70 million people could fall into extreme poverty due to the impact of COVID-19.

COVID-19 has lifted the veil shrouding the vast social inequalities present in the world. The poorest margins of society that the pandemic most heavily impacted, in terms of both vulnerabilities to the virus and economic consequences. This is the result of socioeconomic inequalities and discrimination faced by those living in poverty. One example is a lack of adequate housing, which leads to a higher risk of contracting the virus because of either cramped living spaces or a lack of adequate water and sanitation.

Given the links between international law and poverty, a rights-based approach may be a suitable option for the global COVID-19 response. Most countries’ current COVID-19 responses fail to adequately protect the rights of those living in poverty. Discriminatory social protection policies are widespread, in direct violation of international rights standards. For instance, food assistance in Uganda is only reaching an estimated 17% of the population living in poverty, thanks to exclusionary policies mandating that assistance goes to specified urban areas. Meanwhile, a recently proposed emergency stimulus bill completely circumvents the 80% of Nigerian workers who are employed in the informal sector, providing support only for those in the formal sector.

The Human Rights Watch provides recommendations for overcoming these shortcomings through the implementation of a rights-based approach. At the government level, there is a need to ensure social protection, access to adequate living and health, among other rights. In terms of international assistance, there is a need to uphold human rights standards through the allocation of funds in favor of socioeconomic programs, minimum basic incomes, adequate housing protections and fiscal policies relating to poverty and inequality.

In Conclusion

Current U.S. policy regarding foreign assistance relating to the COVID-19 response does not detail a rights-based approach. However, USAID’s Feed the Future has adapted its programs to the pandemic, supporting the right to food and alleviating hunger. A number of international organizations and experts suggest that a rights-based approach will be the most effective means of integrating international law and global poverty to protect lives around the world, especially in the face of COVID-19.

Leah Bordlee
Photo: Pixabay

Homelessness in TurkmenistanTurkmenistan is a secretive and self-contained nation. Most data about poverty and homelessness in the country is out-of-date. According to Knoema, the most recent data available is from 1998 and puts the poverty rate in Turkmenistan at 51.4%. Despite this lack of information, satellite images have provided the outside world with an image of Turkmenistan’s epidemic of homelessness. Here are five facts about increasing homelessness in Turkmenistan.

5 Facts About Increasing Homelessness in Turkmenistan

  1. Turkmenistan is an upper-middle-class income country, as classified in 2012. Turkmenistan is predicted to have the fourth-largest oil reserves in the world, with about 10% of the global total. Despite this, the public sector dominates the economy and enforces tight administrative controls on all private-sector businesses. Because of this, the few employed people face low wages and long hours. In addition, in the private sector, it is nearly impossible to find success. This makes the economy vulnerable to corruption.
  2. Homelessness disproportionately affects single mothers. While there used to be a cultural stigma surrounding divorce, it has become increasingly common for husbands to leave their wives and families without providing funds, food or shelter for the families.
  3. The government perpetuates much of the homelessness in Turkmenistan. For example, for the past several decades, forced demolitions and mass evictions have been common phenomena in Turkmenistan. These rapidly escalated since 2015 in preparation for the Fifth Asian Indoor Martial Arts Games. The government forcibly evicted homeowners without appropriate compensation and demolished extensions to homes in an effort to standardize and “beautify” homes in the country. Because Turkmenistan is such a secretive nation, it is difficult to say just how many people have been forcibly evicted from their homes by the government. Through satellite imagery, Amnesty International estimates that 50,000 or more people have lost their homes in this beautification effort.
  4. Low wages also play a key role in homelessness in Turkmenistan. The lack of jobs, increasing food prices and plummeting wages have exacerbated homelessness. As a result, many citizens turn to begging and scavenging in the trash.
  5. The government of Turkmenistan systematically denies citizens the freedom of religion and self-expression. Because of this, victims of government-manufactured homelessness have no legal recourse to the injustices committed against them. Governing authorities are prone to using threats and force against any opposition.

Because Turkmenistan is so isolated, spreading awareness of homelessness in the country is the first step to solving the issue. For example, human rights organizations such as The Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have been raising awareness of the mass demolitions on behalf of the government since 2017. They have publicly condemned the government’s actions. Additionally, the United States has been providing aid to Turkmenistan since 1992. Aid from the United States supports programs that improve social services, improve access to information and increase the development of markets and agriculture.

Caroline Warrick-Schkolnik
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Five Examples of Police Brutality InternationallyProtests in the United States are bringing light to a troubling issue which has taken lives for generations: police brutality. However, police brutality affects almost every country in the world. Wherever there is a police force, there is the potential for police brutality. Here are five examples that demonstrate police brutality internationally.

5 Examples of Police Brutality Internationally

  1. Kenya: Police officers in Kenya often accept bribes. Not only that, but police often accuse, imprison or even kill those who cannot offer a bribe. Police officers demanding bribes disproportionately affect poor Kenyans. Kenyans in poverty are often unable to pay police and can experience detainment without probable cause for an indefinite period of time. Additionally, police frequently get away with assaulting or murdering citizens without suffering legal repercussions themselves. On June 8, 2020, citizens took to the streets of Nairobi, Kenya, to protest the police brutality that police employed when enforcing curfews during the COVID-19-related lockdown.
  2. Hong Kong: During the protests for democracy in 2019, widespread human rights violations occurred at the hands of the Hong Kong police, largely without repercussions. The brutality included improper use of rubber bullets, which have a design so that police can fire them at the ground before they bounce and hit people. Also, there was a misuse of bean bag rounds, the physical beating of nonviolent protesters, misuse of tear gas and pepper spray and the use of water canons. In some cases, detained protesters experienced subjection to severe beatings that amounted to torture. As a result, there has been a call for an inquiry into the police’s use of violence from an impartial and independent source as opposed to an internal investigation.
  3. Philippines: Since 2016, the drug war that Philippine Director General Oscar Albayalde waged has resulted in thousands of deaths. The killers, including police and independent gangs of men on motorcycles reportedly affiliated with the police, have not experienced legal action. Law enforcement killed more than 12,000 people during the drug war, and Human Rights Watch has urged Albayabe to consider the rights of the population. Frequently, police executions of citizens result from drugs that police plant on citizens, compounding the injustice. Some have called the drug war in the Philippines a “war on the poor” because it discriminates against the urban poor. Robberies often follow police killings of the urban poor. By targeting vulnerable populations, crooked police are able to commit extrajudicial crimes.
  4. Pakistan: Police brutality also affects the people of Pakistan. A particularly unjust example of this is the death of Salahuddin Ayabi, a person with mental disabilities, who went into police custody for an armed robbery. The police severely tortured him and ended his life. In Pakistan, police have killed hundreds of detained people by means of torture. The police often produce false testimonies and plant evidence on people before detaining them and sometimes murdering them. The Punjabi government has proposed legislative reform. However, some argue that the problem is not the legislation itself but the lack of proper implementation to hold police accountable. Impoverished Pakistanis are a targeted demographic, experiencing subjection to extrajudicial killings, detainment and police torture.
  5. El Salvador: Between 2014 and 2018 in El Salvador, police killed at least 116 people. To put this in perspective, El Salvador’s population is 6.421 million, about three-fourths of New York City population. Raquel Caballero described these killings as “brutal assassinations” in an interview with Reuters. The brutal actions of the police seem to correlate to the gang violence which plagues El Salvador, as many victims are gang members. Of the 48 cases of extrajudicial murders committed by police, only 19 officers experienced prosection and only two received convictions. El Salvador’s murder rate is one of the highest in the world, but some argue that should not excuse police officers to act in such a brutal manner. Additionally, women from high-poverty areas suffer from police brutality as a result of scant reproductive rights. For instance, women who seek abortions, even for obstetric emergencies, often suffer prosecution.

The examination of police brutality internationally by groups like the U.N., Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International is crucial in maintaining awareness of the pervasiveness of this problem. Perhaps the organizations which prosecute guilty police officers worldwide will emerge victorious in their efforts. Police need to meet the same standards as the populations they serve.

Elise Ghitman
Photo: Flickr