Migration to Saudi ArabiaA recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) declared that systematic mass killings are taking place at the Saudi-Yemeni border. The casualties are migrants from North Africa, particularly Ethiopia. 

In the lead-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the migration system across the Gulf faced increasing scrutiny regarding human rights. But since the tournament’s conclusion, the urgency for reform has vanished. As Gulf countries embark on ambitious construction projects to move away from oil dependency, issues of labor are becoming more pressing than ever.  

Saudi Arabia’s recent potential Crimes Against Humanity (according to HRW) beg for a new mode of analysis to understand the pervasive nature of human rights abuses regarding migration to Saudi Arabia. A racial perspective reveals that the system of migration in the Gulf is an essential piece of statecraft. 

The Kafala

The kafala is the sponsorship system used for migration across the Gulf, Lebanon and Jordan. Each migrant is bound to a sponsor, or kafeel, who is a citizen of the respective country. The kafeel is responsible for the migrant and pays for their lodging and other expenses. Without a sponsor, there is no approval for migration to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.  

The kafeel also has authority over the migrants they are sponsoring. They can allow or deny migrants to exit or re-enter the country and can cancel their migrant’s iqama (residency permit) whenever they want.  

This power results in countless abuses. According to reports, more than 6500 workers died during the construction of stadiums in the build-up to the Qatar World Cup. Whilst families and witnesses asserted that the cause of death was from squalid living conditions, on-site mismanagement and heat exhaustion, Qatar listed these deaths as natural causes. 

Other abuses include rentier-seeking, with some kafeels confiscating up to a year’s wages as fees to process the iqama. Migrants often live in poor conditions without adequate access to sanitation or health care.

Sexual and violent abuse is also rampant against female domestic workers. A total of 89 Kenyan migrant women died between 2019 and 2021 in Saudi Arabia. Indonesian worker Tuti Tursilawati was executed in Saudi Arabia in 2018 for murdering her employer. The Saudi courts ignored her claims of self-defense against rape. Migrants are not just poor, but also completely demeaned, disregarded and maltreated – sometimes to the point of death.

International efforts have resulted in slight concessions through Saudi Arabia signing many labor treaties. However, the actual implementation of these have been very poor. Meanwhile, Qatari kafala reforms mostly concerned more secular language to make it more internationally palatable. The persistence of the kafala has puzzled many pundits across the world – perhaps incorporating race can provide some answers. 

Racializing the Problem

All migrant workers must register under the kafala. Bina Fernandez asserts that among migrants there is a racial hierarchy. White, often corporate professional, migrants evade the abuses of the kafala and have much higher living conditions and mobility. Even outside of the kafala, this symbolically superior whiteness, which is part of the West’s colonial legacy, is expounded through them being called expats, whilst black and brown workers are called immigrants. Asian and African laborers are at the bottom of this hierarchy, working in dirty, dangerous and demeaning jobs. 

Asian and African workers are spurred by poverty to migrate to the Gulf. For example, Ethiopia’s poorest 20% have experienced little growth in recent years. Therefore, they take the treacherous journey to the Gulf to access higher wages and send back money to their home country as remittances.  

Migrant workers make up huge proportions of the Gulf, approaching 40% and surpassing 75% of Saudi and Qatari populations respectively. This reliance on outsourced labor breeds insecurity, especially as Asian and African workers, who do not have legitimizing whiteness, represent most migrants.

The kafala is a tool of surveillance for Gulf governments. By privatizing migration, they evade responsibility for abuses, but also informally allow them to control the migrant population. Laws prohibiting migrants from unionizing or assembling are evidence of this.

Citizens of the Gulf perpetrate this abuse to abet the racial insecurity that a large migrant population stokes, as well as to protect their investment. Access to citizenship is very slim and there are multi-generational migrants who still require a kafeel. Coupling this with its function of surveillance, it appears the kafala is a tool that serves to maintain the Gulf countries as ethnocracies. 

The Future?

Gulf countries are currently trying to diversify away from oil, especially Saudi Arabia, which is embarking on the construction of the megacity, Neom, to increase tourism revenue. How this could coexist with a very restrictive migration policy remains to be seen.

Saudi efforts to decrease their reliance on migrant workers threaten the country’s fragile social contract, which promises a very high standard of living in return for submission to a totalitarian rule. Asking citizens to take on jobs currently performed by black and brown laborers contradicts this.

Policies regarding migration to Saudi Arabia started becoming more aggressive during the COVID-19 pandemic when migrants underwent inhumane conditions in various detainment camps. Yet, HRW’s report marks a clear escalation. It details how hundreds (likely thousands) of migrants have been killed through the systematic use of rifles, mortar shells and rocket launchers at the Saudi-Yemeni border. There have been other instances of abuse, including rape. Ethiopian migrants make up the bulk of the casualties, showing how stark the consequences of such a racial hierarchy can be under cultural and political approval.

Most NGOs, including HRW, focus on gathering information to address migrant issues in Gulf countries. These organizations collect data on abuse and poverty, which are often lacking. Gulf countries maintain control through oil resources and authoritarian rule, limiting the presence of in-person migrant assistance NGOs. To fully tackle the challenges of migration in the region, there is a need to consider the racial dynamics of the kafala system. Merely abolishing kafala could prove insufficient, as recent developments in Saudi Arabia show that the problem runs deeper than a policy change.

– Ryan Ratnam
Photo: Flickr

Williams is Promoting Educational RightsVenus Ebony Starr Williams, like her sister Serena Williams, is a professional tennis player. Growing up in a poverty-stricken community, Williams struggled to achieve success. As a former No.1 tennis player, Williams has won several grand slams, including two at the U.S. Open and five at Wimbledon. As the first Black woman tennis player to become No. 1 in the modern era, Williams has left a legacy for women globally. Not only has she paved the way for women’s tennis, but Williams is also promoting educational rights for women globally.

Humanitarian Work

According to UNESCO, around 244 million children in Africa between the ages of 6 and 18 are out of school. The Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 49 million women in Sub-Saharan Africa are out of primary and secondary schooling, undermining their opportunities and limiting their rights. Early marriages are a factor in the lack of women’s education in Africa. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 40% of girls below the age of 18 are married, preventing them from receiving a proper education.

In response, Williams is promoting educational rights for women by partnering with CARE, an international humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. The aim of the partnership is to raise awareness and encourage girls’ education in developing regions by supporting programs in Kenya and Malawi. According to UNESCO, 74% of the Malawi population lives in poverty, and education for girls often ends in primary school. Williams is promoting educational rights by contributing $25,000 to assist CARE in launching a vocational training program based in Malawi. The vocational training program has been able to reach out to 50 women in Malawi.

Educational Support in Latin America

According to the Pew Research Center, 33% of Latinos ages 18 to 24 are enrolled in school, compared to an average of 42%. The lack of education that Latinos receive is evident in the socio-economic challenges that they face. Latino families are 1.5 times more likely to live below the poverty line compared to white families.

Alongside supporting the education of African girls, Williams is promoting educational rights for Latinas. She has constantly supported the Eva Longoria Foundation, an organization that helps “Latinas build better futures for themselves and their families through education and entrepreneurship.”

The Eva Longoria Foundation

The Eva Longoria Foundation works by launching programs that are culturally relevant in order to enhance the learning and productivity of Latinas. According to the Eva Longoria Foundation, 17% of U.S. women are Latina, yet only 2% of them are in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workforce. The Eva Longoria Foundation launched the STEM Program, which encourages young Latinas’ love for math and science at a young age through projects like coding and robotics. Through Williams’ support of the organization, the Eva Longoria Foundation has been successful in teaching STEM skills to more than 2,000 young Latina women.

– Yana Gupta 
Photo: Flickr

The Muslim Rohingya constitute the largest population of Muslims in Buddhist Myanmar. Following attacks by Rohingya rebels on more than 30 police posts, Myanmar troops, along with Buddhist mobs, burned down Rohingya villages and killed thousands of civilians, catalyzing the beginning of the Rohingya’s mass exodus to Bangladesh on August 25, 2017. Around 890,000 refugees currently live in camps along Cox’s Bazar, a coastal region in Eastern Bangladesh. The influx of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh has incited the government to relocate more than 19,000 refugees to Bhasan Char, an island constructed from the silt of the Meghan River.

Though the Bangladesh government claims that socioeconomic circumstances will gradually improve as Bhasan Char forms into a community, the Rohingya lack access to the most basic necessities. The Rohingya almost entirely rely on foreign aid to Bangladesh to promote security and improve living conditions in camps.

Conditions on Bhasan Char

Bhasan Char, with its low elevation, faces higher vulnerability to floods and storms. The Bangladesh government prohibits the construction of stronger shelters to signify the temporary nature of the stay. In August 2021, a monsoon displaced over 21,000 refugees and destroyed about 6,418 shelters. On average, Bhasan Char encounters three to four cyclones per year, and in 2020, the Category Five cyclone Amphan formed in the Bay of Bengal, wreaking havoc on nearby populations, not far from Bhasan Char.

Furthermore, the island occasionally disappears completely underwater and is eroding away at a rate of half a kilometer per year. Bhasan Char’s isolation, lack of storm and flood protection and other environmental predicaments could put the Rohingya at serious risk, with accompanying bad weather causing the island to be inaccessible by boats or helicopter. The risks remain unaccounted for by the Bangladesh government.

The Most Basic Human Necessities

The Rohingya additionally lack access to the most basic human necessities, such as uncontaminated water, food, freedom of movement and education. The Rohingya are currently experiencing a shortage of drinking water on the island due to clogged sewage facilities and inundated wells, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). Not only is there a shortage, but the water also may contain water-borne diseases, of which there are already cases reported in the camps. Deemed “an island jail in the middle of the sea” by HRW, Bhasan Char is also facing food scarcity. These circumstances exacerbate the living conditions of the Rohingya during the aforementioned floods and storms. Since the island is completely cut off from the rest of the world during bad weather, adequate food, water and medical care become even more limited and fatality rates surge.

According to reports, the Bangladeshi government restricts the Rohingya from exiting the island once they arrive, punishing those who try to escape by beating them. No secondary schools, informal or formal, exist in Bhasan Char and the government bans Rohingya from teaching the language and curriculum of Bangladesh, leaving the 450,000 Rohingya children with no access to education, according to HRW.  Instead, the Bangladeshi government has constructed “learning centers,” temporary bamboo structures that can accommodate up to 40 children at a time, but many of these have since rotted.

Looking Forward: Foreign Aid

In October 2021, the United Nations (U.N.) signed an agreement with the Bangladesh government guaranteeing concerted efforts to improve the services on the island, Al Jazeera reports.

Another way to further support the Rohingya would be to relocate more refugees from Bangladesh to other countries instead of Bhasan Char. Canada, for instance, has previously demonstrated interest in hosting the Rohingya. In addition, with the help of the U.N., Malaysia facilitated the resettlement of more than 10,000 Rohingya in wealthier countries like the United States (U.S.), Canada, Japan and New Zealand over the past decade.

Furthermore, the international community could continue to chip in monetary support. Donations have previously gone toward humanitarian sectors such as food, education and health care. Since 2017, the U.S. has provided $2 billion in assistance to the Rohingya. The U.S. recently provided $23.8 million in April 2023, showing continued interest from the international community.

Bolstering foreign aid to Bangladesh could bring about lasting improved living conditions for the Rohingya, supplying them with adequate nutrition and better-quality education.

Lauren Liu

Photo: Unsplash

Nicknamed “the Maduro diet” after Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, hunger in Venezuela is one of the symptoms of their current humanitarian crisis. Once a thriving and one of the most promising economies in Latin America, and home to the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela’s current economy is among the worst in the world.

Approximately nine in 10 people live in poverty in the country. This accounts for about a third of Latin America’s poor people. The food security crisis and widespread poverty are the results 0f a decade-long struggle with poor governance.

The State of Hunger in Venezuela

Hunger in Venezuela has been an issue of note in recent years because, in contrast to many other countries, their crisis is a result of food scarcity and years of hyperinflation which has made the most basic needs unaffordable.

Millions have fled the country and about a third of the remaining Venezuelans face food insecurity. In fact, child stunting and overall malnutrition have increased consistently since 2014, and three out of four households are forced to adopt strategies to cope with food shortages. Typically, these strategies involve reducing the size and variety of meals.  

Hyperinflation and its Causes

It all started with a land full of oil. Corruption, a struggling petrostate and an angry electorate served as the ideal scenario for socialist-populist Hugo Chavez, to be elected president in 1998. While he was well received at first, his administration began to centralize power and nationalize industries such as telecommunications, power and agriculture.

This made the economy and many government programs more dependent on the already nationalized oil industry, which would crash once again in the 2010s. Additionally, the centralization of power pulled Venezuela further from democracy into a dictatorship, which would continue after Chavez’s death through Nicolas Maduro’s presidency.

During the first years of his presidency, Maduro attempted to deal with the inherited economic struggles by printing money, which only exacerbated rising inflation. After price controls, exchange rate fixing and tax increases failed to alleviate rising prices, he printed more money again, causing exports to become more expensive, food scarcer and inflation to become hyperinflation. 

These years were the beginning of the “Maduro diet” and rising food insecurity. As hyperinflation skyrocketed between 2014 and 2018, prices of basic goods and exports rose with it, making food scarce and unaffordable.

Political Instability and Its Effects

Venezuela had a problem with violence well before 2014, but with a crippled economy and a hungry population, instability increased along with hyperinflation. The government aimed to take the lead and be the provider of everything Venezuelans needed. However, the poor economy received another blow when the U.S. imposed sanctions on the oil industry, limiting the government’s food aid.

The poor international relations also affected foreign aid, when in 2019, Maduro refused about $60 million worth of humanitarian aid to address health and food insecurity, since Venezuelans aren’t “beggars.” However, 2019 also saw economic improvements after Maduro used more sustainable economic practices, such as limiting spending and relaxing foreign exchange rates.

The COVID-19 Pandemic

In 2020, however, Venezuela along with many other developing countries experienced another economic shock with the COVID-19 pandemic, which inevitably impacted hunger in Venezuela. Companies closed, remittances decreased and people lost their jobs. Unfortunately, this had effects on their ability to afford food once again.

Venezuela began to cooperate with international aid efforts again in 2021. Charities sprung back up, and Maduro signed an agreement with the World Food Programme (WFP) to provide help for 1.5 million children in Venezuela’s poorest regions.

As for the economy, the end of 2022 raised hyperinflation concerns despite a period of a more sustainable economic position due to an increase in demand for dollars, government spending and a weakening of the Bolivar due to the impacts of the pandemic.

Impact of International Efforts

According to a report from Human Rights Watch, the United Nations (U.N.) has initiated a comprehensive plan worth $762.5 million aimed at aiding 4.5 million Venezuelans who are considered the most vulnerable. The plan includes a dedicated allocation of $87.9 million to tackle the health and socio-economic repercussions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Furthermore, the WFP has implemented initiatives aimed at supporting schools in providing rations and improving their infrastructure, hygiene and food services.

Looking Ahead

While Venezuela has experienced difficult times characterized by hyperinflation and rising food insecurity, cooperation with international organizations has helped the country make some progress in recent times. There is still room for much work, especially after the pandemic’s effects, but with better fiscal practices and ongoing foreign aid interventions, there is hope for a hunger-free future.

Gustavo Gutierrez Nidasio

Photo: Pixabay

Human Rights Violations in Ukraine
The international laws of war dictate what nations can and cannot do in accordance with human rights during times of conflict or war. All parties involved in a conflict have to abide by international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions of 1949, The First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions and Customary International Law. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 resulted in the creation of four treaties and three additional protocols that establish international legal standards for humanitarian treatment in war. The First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions aims to help strengthen the protection of victims of armed conflicts and place limits on the way of fighting wars. Finally, Customary International Law holds nations accountable to the international obligations that establish international practices such as those laid out in the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

Social and Economic Costs

Laws of war prohibit willful killing, acts of sexual violence, torture, the inhumane treatment of captured combatants and civilians and pillaging and looting. Armed forces that have effective control over an area have to follow the international law of occupation and international human rights laws. If a nation violates the laws of war, then they are responsible for committing war crimes. With this, the commanders of the occupying forces who know or suspect such crimes are taking place, but fail to act are criminally liable as a matter of command responsibility.

Conflicts such as the one going on in Ukraine cause immeasurable social and economic costs. These include loss of life, destruction of infrastructure, human capital, political instability and uncertain economic growth and investments.

Ukrainians will feel these effects for years to come, especially with a future of economic uncertainty in the country. This conflict however does not just impact those living in Ukraine economically, but worldwide as well with soaring rates of inflation. Within the first three months of the invasion, an estimated 51.6 million people fell into poverty living on or below $1.90 per day. Along with this, 20 million people fell to the poverty line of living on $3.20 per day. The continuous effects of Russia’s invasion are not Ukraine’s burden alone, but trickling into other nations as well.

Current State of Ukraine

Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, several bodies such as the United Nations and Human Rights Watch have been carefully monitoring the conflict for human rights violations in Ukraine and war crimes. The Human Rights Watch has documented several cases of Russian military forces committing war crime violations against civilians in occupied areas such as Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Kyiv. Russian soldiers were a part of repeated acts of sexual violence, unlawful executions and looting of civilian property. With this, Human Rights Watch has documented multiple reports on the deliberate cruelty towards Ukrainian civilians.

In September 2022, an U.N.-appointed independent committee of human rights investigators confirmed that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine. Most of the committee’s work has centered around investigations in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy. These are the regions where the most serious allegations of war crime violations against Russia have occurred.

Those Working to Help

There are currently multiple different bodies working diligently to prevent human rights violations in Ukraine and make sure that people have access to life necessities. Ukrainian officials suspect that more than 15,000 war crimes have taken place since Russia invaded. That makes humanitarian aid even more crucial for those who are still in the nation and refugees.

In May 2022, the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom announced the establishment of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group (ACA). The ACA aims to reinforce accountability for war crimes and it seeks to advance the commitments made by the European Union, the United States and the U.K. They are also making it their mission to support the war crimes units of the Office of Prosecutor General of Ukraine (OPG) in its investigation and prosecution of conflict-related crimes.

Along with this, they are working to bring together multinational experts to provide strategic advice and operational assistance to OPG specialists and other stakeholders in areas such as collection, preservation of evidence, operational analysis, investigation of conflict-related sexual violence, crime scenes and forensic investigations. Accountability is key when human rights are at stake. If there is no accountability then nations in conflict can commit disastrous war crimes as they please. This group aims to demonstrate international support and solidarity for Ukraine, along with holding those taking part in the conflict accountable for their actions against civilians.

USAID Helping Ukraine

Along with the efforts of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group, in July 2022, USAID announced it would provide $74 million in aid to Ukraine. This brings the total amount of USAID spending to help Ukraine to $1 billion. With the continued support of the U.S. and other nations, humanitarian organizations have been able to assist around 11 million people. Their continued efforts are crucial in ensuring the protection of human rights in Ukraine and that Ukrainians are safe from war crimes. The additional funding from USAID will provide emergency hygiene items, health care, mental health care, shelter and cash assistance to Ukrainians. It is also important to recognize that vulnerable populations disproportionately bear the burdens of war. As an acknowledgment of this, the funding will also aim to support those who are within these populations to help meet their life-saving needs.

The continuous commitment of wealthy nations to support humanitarian aid is detrimental to preventing human rights violations in Ukraine and ensuring that nations are held accountable for war crimes. The actions now set a precedent for conflicts in the future. Therefore, nations like the U.S. should continue to set an example of what humanitarian aid should look like, thus creating a model for others to follow.

– Emma Cook
Photo: Flickr

Green Urban Growth
Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, is on the cutting edge of African development. In May 2022, the Rwandan government launched the second phase of the environmentally friendly, $175 million Rwandan Urban Development Project. The project consists of reinforcing nature-based infrastructure and protecting the city against extreme weather conditions. A hub of architects and entrepreneurs is working out of the newly built MASS Design Group’s largest office in Kigali. The recent increase in investment in the once war-stricken city aims to set Rwanda on the path to green urban growth.

A Critical Eye

President Paul Kagame received many criticisms for taking the position of an authoritarian strongman. While Rwanda appears to be a safe space for foreigners, Lewis Mudge, the Central Africa Director at Human Rights Watch recently told CNN,  “Rwanda is a safe country for Rwandans if you keep your head down and don’t ask any questions or challenge anything. The moment you step up and start to question something or have an independent opinion and express it, Rwanda becomes a very difficult country to live in.” It is impossible to ignore the claims of citizens and spokespeople in the region. For Western and Asian allies, however, Kagame remains a “liberator” with intentions of expanding economic prosperity in the region.

Sustainability and Reframing

The Rwanda Urban Development Project focuses on developing the natural infrastructure of Kigali and surrounding cities. A green micro-mobility company called Guraride, which began a bike share scheme in Kigali in 2021 is just one of many firms setting up in the city. Guararide CEO, Tony Adesina, explained, “We’re looking at a situation where Kigali becomes the Silicon Valley of Africa.” President Kagame has made aspirational claims of making Rwanda a middle-income country by 2035.

In the decades since the atrocious 1994 genocide, the government has brought the country out of the ruins by taking several measures. For one, Rwanda now has close financial ties to China; in 2008, the country outlawed the use of non-biodegradable plastics a notable step towards its desire to be a green country. Moreover, it has closed gender gaps with 61% of its parliamentary seats, which women hold. The World Bank continues to report “strong economic growth” in the region, and a poverty decline from 77% in 2001 to 55% by 2017. With the decline in poverty and awareness of the need for renewable energy, Rwanda is a beacon of hope for the naysays of energy reform and a model country on the path to green urban growth.


A coalition of architects, engineers, city planners, researchers, designers, construction and film industry has come to the MASS Design Group’s central hub. Entrepreneurs like Tony Adesina are attracted to the area because of the government’s inclination towards allowing tech-based and eco-friendly development. As increasingly severe weather conditions erupt around the world, Rwanda is taking the initiative to develop green solutions to the unique problems weather causes. Launched in 2017, The Green City Project in Kigali is an example of this initiative. It aims to be a green community in the Kinyinya Hill area of Kigali; allowing developers to use innovative climate-responsive building techniques and collect rainwater, as well as increase vegetation, tree cover and renewable energy sources. This facility is a harbinger for more green projects to come around the world, as the move to green urban growth becomes evermore important.

The region of Kigali represents hope for war-stricken countries. Often through struggle and war, many creative solutions emerge out of necessity. Western counterparts regularly overlook developing communities in Africa and view them as “reporters” of what is happening, rather than true artists and creators themselves. Though others should not ignore the iron fist of the Rwandan government, an encouraging move toward sustainability that the nation has taken is the bottom-line approach necessary to tackle environmental and economic issues.

– Shane Chase
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in Mauritania
Two horizontal stripes of red sandwich a large swath of green. Over the green is a five-pointed yellow star, centered above an upward-pointing yellow crescent moon. Mauritania’s flag is not just beautiful, it is also symbolic. The green, in particular, symbolizes hope. However, not all Mauritanians have hope. Child marriage in Mauritania diminishes hope for around 37% of Mauritanian girls. The country’s legal age for marriage is 18, but lax enforcement undermines the law, according to the U.S. Department of State.

Facts about Child Marriage in Mauritania

International human rights groups, such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Human Rights Watch (HRW), have advocated for measures to prohibit child marriage. The practice correlates with some adverse outcomes and creates a cycle of effects that often mirror those outcomes. Some of these are:

  • Lack of Education – Child marriage consistently correlates to a lack of education. Getting an education becomes even more difficult after marriage. When girls must manage a household and raise children, they have little time for school. The opportunities that an education provides, including the chance for financial independence, dwindle. Beyond that, the problem is cyclical: Research shows that interrupting a child’s education may have a negative educational impact on the next generation.
  • Poverty – The poorest Mauritanian girls are almost twice as likely to marry before age 18 than their wealthier peers. Because married children are also likely to have financial prospects hindered by incomplete education, child marriage perpetuates the cycle of poverty.
  • Less Autonomy and Agency – According to an article published in J Women Polit Policy, in Mauritania, more than 50% of married girls have spouses that are a decade older. Research shows that this age gap, along with the educational disparities, results in less autonomy for the girls. This power imbalance typically persists throughout the union.
  • Psychological Distress and Isolation – These married girls leave familiar surroundings to live many miles away from friends and family. Alone and away from the familiar, they find themselves without a support system when they most need it.

Efforts to Address Child Marriage in Mauritania

Change takes time, but Mauritania has taken some steps to address the issue. Mauritania’s 2001 law making marriage under 18 illegal is not a solution on its own, but it is a first step that acknowledges the inherent problems with the practice. But guardians can circumvent the law by granting permission for a child under 18 to marry. The child must also agree, but his or her silence is considered consent. By eliminating this exception, the government would show an even greater commitment to ending child marriage in Mauritania.

Mauritania is one of several countries that has committed to ending child marriage by 2030, which aligns with target 5.3 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal. According to Girls Not Brides, the country demonstrated this commitment by addressing its progress in the 2019 Voluntary National Review, a government report delivered during a political forum. Mauritania has implemented the Sahel Women Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD). SWEDD aims to keep girls in school, recognizing that lack of education is a key correlate to child marriage. It also aspires to stigmatize child marriage through education.

Some may question the impact of these seemingly symbolic steps, but a research study submitted to the Ford Foundation found that “the failure to view early marriage as a problem is chiefly what accounts for the persistence of this harmful traditional practice.” As Mauritanians like to say, “A hen cannot lay eggs and hatch them on the same day.” With each signed agreement, each law and each international commitment, Mauritania is that much closer to stigmatizing and ending child marriage.

– Vickie Melograno
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Cuban Doctors
One of the most significant exports that Cuba continually delivers is doctors. Offering quality services at a price that the most vulnerable and impoverished patients can afford, these medical practitioners are changing the world. In 2020, patients worldwide called upon around 800 Cuban doctors and nurses at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, Human Rights Watch, an international NGO that advocates and researches human rights violations and other organizations claim a dark side to the philanthropic efforts that Cuba presents. Moreover, controversy surrounds Cuba’s medical internationalism with claims of Cuban doctors working under repressive regulations that violate their fundamental human rights.

Cuba’s History of Medical Internationalism

After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the socialist government addressed its main societal concerns: universal health care and free education. As a result, while revamping the health care system in the country through strategic methods, the government achieved its goals of providing free healthcare and quality education. Using these values, the Cuban government began a program to bring humanitarian medical aid worldwide. According to the BBC, Fidel Castro himself described the exported medics as Cuba’s “army of white coats.”

Its history of medical altruism began in 1963 when Cuba sent 56 doctors to replace the French doctors that left Algeria, according to TIME. After Algeria gained independence from France in 1962, one of the newly formed country’s main issues was the mass exodus of French doctors. According to Granma, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, more than 3,000 doctors left the nation. Cuba supported the country while it rebuilt its health care system.

Cuba would also help other nations in times of catastrophes, such as Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. With equipment and valuable knowledge, 380 Cuban health care providers were some of the first doctors to respond to the crisis. They operated four clinics in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince, providing life-saving procedures such as amputations, sutures and antibiotics. In an interview with pharmacist Ildilisa Nunez, a member of the Cuban Miracle Mission, National Public Radio (NPR) reported that 605 people came to the clinic within 12 hours of the earthquake.

In that critical moment, Cuban doctors could provide the aid that the citizens needed, especially during the pandemic.

Cuban Medical Personnel During COVID-19

Forty countries worldwide received the aid of Cuban health care providers during the pandemic. While Cuba is often helping nations with weak health care systems, wealthier nations such as Italy and Andorra have received Cuban aid too. For example, in Lombardy, Italy, the region’s health minister Guilio Gallera asked for the help of Cuban medics in March 2020, according to The Economist. On March 22, 2020, 52 Cuban doctors arrived from Havana to help.

Some host countries, according to NBC, are learning from Cuba how to handle the pandemic effectively. These strategies include “isolating cases, tracing their contacts, screening for sufferers and swiftly applying therapeutic treatments like the antiviral agent interferon.” Even nations that have ended agreements, such as Brazil, have requested aid once more because of the pandemic’s damage. Brazil received 1,012 Cuban doctors that allowed them to practice in “basic primary medicine for two years without having to requalify to practice,” NBC reports.

The pandemic caused nations worldwide to turn to Cuba for aid. Still, there is a darker side to their humanitarian assistance.

A Violation of Human Rights

Human Rights Watch accused the Cuban government of imposing regulations that have violated Cuban medics’ fundamental rights. Some of these liberties included “the right to privacy, freedom of expression and association, liberty and movement, among others,” as Human Rights Watch reported.

Under the Resolution 168 of 2010 that the Ministry of External Commerce and Foreign Investment wrote, it is a disciplinary offense to have any relationships with others who are not consistent with the values that Cuban society holds. In addition, personnel deployed abroad, under the same order, must disclose all “romantic relationships” to their supervisors, Human Rights Watch reports. The government also limited the freedom of expression using regulations that the Human Rights Watch said were “unnecessary and disproportionate to any legitimate government aim.”

Not only do Cuban medics suffer from restrictive bans that limit their freedom, but they also endure threatening situations. Around 41% of Cubans that worked abroad say they experienced sexual assault while at their posts. If the deployed personnel wanted to leave the program, they would face an eight-year ban from Cuba, according to VOA News.

Though, the string of infractions does not stop. Multiple organizations, including Human Rights Watch, accused the Cuban government of exploiting the medical personnel wages. Prisoners Defenders reported that “doctors on average receive between 10% and 25% of the salary from the host countries,” with Cuba’s authorities keeping the rest, according to BBC. With lucrative missions that bring Havana $8.5 billion a year, a large sum of money is continually withheld from Cuban doctors, according to VOA News.

The Future of Cuba’s Medical Internationalism

While Cuban medical aid has helped countries worldwide, there has been a call to question how humanitarian the government has been to its employees. Only the future will tell if Cuba will end up before the International Criminal Court and the United Nations to face their crimes. However, in the end, the world needs the aid that Cuban doctors have provided for over half a century.

– Gaby Mendoza
Photo: Flickr

Colombia Tax Plan
On July 6, 2021, Colombia’s Independence Day, President Ivan Duque presented a new $4 billion tax plan. The plan aimed to help pay for social programs and pandemic-related expenses. Due to Colombia’s new tax plan, thousands marched through Colombia’s main cities in protest. Many are angry at their government since it did not solve any of the populations’ problems. Colombian citizens believe that the new Colombia tax plan is not doing enough to help their people.

Tax Reform

This new tax reform is much smaller than the previous $6.3 billion packages that the Colombian government presented in April 2021. The government withdrew the larger package due to mass demonstrations and lawmaker opposition. Even after many protests and marches, President Ivan Duque insisted that this plan is vital at a time of rising debt. The Colombian government must pass the plan to help social programs stay afloat.

As Duque opened Congress’s second legislative period of the year on Colombia’s Independence Day, Duque told legislators the “social investment law, which we will build between all of us, is the largest jump in human development in recent decades.”

The new reform places a higher tax burden on the company’s earnings. It discards the $6.3 billion package to impose a tax on basic items ranging from coffee to salt. The reason for protests for the new plan is that the plan seems to not be able to do enough for spending on education and job creation. In 2020, the economy contracted 7% and pushed an additional 3 million people into poverty, worsening conditions in Colombia.

The People of Colombia

Francisco Maltes is leading one of the groups of anti-government demonstrations while serving as the president of the Central Union of Workers. Malte’s union is part of a collection of unions that plans to present congress with 10 proposals on addressing Colombia’s social and economic crisis. Dissolving the nation’s riot police is part of their plans as well. This is creating a basic income program for workers that would make monthly payments of $260 to 10 million people. Maltes and his union tie directly into the recent string of protesting. Maltes has stated that protests will continue because President Duque has failed to solve Colombia’s list of problems.

During the Independence Day demonstrations, protestors also stated that they wanted justice for the death of many youths who police recently killed. Human Rights Watch is an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy for human rights. It is currently collecting data linking police to the deaths of 25 confirmed young protesters during the recent wave of demonstrations. The number of deaths still remains a mystery due to many local organizations stating that the death count could be higher.

Withdrawal of New Tax Reform

After many months, the Colombian government unveiled Colombia’s new tax plan, much to the Colombian people’s dismay. The purpose of the Colombia tax plan is to address the social and economic crisis. However, the verdict across Colombia’s population is clear. The verdict on the impact of the reform punishes the middle-working-class and ruins any hope of economic recovery. This will push many people into poverty. Unless an agreement comes to fruition in Congress in the coming months, Colombia could risk its post-pandemic social and economic recovery.

Colombia has a rare opportunity to create a better and more ambitious tax reform through the current circumstances. The leadership of President Duque must bring Colombia together and come to a consensus, to make a version of this proposed reform bill a reality.

– Aahana Goswami
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child soldiers in MyanmarFor half a century, Myanmar has struggled to reduce its number of child soldiers. Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar has a long history of using children in armed conflict, which began when the country gained independence in 1948. In 2002, Human Rights Watch listed Myanmar as the country with the highest number of child soldiers. Though Myanmar has taken action to reduce this, the number of child soldiers in Myanmar is still disturbingly high, requiring greater intervention.

Previous Use of Child Soldiers

According to the Child Soldiers Global Report 2001, 20% of Myanmar’s army was made up of children younger than 18. Although Myanmar’s legislation does not establish compulsory military service laws, it does require each district to meet a recruitment quota. District authorities that fail to meet the quota often receive fines. Hence, to meet the quota, many underage children are coaxed into joining the army through financial rewards or prestige. Other times, the army abducts children from public areas, forcing them to become soldiers. The highest number of recruited child soldiers in Myanmar occured between 1990 and 2005 when the military junta was in power.

During this time, Myanmar received several on-ground assessments by the Committee of Experts of the ILO, followed by recommendations to revise the Village Act and the Towns Act. The Committee requested that the government amend these Acts to comply with the Forced Labor Convention of 1930. Hence, the Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified by Myanmar in 1991.

After several concerns raised by the United Nations, Human Rights Watch verified that Myanmar had approximately 70,000 child soldiers in 2001. Myanmar’s government responded to international concerns in a letter to the U.N. Security Council in 2004. In the letter, the government demonstrated no interest in making any legislative amendments nor any intention to prosecute local authorities for forced labor and child abuse by stating that “the Myanmar Armed Forces is an all-volunteer force and those entering military services do so of their own free will.”

Gradual Measures to Reduce Child Recruitment

Finally, in 2005, four local officials received prison sentences for the illegal imposition of forced labor after supposedly recruiting child soldiers. In 2009, several rebel groups such as the Chin National Front signed unilateral deeds pledging to stop recruiting child soldiers.

In 2012, Myanmar signed the Joint Action Plan. This committed the government to work alongside the U.N. to prevent child recruitment. Following the Plan’s implementation in 2012, which established stronger age assessment procedures and the adoption of military directives prohibiting the recruitment of minors, 956 children and young people were released from the army. Further improvements occured in 2015 when Myanmar signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding the use of minors in armed conflict.

Since then, Myanmar’s government and the U.N. have launched several public awareness campaigns, also establishing a hotline so that citizens can report cases of recruitment of minors. As a result of the continuing decrease in child recruitment and Myanmar’s efforts to protect children, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres removed Myanmar from his annual “list of shame,” which names countries that have committed grave violations against children.

The Need for More Action

Despite Myanmar’s recent efforts to decrease the number of child soldiers, in 2021, the United Nations verified the recruitment and use of 790 children in the previous year. With 56 children dead and 17 children abducted, the U.N. believes Myanmar will return to the “list of shame” unless the government follows U.N. recommendations, including:

  • Release children using the framework of the Joint Action Plan
  • Make the 156 pending cases of suspected minors a priority among national courts
  • Prosecute those who are guilty

With 10 armed attacks in national schools in 2020, the United Nations also strongly recommends that Myanmar endorses the Safe Schools Declaration, which requires states to commit to safeguarding schools and universities from armed hostilities.

Existing efforts as well as implementing U.N. recommendations will help to fully eliminate the use of child soldiers in Myanmar, protecting the well-being of children across the country.

– Carolina Cadena
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