There are many women in Iraq who have faced and continue to face abuse within the Iraqi judiciary system, as outlined in a new report from the Human Rights Watch (HRW). According to the HRW, although both men and women suffer from the severe flaws of the criminal justice system, women suffer a double burden due to their second-class status in Iraqi society.

Iraq has had other allegations challenging its reputation for gender discrimination in the past. During the 1970s, Iraq guaranteed equal rights to women before the law by mandating compulsory education through primary school for both genders and changed labor, employment, and personal laws to grant women greater equality in the workplace, marriage, divorce and inheritance. These advancements were done, however, in order to create loyalty to the ruling government and Baath Party.

After losing the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein tried to boost his power and popularity by embracing Islamic and tribal traditions. This led to the rapid deterioration in social status for women in Iraq, which has only worsened since the Iraq War.

Although there has been some debate in the international community as to the legitimate use of interrogation tactics like water-boarding, the abuses these women sustained seem to have amounted to torture. Nearly all of the women in Iraq that were interviewed by the HRW were handcuffed, kicked, punched, beaten with cables, subjected to electric shocks, and subjected to falaqa, which is the practice of tying someone upside down and beating their feet.

Many also reported being raped and sexually assaulted by security officials who also threatened to do the same to their daughters. After succumbing to torture, these women were forced to sign and fingerprint confessions they could not read, or in some cases, that were just blank pieces of paper.

Although prohibited by both Iraqi and international law, corruption and a lack of government oversight ensures that these abuses continue with no repercussions for the abusers and no relief for the victims. By detaining women without arrest warrants, holding them for indefinite periods before allowing them to see a judge and demanding bribes for their release, the actions of the government are synonymous to kidnapping.

The current situation is also influenced by religious strife, as the vast majority of these women and girls are Sunni and being illegally detained by the Shia-led government solely because of their branch of Islam. The majority of the women interviewed were held for allegedly covering up for crimes committed by male family members, and charged under Iraq’s Anti-Terrorism Law. Many were convicted not by evidence, but based on coerced confessions and testimony from “secret informants.”

The response from Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s administration has been criminally insufficient. They have yet to begin investigating allegations of abuse, and many government officials have denied that there is a problem, with some even accusing the women of lying. To move past the legacy of corruption left by Saddam Hussein, a greater sense of transparency of and accountability for government procedures could greatly improve the situation.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: Human Rights Watch, Al Jazeera
Photo: Aljazeera

Thousands of women in Iraq are being illegally detained and abused, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW). Many of these women, held by Iraqi security forces for months or sometimes even years without access to a judge, are often questioned about the crimes and activities of their male relatives and not about the crimes they are supposed to have committed.

Violence in Iraq is presently at its highest level since 2008, with more than 1,000 people dead in Iraq just in January. Human rights groups and diplomats are increasingly vocalizing the various cases of mistreatment within the country, yet to little avail. As stated by the HRW report, over 4,500 women are currently being detained in Iraqi prisons. While a majority of these women are Sunni, people of all sects and classes are affected, causing dire unrest among the masses.

One woman interviewed by HRW had suffered beatings, electric shocks and rape, abuses not uncommon among Iraq’s female prisoners. She was later executed, regardless of the medical report that had been filed in her favor. An employee at a women’s prison facility contributed to concern for sexual abuse, stating that employees assume police rape prisoners en route to the prison.

This tragic situation has indubitably angered Iraqis, adding to the frustrations long protested by Sunni Arabs. Breaches in civil and human rights of this sort only serve to exacerbate the sectarian divide within Iraq. Although most Sunnis are not thought to support militant jihadist organizations such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS,) the abuses make them far less likely to support the efforts of the authorities working to rid the country of those groups.

A lack of trust between the groups and communities living within Iraq’s borders is cause for concern both regionally and globally. If Iraqi authorities desire cooperation, perhaps it would benefit to treat all members of the country’s makeup with the equal and adequate rights necessary to maintain a sustained peace.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera, BBC
Photo: The Brussells Tribunal

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has recently emphasized that the Bolivian government should reject proposals to lower its minimum age of employment below 14 years old. President Evo Morales has expressed support for proposals to abolish a minimum age for “independent work” and to lower the minimum age to 12 years old for all other jobs.

Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch (HRW,) stated that, “Child labor perpetuates the cycle of poverty. Lowering minimum age of employment is counterproductive and out of step with the rest of the world.”

Reductions in child labor are attributed to increasing access to education, strengthening national legislation and monitoring and bolstering social protection plans such as Bolivia’s Juancito Pinto cash transfer program.

The International Labor Convention stipulates a minimum employment age of 15 years old. Bolivia, along with 166 other countries, is a part of this. The only stipulation is countries whose economy and educational facilities are insufficiently developed may under certain conditions have a minimum age of 14 years old. Bolivia has a reported 850,000 child laborers.

“Poor families often send their children to work out of desperation, but these children miss out on schooling and are more likely to end up in a lifetime of low-wage work,” Becker said. “The Bolivian government should invest in policies and programs to end child labor, not support it.”

Human rights across Latin America are struggling with a seemingly intractable dilemma, according to The Guardian. Countries such as Bolivia, Colombia, Argentina, Ecuador and Brazil hope to benefit from the commodity boom in global markets that are fueled by demand in China and other areas of the world.

Social movements across Latin America are helping to remold politics and political discourse. These countries democratization depend on the support of increasingly active social movements in both rural and urban areas.

Along with the protesting and movements transpiring in Latin America, HRW joined the Global March against Child Labor and Anti-Slavery International on January 24. The group sent a letter to Morales completely opposing any sort of movement to lower the minimum age of employment. HRW explained that it would be extremely counterproductive to the Bolivian economy.

Lindsey Lerner

Sources: Human Rights Watch, The Guardian
Photo: Bicultural Mom

Human Rights Watch released a report on February 13th 2014 entitled, “Here, Rape is Normal” A Five-Point Plan to Curtail Sexual Violence in Somalia. Rape is rampant in many parts of Somalia, especially in the capital city of Mogadishu. Here women and girls live in constant fear of rape and sexual assault, which are considered a normal parts of life. The report outlines strategies and interventions for the government and donor agencies to prevent sexual violence and provide support to victims. The research for the report was qualitative in nature. Human Rights Watch interviewed 27 women in Mogadishu who survived rape, often several attacks. Maryam, a 37-year-old single mother had been gang raped twice while staying in a shelter in the Wadajir district. She was pregnant during one of these attacks and when she went to report to incident to the police the next day she was miscarrying and bleeding heavily. Instead of helping her police handed her a mop to clean the blood off of the floor and told her to go home and clean herself. Rape is common in the camps for displaced persons in Mogadishu. Maryam commented that just the night before her interview she had listened to a woman in her camp being attacked. She told researchers that when women in her camp greet each other they say “Were you raped today?” Two decades of civil war and state deterioration have left Somali women very at a high risk for sexual violence. Displaced individuals and marginalized minority groups are especially vulnerable to rape. Police and government armed forces sexually assault, rape, beat and stab women and girls living inside camps and go unpunished. Women report that they are afraid to report these attacks to authorities because of fear that they will be stigmatized and the knowledge that nothing will come of their reports as rape perpetrators are rarely charged or prosecuted. In December of 2013 a 19-year-old female reporter of the UN-funded Kasmo radio station in Mogadishu was sentenced to a six-month sentence after she reported that journalists at the state owned radio station Radio Mogadishu had raped her at gunpoint.  She was interview by a journalist from Radio Shabelle. The woman, the journalist and the director of Radio Shabelle were all charged with defamation. The woman was allowed to serve her jail time at home but the journalists were sentenced to twelve months in jail. The United Nations estimates that 800 women were raped in Mogadishu alone in the first 6 months of 2013. There were at least 1700 attacks on women in internally displaced persons settlements in 2012. 70 percent of these attackers were armed men wearing government uniforms.  Girls as young as 13 years old are being raped, a third of rape victims are under the age of 18. These women and children have already fled their homes because of armed conflict and drought and are living in with sheets of plastic for walls. Now they are being further traumatized by the threat and occurrence of sexual violence that no one is willing to do anything about. Human Rights Watch suggests a five-point roadmap for prevention and intervention of rape in Somalia:

  1. Physical prevention – Increased security for women in displaced communities
  2. Emergency health services – Medical, psychological and social support for victims of gender based violence
  3. Access to justice – Women should have access to a justice system that meets international standards
  4. Legal and policy reform – The government should enforce laws prohibiting violence against women
  5. Promotion of women’s equality – Equality should be promoted through education, political participation, and women’s social and economic equality

Rape should not be normal anywhere. – Elizabeth Brown Photo: Genocide Memorial Project Sources: Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Al Jazeera

Around the globe, tens of millions of women and young girls are currently employed as domestic workers in private households. In 1999, 98.5% of domestic and migrant workers employed in the United States were women. Their duties consisted of cooking, cleaning, caring for other young children, watching after elderly family members, and other essential chores for their employers. Working 14-18 hours daily with pay well below minimum wage, domestic workers are the most exploited and abused workers in the world.

During the times of their employment, they may be locked within their workplace and made victims of physical or sexual violence. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), children and migrant domestic workers are often the most vulnerable individuals.

In June 2011, an international treaty known as the Domestic Workers Convention (DWC) was adopted as the first global standard to protect domestic workers.

With an estimated 53 million domestic workers worldwide, the pressure to protect them has been increasing drastically. In the last two years, over 25 countries have improved legal protections for domestic workers.

Among some of the strongest reforms are those that were created in Latin America. However, the European Union has proven to give the most challenges towards legal reforms.

Due to the growing elderly population in the EU, it has become extremely dependent on the care of domestic workers for these individuals. The Middle East and Asia have also experienced minimal change, with the worst cases of abuse. Regardless of the essential services that the domestic workers provide, the inequality and discrimination they endure is viewed as abhorrent. The influence of domestic workers’ rights movements is emphasized by the International Labour Organization and the DWC.

On September 5, 2013, the DWC was initiated into legal force. This entitles domestic workers to the same rights as those that are guaranteed to other workers. Uruguay, Philippines, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Italy, Bolivia, Paraguay, South Africa, Guyana, and Germany have all put the DWC into effect.

Despite the progress, there are still obstacles to be overcome. Although child labor has declined, child domestic labor increased by 9% between 2008 and 2012. Often times, domestic workers also become victims of forced labor and even trafficking.

Individuals have taken advocacy campaigns for unions into their own hands, however. Through meetings with government officials, social media campaigns, and various alliances, civil society groups promoted the Domestic Workers Convention.

Some countries prevent workers from organizing unions or joining ones already established. Bangladesh, Thailand, and the United States are among the countries that prevent domestic workers from forming unions.

– Samaria Garrett

Sources: Human Rights Watch
Photo: The Guardian

The U.S. drone strikes against suspected terrorists are killing innocent civilians and should be regarded as violations of international law, say Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW). In separate reports, the organizations use eyewitness accounts of civilian causalities in Yemen and Pakistan to depict the tragic effects of drone strikes.

In Pakistan, Amnesty interviewed 60 families and eyewitnesses in the tribal region of North Waziristan, an area that has been heavily targeted by U.S. airstrikes. One eyewitness was the granddaughter of 68-year-old Mamana Bibi, who was killed by a drone missile while gardening outside her home. The 8-year-old recounted the gruesome details: “[Her body] had been thrown quite a long distance away by the blast and it was in pieces. We collected as many different parts from the field and wrapped them in a cloth.”

HRW’s report studies six attacks that occurred in Yemen—one in 2009 and five in 2012-13. In these six attacks, 57 of the 82 people killed were innocent civilians with no links to terrorism. The innocents included a pregnant woman and several children. Letta Tayler, a senior researcher at HRW and the author of the report, said “Yemenis told us that these strikes make them fear the U.S. as much as they fear Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”

The reports come as the Obama administration continues to downplay the civilian casualties resulting from drone strikes despite mounting evidence to the contrary. A White House spokesperson declined to comment on either of the reports, but did mention a speech the President delivered in May 2013 in which he defended drone attacks as an effective and legal means of killing terrorists.

Both Amnesty and HRW requested that the Obama administration explain its legal and operational rationale behind the drone program and urged more transparency. The administration rarely releases information about or acknowledges responsibility for drone attacks. In such an atmosphere of secrecy, it is difficult to ascertain how the administration selects targets and what efforts, if any, are used to minimize civilian casualties.

In addition to the Amnesty and HRW reports, U.N. Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson is also gathering preliminary data for a similar report that he will present to U.N. Human Rights Council. Emmerson said preliminary estimates are that more than 450 civilians have been killed in drone strikes in the past decade, but much works need to be done to confirm these numbers. Alluding to this challenge, Emmerson said, “The single greatest obstacle to an evaluation of the civilian impact of drone strikes is lack of transparency, which makes it extremely difficult to assess claims of precision targeting objectively.”

– Daniel Bonasso

Sources: The Washington Post, Time, Human Rights Watch
Photo: The Saudi Gazzette

Bahrain Security Forces Beat Children All Day
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported that Bahrain security forces are routinely detaining children and subjecting them to cruel treatment that may rise to the level of torture. Information from victims, families, and human rights activists suggests that the authorities are holding children for long periods of time, during which the children are beaten and threatened with torture. Many of the children being detained have participated in anti-government protests that began during the Arab Spring in 2011.

The European Parliament has responded to the situation in Bahrain by issuing a resolution denouncing the government’s actions and urging it, “to respect the rights of juveniles, to refrain from detaining them in adult facilities, and to treat juveniles in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Bahrain is a party.” The Convention on the Rights of the Child requires that participatory nations protect their children from ill treatment and torture and provide prompt access to legal assistance for detained children.

In one account, the brother of a detained child said that police showed up at a pool party on September 5 and arrested 14 people, including nine children between the ages of 15 and 17. His brother was among those arrested. On the day after the arrest, the child was able to contact his family and recount the details of his detention. According to his account, he and the other children were blindfolded and beaten before being taken into custody. While detained, they were intimidated and pressed to admit to a September 1 attack on police officers. On September 11, the boy’s family had yet to see him, and he did not have access to a lawyer or social worker.

Other reports suggest that child victims have been illegally detained, beaten, threatened with rape and even burnt with cigarettes. Joe Stork, Middle East and North Africa director at HRW said, “The Bahraini authorities need to look into these allegations and immediately call a halt to any arbitrary arrests and mistreatment of children.” The HRW report urges Bahraini officials to conduct independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of child torture and illegal detention. For those children that are detained, officials should notify families and allow the children access to legal representation.

The Bahraini security forces’ abuse of children is part of a larger crackdown on protesters that are demanding political reform in the country. The constitutional monarchy does not appear concerned with allegations of human rights abuse. Since July, Bahrain’s parliament has urged King Al Khalifa to toughen punishments prescribed by the country’s 2006 anti-terrorism laws.

– Daniel Bonasso

Sources: Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, RT
Photo: The Guardian

On Sept 9th, The Huffington Post reported the death of an 8-year-old girl in the northwest city of Hardh, Yemen. According to Medical Daily, the little girl, Rawan, “bled severely after suffering vaginal tearing following her forced marriage to a 40-year-old man.” Rawan’s death generated outrage among neighboring Kuwaiti officials, but also in Yemen itself.

Indeed, following her death, social media have been exploding with incriminating comments against Raman’s family who allowed her to marry so young, but also against her ‘husband,’ the 40-year-old man who effectively raped her on her wedding night.

Sadly enough, Raman’s story is not an isolated one. In 2010, the death from internal rupture of a 13-year-old in similar circumstances shocked public opinion.

The plague of child marriage is particularly severe in Yemen, where statistics speak for themselves. According to Human Rights Watch, 14 percent of girls are married before the age of 15 and 82 percent before they turn 18. Al Bawaba’s numbers are even more appalling: they estimate that “a quarter of young girls in Yemen are married before the age of 15.”

The World Health Organization’s 2013 report estimates that, if consistent with current levels of child marriage, more than 140 million girls will marry between 2011 and 2020. As of today, more than 14.2 million marriages with underaged girls occur annually; that’s 39,000 child marriages per day. The extent of child marriage is frightening. Girls as young as three years old are sometimes drawn into arranged marriages by their families.

Despite the Yemeni authorities’ efforts to prohibit child marriage, one step forward is often synonymous with two steps backwards in Yemen. For instance, a law setting the minimum marriage age at 17 was enacted in 2009, only to be later repealed because deemed ‘un-Islamic.’

The shocking circumstances surrounding Raman’s death have hopefully sparked the fire needed for change. The international community ought to live up to its commitments to child freedom by preventing other cases like that of Raman from happening.

Lauren Yeh

Sources: New York Daily News, The Huffington Post, Medical Daily, WHO

Cameroon Transgendered Youth Arrested Gay Rights
In July 2011, two transgender youths—who both identify as women—were arrested in Cameroon. The police, who saw the two women “groping each other’s genitals” in a car, charged them with homosexual conduct; a practice illegal in the socially conservative Cameroon.

However, as the case garnered international attention, the evidence was elucidated as problematic: no eyewitnesses were presented and the confessions seem to be clearly coerced. In November 2011, the two transgender women were convicted. However, local and international criticism caused the appeals court to overturn the conviction on January 7 due to a lack of evidence.

Nevertheless, the case shows the tension surrounding gender identity in Cameroon, and the lack of legal support for individuals that do not fit the traditional gender binary.

The executive director, Yves Yomb, of Alternatives Cameroon said, “As transgender people, Jonas and Franky are guilty of nothing more than having a gender identity that most Cameroonians don’t understand. On the occasion of the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, we call on our government to accept UPR recommendations to end homophobic and transphobic discrimination, and simply to let people like Jonas and Franky live their lives in peace.”

Clearly, Cameroon needs to enact institutional, legal, and educational support for its citizens, regardless of their gender identity, as the act of homophobia and transphobia is an issue of morality just as much as it is of human rights.

Anna C Purcell

Sources: Human Rights Watch, United Nations
Photo: Moon of the South

An ethnic Tibetan who grew up under the Chinese Communist regime and currently works as a high-ranking Communist Party official has decided to speak out against the Tibetan atrocities currently taking place. Choosing to remain anonymous, the government official claims that the current state of Tibet is “far worse than people in the West suspect.”

When the Chinese military invaded Tibet in 1950, many Tibetans thought the Chinese would modernize the region and bring order to the land that was previously ruled by monks and monasteries. These thoughts were quickly dashed when the Chinese began erasing any signs of Tibetan culture and forcibly removing people from their homes into communes. During the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, Tibetan leaders were sent to Maoist reeducation camps and hundreds of monasteries and relics were destroyed. Many of these injustices are still occurring today.

The streets of Lhasa, Tibet’s capital city, are still patrolled by Chinese security forces that act like occupiers. The Communist official claims that the security forces often take property and beat residents at their own discretion and without cause. During another Lhasa revolt surrounding the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the military arrested 6,000 people. The practice of self-immolation, or the public death by lighting oneself on fire, has gained popularity with monks to raise awareness for their struggle. Since 2011, over 100 people have resorted to self-immolation to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet.

Another horrifying byproduct of Chinese rule has been the destruction of the Tibetan plateau. The Communist official alleges that the increase in cultivation due to Chinese immigrants coming to Tibet has resulted in diminished grasslands and desertification. The number of rivers that feed into Qinghai Lake decreased from 108 to 8 due to extensive irrigation systems. Furthermore, the area as a whole is said to be a toxic dumping ground for Chinese industries.

Human Rights Watch recently published a 115-page report corroborating many injustices that the Communist official is claiming. Their report focuses on the re-housing project currently underway that has relocated over 2 million Tibetans since 2006. Hundreds of thousands of nomadic herders have been placed into “New Socialist Villages” destroying their livelihoods without adequate compensation.

These obvious and blatant human rights abuses are occurring all across Tibet. The Communist official hopes to publish a book in the West detailing his eyewitness accounts of the current state of Tibet and hopes that the Chinese will someday allow public debate on the matter. He says that a style of democracy tailored to the culture and people of Tibet would be the best solution if such an option were possible.

– Sarah C. Morris 

Sources: Spiegel, Human Rights Watch
Sources: New York Times