It probably won’t surprise you one bit that there is a lot of human rights news that is not covered by the US and other Western media. Or sometimes it IS covered, but given only a few lines or buried so deep that you can’t help but miss it. Because of my job as a human rights lawyer, I follow multiple international media outlets and subscribe to numerous listserves. It is frustrating to me that human rights crises can go on for weeks or months before anyone in the mainstream media takes notice.
I have a couple of thoughts about this. Obviously, there have been changes in US media over the past decade that have resulted in decimated coverage of pretty much all news coverage. But I also I don’t think that as many people care about celebrity gossip as much as the media appears to think that we do. In addition, I strongly believe that the first step towards change is knowledge. But without information, how can we know what is happening in other parts of the world? If people who actually care about human rights do not know about human rights abuses as they occur, how can we have empathy with the people whose lives are impacted? How can we take action? How can we work together across borders to make real change?
Based on these theories, when I taught International Human Rights Law I gave my students a weekly assignment to watch the news for human rights stories. I challenged them to look for things they might have missed before. I asked them to look for one news item on an international issue, one on a national issue, and one on a local issue. At least one of these news items had to be good news.
So I’m going to try something new in 2015. I’m going to try to do a roundup each week of some of the things that happened that did not get the coverage that I think they deserved. I realize that some of you may find this exercise somewhat depressing, but I will be looking for GOOD human rights news as well as bad. Believe me, while it often doesn’t feel like it on a macro level, there is indeed progress happening on human rights all over the world. You just need to look for it.
The Human Rights News You May Have Missed weekly roundup is definitely not intended to be exhaustive. It is simply a summary of some of the news items that I followed this week that I thought did not get enough attention, along with links so that you can read more. Please feel free to add a link to a news item that I missed in the comments section.
So here we go! Here are a few news items that should have received more attention during the first week or so of January 2015:
- Boko Haram attacked Baga town in northeastern Nigeria on Wednesday, January 7. There are reports the town was razed and as many as 2,000 people killed. Fighting continued in the area on Friday, making it too difficult to collect the bodies. “District head Baba Abba Hassan said most victims are children, women and elderly people who could not run fast enough when insurgents drove into Baga, firing rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on town residents.” (Note: If you are looking for a bit of good news on the Chibok girls, some of them have been able to come to the United States to continue their education. See the heartwarming BBC video here.)
- Russia listed transsexual and transgender people among those who will no longer qualify for drivers licenses due to their “medical disorders”. The Association of Russian Lawyers for Human Rights called the new law “discriminatory” and said it would demand clarifications from the Russian Constitutional Court.
- On the evening of January 9, Raif Badawi, founder of Free Saudi Liberals blog, was brought to a public square in the port city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and flogged 50 times before hundreds of spectators – the first of 20 weeks of punishment with 50 lashes. Badawi has been held since mid-2012 for exercising his right to freedom of expression by setting up a website for public discussion. Badawi was sentenced in May 2014 to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a fine of 1 million Saudi Arabian riyals (about US$266,600). He was originally sentenced in 2013 to seven years in prison and 600 lashes, but after an appeal the judge increased the punishment. Badawi’s wife and children left Saudi Arabia for Canada after his arrest.
- Also in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Ministry of Interior issued a ban on women from running spas, beauty centers and women’s sports facilities, Reacting to the ban, businesswomen in the industry demanded authorities reconsider.
In an apparent attack by Islamic militants in Yemen, a mini-bus full of explosives was rammed into recruits outside a police academy in the heart of Yemen’s capital of Sanaa on Wednesday, killing at least 37 people and injuring more than 66. It was the second bombing in Yemen to cause multiple casualties in a week, following a suicide attack that killed 26 people at a cultural centre in Ibb city. Violence has soared in Yemen since Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, captured Sanaa and other cities last year. “Tribal leaders and Yemeni officials have said the rising power of the Houthis, their advance into Sunni areas and the backlash over drone strikes has caused al-Qaida to surge in strength and find new recruits.”
There was definitely also good news this week. Here are a few stories about some of the positive developments that you may have missed:
- A transgender Dalit in India has become the country’s first transgender to be elected mayor, Agence France-Presse reported Jan. 5. Madhu Bai Kinnar won the municipal election in Raigarh in the central state of Chhattisgarh on January 4, beating her rival from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by more than 4,500 votes. Kinnar’s win comes nine months after India’s top court ruled that transgenders be legally recognized as gender-neutral.
- In the Phillipines, about 286 inmates from Cebu, Cagayan, Isabela and Marikina City who had already served jail time in pretrial detention equivalent to their probable prison sentence were ordered released. Prolonged pretrial detention is a problem in many countries in the world, but the Phillipines made this move as part of the judiciary’s efforts to decongest the country’s crowded jails under the “Judgment Day” program, according to a statement from the high court’s Office of the Court Administrator.
- A women-only minibus service was launched in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu to reduce sexual harassment on crowded routes. According to a 2013 World Bank survey, approximately a quarter of young women in Nepal report having been subjected to sexual harassment on public transport.
- In an effort to deal with situations where victims are prosecuted instead of the real criminals, United States Senators Dianne Feinstein and Rob Portman introduced the Combat Human Trafficking Act this week. It aims to strengthen the efforts of law enforcement to investigate and prosecute those who pay for sex with trafficking victims, thereby reducing the demand for sex trafficking. If you are in the US, please tell your Senators to support the Combat Human Trafficking Act.
Today – January 11 – is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day in the United States. Human trafficking is a criminal enterprise, a multi-billion dollar industry where perpetrators profit from the control and exploitation of others. The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 21 million victims of human trafficking worldwide. Find out what you can do to raise awareness about the issue and help victims of human trafficking find the support they need to reclaim their lives here.
I hope you found something to interest and/or inspire you. Please do let me know what you think about this new feature on The Human Rights Warrior blog. See you next week!