Here’s the weekly roundup of the human rights news items that I followed this week that I thought did not get enough attention.
First, a little bit of good news from the United Nations.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has been collaborating with businesses and individuals to innovate better solutions to assist refugees. The collaboration with IKEA to replace tents with flat-pack, solar-powered housing units is providing dramatically improved housing, particularly by providing safe and secure housing for women and children. One long-term problem for UNHCR has been documentation of refugees, particularly since it involved writing things down on paper. This week I read about a potential solution. Through a collaboration with UPS, UNHCR recently announced that it has been piloting UPS UNHCR ReliefLink – a new system for storing and transmitting information about refugees based on the technology that UPS uses for tracking packages that holds huge potential. Check out these and other innovation stories on the UNHCHR Innovation website.
Appeals judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former YUGOSLAVIA upheld genocide convictions of two senior Bosnian Serbs for their roles in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, the first final judgment for genocide by the international tribunal. Vujadin Popovic and Ljubisa Beara were high-ranking security officers with the Bosnian Serb army that overran Muslim forces and thinly armed U.N. troops in the Srebrenica enclave in July 1995 and subsequently murdered some 8,000 Muslim men and boys, Europe’s worst massacre since World War II.
In late 2013, the United Nations launched an initiative called Human Rights up Front to enhance the role of human rights in all of its work. Through this initiative, there has been an increasing recognition that human right violations as the first sign of conflict. This week, UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson gave a speech that very much reflects my own views on the integrated nature of development, conflict and human rights.
“There is no peace without development, and there is no development without peace, and none of the above without respect for human rights and the rule of law,” said Eliasson.
Human rights abuses are often the early indicators of escalating conflict. The international community usually has the information about what is happening, but is slow to respond. So it is significant that the United Nations is acknowledging that the world should should learn from past mistakes and take preemptive action BEFORE mass atrocities take place. I love this quote from Eliasson”
“We should act when we hear the vibrations on the ground.”
February 6 was the third annual International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. The UN estimates that more than 40 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM. If current trends continue, more than 15 million girls will be cut by 2020; more than 86 million additional girls worldwide will be subjected to the practice by 2030. The UN states that, although this harmful traditional practice has persisted for over a thousand years, programmatic evidence suggests that FGM can end in one generation.
This year, the UN is focusing is on health care workers. Although the practice of FGM cannot be justified by medical reasons, in many countries it is executed more and more often by medical professionals. This constitutes ones of the greatest threats to the abandonment of the practice.
For the first time ever, a court in EGYPT has sentenced a doctor to prison for the female genital mutilation (FGM) of a 13-year-old girl that resulted in her death. Soheir al-Batea died in June 2013 after undergoing an FGM procedure carried out by Dr. Raslan Fadl. A court in Mansour handed down not guilty verdicts for the doctor as well as the girl’s father for ordering the procedure in November 2014. But Egypt’s Justice Ministry reportedly contacted the court to say it was “displeased with the judgment”, resulting in a retrial. Fadl was sentenced at retrial to the maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment; the father was sentence to three months’ house arrest. A ban on FGM has been in place since 2007 in Egypt, yet this is the first time the law has been implemented.
While FGM is most prevalent in Africa and the Middle East, it is also practiced in Asia, Latin America, Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. This week, a new report from the Population Reference Bureau came out discussing the potential risk of girls and women in the UNITED STATES for undergoing FGM. In 2013, there were up to 507,000 U.S. women and girls who had undergone FGM or were at risk of the procedure, according to PRB’s preliminary data analysis. This figure is more than twice the number of women and girls estimated to be at risk in 2000 (228,000).
And in the UNITED KINGDOM, the trial of a British doctor accused of performing female genital mutilation recently began in the United Kingdom’s first prosecution of an outlawed practice. Dr. Dhanuson Dharmasena allegedly performed FGM in November 2012 on a 24-year-old woman soon after she gave birth to her first child at North London’s Whittington Hospital. The woman in the U.K. case, referred to as “AB” in court, reportedly underwent FGM as a 6-year-old in Somalia, when a section of her labia was sewn together, leaving only a small hole for menstrual blood and urine but too small for safely giving birth. Defibulation, or re-opening the vagina, is commonly needed for FGM survivors about to give birth, and was required in AB’s case during delivery. But AB allegedly underwent re-infibulation, or sewing the labia together again after giving birth. The stitching or re-stitching together of the labia is an offense under section 1 of the United Kingdom’s Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003.
Other human rights news you may have missed this week:
In THAILAND, more than a dozen government officials are facing prosecution on the charge of human trafficking. According to Thailand’s junta officials, senior policemen and a navy officer are among the officials, who are detained and being prosecuted for human trafficking. It is significant that government officials are being prosecuted as it shows the connection between corruption and human trafficking in Thailand, a country well known for it problems with trafficking.
Single, mostly young women from CAMBODIA are increasingly being trafficked to CHINA as brides. China’s one-child policy has resulted in many more there are more single men than women, and as those men age, they seek marriageable women. For years, traffickers met that demand with women from Vietnam. But Vietnam has recently tightened its marriage rules and waged an information campaign to combat the problem. For traffickers, Cambodia has emerged as an attractive alternative. With fewer regulations and no awareness among Cambodian women about the risks, business has been easy. The going rate for a foreign bride is between $10,000 and $15,000.
A court in SPAIN has ruled that a deaf couple can adopt a baby who can hear, after they appealed against the decision by social services to only consider them for the adoption of a deaf child. In their review of the prospective parents’ suitability for adoption, social services said the parents were not “the best option” for a hearing child, as the child’s development would be affected. But in its ruling, the court established that the couple are indeed able to raise a child from a young age regardless of whether he or she is deaf or not, after considering research that shows how hearing children who also know sign language have greater-than-average visuospatial skills, and that “under no circumstances does learning sign language inhibit cognitive development”. Two Spanish organisations, CNSE and Fescan, which uphold the rights of deaf people welcomed “[the] landmark ruling, as it recognises the right of people with disabilities to form a family on an equal footing with other citizens,” and that “being a deaf mother or father does not hinder the education or happiness of a child, be they biological or adopted.”
Finally, I’ve long been a believer in humor as a tool for human rights change. So I very much enjoyed the #MugabeFalls viral memes this week. When ZIMBABWE’s notorious authoritarian “President for Life” Robert Mugabe tripped during a public appearance, he wasn’t hurt but he denied he had fallen. His security reportedly demanded that photographers delete the images of him falling. Thanks to social media and the internet, it was already to late. Internet users responded to the attempted censorship by posting parody pictures of Mugabe in different scenarios – including surfing and dancing – and by using the hashtag #MugabeFalls. The results were pure internet gold!
Humor – A powerful tool against dictatorships! You can see many more hilarious examples in the articles below: