I was traveling for work during the month of March, so did not have time to do my weekly roundup of the human rights news items that I think deserve a little more attention. But I’m back now … so here we go with the news you may have missed this week!
After determining that 10% of passengers experience unwanted sexual behavior on public transportation in London, UNITED KINGDOM but that only 1 in 10 reported it, Transport for London launched at new “Report it to stop it’” campaign. The campaign aims to increase reporting of unwanted sexual harassment and assault on public transportation and gives specifics about how and what you need to report.
Reggae band SOJA partnered with UNICEF’s Out-of-School Children initiative to produce the video “Shadow” to draw attention to the importance of education for all of the world’s children. Globally, an estimated 58 million children of primary school age and 63 million young adolescents are not enrolled in school. Like the girl in this video, many of them are girls. Yet data demonstrates that reaching the most marginalized children may initially cost more but also yields greater benefits. This video was filmed in Jigjiga, in the Somali region of Ethiopia, where 3 million children remain out of school. For more on global trends regarding out-of-school children, visit the UNICEF website.
In many parts of the world, marginalized girls must often drop out of school to get married before they are able to complete their education. But there has been some good news recently about efforts to raise the age of marriage and eliminate child marriage:
Finally, in a bit of human rights history,BBC Mundo ran a story this week about the treatment of Latin Americans (particularly Peruvians) of Japanese descent during World War II.Japanese people began migrating to Peru in considerable numbers at the end of the 1800s, seeking opportunities to work in the mines and on sugar plantations. By the 1940s, an estimated 25,000 people of Japanese descent lived in Peru; many were successful professionals and business owners. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US government asked a dozen Latin American countries, among them Peru, to arrest its Japanese residents. In addition to arrests, about 2,200 Japanese-Latin Americans were forcibly deported to the US.
Records from the time suggest the US authorities wanted to take them to the US and use them as bargaining chips for its nationals captured by Japanese forces in Asia.
As many as 4,000 men, women and children were interned during World War Two in the Crystal City camp in Texas run by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service. Most of the detainees were of Japanese descent, although some German and Italian immigrants were also held there.
Of the 2,200 Latin Americans of Japanese descent to be interned in the US, 800 were later sent to Japan as part of prisoner exchanges. After World War Two ended, another 1,000 were deported to Japan after their Latin American home countries refused to take them back.
In 1988, then-President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act and apologised on behalf of the US government for the internment of Japanese-Americans. Under the act, the government paid tens of thousands of survivors of the camps $20,000each in reparation. But Japanese-Latin Americans did not qualify for the payments because they had not been US citizens or permanent residents of the US at the time of their internment. They filed a class-action suit and 10 years later, the US government agreed to pay them $5,000 each.
Children began returning to classrooms in LIBERIA this week after seven months of closure due to the Ebola epidemic. Education is key to development and improving human rights, so the schools are being reopened butUNICEF and its partners are putting in place safety measures to minimize the potential risk of transmission of the virus. Safety measures, including taking children’s temperatures when they arrive to school and making them wash their hands before entering the classroom, have been successfully used in GUINEA, where more than 1.3 million children have returned to school since January. Nearly all of Guinea’s more than 12,000 schools are now open, and school attendance is at 85 per cent of pre-Ebola attendance, according to data collected by the Ministry of Education and UNICEF. Following Guinea’s experience, UNICEF has worked closely with the Liberian government and local communities to develop similar safety protocols. Teachers have been trained to implement and monitor the safety measures, soap and other hygiene materials have been distributed.
Beginning last summer, UNICEF collaborated with Liberian musicians to conduct mass mobilization campaigns on Ebola prevention nationwide. In case you missed it, here is one example from August 2014:
The International Labour Organization (ILO) spotlighted recent progress in the fight against child labour in KOSOVO, where children as young as 10 are forced to work on garbage dumps or in the fields harvesting grapes and onions, risking their health. Since March 2013, members of the Kosovo Chamber of Commerce are obliged to observe the ILO’s four fundamental labour principles, including the elimination of child labour. So far, 40 members of the Chamber of Commerce have adopted codes of conduct on combating child labour in their supply chains and communities. In addition, occupational safety and health issues will be mainstreamed into the compulsory education (grades 8-9) and upper secondary school curricula.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Signal used the U.S. government’s H-2B guest worker program to import nearly 500 men from India to work as welders, pipefitters and in other positions to repair damaged oil rigs and related facilities. Under the guest worker program, workers are not allowed to change jobs if they are abused but face the loss of their investment if they are fired or quit.
The plaintiffs in this case are Jacob Joseph Kadakkarappally, Hemant Khuttan, Padaveettiyl, Sulekha and Palanyandi Thangamani. Each paid the labor recruiters and a lawyer between $10,000 and $20,000 or more in recruitment fees and other costs after recruiters promised good jobs, green cards and permanent U.S. residency for them and their families. Most sold property or plunged their families deeply into debt to pay the fees.
When the men arrived at Signal shipyards in Pascagoula, MISSISSIPPI, they discovered that they wouldn’t receive the green cards or permanent residency that had been promised. Signal also forced them each to pay $1,050 a month to live in isolated, guarded labor camps where as many as 24 men shared a space the size of a double-wide trailer. None of Signal’s non-Indian workers were required to live in the company housing. An economist who reviewed Signal’s records estimated the company saved more than $8 million in labor costs by hiring the Indian workers at below-market wages.
Pro bono legal representation was provided in this case by Southern Poverty Law Center, Crowell & Moring, LLP, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Sahn Ward Coschignano & Baker, and the Louisiana Justice Institute.
The campaign has two main objectives: 1) To encourage dialogue and raise awareness on disability and related issues among teachers and learners within educational environments. 2) To create a global art project focused on disability. Schools from all over the planet are encouraged to get involved in the project. Teachers can use the #DrawDisability guidelines to promote critical reflections and awareness on disability within the classroom (guidelines are available in Spanish, French and English). Children with and without disabilities are encouraged to #DrawDisability. Drawings can portray their understanding and feelings towards disability and related issues, such as accessibility, inclusion and discrimination.
All drawings received will be uploaded and displayed on a website and shared on social networks using the hashtag #DrawDisability. Early submissions by April 1, 2015 are highly encouraged as selected drawings will be showcased at the World Education Forum in May 2015 in Incheon, SOUTH KOREA, and the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (COSP-CRPD) in June 2015 New York, USA. The final deadline for all submissions will be July 15, 2015. Check out submission information here.
NEPALcould become the first Asian country to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples if the government accepts the recommendations of a committee that studied the issue. Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled in December 2007 that the country’s new government must provide legal protections to LGBT Nepalese citizens and amend laws that discriminated against them. In 2008, the same court ordered the creation committee to study the possibility of same-sex marriage in the Asian country. It may be a while before Nepal’s government is able to take action (they have been trying to adopt a new constitution for more than six years) but most see this as a promising step and credit it to the advocacy efforts of the Blue Diamond Society organization.
In the UNITED STATES, February is Black History Month. While I believe that Black History IS American History, this annual observance of the contributions of African-Americans to our nation always provides an opportunity for me to learn more about people and events in our past. Here are some of the things I have learned so far this month:
On June 30, 1974, ALBERTA WILLIAMS KING was was shot and killed while she was playing the organ at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. She was the mother of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., so the story of her assassination has been overshadowed by her son’s legacy. Read more about Alberta Williams King here.
ELLA FITZGERALD, one of our nation’s greatest jazz icons, was confined as an orphaned teenager for more than a year in a reformatory called the New York State Training School for Girls. She and the other girls were treated harshly; “she had been held in the basement of one of the cottages once and all but tortured”. While there was an excellent music program and choir at the institution, Ella Fitzgerald was not allowed to sing in it – the choir was all white. Read more about this chapter of Ella Fitzgerald’s life here and here.
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 pilotingUPS 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 Frontto 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.”
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.
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:
Google apologized and implemented a fix to take out anti-gay slurs from its translation tool. Translating from English into Spanish, French or Portuguese, the web version of Google Translate results included insults. More than 50,000 people signed a petition with All Out. leading to Google’s quick response and apology. If you see any Google Translate issues still popping up, email the AllOut team at firstname.lastname@example.org
For the first time ever in the UNITED STATES, there will be an ad that draws attention to domestic violence aired during the National Football League’s Super Bowl. The ad was released this week ahead of Super Bowl Sunday.
The Senate of the DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO voted to eliminate a measure in an electoral law that critics say would have prolonged the president’s time in power. The lower house voted last week to require a census before next year’s presidential election, raising concerns that it was merely a ploy to delay that vote and keep President Joseph Kabila in power. Kabila has been in office since 2001 and term limits prevent him from running again. The vote in the lower house prompted large demonstrations against the measure and led to the Senate’s action. A parliamentary committee must now reconcile the bills from the two houses of Parliament before a final version can be voted on.
I’ll end with two more beautiful, inspirational advertisements. The first is for the South African telecom company MTN and I saw it for the first time this week.
The second is from a campaign that came out last June, so wasn’t new to me. But I totally teared up watching it tonight during the Super Bowl with my daughter sitting next to me and my husband yelling “That is AWESOME!”
In GUATEMALA, a former police chief has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for his role in the 1980 deadly raid on the Spanish embassy in Guatemala City. A group of indigenous rights activists had occupied the embassy to draw attention to government repression during Guatemala’s civil war. (According to United Nations estimates, almost a quarter of a million people, mostly indigenous and rural, were killed or forcibly disappeared during the 36-year-long conflict.) Thirty-seven people burned to death in a fire triggered by the police when they stormed the embassy; Vicente Menchu, the father of indigenous rights activist and Noble Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, was one of those killed in the fire. Pedro Garcia Arredondo was found guilty this week of ordering officers to keep anyone from leaving the building as it burned. Indigenous rights activists and relatives of the victims, who have been waiting more than 3 decades for justice, celebrated a sentencing.
In the UNITED STATES, President Obama made history by using the terms “lesbian”, “transgender” and “bisexual” for the first time in a State of the Union address. President Obama was the second US president to use the word “gay” (somewhat generically) in the 2010 State of the Union address; President Clinton was the first.
Finally, I read an inspiring story this week about teens in BANGLADESH called “Golden Girls” who are volunteering their time to ensure that Bangladeshi women have access to maternal health care. Bangladesh has been working to reduce maternal mortality by training government female health workers as highly skilled birth attendants, but only 27 percent of pregnant women have access to these birth attendants. To fill the gap, the Community Health Foundation, a nonprofit based in Dhaka, educates nearly 300 girls in grades 9 to 12 about pregnancy and childbirth and then links them to pregnant women in their community through the government birth attendants.
The Golden Girl Project volunteers help increase awareness among pregnant women and facilitate access to skilled birth attendants, bringing down maternal mortality risks. Their efforts are proving critical in a country where 7,000 women die of pregnancy-related causes every year. For example, when a woman in her village went into labor in the middle of the night her panicked family turned to 14-year-old Khatun, a grade 10 student who lived nearby and was able to arrange for the community’s skilled birth attendant to come in time, saving the lives of the mother and newborn. In addition to their training in reproductive and sexual health, the Golden Girls themselves also commit to completing high school and campaigning to end early marriage and delaying motherhood. Volunteers’ parents consent to the training and affirm their daughters will not be married before graduation. This contributes to reducing dropouts as well as early marriage. You can read more about the Golden Girls here.
I’ll close with a powerful advertisement from AUSTRALIA called “The Invisible Discriminator” which reminds us that subtle or ‘casual’ racism can be just as harmful as more overt forms. #StopThinkRespect encourages everyone in Australia to check their behaviour.
NIGERIA: International coverage of the tremendous human rights tragedy in Baga, Nigeria has finally picked up, but there has been less coverage of Boko Haram’s use of children as suicide bombers. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has expressed concern about what it called “escalating violence against children in northern Nigeria.” The statement came after two explosions ripped through a market in northeastern Nigeria Sunday killing at least five people, including the two bombers. Twenty-one others were wounded. The attacks were said to be carried out by two young girls. Sunday’s explosions came after a bomb strapped to a girl exploded in Maiduguri killing at least 19 people. “We are seeing a new trend of using girls and women, and now of children, as suicide bombers. This is something that is new to this conflict. So, this trend is very worrying to us because this is something that is very difficult to find [a] solution to.”
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 ofyou 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 Missedweekly 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: