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.
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:
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.
I really love this photo, which I took at the University of Liberia in Monrovia in February, 2008. I love it because it of the sheer entrepreneurial spirit that you often witness in post-conflict societies.
The photocopy entrepreneur was not there on that day, but you can bet your bottom dollar that students on campus knew when s/he would be there to provide the services they needed. Although I have always wondered whether it was possible that the photocopier somehow managed to bring a photocopy machine to this spot by the electric pole. What do YOU think?
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.”
we’re sharing some ideas this year for simple yet meaningful ways for your family to celebrate the rights and responsibilities that we all share as human beings.
1. Learn about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The full UDHR is on the UN website here, but you can also find a simplified version of the UDHR here. And check out this cool video created by the Human Rights Action Center that summarizes the rights in the UDHR:
2. Be a mapper for UNICEF Voices of Youth. UNICEF has created an online platform to empower youth around the world to map important issues in their community, advocate and bring change. A featured tool from Voices of Youth Maps is UNICEF-GIS – a youth-friendly mobile mapping application that produces web maps and visual reports on youth-related issues. UNICEF is asking youth to
Open a window into your community and share issues that you and your friends and family face. Tell us about the experiences you live, share your success stories and show us the beauty of your cultural background. Post on Voices of Youth and make your voice heard!
UDHR Article 21 right to participate in government – perfect for elections in November!
3. Make a Human Rights Calendar for 2015. Choose a UDHR article (or two or three) to focus on each month. Decorate the calendar with photos and drawings that illustrate the right(s). Try to coordinate the UDHR rights with local, national, and international holidays. For example, choose Article 15 (right to a nationality) for the month of your country’s national independence day and Article 18 (right to practice your religion) during a religious holiday period. You can download free calendar templates here.
4. Learn about a human rights heroine or hero. Pick your favorite activist for social justice, either from your country or another country. Go to the library to find a biography or search online for information about her/his life. Try to find out:
When the person lived (if not still living).
What problem (or problems) they faced.
Who or what formed their opposition.
What was the outcome of the stand they took, in which they believed?
What tactics did they use in their campaign?
How much success do you think they had?
What did you learn that surprised you? What else would you like to know about this person? Brainstorm your own questions together!
5. Explore what it means to be a peacemaker. You can interview each other or other kids or adults. Ask each other
What does peace mean to you?
Describe a time when you experienced peace. Where were you? What were you doing? Who was with you?
When was a time when you were a peacemaker? What happened? Who were the people involved? How did it turn out?
Are there some ways that you think you are not a peacemaker?
Who do you know who you would describe as a peacemaker? What does this person do that you consider peacemaking? Why do think of these actions as peacemaking?
6. Learn more about the work of United Nations human rights experts. “Special Rapporteur” is a title given to individuals working on behalf of the United Nations who bear a specific mandate from the UN Human Rights Council to investigate, monitor and recommend solutions to human rights problems. Appointed by the UN Secretary General, these experts are “of high moral character and recognized competence in the field of human rights.” They act independently of governments. Special Rapporteurs often conduct fact-finding missions to countries to investigate allegations of human rights violations. They also regularly assess and verify complaints from alleged victims of human rights violations. Once a complaint is verified as legitimate, an urgent letter or appeal is sent to the government that has allegedly committed the violation. To learn more, you can listen to the podcast series Meet the Special Rapporteurs.
7. Participate in the 7 Billion Others project. In this beautiful series of portraits of humanity, more than 6000 people from around the world have answered the same 40 questions, including: What did you learn from your parents? What would you like to pass on to your children? What challenges have you had to face? What does love mean to you? Series creator Yann Arthus-Bertrand says,
There are more than seven billion of us on Earth, and there will be no sustainable development if we cannot manage to live together. That is why 7 billion Others is so important to me. I believe in it because it concerns all of us and because it encourages us to take action. I hope that each one of us will want to reach out and make these encounters to listen to other people and to contribute to the life of 7 billion Others by adding our own experiences and expressing our desire to live together.
8. Look for human rights in the news. Clip articles about local, national and international human rights issues out of newspapers and magazines. Listen to radio or watch television news programming and point out the human rights coverage. Be sure to look for news about human rights successes as well as news about human rights problems.
9. Learn more about the human rights issues related to the products you buy. The International Labour Organization estimates that more than a quarter of a million children work in the cocoa plantations of West Africa that produce most of the world’s chocolate. It’s hazardous work, which exposes children to injury and highly toxic pesticides. Hershey’s, the largest chocolate manufacturer in North America, has not thoroughly addressed accusations of child labor in its supply chain and refuses to release any information about where it sources its cocoa. Consumers play an essential role in diminishing the food industry’s injustices. You and your children can make the choice to buy chocolate that is not made with child labor. See a list of the companies that do NOT use child labor in their chocolate production here. Read more about child labor in the cocoa industry here.
10. Get out there and raise your voice for what you believe in. Participate in a march or protest related to an issue that is important to you. And be sure to bring your kids! There is no better way to teach empathy and compassion for others than by doing it together.
You and your kids are on your way to a great Human Rights Day! What are YOU going to do this year? Please share YOUR ideas for human rights activities with us in the comments.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: If you are a classroom teacher or homeschooling your kids (or if you just want to dig deeper), you can find tons more ideas through the following resources: