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The Worst Perpetrators of Modern Slavery

Mauritania child maids ignite social debate

I’ll preface this blog by saying that I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that the Global Slavery Index 2014 was released recently and reports that there are close to 36 million modern day slaves in the world, roughly 0.5% of the world’s total population. Startlingly, these numbers are a significant increase to previous estimates, due to what the report calls “improved accuracy and precision of measures,” and that they are “uncovering modern slavery where it was not seen before.” The good news, though, is that information is always the first step towards taking positive action.

The report also listed which countries had the highest percentage of slaves and which had the highest numbers total. Coming in at the coveted number 1 spot in slaves per capita was the West African nation of Mauritania, with 4% of its population in bondage. Mauritania has consistently struggled to eliminate the practice of modern-day slavery, and many experts agree that those in power likely don’t want it abolished. Mauritania was the last country on the planet to abolish slavery formally in 1981 and only passed legislation laying out legal ramifications for traffickers in 2007, after giving in to international pressure.

China and Its Territorial Ambitions

Chinese ship attacking a Vietnamese ship (Photo courtesy of CNN)

Marked with glamour and excitement, China’s capital Beijing has not held such a monumental event since hosting the 2008 Olympics. World leaders and foreign dignitaries recently attended the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit to discuss trade agreements and increase regional cooperation. Although many agreements were reached between countries, the summit was marked with high tension due to China’s aggressive policy towards territories in disputed waters.

In the past few years, China has begun to widen its territorial claims in areas that it believes it rightfully owns. These territorial claims have been driven by the demand for new natural resources and sources of food.

In the East China Sea, Japan and China have been fighting over Japan’s Senkaku Islands. Tensions have increased dramatically as China has sent coastguard ships and aircrafts to patrol the area. With a territorial claim by China, Japan is arguing that China’s aggressive tactics are violating its sovereignty. Before the start of the APEC summit, China and Japan established a four-point agreement to deescalate the situation.

Further south in the South China Sea, China has been flexing its muscle and causing agitation with its neighbors of Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Taiwan. Vietnam has been outraged by China’s actions near its coastal waters. In early May, protests against China occurred in Vietnam after China moved an oil rig to disputed waters near the Paracel Islands, both claimed by China and Vietnam. Despite these actions, China and Vietnam have held talks to cooperate more on maritime disputes and prevent future conflict.

The Debate to Protect our Children

One of the most widely ratified human rights treaties is that which protects the world’s youngest citizens: the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The convention provides many international protections for children that are already covered under national legislation today. These protections range from life, name, and nationality to expression of opinion, freedom of thought, privacy, identity, and many additional rights that are often times a part of daily life, including education, health care, disability rights, and standards of living. The Human Rights Education Association provides a simplified version of the convention.

The seemingly simple choice to ensure that our children’s rights are protected has been made by all but three countries. The first, Somalia, may not come as surprise for many, nor should the world's newest state, South Sudan.

The third? The United States of America.

As we approach the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it’s time to call for its ratification.

Protecting Human Rights Is Crucial to Global Security

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew

This Letter to the Editor was published in The Washington Post on November 14, 2014.

In his Nov. 9 op-ed, “What the World Bank won’t utter,” Philip Alston made the case for the World Bank to support human rights, but he ignored the role that protecting human rights (and addressing global poverty) plays in ensuring the security of all nations. Too many nations, including the United States, resist enforcing human rights because doing so would hamper “national interests” — code for the short-term economic and political interests of the governing or ruling elite.

With the horrors of World War II still fresh in hearts and minds — governments murdering their own people and the invention of weapons capable of vaporizing thousands of innocent people in a flash — the prevention of another war was paramount. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights passed unanimously in 1948 because it was painfully clear that the human security such protections would bring was a precursor to global security.

Ending Statelessness

A stateless man collects cocoa on a small plantation near Bouafle, Côte d’Ivoire. Most of the 700,000 people estimated to be stateless in the West African country are comprised of descendants of foreign immigrants who came to work on the country’s cocoa plantations many decades ago. Legislative reforms in 2013 mean that many finally have the chance to acquire citizenship. / UNHCR/ Greg Constantine/ 2010

What would you do if you literally were not considered a person?

Today over 10 million stateless people are living that reality – a life where no state recognizes them as a part of their legal community. Our lives are intricately linked to the states into which we’re born, and our citizenship brings with it basic access to schools, health care, employment, and an extensive bundle of other rights and privileges. But because stateless people aren’t recognized as persons before the law, they don’t have access to any of these basic human rights. They’re exiled from life as we know it.

Open Letter #6 To My Grandson Jake

Letters to Jake Series, Letter #6

Dear Jake,

My letters to you have explained how I think the world should use global laws to keep peace, ensure justice and protect our planet for all humanity. I want the countries and peoples of the world to agree on laws that we all should follow. When disagreements arise, we should go to court instead of using military force and violence.

In today’s world we don’t have a way to pass and enforce global laws. All we can do is establish international treaties to point the way. Although these treaties are less than ideal, they are an important step in the right direction.

One important treaty for children like you and your sisters is the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).  It is an international human rights treaty that promotes the rights of all children worldwide and was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on November 20, 1989. The CRC recognizes all children's rights to develop physically, mentally, and socially to their fullest potential; to express their opinions freely; and to participate in decisions affecting their future. The United States of America played a lead role in the long process of drafting the CRC, which incorporates many of the standards first found in our own Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Convention on the Rights of the Child

The Middle East: A Re-evaluation of American Strategy

us, airstrikes, strategy, islamic state, isis, isil, syria, assad

By now you may be familiar with the Islamic State and their mission to create a caliphate under Sharia law. You may also be aware that the US’s strategy of conducting airstrikes to halt their advances is not going too well.

Recently I attended an event at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University (of which I am a graduate student) concerning the inevitability of a change in US strategy towards IS and Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria. The event featured distinguished experts such as Stephen Biddle, who has previously worked for General David Petraeus, and Marc Lynch, who is the director of the Middle Eastern Studies program at the school and frequently writes for a myriad of foreign policy news outlets.

2014 Midterms Make Small Waves for Foreign Policy

Jeff Merkley, Jeanne Shaheen, Al Franken Win Re-election

The 2014 elections are over, and though we now know that the Republicans did take control of the Senate, any resulting policy changes in DC will not happen until January when the new Congress takes their seats. There has been a large amount of hype around this pending policy change, but what exactly are the policies that will change?

Yes, we know the Republicans would love to tear Obamacare to pieces, but we also know that’s never going to happen as long as President Obama is still in office. Like repealing the Affordable Care Act, Republicans may put many bills to a vote that are merely talking points, insofar that they would not be signed by President Obama.

For example, a Republican-controlled House and Senate is more likely to pass legislation to prohibit the US from paying its UN dues in full and funding UN initiatives. Nevertheless, we can be sure that Obama would veto such nonsense. Though not all Republicans vote for such irresponsible legislation, the more extremist ones unfortunately do. My recent analysis of Congress on global issues shows that foreign policy is absolutely under partisan sway. Additionally, Congressional candidates in midterm elections typically pander to their bases, which helps to create more extremist and partisan candidates.

Eastern Ukraine: The Elections that Might Reignite the Fire

Eastern Ukrainian Rebels carrying out a ballot box (Photo Credit: New York Times)

This past weekend, residents in Eastern Ukraine went to the polls to vote in leaders to pave the way for independent states in this war-torn region. Thousands came out to support creating an autonomous region with closer ties to Russia. The elections further illustrate the extreme differences felt by the people in Ukraine, raising tensions in the current conflict and worsening the relations between Russia and the West.

Already, Ukraine has witnessed many exacerbating events, from the annexation of Crimea to the downing of MH-17 and Russia’s meddling in the conflict. The conflict in Ukraine, according to the United Nations, has killed an estimated 4,000 people and has forced many to flee their homes.

With a fragile ceasefire in place, the elections only make this volatile situation worse. Many who came out to vote saw the elections as a first step towards peace, but also as an act of vengeance towards Ukraine for the damage caused by the war. The controversial elections took place in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions with backing from the Russian government, who say that this election serves as a way to facilitate dialogue between the two sides.

The Midterms and American Gridlock

Today is Election Day! And though I’m writing on a Tuesday and this won't get published until Wednesday, I still want to take a crack at a change that I am 99.9% sure will happen. I speak of the inevitability of the Republican Senate takeover. Cue the spooky music.

So with a Republican House and Senate and a Democrat in the White House, we could well assume that not much will get done in the next two years, right? Not exactly. A few experts have actually posited that Obama’s foreign policy goals could gain traction after the impending switch. Of course, it does help that many of his foreign policy goals are fairly in line with conservative values. The primary two issues are new trade deals with the EU and several Asian countries and a new-look strategy to combat the Islamic State.

From here it looks fairly standard. Leaders from both sides of the proverbial aisle agree, in principle, on the ways to handle these two issues. Will we see some action out of government gridlock after all? Obviously no one knows quite yet, but you would be hard-pressed to find someone who would favor it.