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Category: Human Rights

Darknet into the Light

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Freedom is a popular rhetorical tool. It's central to the American narrative of democracy, market capitalism, and civil rights. It's often alluded to in our foreign policy when we push for countries to adopt similar polices of open government. In the past decade we have seen this narrative take a more extremist tone with libertarians espousing interpretations of this concept that most people would find unfathomable or unrealistic at the least.

Unabated freedom can also be dangerous. No policy area has seen the effect deregulation has had on our society than technology and more specifically the internet. While the internet has been an invaluable engine for growth, it has also been utilized by the less wholesome. This is especially true for the Darknet, an encrypted internet that exists on the same servers as the "regular internet", can only be accessed by special software and allows its users to remain mostly anonymous. Of course, this can be used to subvert government surveillance and censorship, but it is also the home of illicit arms and drug dealers and pedophiles rings.

The Darknet made international news with the arrest of Ross Ulbricht, the proprietor of Silk Road, an online marketplace for illicit drugs. Two years after founding the website, he made 3.6 million dollars and months before he was arrested, was in the process of paying a hit man to assassinate a cofounder of the website.

U.N. Day - Recommit to the Vision

UN Day

It's United Nations Day! Sixty-eight years ago, the U.N.'s charter came into being "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war... to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights... and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom."

But this is not just a day to celebrate what the U.N. has accomplished. It is also a time to recommit to working for a U.N. that can actually accomplish its visionary goals.

What if you could help to prevent the next Rwanda, Darfur or Syria? Would you? is pushing for the P5 - the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia and China - to agree not use their veto in the Security Council when dealing with genocide and other mass atrocities. It has happened too often:

Nearly 30 Million People Live in Slavery in 2013

The Global Slavery Index estimates that there are between 28.3 and 31.3 million people (29.8 million mean) subject to modern slavery in the world today. The Index, a project of the Walk Free Foundation, includes several related concepts in its definition of modern slavery. The mean figure of 29.8 million people includes those bought and sold as property, "classically" defined slavery; victims of human trafficking; and "forced labour", those coerced into working through various means. According to the Foundation, "the significant characteristic of all forms of modern slavery is that it involves one person depriving another people of their freedom."

As a percentage of the total population, Mauritania has the most people living in slavery. Though higher than the Index estimate, one Mauritanian NGO estimates that 20 percent of the population live in slavery. In Mauritania, "chattel slavery" is most common, meaning "adults and children in slavery are the full property of their masters who exercise total ownership over them and their descendants." This status can be hereditary and slaves can be bought, sold, and rented out. Individuals have no rights and face violence and sexual assault. Force begging is common amongst child slaves. For Americans, these conditions must bring to mind our own shameful history of chattel slavery.

No One Should Remain in Solitary Confinement

Solitary Confinement Exercise Area

Two years ago, UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, called for a ban on solitary confinement. In his words, "solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique . . . [it] is a harsh measure which is contrary to rehabilitation, the aim of the penitentiary system." This practice is widespread in the United States, sparking a two month long hunger strike by 30,000 inmates in the California prison system this summer. In American prisons, those with existing mental illnesses are often "warehoused" in isolation. The U.S. used this type of punishment on prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay as well.

The Power to Change the World


This week I had the unfortunate experience of studying for an International Development Exam at the same time as watching CNN's shutdown coverage. With less than 24 hours until the US reached the debt ceiling, congress was still discussing possibilities with no clear outcome. For the first time in my young lifetime, I watched our politicians play a game with the global economy, and I was horrified.

The US Government has the ability to make an impact in international development more than any NGO, international institution, or campaign. These 536 men and women can make a tremendous amount of change if they set their minds to it, but instead they bicker over small details. They could fix education, cure a disease or just build a road in a country with no real infrastructure. They've benefited from wonderful educations, yet they don't care about the problems current students face. They all claim to be religious people, yet they spend millions of dollars on negative campaigns instead of helping dying children in the global south. They're willing to risk a global economy meltdown over a law that's been upheld by our systems of checks and balances, yet they don't seem to be wiling to actually put foreign investment behind that global economy to help it grow.

Out of every major developed country, the US falls in last with the amount of foreign aid given. World governments, including the US, came together to commit .7% of rich countries' gross national product or GNP to international development. Italy and Spain, both countries that suffered during the 2008 Great Recession, continue to give .29 percent of their GNP, yet we only give .22. We claim to be a global leader, but we're the farthest behind in giving. Perhaps we should take the lead and try to make a real difference in the world.

The Power of Identity

Kofi Annan said that "gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance." There are many ways that investing in women's empowerment can help end poverty. For example Women tend to invest more of their wages into their families than men. However, I'm going to focus on one aspect of women's equality and development: birth registration.

My host mother, Madame Sanokho took me on a trip to deliver books to a small Senegalese village about two hours from Kaolack-the second largest city in Senegal -- where I was living. On the way she told me about the problems that girls face with achieving an education. I learned that one of their biggest challenges was not having a birth certificate because without a birth certificate children can't attend secondary school. In Senegal birth certificates cost about $25 to obtain and most families live on about a $1.25 per day so birth certificates are financially unfeasible. When we arrived at the village I met 32 girls in their final year of primary school and I asked them if they planned to go to secondary school. They all said no because they didn't have a birth certificate. People in this situation are often referred to as unregistered.

I couldn't believe that the amount of money I might spend with friends going out to dinner on a Friday night is what was standing between these girls and a more vibrant future. Birth certificates grant children access to education, health care, an identity card which allows them to work legally. Moreover, a birth certificate provides them the ability to cross borders in times of conflict and return at a later date.

Speaking Out Against Violence Against Women

The recent death sentences handed down to four men convicted of the gang-rape of a young woman in India have thrown the issue of violence against women into sharp relief. The Indian government estimates that a woman is raped every 22 minutes in India. It appears that more Indian women are coming forward to report sexual assaults after the verdict in this case. While that is promising, the issue remains. After riots in Uttar Pradesh in September, there were 5 complaints of gang rape and 2 of sexual assault.

Violence against women, not just in India but throughout the world, is an issue of highest importance. In fact, it is an epidemic. And that's not hyperbole or editorializing. According to the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), “violence against women is a global health problem of epidemic proportions.” An unbelievable 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner or stranger. And even more shocking, more women are killed or disabled by gender-based violence than cancer.

Day of the Girl: A Time to Promote Equality

One year ago, a 14-year-old girl named Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head for the crime of going to school.  In Malala’s region of Pakistan, the Taliban had banned education for girls.  Malala refused to comply.  She survived the attack, but remains the target of death threats for persistently standing up for equal rights to education.

October 11th is the International Day of the Girl Child. The U.N. General Assembly set aside this day to recognize girl’s rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world. This year’s theme is “Innovating for Girls’ Education”—a key idea for global progress. One major way the United States can contribute to this goal would be to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, also known as the Women’s Equality Treaty. 

Malala now lives with her family in the U.K. and is expected to be the next winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.  Unfortunately, millions of other girls around the world are still out of school due to cultural sanctions, poverty, and child marriage.

According to UNICEF, one out of five girls in the developing world does not complete the sixth grade. A lack of education limits girls' choices and opportunities throughout their lives, often resulting in poverty. Without education, women have fewer opportunities to provide for themselves and their families financially. It also makes them more vulnerable when their spouses die or abandon them. 

Girls who are educated, on the other hand, tend to marry later and have smaller, healthier families. Educated women provide better nutrition and health care for their children. They are less likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth and more likely to send their children to school. 

Birth of the Big Lie

Former Senator Bob Dole on Senate Floor during vote on Disabilities Treaty

A "Big Lie" is a "deliberate, gross distortion of the truth used especially as a propaganda tactic." My colleague Jake LaRaus just published a great paper: Birth of a Big Lie - How Misinformation Fuels Treaty Opposition: A Disability Treaty Case Study.

Last December, Bob Dole, former GOP presidential candidate and decorated veteran watched from his wheelchair on the Senate floor as all but eight of the Republicans in that chamber shamefully voted down the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  It takes two-thirds of the Senate to ratify a treaty, and even with all 53 senators in the Democratic caucus supporting it, too few Republicans got on board for it to pass.

The treaty's opponents seem stuck in a partisan twilight zone of UN black helicopters and conspiracy theories that undercuts U.S. influence in global affairs. They've perfected a method of defeating virtually every treaty that comes along. Since controversial treaties never pass in the Senate, opponents make any unobjectionable agreement divisive by inventing a Big Lie.

5 Disturbing Facts About the U.S. Prison Industry

The United States holds five percent of the world's population, but 25 percent of the world's inmates.  This is not a reflection of crime rates so much as incarceration policy.  The American criminal justice system is in dire need of reform, and first thing to go should be the private prison model. For-profit prisons are keeping incarceration levels at a record high and holding us back from creating a healthier society.  As a supposed champion of global human rights, it is ill-advised for the U.S. to permit its own system to clash so strongly with social welfare. 

Here's what's wrong with the U.S. prison industry:

1.       It's actually an industry.

Prison privatization took off in the 1980s when the War on Drugs and harsh sentencing laws dramatically increased incarceration rates and made costs problematic for governments. To deal with the costs, they began to contract the management and operation of entire prison facilities to private businesses. For-profit prison companies have since expanded; as of 2011, private companies hold roughly 130,000 prisoners and 16,000 civil immigration detainees. As states send people to prison, they fork over taxpayer money to private prison operators. In 2010, the annual revenues of the two top private prison companies alone--the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group--stood at nearly $3 billion.

2.       It has a financial incentive to keep prisons full.