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Category: Human Rights

Missing Nigerian Girls: Where is the Media Now?

On April 15th, 234 Nigerian school girls aged 16-18 were abducted from their school by a known terrorist group, Boko Haram. The next day a South Korean ferry sank, killing 260+ people on board, most of who were students. Both of these events are newsworthy tragedies. But while most of you reading this know about the ferry in South Korea, many probably never heard about the missing Nigerian girls.

Most media chose to ignore this story, and reports they may have been pulling together were eclipsed by the ferry disaster. For the past two months CNN continued almost non-stop coverage of the search for Malaysia Airlines plane 370, which went missing in early March. Where are those green screens and field reporters for these missing girls? Only now, almost a month later, has there been any significant news coverage on the efforts to locate and rescue the Nigerian girls.

Anyone who watches crime shows can probably tell you that the most crucial time to find kidnapping victims is in the first 12-24 hours. The Nigerian government stated 24 hours after the abductions that all of the girls had returned safely, when in fact almost no effort had been made to even begin looking for them, let alone coordinate a rescue effort. The 30 girls who have made it back home escaped of their own initiative with no help from the government.

Will Assad Dodge Justice Again?

By, CC BY 4.0,

Happy belated Day of Remembrance for all Victims of Chemical Warfare

This sad memoriam is observed annually on April 29th to "honor past victims and liberate future generations from the threat of chemical weapons," as noted by UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon. Regretfully, there are individuals alive today who may fall under its call for remembrance next year.

President Bashar al-Assad recently attacked his countries’ citizens with chlorine and ammonia gas. The effects were deadly. Victims’ lungs were burning and contact with the gases caused burning, irritated eyes and skin. It’s maddening to think that any leader could kill their countries’ citizens using crude barrel bombs and chemical gasses. It’s more enraging to think this is happening in an era of unprecedented international law.

Let’s not forget that Bashar has already used Sarin gas against the Syrian population back in 2013. Those attacks prompted President Obama to threaten Bashar with airstrikes citing the Responsibility to Protect. Yet Russia came to the rescue of its ally and forged a deal that kept Assad in power, dismantled Syria’s chemical weapons, and made Syria ascend to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

Is South Sudan Sliding Into Chaos?

South Sudan soldiers ride on a truck in Bor, about 100 miles outside the capital.(Photo:James Akena/Reuters /Landov)

Violence has re-escalated in South Sudan as a new wave of attacks this month have included a UN base, places of worship, and other sites typically treated as neutral ground in conflicts. With the conflict taking on an increasingly ethnic and retaliatory tinge, we now must worry about how we might prevent these setbacks from spiraling into something far worse.

The last few months of conflict in South Sudan originate from a political falling out between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar, when Kiir dismissed Machar and the entire cabinet in July 2013. After months of recriminations, a rebel movement began attacks in December 2013. Machar took responsibility for this movement and its continued operations just two weeks after a public ceasefire agreement between Kiir’s government and rebel groups in January.

That ceasefire has been broken repeatedly in the months since, and is all but dead in the wake of this recent wave of attacks.

One Year Since Bangladesh Building Collapse

April 24th marked the one-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

This devastating collapse killed more than 1,100 people and injured 2,500 more. By no means the first industrial accident in Bangladesh's history, though certainly the most devastating, the collapse was the result of turning a blind eye to the factory's structural problems by the local owner and the failure of international corporations like Walmart to properly ensure that their supply chains meets minimum safety standards for workers in countries such as Bangladesh.

The garment industry plays an enormous role in Bangladesh's economy. It is now the world's second largest apparel producer, behind China, and Bangladesh's 5,600 garment factories employ 4 million people, 90 percent of whom are women, and produce $20 billion in exports every year. Because this industry dominates the economy, workers often have no choice but to take jobs in unsafe factories for what little income they can earn. The Rana Plaza factory produced clothing for as many as 28 foreign brands,including Walmart and Benetton.

Global 911: It's Time for a UN Emergency Peace Force

PHOTO: U.N. peacekeeper walks with children/Wikipedia

Genocide, mass atrocities, violent oppression; these acts, these words, invoke fear, disgust, anger and beg the question why? Human history is littered with examples of these heinous crimes against humanity and yet it took one of the darkest moments in world history to garner a response.

That event? The Holocaust.

An estimated eleven million people died as a direct result of the Holocaust. Of that eleven million, nearly six million Jews were systematically eliminated in what was called the Final Solution.

In the wake of the terror of World War II the world said it had enough. For the first time in history countries came together to lay framework of cooperation, peace, and most importantly, prevention. The United Nations was founded in the wake of the horrors of WWII, a means to protect the human family.

The UN has evolved since its foundation and so has the means by which the UN meets its goals. One of the primary tools of the UN is its peacekeeping function.

Peacekeeping in itself has evolved over time, from observer missions to peacekeeping to building and enforcing. All with two primary goals in mind; prevent a third world war and eliminate the threat of genocide.

While the former has been prevented to date, the latter is far from. Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur and the Central African Republic, ravaged by ethnic cleansing and threats of genocide. In these cases the slow response of peacekeeping operations has undoubtedly led to unnecessary loss of life.

US Quietly Ratifies Fish Treaties

Congress protect fisheries, while ignoring the rights of the disabled (Photo:

On April 3, 2014, the United States ratified three treaties, all of which help protect oceanic wildlife and eliminate the black market fishing industry. Black market fishing is an enormous industry that produces up to $23.5 billion each year--that’s some serious competition for fishermen who play by the rules. Not only that, but pirate fishers commonly use banned fishing gear, slaughter unwanted fish and other sea creatures, and participate in drug smuggling and human trafficking.

The Convention on the Conservation and Management of High Seas Fishery Resources in the South Pacific Ocean and its sibling convention by a similar name for the North Pacific Ocean are two regional treaties that have been adopted. These conventions have set up monitoring groups for each region that will implement conservation measures to protect the marine wildlife and sustain the legal fishing industry.

The largest of the three treaties, commonly known as Port State Measures Agreement, is not in effect due to the lack of participating coastal countries. The agreement will only go into effect once 25 countries have ratified; only 11 have ratified so far. This treaty would require ports to refuse products offered by any vessel suspected of illegal fishing. Widespread adoption of this treaty would strangle the profits of illegal fishing and bring a significant portion of the entire fishing industry back in line with conservation regulations.

The Weaponization of Hunger in Syria

Children sit with their belongings as they wait to be evacuated from a besieged area of Homs February 12, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

On Friday reports surfaced that U.N. documents obtained by Foreign Policy show that the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria has been consistently cutting off food supplies to opposition-held areas in order to starve rebels and their supporters into submission. This is a clear-cut war crime under the Geneva Conventions and the UN Security Council needs to provide what evidence it has for this and other crimes against humanity in a referral to the International Criminal Court.

The basic evidence is this: as the World Food Programme has been implementing increased food aid under UN Security Council Resolution 2139, they have taken note of large population movements from opposition-controlled areas to government controlled areas. For months now, experts have been warning that the Assad regime is using hunger as a weapon of war: it cuts off food access to opposition-controlled areas, forcing rebels, supporters, and non-combatants to surrender or die an agonizing death from starvation. This is clearly a war crime: the fourth Geneva Convention explicitly protects the welfare of civilians in conflict.

War crimes demand response from the international community. Many war crimes, such as the use of chemical weapons, civilian targeting, or the use of powerful weapons of mass destruction, are blatant abuses of power and humanity that can often invite immediate reprobation from the international community, often escalating quickly into discussions of the extent to which response is required and how soon.

A Responsible Boycott: Canada and the Commonwealth

Canadian Tamils protest against Sri Lankan government abuses in Toronto during the late stages of the civil war. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

On Monday, Canada’s foreign affairs minister announced that the world’s 11th largest economy would be suspending its $10 million annual contribution to the Commonwealth of Nations until late 2015 in protest against Sri Lanka’s two-year leadership of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper caused controversy last year by joining the leaders of India and Mauritius in boycotting the summit in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital. This persistent conflict stems from Sri Lanka’s continued refusal to address claims of human rights atrocities committed by government forces during the country’s 26-year civil war.

Since the end of hostilities in 2009, Colombo has continuously rejected all calls for investigation into the claims, most recently denouncing a March resolution by the UN Human Rights Council requesting a “comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations” by “both parties” in the war. Monday’s announcement has been met with similar obstinacy, as the Sri Lankan foreign ministry accused Canada of attempting to “hold the Commonwealth to ransom” for the sake of “scoring political points.” Human Rights organizations, however, have consistently praised the Harper government for its uniquely stern stance in dealing with Colombo.

The pulling of $20 million in total from the Commonwealth marks the strongest action taken yet in pursuit of accountability and an independent investigation into atrocities which continue to be ignored.

Remembering Rwanda

Photographer Pieter Hugo documented the forgiveness and reconciliation between perpetrators and victims of Rwanda's genocide.

One hundred days and nearly 1 million men, women, and children alike killed; killed only because of their ethnic backgrounds. Neighbors, friends, coworkers, and in extreme cases spouses, fell victim to what the United Nations has declared “one of the darkest chapters in human history.” Twenty years later Rwandans are moving forward in inspiring ways.

Throughout the African country, villages are emerging; villages in which perpetrators and victims live as neighbors, some even as friends. Known as Reconciliation Villages, these are places where forgiveness is becoming the norm and where life is moving on.

New York Times photographer Pieter Hugo has chronicled several of these reconciliations in a piece titled “Portraits of Reconciliation.” These powerful images capture the work of AMI, a non-profit working with national efforts for reconciliation. These Reconciliation Villages are part of a grassroots effort to address the thousands of accused who have yet to face trial.

In an attempt to reduce the overwhelming number of accused waiting for trial, the national reconciliation efforts re-established community tribunals. This effort allows these communities to try their accused and, as is often the case, reach reconciliation as a means of justice. The Gacaca court system ran from 2005 to 2012, trying more than 1.2 million cases country wide.

Taiwan's Democracy is Not For Sale

An activist's visualization of the CSSTA. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

For over two weeks now, hundreds of students have occupied the Taiwanese Parliament, the Legislative Yuan, protesting the pending Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA).

This agreement was hastily brought to the floor on March 17th by President Ma Ying-jeou’s ruling Kuomintang, disregarding a prior agreement with the opposition to give the treaty a standard clause-by-clause review. Since then, hundreds of students have descended on the Parliament building, decrying the CSSTA as being “signed in a black box” without the approval of the public or the validation of the democratic process. What’s more, many fear the agreement as a whole is an “unequal agreement” that opens Taiwanese business and politics to greater influence from mainland China. After weeks of continued occupation and failed attempts at negotiation, recent days have seen the protests – termed the “Sunflower Student Movement” – grow to street demonstrations drawing over 100,000 people from across the country. The movement marks the first occupation of the Legislative Yuan by protesters in the history of the Republic of China, even prior to the government’s 1945 retreat to the island at the end of the Chinese Civil War.

The Sunflower Protests have put the country at a crossroads in more ways than one.

While activists had initially demanded that the CSSTA undergo the agreed-upon clause-by-clause legislative review, many now call for outright rejection of the agreement and the creation of a new government body to review all future treaties with Beijing. Beyond just the future of cross-strait relations is concern over the future of democratic politics in Taiwan.