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Category: Human Rights

A Step Back for Malaysia

Courtesy of thestar.com

Malaysia recently passed new amendments to its Prevention of Crime Act that represent blatant human rights violations.  Most disturbing is the contention that one of these amendments would allow prisoners to be detained indefinitely without trial.

This is happening in spite of the fact that Prime Minister Najib Razak pledged to uphold human rights, having recently abolished the Internal Security Act. Historically, the ISA had been used to hold political dissidents without charges. Critics speculate that this latest development is politically motivated, coinciding with a crackdown on opposition figures.

Najib cites recent robberies and high-profile public shootings as grounds for the legislative crackdown. "If the government doesn't act, more people will become victims," he said, claiming that the law would only apply to serious criminals. However, these amendments have been condemned by human-rights activists and criticized as a strengthening of his increasingly authoritarian regime.

Burma needs to address genocide in Rakhine State

The dire situation in the Burmese state of Rakhine has been given wider attention in the international community and UN thanks to the work of UN Special Rapporteur Tomas Quintana and U.S. Ambassador Samantha Powers. Both have called for the international community to engage with Burma to stop the ethnic and religious violence against Muslims in the Burmese state of Rakhine (on the country's west coast) and to help the country democratize.

An important step in the path to democracy would be for Burma to admit mishandling the Rakhine situation and to stop the violence in any way possible. One of the main reasons for the violence in Rakhine is a lack of economic opportunities, a factor that could be exacerbated by diplomatic or economic sanctions. The Burmese government also needs to stop the institutional discrimination against Rohingya, many of whom were forcibly displaced and live in terrible conditions in government refugee camps. 

Burma cannot become a true democracy if it continues to allow such ethnic cleansing or violence. If the country democratizes short of addressing these issues, it will be a democracy on an unstable and bloody foundation. In encouraging Burma to finally embrace democracy, the international community must not tolerate continued human rights violations. The legitimacy of a democracy depends on its ability to represent and protect ALL peoples living within its borders, be they in the minority or majority, and where all groups are represented and all grievances able to be addressed.

A Philanthropic Holiday: Trick-or-Treating for a Cause

Courtesy of examiner.com

What kid doesn’t love Halloween--a day of dressing up and getting free candy? Unfortunately, kids around the world who have to worry about things like poverty, malnutrition, unsafe drinking water, and malaria aren’t lucky enough to enjoy days like this.

Every day, 18,000 children under the age of five die from preventable causes such as these. UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, is striving for world where that number is zero. UNICEF workers provide children with access to food, medical care, and education while fighting child abuse and exploitation. UNICEF works in over 190 countries and territories around the world and has helped reduce the number of daily child deaths by 17,000 since 1990.

A lot of people incorporate charity into a fun holiday tradition by trick-or-treating for UNICEF. Children and families go door-to-collecting donations, while schools and clubs can organize events to benefit the important work UNICEF is doing.

When this idea was first celebrated in 1950, the inaugural trick-or-treaters raised a total of 17 dollars.  Now the program brings in millions every year.  In the words of Howard Zinn, "We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world."

A Security Council That Works

Responsibility Not to Veto

What if you could help prevent the next Rwanda, Darfur or Syria? Would you?

Time and time again as atrocities unfold, the United Nations Security Council is called upon to act but cannot due to the threat of a veto by one of the permanent members. It’s time for that to change.

It’s time for countries to agree that permanent Security Council members have a “Responsibility Not to Veto” when it comes to genocide and other mass atrocities.

GlobalSolutions.org has just launched a petition to asking President Obama to be part of a discussion about the responsible use of the veto at the Security Council.

We envision a Security Council that works. Imagine a Security Council that pledged not to use the veto in situations of genocide and other mass atrocities. That’s a world we want to live in. Unfortunately, permanent Security Council members have used (or threatened to use) their veto power far too often. The veto power stopped immediate life-saving action in the Rwandan genocide, Darfur, and Syria.

No leader should ever use helicopter gunships, artillery, chemical weapons or even machetes on unarmed women and children and get away with it. 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda, 300,000 so far in Darfur, and close to 115,000 in Syrian. Actions to stop each of these genocides and mass atrocities were slowed by vetoes or the threat of a veto at the Security Council. We cannot stand for inaction in the face of senseless killings.

Saudi Arabia's Human Rights Farce

Seventeenth Session of the UNHRC UPR session in Geneva (Photo: @UPRinfo)

On October 21st the UN Human Rights Council kicked off the 17th session of its tri-annual Universal Periodic Reviews (UPR) in Geneva. It is during these sessions that the human rights records of a scheduled list of countries are thoroughly examined and recommendations are made. This session began with a review of particular significance: Saudi Arabia, being questioned by representatives from Japan, Romania, and Uganda. The Kingdom recently made headlines for its rejection of a coveted seat on the UN Security Council, intended as a statement calling out the Council on its consistent failure to protect human rights in Syria and Palestine. Coupled with a recent announcement by the Saudi Foreign Ministry that they intended to seek membership on the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the coming session, it is clear that Saudi Arabia has aspirations to play an increased role in international diplomacy.

Though nobody was accusing the absolute monarchy—whose Prince Turki recently referred to Amnesty International as "Nasty International"—of being a champion of human rights, last week's UPR highlights the absurdity of Saudi Arabia's supposed championing of reform. Despite supposedly accepting nearly all of the over 100 recommendations made at its last UPR in 2009, almost no real improvements have been made. Questions were levied at the Saudi delegation over the country's detention without trial of activists, exploitation of migrant workers, and continued enforcement of the death penalty for homosexuality.

Time to Ratify the Disability Treaty.

Bob Dole in his wheelchair on the Senate floor.

The Disability Treaty is coming up in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on November 5th. This treaty is vital for anyone who actually cares about improving the lives of people around the world suffering from disabilities, and discrimination due to disabilities. The United States failed to take the lead in furthering human rights last year with its failure to ratify the Disability Treaty. Senate Republicans refused to ratify even as former Republican leader Bob Dole watched from his wheelchair. The opposition told a lot of "Big Lies" to justify opposition for a humanitarian treaty. A treaty vote that should not have been along party lines became partisan, with the notable exception of several Republican Senators including John McCain (R-AZ). McCain said that the treaty took the Americans with Disabilities Act and "expanded that kind of rights to people all over the world who don't have those rights today." This was an excellent opportunity for the United States to take the lead internationally on an issue the country has handled capably domestically with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The opportunity was squandered when the Senate did not ratify the Disability Treaty. Hopefully, the Disability Treaty will make it out of the Foreign Relations Committee after the expected meeting on the 5th of November.

The Social Network: Complicit in Exploiting Children?

Courtesy of CNET

It may not surprise anyone to learn that it's rather easy for pedophiles to indulge their proclivities online. What's a little more surprising is that this activity is not confined to nefarious underground sites. In fact, a lot of it takes place on Facebook. Facebook is not an evil corporation allied with child molesters, but there are some gaps in its regulatory system that need to be addressed.

A 2010 report from Fox News revealed that the pedophilia advocacy group NAMBLA was using the site to connect with other pedophiles, trade pornographic materials, and seek out victims. Facebook began removing the pages of various NAMBLA chapters, but this did not provide a permanent solution. Just through a cursory investigation of my own, I found a still existing NAMBLA page with 278 "likes."  Skimming the list of profiles who "liked" this page, I saw men from all over the U.S. and from Canada, the U.K., Iraq, and New Zealand, citing professional affiliations from Google to the U.S. Air Force to "sexologist." The latter's profile featured disturbing photos of a scantily clad boy who looked about 13.

Darknet into the Light

Courtesy of pcworld.com

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? GlobalSolutions.org 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

www.globalslaveryindex.org

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.