Friday, August 30, 2013

How to end Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: a comparative study of arguments

by Delphine Patetif, Guest Blogger [1]

According to the UNICEF in its most recent report released in July 2013,[2] Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting[3] (“FGM/C”) can end in less than a generation. This practice has existed  for more than a thousand years, and is deeply entrenched  with social norms and religious beliefs. The West has been concerned for many decades with this harmful practice. Already in 1996, in an explosive social context regarding women’s liberation and post-colonialism, Yael Tamir defined western societies’ exaggerated focus on clitoridectomy as their fascination for sex, as well as evidence of hypocrisy within their political debate. Tamir objected to “the way a particular kind of argument has been used in recent debates on multiculturalism.”[4] Nussbaum, on the other hand, thinks that this focus is “not a fascination with sex but the relative tractability of FGM[5] as a practical problem, given that it is already widely resisted and indeed illegal.”[6]  However, Tamir goes further, and aims to “emphasize continuities between local and “alien” practices.”[7]  Contrary to Tamir, I do not think there is continuity between the two types of societies, but a complementarity. Even if I obviously agree with the elements exposed by Nussbaum and Tamir to condemn clitoridectomy, a terrible act that has to be eradicated, I affirm that each society builds its own history and legends, as transmitted according to the aforementioned history. Eventually, clitoridectomy is not a phenomenon which occurs in “their” country, but also in ours. It is then crucial to take into account those ethnocentrist elements before judging the practice. I will argue in this article that the universalism of human rights, which is a concept espoused by western societies, too often ignores the particularism of the facts to the detriment of the locals who need nothing beyond requisite information and education.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The guest worker H-2A visa program: a license for human trafficking and forced labor in the U.S. agricultural sector?

by Chayanich (Mint) Thamparipattra

Forced labor can happen anywhere in the world, independent of a country’s degree of economic development or the intentions of its government. Stories of forced labor by Burmese workers in the shrimping industry in Thailand and Thai farmworkers in the U.S. are not much different. Undocumented Burmese workers in the fishing industry in Thailand often found themselves working without pay for six months to pay off debts to brokers, facing physical abuse, and having their papers confiscated. Similarly, Thai workers in the Global Horizons human trafficking case mortgaged their lands or took out legal or illegal loans to pay recruiters who promised the American dream with three years’ legal work in the U.S. under the H-2A guest worker program. A worker who escaped from a plantation in Hawaii reported that he was confined in dilapidated housing, kept under 24-hour surveillance, restricted from any movement, and that his passport was confiscated. Unfortunately, this type of case is nothing new. It may be hard to believe that serious labor abuse still exists in the U.S., but a report by Farmworker Justice, No Way to Treat a Guest H-2A, reaffirms that trafficking in the form of forced labor and labor exploitation of U.S. guest workers are rampant. What is the H-2A program and why is labor abuse within this program so widespread?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The International Fertility Trade and Reproductive Tourism: When Old Treaties Meet New Technologies

Surrogates must stay in dormitories at some clinics.
Courtesy of BBC News
By Laura Notess

“Reproductive tourism,” the practice of traveling abroad to receive assisted reproductive technology, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Driven by the increasing availability of such technology and a desire for children of their own, couples around the world have turned to surrogacy and egg donation on an international scale. Yet the resultant fertility industry poses a number of challenging bioethical questions, several of which implicate potential rights violations that have so far received little discussion in the global human rights community.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Inter-American Commission Grants Precautionary Measures to Save the Life of Beatriz

Thanks to our colleagues at the O'Neill Institute for permitting us to cross-post this from their blog.

This post was written by Francisco J. Quintana (Legal Intern from Universidad Torcuato Di Tella), and Paula Avila Guillen (Institute Associate) of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law. Any questions or comments about this post can be directed to

Save Beatriz
“Beatriz”, a 22-year old woman, is pregnant with an anencephalic fetus. She has been diagnosed with several illnesses, including lupus and renal failure. Her anencephalic fetus will die almost immediately, likely in the first hours or days after the birth. Her pregnancy is threatening her life. Her family is extremely poor and her likelihood of survival diminishes with each day that passes. Yet, abortion is not an option for Beatriz.

Beatriz lives in El Salvador. As in most Latin American countries, El Salvador criminalizes abortion - meaning there is a total abortion ban, which does not contemplate any exception for the health or the life of a pregnant woman. The Huffington Post, quoting the New York Times, explains that “El Salvador has not only a total ban on abortion but also an active law-enforcement apparatus — the police, investigators, medical spies, forensic vagina inspectors and a special division of the prosecutor’s office responsible for Crimes Against Minors and Women, a unit charged with capturing, trying and incarcerating an unusual kind of criminal.” Thus, Beatriz may have to decide between saving her life or going to jail.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Morocco's Mistreatment of Prisoners and Unfair Trials

By Nicole Vander Meulen

Brahim Dahane, the president of the Sahrawi Association of Victims of Grave Human Rights Violations, describes his time in a Moroccan prison as hell.  He says that he “spent four years blindfolded and handcuffed, forced to stand all day against a wall” and was subjected to other degrading treatment by Moroccan officials. The conflict between the indigenous populations of Western Sahara and the Moroccan government raises many human rights concerns. Some of the most notable are Morocco’s imprisonment of Western Saharan activists, their treatment while in prison, and the questionable judicial processes used to convict them. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Modern slavery and corporate accountability for forced labor

by Madison Lichliter

A universal human right

Freedom is something that everyone hopes to achieve. But even in the 21st century, freedom has proven to be elusive for many as the number of human trafficking victims continues to increase. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 4 states that “no one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” Despite the clear prohibition of slavery under international law, the International Labour Organization found that three out of every 1,000 people worldwide are engaged in forced labor today. It is clear that slavery still exists, and the epidemic is not solely attributable to third-world countries.

The prevalence of forced labor

Forced labor is one of the most pervasive forms of human trafficking across the world. Forced labor includes the recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining of humans, involved when a person uses force or physical threats, psychological coercion, abuse of the legal process, deception, or other coercive means to compel someone to work. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, forced labor accounts for 36% of the forms of exploitation of all detected victims of trafficking worldwide, a figure that has doubled over the past four years. From a domestic perspective, the U.S. Congress found that approximately 50,000 women and children are trafficked into the United States alone each year. Individuals, most commonly women and children, see the United States as an opportunity for a better life, and the promise of a job here provides an allure that is difficult to turn down, making them susceptible to unscrupulous traffickers. As the State Department TIP Report highlighted, for people desperate to obtain employment to provide for and support their families, a job can also come with extreme costs, sometime in the form of modern slavery.

Monday, April 22, 2013

God Save the Queen?

by Blake Hulnick

Wikimedia Commons
With a lengthy and bruising presidential campaign finally behind them, many Americans were probably surprised by the contrast they encountered opening the newspaper on January 10, 2013, to find reports that a Thai labor activist had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for insulting Thailand’s King.

The embattled activist, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, tried to challenge Thailand’s infamous lèse-majesté law in court, and it appears he failed, getting an additional year for libeling an army general. The activist was the publisher of a newspaper containing two allegedly defamatory articles, and his conviction followed another protestor’s sentencing weeks earlier for violating the same law; the sentencing of a 61-year old man, now dead, to 20 years imprisonment for sending text messages about the Thai royal family; and the imprisonment of an American citizen for translating an allegedly defamatory book about the Thai King.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Commodified Children: Globalization and the Growth of Voluntourism

by Caitlin Cocilova
It was 6 AM. We had woken up early enough to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat and waited patiently along the edge of the water, cameras in hand, to snap that one perfect shot of the majestic temple. I took a break from the view to find the nearest outhouse and was met by a young child asking for the bathroom fee. Being that I was in no position to negotiate at the moment, I quickly handed over the money and passed the child into the restroom. When I left, he was gone, and I knew I had been tricked.

At the beginning of our weeklong educational trip to Cambodia, our PEPY tour guides warned us not to give money to child beggars, explaining how the majority of begging children do not receive the benefits of their efforts and are instead exploited by adults seeking to collect additional wages. Naturally, tourists are attracted to performing charitable deeds while vacationing in developing countries and tend to do so through direct donations to children. What vacationers often fail to realize, however, is the negative implications of their seemingly helpful actions. In recent years, these harmful charitable practices have become especially prevalent within orphanages, which are increasingly common travel destinations for kind-hearted visitors. The conditions children are subjected to in such orphanages, however, frequently defy the provisions set forth in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to which 193 countries are parties, including all of those cited in this post with the exception of Bali. By encouraging mandatory security checks for volunteers working with vulnerable populations, promoting governmental action, and educating well-intentioned travelers on the negative effects of “voluntourism,” children will hopefully be seen less as commodities and more as dignified members of a future generation, members who must be afforded their fundamental rights.

The Expanding Orphanage Industry
Entrepreneurs have jumped on the opportunity to participate in a business model supported by travelers’ desires to “do good” while vacationing, specifically by opening orphanages that ultimately induce tourist support. Over the past decade, the number of orphanages not registered with their respective governments has more than doubled in several developing countries, including Cambodia, Bali, Ghana, Haiti, South Africa and Afghanistan. As reported by Mail Online, this rise in institutions is not the result of an influx of orphaned children, but is rather in response to the recognition of orphanages as profit-building mechanisms. In many instances, orphanage directors withhold donations instead of providing additional services and better living conditions for children so as to gain higher profits; by making children look especially impoverished, malnourished, and deserted, directors are able to attract more sympathetic tourists and increase personal monetary gains. In order to sustain these businesses, the demand for children has increased, as well. Children become pawns in the strategic tourist market, dangled in front of visitors by orphanage directors as if they were colorful silk scarves waiting to catch the eye of the next passing tourist.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Climate Displacement Gap: A Survey of Legal Options for the Protection of Individuals Displaced by Natural Disaster and Slow-Onset Climate Change

by Adina Appelbaum
Twitter: @abappelbaum

Crisis after crisis, natural and climate change-related disasters such as floods, droughts, and storms have displaced people from their homes in countries around the world. Though a causal link between any weather event and climate change is difficult to prove, climatologists have long believed that climate change will result in an increase in extreme weather events. Floods, droughts, and storms almost always impact the lives of individuals, forcing them to flee their homes as a result of safety or reduced food supply, among other factors. In 2005 for example, Hurricane Katrina left a wake of more than 400,000 displaced residents. In 2010, over 20 million people were affected, and 8 million displaced, by the floods in Pakistan. In addition to these more immediate natural disasters, slow-onset climate change-related disasters such as drought, desertification, salination of groundwater, and the rise of sea levels have contributed to massive displacement worldwide. Decreased agricultural output and the collapse of fisheries have also been indirectly linked to climate change. For example, slow-onset climate change in the Sahel, namely erratic rainfall, combined with high food prices, led to a food crisis in 2012 that left 18 million people without sufficient food and put one million children at risk of starvation.

Connection to Human Rights
Climate displacement implicates human rights by threatening lives, food security, livelihoods, water access, health, and safety, among other critical needs. Women, children, and other vulnerable populations are often disproportionately affected. Additionally, underlying factors such as poverty, social injustice, and weak government capacity to respond greatly exacerbate a country’s ability to prevent displacement and protect those who become displaced, once vulnerable to climate change. In the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, for example, incredible rates of poverty and weak human rights institutions have intensified the impacts of climate change exposure. The 2010 Pakistan floods particularly demonstrated need for better international human rights transparency, institutions, and monitoring, and the creation of mechanisms that allow for the resolution of human rights issues in the context of climate displacement. In this light, the challenges of climate displacement must be seen as implicating existing human rights instruments such as the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)  and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), in addition to new frameworks.

Climate displacement can be a means to work with governments to strengthen their human rights institutions and commitments: it may be easier to advocate for human rights to governments in terms of climate change rather than political upheavals. One option is to encourage countries to incorporate human rights standards into natural disaster law and policies. For example, Daniel Petz, Senior Research Assistant on Natural Disasters of the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement has worked with various governmental disaster managers to incorporate the IASC Operational Guidelines on the Protection of Persons in Situations of Natural Disasters in national disaster law and policies, which promote and facilitate a rights-based approach to disaster relief.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Despite Criminalization, FGM Persists in Egypt

by Mai El-Sadany
Twitter: @MaiE_89

Source: Flickr
In what was considered by many to be a legal and at least superficial victory, on February 3, 2013, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court rejected a lawsuit challenging the illegality of female genital mutilation (FGM). The lawsuit was filed in 2008 to challenge a decision by the Ministry of Health in 2007 to criminalize the practice, claiming that the ban violated the principles of Sharia. FGM had been made illegal in the country in 1997, and in 2006, the head of Al-Azhar, Egypt’s most prominent Islamic institution, denounced the practice and distanced it from religious traditions (and again reiterated this position in 2008 and 2011).

Despite the solid legal stance against FGM in the country, the practice remains pervasive in Egyptian society and it is unclear to what degree the most recent court ruling will have an effect on the day-to-day lives of Egyptian women. In a country that has recently completed the drafting and ratification of its constitution and continues to undergo a transition period where rule of law and implementation of both national legal codes and international standards has largely been absent, the outlook is not a positive one.

About 91 percent of all women aged 15 to 49 have been circumcised in Egypt; while the numbers are showing a slight decrease among younger generations, the practice remains common. The procedure is often performed on young girls and considered by many to be a “rite of passage” into adulthood. Although there are multiple ways to carry out FGM, the procedure generally involves the removal of the clitoris, along with all or part of the labia minora. Although historically conducted by traditional birth attendants without anesthetic or appropriate medical care, more and more licensed doctors and nurses are carrying out the procedure. FGM has been regarded as a means to preserve the woman’s virginity before marriage for the sake of both culture and religion by decreasing her sexual desire. Although many in Egypt believe that the practice is based in religion, others unequivocally deny this. The side effects of FGM and poor after-care of the invasive procedure can range from minor infections to long-standing psychological issues, problems with menstruation and childbirth, extreme ailments, bleeding for days, and in some cases, death.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Prohibitive Price of Affordable Fashion

by Elena Marsteller

“Sales from $3,” announces the website of H&M, a retail clothing company that quickly and cheaply manufactures clothing inspired by current fashion trends.  The ongoing popularity of affordable fashion is evident in the success of brands like H&M and its contemporaries, as even the First Lady has embraced the trend geared to the buyer on a budget.
However, a high price is paid for the production of $10 jeans by others in the global supply chain, especially children in Uzbekistan, who are forced into labor as cotton pickers during an annual cotton harvest. According to We Live Subject to their Orders, a report by a group of Uzbek human rights activists in partnereship with the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), Uzbekistan is the world’s 6th largest producer of cotton and the 3rd largest exporter of cotton. Between September and November, Uzbek cotton exports generate $1 billion in revenue. The child laborers carrying the burden of harvesting the cash crop are unique because they operate as part of a state-sanctioned forced labor program, compelling all citizens, including children, to pick mandated quotas of cotton during the harvest. 
Current State of Child Labor in Uzbekistan
A Human Rights Watch report states that “International nongovernmental organizations and foreign media outlets are prevented from operating in Uzbekistan, making it difficult to report on forced and child labor or other human rights abuses.” Furthermore, the government of Uzbekistan will not allow the ILO to send independent experts to observe and control forced child labor.  Because of the Uzbek government’s reluctance to allow formal outside supervision of the cotton harvest, it is impossible to know with certainty the current state of child labor in the country. Much of the available information relies on the observations of human rights defenders in Uzbekistan. According to the most recent US Department of Labor report, 2011 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, children in Uzbekistan are “engaged in the worst form of child labor” during the cotton harvest. In 2011 there were more young students allowed to stay in school rather than participate in the harvest overall. However, the report cites some incidences where young children were still required to pick cotton in order to reach a required quota. Generally it appeared that older children were sent to harvest cotton before younger children, but there were incidents reported where children as young as ten were forced into the fields.

Monday, March 25, 2013

New Delhi Rape-Murder Case Highlights Deficiencies in Women’s and Minors’ Rights

by Michael Kramer

Source: Wikimedia Commons
On December 16, 2012, a 23-year-old woman and her 28-year-old male friend were riding a bus in New Delhi when they were kidnapped and beaten by a group of young men.  The woman was gang-raped.  The two (who remain publicly unidentified for legal reasons) were left brutalized and naked on a street in one of the city’s wealthy neighborhoods.  Two weeks after the attack, the woman died from severe internal injuries.

Indian police apprehended six suspects in the weeks following the crime.  Three of the suspects claim to have been under 18 years old on the date of the attack. 

The December 16 attack and subsequent public response have brought to the forefront a number of problems for India’s compliance with international human rights norms, especially with regard to women’s legal protections and the rights of minors.  The crime and its fallout have implications for India’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Insufficient Legal Protections for Indian Women

Responses to the December 16 crimes came from a variety of sources inside and outside of India, including from the international human rights community.  Anne F. Stenhammer, Regional Programme Director for the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) in South Asia, released a statement on December 20, framing the issue as one of human rights, demanding “concrete action and stronger implementation of already existing laws and regulations” against sexual harassment and violence, and calling for the Indian government to “take up radical reforms, ensure justice and reach out with robust public services to make women’s lives more safe and secure.”

The CEDAW, which India ratified in 1993, lays out a primary set of human rights obligations with regard to legal protections for women.  Article 2 provides in part that parties to the Convention agree “[t]o establish legal protection of the rights of women on an equal basis with men and to ensure through competent national tribunals and other public institutions the protection of women against any act of discrimination.”  Furthermore, Article 15 states that “States Parties shall accord to women equality with men before the law.”

Legislative Response Falls Short

In the wake of the December 16 crimes, the Indian government established a three-person committee, chaired by former Supreme Court Chief Justice J.S. Verma, to collect ideas and suggestions from experts and the public, and to produce a set of recommendations for reforming sexual violence laws.  The Verma Committee’s recommendations included setting maximum punishments for rape at life imprisonment and not the death penalty, not lowering the age of majority, and requiring more accountability of security officers in sexual violence cases.  The Verma Committee placed blame for India’s sexual violence endemic on poor governance, i.e., poor enforcement of laws and not on the quality of legislation itself.

On February 3, 2013, President Pranab Mukherjee signed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013, a new law amending sexual violence laws.  The law does not accord with many of the Verma Committee’s recommendations, as it sets the death penalty as the maximum punishment for rape, and maintains legal immunities for police and armed forces in sexual violence cases.

A number of human rights watchdog groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have called for the new law to be reformed in accordance with the Verma Committee’s recommendations and international human rights law.  The new law defines crimes of sexual violence as “insults” or “outrages” to a woman’s “modesty” instead of crimes against her right to bodily integrity.  Such a definition seems to treat a woman’s right to bodily inviolability as different from a man’s right solely on the basis of gender, and presents facial contravention of Articles 2 and 15 of the CEDAW.

Additionally, the new law does not recognize marital rape, making it so that women can bring sexual assault charges against her husband only in the narrow circumstance where she lives apart from him and is legally separated from him.  This lack of acknowledgement challenges Article 1 of the CEDAW, which prohibits “any distinction, exclusion, or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women… of human rights and fundamental freedoms…”

The Indian Parliament passed another anti-rape law on March 21.  The new legislation for the first time expressly outlaws stalking, voyeurism, acid attacks, and forcibly undressing a woman.  It raises the minimum sentence for gang rape and rape by a police officer from 10 years to 20 years, and provides capital punishment for rapes that result in death.  Reformers lament provisions in the new legislation increasing the age of consent from 16 years to 18 years, which they fear will lead to wrongful arrests.  The new legislation also fails to address marital rape.

Problematic Age of Majority Reforms and Sentencing Guidelines

One of the suspects in the December 16 crimes claims to have been 17 years old on the date of the attack, and he has turned 18 since then.  This situation posed a problem for the Indian courts: would he be tried as a minor or as an adult (i.e., as a man older than 18 years)?  The question of whether to charge the suspect as a minor or as an adult significantly affects the length of his maximum sentence: as a minor, he would face at most three years in a juvenile reform facility; as an adult, he could face life in prison.  The Indian courts decided that one of the alleged underage suspects would be tried as a minor.  Because Indian law restricts the holding of adults in juvenile facilities, his three-year sentence can possibly be reduced to six months.  Five other suspects are undergoing an expedited trial process and face life imprisonment or the death penalty if convicted, although two of the suspects, Vinay Sharma and Mukesh Singh, claim that they are minors.  Sharma’s and Singh’s majority/minority status has yet to be determined, so the issue of sentencing guidelines is far from moot.

Indian Women and Child Minister Krishna Tirath has said that the government does not favor lowering the official age of majority, but the “rarest of rare” cases such as the New Delhi rape call for stricter punishment.

The possibility that someone would face life imprisonment for a crime committed as a minor stands in opposition to India’s international human rights obligations.  Article 37 of the CRC, which India ratified in 1992, states that “Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without the possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age.”  India’s lowering the age of majority to allow prosecutors to seek life imprisonment and the death penalty for defendants under the age of 18 would similarly constitute an illegal circumvention of international human rights law.

Furthermore, Article 6 of the ICCPR, a document which India ratified in 1979, states that the death penalty “may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law in force at the time of the commission of the crime...”.  Setting aside the question of whether the December 16 crimes would meet Article 6’s definition of a “most serious crime,” it would be contrary to Article 6 for the Indian government to consider making an exception to established legal procedures to extend death penalty eligibility to a minor.

Part of the problem in identifying the age of the suspects is India’s inaccurate recordkeeping, which makes determining the suspects’ exact birthdates difficult.  Without an official birth certificate, the courts relied on the unnamed 18-year-old suspect’s school records—essentially what information his parents reported to the school—in declaring him a minor at the time of the attack.  The continued development of India’s administrative infrastructure may help resolve these problems in the future, but India must also prosecute defendants within the bounds of international human rights law with respect to life imprisonment and death penalty sentences.

Treatment of Prisoners Triggers More Human Rights Concerns

Youth sentencing guidelines are not the only human rights problems that the December 16 incident has posed for the Indian criminal justice system.  On March 11, Ram Singh, a 33-year-old suspect in the crimes, allegedly hanged himself in his jail cell at Tihar prison in Delhi.  Singh’s family has raised questions as to whether he actually was murdered and claims that he was tortured in prison.  Tihar has seen numerous suicides and murders among its prisoner population, and has previously been criticized for depriving prisoners of their rights (e.g., right against torture, right to wholesome food, and right to medical care) under Indian and international law.  Article 10 of the ICCPR dictates that prisoners “shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.”  If the state was complicit in Singh’s death and torture as his family alleges, the Indian government should be made to answer for these violations of Article 10.

Absent Meaningful Reform, Progress Underway on Grassroots Level

It appears that grassroots responses to the December 16 attack may improve conditions for women in Indian society.  Women in New Delhi have organized around the principle that the streets will be safer if there are more women on the road, leading to a substantial rise in the demand for female drivers in the city.  The increased presence of women on the roads may indeed increase women’s safety.  A November 2012 survey supported by UN Women showed that only 5 percent of women in New Delhi viewed public spaces as “safe” from sexual violence.  The increased presence of women on the streets may have the secondary effect of achieving more fundamental steps towards women’s equality, as women increase their presence in a scene typically dominated by men and at least subtly assert their equal place in society.

These grassroots efforts toward equality are encouraging, insofar as they are not a transitory reaction to the outrageous crimes of December 16.  The move toward reform for sexual violence laws and juvenile sentencing must not conclude with the December 16 criminal trial (which is ongoing as of the writing of this article).  The inadequacy of India’s current sexual violence laws, as well as the incompatibility of India’s sentencing guidelines with respect to minors, warrant popular pressure on Indian officials for legal reform.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Bulldozing the right to housing in Rio de Janeiro

by Jess Polebaum
Morro da Providência - Flickr/CatComm

As Rio de Janeiro prepares for the international sporting events it will host in 2014 and 2016, the city’s most vulnerable citizens face an abiding uncertainty: will their homes survive the city’s development plans?

Evictions across the city

Two major projects have the potential to leave a large wake of evictions in their path. A multi-focal, multi-million dollar development program initiated in 2009 and intended to renew the city’s derelict commercial port threatens to raze a portion of Morro da Providência, one of Brazil’s most historic favelas. A second effort involves the construction of a network of highways that will connect various points in the West Zone of the city, where the Olympic Village will be located and many of the Olympic events will take place. Rio On Watch, a journalistic project of Catalytic Communities, reports that more than 8,000 individuals have been evicted from their homes since preparations for the Olympics began in 2009, with up to 10,000 more evictions expected.

The city’s government denies wrongdoing and highlights the compensation and/or alternative housing it provides to evicted residents, as well as the city’s official reasoning for the evictions—namely that the homes slotted for removal are structurally unsafe. Both local and international groups, however, have protested and observed recurring patterns of abuse in the eviction process, including lack of adequate notice of eviction, unreasonable compensation, violent intimidation, and autocratic justification for the orders of removal.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Indigenous Issues Need to be Addressed in Keystone XL Pipeline Expansion

by Cindy Woods

Keystone XL Pipeline Protest, Washington DC- Creative Commons: Emma Cassidy, 2011
TransCanada’s multi-billion dollar Keystone XL oil pipeline has been shrouded in controversy since its proposal in 2008. The XL Pipeline, formed as an extension to the existing Keystone Pipeline system, is set to deliver tar sands oil—a variety of crude described as the “world’s dirtiest, most toxic, and most difficult-to-clean-up-when-it-spills”—from British Columbia to the Gulf Coast of Texas. In the process, it will traverse the Sand Hills of Nebraska and the regionally crucial Ogallala Aquifer that lies beneath. However, the Department of State has yet to grant TransCanada a permit to begin construction in the United States. 

When pressured by Congress last January to decide on the pending permit request, President Obama rejected the application, citing insufficient time to assess the full impact of the project. With environmental concerns abundant, the Department of State is primarily focused on protecting the quality of the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides approximately 82 percent of drinking water for the region’s 2.3 million population.
In March, President Obama authorized the construction of the southern half of the XL, which stretches from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast. While this portion of the XL pipeline may not cross an environmentally fragile and integral U.S. water source, it does traverse fragile and culturally important indigenous lands. These interests should be given equal consideration with environmental concerns given in particular a growing body of international legal norms recognizing indigenous peoples’ rights to consent to development on their sovereign lands.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Rwanda in the DRC: Finding the Appropriate Human Rights Response

M23 rebels pass police officers as they withdraw from the city of Goma 
by Laura Notess

In late November, the rebel group M23 successfully captured Goma, a city of a million people in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The global community, trying to explain the improbable rise of such a small rebel group, looked to Rwanda, who has allegedly supported the M23 rebels. While Rwanda has been accused of supporting the group for some time, the Goma take-over, as well as Rwanda’s recent election to a UN Security Council seat, has intensified international pressure on the Rwandan government. The exact nature of the relationship between Rwanda and M23 is not entirely clear. Nonetheless, it has generated a great deal of controversy and condemnation from the international human rights community, primarily due to M23’s use of child soldiers, violence against and rape of civilians, and arbitrary executions. Discerning the extent of Rwanda’s involvement in these actions, and finding the appropriate response, are important questions for a human rights community that has long struggled to increase protection of human rights in the eastern DRC.

The Political Backdrop
Following the end of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, primarily Hutu refugees fled into the neighboring DRC, which had long been home to (among others) those of Tutsi ancestry. Several years of conflict followed, which saw a number of shifting alliances, the disintegration and formation of various rebel factions, and the military involvement of most of the regional nations. The so-called “Africa’s Great War” involved six nations, as Rwandan-backed Tutsi rebels fought for control of the Eastern DRC. A peace accord was signed in 2002, and Rwandan and Ugandan troops withdrew from the DRC, but unrest has continued as various militias and rebel groups continue to operate in the Kivu provinces.

M23, or as they’ve recently begun calling themselves, the Congolese Revolutionary Army, started last spring as a mutiny by Tutsi rebels who had been integrated into the Congolese army under previous peace talks. Their rapid growth, and successful takeover of Goma, has forced a political response from the Congolese government. M23 has currently withdrawn from Goma in exchange for peace talks, and recently agreed to a ceasefire as the peace talks begin. It remains to be seen whether this ceasefire will be honored, as up until the announcement reports of M23 recruiting child soldiers, performing  executions, and committing rape had continued.

The present controversy centers around Rwandan support for M23, which primarily appears to be in the form of financial backing and weapons. More recently, a UN report accused Rwandan defense minister, General James Kabarebe, of directly overseeing M23 forces. There is also strong evidence of Rwanda recruiting soldiers for M23, compiled most comprehensively in a September report from Human Rights Watch.

Finding the Appropriate Human Rights Lens
Human rights groups have been tracking Rwanda’s actions in the DRC for some time, with mixed success. The complicated nature of the conflict, and Rwanda’s on-again off-again relationship with various rebel groups, makes tracing human rights abuses difficult in a region where violence has become the norm.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

As Haiti’s IDP Camps Slowly Disappear, Do Human Rights Obligations Follow?

by Justin Simeone

A Sexual Violence Awareness Advertisement in Port-au-Prince (Justin Simeone)
In recent weeks, “Superstorm” Sandy has reminded many Americans of the devastating impact of natural disasters on ordinary life.   Prior to reaching the United States, the storm first storm first ripped through Haiti—leaving more than fifty dead and many more homeless.

This process of devastation and reconstruction has become all too common to Haitians over the past three years.  Since a massive 7.0 magnitude earthquake in January 2010, the small nation has slowly faded from the international headlines.  Yet, at the time Sandy made landfall in Haiti, there were still more than 370,000 individuals still living in provisional camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in and around Port-au-Prince.

The challenges that these IDPs face today are similar those that immediately followed the earthquake. Shelters are still precarious.  Adequate food, water, and sanitation remain difficult to obtain. Security patrols continue with limited frequency.  And perhaps most disturbing, reports of rape and other forms of sexual violence are still pervasive.

“After the earthquake, the situation was inhumane and degrading,” remarks Malya Villard-Appolon, a rape survivor and co-founder of KOFAVIV. “There was no security.  There was no food; there was no work. … Two years after the earthquake, it is still the same.  The people are still under the tent; they don’t have electricity; they are getting raped.”

A Human Right to Protection from Sexual Violence

This observation is disturbing given that many international and regional conventions directly or indirectly prohibit sexual violence—particularly against women and girls.  For instance, even though there is no explicit prohibition under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the CEDAW Committee has recognized that articles 2, 5, 11, 12, and 16 require states to protect women from such violence.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Legacy of the ICTY

by Igor Petrovich

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established on May 25, 1993 at the height of the Bosnian War. While the ICTY is scheduled to formally finish its work two years from now (on December 31, 2014), the vast majority of the work has already been completed with only the trials of Radovan Karadžić, Ratko Mladić, and Goran Hadžić still left to conclude. Over the past 20 years, the ICTY has indicted 161 people. It is generally seen as one of the pioneering forces in international criminal law and can serve as a blueprint for the international community in order to prosecute future human rights violations.

Several years ago, one of the biggest criticisms of the ICTY was been the slow pace of proceedings. It will take twenty years for the Tribunal to conclude its work and it took over a decade for a number of convictions to occur. However, some of this criticism is no longer warranted now that Karadžić and Mladić have been arrested and are currently on trial in the Hague.