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A blog about human rights in their many forms.

Workers hold tight to Kenya's bygone 'Lunatic Express' railroad

VIDEO: With the railroad's Chinese-backed replacement in the works, employees share stories of their tough jobs.

MOMBASA, Kenya – In its heyday, the Nairobi railway employed some 24,000 people. Day and night, they worked to keep freight and passenger trains running between what is now Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, and the Indian Ocean at the port of Mombasa.

Nicknamed the "Lunatic Line” and the "Lunatic Express" the railway itself has changed little in more than a century since it was built by the Britishimperial power. Trains still bobble up and down, side to side as they roll along outdated, narrow tracks. Train traffic, derailment and other delays strand cars for hours in the middle of a national park.

But the railway’s workforce has shrunken immensely: Today, the Rift Valley Railways Consortium employs only 3,000 people. They include the usual conductors, engineers, janitors and ticketing booth clerks like Roselyn Mwende.

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By invading Crimea, Putin united Ukraine instead of Russia

Commentary: Putin has brought out an unparalleled strength against corruption within the Ukrainian nation. Ironically, the very same national strength he desperately seeks to foster within Russia.
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A Ukrainian student shouts slogans during a nationalist and pro-unity rally in the eastern city of Lugansk on April 17, 2014. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today announced a deal had been reached with Ukraine, the US and the EU to "de-escalate" dangerously high tensions in the former Soviet republic. (DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images)

LONDON — Vladimir Putin has been described as many things: tyrant, autocrat, villain, gangster. Few would call him a unifier. But by annexing Crimea that is exactly the role he has played in Ukraine.

Putin invaded Ukraine in part to embolden Russian national sentiment. The Russian president has suppressed any remnants of an independent press, revved up the state-sponsored PR machine, which churns out vicious propaganda in support of increasingly irredentist foreign policy.

He has justified the forced annexation of Crimea as a move to protect ethnic Russians, portraying the Euromaidan, the wave of demonstrations, civil unrest and revolution in Ukraine, as radical fascists sponsored by the United States government. But rather than expose the duplicity of Kyiv, his lies have revealed the truth about Ukraine.

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US court rules corporate First Amendment rights trump child miners

Opinion: This week's ruling against the Securities and Exchange Commission's conflict minerals disclosure rules confirms that a corporation's rights have priority over protections for child miners.
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Children wash copper on July 9, 2010 at an open-air mine in Kamatanda in the rich mining province of Katanga, southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Some 400 children from Kamatanda and surrounding villages, who have dropped out of school, help miners transport, sort or wash the mineral. (GWENN DUBOURTHOUMIEU/AFP/Getty Images)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — While many victims of human rights violations were waiting for the implementation of the conflict minerals provision, set to take place in six weeks, the United States Appeals Court of the District of Columbia overturned the measure, on the basis that it violates the First Amendment rights of those corporations that benefit directly or indirectly from human rights abuses in Democratic Republic of the Congo’s mines.

In response to the Congo civil war, where over five million people were killed, the US Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010.

Within this legislation was Section 1502, also known as the conflict minerals provision, requiring American companies to disclose to the Securities and Exchange Commission by May 31, 2014, whether their products contain conflict-minerals or ‘human rights violation’ minerals — such as minerals attained through child labor practices. Yet, in support of corporate arguments, the appeals court determined on April 14 that the disclosure rules are unconstitutional, as companies should not be forced to reveal such practices because it forces speech that stigmatizes the company’s own products.

This ruling confirms that the freedom of speech is a paramount right and value, having priority over the right not to be subjected to labor exploitation or inhumane treatment.

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Gay rights are playing a major role in India's national election for the first time

The Indian Supreme Court's decision to recriminalize gay sex acts has mobilized many in the LGBT community, and leading political parties are taking notice.
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An Indian LGBT activist holds a placard during a demonstration against the Supreme Court's reinstatement of Section 377, which bans gay sex in a law dating from India's colonial era, in Bangalore on January 28, 2014. (MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP/Getty Images)

MUMBAI — When the Indian Supreme Court reinstated a 153-year-old ban on gay sex, reversing a lower court’s decision that it was unconstitutional, something stirred in the stillness around equal rights activist Pallav Patankar.

“It occurred to me that all these years we had worked on a narrow path of judicial reform against Section 377,” he said, referring to the part of the Indian Penal Code drafted in 1850 by British lawmakers to outlaw homosexual acts. “But now, we could no longer afford to be apolitical. I had voted as a student, a professional, as someone who defended women’s rights, but I hadn’t asked what would happen if I looked at myself as a political entity through a queer lens.”

In the first Indian election where the rights of sexual minorities are a political issue, two national parties, the ruling Indian National Congress and the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), have included the reading down of Section 377 in their political manifestos.

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In fight for gender equality in Africa, clean water plays a key role

Fetching water is a household chore traditionally delegated to women and girls in Africa. Reducing the need for it holds not only health benefits, but also the potential for social change.
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A woman carries heavy jugs of water through a muddy pond where she filled the plastic containers July 17, 2012 in Jamam refugee camp, South Sudan. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — An average woman in Africa spends about 60 percent of her day fetching water for her household. The chore not only forces women to walk miles to the nearest water source—which is highly likely to be contaminated—but it also prevents them from using that time to pursue educational or job opportunities instead.

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Twenty years later, Rwandan women come out on top

Rwanda's women, both in-country and abroad, have played a massive role in rebuilding their society. Here, one survivor and refugee recounts what the last 20 years have been like.
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Eugenie Mukeshimana, founder and executive director of the Genocide Survivors Support Network, speaks with Katty Kay, anchor of BBC World News America, on stage at the 2014 Women in the World Summit in New York City's Lincoln Center, on April 4, 2014. (GlobalPost/GlobalPost)

NEW YORK — Twenty years after a three-month genocide ravaged their country, Rwandan women have rebuilt — playing some of the most powerful roles in the reconstruction of the African nation.

Today, Rwanda is ranked first in the world — of 189 countries placed by the Inter-Parliamentary Union — for women’s representation in parliament. Holding down 51 of the 80 lower or single house parliamentary seats, women make up 63 percent of the governing body as of the country’s last elections in September of 2013.

This is a sharp incline, considering that in November of 1994, four months after the end of the genocide, women accounted for  just 17 percent of parliament. And it was a necessary step toward recovery, according to Ambassador Fatuma Ndangiza, deputy chief executive officer for the Rwanda Governance Board.

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How poetry saved two young women's lives — one in Peru, one in Los Angeles

Two teenagers from opposite sides of the world began writing poetry to cope with difficult situations in their lives. That poetry brought them together.
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Senna, in production of "Girl Rising" (10x10act/YouTube)

NEW YORK — Poetry changed Senna’s life.

She wrote her first poem at age 10, she said, because “I could tell my notebook what I wanted to say. … I imagined that my book and my notebook told me, ‘You can do it! You can do it!’”

Unbenounced to her, halfway across the world, someone else was writing poetry for the same reason. 

“I started to write because the paper was the only person I could talk to,” said Marquesha Babers, 18, from Los Angeles. “Poetry has actually saved my life.”

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Domestic violence victims of California's Indian diaspora find a sacred home

For 72 percent of domestic violence victims who immigrate for a spouse, abuse starts or increases after moving to a new country.
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In this photo taken on February 14, 2008, young Indian couples enjoy a private moment at a popular lovers' spot on Valentine's Day in Mumbai. India, where marriage is still viewed as the bedrock of society, has traditionally had one of the world's lowest divorce rates. Only about one in 100 marriages fail, compared with one in two in the United States. (PAL PILLAI/AFP/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES — Anu appeared in the classifieds in 1999. She’d finished her bachelor's degree and returned to her family in Kerala, a state in southern India. Anu’s parents placed an ad in the marriage column of Kerala’s state newspaper in search of a husband for their daughter. Not long after, her future husband called from Downey, California. He visited her and then proposed. Already once married and divorced, he wanted a small civil wedding, but Anu insisted they wed in a Hindu temple.

At 32, Anu—a pseudonym to protect her privacy—left India to live with her husband in Southern California. But she said he began abusing her verbally, and sometimes physically, after just a few weeks. Not long after, he took her passport from her.

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Visa restrictions turn Indian women into 'involuntary housewives' in the United States

Wives of high-skill visa holders are highly restricted by current immigration rules.
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Puja Nanda from India takes part in a naturalization ceremony to become an American citizen at Federal Hall on March 22, 2013 in New York City. Seventy-four immigrants from 39 different countries took part in the event held in the historic building where George Washington took the oath of office as the first President of the United States. The event was held by U.S. Immigrant and Citizenship Services. (John Moore/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES — Sinduja Rangarajan belongs to a group of women who call themselves “involuntary housewives.”

The group is made up of Indian women who moved to the United States because their husbands landed great jobs, but who aren’t legally allowed to pursue their own career-related ambitions, because of what critics say are antiquated immigration rules.

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For companies, investing in women can mean better health, education — and business

But experts say there is still work to be done to translate good theories into results.
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Nepalese farmer Meena Maharjan works in a field in the village of Khokana on the outskirts of Kathmandu on March 3, 2014. Thirty-five year old Meena who has one daughter spends the majority of her time in the fields with her husband also a farmer. Waking up at 5am preparing food for the family then either working on the farm or selling her produce in the market, she averages a monthly income of Nepalese Rupees 5000 (USD 50). (PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images)

Ishrat Hussain’s decision to enroll in a Nestle job-training program that would kick-start a career in the dairy industry set her neighbors in rural Pakistan talking. For one month, the 20-year-old learned how to increase milk production through proper livestock feeding and care before Nestle helped her launch a veterinary business to service many of the company’s local milk producers. Such dirty work, people in Hussain’s conservative village said, wasn’t “good” for a young woman. But she carried on, she later told Nestle, because “I knew it would help me and my family out of poverty.”

Hussain’s new business could accomplish much more than that. A growing body of research from leading global institutions, including UNICEF and the World Bank, suggests economically empowering women not only lifts families out of poverty and stimulates the economy, but also leads to better community education and health.

Fueled, in part, by such data, experts say women’s empowerment has emerged as one of the more popular areas for corporate philanthropic investments. The benefits of women’s economic participation have seized America’s heart and imagination to an extent that, “any consumer-facing brand would be foolish to ignore,” said Racheal Meiers, a gender expert at the corporate responsibility consultancy BSR.

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