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A blog about human rights in their many forms.

Flying over Alberta's tar sands, evidence of wealth and destruction (PHOTOS)

Part One: A trillion dollars' worth of heavy crude has attracted the world's oil titans to western Canada. They're making a mess.

Gas flares at the Suncor Oil Sands Mining Site. (Alex MacLean/GlobalPost)

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta, Canada — Violet Clarke’s home sits virtually in the center of the vast Athabasca tar sands, a colossal deposit of extremely heavy crude oil in the western Canadian province of Alberta.


Environmental impact of Alberta tar sands 'horrible,' expert says (PHOTOS)

Part Two: With government oversight in question and toxins piling up, residents say they are being poisoned and disempowered.

Large blocks of sulphur, a byproduct of upgrading oil sands at Syncrude Mildred Lake site, near Ft. McMurray, Alberta, Canada. (Alex MacLean/GlobalPost)


It's time for Iraqis to look at the failures of our own government

Commentary: No one will admit the mistakes they’ve made — they just keep on making them. Airing the dirty laundry would mean admitting to and exposing the wrong and asking for help to clean up the mess.

Editor’s Note: Jamil Ali is a pseudonym for the writer of this op-ed, who has asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. He is a former activist. 


Obama: Most child migrants at US-Mexico border will be sent back to Central America

The president has asked Congress for $2 billion to aid response to the immigration surge and said he'll push forward with executive action on immigration reform.

The Obama administration on Monday said it plans to deport most of the thousands of unaccompanied minors that have poured over the US-Mexico border in an unprecedented surge that has overwhelmed Border Patrol, roused angry protesters and ratcheted up partisan rhetoric in DC.

The announcement came one week after President Obama assured immigration advocates that he would “keep his promise” and press on with executive action, asking Congress for $2 billion in emergency funds to aid in the housing, feeding and processing of those who have been apprehended.

More than 52,000 unaccompanied, immigrant children traveling from Central American countries have crossed the US border in Rio Grande, Texas, since October. Obama last month called the surge a “humanitarian crisis.” In its initial response, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) implemented a $2 million legal aid program to assist the children, and ordered the opening of additional emergency shelters and facilities throughout Texas, California, Arizona and Oklahoma to house the immigrants as they made their way through the legal system.

In the time since, the humanitarian crisis has spurred a policy crisis, pinning the president against a Republican-run house.


Colombia's prospering economy casts a shadow over thousands of political prisoners

As business booms, at least 4,000 political prisoners remain jailed, often for social activism.

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia, once a byword for crime, violence and instability, is opening its doors to foreign investment, tourism and an influx of international attention.

Recently re-elected president Juan Manuel Santos’ has a strong record of growing Colombia’s economy by engaging with new trading partners and signing agreements. Last month, following through on campaign promises to continue the upward trajectory and push for a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the president signed a trade agreement with the European Union.

The move was applauded and the country heralded as a strong emerging market with many major international companies setting up offices in what they call the up-and-coming business capital of Latin America. Colombia has already seen an influx of $622.5 million — the largest inflow into an emerging market-economy this year.

A group of leading Colombian businessmen including heads of major banks, architects and several members of the financial sector openly expressed their support of the re-elected president in a letter stating, “Your government is responsible for unprecedented economic results, including a rise in employment, a rise in foreign investment and excellent international relations.”

But behind the veneer of a quickly modernizing country, a hidden world of gross human rights violations continues to exist with at least 4,000 alleged political prisoners – though some estimates are as high as 9,500 — currently incarcerated in prisons across Colombia, with little to no media attention at the local or international levels.


Hobby Lobby ruling inspired 100 more cases in less than a week

The Supreme Court said it is "highly unlikely" that more corporations will go after religious freedom claims, but already groups taking up suits and looking to get out of a pending LGBT discrimination order.

It’s been just days since the Supreme Court granted religious exemption to Hobby Lobby and other closely held corporations, ruling that the insurance they provide their employees does not have to cover contraception, as stipulated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and already Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s prophetic dissent is manifest.

Following a blistering and sometimes-sarcastic 35 pages of opposition, Ginsburg, perhaps now somewhat famously, concluded: “The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

Indeed, it seems as though it has.

While President Obama vowed to restore the lost coverage to women, a host of other religious groups and institutions have decided not to wait around and see what kinds of new regulations might come into play.

According to the Becket Fund, the religious law firm that represented Hobby Lobby, there are already 49 pending federal cases in which for-profit companies have claimed “religious objections to the ACA and another 51 that involve nonprofit organizations.”

Additionally, the Supreme Court has ordered three appeals courts to reevaluate challenges made by companies that also objected to the contraception stipulation, but which objected to all contraceptive methods and not just the four addressed in the Hobby Lobby case.


Responding to Buddhist nationalists, Myanmar looks to restrict inter-faith marriage

Commentary: As anti-Muslim boycotts take on Qatar-based telecommunications service, the government drafts legislation that would also restrict religious conversion, polygamy and family planning.

RANGOON, Myanmar — Anyone visiting Myanmar’s commercial capital Rangoon cannot help but notice the saturation of billboards advertising the rollout of mobile phone services by Qatar-based telecommunication company Ooredoo.

Ooredoo won one of two licenses in an emerging and lucrative telecom market, yet it is the target of a boycott, spearheaded by Buddhist monks upset that the company is owned by the government of a Muslim country.


Tunisian prime minister says drug law 'no longer in tune with the times'

This summer, the government plans to revamp the law, which some say has been used to support police brutality, as prisons reach over 150 percent capacity.

TUNIS, Tunisia — In late 2011, Hesham a 24-year-old Tunisian cab driver, was sitting in a café with friends in Ariana, a working class neighborhood in northern Tunis. A fight broke out over something petty — the details of which Hesham said he can’t even remember — and the police came to break up the brawl. They hauled all the young men to police headquarters.

“I knew I was in trouble,” said Hesham, who declined to give his last name.

In Tunisia, police routinely force prisoners to take a drug test. If the test returns positive, Law 52, the anti-drug statute that does not distinguish between hard drugs and soft drugs, mandates a one-year minimum sentence and $600 fine. The punishment is known locally as “a year plus a Vespa,” which costs about the same amount.

But police often use the law, which dates back to the former dictatorship under ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, as a catch-all to round up known activists. And now the government said it plans to amend the legislation this summer, as part of the country’s effort to rebuild following the 2011 revolution that overthrew the former dictator and sparked the Arab Spring.


India's experts look to education in trying to curb prevalence of rape

Despite the introduction of harsher punishments announced last year by parliament, India's rape crisis continues, and experts say early childhood education might be the answer.

Last Wednesday, police said, the driver of a prominent Bollywood actor took a17-year-old girl to a lodge in Nalasopara in Mumbai, India and sexually abused her. Rajendra Gautam, 34, was arrested for allegedly raping the underage girl, who worked as the maid of a local actress, on the pretext of getting her a job with his employer.

The incident is the latest in a series of brutal attacks on women in India – a string of violence that has drawn massive international attention since the 2012 gang rape of a paramedical student in Delhi, and which was again inflamed when two teenagers were killed and hanged from a mango tree in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh late last month.

A growing global chorus has since called for change in policies and attitudes surrounding the treatment of women in the nation of 1.2 billion.

But solving the issue is no easy task. It means sorting through a tangle of deep-seated social problems that include a tradition of male dominance, caste-based sexual violence and inadequate public safety and sanitation, experts say. And the bottom line is education must be at the center of the fight to end violence against women.


In Qatar, calls for release of prisoners come with the start of Ramadan

Commentary: The release of one imprisoned poet during Ramadan may seem a small act, but would be a significant humanitarian act toward a more enlightened state.

I am not a Muslim, but I am focused on the arrival of Ramadan this year. The month-long observance began this weekend for 1.6 billion Muslims around the world. A time of fasting, increased prayer and charity, Ramadan is also a time when governments of Islamic countries grant amnesties to citizens and to those in prison.