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A blog about human rights in their many forms.

Concerns about China's media censorship abound as the Republic faces UN review

As China goes before the UN for Wednesday's human rights review, rights groups question how the country will defend its continued crackdowns on the press and activists.

China’s new administration made its people hopeful when in 2013 it introduced the idea of reform by promoting the “Chinese Dream.”

But the Dream—a set of ideals often said to be achieving the “Two 100s”: China’s becoming a “moderately well off society” by 2021 (100 years after the founding of the Communist Party), and a fully developed nation by 2049 (on the centennial anniversary of the People's Republic of China)—has excluded an important goal that many have dreamed of: loosening censorship over Chinese media.

As the Republic prepares to go before the United Nations’ Human Rights Council for its Universal Periodic Review on Wednesday, March 19, rights groups wonder how authorities will defend the country’s “dubious claims to respect rights.”


Turkey's restrictions on press freedoms just got tighter

A new law targeting independent and social media can now make dissent disappear so discreetly that users may not even notice.

NEW YORK — When voice recordings leaked on YouTube recently, allegedly featuring Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayipp Erdogan instructing his son to dispose of large sums of money last year on the heels of a corruption investigation, Turkey’s mainstream press outlets were initially silent. But, the news raced through social media, building political pressure.


Doctors Without Borders still excluded from Myanmar's Rakhine state

The government has said restrictions on the organization are a result of a broken agreement with the capital. A leaked document suggests there is more to the story.

YANGON, Myanmar — Last month’s decision by the government of Myanmar to suspend the operations of the medical aid charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) prompted widespread concerns about the impact the organization’s withdrawal would have on the tens of thousands reliant on the support they provide.

Since that time, the temporary ban has been revised, and now only covers Rakhine state, on the country’s western coast.

In the wake of the announcement, government spokespersons stressed that the chief reasons for this decision were that MSF had breached the terms of a memorandum of understanding with Naypyidaw—the capital city of Myanmar—and had shown favour unduly toward one ethnic group in Rakhine.

However, documentary evidence and testimony obtained by GlobalPost appears to contradict this publicly stated rationale and instead suggests that the action may be punitive, linked to MSF’s response to a massacre that occurred at the end of January in northern Rakhine state—the same area where the charity's ability to operate remains frozen.


Stories from Mexico's Casa de Migrantes: Journey to the US border

For thousands of South and Central American migrants who have paid coyotes to get them to the United States, the Casa is the last safe house before the Mexico-US border.

SALTILLO, Mexico — La Casa de Migrantes is the last safe house before the Mexico-US border for thousands of migrants heading north toward the United States. Flanked by the glorious Zapalinamé Mountains, which are part of the Sierra Madres, the house was founded by Father Pedro Pantoja and two nuns more than a decade ago, offering legal and psychological help and campaigning for migrant rights.


Last Stop in Mexico: Migrants find security in Catholic safe house before facing US border

La Casa de Migrantes—the last safe house before the Mexico-US border—provides food, shelter and support for an average of 600 migrants each month.

SALTILLO, Mexico — Alma Rosa Fernandez is exhausted. Every bone in her body aches after a gruelling 30-day journey from southern Guatemala to Saltillo in northern Mexico.

In the month she spent clinging to the notorious freight train known as "The Beast" with her husband and three children aged 10 to 15, she endured sleep deprivation, hunger and freezing temperatures. She said the family survived two near-death moments on their journey through Mexico, one of the most dangerous migration passages in the world today. While searching for food in San Luis Potosi, they were surrounded by five maras (gang members) wielding machetes, demanding money for riding the train on their turf.

The Fernandez Leyva family are among an estimated 300,000 migrants who travel through Mexico every year, heading for the United States. The vast majority are from the poverty-stricken and violent Central American triangle of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador and enter along Guatemala’s border with Chiapas, where The Beast begins its journey north.


Generation TBD: A dispatch from the streets of Caracas

Natalie Keyssar describes the protests that have now become a daily routine for many young people around Caracas.
Venezuelans have taken to the streets since January to denounce rampant violence and corruption. Natalie Keyssar describes the protests that have now become a daily routine for many young people around Caracas.

Women's History Month: Paying tribute to Margaret Marshall, anti-apartheid activist and judge

Commentary: "Freedom is like oxygen. When you’re breathing it, you’re not even conscious."

BOSTON — Growing up in the small coal-and-steel town of Newcastle, South Africa, Margaret Marshall doesn’t remember having any dreams for her future.

“It sounds strange, but I just didn’t,” she said.

The truth was the women in her life were not the kind of role models who inspired her to dream.

“So few white South African women had careers,” Marshall remembered, that she could not envision herself ever having one either.


LGBTI Rights and the UN: Where to from here?

Analysis: If the United Nations builds on steps it has taken on LGBTI rights in the recent past, it may prove to be an antidote to the increased violence and persecution against LGBTI people around the world.

In 2014, one can barely read the news without coming across a story concerning lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) persons. Invariably these stories relate to violence, discrimination or other human rights violations inflicted on individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

Occasionally, a good news story creeps in, like the recent legalising of marriage for same-sex couples in the United Kingdom, France and New Zealand. But more often than not, the story is about gay bashing in Russia, draconian homophobic laws being enacted in various African countries, or the Indian Supreme Court re-criminalising consensual sexual conduct between men, after the Delhi High Court struck down the relevant provision of the criminal code four years ago.

With 81 states still criminalising homosexuality, the plight of LGBTI persons in many parts of the world is dire.

In light of an apparent increase in the intensity and frequency of LGBTI rights violations, it is appropriate to ask: What is the United Nations doing in response? And what more could it be doing?

There are three UN bodies that are particularly useful to consider, namely the Human Rights Committee, the Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.


In the Democratic Republic of Congo, 'rape is just the tip of the iceberg'

Panelists at a conference hosted by the Boston University School of Public Health and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting said that to understand Congo's rape crisis, the world must look deeper into the country's history.

BOSTON — “They asked me to come talk about violence against women in Congo,” began Maman Jeanne Kasongo, founder and president of the Kinasha-based Shalupe Foundation. 

Wearing a traditional Congolese dress in striking orange and yellow hues on Friday, she stood at the conference podium for a long, silent moment before continuing. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t know where to start. I don’t know what to say.”

But Kasongo did know what to say, and what came next unlocked new dimensions in the discourse surrounding rape in Democratic Republic of Congo—also known as the rape capital of the world. Kasongo was addressing a conference on gender violence in the DRC, hosted by Boston University’s School of Public Health in collaboration with the Pulitzer Center. She argued that in order to eliminate rape, it is first necessary to delve into the DRC's deep history of violence.


Kenya's workers fear for their pensions as the country cries ‘scandal’

A botched investment by Kenya's social security agency may delay workers’ retirement benefits, make a Chinese construction firm richer and leave thousands of small landowners with nothing.

NAIROBI, Kenya—This, says Samuel Wambiri, is how corruption can disrupt a life in Kenya.

Ten years ago, the 54-year-old father of three purchased a small plot of land on the outskirts of Nairobi for a modest 315,000 shillings. That's about $3,700, which Wambiri agreed to pay over 10-years. And upon that land, Wambiri built a home where he and his wife could retire. 

But last month, just as Wambiri had finished paying it off, the agency that sold him the land announced some troubling news: Wambiri would have to pay 920,000 shillings, or $10,824 more — four times more than his original investment. That’s because the Nairobi County governor decided Kenya’s National Social Security Fund (NSSF), which sold the land, needed to build a sewage system and access roads through it at significant cost.

The NSSF announced it would transfer the cost of the utilities to the landowners themselves.

“I was happy that I had finally finished paying for my land,” Wambiri said. “I was looking for somewhere to settle, and I settled.”

But now, Wambiri and an estimated 5,500 fellow small-parcel landowners in Nairobi’s Tassia II neighborhood may be forced to vacate their new land altogether if they don’t find a way to pay the bill.