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A blog about human rights in their many forms.

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.


Ending violence against women: It's not just about being 'nice'

Q&A: At the end of the day what we say only matters in terms of its impact. If women in war zones say they don’t feel it, then whatever we’re doing isn’t the right thing.

Two weeks after UN Special Envoy Angelina Jolie and British Foreign Secretary William Hague’s four-day summit to end rape in war, media coverage has died down and the international community has been left with one question: do these wildly popular conferences actually effect change, do they fall flat, or worse, pose a threat to the work many are doing on the ground in every continent, nation and state?


Ending violence against women: When 'knowing' doesn't translate into 'doing'

Q&A: And thinking it does is a "very dangerous illusion to fall into."

Two weeks after UN Special Envoy Angelina Jolie and British Foreign Secretary William Hague’s four-day summit to end rape in war, the circus of media coverage has died down and the international community has been left with one question: do these wildly popular conferences actually effect change — do they fall flat, or worse, pose a threat to the work many are doing on the ground in every continent, nation and state? In this conversation with RIGHTS, Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini, senior fellow at MIT Center for International Relations and co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN), explores traditional conferences and alternative approaches to tackling violence against women. Transcribed below is part one of a two-part Q&A. Read part two here.


Bahrain's people are a casualty of Washington's political compromises

Commentary: Three years after protests erupted, democracy in Bahrain remains elusive and it's clear the US could have done more.

MANAMA, Bahrain — In her new book, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says “Bahrain was an exceptionally complicated case” for Washington when mass protests broke out in my country in 2011. Her justification for not doing more to press for an end to the Bahrain government crackdown is that “America will always have imperfect partners… and we’ll always face imperatives that drive us to make imperfect compromises.”

The Bahraini people are struggling for democracy. They are the casualties of those political compromises. I was convicted for criticizing the government. I’ve just come out of two long, difficult years in prison. My mother died when I was there, and without information about the outside world I had no idea about what was going on in my country.

When I was released at the end of my sentence on May 24, I saw how much Bahrain had changed it is change for the worse. There is more violence; villages are big attacked by Bahrain security forces on a daily basis, people are being killed, but international governments are even more quiet now about what is happening than before I went to jail.


Picking up the pieces from a failed land grab project in Tanzania

As negotiations over responsible agricultural investment policy run through the summer, Tanzanian villagers fight for the return of 20,000 acres of land lost to a failed biofuel project.

KISARAWE, Tanzania — I arrived in Tanzania, one of the frontlines in the battle over land grabs in Africa, just as another round of international negotiations on guidelines for “responsible agricultural investment” (RAI) wrapped up in Rome late last month. The policy document is intended to curb so-called “land grabs” in Africa and other developing countries.

Negotiations were not going well. The governments of developed countries were debating every point in the guidelines, which are slated for approval by the UN’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in October. They were resisting many of the most basic principles to guarantee the right to food and land for farmers and herders who have seen their land and livelihoods given away to foreign companies and governments.

Those distant policy debates seemed urgent as I sat down with villagers from the Kisarawe area of Tanzania, southwest of Dar es Salaam, where 11 villages have given up 20,000 acres of land to the British-owned Sun Biofuels for a large-scale biofuel plantation. The biofuel project has failed, and now the villagers are staring at 5,000 acres of useless jatropha trees surrounded by guards hired to keep villagers off what used to be their land.

When the villages agreed to give up the land, they’d been promised compensation for it and, more importantly, more than 1,000 jobs, a variety of community development projects – roads, wells, schools, health clinics – and agricultural investment in local farms.

But those security positions were the only jobs the farm was providing. The local village councils and some farmers have gotten a little compensation for the land, but have nothing else to show for it.


Amid election protests, Afghans wary of ethnic conflict

The protests, so far peaceful, are threatening the legitimacy of what could be Afghanistan’s first democratic transition of power.

KABUL, Afghanistan — A dispute over recent elections is raising fears of a return to ethnic infighting in Afghanistan, where supporters of one disgruntled candidate on Friday staged the largest protests yet in a weeklong series of demonstrations.

Chanting, “our vote is our honor” as a call to rally, thousands of supporters of presidential hopeful Abdullah Abdullah marched from early morning to gather in a downtown avenue housing ministries and the president’s palace.


One year after DOMA repeal, marriage equality gaining momentum nationwide

Some US conservatives predicted the Defense of Marriage Act's repeal would "break this nation apart." Instead, recent polls and events show that marriage equality is increasingly winning across the country.

One year after the Supreme Court struck down section three of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) — to many a cheer from the LGBT community, and simultaneous warnings by conservative groups that the decision would “create a firestorm of opposition” — marriage equality has been on a winning streak, and the rainbow flag can be found flying in 19 states between the US coasts.

It’s now clear the ruling did not “explode and just break this nation apart,” as Tony Perkins, the president of the Christian conservative Family Research Council, famously predicted. The firestorm never came.

In fact, the decision seems to have influenced just the opposite kind of movement.

President Obama’s administration last Friday called on various new benefits for same-sex couples everywhere — including those living in states where gay marriage is still illegal — that range from work leave to care for sick spouses to Social Security and veterans benefits.


Hope and disillusionment in Iran as internet censorship persists and bloggers jailed

Commentary: As tech and gadget site bloggers are sentenced to ambiguous prison terms, Iranian netizens wonder if president Rouhani is unwilling to affect change, or simply unable.

TORONTO, Canada — Last week, a court in Iran’s Kerman province sentenced seven staff members from a popular technology and gadgets site, Narenji, to a very ambiguous 1 to 11 years in jail.