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A blog about human rights in their many forms.

El Salvador’s ‘hidden war’ being waged against women’s rights

Commentary: Harsh laws criminalizing abortion result in imprisonment, death and disability.
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A woman participates in a march on the International Day of Action for the Decriminalization of Abortion, on September 28, 2012 in San Salvador. Salvadorean women marched to ask the government to legalize abortion as a right for women. (JOSE CABEZAS /AFP/Getty Images)

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — El Salvador’s troubled past was marked by 12 years of internal armed conflict from 1980 to 1992, during which many horrific human rights abuses were committed. 

For more than a decade now, the country has enjoyed an era of peace, and major progress has included human rights treaties promising to protect the rights of its people. 

During his inauguration in June, President Sanchez Ceren announced that he will govern "for all" with an "absolute commitment to social justice." 

But my recent visit to El Salvador as secretary general of Amnesty International has revealed how far the country is from a commitment to justice for all. 


Why Hong Kong’s demand for democracy is not just another Occupy

Amid tear gas fired by riot gear-clad police, demonstrators have stayed calm, collected and focused.
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HONG KONG - SEPTEMBER 30: A protester covers her mouth with tape that says "democracy." Thousands of pro-democracy supporters continue to occupy the streets surrounding Hong Kong's financial district, calling for open elections and the resignation of Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. (Paula Bronstein /Getty Images)

LONDON – Heading into the fifth evening of city-wide protests in Hong Kong and solidarity actions across the globe like one planned here in London on Wednesday, it’s clear that the Occupy Central movement is just getting started and will continue through the week.

But while the images of protest may be familiar, this isn’t just another Occupy movement.

The sit-in began last week as a few thousand high school and college students boycotting classes in a show of support for the concept of universal suffrage in Hong Kong, a former British colony ruled by China since 1997. On Sunday, the demonstrations spiraled into an unprecedented movement that is now tens of thousands of people strong. Much of the city has been cleared of traffic for days, as groups of protesters have clogged main arteries of the island and havetaken to sleeping in the streets.


Spanish prime minister drops restrictive abortion bill after dissent

Reactions to the quashing of the bill are as divisive as the attempt to reform the law.
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Bare-breasted activists of feminist movement Femen protest, chained to a cross, against a reform of the country's abortion law at the Almudena Cathedral in Madrid on June 13, 2014. (Gerard Julien/AFP/Getty Images)

Last week Spain’s prime minister abandoned an abortion reform bill that would have become one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, prompting cheers, jeers and the resignation of Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, the bill’s architect.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Tuesday rejected the proposal, which was presented in December of last year and would have effectively overturned a 4-year-old law allowing women access to free abortions up to the fourteenth week of pregnancy. 

"As president of the government, I have taken the most sensible decision," Rajoy said in a press conference to reporters in Madrid.

Gallardón on the same evening announced the end of his political life, saying it is his “duty to [resign] given that I have not been able to turn the bill into law.”


Why it's so important to protect schools during wartime

Using schools for military purposes during times of conflict often has long-term impact on students and on society, experts say.
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Debris, food and some graffiti in Hebrew and Arabic are all that are left after Israeli soldiers withdrew from the Beit Hanun High school for girls which was reportedly used as an advanced base during Israel's military offensive against the Hamas-held Gaza Strip, on Aug. 5, 2014. (MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images)

As war, disease and other emergencies erupt worldwide, schools and universities are becoming centers less of learning than of violence. Whether it’s militants attacking colleges in Nigeria or troops using schools as military bases in Gaza, the issue is the same: Students are deprived of their right to education and their lives are placed at risk.

“This is something that happens in countries in conflict all over the world,” said Bede Sheppard, deputy director of the Children’s Rights Division at the non-profit Human Rights Watch, based in Washington, DC. “It’s a global problem.”


How long will Western nations bankroll President Kagame’s brutality in Rwanda?

Commentary: Is this a Faustian bargain of winking at killings in exchange for economic growth?
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Protestors join Rwandan opposition leaders in calling Rwandan President Paul Kagame a corrupt dictator and war criminal at a demonstration outside a Chicago hotel where Kagame addressed the Rwandan diaspora on June 11, 2011. (MIRA OBERMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

TORONTO – Foreign countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, pour nearly a billion dollars every year into Rwanda – 40 percent of the troubled African nation’s budget.

Now, these donor nations need to ask themselves why they are bankrolling Rwanda’s descent into despotism under the direction of President Paul Kagame, who has promoted economic development at the terrible cost of killing, imprisoning, intimidating or exiling his critics.


In Latin America, democracy's still no guarantee of press freedom

Journalists in Central and South America face harassment, threats and death from both gangs and government.
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This undated photo shows Honduran journalist Anibal Barrow (R) in San Pedro Sula, 240kms north of Tegucigalpa. Barrow was kidnapped while driving in his car on June 24, 2013, and found dead hours later. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

BOGOTÁ, Colombia – Weeks after the June 2013 kidnapping of Aníbal Barrow, the host of a morning talk show on Globo TV in Honduras, his mangled remains were found in a lagoon. It was rumored that the Mexican-based Zetas drug cartel had fed some of his body parts to crocodiles.

The Barrow killing was one of the more grisly cases included in a special report published Wednesday by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, on the dangers facing reporters in Honduras. The report found that organized crime and corruption have paved the way for an alarming rise in the number of journalist murders. To protect themselves, many Honduran journalists practice self-censorship.

“We try to dodge any investigation related to a crime’s mastermind,” Renato Álvarez, the news anchor for TN5 in Tegucigalpa told the committee. “Why? For fear of reprisal. For fear that they will kill us.”


At the People’s Climate March, youth took the lead

Commentary: The energy and determination of students gave the protest meaning.
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An onlooker watches as police arrest demonstrators after they refused to move from Broadway following the Flood Wall Street protest on September 22, 2014 in New York City. The Flood Wall Street protest came on the heels of the climate change march on September 21 that attracted over 300,000 protestors. (Bryan Thomas/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW YORK — The day after the People’s Climate March, and I’m awash with emotion. I’m exhausted, and exhilarated, from having gotten up before dawn to take a four-hour bus ride from Providence, Rhode Island to march for six hours through the streets of New York City with my 11-year-old daughter.

The streets were mobbed with 300,000 or 400,000 serious but upbeat people, making it by far the largest climate change protest in history.


Should the US pay to educate undocumented migrant children?

Experts weigh in on the costs and benefits of welcoming undocumented kids into the US public school system.
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MISSION, TX - Families of Central American immigrants, including Jamie Gonzales, 26, and her son Jose Manuel, 4, from El Salvador, turn themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol agents after crossing the Rio Grande River from Mexico on Sept. 8. Although the numbers of such immigrant families and unaccompanied minors have decreased from a springtime high, thousands continue to cross in the border illegally into the United States. (John Moore /Getty Images)

As the fall term begins, the value of providing public education to thousands of undocumented, unaccompanied young migrants who arrived from Central America in the last year has become a hot topic in the United States immigration debate.


Retailers and consumers can chart a course away from slavery at sea

Commentary: The dark side of cheap shrimp is human slavery on fishing boats in international waters.
A Cambodian policeman (R) escorts thirty trafficked fishermen returning from Indonesia after being freed or escaping from slave-like conditions on Thai fishing vessels at the Phnom Penh International airport on December 12, 2011. (Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Last June, media reports sparked an outcry over human slavery on fishing vessels — a dark side of the cheap shrimp and other seafood now sold year-round by stores like Costco and Walmart.

The horrors uncovered by the Guardian newspaper’s investigation included Cambodian and Burmese men being sold to fishing boats, forced to work at sea against their will for months or years at a time, victimized by violence, and left with little or no earnings at the end of their ordeal on the ever-emptier, overfished oceans. These men were packed below decks like sardines and half-starved.

The exposé has led to calls for consumer boycotts of seafood from Thailand, the epicenter of the scandal. This response — although understandable — neither helps those already trapped in this industry nor addresses the root of the problem.


Trauma yet another challenge to educating Iraq's displaced children

Strained resources are only part of the problem when it comes to getting Iraqi kids back to school, experts say.
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A young Iraqi - who fled violence in the northern city of Tal Afar due to attacks by Islamic State (IS) jihadists - points to an Arabic letter during a class at a make-shift school in a tent at the Bahrka camp, 10 km west of Erbil in the autonomous Kurdistan region on September 1, 2014. (SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)

Thousands of Iraqi children may be robbed of their right to education as schools increasingly become shelters for families fleeing from the Islamic State’s ongoing offensive in northern Iraq. 

In a Sept. 10 statement, UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova appealed to the international community, asking them to “mobilize and invest in education for the Iraqi people.”

“It is time to stand up and act now,” she said. “Education cannot wait.”