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A blog about human rights in their many forms.

The Olympics are over, but effort to restore Sochi's devastated environment is just beginning

Officials promised a "zero waste" Winter Games, but construction and illegal landfills caused water and air pollution, landslides and property damage.
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A picture taken on December 27, 2013, shows a general view of the Olympic Park in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi with a dump in the background. There is now little trace of any wildlife in the area, as it has been built up in record time to become the Olympic Park. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

SOCHI, Russia — These were supposed to be 'green' games, following on environmentally friendly initiatives in Sydney in 2000 and London in 2012, evidence of the International Olympic Committee’s commitment to preserving local ecology.

Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Organizing Committee, backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, said these Olympics would have no negative environmental impacts: there would be “zero waste,” with special attention paid to investing in renewable energy sources for the region.

But, like many promises made for these Olympics, this one wasn’t kept.

In reality, Sochi and its surrounding areas have suffered from extensive, and potentially long-term, ecological damage — damage that contaminated water, destabilized soil and hurt air quality.


Malawi's paradox: Filled with both corn and hunger

Analysis: Despite its lush landscapes and growing stalks of corn, more than 10 percent of the country's 16 million people face severe food insecurity. But the right to food movement in Malawi has also been growing.
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A Malawian land worker harvests maize in Masungo village on the outskirts of the capital Lilongwe. (Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images)

LILONGWE, Malawi — Visit this small, landlocked country in late January and you will have a hard time believing its people often go hungry.

It is mid-rainy season, and in and around the capital city the landscape is lush and green.


Guerrilla filmmakers celebrate anniversary of Morocco's 'Arab uprising'

A film festival in Casablanca this weekend brought together a group of "artivists" using illegal documentary films to fight social injustices.
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An audience watch a documentary entitled "475: break the silence," directed by Moroccan director, Hind Bensari, during its premiere on March 28, 2013 at the Boultek Cultural Center in Rabat. The documentary talks about victims of rape and is based on the practice made valid by article 475 of the Moroccan penal code, which allows men accused of raping minors to avoid prosecution if they wed their victims. (FADEL SENNA/AFP/Getty Images)

RABAT, Morocco — As the sun set behind the train station in Morocco’s capital, a young man sat behind a café window watching protesters march past the parliament building, demanding jobs from the government.

Youness Belghazi, who once was an active member of one of the biggest protest movements in Morocco, no longer marches. Now, Belghazi said, he uses the camera he held firmly in his lap as his weapon against the injustices he says his country faces.

Belghazi and other former activists have begun fundraising for a new kind of movement, a “Festival of Resistance and Alternatives,” which took place in Casablanca this weekend, from Feb. 20—the anniversary of the start of the Arab uprisings in Morocco—to Feb. 23, in an effort to exchange ideas and stimulate critical thinking in Morocco.


Sochi families displaced by Olympics hit bureaucratic limbo in fight for permanent housing

Part 2: Some of the 2,000 residents displaced by Olympics construction haven't gotten answers from officials — say 'the courts are corrupt.'
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Lyudmila Sdavelyev, 63, stands outside her family’s temporary apartment in an inner courtyard in Sochi, Russia. Her family shares a communal kitchen with other residents of the building. (Angus West/GlobalPost)

The family will eventually need to leave their temporary apartment, but they don’t know when. Lyudmila said she is 39th in a queue to receive permanent housing from the government, and is trying to find out how long they can stay, while they continue to search for a permanent place.

“We are waiting for the results, because this building belongs to Moscow,” she said. “We have no rights to be living here [indefinitely].”

Lyudmila is also trying to prove that the eviction was illegal, which is why she was going to court on Wednesday night. She said she hopes to bring the case to court in a higher jurisdiction in St. Petersburg.

“The case was sent to Moscow, came down to Krasnodar region, then local in Sochi, and so on,” she said. “I also applied to Putin’s office, but there was no answer. He only said: ‘You have the right to apply to a court.’ And it’s a circle.”


Sochi residents 'paved over' by Olympic construction remain displaced and unpaid

Part 1: About 2,000 residents found out what it's like to get in the way of Putin's $51 billion production.
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Alexey and Natalya Sdavelyev stand near the site of their former home at their neighbor’s property. They were evicted and had their house demolished to make way for a new highway. (Angus West/GlobalPost)

SOCHI, Russia — Driving on a highway past the glitz of Sochi’s coastal Olympic Park, traffic rolls over a place where a family once called home. Alexey Savelyev and his wife, Natalya, had their house destroyed two years before the Olympics to make way for the road.

“We had our house taken, our only house,” Alexey said. “There was no compensation at all.”

Alexey, 39, and Natalya, 31, stood in a neighbor’s yard on Wednesday, across the highway from where they once lived. Their neighbor’s property is a few hundred yards wide and about as long.

At one end is a two-story wooden building with a metal roof — their neighbor’s home — and at the other, two corrugated metal shipping-container-sized boxes sit in mud alongside tossed sinks and rusted bed frames.

“We put the boxes here because we have no place to live,” Alexey said, “because instead of a house, there is a road now.”


Kenya may be uniquely ripe for advances in gay rights

An increasingly supportive church and other signs suggest Kenya may be departing from its neighbors in the region by accepting homosexuality.
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Kenyan gay and lesbian organizations demonstrate outside the Nigerian High Commission in Nairobi on February 7, 2014. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in 2013 had signed a bill into law against gay marriage and civil partnerships. The Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill 2013 imposes penalties of up to 14 years' imprisonment for anyone found to have entered in to such a union. Anyone who founds or supports gay groups or clubs also runs the risk of a maximum 10-year jail term. The legislation, which effectively reinforces existing laws banning homosexuality in Nigeria, has been widely condemned abroad as draconian and against a raft of human rights conventions. (SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — For years, homosexuality was as unlawful in Kenya as it was in neighboring Uganda or in Nigeria — countries where anti-gay sentiment is growing.

Kenya’s penal code prescribes up to 14 years in prison for men who commit “acts of gross indecency” with other men or for any person who acts “against the order of nature.” It’s the same maximum sentence that existed in Nigeria, and seven years greater than what was until recently the maximum punishment in Uganda.


How a Catholic missionary helped make California cool

Junípero Serra is known as the founding father of California. A new book explores his concept of "radical mercy," his role in the Inquisition and his influence on West Coast culture.
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A sunset is seen above the two steeples of Good Shepherd Catholic Church on December 11, 2010 in Beverly Hills, California. (Kevork Djansezian/AFP/Getty Images)

The profound demographic shift of the Catholic Church in the last century has pushed members of the Western church – Europe, North America, Canada and Australia – into the minority. Today, three-quarters of the world’s Catholics come from the global south, notably Latin America and Africa, while the Western church accounts for roughly 25 percent. 


Failures of Brazil's universal health care plan offer lessons for the US

In 1988, Brazil passed a law guaranteeing every citizen the right to health care. More than 25 years later, however, it is still struggling to meet that ambitious pledge.
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Medical and health workers protest against the working conditions in the public hospitals and the hiring of foreign doctors for the SUS health care system, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 3, 2013. (VANDERLEI ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images)

SÃO PAULO -- Health is a legal right in Brazil. Ever since the country's constitution was rewritten after the fall of the military government in 1988, Brazil has guaranteed every citizen—and indeed anyone who sets foot in the country—the right to access health care services, at least in theory. Twenty-five years after passing universal health care, however, the country still hasn’t kept its promise.

With a population of 200 million spread across the world’s fifth largest country, the enormity of Brazil means that services aren't the same across the board: São Paulo, for example, has plenty of hospitals, but even ill-equipped clinics are few and far between in backwater states in the Amazon. Geographical distribution is just one barrier. Financial and technological gaps also have many saying that the universal health plan—dubbed SUS (Sistema Único de Saúde)—hasn’t fulfilled its guarantee to cover everyone in Brazil. 


Homophobia unites Muslims and Christians in Nigeria

In a country where religion and culture overwhelmingly condemn LGBT communities, homophobia has become a way to unite the population.
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A picture taken on January 22, 2014 shows two suspected homosexuals in green prison uniforms (L) sitting before Judge El-Yakubu Aliyu during court proceedings at Unguwar Jaki Upper Sharia Court in the northern Nigerian city of Bauchi. Two Islamic courts in northern Nigeria have been forced to suspend the trials of 10 men accused of homosexuality because of fears of mob violence, judges and officials have said on January 29. An angry crowd last week pelted stones at seven men suspected of breaking Islamic law banning homosexuality after their hearing was adjourned at the Unguwar Jaki Upper Sharia Court in Bauchi. (AMINU ABUBAKAR/AFP/Getty Images)

ABUJA, Nigeria — In a country contentiously split among Muslims and Christians, leaders of Nigeria’s mosques and churches are united in their condemnation of same-sex relationships.

So, too, are lawmakers, who’ve criminalized sodomy, civil unions and gay marriages, with a 14-year prison sentence as punishment. In some northern regions, flogging and the death penalty come into play.

The Same-Sex Prohibition Act, signed into law on Jan. 7 by President Goodluck Jonathan, criminalizes public displays of affection between same-sex couples and restricts the work of organizations defending gay people and their rights.

“This law criminalizes the lives of gay and lesbian people, but the damage it would cause extends to every single Nigerian,” LGBT activists said. “It undermines basic universal freedoms that Nigerians have long fought to defend and is a throwback to past decades under military rule when civil rights were treated with contempt.”

This new legislation could lead to imprisonment solely for a person’s actual or imputed sexual orientation.


Denizens of Cairo's graveyard slums 'in no mood for revolution'

"It was better before the revolution," said Fatma Ahmed. "Even in the graveyard, we had hope and electricity. I revolted against Mubarak because people told us he was corrupt...But Mubarak was mercy."
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Aliya sits outside her home with a grandchild in this graveyard slum of Cairo, on Jan. 27, 2014. She supported the 2011 uprisings that ousted Mubarak. Her daughter, Mona Serugi, even joined the protests. Today she wants another military man to run the country. "We are waiting for Sisi to run so we can vote for him. He fights terrorism; he hates terrorism." (Stephanie Rice/GlobalPost)

CAIRO, Egypt—Fatma Ahmed has had enough of revolution.

Three years ago, as Hosni Mubarak stepped down from power, she believed.

She sat in this Cairo graveyard that she still calls home—in this cold concrete tomb where she raised 11 children—and thought perhaps the chants from Tahrir Square of "bread, freedom and social justice" really could bring something better. Running water, perhaps. Maybe even a home she wouldn't have to share with the dead.

But the only thing the 2011 uprising has delivered, as far as Ahmed is concerned, is chaos and violence. If she could go back, she says, she would never support the tech-savvy youth who ignited an uprising that toppled a regime and captured the world's attention.

"It was better before the revolution," the 60-year-old says, sitting in the one-room tomb she shares with her husband and five of their unmarried children. "Even in the graveyard, we had hope and electricity. I revolted against Mubarak because people told us he was corrupt. ... But Mubarak was mercy."