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A blog about human rights in their many forms.

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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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."

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Mohammad Abbas, Egyptian revolutionary, comes to America

Three years after Hosni Mubarak stepped down, one of the revolution's young stars meets with US officials in the States.

BOSTON – Mohammad Abbas looked out over Boston Harbor and saw the history of the American Revolution.

On a cold, clear day last week, he gazed at the white spire of Old North Church, where in 1775 two lanterns signaled the arrival of British troops by sea, and beyond that Abbas spotted the Bunker Hill Monument where the revolutionary militias were told, “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes.”

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Chinese political activist imprisoned for organizing against government corruption

Beijing political activist and legal scholar Xu Zhiyong was sentenced to four years in prison last month.
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Chinese security personnel stand guard outside the Beijing No. 1 intermediate court in Beijing on January 26, 2014. Prominent Chinese legal activist Xu Zhiyong was sentenced to four years' jail for his role in organizing protests, a court said, furthering a crackdown on a rights movement he championed. (GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)

In an ideal world, an organization pushing for legal justice and transparency around state officials’ assets would have been embraced by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption and law enforcement campaigns.

But in reality, the founder of the organization was put in prison for doing exactly what Xi has advocated.

Xu Zhiyong, a political activist and a legal scholar was sentenced to four years in jail on Jan. 26, right before the 2014 Chinese Lunar New Year. He was found guilty for “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.”

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Colombian miners battle Canadian company for an estimated $18 billion in gold

A documentary debuted at last month's Sundance Film Festival highlights the struggle for mining rights between Colombia's gold miners and Toronto-based Gran Colombia Gold.
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Miners break for lunch on the mountain of Marmato, in western Colombia. The mountain has employed gold miners for many decades and is the setting of a new documentary which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah on January 26, 2013. (Daniela Castaño Marulanda/GlobalPost)

MARMATO, Colombia — Along the dusty and winding cliffside road that climbs the mountain of Marmato, about 500 men mine for gold as it has been done for many decades.

They swing picks, push carts and hang buckets of earth on wires and pulleys to send down the mountain. Small, wood-framed mine entrances dot the face of the mountain as the buckets sling back and forth overhead and streams of grey water trickle underfoot. And if one sticks a finger into the right pile of mud, it comes out sparkling.

The miners know their methods are relatively slow, but they provide enough income for each of them to support a family, and they say the pace would continue supporting families for generations. Gold has been mined in Marmato, in western Colombia, for more than 500 years.

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At the Sochi Olympics, political dissent hits a security wall

The quick-handed muzzling of dissent so far doesn't bode well for protest at the 2014 Winter Games.
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A torchbearer carries an Olympic torch during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic torch relay in the southern Russian city of Stavropol, on January 23, 2014. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)
SOCHI — The first stirrings of protest against Russia's anti-gay rules have run into a security apparatus that is firmly in place here in Sochi, where accommodations for tourists and press have proven scant but officers are everywhere.
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Madagascar, where child prostitution is common, cheap and 'trivial'

With the country in economic decline, foreign sex tourists have swept in to exploit girls as young as 8 or 9 for incredibly low rates. But officials have done very little.
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A nightclub in the town center of Antananarivo, Madagascar. Young prostitutes find most of their clients in such establishments. (Rijasolo/Riva Press/GlobalPost)

MAHAJANGA, Madagascar — At nightfall, the girls gather in small groups along the waterfront and outside the sweaty nightclubs blaring West African pop music. Some are elaborately done up in makeup and colorful cocktail dresses. Others stand plainly in jeans and T-shirts. Most are somewhere between 13 and 17 years old, though they can be as young as 8 or 9.

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Kenyans call for attention to justice, the UN Millennium Development Goal that never was

With the United Nations convening in New York next week to debate a new set of global development goals, one Kenyan rights group wants justice reform to have its day in court.
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Tang Yong Jian (R), 40, a Chinese national, buries his face in his palms after he was arraigned in a Nairobi court January 27, 2014 for trying to smuggle 3.4 kg of raw elephant ivory through Kenya on transit to Guangzhou, China from Mozambique. (Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya’s leading legal rights group Thursday called on Kenya’s government to pressure the United Nations to adopt “justice” as one of its primary global development goals beginning next year through 2030.

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