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A blog about human rights in their many forms.

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.”


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.

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.”


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.

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.


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.
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.

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.

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.


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.

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.


African migrants in Israel asked to leave the country — or report to a detention center

More than 50,000 Sudanese and Eritreans are seeking asylum in Israel. The government has increased efforts to convince them to leave with threat of incarceration.

TEL AVIV, Israel — On stage, Mutasim Ali was a star. He spoke with confidence and enthusiasm, shouting slogans and sharing his feelings, igniting the thousands of fellow African migrants who gathered last Wednesday to demonstrate for refugee rights. Ali spoke of democracy, of hope and of a non-violent protest, swiftly alternating between Arabic, English and Hebrew. He spoke like a free and proud man.

In a few weeks, Ali could lose his freedom. The Israeli Immigration Authority has recently handed him a warrant. He is to report to Holot Detention Center, an open jail constructed in response to the arrival of the African migrants, within 30 days. Residents in Holot can leave but are required to return three times a day for roll call.

The migrants call Holot a concentration camp. The compound is located in the mostly uninhabited Negev Desert and can hold 3,000 people. For 27-year-old Ali, who escaped Sudan in 2009 because his “life was in danger,” reporting to Holot means he will not be able to work or maintain a normal life.

Ali is one of more than 55,000 African migrants that have entered Israel illegally in the past seven years. Most are from Sudan and Eritrea. All of them smuggled their way into the country through the land border with Egypt, which used to be porous until a fence was completed last year.

While the migrants call themselves asylum seekers, the Israeli government calls them "infiltrators," but is unable to force them to return to their countries because of its commitment to the 1951 International Refugee Convention. Rather, Israel has mostly refused to review asylum applications from Sudanese and Eritreans, in violation of the same convention, according to an Amnesty International Report.


Labor Lowdown: Indonesian maid reports abuse by employer in Hong Kong, sparks protests

The story of an abused domestic worker gains support in Hong Kong.

Here’s what you need to know about domestic worker Erwiana Sulistyaningsih and her alleged abuse by employer, former beautician Law Wan-tung:

The story of a domestic worker who was beaten, starved and threatened by her employer sparked protests in Hong Kong last week.

The case of Indonesian maid Erwiana Sulistyaningsih began to draw attention after she reportedly confessed the abuse to her friend Riyanti in early January: “The truth is I was tortured by my employer. She beat me up and didn't give enough food to eat. I got very weak so she sent me home.”


The State of the Union's working women in 30 all-too-brief seconds

Analysis: President Obama was definitely brief in addressing equal pay for women in last night's State of the Union address, but he was also right.

It was a sobering morning following Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, the whirlwind of television and Twitter play-by-plays, then the immediate Republican responses—sometimes in tones reminiscent of late-night infomercials for antidepressants.

While this year’s iteration of the annual tradition rightfully concentrated on economic opportunity, including cold, hard facts indicating the State of the Union is increasingly unequal, there was one issue within that framework that didn’t get nearly enough attention: gender-based pay inequality in the American workforce.


State of the Union: Increasingly unequal

President Obama addressed rising inequality and promised to help "build new ladders of opportunity." Can he — or Congress — deliver?

In his fifth State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Obama sought to overcome a growing crisis of faith among Americans who find it difficult to believe the United States is a place that affords "opportunity for all" as he recommitted to implementing "concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class."