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A blog about human rights in their many forms.

Amid World Cup protests, Brazil passes amendment to fight modern-day slavery

The government's so-called “name-and-shame” policies, like the creation of a "dirty list," is meant to embarrass offending companies into taking action against labor abuses.
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Demonstrators protest against slave labor in front of a Schutz store in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on March 12, 2014. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

SAO PAULO, Brazil — When it comes to emancipating slaves, Brazil is making up for lost time.

After a decade of debate in Congress, the Brazilian Senate on May 27 passed a constitutional amendment that calls for the expropriation, without compensation, of the land of those found guilty of exploitative labor practices. According to the legislation, the seized acres will be redistributed under a land reform program or used to build affordable housing.

The decision came during months of protests and strikes by the unions of teachers, police and bus drivers seeking better wages and working conditions. And this year's extremely contentious World Cup, according to labor judge Homero Batista Mateus da Silva, has "turned out to be a tremendous opportunity for wages and better conditions efforts."

Brazil was the last country in the hemisphere to abolish slavery, which it did in 1888, but it has since emerged as one of the most proactive nations when it comes to attacking the problem of modern-day slavery.

This new amendment follows other novel approaches to fighting slavery, a condition that includes debt bondage, being forced to work without pay or under threat of violence, as well as working exhausting hours in undignified conditions. The problem affects 21 to 30 million people around the world, and perhaps 200,000 people in Brazil, according to the Washington-based group Free the Slaves.


Yemen’s traffickers run torture camps often with cooperation of government officials

Commentary: Migrants trying to reach Saudi border are held for money and face unimaginable horrors.
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Ethiopian illegal immigrants from the Oromo region wait on December 5, 2010 near Obok, north of Djibouti's capital, for smugglers' boats to cross the Gulf of Aden into Yemen. Each year tens of thousands of Ethiopians and Somalis make the perilous crossing to Yemen in the hope of a better life away from home, where economic deprivation, persecution and conflict have devastated their lives. (TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)

SANAA, Yemen — Late one night last fall, I sat on a half-rotten mattress in a desolate square in the northern Yemeni town of Haradh as a 20-year-old high school student from a rural Ethiopian town — let’s call him Shikuri — told me his story. He had left home to find work in Saudi Arabia, but when he landed in Yemen en route, he found himself caught up in unimaginable horror.

Human traffickers abducted him and took him to an isolated camp in the desert where they torture African migrants to get ransom money from their relatives and friends. He paid, but was sold to a second group, paid ransom, was released and then was captured by a third.

The third group hung Shikuri with metal wire by his thumbs every day, for up to 15 minutes at a time. They tied his genitals with a rope and suspended a full water bottle from the rope. All of this to force him to give up the phone number of a family member who could wire money for his release.


Former Guatemalan police chief sentenced to life in prison by Swiss court

The verdict was hailed by human rights activists as a breakthrough against state sponsored violence in Guatemala, where there is growing international concern about a relapse into official impunity.
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Police officers guard the entrance of the Constitutional Court (CC) of Guatemala, during a protest against the quashing of the 80-year sentence for genocide of former Guatemalan dictator General Efrain Rios Montt on May 24, 2013 in Guatemala city. Rios Montt will go back on trial after the nation's highest court threw out his genocide and war crimes conviction in the latest twist in complex proceedings. (JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

MEXICO CITY — The Swiss criminal court in Geneva sentenced former Guatemalan police chief Edwin Sperisen last week to life in prison for his role in seven extrajudicial killings in 2006.

Sperisen, 43, was found guilty of the summary execution of one man and held indirectly responsible for the other six murders. The verdict was hailed by human rights activists as a breakthrough against state-sponsored violence in Guatemala, where there is growing international concern about a relapse into official impunity.


Events of China's Tiananmen Square protests must still be pieced together, 25 years later

Commentary: China's textbooks and great firewall of censorship make it nearly impossible to learn why students dissented 25 years ago today. But the government must know the truth cannot be erased.
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(Emily Judem/GlobalPost)

WASHINGTON — Even though I did not experience Tian’anmen Square Protests first hand, the event has had a profound influence on my life.

In my hometown, a small city in South China, people stay away from politics. The first time I heard about the Tian’anmen Square events of June 4, 1989 was in my Chinese history book, which included only one single sentence about the horrific incident.


Harry Potter’s chocolate frogs are tainted by child labor practices in cocoa fields

Commentary: Warner Bros. ignores protocol designed to end slavery in Ivory Coast cocoa bean production.
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In this handout image provided by Universal Orlando Resort, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter kicked off its grand opening celebration with help from 'Harry Potter' film stars Tom Felton, Michael Gambon, Bonnie Wright, Oliver Phelps, Daniel Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis, Warwick Davis, Rupert Grint and James Phelps on June 16, 2010 in Orlando, Florida. (Handout/Getty Images)

YORKSHIRE, UK — If you’re a farmer in Ivory Coast, the start of the cocoa season foretells another harvest tainted by modern slavery and shameful forms of child labor.

It has been known for more than a decade that each year forced workers — many aged 16 and younger — return to harvest the cocoa beans that are processed into the chocolate products we love.

The scale of the problem helps explain why it persists. Ivory Coast cocoa industry involves 3.5 million workers, and the country exports around 35 percent of the world’s cocoa beans.

Across the Atlantic, US consumers play an important role in holding businesses accountable for abuses in their supply chains. Later this summer, the expansion of Warner Bros’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a popular theme park in Orlando, Florida, will give consumers a new opportunity to show suppliers they won’t stand for products tainted by modern-day slavery.


Building a safe place for Madrid's aging LGBT community to call home

A plan for the first retirement home in Spain catering specifically to the needs of elderly lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals.
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In Madrid, Spain, Juan Carlos Arquero Jimenez, 57, lives alone and said he sees the appeal of a community that accepts his LGBT lifestyle. (Jessica Mendoza/GlobalPost)

MADRID — Though still energetic at 60, Elianne Garcia Ruiz can already foresee the struggles of growing old as a transsexual woman.

A former night shift attendant at a home for the aged, Garcia Ruiz has witnessed firsthand the kinds of abuses that elderly lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals receive from workers and other residents: Sexist slurs, she said, are only the most common.
She recalled a lesbian married couple leaving the residence because they had been forced to live separately. Garcia Ruiz later learned that their relationship had made an employee, who saw them kissing in their room, uncomfortable.

“In normal residences, they label you,” Garcia Ruiz said through an interpreter. She declined to name the institution, located fewer than 30 miles from the capital, where she had worked for five years.


America's economy: Where a young person's zip code too often decides the future

Commentary: When the American Dream is at risk for our young people, we will all suffer.
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A teenager fills out an application at a Queens Job fair sponsored by State Senator Jose R. Peralta and Elmcor Youth and Adult Activities on May 3, 2012 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

BOSTON — Belief in the American Dream has long defined, distinguished and sustained our country. Our deeply held notion that people of all backgrounds who work hard and play by the rules can get ahead and begin to climb the ladder of success has changed the world, and paved the way to security and prosperity for generations of Americans.

Yet our faith in equality of opportunity is increasingly at risk. The number of Americans living below the federal poverty line remains stubbornly high, at 46 million, and millions more hover too close to that threshold. Among those paying the highest price are youth, who have been hard hit by the Great Recession.

More from GlobalPost: Generation TBD, a Special Report on global youth unemployment

Shockingly, one in seven young people ages 16 to 24 are not in school or working, a tragic loss to them personally and to our nation as a whole. The costs of such disconnection is steep, costing taxpayers $93 billion annually and $1.6 trillion over the youths’ lifetimes in lost revenues and increased social services.

Youth unemployment is unacceptably high.


One year since Gezi Park protests began, Turkish youth remain determined

On the anniversary of the Gezi Park protests, Turkey's youth are still determined to fight corruption through demonstrations, publishing and politics.
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A protester gestures in front of Turkish riot police during clashes on the sideline of a demonstration following the recent mine accident in Soma, on May 22, 2014, in the Okmeydani district of Istanbul. One man was injured when Turkish riot police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse a group of Istanbul protesters hurling Molotov cocktails and stones. Tensions are high in Turkey with the approach of the first anniversary of deadly nationwide anti-government protests and in the wake of an unprecedented mine disaster that claimed 301 lives last week. (BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

ISTANBUL, Turkey – Tourists bargain over shiny souvenirs. Local youth dressed in the latest fashions chat in cafes. The smell of roasting chestnuts fills the air. This is Istanbul’s Taksim Square where, day and night, it is a challenge to navigate through the bustling crowd of shoppers and frolickers.

While the exterior appears calm, Taksim Square has been tense beneath the surface in the one year since the start of the Gezi Park protests, when Turkish police used tear gas and water cannons in response to a gathering of environmental activists. Since then, a fierce chain of events has exacerbated the country’s unrest as demonstrators continue to fight against police brutality, lack of personal freedoms and government corruption.

“We are worried about our future,” a philosophy student who goes only by the name of Emine said. “If no one joins the protests, if no one resists, if everyone stops talking, the government can do more and more and press down on us even harder.”

Sitting by her side, fellow student Baris Okumuclar added, “Our ruler is a despot. He does not understand what young people need.”


India needs zero discrimination in schools to lift up marginalized children

Commentary: Teacher training and tough discipline can help overcome bias against poor pupils.
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An Indian school child looks at a display exhibited at a science fair at a government primary school in Hyderabad on March 24, 2014. The science exhibition has been organized for the first time at primary school-level to encourage the development of talent and activities. (NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW DELHI — India’s six-week-long election, in which about 537 million out of 814 million eligible voters went to the polls, is finally over with the election of a new government led by Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

While the hopes of all voters are for a future of opportunity and progress, the politicians all too often campaigned along retrograde lines, perpetuating divides on the basis of caste, religion, or ethnicity. Overcoming those enduring obstacles to social development is particularly important for the millions of children from poor and marginalized communities—Muslims, tribal groups, and Dalits—who are being denied a basic education.

India produces well-trained professionals who excel in the world economy; so much so that in the United States, there is a growing concern that the US education system is unable to keep up with India and China. Yet, India’s public education system, especially at the elementary levels, is excluding children because of bias.


The Evolution of Protest: A timeline of Romania’s fight against mining

The town of Rosia Montana has become the symbol of a years-long battle against an open-pit gold mine, but the controversy has also created a civic movement among young people unlike anything since 1989.
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Romanian gendarmes speaks to demonstrators occupying the People Advocate's headquarters in Bucharest December 10, 2013 to protest against a gold mining project. Around 100 people entered the People Advocate's office, asking him to take action against a draft law clearing the way for a controversial open-cast gold mine planned by Canada's Gabriel Resources in Rosia Montana, a village in the heart of Transylvania. (DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images)

BUCHAREST, Romania — Rosia Montana, a remote mountain town in Transylvania, is now an internationally recognized symbol for government corruption in Romania.

The town is at the heart of a controversial mining issue involving Gabriel Resources, a Canadian company that hopes to create the largest open-pit gold mine in Europe using controversial cyanide techniques in Rosia Montana.

But this town has also become a symbol for unity, providing a space for a new civic movement growing among young people in Romania — unlike any kind of activism seen since protesters fought to bring down the communist Ceaușescu government in 1989.