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A blog about human rights in their many forms.

From Davos to the US Congress, inequality talk isn't actually all that cheap

Heading into President Obama's State of the Union address, elites' discussion of economic disparity is at a high point. Does it mean anything?

As the Gulfstreams, Falcons and Learjets lifted off from Zurich over the weekend after days of networking, noodling and noshing, they left behind a significant mystery: Was the emphasis put on income inequality at this year’s World Economic Forum gathering a genuine sign that this ‘great divide’ is now recognized as a threat to global stability, or was it the kind of panic that gripped Rome when the Barbarians reached the city’s gates?

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Honduras: 'Open for business' and dangerous for those who stand in the way

One indigenous community leader's story is part of a pattern of oppression against human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers in Honduras.
One indigenous community leader's fight against a controversial hydroelectric dam in Rio Blanco, where she is part of a pattern of oppression against human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers in Honduras.
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As democratic freedoms decline globally, the US must do more

Commentary: Report finds US leadership in advancing freedom is not an easy sell at home or a simple undertaking abroad, but necessary nonetheless, as global freedom declines.

WASHINGTON — These are hard times for democracy, reminiscent of 40 years ago, when communist governments, autocrats, military juntas, and white-minority rulers were firmly in control of most countries, and the United States largely accepted them as a permanent fixture of the international landscape. But that time 40 years ago marked the beginning of a historic wave of democratization. The United States came to champion the cause of democratic change and to exert significant influence in bringing that change about.

The Obama administration is hesitant to push for democracy abroad and exercise US leadership in defense of democratic principles. In this, it is in sync with a significant segment of the Republican Party and the American public. Its apprehension is partly a response to recent setbacks for democracy and US failures to advance democratic change, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Freedom House’s annual country-by-country survey, on political rights and civil liberties have suffered eight straight years of global decline.

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What it means to be 'Amazigh' in Morocco

The ethnic group indigenous to North Africa calls for national observance of their new year, and many say recent reforms haven't reached rural communities.

RABAT, Morocco — Berbers young and old clenched balloons and flags last week as they gathered outside Parliament calling for a national observance of their new year. 

The Berbers, an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa also referred to as the Amazigh, predate the Arabs of Morocco, but historically they have been left out of the political process. Jan. 13 marked the first day of year 2964 on the Berber calendar.

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The world's been getting less free for the last eight years

This year's Freedom in the World report highlighted the year's major coups, civil wars and political shifts that brought 54 countries down in human rights and civil liberties. Just 40 countries made improvements.

The state of freedom around the world declined for the eighth year in a row in 2013, according to Freedom House’s annual global report on political rights and civil liberties, Freedom in the World 2014.

The report, which was released Thursday, took a tone unlike those of years before, opening with a mention of the death of Nelson Mandela—“a true giant of the freedom struggle.”

The significance of the 2013 event, the introduction said, was manifest not exactly in the praise bestowed upon Mandela at his memorial service, but in the troubled state of freedom that the glance back at his life revealed.

“For it was apparent to many that the defining convictions of Mandela’s career—commitment to the rule of law and democratic choice, rejection of score settling and vengeance seeking, recognition that regarding politics as a zero-sum game was an invitation to authoritarianism and civil strife—are in decidedly short supply among today’s roster of political leaders.”

Indeed, a total of 54 countries restricted political freedoms or civil liberties, with only 40 countries taking strides toward improving the rights of their populations. The appearances of certain countries listed as in decline should not come as a surprise to those who followed the news in 2013 and bore witness to the year’s coups and civil wars, although the report also served to expose some stories and countries that were truly underreported.

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Five years after Obama's first drone strike, civilian victims remain without legal recourse

America's drone operations abroad have been criticized for many reasons. Among them: there is no clear path to justice for innocent victims and their families.

Five years after the first drone strike conducted under President Obama killed at least nine Pakistani civilians, the secretive global campaign has now killed more than 2,400 people, at least 273 of them civilians including children, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported Thursday. 

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A new frontier: The story of a Syrian seeking asylum in Sweden

Fewer than 5 percent of fleeing Syrians have sought asylum outside of the Middle East, but that number is changing as Sweden begins granting Syrian refugees permanent residence.

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Standing in the snow outside his hotel room, Khassan breathed in the cold Swedish air and tried to calm himself down. He had been Skyping with his family, who are back in Aleppo, where the internet connection is unstable. The call disconnected just as his 5-year-old daughter asked him when he would come home.

Khassan, whose identity is being concealed here for the safety of his family, is one of more than 23,000 people from Syria who have applied for asylum in Sweden since the beginning of 2012.

The nearly three-year conflict in Syria has resulted in the deaths of more than 120,000 people, and 2.3 million people have left the country, mostly to refugee camps in nearby countries. Less than 5 percent of those who escaped Syria have sought asylum outside of the Middle East, but that number is growing since Lebanon and Jordan, overflooded with Syrians, are struggling to handle new arrivals.

Khassan arrived in Sweden in the first week of November 2013. He is part of a growing wave of Syrians who have sought refuge in the Nordic country in the past three months, following the Swedish Migration Board’s Sept. 2 decision to grant all Syrian refugees permanent residence and allow family reunifications. An average of 1,000 Syrians have applied for asylum in Sweden every week since that decision — double the weekly average in the first eight months of 2013.

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Up for reelection, US representatives remember less wealthy constituents

New ‘inequality’ calculus has GOP concerned about cutting jobless benefits.

NEW YORK — Election years have a way of focusing the mind, particularly in Washington.

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Row over Indian diplomat’s treatment of maid became a matter of status, national pride

Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade has flown home after weeks of escalating friction between the US and India about the handling of her case.

An Indian diplomat who allegedly mistreated her live-in maid and may have abused her own diplomatic status has left the United States after her case became a matter of extreme contention in India's relationship with the US.

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In Dominican Republic, a T-shirt factory sets the highest bar for workers’ rights

One group of workers who earn a high wage and unusual benefits is helping others earn the same.

VILLA ALTAGRACIA, Dominican Republic — On a recent Sunday morning, four workers sip coffee with sugar as they share stories of injuries at the clothing factories where they’ve worked.

Carlos, who asked his real name be withheld to avoid possible repercussions from his company, recounts the accident that hospitalized him just two weeks after he began packaging baseball caps at a Santiago factory in 2012. As he left work one day, a woman who was learning how to drive ran him over in the street.

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