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A blog about human rights in their many forms.

Myanmar's military accused of torture as it reasserts political power

Q&A: The military is acting to preserve its hold on parliament as a new report shows that the army has "systematically" tortured ethnic Kachin civilians over the last three years with impunity.
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A man prepares dinner in the communal kitchen at the Jan Mai Kawng Internal Displacement Camp in which is sponsored by the Kachin Baptist Church in Myitkyina, Myanmar on June 6, 2014. The fighting between the Burmese Military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has been going on for three years. (Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)

Myanmar opposition leader and former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday shot down a warning against using language in rallies that “challenges the army” leading up to the country’s 2015 parliamentary elections.

Since becoming a lawmaker, Suu Kyi has been working to amend the military-drafted constitution that, in its current state, blocks her from attaining the presidency while also giving the military great influence over the governing body. A parliamentary committee voted last week against changing the constitution.

"It is not the work of (the) elections commission to warn me or other leaders of what we should say or what we should not say," she said.

Her condemnation of the warning came on the same day that the government issued another warning against free speech, threatening “to expel students from technological colleges and institutes who participate in political activities that lead to ‘unrest.’"

Some are seeing the coming elections as a test of whether the army — for whom a quarter of seats in parliament are reserved, unelected — will loosen its grasp over the government.

Just last week, however, Bangkok-based human rights group Fortify Rights released a report that shows the military may not be so willing to let go of power, especially as it continues to wage war against ethnic groups.

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In Spain, eviction of Barcelona squat sparks national unrest

As one half of Spain's anti-establishment left prepares its assault on the political system from within, local groups in Sants, the epicenter of unrest, seem increasingly focused on street level activism.
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A short walk from Can Vies, graffiti on the garage door of another CSO, Can Batlló, reads: “Si Can Vies cierra, Barri en Guerra” – ‘If Can Vies is closed, the neighborhood will go to war.’ (Paul Geddis/GlobalPost)

BARCELONA, Spain — The summer in Barcelona typically begins on the first of June. As you cycle round the city, the newly strong sun brings certain smells to the fore.

Occasionally a waft of frangipani or cannabis smoke will cut above the ubiquitous exhaust fumes, but this weekend in the southern suburb of Sants, another fragrance was added to the mix; the cloying, sandy aroma that fills the air after a demolition.

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Net neutrality and the First Amendment: Who has the right to free speech?

It’s been one month since the FCC voted on a proposal critics say would kill net neutrality. With just one month left until comment period ends, both sides of the debate are demanding First Amendment rights.
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Tighe Barry of CodePink (2nd L), along with other demonstrators, protest outside Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as the commission is about to meet to receive public comment on proposed open Internet notice of proposed rulemaking and spectrum auctions May 15, 2014 at the FCC headquarters in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

It’s been one month since the Federal Communications Commission voted to push forward a proposal that critics have said would kill net neutrality, leaving just one more month for US citizens to file comments about the legislation to the FCC’s database, before the first comment period ends on July 15.

The move threw the principle of equal access to information online into the center of a heated debate over whether or not internet service providers (ISPs) should be allowed to create a system of paid-prioritization that would propel some web content forward, while hindering other content — a shift that net neutrality advocates argue would greatly restrict free speech on the internet.

“These implications are most dangerous for — and indeed most likely to impact — smaller and marginalized speakers and listeners; those with the most controversial and least popular ideas who are unable or unwilling to pay,” said Morgan Weiland, a Student Fellow at Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society.

Driving the debate are two competing First Amendment claims.

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New bill introduced to Senate prioritizes LGBT rights in foreign policy

The International Human Rights Defense Act calls for a special envoy and would make the protection of LGBT rights worldwide an official priority of the US government.
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A supporter of same-sex marriage waves a pride flag in front of San Francisco City Hall before the announcement of the results of the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings on gay marriage in City Hall June 26, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Justin Sullivan/AFP/Getty Images)

A new bill calling for the creation of a special envoy for LGBT rights was introduced in the Senate on Thursday, by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), and officially unveiled on Friday.

The bill, titled “The International Human Rights Defense Act,” is backed by 20 co-sponsors — all Democrats — and would make the protection of LGBT rights an official priority of the US government.

If passed, the bill would not only create the envoy’s office, it would make it the responsibility of the State Department to “devise a global strategy” that would aid in preventing discrimination and violence against LGBT communities. It would also task the department with building relationships with international LGBT advocates, like the American Jewish World Service, which is the fourth largest international funder of LGBT rights.

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Working for Turkey’s state media, press freedom 'within limits'

The trouble with working at the behest of a government that is already ranked 154th out of 180 countries for press freedom.
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A photographer takes a photo of Turkish riot police officers standing in line as they block access to Taksim square on May 31, 2014, during the one year anniversary of the Gezi park and Taksim square demonstrations. (BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

As the only New York correspondent for the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) — a state-owned news agency — Kahraman Haliscelik files around 35 stories per month from his office in the United Nations building.

Though he produces profusely, the kinds of stories he files must be carefully chosen. After all, his work for TRT puts him at the behest of a state that is already ranked 154th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2014 Press Freedom Index, and which is experiencing even more quickly deteriorating press freedoms at the hands of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Just last week, RSF and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned the government for targeting journalists with both physical attacks and “inflammatory rhetoric,” following the May 31 anniversary of the Gezi Park protests. RSF has also demanded an investigation into “police violence against many journalists” that targeted at least 10 reporters, including members of a CNN International crew, during the anniversary demonstrations two weeks ago.

“A year after Gezi, the security forces are still using unjustifiable violence against journalists covering demonstrations,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the RSF Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “The impunity enjoyed by those responsible for last year's abuses just encourages the police to continue. It is high time the authorities reined in such practices by abandoning their inflammatory rhetoric and by ensuring that those guilty of violence are punished.”

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Colombia's presidential candidates must put rescue of child soldiers first

Commentary: As the country heads into the June 15 run-off election, the rescue and reintegration of thousands of child soldiers, pressed into combat by illegal militant groups, must be the central focus for both presidential candidates.
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(Emily Judem/GlobalPost)

CALI, Colombia — As Colombia heads into the June 15 run-off election that will determine its next president, the fate of the thousands of child soldiers in illegal combatant groups across the country is unclear.

Much of the presidential campaign has centered around current negotiations between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — a domestic armed militant group known as FARC.

The incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos, has led an 18-month negotiation with FARC and has reached agreement on significant areas of conflict. His political challenger, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, a former finance minister, has staked his campaign in opposition to the negotiations with the slogan “peace without impunity” — charging Santos as weak on terrorism.

Regardless of the outcome, what needs to be central in a subsequent government going forward is a commitment to the rescue and re-integration of the thousands of child soldiers that have been pressed into combat by illegal militant groups on both sides.

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As surge of young Central American migrants hits US border, a look at global child migration

Why the US-Mexico border is looking more like those of Syria, South Africa, Italy and Spain.
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A Libyan army soldier stands guard as men and boys, part of some 180 illegal migrants who were arrested by army integrated rebel fighters, sit at the brigade's headquarters on June 1, 2014 in the coastal town of Zawiya, west of Tripoli. The migrants, including around 40 women, were arrested as they were in a truck heading West, where they wanted to take a boat to reach Italy. (MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images)

An unprecedented number of unaccompanied minors are migrating from Central America and being apprehended along the US border with Mexico, sending US authorities into crisis mode.

With 47,017 children under the age of 18 taken into custody between October 2013 and May 31 of this year — nearly double the 24,493 in all of the last fiscal year, with the possibility of rising to 90,000 in the remaining four months of fiscal year 2014 — President Obama has called the influx an “urgent humanitarian situation.

The US Department of Justice on Friday announced a $2 million legal aid program to assist children who now have to navigate complex and unfamiliar immigration courts. The DOJ has also opened additional emergency shelters and facilities in California, Texas, Oklahoma and Arizona to address the shortage of space in which to house the minors once they arrive in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, where 71 percent of the apprehensions have taken place.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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