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A blog about human rights in their many forms.

Two of 39 soldiers convicted of rape in historic DRC trial, all military officers acquitted of rape

A military court delivered the verdict in the country's largest rape trial ever on Monday afternoon, clearing all senior military officers of rape as a war crime in the 2012 events in Minova. Two soldiers were sentenced to life in prison.
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Just two of 39 Congolese soldiers — pictured here during their trial — were convicted of rape and sentenced to life in prison on Monday afternoon when a Goma courtroom handed down the verdict in the Minova trial, the largest rape tribunal in the history of the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Elaisha Stokes/GlobalPost)

Editor’s note: This story is a follow-up to the first post, Seeking justice for victims of rape in Minova, in a new GlobalPost Special Report titled "Laws of Men: Legal systems that fail women." This year-long series looks at the breakdown in legal systems created to protect women’s rights around the world, and begins in the Congo at an unprecedented rape trial.

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo — Just two of 39 Congolese soldiers were convicted of rape and sentenced to life in prison on Monday afternoon when a Goma court handed down the verdict in the Minova trial, the largest rape tribunal in the history of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Thirteen soldiers were acquitted of all charges, while 24 were convicted of pillaging. Only 34 of the 39 defendants — all members of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) — were present in the courtroom today, which also held about 250 spectators. The 56 victims who testified were not present for the reading of the verdict.


Kenya redefines marriage in a blow to women’s rights

A push by Kenya’s president and male-dominated parliament to overhaul marriage bodes ill for the nation’s wives, socially and economically.
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Photo taken on September 3,2013 show a Kenyan couple kissing at their wedding in Tayana gardens in Nairobi. (SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya – President Uhuru Kenyatta signed a new marriage law this week that drastically restricts the rights of women in wedlock.

Human rights advocates here and abroad are condemning the law, which grants men the right to marry a second, third or even fourth wife without the previous wives’ permission. Currently, certain traditions allow men to take multiple wives, but only if he first gains their approval. There is no law that allows women to take multiple husbands.

"When you marry an African woman, she must know the second one is on the way, and a third wife... this is Africa," National Assembly member Junet Mohammed said during deliberations by parliament, whose members are 81 percent men.


Ugandan anti-gay law boosts standing of a president in power since 1986

Commentary: The roots of the country’s anti-gay culture go back to 19th century British colonial rule, but the new law has boosted the president's standing, with clergy lining up behind him for the 2016 elections.
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People read Uganda's local dailies in Kampala on February 25, 2014. On Monday, President Yoweri Museveni signed a bill into law which holds that repeat homosexuals should be jailed for life, outlaws the promotion of homosexuality and requires people to denounce gays. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

SALEM, Virginia — Uganda’s new anti-homosexual law has generated chatter around the world. Outside Uganda, and Africa in general, this legislation is seen as an outrage. It comes from a president who is past his prime, a man who has ruled Uganda since 1986 and whose mind seems impervious to change.

The narrative on social media leans toward the view that President Yoweri Museveni is deeply misinformed about sexuality in general. His idea that oral sex is abhorrent and that kissing his wife in public would cost him the presidency is as obsolete as his notion that homosexuality is abnormal and pathological.

Yet these very ideas about Musenevi’s state of mind may themselves flow from an international audience that is ignorant of Uganda’s political culture and, perhaps, uninformed about the nature and character of social change there.


In Portugal, same-sex couples must fight for family

A March 14 parliamentary decision shot down a bill to allow co-parental adoption for same-sex couples, denying one half of the couple parental rights, and leaving LGBT families in a legislative limbo.
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Same-sex couple Matilde Custodio (L) and Olga Miranda (R) pose with their daughter, Carolina in Lisbon, Portugal. Custodio, 35 and Miranda, 31, lived together for 11 years before deciding to have a child by artificial insemination. A March 14 decision reversed a previous judgement allowing same-sex couples to adopt. Portugal's current gay marriage law, passed in January 2010, specifically excludes a homosexual couple's right to adopt, making Olga's adoption of 3-year-old Carolina, Matilde's biological daughter, impossible. (Cátia Bruno/GlobalPost)

LISBON, Portugal – Matilde Custódio and Olga Miranda will never forget the date. A Friday last month, the 14th of March. It's the date Portuguese legislators decided Olga could not be registered as one of the official parents of her partner Matilde’s biological daughter, Carolina.

One of countless same-sex couples with children who are affected by the decision, Matilde and Olga have been living together for the past 11 years.

It was around lunchtime and the final bill on co-parental adoption for same-sex couples was up for a vote by the Portuguese Parliament. The proposal was simple, but the bill did not pass. The parliament voted 111 against the legislation, and just 107 in favor, with five MPs abstaining.

Upon hearing the news, Matilde called Olga.

“How can this be over?” Olga asked. She said she still remembers March 14 as a very sad day. “I felt as I am still invisible and seen differently by our politicians.”

A couple of years ago when Matilde and Olga decided they wanted to have a baby together, they knew it would be hard. Portuguese law is not exactly friendly towards two women who want to raise a child. In Portugal, assisted reproductive technology is only made available to women in heterosexual marriages or life partnerships who have been diagnosed with infertility. So Matilde and Olga packed their bags and went to Spain, where Matilde could be artificially inseminated – no questions asked.

That is how Carolina was born.


Afghanistan's 'coming out' for LGBT rights can pave the road to peace

Commentary: The country's national election is heading for a runoff amidst recent commotion over the 'outing' of pious politicians, and the growing LGBT movement wonders who will do more for their rights.
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(Emily Judem/GlobalPost)

NEW YORK CITY — A year ago gays didn’t exist in Afghanistan. They were simply invisible — never mentioned in the national discourse — until I applied liberal constructivist theory from international relations when I spearheaded an ongoing queer narrative that eventually gained traction and cemented a gay Afghan identity.

As the election in Afghanistan came into full swing this year, gay identity politics gravitated into the mainstream. In an unprecedented move, the Afghan media has started outing closeted politicians; notably, accusing Wahid Omar, also spelled Waheed Omer, the former spokesperson to President Hamid Karzai, for engaging in extramarital homosexuality despite his persona as a pious family man.

As the gay commotion sizzles in Afghanistan, the full preliminary election results released on Sunday have narrowed the field to a runoff between the two leading presidential candidates. Many still wonder whether Abdullah Abdullah or Ashraf Ghani is more gay-friendly and who is better suited to lead Afghanistan.

Six months ago, I endorsed Dr. Ghani while the LGBTIQ community of Afghanistan mobilized their underground network (which includes atheists, feminists and humanists) to vote en masse for the former academic. It remains to be seen if the rainbow coalition’s preferred candidate will win the election and what enduring momentum the gay bloc will have on Afghan politics.


Demystifying Turkey’s Vote: How Erdoğan took the election

Commentary: In the wake of the March 30 election, many have called the results corrupt. But could it be that Erdoğan is just the lesser of two evils?
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Supporters of Turkey's ruling AK party (AKP) cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara, on March 30, 2014. The party of Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan took a strong early lead in local elections, despite turbulent months marked by mass protests, corruption scandals and Internet blocks. (ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images)

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Whether out of lack of contact with ordinary Turks, an attempted self-fulfilling prophecy, or just pure wishful thinking, many both inside and outside Turkey had predicted a large drop in the vote for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in the local elections.

Even the AK Party had lowered its threshold of success to 38 percent, a slump from its last general election figure of 46 percent. So when the party managed to snatch 45 percent and declare a resounding victory, many asked themselves the question: how could our guesses have been so wrong?


Guatemala's growing mining sector brings violence against indigenous communities with it

The industry has grown seven-fold since 2006 and the president granted more than 100 mining licenses in the first 18 months of his term, as violent attacks target opposing rural and indigenous communities.
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A Guatemalan soldier frisks a driver at a checkpoint on a road in Mataquescuintla municipality, Jalapa departament, 125 km southeast of Guatemala City on May 2, 2013. President Otto Perez Molina ordered a state of siege for 30 days in four municipalities in southeastern Guatemala just days after security forces clashed with opponents of a Canadian-owned gold and silver mine project who had taken 23 officers hostage. (JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

SAN RAFAEL LAS FLORES, Guatemala — Late on Sunday April 13, Edwin Alex Reynoso and his daughter Merilyn Topacio Reynoso were attacked by gunmen on their way home from a community meeting.

Topacio was killed, her father seriously wounded. Both were active members of the resistance movement against the Canadian-owned Escobal silver mine in San Rafael las Flores, a couple of miles away from where the attack took place. The violence occurred just barely one week after six members of another indigenous community, who are fighting a hydroelectric project, were shot.


Egypt is just one example of how the West is not ready for a true Arab democracy

Panelists at USC-Annenberg called out US policymakers for failing to respect political Islamist groups that do not adhere to American liberal ideals.
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Egyptian men, one wearing a mask of Guy Fawkes, set fire to a US flag as protesters and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood take part in a march against the military in the capital Cairo on January 22, 2014. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES — The Arab Awakening offered the United States an opportunity to change its relationship with the Muslim world by allying with democratic movements instead of dictatorial regimes in countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Libya.

But as several experts at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School argued Friday at a conference called “Religion, Democracy and the Arab Awakening,” the Obama administration couldn’t get comfortable with an essential element of Arab democracy: the reemergence of Islamist political organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood.


Turkey’s role as refugee host under pressure as requests for asylum increase

Commentary: UN and Western nations are pressed to collaborate in relocating refugees from Syria and other countries.
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A Syrian refugee woman walks among tents at Karkamis' refugee camp on January 16, 2014 near the town of Gaziantep, south of Turkey. (OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Turkey is host to an increasing number of refugees from Syria, fast approaching one million. By the end of this year, their numbers are expected to approach 1.5 million.

But although world attention has focused on the vast numbers of Syrians seeking protection in Turkey, Syrians are not the only refugees in the country, and its other refugees deserve protection too.


Beyond the rubble: One year after Rana Plaza collapse, Bangladesh is still reeling

The shadow of the building collapse looms large over the country, its people and its garment industry.

Editor's Note: This is the first piece in a three-part series that goes inside Bangladesh's garment industry to explore how the Rana Plaza collapse served as a wake-up call to an entire global supply chain and how Bangladesh is working furiously to reform itself before another tragedy strikes.