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A blog about human rights in their many forms.

The FCC, net neutrality and the stirring of a hornet's nest

Commentary: Net Neutrality has finally become a kitchen-table issue and now everyone who cares about keeping the Internet free from discrimination has an opportunity to tell the Federal Communications Commission what they think.
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(Emily Judem/GlobalPost)

WASHINGTON, DC — At a five-year-old’s birthday party over the weekend, I chatted with a therapist, a publishing executive and a furniture maker (no, this is not the opening to a bad joke). The subject matter wasn’t the flavor of the ice cream. Everyone wanted to talk about net neutrality, the principle that all online content must be treated equally — and the biggest tech issue of the moment.

No one understood why a Democratic Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman President Barack Obama had appointed would make the disastrous decision to end free speech and innovation online.

“Doesn’t the president support net neutrality?” one person asked. “How could he let this happen?”

My friends were responding to last week’s vote on the future of the Internet, in which three Democratic FCC commissioners voted to move forward with a plan that would trigger a corporate takeover of the Internet, ushering in an era of inequality and discrimination online.


Despite becoming a stable democracy, Somaliland’s sovereignty is unrecognized

Commentary: On its Independence Day, it still searches for the real independence it says it has earned.
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Picture made on September 10, 2013 show pupils of Gambool high school in a classroom in Garowe region of Somaliland. The school is a project funded by the European Commission and has the capacity for 1,750 pupils both boys and girls. As key partners, Somalia and the European Union (EU) will be co-hosting a High Level Conference on A New Deal for Somalia in Brussels on 16 September 2013. The Conference's underlying objective is to sustain the positive momentum in Somalia, to ensure that the country stays on the path to stability, peace and brings prosperity to its people. (SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images)

HARGEISA, Somaliland — In the quest for independence, there are good days and there are bad days. On our Independence Day, May 18, the people of Somaliland were filled with hope and renewed determination. It was a good day.

Our Independence Day serves as a token of all that we’ve achieved thus far on the road to sovereignty, and as an aching reminder of our aspiration for recognition of our independence — an aspiration that remains unfulfilled.

In 1960, Somaliland gained its independence from Great Britain and was recognized as a sovereign state by 35 nations, including all five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Five days later, the government of Somaliland chose to unite with Somalia to create a “Greater Somalia.” But this union proved to be catastrophic. The central government in Mogadishu brutally repressed the people of Somaliland, killing 50,000 of its citizens, displacing another 500,000, bombing its cities and laying over 1 million land mines on its territory.


Nigeria's kidnapped generation

As the world appeals to Boko Haram for the release of more than 270 schoolgirls, millions of young Nigerians are growing up without a future.
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Women hold banners during a march of Nigeria women and mothers of the kidnapped girls of Chibok, calling for their freedom, in Abuja on April 30, 2014. Nigerian protesters marched on parliament today to demand the government and military do more to rescue scores of schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram. (Philip Ojisua/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor's note: This story is part of a GroundTruth project we call "Generation TBD," a year-long effort that brings together media, technology, education and humanitarian partners for an authoritative, global exploration of the youth unemployment crisis.

ABUJA, Nigeria – The world’s media has turned its gaze to Nigeria with the kidnapping of more than 270 girls from a boarding school last month.


What the FCC's net neutrality vote means for the Internet

A proposal before the commission would initiate a new online economy by allowing Internet service providers to charge websites for better, faster delivery of their content to American users.
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Activists 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. The FCC has voted in favor of a proposal to reform net neutrality and could allow Internet service providers to charge for faster and higher-quality service. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday voted three-to-two to push forward a highly controversial proposal that critics argue could signal the end of net neutrality.

The rules outlined in the proposal would initiate a new online economy by allowing Internet service providers to charge websites for better, faster delivery of their content to American users.

By presenting the potential for a content dissemination “fast-lane,” or prioritization, the proposed rules would mean that smaller companies that are unable to pay the toll “would likely face additional obstacles against bigger rivals,” according to the Washington Post. “And,” the article added, “consumers could see a trickle-down effect of higher prices as Web sites try to pass along new costs of doing business with Internet service providers.

“Who gets to go fast and who gets to go slow?” New York Times media columnist David Carr asked in a video published on Thursday. “If my message comes to you really slowly and another person’s message comes quickly and directly, whose message is going to be heard? That has implications for democracy, for commerce.”

It also has implications for access to information and knowledge.


Celebrating Mandela's legacy on 20th anniversary of South Africa's fight to end apartheid

Commentary: South Africa’s transcendent mission to address the abuses of apartheid began 20 years ago this week.
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Supporters of anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela salute during a mass rally of African National Congress (ANC), a few days after his release from jail, February 25, 1990, in the conservative Afrikaaner town of Bloemfontein, where ANC was formed. (TREVOR SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)

WESTERVILLE, Ohio —This week marks the twentieth anniversary of a rare achievement in the uncertain world of political struggle: the election of Nelson Mandela to the presidency of South Africa and the birth of a new democratic nation.

In the outpouring of tributes to Mandela’s life and leadership upon his death several months ago, many people remembered this triumphant election and Mandela’s transcendent wisdom in negotiating the stormy transition from apartheid to democracy. What most people did not recall, however, was the remarkable set of events that followed.

In 1995, guided by President Mandela and mandated by an act of parliament, South Africa created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a massive, temporary institution whose mission was to reveal the specifics of widespread human rights abuses and to begin repairing the damage from nearly half a century of brutal repression known as apartheid.


Four decades later, War Crimes Tribunal seeks justice for Bangladesh genocide

Commentary: The world should decide on which side of history they would rather stand — with a people and their quest for justice or with those who would, with impunity, escape the consequences of the crimes that they perpetrated.
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Shadows of Bangladeshi police officials are seen as they stand guard at the International Crimes Tribunal court premises in Dhaka on January 21, 2013. Bangladesh's controversial war crimes court sentenced to death a top Islamic televangelists for genocide and other atrocities during the country's 1971 liberation struggle against Pakistan, a prosecutor said. (MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

HOUSTON, Texas — Himmler. Heydrich. Hoess.

The very mention of these reviled names conjures up indelible images associated with the deliberate and coordinated murder of millions of innocent civilians by National-Socialist Germany during the Second World War.

The Polish jurist Raphael Lemkin used the term “genocide” to describe what had transpired in the German concentration camps — an organized and planned destruction of Jews, the Romani, the disabled, homosexuals and other groups targeted by Adolf Hitler and his regime.

After the end of that conflict and within a few years of the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal, civilized nations vowed never again to allow perpetrators of such horrors to escape justice with impunity by adopting a Genocide Convention through the United Nations Organization.


International Nurses Day: A time to call for medical neutrality

Commentary: It's time that the world’s health organizations and governments adopt and implement protections for all medics — demanding medical neutrality bylaws and amendments to the Geneva Convention of 1948.
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(Emily Judem/GlobalPost)

MANAMA, Bahrain — In February of 2011, when the Bahraini government violently cracked down on peaceful pro-reform protesters in Pearl Roundabout, I immediately knew what I had to do.

As a nurse who had spent 18 years training and working in the United States, I decided to go and assist in the emergency room at Salmaniya Medical Complex, the main public hospital, which was flooded by injured protesters hurt by government forces during the demonstrations. Although, at the time, I was an assistant professor and head of an emergency nursing program, president of the Bahrain Nursing Society and not a staff member at Salmaniya, I saw that the doctors needed all the help they could get.

Many of my colleagues and I could not have known that our decision to uphold our medical duty would place us in danger. Several weeks later, I was blindfolded and handcuffed upon entering a government building. During the nightmare days of my five months of detention I was beaten, shocked with stun guns, sexually harassed and threatened with rape.


The Spanish government must let Catalans vote

Commentary: The Spanish government should see the Catalan government's referendum proposal as part of a methodical, transparent and democratic roadmap for effective political conflict resolution.
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(Emily Judem/GlobalPost)

WASHINGTON DC — Democracy, in its essence, is assigning to the people the ability to have a voice in their future. It is a living political system which reflects changing realities and preferences over time, embodied in new institutional laws, structures and elected representatives that reflect the desires and aspirations of those people at any given time. From this perspective, giving voice is not the outlier; it is the norm and the foundation — and a healthy one at that — in modern democracy.

The voice that Catalans are asking to have heard is one that demands they be able to decide on their political future. Catalans want to exercise their right to vote.

Catalonia's President, Artur Mas, has announced a November 9 non-binding referendum, which asks the Catalonian people, "Do you want Catalonia to be a state? If so, do you want Catalonia to be an independent state?"

But the Spanish government insists that a referendum would be illegal and unconstitutional, ignoring that a Catalan government advisory body — led by a former member of Spain’s Constitutional Court — has detailed a series of mechanisms to organize a referendum which are both legal and constitutional.


Journalist's death in Myanmar unites Western democracies pushing for growth of local free press

Commentary: The death of Rangoon journalist Win Tin highlights a worrisome trend: few of Myanmar's local journalists are covering conflicts.
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Mourners place National League for Democracy (NLD) flags besides Win Tin's body during his funeral in Yay Way cemetery on April 23, 2014 in Yangon, Burma. The Burmese journalist who helped Aung San Suu Kyi launch a pro-democracy movement against the junta military regime, died April 21 in Rangoon. (Ruben Salgado/Getty Images)

CHICAGO — The touching funeral in Rangoon for Win Tin, the intrepid journalist who spent 19 years in prison for refusing to kowtow to his military captors, revealed the quiet undertow in Myanmar/Burma. The threat to a free press is real.

As up to 100,000 people, including senior dissidents, international dignitaries, and ordinary citizens passed the cortege or stood vigil at headquarters of the NLD, the opposition party Win Tin helped found, two ominous realities filled the air: since December, five journalists had been arrested; and in March, Parliament passed a law authorizing the Ministry of Information to ban reporting it believes could “incite unrest,” “insult religion” or “violate the Constitution.”

These actions confirmed what Win Tin shared with me in an interview last March: freedom is not something that can be metered out in controlled bits by a reluctantly retreating military.


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.