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A blog about human rights in their many forms.

Legal restrictions lead to 'DIY abortions' in Texas and Argentina alike

As Texas limits access to abortion, it is walking down a road well-tread by Argentina, where abortion is illegal but half a million women still terminate their pregnancies each year.

HOUSTON, Texas and BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — The plane descended and just beyond the city limits, the clouds gave way to a view of the expansive territory Texas is known for. We had landed, the flight attendant announced, in Houston — the most populous city in the Lone Star State.

We were on our way from Boston to Buenos Aires, where we will be reporting for the next two weeks on the country’s high abortion rate and the legal and religious institutions that surround it.


The US plans to hand over its internet oversight role

An already-tangled internet governance system looks to be getting more complicated, and some fear without US oversight the internet, and its censorship, could fall into authoritarian hands.

The United States government in March proposed a handing over of the key oversight role it holds in global internet governance — a role that currently grants it ultimate authority over many critical parts of internet function. The proposition initially raised some concerns about the transition of this role, including the possibility that authoritarian regimes could take control of the internet and implement widespread censorship.

This is just one issue to be addressed at the 2014 Internet Governance Forum USA, taking place at George Washington University in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, July 16. Leaders from the internet multistakeholder community will come together with activists, scholars and members of government, to discuss topics such as where human rights fit into internet governance, net neutrality and "increasing the accountability of ICANN" — the organization this entire system of governance functions around.

Though the White House has said it is committed to handing authority over to the multistakeholder community, Washington, DC has been "abuzz" with several congressional hearings taking place with the House Energy and Commerce Committee as well as the Judiciary Committee, and discussions and briefings with the Hudson Institute as well as NetCaucus. Three bills have so far also been introduced.

To understand the implications of the US stepping out of its authoritative role, it is first critical to know what the United States governmnet's function in internet oversight even is.

In its current state, the system of internet governance is a bit of a tangled web of organizations and divisions, which together have created a rather successful oversight network. At its center, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) controls the global Domain Name System (DNS), or the internet “phone book.” The US is the most important player in ICANN, although over 100 governments, as well as NGOs and industry representatives, also have input.

Although the US is one of just a few countries where the internet is completely “free,” meaning without censorship, according to Freedom House’s 2013 global report, some say there is reason for hope yet.

According to Phil Corwin, J.D., founder of Virtualaw, LLC, a public policy consultancy in Washington, DC, “something better than what we have [now]” could soon replace the US-backed internet governance system.


The end of Brazil's World Cup brings the death of a protest

Almost exactly a year ago, swarms of Brazilians protested against the government. But as the World Cup got underway the streets saw more police officers than protesters, and hardly anybody noticed.

BRASILIA, Brazil — The chanting began as it would on any day during the World Cup — a group of Brazilians, some wearing jerseys, some banging large drums, singing in unison before the match kicked off.

Except they weren’t at the match, and they weren’t going. Their yellow jerseys weren’t for Brazil’s team — they read “VIOLATION” on the back, and displayed the number 0. And most important, their chants weren’t about soccer. Instead, anyone in the middle of the large bus station in Brasilia heard:

“If the World Cup is not for me, I will go to the streets!”

Go to the streets they did, about 50 of them, marching with a giant World Cup trophy wrapped in tarp and chanting slurs at FIFA as they walked toward the brand-new stadium in the capital. On this Monday afternoon, Brazil’s team was warming up inside to play Cameroon in the final match of the group stage — what seems like a lifetime ago before the country descended into mourning after Germany stomped on their dreams.

Vanessa Minnie surveyed the crowd. She had expected more people to show up, for one of the bigger protests planned during the Cup. Almost exactly a year ago, swarms of Brazilians protested against the government, and the rage felt contagious. They lit tires on fire in front of the stadium. They were interviewed by journalists from around the world. They told them that the billions of dollars spent to create the World Cup wasn’t helping Brazil with its major shortcomings in public education, health care, and transportation. Their message was getting through.

But on this day there were more police officers than protesters, and hardly anybody noticed.


IDP camps in Iraqi Kurdish region overwhelmed by civilian influx

As violence overtakes Iraq, over one million internally displaced persons try to find refuge. Many are arriving to resource-tight UNHCR camps in Kurdish territory.

Political leaders from the self-ruled Kurdish region of Iraq declared on Thursday that they will boycott the Cabinet meetings of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government, following statements he made accusing the Kurds of “harboring the Sunni militants,” Islamic State, who have overrun much of the country.

The prime minister provided no evidence along with his claim and Deputy Prime Minister Roz Nouri Shawez, the highest ranking Kurdish official in the Iraqi government, promptly responded by saying “such statements are meant to hide the big security fiasco by blaming others.”

Ties between Iraq and the Kurdish region have a long history of strain and conflict that has continued over the last years under al-Maliki’s administration. Not least of those issues has been the fight over oil and land rights.

Though they have been able to work together — Kurds having twice helped al-Maliki secure his post — Wednesday’s allegation further irritated resentment on both sides.


Environmental impact of Alberta tar sands 'horrible,' expert says (PHOTOS)

Part Two: With government oversight in question and toxins piling up, residents say they are being poisoned and disempowered.

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta, Canada — The four-seat plane we’ve hired circles one of the factory complexes owned by Suncor, one of the world’s largest processors of bitumen, a gooey crude oil found in subterranean deposits mixed with water, sand and clay.

The aircraft rolls, lifting its right side and revealing a careening panorama of industrialized land through photographer Alex MacLean’s open window. The complex in the foreground, called an “upgrader,” ingests raw bitumen ore and expels synthetic crude. 


Flying over Alberta's tar sands, evidence of wealth and destruction (PHOTOS)

Part One: A trillion dollars' worth of heavy crude has attracted the world's oil titans to western Canada. They're making a mess.

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta, Canada — Violet Clarke’s home sits virtually in the center of the vast Athabasca tar sands, a colossal deposit of extremely heavy crude oil in the western Canadian province of Alberta.


It's time for Iraqis to look at the failures of our own government

Commentary: No one will admit the mistakes they’ve made — they just keep on making them. Airing the dirty laundry would mean admitting to and exposing the wrong and asking for help to clean up the mess.

Editor’s Note: Jamil Ali is a pseudonym for the writer of this op-ed, who has asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. He is a former activist. 


Obama: Most child migrants at US-Mexico border will be sent back to Central America

The president has asked Congress for $2 billion to aid response to the immigration surge and said he'll push forward with executive action on immigration reform.

The Obama administration on Monday said it plans to deport most of the thousands of unaccompanied minors that have poured over the US-Mexico border in an unprecedented surge that has overwhelmed Border Patrol, roused angry protesters and ratcheted up partisan rhetoric in DC.

The announcement came one week after President Obama assured immigration advocates that he would “keep his promise” and press on with executive action, asking Congress for $2 billion in emergency funds to aid in the housing, feeding and processing of those who have been apprehended.

More than 52,000 unaccompanied, immigrant children traveling from Central American countries have crossed the US border in Rio Grande, Texas, since October. Obama last month called the surge a “humanitarian crisis.” In its initial response, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) implemented a $2 million legal aid program to assist the children, and ordered the opening of additional emergency shelters and facilities throughout Texas, California, Arizona and Oklahoma to house the immigrants as they made their way through the legal system.

In the time since, the humanitarian crisis has spurred a policy crisis, pinning the president against a Republican-run house.


Colombia's prospering economy casts a shadow over thousands of political prisoners

As business booms, at least 4,000 political prisoners remain jailed, often for social activism.

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia, once a byword for crime, violence and instability, is opening its doors to foreign investment, tourism and an influx of international attention.

Recently re-elected president Juan Manuel Santos’ has a strong record of growing Colombia’s economy by engaging with new trading partners and signing agreements. Last month, following through on campaign promises to continue the upward trajectory and push for a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the president signed a trade agreement with the European Union.

The move was applauded and the country heralded as a strong emerging market with many major international companies setting up offices in what they call the up-and-coming business capital of Latin America. Colombia has already seen an influx of $622.5 million — the largest inflow into an emerging market-economy this year.

A group of leading Colombian businessmen including heads of major banks, architects and several members of the financial sector openly expressed their support of the re-elected president in a letter stating, “Your government is responsible for unprecedented economic results, including a rise in employment, a rise in foreign investment and excellent international relations.”

But behind the veneer of a quickly modernizing country, a hidden world of gross human rights violations continues to exist with at least 4,000 alleged political prisoners – though some estimates are as high as 9,500 — currently incarcerated in prisons across Colombia, with little to no media attention at the local or international levels.


Hobby Lobby ruling inspired 100 more cases in less than a week

The Supreme Court said it is "highly unlikely" that more corporations will go after religious freedom claims, but already groups taking up suits and looking to get out of a pending LGBT discrimination order.

It’s been just days since the Supreme Court granted religious exemption to Hobby Lobby and other closely held corporations, ruling that the insurance they provide their employees does not have to cover contraception, as stipulated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and already Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s prophetic dissent is manifest.

Following a blistering and sometimes-sarcastic 35 pages of opposition, Ginsburg, perhaps now somewhat famously, concluded: “The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

Indeed, it seems as though it has.

While President Obama vowed to restore the lost coverage to women, a host of other religious groups and institutions have decided not to wait around and see what kinds of new regulations might come into play.

According to the Becket Fund, the religious law firm that represented Hobby Lobby, there are already 49 pending federal cases in which for-profit companies have claimed “religious objections to the ACA and another 51 that involve nonprofit organizations.”

Additionally, the Supreme Court has ordered three appeals courts to reevaluate challenges made by companies that also objected to the contraception stipulation, but which objected to all contraceptive methods and not just the four addressed in the Hobby Lobby case.