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A blog about human rights in their many forms.

Obama warns of 'dangerous and growing inequality' in America

President Obama pledged to devote the remainder of his term to increasing opportunities for Americans, acknowledging that this is a time of unprecedented inequality.
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US President Barack Obama speaks on economic themes at the Center for American Progress December 4, 2013 in Washington, DC. Obama spoke at the think tank about economic inequality and a lack of upward mobility. (Aude Guerrucci/AFP/Getty Images)

After weeks dominated by the dysfunctional launch of his most important piece of legislation reforming the national health care system, Barack Obama on Wednesday tried to nudge the national spotlight on a deeper issue: the still growing gaps in income and opportunity between the richest Americans and the rest of the country.

Citing the words and deeds of presidents past — Democrats and Republicans alike — Obama equated income disparity as measured by an array of economic statistics as the “defining challenge of our time.”


The start of winter brings new dangers for Syrian refugees in Jordan

As the year ends, residents of Za'atari refugee camp face increasing needs and another shortfall of funds.
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A young Syrian refugee boy sells canned tuna and other food items in the Zaatari refugee camp, located close to the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, on September 4, 2013. (KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images)

ZA’ATARI REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan — The conflict in Syria is only eight miles away from the residents of Za’atari, the second largest refugee camp in the world. They can sometimes hear the explosions, according to one humanitarian aid worker, who noted that the proximity to the border and the conflict adds to the insecurity in the camp.

“Za’atari is the tip of the iceberg of the Syrian crisis,” said Kilian Kleinschmidt, the camp manager.

Za’atari is laid out on a stark five square miles of barren rocky desert with tents and caravans as far as the eye can see. There is not a single tree or bush or plant anywhere, nothing to break the view except coiled barbed wire around certain parts of the compounds. Conditions have improved considerably, according to those who have visited the camp in the past; however the landscape and the challenges remain daunting.

Originally set up for 10,000 people, Za’atari currently houses over 80,000 and at times has held as many as 150,000. The camp is now the fourth largest “city” in Jordan, one of the places I recently worked on a field mission for Refugees International to meet with Syrian refugees.

“We walked three days in the dark, at night, afraid, carrying our two children,” said one young man, who travelled with his wife and three-year old son and one-year old daughter, trying to avoid the fighting. They finally got a ride and arrived at Za’atari, but he was concerned he wouldn’t be able to support his family.


LGBT rights a late casualty of Northern Ireland’s Troubles

As the rest of the British Isles moves forward on LGBT rights, the North’s ruling party is fighting tooth-and-nail to preserve the status quo.
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Loyalists protesters wearing masks demonstrate in front of Belfast City Hall to mark the first anniversary of the restrictions on the British union flag flying over Belfast city hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland on November 30, 2013. Belfast City Council voted to fly the union flag at city hall only on designated days on December 3 2012. (PETER MUHLY/AFP/Getty Images)

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — Julie-Ann Corr, 25, was inspired to take up politics last year when a controversy erupted over flying the Union Jack atop Belfast City Hall. But she encountered an unexpected dilemma: her sexual preference meant there wasn’t room for her in Northern Ireland’s ruling Democratic Unionist Party, which has twice blocked marriage equality bills in parliament.

“We’re both loyalists,” said Corr, a lesbian with a girlfriend she wanted to marry. “But we had no political representation. The only people we could look to for support were the LGBT groups or Sinn Fein.”

Fifteen years after the Troubles — the 30 years of violence between mostly Catholic supporters of a united Ireland and mostly Protestant advocates of Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom — LGBT rights have become a surprising casualty of a conflict that left Northern Ireland with a government vehemently opposed to change and a society where fixation on the unionist-nationalist divide has left little room for other aspects of identity to gain recognition.

In every other corner of the British Isles LGBT rights are on the march, but Northern Ireland has distinguished itself from its neighbors by digging in against change.

Last month, Scotland’s national parliament overwhelmingly approved, in principle, a same-sex marriage bill. Also in November, the government of the Republic of Ireland approved a marriage referendum for 2015. In England and Wales marriage equality is law, and same-sex couples will be able to marry next year. In Northern Ireland, zilch.


Putting religious differences aside, Tanzanians craft new constitution

From a society split between Muslims and Christians comes a model for peaceful political change.
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Maria Kashonda pages through her copy of the proposed constitution she helped draft as a member of the Constitutional Review Commission. She says People are putting aside their religious differences to fight for guarantees of rights like education and health, which she says are universal. (Jacob Kushner/GlobalPost)

ZANZIBAR, Tanzania – Political divisions in this East African nation are so profound that to achieve some sort of unity may, paradoxically, require dividing the country even further—into as many as three governments within a single state.

That’s the proposal put forth by a group of politicians drafting a new constitution intended to usher in prosperity for all Tanzania’s people, urban and rural, rich and poor. That task appears even more daunting given that Tanzanians are further divided by religion, split between Christians and Muslims and those who are animist or practice local religions.

And yet the one thing nearly everyone in Tanzania agrees on is that religion should have little or nothing to do with the constitutional process.

“Wherever you are, you want good education, health services—these things are universal,” said Maria Kashonda, member of the Constitutional Review Commission. “People are putting aside their religious differences for these.”


The UN's 16-day campaign to end violence against women

The world is mobilizing for women's rights on day two of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign, which began on Nov. 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and goes through Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day.
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(Emily Judem/GlobalPost)

Say NO - UNiTE's global campaign to end violence against women has already garnered quite a following. By the organization's count, 5,621,051 online actions have already been taken toward bringing awareness to gender violence. 


Many of those actions have been shared on Twitter, where Say NO is asking participants to tweet their activities and experiences under the hashtags "#orangeurworld," for this year's theme color, and "#16days."


Backlash to Egypt's new protest law hits Cairo's streets

Q & A: The first clashes between Egyptian police and demonstrators came 24 hours after the 'peaceful assembly' bill's implementation. But what, exactly, does the law say?
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Egyptian policemen use a water cannon to disperse protesters during a demonstration organized by the group "No Military Trials for Civilians" in front of the Shura council in downtown Cairo on November 26, 2013 against the new law passed the previous day regulating demonstrations in the first unauthorized protest staged in the capital since the adoption of the law. (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Protesters burst onto Egyptian streets on Tuesday in defiance of a new, restrictive peaceful assembly bill introduced by interim president Adly Mansour on Sunday — promptly implemented Monday — that human rights groups are saying “gives security forces free reign.”

Egyptian police responded to the protests by launching teargas canisters and water cannons into crowds of hundreds at the Press Syndicate and parliament in Cairo.

The demonstrators had gathered to commemorate the death of an activist in the midst of clashes with police two years ago, Reuters reported, but did so without the now mandatory police approval.

The state news agency has so far reported that 20 of the protesters, who were also chanting "down, down with military rule," were arrested, while ousted president Mohamed Morsi supporters continued to hold their own protests throughout the country.

The new law orders that protests at places of worship are verboten, and permits the Interior Ministry the right to disallow “any public meeting of more than 10 people.”

As the United States and rights groups condemn the action as one that “does not meet international standards and hampers the country's move toward democracy,” Egyptian authorities are asserting that the legislation is intended to “restore order to the streets,” and to stop the disruption of traffic.

On Tuesday, GlobalPost spoke with Deena Adel Eid, an Egyptian reporter now based in New York City, to get some context on what the new law means for those on Egypt’s streets. Here is what she had to say:


Innovators enlist citizen journalists to combat India’s rape crisis

Indian women and men in rural villages have access to a new technology that allows them to bring media attention to rape by publishing their own reports on crime.
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Shubranshu Choudhary, founder of CGNet Swara, looks on as two women in a Central Indian village use the CGNet Swara technology. (Purusottam Thakur/GlobalPost)

Almost a year has passed since the Delhi gang rape turned the world’s attention to the treatment of women in India.

The Dec. 16 rape and subsequent death of the 23-year-old physiotherapy student was covered widely by international news outlets and spread quickly over social media, mobilizing Indians to take to the streets in protest. In response, the government swiftly convicted the rapists and passed an anti-rape bill that imposes harsher punishments on sexual offenders—a set of efficient, rapid-fire actions that may have been influenced by the degree of attention the case received.

Many cases, however, are still going unreported by the media and unprosecuted by the courts. In 2012, 600 rapes were reported in Delhi and only one led to a conviction. According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, the number of reported rapes is increasing every year, yet the majority of these cases get mired in an inefficient and overburdened court system. Victims rarely see justice.

Shubhranshu Choudhary, a former BBC journalist, said the media has an important role to play in directing public and government attention to problems that go unnoticed. Choudhary, who has been fighting for over a decade to democratize Indian media, said he believes outlets are still failing to report on issues facing marginalized communities. Women, Choudhary said, are now turning to citizen journalism to reduce the coverage gap.


Labor Lowdown: This week in workers' rights — Qatar

What you need to know about the ongoing fight for better workers' rights ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter gives a press conference on November 22, 2013 in Rome after a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican. FIFA boss Sepp Blatter hit back at criticism over work conditions on World Cup venues in Qatar, accusing European companies and saying France and Germany pushed the Qatari bid for "economic interests." (ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)

Last week was explosive for Qatar, as the country came under heavy criticism for the continued abuse of its foreign migrant workers in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The European parliament has passed a resolution demanding that Qatar address its many issues—a decision that has been echoed by condemnations from the Arsenal manager, and spoken to by FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

Here's a closer look:


'Gun disease' afflicts Myanmar's gold miners

Gold miners drill without respiration equipment and frequently develop a lung disease that slowly kills them.

MANDALAY, Myanmar — In the gold mines of Sinktu and Thabait Kyin, in the Mandalay division of Myanmar, gold mining is famous. More than 30 gold mines are active here, but the scene doesn't look much like wealth. Half-naked men with rusty pneumatic drills and homemade dynamite are lowered 500 feet on fraying ropes into holes in the ground. Covering their faces with rags, they drill gold ore from the stone.

“We break the rocks with high pressured guns, but breathe the small particles that come from breaking the stone. We contract lung infections that we call 'gun disease,'" says Wat Tay, 35, a gold miner from Sintku Township.

Through the night groups of men squat above mine shafts, ankle deep in muddy puddles, waiting to haul out ore or winch up their friends. After working in the mines for a decade, workers' lungs begin to give out, they say. Hidden in bamboo huts, attached to oxygen, they wheeze out their last days.


Q & A: Libyan militias square off

GlobalPost speaks with correspondent William Wheeler about exactly what's going on in Libya and where the conflict might go from here.
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Members and vehicles of the Al-Qaaqa brigade from Zintan get ready to vacate the premises of their Tripoli quarter on November 21, 2013, as part of a government decision to remove militias from the capital and eventually integrate them into the security forces, after a weekend of deadly clashes between militiamen and residents. (MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images)

Since Muammar Gaddafi’s downfall two years ago, Libya’s delicate governments and transitory leaders have wrestled with diffusing the country’s plethora of militias.

Instead of being eliminated, the militias have ultimately held more power than official security forces and successfully hindered the country’s ability to progress toward peaceful reconciliation, generating increasing frustration and trepidation among Libyan civilians.

Libyans have consequently staged a number of protests, one, in Tripoli on Nov. 15, ending in the death of over 40 people and over 500 injuries. What followed was a two-day battle between the Misratans and the police force that drove the militia, for once, into retreat, and a week of public outrage.

Thousands of protesters gathered in the capital Thursday to demand that the illegitimate armed groups leave the city. Several of them did.

With other militias holding fast, Al-Sadat al-Badri, the head of Tripoli's local council, said Friday that the city, which has been on strike since Nov. 17—the same day that Libya's deputy intellegence chief was kidnapped in Tripoli and a month after the prime minister was abducted by militiamen —would remain so “until the capital and its surroundings are free of militias.”

Even militias on the government payroll have claimed responsibility for recent kidnappings of officials, whom they use for political leverage.

GlobalPost sat down for a conversation with William Wheeler, GlobalPost correspondent and winner of the GroundTruth fellowship for field reporting on emerging democracies in the Middle East, to find out exactly what is going on in Libya, and where the conflict might go from here.