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A blog about human rights in their many forms.

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:

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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.

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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.
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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:

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'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.

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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.

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Talking Peace: Australia's failing 't-shirt diplomacy' on climate change

What you need to know about Australia's outrage-inspiring "t-shirt diplomacy" at this week's Warsaw climate talks.
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The Philippines' head negotiator Naderev Sano (2dR) and supporters hold banners reading "605,347 people stand with the Philippines" and "Fund solutions not polluters" while attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP 19 on November 19, 2013 in Warsaw. Sano delivers a 590,000+ person campaign calling for climate action directly to the climate negotiations in an unprecedented step for a climate negotiator and calls on UN countries to take urgent and bolder action to tackle climate change. (JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

The United Nations climate talks, happening in Warsaw, Poland through Friday, were interrupted early Wednesday as the 132 participating countries staged a 4 a.m. walkout.

Australia was reportedly the target, the result of its delegates' “t-shirt diplomacy.” Australian delegates, officials said, refused to take negotiations seriously by dressing casually, “giggling,” and dragging their feet on an international mechanism intended to help developing nations rebuild after environmental disasters. Underneath it all? A conflict of countries with great wealth disparities between them about how responsibility for climate change and its effects should be divided up.

Here’s a closer look:

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How American evangelicals made life unbearable for gays in Uganda

A conversation with Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Roger Ross Williams about his new film, God Loves Uganda, and the state of global anti-gay sentiment.
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Members of the Ugandan gay community attend a funeral of murdered activist David Kato, at his parental home close to the town of Mataba on January 28, 2011. Although the police claims it was most likely a petty crime, targeting Kato's money, many members of the gay and the human rights community hold the Ugandan government responsible for not battling the growing resentments against homosexuals in the Ugandan society. Homosexuality is illegal in many African countries and is punishable by a prison sentence. (MARC HOFER/AFP/Getty Images)

Fanned by Western evangelicals, homophobia has spread across the African continent voraciously in recent years, including Uganda, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the point that the European Union’s highest court last week ruled that fear of imprisonment for homosexuality in African countries is grounds for asylum in the EU.

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Talking Peace: This week in global diplomatic negotiations

What you need to know about the United Nations, Syria, Israeli/Palestinian negotiations and Iran.
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Palestinian laborers work on a construction site in Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish settlement in the mainly Palestinian eastern sector of Jerusalem, on October 30, 2013. Israel freed 26 veteran Palestinian prisoners overnight in line with commitments to the US-backed peace process, but moved in tandem to ramp up settlement in annexed east Jerusalem. (GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images)

The United Nations Human Rights Council has awarded seats to China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia, among other nations notorious for human rights abuses. And while US-Iran relations last week threatened to come between the United States and Saudi Arabia, Israel has is making this week’s open criticisms.

Syria peace negotiations may be back on and set to take place on December 12, according to Russian and Syrian officials, while Israeli and Palestinian authorities appear to be moving further away from negotiations of their own.

Here’s what to keep an eye on:

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Kenya: A high-ranking female police officer shares her view from the top

GlobalPost sits down with Superintendent Seline Awinja to talk about when gender does and doesn't matter.
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Kenyan law enforcement officers look as several hundred Kenyan protestors march towards the police headquarters on October 31, 2013 in Nairobi to deliver a petition of over a million names demanding justice after men accused of brutally gang raping a schoolgirl cut grass as punishment. The 16-year-old, known by the pseudonym Liz, was reportedly attacked, beaten and then raped by six men as she returned from her grandfather's funeral in western Kenya in June, before the gang dumped her, bleeding and unconscious, in a deep sewage ditch. (SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Seline Awinja, one of Kenya’s highest-ranking female police officers, smiles proudly as she recounts the ranks she’s advanced in her 26 years with the force: From constable to corporal to sergeant to senior sergeant to inspector to chief inspector — and now to superintendent of police for Nairobi’s Njiru district.

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Meet the young woman who traverses Syria's battlegrounds to put aid in civilian hands

Puneh Ala’i, a California-born Iranian-American, is reaching areas of Syria where established aid organizations are failing.
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Puneh Alai'i on a rock with all the village boys giving a peace sign during her most recent trip inside Syria in September 2013. (Courtesy)

REYHANLI, Turkey — In the wilds of war-torn Syria, there’s a young Persian woman outdoing the United Nations on aid.

At first glance, it hardly seems possible that this 28-year-old Iranian-American, with her California slang and her Converse shoes, is going inside Syria at all. Even harder to believe that she could be getting aid into more civilian hands than many established aid organizations who face major obstacles.

But, in a way, it’s true: Puneh Ala’i brings funds directly to Syrian villagers in rebel-held parts of the country — which is more than the UN can say.

That’s because legally, the UN still considers Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a sovereign head of state, so funding must go through Damascus — right under the regime’s nose.

Ala'i, whose trips are the first for her new global not-for-profit For the Unseen, is focusing on areas that have broken away from regime control because she is concerned that aid is not reaching Syrian civilians that have been left stranded there, often without food and shelter.

Syrian humanitarians, who are better equipped to access these areas, are equally concerned. Yakzan Shishakly runs the Maram Foundation, one of the first humanitarian groups on the ground inside Syria after demonstrations against Assad spiraled into a bloody conflict more than two years ago. He says not much of the UN’s money, including $385 million from Washington, gets into areas under rebel control.

Every week, Shishakly said, Maram staffers visit numerous villages “where there has been no aid since a year, two years ago, and they never see any NGO or help.”

The UN is not happy with the state of affairs either. On October 2, the agency’s humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, called on the UN Security Council to order the expansion of humanitarian efforts inside Syria.

“Humanitarian workers need full and sustained access to reach every person in need, wherever they are in Syria, and they must be protected to do their work safely,” Amos said, promising that “over two million people who have been unreachable for many months” would be helped if the roads could be secured.

But the UN Security Council has been divided in its response to the crisis in Syria, and is unlikely to unite on the initiative.

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