Human Rights

Equity, opportunity, access to education. Social determinants of health.

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Conflict minerals advocates win and suffer setback in appeal decision | 

A Congolese tin miner sifts through ground rocks to separate out the cassiterite, in the town of Nyabibwe, eastern Congo, a once bustling outpost fueled by artisanal cassiterite mining.
A Congolese tin miner sifts through ground rocks to separate out the cassiterite, in the town of Nyabibwe, eastern Congo, a once bustling outpost fueled by artisanal cassiterite mining.
AP Photo/Marc Hofer

A US appeals court determined on Monday that a US Securities and Exchange Commission rule compelling public companies to disclose whether or not their products contain “conflict minerals” is a violation of their free speech rights.

The rule, Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill, has been controversial from its inception. It’s intent is to track where minerals that appear in everyday electronics, such as cell phones, are fueling conflict and supporting armed groups. The corporations that extract the minerals say the new rules place an undue burden on their work and violate their rights.

The court partially agreed. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules were not entirely struck down by the ruling. It does represent a minor set-back for the advocates who have campaigned for transparency in the mining sector in conflict-affected countries. The real losers are the corporate lobby groups that brought forward the lawsuit.

“At the end of the day this is a huge loss for the National Association of Manufacturers,” said Laura Seay,  assistant professor of Government at Colby College, to Humanosphere. ”They still have to file through the SEC whether their supply chains were audited and free of conflict minerals. What has changed is that these companies do not have to disclose to their investors whether or not they are using conflict free minerals. ”

The Enough Project, a Washington DC-based advocacy group who took an active role in crafting and campaigning for 1502, called the ruling a ‘step backward for atrocity prevention.”

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Catholic liturgical musician arrested as terrorist in Rwanda | 

Much of the world took note last week of the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, with most of the news reports focusing on Rwanda’s stunning improvements made over the past few years – and on how the West failed to stop the slaughter of perhaps a million Rwandans.

What Humanosphere took note of is the rising awareness of the need for a more accurate narrative of modern day Rwanda – as a place making great gains on health and welfare, but at the expense of political and democratic freedoms. Some allege the government of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame even engages in assassinations of political opponents.

Now, Kizito Mihigo, a musician who specializes in Catholic liturgical music has been arrested and charged with terrorism. Some say the arrest is for writing a song that contends some of the atrocities of the 1994 genocide were commited by Kagame’s forces as well (a contention supported by many independent studies and reports). As Rwanda’s New Times reports, Mihigo, a radio journalist and another man have been arrested and charged with subversive activities.

Here’s a video of Kizito performing one of his liturgical songs:

Mihigo and others are accused by the Rwandan police of carrying out grenade attacks and planning terrorist acts. Others, on social media today, suggest Mihigo’s arrest was prompted by the lyrics in his songs – and his faith-based compulsion to work for peace and stability in Rwanda by encouraging all sides to acknowledge wrong-doing.

“I sing peace and forgiveness, I launch a permanent call for reconciliation,” Mihigo says.

Ugandan prof cites western roots of Africa’s anti-gay movement | 

Stella Nyanzi
Stella Nyanzi

Stella Nyanzi is an anthropologist who studies gender and sexuality issues in Uganda, at Makerere University in Kampala.

Talk about being at the eye of the storm.

Uganda has become ground zero for what some characterize as an explosion of homophobia and increased criminalization of homosexuality in Africa. Hostility toward gays is hardly new or confined to Africa, of course, as Humanosphere has noted. Nearly 80 countries worldwide consider homosexuality a crime, with some making it a death penalty crime.

“In Africa, I think it’s worth noting that the countries with the most severe laws are former British colonies,’ said Nyanzi, who will be the keynote speaker at a Seattle conference focused on sexuality, health and human rights. “You don’t see this so much in the former colonies of other countries.”

The conference, hosted and run by students at the University of Washington, is the 11th annual Western Regional International Health Conference, which opens with Nyanzi speaking on Friday and runs through the weekend.

The meeting will also screen a powerful documentary, Call Me Kuchu, that describes the plight of gays in Uganda – and the murder of a gay activist.

“This is happening in many places but I’m not sure everyone recognizes why, and how,” said Nyanzi. Continue reading

Meet Big Oil’s Big Men in Nigeria and Ghana | 

Masked rebels in the oil-rich Niger Delta of Nigeria.
Masked rebels in the oil-rich Niger Delta of Nigeria.
Big Men

Companies have been taking oil out of Nigeria for nearly half a century, making it one of the wealthier nations in Africa.

But the wealth is not well-distributed. What should have been a boon for Nigerians has left out most of them. Corruption, domestic and foreign, a series of coups and the concentration of oil wealth has actually undermined progress and development. At least half of all Nigerians live in poverty.

In the oil-rich Niger Delta of Nigeria, some have taken up arms to steal from and sabotage the oil pipelines. It has made for a continuously insecure situation in the region and a burgeoning health disaster caused by oil spills, both intentional and accidental.

A new documentary film, Big Men, explores if the ‘resource curse,’ will repeat itself elsewhere in Africa.

Other African nations already have had experiences somewhat similar to Nigeria. The citizens’ hope that follows the discovery of oil frequently loses out to the realities of competition and corruption. The ‘resource curse’ applies as much to coltan in the Democratic Republic of Congo and diamonds in Angola as it does to Nigeria’s oil.

That’s why some were immediately worried when a small US oil company discovered oil in the ocean off the coast of south Ghana. The Dallas-based Kosmos Energy tapped into some 3 billion barrels in 2007. The company had negotiated a favorable contract with the government of Ghana that would give them exclusive drilling rights for finding such a field.

At that time filmmaker Rachel Boynton was looking for a new project. Her documentary, Our Brand is Crisis, provided a look inside the workings of politics through the political consulting firm Greenberg Carville Shrum’s work in the 2002 Bolivian election.

“I was feeling very ambitious. I wanted something very big and very difficult,” she said to Humanosphere.

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World Vision flip-flops on gay marriage | 

world-visionWorld Vision USA, the large Christian aid organization headquartered just outside of Seattle, earlier this week announced it had changed its policy and would begin hiring Christians in same-sex marriage.

World Vision USA President Rich Stearns had championed the move saying it was “Symbolic of how we can come together even though we disagree.”

But in less than two days, World Vision USA reversed itself saying it had made a ‘mistake’ – the mistake, apparently, being that it had not anticipated the massive criticism it would get from many in the religious community who oppose gay marriage.

“This a depressing step backwards from what had seemed a very progressive move forward by World Vision,” said Ed Carr, an aid and development expert at the University of South Carolina. “After only a day or so, they’re back on the wrong side of history.”

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What will it take to draw enough support for the Central African Republic? | 

A man suspected to be a Muslim Seleka militiaman lays wounded after being stabbed by newly enlisted soldiers in the Central African Armed Forces.
A man suspected to be a Muslim Seleka militiaman lays wounded after being stabbed by newly enlisted soldiers in the Central African Armed Forces.
AP Photo/Jerome Delay

It has been a year since a coup in the Central African Republic started the nation on a downward spiral. It has been a struggle to get the public attention necessary to resolve the political and security crisis in the country.

Even the warning of a potential genocide by former actress and now activist Mia Farrow did not do the trick. She managed to help draw attention to the crisis emerging in Darfur a decade ago, but her concerns this time around fell largely on deaf ears.

Now, two activist groups are trying to use the anniversary of the coup to build support for the Central African Republic. War Child calls what is happening the ‘world’s forgotten conflict.’ Just like aid groups are doing for Syria, War Child makes its appeal based on what children have witnessed. The attacks on children outlined in the report are harrowing. Recruitment of child soldiers has led more than 6,000 children to join armed groups.

“A bullet hit my house while I was in bed. A soldier broke into my house and raped me,” said one twelve year-old girl to the organization.

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A chat with Bill Gates’ least favorite aid expert, Bill Easterly | 

Bill Easterly
Bill Easterly

William Easterly is a leading voice on the aid and development scene that folks seem to either love or hate. Bill Gates is in the latter camp, as this Gates Foundation blog post would indicate.

On Tuesday, March 25, starting at 7:30 pm in Seattle Town Hall, Easterly will be speaking about what he thinks needs to change in the way we approach the fight against global poverty. His talk is entitled Breaking the Cycle of Poverty, which may sound a little predictable and boring. It won’t be.

Easterly is always entertainingly provocative and his thesis – which, put simply, is that many if not most aid projects actually cause more harm than good – is an aggressive stab at the heart of much of the aid and development establishment. Continue reading

Disturbing documentary exposes lasting impacts of Indonesian atrocities | 

MCDACOF EC054
Anwar Congo watches footage of his film with his two grandsons.
Drafthouse Films/courtesy Everett Collection

Indonesia, home to more than 238 million people living across 17,508 islands, will soon hold new presidential elections. The surprise entry of the popular governor of Jakarta, Joko Widodo, launched him into the position as front-runner for the July polls.

The young democracy will have only its third direct election since the end of the 31 year rule of Haji Suharto, in 1998. While there are many factors at play, the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people in a period between 1965 and 1966 still lingers. Unlike other mass killings, the perpetrators won out and are still in power.

The Oscar-nominated documentary The Act of Killing follows some of the men who committed countless executions during the same period. One of these men, Anwar Congo, is held up as a local hero in his hometown located in North Sumatra. He is an outwardly triumphant figure that went from selling movie tickets to killing, so he claims, more than 1,000 people.

In the start of the film, Congo leads director Joshua Oppenheimer to the roof of a building where many people were killed. He carefully explains that more crude methods were used to kill suspected Communists, but the blood was too much to handle. A simpler and less messy solution was devised that involved tying a wire to a pole and using it as a counter-force to strangle people to death.

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