Human Rights

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

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Can fair trade clothing prevent the next factory tragedy? | 

Bangladeshi garment workers protest demanding a minimum monthly salary of ~$103 and compensation for the victims and injured of the Rana Plaza building that collapsed.
Bangladeshi garment workers protest demanding a minimum monthly salary of ~$103 and compensation for the victims and injured of the Rana Plaza building that collapsed.
AP Photo/A.M. Ahad

The collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh killed 1,100 a year ago today. The tragedy has served as a rallying cry for better labor conditions in Bangladesh and the rest of the world.

“I was really shocked by it initially,” said Devin Chesney, an employee with World Food Programme USA. “It was widely covered by media, but then disappeared quickly.”

In the aftermath, Chesney said he thought that the fault for the accident was on the companies that use the factories and the government of Bangladesh. A friend challenged his ideas, forcing him to explain why his purchase decisions were not connected to the accident. The Socratic mode of inquiry worked. Chesney soon realized that he was wrong and has a role to play as a consumer.

“There is a chain of causation that goes all the way back to the people that make it. I play a part in that at least,” he said.

That led him to take action. Chesney developed an idea to start a certification for fair trade clothing. Much like the branding that is adorned on coffee and other foods, he wants people to be able to walk into a nearby Walmart and see which clothes were made by companies who provide safe working conditions and a fare wage.

The idea to certify clothing fair trade is not new. The Fair Trade Foundation did a pilot program to determine whether it was feasible to certify clothing. The two-year effort generated little money, proving that such an endeavor would be challenging. Chesney says he took the lessons from the pilot study in setting up FairWear.

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Parents say more than 200 girls missing in northern Nigeria | 

Security walk past burned   government secondary school Chibok, were gunmen abducted more than 200 students in Chibok, Nigeria.
Security walk past burned government secondary school Chibok, were gunmen abducted more than 200 students in Chibok, Nigeria.
AP Photo/ Haruna Umar

The search for the school girls abducted in northern Nigeria continues a week after they were taken. However, there is a significant discrepancy over how many girls are missing.

Islamist militants are believed to have kidnapped 129 school girls from Chibok school in northern Nigeria. The parents of the missing girl say the government numbers do not account for everyone missing. They are searching in a remote forest for the 234 girls that they say are still missing.

It means more than twice as many girls were abducted than the government estimates. Fifty-two of the girls are said to have returned home so far. Families have been told that Boko Haram members are holding the girls in the Sambisa forest, but have been warned of the danger of trying to get them.

“They said they saw a lot of girls that same Tuesday morning fetching water from a stream and leaving … They told us they were certain that girls are still close by, but they advised strongly not to go into that direction because we weren’t armed,” said Folly Teika, the mother of two abducted girls, to Reuters.

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The aid debate continues in the media and on blogs | 

The debate over aid does not want to go away, but it is moving away from general statements about whether it works or not. Regardless of who is right and what we believe, it is promising to see the conversation taking a far more constructive tone. However, the present discussions are not likely to convert people to the pro- or anti-aid camps.

The latest round of disagreement follows on the heels of NYU economist and aid skeptic Bill Easterly’s new book. In it, he argues that technocratic experts have undermined the rights of people around the world. Aid, at times, has been a tool to provide support for leaders that restrict things people can say and do in their countries. In the long term, that undermines advances within a country or region.

Easterly has been making the media rounds to debate whether foreign aid is on the wrong side of human rights. On Wednesday, Easterly joined CARE USA’s CEO Helene Gayle to debate foreign aid on Fareed Zakaria’s television show. Zakaria plays a moderator of sorts who seems a bit of an aid supporter.

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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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