By Javier Zúñiga, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Javier Zúñiga is a special adviser for Amnesty International. The views expressed are his own.
When Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto came to power a year ago, he was the new face of the old Partido Revolucionario Institucional, the political machinery that dominated the country for more than 70 years. With his carefully built image of a dynamic young professional, Peña Nieto started his term in office by launching multiple reform initiatives, covering numerous aspects of daily life in the country. He claims that his policies will put Mexico on a promising train to modernity and prosperity. But a year on, what has he really achieved?
One of Peña Nieto’s early commitments was to end the cycle of human rights violations and violence that so characterised former President Felipe Calderon’s administration. Sadly, he has not delivered on that promise: On the Peña Nieto train, human rights have so far had to settle for the third-class carriage.
It’s a story that the Mexican people know all too well. Once again, a new government comes to office making expansive pledges to protect human rights. Once again, it refuses to invest the political capital needed to make a real difference. And once again, the key word in the whole story is impunity.
By Alice Farmer, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Alice Farmer is a children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch who has done extensive research on unaccompanied migrant children around the world. The views expressed are her own.
This week kicks off one of the busiest travel periods of the year. Millions will set out for Thanksgiving, a holiday that celebrates how refugees from religious persecution found freedom in a new land. I’ll be one of those traveling. And while I’m looking forward to seeing family and friends, I’m not looking forward to the hassle: long flights, cramped seats, and the difficulty of finding a taxi at 3 a.m.
Of course, I’ll be travelling legally, with the right paperwork. Most of us can't imagine how much harder it is to cross international borders if you can’t get your papers in order. Yet millions of people fleeing war and instability, or fearing persecution from their own government, don’t have the luxury of applying for passports and waiting for visas. Without paperwork, they can’t move through border crossings legally. So they travel in other ways, often with no other choice but to resort to smugglers.
By Eva Cosse, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Eva Cossé is the Western Europe research assistant at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are her own.
When I was growing up in Greece, my grandparents often told me that if I didn’t eat my food, they would call the Gypsies to take me away. Sadly, the old myths about Roma snatching babies were revived after police took a little blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl named Maria into custody in a Roma settlement in Farsala, central Greece, on October 16.
The headlines in the Greek newspapers said it all: “Roma snatch babies!” “The DNA ‘spoke’: The 4-year-old found in a Romani settlement is not a Gypsy,” “Amber Alert: Dangerous Roma circuit snatch babies!!!” But the media have not been alone in using stigmatizing language against Roma. Politicians have joined in too.
Roma face persistent discrimination across Europe. A European Union Fundamental Rights Agency survey published in 2012 showed destitution and social exclusion among Roma in 11 European Union countries, with high levels of unemployment (over 66 percent) and low levels of secondary school graduation (around 15 percent).
By Netsanet Belay, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Netsanet Belay is Africa director at Amnesty International. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
Like so many thousands of Kenyans, Pamela, David and Kanu are all still struggling to piece their lives together nearly six years after the violence that rocked parts of Kenya following the elections in December 2007.
Finding work, feeding their children and recovering from physical and psychological trauma are just some of their everyday battles.
“I suffered a lot because I have only one hand, but I have been completely forgotten,” Kanu recently told Amnesty International. His arm was hacked off with a machete after he tried to save a woman from being raped by 17 men amid the post-election violence.
Life for Pamela, a 24-year-old mother of four, is still incredibly difficult. She has a bullet lodged in her chest after police fired through the wall of her mud hut. After the incident, she tried to follow up the case with the police. The individual she believes shot her still works in a nearby suburb.
By Hillel Neuer, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Hillel Neuer, an international lawyer, is the executive director of U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based NGO. The views expressed are his own.
Seven years after the United Nations promised to completely revamp its troubled human rights body, the upcoming election of notorious human rights violators underscores how the world’s most needy victims continue to be let down.
On November 12, the U.N. General Assembly, operating via back-room deals and political vote-trading, is almost certain to return China, Cuba, Russia, and Saudi Arabia to the 47-nation Human Rights Council, even though these regimes systematically violate virtually every article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Other non-democracies expected to win coveted seats include Algeria, Jordan, and Vietnam. While none of the United Nations’ 193 member states are blemish free, disregard for human rights are intrinsic to the very structure of the aforementioned governments.
By Sarah Cook, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Sarah Cook is a senior research analyst for East Asia at Freedom House and author of report The Long Shadow of Chinese Censorship, which was released October 22 by the National Endowment for Democracy’s Center for International Media Assistance. The views expressed are her own.
The efforts of China’s leaders to prevent its citizens from circulating information inconvenient to the ruling Communist Party are well known. But while censorship is a daily reality for media outlets inside mainland China, their counterparts abroad are increasingly finding themselves under pressure as well.
China’s leaders, it seems, have become more ambitious in their attempts to control the news.
Take last year, when reports surfaced that China’s ambassador to the United States met with Bloomberg’s editor-in-chief to try to persuade the outlet not to run a story about the finances of Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s family. Last May, meanwhile, popular Taiwanese talk show host Cheng Hung-yi resigned after station executives allegedly tried to stop his program from touching on topics sensitive to Beijing. And back in 2011, reportedly at Beijing’s urging, a court in Hanoi sentenced two Vietnamese citizens who practice Falun Gong to prison for transmitting radio broadcasts about human rights abuses and corruption from their farm to listeners in China.
By Jo Becker, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Jo Becker is the children’s rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. Follow her @jobeckerhrw. The views expressed are her own.
Every week, “Fumo” risks his life for a bag of rocks. At 13, he began working in a Tanzanian gold mine, climbing deep into unstable shafts that could collapse at any moment. He digs ore and hauls the heavy bags to the surface, where he crushes the ore to powder. To extract the gold, he uses mercury, a toxic substance that could leave him brain damaged. He says he knows it’s dangerous, but has no protective gear. After filling a sack weighing up to 110 pounds, he may end up with less than an ounce of gold.
Since 2000, the number of child laborers worldwide has dropped by one-third, from 248 million to 168 million, according to new statistics released by the International Labor Organization. While this progress is encouraging, the number of child laborers is still extraordinarily high. Of the global total, 85 million children, like Fumo, work in hazardous conditions that directly threaten their health and safety.
By Javier Zúñiga, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Javier Zúñiga is a special adviser to Amnesty International. The views expressed are his own.
It was starting to get dark as I was staring into the crowd from an avenue overlooking the square.
“The army! The army!” people began to shout from the nearby buildings. Then we saw small armored vehicles and soldiers with rifles moving into the square. I took my little daughter and my wife out of there and we found shelter in a nearby building. As we were leaving, a helicopter flew overhead and shot a flare. Then the gunfire started.
Early the next morning, we returned to the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Mexico City’s Tlatelolco area, and saw the piles of belts and shoes. Pools of blood remained on the ground and there were bullet holes at eye level on concrete pillars around the square.
A university professor at the time, I had gone there to see my students who were on strike, riding the wave of the protests of ’68. But the aftermath of the protest and the brutal crackdown was to become an education in impunity for all of us.
By Daniel Calingaert, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Daniel Calingaert is executive vice president of Freedom House. The views expressed are his own.
The use of chemical weapons in Syria and brutal crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which has claimed more than 1,000 lives, are deeply disturbing events, yet they are just the most glaring examples of a widespread assault on freedom taking place in countries around the world. At times this assault grabs news headlines, as when Russia’s law against “homosexual propaganda” prompted international criticism or a prominent dissident is put on trial. More often, savvy autocrats misuse laws and administrative procedures to subtly restrict civil society groups and silence their critics.
There are plenty of examples. A crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan has intensified in the lead-up to presidential elections there next month. Authorities have broken up peaceful demonstrations, increased almost 100-fold the fines for involvement in unsanctioned protests, arrested youth activists and journalists, and prosecuted critics on trumped-up criminal charges, such as narcotics possession.
Uganda’s parliament passed a Public Order Management Bill that requires police approval for any gathering of more than three people where anything of a political nature is discussed and authorizes police to use deadly force against protestors who resist arrest. In Bangladesh, meanwhile, security forces have killed an estimated 150 protestors since January and detained the prominent human rights defender Adilur Rahman Khan, who was documenting the cases of 61 people allegedly killed by security forces in May 2013.
By David Andrew Weinberg, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: David Andrew Weinberg is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He previously served as a staff member covering Middle East issues at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The views expressed are his own.
Barely a week after having been released from prison, prominent Saudi rights activist Mohammed Al-Bajadi was reportedly detained again on Wednesday. Sadly, Al-Bajadi had already served more than two years in jail for something that should not have been a crime in the first place: establishing a human rights NGO that urged Saudi officials to live up to their own stated legal code.
Ironically, Al-Bajadi first ran afoul of Saudi authorities by calling attention to the plight of other individuals detained without charges, often for years at a time. In 2007, he was arrested and placed in solitary confinement for four months for highlighting this issue.
In 2009, he was hauled in for questioning about his continued peaceful activism for democratic reform and for the rights of prisoners. Although he was released without further punishment, his passport was confiscated to prevent him from traveling abroad. The organization he helped found that year, the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, has consistently been denied requests for a license. Earlier this year, the group’s assets were confiscated, and two of its other founders were each sentenced to at least a decade in prison.
By Carroll Bogert, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Carroll Bogert is deputy executive director for external relations at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are her own.
Edward Snowden’s Russian lawyer says his client wants to start learning Russian. Now that the American whistleblower has finally left Sheremetyevo airport for “temporary asylum” in Russia, he might find himself iz ognya da v polymya – out of the frying pan and into the fire. After all, Russia is hardly a bastion of free speech defense. We recommend including a few key terms in any vocabulary lesson:
Khuliganstvo: Translated as “hooliganism,” this word can mean anything from getting into fistfights to shouting political slogans and jumping around in a Moscow cathedral. Two women from the punk group Pussy Riot are currently serving out a two-year prison term for their khuliganstvo. (Pussy Riot, in case you’re wondering, is “Pussi Raiot” in Russian.)
Ekstremizm: This one is easy for an American to pronounce, but hard to define. It can mean just about anything that is controversial or generates “discontent,” especially if it criticizes the authorities. There’s a whole section of the Russian police dedicated to fighting ekstremizm. One example of their work: the prosecutor’s office recently tried to ban a book calling for an international tribunal on war crimes committed in Chechnya because of its ekstremizm.
By Scott Flipse and Nguyen Dinh Thang, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Scott Flipse is deputy director for policy at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Nguyen Dinh Thang is executive director of Boat People SOS, a Vietnamese-American community organizing association. The views expressed are their own.
Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang visits the White House on Thursday, and when he does, President Barack Obama should take the opportunity to deliver a clear message: If Vietnam wants expanded trade and security cooperation, then Hanoi will have to demonstrate concrete and substantial improvements in human rights. Prioritizing these rights may prompt some grumbling, but will be overwhelmingly welcomed by the Vietnamese people, the large majority of whom are pro-American and want more freedom.
There is a recent precedent for this approach. In Burma, the administration prioritized human rights improvements as a condition for improved relations. Indeed, given Burma’s recent openness to reform, Vietnam has now been left with the worst human rights record in the Association of Southeast Asian Nation region.
By setting clear human rights benchmarks for Vietnam in exchange for new trade and security benefits from the administration, the U.S. can achieve similar results in Vietnam. In fact, such an approach worked for Vietnam nearly a decade ago, particularly in the arena of freedom of religion.