Tag Archive | "Human Rights Violations"

When Law is not Enough: How to Eradicate Female Genital Mutilation

Photo

Girls in Egypt 2015 (photo by Christina Mourad – UNFPA)

The practice of female genital mutilation (“FGM”) has many psychological, emotional, and physical effects.  The international community recognizes the practice FGM as a human rights violation.  There has been a global effort to eradicate the practice by both firmly categorizing FGM as a human rights violation and by making the practice illegal in countries where it is practiced.  Despite these efforts, and despite the increasing awareness of the risks linked to FGM, millions of young girls are still affected today.  This is because condemnation by the international community and even successful efforts within countries to make FGM illegal have done very little to change the social and cultural realities surrounding the practice.  Until that happens, FGM will continue to effect women across the globe.

Currently, countries such as Somalia, where the rate of FGM is 98 percent, are considering passing legislation that will make FGM illegal.  Making the practice illegal is an important step, however, simply changing the law will not, on its own, eradicate FGM.  In Egypt, for example, although the practice has been illegal since 2008, the rate of FGM for married women is still at 92 percent.  Furthermore, despite the fact that a doctor was recently convicted of manslaughter for performing FGM (his patient died), many doctors are still willing to perform the procedure.  Even countries where FGM has not historically been woven into the fabric of society are struggling with eliminating the practice.  For instance, in the United States, where FGM has been illegal since 1996, “the number of women at risk for female genital mutilation has practically doubled in the last decade.”

The continued pervasiveness of FGM, even in countries where it is explicitly illegal, is due to the fact that it is deeply woven into the fabric of society in many cultures around the world.  Whether or not a girl goes through FGM is directly linked to her marriage prospects and to her acceptance into society.  So for a family to forge the procedure or for a girl to refuse the procedure can have lasting and devastating effects. One girl in Sierra Leone was pulled out of school for two years for bringing shame on her family for refusing.

Legal action and international condemnation usually ignore these important cultural issues.  The “knee-jerk” reaction in Western cultures is to completely demonize FGM and ignore sincerely held cultural beliefs.  However, it turns out that one culture judging and attacking another does absolutely nothing to change the minds and practices of the judged culture.  FGM is no exception.

The reality of the situation is that education and uniting the community are the keys to eradicating FGM.  This approach must take into account the traditions and ancient cultural roots of FGM so as to not alienate communities.  This is because the entire community needs to come together for this goal to be achieved.  Especially since it is the adults who are ensuring and, in some cases, forcing children to go through the process.  Without collective and coordinated action in the community, social pressures will continue to allow FGM to flourish.

Simply making something illegal without also changing cultural attitudes underling a practice will do little to eradicate the practice.  Neither will condemning the practice outright and without any attempt to understand the underlying reasoning for the practice to continue.  The increased international attention to the harms caused by FGM, and the attempts by some countries to eradicate the practice through passing legislation, are important.  However, for the sake of the millions of girls still at risk of the procedure, more needs to be done.  It is only by addressing the cultural issues realistically and sensitively that FGM can be reduced and hopefully eradicated globally.

Allison Derschang is a 3L at the University of Denver Sturm College Law and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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Qatar accepts award in 2010 to host FIFA World Cup 2022

Critical Analysis: Qatari Employment Law and the 2022 World Cup

November 18, 2014

By far, some of the major cost factors that are associated with hosting the World Cup tournament consist of spending on the development of infrastructure, improvement of transportation system and various tourism related accommodations. In the case of Qatar, however, the variable that would have to be factored into the final equation are lives of hundreds of migrant workers lost on the construction sites since the commencement of the 2022 World Cup project due to ill working and living conditions.

On December 2, 2010, when the FIFA Executive Committee announced Qatar’s winning the bid to host the 2022 World Cup, thousands of Qataris gathered on the streets to celebrate the news. This event has put the country in the global spotlight. It will be the first time in the history that the World Cup is held in an Arab state. For many, this event is seen as a historic opportunity to bridge the gap between East and West.

There is no doubt that Qatar is financially capable to undertake such a large-scale project. In fact, due to its enormous oil and gas reserves and free market economy, this tiny Gulf country is officially the world’s wealthiest country per capita.  It planned to spend $200 billion on building new infrastructure in preparation for the 2022 World Cup, including a new airport, roads, subways, hotels and football stadiums.

One of the main factors that played against the Qatar’s bid, though, was the weather. Of the countries running for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, Qatar was ranked as the only “high risk” candidate because summer temperatures, which can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit, could pose a serious threat to the health of the athletes. However, the Chief Executive Officer of Qatar World Cup bid Committee assured that the “stadiums, training sites, fans zones and other outdoor areas” will employ hi-tech cooling technology to provide comfortable temperatures for athletes and thousands of visiting fans from around the world.

Qatar accepts award in 2010 to host FIFA World Cup 2022

Emir of the State of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani (left) and Fifa President Sepp Blatter pose with the World Cup after the Qatar announcement in 2010.
Photo and Caption Credit: The Independent

These reassurances certainly evidenced that the government is taking the concern over the health and the well-being of the players and fans very seriously. However, a September 2013 exposé by the Guardian revealed Qatar’s appalling failure to protect and prevent serious exploitation of migrant workers who are directly involved in the World Cup construction project. The report put the nation in the spotlight once again, stating that nearly 900 workers have died in Qatar since the construction of the World Cup commenced in 2012. Many of these workers were killed by sudden heart attack and workplace accidents caused by overwork and lack of adequate health and safety practices. The report sparked international outrage and criticism over government’s treatment of migrant workers.

According to a Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Qatar currently has the highest percentage of migrant workers in the world – approximately 88% of total population of 1.9 million is immigrants. These workers come to Qatar with the hope that their income will enable them to provide financial support to their families back home. Driven by poverty, they often take out large loans to pay high recruitment fees for a promise of well-paid jobs in Qatar. Instead, upon arrival, they end up in jobs where conditions and wages differ significantly from what was originally promised.  Many of these employees live in overcrowded and unsanitary labor camps which lack electricity and air conditioning. Detailed investigations conducted by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in 2011 highlighted widespread violations of migrant workers’ rights, including dangerous working conditions or not being paid wages, sometimes for months.

Many of the problems are rooted in “kafala”, an employee sponsorship system that ties a foreign worker to a single employer who sponsors the visa in Qatar. Under this system, migrant workers are not allowed to change their jobs without the employer’s permission (so called No-Objection Certificate).  Also, the existence of the “exit permit” system, that requires employees to obtain employer’s consent before leaving the country, gives employers ultimate power over their foreign employees.  Further, Qatari law prohibits migrant workers from joining or forming trade unions, so workers cannot engage in strikes to voice their problems and find solutions to their dire circumstances. Prevented from changing jobs or leaving the country, these workers have no choice but to accept low wages and poor living and working conditions.

Many human rights groups have criticized Qatar’s kafala system of employment and urged the government to abolish or revise these controversial laws which facilitate the exploitation of migrant workers. In May 2014, in response to worldwide condemnation of the contentious laws, the Qatari government announced its plans to reform the kafala system. The proposed reforms were based on the recommendations by DLA Piper, an international law firm, which was instructed by the government to prepare an independent report examining the situation of migrant workers.  According to a statement made by human rights director of the Qatari interior ministry, Colonel Abdullah Saqr al-Mohannadi, the new law would modify the exit visa system by allowing migrant workers to exit the country without their employer’s consent. Instead, a new e-government system would automatically issue exit visas to a foreign employee after 72- hour grace period prior to any departure.

The government’s announcement of its decision to make fundamental changes to the existing laws elicited hope in millions of people throughout the international community that Qatar would provide long-awaited protection for foreign workers, and finally eliminate its controversial system of employment.  However, according to a brief published by the Amnesty international in November, 2014, six months after the announcement, “Qatar is still failing on workers’ rights”. Despite its promises to abolish the kafala sponsorship system and to replace its “exit visa” system, the government has taken no steps to implement these changes.

There is no doubt that Qatar depends on the foreign labor to help realize its grandiose 2022 World Cup vision. If the government continues its abusive employment practices, International Trade Union Confederation warns that more than 4,000 more workers will die by the end of the construction project. Qatar must take immediate steps to avoid this. Otherwise, the world’s most popular sporting tournament will go down in history as an event “built on forced labor and exploitation” of hundreds of lives.

 

 Jeyla Zeynalova is a 2LE at University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a Staff Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy. 

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Critical Analysis: Colombia’s FARC Admits That Its Role in the Civil War “Affected Citizens”

November 15, 2014

Colombia’s largest rebel group, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), recently acknowledged that its actions have affected citizens in the nearly 50 years of internal conflict.  This is the first admission of this kind by FARC.  Going further, Farc has stated that its rebels are ready to take responsibility for their actions during the 50 years of conflict in Colombia.

FARC joined negotiations in Cuba with the Colombian government in November 2013.  The purpose of the talks has been to get FARC to sign an agreement in which it renounces its armed struggle in order to join the legal political process and stop the internal conflict, and to provide for victim reparations.  However, as a part of working towards an agreement on disarmament and the eventual implementation of a peace deal, FARC is expected to seek an amnesty agreement.

A march for those enslaved by Mexico’s drug cartels.

A march for those enslaved by Mexico’s drug cartels.
Photo Credit: CM Keiner/Flickr, at http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/News/farc-victims-seek-truth-peace-talks/story?id=17593438

Several important questions emerge from FARC’s admission.  First, what type of reparations are appropriate, when family members are still searching for over 400 victims who were kidnapped by FARC and went missing between 2002 and 2011? Second, should FARC members receive amnesty, or is that in conflict with the notion of FARC taking responsibility for their role in the violence?

In order to determine what type of victim reparations are appropriate, it is important to understand the nature of the conflict. The conflict in Colombia has claimed around 250,000 lives and displaced over 5 million people.  The majority of killings were carried out by the Colombian army, police, and state-linked right-wing paramilitary groups, including FARC.

Between 2002 and 2011, it is alleged that rebels kidnapped 2,678 civilians, and that more than 400 of these victims are still in captivity or have gone missing.   Members of victims’ associations such as Los Que Faltan, or “Those Who are Missing,” state that they are not opposed to the peace process, and support it, as long as there is transparency with what has happened to the victims. Other victims rights groups have stated that they do not want peace talks to advance unless FARC is willing to provide answers to the families of those victims that have been kidnapped or disappeared.  During the peace talks, FARC commanders have stated that the rebels no longer hold any captives.  This leaves family members of missing victims with little in the way of hope of finding their loved ones.  Farc has also threatened throughout this process that without government concessions, peace talks will fail.  The group states that unless the government is willing to guarantee the rights and security of the opposition and cease killing guerrilla commanders in the field, the peace talks will not succeed. Thus, FARC has provided few answers to the families of victims, and has only demonstrated willingness to take responsibility to the extent that members receive amnesty for their actions.

Parties involved in the talks have argued that in order to truly find a solution, it must address the roots of conflict.  Integral in this process would be acknowledgement of the violence caused by FARC, for FARC to provide answers to the many families with missing family members and little in the way of answers.  It is unlikely that the peace process will be successful, or that victims and their families will accept any sort of reparations without getting the answers that they are looking for.  It remains to be seen whether FARC’s admissions and willingness to take responsibility will include providing victims and their families with meaningful reparations and the answers they have been searching for.

With regard to the issue of amnesty, the same perpetrators that have been responsible for large-scale human rights abuses, which have continued and in some cases increased despite the peace process, are now seeking integration into the Colombian political process. Providing amnesty to these perpetrators of violence and integrating them into the legal and political process would send the wrong message to victims, delay the peace process, and could potentially result in violence.  When FARC last attempted to take part in electoral politics, several thousand members and elected officials were murdered. Even if FARC agrees to victim reparations, it is unlikely that the integration of these perpetrators into the political process will be welcomed by victims and their families, and even less likely that they will support the continuation of peace talks.

The question remains what recourse victims will have if FARC opts not to provide victims and their families with the information they are seeking regarding the whereabouts of missing persons.  FARC negotiator Jesus Santrich stated that any punitive measures would have to be taken by an independent tribunal, not the state or its “corrupt and venal judiciary.”  If the Colombian government agrees to amnesty or refuses to prosecute for crimes committed by FARC member over the 50 years of violence, members of the international community may call for an independent tribunal to investigate crimes committed by FARC members.

 

Emily Boehme is a 2L law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a Staff Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Michael Kirby, Chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea

Critical Analysis: Will the Crimes Against Humanity perpetrated in North Korea be prosecuted in the ICC?

October 28, 2014

Speaking before the UN General Assembly on Oct. 28, 2014, Marzuki Darusman, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) encouraged action to stem the ongoing human rights abuses in the country.  Specifically, Mr. Darusman encouraged submitting the Commission of Inquiry’s report to the Security Council to “send an unequivocal signal” to the DRPK that serious follow up would be taken.

The report itself found systematic, widespread, and gross human rights violations amounting in some cases to crimes against humanity.  The human rights violations are unsurprising to most members of the international community.  Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both reported on the many egregious conditions imposed upon the people of the DRPK.  One example are prison camps for political offenders that impose ‘collective punishment’ (imprisoning entire families, including the children of offenders).  According to the US State Department, the political prisoners number in the tens of thousands and may exceed 80,000 individuals.

Although Mr. Darusman’s recommendation before the General Assembly made headlines, the statement is a reiteration of the findings of the Commission.  Specifically, the Commission stated that:

The United Nations must ensure that those most responsible for the crimes against humanity committed in the Democratic People’s Rebublic of Korea are held accountable.  Options to achieve this end include a Security Council Referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court or the establishment of an ad hoc tribunal by the United Nations.

The language used in the Commission’s report demonstrates a clear call for justice on the international stage.

Michael Kirby, Chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea

Chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea, Michael Kirby, spoke at U.N. headquarters, urging action on the report. Photo Credit: Salvatore Di Nolfi / European Pressphoto Agency, http://articles.latimes.com/2014/feb/17/world/la-fg-un-north-korea-20140218.

Non-cooperation has been an ongoing problem for the Commission, as is noted in the report, but recent developments must have caught the attention of the DRPK officials.  Mr. Darusman was “unexpectedly” met by four North Korean diplomats who sought to discuss a potential visit to the DPRK.  The meeting was the first contact with a UN inspector regarding the human rights situation in the last 10 years.  Reaching out may be a good sign, but it remains to be seen whether North Korea will allow Mr. Darusman access to the political prisons much less acknowledge their existence.

Equally unclear is whether the issue would withstand the veto powers of Russia or China if it reaches the Security Council.  Both nations have aligned with North Korean interests in the past.  Russia itself currently faces significant political pressure in the international arena, but that is certainly no predictor of how the delegation will vote.

Jordan Edmondson is a 3L at University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a Staff Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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