Tag Archive | "Human Rights"

Buddhist monks in Meiktila, Myanmar

Critical Analysis: Myanmar Religion Law Restricts Conversion and Criminalizes Adultery

International organizations are outraged over proposed legislation being negotiated in the Myanmar Parliament which would require individuals to obtain government approval before converting to, or adopting, a new religion. Myanmar (Burma) is a primarily Theravada Buddhist nation of 54 million people with a generally poor, but improving, human rights record. President Obama has visited Myanmar twice in recent years, placing an international spotlight on the country as it begins its path to reform. Although President Thien Sein has introduced increased governmental transparency, the inaugural elections under the new democratic system upcoming in October are already marred in controversy. Parliamentarian and famed pro-democracy advocate Daw Aung Sun Suu Kyi claimed in November that domestic reforms had stalled.

Burmese Parliament

The Burmese Parliament in Naypyidaw with Daw Aung Sun Suu Kyi center. Photo: Reuters, irrawaddy.org

Human Rights Watch reports that the proposed legislation would also prohibit Buddhist women from joining an inter-faith marriage, criminalize extra-marital affairs, and penalize women who have multiple children within a 3-year period. Amnesty International (AI) insists that Parliament reject or revise the laws, which they claim would “risk fueling further violence against religious minorities,” and contribute to the already widespread discrimination against women. The proposed legislation also prescribes discriminatory obligations on non-Buddhist citizens, particularly effecting Muslim minority populations.

Concerns with the proposed legislation focus on four draft bills, which are opposed by AI and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) on the grounds that they violate international law and have dire human rights implications.

  • The Religious Conversion Bill requires anyone who wants to convert to a different faith to apply through a state-governed agency. It establishes “registration boards” who “approve” conversions. It is a clear violation of the ICCPR.
  • The Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Bill exclusively regulates marriage between Buddhist women and men from other religions. It discriminates against women and non-Buddhist men. It is a violation of CEDAW.
  • The Population Control Healthcare Bill establishes a 36 month “birth-spacing” interval between allowed child births. It does not have a clear enforcement mechanism and could lead to forced reproductive control.
  • The Monogamy Bill is aimed at consolidating existing marriage and family laws, but most notable criminalizes extra-marital relations.
Undocumented Muslim immigrants gather at the Immigration Detention Center during Ramadan

Undocumented Rohingya Muslim immigrants gather at the Immigration Detention Center during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan in Kanchanaburi province, Thailand on July 10, 2013. Photo & Caption Credit: Reuters, HRW.org

Ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar have been subjected to ongoing and systematic discrimination for years. Recent reports from Rakhine state show that discrimination against the ethnically Muslim Rohingya population is pervasive and is only likely to increase if public sentiment generated by the proposed laws encourages the discrimination. Non-Buddhist women in Myanmar are subject to widespread discrimination and the law would increase the potential for legally sanctioned abuse. AI’s Asia-Pacific Director, Richard Bennett, is particularly concerned that the language of the laws plays into the “harmful stereotypes about women and minorities, in particular Muslims, which are often propagated by extremist national groups.”

Racial and religious tensions in the country are rising, heightened by the election and the November 18th arrest of a Burmese ISIS member after an accidental blast in bordering Burdwan, India.

Buddhist monks in Meiktila, Myanmar

Buddhist monks in Meiktila, Myanmar, where violence between Muslims and Buddhists left 43 dead in March 2013. Photo Credit: CNN

Some Buddhists in Myanmar feel that that the laws are necessary to prevent further violence.Myanmar’s Parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann urged Parliament to pass additional legislation establishing and protecting a national religion. Political activist Monk Ashin Parmouhka told a Democratic Voice of Burma reporter “If you want to see peace and an end to religious and racial conflict in Burma, [the religion legislation] must be adopted. If you want more conflicts and unrest in the country, then don’t adopt the laws.”

While Myanmar is not party to the International Covenant on Cultural and Political Rights, it is a party to the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In a joint statement, AI and the ICJ claim the laws are in violation of the country’s existing international treaty obligations. They fear that these draft laws are discriminatory and will result in human rights violations, including the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to privacy, children’s rights and the right to freedom of expression. The legislation is currently tabled in Parliament, no date has been set for a vote.

Jeremy Goldstein is a 2L law student 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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Handwritten sign from California 2007 reading "My life, my choice at the end of my life!"

Critical Analysis: Is Choosing to Die a Human Right?

October 31, 2014

As the world focuses on saving people from the Ebola epidemic, there is little focus on the push for the right to die with dignity. Generally, the right to die with dignity means the right to decide and choose how one should die. Recently, a new category has been suggested—physician-assisted suicide—which appears to be an uncertain blend of assisted suicide or active euthanasia undertaken by a licensed physician.

Later this year Canada could join the rank of nations that allow physician-assisted suicide as the Supreme Court of Canada hears an appeal case that argues Canada’s criminal laws deny the right to die with dignity. If Canada rules in favor of the right to die with dignity, Canada will follow the precedent set by the United States, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, and Luxembourg. Canada, however, is not the only country thinking of permitting physician-assisted suicide. Israel and England are among other nations debating on allowing the right to die with dignity. As this issue continues to be highly debated, the question becomes whether the right to die with dignity should become a universal right?

Handwritten sign from California 2007 reading "My life, my choice at the end of my life!"

Pictured is a sign posted in 2007 when California was weighing a bill that would have allowed doctors to give dying patients life-ending drugs.
Photo/Caption Credit: RICH PEDRONCELLI/AP, http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/mass-votes-physician-assisted-suicide-article-1.1198305

A human right, as defined by the United Nations, is an inherent right that all people are equally entitled to obtain. In looking at the right to die with dignity, there is a need to look at the right to life. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights both state all human beings have an “inherent right to life.” The right to life is a liberty right, thus the right cannot be interfered by the government. As a codified liberty right, the right to life is an explicit and positive right that must be enforced. However, there are rights that are not explicit, such as the right to die with dignity. These rights are classified as moral rights. Since this discussion is about human rights, the definition of a moral right for all people is needed. According to noted philosopher Maurice Cranston, a moral right for all people is a right “that everybody has…not rights a man acquires by doing certain work…they belong to him simply because he is a human being.” However, to prove that a moral right for all people exists in order to protect that right, Cranston believes it is necessary to determine if the right is practical and if it is universal. In this two-step process, according to Cranston, two questions need to be asked. First, is the right practical to accomplish or is the right impossible? Second, is the right a universal right that pertains to everyone?

First, the right to die with dignity is not an impossible right to accomplish. Rather, the right to die with dignity is a right that can easily be protected by law. Cranston believes the right to die with dignity is similar to the right to life in that protecting the right, it “is not a very costly exercise” nor unreasonable. It would be very simple for governments and the international community to protect the right to die with dignity. Like the right to life, writes Cranston, the right to die with dignity requires “governments, and other people generally, to leave a man alone: let him live as he decides to live and enjoy what is his.”

Second, the right to decide how one should die is a right that belongs to every human being. Unlike economic rights, (such as the right to paid maternity leave or the right to a paid vacation,) which are rights only given to some, the right to die with dignity belongs to everyone. Everyone has the right to decide when and how he or she should die, even if people do not choose to exercise this right. The right to die with dignity is not a right given to certain people but a right that can be given to all. However, the counterargument is that only terminally ill people have this right; thus only a group of people, rather than every human being, has this right. In most states and countries that allow physician-assisted suicide, two doctors must determine a person is terminally ill and is competent to give consent. While it is true that only terminally ill people are allowed to exercise the right to die by physician-assisted suicide, if the right is looked as solely a right to choose how one dies, then that right is a right that belongs to every human. Suicide itself is not an action that is criminalized in most of the world; therefore, the decision to end one’s life is seen as an act that anyone can exercise. Therefore, the right to die with dignity, which is the right to choose how to die, is a right given to all.

Now that it is established that the right to die with dignity is reasonable right to protect and is a right that belongs to everyone, it must be determined if the right is of “paramount importance.” As Cranston explains, paramount importance is the notion that common sense cannot ignore the right. He gives the example of “Common sense knows that fire engines and ambulances are essential services, whereas amusements parks and holiday camps are not…” which suggests that a right must be one that humans should not be without. The right to die with dignity is such a right that humans should not be without. The right to choose how to die, unlike the economic right to a paid vacation, is one that is necessary to people. It is common sense to allow a person to choose how to live; therefore, it is common sense to allow a person to choose how to end their life.

Whether or not it is agreed that the right to die with dignity is a human right, the argument can be made that the right to die with dignity is a universal right that belongs to every human and is an important and reasonable right to protect. However, like most rights involving morals, the arguments for and against the right to die with dignity will continue until the international community creates a treaty that recognizes this universal and important right. Only time will tell.

Teresa Milligan is a 2L law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and the Events 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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Critical Analysis: The World is Taking Notice of Boko Haram

With the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls last month, the bombing in a bus station on April 14 that killed 71 and injured 124, and a car bombing on May 1st, the international community is waking up to the horrors of Boko Haram.

A militant Islamist group, Boko Haram was initially founded as a religious organization by radical Muslim cleric Mohhammed Yusuf in 2002. Yusuf set up a complex and school in the northeast city of Maiduguri under the premise that all western education was corrupt and sinful. In fact, Boko Haram, loosely translated from the local Hausa language means “western education is forbidden.” The complex quickly became a recruiting ground for jihadist militants and Boko Haram carried out a series of attacks on government offices and police in Maiduguri. Following a shoot-out with police in 2009, Nigerian security forces reported the death of Yusuf and declared that the group had been disbanded.

The group did not disband, and in 2010, current Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a 25-minute video clip denouncing western civilization and pledging to continue militant attacks. Since then, the group has staged numerous assaults including a bombing of police and UN headquarters in Nigeria. The group has continued to reject any notions of opening a dialog with the Nigerian government. Boko Haram was labeled a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the U.S. State Department in November of 2013, and following the group’s public statement vowing to attack the U.S. and Europe last year, the U.S. issued a $7 million bounty for the capture of Shekau.

Parents of the kidnapped girls plead for more help to safely return their daughters. Image Source: Reuters

Nigerian parents of the kidnapped girls plead for more help to ensure a safe return of their daughters. Image Source: Reuters

On April 14 over 100 armed Boko Haram militants stormed an all-girl boarding school in Chibok in the remote north-eastern state of Borno and kidnapped over 200 young girls age 16 to 18. The girls had been called in to sit for their final physics exam when all other schools in the area had been closed due to security concerns. While two groups of girls escaped, recent reports indicate that the remaining kidnapped girls have been taken into Boko Haram strongholds in the Sambisa forest and sold as brides to the militants. Shekau first threatened to capture young women and girls as slaves and brides in video released in May 2013 and it is believed that the group intends to adhere to ancient Islam beliefs that state women and girls captured during war are slaves with whom their “masters’ can have sex with at will. Parents of the kidnapped girls have organized searches into the area, and last week several hundred protesters braved heavy rain to assemble in Abuja, and deliver a letter to the National Assembly complaining that the government was not doing enough to search for the girls. “All we want from the government is to help us bring our children back,” said one parent last week.

Other schools are also in an abysmal situation. At least three professors have been killed at the University of Maiduguri, students have withdrawn and teachers have relocated out of fear and threats of continued violence.

With recent announcement that Nigeria had surpassed South Africa as the leading economy in sub-Saharan Africa, and with the World Economic Forum on Africa set to take place in Abuja on May 9th, the government and President Goodluck Jonathan are struggling to quell concerns over recent violence. While security has been stepped up amid fears that Boko Haram is moving its focus closer to the capital, many are reporting that it appears that the group intends to align itself with similar extremist assemblies in Niger, Mali, and the Middle East. Scholars and members of the international legal and political community are calling for assistance to be given to the Nigerian government.

Former British prime minister and current UN advisor Gordon Brown has called for international military assistance to be offered to the Nigerian government in a hunt for the missing girls. “The International community must do something to protect these girls,” Brown said in an interview last week. “We could provide military help to the Nigerians to track down the whereabouts of the girls before they’re dispersed throughout Africa.” A government advisor to the President said that the government welcomes international assistance in the matter.

Local community protests against the Boko Haram for stealing young school girls. Image Source: BBC/AFP

Local women dressed in red to protest against the Boko Haram for stealing over 200 young school girls and criticized the government’s rescue efforts. Image Source: BBC/AFP

Large-scale pledges are not bringing home the missing 200 girls, and the guerrilla nature of the insurgency requires specialized local measures. “We know where these girls are being held in the forest,” one local Nigerian soldier reported, “[but] somebody high up in the chain of command is leaking up information to these people.” Although officials have long ruled out foreign intervention, many are calling for improved tactics. A representative of the government said that “if countries can help us by way of arming our people through modern surveillance equipment, for defence and all that, it will be most welcome. [But] what Boko Haram is doing is not a formal kind of fight, but a guerrilla kind of fight, and it is only the local people that will tell you how to fight it.”

It seems then, that a two-fold approach must be taken, one where large-scale international assistance is given to the Nigerian government to combat overall strikes of violence and immediate and targeted assistance is given to troops in Chibok in order to bring home the abducted girls as quickly as possible. Whether it be through international intervention, or the systematic arming of local governments, without assistance, the outwardly booming Nigerian government seems to be powerless to quell the continued threat of violence from Boko Haram.

 

Bree Plasters is a rising 3L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and is the Executive Editor-Elect for the 2014-2015 Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.

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Critical Analysis: Protests and Violence Continue in Venezuela

Opponents of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro continued to protest this past weekend, despite a controversial court ruling limiting protests in the troubled country. The Venezuelan Supreme Court ruling gives police the power to suspend protests that don’t have a permit. The ruling states that Article 68 of the Venezuelan Constitution, which provides for a right of peaceful protest, does not grant an absolute political right to protest. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that political organizations and Venezuelan citizens must exhaust all administrative remedies before potentially being allowed to peacefully protest. Even then, the protests must be pre-approved.

Protests began earlier this year in February amid reports of food shortages and high consumer prices. Current reports from the Central Bank and various economists show that food prices have risen 6.1 percent since February, and that the inflation rate is currently running at nearly 60 percent. These protests have been widely student-driven, but have also included opposition forces.

Violent protests in Venezuela have left 41 people dead and hundreds injured. Image Source: Washington Post

Violent protests in Venezuela have left 41 people dead and hundreds injured. Image Source: Washington Post

Often, protests have become violent, and at least 41 people have been killed since they began. Furthermore, almost 600 people have been injured, and around 100 have been detained. According to some who were detained, they were “kicked, pistol whipped, doused with pepper spray and battered with helmets and shotgun butts” in an attempt to discourage further protests. Allegations of murder and other human rights violations have also spread. However, the government’s actions have only made Venezuelan opposition forces more defiant; this weekend’s protests are evidence of just that.

These facts are only recently coming to light in international news, as President Maduro’s government censored most, if not all media coverage of the protests and strife. Due to the rampant censorship, many Venezuelan students turned to foreign sources and social media to have their voices heard. However, reports from late February stated that the Venezuelan government had blocked many Venezuelan users’ Twitter access in an effort to curb further social unrest and protest. Twitter eventually confirmed the government’s supposed actions.

So far, peace talks and negotiations between the Maduro government and opposition forces have not been particularly fruitful. Many students do not trust the current government enough to enable healthy negotiation, as they claim that “years-old efforts” to negotiate with various local, state, and federal officials about problems in Venezuela have solved nothing. There are, however, several hopeful signs. Venezuela’s neighbors are becoming increasingly dismayed with the government’s alleged actions of human rights violations and brutality, leading to more of their involvement in the situation. Recently this month, foreign ministers from the Union of South American nations, which included diplomats from Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador, pressed both sides into limited negotiation, with the government and opposition forces agreeing to create a commission to investigate supposed human rights abuses during protests. Despite the small improvement, however, protest and opposition in Venezuela do not show any sign of slowing down.

 

Bailey Woods is a 3L law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and Candidacy Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.

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March 14 attack in Nigeria

Critical Analysis: Religiously Motivated Violence Escalates in Nigeria

On Monday, April 7, the University of Denver Sturm College of Law will welcome Nigerian human rights attorney Hauwa Ibrahim. Ibrahim has spent her career protecting woman from the harsh penalties meted out under Shariah law in Nigeria’s northern states such as death by stoning and amputations for stealing. Another area of grave concern in Nigeria is the lack of religious freedom, primarily due to attacks by the Boko Haram, a fundamentalist terrorist group that seeks to overthrow the secular Nigerian government and replace it with a theocracy based on Islamic law.

Nigeria is the largest country in Africa with a population of over 177 million people. The country is divided approximately equally between Muslims and Christians. Islam is the dominant religion in the northern states, including the twelve northern states that have adopted Sharia law, while Christianity is most prevalent in the southern states. Interreligious conflicts occur frequently along Nigeria’s central states, or the “Middle Belt” where Christians and Muslims live in approximately equal numbers.

March 14 attack in Nigeria

The March 14 attacks killed approximately 150 people and destroyed 240 homes (World Watch Monitor)

On Friday, March 14, the tragic trend of sectarian violence continued in three villages in the central northern state of Kaduna. At about 11 pm, Muslim Fulani herdsmen raided the mainly Christian villages with guns and machetes. The Fulani are one of Nigeria’s 250 ethnic groups, are predominately Muslim, and have a history of land grievances against Nigerian Christians. The herdsmen descended on the villages and burned 240 houses and three churches to the ground. More than 150 people were killed and the victims were buried in mass graves.

One survivor, Emmanuel Tonak, recounted the attack: “We were fast asleep when we heard gun shots and chanting of ‘Allahu akbar’ [God is great]. Suddenly we came out and saw them advancing and some houses in flames. They came around 11 pm. I escaped into the forest, when they came I started hearing cries and gun shots.” Because the villagers’ homes were destroyed, many other survivors slept in the local primary school and other areas nearby. Sadly, the attack in Kaduna is unlikely to be the last. Since 1999, religiously motivated violence has killed more than 14,000 Nigerians, both Christian and Muslim, displaced thousands, and destroyed churches, mosques, businesses, and private homes.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent bipartisan commission that monitors global religious liberty and makes policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress, has recommended that Nigeria be labeled a “Country of Particular Concern” for the past four years for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. As USCIRF explains, the United States can play a role in mitigating the sectarian violence in Nigeria including by prioritizing religious freedom in U.S.-Nigerian bilateral relations (which is significant as Nigeria is the eigth largest U.S. aid recipient) and officially designating Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern under Section 402(b)(1) of the International Religious Freedom Act.

 

Bryan Neihart is a third year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and the Survey Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy. 

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Critical Analysis: Turkey’s Failed Ban On Twitter

On March 20, 2014, Turkey blocked its citizens from the social media website, Twitter. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the main culprit for this act. During a campaign rally, he stated “Now there is a court order. Twitter, mwitter, we will eradicate it all.” His purported reason behind the block: privacy concerns.

Prime Minister Erdoğan claimed that the block was a response to Twitter’s refusal to implement several court orders. The court orders stipulated that the social media platform “remove some links” per alleged complaints filed by Turkish citizens. Despite this, many people around the world believe that the prime minister wanted to remove tweets that included hyperlinks to incriminating audio of the prime minister and other top officials engaged in corruption. One such link contained audio of a male’s voice that closely resembled Prime Minister Erdoğan’s. The voice instructed another man to “dispose of large amounts of cash from a residence amid a police investigation.” Predictably, the prime minister denied any corruption. However, due to Turkey’s recent history of blocking social media websites, this looks more like an abuse of power to silence any opposition. Such drastic measures present two immediate concerns.

A woman protests the Twitter ban by writing a physical tweet. Image Source: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images.

A woman protests the Twitter ban by writing a physical tweet. Image Source: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images.

First, blocking Twitter debilitates some Turkish citizens’ hopes of ascension into the European Union (“EU”). Stefan Fule, the EU’s commissioner for enlargement, recently stated that blocking Twitter “raises grave concerns and casts doubt on Turkey’s stated commitment to European values and standards.” This shows that Prime Minister Erdoğan only has his own political interests in mind, not the interests of Turkish citizens.

Second, social media platforms like Twitter empower people because it gives them a way to speak out against an authoritarian regime. This is especially important given Prime Minister Erdoğan’s recent restrictions on the flow of information through traditional media, such as newspapers and television news. Sadly, Twitter is the only remaining avenue for the Turkish citizens. It is clear that the Internet has become the “last preserve of freedom of information in Turkey.” Thus, without Twitter, the prime minister hoped to silence the Turkish people.

Objectively, Turkey’s block on Twitter was predictable. Many countries before Turkey have clung to such efforts in a last ditch effort to silence any opposition. However, the fact Turkish citizens have found ways around the restrictions showed that such oppressive measures are as draconian as the authoritarian regimes that instituted the blocks. As has been the case with other situations around the world, Turkey is the latest example of an undeniable truth: countries cannot block Twitter. Because of this, historically oppressive countries are losing their ability to deny a fundamental human right: the freedom of expression.

Casey Smartt is a 2L and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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Critical Analysis: The Resurgence of the Modern Baby Box

Baby hatches (also called baby boxes) are not an entirely modern concept, as their use can be traced back to medieval times.  Their purpose has also largely remained the same: to allow a mother to anonymously leave the child in a safe and protected place, the baby box, when she feels she is not capable of providing for the child.  The child’s father or other family members can utilize the baby box as well.  Whether the mother is leaving the baby at a local hospital, church, or charity, mothers do so for different reasons, be it to avoid having an abortion or female infanticide (in some countries), or to leave an illegitimate or disfigured child in the care of others.  However, the resurgence of the baby box in numerous countries throughout Europe and Asia has spurred a hotly contested debate between the desire of the mother to leave the baby anonymously and the right of the child to discover the identity of his or her parents, a conflict that may never be resolved.

This is a baby hatch fixed in a wall near a hospital in Berlin, Germany. Image Source: AP

This is a baby hatch fixed in a wall near a hospital in Berlin, Germany. Image Source: AP

In Germany, there are nearly 100 baby boxes in existence.  Generally, the baby is cared for by the providers of the baby box before going through Germany’s legal system for adoption.  In some instances, a mother has the opportunity to return to the site where she left her baby and reclaim him or her within a certain time period.  After a set time, however, the mother cannot return to reclaim the baby and the adoption will be final.  However, the entire operation of baby boxes in Germany is at odds with the country’s laws.

Abandoning a baby is illegal in Germany, and the country’s Constitution provides its citizens with the right to know who their parents are and gives fathers a right to help raise their children.  So allowing the continued operation of the baby boxes falls within a legally gray zone, one that strongly nods towards the social policy that is the foundation of its existence.  Supporters of the baby boxes view them as a last hope for women who are unable to shoulder the burden of taking care of their baby.  Those in opposition believe that baby boxes send the wrong message to society that women can hide their pregnancies and then abandon their babies.  For now, Germany appears to be allowing the operation of the baby boxes despite strong criticism against their existence.

In France, the law gives women the right to have an anonymous birth and a right for their identity be kept secret from their child if they so desire.  The European Court of Human Rights upheld the law in 2003, stating it does not violate the European Convention on Human Rights.  However, the operation of baby boxes in France, Germany, and other countries clashes with the right of a child to know or preserve his or her identity, which is guaranteed in Article 8 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Article 7 also gives a child the right, as far as possible, to know and be cared for by his or her parents.  If a country allows a mother to legally leave her child in a baby box, the child will never know the identity of his or her parents let alone be given the opportunity to be cared for by them.

The continuing conflict between the mother’s desire and (in some countries) right to give birth anonymously and the child’s right to know and be cared for by his or her parents is prevalent in not only Europe but other corners of the world as well.  Whether or not governments will continue to allow the operation of baby boxes in the midst of a debate with no clear right or wrong answer is yet to be determined.

Laura Brodie is a 2L and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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Critical Analysis: High Stakes for GLBTQ Community in Uganda

After a controversy spanning five years, Ugandan President Museveni signed a bill into law expanding the criminalization of homosexuality in Uganda.  GLBTQ individuals could now face up to life imprisonment.  Besides an inherent anti-GLBTQ sentiment, the rhetoric surrounding the passage of the bill has been strongly anti-colonial and anti-West.  Decried by nations and NGO’s as potentially violating human rights, the Ugandan government is defying international pressure and embracing an extreme stance on homosexuality.

Ugandan government takes an extreme stance against the GLBTQ community. Image Source: Reuters

The Ugandan government takes an extreme stance against the GLBTQ community with anti-homosexual laws. Image Source: Reuters

In contrast to many other anti-GLBTQ laws, the stakes for GLBTQ individuals in Uganda are particularly high.  Beyond the discrimination enshrined in laws in the United States, or even criminalization as seen in Russia and most of the rest of Africa, Uganda’s GLBTQ community faces a substantial threat of violence.  The original bill made some homosexual acts a capital offence.  Though this punishment was removed from the final bill amid international outcry, the 2011 beating death of activist David Kato demonstrates the grave risk homosexuals face in Uganda.  A recently published list of high-profile homosexuals makes the potential for violence very real.  GLBTQ individuals, their supporters, and their families are understandably alarmed by the passage of the law.

Despite the anti-West rhetoric, the anti-GLBTQ movement can trace back to evangelical Christian roots in the United States.  Though not explicitly supporting the legislation, American evangelicals are accused of exporting their culture wars by using Uganda and other African countries push back against the growing support for GLBTQ rights in the United States.  Indeed, a group of American Christian politicians called “the Family” are tied to the Ugandan leaders who brought forth the legislation.  The result is that much of the debate surrounding gay rights in the United States has transplanted into Uganda, but with the more extreme goal of eradicating homosexuality at any cost.

The backlash for Uganda promises to be significant.  The European Union released a statement noting Uganda’s obligations under human rights laws and Sweden has announced potential redirection of funding away from the government.  Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands have halted aid, while the United States has announced a review of aid.  Financial implications may be limited, however, because of the important role Uganda plays in addressing the unstable situation in Somalia.

The international community faces the dilemma of how to support human rights while respecting a nation’s ability to determine social policy.  Given American involvement in the development of the law, we have a particular responsibility to take some sort of action.  Direct financial pressure on Uganda may not be effective, because it may lead to economic and political instability in a relatively fragile state.  Rather, we can back indigenous efforts to establish GLBTQ rights as human rights in Uganda. The West can accomplish this by supporting Ugandan organizations (like this one), activists (as Sweden is), or high-profile Ugandan GLBTQ supporters (like here). Most significantly, we can hold our own citizens accountable for their involvement in GLBTQ persecution, such as through lawsuits, boycotts, and political pressure.

Alicia Gauch holds a Ph.D in International Peace Studies, and is a second year law student and Staff Editor at the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Critical Analysis: Putin Signals Change in Human Rights Policy… Every Time the Olympics are in Town

Famed Russian political prisoner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was released from prison last week in a surprise pardon by President Vladimir Putin.  Khodorkovsky, was an oil tycoon before incarceration as well as the richest man in Russia at one time.  Through a series of deals negotiated with the government, Khodorkovsky bought up many state oil companies following the collapse of the communist government in the early nineties.  Officially charged with tax evasion – many believed that he was imprisoned for his vocal opposition to Putin as well as using his immense wealth to back Putin’s opposition.

Khodorkovsky at a court hearing in 2008. Image Source: Reuters

Khodorkovsky at a court hearing in 2008. Image Source: Reuters

According to the Kremlin, after ten years Mikhail Khodorkovsky requested a pardon because of humanitarian reasons.  Although attorneys for Khodorkovsky had appealed many times, this was the first pardon requested.  Furthermore, the request apparently came directly from Khodorkovsky as initial reports stated his lawyers knew nothing about it.  Some surmise it was in response to rumors that Russian prosecutors were readying a third case against him, in spite of his scheduled release date this upcoming August.

This move from Putin has left many wondering what is to become of two other high profile cases – that of two members in the political rock group “Pussy Riot” and thirty Greenpeace activists.  Both cases have drawn tremendous publicity worldwide.  The incarcerated rock band members received two-year sentences for performing a song in a Russian Cathedral.  The song was received as being both raunchy as well as critical of Putin.  The Greenpeace activists are awaiting trial on their cases for protesting aboard an oil rig.

President Putin recently introduced legislation that will likely answer the question of their fates.  The legislation, often referred to as an “Amnesty Bill,” is being rushed through legislation.  Once signed, all of the cases in question will qualify for pardons – something most in and out of Russia believe will occur.   Given the current temperature of media inside the state, these pardons are no longer a surprise.  Weeks and months ago, however, Putin had promised that nothing of the sort would occur, stating, “This is a serious thing for us. And we do not plan to soften (our stance), we will only be toughening it.”

Two things have some questioning the sincerity of the Kremlin’s generosity.  First is the proximity of these moves to the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  With the spotlight on Russia’s human right’s record, the timing of these releases is peculiar to say the least.  Additionally, the releases are, so far, small in scale.  The prison doors are far from being flung open.  Secondly, is the way that the releases were carried out.  The releases – both past and impending – are centered around the executive rather than the judiciary.  That raises the question of whether these maneuvers are any actual departure from Putin’s measured democracy whatsoever.

Tom Dunlop is a 3L at Denver University and a Staff Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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