By Aisling Reidy
The first vote I ever cast was in one of the six referendums that Ireland has had on abortion. Today, I watched with tears of joy as it became clear that two-thirds of Irish people voted to repeal the 35-year constitutional ban on abortion and to allow parliament to regulate abortion access in the future. Voters had turned out in historic numbers. I am both proud and relieved.
I was too young in 1983 to vote in the first referendum that led Ireland to change its Constitution, adding what is known as the eighth amendment, banning abortion in almost all circumstances, even though it had already been criminalized in the country for over a century.
Under the constitutional ban, while “due regard” was given to the right to life of pregnant women and girls, the state’s responsibility was to “vindicate” the right to life of the “unborn.” When I was a university student, anti-choice activists successfully used the ban to make it illegal for doctors and family planning clinics to offer patients information about abortion services outside of Ireland. Student union officers were prosecuted for distributing such information. Magazines from abroad turned up in Ireland with blank pages, which would otherwise have contained advertisements with information on abortion services in the UK.
Over the years, the ban led to an injunction against a 14-year-old rape victim to stop her traveling to England for a termination, and, as recently as 2014, to a forced caesarean on a young asylum seeker, who despite being raped had not been allowed to travel for an abortion. Some women, like Savita Halappanavar, died because of the eighth amendment. The European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Committeeruled on multiple occasions that the ban violated women’s rights, and told Ireland time and again to change its laws.
I voted in three referendums that won small but important gains: the right for a suicidal pregnant woman or girl to obtain a life-saving abortion; the right to information about services abroad; and the right to travel for these services. Between 1980 and 2016, more than170,000 Irish women and girls “travelled” (as it euphemistically became known) to have abortions: rape victims, women with diagnosis of fatal fetal anomalies, women who needed to end pregnancies to undergo life-saving treatment, and those who, for myriad personal reasons, could not continue their pregnancies. It’s likely everyone in Ireland knows family members or friends who “travelled” – often alone and in secrecy. I do.
After years of women making this lonely and often agonizing journey, listening to the brave individuals who came forward to break the silence, watching the commitment of the indefatigable pro-choice campaigners, and seeing the thousands who travelled #hometovote, yesterday’s vote was particularly poignant. The emphatic nature of the ‘Yes’ vote gives me hope that it will mark the start of a new, honest, rights-respecting era for women and girls in Ireland.
Activists in Poland, Malta, Italy, and in other regions such as Latin America -- where women and girls continue to fight for access to abortion – watched as Ireland voted. I hope today marks a day where women’s struggle to secure or protect their basic reproductive rights wherever they are, is bolstered.
Published on HRW on May 28, 2018
By Emma Batha
Norway approved a law banning all child marriage on Tuesday, with campaigners saying it would set an example to others ahead of a global 2030 deadline for eradicating the practice.
The Nordic country has a minimum age of 18, but allows 16- and 17-year-olds to marry with parental consent and permission from the county governor. A government spokeswoman said very few under 18s had sought to wed in recent years.
“We believe ... this law will send a clear message, nationally as well as internationally, that we do not accept children getting married in Norway,” Minister of Children and Equality Linda Hofstad Helleland said in emailed comments.
“A marriage should always be based on full, free and informed consent,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Globally, an estimated 12 million girls are married every year before their 18th birthday - nearly one girl every two seconds, according to global campaign group Girls Not Brides.
The United Nations has said all countries should end child marriage by 2030 under global development goals.
The Norwegian branch of aid agency Plan International, which has led calls to reform the law, said Tuesday’s unanimous vote in parliament for a total ban was an important milestone.
“A major reason why the law needs to change is the global perspective,” said spokeswoman Siv Meisingseth.
“How can we encourage other countries in the developing world to ban child marriage if we don’t have our own house in order?”
Meisingseth said the reform - which comes a year after Denmark passed a similar ban - would give Norway one of the strictest laws on child marriage in Europe.
“We really want other countries in Europe to copy this law. This should be the standard,” she said.
Child marriage forces girls to drop out of school, limits their opportunities and traps them in poverty, experts say. It also raises the risk of domestic abuse, rape and serious childbirth complications.
Parliament will hold another reading of the bill next week, but sources said this was a formality and the law would likely come into force shortly.
The law will also ban Norwegians from marrying abroad if either party is under 18. Meisingseth said there had been cases where girls had been taken overseas to be married off to men in their parents’ country of origin.
The maximum penalty for child marriage will be three years’ imprisonment.
Published on Reuters on May 22, 2018
By Usman Hamid
The end of military-backed autocratic rule on May 20, 1998, opened the way for greater respect for human rights in Indonesia. How far has the human rights agenda in the country progressed as the reform era (Reformasi) marks its 20th anniversary?
Reformasi has seen significant reforms in terms of politics and civil liberties as well as the separation of the army and the police, but, practically, human rights are still under threat in the country. Violations continue to take place in new forms.
The birth of Reformasi did not necessarily address human rights violations that took place during the military rule of Suharto. High ranking government officials and military generals remain above the law. Reformasi takes impunity for granted and former military generals, including some who are still on duty and who must be brought to justice for past human rights violations, still hold strategic positions in governments of post-Suharto regime.
Suharto’s successor BJ Habibie, a nonmilitary figure but seen as very close to Suharto, started the reform era by releasing all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, allowing people to establish many political parties to contest in the general elections in 1999. However, he did not attempt to seek justice for the past abuses by the military.As of today, there have been five administrations since Reformasi was born. Each of them had a human rights agenda but unfortunately their work remained unfinished.
The next president, Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, another nonmilitary figure, moved forward with his progressive human rights agenda: separating the police and the military and establishing the law on Human Rights Court in order to be able to try serious human rights violations in the past such as mass killings in Tanjung Priok 1984. Unfortunately, his human rights agenda was stalled after he was later impeached due to a highly questionable graft accusation.
Despite the Gus Dur government’s move to amend the constitution to better define articles on human rights, the military, which still had political influence in the parliament, managed to insert an article endorsing the legal principle of nonretroactive law enforcement, in a move to prevent future administrations from punishing the military for its past human rights violations — especially the killings of around 500,000 accused communist supporters in 1965, around 200,000 people in East Timor from 1975 and 1999, thousands of people in Aceh between 1989 and 1993 and hundreds of people in Papua since the 1980s. This was where Reformasi also officially gave birth to impunity.
Gus Dur limited the power of the military in his government but the latter regained its power under the rule of his successor, Megawati Sukarnoputri, also a political but nonmilitary figure. Megawati in 2003 took a more repressive approach in responding to independence movement in Aceh and Papua by bringing more soldiers to the two contested regions and restricting access for journalists and human rights defenders.
The regime of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), Megawati’s successor, was seen as the return of the military to the presidency, due to his status a military general from the Suharto’s era. After 10 years of ruling the country, SBY failed to live up to his promises to solve past human rights cases and the 2004 murder of human rights defender Munir Said Thalib, which implicated senior officials in the State Intelligence Agency (BIN).
After SBY, Indonesians returned the presidency to nonmilitary leadership by electing Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, a former mayor and businessman, as the country’s seventh president. Jokowi made a big promise to solve past human rights violations that cheered human rights defenders and family members of victims.
However, as he is being challenged by a political opposition power led by a strong former military general Prabowo Subianto, a former son-in-law of Suharto, Jokowi finally resorted to pragmatism. The president has embraced former police and military generals to serve in his government and Cabinet in what many see as a bid to contain Prabowo’s opposition leadership. Some of the ten former military generals, including Wiranto and Hendropriyono, who are members of Jokowi’s inner circle and Cabinet, were allegedly implicated in human rights violations cases such as the killings in East Timor.
Reformasi has failed on human rights in Indonesia because despite status of the government, whether military or not, former police and military generals implicated in past human rights violations have continued to hold power in the past 20 years.
As a result, human rights are still at risk in Indonesia despite people enjoying greater civil liberty and political participation.
Security forces in Papua, the restive and eastern most region of Indonesia, frequently apply unnecessary force when dealing with peaceful demonstrations that usually end up with extrajudicial killings. After East Timor, now Timor-Leste, became an independent country through a referendum in 1999 and Aceh secured a peace agreement with the central government in 2005 to end its struggle for independence, Papua is the only region in Indonesia today that still has both armed and peaceful independence movements, making the province the country’s hotbed for human rights violations in what security forces called ‘fighting against separatists.’
In the past 20 years, although Indonesia no longer had violent conflicts both in Maluku and Central Sulawesi, the country still saw ethnic and religious tensions and violence, resulting from divisive and scapegoating politics by the elites. Draconian laws have been readopted to restrict civil liberties and activism deemed as anti-Pancasila, separatist, or communist. Also, minority groups such as Ahmadiyah, Syiah, Christians, followers of native faiths, human rights defenders, journalists, as well as LGBT people frequently suffer discrimination and attacks from both state and nonstate actors without any serious efforts to bring those suspected of criminal responsibility to justice.
This culture of impunity goes back to the fact that none of the administrations from 1998 to 2018 managed to bring to justice those responsible for killing students in Trisakti University in Jakarta and in the Semanggi Tragedy, as well as the disappearance of students who fought for Reformasi in 1998. It is clear that Reformasi still has an unpaid debt to the killed and disappeared students who fought to defend the reform movement.
Published on The Diplomat on May 21, 2018
By Libby Hogan
When Tang Seng heard gunshots close to his village in Myanmar, he had a choice: carry his grandmother away from the fighting on his back or run for help. She asked him to kill her and leave her there but he refused.
Tang Seng walked out of his village carrying Supna Hkawn Bu to a makeshift camp for the displaced, where they remain with their family. She has had to flee from conflict five times in her life and didn’t speak for two days when they first arrived.
War in Myanmar is synonymous with the Rohingya crisis but Tang Seng and his grandmother are not Rohingya refugees. They are from the country’s north, in the state of Kachin, where another brutal but far less well publicised conflict is playing out between the largely Christian minority group and government militias.
The humanitarian crisis in Syria is worse this year than ever before in the country’s seven-year-old civil war, a United Nations official said on Friday.
“We see in 2018 the humanitarian situation inside Syria being the worst we have seen since the war started: a very dramatic deterioration, massive displacement, disrespect of protection of civilians and people’s lives still being turned upside down,” Panos Moumtzis, U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria crisis, said in Beirut.
Syria is the worst place in modern history in terms of attacks on healthcare workers and facilities, accounting for 70 percent of all such attacks worldwide, he said.
U.N. data shows 89 healthcare workers died in 92 confirmed military attacks on healthcare facilities between Jan 1 and May 4, compared to 73 killed in 112 attacks in the whole of 2017, U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria crisis.
The two areas which saw the most healthcare attacks in 2018 were Eastern Ghouta and Idlib.
Eastern Ghouta had been the largest rebel-held pocket near the capital Damascus, but came back under government control in mid-April after a fierce offensive.
Idlib, in northwest Syria, is the largest remaining area under opposition control, containing around 2.5 million people.
Idlib’s population has ballooned over the course of the conflict, with people there from fighting inn other areas. The government has also transferred a large number of rebel fighters and their families to Idlib as part of surrender deals elsewhere in Syria.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to take back every inch of Syria.
Moumtzis said the U.N. does not want to see a repeat of what happened in Ghouta happen in Idlib. He urged the warring sides to come to a peaceful solution.
Moumtzis also said he was concerned about poor aid access in Syria.
In 2017, 27 percent of requests made by the U.N. to Syrian authorities for permission to deliver aid were granted. In the first four months of 2018 only seven percent were granted, Moumtzis said.
The number of people designated by the U.N. as living in besieged areas has fallen dramatically this year to stand at 11,100, after the Syrian government took back control of almost all rebel-held pockets around the capital Damascus.
But 2.05 million people in need of humanitarian assistance still live in hard-to-reach areas, the U.N. said.
Published on Reuters on May 18, 2018
By Fabiana Frayssinet
Child labour has been substantially reduced in Latin America, but 5.7 million children below the legal minimum age are still working and a large proportion of them work in precarious, high-risk conditions or are unpaid, which constitute new forms of slave labour.
For the International Labor Organisation (ILO) child labour includes children working before they reach the minimum legal age or carrying out work that should be prohibited, according to Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, in force since 2000.
The vast majority of these children work in agriculture, but many also work in high-risk sectors such as mining, domestic labour, fireworks manufacturing and fishing.
Three countries in the region, Brazil, Mexico and Paraguay, exemplify child labour, which includes forms of modern-day slavery.
Cambodian authorities should quash the politically motivated “insurrection” convictions against 11 members, supporters, and activists of Cambodia’s now dissolved main opposition party, Human Rights Watch said today. Cambodia’s Court of Appeal is scheduled to announce its decision on an appeal by the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) members, who had received sentences of from 7 to 20 years, on May 10, 2018.“The prosecution of 11 CNRP members was one of the first of many bogus cases brought against the opposition after the party nearly won the disputed 2013 elections,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party apparently decided to lock up political opponents to stave off defeat at the ballot box.”
Zimbabwe’s colonial-era public health laws must be revised to guarantee the human rights, and the dignity and equality of everyone, including adolescent girls who bear the brunt of existing discrimination, Amnesty International said today, ahead of the parliamentary debate on the Public Health Act Amendment Bill.
The organization warned that Article 35 of the Bill, as it stands now, could put adolescent girls’ health at further risk, as it implies that anyone under 18 years of age will not have legal capacity to consent to receiving health services and information.
“For too long adolescent girls in Zimbabwe have suffered the consequences of inconsistent laws which are used to deny them their sexual and reproductive rights. This, combined with the shame and stigma around adolescent sexual health services, means young girls face an increased risk of unwanted pregnancies and HIV infection,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Southern Africa.
Saudi Arabia is detaining thousands of people for more than six months, in some cases for over a decade, without referring them to courts for criminal proceedings, Human Rights Watch said today. Saudi Arabia’s attorney general should promptly charge or release all criminal defendants and stop holding people arbitrarily.Human Rights Watch analyzed data from a public online Interior Ministry database, which revealed that authorities have detained 2,305 people who are under investigation for more than six months without referring them to a judge. The number held for excessively long periods has apparently increased dramatically in recent years. A similar Human Rights Watch analysis in May 2014 revealed that only 293 people had been held under investigation for that period.