The Commonwealth Wire

Rights group wants to end mandatory FGM tests in Narok

The directive by Narok County Commissioner George Natembeya to subject girls in upper primary and secondary schools in the county to mandatory Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and pregnancy tests has caused uproar with human rights activists now terming the move as an abuse of girls’ rights. Concerns by right groups are that if implemented, the directive will humiliate and traumatize the girls instead of serving its intended purpose of stopping the vices. Equality Now Programme Officer in Charge of End Harmful Practices Felister Gitonga wonders what will happen to girls who are found to be have undergone FGM or those who were pregnant. Instead, she says, authorities should create strategies that will end the practice but without victimizing the survivors like would happen “if the ill-informed directive is implemented.”

Are human rights democratic? Yes, they’re essential to democracy

A common argument against human rights laws in the UK is that they are ‘undemocratic’. This is because some claim that human rights laws, and the judges enforcing them, stop elected politicians from making some of the decisions they want to.  Ignoring the fact that human rights laws were put in place by our politicians, this is a reflection of a very basic view of democracy. Under this limited view of democracy, politicians can do whatever they want when elected, which on the face of it sounds sensible; that’s what they’re there to do. But there’s a big problem with this understanding of democracy, which human rights can help fix. This was seen vividly in Northern Ireland during The Troubles. The Protestant majority in Northern Ireland governed in a way that discriminated against the Catholic majority, in terms of access to public sector jobs, education and social housing. 

India’s transgender rights bill faces ‘unanimous opposition’ from trans people

Transgender communities in India are urgently trying to stop the passage of a Bill which purports to protect their rights but they say actually violates more rights than it claims to protect. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2018 has passed in the the Lok Sabha (lower house of Parliament) and is due to face the Rajya Subha (upper house) tomorrow, 8 January. While its name suggests the Bill is a protection of rights for transgender people, the rights of both transgender and intersex communities will be severly dialed back if it is to pass, say trans groups. It's a Bill that "faces unanimous opposition from all trans people", Meera Sanghamitra of the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) and Telangana Hijra Intersex Transgender Samiti (THITS) wrote on Twitter. Various iterations of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill have been drafted since 2014, with public imput from transgender and intersex communities, but the 2018 Bill includes 27 amendments that ignores that community feedback.

Bangladesh elections: Hold those responsible accountable for ‘violent attacks and intimidation’

“There are credible reports of fatalities and numerous injuries on polling day alone”, OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said in Geneva on Friday. Amidst allegations of vote-rigging, a landslide victory was declared for incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, with the opposition leader rejecting the results. “There are worrying indications that reprisals have continued to take place, notably against the political opposition, including physical attacks and ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests, harassment, disappearances and filing of criminal cases”, continued the spokesperson, noting reports of disproportionate “violent attacks and intimidation” by ruling party activists, and, in some cases, with the involvement of law enforcement officials. Ms. Shamdasani cited reports of media intimidation and property damage, as well as other constraints that have hindered free and public reporting on the elections. 

One of India’s holiest sites

On a steep hill in India’s Kerala state sits the centuries-old Sabarimala temple, one of Hinduism’s holiest sites. Each year, millions of men visit the temple, but women between the ages of 10 and 50 have long been barred from entering. In the early hours of Wednesday morning, however, two women slipped inside the temple, cloaked in black and flanked by plainclothes policeman—a history-making moment that has sparked both jubilation and fury in Kerala. The two women—identified by the BBC as Bindu Ammini, 40, and Kanaka Durga, 39—are the first to access Sabarimala shrine since India’s Supreme Court overturned a ban on women’s entry in September. Others have tried, but were rebuffed by angry mobs. 

Make family planning a human right policy – National Population Council

The National Population Council (NPC) has called on government to institute family planning as a human right policy in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially goal four. In a statement to mark this year’s World Population Day, the Northern Regional Secretariat of the NPC said, the Council believed it would not be a misplaced priority if the government considered family planning as a human right and commit to ensuring that human rights were incorporated in the Family Planning policies. The statement said parents have the basic human rights to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children linked to the SDGs, particularly eradicating extreme poverty, hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, empowering women and ensuring environmental sustainability. It said the Northern Region has a total population of 2,468,557 comprising 1,229,887 males and 1,249,574 females with teenage pregnancy as a major challenge. The statement indicated that “In the Region 2.2 per cent of women aged 15-19 were pregnant with first child whiles the maiden age at first marriage is 18.7, the lowest in the country”. Highlighting on the national theme: “Family planning is a human, right an imperative to sustainable economic development”, and stressed need for focusing on reducing fertility rate and number of dependency on working groups to ensure rapid economic growth. The statement said “A high population growth means a high economic expenditure. The several efforts of government at achieving a projected growth in the economy by 3.8 per cent may be challenged if the population continues to grow so rapidly. Family planning should therefore take centre stage in all our developmental programmes”.

Indian state takes a step forward for transgender rights

The southern Indian state of Kerala announced this month that it would reserve places for transgender students in the state's higher education institutions, a move aimed at easing their stigmatization. The transgender community is among the most marginalized in India, with access to education and subsequently jobs mostly nonexistent, according to experts. Kerala's move to secure places in higher education is among the first initiatives in the country to help support their progress. But the move, which has been welcomed by the transgender community, has also been met with skepticism over its viability by activists who highlight the likely ignorance of students and faculty at these universities. Students will face discrimination along with a lack of viable accommodation options, they believe. "If there is no access to hostels or no access to bathrooms, just like it's for disabled people, [transgender people] disappear," said Vikramaditya Sahai, a consultant with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences who is transgender. The new policy will apply to government colleges across the state and will require two seats in every college class to be held exclusively for transgender students. Social stigma involved with coming out as transgender often forces teens to run away from home or sees them disowned by their families. Some are unable to continue their education due to discrimination and humiliation from peers. But Kerala has launched initiatives to encourage inclusivity for transgender people. Last year, authorities announced government jobs for transgender people in the state's metro system. The state has also provided welfare plans for the community.

Bangladesh drug war death toll hits 200: Rights group

The death toll from Bangladesh's contentious Philippines-style war on drugs since May has hit 200, a local rights group said Tuesday (Jul 17), with some 25,000 others imprisoned. Bangladesh launched the crackdown to smash the surging trade in "yaba", a cheap methamphetamine and caffeine pill, which authorities say has spread to almost every village and town. Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan has said the "war" will last until the narcotics trade is brought under control, saying those killed are all involved in at least 10 drugs crimes. But rights groups say that many of the victims are shot by police in cold blood and that the onslaught was in part being used as a cover to settle scores. In June the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, said he was "gravely concerned" that "such a large number of people" had died.Official declarations that none of the victims was  innocent were "dangerous ... and indicative of a total disregard for the rule of law," a UN statement said. Bangladesh's state-run National Human Rights Commission has also expressed alarm."It is unprecedented in Bangladesh. So many people have been killed in such a short period of time," Sheepa Hafiza, executive director of Ain o Salish Kendra rights group, told AFP."This is very unfortunate. We condemn these extrajudicial killings and want fair investigations into each of these killings," she said. Around 25,000 alleged drug dealers have been arrested, home ministry spokesman Sharif Mahmud Apu told AFP.

'Our darkest hour': Behind India's child rape crisis

A series of gruesome child rape cases over recent months continues to leave India reeling. In January, an eight-year-old girl was abducted in remote Jammu and Kashmir state, before she was drugged, starved, gang-raped and murdered. During the fallout, it emerged that two teenagers were raped, doused in kerosene and set on fire in the eastern state of Jharkhand, one of them dying from her injuries. There were 10,854 cases of child rape reported nationally in 2015, while this number rose to 19,765 in 2016. This means that child rape now makes up about 40 percent of the reported rape cases. The Indian Express, joining a chorus of outrage, called it a "huge spike in the rape of children". "It is for the first time that such a sharp increase in sexual assaults on children has been registered," the newspaper said. Prime Minister Modi has vowed to hang those "of demonic tendencies who misbehave with (our) daughters".Save the Children's Mr Kumar told SBS News "there is no evidence that the death penalty for child rape acts as deterrence"."We believe that the focus should be on enforcing existing laws in a speedy manner."He pointed to the fact that the Indian government brought in the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act in 2012 but there has been no reduction in cases. UNICEF India similarly questioned the death penalty, saying in a tweet "we hope this will be backed up by real investments in protecting children, in making schools, public spaces but above all our own homes and communities safe for children".

Opinion: How to stop rapes: death penalty is not the answer, but police and prosecutorial reform are

After another spate of horrific rapes of minors, some involving gruesome violence and murder, the Union government last month finally issued an ordinance incorporating the death sentence for rapes of minor girls. This had been a long-standing demand of many agitated citizens, though there are also sceptics who doubt it will halt the epidemic. Some sceptics of the new death penalty believe it can perversely lead to child rapists killing their targets more often, to reduce their chances of being caught, and because the punishments are now the same anyway. But unless most cases are speedily adjudicated, it is largely a moot point. In 2016, convictions for crimes against women stood at 18%, and those for crimes against children were only marginally better at just under 30%

Opinion: Brexit means…more arms dealing to human rights abusers

It was one year ago that a triumphant Theresa May proudly announced from Ankara, Turkey, that the UK is “open for business.” She had reason to be upbeat. The UK prime minister had just secured a £100m arms deal that meant lots of money for ‘defence’ and ‘security’ manufacturer BAE, and some positive headlines about the UK’s post-Brexit future. The deal, she said, “[would mark] the start of a new and deeper trading relationship.” May didn’t just use her visit to sell arms though. She also used it to reaffirm her support for the President Erdogan, who, by that point, had already instigated a crackdown that had seen thousands of public sector workers purged from their jobs. There was no shortage of information available to her about the state of human rights in Turkey. Six months prior to her visit, Amnesty International, and others, had extensively documented the return of torture and abuse in Turkish prisons.

NHRC seeks action taken report on Tamil Nadu pesticide deaths

Tamil Nadu has delayed submission of report though the notice was received last month, say activists. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) sought an action taken report from the Tamil Nadu government following a spate of pesticide poisoning deaths reported from the State in October and November last year. Acting upon the complaint of an activist who was part of a fact-finding team that investigated into the deaths and several instances of hospitalisations after exposure to pesticides in Perambalur, Ariyalur, Salem and Cuddalore districts of Tamil Nadu, the Commission issued a notice last month demanding the State government to submit a report on the actions undertaken to address the problem. However, response from the concerned authorities is still awaited as per the status displayed on the NHRC website.

Opinion: Canada’s checkered history of arms sales to human rights violators

The Canadian government has been taking flak lately for its arms sales. Helicopters destined for the Philippines could be used for internal security in President Rodrigo Duterte’s harsh crackdowns, critics charge. The $12-billion sale of light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia has also embroiled Justin Trudeau’s government in controversy. In response, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has pledged to review both deals, suggesting Canada is toughening up arms sales restrictions based on human rights grounds. But how did Canada get into the international arms trade, anyway? A look at the history of how Canada started selling weapons overseas following the Second World War reveals that, contrary to Freeland’s implication, Canada actually used to be much more restrictive on arms sales than it is today. Canada has not made human rights any more central to its arms export policy than it was in the 1940s — in fact, it’s reduced oversight and the consideration of human rights issues when it comes to selling arms.

AJ petitions United Nations body over alleged rights violations

Access to Justice, AJ, has urged the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to urgently undertake a visit to Nigeria to assess the level of violations of human rights in the country. In the letter to the Special Rapporteur of the Human Council on the Independence wof Judges and Lawyers, Mr. Diego García-Sayán, AJ, requested that the UN body should, "undertake an urgent country visit to Nigeria to assess the situation and ensure that full and independent investigations are conducted. Based on this fact-finding mission, the Special Rapporteur should provide his conclusions and recommendations to the Nigerian Government."

Opinion: Right to dignity of Christian women in Pakistan

On January 18, 2018 a division bench of the Lahore High Court (LHC) held the hearing of an appeal that challenged the order of a single bench, which restored section 7 of the Christian Divorce Act 1869. While, the court proceedings would continue on this matter it is simultaneously important to look into the rationale of the said section. The Section 7 provides that courts (in Pakistan) could act on the principles and rules, which are conformable with the divorce law in the UK. This section was omitted through an Ordinance in 1981, by the then dictator General Ziaul-Haq. Repeal of section 7 left the Pakistani Christian community with the only option of Section 10, for divorce or dissolution of marriage on the basis of adultery. However, if a Christian woman is the petitioner, then she has to submit the petition on the ground of her husband’s conversion and marriage with another woman; or on the basis of adultery coupled with other cruel charges, for instance, rape, sodomy or bestiality. 

Home Office ‘locking migrants in rooms for more than 13 hours a day’ in breach of human rights

The Home Office has been accused of locking migrants up in their rooms for more than 13 hours a day in “degrading” and insanitary conditions, in breach of their human rights. Detainees at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre have lodged a High Court challenge to the lock-in regime and living conditions at the centre, which psychologists say is likely to have a “highly adverse effect” on detainees’ mental health.

Human rights concerns from job interview lead to $56,000 ruling

Workplace discrimination is an issue faced by many people across Canada. Many know that there is legal recourse for human rights concerns related to termination, but what happens when a person doesn't even get a job for discriminatory reasons? A Cold Lake, Alberta, resident was recently awarded $56,000 in lost wages and damages from a company that refused to hire him due to his sexual orientation and race. The male complainant is married to another man, who serves as an RCMP officer in the area. In the summer of 2014, he was interviewed for an office assistant job at a local auto body shop. During the 75-minute interview, the applicant was asked questions about religion, marriage, race and sexual orientation. The interviewer, who also happened to be the mayor of Cold Lake, advised the interviewee that he did not want to be politically correct and asked very direct questions about these topics. He also mentioned that he was Catholic and alluded to his beliefs on homosexual marriage. The complainant brought these human rights concerns to a tribunal.

Manerela to build LGBTI inclusiveness among Malawi faith community

One of Malawi's faith based organisations Malawi Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected with HIV and Aids (MANERELA) has embarked on a new project under the theme 'Building LGBTI Inclusive Faith Communities in Malawi'. This was revealed at an orientation of Religious Leaders on Advocacy and Human Rights Sexuality which took place at T and D Lodge located in the Eastern Region District of Zomba on Tuesday 14th November 2017. According to MANERELA Administrative and Finance Officer Allie Mwachande, the project will be implemented in four districts of Zomba, Mangochi, Salima and Nkhatabay and will run for one year with funding from Arcus Foundation to the tune of $50,000 USD. Mwachande said one of the objectives of the project is to ensure that faith leaders develop an understanding of human sexuality as a starting point for creating an enabling environment for the key population and other sexual minorities.

“Access to education will create meaningful lives for refugee youth” – President Akufo-Addo

The President of the Republic, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, has indicated that, in his view, access to education is the only way by which the world can foster a sense of cohesion and solidarity amongst displaced persons, especially of those of school going age, and, help create for them, an enabling environment, which will spur them on to lead more purposeful and dignified lives. According to President Akufo-Addo, education is the key to human development and to widening life’s options for individuals and society as a whole, stating that it is the hope of every mother and father that education will help their children escape poverty and give them access to a good life.