Rohingyas: The Most Persecuted People on Earth

Rohingya refugees wait to receive aid in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh on September 24, 2017 (Photo: Cathal McNaughton/ Reuters); Background: Rohingya refugee Azida Begum, 11, was shot twice, under her arm and her leg, by the Burmese military when they killed her mother as she was fleeing her village in Burma. This photograph was taken in Palongkhali, Bangladesh on October 10, 2017 (Photo: Paula Bronstein / Getty).

Background
The Rohingya trace their origins in the region to the fifteenth century, when thousands of Muslims came to the former Arakan Kingdom. Many others arrived during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when Rakhine was governed by colonial rule as part of British India. Since independence in 1948, successive governments in Burma, renamed Myanmar in 1989, have refuted the Rohingya’s historical claims and denied the group recognition as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups. The Rohingya are largely considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though many trace their roots in Myanmar back centuries.

Neither the central government nor Rakhine’s dominant ethnic Buddhist group, known as the Rakhine, recognize the label “Rohingya,” a self-identifying term [PDF] that surfaced in the 1950s, which experts say provides the group with a collective political identity. Though the etymological root of the word is disputed, the most widely accepted theory is that Rohang derives from the word “Arakan” in the Rohingya dialect and ga or gya means “from.” By identifying as Rohingya, the ethnic Muslim group asserts its ties to land that was once under the control of the Arakan Kingdom, according to Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, a Thailand-based advocacy group.

The Legal Status of Rhonigya
The government refuses to grant the Rohingya citizenship, and as a result the vast majority of the group’s members have no legal documentation, effectively making them stateless. Myanmar’s 1948 citizenship law was already exclusionary, and the military junta, which seized power in 1962, introduced a law twenty years later stripping the Rohingya of access to full citizenship. Until recently, the Rohingya had been able to register as temporary residents with identification cards, known as white cards, that the junta began issuing to many Muslims, both Rohingya and non-Rohingya, in the 1990s. The white cards conferred [PDF] limited rights but were not recognized as proof of citizenship. Still, Lewa says that they did provide some recognition of temporary stay for the Rohingya in Myanmar.

In 2014 the government held a UN-backed national census, its first in thirty years. The Muslim minority group was initially permitted to identify as Rohingya, but after Buddhist nationalists threatened to boycott the census, the government decided the Rohingya could only register if they identified as Bengali instead.

Similarly, under pressure from Buddhist nationalists protesting the Rohingya’s right to vote in a 2015 constitutional referendum, then-President Thein Sein canceled the temporary identity cards in February 2015, effectively revoking their newly gained right to vote. (White card holders were allowed to vote in Myanmar’s 2008 constitutional referendum and 2010 general elections.) In the 2015 elections, which were widely touted by international monitors as free and fair, no parliamentary candidate was of the Muslim faith. “Country-wide anti-Muslim sentiment [PDF] makes it politically difficult for the government to take steps seen as supportive of Muslim rights,” writes the International Crisis Group.

Muslim minorities continue to “consolidate under one Rohingya identity,” says Lewa, despite documentation by rights groups and researchers of systematic disenfranchisement, violence, and instances of anti-Muslim campaigns.

Watch The Rohingya: Silent Abuse: Part II | Al Jazeera World (aired 8.13.2017).

Fleeing in Fear
The Myanmar government has effectively institutionalized discrimination against the ethnic group through restrictions on marriage, family planning, employment, education, religious choice, and freedom of movement. For example, Rohingya couples in the northern towns of Maungdaw and Buthidaung are only allowed to have two children [PDF]. Rohingya must also seek permission to marry, which may require them to bribe authorities and provide photographs of the bride without a headscarf and the groom with a clean-shaven face, practices that conflict with Muslim customs. To move to a new home or travel outside their townships, Rohingya must gain government approval.

Moreover, Rakhine State is Myanmar’s least developed state, with a poverty rate of 78 percent, compared to the 37.5 percent national average, according to World Bank estimates. Widespread poverty, poor infrastructure, and a lack of employment opportunities in Rakhine have exacerbated the cleavage between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya. This tension is deepened by religious differences that have at times erupted into conflict.

The 2017 Exodus
Clashes in Rakhine broke out in August 2017, killing more than five hundred people after a militant group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) claimed responsibility for attacks on police and army posts. As many as 18,500 Rohingya Muslims fled their homes in less than one week, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The government declared ARSA a terrorist organization and the military mounted a brutal campaign that destroyed hundreds of Rohingya villages and forced more than six hundred thousand Rohingya to leave Myanmar, more than half of the estimated Rohingya population in the country. Myanmar’s security forces allegedly opened fire on fleeing civilians and planted land mines near border crossings used by Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.

Rights groups and UN leaders have condemned the escalating violence and atrocities, which have been described by a number of observers as ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The clashes and exodus have created what UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls a “humanitarian and human rights nightmare.” At an emergency UN Security Council meeting, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Myanmar authorities have carried out “brutal, sustained campaign to cleanse the country of an ethnic minority,” and she called on members to suspend weapons provisions to the military. Other Security Council members, like Russia and China, have resisted increasing pressure on Myanmar’s government because they say it is trying to restore stability.

Sectarian violence is not new to Rakhine State. Security campaigns in the past five years, notably in 2012 and 2016, also resulted in the flight of tens of thousands of Rohingya from their homes.

The Rohingyas: The World’s Fastest-Growing Refugee Crisis | 40 Photos
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40 Photos | Click images above to enlarge or read caption.  

MSF: At Least 67,000 Killed in a Single Month
On December 14, Doctors Without Borders estimated that at least 6,700 members of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority, including 730 children below age 5, had met violent deaths there in the month after a military crackdown on their villages. Survivors who fled to neighboring Bangladesh gave consistent accounts of executions, gang rapes and burned homes. But with Myanmar’s government blocking international access to the area of western Myanmar where the Rohingya once lived, estimates of the toll have been hard to ascertain. Doctors Without Borders, the international medical charity also known as Médecins Sans Frontières, said that nearly 70 percent of the victims it had tallied died of gunshot and that 9 percent were burned to death in their homes. The group said its mortality figure was almost certainly an underestimate. The estimate was a summary of findings from six surveys carried out last month with refugees who had fled Myanmar for Bangladesh.

Forced Marriages, Child Brides & Sex Trafficking
In Malaysia, the demographics of the Rohingya population skews heavily male. The situation created a troubling demand for young Rohingya women in places like Ampang—a suburban neighborhood on the edge of Kuala Lumpur, with a large population of Rohingya men. Human traffickers quickly targeted young girls in Rohingya camps in Myanmar, often offering them safe journey to Malaysia for a fraction of the normal cost. But once they set sail, the terms of the agreement would often change. Suddenly, the girls owed more than $1,000 and those who couldn’t pay would be held in jungle camps. Many were raped by their traffickers. Others were sold into marriages in Malaysia.

“We know women have been recruited by brokers in Rakhine State either for free or at a very reduced cost because their traffickers were anticipating that they could charge men in Malaysia a lot higher fee,” explained Amy Smith, of Fortify Rights—a nonprofit that documents human rights abuses in Southeast Asia.

It’s difficult to determine exactly how many women have been sold into forced marriages, experts say.  Arranged marriages are common in Rohingya society. The custom of a man paying his bride’s way to Malaysia is frequently practiced. It’s a tradition that feels similar to a forced marriage, but while the women set up on arranged marriages have had some previous connection with their spouse and the approval of their families, the victims of forced marriages have had no prior contact with their husband and no intentions of getting married when they set out from Myanmar.  An investigation by the International Organization for Migration recently uncovered documented accounts of Rohingya girls as young as 11 getting married, and families at refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar are forcing their girls to marry early to reduce the number of mouths to feed and secure more food for themselves.

Sharifah Shakirah, a Rohingya woman who works with the victims of forced marriages in Malaysia, said the situation is the symptom of a cruel system. And for the women who refuse to accept the marriages, their future can look even worse: “The agents, they sell them into prostitution and then they have to work in bars and clubs. Some traffickers use these girls as beggars. They cut their hands or gouge their eyes out to incite sympathy. I’ve seen it happen so many times. I cannot explain to you how difficult life is for these girls,” sighed Shakirah.

Myanmar’s Civilian Response…or Lack Thereof
In 2016, Myanmar’s first democratically elected government in a generation came to power, but critics say it has been reluctant to advocate for Rohingya and other Muslims for fear of alienating Buddhist nationalists and threatening the power-sharing agreement the civilian government maintains with the military. Some observers saw the establishment in August 2016 of an advisory commission on ethnic strife led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as a positive development, but subsequent outbreaks of violence have curbed this optimism.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, has denied that ethnic cleansing is taking place and dismissed international criticism of her handling of the crisis, accusing critics of fueling resentment between Buddhists and Muslims in the country. In September 2017, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate said her government had “already started defending all the people in Rakhine in the best way possible.”

Regional Response
Protesters have at times gathered in cities in Pakistan, India, Thailand, Indonesia, and Bangladesh to condemn the killing and persecution of Rohingya. Bangladesh’s foreign minister condemned the violence in Rakhine as “genocide” in September 2017 and Indonesia called on the Myanmar authorities to halt their campaign and bring an end to the violence. Yet governments in Southeast Asia lack established legal frameworks to protect refugees’ rights, and the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have not coordinated a response to the deepening crisis.

Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand—all ASEAN members—have yet to ratify the UN Refugee Convention or its protocol. ASEAN itself has been silent on the plight of the Rohingya and on the growing numbers of asylum seekers in member countries, largely because of its members’ commitment to the principle of noninterference in each other’s internal affairs.

International Response
In December 2016, U.S. President Barack Obama lifted sanctions against Myanmar, saying that the country had made strides in improving human rights. The move came amid a crackdown on Rohingya and was criticized by some as premature. In September 2017, the United States committed $32 million to supply food, medical care, water, and shelter for Rohingya who have fled. Yet, while U.S. lawmakers have proposed new measures targeting Myanmar military members and the State Department has withdrawn military assistance, no sanctions have been reimposed.

Advocacy groups including Human Rights Watch, the Arakan Project, and Fortify Rights continue to appeal to major international players to exert pressure on Myanmar’s government. Others, such as Priscilla Clapp, a former U.S. diplomat in Myanmar, say that placing sole blame on Myanmar oversimplifies and misrepresents the complexities of the country’s historical ethnic diversity. “An international response that consists primarily of assigning blame for this humanitarian tragedy is no longer tenable. It is time for the international community to organize a realistic, workable solution,” writes Clapp.

Annan’s advisory commission published its findings in late August 2017, after a year of investigation. It recommended that Myanmar lift restrictions on movement and citizenship. “Tensions remain high and they risk becoming worse. Violence will not bring lasting solutions to the acute problems that afflict the Rakhine State,” Annan said.

Resentment of the minority group has run deep for generations. Without overhauling “a culture of pervasive prejudice” and ensuring that Rohingya are treated as human beings, the situation in Rakhine State is unlikely to improve, says journalist and author Francis Wade.

Sources
The Rhonigya Crisis -Eleanor Albert | Council on Foreign Relations
The Misunderstood Roots of Burma’s Rohingya Crisis -By Krishnadev Calamur | The Atlantic
At Least 6,700 Rohingya Died in Myanmar Crackdown, Aid Group Says -By Hannah Beech | The New York Times

U.S. Says Myanmar’s Rohingya Assault Appears to Be Ethnic Cleansing -By Farnaz Fassihi | The Wall Street Journal
What It’s Like to Be a Rohingya Child Bride -By Jonathan Vit | VICE
Child Marriage in the Rohingya Camps in Bangladesh -By Photographer Allison Joyce | The Atlantic (Photos)

Rape of Rohingya Sweeping, Methodical | AP Investigation via ABC News


Recommended….
Free Detained Journalists in Myanmar | NY Times Editorial Board
The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide | Azeem Ibrahim (Book)
Aung San Suu Kyi’s Clearest Act of Complicity | New York Times Editorial Board
Rohingya Recount Atrocities: ‘They Threw My Baby Into a Fire’ -By Jeffrey Gettlemen | The New York Times
Satellite Images Show More Than 200 Rohingya Villages Burned in Myanmar -By Sergio Peçanha & Jeremy White | The New York Times
Rohingya Activist: ‘Rohingya Are Not Safe Anywhere’-By Ashley Westerman | NPR

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The Hidden Human Calamity: African Migrants Sold As Slaves in Libya

Earlier this month, CNN published cellphone and hidden-camera footage from what appeared to be “slave auctions” conducted in Libya. The images, including video obtained by undercover CNN journalists, served as a jolt to the international community: They showed what seemed to be West African migrants being haggled over as “merchandise” by smugglers operating in what has become a haven for illicit trafficking networks.

“Does anybody need a digger? This is a digger, a big strong man, he’ll dig,” said a salesman in camouflage gear. “What am I bid, what am I bid?” Buyers respond with a round of prices. “Within minutes it is all over and the men, utterly resigned to their fate, are being handed over to their new ‘masters,’” reported CNN.

Though some Libyan journalists have questioned the authenticity of the report, there’s nothing new about the systematic abuse and exploitation that migrants experience in Libya. This summer, journalist Sudarsan Raghavan chronicled the plight of many people who had hoped to make the Mediterranean passage to Europe, only to find themselves hoodwinked by smugglers and marooned in squalid Libyan detention centers.

“They flogged me, they slapped me, they beat me while I was on the phone with my mother so she could hear me cry,” said Ishmael Konte, a 25-year-old from Sierra Leone, recounting his torrid journey through the arid deserts of southern Libya at the whim of smugglers.

But the CNN report, and especially its footage, has focused new outrage on the situation. Last week, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres declared that “slavery has no place in our world and these actions are among the most egregious abuses of human rights and may amount to crimes against humanity.” He called on Libyan authorities to investigate the crisis, while a number of West African nations withdrew their ambassadors from Tripoli or chastised the Libyan envoys in their own capitals. Protests also exploded in various European cities. On November 28, French diplomats pushed for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

A huge part of the problem, however, is that the Libyan state is a fragile mess, contested by what amounts to three rival governments and controlled in large areas by a patchwork of militias that pay fealty to no one. Ever since the regime of late Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi collapsed in 2011, the country has become the focal point of regional smuggling networks, including those ferrying countless impoverished West Africans eager to leave behind deprivation and war for the chance of a better life in Europe. More than 150,000 migrants and refugees made the crossing to Europe from Libya in each of the past three years.

A protester holds a sign-board during an anti-slavery demonstration outside the Embassy of Libya in London, United Kingdom on November 26, 2017 to protest the human rights violations in Libya. (Photo​: Alberto Pezzali/​ ​NurPhoto via Getty Images)

And though the country’s U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord said it was launching an inquiry into the alleged slave dealing, it stressed that Libya “is going through difficult times which affected its own citizens as well” and argued that it was “not fair to assume responsibility for the consequences of this immigration, which everyone unanimously agreed that addressing this phenomenon exceeds the national capacities.”

“As shocking as it seems, it’s indeed true. The reason [the slave trade] can happen is because there is really no rule of law across much of Libya,” Leonard Doyle of the International Organization of Migration said to Al Jazeera. “Libya is a country as big as France, with a lot of space there. Migrants are coming there … they see the promise of a new life when they go to their Facebook feed and they think something wonderful is waiting for them in Europe, because a smuggler has abused the system and has sold them that lie.”

Photo: Ismail Zitouny​ / Reuters​

Increasingly, though, many migrants are finding the door to Europe firmly shut by a continent that wants nothing to do with them. And the path to Europe itself is also treacherous and deadly. For the fourth year in a row, more than 3,000 migrants or refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean. With Italian assistance, the Libyan coast guard has been intercepting more boats ferrying migrants since the summer — an outcome that is ideal for Europe, but which has left migrants stranded in a country where they are preyed upon by criminal elements. A U.N. human rights report in September warned of “the hidden human calamity” taking place along Libya’s coast, documenting accounts of migrants being robbed, raped and murdered.

Estimates say that anywhere from 400,000 to nearly 1 million migrants may be trapped in Libya. Government detention centers are overflowing and underfunded, and countless migrants have disappeared into a shadow world of criminality and abuse. Attention has also fallen on widespread anti-black bigotry in Libya that partly fuels local indifference to the migrants’ plight.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who is went on a landmark visit to countries in West Africa at the end of November, stressed the need to stabilize Libya during a E.U.-Africa summit. He is pushing for outside support to help evacuate many migrants back to their home countries.

But there is a bigger moral conundrum for Macron — and the rest of the West, as well. France, along with the United States, was a leading player in the military intervention that ousted Gaddafi and ushered in what was supposed to be a democratic transition. But Libya has since become a failed state with little capacity to safeguard, host or even register would-be asylum seekers, and where rogue militias have run roughshod.

“We cannot even guess the scale of the abuses inflicted on migrants in all these hidden places, untouched by the rule of law,” said U.N. human rights commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Huseein in a September statement. “The situation of migrants crossing Libya was appalling during Gaddafi’s era, but it has become diabolical since.”

Sources:
A ‘Slave Auction’ Puts the Global Spotlight Back on Libya -By Ishaan Tharoor | The Washington Post
People for Sale: Exposing Migrant Slave Auctions in Libya | CNN


Recommended….
Sale of Migrants as Slaves in Libya Causes Outrage in Africa and Paris -By Nour Youssef | The New York Times
‘They Are Not Treated Like Humans’ -By Sudarsan Raghavan | The Washington Post
Video Of Migrants Sold In Apparent Slave Auction In Libya Provokes Outrage Worldwide -By Sarah Ruiz-Grossman | Huffington Post
U.N. Chief ‘Horrified’ by Report of Libya Slave Auction -By Rick Gladstone
IOM: African Migrants Traded in Libya’s ‘Slave Markets’ | Al Jazeera
The Libyan Slave Trade Has Shocked the World. Here’s What You Should Know -By Casy Quakenbush | TIME

Yemen: The World’s Worst Humanitarian Disaster ⚱️

Buthaina is the only member of her family not killed in a Saudi-led airstrike in August 2017. (Photo: Khaled Abdullah/ Reuters)

After two and a half years of war, little is functioning in Yemen.

Seven million Yemenis — nearly a third of the population — are at risk of starving. Millions more need emergency food aid. Repeated bombings have  crippled bridges, hospitals and factories. Many doctors and civil servants have gone unpaid for more than a year. Malnutrition and poor sanitation have made the Middle Eastern country vulnerable to diseases that most of the world has confined to the history books. In just three months, cholera has killed nearly 2,000 people and infected more than a half million, one of the world’s largest outbreaks in the past 50 years.

“It’s a slow death,” said Yakoub al-Jayefi, a Yemeni soldier who has not collected a salary in eight months, and whose 6-year-old daughter, Shaima, was being treated for malnutrition at a clinic in the Yemeni capital, Sana (aka Sanaa, Sana’a).

Since the family’s savings ran out, they had lived mostly off milk and yogurt from neighbors. But that was not enough to keep his daughter healthy, and her skin went pale as she grew thin. Like more than half of Yemenis, the family did not have immediate access to a working medical center, so Mr. Jayefi borrowed money from friends and relatives to take his daughter to the capital. “We’re just waiting for doom or for a breakthrough from heaven,” he said.

How did a country in a region with such great wealth fall so far and so fast into crisis? And what does the future hold for the fragile state?

A Nation Split in Two
A picture taken on December 5, 2017, shows the damage after a reported air strike carried out by the Saudi-led coalition targeted the presidential palace in Yemen’s Huthi rebel-held capital Sana​​.​ ​(Photo: Mohammed Huwais / AFP/ Getty)

Yemen has long been the Arab world’s poorest country and suffered from frequent local armed conflicts. The most recent trouble started in 2014, when the Houthis, rebels from the north, allied with parts of the Yemeni military and stormed the capital, forcing the internationally recognized government into exile.

In March 2015, Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Arab nations launched a military campaign aimed at pushing back the Houthis and restoring the government. The campaign has so far failed to do so, and the country remains split between Houthi-controlled territory in the west and land controlled by the government and its Arab backers in the south and east.

A Collapsed State
Children sit amidst the rubble of a house hit by Saudi-led coalition air strikes two days earlier on the outskirts of the Yemeni capital Sana. (Photo: Mohammed Huwais / AFP/ Getty)

Many coalition airstrikes have killed and wounded civilians. The bombings have also heavily damaged Yemen’s infrastructure, including a crucial seaport and important bridges as well as hospitals, sewage facilities and civilian factories. Services that Yemenis have depended on are gone, and the destruction has undermined the country’s already weak economy. It has also made it harder for humanitarian organizations to bring in and distribute aid. The Saudi-led coalition has also kept Sana’s international airport closed to civilian air traffic for more than a year, meaning that merchants cannot fly goods in, and sick and wounded Yemenis cannot fly abroad for treatment. Many of them have died.

Neither of Yemen’s two competing administrations has paid regular salaries to many civil servants in over a year, impoverishing their families as there is little other work to be found. Among those affected are professionals whose work is essential to dealing with the crisis, like doctors, nurses and sewage system technicians, leading to the near collapse of their sectors.

The Devastation of Cholera
Yemeni children suspected of being infected with cholera received treatment at a makeshift hospital in Sana in June 5, 2017. (Photo: Mohammed Huwais/Agence France-Presse/ Getty)

Damage from the war has turned Yemen into a fertile environment for cholera, a bacterial infection spread by water contaminated with feces. As garbage has piled up and sewage systems have failed, more Yemenis are relying on easily polluted wells for drinking water. Heavy rains since April accelerated the wells’ contamination. In developed countries, cholera is not life-threatening and can be easily treated, with antibiotics if severe. But in Yemen, rampant malnutrition has made many people, particularly children, especially vulnerable to the disease.

In June, Oxfam’s country director in Yemen, Sajjad Mohamed Sajid, called for a “massive aid effort” to address the epidemic, which by then was already killing one person every hour. By the end of the month, UNICEF and the World Bank responded to increased demand, delivering enough medical and water purification supplies to treat 10,000 people. While cholera is relatively simple to treat in most parts of the world, death can occur within hours if severely ill patients are left untreated.

If infection numbers continue to rise, researchers fear that the cases could ultimately rival the largest outbreak, in Haiti, which infected at least 750,000 people after a devastating earthquake in 2010. Aid organizations say they cannot replace the services that the government is supposed to provide. That means there is little chance for significant improvements unless the war ends.

The United Nations has called the situation the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with more than 10 million people who require immediate assistance. And the situation could become even worse. Peter Salama, the executive director of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies program, warned that as the state fails, “the manifestation of that now is cholera, but there could be in the future other epidemics that Yemen could be at the center of.”

The Assassination of Ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh
Former president Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen at a rally with his supporters in Sana, Yemen, in August. (Photo: Mohammed Huwais/Agence France-Presse / Getty Images)

Just days ago, former strongman of Yemen Ali Abdullah Saleh turned against his most recent allies and publicly denounced them as a “coup militia.” They struck back on December 4, killing him and spreading a video of his lifeless body dumped unceremoniously in the back of a pickup truck.

The death of Ali Abdullah Saleh brought to a grim end the career of a wily politician who combined charisma, duplicity and brute force to remain a giant in the politics of his impoverished Arabian country for decades. After dispatching his forces to brutalize protesters and surviving an assassination attempt via a bomb hidden in a mosque pulpit, Saleh agreed to leave office in 2012 in an agreement negotiated by foreign powers who hoped he would slip into a quiet retirement abroad.

He did not, instead returning to Yemen to rally his followers and form an unlikely alliance with the Houthis, who stormed Sana in 2014 and later forced the internationally recognized government that had replaced Saleh into exile. His death came at the hands of the same rebels he had used to facilitate his return to political relevance. Saleh’s death also signaled a turning point in the country’s war by shattering the alliance between his loyalists and the rebels known as the Houthis, who had taken over the capital, prompting a punishing bombing campaign by Saudi Arabia and its allies.

That political fracturing could make it harder for the parties to negotiate an end to the conflict, analysts said, while renewed fighting in the capital, Sana, could worsen the humanitarian crisis afflicting Yemen. “His being killed like this is going to deepen the conflict. I think the war could become more fierce. This just adds more layers of revenge … Like him or hate him, Saleh’s death in this way is more than likely going to bring more pain for Yemen,” said April Longley Alley, a Yemen analyst with the International Crisis Group.

International Involvement
(Photo: AFP / Getty)

There appears to be no end in sight for the conflict. Peace talks brokered by the United Nations have stalled, and none of the warring parties have indicated much willingness to back down. The Houthis and their allies firmly control the capital, and Saudi leaders have said they will keep fighting until the other side gives in.

Amid the upsurge in fighting, the United Nations human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, announced the selection of three international law experts to conduct an investigation of human rights abuses in Yemen. The move followed a Human Rights Council resolution approved in September despite fierce initial resistance from Saudi Arabia.

The inquiry is to examine attacks on civilians in a conflict in which most civilian casualties appear to have been caused by Saudi coalition bombing. The inquiry also is to examine widespread recruitment of children by warring parties and arbitrary arrests and detentions.

The United Nations says that Yemen needs $2.3 billion in humanitarian aid this year, but that only 41 percent of that amount has been received. The warring parties are among the greatest aid donors, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates both giving significant sums. But critics note that the countries spend much more on the war effort and that their closing of Sana’s airport has been devastating for civilians.

The United States is also a major donor, as well as a primary supplier of arms to the members of the Saudi-led coalition. Although the United States is not directly involved in the conflict, it has provided military support to the Saudi-led coalition, and Yemenis have often found the remnants of American-made munitions in the ruins left by deadly airstrikes.

None of this bodes well for Yemeni civilians.

“The war still haunts us from all directions,” said Saleh al-Khawlani, who fled his home in northern Yemen with his wife and six children after the Saudi-led coalition began its bombings. They then fled again, to Sana, after an airstrike hit the camp where they had sought shelter, and killed a number of his relatives. They lived on the street for a while and had to beg for most of their food.

“Most of the time, we had only lunch and sometimes we don’t,” he said. “If we have lunch at noon, we don’t have dinner at night.”

Sources:
‘It’s a Slow Death’: The World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis -By Shuaib Almosawa, Ben Hubbard & Troy Griggs | The New York Times
From War to Cholera, Yemen Is Facing World’s Largest Humanitarian Crisis | Democracy Now! (Video)
Yemen’s Cholera Epidemic Reaches New Heights -By Aria Bendix | The Atlantic
U.S. Fingerprints on Attacks Obliterating Yemen’s Economy -By Ben Hubbard | The New York Times
The U.S. May Be Aiding War Crimes In Yemen | VOX (Video)
Yemen’s Ex-President Killed as Mayhem Convulses Capital -By By Shuaib Almosawa & Ben Hubbard | The New York Times
Yemeni Ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh Killed In Houthi Attack -By Colin Dwyer | NPR
Yemen’s Man-Made Catastrophe Has No End in Sight -By Ishaan Tharoor | The Washington Post
How the War in Yemen Explains the Future of Saudi Arabia -By Simon Henderson | The Atlantic


Recommended…
The Photos the U.S. and Saudi Arabia Don’t Want You to See -By Nicholas Kristof | The New York Times

Young Yemeni Girl Is Sole Survivor After Airstrike Topples Her Home | The New York Times
What Exactly Does Cholera Do To Your Body? | Seeker (Video)
Mapping the Yemen Conflict | European Council of Foreign Relations
Interactive Map of Yemen | News Live (Real-Time Updates)

Welcome to Agadez, The Human Smuggling Highway Through Hell

Young men crowd onto the back of an old Mercedes truck leaving Agadez for the far north of Niger where thousands are prospecting for gold in precarious conditions. A historical smuggling hub through which as many as 13,000 migrants passed each month in 2016, Agadez has been the site of a recent crackdown on human smugglers after the EU struck a $635 million deal with Nigerian authorities to keep a lid on migration. (Photo: Nichole Sobecki)​

Until a little more than a year ago, Agadez was the epicenter of massive waves of migration from Africa that began in 2011, when the fall of Libya’s dictatorship opened a clear path through weak and failing states to Europe’s southern border. In 2016, a record 181,000 people arrived on Italy’s Mediterranean coast. Most of them were sub-Saharan Africans fleeing poverty, war, and oppression. More than half of them likely traveled through Agadez on their way.

Comprising a dense warren of mud-brick compounds that bear the same shade of cocoa brown as the surrounding Sahara, Agadez has been a place of exchange for more than 600 years. Like Timbuktu in neighboring Mali, it was a center of Islamic learning in the Middle Ages and an important transit point for caravan traders. But whereas the cargo of old was gold, salt, and slaves, now it is weapons, narcotics, and migrants. The trade touches almost everyone in the city, whether they are directly involved or living off the service industries that have developed around it. Grocers, hoteliers, the police — all of them are to some extent dependent on this illicit flow of people and goods. Before the crackdown began, the Nigerien army openly escorted the smugglers’ convoys into the desert in exchange for a share of the profits. Sometimes hundreds of Toyota Hiluxes loaded down with young men made the crossing in a single day.

In its heyday as a smugglers’ paradise, from 2013 to 2016, Agadez was crawling with profiteers who had money to burn. They would flock to the bars and nightclubs, Tuaregs and Toubous in flowing traditional jalabias mixing with Nigeriens of other ethnicities in high-tops and skinny jeans, dancing and draining $4 cans of Heineken until the call to prayer echoed through the city at dawn. But when I visited in May, the city no longer felt like a freewheeling frontier boomtown. Market stalls sat empty in the 110-degree heat while drivers lounged all day in their yellow three-wheeled taxis without scoring a fare. The nightclub at the Hotel de la Paix, a garish modern fortress rumored to have been financed by Muammar al-Qaddafi, still opened each night around midnight, the purr of a diesel generator audible over the rollicking pulse of Tuareg music.

The collapse of Agadez’s economy was just one of the unintended consequences of Europe’s bid to halt the flood of unwanted migrants and refugees toward its shores. In 2015, as the European Union was struggling to cope with what would amount to a record 1.3 million asylum-seekers that year — a 122 percent increase from 2014 — EU officials held a series of emergency talks with African leaders. In November of that year, they announced a $1.9 billion EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa designed to combat the root causes of migration, including poverty and conflict. The EU also struck bilateral agreements with several African countries that migrants depart from and travel through on their way to Europe, aiming to strengthen border controls and disrupt smuggling networks. It designated Niger a priority country as part of a partnership framework agreement it made with the government in 2016, paving the way for a pledge of $633 million in exchange for stopping the flow of migrants through its borders.

In addition to funding development projects designed to wean the economy off trafficking, the EU, along with some of its member states, delivered training and equipment to Niger’s security forces to help them clamp down on smugglers. Soon the same army that once escorted smugglers to Libya was putting them behind bars to be sentenced under a new anti-trafficking law passed with the encouragement of European governments.

Surrounded on all sides by conflict and instability — the country shares borders with Nigeria, Mali, and Libya, all of which harbor significant terrorist threats — Niger has positioned itself as a key counterterrorism partner for Western nations, including the United States and France, both of which have military bases in the country. As a result, it has received hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance from those nations. The migration crisis has presented Niger with a similar opportunity to line its coffers, and it has happily adopted Europe’s view of human smugglers as a threat to regional stability.

The actual impact of Europe’s intervention in Niger is less clear. Since the crackdown began, smugglers have mostly stopped passing through established outposts and way stations, including those where the International Organization for Migration (IOM) monitors the flow of migrants. This raises the possibility that the organization is underestimating the number of migrants still passing through Niger, perhaps by a significant margin. That possibility seems even more likely in light of the data on migrants who actually make it across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy.  As of Sept. 5, IOM reported that nearly 100,000 migrants had arrived in Italy this year from North Africa, more than half of them originally from West Africa, meaning that it’s likely they passed through Niger on their way. An estimated 400,000 additional migrants are currently stranded in Libya, caged in squalid detention facilities and prevented from making the dangerous sea voyage by militias in the pay of European nations.

What is clear is that Niger’s EU-funded crackdown has heightened the risks for smugglers, as well as for migrants. One of those who paid a price for defying the authorities was Garba Hamani, a coxeur, or connection man, who was arrested last year as he loaded 49 migrants into trucks. They were eventually released and taken to the IOM transit center, but Hamani spent nine months and 20 days behind bars. He said the jail in Agadez was filled with people connected to the migrant trade — smugglers, drivers, and coxeurs like him. But the smuggling business hasn’t stopped; it’s just been driven deeper underground. “You cannot stop this thing. If the government stops people here, they will just go another way,” he said.

The new routes are both longer and more dangerous, according to nearly a dozen drivers the author interviewed in Agadez. Some pass through mountainous regions outside the city before crossing vast stretches of desert. Some hug the border with Chad. One area where many of the new routes converge is in a desolate region some 20 miles outside of Dao Timmi, an old military installation in the far north of the country. Here, the trucks slow to a crawl and pass single file through a minefield that dates back to an uprising by ethnic Toubous in the 1990s. Used for years by weapons and drug smugglers because authorities stayed away, the route is now commonly taken by migrants. “They made it a crime, so now it follows the criminal routes,” Hamani said.

No one knows how many migrants have died in the desert. Trucks get lost, break down, or are attacked by bandits all the time. Often, nobody finds out until another driver happens upon the human remains. “We know that many people are dying in the Mediterranean. But many are dying in the desert as well, and we have not many statistics,” Paula said.

Yaya Ndonky Soumané, 24 has been in Agadez for 2 months. He is from Casamance, Senegal and now waits for his family to send him money to pay for a truck to take him the 1,000 kilometers to the Libyan border. Yaya lives in a 3 by 2 meter room. The armed conflict between the rebels seeking independence and the army has caused his family to lose their farming lands and with them the means to make a living. He is hoping to reach Italy and get a job that will allow him to support his family.​ (Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam)

In addition to being more dangerous, the new routes are also more expensive. Where it once cost around $300 to travel to the next staging post in Libya from Agadez, it now costs more than double that amount. As a result, many more migrants are finding themselves stuck in the squalid compounds known as “ghettos” that smugglers have set up in secret locations throughout the city. Increasingly raided by the authorities, who arrest the smugglers and turn the migrants over to IOM, the ghettos are getting smaller, and they are constantly being moved so they won’t be discovered.

New routes pose new risks for those who attempt to ply them. But just as dangerous is the climate of fear that has settled over the Sahara in the wake of the crackdown. When faced with the choice between ensuring their own freedom and saving their human cargo, many drivers choose freedom. Sometimes that means leaving migrants behind in the middle of the desert and speeding off to avoid a military patrol. According to Azaoua Mahaman, an IOM official based in Agadez, more and more migrants are being abandoned in this way. Since the beginning of the year, he said in May, IOM had worked with Nigerien authorities to facilitate nearly a dozen rescue operations. “The main reason we see abandoned migrants is because of the patrols,” he told me. “[The smugglers] are afraid of going to prison, so they drop the migrants and flee.”

One migrant was there when soldiers lit up a vehicle carrying two dozen passengers: In April, a slender 21-year-old Nigerian named Yinka was traveling through the desert in the back of a Hilux when suddenly gunshots rang out. Bullets shredded the tires beneath her and punched through the side of the vehicle. One hit her friend in the stomach, and she doubled over. Auntie Biola, as the six other women traveling together from Nigeria’s Oyo state called her, bled to death as Nigerien soldiers looked on.

KaderKader has been a driver for as long as he can remember. Nine-months-ago he was bringing a truck full of migrants to Libya when they came across a military checkpoint. He fled into the desert, leaving the migrants and his vehicle, which was confiscated by the military. (Photo: Nichole Sobecki)​

The driver fled the scene, and the migrants were all taken into custody. But first, the soldiers, who Yinka said were wearing uniforms, beat them all and raped the six surviving women. She said they were beaten and raped again when they arrived at the police station in Madama, one of the last settlements before the Libyan frontier. Because the other survivors of this ordeal had all been repatriated to Nigeria. While Yinka’s story could not be independently verified, her account was consistent with testimony from other migrants at the center and with reports by rights groups on abuses, including rapes, committed by the Nigerien military as recently as 2007. Niger’s military and its ministries of defense and interior did not respond to written requests for comment; Paula, the EU ambassador, told me that he was not aware of any reports of abuse. “The traffickers,” he said, “are the real criminals.”

Most Nigeriens would disagree. Smugglers — known as passeurs, or “ferrymen” — are widely regarded as providing a vital service. (Migrants who send home remittances are seen as heroes in this part of the world.) Still, passeurs are often involved in other forms of criminal activity — weapons and drugs, for instance — and now many of them are out of work. The crackdown hasn’t stopped the flow of migrants, but it has diverted much of the human traffic away from Agadez and pushed most of the profits toward smugglers with the highest appetite for risk. For those who are still making the trip, the EU has laid out a feast. For everyone else, it’s famine.

“Today, [illegal migration] generates more money than before,” Rhissa Feltou, the mayor of Agadez, told me. But the profits go to “small mafia groups” instead of to a broad cross-section of society as they did before. The new policy, while necessary in his view, means that Agadez will suffer because its residents have historically been dependent on smuggling.

Eighteen months ago, Mohamed was moving more than 300 migrants a week through his ghetto for a profit of about $10,000 to $13,000. But then the crackdown happened, and he was forced to take his business underground. (Photo: Nichole Sobecki)​

The EU has pledged to fund job trainings and other development projects to help former smugglers transition to new careers. But the crackdown commenced more than a year ago, and former drivers, coxeurs, and ghetto owners all said in May that they had yet to receive any assistance. (The EU said the programs were on track and that the job trainings would begin soon.)

“We are very angry with the EU because they promised to help us. We even declared that we stopped the job,” said Mohamed, a lean, weather-beaten man in his early 40s who used to run a lucrative migrant ghetto out of his home. “But the promises have not been met. They have destroyed the life of Agadez.”

Source: Highway Through Hell -By Ty McCormick | Foreign Policy

Ty McCormick (@TyMcCormick) is Foreign Policy’s Africa editor.
Nichole Sobecki (@nicholesobecki) is a photographer based in Nairobi.
This article is Part 2 of a multi-part special investigation series featured in Foreign Policy. Reporting for this series was made possible in part by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.


Recommended…
My Smuggler, My Survivor -By Photographer Nicole Sobecki | Foreign Policy
The Desperate Journey of a Trafficked Girl -By Ben Taub | The New Yorker
Welcome to Agadez, Smuggling capital of Africa -By Lucas Destrijcker | Politico
Why Niger Is West Africa’s People-Smuggling Hub -By Conor Gaffey | Newsweek
UN: Niger Smugglers Take Migrants on Deadlier Saharan Routes -By Kieran Guilbert | Reuters

One Meal A Day: Lake Chad Vanishes, Leaving 7 Million on Brink of Starvation

A battered red onion, sold for about 2 cents in Mémé’s market in March. A bowl of peanuts, ground into an oily paste used to flavor bland food. Cameroonian women grind the nuts and mix the paste with their bare hands, leaving it to dry in the midday sun.  All photos in this post are by photographer Chris de Bode.

Not so long ago, Lake Chad was one of the largest bodies of water in Africa. The thick reeds and vital wetlands around its basin provided vast freshwater reserves, breeding grounds for fish, fertile soil for agriculture, and grasslands where farmers grazed their animals. In 1963, it spanned almost 10,000 square miles, an expanse roughly the size of Maryland. But as climate change has taken its toll, the lake has shrunk by 90 percent. Today, only 965 square miles remain. Wetlands have given way to sand dunes. Farmers have abandoned their fields. Those who still live by the lake struggle to survive, beset by chronic drought and the slow onset of ecological catastrophe.

This looming crisis has only worsened with the rise of Boko Haram, which has driven some 74,000 Nigerians into neighboring Cameroon. In response, Cameroon’s government has banned farmers from using some brands of fertilizer, an ingredient used in homemade explosives, and has ordered that staples like maize, millet, and sorghum growing along roadsides be no higher than three feet, to prevent Boko Haram from hiding in planted fields.

More refugees and fewer crops have proven to be a deadly combination in a region already ravaged by climate change. More than seven million people around Lake Chad are now suffering from severe hunger, including 500,000 children wracked by acute malnutrition. Some huddle in makeshift shelters they have erected; others forage in the woods. Those fortunate enough to be granted a spot in a refugee camp often receive no more than one meal a day. Food, even in the most minute quantities, has become scarcer than hope.

We often turn away from images of the starving and hungry, from the skeletal profiles and ­hollowed­­-­out eyes that attest to the misery and suffering. But photographer Chris de Bode has found a way to focus our attention on this forgotten crisis. A single vegetable, a dried fish, a bowl of red maize—sometimes this is all a mother has to divide between her children each day. She may have to choose to feed her two youngest and send the teenagers to a village to beg for food. These images do not ask us to look into their eyes and see ourselves. They ask us to look at the emptiness of their bowls and reflect on the fullness of our own. We see their hunger through what little they have. We measure their suffering in the most universal unit of all: a single meal.

Can you survive on One Meal a Day? 

Photographer: Chris de Bode. Click image to enlarge or read caption.

Source: One Meal a Day -By Lisa Palmer & Photographer Chris de Bode | The New Republic


Lisa Palmer (@Lisa_Palmer) is the author of Hot, Hungry Planet: The Fight to Stop a Global Food Crisis in the Face of Climate Change.

Chris de Bode (@chrisdebode) is an Amsterdam-based photographer who has covered famine multiple times in his career. He documented this crisis in Camaroon with support from the Red Cross. He is represented by Panos Pictures in London.

Lowering the Sky-High Murder Rate in Latin America

Two women hold signs with the pictures of murdered relatives during a demonstration against the lack of safety on the streets, on June 20, 2009 in Caracas.  ​(Photo: Juann Barreto / AFP/ Getty Images);  featured background image by Creatyves / DeviantArt.

Sergio Vicente Goulard’s body lay naked on a hospital stretcher in Rio de Janeiro, waiting to be identified. A few hours earlier, paramilitaries had shot him in the head inside his home. Luiz Carlos Barbosa was found on the street in the middle of a favela controlled by two criminal gangs; he had been executed for switching his allegiance. Jorge Luiz Bento’s family found his corpse rotting near a stream in the municipality of Nova Iguaçu, headless and with his hands bound. Claudeir Francisco had been cycling when he was shot; he was still clinging to his cellphone headphones as his mother wept over his body. Leandro Alves died in the company of his wife and son after he pulled out a gun during an attempted carjacking. The ensuing shootout also took the life of one of the assailants.

On Jan. 28, 2017, we saw those six corpses in Baixada Fluminense, an area with the highest homicide rate in the state of Rio de Janeiro. In Latin America, the most violent region in the world, the victims will most likely be forgotten and the murderers will most likely go free.

Those bodies, found far from Rio’s beaches, attest to the average of six murders per day in this area. And they are just one example of what is going on all over Latin America, where each day the morgues receive the bodies of roughly 400 murdered people. The homicide rate is so high — about four people every 15 minutes — that we are no longer shocked by the deaths. Latin America is home to just over 8 percent of the world’s population but a third of its homicides; between 2000 and 2016, 2.6 million people were murdered. Most countries have seen their homicide rate fall, but in Latin American countries, it is on the rise.

Murder has become a normal part of life. But we must work to reverse that. Some cities are fighting impunity and have developed social programs to reduce violence. Unfortunately, it’s not enough. The cure for the epidemic is complex. It will come from difficult, long-term adjustments in everyday life. And, of course, from the enforcement of the rule of law.

That day in January we began investigating homicide in the seven most violent countries in Latin America — Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico — to understand how an act that takes place in the space of a second can represent an entire culture of violence, corruption and impunity.

Many lives are connected to the dead: drug traffickers, police officers, death squads, ranch owners and sometimes children with access to guns. There are the investigators, whose new cases are more likely to be shelved than resolved, and the overburdened judges and expensive lawyers. And there are the mothers, children and wives who will relive the fatal scenes over and over again in their minds.

Punishment is rare. The Latin American countries included on the Global Impunity Index, from Mexico’s Center for Studies on Impunity and Justice, are categorized as nations of “high” impunity. Mexico is No. 2 on the list, after the Philippines. If we take into account the crimes that are never reported and remain unaccounted for, the two countries have an impunity rate of 99 percent.

People kill because they can get away with it. They kill to gain territorial control, to traffic drugs, to settle political disputes. The United Nations’ Global Study on Homicide establishes three types of murders: criminal, interpersonal and sociopolitical. Latin America takes first place in all three categories.

Infographic: The Top-10 Most Violent Cities Worldwide | StatistaFind more statistics at Statista

Marco Antônio Pinto, a homicide investigator from Baixada Fluminense, in Rio de Janeiro, told us that he liked working in his unit because it was a “jungle” of murders with “a wild variety of fauna.” A juvenile judge who has heard hundreds of testimonies told us that the young people who pass through his courtroom rarely express regret for having committed murder, just shame for having been caught.

While most Latin Americans have seen murder victims only on TV and in the newspapers, there are indeed many — usually poor people with dark skin from marginal neighborhoods — who have actually witnessed far too many murders. They are also likely to be murderers and murder victims themselves. According to a 2016 report, 50 percent of the homicides in Latin American cities take place on 1.6 percent of their streets.

Not long ago we visited Fortaleza, the city with the highest rate of child and adolescent homicide victims in Brazil. In 2013, the murder rate was 268 per 100,000 inhabitants between the ages of 16 and 17, but the map of lethal violence was an almost perfect arc that covered an area far from the tourist zone, where some neighborhoods had gone a whole year without a single homicide. When we visited these areas and asked young people how many murders they knew of, they sometimes had to use two hands to count.

A majority of the murders committed in Latin America take place in the seven countries on the path that we have been covering since January. Three years ago we traveled to those countries, as well as 11 others in Latin America, to write “Narco América,” a book about the impact of drug trafficking. Whenever we asked authorities why they had such high homicide rates, the answer was usually the same: drugs.

Bodies of two victims of Mexico’s ongoing drug war are seen lying by the side of a road as police secure the area in the city of Veracruz, Mexico.​ (AP / Getty Images)​

Drug trafficking is a factor in these and other ills (30 percent of the homicides are linked to organized crime or gangs), but it doesn’t explain everything. Countries like Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, which also lie on the drug route leading to the United States, have the lowest homicide rates in Central America, light-years from their neighbors in the so-called Northern Triangle. Peru and Bolivia are major cocaine producers, yet their murder rate is nowhere near that of Colombia.

The most murderous nations are plagued with a number of common problems, but each also has it own particular issues. The drug war in Mexico is one of the most lethal conflicts in the world. Gang-related battles in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have rendered that small triumvirate the world homicide capital. In Colombia, on the other hand, deaths connected to the country’s conflict dropped by a third over a decade, but other types of violence led to more than 12,000 murders last year. Venezuela is in the grip of a social and economic meltdown: Last year there were 21,752 registered homicides. In Brazil, cities as well as rural areas are rife with territorial conflicts, and the national police force is among the deadliest in the world. All told, in Latin America 144,000 people are murdered every year.

Homicide is not just a consequence of something else: In our society it is a normalized practice for resolving conflicts. A 15-year-old told us he had killed his girlfriend because he had gotten angry at her.

As with any illness or addiction, the first step is accepting that we have become homicidal countries. For years, governments have massaged the statistics and assigned blame to their neighbors. In some cases, they have actively contributed to the problem, using violence to stop violence, as in the cases of Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico — a country that, a decade after militarizing the fight against crime, started the new year with the highest number of homicides in its history.

But there are a handful of positive experiences worth examining and replicating. In Honduras, the Association for a More Just Society has developed a project that supports homicide investigations. In Venezuela, Proyecto Alcatraz provides work, sports and educational opportunities to young people in criminal gangs. In Brazil, authorities have tried placing community police officers in high-risk zones with programs like Stay Alive and Pact for Life. The ban on carrying firearms in Colombian cities has resulted in a moderate reduction in murder rates. Regulating the sale of alcohol as a security measure has been successful in Bogotá and Diadema, in the state of São Paulo.

In April, 30 civic organizations from Latin America’s seven most violent countries began the Instinto de Vida (Instinct for Life) campaign, aimed at reducing homicides by 50 percent over the next 10 years through conflict mediation; gun, alcohol and drug regulations; recidivism prevention; guaranteeing access to justice and due process; and strengthening relations between the police and communities. These measures share a common vision: They repudiate hard-line policies, target specific areas with high homicide rates and view homicide as a social, educational, economic and cultural phenomenon rather than simply a security issue. All of this work is producing promising results.

​White crosses placed by human rights organizations in memory of victims of violence are seen around Tegucigalpa, Honduras. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)​

It is impossible, however, to attempt to reduce crime without the rule of law firmly in place. When the justice system doesn’t work, when investigations are not pursued, when crimes go unpunished, more murders will be committed. The bottleneck in the Mexican justice system, for example, gets tighter and tighter in the path from police officer to judge. In Mexico, there are four judges per 100,000 inhabitants; the international average is about 40 per 100,000. We have an exorbitant number of murders and a system that is unable and unwilling to investigate them, whether because of corruption or because the dead simply don’t matter enough.

A few years ago at a crime scene in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, we found a homicide inspector holding an almost blank notebook, indignant because he couldn’t get any information. “Nobody gives a damn — this is a farce,” he told us, gesturing at the gawkers taking photos of the body. Each month his superiors asked him to solve just two of the 30 cases stacked on his desk.

If we want to change this, we must confront the homicides with security policies as well as social programs. Most important, we need to break the chain of impunity. The first 24 hours after a murder are essential: Investigations must be swift, exhaustive and transparent. A strong chain of justice, which would include specialized police officers and sufficient independent judges to deal with the volume of cases, would be the first steps toward reducing the number of people who kill and are killed in Latin America.

Source: Life Where the Murder Rate Is Sky-High -By Alejandra Sánchez Inzunza and José Luis Pardo Veiras | The New York Times | Leer en español @NYT

Alejandra Sánchez Inzunza and José Luis Pardo Veiras, the authors of “Narco América,” are currently doing research for En Malos Pasos, a project on homicide in seven Latin American countries. This essay was translated by Kristina Cordero from the Spanish.


Recommended…
Latin America’s Murder Epidemic: How to Stop the Killings -By Robert Muggah and Ilona Szabo de Carvalho | Foreign Policy
The World’s Most Dangerous Cities | The Economist
Mexico Can Catch All The Drug Kingpins There Are, But There’s a Different Problem Driving Crime -Christopher Woody | Business Insider
✻ How the U.S. Triggered a Massacre in Mexico -By Ginger Thompson | ProPublica
✻ Duterte’s Murderous Drug War in the Philippines -By Alex Emmons | The Intercept
Open for Business, Not Human Rights: Trump’s Priorities in Central America -By Lauren Carasik | Boston Review
✻​ Crime Reporting in the Murder Capital: San Pedro Sula Nights​ | VICE News (Video)
✻​ Brazil Violence: Murders on the Rise in Rio de Janeiro | Al Jazeera (Video)
✻ Brazil Has Nearly 60,000 Murders, And It May Relax Gun Laws -By Lulu Garcia-Navarro | NPR
✻ Organized Crime, Gangs Make Latin America Most Violent Region -By Mary Murray | NBC News
✻ Latin America Is World’s Most Violent Region -By David Luhnow | The Wall Street Journal
✻ Inside the World’s Deadliest Country: Honduras

Two Haitian Students Invent Solar-Powered Backpack That Could Help 1.2 Billion People

Solo Bag inventors Mike Bellot (L) and Wendiane Torcel (R) demonstrate the power and promise of their solar-powered backpack. (Photo: Mike Bellot via gofundme)

A Haitian man who is currently studying in Taiwan has co-invented a school bag which can provide light for reading and power to charge mobile phones generated from a built-in solar panel.

Mike Bellot, 26, who came to Taiwan four years ago to study global politics and international trade at Tamkang University, is set to launch what he calls “Solo Bag,” a bag powered by solar energy that he believes will affect the lives and the future of 1.2 billion people who are living without access to electricity in developing countries.

Bellot and fellow Haitian Wendiane Torcel were inspired to invent the bag after the tragic death of his close cousin due to a fire caused by a candle used for light in his native Haiti. His cousin had been studying to be a doctor, but like 63 percent of the population in Haiti who lack regular access to electricity, he was forced to read by candle light, and after having nodded off during a late study session, the untended candle started a massive fire which consumed the home and killed his cousin in the process.

Because the tragedy hit so close to home, Bellot is very passionate about not only bringing this product to his native Haiti, but also to the 1.2 billion people or 16 percent of the world’s population who do not have access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency in 2016.

According to Bellot, Solo Bag comes with a solar panel, integrated battery, USB port, GPS tag for tracking, and an integrated LED lamp, enabling students who do not have access to electricity to safely and cost-effectively study and do homework during the night. The bag also provides enough energy for a family to charge mobile phones, tablets, and other electronic devices. The bag can store enough energy from one hour of exposure to the sun for six hours of light and charge two mobile phones.

To launch the product, he plans to launch a startup company called Solo Haiti and display the Solo Bags in an independent showroom during an event in Haiti and get immediate feedback from the buyers and retailers. After showcasing it, he will begin to take pre-orders and make it available also online for buyers outside the country.

💡If you would like to help crowdfund this innovative product, please visit the inventors’ gofundme page.

Source: Haitian Student in Taiwan Invents Solar-Powered Backpack for Reading -By Keoni Everington | Taiwan News

Venezuela in Crisis

A woman with her face painted in the colors of Venezuela’s national flag takes part in the blockade of a highway in Caracas on April 24, 2017. (Photo: Fernando Llano/ AP); Background image: A demonstrator against President Nicolas Maduro’s government during a protest on the east side of Caracas on April 19, 2017. (Photo: Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP / Getty)

Introduction
Venezuela is in the midst of an unprecedented economic and political crisis marked by severe food and medicine shortages, soaring crime rates, and an increasingly authoritarian executive. Critics of President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, say Venezuela’s economic woes are the fruit of years of economic mismanagement; Maduro’s supporters blame falling oil prices and the country’s “corrupt” business elites.

In January 2016, opposition lawmakers took a majority in the legislature—the National Assembly—for the first time in nearly two decades. However, the Maduro government has taken steps since to consolidate his power, including usurping some of the legislature’s powers. Maduro’s actions have been met with massive protests and international condemnation, including threats of expulsion from the Organization of American States.

I. Chavez’s ‘Bolivarian Revolution’

Chavez, a former military officer who launched an ill-fated coup in 1992, was elected president of Venezuela in 1998 on a populist platform. As a candidate, he railed against the country’s elites for widespread corruption, and pledged to use Venezuela’s vast oil wealth to reduce poverty and inequality. During his presidency, which lasted until his death in 2013, Chavez expropriated millions of acres of land and nationalized hundreds of private businesses and foreign-owned assets, including oil projects run by ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.

Chavez, whose rhetoric often drew inspiration from Simon Bolivar, the Venezuela-born revolutionary of the nineteenth century, aimed to align Latin American countries against the United States. He led the formation of ALBA, a bloc of socialist and leftist Latin American governments, and established the Petrocaribe alliance, in which Venezuela agreed to export petroleum at discounted rates to eighteen Central American and Caribbean states.

Chavez also greatly expanded the powers of the presidency. Shortly after he took office, voters approved a new constitution that allowed him to run for another term, removed one chamber of Congress, and reduced civilian control over the military. In 2004, two years after he was briefly removed from office in a coup, Chavez effectively took control of the Supreme Court by expanding its size and appointing twelve justices. In 2009, he led a successful referendum ending presidential term limits.

Chavez remained popular among the country’s poor throughout his presidency, expanding social services including food and housing subsidies, health care, and educational programs. The country’s poverty rate fell from roughly 50 percent in 1998, the year before he was elected, to 30 percent in 2012, the year before his death.

Maduro, who narrowly won the presidency in 2013, pledged to continue his former boss’s socialist revolution. “I am ensuring the legacy of my commander, Chavez, the eternal father,” he said after the vote.

In Pictures – Crisis in Venezuela
Click on images to enlarge and read caption.

II. An Oil-Based Economy
Venezuela is highly vulnerable to external shocks due to its heavy dependence on oil revenues. Oil accounts for about 95 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings and 25 percent of its GDP, according to figures from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

The state-run petroleum company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), controls all the country’s oil exploration, production, and exportation. Critics say PDVSA is grossly mismanaged and suffers from cronyism, a bloated payroll, underinvestment in infrastructure, and a lack of budgetary oversight.

As global oil prices fell from $111 per barrel in 2014 to a low of $27 per barrel in 2016, Venezuela’s already shaky economy went into free fall. That year, GDP dropped 12 percent while inflation soared to 800 percent. By early 2017, the country owed $140 billion to foreign creditors while it held only $10 billion in reserves, raising fears of a default.

Many critics fault the Chavez government for squandering years of record oil income. “Chavez did not use the massive oil price boom between 2004 and 2013 to put money aside for a rainy day,” wrote Harvard University economist Ricardo Hausmann in 2016. Instead, he “used the boom to expropriate large swaths of the economy, impose draconian foreign currency and price controls, and to subsidize imports. All this weakened the economy and made the country more dependent on imports, which Venezuelans can no longer afford.”

III. Price Controls and Shortages
Venezuela’s economic crisis is marked by soaring inflation and shortages of food, medical supplies, and staples like toilet paper and soap. Experts say the government’s strict price controls, which were meant to keep basic goods affordable for the country’s poor, are partly to blame. Many manufacturers in the country cut production because of the limits on what they could charge for their goods.

Another policy contributing to the country’s economic problems, many experts say, are currency controls, which were first introduced by Chavez in 2003 to curb capital flight. By selling U.S. dollars at different rates, the government effectively created a black market and increased opportunities for corruption. For instance, a business that is authorized to buy dollars at preferential rates in order to purchase priority goods like food or medicine could instead sell those dollars for a significant profit to third parties. In April 2017, the official exchange rate was ten bolivars to the dollar, while the black market rate was more than four thousand bolivars to the dollar.

Imports reportedly fell to $18 billion in 2016, down from $66 billion in 2012, as foreign-made goods became increasingly expensive. Many consumers are faced with the choice of waiting for hours in line for basic goods or paying exorbitant prices to so-called bachaqueros, or black market traffickers.

Experts say widespread expropriations have further diminished productivity. Transparency International, which ranks Venezuela 166 out of 176 on its perceived corruption index, reports that the government controls more than five hundred companies, most of which are operating at a loss. (By comparison, Brazil, which is more than six times as populous as Venezuela, has 130 state-run companies.)

IV. A Humanitarian Crisis

Observers have characterized the situation in Venezuela as a humanitarian crisis. In 2016, the head of the Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation estimated that 85 percent of basic medicines were unavailable or difficult to obtain. Hospitals reportedly lack supplies like antibiotics, gauze, and soap. Infant mortality rates reportedly reached 18.1 per 1,000 live births in early 2016, up from 11.6 in 2011, while maternal mortality reached 130 per 100,000, more than twice the 2008 rate. Diseases like diphtheria and malaria, which had been previously eliminated from the country, have reemerged.

Poverty has also spiked. In 2016, a local university study found that more than 87 percent of the population said it did not have enough money to buy necessary food. Another study by a local nutrition organization found that 30 percent of school-aged children were malnourished. According to a 2016 report from Human Rights Watch, the Maduro administration “has vehemently denied the extent of the need for help and has blocked an effort by the opposition-led National Assembly to seek international assistance.”

Poverty and lack of opportunity are exacerbating Venezuela’s high rates of violence. Long one of the world’s most violent countries, in 2016 Venezuela experienced its highest-ever number of homicides: 28,479, or roughly 91.8 homicides per 100,000 residents, according to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, an independent monitoring group. (The U.S. rate, by comparison, is 5 per 100,000.) Maduro’s administration has deployed the military to combat street crime, but rights groups and foreign media have reported widespread abuses, including extrajudicial killings.

The humanitarian crisis has spilled across Venezuela’s borders, with thousands of desperate people crossing into neighboring Brazil and Colombia; others have left by boat to the nearby island of Curaçao. By some estimates, as many as 150,000 Venezuelans left the country in 2016 alone.

V. Political Turmoil

Amid the crisis, the Maduro administration has become increasingly autocratic. Opposition lawmakers, under the Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition, won a majority in the National Assembly in 2015 for the first time in sixteen years, but Maduro has taken several steps to undermine them. In September 2016, Venezuela’s electoral authority, which is considered loyal to Maduro, ordered the opposition to suspend a campaign to recall the president, sparking protests and international condemnation. The following month, the Supreme Court stripped the National Assembly of powers to oversee the economy and annulled a law that would have freed eighty political prisoners, including opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. The president and the opposition subsequently entered into Vatican-brokered reconciliation talks, but those were declared “frozen” in November after Maduro administration officials stopped attending meetings. Maduro said he plans to stay in office until his term ends in 2019.

In March 2017, the judicial branch briefly dissolved the National Assembly. The court revised its order days later following an international outcry, but kept the legislature in contempt, effectively preventing lawmakers from passing laws. A week later the government barred opposition politician Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost to Maduro in the 2013 presidential election, from running for office for fifteen years, citing Capriles’s failure to secure proper approval for budgets and contracts.

Government security forces have attacked journalists, and several foreign reporters have been detained and, in some cases, expelled, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In 2017, Freedom House rated Venezuela as “not free,” making it one of two countries in the Western Hemisphere, along with Cuba, with the democracy watchdog’s lowest ranking.

VI. The Region Reacts
Mercosur, an economic and political bloc comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela, suspended Venezuela in 2016. In March 2017, the secretary-general of the Organization of the American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, recommended suspending Venezuela from the bloc unless the Maduro administration moved quickly to hold elections. The last time OAS suspended a member country was 2009, when it did so to Honduras following a military coup.

U.S. policy under Donald J. Trump appears to follow that of former President Barack Obama, writes CFR Adjunct Senior Fellow Matthew Taylor. In February 2017, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on Vice President Tareck El Aissami for his alleged involvement in international drug trafficking. Later that month Trump met with Lilian Tintori, the wife of Leopoldo Lopez, and called for his release. In April 2017, as protests continued in Caracas, the U.S. State Department issued a statement voicing concern over government actions against Capriles and demonstrators.

On May 19, The Trump administration sanctioned eight members of Venezuela’s Supreme Court, including the court’s president, Maikel Moreno, the U.S. Treasury Department announced. U.S. officials said the sanctions were a direct response to an incident in March in which the Supreme Court annulled the nation’s democratically elected National Assembly, which is controlled by Venezuela’s opposition party. At the time, the Supreme Court, which remains loyal to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, justified the takeover by claiming that the National Assembly was in contempt of its rulings. The court ultimately sought to authorize Maduro’s oil joint ventures by bypassing congressional approval. Despite tensions between Washington and Caracas, the United States remains Venezuela’s largest trading partner.

Meanwhile, the Maduro administration retains the support of allies in Bolivia, Ecuador, and several Caribbean nations. China has lent Venezuela more than $60 billion since 2001, and is the South American country’s largest creditor. Meanwhile, Venezuela has sought significant ties with Russia. Before oil prices fell in 2014, Venezuela was set to become the largest importer of Russian military equipment by 2025. In February 2017, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reaffirmed Moscow’s support for the Maduro government, saying bilateral relations “are on the rise.”

Reprint (w/ relevant updates added by blogger): Venezuela in Crisis -By by Danielle Renwick and Brianna Lee | Council on Foreign Relations

Recommended…
✻​ Venezuela Is Falling Apart – By Moisés Naím & Francisco Toro | The Atlantic
✻​ Internal Splits, Immolations, and Burning Houses: Venezuela Gets Worse -By Emily Tamkin | Foreign Policy
✻​ Venezuela’s Crisis | Human Rights Watch
✻​ Thousands Protest Human Rights Crisis in Venezuela -By Tamara Taraciuk Broner | HRW
✻ ​Crisis Upon Crisis in Venezuela | New York Times Editorial Board
✻​ U.S. Sanctions Venezuela’s Supreme Court -By Aria Bendix | The Atlantic

The Underbelly of the Syrian War: Trade in Human Organs

A young man Syrian refugee named Raïd, shown here, recently sold his kidney in Lebanon.​ (Photo: ​Ulrike Putz)

The illegal trade in human organs has become widespread in Syria and neighboring countries, medical officials and victims say, with cross-border networks exploiting thousands of desperate Syrians.

These networks purchase transplantable organs such as kidneys and corneas from Syrians and ship them to neighboring countries, where they disappear into the murky world of the international organ trade, they say. There are also allegations that organs have been stolen from prisoners.

Yasser (not his real name) is one of those who sold one of his own kidneys, which he calls the “worst decision of my life.” The 29-year-old fled the fighting in his home city of Homs, in western Syria, around 100 miles north of the capital Damascus, after the start of the war. He made his way to Cairo, but like many other Syrian refugees he had trouble getting work and found himself with no money to survive.

He heard through acquaintances that some people would pay for one of his kidneys. “I was new to Egypt. I did not have any money, and I couldn’t find a job, so my only choice was to sell my left kidney,” he said. A broker invited him to his home and a date was set for medical tests and the operation. “I sold it for $3,000 to someone I knew nothing about. We met for no more than 15 minutes before we closed the deal,” he said.

After the operation, Yasser moved to Istanbul, where he now shares a crowded apartment with several other young refugee men and works in an auto shop. The operation has left him permanently marked—both physically and emotionally—and he felt uncomfortable sharing further details of the procedure: “I will never forgive myself for what I did,” said Yasser, who has had pain in his remaining right kidney and had a doctor tell him he could die if he is not very careful.

There are no reliable statistics on how widespread the practice may be.

However, Hussein Nofal, head of the department of forensic medicine at Damascus University and chief of the newly formed General Authority for Forensic Medicine, has been compiling evidence of the organ trade and estimates 18,000 Syrians have had organs removed for sale over the past four years of war.

Mu’azzaz shows her scar at home in Lebanon on Thursday, May 29, 2014. (Photo: Bill Kotsatos/Redux)

He said the trade is particularly active in border areas outside the control of the Assad regime and inside Turkey and Lebanon’s camps for Syrian refugees.

Nofal said organ prices vary across the region. In Turkey, someone can purchase a kidney for $10,000, while in Iraq the price may be as low as $1,000. In Lebanon and Syria, the cost hovers around $3,000.

He was also quoted last year in the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir, which is reportedly close to Bashar al-Assad’s regime, as saying that gangs working with Syrian doctors sell corneas for $7,500 each to foreign clients and falsify their country of origin.

Even war-torn countries have laws; the laws surrounding the organ trade in Syria are opaque, though, and with the raging conflict, difficult to enforce or take as far as prosecution.

All across Damascus, for instance, there are hundreds of posters requesting organ “donation,” especially next to hospitals and pharmacies. A typical one reads: “A sick person is in urgent need of a kidney. Blood type needed: O+. Tissue analysis to be done. For those interested in donating, please contact the number below.”

Authorities can do little about such advertisements, since under Syrian law organ donations to relatives and strangers are legal. To further skirt the law, the organ “donors” who answer these fliers go to their local court and attest that they are donating and not selling their organ.

Nevertheless, at least 20 complaints related to the organ trade made their way to the Damascus courts between March 2011 and September 2015. No such cases were seen before the fighting broke out, according to the attorney general of rural Damascus, Ahmad al-Sayyed.

These complaints, which name alleged criminals, as well as doctors and hospitals, have largely been filed by relatives of those who have died. They are considered difficult if not impossible to prosecute since those involved are hard to track down amid the conflict.

However, al-Sayyed estimates that there have been at least 20,000 cases of illegal organ sales across the whole country since the start of the war, especially in border areas where there are no longer any courts or police officers to enforce the laws. A judicial source at the Syrian Ministry of Justice who asked to not be named said police do not have the resources to follow up on individual cases to ensure the person receiving the organ has not paid the “donor.”

One oncologist, Dr. Mohammed Awram (not his real name), said the trade is widespread in the northern rural areas of Aleppo and Idlib. “A dermatologist asked me to sell the organs of pro-government detainees in rural Idlib, since, as he put it, they were going to be executed anyway,” said the doctor, who specializes in surgical oncology and traveled to Syria recently to treat patients in the rural areas around Idlib. The dermatologist explained to him that there were many buyers who were willing to pay, and that the money would be used to buy much-needed medical equipment and to support the armed opposition groups.

Awram refused on ethical grounds. He was also worried that such operations might lead to innocent people being arrested in order to harvest their organs. His refusal resulted in his being accused of working for the Syrian government.

The Islamic State militant group (ISIS), he said, tried to kill him several times when he attempted to start manufacturing medicines, so he moved to rural Aleppo when Idlib was overrun with the Islamic extremists. “The area I moved to was [also] controlled by [ISIS], and we saw many cases of corpses with missing internal organs, mostly the liver and left kidney. However, I saw one case of a missing bladder,” he said.

Murhaf al-Muallem, director of the Consultative Center for Studies and Human Rights, said his organization has documented dozens of cases of Syrian organs being sold inside and outside Syria. “The center blames Syria’s neighboring countries for the situation, since they are not providing Syrian refugees with protection or job opportunities, which has led many of them to sell their own organs in order to provide for their families. Their poverty made them easy victims for the organ trade mafias,” he said.

Source: Underbelly of the War: Trade in Human Organs -By Ahmad Haj and Tamer Osman | Syria Deeply

Ahmad Haj Hamdo and Tamer Osman report for the Syrian Independent Media Group, which is comprised of five independent Syrian media organizations working together to highlight untold stories from the war-torn country: Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism, Rozana Radio, Syria Deeply, Syria Untold and the Violation Documentation Center in Syria. The project is supported by International Media Support.


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Meeting An Organ Trafficker Who Preys on Syrian Refugees -By Alex Forsyth | BBC News

Hidden Note from Chinese Labor Prisoner Found in Walmart Purse

An Arizona woman’s shopping discovery is the latest instance in a string of reports involving notes penned by Chinese labor prisoners that have purportedly been found inside U.S. goods.

According to KVOA-TV, which first reported the story, Christel Wallace found a note written in Chinese inside a purse she bought at a Walmart near Tucson. A published translation of the note read as follows:

Inmates in the Yingshan Prison in Guangxi, China are working 14 hours daily with no break/rest at noon, continue working overtime until 12 midnight, and whoever doesn’t finish his work will be beaten. Their meals are without oil and salt. Every month, the boss pays the inmate 2000 yuan, any additional dishes will be finished by the police. If the inmates are sick and need medicine, the cost will be deducted from the salary. Prison in China is unlike prison in America, horse cow goat pig dog (literally, means inhumane treatment).

Walmart has declined to comment in response to queries regarding their suppliers (in China or elsewhere), but the company’s national media relations director, Ragan Dickens, sent us a statement regarding Wallace’s discovery:

We’re making contact with the customer and appreciate her bringing this to our attention. With the information we have, we are looking into what happened so we can take the appropriate actions.

Walmart has also been criticized by the advocacy group China Labor Watch, which has accused the company of exploiting workers. The group’s executive director, Li Qiang, told us on 2 May 2017 that it is rare for prison laborers to attempt to communicate their situation for fear of punishment. Speaking through a translator, Qiang told us that the company submits production contracts to factories with a low budget:

Regular factories can’t afford such [a] low budget to produce the products. Usually what happens after is Walmart contracts with [a] prison that will accept the low budget to produce its products.

Dickens provided a separate statement regarding Qiang’s accusation, saying:

We care that our products are sourced responsibly and transparently, and we take these allegations seriously. We require from our suppliers that all labor in their supply chains is voluntary. It is false that Walmart does any labor contracting from prisons.

While the author of the letter Wallace discovered has not been identified, similar notes have been found in purchases from other major U.S. retailers. In September 2012, a New York City woman discovered a handwritten note pleading for help inside a shopping bag she bought at Saks Fifth Avenue.

The person who wrote that letter was identified as Tohnain Emmanuel Njong, a Cameroonian national who was imprisoned under fraud charges in the city of Qingdao at the time he wrote it. It read in part: “We are ill-treated and work like slaves for 13 hours every day producing these bags in bulk in the prison factory.” Njong was released in December 2013.

A month after Njong’s letter was discovered, an Oregon woman reported finding a prisoner’s letter inside a box of Halloween decorations she bought at Kmart. The letter asked anyone who found it to notify the World Human Right Organization, adding, “Thousands people here who are under the persecution of the Chinese Communist Party Government will thank and remember you forever.”

A 47-year-old Chinese national who asked to be identified only as Zhang told the New York Times in 2013 that he wrote the Kmart letter while imprisoned inside the Masanjia labor camp, saying it was one of about 20 notes he secretly wrote while serving a two-year sentence: For a long time I would fantasize about some of the letters being discovered overseas, but over time I just gave up hope and forgot about them.

Of course, it’s always possible that at least some notes of this nature are not on the level and/or are being inserted into products after their arrival in the U.S. and not during the manufacturing process in China. This does not appear to be such a case.

Sources:
Sierra Vista Woman Finds Note from ‘Chinese Prisoner’ in Walmart Purse -By By Aalia Shaheed| KVOA (News 4 Tucson)
Arizona Woman Reportedly Discovers Hidden Note from Chinese Prison Laborer? -By Arturo Garcia | Snopes


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10 Companies That Still Use Child Labor -By Hannah Lamarque | Career Addict
Buy Slave Free | End Slavery Now