10 Human Rights Causes to Support in 2018

“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.” ― Benjamin Franklin

🎉 Happy New Year! May your new year be filled with happiness, health and prosperity.

Today I continue a tradition started four years ago, whereby I dedicate the first post of the new year to noteworthy causes, organizations, and individuals committed to the advancement of human rights or the protection of Mother Earth. Last year was a particularly daunting one for those, who like myself, believe in and fight for the advancement human rights, civil rights, social justice, environmental justice and the rule of law.

Every hour of every day, it felt like my sensories were constantly being overloaded by a deluge of “Breaking News” stories. Add to this the seemingly endless number of unprecedented natural disasters that struck almost every continent on the planet: torrential rainfalls, flooding, mudslides, fires, earthquakes and hurricanes. These disasters were responsible for thousands of deaths, billions of dollars in property damage, scarity in resources, and social instability.

Perhaps the only silver lining to a year fraught with upheavals and tragedies was the ingenuity and indefatigable spirit of human beings. We rose to every occasion and proved (yet again) that we are stronger when we respect, support, and uplift each other. This truth as well as the organizations and individuals highlighted below give me great hope and a renewed sense of purpose for the year that lies ahead.

So, without further ado, here are 10 human rights causes worthy of your support in 2018.

1. Unidos Por Puerto Rico (United For Puerto Rico) is an organization created by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s wife Beatriz Rosselló in collaboration with the private sector, is providing a way for anyone to help victims in Puerto Rico.  The initiative aims to provide aid and support to those affected in Puerto Rico by the impact of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane María. The organization also has a list of needed construction materials and other supplies for those who would rather donate goods instead of money. Some of the pressing supply needs in Puerto Rico include bottled water, baby wipes, diapers, baby formula, pain relief medication for adults and children, canned milk, mosquito repellant, stomach relief and diarrhea medication, first-aid kits, blankets, and pillows. People can also donate through One America Appeal, a fundraising campaign originally launched by all five living former U.S. Presidents. The campaign lets donors contribute funds to Unidos Por Puerto Rico and the Fund for the Virgin Islands, a non-profit organization that was established 25 years ago by the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands for relief efforts.

2. The Islamic Relief USA (IRUSA) is a nonprofit humanitarian agency and member of the Islamic Relief Worldwide group of organizations. IRUSA was founded in California in 1993. In addition to international relief and development initiatives, Islamic Relief USA also sponsors and funds domestic projects ranging from emergency disaster responses to assisting the American homeless population and supporting those who cannot afford basic healthcare. In 2005, IRUSA aided the victims of Hurricane Katrina by providing over $2 million in assistance and sending field workers to distribute aid and assess the needs of the victims. Partnering with IRUSA for the 2006 Yogyakarta earthquake that struck Indonesia, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints donated $1.6 million worth of emergency supplies. After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, IRUSA staff and volunteers worked at shelters in New Jersey to house displaced residents. In 2014, IRUSA’s disaster response team assisted Alabama residents affected by tornadoes. In 2015, IRUSA gave $50,000 to assist Detroit residents whose water had been turned off due to difficulty paying their bills.

Recent international emergency projects include assisting displaced Syrians in Syria and neighboring countries, and assisting refugees arriving in Greece in 2015. In 2016, IRUSA’s Disaster Response Team responded to emergencies in the United States including the Flint water crisis, Louisiana flooding, and Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina. Recent non-emergency projects IRUSA have implemented or supported in the U.S. include after-school meal programs, a prison re-entry program, food aid on American Indian reservations, and assistance for victims of domestic violence. Besides the Virginia headquarters, IRUSA maintains regional offices in Illinois, New Jersey, Texas, Florida and two in California. In 2015, IRUSA was named a Top-Rated Nonprofit by Great Nonprofits. In 2016, IRUSA was awarded four out of four stars by Charity Navigator.

3. The International Organization for Migration is an intergovernmental organization that provides services and advice concerning migration to governments and migrants, including internally displaced persons, refugees, and migrant workers. In September 2016, IOM became a related organization of the United Nations. It was initially established in 1951 as the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM) to help resettle people displaced by World War II.  It is the principal intergovernmental organization in the field of migration, with 166 member states and eight observer states.  IOM’s stated mission is to promote humane and orderly migration by providing services and advice to governments and migrants. IOM works to help ensure the orderly and humane management of migration, to promote international cooperation on migration issues, to assist in the search for practical solutions to migration problems and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, be they refugees, displaced persons or other uprooted people.

The IOM Constitution gives explicit recognition to the link between migration and economic, social and cultural development, as well as to the right of freedom of movement of persons. IOM works in the four broad areas of migration management: migration and development, facilitating migration, regulating migration, and addressing forced migration. Cross-cutting activities include the promotion of international migration law, policy debate and guidance, protection of migrants’ rights, migration health and the gender dimension of migration. In addition, IOM has often organized elections for refugees out of their home country, as was the case in the 2004 Afghan elections and the 2005 Iraqi elections. IOM works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners.

4. The Global Fund for Women is a non-profit foundation funding women’s human rights initiatives. It was founded in 1987 by New Zealander Anne Firth Murray, and co-founded by Frances Kissling and Laura Lederer to fund women’s initiatives around the world. The Global Fund for Women is an international grantmaking foundation that supports groups working to advance the human rights of women and girls. They advocate for and defend women’s human rights by making grants to support women’s groups around the world. Funds that support the Global Fund for Women are raised from a variety of sources and are awarded to women-led organizations that promote economic security, health, safety, education and leadership of women and girls. The Global Fund for Women accepts grant proposals in any language and in any format. It also publishes “Impact Reports” which focus on specific issues impacting women and girls. The Global Fund for Women headquartered in San Francisco, California. Since 1988, the foundation has awarded over $100 million in grants to over 4,000 organizations supporting progressive women’s rights in over 170 countries.

5. FACE Africa is a nonprofit organization founded by Liberian national Saran Kaba Jones in 2009 that provides access to clean and safe drinking water for rural communities in Liberia using an innovative social enterprise model to fund water projects. In 2003, Liberia emerged from a long and devastating civil war that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions. The country suffered massive destruction and the very fabric of society was torn apart; infrastructures were in ruins – roads, buildings, health clinics, communications networks, schools, farms and factories were almost totally destroyed. With an 80% unemployment rate; extreme poverty with average earnings of $1 a day; no electricity; no running water or sewage system; and an inadequate education system, the country had enormous needs.

It was a conflict that forced Saran Kaba Jones and her own family to flee the devastation when she was just 8 years old. In 2008, a then 26 years old Saran, returned to her home country and saw the remnants of war and its attendant ills.  She promised herself that she would work to contribute to the improvement of the human condition of her people. Saran, along with many others including FACE Africa’s Country Manager Emmett G. Wilson, began the difficult process of trying to rebuild their society… one piece at a time.

FACE Africa was born from the ashes of this conflict, out of a need to help others reclaim the means to build a better life and prosper. It began with Fund a Child’s Education (FACE) but Saran quickly realized that one of the major impediments to education was the lack of access to safe drinking water. In a majority of cases, children contracted one of the many illnesses caused by unsafe water or that the school’s facilities were inadequate to attend to a child’s sanitation needs. Overall, the social and economic consequences of unsafe water penetrate into realms of education, opportunities for gainful employment, physical strength and health, agricultural and industrial development, and thus the overall productive potential of a community, nation, and/or region.

FACE Africa, which relies on fundraising events and donations for its projects, focuses on implementing low-tech water solutions in the country’s hard-to-reach rural areas. The organization is currently working as part of the WASH in Schools (WinS) Initiative, which the Liberian Government identified as the first step to recovery from the Ebola outbreak. FACE Africa’s first target has been Rivercess County’s Central C1 Education District, where only 9 of the district’s 26 schools had access to safe water before the initiative was launched. Thus far, FACE Africa has completed 5 additional safe water points and are stepping up their efforts to ensure that the remainder of the district’s 2,300 students gain access to safe water for drinking, cleaning, hand washing and hygiene purposes. Over the next few months, FACE Africa will be working with the county’s education authorities to conduct a comprehensive WASH assessment of all other education districts, with the eventual aim of rolling out its initiative throughout the county.

6. Charity: Water is a non-profit organization that provides clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. The organization was founded in 2006 and has benefitted over 7.3 million people. Based in New York City, Charity: Water uses both mainstream and social media platforms to raise awareness, including annual galas and events arranged via Twitter. The initiative, which has received donations from 300,000 individuals, provides GPS coordinates and photos of the wells it builds. The organization has 70 full-time staff members, 10 interns and more than 800 volunteers. 100% of its public donations are used to fund clean water projects, as its operating costs are funded by private donors, foundations and sponsors. Charity: Water has raised more than $252 million for more than 24,537 water projects in 24 countries, including Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Malawi. As of May 2017, Charity Navigator rates the organization among their highest-rated charities, with a full 4 out of 4 stars, and an overall rating of 92.29 out of 100 – with an ‘Accountability & Transparency’ score of a maximum of 100.

7. Re-Plate is a nonprofit and technological innovation that matches surplus food from local businesses to communities in need. A technology company at its core, Re-Plate has developed an app through which companies (mostly tech ones so far) can alert the organization when they have food leftover from meetings or company provided meals. A driver is dispatched to safely collect the often gourmet meals and deliver them to willing shelters or pantries, or sometimes even provides them directly to those living on the streets. The organization was founded in Berkerly, California on January 1, 2016 by Maen Mahfoud. Mahfoud grew up in Syria and saw the effects of poor access to food nearly every day. When he immigrated to California, he was surprised to find similar disparities within San Francisco. Mahfoud believes food is a great way to bridge the gap between income levels and become more aware of problems in our communities. To datem Re-Plate has rescued close to a million of high-quality meals for low-income communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. It has created 833,000 meals, saved 277,000 gallons of water, and diverted 13,770 pounds of CO2 from the environment. By 2020 Re-Plate projects it will recover 30M pounds of food a year.

8. Plant-for-the-Planet is a children’s initiative that aims to raise awareness amongst children and adults about the issues of climate change and global justice. The initiative also works to plant trees, and considers this to be both a practical and symbolic action in efforts to reduce the effect of climate change. In 2011, it reached a goal of planting a million trees. The idea for Plant-for-the-Planet was first developed in Germany in 2007 by Felix Finkbeiner, a nine-year old boy, who was instructed by a teacher to prepare a school report on the issue of climate change. While conducting his research, Finkbeiner came across the story of Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate from Kenya who had worked to plant over 30 million trees across Africa as part of her ‘Green Belt Movement‘.  At the end of his presentation, Finkbeiner shared the idea that the children of the world could plant 1 million trees in every country on Earth. On the 28th of March 2007 the first tree was planted at Finkbeiner’s school, thus marking the official launch of Plant-for-the-Planet. Students in Bavaria and across Germany also got involved and continued to plant trees under the initiatives name. Colin Mummert helped spearhead the Munich campaign for Plant-for-the-Planet. After one year 150,000 trees were planted and, in 2008, Finkbeiner was able to reach a larger audience becasue he was elected to the UNEP children’s board during the International UNEP Children’s Conference in Norway.

Since its creation in 2007, Plant-for-the-Planet effectively developed into a worldwide movement. In August 2009, when Finkbeiner spoke at the UNEP Tunza Children and Youth Conference in Daejeon, South Korea. There he promoted Plant-for-the-Planet and was able to gain support from children all around the world, who also promised to plant the 1 million trees in their own countries. Plant-for-the-Planet participants see each tree as an act of social justice as well as a contribution towards environmental and climate protection.  The goal of planting 1 million trees was reached in 2011 by children in 93 countries. As the organization has grown so has its main goal. As of December 2017, children have planted 15,205,240,958 trees around the world.

9. Too Young to Wed is a nonprofit organization that traces its official launch back to October 11, 2012 – the first International Day of the Girl Child. Dignitaries from around the world gathered at the United Nations in New York City that day and, surrounded by photographs of child brides as young as 5, pledged to do whatever it took to end child marriage. But the campaign’s roots stretch back another decade, to Herat, Afghanistan, where visual journalist Stephanie Sinclair was working on a story about girls and women who set themselves on fire. There, she discovered a disturbing pattern among the scarred patients in the hospital’s burn ward: Most of them had been forced into marriage as children. Horrified to learn that child marriage was common in communities throughout the world, Sinclair dedicated the next 10 years of her life to documenting the practice in the hopes of inspiring change. Sinclair joined forces with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to create a transmedia campaign aimed at raising awareness of the problem, supporting girls who are already married and ultimately halting the practice that affects one girl every two seconds—or an estimated 142 million more girls over the next decade. In addition, child marriage is inextricably linked to many of the world’s ills: child and maternal mortality, poverty, gender inequality, and the spread of HIV/AIDS—and ending the practice will help stamp out many of these problems.

Too Young to Wed’s traveling photo exhibit is the centerpiece of its advocacy effort and features the haunting stories of child brides from Nepal, India, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Yemen, Afghanistan and yes, even the United States. The exhibition continues to travel the world and partner with the UNFPA as well as other organizations such as Equality Now, the Population Council, Timret LeHiwot Ethiopia and the Canadian and UK governments. Together, Too Young to Wed not only advocates for an end to child marriage, but provides on-the-ground support to the girls in the communities where these pictures were made. Its first pilot project is a livelihood initiative in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia that employs women who have escaped child marriage and/or have been trafficked. By producing and selling high-quality soaps, these women generate a sustainable income for themselves and their families. By increasing the visibility of child marriage, Too Young to Wed hopes to provoke thoughtful dialogue and ACTION to end the practice and eradicate its consequences.

10. Life After Hate, Inc. (LAH) is U.S. nonprofit created in 2011 by former members of the American violent far-right extremist movement. Through powerful stories of transformation and unique insight gleaned from decades of experience, LAH seeks to inspire, educate, guide, and counsel. Whether working with individuals who wish to leave a life of hate and violence or by helping organizations (community, educational, civic, government, etc.) grapple with the causes of intolerance and racism, Life After Hate works to counter the seeds of hate we once planted. Through personal experience and highly unique skill sets, the organization has developed a sophisticated understanding about what draws individuals to extremist groups and, equally important, why they leave. Inspired by the organization’s work, Former San Francisco Quarterback Colin Kaepernnick  donated $50,000 to Life After Hate in May 2017.

Before leaving office in January, the Obama administration announced that it had awarded $400,000 to a Chicago-based organization dedicated to combating right-wing domestic extremists. Jeh Johnson, then the Homeland Security Secretary, singled out the work of the group, Life After Hate, when the announcement was made. But days later, the incoming Trump administration reversed course, stopping the grant pending a review. In June 2017, when the Trump administration announced its own grants to fight extremism, Life After Hate was not on the list. The move to pull back the money from LAH received renewed scrutiny after the violent, deadly clash in Charlottesville, Virginia left dozen injured and one dead. It also prompted more than 8,000 supporters of LAH to donate more than $500,000.

Use the Contact form to submit corrections or to nominate a cause, organization, or individual you believe should be acknowledged and featured in next year’s edition. All nominations must be submitted by November 15, 2018.

Previous Years:


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).

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
Click images  to enlarge or read caption. Newsletter recipients should visit website for better viewing experience.

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.

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

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

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.”

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

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

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.

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

A Wild World Upside Down

Image credit: Patty via Flickr

Hello Readers!

It has been more than three months since my last post. This means it is time for another installment of A Wild World Upside, where I briefly look back before going forward and acknowledge noteworthy news that happened while I was away. This installment will cover news from August 13 to November 22. The format of this post is slightly different than the first installment because of the overwhelming number of events that transpired in such a relatively short period. Here’s what you need to know.

  1. News and events are organized by the primary month in which they occurred and by the chronological order of the photos that appear in the slideshow for that month.
  2. With few exceptions, the dates on the left indicate the date the photo was taken.  It is the same date you will see if you scroll your mouse across a photo. Some events are represented by multiple photos that may have been taken on different dates.   
  3. If the date a photo was taken differs from the actual date of the event, the latter will be provided in the summary.  
  4. Each entry begins with the correlating photo’s caption and is followed by a summary, if needed.   
  5. Click on an image to enlarge it, read the caption or see the photo credit.
  6. This post is best read directly from this site because the email version alters the original formatting.

Keep in mind that these are just some of the many important stories that have cross my desk since August. It is by no means an exhaustive list. Lastly, a couple of entries deserve more attention and may appear as individual post directly above this one in the coming days. It’s a long read. So let’s get to it.

In August

August 13 – Cara McClure, right, of Birmingham, Alabama cries in a friend’s arms during a solidarity rally on August 13, 2017, for the victims of a white supremacist rally that turned violent in Charlottesville, Virginia. Protesters decrying hatred and racism converged around the country the day after the rally in Charlottesville.

August 14Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer, holds a photo of Bro’s mother and her daughter on August 14, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia. Heyer was killed on Saturday, August 12, 2017, when police say a man plowed his car into a group of demonstrators protesting the white nationalist rally. Bro said that she is going to bare her soul to fight for the cause that her daughter died for.

August 16 – Members of the Charlottesville community hold a vigil for Heather Heyer following a protest organized by white nationalists that turned deadly at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. on August 16, 2017.

August 19Local Bario 18 gang leader “El Mortal”, 18, poses for a photo on August 19, 2017 in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. He said he has been a gang member since he was age 10. In Honduras, rival gangs including Barrio 18 and MS-13 tightly control territory, earning money from extortion and drug trafficking. San Pedro Sula has one of the highest rates in the world for violence and homicide rates, most of it gang-related, for a populace not at war. Poverty and violence have driven immigration to the United States, although the number of U.S.-bound immigrants has dropped during the first months of the Trump Presidency.

August 19 – The lifeless body of a man lies on a street  in Mandaluyong, Philippines on August 19, 2017. A recent spike in the killings related to the government’s anti-drug operation sparked outrage among citizens as police confirmed deaths as high as 35 bodies in one day. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte lauded the killing of the 35 people and had asked for the killing of more people involved in drugs. This led to more nationwide protests denouncing his tactics. 

August 23 – A Yemeni woman sits near her cholera-infected child receiving treatment amid an acute cholera outbreak at a hospital in Sana’a, Yemen. After two and a half years of war, little is functioning in Yemen. 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. The World Health Organization announced on 14 August that the number of suspected cases of cholera in Yemen had reached 500,000, with almost 2,000 deaths related to the disease recorded since late April. It is one of the world’s largest outbreaks in the past 50 years, prompting The New York Times labeled it the “The World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis” on August 23, 2017.

August 26 – Protesters and supporters carry banners and placards as they march with the hearse of slain Kian Loyd Delos Santos, a 17-year-old student, during his funeral on August 26, 2017, in suburban Caloocan city north of Manila, Philippines. The killing of Kian sparked an outcry against President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug crackdown. Witnesses to the Santos incident claim that they saw police hand the boy a gun and asked him to run before shooting him to death. On October 18, Duterte reluctantly transferred the anti-drug operation from the PNP to the PDEA. On November 13, Donald Trump met with Duterte at an economic summit during his twelve-day visit to Asia. After the meeting, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that “human rights briefly came up in the context of the Philippines’ fight against illegal drugs.” Journalists covering the meeting noted that Duterte called the press “spies” and joked about assassinating them. Trump reportedly chuckled at the comments.

August 27 – Nursing home patients at La Vita Bella in Dickinson, Texas going about their day despite rising flooding waters from Hurricane Harvey on August 27 at 9:56 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. CBS later posted a photo to Instagram of the women after they had been rescued. Hurricane Harvey was the costliest tropical cyclone on record, inflicting nearly $200 billion in damage, primarily from widespread flooding in the Houston metropolitan area, breaking the previous record set by Hurricane Katrina. It was the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States since Wilma in 2005, ending a record 12-year span in which no hurricanes made landfall at such an intensity in the country. Harvey was the wettest tropical cyclone on record in the United States. Over a six-day period, Harvey dropped 27 trillion gallons over Texas and Louisiana. At least 46 were killed, around 30,000-40,000 homes were destroyed, and 35,000 people relocated to emergency shelters. Full recovery from the storm is expected to take years to complete.

August 29 – Waves were seen lapping over Interstate-10 near Winnie, Texas, on August 29 as floodwater produced by Hurricane Harvey continued to rise.

August 30 – The U.S. flag weathering the Hurricane Harvey on August 30, 2017. 

In September

September 6 – Storm damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Sint Maarten on September 6, 2017. Hurricane Irma was an extremely powerful Cape Verde hurricane, the strongest observed in the Atlantic since Wilma in 2005. It sustained winds of 185 mph (295 km/h) for 37 hours, becoming the only tropical cyclone worldwide to have had winds that speed for that long, breaking the previous record of 24 hours set by Typhoon Haiyan of 2013. It was the first Category 5 hurricane to strike the Leeward Islands on record, followed by Hurricane Maria two weeks later, and the costliest Caribbean hurricane. It was also the most intense Atlantic hurricane to strike the United States since Katrina in 2005, and the first major hurricane to make landfall in Florida since Wilma in 2005.

September 9 – An altar to the Virgin of Guadalupe is covered with fallen debris inside the earth-damaged home where Larissa Garcia, 24, lived with her family in Juchitan, Oaxaca state, Mexico on September 9, 2017. The 2017 Chiapas earthquake struck at 23:49 CDT on  September 7 (local time; 04:49 on the 8th UTC) in the Gulf of Tehuantepec off the southern coast of Mexico, near state of Chiapas,  with a Mercalli intensity of IX (Violent). The magnitude was estimated to be Mw 8.2. The earthquake caused some buildings in Mexico City to tremble, prompting people to evacuate. It also generated a tsunami with waves of 1.75 meters (5 ft 9 in) above tide level; and tsunami alerts were issued for surrounding areas. Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto called it the strongest earthquake recorded in the country, in a century. It was also the second strongest recorded in the country’s history, behind the magnitude 8.6 earthquake in 1787, and the most intense recorded globally, so far in 2017.

September 10 – Josué Tolentino Gómez, 11, stands beside his family’s home on September 10, where he was trapped under the rubble for an hour before being rescued when part of the structure collapsed during the 8.1 magnitude Chiapas  earthquake that struck on September 7 in Juchitán, Oaxaca state, Mexico.

September 10ANTIFA (short for anti-fascism) members hold a sign denouncing Nazis along a road at a waterfront park in downtown Portland, Oregon on September 10, 2017. The exact origins of Antifa are unknown, but the group can be traced to Nazi Germany and Anti-Fascist Action, a militant group founded in the 1980s in the United Kingdom. In America, the term is used to define a broad group of people whose political beliefs lean toward the left – often the far left – but do not conform with the Democratic Party platform. The Antifa garnered attention from mainstream media after some of its members showed up in Charlottesville, Virginia as counter-protesters to condemn hate and racism. Members have been spotted at high-profile, right-wing events across the country, including Milo Yiannopoulos‘ appearance at the University of California, Berkeley in February. They also protested Donald Trump’s inauguration in January.

September 15 – A Black Lives Matter protester stands in front of St. Louis Police Department officers equipped with riot gear in St. Louis on September 15, 2017. Protest erupted in the city after Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson acquitted former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley of first-degree murder in the 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, a 24 year old African-American man. Some of the protests turned violent and some police officers were pelted with water bottles and rocks after declaring the protest an “unlawful assembly.” The St. Louis Police Department response to protests was criticized as unconstitutional and excessive force by the American Civil Liberties Union following a video release of law enforcement officers chanting “Whose streets? Our streets” while making mass arrests.

September 16 – Demonstrators confront police while protesting the acquittal of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley, in St. Louis, Missouri, on September 16, 2017. Dozens of business windows were smashed and at least two police cars were damaged during a second day of protests following the acquittal of Stockley, who was charged with first-degree murder last year following the 2011 on-duty shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith.

September 16 – Bill Monroe poses as he protests the not-guilty verdict in the murder trial of Jason Stockley, a former St. Louis police officer charged with the 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, in St. Louis, Missouri on September 16, 2017.

September 16 – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 16, 2017. North Korea has fired 22 missiles during 15 tests since February 2017, further perfecting its technology with each launch. It launched missiles over Japan on August 29 and September 15 – two scuds missiles (solid-fueled short or medium-range ballistic missiles) and two Hwasong-12 (liquid-filled intermediate-range ballistic missile). Meanwhile, Trump and Jong Un have continued to trade insults publicly, with the latest juvenile interaction suggesting that a mutually acceptable solution to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is still some way off.

September 18 – A view of the devastation caused by a forest fire in an area of Brasilia’s National Forest in Brazil on September 18, 2017. The National Institute of Space Research (INPE) detected 106,000 fires destroying natural vegetation in September – the highest number in a single month since records began in 1998, said Alberto Setzer, coordinator of INPE’s fire monitoring satellite program. Experts and environmentalists say that the blazes are almost exclusively due to human activity, and they attribute the uptick to the expansion of agriculture and a reduction of oversight and surveillance. Lower than average rainfall in this year’s dry season is also an exacerbating factor.

September 19 – People remove debris from a collapsed building, looking for possible victims after another earthquake rattled Mexico City on September 19, 2017. The 2017 Central Mexico earthquake struck at 13:14 CDT (18:14 UTC) with an estimated magnitude of Mw 7.1 and strong shaking for about 20 seconds. Its epicenter was about 55 km (34 mi) south of the city of Puebla. The earthquake caused damage in the Mexican states of Puebla and Morelos and in the Greater Mexico City area, including the collapse of more than 40 buildings. More than 370 people were killed by the earthquake and related building collapses, including 228 in Mexico City, and more than 6,000 were injured. The quake coincidentally occurred on the 32nd anniversary of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, which killed around 10,000 people. The 1985 quake was commemorated, and a national earthquake drill was held, at 11 a.m. local time, just two hours before the 2017 earthquake. Twelve days earlier, the even larger 2017 Chiapas earthquake struck 650 km (400 mi) away, off the coast of the state of Chiapas.

September 19 – The body of woman hangs crushed by a collapsed building in the neighborhood of Roma Norte in Mexico City on September 19, 2017. Throughout Mexico City, rescue workers and residents dug through the rubble of collapsed buildings seeking survivors following a 7.1 magnitude quake.

September 19 -Shaheda, 40, a Rohingya refugee woman who said her body was burnt when the Myanmar army set fire to her house, receives treatment at the Cox’s Bazar District Sadar Hospital in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh on September 19, 2017.  Almost 600,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed into Bangladesh, fleeing the violence in Burma’s Rakhine state, since August 25. Many of the refugees tell distressing stories of their villages being attacked or burned by Burmese soldiers, or of their neighbors or family members being injured or killed. The United Nations has accused Burmese troops of waging an ethnic cleansing campaign. The new arrivals in Bangladesh join an already-existing large population of Rohingya refugees, which has prompted the government to announce plans to build one of the world’s largest refugee camps to house more than 800,000 stateless Rohingya, replacing hundreds of makeshift camps that are popping up near the border. Local medical teams, supported by UNICEF and WHO, have started a massive immunization drive in the camps, racing to prevent outbreaks of infectious diseases. The UN Refugee Agency has called the current crisis the fastest-growing refugee emergency in the world today.

September 24 – Members of the New England Patriots kneel during the national anthem before a game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium on September 24, 2017, in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The new wave of #TakeAKnee protests came one day after Donald Trump launched a sensational attack on NFL players during a campaign-style speech in Alabama on September 23, challenging the league’s owners to release any player who engages in the movement started last year by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!”, Trump said to a small, frenzied crowd of ardent supporters. Current and former players decried the president’s remarks. Minnesota Vikings running back Bishop Sankey tweeted: “It’s a shame and disgrace when you have the president of the US calling citizens of the country sons of a bitches.” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell criticized Trump’s “divisive comments”. On November 13, GQ named Colin Kaepernick Citizen of the Year.

September 25 – A giant sign in the front yard of a St. Croix homeowner asks Donald Trump for “TREMENDOUS! HUGE! BEST EVER!” relief for the U.S. Virgin Islands after the island was devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, as seen from a Navy helicopter passing over St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, on September 25, 2017.  After Hurricane Irma pummeled St. John and St. Thomas, St. Croix was mercifully left with about 90% power. But two weeks later, Hurricane Maria arrived to change that, decimating the island. Many of the more than 100,000 residents who live in the islands were left without a place to stay after the storms destroyed their homes. Many residents were also left without the means to communicate. Recovery will be slow but there has been some progress since Hurricane Maria.  Electrical power has been restored to 20% of customers in St. John, 20% of customers in St. Thomas and 10% of customers in St. Croix, according to FEMA. On St. Croix and St. Thomas, about 90% of power has returned to critical facilities such as hospitals, airports and shelters. About 95% of roadways are passable and no major roadways are closed.  Approximately 43% of cell service has been restored. Julio Rhymer, executive director for the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA), recognizes that Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, are still struggling from being hit by the hurricanes, but he wants “to make sure the Virgin Islands doesn’t get forgotten in the restoration process.”

September 25 – After the passage of Hurricane Maria, a man rides his bicycle through a storm-damaged road in Toa Alta, west of San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 25, 2017. Maria crashed across the entire U.S. territory of Puerto Rico on September 20, making landfall with winds approaching 150 mph (240 kph). Widespread destruction from the worst storm to hit in nearly a century left almost the entire island without power, and many without running water or cell phone service. Maria also brought heavy rains and flooding. The death toll remains unclear. The task of recovery and rebuilding homes and infrastructure on the island — home to 3.4 million people — has been daunting. On September 29, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz begged the federal government to step up its recovery efforts to get the island back on track: “I am asking the President of the United States to make sure somebody is in charge that is up to the task of saving lives,” she added, warning that “if we don’t get the food and water into peoples’ hands what we are going to see is something close to a genocide”.  Her passionate pleas for help were met with criticism and anger by Donald Trump, who did not visit the island until two weeks after the storm. On October 13, Trump threatened to pull federal emergency management workers from the storm-ravaged island in yet another Twitter tirade. November 20 marked two months since Maria made landfall and Puerto Rico is still in crisis mode. The electrical system has been partially resuscitated, helped by mega-generators imported by the Army Corps of Engineers, but still less than half — 46.6 percent — of Puerto Rico has power. Telecommunications is still operating at about 75 percent capacity; cellphone service at 65 percent; and 1-in-10 Puerto Ricans still lack potable water.

September 26 – Saudi women activist ​Manal al-Sharif flashes the victory sign from behind the wheel​. ​On ​September 26, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced that women would be allowed to drive starting in June​ 2018. The decision highlights the damage that the ban on women driving has done to the kingdom’s international reputation and its hopes for a public relations benefit from the reform. Saudi leaders also hope the new policy will help the economy by increasing women’s participation in the workplace. Many working Saudi women spend much of their salaries on drivers or must be driven to work by male relatives.

September 27 – Naval Aircrewman (Helicopter) 2nd Class Brandon Larnard, assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron, carries an evacuee off an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter following the landfall of Hurricane Maria on the island of Dominica on September 27, 2017. Dominica was Hurricane Maria’s first victim, and it was clear from a flight over the island nation that the storm showed no mercy.  At least 15 people were killed and there was widespread destruction in the capital of Roseau. Many buildings were damaged, cars and boats were overturned, bridges were clogged with huge tree trucks and many roads were impassable. According to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, 100% of the agriculture sector and 95% of the tourism sector was destroyed. The Caribbean island of 73,000 residents was a place of lush greenery, punctuated by waterfalls and rain forests. The rain forests appear to have vanished. The remaining residents on the island still have no clean, running water and no power.

September 28 – Tomasa Mozo, 69, a housewife, looks up at the roof as she poses for a portrait inside the ruins of her house after an earthquake in San Jose Platanar, Mexico, near the epicenter, on September 28, 2017. The house was badly damaged during a powerful 6.1 earthquake on September 23, but with the help of her family Mozo rescued some furniture. She lives in another room of her house and hopes to repair the damage as soon as possible.This was the third major earthquake to strike Mexico in the month of September.

September 29 – Hurricane Maria – U.S. Army veteran Luis Cabrera Sanchez holds his machete as he pauses for a portrait while clearing debris from his damaged home, with family and neighbors, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, on September 29, 2017. Sanchez, who served in the military from 1966 to 1969, said his greatest needs are water, food, and energy.

In October

October 1 – A pair of cowboy boots lies in the street outside the concert venue after a mass shooting at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip on October 1, 2017. Stephen Paddock fired automatic weapons into a gathering of 22,000 country music fans killing 58 people (excluding Paddock) and wounding 546 more. The incident was the deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman in United States history, with 58 fatalities. Paddock’s motive for the shooting is unknown. He died in his hotel room from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

October 2 – A woman makes a sign at a vigil on the Las Vegas strip following a mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. on October 2, 2017.

October 2 – Independence supporters march during a demonstration downtown Barcelona, Spain on October 2, 2017. Increasing rancor between Madrid and Catalonia culminated in a constitutionally illegal referendum on October 1st in which some 43% of the population (approx. 2.3 million voters) turned out to vote with 90% of ballots cast for independence. In some areas, this quickly descended into violent clashes and street violence. Spanish troops attempted to put down pro-independence demonstrations, injuring some 900 people. Catalan leaders accused Spanish police of brutality and repression while the Spanish government praised the security forces for behaving firmly and proportionately. Videos and photographs of the police actions were on the front page of news media outlets around the world.

October 4 – Air Force One departs Las Vegas past the broken windows on the Mandalay Bay hotel on October 4, 2017, where shooter Stephen Paddock breached the windows to conduct his mass shooting along the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.

October 5 – Veronica Hartfield, widow of slain Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Officer Charleston Hartfield, and their son Ayzayah Hartfield, 15, attend a vigil for Charleston Hartfield at Police Memorial Park on October 5, 2017, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Charleston Hartfield, who was off duty at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival on October 1, was killed when Stephen Paddock opened fire on the crowd killing at least 58 (excluding) people and injuring more than 450.

October 6 – A toy car is placed in the coffin of Juan Miguel Soares Silva, 4, one of the victims of the recent municipal daycare center attack, during his burial at Saint Luke’s cemetery in Janauba, Minas Gerais state, Brazil on October 6, 2017. A Brazilian nursery school guard sprayed children with alcohol and set them on fire, killing six small children and a teacher in an attack which horrified the nation.

October 9 – About 8,000 people lived in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park and a neighboring subdivision​ before the a northern California fire turned it into ash on October 9. The October 2017 Northern California wildfires were a series of wildfires that started burning across the state of California, United States. Twenty-one of the wildfires became major fires that burned at least 245,000 acres (99,148 ha). The wildfires broke out throughout Napa, Lake, Sonoma, Mendocino, Butte, and Solano counties. Seventeen separate wildfires were reported in October.  Owing to the extreme conditions, shortly after the fires ignited on October 8 and 9, they rapidly grew to become extensive, full-scale incidents spanning from 1,000 acres (400 hectares) to well over 20,000 acres (8,100 ha), each within a single day. By October 14, the fires had burned more than 210,000 acres (85,000 ha), forcing 90,000 people to evacuate from their homes. The Northern California fires have killed at least 43 people and hospitalized at least 185, making the week of October 8, 2017, the deadliest week of wildfires in California history. Collectively, this event constitutes the largest loss of life due to wildfires in the United States since the Cloquet Fire in 1918. In total, an estimated 8,900 structures were destroyed.

October 9Signorello Estate winery, located on Silverado Trail, before flames climbed the ivy-covered walls of the winery headquarters and it eventually collapsed.

October 9 – The remains of the fire damaged Signarello Estate winery after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Napa, California.

October 10 – Photographer Ian Frank just took this photo of DeAndre Harris, 22, that he titled “Die Nigger” as heard today with his very own ears at the pro-Trump white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. On October 10, the Charlottesville police department announced that it had issued an arrest warrant for Harris. He is accused of attacking one of the men who beat him.

October 14 – Emergency crews work to pull bodies from the buildings demolished by the twin bomb blasts in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia on October 14, 2017. The blasts killed at least 327 people and injured nearly 400 police. It was the deadliest attack in Somalia’s history, and has shaken and angered thousands across the country. The attack came as the United States under Trump has made a renewed push to defeat the Al-Shabab, Somali-based militants who have terrorized the country and East Africa for years, killing civilians across borders, worsening famine and destabilizing a broad stretch of the region. The blast occurred two days after the head of the United States Africa Command was in Mogadishu to meet with Somalia’s president, and after the country’s defense minister and army chief resigned for undisclosed reasons. While no one had yet claimed responsibility for the bombings, suspicion immediately fell on the group, which frequently targets the capital, Mogadishu. Previous attacks on the capital this year have killed or wounded at least 771 people, according to data compiled by the Long War Journal. The operations included remotely detonated vehicles, suicide car bombings and suicide assaults. At least 11 of these attacks have been assassination attempts against Somali military, intelligence, and government personnel, as well as Somali journalists.

October 14 – Somalis remove the body of a man killed in a blast in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia Saturday, October 14, 2017. Huge explosions from a pair of truck bombs killed at least 327 people and injured nearly 400 police.

October 16 – A forensics expert walks in a field after a powerful bomb blew up a car (Rear) killing investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Bidnija, Malta, October 16, 2017.  Galizia spent much of her work in recent years reporting on the Panama Papers, the cache of records from a law firm in Panama that detailed offshoring activities of powerful officials and companies around the world. Her reporting on allegations about the wife of Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and a shell company in Panama had caused concern when Malta had assumed the rotating, six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union, the Guardian reported. No suspects have been identified in the bombing, but Galizia’s son Matthew said that his mother was dead because of the incompetence and negligence of the Maltese government and police. “My mother was assassinated because she stood between the rule of law and those who sought to violate it, like many strong journalists,” he said in a post on Facebook. “But she was also targeted because she was the only person doing so. This is what happens when the institutions of the state are incapacitated: the last person left standing is often a journalist.” Nine journalists have been killed for their work this year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. If it is confirmed that Galizia was targeted, she would be the 10th, and the first in Europe, the CPJ said.

October 20 – A woman cries as she looks at her house in Raqqa on October 20, 2017, after a Kurdish-led force expelled the Islamic State group from the northern Syrian city. For three years, Raqqa saw some of ISIS’s worst abuses and grew into one of its main governance hubs, a center for both its potent propaganda machine and its unprecedented experiment in jihadist statehood. Although there has been an overall reduction of civilian casualties in areas where de-escalation zone agreements have been put in place, the humanitarian situation has nonetheless escalated significantly in the face of military operations in Raqqa City and Deir-ez-Zor. UNICEF remains extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of children who are caught in the crossfire and face constant aerial bombardments. Conditions in these areas continue to deteriorate due to severe food, water, electricity and medical shortages. In Raqqa, the population has resorted to collecting unsafe water from the Euphrates River, increasing the risk of waterborne disease outbreaks.

October 21Myeshia Johnson kisses the casket of her husband, U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson, during his burial service at the Memorial Gardens East cemetery on October 21, 2017, in Hollywood, Florida. Sgt. Johnson along with Army Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright were part of a 12-man U.S. special forces team that was ambushed October 4, 2017, by militants believed to be linked to the Islamic State. Five Nigerien soldiers were also killed in the shooting, which broke out as the soldiers left a meeting with local officials near Tongo Tongo. The Trump administration waited nearly two weeks to acknowledge the attack, and details about it remain hazy while an investigation is ongoing. Initial media reports said Johnson’s remains had been discovered by Nigerien troops 48 hours after the ambush. But later reports suggested children found Johnson’s body, with his hands bound and a large gash on his head. The soldiers were initially believed to have been attacked by roughly 50 militants, but that estimate rose to approximately 200 in recent days. Additional remains of Johnson were reportedly found in the African nation in early November – after his funeral had already been held, with his widow questioning whether he was even in the casket. The U.S. military’s inconsistent account of the ambush and the soldiers’ service in Niger has raised drawn scrutiny from Congress and the public to America’s evolving role in African missions. President Donald Trump raised even more controversy when Johnson’s widow accused him of making an insensitive condolence call in which he said her fallen husband “knew what he signed up for.” Trump denied this and accused the widow of lying.

October 27 – A relative of Maseno University student Titus Okul, who was shot during a protest the day before, touches his hand at the morgue in Kisumu on October 27, 2017. According to his parents, he was expecting to graduate on December 15. One person was shot dead as fresh protests hit western Kenya on October 27, a day after a deeply divisive election rerun which was marred by low voter turnout and violence, taking the death toll to six

October 27 – People celebrate after Catalonia’s parliament voted to declare independence from Spain in Barcelona on October 27, 2017. Catalonia’s parliament voted to declare independence and proclaim a republic, just as Madrid was poised to impose direct rule on the region to stop it in its tracks. The motion declaring independence was approved with 70 votes in favor, 10 against and two abstentions, throwing Spain into the biggest constitutional crisis in its 40-year democratic history. Catalan opposition MPs walked out of the 135-seat chamber before the vote in protest at a declaration unlikely to be given official recognition. Under Spanish national law, the vote has made secessionist parliamentarians vulnerable to arrest for sedition. Immediately following the vote, the Spanish parliament in Madrid voted to strip the Catalan regional government of its powers, invoking a never-before-used article of the constitution — Article 155 — which allows Madrid to dissolve the autonomy of a region if the unity of Spain is deemed at risk. All of that means we have reached the moment the Iberian Peninsula has both anticipated and dreaded since a controversial referendum on Catalan independence was held on October 1: brinksmanship and deep uncertainty about the future.

October 29 – Samantha Hanahentzen, 17, poses for a #MeToo portrait in Detroit, Michigan, on October 29, 2017. Hanahentzen said: “When I saw the #MeToo hashtag I was just coming to terms with my sexual assault. It happened when I was in middle school by one of my teachers. It took me a while to come forward with what had happened to me and then when I went to the administration I was told I didn’t have enough evidence to prove anything and I should just keep quiet about it because I and the school could be sued for slander if I went public with my experience. It was really silencing because when I was being assaulted it was that stereotypical line of ‘let’s keep this between me and you.’ And then when I found the courage to come out with out I was told again ‘let’s keep this quiet.’ So for me too, it was a way to have a voice and it was a way for me to see that I’m not the only one that has gone through this and that women all around the world have all experienced the same thing. It was really unifying.”

October 31 – Flowers are placed near the scene of the mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip. A driver plowed a pickup truck down a crowded bike path along the Hudson River in Manhattan on October 31, killing eight people and injuring 11 before being shot by a police officer in what officials are calling the deadliest terrorist attack on New York City since Sept. 11, 2001. The rampage ended when the motorist — whom the police identified as Uzbek immigrant Sayfullo Saipov, 29 — smashed into a school bus, jumped out of his truck and ran up and down the highway waving a pellet gun and paintball gun and shouting “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” before he was shot in the abdomen by the officer. Saipov was indicted on 22 charges, ranging from terrorism to both murder and attempted murder in aid of racketeering. The associated image was taken on November 2, 2017. 

In November

November 2 – Myanmar’s de-facto leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi visited the country’s conflict-ridden Rakhine State on November 2 for the first time since an outbreak of violence in August forced more than 600,000 people to flee from the ongoing ethnic cleansing. Aung San Suu Kyi, a 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate who once embodied her country’s fight for democracy, has come under increased pressure from the international community to denounce the military’s actions. Yet Aung San Suu Kyi has remained conspicuously silent on the Rohingya issue, and when pressed by reporters, she has toed the military’s official line, which contends that the Rohingya are illegally squatting inside Myanmar. “No, it’s not ethnic cleansing,” she said in a rare interview on the subject in 2013.

November 4Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest men, along with 10 other princes, was arrested in Saudi Arabia on November 4, 2017. A midnight blitz of arrests ordered by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia over the weekend of November 4 has ensnared dozens of its most influential figures, including 11 of his royal cousins, in what appears to be the most sweeping transformation in the kingdom’s governance for more than eight decades. The arrests, ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman without formal charges or any legal process, were presented as a crackdown on corruption. Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, a favored son of the late King Abdullah, was also removed from his post as chief of a major security service just hours before the announcement of arrests. All members of the royal family were barred from leaving the country. With the new detentions, Crown Prince Mohammed, King Salman’s favored son and key adviser, now appears to have established control over all three Saudi security services — the military, internal security services and national guard. For decades they had been distributed among branches of the House of Saud clan to preserve a balance of power in Saudi Arabia, the Middle East’s biggest oil producer.

November 4Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who had previously shown no signs of planning to quit, unexpectedly flew to Saudi Arabia and announced his resignation from there, to the shock of his own close advisers. Hours after Mr. Hariri’s announcement — televised Saturday on a Saudi-controlled channel — Saudi Arabia’s assertive new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, presided over the roundup of some 500 people, including 11 princes, on corruption charges. Hariri’s unexpected trip and resignation unsettled the Middle East, setting off a political crisis in Lebanon and even raising fears of war. But during his resignation speech, Hariri blamed interference in Lebanon by Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah for his decision, adding that he feared an assassination attempt. On November 18, Hariri flew from Saudi Arabia to Paris and met with French President Emmanuel Macron. He told reporters there that he would clarify his political position upon returning to Lebanon for Independence Day celebrations. Hariri returned to Lebanon on November 21, 2017. The next day, Hariri announced he is suspending his resignation, at the request of President Michel Aoun.

November 6 – A migrant arrives at a naval base after he was rescued by Libyan coastal guards in Tripoli, Libya, on November 6, 2017. Many thousands of others have risked their lives this year, fleeing conflict and instability in Africa and the Middle East, in small, often decrepit vessels in an attempt to reach European territories. Migrants crossing in the central Mediterranean – from Libya and Tunisia – have until recently come mostly from Eritrea and Somalia, although increasing numbers of Syrians fleeing the country’s civil war are also making the journey. Libya has become a popular starting point for many journeys, with people traffickers exploiting the country’s power vacuum and increasing lawlessness. The relatively short distance to Lampedusa encourages more people to risk the journey. But the number of fatalities has risen dramatically in a matter of months. More than 2,200 lives have been lost since June, the UN refugee agency UNHCR believes. Migration charities believe that as many as 20,000 people may have died at sea trying to reach Europe in the last two decades.

November 6 – People mourn the 26 victims killed by Devin Patrick Kelley at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs during a prayer service on November 6, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

November 11 – An estimated 60,000 people marched alongside ultranationalists and Nazis to mark the 99th anniversary of Polish independence. Some of the protesters carried banners and flags, including the red falange flag of 1930s fascism, and held up signs that had a clear far-right extremist message, including “Clean Blood,” and “White Europe.”

November 13 – A woman mourns as she holds the body of her daughter, who died in an earthquake in Sarpol-e-Zahab, western Iran, on November 13, 2017. The Iran-Iraq earthquake struck November 12, 2017, at 18:18 UTC (21:48 Iran Standard Time, 21:18 Arabia Standard Time). The 7.3 magnitude earthquake occurred on the Iran–Iraq border, just inside Iran, in Kermanshah Province, with an epicenter approximately 30 kilometers (19 mi) south of the city of Halabja, Iraqi Kurdistan. The earthquake was felt as far away as Israel and the United Arab Emirates. With at least 540 people killed (530 in Iran and 10 in Iraq) and more than 8,100 injured, as well as many more unaccounted for, it is currently the deadliest earthquake of 2017.

November 13 – A damaged building is seen on November 13, following an earthquake in Sarpol-e Zahab county in Kermanshah, Iran. A magnitude 7.3 earthquake struck along the Iran-Iraq border on September 12, killing at least 500 people and injuring at least 8,000.

September 14 – Protesters block Highway 1806 in Mandan during a protest against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, North Dakota. The Keystone pipeline was temporarily shut down on November 16, after 210,000 gallons of oil gushed into Marshall County, South Dakota, blackening a grassy field in the remote northeast part of the state and sending cleanup crews and emergency workers scrambling to the site. TransCanada, the company which operates the pipeline, said it noticed a loss of pressure in Keystone at about 5:45 a.m. According to a company statement, workers had “completely isolated” the section and “activated emergency procedures” within 15 minutes.

TransCanada estimates that the pipeline leaked about 5,000 barrels of oil at the site. A barrel holds 42 U.S. gallons of crude oil. The Keystone pipeline system is nearly 3,000 miles long and links oil fields in Alberta, Canada, to the large crude-trading hubs in Patoka, Illinois, and Cushing, Oklahoma. The pipeline’s better-known sister project—the Keystone XL pipeline—was proposed in 2008 as a shortcut and enlargement of the Keystone pipeline. It was completed in 2011. The entirety of its northern span—which travels through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Illinois—would stay closed until the leak was fixed, the company said.

In 2011, climate activists seized upon the Keystone XL pipeline, warning that its completion would allow the exploitation of much of Alberta’s tar sands and lock in too much future carbon pollution. James Hansen, then the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, warned in The New York Times that exporting oil from the Albertan tar sands would mean “game over for the climate.” In 2015, President Barack Obama blocked the pipeline as part of his administration’s preparation for the UN climate-change talks in Paris. But less than a week after his inauguration, President Donald Trump ordered that decision reversed.

November 14 – Protesters gather for a rally in support for marriage equality in Sydney on November 14, 2017. Australians voiced their opinion on same-sex marriage — and they are overwhelmingly in favor of it. According to the results of a historic national postal survey announced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on November 14, 61.6 percent of Australian voters said yes, same-sex marriage should be legalized. A majority in every single state and territory voted in favor of marriage equality, with a turnout of 79.5 percent of eligible voters nationwide. The results now go to the government, which opted to survey the population before the parliament took up its own vote on the issue. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who voted yes, has already pledged to follow through with the vote’s results. “We must respect the voice of the people. We asked them for their opinion and they have given it to us. It is unequivocal. It is overwhelming,” he said at a press conference. Turnbull said a vote will come before Christmas. Australia will become the 25th country to legalize same-sex marriage in at least some jurisdictions.

November 17 – A woman places flowers on coffins during the funeral service for 26 Nigerian women, at the Salerno cemetery, southern Italy, Friday November 17, 2017. The women died around November 6 while crossing the Mediterranean sea in an attempt to reach Italy.

November 18 – Protesters in Harare on November 18, demanding that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe step down after the military seized control of the capital, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Company and other central locations on November 14. The next day, they issued a statement saying that it was not a coup d’état and that President Robert Mugabe was safe, although the situation would only return to normal after they had dealt with the “criminals” around Mugabe responsible for the socio-economic problems of Zimbabwe. The coup took place amid tensions in the ruling ZANU–PF party between former Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa (who was backed by the army) and First Lady Grace Mugabe (who was backed by the younger G40 faction) over who would succeed the 93-year-old President Mugabe. A week after Mnangagwa was fired and forced to flee the country, and a day before troops moved into Harare, army chief Constantino Chiwenga issued a statement that purges of senior ZANU–PF officials like Mnangagwa had to stop.

November 21 – Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980 and once proclaimed that “only God will remove me!”, resigned as president on September 21 shortly after lawmakers began impeachment proceedings against him, according to the speaker of Parliament. Cheers broke out at a special session of parliament as speaker Jacob Mudenda read out Mugabe’s resignation letter: “I Robert Gabriel Mugabe in terms of section 96 of the constitution of Zimbabwe hereby formally tender my resignation … with immediate effect.”

November 22 – Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladić flashes a thumbs up as he enters the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands on November 22, 2017, to hear the verdict in his genocide trial.  Ratko Mladić, the 74-year-old dubbed the “Butcher of Bosnia“, was convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) of one count of genocide, five counts of crimes against humanity, and four violations of the laws or customs of war committed by his forces during the war in Bosnia from 1992 and 1995. Mladić was found not guilty on one count of genocide. He was sentenced to life in prison on November 22, 2017.

One of the two genocide counts included ordering the siege of Sarajevo, in which his troops surrounded the city for 46 months and carried out a campaign of sniping and shelling at the civilian population “aimed to spread terror amongst them”. With an average of 330 shells pummeling the city daily, more than 10,000 people were killed in what is known as the longest siege of a capital city in recent history. The second count of genocide was for killing more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica, a UN-declared “safe haven” at the time. It was the worst genocide to occur on European soil since the Holocaust. Prosecutors successfully argued that Mladić, along with former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić, were among the key players that formed the “joint criminal enterprise” to create a Greater Serbia. He was found guilty of removing Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat inhabitants from Bosnia to establish a Greater Serbia and of taking UN peacekeepers hostage. An estimated 100,000 to 200,000 people were killed during the war in Bosnia, while as many as 50,000 women were raped. In pronouncing the life sentence, the presiding judge, Alphons Orie, said that Mladić’s crimes “rank among the most heinous known to humankind.”  Mladić’s lawyers said they would appeal. 

Mladić was arrested in May 2011 in a village in northern Serbia, after 16 years in hiding. His health had already deteriorated at the time, with one of his arms paralyzed due to a series of strokes. The verdict was disrupted for more than half an hour when he asked the judges for a bathroom break. After he returned, defense lawyers requested that proceedings be halted or shortened because of his high blood pressure. The judges denied the request. Mladić then stood up shouting “this is all lies” and “I’ll fuck your mother”. He was forcibly removed from the courtroom. The verdicts were read in his absence. The trial in The Hague, which took 530 days across more than four years, is arguably the most significant war crimes case in Europe since the Nuremberg trials, in part because of the scale of the atrocities involved. Almost 600 people gave evidence for the prosecution and defense, including survivors of the conflict, and nearly 10,000 exhibits were admitted in evidence.

November 22 – Nura Mustafic, one of the Mothers of Srebrenica and other Bosnian organizations, wipes away tears as she reacts to the verdict which the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal, ICTY, handed down in the genocide trial against former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladić, in The Hague, Netherlands on November 22, 2017. A U.N. court  convicted former Bosnian Serb military chief Gen. Ratko Mladić of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced him to life in prison for atrocities perpetrated during Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war.

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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.

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

Too Young To Wed: Child Marriage in the United States

Michelle DeMello and her husband, Eric DeMello, were married when she was just 16 and five months pregnant, and he was 19. This archival photograph was photographed in Lincoln City, Ore., on Feb. 7. (Photo: Amanda Lucier)

Michelle DeMello walked into the clerk’s office in Colorado thinking for sure someone would save her. She was 16 and pregnant. Her Christian community in Green Mountain Falls was pressuring her family to marry her off to her 19-year-old boyfriend. She didn’t think she had the right to say no to the marriage after the mess she felt she’d made. “I could be the example of the shining whore in town, or I could be what everybody wanted me to be at that moment and save my family a lot of honor,” DeMello said. She assumed that the clerk would refuse to approve the marriage. The law wouldn’t allow a minor to marry, right?

Wrong, as DeMello, now 42, learned.

While most states set 18 as the minimum marriage age, exceptions in every state allow children younger than 18 to marry, typically with parental consent or judicial approval. How much younger? Laws in 27 states do not specify an age below which a child cannot marry.

Unchained At Last, a nonprofit I founded to help women resist or escape forced marriage in the United States, spent the past year collecting marriage license data from 2000 to 2010, the most recent year for which most states were able to provide information. We learned that in 38 states, more than 167,000 children – almost all of them girls, some as young 12 – were married during that period, mostly to men 18 or older. Twelve states and the District of Columbia were unable to provide information on how many children had married there in that decade. Based on the correlation we identified between state population and child marriage, we estimated that the total number of children wed in America between 2000 and 2010 was nearly 248,000.

Despite these alarming numbers, and despite the documented consequences of early marriages, including negative effects on health and education and an increased likelihood of domestic violence, some state lawmakers have resisted passing legislation to end child marriage – because they wrongly fear that such measures might unlawfully stifle religious freedom or because they cling to the notion that marriage is the best solution for a teen pregnancy.

In this way, U.S. lawmakers are strongly at odds with U.S. foreign policy when it comes to child marriage. The U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls , released last year by the State Department, lists reducing child, early and forced marriage as a key goal. The strategy includes harsh words about marriage before 18, declaring it a “human rights abuse” that “produces devastating repercussions for a girl’s life, effectively ending her childhood” by forcing her “into adulthood and motherhood before she is physically and mentally mature.” The State Department pointed to the developing world, where 1 in 3 girls is married by age 18, and 1 in 9 is married by 15.

While the numbers at home are nowhere near that dire, they are disturbing. Many of the children married between 2000 and 2010 were wed to adults significantly older than they were, the data shows. At least 31 percent were married to a spouse age 21 or older. (The actual number is probably higher, as some states did not provide spousal ages.) Some children were married at an age, or with a spousal age difference, that constitutes statutory rape under their state’s laws. In Idaho, for example, someone 18 or older who has sex with a child under 16 can be charged with a felony and imprisoned for up to 25 years. Yet data from Idaho – which had the highest rate of child marriage of the states that provided data – shows that some 55 girls under 16 were married to men 18 or older between 2000 and 2010.

Many of the states that provided data included categories such as “14 and younger,” without specifying exactly how much younger some brides and grooms were. Thus, the 12-year-olds we found in Alaska, Louisiana and South Carolina’s data might not have been the youngest children wed in America between 2000 and 2010. Also, the data we collected did not account for children wed in religious-only ceremonies or taken overseas to be married, situations that we at Unchained often see.

Most states did not provide identifying information about the children, but Unchained has seen child marriage in nearly every American culture and religion, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim and secular communities. We have seen it in families who have been in America for generations and immigrant families from all over the world. In my experience, parents who marry off their minor children often are motivated by cultural or religious traditions; a desire to control their child’s behavior or sexuality; money (a bride price or dowry); or immigration-related reasons (for instance, when a child sponsors a foreign spouse). And of course, many minors marry of their own volition – even though in most realms of life, our laws do not allow children to make such high-stakes adult decisions.

Parental control over her sexuality was why Sara Siddiqui, 36, was married at 15. Her father discovered that she had a boyfriend from a different cultural background and told her she’d be “damned forever” if she lost her virginity outside of marriage, even though she was still a virgin. He arranged her Islamic wedding to a stranger, 13 years her senior, in less than one day; her civil marriage in Nevada followed when she was 16 and six months pregnant. “I couldn’t even drive yet when I was handed over to this man,” said Siddiqui, who was trapped in her marriage for 10 years. “I wasn’t ready to take care of myself, and I was thrown into taking care of a husband and being a mother.”

Minors such as Siddiqui can easily be forced into marriage or forced to stay in a marriage. Adults being pressured in this way have options, including access to domestic-violence shelters. But a child who leaves home is considered a runaway; the police try to return her to her family and could even charge our organization criminally if we were to get involved. Most domestic-violence shelters do not accept minors, and youth shelters typically notify parents that their children are there. Child-protective services are usually not a solution, either: Caseworkers point out that preventing legal marriages is not in their mandate.

-Sara Siddiqui, 36, was married at 15

Those fleeing a forced marriage often have complex legal needs, but for children, obtaining legal representation is extremely difficult. Even if they can afford to pay attorney’s fees, contracts with children, including retainer agreements, generally can be voided by the child, making them undesirable clients to lawyers. Further, children typically are not allowed to file legal actions in their own names.

A young actress plays the role of a child bride during a protest organized by Amnesty International to denounce child marriage.​ (Photo: AFP)

Regardless of whether the union was the child’s or the parents’ idea, marriage before 18 has catastrophic, lifelong effects on a girl, undermining her health, education and economic opportunities while increasing her risk of experiencing violence.

Women who marry at 18 or younger face a 23 percent higher risk of heart attack, diabetes, cancer and stroke than do women who marry between ages 19 and 25, partly because early marriage can lead to added stress and forfeited education. Women who wed before 18 also are at increased risk of developing various psychiatric disorders, even when controlling for socio-demographic factors.

American girls who marry before 19 are 50 percent more likely than their unmarried peers to drop out of high school and four times less likely to graduate from college. A girl who marries young is 31 percentage points more likely to live in poverty when she is older, a striking figure that appears to be unrelated to preexisting differences in such girls. And, according to a global study, women who marry before 18 are three times more likely to be beaten by their spouses than women who wed at 21 or older.

Ending child marriage should be simple. Every state can pass the legislation I’ve helped write to eliminate exceptions that allow marriage before age 18 – or set the marriage age higher than 18, in states where the age of majority is higher. New Jersey is the closest state to doing this, with a bill advancing in the legislature that would end all marriage before 18. Massachusetts recently introduced a similar bill.

But when Virginia passed a bill last year to end child marriage, legislators added an exception for emancipated minors as young as 16, even though the devastating effects of marriage before 18 do not disappear when a girl is emancipated. Bills introduced last year in New York and Maryland languished and eventually died, though Maryland’s was just reintroduced. Other states have not acted at all. “Some of my colleagues were stuck in an old-school way of thinking: A girl gets pregnant, she needs to get married,” said Maryland Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, who introduced the bill to end child marriage in her state.

Only nine states still allow pregnancy exceptions to the marriage age, as such exceptions have been used to cover up rape and to force girls to marry their rapists. Consider Sherry Johnson of Florida, who said she was raped repeatedly as a child and was pregnant by 11, at which time her mother forced her to marry her 20-year-old rapist under Florida’s pregnancy exception in the 1970s.

Additionally, teenage mothers who marry and divorce are more likely to experience economic deprivation and instability than those who do not. If the father wants to co-parent, he can establish paternity and provide insurance and other benefits to the baby without getting married.

Legislators should remember that pregnant teenage girls are at increased risk of forced marriage. They need more protection, not less.

Nor does ending child marriage illegally infringe on religious rights. The Supreme Court has upheld laws that incidentally forbid an act required by religion, if the laws do not specifically target religious practice. Besides, most religions tend to describe marriage as an important union between two willing partners. That sounds nothing like child marriage, which often is forced and which has close to a 70 percent chance of ending in divorce. “There was a concern that we would be offending certain cultures within our society,” said New York Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, who introduced the unsuccessful bill last year to end child marriage in her state. “So instead of seeing this as an abuse of young women, [some legislators] were seeing this as something we needed to protect for certain cultures.”

Betsy Layman, 37, shares Paulin’s goal. Layman was 27 when she escaped the marriage that had been arranged for her in her Orthodox Jewish community in New York when she was 17, to a man she had known for 45 minutes. Even after she fled with her three children, the repercussions of her marriage continued to plague her. She was a single mother with a high school equivalency certificate, no work experience and no money for child care. The temporary and part-time jobs she managed to get couldn’t cover the bills.

“I was on Section 8, Medicaid and food stamps,” Layman said. “There were times there just was not enough food for dinner.” When the electric company shut off her power for nonpayment, she would light candles around the house and tell her children there was a blackout. Only when her youngest child reached school age was she able to find full-time employment and gain some stability.

“Legislators have the power to prevent what happened to me from happening to another 17-year-old girl,” Layman said. “I beg you to end child marriage.”

Sources & Recommended…
Why Can 12-Year-Olds Still Get Married in the United States? -By Fraidy Reiss | Washington Post

The Joy Of Leaving An Arranged Marriage — And The Cost | NPR
11 Years Old, a Mom, and Pushed to Marry Her Rapist in Florida -By Nicholas Kristof | The New York Times
The “Ugly” Reality of Child Marriage in the U.S. -By Shanika Gunaratna | CBS News

Fraidy Reiss is founder and executive director of Unchained At Last, a nonprofit that helps women and girls escape arranged and forced marriages and works to end child marriage in the United States.

No Where To Turn: Children As Young As Four Brutually Raped in Greek Refugee Camp

A child carries a blanket at the makeshift refugee camp at the Greek-​Macedonian border last March.​ ​(Photo: AF​P​ / Guardian UK)

“I told myself, ‘Look at yourself – you came to Europe, what was your aim?’ I am not doing this because I like it but I don’t have the money, I don’t have a choice.”

Those are the words of one of many refugee children forced into selling sex to survive in Greece, where a four-year-old girl is among those raped in camps that were supposed to afford them protection.

A study by Harvard University is warning of a “growing epidemic” of sexual exploitation and abuse in the country, which houses 62,000 asylum seekers stranded by the EU-Turkey deal and border closures through Europe. “We had a case of a four-year-old girl who was raped,” a psychologist at a camp in Athens told researchers. “The mother did whatever was possible to report it.”

But aid workers and officials say there is often nowhere to turn, with victims trapped in camps with their abusers too frightened to go to police or authorities, who frequently lack interpreters and specialists. The absence of arrests can lead asylum seekers to take violent retribution. In one Greek camp, a man who had already married one child raped another underage girl, and was badly beaten by other migrants. Aid workers told the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights of criminal gangs “thriving” in squalid camps, where many refugees have been living for more than a year, and terrorizing victims into silence.

“Having endured the risks of sexual violence or having experienced sexual violence during their journey, migrant children suffer from the fear of sexual abuse in a place that should have guaranteed them safety and protection,” the report said. It found that “weak or non-existent” structures leave children at heightened danger, with reports of sexual assault rising while gangs blackmail minors and threaten to send humiliating photos to their families.

“A man from one of the ‘mafia’ groups asked a couple’s seven-year-old daughter into their tent to play games on his phone and then zipped up the tent,” a doctor told researchers. “She came back with marks on her arms and neck. Later, the girl described how she was sexually abused.”

In one government-run camp, in a former Softex toilet roll factory on the outskirts of Thessaloniki, aid organizations claim that the level of risk of sexual attack is so acute that women are too afraid to visit the camp toilets alone at night. One volunteer serving at the Softex camp, which holds 1,400 mostly Syrian refugees, alleged that some young girls had been effectively groomed by male gangs. He said an Iraqi family had to be moved to emergency accommodation outside the camp after their daughter was attacked.

Rape and sexual assault is feared to be significantly underreported because of the fear of retribution and stigma, while administrative backlogs can cause long delays before victims can be moved away from their abusers.

The EU-Turkey deal has left thousands of children detained among 13,000 migrants in overcrowded island camps, despite concerns from the UN over unsafe conditions, seeing several refugees die of hypothermia and killed in fires over the winter. Charities previously warned of rising self-harm and attempted suicide in detention centers and elsewhere in Greece, where at least one asylum seeker has killed himself this year amid rising desperation to escape.

Smugglers in Greece, Italy and elsewhere in Europe are known to force refugees including children into prostitution to pay “debts”, while migrants are also resorting to “survival sex” for food and shelter, or to raise money to leave Greece.

“This can be children who are unaccompanied, or it can be women who come here without a husband or person to protect them,” says Eleni Kotsoni, a psychologist at a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) clinic in Athens. Refugee women can make “deals” with men from their home countries in exchange for safety inside detention camps, where overcrowding, outbreaks of violence and a lack of security and facilities leave them vulnerable.

In Athens, Thessaloniki and other cities, refugees tend to live in open camps or informal settlements, where adolescents may be preyed on by older men. Children desperate to raise money or find shelter also seek to sell sex themselves, particularly in notorious parks in Athens where they wait to be approached by pedophiles.

The Harvard study found that the purchasers of migrant child sex were mainly men over 35, while children engaging in “survival sex” are mainly teenage boys, particularly from Afghanistan. Some purchasers demand children to accompany them to their homes or meet at a hotel, the report said, while others insist on having sex in a park such as the notorious Pedion tou Areos (Field of Ares) in Athens. The report also found prices “rarely exceed €15 (£13) per exchange”. With smugglers hiking fees as borders and fences have gone up across Europe, prospects of escaping Greece are fading.

Children at the Ritsona refugee camp, north of Athens. A report says the European commission should insist on a child protection officer for every site. (Photo by Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images)

Aid workers expect the situation to worsen as refugees remain trapped in Greece for ever-lengthening periods and relocation programs including a British scheme are scrapped. Within the first 10 months of 2016, more than 10,400 children applied for asylum in Greece, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and other Middle Eastern and north African nations, creating huge backlogs in an unprepared system. But by the end of the year only 2,413 migrant children – 11 per cent of those stranded in the country – had been successfully relocated to other European countries despite 160,000 slots being promised.

​Marleen Korthals Altes, a senior child protection adviser at Save the Children, said the closure of borders through the Balkans route had increased the risk of sexual violence and exploitation. Ms Korthals Altes said that although child protection is heavily legislated in Greece, laws are “inconsistently applied” by overwhelmed authorities, adding: “The policies and the practices are different.”

The Harvard report identified six major risk factors needing to be urgently addressed – the lack of children’s facilities, risky living conditions inside camps, unsupervised mixing of migrant adults and children, under-resourced child protection systems, a lack of coordination among authorities and a “radically inadequate” relocation scheme.

Its authors, Vasileia Digidiki and Jacqueline Bhabha, concluded that EU policies were exacerbating risks by forcing the youngest and most vulnerable refugees to turn to smugglers and take desperate measure to meet their extortionate fees.

While more migrants are dying in treacherous attempts to reach Europe than ever before, political will to help survivors is waning, they noted, adding: “National and international stakeholders should come together to ensure adequate prevention measures, as well as to create safe and legal paths to migration for migrant children in acute need of protection.”

Sources & Recommended…
Four-Year-Old Girl Among Refugees Raped in Greece as Thousands of Asylum Seekers Trapped in Camps -By Lizzie Dearden | The Independent
‘Sexual Assaults on Children’ at Greek Refugee Camps -By Matthew Townsend | The Guardian
RRDP: Women Fear Violence and Rape in Refugee Camps | Al Jazeera
New Report: Emergency Within an Emergency, Exploitation of Migrant Children in Greece | Report

The Rise of Radical Populism & The Decline of Human Rights

The 100th day of Donald Trump’s presidency will be April 29, 2017. No one knows what will happen in the next 100 days. But if present and past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, Donald Trump is and will be a disaster for human rights. From his immigration ban to his support for torture, Trump has jettisoned what has long been, in theory if not always in practice, a bipartisan American commitment: the promotion of democratic values and human rights abroad.

Worse is probably set to come. Trump has lavished praise on autocrats and expressed disdain for international institutions. He described Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as a “fantastic guy” and brushed off reports of repression by the likes of Russia’s Vladi­mir Putin, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As Trump put it in his bitter inauguration address, “It is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone.” Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, has written that Trump’s election has brought the world to “the verge of darkness” and threatens to “reverse the accomplishments of the modern human rights movement.”

But this threat is not new. In fact, the rise of Trump has only underlined the existential challenges already facing the global rights project. Over the past decade, the international order has seen a structural shift in the direction of assertive new powers, including Xi Jinping’s China and Putin’s Russia, that have openly challenged rights norms while at the same time crushing dissent in contested territories like Chechnya and Tibet. These rising powers have not only clamped down on dissent at home; they have also given cover to rights-abusing governments from Manila to Damascus. Dictators facing Western criticism can now turn to the likes of China for political backing and “no-strings” financial and diplomatic support.

This trend has been strengthened by the Western nationalist-populist revolt that has targeted human rights institutions and the global economic system in which they are embedded. With populism sweeping the world and new superpowers in the ascendant, post-Westphalian visions of a shared global order are giving way to an era of resurgent sovereignty. Unchecked globalization and liberal internationalism are giving way to a post-human rights world.

All this amounts to an existential challenge to the global human rights norms that have proliferated since the end of World War II. In that time, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, has been supplemented by a raft of treaties and conventions guaranteeing civil and political rights, social and economic rights, and the rights of refugees, women, and children. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War served to further entrench human rights within the international system. Despite the world’s failure to prevent mass slaughter in places like Rwanda and Bosnia, the 1990s would see the emergence of a global human rights imperium: a cross-border, transnational realm anchored in global bodies like the U.N. and the European Union and supervised by international nongovernmental organizations and a new class of professional activists and international legal experts.

The professionalization of human rights was paralleled by the advance of international criminal justice. The decade saw the creation of ad hoc tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia and the signing in 1998 of the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court — an achievement that then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan hailed as a “giant step forward in the march towards universal human rights and the rule of law.” On paper, citizens in most countries now enjoy around 400 distinct rights. As Michael Ignatieff wrote in 2007, human rights have become nothing short of “the dominant language of the public good around the globe.”

Crucially, this legal and normative expansion was underpinned by an unprecedented period of growth and economic integration in which national borders appeared to disappear and the world shrink under the influence of globalization and technological advance. Like the economic system in which it was embedded, the global human rights project attained a sheen of inevitability; it became, alongside democratic politics and free market capitalism, part of the triumphant neoliberal package that Francis Fukuyama identified in 1989 as “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” In 2013, one of America’s foremost experts on international law, Peter J. Spiro, predicted that legal advances and economic globalization had brought on “sovereigntism’s twilight.” Fatou Bensouda, the current chief prosecutor of the ICC, has argued similarly that the creation of the court inaugurated a new era of post-Westphalian politics in which rulers would now be held accountable for serious abuses committed against their own people. (So far, no sitting government leader has.)

But in 2017, at a time of increasing instability, in which the promised fruits of globalization have failed for many to materialize, these old certainties have collapsed. In the current “age of anger,” as Pankaj Mishra has termed it, human rights have become both a direct target of surging right-wing populism and the collateral damage of its broader attack on globalization, international institutions, and “unaccountable” global elites.

The outlines of this new world can be seen from Europe and the Middle East to Central Asia and the Pacific. Governments routinely ignore their obligations under global human rights treaties with little fear of meaningful sanction. For six years, grave atrocities in Syria have gone unanswered, despite the legal innovations of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine. Meanwhile, many European governments are reluctant to honor their legal obligations to offer asylum to the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing its brutal civil war.

To be sure, not all of these developments are new; international rights treaties have always represented an aspirational baseline to which many nations have fallen short. But the human rights age was one in which the world, for all its shortfalls, seemed to be trending in the direction of more adherence, rather than less. It was a time in which human rights advocates and supportive leaders spoke confidently of standing on the “right side of history” and even the world’s autocrats were forced to pay lip service to the idea of rights.

If the human rights age was one in which the contours of history were clear, today it is no longer obvious that history has any such grand design. According to the latest Freedom in the World report, released in January by Freedom House, 2016 marked the 11th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. It was also a year in which 67 countries suffered net declines in political freedoms and civil liberties. Keystone international institutions are also under siege. In October, three African states — South Africa, Burundi, and Gambia — announced their withdrawal from the ICC, perhaps the crowning achievement of the human rights age. (Gambia has since reversed its decision, following the January resignation of autocratic President Yahya Jammeh.) Angry that the ICC unfairly targets African defendants, leaders on the continent are now mulling a collective withdrawal from the court.

African criticism reflects governments’ increasing confidence in rejecting human rights as “Western” values and painting any local organization advocating these principles as a pawn of external forces. China and India have both introduced restrictive new laws that constrain the work of foreign NGOs and local groups that receive foreign funding, including organizations advocating human rights. In Russia, a “foreign agent law” passed in 2012 has been used to tightly restrict the operation of human rights NGOs and paint any criticism of government policies as disloyal, foreign-sponsored, and “un-Russian.”

In the West, too, support for human rights is wavering. In his successful campaign in favor of “Brexit,” Nigel Farage, then-leader of the UK Independence Party, attacked the European Convention on Human Rights, claiming that it had compromised British security by preventing London from barring the return of British Islamic State fighters from the Middle East. During the U.S. election campaign, Donald Trump demonized minorities, advocated torture, expressed admiration for dictators — and still won the White House. Meanwhile, a recent report suggests that Western support for international legal institutions like the ICC is fickle, lasting only “as long as it targets other problems in other countries.”

In the post-human rights world, global rights norms and institutions will continue to exist but only in an increasingly ineffective form. This will be an era of renewed superpower competition, in what Robert Kaplan has described as a “more crowded, nervous, anxious world.” The post-human rights world will not be devoid of grassroots political struggles, however. On the contrary, these could well intensify as governments tighten the space for dissenting visions and opinions. Indeed, the wave of domestic opposition to Trump’s policies is an early sign that political activism may be entering a period of renewed power and relevance.

What, then, is to be done? As many human rights activists have already acknowledged, fresh approaches are required. In December, RightsStart, a new human rights consultancy hub, launched itself by suggesting five strategies that international rights NGOs can use to adapt to the “existential crisis” of the current moment. (Full disclosure: I have previously worked with one of its founders.) Among them was the need for these groups to “communicate more effectively” the importance of human rights and use international advocacy more often as a platform for local voices. Philip Alston, a human rights veteran and law professor at New York University, has argued that the human rights movement will also have to confront the fact that it has never offered a satisfactory solution to the key driver of the current populist surge: global economic inequality.

In a broader sense, the global human rights project will have to shed its pretensions of historical inevitability and get down to the business of making its case to ordinary people. With authoritarian politics on the rise, now is the time to re-engage in politics and to adopt more pragmatic and flexible tactics for the advancement of human betterment. Global legal advocacy will continue to be important, but efforts should predominantly be directed downward, to national courts and legislatures. It is here that right-wing populism has won its shattering victories. It is here, too, that the coming struggle against Trumpism and its avatars will ultimately be lost or won.

Source: Welcome to the Post-Human Rights World -By Sebastian Strangio | Foreign Policy

The End of Human Rights -By Stephen Hopgood | The New York Times
International Law in the Age of Trump: A Post-Human Rights Agenda -By Ingrid Wuerth | LawFare
Human Rights in the Era of Trump -By Mark Philip Bradley | American Historical Association

Into the Abyss: Corruption, Violence, and Famine Fuel Another Genocide in South Sudan

​A newly-arrived refugee child from South Sudan sleeps on a dirty floor at the Ngomoromo border post on the Ugandan side on April 10, 2017. According to a statement from the UNHCR, more than 6,000 people have fled into the northern Ugandan district of Lamwo since the start of the fighting in the South Sudan town of Pajok. Fighting between government forces and rebels erupted on April 3, 2017. (Photo by ​Isaac Kasamani / AFP / Getty​). Background image: A ​skull found on the ground in South Suda​n on March 31, 2016.​ (Photo by Nick Turse)​.

A legacy of corruption and violence has finally caught up to South Sudan, the world’s newest country, as the United Nations has declared a full-blown famine, a rare designation not made for any part of the world since 2011. Multiple UN officials have additionally warned that the country,  driven by armed conflict, stands on the brink of genocide.

A brief review of that nation’s history can offer insight into how things got so bad—and what, in concert with the urgent need for a surge in humanitarian aid, can be done to dismantle seemingly endless cycles of violence and suffering.

The underlying sources of conflict and human suffering in South Sudan today have not really changed much since Sudan’s independence in 1956, at which time South Sudan was still part of the larger nation of Sudan—South Sudan only became an independent state in 2011. This is a history of unchecked greed, manifesting itself primarily in the accumulation of wealth and power by corrupt leaders.

“South Sudan may be one of the poorest countries in the world per capita, but it is fabulously wealthy resource-wise: oil, gold, livestock (which are sources of wealth, savings, status, and social standing), the Nile River, and land. The ultimate prize is control of a kleptocratic, winner-take-all state with institutions that have been hijacked by government officials and their commercial collaborators for the purposes of self-enrichment and brutal repression of dissent.

When a peace deal was struck in 2005 ending the North-South war, the southerners were given authority over an interim administration in the southern third of the country, the part that would vote in an independence referendum six years later. During that interim period, two competing kleptocratic factions, led by Salva Kiir and Riek Machar—who would later become, respectively, South Sudan’s president and vice-president—had their own ethnic militias, corruption schemes, and patronage networks. Neither side was genuinely interested in building democratic institutions, good governance, transparency, service delivery, women’s empowerment, or economic development. Instead, the focus was on looting.

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MAN-MADE FAMINE RAVAGES WAR TORN SOUTH SUDAN. Years of civil war, a refugee crisis and a collapsing economy have taken their toll on South Sudan since it gained its independence in 2011.​ ​Famine in South Sudan has left 100,000 people on the verge of starvation and almost 5 million people, more than 40% of the country’s population, in need of urgent help, aid agencies say.​ ​People are already dying of hunger, and another 1 million people are on the brink of famine,​ ​according to the World Food Programme and other UN humanitarian agencies.

The loyalties of different armed leaders and their fighters in different regions had to be purchased—or temporarily leased—to build a consolidated southern army and ensure a decisive vote for independence in 2011. As the interim southern administration established its system of managing finances, leaders went from managing a budget of about $100,000 to managing a budget of more than $1.5 billion when the oil-sharing provisions of the peace deal were enacted. An oil-fueled gravy train (PDF) was created, and grew as the budget expanded in the years that followed. Beyond funding for the army and a few other government functions, nearly everything else appears to have been stolen, as there was no transparency with the oil income and where it went. When the independent state of South Sudan was established in 2011, the looting only increased. Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index ranks South Sudan 175 out of 176 countries.

A den of thieves had been created. The thieves had a falling out, first politically, then with open war in 2013, a scant two years after independence. These competing armed factions have committed horrible atrocities over the past couple of years as they violently pursue the spoils of a hijacked and perverted state. The horrors of war, however, have not deterred the leaders from continuing to milk the country’s system, as demonstrated in the 2016 investigative report by The Sentry.

The favored tactic for imposing will and exploiting resources throughout this history has been the recruitment and use of ethnic-based militias conducting scorched-earth operations. Ethnicity has been used as the main mobilizer for organized violence, which resulted in genocidal violence in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains in Sudan, and in parts of South Sudan even during the North-South War that eventually led to South Sudan’s independence.

In most genocides or other mass atrocities, leaders figure out a way to use identities to mobilize citizen sentiment and drive wedges between communities. This is an essential element of a divide-and-conquer war strategy. In South Sudan, ethnic-based militias are recruited and armed to attack the communities perceived to be opponents. This practice goes back to the British colonial era, when identities were politicized, just as the Belgians did in colonial Rwanda, establishing “tribal authorities.” Even religion was politicized along ethnic lines in South Sudan by the British in the way missionary societies were deployed.

When militias are recruited and mobilized on an ethnic basis, a classic “drain the water to catch the fish” approach ensues, in which the population is targeted and cleared from the area, thus depriving opposition elements of a civilian base from which to recruit, resupply, and find sanctuary. War tactics include village burning, sexual slavery, burning of food stocks, denial of aid access, mass rape, forced conscription of children, and killing of civilians. Mass atrocities become routinized.

In 2013, the two main competing kleptocratic factions of South Sudan’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) that had unified for the purposes of securing the independence of the country in 2011 had another falling-out, plunging the country back into war, mass hunger, and the brink of state collapse. There has been total impunity for the resource theft, child soldier recruitment, abductions, mass rape, bombing of civilian targets, and the obstruction of humanitarian aid.

Saving South Sudan

In South Sudan today, war crimes pay. There is no accountability for the atrocities and looting of state resources, or for the famine that has resulted. But it would be a mistake to see the trajectory of South Sudan as hopeless, its future fixed in the devastating status quo.

Many African countries became independent states in the past 50 to 60 years. South Sudan is five years old as an independent state. Sudan, the country from which it split five years ago, is 60. At the age of 60, the United States had a transatlantic slave trade fueling an economic boom, was ethnically clearing and cleansing its Native American populations, and had not yet fought its own civil war, one of the deadliest in per capita terms in the history of the world. Europe has an even deadlier history of state formation, marked by five centuries of border-defining conflict and genocide.

Thus, South Sudan and more broadly Africa are not so wildly different from the United States and Europe. Wars of state formation are just occurring later in Africa (because of colonialism) and with deadlier and more plentiful weapons, many of which are produced in countries with permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council. Well over half of the countries that emerge from wars eventually go back to war, especially when root causes remain unaddressed, so again South Sudan is not exceptional.

Many countries that were written off as hopelessly stuck in conflict and crisis over the last few decades have emerged and built new futures. Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Mozambique, Rwanda, and many others have emerged from deep crisis. Yes, they all have ongoing issues related to either corruption or restricting political space, but they are light years ahead of where they were just decades ago. More than half of the continent of Africa is at peace and growing economically. Many African countries are building democratic institutions and holding credible elections. Patience and the proper investments can lead to a turnaround in South Sudan, too.

Huge resources have been thrown at the problem for decades. Billions of dollars have supported peacekeeping forces, further billions have underwritten humanitarian assistance, and one peace process after another has tried to break the cycle of violence. But none of these efforts focus on the driving force of the mayhem. In South Sudan, corruption isn’t an anomaly within the system; it is the system itself, the very purpose of the state. There is no attempt to dismantle or counter the kleptocratic networks that benefit more from instability than peace.

The missing ingredient in the international response is the creation of sufficient leverage or influence to shift the calculations of these violent kleptocrats from war to peace, from atrocities to human rights, from mass corruption to good governance. The surest way for the international community to build influence is to hit these “thieves of state” in their wallets.

A young girl hangs a South Sudan flag on a wooden pole on January 30, 2011 (Photo by Timothy McKulka/USAID).

There are a number of internal conflicts within the broader war in South Sudan that will have to be resolved. External and internal change agents can work together to reform the kleptocratic system, build institutions of accountability, and create new incentives for better governance. Ultimately, South Sudanese people will drive reform and determine their future. From the outside, the United States, Europe, the United Nations, the African Union, and other concerned actors around the world can provide support and solidarity to the efforts of South Sudanese people who are on the front lines of efforts to build peace, good governance, and accountability.

However, in many cases it is the policies of external actors (countries, companies, banks, arms providers) that help provide a great deal of the fuel for the fires that burn in South Sudan and other war-torn African states. Therefore, some of the most meaningful actions that can be taken are focused on countering negative policies and commercial arrangements that originate from outside South Sudan and dramatically disadvantage South Sudan’s civilian population.

What is needed is a hard-target search for the dirty money, the ill-gotten gains from the last decade of looting. Choking the illicit financial flows of the kleptocrats is the key point of leverage available to the international community, given the vulnerability of stolen assets that are offshored in neighboring countries or around the world in the form of houses, cars, buildings, businesses, and bank accounts. The kleptocrats are not hiding their money under their mattresses. The points of convergence where illicit financial schemes rely on legitimate global financial infrastructure are where policy, enforcement, and regulatory efforts should be focused. Dismantling the financial networks that enable and benefit from atrocities will give peacemaking and peacekeeping efforts a real chance of success.

Tying accountability and consequences to credible peace efforts aimed at root causes represents the most promising route to peace. The international community needs to help make war costlier than peace for the leaders and their networks of collaborators, and change their cost-benefit analysis, creating targeted and personal consequences for corrupt war-mongers. The perverse incentives that reward violence and theft must be reoriented. The most promising policy approach would combine creative anti-money laundering measures with targeted sanctions aimed at kleptocratic networks, the combination of which would be robustly enforced with the objective of not just freezing a few assets, but rather freezing those willing to commit mass atrocities out of the international financial system altogether.

This is revolutionary, because it would suddenly give international policymakers and diplomats a major point of leverage to impact the calculations of those willing to commit mass atrocities to maintain or gain power. Given the dominant position of the United States in the international financial system, and the extreme vulnerability to which the assets of South Sudan’s kleptocrats are exposed within that system, the United States is uniquely positioned to help alter the incentives for South Sudan’s leaders away from grand corruption and war, and to give peace a chance in that embattled and long-suffering land.

War criminals and their international collaborators should pay a price for destroying so much of the hope that accompanied South Sudan’s birth as an independent nation a mere five years ago, and for their role in creating a full-blown, UN-declared famine. Despite the shadow of a corrupt and brutal history, it’s not too late for that hope to be restored.

Source: Corrupt Leaders Thrust South Sudan Into Famine and Abject Ruin -By John Prendergast | Enough Project via The Daily Beast

John Prendergast is founding director of the Enough Project, and co-founder of The Sentry.

A Mission That Was Set Up to Fail -By Column Lynch | Foreign Policy
South Sudan: Killings, Rapes, Looting in Juba | Human Rights Watch
How The World’s Newest Country Went Awry: South Sudan’s War, Famine, and Potential Genocide -By John Prendergast | Enough Project
South Sudan Violence Is Tribal ‘Genocide’-By Rodney Muhumuza | ABC News
South Sudan Faces Famine, Potential Genocide in Civil War | Interview between NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Simona Foltyn and John Janoub | PBS Newshour
This Woman Has First-Hand Experience of the Atrocities in South Sudan -Aryn Baker | TIME
World Food Program ‘Horrified’ as South Sudan Workers Killed | ABC News

Fears of Ethnic Cleansing Resurface in South Sudanese Town as Militia Kill 10 -By Ludivica Iaccino | Newsweek

Is There Any Hope for Peace in South Sudan? -By Jacey Fortin | The New York Times
Is There Any Hope Left for South Sudan? -By Justin Lynch | The New Yorker

A Photographer on the Ground in South Sudan: A New nation, in Crisis -By Vaughn Wallace; Photography by Fabio Bucciarelli | Al Jazeera America (Photos)