May 2019

  • The Lady and the Police

    Image from Peru, by Walter Hupiu

    This photograph shows a woman in Peru during a protest rally in front of the national prosecutor's office on January 3, 2019.

    Protests erupted after Pedro Chavarry, Peru’s Attorney General, dismissed two lead prosecutors from the Odebrecht bribery probe for allegedly “exceeding their authority.” The Odebrecht scandal, originating in Brazil, has triggered the largest corruption investigation in Latin American history, now involving fourteen countries where the construction giant reportedly engaged in bribery. In Peru alone, the company admitted paying $29 million in bribes to public officials between 2005 and 2014 in exchange for $12.5 billion dollars’ worth of government construction contracts. The scandal has paralyzed Peru’s economy. State projects have been frozen, resulting in a 1.5% loss to Peru’s GDP in 2017 and an expected loss of another full percentage point for 2018.

    The two dismissed prosecutors, Rafael Vela and Jose Domingo Perez, were investigating four former Peruvian presidents, as well as opposition leader Keiko Fujimori, on suspicion of corruption and money laundering. The Attorney General’s decision to remove them came on New Years’ Eve, causing many citizens to leave their festivities and protest what they saw as an affront to Peru’s anti-corruption movement. After days of protests and other criticisms, the two prosecutors were reinstated, followed shortly by Chavarry’s resignation.

  • Looted Honor

    Image from Bangladesh, by Mohammad Rakibul Hasan

    This photograph depicts 30 year old Dildar Begum, who was raped by soldiers and lost 29 members of her family in August 2017 due to the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Rohingya people in Myanmar. The Myanmar army has been accused of violating international law by using sexual violence as a weapon of war, with the aim of humiliating and terrorizing the community and instilling in its victims a deep shame and fear of returning home.

    An intense scorched-earth campaign was carried out across Northern Rakhine State beginning in August 2017, which saw Myanmar security forces burning down entire Rohingya villages and shooting those trying to escape. Nearly 700,000 Rohingya people were forced to flee to Bangladesh as a result, which the United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights at the time called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” The situation is now widely recognized by governments and civil society groups as genocide.

    The Rohingya people have faced persecution in Myanmar for decades, despite centuries-deep roots in Rakhine state. The military first used ethnic cleansing tactics against them, including rape, destruction of villages and land confiscation, with Operation Dragon King in 1978. The Rohingya have been labelled as “illegal immigrants” by Myanmar ever since.

  • The Defenders

    Image from Brazil, by Laycer Tomaz de Magalhães

    Brazil is home to 900,000 Indigenous people who live on reservations accounting for 13 percent of the country’s land. Indigenous territories in Brazil’s Amazon have long been threatened by illegal logging, encroaching agribusiness, and corruption-fueled land grabbing. Land and environment defenders from Brazil’s Indigenous and other rural communities have resisted, but the risk of standing up to protect the forest and their traditional territory within is great. High-profile activists have been murdered, and the violence is accelerating: in April 2019, a report of at least nine targeted killings of land defenders over a 12-day period beginning in late March 2019 emerged.

    Brazil’s recently elected president, Jair Bolsonaro, has expressed hostility toward the rights of Indigenous people, remarking during his campaign: “if I become President there will not be a centimeter more of indigenous land.” Since taking office, Bolsonaro has taken measures to weaken the protection of these territories by shifting the authority to demarcate it from the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) to the Ministry of Agriculture, further stoking fears that Indigenous land will be repurposed for agribusiness and other industrial purposes.

    Amid this climate of increasing hostility and violence, Indigenous leaders have courageously persisted in their fight to uphold their land rights and to protect the environment in a region currently facing the world’s most rapid deforestation. Noting the government’s failure to take action on illegal logging, one Indigenous leader remarked “We take action…and are defending the law…it is a very big war that we are still facing today.”

  • Waterbearer

    Image from Iran, by Shahab Naseri

    This photograph shows a girl from a nomadic community carrying water to a tent in Bandar Khamir, Iran.

    Nomadic peoples with origins in the Indian subcontinent are referred to in the Middle East as “Dom.” Despite their centuries-long presence in Iran, they remain marginalized. They live in isolated communities, are excluded from official statistics, and lack access to education and employment because they are not granted official identity documents.

    The Dom are often associated with the Roma, a people of similar origin living throughout Europe. Collectively, these peoples have long been known as “Gypsies,” although this term has come to be viewed by many as pejorative. They suffer from discrimination globally, triggered by what the Council of Europe calls anti-Gypsyism, recognized as a “specific form of racism fuelled by prejudice and stereotypes.” As a result of this discrimination, they are disadvantaged in many areas, including housing, health, employment and education. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has established a working group on Roma in an effort to protect their human rights and improve their status in Europe. While Dom in the Middle East receive some humanitarian support from non-governmental organizations, there has been little action by Iran to improve their status and protect their rights, as required by international law.

  • Preventable

    Image from Bangladesh, by Syed Mahabubul Kader

    This photograph shows people surrounding the remains of a car previously engulfed in flames in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

    In the last ten years, over 16,000 fire incidents have occurred in Bangladesh, killing an estimated 1,590 people. The fires are frequently attributed to illegal storage of chemicals in unregulated warehouses in Old Dhaka. This highly congested part of the city – with a population density of approximately 1,100 people per acre – is home to nearly 15,000 chemical warehouses. The volume and type of these chemicals combined with lax and unenforced safety standards contribute to the devastating nature and frequency of these fires and the tragic, preventable loss of human life they cause.

    While safety rules became tougher in the wake of the 2013 Rana Plaza garment factory disaster, safety lapses causing deaths continue due to “…greed…corruption and mismanagement,” as the chief executive of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association observed. The government has ordered the owners of some of these chemical warehouses to move their businesses out of the area, but, to date, the orders have not been enforced. Underscoring the lack of accountability, no action has been taken against the owners of one warehouse that caused a 2010 fire, which killed 124 people.

  • Extinguishing Freedoms

    Image from Iraq, by Ali Rahim

    An elderly peaceful protester stands in the path of a water cannon amid a wave of protests that broke out in Basra and spread across Iraq in July 2018. News outlets including the citizen journalism blog Mosul Eye have identified this protester as a community leader from Dhi Qar in southern Iraq.

    The Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI) describes the protesters’ movement as a demand for essential services like water and electricity, access to jobs in the energy sector, and denunciation of corruption in the governing Dawa party. The demonstrations originated around large oil fields and exploration sites. As they gained traction, the Iraqi government began to expand their security presence, and forcefully suppressed the protests with live ammunition, tear gas, and water cannons, despite Iraq’s constitutional protection of the right to peaceful demonstration. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi himself conceded in a press conference that the protestors were peaceful, and acknowledged that in some cases government security forces had initiated the violence.

    In an effort to curb the demonstrations and prevent the protesters from gaining international support, the government blocked the internet and banned certain social media sites; but resourceful young protestors found alternative means of communications such as virtual private networks. The hashtag #Save_the_Iraqi_people was used to convey news of the protests and bolster support for the demonstrators in the English-speaking world.