Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights’

Human Trafficking: It’s Not Just An Overseas Thing

Local reporters looking for a story that links the rest of the world with Main Street should pay attention to the growing atrocity of human trafficking.

“You say human trafficking, and people think…international cabal, organized crime, kids coming from Southeast Asia in cages. That’s not what it is,” says Montgomery County (MD) Assistant State’s Attorney Patrick Mays, who has prosecuted numerous sex trafficking cases in recent years. “Most of it is homegrown guys who are exploiting vulnerable women and children in their own communities, or traveling them around, up and down the East Coast.” — Human Trafficking in Montgomery County, Bethesda Magazine

According to the Polaris Project, a group that helps victims of trafficking, sex trafficking accounts for 71 percent of the calls to their hotline. Labor trafficking takes up another 16 percent. of the 5,000 cases opened during 2014. The cases are active investigations that came from more than 24,000 calls to the Polaris hotline, seeking help.

The International Labor Organization estimates 14.2 million people are in forced labor circumstances.

The Bethesda Magazine article says more reports come in each day as more people become aware that human trafficking is not something far away, but rather something much closer.

 “The numbers seem low, and I think what in reality is happening is we’re seeing human trafficking kind of emerge like domestic violence did 30 years ago,” says Amanda Rodriguez, who until recently oversaw human trafficking policy at the [Maryland’s] Office of Crime Control and Prevention. “The more people are becoming aware, the more these numbers are going to go up, because it is absolutely happening next door and in the community.”

The issue involves Americans and foreign nationals caught up in one of the most dangerous and demeaning  crimes in the world. And it does not just involve — as the primary case in the Bethesda Magazine article — household employees of diplomats.

“Common types of labor trafficking in the United States include people forced to work in homes as domestic servants, farm workers coerced through violence as they harvest crops, or factory workers held in inhumane conditions,” says the Polaris Project. “Labor trafficking has also been reported in door-to-door sales crews, carnivals, and health and beauty services.”

Just about every news outlet in the United States has an audience that includes the people mentioned above. Therefore, there is no reason to not look into local labor and working conditions.

This is perhaps one of the darkest and most gruesome links between Main Street and the rest of the world. And, unfortunately, it is not limited to international trafficking.

Increasingly sex trafficking…sex trafficking is taking place in well-appointed hotels that do not fit into the red-light district stereotype of eras past. In August, Armand Theinkue Donfack, a Germantown (MD) soccer coach, was charged with prostitution and human trafficking after an undercover sting at a hotel off I-270.


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The UN General Assembly Is Meeting: Put Press Freedom on the Agenda?

Joel Simon from the Committee to Protect Journalists has a featured piece in Columbia Journalism Review on how the United Nations should — but really can’t — do something about press freedom.

What can the UN do for press freedom?

Bottom line: Not much, but it can make some nice statements.

Responding to an upsurge in media killings, particularly of journalists working in conflict zones, the UN has prioritized the issue of journalists’ safety in recent years. In 2012, UNESCO, the UN agency charged with defending press freedom, launched a Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. The following year, the General Assembly passed a resolution to create an International Day to End Impunity for crimes against journalists, marked each year on November 2.

In July 2013, Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of the Associated Press, become the first ever journalist to address the Security Council. She noted, “Most journalists who die today are not caught in some wartime crossfire, they are murdered just because of what they do. And those murders are rarely ever solved; the killers rarely ever punished.” Last May, the Security Council passed a historic resolution reaffirming the international legal protections for journalists covering armed conflict. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon regularly condemns the killing of journalists, and calls on member states to take action.

All of these measures are important, and have tremendous symbolic value. But it is difficult to point to concrete advances in response to UN action. In fact, the level of violence against journalists has increased in recent years, and imprisonment of journalists around the world has reached record levels. Recent high-profile cases—including the conviction of three Al Jazeera reporters in Egypt; the ongoing imprisonment of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian in Iran; and the seven-and-a-half-year sentence handed down to renowned investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova in Azerbaijan—demonstrate that when it comes to imprisoning journalists, repressive governments are increasingly unresponsive to international pressure.

Simon argues journalists, diplomats and other human rights defenders need to use the occasion of the annual opening of the UN General Assembly, when leaders from around the world come to New York to argue for more action to protect journalists in their home countries.

Over the years, the Committee to Protect Journalists, which I head, has used the General Assembly to secure commitments from a number of heads of state, including former President Vicente Fox of Mexico, who agreed to appoint a special prosecutor for crimes against journalists, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who committed during a meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations to receive a CPJ delegation in Ankara.

Simon says this one-on-one approach should not let the United Nations, itself, off the hook, but it appears to the only way — for now — to get things done.

He argues journalists should demand accountability from the leaders who speak a the UNGA for their violations of press freedom. By just reporting the speeches and not looking at the records of the speakers, journalists become accomplices in efforts to whitewash media repression.


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Worst year for press freedom in LatAm; US media ignores issues

Despite repeated warnings that the press freedom situation in Latin America is getting worse, little reporting on it seems to be the norm with U.S. media.

The latest report from the InterAmerican Press Association attention from AFP and El Universal in Caracas. That’s it.

Read fuller account here: Bad year for LatAm journalists, not that the US media cares

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U.S. to fund anti-censorship programs

The U.S. government announced it will set aside US$30 million to fight Internet censorship.

Michael Posner, assistant Secretary of State for human rights, is quoted in the Guardian that the projects will include “slingshot” technology that will identify censored material and throw it back on to the web for users to find.

“We’re responding with new tools. This is a cat-and-mouse game. We’re trying to stay one step ahead of the cat,” Posner said. Censored information would be redirected to email, blogs and other online sources, he said. He would not identify the recipients of funding for “reasons of security”.

See rest of story at: New Efforts Announced To Fight Internet Censorship

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Hungarian cartoonists face threat from new media law

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

Many thanks to editorial cartoonist Matt Bors for his interview with three Hungarian editorial cartoonists and illustrators–Gábor Pápai, Joe Békési, and Péter Zsoldos–about how the media law will affect them.

(For background on the new Hungarian media law see Hungary’s media law: Back to the bad old days)

Hungarian Cartoonists Under Fire from Repressive New Law

Gábor Pápai: The consequences of the law are scary indeed.

Joe Békési: This law is not dangerous to specific individuals, but editorial offices, publishing houses, and television channels that can be ruined or forced to continually self-censor. It will kill investigative journalism.

Péter Zsoldos: Until now, theoretically we had total freedom. And seldom did any official retribution happen.

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Women and journalism: A look at the gap on International Women’s Day

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

Let’s face it despite the positive image of Brenda Starr, women still make up a minority in the newsrooms of the world.

So on International Women’s Day, I thought I would post a few items from around the world on the current status of women in journalism.

BTW, Reuters is holding a day-long live blog on Women’s Day. To participate, go to International Women’s Day 2011 LIVE

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Nervous China blocks term associated with “tea” and “revolution”

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

After the “Jasmine Revolution” in Egypt, the party leadership in China has been getting nervous.

During the uprising in Egypt, “Mubarak” and “Egypt” were blocked by the censors running the Great Chinese Firewall. The latest term to be blocked could hurt people who want to talk about a particular kind of very popular tea.

Searches for the word “jasmine” were blocked Saturday on China’s largest Twitter-like microblog, and the website where the request first appeared said it was hit by an attack.

According to the Associated Press, activists circulated a call for people to gather in more than a dozen cities Sunday for a “Jasmine Revolution.” (China blocks web calls for “Jasmine Revolution)

According to the report, those receiving the message did not know who started the call but they seemed more than willing to pass it on. The message reportedly called on people to show up in town squares in 13 cities and shout “We want food, we want work, we want housing, we want fairness.”

The authorities are taking the chain-letter seriously. They started rounding up  dissidents and their lawyers all day Saturday.

A U.S.-based Chinese-language website — — was the first to post the call. Within hours it was hit with a denial of service attack.

The site operators told the AP it was the most serious denial of service attack they ever received. They added the company believes the attack is related to the Jasmine Revolution proposed on Feb. 20 in China.

I really do wonder what will happen if people want to discuss the qualities of different jasmine teas.


You can go to the Boxun site to get an update of what happened. (Use Google Translate if you don’t read simplified Chinese characters.)

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A lesson for China from Egypt

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

Ever since the demonstrations in Egypt started, the Great Firewall of China has been working overtime to block searches and articles about what was going on. And now that the revolutionaries have won, the censors in China are even more nervous.

The AP pushed a story today that looks at the how and why of Beijing’s concerns: Wary China warns of Egypt ‘chaos’ after uprising.

Even a cursory look at the Egyptian situation makes it clear that the uprising is a major concern of the leaders sequestered in Zhongnanhai.

The massive use of texting and social media to organize the demonstrations. The calls for Mubarak to step down. And the protestors’ unwillingness to kowtow to the authorities.

These are all dangerous acts and ideas to the Chinese.

To counter the calls for democracy or more openness, the Chinese leadership falls back on that old chestnut of maintaining social stability as the most important thing.

“Social stability should be of overriding importance. Any political changes will be meaningless if the country falls prey to chaos in the end,” said the editorial in the China Daily, an English-language paper that is geared toward foreign readers.

Granted, from a Chinese perspective the horrors of the Warlord period and the Civil War make the idea of social instability a serious concern.

The problem — as I have argued before Chinese journalism students and to anyone who will listen — is that without free and open media, people distrust what is published/aired in the official media and depend on rumors and word of mouth.

We have all played the game of “Telephone” and we all know how reliable the end result is. Having to depend on rumors instead of independent media reports is clearly more destabilizing to a society than controlling the news. People end up reacting to the rumors instead of facts.

And to be fair to Chinese government, they are not alone. Iran started blocking most news about Egypt as are the Arab countries. In fact, where ever possible, dictators around the world tried to suppress news of the popular uprising.

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Expect more “surprises” unless reporting picks up

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

Observers are shocked about how young lawyers in Pakistan are rallying behind the accused murderer of the governor of Punjab province Salman Taseer, who was an outspoken proponent of liberalism.

The lawyers were once held up as the potential leaders of a liberal democratic Pakistan when they stood up to the dictatorship a couple of years ago. And now they are supporting a man who objected to political liberalism and who was a conservative Islamic fundamentalist.

What happened and why does it matter?

The New York Times has a great article discussing this issue: Pakistan Faces a Divide of Age on Muslim Law.

One paragraph summed up the problem for the United States:

Washington has poured billions of dollars into the Pakistani military to combat terrorism, but has long neglected a civilian effort to counter the inexorable pull of conservative Islam. By now the conservatives have entered nearly every part of Pakistani society, even the rank-and-file security forces, as the assassination showed.

For all the foreign aid the United States has handed out since the days of the Marshall Plan 65 years ago, very little thought has been given to “civilian” efforts of building democratic institutions — including free and independent media.

There was always money — granted, a limited amount — available through the U.S. Information Agency to sponsor study tours and international leadership exchanges. But within government circles few saw the value in spending money on working at a grassroots level to build democratic institutions such as independent media, community groups or trade unions. But even when USIA financed these types of programs, most in the agency didn’t understand the purpose.

Then things started to change in the 1980s. Say what you will about Ronald Reagan and his foreign policy, it was under his administration that the National Endowment for Democracy was founded.

The NED was the first U.S. financed but private organization dedicated to working to develop democratic institutions in the developing world.

The core groups that receive grants from the NED are the international arms of the Democratic and Republican Parties, the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Other smaller groups also get one-time grants for specific programs.

In the 1990s the U.S. Agency for International Development also finally got the message that all the development work in the world will not do much to help unless the people are part of the program. And for the people to be part of any national development means the promotion of local groups independent of the national power structure.

By the end of the 20th century, the USAID Democracy & Governance program was running programs that supported community groups and independent media.

The USAID programs paid for U.S. journalists to teach classes around the world in interviewing techniques and production skills. And in the process, the U.S. journalists transmitted their deep-seated belief that media are supposed to be separate and independent from the government.

The U.S. is late to the game of democracy development. And with the budget crisis in the U.S. and no real constituency for international programs (other than the Pentagon), we should expect to see cuts in already limited programs that promote free and independent media.

And the worst part, as I see it, is that even if there were loads more stories about how the U.S. missed opportunities to promote our values of democracy and pluralism, I don’t think it will matter. Too many in Congress have their minds made up that any foreign aid is a waste of time — unless it promotes their particular agenda — and too many Americans just don’t care.

We will continue to be “surprised” by events around the world until we start putting some value in understanding what is going on in the world.

(I still recall when the Solidarity movement erupted in Poland 30 years ago. When a U.S. diplomat was asked why the State Department did not see it coming, he responded: “You expect us to talk to workers?” Fortunately the State Dept. has learned its lesson. Diplomats now reach out to the widest range of sources within a country as possible — the WikiLeaks cables prove that.)

To avoid more “surprises,” the U.S. media need to see that events in the rest of the world affect us. The few news organizations that still have international correspondents should be giving those reporters more time/space to explain how events in far-away lands affect American society, politics or economy.

Even more can be done without foreign correspondents.

  • The U.S. is a nation of immigrants. Every city and town has a community with connections to “the old country.” Maybe more attention needs to be paid to those immigrant communities.
  • I also defy anyone to show me one community in the U.S. that does not have some sort of economic link to another country. (And I don’t mean the local Honda dealership or the Chinese-made products at Wal-Mart.)
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The real top stories in China and not what the government says they are

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

It’s that time of year again when journalists assemble their best stories of the past year and enter them in local and national competitions. (Enter plug here for the national SDX awards and the Washington, D.C. SPJ Dateline Awards.)

And journalists around the world assemble the Top 10 or Top 100 stories of the previous year.

China is no different. But getting the government media masters to agree with the journalists and the people about what constitutes the top stories is something else.

One of the great things about Hong Kong is that it is the only place under the rule of Beijing that has a free press and all the civil rights that go with it.

As a result, journalists and academics in Hong Kong can honestly assess the media situation in mainland China.

Thanks to the China Media Project at Hong Kong University we get to see how Chinese journalists in China are pushing the envelope every day.

If it were up to the guys in Beijing who try to control all the news, the top stories would be about the glorious growth in the Chinese economy and all the great speeches made at the party congress.

Fortunately we have the CMP and its director Ying Chan to talk about the real top stories in China.

Big 2010 stories hushed, but not forgotten

An already tight atmosphere for the press in China has continued to tighten in recent weeks. Most recently, the news retrospectives Chinese media have typically compiled at year’s end in recent years have come under pressure. Guangdong’s Southern Weekend, a newspaper with a reputation for bolder news coverage, had published its annual list of distinguished journalists and media, “Salute to the Media,” every year since 2001. But authorities put a stop to the list last month, the latest in a series of unfortunate warning signs.

The first hints of trouble for news retrospectives and similar lists came in early December, as Time Weekly, published by the Guangdong Provincial Publishing Group, invited a group of scholars to select a list of “100 Most Influential People of Our Time.” The list included the recently jailed food safety activist Zhao Lianhai and several signers of the Charter 08 political manifesto, including Beijing Film Academy professor Cui Weiping and renowned scholar Xu Youyu.

Time Weekly‘s list of 100 influential people included artists, grassroots activists, educators, lawyers, officials, public intellectuals, scientists, entrepreneurs and journalists, all seen as having, as the newspaper wrote, “an irreplaceable influence on public life this year and on the development of our times.” The list was received well in China and drew attention from international media as well, all surprised at the publication’s boldness. But an order quickly came down for the recall of copies of the newspaper in circulation, and the list and related coverage was deleted from the Time Weekly website. Peng Xiaoyun, the chief editor of Time Weekly‘s opinion section, who had been in charge of the list, was placed on involuntary leave.

Note that the list was “received well in China and drew attention from international media” but was quickly shut down by the central authorities. That’s about par for the course.

It is exciting to see reporters and editors push against the confines the political masters try to create. I like to think that improved technology — the Internet and mobile phones — and exposure to the West and those “dangerous” ideas of press freedom and real reporting are helping move Chinese journalists away from Communist party note takers to real journalists.

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