Case Studies

Tajikistan: Human Trafficking a Growing Concern

Antoine Blua: 4/25/04 Madina remembers vividly her ordeal at the hands of a human trafficker. This Tajik single mother was desperate to secure a better life for herself and her two children. Responding to an offer from a man she didn’t know, she left Tajikistan with the hope of a respectable job and a good salary. Madina says the man promised her she would be able to return home after just two months, and with a huge amount of money. But it soon became clear this was not the case. “We went to Turkey, but he tricked me. He took my documents and sent me to a brothel,” she says. “It was difficult to escape but finally I managed to do so.” According to the International Office for Migration, some 646 Tajik women were forcibly trafficked by criminal groups from the country in 2002. Their destination is mainly the Persian Gulf, but some go to South Korea, Turkey, Southeast Asia, and Europe. Many leave believing they will find better economic prospects abroad. With an average monthly wage in Tajikistan of just $5, many women are desperate to find a way out of poverty. The actual figure of trafficking victims is difficult to determine. Many victims do not know to whom to turn in crisis situations and are afraid or ashamed of publicizing their cases. Until recently, Tajik authorities largely ignored the issue. But they now admit the existence of the problem and are trying to prevent it. In the country’s new Criminal Code two articles were added addressing human trafficking for the first time. The Tajik parliament is now working on legislation to further strengthen the prohibition against human trafficking. Parliamentarian Sherkhon Salimov says that “People involved in preparing forged documents and in using those documents will be punished. We also made changes on several Criminal, Administrative, and Civil codes. Human trafficking is described as a crime punishable with prison terms.” But Tajik Deputy Prosecutor Azizmad Imomov says the laws should be completely reviewed, rather than amended, in order to ensure the country can fight human trafficking efficiently. “Some new articles from the Criminal Code — which basically dates from the Soviet times — are not enough to prevent human trafficking, because in the laws, the role of the prosecutors, the court and the police is quite unclear,” he said. Meanwhile, the Tajik government is supporting preventive campaigns designed to inform the public — especially young women — about the dangers of human trafficking. In particular, the campaigns urge people to be wary of offers of work abroad. The International Office for Migration (IOM) says that according to unofficial data, more than 300 Tajik woman and girls have been arrested and imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates for prostitution. The IOM is not involved in releasing them. “Preventing them from being involved in this traffic is more important. It’s our priority.” An IOM spokesperson says.

Back to top

Citizen Action, Networks and Global Change

Anwar Fazal According to the Chinese proverb, “If you feed a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” But consider the people of the South Pacific. They and their ancestors have fished for centuries. What use is their knowledge against the Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese companies that ravaged their oceans with miles of drift nets; the Americans who used their islands and waters as dumping grounds for toxic wastes and deactivated chemical weapons; and the French who continued nuclear testing in their region. When development workers from these same “developed” nations come and presume to teach the natives how to fish, they add insult to injury. Justice for the poor and protection of the environment depend on building citizen power to counter the abuses of powerful states and transnational corporations, such as those that deprive Pacific islanders of their fish. The experience of the International Organization of Consumers’ Unions (IOCU) provides useful insights into what this requires. The IOCU was founded in 1960 as a rather polite membership organization that served as a clearing house for consumer product information. Since then, we have evolved into a support body for powerful advocacy networks involving thousands of organizations and millions of citizens. Our first global campaign centered on the practices of transnational companies, such as Nestl?, in promoting the use of infant formula in place of breast milk in poor countries. These practices were causing thousands of infant deaths each year. An international consumer boycott and information campaign resulted in passage of the World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing for Breast Milk Substitutes. Later we helped form other global networks dealing with pharmaceuticals, tobacco, toxic wastes, biotechnology, food irradiation, and other issues. Our insights grew with our experience. We have found that when dealing with global issues, the most effective networks are those that link: Protest and proaction. Immediate fire fighting efforts must link with efforts to achieve larger structural changes that prevent future fires. Grass and sky. Groups that work at the community level must be linked to those that specialize in broader political spaces. North and South. Many Southern problems have Northern sources and can be resolved only through mutually supportive action by citizens of both North and South. We have learned to build networking strategies around a clear understanding of:
  • Information. Countless citizen organizations are starved for information in a useful form.
  • People and power. The effectiveness of citizen networks depends on millions of skilled leaders and the commitment of organized citizen lobbies. Movements must clearly identify the sources and flows of power in society, at both local and global levels. Engage those, such as youth and women, who have lacked opportunities to participate in global policy processes.
  • Revolution and evolution. Clear vision and mission statements must define both the future we want and the specific outcomes we seek as steps toward its achievement.
  • The local and the global. Encourage people to see how their problems relate to, and derive from, the global context.
  • Danger. Nurture the independence of the network’s elements so that if one part of the network is weakened, other parts can step in. Build on what exists. Minimize funding needs, and never become dependent on a single funding source.
  • Global networking is a key to the transformation of global society. The task is enormous, with ample need for the contribution of every responsible citizen.
Anwar Fazal, former president of the IOCU, is a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award and is currently engaged with peace-making( and interfaith dialogue ( He lives on the island of Penang, Malaysia, and can be contacted at

Back to top

All the news that’s fit to print

Changing the face of human rights reporting in Ghana By Clare Byrne There’s no law stating that NGOs have to be run by middle-aged philanthropists with countless postgraduate degrees and years of experience. But they usually are. Which is why it’s so refreshing to interview a NGO boss who’s still living at home with his parents. Twenty-six-year old Ben Peterson is co-founder of Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), a new organization that uses the media to educate Africans about their rights. The idea is simple: get the local media to step up its coverage of human rights issues thereby generating greater public awareness and wider respect for individual rights. Ghana, one of the world’s poorest countries, was JHR’s first target. With over 15 major ethnic groups, discrimination against people of different ethnic origin is rampant. More overtly violent practices have also survived in Ghana, like forced female circumcision and the giving of young girls as slaves by parents seeking forgiveness for wrongdoing. Peterson was particularly shocked at the high levels of spousal abuse. “Men talk openly about beating women,” he says. He was also amazed at how poorly educated Ghanaians are about their basic rights. “If people don’t understand that they have rights, then they can’t articulate their grievances in any way that is useful. They get bullied and they can’t say, hey, stop, and this is why you should stop – because I have rights.” He’s referring to rights as basic as the right to eat, the right to sleep and the right to marry the person of your choice. The United Nations enshrined these and other basic rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1947. “At the beginning, people thought, what the heck, who are these 25-year-old punks who think they can start and run an NGO!” says Peterson. JHR urges African journalists to humanize reports on expropriations or child labour, by seeking out and giving a voice to the victims of abuses. It was a relatively new exercise for journalists in Ghana, the country where JHR first went to work in 2002. Jocelyn Sweet, 23, from Nova Scotia was one of three journalist interns chosen by JHR to spend six months at a Ghanaian daily. She combed the country with journalist Bennett Akuaku, of the Ghanaian Chronicle (Ghana’s largest independent newspaper), in search of stories centering on human rights. With the help of JHR, the Chronicle and another newspaper, the Accra Daily Mail, began publishing bi-monthly supplements on human rights. The impact on public opinion and on other media has been huge, according to Akuaku. “JHR has made an impact on The Chronicle, so much so that it is almost changing the face of journalism in this country. People are getting fed-up with political stories that fill our newspapers. They want stories that address social problems.” Ben Peterson is insistent that JHR is not out to do the work of local journalists in their place. The goal is to get Ghanaians to write about issues affecting fellow Ghanaians. “We could just buy ad space and hammer human rights through print space. That might be more effective in the short run, but not in the long run. We want to train, enable and empower [African] journalists to write about human rights for the rest of their careers.”

Back to top

Upholding Human Rights: What’s the UN Doing Wrong?

by Josh Maiyo, 16 March 2005…. Critics say the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is losing all credibility. In fact, the High Commissioner herself, Louise Arbour of Canada, has blasted the international community’s ‘sporadic and selective’ approach to implementing human rights. Lubna Freih, from the Geneva-based Human Rights Watch organisation, says the OHCHR is simply too slow to act: “A commission of enquiry set up by the Security Council found that Sudan has committed crimes against humanity and war crimes. It is important for [the OHCHR] to denounce the actions of the government of Sudan and its militias, and also to appoint some sort of monitoring, to be able to continue to monitor the ongoing human rights violations that are occurring in the region of Darfur. Another example is the situation of Chechnya, here, on the doorstep of Europe, where we have some four cases of disappearances by Russian armed forces a day, and where the commission and the European Union in particular need to put forward an initiative to condemn the ongoing violations in the region of Chechnya.”


Furthermore, she believes the greatest transgressors are from countries which themselves have seats on the OHCHR: “For us – human rights organisations – it’s very important that members who sit on this commission not be violators of human rights For example, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Cuba should not be sitting on this commission on human rights. We have a problem where the worst violators are flocking to this body in order to suppress any criticism of the human rights record.” She says her organisation’s solution is to demand statements of intent from member countries: “We are asking all governments – especially members of the commission this year – to issue human rights commitments vis &aaccent; vis their human rights record at home, and also international human rights obligations, and seeing how they commit to those. We are asking that they say publicly that the will cooperate with all of the UN investigative mechanisms and with all UN requests or appeals regarding human rights violations.”

Lowering the bar

Ms Freih also argues that the most powerful members of the international community, like the US and Russia, are actually undermining the conduct of smaller countries in terms of upholding human rights. “For us, some of the human rights violations that the US is committing in the fight against terrorism […] really helped to lower the bar for all of the other countries, like Egypt, who say: well, we torture, but the US does it, so why shouldn’t we? It is very important that countries such as the US and the Russian Federation be held to account for their human rights violations.”

Back to top

Trees for Democracy

By Wangari Maathai When I was growing up in Nyeri in central Kenya, there was no word for desert in my mother tongue, Kikuyu. Our land was fertile and forested. But today in Nyeri, as in much of Africa and the developing world, water sources have dried up, and the soil is parched and unsuitable for growing food, and conflicts over land are common. So it should come as no surprise that I was inspired to plant trees to help meet the basic needs of rural women. Trees stop soil erosion, leading to water conservation and increased rainfall. Trees provide fuel, material for building and fencing, fruits, fodder, shade and beauty. As household managers in rural and urban areas of the developing world, women are the first to encounter the effects of ecological stress. It forces them to walk farther to get wood for cooking and heating, to search for clean water and to find new sources of food as old ones disappear. Through this work, I came to see that environmental degradation by poor communities was both a source of their problems and a symptom. Growing crops on steep mountain slopes leads to loss of topsoil and land deterioration. Similarly, deforestation causes rivers to dry up and rainfall patterns to shift, which in turn, result in much lower crop yields and less land for grazing. In the 1970s and 1980s, as I was encouraging farmers to plant trees on their land, I also discovered that corrupt government agents were responsible for much of the deforestation by illegally selling off land and trees to well-connected developers. In the early 1990s, the livelihoods, the rights and even the lives of many Kenyans in the Rift Valley were lost when elements of Danile arap Moi’s government encouraged ethnic communities to attack one another over land. Supporters of the ruling movement were displaced. This was one of the government’s ways of retaining power; if communities were kept busy fighting over land, they would have less opportunity to demand democracy. Land issues in Kenya are complex and easily exploited by politicians. Communities needed to understand and be sensitized about the history of land ownership and distribution in Kenya and Africa. We held seminars on human rights, governing and reducing conflict. In time, the Green Belt Movement became a leading advocate of reintroducing multiparty democracy and free and fair elections in Kenya. Through public education, political advocacy and protests, we also sought to protect open spaces and forests from unscrupulous developers, who were often working hand in hand with politicians, through public education, political advocacy and protests. What we’ve learned in Kenya – the symbiotic relationship between the sustainable management of natural resources and democratic governance – is also relevant globally. Indeed, many local and international wars, like those in West and Central Africa and the Middle East, continue to be fought over resources. In the process, human rights, democracy and democratic space are denied. Unless we properly manage resources like forests, water, land, minerals and oil, we will not win the fight against poverty. And there will not be peace. Old conflicts will rage on and new resource wars will erupt unless we change the path we are on.

Back to top

Demanding Justice: Rape and Reconciliation in Rwanda A nation is never conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. – Tsistsistas, Cheyenne When reports of mass rape emerged from the Former Yugoslavia in 1991, women’s groups from around the world moved to activate human rights law to meet the crisis. They argued that, contrary to prevailing legal thought, rape is not incidental to warfare but a form of torture and a gross violation of human rights. The UN tribunal on the Former Yugoslavia recognized rape as a war crime and, under certain circumstances, an act of genocide. These are achievements to be celebrated, but they are not permanent victories. This fact has become painfully clear since the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda (ICTR) in November 1994. The ICTR was created to investigate and punish war crimes committed during the 1994 genocide.

The Failure of Justice

Despite the tens of thousands of rapes committed during the Rwandan genocide, the ICTR has neglected to investigate, much less prosecute, sexual violence. Only in June 1997, after international pressure from a coalition of women’s groups, did the ICTR finally amend a single indictment to include charges of rape. Charges of rape are secondary within the tribunal’s mandate, reflecting and reinforcing pervasive ignorance about sexual violence among ICTR staff. Survivors have expressed repeatedly that they are uncomfortable describing their ordeals to men. Yet there are few women investigators or translators at the tribunal. None of the investigators are trained to work with rape survivors. The tribunal’s most treacherous defect is its lack of witness protection. Over 200 genocide survivors were killed in 1996, in attacks that many Rwandans characterize as attempts to prevent them from testifying. Despite these dangers, the ICTR’s witness protection program is largely fictional. There is only one staff person assigned to the entire city of Kigali, and the national unit that has yet to even outline an approach to witness protection. A corollary to the physical danger is the lack of psychological support for witnesses. Rwandan women tell of renewed nightmares, hallucinations and emotional breakdowns after testifying before the tribunal. Every interview tears open old psychological wounds, yet the ICTR has made no provisions for counselling services of any kind.

Prioritizing Women’s Human Rights

The frustration has led several women’s organizations to stop cooperating with the tribunal. In Rwanda, the gap between international law and local needs could be bridged by integrating local women’s organizations into the work of the ICTR. So far, most of Rwanda’s highly functional and well-organized women’s associations have had little or no communication with the ICTR. Pro-Femmes, a Kigali-based umbrella organization of 35 women’s groups, has never even been contacted by the tribunal. Yet indigenous organizations like Pro-Femmes have been working with women and their families since the genocide. The ICTR and similar international mechanisms should be guided by community-based organizations like these. A partnership of local knowledge and international political clout might actually yield a framework capable of prosecuting war criminals and identifying the policies and conditions that give rise to mass violence.

Back to top

Human Rights for the Disabled

By Dick Thornburgh and Alan Reich Wednesday, November 3, 2004; Page A15 A constitutional court in a Southeast Asian country upholds a decision that disqualifies an accomplished lawyer from serving in the judiciary because he uses a wheelchair. A court in a European nation awards damages to plaintiffs who sue a hotel, complaining that their holiday was ruined when they were forced to share the company of a guest who held her fork with her feet because she was born without arms. A girl who has a mental disability is taken from her home in South America to live in an institution where she is put in a cage; she soon dies of malnutrition and exposure. Are these human rights issues? They certainly are if one agrees that such abuse and discrimination are unacceptable in a caring world community. The United Nations concurs, and it is drafting a convention to provide international guidelines for the rights of more than 600 million people with disabilities. The convention will provide people with disabilities the same compassionate legal protection that women, children, refugees and other vulnerable populations have under international human rights law. But does the U.S. government support this work? No. The Bush administration has taken the position that disability is neither a human rights issue nor a predicate for international law but strictly a domestic policy matter. To be fair, the Bush administration does not actively oppose the convention; it simply announced early on that the United States would not ratify it. The United States has offered “technical assistance” to the U.N. committee, if it is requested, and sent a small delegation of government representatives to observe the negotiating sessions. But is this a sufficiently worthy and engaged response to so significant a global initiative from the one nation that all the others view as the pioneer for disability rights? When the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed and signed into law in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush, it was greeted as a welcome model for reform around the world. For more than a decade it has inspired progress and legislation by other countries seeking to address disability discrimination in their own legal codes. Still, fewer than 50 nations — among 191 U.N. member states — have adopted similar laws against discrimination based on disability. More than 100 have yet to establish comparable protections for their disabled citizens. America’s disability community includes many experts who have offered their services to help advance this U.N. process. But for its first two years, the U.S. delegation, sent only to observe, did not include one person with a disability. This is equivalent to sending an all-male delegation to a U.N. meeting on women’s rights. The United States should remedy this situation when the drafting committee meets at the United Nations in January, by sending an appropriate delegation of U.S. leaders with disabilities to represent our government and deliver the message that the United States will support the convention. Military triumphs and foreign aid packages won’t ensure human progress if America fails to pursue its own international heritage as the founder of human rights concerns at the United Nations. Dick Thornburgh was U.S. attorney general from 1988 to 1991 and undersecretary general of the United Nations in 1992-93. Alan Reich, a former deputy assistant secretary of state, is president of the National Organization on Disability. They serve as vice chairman and chairman, respectively, of the World Committee on Disability

Back to top

Too Poor to Count?

The World’s Poorest Peoples Slip Through the Poverty Reduction Net

Minority Rights Group, 13/09/2005 Despite being amongst the poorest of the poor, minorities and indigenous peoples are slipping through the net of worldwide initiatives to end poverty. Extreme poverty combined with discrimination and marginalization within society, means that minority and indigenous peoples are often ‘too poor to count’ and are excluded from Poverty Reduction Strategies, states Minority Rights Group International (MRG). On the eve of the 2005 World Summit at the UN in New York, MRG called for a re-doubling of efforts to ensure success of the MDGs for the world’s most vulnerable and impoverished peoples. MRG highlights that they are seldom invited to participate in the formulation of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), which are thus inappropriate to their needs, and may even harm them, further widening disparities between communities. “While statistics may demonstrate overall progress in the alleviation of poverty, they may also hide the fact that some of the poorest groups are being left further and further behind. Without short and long-term measures to reduce this disparity, including education and public service provision, they may become the hidden victims of a process that was established to help them,” stated Corinne Lennox of Minority Rights Group International. MRG welcomed strong opposition from most UN members to US proposals to remove references to the MDGs from the draft summit document. Its new publication aims to assist minorities and indigenous peoples to find their place in a process of poverty reduction through active engagement strategies that confront their current exclusion. Guidelines and examples of good practice are also being taken directly to states to sensitize them to the need for socially inclusive poverty alleviation processes. According to MRG, all too often consultation with minorities is ‘cosmetic’, and minority assistance programmes may be included on paper only, merely to trigger the resumption of donor funding. Minority and indigenous peoples are sometimes deliberately overlooked by states. They may also be failed due to symbolic participation that does not fully take their needs and concerns into account, or excluded due to statistical failures that do not reveal their comparatively desperate situation. Core to MRG’s message is the need for effective participation, ‘disaggregated’ data to reveal their plight, and close monitoring and evaluation of situations of minority and indigenous peoples and the implementation of policies to assist them.

Back to top