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Four Human Rights Situations to Watch in 2016

 

 

In a fast moving world, it’s often hard to keep track of the many evolving Human Rights situations across the world. To help, we’ve compiled a list of four cases which may have flown under your radar. Please remember that the following is not complete in any way, but provides a snap shot of some grim situations in the world today, which may dramatically impact various human rights issues for years to come.

The Future of Migrant Workers in the Middle East

File:Burj Dubai Construction Workers on 4 June 2007.jpg
Construction Workers at the Burj Dubai. Imre Scott, Creative Commons

The Reiff Center’s piece on the treatment of migrant workers highlighted the systemic exploitation of Indian and African laborers by the Qatari employers. Throughout the Gulf, inadequate labor protection laws have exposed millions of migrant workers to exploitation by their employers. Many have shared horrible stories about unpaid wages, passport confiscation, poor living conditions, and physical and sexual abuse by their employers. In 2016, something just might be done about it.

Public outrage at the atrocious living conditions of migrant workers in Qatar pushed some African and Asian governments to act. To start, many countries have begun implementing a number of policies aimed at reducing abuse. Middle Eastern recruiting agencies, which have a history of courting potential workers with embellished salaries or fake jobs are being more consistently monitored to ensure fair play. Others are seeking bilateral agreements with host nations, such as Uganda  recently signing a memorandum with Saudi Arabia,  guaranteeing Ugandan migrant workers a number of fundamental rights.

However, enforcement in the Middle East is still weak. Safeguard agreements are fine in theory, but must be aggressively enforced by the host country. Public outrage in the West has simmered for the moment, but with the upcoming 2020 world cup in Qatar will focus public attention on the living conditions of its migrants. If the pot begins to boil anew, keep a close eye on the actions of countries who have promised to enforce laws protecting the rights of migrant workers. If international pressure is able to force them to actively prosecute violators, then bilateral agreements like Uganda’s may be workable. If not, labor-sending countries will need to find another way to protect their workers.

A President in Court

Creative Commons

 

On Friday the 29th, the trial of former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo began in The Hague. Six years ago, Gbagbo’s refusal to step down from the presidency after his defeat by challenger Alassane Ouattara divided Cote’ de Ivor. The subsequent crises lead to a brief, but brutal civil war. Militias on both sides committed a slew of war crimes, including targeted murders, rape, and the systemic persecution of groups on political and ethnic grounds.

Gbagbo’s trial is certainly refreshing. The former president presided over a brutal response to the democratic ambitions of his own people, and in my opinion deserves to be imprisoned for them. However, during the war pro-Ouattara forces killed civilians from ethnic groups associated with Gbagbo, raped woman, and looted villages. While the ICC has promised to look into these allegations, no formal charges have been brought against any of the militia leaders that supported Ouattara.

The ICC cannot appear to selectively prosecute Gbagbo and his allies without also tackling Pro-Ouattara forces. To do so would bring the court’s impartiality into question, and weaken its legitimacy across Africa. Keep an eye out for any further news from the ICC, amd protests from former supporters of Gbagbo. If the ICC drags its feet on prosecution, it could herald a legitimacy crisis.

A Mexican Powder Keg

 

James Haleavy, Creative Commons

 

El Chapo’s escape came at a bad time for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. His tone-deaf response to the killing of 43 students from Ayotzinapa had alienated him from average Mexicans, and a scandal seemed to be brewing around his wife’s possibly illicit purchase of a house. However, the recapture of Mexico’s slippery drug lord “El Chapo” has added to his growing arsenal of political ammunition. Ordinary Mexicans are starting to feel the effects of structural economic reforms enacted by Peña, and his reforms of the education and energy sectors are progressing well. But Mr. Peña must tread carefully; the removal of El Chapo has the potential to catalyze a wider, more brutal drug war in Mexico.

With El Chapo gone, the power of his Sinaloa gang is likely to weaken. However, more dangerous groups like the Zetas and Guerreros Unidos are liable to take its place. These groups are not focused on the exportation of drugs. Instead, they generate the bulk of their income from kidnapping and extortion. These two groups terrorize locals, eroding trust in local institutions and openly challenging the law. With the Sinaloas weakened, it is possible these more violent groups will seize the opening.

Mr. Peña’s recent successes have granted him significant leeway in his choice of policy. He must leverage that leeway to continue to improve the security situation in Mexico. Upstart groups like the Zetas are likely to hit hard and fast, and the Americans may not be as willing to assist as they were in Mr.Chapo’s case.

Saudi Arabia’s Yemen Dilemma

 

File:Air strike in Sana'a 11-5-2015.jpg
Ibrahem Qasim, Creative Commons

 

In the midst of the wider Syrian conflict, it is easy to underestimate the importance of Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen.  Saudi Arabia considers the occupation of  Yemen by a regime loyal to Iran an existential threat. A dual blockade of both the Strait of Hormuz and the Mandeb Strait would cripple Saudi Arabia’s ability to export oil, a risk unthinkable to the export-dependent nation. As such, its prosecution of the intervention has been especially brutal. According to a report by UN experts, the Saudi-led coalition has carried out 119 sorties which violated humanitarian law, including the use of cluster bombs in residential neighborhoods. The Coalition’s imposed blockade is squeezing supplies of already limited food, fuel, and medicine, and the Yemeni people are suffering for it.

Saudi-Arabia and affiliated coalition nations have already taken a significant amount of international flak because of the intervention. Ties with critical allies are becoming frayed, and Saudi Arabia has set up a fact-finding committee to investigate abuses as a conciliatory gesture. The importance of national security means that the coalition is not interested in ending the war anytime soon. Repeated violations of cease-fires by both sides have sullied future negotiations, and Saudi Arabia is not willing to accept a Houthi-dominated Yemen.

For the sake of the Yemeni people, it is vital that the conflict reach a resolution soon. Keep an eye on international pressure towards Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners. The United States values Saudi Arabia as a Sunni partner against Iranian expansion, but is anxious about the violence and brutality of the Yemeni conflict. Much of the coalition’s equipment is supplied by the U.S, and American officials are not keen on being associated with wanton slaughter. Even so, international pressure may not be enough to dissuade the Saudi Arabians, as keeping the Mendeb strait open is critical to Saudi national security. If the Houthis and Saudis cannot find a meaningful resolution to the conflict, more creative diplomacy will have to be employed.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Reiff Center For Human Rights and Conflict Resolution or Christopher Newport University.