TIME Syria

U.N. Slams World Leaders Over Inaction in Syria as Death Toll Surpasses 191,000

"It is scandalous that the predicament of the injured, displaced, the detained... is no longer attracting much attention"

The United Nations said Friday that more than 191,000 people have been killed in Syria since the country’s civil war began in March 2011, as a top U.N. official lambasted the international community for its “paralysis.”

The U.N. reported that 191,369 people were killed between March 2011 and April 2014, more than double the figure the U.N. reported a year ago, when it said 92,901 people had died. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the true death toll is likely even higher because it reported only deaths that it was able to confirm.

“I deeply regret that, given the onset of so many other armed conflicts in this period of global destabilization, the fighting in Syria and its dreadful impact on millions of civilians has dropped off the international radar,” Pillay said in a statement. “The killers, destroyers and torturers in Syria have been empowered and emboldened by the international paralysis.”

More than 17,000 women and 2,000 children have been killed in the conflict, which has forced more than 2.9 million people to flee the country.

“It is scandalous that the predicament of the injured, displaced, the detained, and the relatives of all those who have been killed or are missing is no longer attracting much attention, despite the enormity of their suffering,” Pillay said.

TIME North Korea

The North Koreans Are Unhappy With the U.N.’s Report on Human Rights

A Portrait of North Korea
The Mass Games being performed in Pyongyang. Jonas Gratzer—LightRocket via Getty Images

So they're penning their own

North Korea plans to publish a report on the state of human rights in the country, nearly six months after a U.N. commission released a scathing document on conditions in the reclusive state.

“A report on human rights is to be published in the DPRK (North Korea) by the country’s Association for Human Rights Studies in the near future,” said the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

The aim is to debunk the U.N.’s report, which the North previously said was orchestrated by the U.S. to overthrow the Pyongyang regime.

The new report, the KCNA says, “will show the true picture of the people of the DPRK dynamically advancing toward a brighter and rosy future while enjoying a free and happy life under the socialist system centered on the popular masses.”

The findings documented in the U.N.’s 372-page probe are anything but “rosy,” however. The regime is accused of crimes against humanity and the chair of the commission said they were “strikingly similar” to crimes committed by Nazi Germany in World War II.

“These crimes against humanity entail extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation,” the U.N. study said.

The release date of North Korea’s report has not been disclosed.

TIME Retail

Target Openly Supports Gay Marriage in Legal Brief

Hackers Grab 40 Million Accounts From Target Stores
A Target store is seen on December 19, 2013 in Miami, Florida. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

The major retailer has joined a group of companies in filing an amicus brief in support of gay marriage

Target announced its support for gay marriage Tuesday by signing onto an amicus brief in a case before a federal appeals court, after years of criticism for its neutrality on the issue.

“It is our belief that everyone should be treated equally under the law, and that includes rights we believe individuals should have related to marriage,” said Target Executive Vice President Jodee Kozlak in a statement Tuesday.

The retail giant joins a group of national companies signing onto an amicus brief filed in Wisconsin’s appeal of a lower court decision that struck down that state’s gay marriage ban. A similar case in Indiana has been folded into this case.

Kozlak said Target already offers benefits to LGBT employees and families. In announcing the move, Kozlak couched the decision in both ideological and economical terms regarding the challenges created by having contradictory marriage regulations in different states.

“This position is particularly challenging for a large organization that operates nationally, such as Target,” Kozlak said. “Current laws — in places like Wisconsin and Indiana that are addressed in this brief – make it difficult to attract and retain talent … We believe that everyone – all of our team members and our guests – deserve to be treated equally. And at Target we are proud to support the LGBT community.”

TIME LGBT

Obama Urged to Address LGBT Rights in Africa

Advocates issue report on the dreadful state of LGBT rights in Africa, as world leaders and leading figures from the continent prepare for the US-Africa Leaders Summit

+ READ ARTICLE

Updated at 4:38 p.m. ET Tuesday

The White House will host more than 40 African heads of state for a three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit next week, the first event of its kind and the largest such event any U.S. president has held with African governments. Some 200 African and U.S. CEOs are invited, and numerous faith leaders will gather to discuss their role in advancing development. To mark the historic event, LGBT advocates have issued a report on the state of LGBT rights in Africa. Their conclusion? It ain’t good.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation and Human Rights First report contains some stark numbers. A total of 37 African nations currently criminalize same-sex relationships. Four countries—Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan—allow for the death penalty against LGBT people in parts or in all of the country. Cameroon arrests more people based on their sexual orientation than any other country in the world. Ghana treats same-sex relationships as a misdemeanor punishable by up to three years in prison. In Kenya, the sentence is up to 14 years. Only one country, South Africa, grants full marriage equality to LGBT citizens.

The U.S.—Africa summit, these advocates argue, is the perfect time for the White House to stand up for LGBT rights on the continent. Voices for equality on the ground deserve U.S. support, they say, and the U.S. should help create the political environment to ensure human rights are respected.

“The United States should demonstrate its firm commitment to upholding the fundamental principle that LGBT rights are human rights,” Ty Cobb, director of global engagement at the Human Rights Campaign, says. “This includes making clear that the United States will be a champion of LGBT rights abroad, and that we will not tolerate efforts to enact state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT people in any country.”

The authors of the report aren’t alone. Representatives from the Council for Global Equality, Advocates for Youth, Amnesty International, GLAAD, and a dozen other organizations wrote a letter to President Barack Obama on July 25 urging “particular attention” at the summit to the rights of the next generation of LGBT Africans.

“We are confident that with your support, and the robust contribution of civil society, the summit will provide a unique opportunity to emphasize that LGBT and other marginalized communities suffer disproportionately from governance deficits, and that too many governments scapegoat LGBT individuals to distract public attention away from those structural failures,” they wrote. “The economic themes of the conference also provide an opportunity to emphasize that homophobia, transphobia and related forms of intolerance have economic costs, including to the trade and investment environments in emerging markets.”

Activists also note that the moment has particular importance as some African countries are taking more steps toward equality. “There are reports that Malawi will stop arresting LGBT people and review its laws,” Shawn Gaylord, advocacy counsel for Human Rights First, explains. “A move to pass new anti-gay legislation (and hold a massive anti-gay rally) was stalled in Ethiopia this year. Two young men were just acquitted in Cameroon. It’s too early to say if this is part of a larger trend or just a few independent rays of hope but it’s a trend we should watch and support.”

The Obama administration has already reacted to anti-LGBT legislation in Africa. Last month, the White House increased sanctions against Uganda for its anti-gay law signed in February, which made certain homosexual acts punishable by life imprisonment. The summit will give the president an opportunity to make the case in person, if he chooses. Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni is slated to attend, as is Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, who also signed an anti-homosexuality law this year.

“This summit is a unique opportunity to tell the story of how our nation and every nation grows stronger and more prosperous when all citizens—including LGBT people—are accepted by society and provided equal treatment under the law,” Cobb says. “Every citizen must be empowered to reach their maximum potential, and we should urge these nations to reject laws, policies, and practices that discriminate against LGBT people.”

National Security Council spokesperson Ned Price tells TIME that LGBT equality in Africa will be on the table at the summit. “The Obama Administration has long spoken out—including with our African partners—in support of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals,” he says. “We expect the Summit will provide an opportunity to continue these conversations.”

– Zeke J. Miller contributed to this report

TIME Iraq

UN: ISIS Orders Women and Girls in Mosul to Undergo Genital Mutilation

"This is not the will of Iraqi people," U.N. humanitarian coordinator says

Islamic extremists who control parts of northern Iraq have ordered girls and women in and around the city of Mosul to undergo female genital mutilation, a United Nations official said Thursday.

Nearly 4 million girls could be affected by the “fatwa” issued by the militant group that refers to itself as the Islamic State (formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator in Iraq Jacqueline Badcock told reporters in Geneva via videolink from Iraq.

“This is something very new for Iraq, particularly in this area, and is of grave concern and does need to be addressed,” she said according to Reuters. “This is not the will of Iraqi people, or the women of Iraq in these vulnerable areas covered by terrorists.”

[Reuters]

TIME LGBT

Panic! at the Disco Turns Westboro Protest into an HRC Fundraiser

Panic At The Disco Perform At O2 Academy In Glasgow
Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco performs on stage at O2 Academy on May 7, 2014 in Glasgow, United Kingdom. Ross Gilmore—Redferns/Getty Images

PatheosLogo_Blue

This article originally appeared on Patheos

When the band Panic! At The Disco (below) — you might remember them from their 2006 hit song “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” — visited Kansas City, Missouri for a show on Sunday night, they had special guests waiting for them: Westboro Baptist Church members, complete with their “God Hates Fags” signs. (The band’s lead singer Brendon Urie said last year that he had experimented with homosexuality, though he’s married to a woman.)

The WBC even recorded a homophobic cover of the band’s hit song, called “You Love Sin What A Tragedy” in anticipation of the concert.

Rather than ignore them, the band responded in a wonderful way. They turned the protest into a mini-fundraiser for the Human Rights Campaign:

That’s how you make lemonade out of lemons.

WBC, always declaring victory regardless of the situation, said they would just protest 20 times for every dollar raised. So that’s 20,000 more protests than usual.

Good luck with that. I suspect it’ll be tough to pull off when so many people in the church are either dying or escaping…

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide.

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TIME East Timor

A Harsh Media Law Threatens East Timor’s Budding Democracy

Second Round Of Presidential Elections Held In East Timor
Taur Matan Ruak speaks to the press during the second round of the Presidential elections on April 16, 2012 in Dili, East Timor. Pamela Martin—Getty Images

The law will be "the death" of Timorese media, says a press union boss

Journalists and human rights activists are urging the President of East Timor to scrap a bill deemed a serious threat to press freedom, warning that the nascent democracy could be heading toward renewed authoritarianism.

A former Portuguese colony, East Timor, or Timor-Leste, only won independence from neighboring Indonesia in 2002 following a bloody civil war. Since then, despite being desperately poor, it has enjoyed a remarkably open society.

This is poised to change, say activists, with the implementation of the Media Act, passed by parliament on May 6 but yet to be ratified by President Taur Matan Ruak. The 57-year-old liberation hero has asked for the Court of Appeal to review the legislation’s constitutionality, but critics claim it should be immediately expunged.

“The media played a crucial role in East Timor’s long struggle for independence,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement. “The President should tell parliament that a media law that stifles free expression won’t get his signature.”

The long struggle that secured East Timor’s independence claimed some 100,000 lives and left the newly liberated population of one million people in abject poverty. Most East Timorese rely on cash crops, mainly coffee, to buy imported rice. A four-month “hungry season” — the period between crops — is an annual ordeal and nearly half of local children are underweight.

However, East Timor boasts abundant oil reserves and petrodollars have begun flooding in. Unfortunately, this opens the door to graft, the exposing of which brings media into direct confrontation with venal officials.

“What we’ve seen in the last few years is more attention to scandals and corruption,” Bridget Welsh, a Southeast Asia expert with the Center of East Asia Democratic Studies, tell TIME.

Although the Media Act explicitly enshrines “freedom of the press” and prohibits censorship, several provisions would permit government interference with journalists. Rather than the self-regulation favored by media advocates, an official Press Council, staffed by state appointees, would have the power to “grant, renew, suspend and revoke” media credentials. “The law will be the death of [Timorese] journalists,” Timor-Leste Press Union President José Belo told UCA last month.

Around half the adult population of East Timor is illiterate and Internet access is minimal. Newspapers are mostly available only in the capital, Dili, with most rural people getting news and current affairs from radio and TV. If a government was able to influence broadcast content and put pressure on journalists, it would stand a good chance of disseminating its messages unchallenged. The Media Act already proposes to require journalists to “promote the national culture” and “encourage and support high quality economic policies and services.” Such provisions are open to interpretation and abuse, claim critics.

“Journalists, including freelancers, took great risks and made enormous sacrifices while reporting during the darkest days of Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor,” said Kine. “The government should recognize that journalists are an indispensable front line against human rights violations, corruption, and abuses of power. Donors should urge the government not to undermine the media’s crucial role.”

TIME Pakistan

Pakistan’s New Antiterror Law Gives Security Forces Unprecedented Power

Pakistan
Pakistan army troops arrive at Karachi airport following an attack by unknown gunmen, disguised as police, who stormed a terminal used for VIPs and cargo, Sunday night, June 8, 2014. Fareed Khan—ASSOCIATED PRESS

The law permits the arrest of terror suspects without warrants and their detention for 60 days without trial. Officials will also be able to issue shoot-on-sight orders

In an effort to curb the increasing audacity of Islamist militant groups in the country, Pakistan’s parliament passed a comprehensive counterterrorism bill on Wednesday that gives unprecedented powers to domestic security forces.

The legislation, called the Protection of Pakistan Bill 2014, has drawn the ire of human-rights groups for its rigor and breadth. Under the new law, the national government can not only arrest suspected terrorists without warrants but also detain them for 60 days without any discussion of trial.

More controversially, it permits police and other security officials to issue shoot-on-sight orders.

“This is perhaps the strongest of the laws that Pakistan has come up with to deal with militancy and terrorism,” Irfan Shahzad, a researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies in Islamabad, tells TIME. “I would not say that outright it is a violation [of human rights], but it certainly raises questions over what rights we Pakistanis have as citizens of this country.”

Thousands have died since the Pakistan Taliban began its present insurgency in 2007, and Islamabad has frequently struggled to contain the bloodshed. It is currently taking the fight to the insurgents in the mountainous region of North Waziristan, but the offensive has sparked a humanitarian crisis, displacing nearly half a million people.

Shahzad says the new legislation has been born out of increasing frustration. “If a government fails to deliver,” he says, “they resort to certain actions that they believe will increase their command over certain groups.”

Among the provisions of the new law are the granting to security forces the power to search premises without warrants, the allowing of tapped phone calls as court evidence and a steep increase in prison sentences for terrorist offenses. While the bill has vocal critics, Shahzad believes that it will be accepted by a population exhausted by years of conflict.

“We’re talking about a country where the literacy rate is just over 50%,” he says. “Even among those who are literate and who read the news, they are very much hard-pressed by the matter of their own survival. [This law] may not necessarily be a major issue to them.”

TIME southeast asia

A Young Girl Kept as a Slave for 5 Years in Thailand Wins Landmark Damages

Illegal Myanmar Immigrants Make Living In Rubbish Field in Thailand
An illegal-immigrant boy from Burma works at mountains of rubbish in Mae Sot, Thailand, on July 18, 2013 The Asahi Shimbun—Getty Images

Sold as a 7-year-old, she keeps the spotlight on the dangers faced by the estimated 4 million migrant workers in Thailand

A 13-year-old Burmese girl who was tortured for five years by a Thai couple who treated her as a slave has finally been awarded $143,000 in compensation by a local court, ending one nightmare but throwing the spotlight on the plight of countless other vulnerable migrants who suffer similar abuse.

The victim, who was just 7 years old when she was sold into slavery, must live with horrendous scars over half her body after she was regularly drenched with pots of boiling water for perceived disobedience. (The extent of her disfigurement can be seen on this Thai news report, but be warned — the images are distressing.)

The girl, an ethnic Karen known as Air, says she was kidnapped while her illegal-migrant parents were working in sugarcane fields in northwest Thailand. She was then sold to a Thai couple who made her work as a maid and sleep in a dog kennel. Air says she escaped once and summoned the police, only to be returned to her abusers, who allegedly cut off the tip of her ear as punishment. The girl eventually escaped successfully on Jan. 31 last year.

“The couple is still at large, but lawyers will investigate all of the employers’ properties to compensate her,” Preeda Tongchumnum, the assistant to the secretary general of the Bangkok-based Human Rights and Development Foundation, told the Irrawaddy. “She cannot make a 100% recovery, but the doctor will help her to move her body like any other person.”

Although Monday’s award must be deemed a victory of sorts, the uncomfortable truth remains that the girl’s plight mirrors that of many of the estimated 4 million migrant workers in Thailand, who toil with virtually no legal safeguards and are often exploited by venal officials.

Compounding matters, the couple accused of torturing Air — identified as Nathee Taengorn, 36, and Rattanakorn Piyavoratharm, 34 — skipped town after they were inexplicably released on police bail despite facing seven serious charges. Local media reports alleged the pair had “influential” connections. The police have yet to offer an explanation for Air’s claim that they returned her to her captors after her first escape bid.

Such official indifference to the plight of migrant labor has contributed to the U.S. State Department’s decision last month to relegate Thailand to the lowest rank of its Trafficking in Persons report — putting the self-styled “Land of Smiles” on par with North Korea for its inability or unwillingness to protect workers from abuse.

“There cannot be impunity for those who traffic in human beings,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to mark the report’s release. “Whether it is a young girl trapped in a brothel or a woman enslaved as a domestic worker or a boy forced to sell himself on the street or a man abused on a fishing boat, the victims of these crimes all have names, all had families.”

Sadly, all four of the examples citied by Kerry are commonplace in Thailand, which has long been a hub for migrant laborers fleeing war, poverty or political persecution in less affluent neighboring countries. The Thai fishing industry has come into particular scrutiny recently.

This already dire situation has been further complicated by Thailand’s military coup on May 22. Fears of a crackdown prompted an exodus of more than 250,000 mainly Cambodian workers, although the junta insists that by requiring all companies to “submit comprehensive name lists of their employees” it is now working to prevent “illegal activity, drugs, crime, unfair employment and bodily harm.”

Such assurances have not convinced human-rights activists, though. “Migrant workers make huge contributions to Thailand’s economy, but their daily life is unsafe and uncertain, and they face abuses from many quarters,” Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement, calling for the junta to “reverse this [exodus] disaster by quickly putting into place genuine reforms that would protect migrant workers’ rights, not threaten them.”

TIME China

China Bans Ramadan Fasting for Officials, Students in Restive Northwest

Ethnic Uighur men walk outside a mosque in Kashgar
Ethnic Uighur men walk outside a mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang province, on Aug. 3, 2011. Carlos Barria—Reuters

Xinjiang's ethnic Uighur Muslims have been subject to an "anti-terrorism" crackdown after a spate of deadly attacks

Several government departments in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region have banned students and civil servants from fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Statements posted on school and government websites said the sure-to-be-unpopular policy was aimed at protecting students and stopping government offices from being used to promote religion, reports the Associated Press.

This is not the first instance of Chinese officials trying to curtail religious freedom among Xinjiang’s ethnic Uighur Muslims, but it comes at a particularly delicate time. A series of brutal attacks by what China says are religious extremists has spurred a year-long anti-terrorism crackdown in Xinjiang, including mass arrests and trials, cash awards for information and random searches.

Critics counter that the chief concern is not links to global terrorism, but widespread dissatisfaction with Chinese rule. A Muslim people that take their cultural and linguistic cues from Central Asia, Xinjiang’s Uighurs say they have been overwhelmed by an influx of migrants from the Han heartland to the east. They also complain of discrimination in the job market, limits on free expression and restriction on their right to pray, dress — and now, fast — as they so choose.

[AP]

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