Foreign Policy Blogs

Human Rights News Round Up

We usually only post once a day here at the Human Rights Blog, which means we can only cover so many human rights stories.  But to keep you informed, here are some of the other stories that came across my desk this past week.

Niger:  For the People, By the people . . .

Niger’s president, Mamadou Tandja, overwhelmingly won a referendum on Thursday that will allow him alter the country’s constitution and run for a third term.  Currently, the constitution only allows presidents to sit for two terms, and Tandja’s second term expires later this year.  Tandja voiced his intentions to hold the referendum earlier this year, but faced opposition from Niger’s parliament and judiciary who claimed that such a referendum would be unconstitutional.  In May, Tandja dissolved the country’s parliament and constitutional court to push the referendum through using the president’s emergency powers.

Several civil society groups encouraged a boycott of the referendum and dispute turnout figures, which the government claims were as high as 65%.  However, the official election commission reports that he won 92% of the vote.  The European Union has suspended aid and the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) is threatening sanctions against Niger for grave human rights abuses and illegal changes to the constitution.  Such abuses were evident this past week as two journalists were detained for reporting on corruption allegations against the president’s son.

Political observers claim that the constitutional changes essentially grants Tandja near-complete totalitarian powers in the poor West African state.

Mexico:  The drug war continues and so does the victim count

Drug-related violence in Mexico is expected to be a key topic at this weekend’s North American Leaders Summit.  In the past, the US government and law enforcement have praised Mexican President Felipe Calderon for his anti-drug policies, but the true cost of those policies is starting to add up with human rights groups on both sides of the border taking notice.

The LA Times printed an editorial yesterday questioning Calderon’s tactics in the drug war and asking US officials to press for better protection of civil rights in Mexico.  Earlier this week, Amnesty International issued a call for Congress to withhold 15% of funding for the Merida Initiative until Mexico follows through on its human rights obligations and sufficiently investigates alleged abuses by its security forces committed in the war on drugs.  Last month, Human Rights Watch issued a similar call and several human rights groups in Mexico agree.  They point to the significant increase in complaints reported to the National Human Rights Commission regarding human rights abuses committed by state security forces, as well as the over 11,000 people who have been killed in the drug war so far.  The issue has gotten the attention of some in the US Congress, as evidenced by Senator Patrick Leahy blocking a State Department report earlier this week that claimed Mexico was respecting human rights in its anti-war activities.

But the tactics seem to be working, and because of the interests involved it is unlikely that the US will push for any significant changes in policy.  However, this is also likely just the start of what will become a regular human rights story.

Albania:  Gay marriage to be legalized

On July 30, the government announced via its website their intention to legalize gay marriage.  The president said that the move was in response to requests by rights groups who claimed that not allowing same sex marriage denies those couples some of the basic rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples.

If Albania does legalize same sex marriage, it will become the first predominately Muslim country in the world to do so.  Although a secular country, Albania is roughly 70% Muslim and holds significant Eastern Orthodox and Catholic minorities.  A law criminalizing homosexuality in the former communist country was repealed in 1995 and helped gay rights activists find their voice in the debate.  Religious groups are opposing the plan, but observers do not expect it to face serious opposition in parliament.

Iran:  Executions increase

Several human rights groups are reporting that Iran has stepped up the number of executions completed since the disputed June 12 elections.  In the 50 days since the election, Iran has executed 115 people, including 24 people on 5 August, the date when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took the oath of office for his second term as president.  These figures average out to more than two prisoners a day.  In comparison, Iran executed 196 people from January 1 to June 12 of this year.

These numbers are based on official Iranian media accounts, a fact that has human rights groups worried as the actual number of executions during this period could be much higher.  More information about the ongoing political situation in Iran can be read on our Iran Blog.



Kimberly J. Curtis

Kimberly Curtis has a Master's degree in International Affairs and a Juris Doctor from American University in Washington, DC. She is a co-founder of The Women's Empowerment Institute of Cameroon and has worked for human rights organizations in Rwanda and the United States. You can follow her on Twitter at @curtiskj

Areas of Focus: Transitional justice; Women's rights; Africa