human rights
August 31, 2018

Two days after a United Nations report labeled the country as repressive, Nicaragua is expelling a U.N. human rights team from the country.

Guillermo Fernandez Maldonado, the U.N.'s lead human rights official for Nicaragua, said Friday that his team will leave the country, The Associated Press reports. The U.N. published a report Wednesday demanding urgent action be taken to address Nicaragua's human rights crisis; more than 300 people have been killed in the country since mid-April, AP reports, after cuts to social security triggered protests. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega reversed the cuts, but demonstrators still called for him to step down.

Ortega refuted the claims in the U.N.'s report, labeling the organization as "an instrument of the policies of terror, lies, and infamy." He has refused to step down or hold early elections, despite calls for both, Al Jazeera reports.

"Repression and retaliation against demonstrators continue in Nicaragua as the world looks away," said Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights. "The violence and impunity of these past four months have exposed the fragility of the country’s institutions and the rule of law, and created a climate of fear and mistrust." Read more about the crisis at The Associated Press. Marianne Dodson

June 25, 2018

Cigarettes sold in the U.S. and Europe are made using tobacco that is increasingly produced via child labor in poorer nations, an investigation by The Guardian published Monday found.

In places like Malawi, Mexico, Indonesia, Argentina, Zimbabwe, and India, rising numbers of children work in harsh conditions on tobacco fields instead of attending school. Because families working on tobacco plots are often indebted to landowners, they are forced to bring their children into the fields as unpaid labor, continuing the cycle of generational poverty, reports The Guardian.

About 1.3 million children were working in tobacco fields in 2011, the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control said. Child labor has decreased in many places, but the U.N.'s International Labor Organization says wealthier nations have shrugged the practice off onto poorer countries. "Although there are no estimates of the number of child laborers in tobacco globally," an ILO report read, "surveys indicate that in impoverished tobacco growing communities, child labor is rampant."

Major tobacco companies told The Guardian that they are doing everything they can to combat the use of child labor. Company officials say they tell suppliers not to employ children and work with outside organizations to keep children in school and away from tobacco fields. Despite the commitment and efforts, WHO expert Vera Da Costa e Silva said the circumstances that lead to child labor continue to cycle. "No effective actions have been taken to reverse this scenario," said Silva. Read more at The Guardian. Summer Meza

May 10, 2018

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is evidence that torture is effective, a Fox Business guest said Thursday.

Thomas McInerney, a retired Air Force general who now speaks on Fox networks as a military expert, appeared on Varney & Co. on Thursday to discuss acting CIA Director Gina Haspel. In her confirmation hearing to become the agency's director, Haspel faced tough questions about her overseeing enhanced interrogation techniques while working at a secret CIA facility in Thailand in the early 2000s.

"The fact is, is John McCain, it worked on John. That's why they call him 'Songbird John,'" said McInerney. "Those methods can work, and they're effective, as former Vice President [Dick] Cheney said. And if we have to use them to save a million American lives, we will do whatever we have to."

McInerney referred to Cheney's lamenting that those techniques, widely considered torture, were later deemed illegal by Congress. "People want to go back and try to rewrite history, but if it were my call, I'd do it again," said Cheney, who served alongside President George W. Bush.

McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for five years and tortured during his detention, falsely confessed to crimes while being held prisoner. On Wednesday, McCain announced his opposition to Haspel's nomination, saying her "refusal to acknowledge torture's immorality is disqualifying." Summer Meza

Update 3:18 p.m. ET: The host of the segment, Charles Payne, issued a statement apologizing to McCain and his family for McInerney's comment. Payne called McInerney's remark "false and derogatory" and said that he didn't hear McInerney say it in the moment because "I had the control room in my ear telling me to wrap the segment." Payne said he would have challenged McInerney on his claim if he'd heard it at the time. The network also pointed out that McInerney had not been paid as an analyst in a year. Read Payne's full statement here.

Editor's note: This post originally mischaracterized McInerney's relationship with Fox. It has since been clarified.

April 23, 2018

Former military officials are "deeply troubled" by President Trump's pick for CIA director, Gina Haspel.

More than 100 retired generals and officers wrote a letter Monday that urged senators to investigate Haspel more closely before voting on her nomination. Under the Bush administration, Haspel was involved in an "enhanced interrogation" program that included waterboarding, and she has been criticized by lawmakers for pushing to destroy tapes that held evidence of the torture.

"We do not accept efforts to excuse her actions relating to torture and other unlawful abuse of detainees by offering that she was 'just following orders,' or that shock from the 9/11 terrorist attacks should excuse illegal and unethical conduct," reads the letter, posted on Human Rights First. "We did not accept the 'just following orders' justification after World War II, and we should not accept it now."

Haspel, who is currently the deputy director of the CIA, will face a confirmation hearing next month. Trump tapped her to replace Mike Pompeo, who is facing his own confirmation fight to become the next secretary of state.

Lawmakers like Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) have vocally opposed Haspel's nomination, but CIA officials have backed her up: The Hill reports that the CIA released a memo Friday that said Haspel had "acted appropriately" in authorizing the destruction of the tapes. Summer Meza

March 13, 2018

Editor's note: After this article was published, ProPublica retracted the specific claims that Gina Haspel "was in charge of a secret prison in Thailand during the infamous interrogation of an al Qaeda suspect" and that she "mocked the prisoner's suffering." The publication stood by its other torture-related reporting on Haspel. Our original report appears below:

Gina Haspel, President Trump's newly-minted nominee to head the CIA, was directly involved in waterboarding and torturing, a ProPublica investigation found. The subject was a man believed to be an al Qaeda leader, and the torture apparently took place while Haspel was working under the Bush administration.

Haspel led the charge at a "black site" in Thailand, a secret prison where the CIA interrogated suspects. In 2002, Haspel oversaw the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded 83 times in one month. "They slammed him against a wall, confined him for hours in a coffin-like box, and deprived him of sleep," ProPublica wrote in its report, published last year and resurfaced Tuesday. In the end, Zubaydah was found not to be associated with al Qaeda after all.

In addition to her prominent role at the black sites, Haspel reportedly pushed to destroy tapes that held video recordings of the torture. After being promoted to a more senior position, Haspel drafted an order to shred the tapes, ProPublica reported, and they were eventually destroyed without approval from the White House or Justice Department. The cover-up led the Senate Intelligence Committee to launch a probe into the torture program.

A CIA spokesperson denied the allegations about Haspel, telling ProPublica that "nearly every piece of the reporting that you are seeking comment on is incorrect in whole or in part."

On Tuesday, Trump tapped Haspel to lead the CIA, following his nomination of current director Mike Pompeo to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. In his announcement, Trump praised Haspel's working relationship with Pompeo — but when Haspel was first chosen as Pompeo's second-in-command, her nomination sparked anger from human rights activists and lawmakers alike, including Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), who penned a letter to Trump urging him to reconsider his choice, citing her "background."

Read more about Haspel at ProPublica. Summer Meza

October 29, 2015

Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger who was sentenced in 2012 to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for launching a website that Saudi officials say insulted Islam, was awarded the European Union's highest human rights prize.

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought honors people and groups that champion human rights and democracy. "On the case of Mr. Badawi, fundamental rights are not only not being respected, they are being trodden underfoot," European Parliament President Martin Schulz said Thursday in France after announcing the award. He asked that King Salman let Badawi go free so he could travel to Europe in December for his prize, the Los Angeles Times reports, and said in a statement that "the same should apply to all individuals condemned for having expressed freely their opinions in Saudi Arabia and beyond."

Several Western governments and human rights organizations have called for Badawi's release. In January, he received his first 50 lashes with a large cane in a public square, Amnesty International says. Doctors asked that the second round of lashes be postponed, because Badawi had not yet recovered, but his wife Ensaf Haider said a contact in Saudi Arabia told her the flogging would resume soon. Haider, who now lives in Canada with the couple's three children, said her husband "would be very happy to see the extent to which his fight is shared by so many people in the world. This prize is further evidence of that." Catherine Garcia

November 17, 2014

There are about 35.8 million enslaved men, women and children today, the 2014 Global Slavery Index finds.

India has the most modern-day slaves, an estimated 14 million, according to the report. China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Russia all have at least 1 million. The U.S. has 60,000.

According to the report, modern-day slavery includes people who are forced to work, controlled by an employer, sold as property, or physically constrained. Forced prostitution, domestic workers, and traveling sales crews are some examples.

Read the full report here. Julie Kliegman

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