Chitwan National Park & the Displacement of Tharu Peoples

Chitwan National Park & the Displacement of Tharu Peoples

By Erica Bower, student at Columbia College ____________________________________________________________________________ The following Photo Essay is an excerpt from a post I wrote on my blog while studying abroad through Cornell Nepal Study Program (CNSP) in the spring of 2013.  Our stay in Chitwan National Park was truly a once in a life time experience—a scene straight from the discovery channel. However, as incredible as this experience was from the perspective of a tourist, as a student of Human Rights and environmentally-induced displacement, Chitwan has an incredibly dark side. In many ways, the case of Chitwan is the inverse of most instances of the environment-displacement under study in Nepal given that efforts for environmental protection, rather than environmental degradation, have caused massive displacement. The brutal reality is that in order to create such a pristine National Park, the Nepali government has forcibly removed all of the Indigenous communities in the district. The Tharu peoples have lived in the Chitwan region for hundreds of years, and have a rich cultural history...
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“They Are Also Human:”  An Afternoon with Human Rights Defenders from Burma

“They Are Also Human:” An Afternoon with Human Rights Defenders from Burma

By Michelle Eberhard, graduate student of human rights at Columbia University  ___________________________________________________________________________ Burma is complicated.  Not only is it also known as Myanmar, the name it was given following a 1988 coup d’état that ushered in two additional decades of military rule, but this Southeast Asian nation is home to a population of over fifty million people belonging to more than one hundred and thirty-five different ethnic groups. Rather than embracing the diversity of its citizens, however, the Burmese government has instead systematically exploited ethnicity for economic gain and facilitated the creation of destructive divisions between peoples in order to further its own agenda.  A particularly vivid example of this is found in the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law, which permits the government to “decide whether any ethnic group is national or not,” thus condoning arbitrary discrimination against peoples it would prefer to marginalize.  While the international community has praised the progress Burma has made in recent years, specifically following its 2010 democratic...
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Obama in Burma: Rewarding Cosmetic Changes?

Obama in Burma: Rewarding Cosmetic Changes?

By Hal Levy, undergraduate student at Columbia University The White House moved with uncharacteristic speed to announce a surprising foreign policy initiative two days after President Obama’s reelection.  He was going to Burma and it was happening right now, less than two weeks after the votes were counted, and because he decided that everything would happen so quickly it was far too late to haggle over his itinerary, which by the way was already in place.  “Why scrutinize this?” was the implicit message to human rights activists, “because we don’t want your input this time.” However, this landmark engagement with the current Burmese regime warrants scrutiny and at the very least revision if it is to go forward.  Burma is finally opening to Western investment, but Obama must not abandon America’s responsibility to protect potential Burmese workers in favor of geopolitical games and economic opportunity.  Fraudulent elections held in 2010 transferred power to a mixture of civilians and military-appointed candidates in name...
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Film Review: Brother Number One

By Laura Reed, M.A. in Human Rights Studies Candidate at Columbia University “I am deeply honored and moved to be here today, given the opportunity to speak.  I realize that this is a privilege made available to a few, especially compared to the numbers of families that suffered under the Khmer Rouge regime.”– Rob Hamill, in the opening statement of his testimony at the trial of Comrade Duch in Cambodia. [vimeo]http://vimeo.com/26093819[/vimeo] Brother Number One, featured at the 2012 Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York, is a powerful documentary film that explores the legacy of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.  Directed by New Zealand filmmaker Annie Goldson, this film depicts the personal journey of Rob Hamill as he travels to Cambodia to testify in the recent trial of former Khmer Rouge leader Duch at the UN-backed war crimes tribunal. A film about this period in Cambodian history, relayed through the story of a New Zealand family’s experience, is bound to raise some eyebrows...
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Welcome back!

We hope everybody's semester is getting off to a good start. It has obviously been a busy few weeks for human rights... The news from Burma last week of a ceasefire deal between the government and the Karen rebels and a declaration of amnesty for 651 Burmese political prisoners, 130 of whom were reconciled with their families on Friday, was a moment for celebration - even as we wait to see what it means more broadly for human rights in Burma. In the US, on the other hand, the new year brought us the more concerning National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which signed into law the ability of the US government to indefinitely detain citizens. On the tenth anniversary of the opening of the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay last week, hundreds of activists led a march to the White House to condemn Obama's betrayal of his promise to close the prison. Amnesty released this spoof video as a reminder...
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Notes from the field: Indonesia’s water justice movement

Reza sits on the couch in the reception area of KRuHA’s shared office in South Jakarta, chatting with two visiting PhD researchers about the current state of Jakarta’s water crisis. KRuHA is the Indonesian language acronym for the People’s Coalition for the Right to Water, and, with the help of an SYLFF Summer Research Grant, I travelled to Jakarta in August to research Indonesia’s small, but vocal, water justice movement. Specifically I was interested in how this movement was engaging the human right to water (see another blog post of mine on the evolution of this new right) as an advocacy tool, and the sorts of opportunities and challenges the human rights framework might present organizations like KRuHA.   Meeting KRuHA It’s common for students, journalists and fellow NGO activists to drop by this small office and discuss the country’s ongoing water woes, particularly those faced by Jakarta – drought, worsening pollution and decreasing quality of drinking water, increasing tariffs, and intermittent supply....
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