North Korean women suffer discrimination, rape, malnutrition: U.N.

Women wearing traditional clothes walk past North Korean soldiers after an opening ceremony for a newly constructed residential complex in Ryomyong street in Pyongyang, North Korea April 13, 2017.

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – North Korean women are deprived of education and job opportunities and are often subjected to violence at home and sexual assault in the workplace, a U.N. human rights panel said on Monday.

After a regular review of Pyongyang’s record, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women also voiced concern at rape or mistreatment of women in detention especially those repatriated after fleeing abroad.

North Korean women are “under-represented or disadvantaged” in tertiary education, the judiciary, security and police forces and leadership and managerial positions “in all non-traditional areas of work”, the panel of independent experts said.

“The main issue is first of all the lack of information. We have no access to a large part of laws, elements and information on national machinery,” Nicole Ameline, panel member, told Reuters. “We have asked a lot of questions.”

North Korea told the panel on Nov. 8 that it was working to uphold women’s rights and gender equality but that sanctions imposed by major powers over its nuclear and missile programs were taking a toll on vulnerable mothers and children.

Domestic violence is prevalent and there is “very limited awareness” about the issue and a lack of legal services, psycho-social support and shelters available for victims, the panel said.

It said economic sanctions had a disproportionate impact on women. North Korean women suffer “high levels of malnutrition”, with 28 percent of pregnant or lactating women affected, it said.

“We have called on the government to be very, very attentive to the situation of food and nutrition. Because we consider that it is a basic need and that the government has to invest and to assume its responsibilities in this field,” Ameline said.

“Unfortunately I am not sure that the situation will improve very quickly.”

The report found that penalties for rape in North Korea were not commensurate with the severity of the crime, which also often goes unpunished. Legal changes in 2012 lowered the penalties for some forms of rape, including the rape of children, rape by a work supervisor and repeated rape.

This has led to reducing the punishment for forcing “a woman in a subordinate position” to have sexual intercourse from four years to three years, the report said.

It said women trafficked abroad and then returned to North Korea, are reported to be sent to labor training camps or prisons, accused of “illegal border crossing”, and may be exposed to further violations of their rights, including sexual violence by security officials and forced abortions.


(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Alison Williams)


U.N. panel urges North Korea to end child discrimination, labor

A North Korean flag flies on a mast at the Permanent Mission of North Korea in Geneva October 2, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – A United Nations panel for child rights said on Wednesday that North Korea was punishing children for their “parents’ crimes” or political views by discrimination and urged Pyongyang to end child labor.

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, which reviewed Pyongyang’s record last month, also voiced deep concern at what it said was the “ideological indoctrination” in its education system.

Tensions in the region and beyond, especially with the United States, have spiked considerably in recent months as North Korea conducted a series of tests of its medium- and long-range ballistic missiles, some of which flew over Japan, as well as its sixth nuclear test on Sept. 3.

In its findings, the panel said it remained concerned that North Korea did not “adequately guarantee the right to freedom from torture and other cruel or degrading treatment or punishment, in law and in practice, in particular of children forced to return to (North Korea), children living in street situations, and children in detention facilities, including political prison camps.”

The U.N. panel, in a session on Sept. 21, asked the North Korean delegation how “songbun”, a system ranking citizens based on family loyalty to the ruling dynasty, affected children’s access to education, health and food.

The North Korean delegation replied that this was an “imaginary concept” invented by hostile forces.

The watchdog, composed of 18 independent experts, also called on North Korea to allowing children freedom of expression, including access to the Internet.

North Korea told the U.N. panel last month that international sanctions imposed on it over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs would endanger the survival of North Korean children.

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously imposed nine rounds of sanctions on North Korea since 2006, the latest last month capping fuel supplies to the isolated state.

The U.N. experts noted that economic sanctions had “repercussions on children’s enjoyment of their rights”.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

U.S. judge finds Texas voter ID law was intended to discriminate

By Ian Simpson

(Reuters) – A Texas law that requires voters to show identification before casting ballots was enacted with the intent to discriminate against black and Hispanic voters, a U.S. federal judge ruled on Monday.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos came after an appeals court last year said the 2011 law had an outsized impact on minority voters. The court sent the case back to Ramos to determine if lawmakers intentionally wrote the legislation to be discriminatory.

Ramos said in a 10-page decision that evidence “establishes that a discriminatory purpose was at least one of the substantial or motivating factors behind passage” of the measure.

“The terms of the bill were unduly strict,” she added.

Spokesmen for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton Jr. and Governor Greg Abbott, both Republicans, could not be reached for comment.

In January, after the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, Paxton said it was a common sense law to prevent voter fraud.

The ruling on voter ID comes about a month after two federal judges ruled that Texas lawmakers drew up three U.S. congressional districts to undermine the influence of Hispanic voters.

The measure requires voters to present photo identification such as a driver’s license, passport or military ID card.

Plaintiffs have argued the law hits elderly and poorer voters, including minorities, hardest because they are less likely to have identification. They contend the measure is used by Republicans to suppress voters who typically align with Democrats.

The legislation has been in effect since 2011 despite the legal challenges.

Ramos said the law had met criteria set by the U.S. Supreme Court to show intent that included its discriminatory impact, a pattern not explainable on other than racial grounds, Texas’ history of discriminatory practices and the law’s unusually swift passage.

Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the plaintiffs, said the ruling showed other states that discriminatory laws would not stand up to legal scrutiny.

“This is a good ruling that confirms what we have long known, that Texas’ voter ID law stands as one of the most discriminatory voting restrictions of its kind,” she said.

In a shift from its stance under former President Barack Obama, the U.S. Justice Department dropped a discrimination claim against the law in February. The department said that the state legislature was considering changing the law in ways that might correct shortcomings.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Federal judge in Hawaii extends court order blocking Trump travel ban

Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin (R) arrives at the U.S. District Court Ninth Circuit to seek an extension after filing an amended lawsuit against President Donald Trump's new travel ban in Honolulu. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry

HONOLULU (Reuters) – A federal judge in Hawaii indefinitely extended on Wednesday an order blocking enforcement of President Donald Trump’s revised ban on travel to the United States from six predominantly Muslim countries.

U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson turned an earlier temporary restraining order into a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit brought by the state of Hawaii challenging Trump’s travel directive as unconstitutional religious discrimination.

Trump signed the new ban on March 6 in a bid to overcome legal problems with a January executive order that caused chaos at airports and sparked mass protests before a Washington judge stopped its enforcement in February. Trump has said the travel ban is needed for national security.

In its challenge to the travel ban, Hawaii claims its state universities would be harmed by the order because they would have trouble recruiting students and faculty.

It also says the island state’s economy would be hit by a decline in tourism. The court papers cite reports that travel to the United States “took a nosedive” after Trump’s actions.

The state was joined by a new plaintiff named Ismail Elshikh, an American citizen from Egypt who is an imam at the Muslim Association of Hawaii and whose mother-in-law lives in Syria, according to the lawsuit.

Hawaii and other opponents of the ban claim that the motivation behind it is based on religion and Trump’s election campaign promise of “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

“The court will not crawl into a corner, pull the shutters closed, and pretend it has not seen what it has,” Watson wrote on Wednesday.

Watson wrote that his decision to grant the preliminary injunction was based on the likelihood that the state would succeed in proving that the travel ban violated the U.S. Constitution’s religious freedom protection.

Trump has vowed to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is currently split 4-4 between liberals and conservatives with the president’s pick – appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch – still awaiting confirmation.

(Reporting by Hunter Haskins in Honolulu; Additional reporting and writing by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Paul Tait)

Discrimination against Muslims an affront of American values: Obama

President Obama shaking hands with guests after discrimination speech

By Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama on Thursday praised the contributions of Muslim immigrants to the United States, saying any effort to discriminate against the Islamic faith plays into the hands of terrorists.

“Muslim Americans are as patriotic, as integrated, as American as any other members of the American family,” Obama said at a White House reception to celebrate the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday.

“Whether your family has been here for generations or you’re a new arrival, you’re an essential part of the fabric of our country,” he said.

The Obama administration has faced criticism for its plan to admit as many as 10,000 Syrian refugees to the United States this year, with some Republicans warning that violent militants could enter the country posing as refugees.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump had proposed a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country after a Muslim American and his wife killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California, last year.

While not naming Trump specifically, Obama said that discriminatory policies against Muslims are an affront the “values that already make our nation great.”

Trump, who will be giving his official acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention on Thursday night, has used “make America great again” as his campaign slogan.

“Singling out Muslim Americans, moreover, feeds the lie of terrorists like ISIL, that the West is somehow at war with a religion that includes over a billion adherents,” Obama said, using an acronym for the Islamic State militant group. “That’s not smart national security.”

(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Mass killings, forced evictions threaten indigenous, minority groups to point of “eradication”: rights group

By Lin Taylor

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Mass killings, forced evictions and conflicts over land put indigenous and minority groups at risk of being eradicated from their ancestral lands, a human rights group said on Tuesday.

From Ethiopia, China and Iraq, the combination of armed conflicts and land dispossession has led to the persecution of minority groups and the erosion of cultural heritage, according to a report by the Minority Rights Group (MRG).

Carl Soderbergh, MRG director of policy and communications, said while discrimination against ethnic or religious minorities is not new, the level of targeted abuse is getting worse.

“The conflict that’s happening in Syria and Iraq right now is leading to the massive displacement of smaller and very ancient religious minorities like the Yazidis and the Sabean Mandeans,” said Soderbergh, lead author of the ‘State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2016’ report.

“They are essentially at risk of being totally eradicated in their traditional areas of origin.”

Civil conflicts and sectarian tensions have engulfed Iraq since 2003 when a U.S.-led coalition toppled Saddam Hussein. In 2014, Islamic State militants declared a caliphate after capturing swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Minorities including the Yazidi, Turkmen, Shabak, Christians and Kaka’i have been disproportionately affected by the recent violence in Iraq.

According to U.N. officials, Islamic State, also referred to as ISIS, has shown particular cruelty to the Yazidis, whom they regard as devil-worshippers, killing, capturing and enslaving thousands.

The persecution of Yazidis was recognized as genocide by the United Nations in June.

“It is getting worse. Whether it’s armed groups like ISIS or (Nigerian Islamist group) Boko Haram or it’s governments, there’s this targeting of heritage that we’re seeing, which is extremely worrisome,” Soderbergh said.

He said many minorities and indigenous peoples also face forced resettlement or evictions from their ancestral lands to make way for large-scale infrastructure or agricultural businesses, which further threatens their cultural heritage and identity.

For example, in parts of East Africa, governments are pushing for pastoralist communities to switch to settled farming with supporters saying such a move will create better food security, curb conflict between herders and farmers and free up land.

But Maasai herdsmen say the privatization and subdivision of their ancestral lands threatens ancient pastoralist practices, endangering livestock on which they depend and eroding communal rights to land and natural resources.

“Once a community is removed from the land, they really struggle to  maintain their cultures and convey their cultures to the next generation,” Soderbergh said.

By 2115, it is estimated that at least half of the approximately 7,000 indigenous languages worldwide will die out, the report said.

Although some governments see these groups as a threat to the state, Soderbergh said minorities and indigenous peoples must be included in decisions that affect their communities.

(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Katie Nguyen.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, global land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, women’s rights, and climate change. Visit to see more stories)

Supreme Court Rules Abercrombie & Fitch Discriminated Against Muslim Woman

The Supreme Court has ruled that a woman who was denied a job with the clothing company Abercrombie & Fitch because of her headscarf was discriminated against on the basis of her religion.

The ruling was 8-1 in favor of the woman.

“Thus, the rule for disparate-treatment claims based on a failure to accommodate a religious practice is straightforward: An employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the 8-1 majority.

The court said that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires employers to not consider religious accommodations in hiring processes.

“For example, suppose that an employer thinks (though he does not know for certain) that a job applicant may be an orthodox Jew who will observe the Sabbath, and thus be unable to work on Saturdays. If the applicant actually requires an accommodation of that religious practice, and the employer’s desire to avoid the prospective accommodation is a motivating factor in his decision, the employer violates Title VII,” Justice Scalia wrote.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit on behalf of the woman.

Abercrombie claimed they had not violated the law because she had not been denied employment for the head scarf.  They said she did not mention during her interview she was wearing the scarf for religious reasons and so it’s not on the company to know that’s why she was wearing it.  Scarves are a violation of the company’s employee dress code.

In his dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas said that the company could not be guilty of discrimination because the company’s policy applied to all employees and not just Muslims.

Johns Hopkins Student Government Compares Pro-Life Students To White Supremacists

A pro-life student group at Johns Hopkins University has been denied official status after a debate that included pro-life students being compared to white supremacists.

Kristian Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said the student council claimed being pro-life violates the school’s harassment policy. The violated group, Voice for Life, is searching for an attorney to sue the school because of the ban. Continue reading