The Sheer Violation of Human Rights in Kashmir

Devastated Kashmiri girls crying while holding on to fence
Kashmiri girls crying for justice. Source: Kashmir Global, Creative Commons

This Sunday September 29, a protest and awareness gathering was conducted at Linn Park by the Birmingham Islamic Society to advocate for the rights of Kashmiris. The attendees dressed in red to show their support for the victims who vocalized their concerns and shared their stories. Some local Birmingham families have not been able to get in touch with their family members back home for almost two months now. All forms of telecommunication have been blocked in the region, cutting them off from the rest of the world.

The Kashmir region in South Asia, once known as the “Heaven on Earth” due to its naturally beautiful valleys and landscapes, has been a disputed territory since the partition of India and Pakistan under the British rule in 1947. The countries have been at war three times on the conflict of claiming the region and rule it in parts. The UN’s Security Council Resolution of January 20, 1948 proposed a commission of three UN representatives to be selected by India, Pakistan, and Kashmir to mediate the situation, but the delay in the formation and implementation of the commission caused situations to change, and it ultimately failed to reach a conclusion or to devise a practical solution to the crisis. Control of the region has been disputed since then.

On August 5th earlier this year, the Indian government revoked the special status of the Indian-occupied region of Kashmir under Article 370 of its constitution. The only Muslim majority region of the country had the right to its own constitution and autonomy to make internal decisions under the article due to its special status, and annulling it has stripped them of these rights. Additionally, nearly 10,000 armed troops were sent to the area to impose a curfew in the region, evacuate tourists, shut off internet and other communication, and imprison their leaders.

As of October 1st, it has been 58 days since the lockdown of the territory. About eight million residents have been held hostages in their homes at gunpoint. The general public is not allowed to leave their homes and carry out their businesses, the schools and workplaces are closed, people are confined in their homes and neighborhoods, and the region is completely blacked out from the rest of the world. People with families and friends in the region are worried about their safety and are unable to contact them. The area has been flooded with armed troops and there is an overall sense of terror in the environment. This is a sheer violation of human rights being carried out for about two months now, but the world is silent.

The press has been trying to get into the disputed region to directly hear the views of victims. In video-recorded interviews, victims allege the Indian Army of subjecting them to extreme physical torture and mental persecution. Abid Khan, a 26-year-old Kashmiri, claims to have been grabbed by soldiers from his home in Hirpora and taken to a military camp where he was assaulted. His detailed account of the incident includes extreme physical and sexual abuse at the hands of four soldiers. Others reported being hung upside down, beaten with bamboo sticks, being electrocuted, and forced to drink large amounts of noxious liquid.

The Human Rights Watch has expressed its concern through issuing articles like “India: Basic Freedoms at Risk in Kashmir”, “India Needs to Step Back in Kashmir”, and “India Wants to Avoid International Intervention, But Needs to Address Human Rights in Kashmir” following the lockdown. Malala Yousufzai, the youngest Nobel peace prize winner, expressed her concern against the Kashmir curfew and communication blackout with the following tweets:

In the last week, I’ve spent time speaking with people living and working in #Kashmir – journalists, human rights lawyers and students. I wanted to hear directly from girls living in Kashmir right now. It took a lot of work from a lot of people to get their stories because of the communications blackout. Kashmiris are cut off from the world and unable to make their voices heard. Here is what three girls told me, in their own words: “The best way to describe the situation in Kashmir right now is absolute silence. We have no way of finding out what’s happening to us. All we could hear is the steps of troops outside our windows. It was really scary.” “I feel purposeless and depressed because I can’t go to school. I missed my exams on August 12 and I feel my future is insecure now. I want to be a writer and grow to be an independent, successful Kashmiri woman. But it seems to be getting more difficult as this continues.” “People speaking out for us adds to our hope. I am longing for the day when Kashmir will be free of the misery we’ve been going through for decades.” I am deeply concerned about reports of 4,000 people, including children, arbitrarily arrested & jailed, about students who haven’t been able to attend school for more than 40 days, about girls who are afraid to leave their homes. I am asking leaders, at #UNGA and beyond, to work towards peace in Kashmir, listen to Kashmiri voices and help children go safely back to school.

Nothing practical has been done to date by international organizations for peace and human rights. The victims are uncertain of their future, their lives are at the discretion of others, and their basic rights to freedom and mobility have been restricted through the use of force. They are unable to counteract because resistance is met with direct violence. The New York Times reported that when the Kashmiris attempted a peaceful protest in the streets of Srinagar after a few days of the lockdown, the Indian forces opened fire on them to scatter the crowd and cease them from further resistance, injuring at least seven people.

Kashmir has been a disputed and terror-imposed region for decades, but recent advancements by the Indian government have escalated the situation by making it “a living hell of anger and fear”. The world needs to understand that both India and Pakistan are nuclear-armed countries and the continued escalation of tension and confrontations may lead to a deadly nuclear war. The innocent residents of the region have sacrificed countless lives in the battle between the two countries. For decades, they have been suffering the consequences of British colonialism and their inefficiency during the Indo-Pak partition. When will their fight for freedom come to an end? When will the bloodshed and sacrifices of their loved ones bear fruit? When will they be able to enjoy normal lives and basic human rights? How many more lives will it take to make Kashmir a piece of heaven again? The answers are yet to be found.

The solution to the situation is complicated yet straightforward. It is their land and their lives. The only ones to decide their fate should be them, without any force or threat. This right was given to them by the UN, but unfortunately has not been implemented yet. A fair referendum by UN intervention can make it clear whether Kashmir wants to be a part of Pakistan, India, or a free state. But first, the abuse of human rights should be ceased by the world to normalize the lives of its residents.

We need to bring the attention of world leaders and organizations to the human rights crisis in Kashmir so they can intervene in the increasingly critical situation before it’s too late. To play our part in the fight against human rights abuse and bring attention to the Kashmir issue, we can show our support by raising our voice on different forums, especially social media using hashtags like #freekashmir, #standwithkashmir, and #endkashmirviolence.

Collective Guilt and Responsibility

by Marie Miguel

the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin
Holocaust Memorial Berlin. Source: Karen Mardahl, Creative Commons.

Collective guilt is a phenomenon that has impacted societies over time. The idea of collective responsibility means that we (as a society) feel responsible for hurting a group of people. It typically connects with tragic events such as genocides. One country or people feel bad about a tragic event. Why does collective guilt happen? It occurs when members of society feel that their actions are hurting others. 

Syria and collective guilt 

One example of collective guilt is when the United States deliberately neglected hundreds of thousands of individuals in Syria. After this occured many people in the United States felt guilty. The United States has an extremely extensive history of neglecting different cultures. A prime example is the Native Americans. When the United States was colonized, Native Americans were abused and murdered in their own land. The guilt our people felt did not occur until centuries later. As a result of the collective guilt and responsibility, our people feel for what we’ve done to the Native Americans, we teach children about their culture in schools. We assume cultural responsibility for what we’ve done to them by owning the fact that we hurt their people and took away their land. 

The Holocaust 

The same goes for the Holocaust and what happened to the Jewish people in Europe. Many Jews were murdered by the Nazis and Americans watched this happen. We did fight against what was happening to Jews in Germany, however, it was too late in some ways. By that time millions of Jews had already died at the hands of the Nazis. Americans did not intervene to try to help in a way that millions of Jews of their plight of death. Collective guilt has a strong association with neglect and not taking action, it is deliberate neglect. It’s standing by while something awful happens and doing little or nothing to stop it.

Studies about collective guilt 

There are studies where the authors of the research focused on historical victimization. In these studies, they are concerned about the emotional responses to genocide or societal tragedy. In one study Americans experienced less collective guilt when they were harming citizens in Iraq during the period of September 11th. That time period was challenging for the world’s population. Many cultures struggle with knowing how to feel. Collective guilt was a common emotion during this time.

Vulnerable groups and collective guilt

One thing to recognize about collective guilt is that it has perpetuated stigma amongst many cultural groups during history. For example, consider the Jews during the Holocaust in Germany. In the states, people felt bad about what was happening to the Jews across the sea. Despite this, the Jewish people were stigmatized as bad and murdered by the Nazis. The responsibility for this terrible event didn’t take place until years later. Christians were able to rationalize anti-Semitism during this era and many others. The current administration has put collective guilt on Mexicans and demanded that we build a wall to keep them out of the states. He has put collective guilt on Muslims labeling them terrorists. Collective guilt as well as scapegoating contribute to a larger problem, which results in genocide and other cultural intolerance and discrimination. 

What can we do to change collective guilt?

As a nation, we need to be mindful of when we are able to take action and recognize how we can help different cultures with their struggles and challenges. We need to remember not to be egocentric and recognize that we’re part of a larger collective: the world. Everybody deserves to have a good life, and it’s not good to turn a blind eye when you see people of other nations suffering. So if we can mobilize and help people rather than turning around and pretending that no one’s hurting that’s what can stop this situation from continually occurring. 

Letting go of guilt

Guilty feelings can be intense. If you’re feeling the weight of guilt, you’re not alone. Many people feel conflicted and guilty of a plethora of reasons. Some people feel guilty about hurting their friends, loved ones or their partner. It’s difficult to let go of guilt whether that’s collective guilt or if you’re feeling guilty as an individual. When you feel guilty about something, it’s usually because you don’t want to let others down. It can be difficult to let go of guilty feelings, particularly if you have not worked through them. One of the best ways to do this is by talking to a therapist. Whether you work with a therapist in your local area or find an online counselor to help you process these guilty feelings. Whatever your challenges are, you can get help in therapy. Guilt is something that can cause us distress, whether it is collective or individual. But you can get the help you need to stop feeling guilty and start getting better.

 

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health-related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.

Clarion Call on the on-going Anglophone violent conflict in Cameroon

Some Victims of the On-going Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon

Photo by the Cameroon Humanitarian Relief Initiative

 

Cameroon has always been known as a nation of peace and tranquility ever since she gained her independence on the 1st of January 1960. Despite being surrounded by nations constantly faced with internal conflicts and wars, it remained steadfast in being a violent and conflict-free nation. She is located in the western part of Africa and shares territorial borders with a host of other nations such as Chad on the northeast, the Central African Republic on the east, Equatorial Guinea, the Republic of Congo and Gabon on the south, and Nigeria on the west. The nation currently officially known as the Republic of Cameroon is bilingual, with English and French as its official languages. Historically, there was a federal and then, a “united” republic of Cameroon that had seven provinces, two of which are Anglophones and the others, Francophones, before their expansion to form eight provinces, resulting in the current ten provinces within the country. Then in 2008, the use of “provinces” as a form of territorial breakdown was abolished and replaced with “regions”. Even though French Cameroon now Republic of Cameroon gained her independence in 1960, and returned to independence of British Cameroon by either joining Nigeria (Northern British Cameroon), or independent French Cameroon (Southern British Cameroon), the South- and North-West regions consisting of  Anglophones who are the minorities, are being subjected to a series of socioeconomic and political marginalization and discrimination from their Francophone counterparts, despite a binding and official referendum joining both regions as a political unit in 1972, a violation of the 1961 agreement that brought about the federal republic.

Over the years, there have been several cases and reports of bias, unequal treatment and unconstitutional actions against the Anglophones while their counterparts enjoy a smooth and successful relationship with the central government in terms of better developmental structures and platforms, enormous representation and control of major sectors in the government. Another major area of concern is the rigid educational and justice system, mostly controlled by and privileged to French speakers due to their dominance. There has been a long case of marginalization in the nation, one of which includes the prominent case of Fon Godji Dinka (a report by the Council on Foreign Relations), an Anglophone lawyer and the first president of the Cameroon Bar Association. He was arrested and imprisoned in 1985 by the then and current president of Cameroon, President Paul Biya for rebuking the actions of the government and terming it unconstitutional. Fon Godji Dinka believed the government was unfair and unjust, which was why he began to move for an independent Anglophone region known as the Republic of Ambazonia, an act that led to his imprisonment and the separatist idea suppressed. The continuous cases of inequity, inequality, bias, discrimination and marginalization suffered by the Anglophone regions eventually resulted in the 2016 onset mass non-violent protest led by Anglophone lawyers and teachers, where the protesters displayed their disinterest and frustration in the government, negotiated with the leaders who demanded a return to federation and eventually called for an autonomous nation of the Republic of Ambazonia.

The government on the other hand, was aggressive and brutal to the protesters and labeled them and their movement as pro-terrorist. The military forces were ordered to curb and contain the non-violent peaceful protests (carrying peace plants), and unfortunately responded by firing live ammunitions into the crowd of protesters which led to the arrest, injuries and deaths of several protesters. To further suppress the separatist movement, military forces often laid attacks on several Anglophone villages and communities, sometimes opening fire where they considered a threat. Thousands of elites and locals have been arrested and jailed without trial and are faced with severe torture and other inhumane treatments. Over 5,000 lives have been lost, families scattered, several homes destroyed, businesses ended and the futures of millions shattered. These actions by the government and military forces brought about a more resounding and coordinated separatist motive and movement. They began to solicit and continuously receive support from prominent Cameroonians within Cameroon and in diaspora, to further their campaign and organized rebel groups to conduct so called “self-defense” against the government and its military forces. Presently, several acts by both conflicting parties have resulted into severe human right violations as Amnesty reports that over 200 villages have been burnt and according to the United Nations, while over 1.2 million people, mostly women and children, are either displaced or refugees in neighboring countries.

According to the UNICEF press release on the 21st of June 2019, it discusses how the security and living conditions of the Anglophone regions continue to worsen, as the UNICEF spokesperson in Geneva, Toby Fricker, estimates about 1.3 million people have been affected by on-going conflict, and are urgently in need of humanitarian assistance such as basic welfare and health items and services. Another major area of concern is education, whereby over 80 per cent schools in the regions have been shut down because of continuous crisis, putting the future of over 600,000 thousand children at risk. So far, several communities and villages in these regions are continuously being plundered, attacked and destroyed, leaving victims to either live in the shattered remains of their communities or villages under strict martial law, or seek refuge in Nigeria, a neighboring country. The latter is the mostly selected option with over 500,000 so far, trooping daily into several refugee camps within various communities, where they are vulnerable to sexual abuse and harassment, rape, child abuse, forced relationships, extortion, unplanned pregnancies, abortion, drug abuse, prostitution, hunger, stigmatization, poor shelter, poor access to educational and health services, and lack of basic welfare privileges.

Of the $35.4 million estimated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, as urgently needed to help provide welfare services to the victims of the crisis, only 4 per cent of the estimated funds have been generated so far according to a UNHCR official report. Although the UN representatives, alongside other humanitarian organizations continue to provide basic welfare and healthcare services to the Cameroonian refugees in few camps in Nigeria, there are still thousands languishing in severe pain and hunger in bushes and settlements not easily accessible, especially in Cameroon. One organization that has remained consistent in providing necessary assistance to both the refugees and IDP’s is the Cameroon Humanitarian Relief Initiative (CHRI). CHRI is a registered US 501-3c non-profit organization set-up to provide emergency humanitarian relief to those affected by the on-going crisis in Cameroon. In partnership with the Institute of Human Rights (UAB) and other local/international organizations, CHRI has carried out several humanitarian outreach initiatives to refugee camps/communities and IDP settlements in Nigeria and Cameroon respectively, and serves as a reliable organization of support for individuals, groups or organizations willing to assist victims of the present conflict either through donations or voluntary services. To donate, kindly visit their official website at chrelief.org/donate or mail a check to CHRI at 4413 Nuttall Road, Fairfax, VA 22032.

Food items provided for refugees by the Cameroon Humanitarian Relief Initiative (CHRI) Photo by CHRI

In terms of resolving the conflict, there has been no reasonable development between the Cameroonian government and the separatist or other groups despite numerous calls for dialogue. Several protests by these groups have been carried out, questioning the 85 years old President Paul Biya’s long tenure. He has been in power since 1982 (37 years) in a supposed democratic government. Several protesters have also been arrested by the government and charged by a military court with various acts of rebellion, insurrection and engaging in hostile activities against the country. The United States, United Kingdom, and other international humanitarian organizations are being alerted by the continuous violence that has generated a huge distress and violations in the Anglophone regions, and have begun initiating strategies and action plans to successfully resolve these conflicts. Just recently on June 25th, 2019, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Tim Kaine (D-VA), introduced an amendment to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to halt all further U.S. security assistance to Cameroon except for dealing with Boko Haram (a terrorist group in Nigeria) until the U.S. Secretaries of Defense and State certify the military and security forces of Cameroon have demonstrated progress in abiding by international human rights standards regarding the repression in the Anglophone regions. Also, a German lawmaker named Christopher Hoffmann on June 5th, 2019, wrote a letter to Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, requesting her to urgently review the escalating Cameroon crisis and assist in finding swift resolution to the violent conflict.

Refugees scrambling for clothes donated by the Cameroon Humanitarian Relief Initiative (CHRI) Photo by CHRI

Since the beginning of time, there has been and will always be demands for separation and breakaway among families, lineages, institutions, unions, groups, communities, societies and nations. It is a part of the human nature and psychology to aspire for a better and improved lifestyle if the existing or present way is not as beneficial or productive as hoped. Often within a group setting, the minorities or marginalized would always aspire for separation or breakaway from the existing unit or body. We cannot dismiss groups seeking autonomy or separation, especially if evidence proves they are being marginalized and discriminated by the majority or the government. But demand for such autonomy has been responsible for several historical wars and conflicts. Although some separatist movements were successfully achieved while others failed, the enormous loss of lives and destruction of properties to both parties remain constant across these movements. The Anglophone crisis has already aligned to a violent pattern and would need the intervention from other nation-states and international organizations to be successfully resolved. There is a need to carefully conduct an in-depth analysis of the long-term effects on the Anglophone people and the Cameroon government to bring if possible, a permanent end to this crisis and restore peace.

 

PTSD is Not Just for Veterans; It’s A Trauma Disorder

by Marie Miguel

a photo of a man, on a train, wiping tears from his eyes
Sadness. Source: Matthias Ripp, Creative Commons

Some people believe that PTSD is only a mental health condition that affects those who have come back from war, but this isn’t the case. People who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder aren’t just veterans. Individuals with PTSD have experienced severe trauma. It’s not only people that come back from combat, but that’s how many of us associate the disorder. PTSD can happen to anybody who experiences trauma such as a sexual assault, a natural disaster, or many things that would prompt someone to have a traumatic reaction, so let’s stop talking about PTSD as though it’s something that only war veterans experience. Anyone who has been through a traumatic experience can develop PTSD. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), PTSD affects 3.5% of the U.S. adult population. That works out to eight million American people living with the condition. Approximately 37% of people diagnosed with PTSD display serious symptoms. Women have higher rates than men. Later in this article, we’ll discuss the gender divide.

What is Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome?

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome happens after a person experiences trauma, and it’s something that sticks with a person. Symptoms can include flashbacks, night sweats, insomnia, panic attacks, and isolating from friends and family. We need to understand that people with PTSD aren’t dramatic; they’re traumatized. When you experience trauma first-hand it changes your brain. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health, Several areas of the brain are involved when a person experiences PTSD. A stress response includes the amygdala, hippocampus, as well as the prefrontal cortex. PTSD and trauma can cause lasting changes in those areas of the brain.

What causes PTSD?

The cause of PTSD is that a person experiences trauma and never adequately deals with the issues because it sticks with them. People think that PTSD is caused by being in combat because combat can be a traumatic experience, especially if you see someone die in front of you. The cause of PTSD is when an individual has difficulty adjusting after a traumatic event; their brain changes and the memory of the traumatic event gets stuck in their brain. These intrusive memories make it difficult for an individual to function. The root cause of PTSD is a traumatic event, but the symptoms are what overwhelm people to the point where it’s diagnosable. People with PTSD often have recurring distressing and upsetting memories of the trauma, and when you continually have upsetting memories and can’t stop them, it makes you want to shut down, which is a problem that many people face when living with PTSD, and it can seriously impact your relationships.

Causes of PTSD

  • A stressful experience
  • Trauma
  • Mental Illness
  • Predisposition to mental illness or family history of mental illness

Risk factors for PTSD:

  • Long lasting trauma
  • Childhood sexual abuse
  • Other childhood trauma
  • A job where you’re exposed to trauma such as a military position
  • If you don’t have a sound support system
  • Seeing someone get hurt
  • A history of substance abuse

Types of trauma

When we think of PTSD, we might think of combat, but it’s not just that. Anyone who has experienced trauma is at risk of developing PTSD. Whether you witnessed a violent act or you were physically attacked yourself, you’re at risk for PTSD. In addition to combat, types of trauma that can induce PTSD include but aren’t limited to:

  • Childhood sexual abuse
  • Other childhood trauma
  • Sexual assault or violence
  • Physical assault
  • Natural disaster
  • Being attacked with a weapon

Symptoms of PTSD

Symptoms of PTSD can range from mood symptoms to physical symptoms. These symptoms can include but aren’t limited to nightmares, irritability, being easily startled or frightened, trouble sleeping or concentrating, or even feeling completely emotionally numb. These symptoms occur after a traumatic event and are only some of the possible signs that an individual could experience. Everyone reacts to trauma differently. And it’s understandable that someone may shut down, lash out, or break down crying. These are all responses that could happen.

How intense are your symptoms?

Depending on the person, the intensity and type of PTSD symptoms will differ. If you have suicidal thoughts or ideation, it’s incredibly crucial to reach out to a friend, loved one, or to contact the national suicide prevention hotline (1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-273-TALK in the United States.) It’s essential that you talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing difficulty functioning.

Complications of PTSD

PTSD can impair someone’s function to the point where they’re unable to engage in normal life activities. Someone might develop substance abuse issues, an eating disorder, or other comorbid mental health conditions. PTSD can be debilitating. It can lead people into a state where they can’t work. It can make it so that they’re unable to attend social functions, and it can severely impact a person’s life. If you’re diagnosed with PTSD, you need to have the following symptoms:

One avoidance symptom – Avoidance is where you’ll stay away from things that remind you of the trauma. Avoidance symptoms include avoiding places and situations that remind you of the trauma, and avoiding thinking about upsetting thoughts connected to the event

At least two arousal symptoms– Arousal symptoms of PTSD make a person extremely anxious. Arousal symptoms include:

  • Getting startled easily
  • Feeling tense
  • Having problems sleeping
  • Angry outbursts

At least two cognition/mood symptoms – Cognitive symptoms of PTSD can rob people of things they once enjoyed. Cognitive symptoms include difficulty remembering the trauma, distorted emotions including guilt, and loss of interest things you once enjoyed

One re-experiencing symptom – Re-experiencing a key marker of PTSD, and it sounds exactly like what it is; re-experiencing. Re-experiencing symptoms include flashbacks or reliving the trauma, nightmares, or scary thoughts.

a lone little boy sitting on a platform
Source: John Smith, Creative Commons

Children vs. Adults With PTSD

Children can have different responses to trauma in comparison to adults. They might wet the bed or have selective mutism, they might start acting out during play time, or they might begin experiencing separation anxiety. According to the National PTSD center, seven or eight out of every 100 people experience PTSD at some point during their life. Not every person who has PTSD has been through a dangerous incident; some people experience it after a loved one has suffered harm.

According to The U.S Department of Veteran Affairs Studies, approximately 15% to 43% of girls and 14% to 43% of boys experience significant trauma. Of the children and teens that experience trauma, 3% to 15% of girls and 1% to 6% of boys go on to develop Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

We can see that females seem to develop PTSD more than men do. What is the reason for this? Many women are survivors are sexual assault, try to speak up and aren’t believed. According to the National Sexual Assault Resource Center, one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at any given point during their lives. Yet, we as a society do not believe survivors as we should. We need to start believing women when they come forward. When we do they can get treated for what happened to them appropriately.

Why do some people get PTSD and others don’t?

You may be wondering why some people develop PTSD while others do not. Part of it has to do with having the risk factors listed above, but there’s nothing wrong with you if you have PTSD and someone else in the same situation did not. There are other disorders that can go along with PTSD. An individual with PTSD can have additional mental health conditions. They may also struggle with suicidal ideation and may attempt to take their life. Here are some mental health conditions that people with PTSD also manage:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • OCD
  • Depression
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Substance Abuse

How to prevent PTSD

PTSD isn’t necessarily preventable because you can’t control when trauma happens, but you can deal with the trauma after it happens. After experiencing a traumatic event, it’s vital to seek mental health treatment in the form of therapy and, if you need to, a psychiatrist. You can reach out to people in your network and find someone to treat your symptoms. Whether you see someone online or in your local area, PTSD is treatable and even preventable if you address trauma right away. If you develop PTSD, it’s okay, and there’s no need to feel shame. It’s a treatable mental illness, and you’re not alone. Many people live with PTSD, and with support, you will get through this. It starts with getting help from a mental health professional, whether that’s working with someone in your local area or finding the help of an online counselor, like one at BetterHelp, you can find a treatment plan and get the help that you need to health from PTSD. You’re not alone, and remember that millions of Americans live with the condition. By going to therapy, you’re doing something incredibly brave, which is taking charge of your mental health. You will get better, but it’s going to take time. Be patient with yourself. Healing from trauma can be difficult, but it’s worth it.

 

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health-related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.

Peaceful Behavior Can Be Taught

scrabble pieces that spell PEACE
It isn’t enough to talk about peace, one must believe it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it, one must work for it. Eleanor Roosevelt. Source: Kate Ter Haar, Creative Commons

After being a participant in many classes in Peace and Peace Studies, I have had the opportunity to reorient my beliefs about the role of war and violence in humanity. Contrary to the Hobbesian view that humans are born to be violent, their birth is violent after all, and people resort to violence naturally to maintain their social, political, and religious power and positions, I find that this is not necessarily the absolute truth. Several “truisms” are now more apparent to me: (1) that while conflict is unavoidable among living beings (humans and primates), the resolution of the conflicts can take various forms including nonviolent practices; (2) peaceful resolutions can be taught through socialization and education; and (3) war did not exist prior to 10,000 years ago. These are broad, I know, but they underline my revised thinking about the state of our world today and the messages that are conveyed by the media, education systems, politicians, etc.

In an article on aggression in children, it was shown that children can be taught to be cooperative or aggressive and that their responses to frustrating situations will be contingent on their training. Those children who were taught and encouraged to be aggressive, responded with aggressive behaviors when denied their movie and ice cream. And those who were trained and encouraged to be cooperative, actually became more cooperative when faced with the same frustrations. The article ended with “can peace be taught?”. I think this is definitely so as we have studied different peaceful societies where conflict resolution techniques include: avoidance, withdrawal, mock conflicts (where no permanent harm is done), apologies, community mediation gatherings, etc. In addition, there is research that shows that the majority of soldiers in previous wars did not pull their triggers and that soldiers have had to be trained, coerced, and shamed into going into battle to kill another human being. As we are facing a daily crisis of suicides committed by veterans, we know that by putting men and women in aggressive, warlike situations permanently scars them not only physically, but even more so emotionally. If violence was innate, we would not be having so many emotionally wounded returning soldiers who struggle to enter and maintain daily life and their relationships.

If we look at the research from Chenoweth & Stephan’s Why Civil Resistance Works, we find they demonstrate that not only do nonviolent campaigns have a greater success rate and are increasing in frequency since 1900, they tend to attract many more participants from all ages, social sectors, and economic classes. Whereas, violent movements typically attract young males and may be related to their need for social recognition along with promised economic and status rewards. Another aspect to consider when looking at the violent versus nonviolent nature of humankind (or creature-kind!) is that in nonviolent movements there are loyalty shifts that occur within the security sector. Men and women who are hired to be violent towards another have been shown to lay down their weapons or just stand there rather than exercising violence on another who really is just like them or a family member. I think about the nonviolent campaigns where resistors presented soldiers and police with roses to put in their guns, told them they were loved and were embraced as being one of them and not the enemy. Popovic talks about the use of toys to demonstrate the sentiments of the people under oppressive regimes, to present some levity, but also show the nonviolent tactics in a civil resistance movement. Even the use of language can reinforce nonviolence in the words and expressions selected. Instead of “Death to the Shah”, one can pick a slogan that is positive and nonviolent – “We want peace now”. All of these remind each of us, and the communities we belong to, that it is our responsibility to make choices about whether to be nonviolent and peaceful or violent in our lives, actions and words. I do think that it is a choice that may take re-education and intentionality.

As I type this, there was news notification about a senator who was raped while she was in the military and how she felt raped also by the system. I think we have used the excuse that men are just men and they are innately violent to give them passes for the actions they take instead of condemning their actions and reinforcing that we all are peaceful until we learn to be aggressive with others and sometimes with ourselves. Peaceful interactions and actions can be taught and socialized and reinforced within any society!

 

Getting a Mental Detox in Rwanda

This Sunday 7 April is the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Rwandan Genocide. 

Photo by Carmen Lau.

I decided to study the Rwandan genocide after attending the  Institute for Human Rights conference entitled, “Bystanders and Complicity in Nazi Germany and the Jim Crow South.”  Rwanda, viewed as a trophy of the African “mission field” by many in Western Christianity, shocked many onlookers in the period during and after the genocide as it became obvious that Christians had killed Christians.  Moreover, many estimate that most Rwandan Genocide victims were killed in churches, an assertion that stimulated my interest.  The Rwandan Genocide differs from other genocides because religion did not serve as a demarcation to target victims as “other.” Most people in Rwanda identified as Christian, and the religious affiliation did not coincide with ethnic identity.

Last summer, I tagged along with a group of teachers and professors who were passionate about using education to prevent genocide.   This was a first step in developing my thesis:  Stories from Rwandan Churches Priot to the Genocide: A Collection of Oral Histories. The travel group knew one another from collaborating with the Holocaust Museum, and they held great affection and esteem for  Carl Wilkens, our group leader. Wilkens backstory, as described on his website, is this:

As a humanitarian aid worker, Carl Wilkens moved his young family to Rwanda in the spring of 1990. When the genocide was launched in April 1994, Carl refused to leave, even when urged to do so by close friends, his church and the United States government. Thousands of expatriates evacuated, and the United Nations pulled out most of its troops. Carl was the only American to remain in the country. Venturing out each day into streets crackling with mortars and gunfire, he worked his way through roadblocks of angry, bloodstained soldiers and civilians armed with machetes and assault rifles in order to bring food, water and medicine to groups of orphans trapped around the city. His actions saved the lives of hundreds.” 

With this experience, one might not be surprised that Wilkens has chosen to position himself as a force for peace and as a catalyst to stimulate people to seek to become integrated beings with emphasis on respect, empathy, and inclusion.

I had expected to cultivate empathy and understanding and to gather context and information, but I had not considered the idea that this trip with teachers would provide space for some mental detox. I had heard Rwanda described as a country with gorillas and genocide, but I saw a place where the government exceeded expectations in the context of health care and infrastructure.  Ranking among the 20 poorest countries in the world, Rwanda is a place of paradox. When our group gathered in the small white bus outside the Kigali Airport, I first sensed that this would be different than I had expected. Carl Wilkens presided over our discussion as we rode to the hotel that would be our home for the next 11 days. Wilkens urged us to harness the power of gratitude to rewire neural circuits and reminded us that since negative thoughts stick like Velcro, one must intentionally attend to the task of noting the positive.

Photo by Carmen Lau.

Early on the first day, to fulfill Wilkens’ charge, our designated facilitator, a teacher from Nebraska, urged us to think about “The Good Life,” the motto for her home state. As the group shared visions of a good life, I noticed that already, just twelve hours in Rwanda, we had erased default notions of acquisition or competitive achievement as core building blocks in “The Good Life.” Instead, people cited nature, learning, and human connectivity as the essence of a good life.

Gratitude underpins the curriculum for Mindleaps, a thriving multinational NGO designed to empower children who come from the most impoverished homes. Mindleaps collaborates with the Gisimba Training Center, a repurposed orphanage that was featured in Wilkens’ book, I’m Not Leaving. This was our first stop on the Carl Wilkens Tour. Once a child is accepted to Mindleaps, she has the opportunity to have a noon meal, wear a special uniform, receive school supplies, learn digital literacy (as an enticement to learn English), attend academic enrichment classes, and have her mother participate in a parenting-strengthening program (fathers are often away seeking work). Oh, and the best part is the child learns to dance very well. Dancing gives the children confidence and a sense of personal achievement that will be key to developing skills to thrive.

I visited the home of a seven-year-old student who regularly walks alone to Mindleaps — a three-quarter mile jaunt down a hilly tangle of dirt roads that are jam-packed with huts. Her home has no electricity or plumbing and only a patchy tin roof. Her mom comes to the parental-enrichment class regularly. The strategies used by Mindleaps are being tested by a tracking software program to provide a nuanced evaluation of the children in the areas of memorization, language, grit, discipline, teamwork, self-esteem, and creativity. For me, the visit to the Mindleaps gated compound was a transcendent experience. I saw excellence, bright colors, simple food, and a tidy vegetable garden. A swarm of smiling students wanted to touch and thank each one in our group.

Holistic, abundant living combines heart and head. So far, this time in Rwanda has allowed me to peel off barnacles of language and worldly possessions and notice feelings of gratitude and love. Watching the children and teachers leap in grand plié’s to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” consolidated my embrace of Rwanda’s Mental Detox. Rwandans have embraced the ethos of gratitude. The security detail at the entrance to the parking lot of Hotel Des Mille Collines paused from the task of pushing mirrors on long handles under incoming Land Rovers (to check for bombs) and greeted our group of pedestrians on foot.  He said, “Thank you for visiting our hotel.” Street merchants, airport personnel, gardeners, cooks, and administrators said variations of “Thank you for visiting our country.”

As the old saying goes, “You won’t remember what they said, but you will remember how they made you feel.” In Rwanda, I feel loved and appreciated.

 

 

 

International Women’s Day: Continuing the Fight while Celebrating the Victories

a picture of Peruvian women in front of a mountain range
Peru. Women in the Colca valley. Source: Pedro Szekely, Creative Commons

Today is International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change.” In her context statement about the theme, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka states that the changing world continues to shape the lives of people and “we have to be intentional about its use to positively impact the lives of women and girls. [The theme] puts innovation at the centre of efforts to reflect the needs and viewpoints of women and girls and to resolve barriers to public services and opportunities.” Innovation highlights the game-changers and activists willing to “accelerate progress for gender equality, encourage investment in gender-responsive social systems, and build services and infrastructure that meet the needs of women and girls.” The goal of today is to celebrate the incredible achievements of women and girls who seek to overcome their marginalized status in their communities, level the representation across various academic disciplines and professional fields and undo the cycles of intersectional injustices to bring about a more equitable world.

History

What started as a response to a women’s labor strike in New York 1909 became an international movement to honor the rights of women and to garner support for universal women’s suffrage. In 1913-14, International Women’s Day was a tactic to protest World War I as a part of the peace movement. The UN adopted 8 March as the official date in 1975 during the International Year of Women. Gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls is Sustainable Development Goal #5 in 2015.

Celebrating some game-changers and activists

The list below is not extensive. Its purpose is to assist you in your search to discover and know what women are doing and have done around the world.

Kiara Nirghin: Won Google Science Fair for creating an orange and avocado peel mixture to fight against drought conditions around the world. She will join Secretary-General António Guterres.

Elizabeth Hausler: Founder of BuildChange.org, an organization that trains builders, homeowners, and governments to build disaster-resistant homes in nations often affected by earthquakes and typhoons.

Jaha Dujureh: Founder of SafeHandsforGirls.org, an organization fighting to end child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).

BlackGirlsCode.com: A San Francisco based organization seeking to increase the number of girls from marginalized communities in STEM fields by 2040.

Shakhodat Teshebayeva: When the water crisis threatened her livelihood, she organized and mobilized a women’s group to advocate for a place for women at the discussion table regarding equal access to water.

Mila Rodriguez: Cultivates safe spaces for young people to use music to promote peace in Colombia.

Wangari Maathai: late Nobel Peace Prize Laureate from Kenya who initiated the GreenBeltMovement.org by planting trees for the cultivation of sustainable development and peace.

Next Einstein Forum: Continental STEM forum in Africa

Una Mulale: the only pediatric critical care doctor in Botswana who works to combine medicine and art to bring healing to the body and the soul.

The Ladypad Project

This coming week, Dr. Tina Kempin Reuter and Dr. Stacy Moak will take 12 UAB students to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. The team, in collaboration with the I See Maasai Development Initiative, will fund education on women’s health rights and provide 1500 girls with materials, including underwear and reusable pads, for menstrual hygiene management. The project was awarded a grant through Birmingham’s Independent Presbyterian Church Foundation.

Continuing the Fight

International Women’s Day is not only about celebrating the accomplishments of women and girls, but it is also about shining a light on the continuing injustices faced by more than half of the world’s population. From femicide and early marriage to FGM and sexual violence and exclusion from peace talks, gender inequity discounts the contribution of women and girls to the overall value of humanity. Kofi Annan, the late UN Secretary-General, posited that the empowerment of women proves more effective than any other tool for development. Noeleen Heyzer concludes that although there are women’s issues and rights still to be raised and respected, including those outlined in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, there are many that we must continue to protect. March is Women’s History Month and our contributors will write about issues that continue to impact the lives of women and girls around the world.

 

The Generations of Human Rights

The words "liberte egalite fraternite" written above the entrance to the Hôtel de Ville in Avignon, France.
Avignon – Place de l’Horloge – Hotel de Ville – Liberte Egalite Fraternite. Source: Elliot Brown, Creative Commons

When human rights are being discussed, they are often divided up into three categories called generations.  A reflection of the three generations of human rights can be seen in the popular phrase of the French Revolution: liberté, egalité, fraternité.  These generations of human rights were first formally established by Karel Vasak, a Czech jurist, in 1979.  This division of the types of human rights helps improve conversations about rights, especially those involving legislation and the role that governments play in human rights.

The First Generation: Liberté

The first generation of human rights encompasses an individual’s civil and political rights.  First generation rights can be divided into two sub-categories.  The first sub-category relates to norms of “physical and civil security.”  This includes not committing acts of torture, slavery, or treating people inhumanely.  The second sub-category relates to norms of “civil-political liberties or empowerments.”  This includes rights such as freedom of religion and the right to political participation.

First generation rights are based around the rights of the individual person and are often the focus of conversations about human rights in western countries.  They became a priority for western nations during the Cold War.  Some documents that focus on first generation rights are the United States Bill of Rights and Articles 3 through 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

The Second Generation: Égalité

The second generation of human rights encompasses socio-economic rights.  Second generation rights can also be divided into two sub-categories.  The first sub-category relates to norms of the fulfillment of basic needs, such as nutrition and healthcare.  The second sub-category relates to norms of the fulfillment of “economic needs.”  This includes fair wages and sufficient standards of living.

Second generation rights are based on establishing equal conditions.  They were often resisted by western nations during the Cold War, as they were perceived as “socialist notions.”  The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and Articles 22 through 27 of the UDHR focus on these rights. 

Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, first and second generation rights were considered to be divided by the responsibility they place on governments.  First generation human rights were looked at as being a “negative obligation,” which means that they place a responsibility on governments to ensure that the fulfillment of those rights is not being impeded.  Second generation human rights were viewed as being a “positive obligation,” which means that they place a responsibility on governments to actively ensure that those rights are in fact fulfilled.  After the Berlin Wall fell, perspectives shifted to see governments as having the responsibility to “respect, protect, promote and fulfill” these rights. 

The Third Generation: Fraternité

The third generation of human rights encompasses broad class rights.  Third generation rights can be divided into sub-categories as well.  The first sub-category relates to “the self-determination of peoples” and includes different aspects of community development and political status.  The second sub-category is related to the rights of ethnic and religious minorities.

Third generation rights are often found in agreements that are classified as “soft law,” which means they are not legally binding.  Some examples of these agreements include the UDHR and the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.  This generation of rights is challenged more often than the first and second generations, but it is being increasingly acknowledged on an international level. These rights started gaining acknowledgement as a result of “growing globalization and a heightened awareness of overlapping global concerns” such as extreme poverty.

Overall, recognizing the differences between each generation of rights can help us to better understand how broad the field of human rights is and how varied the issues involved truly are.  Each kind of right is best fulfilled through the use of different forms of legislation, and recognizing the different generations of rights can improve our ability to identify the what type of legislation is best suited for dealing with a particular issue.

The History of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

UN Flag
Flag of the United Nations, paixland, Creative Commons

The conception of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) gave birth to human rights as they are known today. Adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on December 10, 1948, the UDHR was a response to the atrocities that took place during World War II. As half the globe laid in ruin and millions of lives were taken, a dormant side of humanity seemed to reawaken within the world powers, and an international prioritization of human rights emerged. The UDHR, comprised of 30 Articles defining human rights, was an expression of humanity’s resurgence, as well as an international commitment to never allow such monstrous acts to take place again.

Those tasked with composing the UDHR were members of the Commission on Human Rights, chaired by the dynamic Eleanor Roosevelt, who served as First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945. Roosevelt transformed the role of the First Lady by using her position as a platform for social activism in women’s rights, African-American rights, and Depression-era workers’ rights. After her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, died in 1945, she was appointed to be the US Delegate to the UN and served in this role for 7 years. It was her experience and passion for social activism that prepared the widow Roosevelt to Chair the commission responsible for creating the UDHR. Roosevelt asserted the Declaration would reflect more than Western ideas; to accomplish this, the Human Rights Commission was made up of members from various cultural and legal backgrounds from all around the world, showing respect for differing cultures and their customs while also ensuring each region had a hand in creating the document. Under Roosevelt’s leadership, the diverse commission was able to craft the UDHR in a unique and culturally-competent way.

Statue of Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt, Kevin Borland, Creative Commons

The UDHR was the first document in history to explicitly define what individual rights are and how they must be protected. The Preamble of the document outlines the rights of all human beings:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people…

Thus, for the first time in history, human rights were assembled and codified into a single document. The Member States, or sovereign states that are members of the United Nations, came together in agreement to protect and promote these rights. As consequence, the rights have shaped constitutional laws and democratic norms around the world, such as the Human Rights Act of 1998 in Britain and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the United States.

Silhouette of a dove holding an olive branch
Dove Silhouette, Creative Commons

The Commission on Human Rights defined human rights with the conception of the UDHR. By fusing dignity, fairness, equality, respect, and independence, the UN defines human rights as:

rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more.  Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.

Human rights are the cross-cutting theme within every UN agency. They have inspired the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are goals to “provide peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.” These planet-, urbanization-, and group-focused goals substantially contribute to the realization of human rights, as the human rights-based approach to development stipulates development is conducive to the promotion of human rights.  In the ideal sense, human rights are a guiding force toward living in global harmony, and through the promotion of the basic rights bestowed by the UDHR, the world has made strides toward achieving that harmony.

 

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor: The U.S. Refugee Crisis

On Monday, November 12, the Institute for Human Rights co-sponsored an event with local education, faith-based, and law organizations at Birmingham-Southern College (BSC), titled Addressing the Global Refugee Crisis – Part 2: Focus on the United States. The panel discussion, moderated by Anne Ledvina ( Associate Director at BSC – Ellie and Herb Sklenar Center for International Programs), included Yanira Arias (Campaign Manager at Alianza Americas), April Jackson-McLennan (Attorney at The Law Office of John Charles Bell, L.L.C.), Sarai Portillo (Executive Director at Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice), Roshell Rosales (Member at Adelante Alabama Worker Center), and Jessica Vosburgh (Executive Director at Adelante Alabama Worker Center), addressing the Central American migrant caravan, definitions of immigration law, and Alabama’s role in the current refugee crisis.

From left to right: Anne Ledvina, Jessica Vosburgh, Roshell Rosales, and April Jackson-MacLennan pictured on the discussion panel. Source: UAB Institute for Human Rights

Arias and Portillo first addressed the audience by speaking about the recent events in Mexico City where many Central American caravan refugees were staying in a stadium serving as a makeshift camp. Here, many tenants camped on the field or slept on the bleachers, received medical attention and waited in line for basic resources, such as water, that had limited availability. Not only does Portillo assist migrants in her birthplace of Mexico but heads the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ACIJ), a grassroots network of six non-profit organizations and various individuals dedicated to protecting and advancing immigrant rights by developing leadership, aligning with other justice causes, encouraging civil participation, and advocating for just policies. Arias’ organization, Alianza Americas, which is a national network serving Latino communities, is currently facilitating donations for Central American caravan refugees through the Refuge for Families Campaign.

Vosburgh then initiated discussion around the narrow qualifications for refugee status and mentioned the disproportionate effects of being an LGBTQ refugee such as allocation to immigration facilities based on birth-assigned gender and sexual exploitation. Additionally, Vosburgh insisted the United States plays a unique role in creating refugees, namely through the war on drugs and neoliberal economic policies which perpetuate destabilization in the Global South. Vosburgh heads Adelante Alabama Worker Center, a Hoover-based organization dedicated to uniting low-wage and immigrant workers as well as their families for defending and promoting human, namely labor, rights in vulnerable communities. Adelante offers a myriad of programs, including the Accompaniment Program, which matches volunteers with community members to assist with transportation to court hearings as well as probation appointments, as well as English classes and legal representation. Additionally, Roshell Rosales, an Adelante member and Montevallo University sophomore, spoke about her experiences as a Dreamer, including scrutiny from law enforcement and the opportunity to earn a scholarship through The Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (¡HICA!).

Jackson-McLennan elaborated on the services provided by The Law Office of John Charles Bell, L.L.C., particularly their focus on affirmative asylum (obtaining asylum) and defensive asylum (defense against removal from U.S.) cases. Their services are salient to the region because not only is Alabama void of an immigration clinic, which often provide affordable legal services, but the political climate of the state often serves as a disadvantage to immigrants, speaking to the importance of their work. Also, due to predatory law practices in the Birmingham area, attorneys at John Charles Bell provide their immigration legal services on a low bono basis, meaning their assistance is accessible and affordable to potential clients.

Although these organizations do fascinating work to advance the rights of immigrants in the, every additional ally to the cause could be life-changing, whether it be through employment, housing, legal, or transportation assistance. Furthermore, our current political climate carries vestiges of anti-immigration efforts from the 20th Century when individuals and families, namely from the Jewish community, left their homes to escape conflict and faced persecution. As a result, more than 1,000 Central American refugees are at the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana, facing law enforcement with tear gas, pleading for a chance at a better life. Such a crisis speaks to our moral compass, not only as a country but global community, whose Universal Declaration of Human Rights, via the United Nations, demonstrates that everyone has the freedom of movement within each state (Article 13) and a right to a standard of living adequate for their health and well-being (Article 25).

If you’re interested in participating in the advancement of immigrant rights, both locally and globally, please mark your calendar for March 4, 2019 for the third installment of this series which will be held at Samford University and focus on a community action plan. Please stay tuned for more details.