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Oppressed

Human Rights | Human Rights Day highlights victims of persistent abuse around the world

Issue: "2009 Daniel of the Year," Dec. 19, 2009

Any assessment of human rights conditions around the world should begin with a caveat: Even the most exhaustive reports can't capture the scope of oppression, persecution, and abuse that untold numbers of people suffer each day. Summaries scratch the surface. But as the United Nations marks Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, it's worth remembering a few of the most dangerous spots for a handful of the most vulnerable groups in the world.

Children go from enslavement to abortion to abandonment, some of the most defenseless remain among the most abused.

Congo: The U.S. State Department released a human rights report earlier this year that called the spiraling chaos in the Congo "the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa." The report noted that armed forces continued to wreak havoc, in part by forcing children into combat. Kidnapping children to become soldiers and sex slaves is a trademark of Ugandan Joseph Kony, the deranged leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), who is believed to be hiding in the jungles of the Congo.

China: The communist nation's one-child policy has led to waves of forced abortion and infanticide for years among women labeled as violating policy. Chinese human rights activists offered testimony to a U.S. congressional committee in November, providing grisly evidence that forced abortions continue for women who have pleaded to keep their children. The activists also submitted a recently leaked document from a website for Chinese obstetricians that discusses methods of infanticide for babies who survive abortions.

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Vietnam: Vietnamese adoptions remained closed to U.S. citizens, leaving many once-adoptable children languishing in poor conditions in local orphanages. Vietnamese officials closed adoptions to the United States last year after the U.S. Embassy warned that the adoption system was corrupt and advised prospective parents to voluntarily halt adoptions. Embassy officials accused Vietnamese workers of kidnapping babies and selling them for profit. (Adoptions in Guatemala also remained closed for most of the year, though authorities indicated in November they would re-open the process.)

The Internet: A UN report released in July estimated that at any given time, some three-quarters of a million predators are searching for child pornography on the internet, making the cyber world an insidiously dangerous place for children. The report also estimates that between 2001 and 2004 the number of sites displaying child pornography doubled to 480,000. That number has likely swelled since 2004. UN expert Najat Maalla M'jid warned that the proliferation of new technologies would likely proliferate the problem.

Journalists/Human rights attorneys

Though reporters and lawyers enjoy broad freedoms in the United States and elsewhere, the professions can be dangerous and deadly in other parts of the world. Dictators and communist leaders clamp down on journalists, bloggers, and independent media, blocking internet access and imprisoning offenders. A handful of murders of famous journalists in Russia remain unsolved.

A 2009 report from Reporters Without Borders (RWB) dovetailed with the U.S. State Department's assessment of press freedom (and dangers for reporters) around the world. RWB offered its list of the 10 worst offenders:
• Eritrea
• North Korea
• Turkmenistan
• Iran
• Burma
• Cuba
• Laos
• China
• Yemen
• Vietnam

Women often endure abuse with their children, but many times endure it alone: A thriving international sex trade, mass rapes in war zones, and executions for activism are a few of the realities that threaten women around the globe.

Congo: Children aren't the only victims in the Congo. Roving forces of armed soldiers inflict mass rapes on women as a weapon of choice in the country's decade-long war. The soldiers often loot, plunder, and burn villages as they travel, but the appalling number of rapes they commit makes eastern Congo the rape capital of the world, according to UN officials. Whole hospital wards serve hundreds of women and girls at a time, all suffering from brutal sexual violence. One victim, a woman named Ngalya, told The New York Times in August: "If [soldiers] meet you they will rape you. They don't fear anything."

Iran: In a country where repression is a way of life, women face particularly dismal prospects for speaking against the government. The U.S. State Department noted that Iranian officials intensified their oppression of dissidents this year and initiated a brutal crackdown on both men and women after widespread protests in the wake of presidential elections. The report noted that government authorities are particularly brutal toward outspoken women, with prison sentences often ending with executions.

East Asia: A UN report earlier this year documented the slave trade and sex trafficking of women, children, and men all over the world, but singled out East Asia for a dubious distinction: Victims from this region were detected in more than 20 countries in regions all over the world, making East Asia a hub for intercontinental trade of human beings, especially adult women. One of the terrible ironies of the report: Women often traffic other women. "It is shocking that former victims become traffickers," said Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. "We need to understand the psychological, financial and coercive reasons why women recruit other women into slavery."

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