• Open vs Closed States: Freedom House reports on Freedom on the Net

    According to a recent report, Internet freedoms around the world have declined for the fourth year in a row.

    Freedom House reported last week that of the 65 countries they surveyed for openness and web access, 36 experienced a negative trajectory in online freedom between May 2013 and May 2014. Many of the states with reduced Internet access had blocked social networks, begun or maintained aggressive online surveillance and supported cyber attacks, and even intimidation and arrests of journalists and digital activists.

    In Myanmar for example, even as telecommunications is becoming one of the most dynamic sectors in the state’s gradual transition from military rule to democracy, the year 2014 saw a sharp decline in press freedom. Zaw Pe, a journalist working for the online, formerly exile-run news outlet Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), was sentenced in April 2014 to two one-year prison sentences, to be served simultaneously, for trespassing and disturbing an official.

    An appeals court released him in July but failed to acquit him. The charge was based on a 2012 video interview that took place during business hours at an education department office, where the journalist was investigating alleged funding irregularities. Zaw Pe was among several DVB video journalists jailed for independent digital reporting under the junta, and international and local civil society groups condemned his 2014 trial.

    At least five other journalists were detained during the coverage period of this report. After May 2014, nine traditional media practitioners were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to seven years; separately, one was fatally shot in military custody.

    Above: states with the most and the least internet freedom, graph by Mashable.

    Former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton said, "In the 21st Century, the United States is convinced that one of the most significant divisions among nations will be a divide not between east and west, or along religious lines, but between open and closed societies."

    Discussion starters:

    1. Why do state officials make the decision to reduce or restrict Internet access?
    2. Is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton correct about the new dividing line of the 21st century? 
  • Peshawar Attack: Can you fight your way to peace?

    The Taliban gunmen who stormed a school and killed 132 children earlier this week stunned the world and brought cries for retribution. Yesterday, government officials of Pakistan executed two convicted militants in response to the horrific Taliban school massacre.


    Also on Friday, the Pakistani Taliban released a photo of the killers and a statement claiming the attack was justified because the Pakistani army had long been killing innocent children and families of their fighters. A Taliban spokesman also vowed more attacks.

    Lakhdar Brahimi is a former Algerian freedom fighter, Foreign Minister, conflict mediator and UN diplomat. He now works with the The Elders and is an expert in peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction.

    Brahimi has written, “You cannot fight your way to peace; sitting down with your adversary and negotiating is the only way to resolve conflict and prevent further bloodshed."

    Brahimi has also written, “Never in my career have I felt that a situation is hopeless or that change is impossible. Despite the uncertainty that change will bring, there is nothing to fear from seeking genuine and lasting peace.”

    Discussion starters:

    1. Is it possible to sit down with the Taliban and negotiate a resolution to prevent further bloodshed in Pakistan?
    2. Is the situation in Pakistan hopeless or is Brahimi correct in saying that we have nothing to fear from seeking genuine and lasting peace?
  • To the Cuban people, America extends a hand of friendship

    A quarter of a century after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the relationship between the United States and Cuba still felt like the Cold War. All that may be changing as President Obama has announced historic steps to chart a new course in US relations with Cuba. 

    "To the Cuban people, America extends a hand of friendship," said President Obama.

    Decades of U.S. sanctions on Cuba have failed to accomplish the objective of pushing Cuba to be an open and democratic country.

    Discussion starters:

    1. Do you agree that relations (trade and tourism) will help open Cuba?
    2. Why do you think that the United States and President Obama is now taking steps to normalize Cuban relations?
  • Some call for prosecution of U.S. officials after the release of the US Senate's report on torture

    The unthinkable torture inflicted by the *** in World War II prompted wide acceptance that human rights includes the right to be free of torture. Then, in the 1970s, Amnesty International (AI) led a worldwide moral crusade to persuade global leaders, states, and the United Nations to accept the 1975 Declaration on Torture and then the 1984 Convention on Torture. AI’s work dramatically helped reduce the heinous practice of torture.

    With the United State Senate’s recent release of a report on the CIA’s policy and actions of torture the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein, said according to the Convention Against Torture, not even a state of war justified torture.

    In a statement issued yesterday in Geneva on Human Rights Day, Al-Hussein said, "The convention lets no one off the hook – neither the torturers themselves, nor the policy-makers, nor the public officials who define the policy or give the orders."

    The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution includes an important deterrent to torture. If a person’s own words cannot be used against them in prosecution it does not make sense to try to gather information by inflicting pain.

    While the US Senate’s report does not urge prosecution for wrongdoing some leaders are calling for prosecution. German Justice Minister Heiko Maas told German newspaper Bild. "Nothing justifies such methods. Everybody involved must be legally prosecuted." Human rights groups have called for the arrest of key CIA and Bush administration figures if they travel overseas.

    Discussion starters:

    1. Should key CIA and Bush administration officials be prosecuted?
    2. Has the Bush administration’s torture policy proved counter-productive by damaging the United States’ moral authority?
  • Global Handwashing and World Toilet Campaigns: Could a public-private partnership provide a piece of the puzzle?

    Global Handwashing Day (October) and World Toilet Day (November) were originally created to promote safe and adequate sanitation and hygiene. Handwashing and access to toilets can help in eradicating poverty and hunger, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating infectious diseases, to ensuring environmental sustainability.


    Handwashing with soap is the most effective & inexpensive way to prevent diarrheal & acute respiratory infections, which take the lives of millions of children in developing countries.

    Of the world’s seven billion people, 2.5 billion people do not have improved sanitation. 1 billion people still defecate in the open.

    In the above TED Talk, Myriam Sidibe explains how a bar of soap is a cost-effective prevention against sickness and death. Sidibe, also makes a case for public-private partnerships to promote handwashing.

    Discussion starters:

    1. Do you agree with Myriam Sidibe’s case for a public-private partnership to promote handwashing?
    2. Would a similar public-private partnership work for toilets?