Eritrea and the Mediterranean Migrant Crisis


On the eastern end of the the African continent in the Horn of Africa lies the State of Eritrea. The population consists of a variety of different ethnicities and most inhabitants are either Christian or Muslim.

The country is no stranger to violence, having been at war with Ethiopia and other neighboring countries at the end of last century and the beginning of this century. More recently, however, the country has seen extreme violence at the hands of President Isaias Afwerki.

A large proportion of Eritreans have fled the country because of the methodical injustice inflicted on thousands of Eritrean citizens. These human rights abuses include systematic torture, kidnapping, slavery and rape all at the hands of Afwerki and his government, which he has been in control of for nearly 20 years.

A human rights panel of United Nations officials has found that the situation in Eritrea slowly deteriorated after the country implemented mildly oppressive practices in an effort to curb violence in the 90s.

It has gotten so bad that hundreds of Eritreans are fleeing the country every day. This is not an easy decision to make either. The journey to Europe is perilous. It is estimated 2,000 people have died this year traveling the Mediterranean to Europe to escape Eritrea and other violent countries in region. Exact numbers are not available because often bodies of the perished are lost at sea.

This exodus from Eritrea was briefly met with more violence when security forces of the country were ordered to kill escaping citizens.

This year has seen record numbers of refugees coming from the region seeking refuge in Europe and it has become a huge problem for Greece and Italy. The number of Eritreans reaching these countries is only surpassed by Syrians who are also dealing with a grave human rights situation in their country.

Human rights organizations have not been allowed into the country and these abuses persist. European nations have to decide between granting Eritreans asylum or sending them back to Eritrea where they will likely be tortured or put to death.

Human Rights in North Korea


When Kim Jong Un came into power after his father’s death in 2011, very little was known about the young man. The unknown led to speculation that maybe he would be a reformer, after all he as a basketball fan and was educated in Switzerland. Unfortunately, the human rights situation has not improved and in many cases deteriorated.

North Korea is a highly secretive country and little is known about even its highest ranking member. In theory, the country has agreed to a number of human rights treaties and even gives rights to its citizens through a constitution. But there is little to no freedom in the country.

International human rights and other civil society organizations are not allowed in the country to keep the regime accountable. From within the country there is only one political party, one source for news and opposition to the status quo can be deadly.

All publications, television and radio are controlled by the state and even possession of outside broadcasts is illegal. Citizens aren’t even allowed to have cell phones to speak with friends and family outside of the country.

One of the only ways we are able to get information about North Korea is from defectors. Their stories are abhorrent not only for their brutality but also for their regularity. Prisoners are tortured through beatings, rape, sleep deprivation, and forcing prisoners to remain standing. Another common practice is to send prisoners to prison camps where they are forced to work for inhumane hours without pay.

These camps, that government officials deny exist, are replete with prisoners of conscience and their families. North Korea practices collective punishment. The immediate family of these prisoners are sent to prison camps, and in some cases even the grandchildren. Children working in horribly unsafe conditions is a regular sight in these camps according to defectors. Prisoners have very little clothing, are regularly executed and die from starvation.

The government’s repressive actions are meant to deter opposition. Threats of forced labor and the sight of public executions are commonplace. Defectors often leave their family behind to certain imprisonment. Travel outside of the country is illegal and border guards have the right to shoot escapees on sight. China does not recognize defectors as refugees and sends them back to North Korea. Any defector that is returned by China faces torture and forced labor.

The death penalty has become simply a formality in the country and can effectively be enforced for any crime because the laws around it are so vague. Kim Jong Un himself has employed the death penalty for a number of political foes and even an ex-girlfriend.

Even ordinary workers in North Korea are treated poorly and barely earn enough money to provide for their family. Workers are not allowed to organize and must accept horrendous working conditions.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) strategy to keep its stranglehold on the people’s mind is ineffective. Despite the threat of forced labor camps, and execution there is a vibrant black market and South Korean television is popular. The military at the border happily accept bribes to smuggle people out of the country and entertainment from flash drives and DVD’s. Defectors are constantly looking at ways to undermine the oppressive government with information.

In April of 2013, the United Nations Human Rights Council opened an investigation into DPRK for “crimes against humanity”. North Korea has not cooperated with the UN and has denied all requests for visits from UN representatives. Though it will be difficult to hold the country accountable because they are constantly on the defensive with their military and are unresponsive to sanctions.


The Water Situation In California

Almond blossom tree

The water situation in California will be difficult to solve. There are a lot of things to take into account. The Golden State is in a severe drought and many say the current proposals to solve the problem are insufficient and don’t attempt to solve the root problems.

You can’t look in the national news without seeing a depressing photo of a lake, river or reservoir with a side by side photo from five years ago. So who or what is the culprit? There is plenty of blame to go around but it’s important to see through the bickering.

Some news outlets looking at the drought have looked to bottled water as the reason for water loss. Bottled water is not as heavily regulated as tap water, it’s expensive and poses a threat to the environment but its consumption is relatively low.

There has also been a lot of conversation around the agriculture in the state that is responsible for 80% of the states water use. The two conversations center on two popular California exports – beef and almonds. Almonds and other fruits and nuts are an important cash crop for the state. The common statistic you’ll hear when you discuss the drought in California is that it takes one gallon of water for one almond. This is, however, a little misleading because it takes into account the time for an almond tree to come to maturity. Beef, however, uses a lot of water per pound.

When Governor Jerry Brown asked people to voluntarily limit their water consumption there was a drop but another dry season meant that these restrictions would now be mandatory. This will help and is one area where changes can realistically be made with better technology and drought resistant plants. For farms increased efficiency will be vital to the long-term water situation.




A Very Brief Intro To Civil Society

Megaphone Graffiti

In the world today the most prominent agencies of society are government and business. These public and private organizaions are vital to a democratic society. But there is a third sector of a democratic society and this is known as civil society. The study of civil society is of increasing importance in our globalized world. The civil society is made up of NGOs and other institutions that attempt to carry out the collective will of the people. The elements that make up a civil society are the freedom of speech and an independent justice system.

Civil Society is not limited to NGO’s. Volunteerism is an integral part of a civil society, and any organization that attempts to influence the law and society through volunteerism is partaking in a civil society. Civil society organizations engage in all levels of the political sphere with a wide variety of approaches to influencing change but generally across three objectives:

  • Conformist
  • Reformist
  • Transformist

In recent years there has been an expansion of civil society organizations, this goes alongside the increase of globalization as many governmental and private organizations are unable to help without bias. Civil society organizations also have the advantage of not being governed by party politics. Globalization has brought with it the visibility of our differences, but civil society organizations attempt to further social cohesion.

The public remains largely unaware of the civil society organizations. This is due in large part due to the difficulty of gathering empirical evidence of their influence in governing but they have a lot of it. Civil society groups can make politics more workable for example, but even that can be contested. Another problem is that some civil society organizations are incompetent, impeding those that are trying to make a measurable difference.

This is but a mere introduction to the importance of the academic study of civil society. Thank You.