most absurd human rights violations

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (117): Segregation of HIV-Positive Prisoners

prison rape


South-Carolina is now the only US State where HIV-positive prisoners are segregated in separate housing units with unequal program opportunities, inferior mental health care and fewer work options.

There’s absolutely no reason to do that, unless you want to maintain the reign of sexual terror that is still widespread in US prisons. AIDS is almost exclusively transmitted by way of sexual intercourse and needles. Segregating HIV-positive prisoners makes it easier for prison rapists to pursue their hobby. If you don’t know who’s positive and who’s not, you’ll think twice about raping someone. In the “HIV wards”, since they contain only HIV-positive prisoners, there’s also no more reason to refrain from rape.

Things like this make it hard to believe that legislators and prison authorities are not intent on making prison as horrible as possible.

More absurd human rights violations.

most absurd human rights violations

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (112): The Tagging of Prisoners With HIV

Jew in Paris, wearing the star

Jew in Paris, wearing the star


You can’t tell by looking at someone whether he or she is living with HIV. That is, unless you catch a glimpse of a man who’s living with HIV in the state of Alabama’s prison system.

There are over 200 male prisoners living with HIV in Alabama. The Alabama Department of Corrections requires each of them to wear a white armband at all times, making their health status obvious to other inmates, prison staff, and visitors. The practice is a huge affront to prisoners’ privacy and confidentiality. (source)

Let’s list some of the other things that are wrong with this:

  • Why on earth would anyone want to protect prison rapists? Or is it true that the modern day prison system is merely a sanitized front for the perpetuation of medieval punishment?
  • Measures such as these nourish the stigma of HIV patients.
  • They promote false beliefs about HIV transmission.
  • Etc.

More absurd human rights violations.

aid, economics, education, health, human rights maps, poverty

Human Rights Maps (86): Interactive Maps of the Millennium Development Goals

millennium development goals icons

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)


There’s a really good collection of maps on the Millennium Development Goals here. This is a screenshot:

mdg map

If you don’t know a lot about the MDGs, check out this page first. More human rights maps here.

economic human rights, health, poverty, statistics, war

Economic Human Rights (30): Life Expectancy Throughout History

How is life expectancy relevant for human rights? High levels of life expectancy can mean a long life of oppression and cruelty, but it’s fair to say that a long life is generally beneficial for human rights, and that low average life expectancy rates are indicators of human rights violations. The longer people life, on average, the more they can do with their lives, and the more they can enjoy their freedom. If people’s lives are shorter, on average, it’s likely that this is because of human rights violations. For example, because:

So it’s useful to note that life expectancy, over the course of human history, has risen sharply, especially during modern times:

life expectancy through the ages

life expectancy through the ages

(source, click on the image to enlarge)

Life expectancy during much of pre-modern history averaged just below 30 years. Part of the reason for such a low figure is that many children died at a very young age, pulling down the average life expectancy. Those who didn’t die young had a good chance of surviving to what we now call “middle age”.

After the Industrial Revolution many more children survived into adulthood and by the beginning of the 20th century average life expectancy in the developed world was close to 50, whereas for the world as a whole it was only around 40 years. The figures now are 78 and 67 respectively. This graph shows the rapid and sudden improvement after centuries of stagnation:

Life Expectancy throughout history, long trend

Life Expectancy throughout history, long trend


The reason for this sudden improvement during and after the industrial revolution is a combination of improved medical technology and higher wealth. Not surprisingly, life expectancy is highly correlated with income levels – more wealth means higher investment in healthcare, less war etc. – but not in a linear fashion: the U.S. has very high GDP per capita but not higher life expectancy than some countries/regions with somewhat lower income levels (some blame the healthcare system, others the life-style choices of many Americans). And, compared to Africa, India has higher life expectancy with similar income levels (the HIV/AIDS epidemic is part of the explanation).



There’s a map comparing life expectancy in the world here. And there are some more statistics on life expectancy here.

gender discrimination, health, statistics

Gender Discrimination (16): Sexual Violence in South Africa



Shocking numbers from The Guardian:

One in four men in South Africa have admitted to rape, according to a study that exposes the country’s endemic culture of sexual violence. … Almost half who said they had carried out a rape admitted they had done so more than once. … South Africa is notorious for having one of the highest levels of rape in the world. Only a fraction are reported, and only a fraction of those lead to a conviction. … Only 7% of reported rapes are estimated to lead to a conviction.

The study … also found that men who are physically violent towards women are twice as likely to be HIV-positive. … Any woman raped by a man over the age of 25 has a one in four chance of her attacker being HIV-positive.

More on rape, and on violence against women in general.

aid, books, health, human rights quote, poverty

Human Rights Quote (74): Should We Stop Giving Aid to Africa?

Dambisa Moyo

Dambisa Moyo


In this previous post on the same subject, I quoted Paul Collier’s criticism of Dambisa Moyo’s hugely overhyped but enjoyable book on development aid.

Here’s another critical quote:

Surely, Moyo should recognize the difference between aid provided to oppressive kleptocrats and aid given to faith-based organizations distributing AIDS drugs. Michael Gerson (source)

Dambisa Moyo’s reply:

I’m not going to sit here and say the fact that 2 million Africans are on HIV drugs is a bad thing. Of course that’s a good thing. But whose responsibility is it to provide those HIV drugs? American society does not operate by sitting around and waiting for handouts. Why should we as Africans? (source)

Matthew Yglesias’s reply to Moyo’s reply:

For one thing, in the developed world we clearly do offer financial assistance (“handouts”) to indigent people suffering from illness. Even in the United States there’s Medicaid and people get treated at emergency rooms regardless of their ability to pay. Meanwhile, in terms of HIV drugs obviously the reason Africans find themselves needing to rely on handouts is that the continent is so full of poor people. Ultimately, obviously, the ideal solution would be for Africans to get richer. But the per capita GDP of Africa isn’t going to magically reach American (or even Mexican or even Chinese) levels overnight even if Africa does start seeing strong growth. Meanwhile, people with HIV will die really soon unless someone gives them medicine. And even better, the marginal cost of producing extra HIV medication is really low. There’s just no getting around the fact that giving poor people medicine is a useful and important way of making the world a better place. (source)

I understand Moyo’s point about paternalism, about the need for Africans to take matters into their own hands, and about the debilitating effects of aid. But I suspect her of exaggerating her point in order to stir up some controversy and get into the limelight. And if that is really her strategy, she has obviously succeeded. But at the same time she has succeeded in discrediting all kinds of aid, good and bad. However, she can be credited with having started a necessary debate.

Some statistics on development aid are here.

discrimination and hate, equality, law, lgbt rights

LGBT Rights (7): Criminalization of Homosexuality

Public Execution; Iranian authorities hanged two allegedly gay young men in 2005

Public Execution; Iranian authorities hanging two allegedly gay young men in 2005


In 2008, homosexuality, or consensual sex acts among adults of the same sex, was still illegal in 86 member states of the United Nations. These include large countries such as India and Nigeria. (There’s a world map here). In 9 of these countries, e.g. Iran, the act is even punishable by death. Every year, hundreds of LGBT people are killed because of their sexual orientation, some by the state, others by lynch mobs.

Here’s an overview by region:

laws prohibiting homosexuality

(source, click image to enlarge)

The wording of the laws which make homosexuality a crime is often bizarre:

  • “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”
  • “buggery”
  • “debauchery”
  • “gross indecency”
  • “unnatural offences”
  • and the best of all: “unlawful sexual relations per anum”.

These “sodomy laws” obviously have consequences for human rights. The rights to privacy and equality of LGBT persons are obviously violated by these laws. As well as the right to life in extreme cases. Sexual conduct between consenting adults is a private matter in which no one, especially not the state, should interfere.

State sponsored homophobia also shapes social attitudes and promotes social homophobia. How can a state do something about social violence against gays if the state itself oppresses them? On top of that, sodomy laws make HIV/AIDS prevention much harder, with possibly wide-ranging public health consequences. The criminalization of homosexuality pushes homosexuals underground and makes it impossible to educate them about HIV/AIDS. The defenders of sodomy laws say that such laws do not only enforce “morality”, but also help to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. But that’s just a figleaf for bigotry.

equality, gender discrimination, health

Gender Discrimination (14): HIV-AIDS by Gender

HIV AIDS and gender


Worldwide, two-thirds of the 5.5m people aged 15-24 living with HIV are female.

The reasons for this depressing statistic aren’t hard to find. In most places in the world, but particularly in Africa and developing countries in general, women are less well educated, less literate, and more poor than men (see here and here for example). Men’s sexual domination and domination in the household are also likely to lead to lower levels of AIDS protection for women.

More on gender discrimination here, here and here.

health, human rights maps

Human Rights Maps (36): Number of People With HIV/AIDS

people living with hiv aids world map


And, expressed as a percentage of a country’s population, for 2005:

world map hiv aids patients as percentage of population of a country


And for 2008:

Estimated HIV-AIDS prevalence among young adults 15-49 by country as of 2008

Estimated HIV-AIDS prevalence among young adults 15-49 by country as of 2008



HIV prevalence map 2009




This is the evolution of new infections:

HIV AIDS new infections 2001- 2009


More on HIV/AIDS here and here.

health, horror, human rights maps, poverty, war

Human Rights Maps (1): HIV, Nuclear Weapons, Wealth and Immigrants

From the Telegraph newspaper, the map of the world modified according to the number of immigrants living in a country, the projected wealth of a country in 2015, the number of people with HIV, and the number of nuclear weapons.

proportion of immigrants map

projected wealth in 2015 map

hiv prevalence map

nuclear weapons map

health, human rights quote

Human Rights Quote (48): Aids Disaster

aids patient

aids patient

(source unknown)

HIV/Aids is the disaster that keeps on killing. Day after day, families are destroyed, economies wiped out and communities crushed. DAVID ANDREWS, chairman of the Irish Red Cross, launching a report to recommend that the international community declare the HIV/Aids epidemic a “global disaster”

Some facts about the AIDS epidemic are here. The number of people dying from AIDS is about the equivalent of one Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 a month.

aid, education, equality, health, human rights facts, poverty

Human Rights Facts (13): Millennium Development Goals

I’ve mentioned the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) before. This post gives some more data.

The United Nations agreed the 8 MDGs in 2000, to be reached in 2015. Now, half-way to that deadline, there is progress, but not all regions in the world are doing equally well. However, even in the poorest region – sub-Saharan Africa – some progress has been made.


One of the targets in this goal is to halve the number of people living on less than $1 a day:

proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day

There has been substantial progress on this target. Another, related target under this first goal is to halve the number of people suffering from hunger:

children underweight

On the sub-target of the number of children who are underweight, there has been progress but much more can be done.

See also these posts on the topic of poverty and famine.


Target: By 2015, all children to be able to complete a course of primary schooling:

children receiving primary education

Good progress here, but these data on enrollment do not say anything about the quality of education or the regularity of attendance.

See also this post on literacy and this one on child labor.


This goal is more vague and less easily measured. One target is the elimination of gender disparity in primary and secondary education no later than 2015. One way to measure this target is to count how many women have secure and paid employment in areas other than agriculture:

female employees in non-agricultural work

See also this post on gender discrimination.


Target: Between 1990 and 2015, reduce the under-five mortality rate by two-thirds:

infant mortality

Some progress again, but there are still more than 10 million children who die annually before their fifth birthday, mostly from preventable causes. And a long way away from the target.

See also this post on infant mortality.


Target: Reduce the maternal mortality rate by three-quarters between 1990 and 2015. Maternal mortality rates remain unacceptably high across the developing world. In sub-Saharan Africa, a woman’s risk of dying from complications during childbirth is 1 in 16, compared with 1 in 3,800 in the developed world. More than half a million women die during pregnancy or childbirth every year, and many millions suffer from inadequately treated complications.

See also this post on maternal mortality.


Target: Have halted and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/Aids:

hiv prevalence number of aids deaths

The number of infections seems to be leveling off, but the number of people dying from aids isn’t.

See also this post on aids.


Also difficult to measure. One of the targets is to halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without access to drinking water and basic sanitation:

improved sanitation


aid given to developing countries

The total amount of international development aid is now more than $100 billion a year.

This is the progress that has been made:

mdg progress


See also this post on development aid.

Related Articles

health, human rights facts

Human Rights Facts (2): AIDS

In 2007, an estimated 33.2 million people lived with AIDS/HIV worldwide, and it killed an estimated 2.1 million people, including 330,000 children. Over three-quarters of these deaths occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, retarding economic growth and destroying human capital. From Wikipedia

AIDS has become the leading cause of death in Sub-Saharan Africa where approx. 1 in 4 deaths is caused by AIDS:

causes of death africa aids

Obviously, life expectancy in many countries hardest hit by AIDS has fallen dramatically:

life expectancy africa aids

AIDS has also worsened some existing problems such as poverty, lack of education etc. It is estimated that 11.4 million AIDS orphans live in the region. Some predict that AIDS will even lead to economic collapse in some African countries. Ostracism, rejection and discrimination are other consequences. Homosexuals patients must now suffer a double stigma, their AIDS reinforcing the pre-existing prejudices against their homosexuality.

In the 1990s in the US, it also became the leading cause of death in adults aged between 25 and 44, but the introduction of more effective drugs has reduced the mortality of the disease quite effectively:

causes of death US aids

(A) Annual AIDS deaths in sub-Saharan Africa (population 640 million) compared with those in USA (population 273 million). (B) Deaths in the USA in more detail, showing the five leading causes of death in men and women 25–44 years old. Over the course of ten years, AIDS came to be the leading cause of death in this generally healthy age group. The sharp decline in mortality followed the introduction of highly active anti-retroviral therapy, although the prevalence of HIV infection has not decreased. (Data obtained from UNAIDS and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.). Robin A. Weiss

However, the same progress has not occurred in Africa because drugs are expensive and routine access to antiretroviral medication is not easily available. Efforts to prevent the infection from occurring, such as the promotion of safe sex and needle-exchange programs, encounter cultural or religious obstacles. As a result, we are turning what could be a manageable chronic illness into a death sentence for many, thereby also encouraging the spread of HIV to others.

aids map of the world