Civil Liberties News StoriesExcerpts of Key Civil Liberties News Stories in Major Media
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At least 25 prominent artificial-intelligence researchers, including experts at Google, Facebook, Microsoft and a recent winner of the prestigious Turing Award, have signed a letter calling on Amazon to stop selling its facial-recognition technology to law enforcement agencies because it is biased against women and people of color. The letter, which was publicly released Wednesday, reflects growing concern in academia and the tech industry that bias in facial-recognition technology is a systemic problem. Amazon sells a product called Rekognition through its cloud-computing division, Amazon Web Services. The company said last year that early customers included the Orlando Police Department in Florida and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon. In January, two researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology published a peer-reviewed study showing that Amazon Rekognition had more trouble identifying the gender of female and darker-skinned faces in photos than similar services from IBM and Microsoft. It mistook women for men 19 percent of the time, the study showed, and misidentified darker-skinned women for men 31 percent of the time. “There are no laws or required standards to ensure that Rekognition is used in a manner that does not infringe on civil liberties,” the A.I. researchers wrote. “We call on Amazon to stop selling Rekognition to law enforcement.”
A group of American hackers who once worked for U.S. intelligence agencies helped the United Arab Emirates spy on a BBC host, the chairman of Al Jazeera and other prominent Arab media figures during a tense 2017 confrontation pitting the UAE and its allies against the Gulf state of Qatar. The American operatives worked for Project Raven, a secret Emirati intelligence program that spied on dissidents, militants and political opponents of the UAE monarchy. A Reuters investigation in January revealed Project Raven’s existence and inner workings, including the fact that it surveilled a British activist and several unnamed U.S. journalists. At first, the goal was to crack down on terrorism by helping the UAE monitor militants around the region. But Raven’s mission quickly expanded to include monitoring and suppressing a range of UAE political opponents. Among its targets was Qatar, which the UAE and Saudi Arabia had long accused of fueling political opposition across the region, in part through the Qatari government’s funding of Al Jazeera. The Emiratis also tapped Raven in the effort to contain dissent at home. After the Arab Spring, the operatives were increasingly tasked with targeting human rights activists and journalists who questioned the government. The Raven effort went beyond the Middle East. Operatives [targeted] the mobile phones of other media figures the UAE believed were being supported by Qatar, including journalists for London-based Arabic media outlets.
Political prisoners in Saudi Arabia are said to be suffering from malnutrition, cuts, bruises and burns, according to leaked medical reports that are understood to have been prepared for the country’s ruler, King Salman. The reports seem to provide the first documented evidence from within the heart of the royal court that political prisoners are facing severe physical abuse, despite the government’s denials that men and women in custody are being tortured. The Guardian has been told the medical reports will be given to King Salman along with recommendations that are said to include a potential pardon for all the prisoners, or at least early release for those with serious health problems. Pressure on Saudi Arabia over the detention and treatment of political prisoners has been growing in recent months amid claims that some female activists have been subjected to electric shocks and lashings in custody. With the kingdom also reeling from the aftermath of the murder of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, King Salman is said to have ordered a review of the decision to arrest and detain about 200 men and women in a crackdown ordered by his heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. According to the medical reports seen by the Guardian, the comments about the detainees suggest many have been severely ill-treated and have a range of health problems. In almost all cases, the reports demanded the prisoners be urgently transferred from solitary confinement to a medical centre.
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The nation's eighth-largest nonprofit donated $56.1 million to a series of organizations identified as hate groups from 2015 to 2017, according to a report from Sludge. National Christian Foundation, which identifies itself as the largest Christian grant maker and one of the largest donor-advised funds in the nation, has served as a vehicle for individuals trying to anonymously send money. Donor-advised funds allow individuals sending the tax deductible contributions to remain anonymous from the IRS and instruct where they want the payments to be sent. For those donating via NCF, this meant sending money to 23 organizations that the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled hate groups. Most of the hate organizations that received money from the NCF opposed LGBT rights. The report also found that the NCF donated to anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant organizations. Organizations receiving the most funds from NCF included the Alliance Defending Freedom, which has advocated for sterilizing transgender individuals, and the Family Research Council, which has advocated conversion therapy. Members of the Family Research Council including Tony Perkins, the organization's president, have sought to link pedophilia and homosexuality. The NCF's website says it has "accepted over $12 billion in contributions and made over $10 billion in giver-recommended grants to more than 55,000 charities."
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Police are violating no “clearly established rights” when they steal someone’s property after seizing it with a legal search warrant and, therefore, can’t be sued in federal court, an appeals court ruled Wednesday. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco refused to reinstate a suit against Fresno police by two people whose homes and business were searched in 2013 during a gambling investigation. After the search, three officers signed an inventory sheet saying they had seized about $50,000. But the two owners, Micah Jessop and Brittan Ashjian, who operated automatic teller machines ... said the officers had actually taken $276,000 - $151,000 in cash and $125,000 in rare coins - and pocketed the difference. Darrell York, Jessop’s and Ashjian’s attorney, said police and a city attorney denied that a theft occurred. Even if Kumagai and his fellow officers stole money and coins from Jessop and Ashjian, the appeals court said, the owners could not sue in federal court to get their money back. Such a suit would require proof that their constitutional rights were violated, the court said, and suits against police must clear the additional hurdle of showing that those rights were “clearly established.” “The allegation of any theft by police officers - most certainly the theft of over $225,000 - is undoubtedly deeply disturbing,” Judge Milan Smith said in the 3-0 ruling. “Whether that conduct violates the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures, however, is not obvious.”
Note: Read about "civil asset forfeiture" used by police to steal money and other private property for their departments. For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing police corruption news articles from reliable major media sources.
Hours after police Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown on a quiet suburban street in Ferguson, Missouri, Olajuwon Ali Davis stood with a few dozen people on that same street. Davis, who was 22 at the time, kept showing up as the protests grew larger. Three months later, Davis and another young man named Brandon Orlando Baldwin were arrested in an FBI sting and accused of planning to ... blow up St. Louis’s iconic Gateway Arch. Three years later, the FBI listed Davis’s case in a secret memo warning of the rise of a “black identity extremist” movement whose members’ “perceptions of police brutality against African Americans” spurred what the FBI claimed was “an increase in premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement.” The “black identity extremism” report was prepared by the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit ... and was distributed to scores of local and federal law enforcement partners. Davis and Baldwin ... appear to be the first individuals retroactively labeled by the FBI as “black identity extremists.” According to The Intercept’s analysis, Davis and Olajuwon’s case was the only federal prosecution of individuals the FBI considers to be “black identity extremists” that resulted in a conviction. By comparison, the analysis found that 268 right-wing extremists were prosecuted in federal courts since 9/11 for crimes that appear to meet the legal definition of domestic terrorism.
The U.S. government created a secret database of activists, journalists, and social media influencers tied to the migrant caravan and in some cases, placed alerts on their passports. At the end of 2018, roughly 5,000 immigrants from Central America made their way north through Mexico to the United States southern border. As the migrant caravan reached the San Ysidro Port of Entry in south San Diego County, so did journalists, attorneys, and advocates who were there to work and witness the events unfolding. But in the months that followed, journalists who covered the caravan, as well as those who offered assistance to caravan members, said they felt they had become targets of intense inspections and scrutiny by border officials. Documents leaked to NBC 7 Investigates show [that the] government had listed their names in a secret database of targets, where agents collected information on them. Some had alerts placed on their passports, keeping at least two photojournalists and an attorney from entering Mexico to work. The documents were provided to NBC 7 by a Homeland Security source on the condition of anonymity. The individuals listed include ten journalists, seven of whom are U.S. citizens, a U.S. attorney, and 48 people from the U.S. and other countries, labeled as organizers, instigators or their roles “unknown.” In addition to flagging the individuals for secondary screenings, the Homeland Security source told NBC 7 that the agents also created dossiers on each person listed.
The number of hate groups in the United States rose for the fourth year in a row in 2018, pushed to a record high by a toxic combination of political polarization, anti-immigrant sentiment and technologies that help spread propaganda online, the Southern Poverty Law Center said Wednesday. The number of hate groups rose by 7 percent last year to 1,020, a 30 percent jump from 2014. That broadly echoes other worrying developments, including a 30 percent increase in the number of hate crimes reported to the F.B.I. from 2015 through 2017 and a surge of right-wing violence that the Anti-Defamation League said had killed at least 50 people in 2018. The center’s findings run parallel to a report on extremist-related killings in the United States that was issued last month by the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. That report said that right-wing extremism was linked to every extremist-related killing the group tracked in 2018, at least 50, and that jihadist groups were linked to none. It said that made 2018 the deadliest year for right-wing extremism since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The law center and the Anti-Defamation League both pointed to the killing of 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in October as a symptom of the increasingly combustible mix of anti-immigrant sentiment, violence and online conspiracy-mongering.
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Philando Castile, Walter Scott and Sandra Bland were all pulled over by police in routine traffic stops. All are dead. In an effort to curb racial profiling, North Carolina became the first state to demand the collection and release of traffic stop data. University of North Carolina professor Frank Baumgartner took a look at that data and wrote a book on the subject titled, "Suspect Citizens." Baumgartner analyzed 22 million traffic stops over 20 years ... and found that a driver's race, gender, location and age all factor in to a police officer's decision to pull over a vehicle. The data showed that African Americans had been stopped twice as often as white drivers, and while they were four times more likely to be searched, they were actually less likely to be issued a ticket. The study also highlighted that whites were more likely to be found with contraband than blacks or Hispanics. "There's a way that police interact with middle-class white Americans and there's a way that people in the police forces interact with members of minority communities, especially in poorer neighborhoods," Baumgartner said. Police discretion is a power that's been backed by the U.S. Supreme Court for decades. Baumgartner believes that's largely because the court looks like him, a white man. Philando Castile was stopped 46 times according to police records, racking up a total of $6,000 in fines. "When we look at some of these infractions, they're trivial. It's not keeping us any safer," Baumgartner said.
The world is moving towards legal gender equality - but it's moving very, very slowly. Only six countries currently give women and men equal rights, a major report from the World Bank has found. That's an increase - from zero - compared to a decade ago, when the organization started measuring countries by how effectively they guarantee legal and economic equality between the genders. But the rate of progress means that, by CNN calculations, women won't achieve full equality in the areas studied by the World Bank until 2073. Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden scored full marks of 100 in the bank's "Women, Business and the Law 2019" report. Of those nations, France saw the biggest improvement over the past decade for implementing a domestic violence law, providing criminal penalties for workplace sexual harassment and introducing paid parental leave. But countries in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa averaged a score of 47.37, meaning the typical nation in those regions gives women under half the legal rights of men in the areas measured by the group. The study ... did not measure social and cultural factors, or how effectively laws were enforced. The criteria analyzed were: going places, starting a job, getting paid, getting married, having children, running a business, managing assets and getting a pension. Overall, the global average came in at 74.71. The score indicates that in the average nation, women receive just three-quarters of the legal rights that men do.
Note: For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing civil liberties news articles from reliable major media sources.
A high school class in Hightstown, New Jersey, has found an impressive way to shed light on unsolved civil rights crimes from the 1950s and '60s. The AP class, studying US government, drafted a bill that would create a board to review, declassify, and release documents related to such cases. The students ... went to Washington, walked the halls of Senate office buildings and passed out folders with policy research and information about their bill, said former student Joshua Fayer. Their efforts caught the attention of Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois, who introduced the bill - modeled after the JFK Assassination Records Act - in March 2017. Later Sens. Doug Jones of Alabama and Ted Cruz of Texas signed on. The House and Senate versions ... passed late last year, and President Trump signed the bill into law on January 8. Former student Jay Vainganker said the class was initially trying to solve unresolved hate crimes from the [civil rights] era. They filed public records requests for information from the FBI and Department of Justice, and they got back redacted responses from the government. In some cases, entire pages were redacted. That's when their focus changed, Vaingankar said. They decided to draft a bill that would make the government "a little bit more transparent." The Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act creates "a board that would be authorized to look at these documents and see what should be redacted, what isn't relevant, what should be released," he said.
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A newspaper's report that the commander for the police rapid response team exchanged friendly text messages with a leader of far-right protests that have rocked the city [of Portland, OR] confirms collusion exists between some police and right-wing extremists. "I am not shocked, and I am not surprised at today's reporting of Lt. Jeff Niiya's collaboration with Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson over text to provide aid and support for their hate marches," [Portland] Councilwoman Jo Ann Hardesty said in a statement. Willamette Week obtained text messages through a public records request between Niiya and Gibson. The texts purportedly show Niiya had a friendly rapport with Gibson, frequently discussing Gibson's plans to demonstrate. In one text reported by the newspaper, Niiya tells Gibson that he doesn't see a need to arrest his assistant, Tusitala Toese, who often brawls with antifascist protesters, even if he has a warrant, unless Toese commits a new crime. Portland police were accused at a protest last August of being heavy-handed against people, injuring some, who were protesting a rally of extreme-right demonstrators organized by Gibson. Hardesty said the "broken policing system in Portland" must be addressed. "This story, like many that have come before it, simply confirms what many in the community have already known — there are members of the Portland police force who work in collusion with right-wing extremists," she said.
Note: Portland is know as being a fairly progressive city. In how many less progressive cities might some police have similar connections to hate groups? Police in Memphis, Tennessee were recently reported to have systematically spied on community activists. For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing news articles on police corruption and the erosion of civil liberties.
The FBI opened a “domestic terrorism” investigation into a civil rights group in California, labeling the activists “extremists” after they protested against neo-Nazis in 2016. Federal authorities ran a surveillance operation on By Any Means Necessary (Bamn), spying on [the] group’s movements in an inquiry that came after one of Bamn’s members was stabbed at the white supremacist rally. The FBI’s Bamn files reveal: The FBI investigated Bamn for potential “conspiracy” against the “rights” of the “Ku Klux Klan” and white supremacists. The FBI considered the KKK as victims and the leftist protesters as potential terror threats, and downplayed the threats of the Klan. The FBI ... cited Bamn’s advocacy against “rape and sexual assault” and “police brutality” as evidence in the terrorism inquiry. The FBI’s 46-page report ... presented an “astonishing” description of the KKK, said Mike German, a former FBI agent. The FBI launched its terrorism investigation and surveillance of Bamn after white supremacists armed with knives faced off with hundreds of counter-protesters, including Bamn activists, at a June 2016 neo-Nazi rally in Sacramento. Although numerous neo-Nazis were suspected of stabbing at least seven anti-fascists in the melee... the FBI chose to launch a inquiry into the activities of the leftwing protesters. California law enforcement subsequently worked with the neo-Nazis to identify counter-protesters, pursued charges against stabbing victims and other anti-fascists, and decided not to prosecute any men on the far-right for the stabbings. In a redacted October 2016 document, the FBI labeled its Bamn investigation a “DT [domestic terrorism] – ANARCHIST EXTREMISM” case.
Note: Why was Newsweek the only major media outlet in the U.S. to write an article on this mind-boggling story? The article states, "Yvette Felarca, a Berkeley teacher and member of BAMN, was stabbed at the rally. Felcara has now been charged with assault and rioting. Police also wanted to bring six charges against Cedric O’Bannon, an independent journalist at the rally who was stabbed by a pole while filming." For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing news articles on intelligence agency corruption from reliable major media sources.
Until very recently, the entire Congress has remained mostly silent on the human rights nightmare that has unfolded in the occupied territories. Our elected representatives, who operate in a political environment where Israel's political lobby holds well-documented power, have consistently minimized and deflected criticism of the State of Israel. Many civil rights activists and organizations have remained silent as well ... because they fear loss of funding from foundations, and false charges of anti-Semitism. They worry ... that their important social justice work will be compromised or discredited by smear campaigns. Many students are fearful of expressing support for Palestinian rights because of the [blacklisting of] those who publicly dare to support boycotts against Israel, jeopardizing their employment prospects and future careers. We must condemn Israel’s ... unrelenting violations of international law, continued occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, home demolitions and land confiscations. We must cry out at the treatment of Palestinians at checkpoints, the routine searches of their homes and restrictions on their movements, and the severely limited access to decent housing, schools, food, hospitals and water. We ought to question ... the $38 billion the U.S. government has pledged in military support to Israel. And finally, we must, with as much courage and conviction as we can muster, speak out against the system of legal discrimination that exists inside Israel ... ignoring the rights of the Arab minority that makes up 21 percent of the population.
Note: With a population of less than 9 million, when you divide $38 billion by 9 million, you find that the U.S. provides the equivalent $400 in military support for every citizen of Israel, many times more than support to any other country in the world. Why is this?
Eight humanitarian volunteers who help migrants survive desert treks have been charged with federal crimes, prompting fears of an escalating crackdown by the Trump administration. The volunteers, all members of the Arizona-based group No More Deaths, appeared in court on Tuesday charged with a variety of offences including driving in a wilderness area, entering a wildlife refuge without a permit and abandoning property – the latter an apparent reference to leaving water, food and blankets on migrant trails. The charges came a week after No More Deaths, a coalition of religious and community activists, published a report accusing border patrol agents of condemning migrants to death by sabotaging water containers and other supplies. It also accused agents of harassing volunteers in the field. Hours after the report’s publication one activist, Scott Warren, 35, was arrested and charged with harboring two undocumented immigrants, a felony. No More Deaths stopped short of calling it retaliation for the report but said the timing was suspicious. Warren was among the eight who appeared in court this week. No More Deaths said the charges fit a pattern of interference in efforts to save the lives of migrants who trek for days or weeks across harsh deserts which bake by day and freeze by night. The charges relate to activities in Cabeza Prieta national wildlife refuge. Some 32 sets of human remains were found there last year.
The Trump administration has stopped cooperating with UN investigators over potential human rights violations occurring inside America, in a move that delivers a major blow to vulnerable US communities and sends a dangerous signal to authoritarian regimes around the world. Quietly and unnoticed, the state department has ceased to respond to official complaints from UN special rapporteurs, the network of independent experts who act as global watchdogs on fundamental issues such as poverty, migration, freedom of expression and justice. There has been no response to any such formal query since 7 May 2018, with at least 13 requests going unanswered. Nor has the Trump administration extended any invitation to a UN monitor to visit the US to investigate human rights inside the country since the start of Donald Trump’s term two years ago in January 2017. [This] marks a stark break with US practice going back decades. Though some areas of American public life have consistently been ruled out of bounds to UN investigators – US prisons and the detention camp on Guantánamo Bay are deemed off-limits – Washington has in general welcomed monitors into the US as part of a wider commitment to upholding international norms. Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s human rights program, said the shift gave the impression the US was no longer serious about honoring its own human rights obligations. The ripple effect around the world would be dire.
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A 36-year NSA veteran, William Binney resigned from the agency and became a whistleblower after discovering that elements of a data-monitoring program he had helped develop - nicknamed ThinThread - were being used to spy on Americans. So 2005, December, The New York Times article comes out. ... How important was it? "It touched on that real issues," [said Binney]. "The warrantless wiretapping was not really a major component of it, but it touched on the data mining, which is really, really the big issue, data mining of the metadata and content. That was really the big issue, because that's how you can monitor the entire population simultaneously, whereas the warrantless wiretaps were isolated cases. You could pick an isolated number of them and do them, whereas in the mining process, you would do the entire population." The administration [used] this article to start an aggressive whistleblowing hunt. "[On July 22, 2005] the FBI was in my house ... pointing a gun at me when I was coming out of the shower. The raid took about seven hours. At the time we didn't know that Tom Drake had gone to The Baltimore Sun," [said Binney]. "Material [Tom Drake was indicted for] was clearly marked unclassified, and all they did was draw a line through it and classified that material, and then they charged him with having classified material. It's like framing him. The judge in the court ... knew they were framing him," [said Biney].
When a judge acquitted a white St. Louis police officer in September 2017 for fatally shooting a young black man, the city’s police braced for massive protests. But St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Officer Dustin Boone wasn’t just prepared for the unrest - he was pumped. “It’s gonna get IGNORANT tonight!!” he texted on Sept. 15, 2017, the day of the verdict. “It’s gonna be a lot of fun beating the hell out of these s---heads once the sun goes down and nobody can tell us apart!!!!” Two days later, prosecutors say, that’s exactly what Boone did to one black protester. Boone, 35, and two other officers, Randy Hays, 31, and Christopher Myers, 27, threw a man to the ground and viciously kicked him and beat him with a riot baton, even though he was complying with their instructions. But the three police officers had no idea that the man was a 22-year police veteran working undercover, whom they beat so badly that he couldn’t eat and lost 20 pounds. On Thursday, a federal grand jury indicted the three officers in the assault. They also indicted the men and another officer, Bailey Colletta, 25, for the attack. Prosecutors released text messages showing the officers bragging about assaulting protesters, with Hays even noting that “going rogue does feel good.” To protest leaders, the federal charges are a welcome measure of justice — but also a sign of how far St. Louis still has to go.
Note: If the man beaten had not been a police officer, we would never have heard about this. How often does it happen to other protestors acting peacefully? For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing news articles on police corruption and the erosion of civil liberties.
California law enforcement pursued criminal charges against eight anti-fascist activists who were stabbed or beaten at a neo-Nazi rally while failing to prosecute anyone for the knife attacks against them. In addition to the decision not to charge white supremacists or others for stabbings at a far-right rally that left people with critical wounds, police also investigated 100 anti-fascist counter-protesters, recommending more than 500 total criminal charges against them, according to court filings. Meanwhile, for men investigated on the neo-Nazi side of a June 2016 brawl ... police recommended only five mostly minor charges. The documents have raised fresh questions about California police agencies’ handling of rightwing violence and extremism, renewing accusations that law enforcement officials have shielded neo-Nazis from prosecution while aggressively pursuing demonstrators with leftwing and anti-racist political views. The Guardian previously interviewed two victims who were injured, then pursued by police – Cedric O’Bannon, a black journalist and stabbing victim who ultimately was not charged, and Yvette Felarca, a well-known Berkeley activist whose case is moving forward. Previous records also revealed that police had worked with the neo-Nazi groups to target the anti-racist activists. The records disclosed this week provided new details about six other stabbing and beating victims who were treated as suspects by police after the rally ... which was organized by a neo-Nazi group.
Human rights activists in Colombia say they are being gunned down by hitmen who can be hired for as little as $100, a top United Nations official said on Monday. A peace deal in Colombia signed two years ago that ended the nation’s half-century civil war has led to a 40 percent decline in the overall murder rate, but killings of activists have risen, Michel Forst, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights defenders said. According to a July report by British-based campaign group, Global Witness, nearly four land and environmental activists were killed each week last year, in the deadliest year on record, with Latin America faring the worst. “In rural areas ... men and women (human rights) defenders are an easy target for those who see in them or in their human rights agenda an obstacle to their interests,” Forst said in a statement after a 10-day visit to Colombia. Activists working on human rights and land rights, those defending LGBT+ rights and community leaders from Afro-Colombian and indigenous groups, are most at risk, Forst said. “I was really appalled by what I heard from them,” Forst, who met with more than 200 activists across Colombia, told reporters in the capital Bogota. Forst noted that just during his 10-day official visit, four activists had been murdered. Forst said he was also concerned to hear testimonies from Afro-Colombian activists who claimed attacks on them may have directly or indirectly involved foreign companies operating in Colombia, mainly those from the extractive sector.
Note: Read a 2017 New York Times article describing the involvement of high level state agents and corporate executives in the assassination of Honduran activist Berta Cáceres. For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing news articles on corruption in government and in the corporate world.
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