February Human Rights News Roundup

human rights newsYesterday, we wrote letters to the editor to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch regarding VAWA and getting the comprehensive version passed by the House, not a version that fails to include LGBT and Native American women. Perhaps next month, one of our letters will appear in the human rights news roundup. Perhaps next month, we’ll have good news regarding the Reggie Clemons case. However, these things take time, so in the meantime, here are some of the biggest and more important human rights news stories for the month:

Five Human Rights Stories You Probably Didn’t Know About – Amnesty International – We can’t cover them all, which is why articles like this every now and then are so valuable. Yes, we have to pick and choose what we specialize in and where we focus our efforts, but the doesn’t mean everything else should be ignored. In the case of one of these stories (Bolivia), it’s not necessarily a matter of preventing human rights but of carrying out justice to those who suffered violations.

The Truth About Women and Chocolate – Oxfam International – Oxfam has started this really awesome campaign on food and beverage companies; getting them to commit to strong sustainability and social responsibility companies. Food and human rights is a very interesting topic, as is corporate responsibility and accountability, and Oxfam is taking both of those things by the horns. This article is just a snippet of the content and actions they have about the things we eat and where they come from.

One Year Later, Raising Our Voices for Pussy Riot – Human Rights Now Blog – Can you believe that its been one year since Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot performed their song in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral? In that year, we’ve been able to get one of the three members released, but we’re still working hard to get Nadezhda “Nadya” Tolokonnikova and Maria “Masha” Alyokhina released as well. And, we’re not stopping until the two of them are free as well.

Same-Sex Marriage Ban Challenge Tossed by Australia Judge – Bloomberg – I’m actually surprised to hear that Australia has a national ban on same-sex marriage. I would have thought Australia would be more progressive on these types of issues. However, it could just seem that way since the U.S. is always portrayed as conservative on many human rights issues and benefits, such as maternity leave, the death penalty, and international treaties.

Obama Urged to Back Tough Arms Trade Treaty at U.N Talks – We’re still working on that arms trade treaty, and UN negotiations take place next month. We really want a tough treaty in place, one that will close loopholes and make it harder for governments to violate the human rights of their people and for others to cause enormous human suffering. Right now, there are more regulations for the international trade of bananas and dinosaur bones than there are for guns. This needs to change, and Obama has the power to change this.

Georgia Rushes Through Executions Before Lethal Injection Drugs Expire – The Guardian – Are we really surprised here? The state might still actually execute Warren Hill, despite being a mentally disabled man. But, isn’t it weird and abhorrent that a state is rushing to kill people because the drugs are going to be no good in a few days? It’s also crazy the Georgia was exposed in 2011 for acquiring lethal injection drugs through an unlicensed company that operated out of a driving school in west London. Isn’t it cruel and unusual punishment if the means to inflict that punishment were obtained through less than legitimate ways? Well, it should be.

Come to Tomorrow’s Letter Writing Meeting!

letter writing meetingTomorrow, like every fourth Tuesday of the month, is our monthly letter writing meeting. Same time and place, so please come if you can! You shouldn’t have any more snow and ice to worry about, so there shouldn’t be any excuses or cancellations.

We’ll provide you with the urgent actions, the writing supplies, and postage that you need to write these letters and to get them sent. All you need to provide is your wonderful self, and a few dollars to pitch in for postage costs, plus extra money if you wish to purchase food or coffee. That’s pretty much it. That’s not too hard, right?

VAWA Update

We mentioned last week that VAWA could come up for a vote in the House some time next week. Not only is this true, but the version that will be coming up for a vote will be one that doesn’t include provisions for LGBT women, and strips down the protections for Native American women. This is unacceptable, and the big reason why VAWA expired last year. We need Congress to come together on one version of VAWA and one that includes provisions and protections for LGBT and Native American women. Therefore, as part of our letter writing meeting this week, we will be writing Letters to the Editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as part of our meeting. If you’re tired of writing letters to foreign governments, or want to write on a domestic issue for a change, then this meeting is your chance to do so. Please come if you can.

As always, the meeting is from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Hartford Coffee Company. Hartford Coffee Company is located on the corner of Hartford and Roger. See you tomorrow!

House Could Take Up VAWA Next Week

vawa actionTake Action Now!

We welcomed the news a week or two ago when the Senate passed a version of the Violence Against Women Act that we were proud of! Now, it’s possible for the House to vote on their version of the bill as early as next week, so it’s crucial that action is taken today to ensure that this bill passes. We don’t want VAWA to fall through the cracks again!

ACTION:

The bill presently has 181 co-sponsors, including Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) and Lacy Clay (D-MO). No one from the Kansas delegation has signed on as a co-sponsor at this time. We would like to add as many co-sponsors as possible. Therefore we are now asking everyone to contact their member in the House and ask them to become a co-sponsor of the one true VAWA, H.R. 11. (It is important to specifically reference the bill number, HR 11, as there are several versions of VAWA in circulation.)

SCRIPT:

Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your representative’s office. Once connected, ask to speak to the staff member handling the Violence Against Women Act. Tell the staff member the following:
1) I am a constituent in ________ and my name is____________
2) I urge Congressman/Congresswoman ____________ to co-sponsor HR 11, a strong, bipartisan bill that would re-authorize the Violence Against Women Act and I ask that he/she oppose any weakening, harmful, or non-germane amendments.
3) Thank you and I look forward to hearing that the Congressman/Congresswoman is a co-sponsor and supporter.

Death Penalty News Roundup

death penalty abolitionWe don’t typically do a news roundup in the middle of the month, but there’s been a lot of movement regarding death penalty in this country, so we want to keep everyone aware with what’s happening. The latest is that both Montana and Maryland have death penalty abolition bills coming to a vote tomorrow (which we have additional information on below), so this is especially huge now. What else is going on? Find out in the articles below:

Anti-death Penalty Bill Revived: Group to Call for Life in Prison Without Parole Instead – Great Falls Tribune – This is about the bill in Montana, which you would think would have not chance in such a red state. However, this bill has strong bipartisan support and co-sponsors are hoping that will be enough to get this through, as similar bills have failed in 2009 and 2011 in the House Judiciary Committee.

Georgia Will Execute an Intellectually Disabled Man Next Week Unless the Supreme Court Intervenes – ThinkProgress – How can the state do this, when the Supreme Court has ruled that executing a mentally challenged individual is unconstitutional because it counts as cruel and unusual punishment? Georgia gets around the eight amendment by establishing a “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard for proving mental disability, which is an incredibly difficult standard to meet when it comes to something like mental capability. Federal law also leaves it up to the states to determine how to meet the constitutional restriction, so Georgia can actually still execute the mentally impaired based on its state statutes. Keep in mind that this is happening in the same state that executed Troy Davis almost two years ago. He also could only have only been saved by a Supreme Court intervention.

Ex-Virginia Executioner Becomes Opponent of Death Penalty – Washington Post – This is a very powerful story, since its folks like Jerry Givens (the former executioner) that can change minds on the death penalty. It’s easy to be against it if you’re not part of the system, or if you’ve never had a friend or family member murdered. It’s a lot tougher when you have something at take when the death penalty is legal.

The Death Penalty is Not What it Used to Be – Washington Times – This is a great opinion piece on how the death penalty has evolved in our country. It started as a public spectacle with the gallows, and now lethal injection is the only acceptable form of death penalty, and it might not remain that way for long considering the drug shortages. Changes in science have also made it easier to exonerate, and has added extra layers as to the sort of evidence that counts for “beyond reasonable doubt.”

Why Showing Up for Death Penalty Reveal Matters – Amnesty International Blog – Support for the death penalty is waning, and it’s because of grassroots efforts that it is waning. it’s up to us and others around the country to keep up the pressure, and to show that people do not want to the death penalty in this country. We really want Maryland and Montana to become the 18th and 19th states to abolish the death penalty, and for more states to follow their lead.

Senate OKs Violence Against Women Act – Politico – Okay, this one has nothing to do with the death penalty, but the story broke as I was writing this article and its about a piece of legislation that we’ve been working on for a little while. VAWA has made it through the Senate, and with the provisions we wanted! This is excellent news, and in the coming days we’ll post information on how to urge the House to do the same.

Meeting Tomorrow at Mokabe’s!

amnesty general meetingFor tomorrow’s business meeting, we will be meeting at Mokabe’s instead of Hartford. The reason is that the bulk of our meeting will be a presentation from Emily on LGBT rights. Since Mokabe’s is a very gay-friendly coffeehouse, we thought it would be a fitting location for this meeting. The meeting is still from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m, and is only about two blocks from Hartford on the corner of Grand and Arsenal.

Besides the presentation, we will also be discussing the upcoming Annual General Meeting in Washington DC, which is about a month away. This will be an incredibly valuable and important meeting to attend, so please do so if you can. We also understand that tomorrow is the State of the Union, Mardi Gras, and Lincoln’s birthday rolled into one, so if you don’t have any plans to do any of these three things, please attend our meeting.

Once again, we want to note the location change. Tomorrow’s meeting (and tomorrow’s only) will be at Mokabe’s on the corner of Grand and Arsenal. It will not be at Hartford. We will return to Hartford for our letter writing meeting later this month. The meeting is still from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Event Next Month Featuring Charlie King and Karen Brandow

charlie king and karen brandowIf you’re looking for a cool concert to attend, and one that will be part of a good cause, then  consider American folk singers Charlie King and Karen Brandow in concert! This event isn’t sponsored by Amnesty International, but by the Peace Economy Project, a potential partner of our chapter on the global arms race treaty. PEP is hosting this awesome fundraiser on Saturday, March 2 at Nerinx Hall in Webster Groves. It runs from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and includes a silent auction!

Charlie King has been at the heart of American folk music for half a century. His songs have been sung by Pete Seeger, Holly Near, Ronnie Gilbert, John McCutcheon, Arlo Guthrie, Peggy Seeger, Chad Mitchell and Judy Small. His political musical influences are the folk music revival of the 1960’s, and the protest songs of the Civil Rights and Vietnam War era.

Karen Brandow has been performing with Charlie King since 1998. While doing human rights work in Guatemala from 1986-1994, Karen studied voice, performance and classical guitar. There she broadened her repertoire to include Latin American music of the “Nueva Canción” or New Song Movement. She performs in English and Spanish.

Please come if you love folk music and/or helping out great causes! Here are the ticket prices (to get the $18 price, you need to purchase the tickets through the PEP website. Links are above).

Individual Tickets: $18 in advance, $20 at the door
Family/Friend Pack: $40 for 4, Bring the kids!
Students: $10 with student I.D.

We’re Almost There with VAWA!

women's rights actionThe U.S voted by a wide margin, 85-8, to reauthorize VAWA yesterday for another five years! The House is expected to do the same within the next few days! This is great news considering last year’s debacle of failing to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, and the fact that this bill has the additional provisions to protect LGBTQ women, and Native American/Alaskan native women from violence.

If you called your Senators over the past several days, then thank you very much for your hard work and effort. Without those calls, we wouldn’t have been able to put the pressure necessary on our officials to reauthorize VAWA and to let them know this is a very important issue to us. If you didn’t call, or would like to continue call representatives on this issue, then now is the time to call our members of the House and to voice our opinion. Here’s the list of our House members and their contact information. If you need some help in figuring out what to say, then check out our VAWA push on our Senators for advice.

Below is a cool infographic that illustrates why VAWA is badly needed in this country. Thought it was a great summary of the relevant statistics:

VAWA infographic

Use Your Power Next Month at the AGM

agm 2013It’s Annual General Meeting time again! This year’s Amnesty International conference will be held at The Hyatt Regency Bethesda near Washington, D.C. from Friday, March 22nd to Sunday, March 24th (note that the location has switched from the American University School of Law)! This year’s conference theme is Use Your Power, emphasizing how individuals can use their power to effect change in the world. Our chapter is planning on attending, so if you’d like to come with us or meet us there, then register today! Spaces are limited this year, so register early.

We don’t yet have a full agenda for the conference (we will post it once we know) but this year’s AGM is still going to be an exciting one. Don’t miss out on an amazing lineup of human rights defenders, organizers, and change makers during our conference sessions which address crucial human rights issues — such as discrimination against women as drivers of the MENA uprisings, the disappearance of trans-migrants in Mexico, the barriers preventing LGBT persons to access justice in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the role of the U.S. government in protecting human rights at home and abroad.

Congressman Jim McGovern, filmmaker Carlos Lascano, performer Luis Saldana and band members of Sins of the Loose Buttons are among our confirmed guests. You’ll also be given the opportunity to Use Your Power during a rally action for the Arm’s Trade Treaty, so if you haven’t been to an Amnesty conference before, or even in a while, this one is a must-attend. The AGM is one of the biggest events of the year for the chapter and for the organization, so make sure to register today or to let us know your interest in attending. Hope to see you there!

VAWA Has New Life!

VAWAThe Violence Against Women Act (S. 47) has reached 60 co-sponsors in the U.S. Senate, including recent co-sponsor Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS). It is likely to be voted on in the coming week, so now is the time to take action to ensure that it is reauthorized, and reauthorized with the additional provisions to protect immigrant women, the LGBT community, and Native and Alaskan women.

ACTION ITEM ONE:

Continue to reach out to Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO).
Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. When you are connected to your Senator’s office, ask to speak to the staff person who handles VAWA. Tell that staffer the following:
1). I am a constituent from ________ and my name is ____________.
2). I urge Senator __________ to co-sponsor S. 47, a bipartisan bill that would reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, and to oppose weakening, harmful, or non-germane amendments. The bill could come to the floor of the Senate in a matter of days.
3). Thank you and I look forward to hearing that the Senator is a co-sponsor.

ACTION ITEM TWO:

We want to be sure to thank Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) and. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) for becoming co-sponsors.
Writing letters and/or calling the Senator’s office to thank them are both great ways to show your appreciation.
Also consider more public methods such as leaving a thank you message on the Senator’s Facebook page or sending them a thank you message on Twitter.
Also consider writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper thanking your Senator for supporting VAWA and outlining the reasons why this legislation is so important.

Why is an inclusive VAWA so important?

  • Native American and Alaska Native women are more than 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other women in the USA and yet they are rarely able to access justice.
  • Immigrant women often face higher rates of sexual harassment and of battering than other women, yet are less able to report these crimes due to their legal status, isolation and other factors.
  • LGBT survivors of domestic violence often face discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity when attempting to access services.