March Human Rights News Roundup

human rights newsIt’s Good Friday! At this point, Facebook has turned red in honor of LGBT rights and the Supreme Court case challenging DOMA right now. As marriage equality gets its week in the spotlight, we can’t forget the other human rights issues and events happening this week and that happened this month. And, we must say, that for a Good Friday, it’s actually been a pretty good month when it comes to human rights:

Delaware Senate narrowly approves bill repealing death penalty; measure now goes to House – Washington Post – Although this victory is a small one, it’s a step in the right direction. It’s unknown whether Delaware will go through with repeal all the way to the governor, but with one more state taking action, it’ll only be a matter of time before Delaware does repeal and for other states to do the same.

Malala First to Sign New Petition Calling for Protection of Teachers and Girls Who Want to Go to School – Huffington Post – Ever wondered what happened to Malala, the 14-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot for her work promoting women’s education? Well, not only did she recover from her wounds, be she is now first person (her father is the second) to sign a UN envoy petition calling on the Pakistani government to ensure the safety and security of teachers and girls who want to go to school. The petition started this week following the assassination of Shahnaz Nazli. Shahnaz, a 41-year-old Pakistani woman, was shot on her way to work at a girls’ school in Jamrud.

Buyers, Beware: UN Arms Trade Treaty will Regular Gun Ownership in the United States – Fox News – Not only did this article come out yesterday, but it IS ABSOLUTELY NOT TRUE. The UN Arms Trade Treaty will NOT regulate individual gun ownership in the United States. We repeat, this treaty will have no bearing on the Second Amendment or domestic gun ownership. The treaty reaffirms that countries have the responsibility to regulate and to control transfers of weapons that take place exclusively within its territory. The treaty will only affect trades and transfers between countries and their governments. This article in the Huffington Post does a good job outlining what’s true and not true regarding the Arms Trade Treaty.

8: A Play About the Fight for Marriage Equality – Okay, we couldn’t go this whole article without mentioning something about marriage equality. After all, it’s a monumental moment in human rights and legalizing gay marriage will be huge for the LGBT movement. Therefore, if you have 90 minutes to spare, you should watch this play about the U.S. District Court case in 2010 to overturn Proposition 8. It features an all-star cast including George Clooney, Kevin Bacon, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Martin Sheen, so if anything, you should watch the play because it’ll be downright good theater.

Drones and Lethal Force: The Issue and the Action

armed drones and lethal force

Source: The Guardian

With VAWA passed and on the books, and our wait continuing with the Reggie Clemons case, our chapter is beginning to focus on other issues. This includes the Arms Trade Treaty, torture, indefinite detention, and armed drones. Over the next few days, we will cover Amnesty International’s stance on these issues and its recommended actions. Today, we will cover drones and lethal force and what we have planned to address the issue.

The Issue with Drones and Lethal Force

Although there may be lawful aspects to the current administration’s use of armed drones, such as their use int he context of armed conflicts, the policy appears to allow extrajudicial executions that would be outside of armed conflict and any criminal proceedings. The latter would be a violation of human rights law, but one we aren’t sure about since details of this program remain secret.

Amnesty International is concerned about the use of armed drones and lethal force for two main reasons. First, their legality is somewhat based on the concept of the global war on terror, which treats the entire world as a battleground and everyone who could be a victim of a drone strike as an enemy combatant. Second, their use is based on the idea of “guilty until proven innocent”, and that this is an act of self-defense so we are justified in their use despite a lack of evidence of hostilities or the imminence of hostilities. These stances weaken the United States’ position on human rights, and threatens the fundamental human right to life.

The Action

What is our chapter doing about this? Well, we are partnering with the Peace Economy Project and Instead of War to do two days of action in April. The first day of action, April 12 (also the National Day of Action on armed drones), will be a lobbying effort at Sen. Claire McCaskill’s office. Although there isn’t currently legislation regarding the use of drones, we’d like to urge McCaskill to hold a public hearing on the administration’s use of armed drones and lethal force, and to ensure that any legislation that does come up meets the US government’s obligations under international human rights law and doesn’t discriminate based on citizenship. Representatives from those three organization, plus others who are interested in joining our cause, will meet with the Senator or an aide to discuss the issue.

Our second day of action, which will take place at 1 p.m. on April 13 (place to be determined), will involve a demonstration to build awareness about the use of armed drones and lethal force, and what the government ought to do about this. Armed drones are currently a controversial topic primarily because of the possible impact they could have on US citizens. However, what about the unintended victims of these strikes that aren’t US citizens? What about their right to life? What about the fact that this policy could violate international law? These are questions that aren’t being asked that do need to be asked. We will do that less than a month from now. We want our administration to consider their human rights obligations when crafting and executing US policies and practices.

Stay tuned for further information on these events! We will certainly let you know about them when it gets closer to April 12 and 13. In the meantime, if interested in joining us or helping us on this issue in any way, please contact us at amnestystl (at) gmail (dot) com.

3 Recent Human Rights Issues in Africa

human rights issues in AfricaWhen was the last time you heard about the human rights issues in Africa? Hopefully, you can say right now with this article! We’ve done our best to cover these issues, and provide pertinent statistics. However, even with human rights violations s prevalent as they are on the continent, it’s every difficult to find facts, figures, and demographics. Here are three recent human rights issues in Africa:

  1. Gender-based Violence – Gender-based violence is a whole host of actions, including  physical, sexual and psychological violence such as domestic violence; sexual abuse, including rape and sexual abuse of children by family members; forced pregnancy; sexual slavery; traditional practices harmful to women, such as honor killings, burning or acid throwing, female genital circumcision, dowry-related violence; violence in armed conflict, such as murder and rape; and emotional abuse, such as coercion and abusive language. Trafficking of women and girls for prostitution, forced marriage, sexual harassment and intimidation at work are additional examples of violence against women. All examples of gender-based violence are present in Africa, and in most cases is a result of cultural norms and genders. Sometimes, there are laws that exist but aren’t enforced. Other times, there aren’t any laws against some or all of these acts and there might even be laws encouraging these actions.
  2. EducationPrimary school enrollment in African countries is among the lowest in the world, and there are a variety of reasons for this. Getting an education is incredibly tough for girls in Africa, and sometimes tough for boys as well. Poorer families can’t afford the schooling and don’t finish, while girls may be pressured to leave early to get married or are forced to drop out because of violence, or because a male sibling is going to get priority. Sometimes, resources just aren’t there. There is an average of 40 pupils per teacher in sub-Saharan Africa, but the situation varies considerably from country to country. In many countries, it is more than 60 to one. The continent also loses an estimated 20,000 skilled personnel a year to developed countries.
  3. Maternal Mortality – Maternal mortality is the weakest in Africa, as over half the women who die everyday during childbirth live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Many don’t have access to the care they need to ensure a healthy pregnancy and labor, or don’t receive the right care. Gender-based violence also contributes to this problem, where female genital mutilation makes it harder for women to give birth, and younger brides increase the chance for premature births and complicated labor. Rape and incest victims also receive a lot of stigma and discrimination, making it harder for them to get care. However, there is good news. Between 1990 and 2008, maternal mortality decreased by 26% in the region.

Something important to keep in mind when it comes to these specific human rights issues in Africa is that they are interrelated. Gender-based violence profoundly affects the education of girls, while increased education leads to increased economic empowerment and a decrease in maternal mortality. Improving any one of these issues also fixes human rights issues that weren’t thoroughly discussed, such as poverty, food security, and political repression. Although many human rights activists and non-profit organizations may focus on one or two issues, working on one issue does make a difference on the others.

Related Links:

Take Action Now: Protecting Civilians in Sudan

9 Cool TED Talks about Human Rights

Write for Rights: People of Bodo

Tomorrow’s Meeting to Discuss the Arms Trade Treaty

arms trade treatyIf you have yet to attend an Amnesty business meeting this year, then this is the meeting to attend. Tomorrow will be an action-packed meeting where we will not only plan events and actions, but we will also figure out what issues we’d like to focus on for the rest of 2013. Please attend if you have ideas or you want your say included.

The first half of the meeting will be a legislative update from our Legislative Coordinator Kevin Ellison. Afterward, we will transition to talking about the Arms Trade Treaty.  Please be prepared with ideas on awareness events and other actions we can take around the proposed Arms Trade Treaty.
We will have guests joining us to talk about actions we can take around the Arms Trade Treaty. We will have two representatives from the Peace Economy Project, along with members from the Instead of War Coalition.  They will be partnering with us on this issue to build awareness in St. Louis.

From March 18 – 28, world leaders will convene to negotiate the first ever treaty that will help prevent keep weapons out of the hands of human rights abusers, such as armed groups and government forces that put children into combat. We will be part of this to ensure that President Obama will be involved in putting together a treaty that will help prevent more children recruited as soldiers, more women raped in conflict zones, more mass displacement, and more senseless deaths. And a treaty that, despite NRA lies, will have no impact on gun rights in the US.

As always, our business meeting is from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Hartford Coffee Company. We will be meeting in the back study area, passed the children’s room and through the door. We hope to see you there, as our chapter will make a big difference this year!

Amnesty International Petitions Going on Right Now

amnesty international petitionsBelieve it or not, petitions are a great way to build awareness for human rights issues and to put pressure on powerful people to do something. Petitions do not threaten your identity or put you on a government list. It’s merely about having your say. Want to take action online, or perhaps find a petition for a petition drive your hosting? Try one of these Amnesty International petitions, all of which are going on right now:

Petitions to Print

Individuals at Risk – There are plenty of those across the world, and individuals at risk was the very first mission of Amnesty International. There’s a wide array of petitions to choose from, but below are some cases that our chapter has personally worked on. These particular cases are ones that our chapter, and the larger organization, have worked on for a very long time:

Death Penalty Petitions – If this is an issue for your chapter, then Amnesty has three petitions for your to consider: Reggie Clemons, Scott Panetti, and Romell Broom. Clemons is a St. Louis case, so we are partial to that one. However, all three need our help as the face the injustices of capital punishment.

Maternal Health – Although there isn’t specific legislation or people with this petition, Amnesty does have one to urge members of Congress to support mothers and to do something to stop maternal mortality both home and abroad. This is a good one to use if you need a petition that’s a bit more general and could garner broader support, or if you and/or your chapter are focusing on women’s rights and maternal health.

Online Petitions

Take Action to Prevent Unlawful Drone Killings – Drones are a hot button issue right now, so don’t miss your chance to sign this petition and to share it with others. By signing this petition, you let members of your government know that you don’t like these “targeted killings” and that they violate the right to life under international law. Even if you don’t like them for other reasons, if you want these drone killings to stop, then this is the petition for you.

Make Maryland the Next State to End the Death Penalty – We are so close on this one! The legislation to abolish the death penalty in the state has passed the State House and Senate, and just needs to be signed by the governor. We want Maryland to become the 18th state to do this! Signing this petition will encourage the governor to take swift action on this issue, to keep the pressure on both for death penalty abolition and for funding for victims’ families.

Justice for Indigenous Women Ines Fernandez Ortega & Valentina Rosendo – This is the only current online petition that’s focused on a foreign country, but it deserves our attention nonetheless. Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú, both Me’phaa Indigenous women, were raped by Mexican soldiers in 2002. Both women were brave enough to report their attacks, despite the economic and social barriers that often deter Indigenous women from seeking redress through the courts. Still, no one has been brought to justice. In August 2010 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the Mexican state to investigate the human rights violations against Inés and Valentina, bring those responsible to justice, provide reparations and take steps to ensure that similar violations are not repeated in the future. This petition is to pressure the Mexican Government to fully carry out this ruling.

Keep Weapons Out of the Hands of Human Rights Abusers – This is one of the most crucial online petitions going on right now. From March 18 – 28, world leaders will convene to negotiate the first ever treaty that will help prevent keep weapons out of the hands of human rights abusers, such as armed groups and government forces that put children into combat. We want to urge President Obama to support a robust Arms Trade Treaty, and not to listen to the lies of the NRA and others who claim such a treaty will restrict the second amendment rights of U.S citizens. That’s simply not true, unless they plan to commit human rights abuses with those weapons.

How to Start an Amnesty International Chapter

starting an Amnesty International chapterGreat! You’ve decided that you want to get involved with Amnesty International, that you want to do more than write letters and sign online petitions. You’ve also figured out that there isn’t an active Amnesty chapter in your area, and you want to take the initiative and to start one in your town (or revive a dead chapter). It’s not easy to start an Amnesty International chapter from scratch, but it’s not impossible either. Here’s how to get one started:

  1. Find Other Core Members – You may be starting the chapter as one person, but one person doesn’t make a chapter. Find between three and five others who are interested in making this work with you.
  2. Decide on the Issues – Once you have your core members, you then need to figure out what sort of activism your chapter will do and which issues you wish to take on. The issues could depend on what’s big in your state or area (for example, death penalty abolition is a great issue if your state still has capital punishment), what you and your core members are interested in, or maybe what Amnesty USA is currently pushing on their agenda. Of course, you don’t have to pick your issues in one meeting. Use this time to also set up a regular meeting schedule as well as to recruit additional members.
  3. Create a Plan – After deciding on the issues, you then need to create an action plan, a plan on how to build awareness on those issues and to accomplish something awesome. This could include planning your first event, writing letters, partnering with similar organizations in your area, or building a public presence with a petition drive. Of course, you’re not limited in the types of events you want to plan or how you want to get things done. Fortunately, Amnesty has a lot of activist tools to help both new and old chapters as well as resources for each of their campaigns.
  4. Get Chartered – Now that your local group has a solid foundation of members and activities, it will have the opportunity to get chartered for official AI recognition. At this time, your group will be offered the opportunity to take on an individual case, receive a local group number and a set of orientation materials to deepen and expand your activism and connect you to other groups. To get chartered, you may need to talk to a Field Organizer or Area Coordinator, which is discussed in the next step.
  5. Stay Committed – It can be easy for things to fall apart and to take a back seat, but don’t let that get you down. If you need any help along the way (or even if you don’t), then make sure to contact one of Amnesty International’s Field Organizers or Area Coordinators to see what it takes to start a local group and what they can do to help. That’s their job, so they want to know that you’re making the effort to start a chapter and to be active in human rights. To get in contact with a local organizer or Area Coordinator in your state, contact 866-A-REGION (866-273-4466).

Is Internet Access a Human Right? [Infographic]

Many of us in the United States and other industrialized nations may have begun to take Internet access for granted. However, there are still many places around the world where online access is limited, but that women don’t have as much access as men. Which begs the question: is Internet access a human right, or should it be considered one? Considering the power the web has in empowering women and men, it’s worthwhile to think about how technology has impacted human rights and what it can do to realize human rights across the globe. Below is an infographic from that illusrates the discrepancies between genders around the world, and what the Internet can do for women and their families.

internet access human right

US Abolition Day and Good News on VAWA

Reggie ClemonsIf you didn’t already know, today is US Death Penalty Abolition Day. It’s one day dedicated to bringing awareness to capital punishment, highlighting the cases of possibly innocent people on death row and the many others who’ve been exonerated from death row. To celebrate, we are changing our profile pictures on Facebook to that of Reggie Clemons, a case that our chapter and Amnesty International has worked hard on (you can use the picture in this post if you don’t have a picture of Clemons to use). As we await the results from the Special Master, we want to continuing supporting the cause and working hard toward getting Clemons released and abolishing the death penalty. However, if you want to do more than change your profile picture, then there a few options:

  • Consider contributing to the One for Ten campaign. One For Ten will be a series of short documentary films telling the stories of ten innocent people who spent an average of ten years each on death row in the USA. All of these people were locked up and facing death for crimes they did not commit. This campaign is currently on Indiegogo and is looking for funds to keep its project going.
  • Write a letter to stop a scheduled execution in your state. Here is a list of the upcoming executions around the country.
  • Catch up with the latest news with our death penalty news roundup.

Good News on VAWA!

If you haven’t already heard, the House passed a comprehensive version of the Violence Against Women Act! A big thank you to all of those who made calls, wrote letters, sent emails, and etc., as the bill passed earlier this week by a vote of 268-138. Having already passed the Senate, the bill now heads to the White House for President Obama’s signature. This bill is badly needed, and it was a shame that it actually expired several months ago. Our work makes a huge difference, both domestically and abroad, and we will continue this work on more issues throughout the year.