April Human Rights News Roundup

human rights newsIt’s that time of the month where we do our roundup of some the latest human rights news from across the web. This month is another month where most of the news focuses on the United States, which is kind of a good thing, since there’s isn’t enough discussion of human rights in the United States. Below are some of most important human rights news articles from the past month:

Rights Groups, In Letter to Obama, Question Legality and Secrecy of Drone Killings – The New York Times – Our rally a few weekends ago was perfect timing, since from then on have we seen an increase in the coverage regarding drone secrecy. The impact our rally had isn’t the point. The point is that more people are paying attention to this secrecy and what our tax dollars are going toward. This nine-page letter, of which Amnesty International was a signatory, asks the administration to “publicly disclose key targeted killing standards and criteria; ensure that U.S. lethal force operations abroad comply with international law; enable meaningful Congressional oversight and judicial review; and ensure effective investigations, tracking and response to civilian harm.”

Three Human Rights Victories You Helped Make Happen – Amnesty International Blog – Yes, our work actually makes a difference! But, as a human rights activist and a reader of this blog, you knew that already. However, it’s always great to have a reminder of what you an accomplish when it comes to protecting human rights and to changing the law. Our recent victories include abolishing the death penalty in Maryland and securing the Arms Trade Treaty.

Guantanamo Bay and Indefinite Detention: Hunger Strike Continues – Human Rights Watch – Over half of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay are participating in a hunger strike at the prison, which is in its third month and is partly started by the growing realization that some of these people may never go home. Others say the protest started in February after guards handled Korans in a disrespectful way during the search. Whatever the case may be, when you consider that more than half of the detainees were approved for transfer to their home or third countries by an Obama administration interagency task force in 2009, it’s hard to see why Guantanamo Bay needs to be open.

Still the Guy Who Taught America to Torture – The Economist – Four years after the presidency of George W. Bush, it’s getting safe to discuss what his administration’s legacy is, and what this man’s legacy is as president. Particularly regarding his policies in foreign affairs, human rights, civil liberties, and the War on Terror, his record is abysmal, putting it a little more bluntly. The article makes a great point that the positions of Bush and his administration may see centrist now, but are really right-wing, and only seem centrist because the mentalities have continued to linger since he left office.

How Do I Become an International Human Rights Lawyer – The Guardian – For anyone wanting to pursue a career in human rights, human rights law is an option, albeit a competitive one. This article discusses what it takes to be a human rights lawyer in the UK (not sure if the landscape is similar in the US). Hint: learn a language and volunteer to do similar work to build experience.

Related Links:

The President & Human Rights

How Does Amnesty International Ensure its Impartiality?

Torture & Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Death Penalty in California [Infographic]

One of the best arguments, especially in today’s economy and fiscal status, against the death penalty is that it’s incredibly expensive. A death row inmate is more expensive, per year, than an inmate sentenced to life in prison. Capital punishment is also costly because it takes a long time to execute somebody (the average wait in California is 25 years), which increases the cost of the actual execution. Not to mention that 141 people have been exonerated from death row in the United States.

A big thanks to Terry Lenamon and his death penalty blog, where we originally found the infographic! Credit to the California Innocence Project for actually creating it.

California death penalty

The President & Human Rights

President Barack ObamaPresident Barack Obama is a Nobel Peace Prize winner and just won his second term as president. As just about everything else in his record, his presidency, and his personal life has been and will be evaluated, his efforts to promote human rights should be evaluated as well. President Obama has made many campaign promises regarding human rights, and has done some things outside of those promises that have also impacted human rights. Overall, he’s done well, but could do more. As best we can, here’s our evaluation of President Barack Obama and what he’s done (and what he hasn’t done) for human rights:

Where He’s Succeeded

  • 2013 State of the Union – The president did a great job addressing human rights issues, primarily women’s rights and VAWA, during the 2013 State of the Union address. Although he didn’t make too many promises regarding human rights, it was refreshing to see the topic to have some spotlight in the address.
  • Arms Trade Treaty – We are glad that Obama was instrumental in getting this through and didn’t listen to the NRA. Such a treaty was badly needed to regulate the flow of arms across the world, especially into the hands of human rights abusers and governments that do not protect human rights.
  • Trip to Southeast Asia – Obama’s trip at the end of 2012 to Cambodia, Burma, and Thailand did include discussion and pressure to improve the human rights conditions in those countries. He praised Aung San Suu Kyi while being careful not to endorse the Burmese government.

Where He Needs Work

  • Closing Guantanamo – Need more be said? He still hasn’t done this despite the egregious human rights violations taking place.
  • The National Defense Authorization Act – Related to Guantanamo, the NDAA (signed by Obama) allows the US military to capture American citizens and foreigners abroad or inside the country and detain them without any trial, all in the name of war on Terror. Some are worried that this act would also give future presidents the power to detain people for life without any trial or charge.
  • Immigration Reform – Not much has happened on this front, and despite numerous promises from this administration, Barack Obama has deported 1.4 million undocumented immigrants in his first term, 1.5 times faster than President George W. Bush.

Proclamation for Human Rights

On Human Rights Day in 2012, the president proclaimed the following words below. We must continue to work and to hold each other accountable, including Barack Obama, to what we are doing to uphold human rights and to ensure that promise of freedom and fairness.

The United States was built on the promise that freedom and fairness are not endowed only to some — they are the birthright of all. Ordinary Americans have fought to fully realize that vision for more than two centuries, courageously forging a democracy that empowers each of us equally and affords every citizen due process under the law. Just as we have cultivated these rights here at home, so have we worked to promote them abroad. Societies across the globe are reaching toward a future where leaders are fairly and duly elected; where everyone can get an education and make a good living; where women and girls are free from violence, as well as free to pursue the same opportunities as men and boys; and where the voice of the people rings clear and true. As they do, the United States stands with them, ready to uphold the basic decency and human rights that underlie everything we have achieved and all our progress yet to come.

Related Links:

Indefinite Detentions, Military Commissions, and Guantanamo

Human Rights 101: What You Need to Know

Torture & Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Further Actions for Women’s Rights

Half the SkyWe had a successful showing over the weekend of the “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” documentary. We didn’t end up watching the entire film because not everyone made it to the showing, people needed to leave part of the way through, and people needed a break from the intensity of the content. So, if you didn’t get a chance to watch the documentary, you still have time to catch up! We are planning a second showing within the next month, so pay attention for details. In the meantime, you can watch the movie on your end through Netflix, through iTunes, or by renting/purchasing the DVD. We ask that if you do watch the movie on your own, that you watch all the way until the last section, which is Kenya and economic empowerment. This is where we stopped over the weekend, and we hope to all finish the movie at the same time so we can discuss the film together.

Women’s Rights Actions You Can Take Today

If you’ve already seen the movie, or have caught up with us, than below are some women’s rights actions you can take today. If you are not compelled by what you’ve seen to do something about it, even something small, (don’t worry, we plan to take action as a group by fundraising. How we are fundraising, when, and for whom, all still need to be determined), then why are you reading this blog and have any interest in human rights? Below are a few things you can do today:

Live Below the Line

Live Below the Line is a five-day challenge, starting on April 29, to live on $1.50 per day (the US equivalent of the poverty line). From now until May 31, participants can raise money for one of several organizations to build awareness of extreme poverty and to help groups that are trying to make a difference. One of the organizations you can help is the Somaly Mam Foundation, which was featured in the documentary. If you don’t already know, SMF works to end sex slavery in Cambodia by rescuing girls from the brothels and rehabilitating them for a new life.

Or, you can sponsor one of our members, who is already participating in the Live Below the Line Campaign and is raising money for SMF.

Set Up a Kiva Account

Kiva.org is a crowd-sourced, micro-lending site where for just $25, you can help someone on the other side of the world start a business or keep their business going. Over time, the person repays the loan and you get your money back.Twenty-five dollars may not seem like a lot, and it’s not, but your money is combined with the contributions of others to fulfill the amount the entrepreneur needs. With just $25 dollars that I deposited over four years ago, I’ve been able to fund a grocery store in Tajikistan, a woman’s clothing store in Ukraine, a freelance agricultural excavator in Lebanon, and a men’s clothing store in Tajikistan. Currently, my money is loaned to a food stall in Kenya. Although Kiva was not mentioned in the film, it’s economic empowerment like this that can transform the life of a woman, her family, and her community.

Talk to Others about the Book and the Movie

If you believe that women’s rights are the moral challenge of the 21st century, as both the book and the movie claim, then hopefully you’ll want others to know what you now know. Share the book with others! Tell them about what you read, and take the time to learn more by researching these topics and the organizations involved! Half the Sky is even looking for community ambassadors and campus ambassadors to help spread the word, so if this is something you are passionate about, then apply!

Other than that, watch the movie, and do something to overcome this moral challenge!

Why I-VAWA is the Next Step in Stopping Violence Against Women

VAWAA few months ago, we celebrated a victory of getting VAWA re-enacted! This was huge because the legislation had expired a few months before that, and this new violence against women act included provisions to protect LGBT women and Native American/Alaskan women better. However, we know that violence against women hasn’t stopped, so the next step for us as Amnesty International is to get the International Violence Against Women Act passed through Congress. At least one in every three women globally are beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Passing I-VAWA can make even more of a difference for these women.

What’s the International Violence Against Women Act?

The International Violence Against Women Act is very similar to VAWA, except that it is legislation designed to address violence against women through foreign policy. It was first introduced in the 110th United States Congress, and once more in the 111th, but it has never made it to the floor for a vote. This legislation would not exist without the help of Amnesty International and other concerned organizations, so it’s important that we see that it passes.

What Could I-VAWA Do?

I-VAWA essentially makes ending the violence against women and girls a diplomatic priority and implements a strategy to reduce this violence in five countries where it is severe. Besides that, I-VAWA will also:
  • Address violence against women and girls comprehensively, by supporting health, legal, economic, social, and humanitarian assistance sectors and incorporating violence prevention and response best practices into such programs.
  • Alleviate poverty and increase the cost effectiveness of foreign assistance by investing in women.
  • Strengthen security by reducing social tensions.
  • Support survivors, hold perpetrators accountable, and prevent violence.
  • Implement the U.S Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence to combat violence against women in five select countries which have a high incidence of violence against women.
  • Permanently authorize the Office of Global Women’s Issues in the State Department, as well as the position of the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, who is responsible for coordinating activities, policies, programs, and funding relating to gender integration and women’s empowerment internationally, including those intended to prevent and respond to violence against women.
  • Enable the U.S. government to develop a faster and more efficient response to violence against women in humanitarian emergencies and conflict-related situations.
  • Build the effectiveness of overseas non-governmental organizations – particularly women’s non-governmental organizations – in addressing violence against women.

Why Haven’t We Heard of I-VAWA Before?

I-VAWA has been introduced in Congress before, tarnished by partisan myths like it will eliminate Mother’s Day or it ignores the fact that women can commit acts of violence too (never mind that the name of the treaty includes “violence against women”). However, if you want to do something about getting I-VAWA passed, then you’re opportunity is coming up in a few short weeks.

Amnesty International semi-annual lobby week is happening on April 29-May 3 (although, we may lobby again or instead on May 27-31, if that works better for folks). We will be focusing our efforts on passing the International Violence Against Women Act and adding House members to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission among other issues. If you are interested in lobbying your elected officials, then please email our Missouri Legislative Coordinator, Kevin, at k.ellison (at) charter (dot) net.

VAWA has passed! Although this is awesome for women in the United States, violence against women takes place all around the world, and we (as a country and as a people) have the power to change things and ensure something happens. I-VAWA is one big step toward that progress.

Related Links:

Closing the Gender Wage Gap [Infographic]

Write for Rights – Monica Roa

Emergency Contraception Over the Counter [Infographic]

4 Recent Human Rights Issues in Europe

human rights in europeEurope may seem like one continent that would be few and far between when it comes to human rights issues and abuses, but the European continent has several human rights issues within its borders. Granted, the death penalty and female genital cutting may not be present, but the human rights issues in Europe require equal attention from the local governments, the international community, and human rights organizations. Here four recent human rights issues in Europe right now:

Discrimination and Intolerance

The Roma, as well as members of the Jewish, Arab, and Muslim communities, have all faced discrimination and intolerance in various countries in Europe. In Hungary, the ultra-nationalist Jobbik party won 13 percent of seats in the country’s parliament in 2010, making it the country’s third-largest political party. The party has strong anti-Semitic and anti-Roma rhetoric and is known to demonstrate in predominantly Roma communities.

Also in 2010, French president Nicolas Sarkozy announced that he would be cracking down on Roma camps, and the new president has not changed that policy or made a clear commitment to respect the Roma. Just weeks ago, residents in Marseille took it upon themselves to expel about 50 Roma from their camp before burning it down, so this is a problem that is continuing.

Persecution of Journalists and Human Rights Activists

Russia remains one of the most dangerous countries in Europe for journalists, while human rights activists have been prosecuted in Russia as well as Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, just to name a few. Countries in Eastern Europe are more likely to have persecution because of the corruption in government and the restrictions against the media and freedom of expression.

Russia is also the home of Pussy Riot, of whom we are still working to get out of prison. The three members of the rock band were sentenced to several years in prison for “hooliganism” because they sang a protest song in Moscow’s main Orthodox cathedral. Only one member has been freed, and we are continuing to put pressure until the other two are released as well.

Indefinite Detention

The case against Julian Assange has not been resolved, and the United Kingdom held him for 700 days without charged. Over 100 of those days were in the Ecuadorian embassy, where he was unable to leave and the UK government threatened to storm the embassy to arrest him.

Greece, Bulgaria, Poland and Romania are the worst European Union countries at delivering justice through criminal trials. Some took up to four years to bring a case to trial, while others don’t have a legal maximum for detention. The EU currently has no common standard on how long anyone can remain in custody before being brought before a court. There are several reasons for taking so long, including a lack of interpreters, a lack of legal counsel, judicial corruption, and inability to challenge one’s detention.

Human Trafficking

This is a huge problem in Bulgaria, but in several other Eastern European countries as well. Thousands of women are trafficked to the West each year, almost two-thirds of them trafficked for sexual exploitation. On top of that, human trafficking in all of Europe increased by 18 percent between 2008 and 2010, while convictions for that crime decreased by 13 percent in that same period. In spite of this, only six EU members, out of 27, have tough anti-trafficking legislation.

Related Links:

3 Human Rights Issues in Africa

What’s the Veolia Contract Got to Do with Human Rights?

4 Recent Human Rights Issues in Asia

How Does Amnesty International Ensure its Impartiality?

amnesty internationalAmnesty International has always positioned itself as an independent, impartial human rights organization. But, how does our organization maintain its impartiality when dealing with issues that involve conflicting political stances, cultural values, and perspectives? Human rights is our stance, and ought to be protected no matter what side of the fence you are on. Amnesty International ensures its impartiality by concerning itself with the protection of human rights, advocating for certain persons based on the lack of human rights protections. It should also be noted that this blog post is specifically referencing Amnesty International USA.

Amnesty International Does Not Side with Any Political Party

Amnesty International is not Democratic, Republican, Green, Socialist etc. The organization does not pledge support to any candidates. We lobby our government officials, but we lobby any government official who is willing to listen to us and would support the cause of human rights.

This does apply when we advocate for those abroad, particularly prisoners of conscience who were imprisoned for exercising their human rights. It would seem like Amnesty is siding with a minority political party or with one side of a political issue when we are advocating for a particular prisoner or a group of people. However, Amnesty International supports the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Both of these are often in violation when it comes to prisoners of conscience.

Amnesty International Does Not Claim Innocence or Guilt

When Amnesty advocates for certain prisoners, it may seem like we are claiming innocence when we ask for their release. However, this is not the whole story. We ask for release in many of these cases because they are charged with crimes that are not recognized under international law (peaceful protest and expressing your opinion online are not crimes, for example), or they might not have been charged with anything at all and are held indefinitely/incommunicado. Although, Amnesty does retract its support if the person is charged with a recognizably criminal offense, or if the person commits a recognizably criminal offense after support is given.

This did get confusing with Reggie Clemons case, where some of our coalition partners claimed Clemons’ innocence. This we understand, although we have never made such a claim about Clemons. We oppose the death sentence of Reggie Clemons not only because the organization is against the death penalty, but there are so many problems with the trial and the case that Clemons at least deserves a retrial so that he can be tried fairly in a court of law. If he is found to be innocent in a retrial, the he ought to be released. If the case ends up being thrown out because of the previous problems, then he ought to be released.

Amnesty International Does Not Support Any Particular Government, Religion or Economic Interest

Amnesty International does not support or have an opinion of which type of government, which religious creed, or which economic system or interest is best. As long as human rights are protected within the government, religion, or economic system of choice, then we stay out of the way. It’s only when human rights are violated that we would intervene with our letter-writing actions etc, but that intervention is based on the violation of human rights.

The economic interest has been a sticking point with some members because this stance means that the organization would not advocate for divestment as a way to put pressure on human rights abuses. Divestment is the reduction of some kind of asset for financial, ethical, or political objectives (in case you didn’t know), and support this method as a way of pressuring human rights abusers would mean supporting an economic interest, or perhaps blatantly not supporting the economic interest of another.

Related Links:

Why Amnesty International is More than Writing Letters

How to Start an Amnesty International Chapter

Why Amnesty International Supports the Reggie Clemons Case