DOMA is Unconstitutional, and Other Human Rights News

human rights newsThe big news of yesterday is that the Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional! The victory means the federal government must recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples married in the 12 states that allow same-sex marriage, plus the District of Columbia, and give them the same benefits that they had been previously denied under DOMA. With this in mind, here are the other big human rights stories of the month, including the impact this ruling has on human rights:

What Do Today’s Supreme Court Decisions Mean for LGBT Human Rights? – Human Rights Now Blog – Not only was DOMA ruled unconstitutional, but Proposition 8 from California was also ruled unconstitutional. The Court said that those who brought the case to defend the amendment “lacked standing” to do so. Even though every state doesn’t allow same-sex marriage, at least not yet, these rulings mean that federal law recognizes these marriages. It also means that Californians may get the right to marry whomever they want any day now.

Force-Feeding Guantanamo Detainees is Unethical and Inhumane – The Guardian – As the U.S. takes one leap forward in human rights, we take a few steps back also. The hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay is still happening, and force-feeding is being used because “Guantánamo prisoners are irrational and approaching death”. Force-feeding is actually awful, as previously victims of force-feeding (from other prison hunger strikes) have said that it hurts a great deal and produces intense vomiting. It’s surprising this has fallen off the radar in American media, even as the situation has intensified.

Kimberly McCarthy Executed: Texas Carries Out 500th Execution – Huffington Post – While much hullabaloo was happening over other issues, Texas executed its 500th inmate this week since it resumed carrying out capital punishment in 1982. McCarthy was also the 13th woman executed in the United States, and the fourth in Texas history. It was a sad day for death penalty abolitionists everywhere. Although it doesn’t look like McCarthy was innocent, or that there was strong evidence of improprieties, capital punishment is a gross human rights violation because of its disproportional application.

Gov. Perry Scolds Teen-Mom Senator for Not Heeding ‘Her Own Example’ – ABC News – Gov. Perry also called the pro-life agenda a “human rights issue” as he once again called for a special session to look at SB 5. Texas legislators will now be back in Austin to work on passing (or not passing) the legislation again. This issue has taken center state this week as Sen. Wendy Davis filibustered the bill for over nine hours on Tuesday. The Republicans almost managed to pass the bill, but after a lot of confusion, the record showed that the vote started after midnight and after the legislative session was over. That night was a huge demonstration of democracy, and we should expect nothing less as, essentially, the whole process happens all over again.

Sudan: 14 Women Released, 20 Still Detained – Association for Women’s Rights in Development – Very rarely do we post an urgent action, but this is one that I came across that requires attention. Thirty-four women were arrested in November 2012. Although 14 have been released, 20 are still detained, and none of these women were charged with any crime. Five of the 34 women were detained with their children, ages ranging from six months to 18 months. This urgent action is to ensure that the remaining 20 women are released, or charged with a recognizably criminal offense. We also want to ensure that they are given medical treatment and are given access to legal representation.

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15 Human Rights Violations Happening Right Now

human rights violations

Photo by Glyn Lowe Photoworks

Human rights violations are prevalent around the world, but often receive little attention in the mainstream media. On top of that, in some countries, reporting on human rights violations puts you at risk for enforced disappearance, arrest, and/or provocation from the government, law enforcement, or the military. This only highlights the need to talk about these issues and to be aware of their existence, at the very least. Here are 15 human rights violations happening in the world now:

India

Every 21 minutes, a woman is raped in India. Most rapes go unreported and even those rapes that are reported often go unpunished. Recently, a college student in New Delhi, India was attacked in a speeding private minibus with iron rods, which punctured her intestines. She and her friend were tossed from the minibus and, despite begin dumped on a crowded street, it took 40 minutes for a passerby to contact the police. The victim died.

Somalia

Somali authorities had unlawfully detained a journalist and three others linked to the case of a woman who reported being raped by state security forces. They were arrested solely because of the increasing media attention given to high levels of rape and other sexual violence in southern and central Somalia.

Myanmar

Many political prisoners are still imprisoned in Myanmar, having been falsely charged or convicted of a serious offense, arbitrarily detained, or imprisoned solely for their peaceful political activities. The formation of a government committee to review political prisoner cases is a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough to end these abuses.

Rwanda

The recent clampdown on freedom of associate and unfair trial of Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire that led to a sentence of eight years in prison have effectively created a repressive environment where people dare not speak out.

Vietnam

At the beginning of 2013, Vietnamese authorities convicted 14 pro-democracy activists for “plotting to overthrow the government.” The sentences range from three to thirteen years.

Zimbabwe

Human rights defenders and political activists in Zimbabwe have been arrested, detained, harassed, tortured, or even killed for exercising their rights to peaceful protest and freedom of assembly and association.

Bangladesh

Continued challenges face human rights activists as protestors demand the execution of Abdul Quader Mollah for his role in “beheading a poet, raping an 11-year-old girl, and shooting 344 people” during the 1971 Liberation War. As we demand justice for crimes, we cannot accept calls for the death penalty for convicted war criminals.

South Africa

Last year in South Africa, police attacks on protesting miners led to the deaths of 34 miners and more than 70 injuries.

North Korea

New satellite images raise fears that the North Korean government is starting to blur the line between the country’s horrendous political prison camps and regular villages.

Central African Republic

A precarious human rights tragedy is unfolding in the Central African Republic since the alliance of armed opposition groups, Seleka, has topped the CAR government, sending the president into exile and citizens into crisis yet again.

China

2010 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo is serving an 11-year prison sentence for co-authoring a proposal for political and legal reform in China.

Mali

The human rights situation in Mali is grave. Findings from an Amnesty International mission tell of executions and disappearances of civilians, arbitrary arrests, beatings, and other horrors reminiscent of the crimes committed in Darfur.

Sierra Leone

While stability and security have increased in Sierra Leone since 2002 with the end of the country’s decade-long war, civilians face grinding poverty, female genital mutilation is prevalent, and the maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the world.

Gambia

The human rights situation in Gambia is dire. Government opponents, human rights defenders, and journalists have been arbitrarily arrested and detained. Torture is widely used by security forces, and prison conditions are appalling.

Liberia

Victims of mass executions, mass rapes, and mutilations throughout the Liberian civilian war have yet to see all of those responsible for those abuses held accountable, as the justice system struggles to provide access to justice for all Liberian citizens.

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June Letter Writing Meeting Tomorrow

letter writing meeting

Photo by Markus Reinhardt

Tomorrow is our usual monthly letter writing meeting. We will be working on cases in seven different countries: Zambia, Venezuela, Colombia, Russia, Bangladesh, Equatorial Guinea, and Syria. Please come if you can! The summer is typically a slow time for us, so we need people to attend and to take action! We’ll also catch up those who our last business meeting and/or letter writing meeting, as we did settle on a few details for our upcoming events.

Letter Writing Meeting Details

When: 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Where: Hartford Coffee Company

Who: Amnesty International members, or anyone else is interested in human rights

What: Writing letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience around the world. Paper, pens, and case information will be provided.

Why: Writing letters makes a difference, and it makes more of a difference than doing than doing nothing or talking about doing something.

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Free China Screening Next Tuesday

Free China screeningAmnesty International isn’t the only group out there working on human rights, or on issues related to human rights. Although we don’t have many big plans coming up in the next few months, others are putting on some great events. One of those awesome events is happening next Tuesday, and it’s a movie screening! Please attend if you can.

Free China: The Courage to Believe

A special screening on June 25, 7 p.m., at Plaza Frontenac Cinema will feature an awarding-winning documentary “Free China: The Courage to Believe“.

With more than one hundred thousand protests occurring each year inside China, unrest among Chinese people is building with the breaking of each political scandal. As China’s prisoners of conscience are subjected to forced labor and even organ harvesting, this timely documentary exposes profound issues such as genocide and unfair trade practices with the West. The film also highlights how new Internet technologies are helping bring freedom to more than 1.3 billion people living in China and other repressive regimes throughout the world.

This film is co-produced by awarding-winning director Michael Perlman and NTDTV. It highlights human rights abuses from organ harvesting prisoners of conscience to the making of Homer Simpson slippers inside slave labor camps and how internet technologies is bringing greater freedoms to 1.3 billion people inside China.

In the past year, this film has been screened in more than 400 private venues across the world, including Amnesty International chapters at Yale University, University of California, Berkeley, etc. Recently, it has also garnered support from Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and blind dissident Chen Guangcheng who co-authored an open letter entitled “One Year for Human Rights in China”.  This open letter was published on the front page of Huffington Post on June 4th.

If you can attend, please do so!

23 Fast Facts about Women’s Oppression Worldwide

human rights issuesIf you haven’t yet read Half the Sky, then it needs to be the next book on your summer reading list. The oppression of women and girls has moved our chapter so much that we are planning a fundraiser for mid-fall (more details to come on this). As Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn argue in the book, the oppression of women and girls is the moral crisis of the 21st century. Even though we’ve come far here in the United States, we have so much more to go both here and abroad. Here are 23 fast facts about women’s oppression worldwide, particularly regarding violence against women and girls, sex trafficking and exploitation, and education.

Violence Against Women and Girls

  1. One in five women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.
  2. Women are more likely to be beaten, raped, or killed by a current or former partner than by any other person, with most studies estimating that 20 to 50 percent of women experience partner violence at some point in their lives.
  3. In the United States, a woman is abused, usually by her husband or partner, every 15 seconds and is raped every 90 seconds.
  4. One hundred and two countries have no specific legal provisions against domestic violence, and in at least fifty-three countries, marital rape is not a prosecutable offense.
  5. Between five hundred thousand and 2 million people-the majority of them women and children-are trafficked annually into situations including prostitution, forced labor, slavery, or servitude. Only 93 countries have some legislative provision prohibiting trafficking in human beings.
  6. The UN estimates that approximately five thousand women are murdered each year as a result of honor killings, but many women’s groups in the Middle East and Southwest Asia suspect the number is at least four times higher.

Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Women and Girls

  1. There are approximately 27 million slaves alive today-more than at any point in history and 56 percent are women.
  2. The average price of a trafficked human is at a historic low of $90, which means that it is sometimes more “cost-effective” for traffickers to allow their victims to die than to provide them with adequate conditions and health care.
  3. Slavery is an extremely profitable, international industry. It is estimated that trafficking in the United States yields $9 billion every year, and around the world, trafficking in women for commercial sex purposes nets $6 billion per year.
  4. Roughly 14,500 to 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States each
    year. California is a major trafficking entry point, with 43 percent of California trafficking incidents occurring in the San Francisco Bay Area alone.
  5. In the United States 70 percent of all prostitution is handled by pimps, who keep most of the money, and it is estimated that 70 percent of prostitutes experience multiple rapes each year-some as frequently as once a week.
  6. The typical age of entry into prostitution is 13 to 14 and almost 33 percent of the women got started in prostitution through family members or friends.
  7. Some estimates claim there are at least 300,000 children in prostitution, while others
    believe the numbers may be as high as 500,000 to 1.2 million.
  8. Worldwide, an estimated 51 million girls have been married before the age of consent. In many parts of the world, parents encourage the marriage of their underage daughters in exchange for property and livestock or to benefit their social status.
  9. The sexual violation and torture of civilian women and girls during periods of armed
    conflict has been referred to as “one of history’s great silences” and has generally been ignored despite the millions who have been injured and killed by the brutal practice. Trafficking of women and girls was reported in 85 percent of the world’s conflict zones.

Education

  1. Of the 781 million illiterate adults in the developing world, two-thirds are women, and nearly one out of every five girls who enrolls in primary school does not complete her primary education.
  2. Nearly three-quarters of girls out of school are from excluded groups such as ethnic minorities, isolated clans, and very poor households, even though these groups represent only 20 percent of the world’s population.
  3. Educated women have greater control over their financial resources and are more likely than men to invest their resources in their families’ health, education, and nutrition.
  4. No country has ever achieved continuous and rapid economic growth without first having at least 40 percent of its adults able to read and write. An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent and an extra year of secondary school increases earnings by 15 to 25 percent.
  5. Educating women increases productivity in agrarian communities. According to a 2005 report by the United Nations (UN), if female farmers in Kenya were provided with the same education and resources as male farmers, crop yields could rise by 22 percent.
  6. One year of female schooling reduces fertility by 10 percent and a child born to a woman who can read is 50 percent more likely to survive past age 5. Women with formal education are much more likely to use reliable family planning methods, delay marriage and childbearing, and have fewer and healthier babies.
  7. Education fosters democracy and women’s political participation. A study in Bangladesh found that educated women are three times more likely to take part in political meetings than those without schooling.
  8. Girls’ education ranks among the most powerful tools for reducing vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. A study in Zambia found that AIDS spreads twice as fast among uneducated girls than girls who have access to education. Young rural Ugandans with secondary education are three times less likely to contract HIV.

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How to Recruit Members to Your Amnesty Chapter

engaging Amnesty membersIt’s one of the toughest things to do as a chapter, but it also might be one that needs to be done most often: recruiting members. People come and go, and you don’t want to wait until you only have one or two people left before you make an effort to recruit members. It’s best to make recruiting an ongoing effort so that there’s always people involved in the organization. Here’s a couple of ways you could try to recruit new members to your Amnesty chapter.

Make Sure the Main Organization Knows You Exist

Amnesty International USA actually has a directory of local and student groups, and for our group, it has been a way for new members to learn about our existence. Typically, groups have to register every year so that the information stays in the directory. If you’ve never registered before, or if you’re not sure if your group is listed in the directory, then it’s best to contact your regional office so that they know you exist and can take the necessary steps to get you listed (as well as get you in touch with some great people and resources).

Build an Online Presence

When anyone needs anything these days, they start with an online search. Amnesty International and human rights activism are no exceptions. If you don’t have a website, or a social media presence, for these people to find, then new recruits will have a tough time knowing if you exist and if you’re still an active chapter. With either of these online presences (and regular updating, which is key to showing that you are an active chapter doing things in the area), you have a way for new recruits to find you and to contact you for more information. If your chapter can have both a website and a social media presence (our chapter has a website, a Facebook group, and our Missouri legislative coordinator has a Twitter account), then that’s even better.

Host Events Regularly

Events are some of the best ways to recruit members because you can talk to people face-to-face on a common issue. If you have a movie screening on women’s rights, for example, then you attract people who are interested in that issue, and not necessarily people who are interested in Amnesty International. An event presents a great opportunity to bridge that gap, to show that the group, as an Amnesty International group, works on this common issue and that these new people you attracted can work on the issue through your group. Of course, you want your events to be awesome, but if you want to use events as a recruiting tool, then it’s even more critical that the events are great as they do reflect how well the group is organized and what the group is capable of on these issues.

Have a New Member Meeting or Event

This one is better for college and high school chapters, but may be a good option for local chapters that gets a lot of interest. It can be tough for a new member to jump right into the group, having to learn the social dynamic and to catch up with what the group is doing. Some people can do that easily, but not everyone. Having a new member meeting or event, where new members can learn these things and be given a chance to immerse themselves, can be good way to include them at a pace with which they are comfortable.

Do you have any amazing strategies for recruiting new members into your Amnesty International chapter? If so, we’d love to hear about them! Tell us in the comments!

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Amnesty International Failed in the Maternal Health Crisis

maternal healthI just finished reading an incredible book called, “The Business of Baby: What Doctors Don’t Tell You, What Corporations Try to Sell You, and How to Put Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Before Their Bottom Line.” It’s a fascinating read, and although it doesn’t discuss maternal health in the United States as a human rights crisis, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in Amnesty International as I read this book. I think Amnesty could have uncovered some of what the author uncovered, and was in the right place in the right time with this issue. Why the organization dropped the campaign, I don’t know.

Amnesty International and Maternal Health

Amnesty International started its “Maternal Health as a Human Right” campaign in 2010, specifically targeting four countries for improvement: Peru, Burkina Faso, Sierre Leone, and the United States. Around the world, one woman dies every 90 seconds from complications of pregnancy or childbirth. At the start of the campaign, the U.S ranked 41st in the world for maternal mortality. Now, we rank 49th. For the United States, our primary action toward this problem was two-fold. First, increase awareness to the fact that two women die everyday in this country from complications of pregnancy or childbirth, and half of those are preventable. If I remember correctly, we had a billboard in Times Square that went up every 90 seconds to count the women who die.

Second, ask President Obama to establish an Office of Maternal Health to lead government action to reduce soaring pregnancy-related complications and maternal deaths nationwide. An Office of Maternal Health would be a major step toward improving maternal health in this country, because Amnesty International (and Business of Baby) point out several factors that have allowed this problem to get to where it is today:

  • The lack of nationally standardized protocols addressing the leading causes of death — or the inconsistent use of them — may lead to preventable deaths or injuries. Measures used widely in the United Kingdom to prevent blood clots after Caesarian sections are not consistently taken in the United States, for example.
  • Many women are not given a say in decisions about their care and do not get enough information about the signs of complications and the risks of interventions such as inducing labor or cesarean sections.
  • The number of deaths is significantly understated because there are no federal requirements to report maternal deaths or complications and data collection at the state level is insufficient.
  • Oversight and accountability are lacking. Twenty nine states and the District of Columbia have no maternal death review process at all.

If we can get hospitals and doctors to evaluate the problem, to collect information regarding deaths and the effectiveness of certain procedures and treatments, then we would have the necessary information on the changes that need to be made to improve maternal health in this country. Incorporating a review process and setting standards would also make it easier to hold someone accountable if something goes wrong. As of now, the only way to get any accountability is to sue for malpractice, which doesn’t address the systemic problems affecting maternal health.

Where Did This Campaign Go?

Personally, I don’t know. Someone might, but that person isn’t me. I don’t know if Amnesty decided to prioritize something else, or if budget got in the way, or if something else entirely different happened. What I do know is that Amnesty International dropped the ball on something huge here. Business of Baby illustrates how huge this really is, and Amnesty could have been a part of that and could have contributed to real progress. We wouldn’t have had to wait for an investigative reporter to uncover all of this and to get people going.

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