Obama’s Human Rights Record, Shaker Aamer, and Other Human Rights News

human rights newsA lot happened this month! The federal government recognizes gay marriage while rolling back provisions on the Voting Rights Act. Both are big news, but they aren’t the only things that happened in recent weeks. Below are some the most interesting and most noteworthy human rights news articles from the past month:

Samantha Powers: Human rights advocate no more? – The Hill’s Congress Blog – As Samantha Powers is up for nomination for U.S Representative to the United Nations, this article does a great job of covering the Obama administration’s human rights record. It questions whether Powers would actually challenge the country’s human rights record, hold the necessary parties accountable, and do what it takes to pressure other countries to clean up their act.

US: Ratify Disability Rights Treaty – Human Rights Watch – Over 1 in 4 of today’s 20 year olds will become disabled before they retire. It’s a shame that as we celebrated the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we refused to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities just a year or two earlier. This is especially weird since the CRPD was modeled after the ADA, so ratifying the treaty simply means that we want disabled people around the world to have the same rights and to abide by the same laws as we have.

New Threat Posed to Shaker Aamer – The Guardian – Amnesty International has been worked on Aamer’s case for some time, as the former United Kingdom resident has been at Guantanamo for over 11 years. He hasn’t been charged with any crime, and he was cleared for release back to the UK in 2007. However, Aamer is not being threatened with forcible release back to Saudi Arabia, a country he fled over 30 years ago. Aamer has been told that he faces prison time if he were to return to Saudi Arabia.

UN Launches Unprecedented Global Campaign for LGBT Equality – The Huffington Post – The United Nations announced last week to launch a global education campaign about homophobic violence and discrimination and the promotion of respect of LGBTI rights. Called “Free & Equal”, the campaign’s message is three-fold: human rights are really universal, LGBT people are just that: people, and that things are getting better.

Related Links:

The President and Human Rights

What Does Legalized Gay Marriage Mean for the US?

Good News on the Warren Hill Case in Georgia

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4 Major Lessons I’ve Learned from All This Human Rights Work

lessons learned human rights workI’ve been involved in Amnesty International for almost seven years (I make seven in September), three of them with the local St. Louis chapter and four of them with the Saint Louis University chapter. It’s not actually all that common in Amnesty for students to transition to a local group, partly because the resources aren’t exactly there to aid the transition and partly because life can get in the way once college gets out the way. But, I digress.

In these seven years, I’ve learned a lot about human rights work and what it takes to make things happen. Events are never easy to host and to plan, and it’s even harder to bring people to them. There are 1001 human rights issues to work on, and you can’t work on all of them. You have to pick on or two. Besides those, here are four major lessons that I’ve learned from all that human rights work.

You Need Different Avenues for Engagement

Not everyone is going to attend every single meeting, but this doesn’t mean that those who don’t attend meetings aren’t engaged or interested in human rights. It might mean they can’t make those meetings, or that they don’t have the time for meetings. To increase engagement, you need a variety of ways for folks to engage with the issues and with your group. This can include a website, social media, email, a newsletter, online actions. Having options for more passive engagement, such as social media or email, allows people to interact on their terms and when they do have the time.

Besides, some people might not want to jump into a meeting or into events with a new group right away. These passive engagement opportunities can allow those people to become more accustomed to the group and/or the issues before finally showing their face at a meeting or event.

Phone Calls and Handwritten Letters Have a Lot of Impact

I’ve heard it said more than once that handwritten letters and phone calls don’t work. People won’t read them, or listen, or care that you care about this or that. Not only is that not true, but these naysayers often don’t have good solutions of their own to accompany their criticisms. I like to think that those are just excuses for them not to do something, not to care, and not to worry about these issues at all.

In fact, phone calls and handwritten letters can have an immense impact, and they did have an immense impact in Burma’s release of its political prisoners in early 2012. No, it wasn’t just one phone call or a handful of letters. It was a lot of calls and letters over a long period of time. The point with these is simply to take actions, to show concern, and to put pressure. One doesn’t put any pressure. But, once there are hundreds and thousands of them in reference to one issue, it’s understood what everyone is communicating and what it will take to make it all stop.

You Have to Make it Relevant to Them

When our chapter was focusing on the three Generation 88 students in Burma who were sentenced to fifty, sixty years in prison for protesting the gas prices. While gathering signatures for our petition, a young woman asked what this had to do with her and the United States. Honestly, not a lot when you consider the circumstances with the situation in Burma, but if you don’t try to make it relevant, we won’t get this person and many others on our side.

You do have to be creative with relevancy, and in this particular instance, the best way to show relevancy might be to say that s/he could have a direct impact on helping these people. But, with today’s information overload and with everyone vying for everyone else’s attention, you really need to show how the issue is pertinent to the person you are talking to and how it’s worth their time to sign the petition (or donate money, or whatever the specific action is).

You’re Not Going to Get Everyone to Care

Once, when I was gathering signatures for a Troy Davis petition (petitions are a big part of Amnesty’s work, if you haven’t noticed), an older woman declined because she believed that pedophiles deserved it. Although pedophiles can never ever receive the death penalty, unless they happen to kill the children, this woman was no longer willing to listen to us even though our petition had nothing to do with repealing capital punishment (just repealing it for Troy Davis).

The point is, not everyone is going to care about the issues or about human rights, even if the she is misinformed as to when the death penalty is applicable. Yes, it’s important to try to change those attitudes, but you also need to pick your battles and to change attitudes with the right methods. Obviously, an argument stemming from a signature request isn’t the best place or way to have the discussion.

Related Links:

How to Recruit Members to Your Amnesty Chapter

9 Cool TED Talks about Human Rights

How to Set Up a Tabling Event

What You Missed at Last Night’s Letter Writing Meeting

letter writing meetingLast night, we held a successful letter writing meetings, writing 14 letters to various governments around the world on behalf of prisoners of conscience. If you missed this meeting, then you still have a chance to write a letter if you want. You do have to send it yourself, but below is all the information you need to advocate for human rights.

Reggie Clemons Update

There isn’t much to say on the Reggie Clemons case, except that Justice Michael Manners is starting a new position with a law firm on August 1. He needs to make a decision by then, and our chapter predicts that he will announce the decision on July 31, on the last possible day that he can make/announce the decision.

Last Night’s Urgent Action

One of the more popular urgent actions from the meeting was an action about anti-LGBTI violence in Macedonia. Specifically, a series of homophobic attacks in June and July has led to grave concerns for the safety of LGBTI people and organizations. In June, during Pride Week in the capital Skopje, the LGBTI center was attacked by around 30 people and on July 5, unidentified suspects attempted to set fire to the center.

If you’re interested in writing a letter, then here’s a good action for you. You have until August 23 to send your letter, but the sooner the better. Don’t worry about the language. It’s more important that the government officials receive a large quantity of letters and realize that people care deeply about the issue and would like action. Please send the letter to:

Gordana Jankulovska

Dimce Mircev BB

1000 Skopje, Macedonia

Please touch upon the following information when writing your letter. You can either copy these verbatim, or put them in your own words:

  • Urge the Minister of Interior to end the climate of impunity for homophobic attacks by acknowledging and condemning publicly these crimes, and ensure that impartial, thorough and prompt investigations are conducted into the June and July attacks, and into all previous attacks on the lives or property of LGBT people or organizations, with those found responsible brought to justice;.
  • Urge the Prime Minister and other ministers to introduce amendments to the anti-discrimination legislation to include sexual orientation and gender identity as specific grounds for discrimination;
  • Urge all ministers without delay and in consultation with LGBTI organizations, to introduce legislation prohibiting hate crime, specifically including hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as ethnicity, race, gender and other grounds for discrimination recognized in international standards.

July Letter Writing Meeting Tomorrow

Amnesty letter writing meeting

Photo by FonnaTasha

We still have no word on the Reggie Clemons case. As we await the decision from Judge Michael Manners, we will continue taking action on others issues in other parts of the world. Tomorrow is our monthly letter writing meeting, and we hope you can join us to provide a voice for the voiceless and to pressure governments to do the right thing. Below our the details for the Amnesty letter writing meeting:

Letter Writing Meeting Details:

Who: Amnesty International St. Louis chapter members, friends, family, and human rights activists

Where: Hartford Coffee Company’s Meeting & Study Area. 3974 Hartford St. (at Roger Pl in South City) St. Louis, MO 63116

When: 7 p.m. to 8: 30 p.m.

What: This meeting is about writing letters together that help change the world!

Why: There are plenty of issues, and people, that need our help and attention. Let’s not forget about them.

Issues to be Addressed

In case you’re wondering what sort of human rights issues we’ll be working on tomorrow, here’s a quick sneak peek. Hopefully, there’s something here that interests you and encourages you to join us. Please attend if you can, if only for a little while!

  • Risk of Forced Eviction in Peru
  • LGBTI Violence in Macedonia
  • Persecution of Human Rights Activists in China
  • Human Rights Defender Threatened in Mexico

45 Human Rights Blog Ideas You Can Use Right Now

human rights blogHey, keeping up this human rights blogging stuff isn’t easy. It isn’t easy to come up with stuff to share on social or to have good ideas for the monthly newsletter either. To help with that, we have an awesome list of 45 human rights blog (or newsletter, or social media, or insert communication/promotion method of choice) ideas that you can use right now. Yes, you can use them right now without any strenuous research or brainstorming. You’re welcome.

  1. Live blog what’s going on at an event, conference, or speaker
  2. Attended a webinar, conference, speaker, or event recently? Share what you’ve learned.
  3. Instead of recapping the conference or webinar, review it! What would you have wished to learn? What could they have done better?
  4. Did you just hold your own event? Do a recap.
  5. Will you be holding an event? Do a post about it and why people should come.
  6. Do a roundup of news articles that your readers may have missed.
  7. Do a roundup of old blog posts around a specific theme or topic.
  8. Do a roundup of some your most popular blog posts.
  9. Write a follow-up to one of those popular blog posts.
  10. Respond to comments made on a previous blog post.
  11. Write a counterpoint to a post from another blog.
  12. Agree with a post from another blog.
  13. Ask another blogger to do guest post.
  14. Ask another blogger if you can reprint one of his/her posts. Make sure to write your own introduction and give credit to the blogger.
  15. Look at what other relevant blogs are blogging about, and write your own post on something they’ve done.
  16. Take a current event and show the human rights angle to it
  17. Compare human rights to something from pop culture, like a TV show or a new dance craze.
  18. Define some human rights lingo or key terms.
  19. Are there any new research findings or statistics related to human rights? Write a post on why that new something is important.
  20. Present the history or some little known facts about a specific human right
  21. Ask several human rights leaders or prominent people about a human rights issue. Post the responses.
  22. Create a beginner’s post to human rights/your issue (think of it as a very quick 101!)
  23. Do a blog post on how activists/human rights advocates/non-profits can use Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn.
  24. Create a “recipe of success” for activism/human rights advocacy
  25. Create a “5 Pillars” or a “10 Commandments” for human rights or your issue
  26. Do a “Day in the Life” of someone in your organization
  27. Interview someone and post the Q&A.
  28. Answer a frequently asked question about human rights or your issue
  29. Make a list of the 10 best other human rights blogs or news sites.
  30. Make a list of the biggest lessons you’ve learned while doing this sort of work
  31. Compile a list of the best apps for activism/human rights
  32. Make a list of your favorite human rights quotes.
  33. Make a list of human rights people to follow on Twitter.
  34. Got a lot of photos? Compile a few and do a photo post.
  35. Pose a question or two to your readers, and blog the best responses.
  36. Pose a question on Twitter and blog the best responses.
  37. Review a book related to your issue.
  38. Respond to a question you find on a forum, on Quora, or on LinkedIn questions.
  39. If you are feeling brave, go over a failure and what you/your organization or group learned from it.
  40. Ask your readers what they’d like you to write about.
  41. Write about the best idea(s) suggested.
  42. Conduct a poll.
  43. Post the results to that poll.
  44. Ask for reader submissions (can be posts, pics, or vids).
  45. Share the best ones!

Related Links:

Human Rights Blogging: How Far We’ve Come

4 Effective Ways to Engage Your Amnesty Members

How to Recruit Members to Your Amnesty Chapter

Millennium Development Goals: Progress on the Latter Four

millennium development goals infographicWhen we think of the Millennium Development Goals, we think of how lofty these goals are and how hard it is to get the global community and developing countries to commit to these issues. However, when we actually take a look at the progress we made, it turns out that there’s a lot of progress that’s been made over the past 20 years. Even if some targets haven’t been met, with all of these goals, we are not in the same place that we were when the goals were first set. Here’s the progress on the last four Millennium Development Goals:

5. Improving maternal health

  • Reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio – Maternal mortality has nearly halved since 1990! In Eastern Asia, Northern Africa and Southern Asia, maternal mortality has declined by around two-thirds! We’re so close to this goal!
  • Achieve, by 2015, universal access to reproductive health – What’s really needed here is contraception and family planning. The need for family planning is slowly being met for more women, but demand is increasing at a rapid pace, and Official Development Assistance for reproductive health care and family planning is still low.

6. Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases

  • Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS – This has not happened, although new HIV infections continue to decline in most regions. Progress is going to take place among young people, where comprehensive knowledge of HIV transmission remains low along with condom use.
  • Achieve, by 2010, universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it The world missed this target, even though access to treatment for people living with HIV increased in all regions. In fact, 11 countries had achieved universal access to anti-retro viral therapy.
  • Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseasesAlthough incidence hasn’t been halted, the global estimated incidence of malaria has decreased by 17% since 2000, and malaria-specific mortality rates by 25%.

7. Ensuring environmental sustainability

  • Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programs; reverse loss of environmental resources In the 25 years since the adoption of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, there has been a reduction of over 98% in the consumption of ozone-depleting substances. That’s about it though, as global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) have increased by more than 46% since 1990.
  • Reduce biodiversity loss, achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss – More areas of the earth’s surface are protected now than previously. Since 1990, protected areas have increased in number by 58%. However, not all protected areas cover key biodiversity sites.
  • Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation We did it! Between 1990 and 2010, more than two billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources.
  • By 2020, to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum-dwellers – We did this too! The world met this target well in advance of the 2020 deadline!

8. Developing a global partnership for development

  • Develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system – Despite the pledges by G20 members to resist protectionist measures initiated as a result of the global financial crisis, only a small percentage of trade restrictions introduced since the end of 2008 have been eliminated. The protectionist measures taken so far have affected almost 3 per cent of global trade.
  • Address the Special Needs of the Least Developed Countries – There has been some success of debt relief initiatives reducing the external debt of heavily indebted poor countries (HIPCs) but 20 developing countries remain at high risk of debt distress.
  • Address the special needs of landlocked developing countries and small island developing States – Just made progress on this one. Aid to landlocked developing countries fell in 2010 for the first time in a decade, while aid to small island developing States increased substantially.
  • Deal comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries through national and international measures in order to make debt sustainable in the long term – This one is tricky because of the recent economic downturn. In 2011, the debt to GDP ratio decreased for many developing countries. Vulnerabilities remain. Expected slower growth in 2012 and 2013 may weaken debt ratios.
  • In co-operation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable, essential drugs in developing countries – Resources available for providing essential medicines through some disease-specific global health funds increased in 2011, despite the global economic downturn. However, there has been little improvement in improving availability and affordability of essential medicines in developing countries.
  • In co-operation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications – It comes as no surprise that we are doing well here, as the number of mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide by the end of 2011 reached 6 billion.

Related Links:

Millennium Development Goals: How Are We Doing?

23 Fast Facts about Women’s Oppression Worldwide

Amnesty International Failed in the Maternal Health Crisis

Good News on the Warren Hill Case in Georgia

death penalty in GeorgiaAs we wait for a decision from Judge Michael Manners on the fate of the Reggie Clemons case (which should come by the end of the month, although the decision originally had a June 1 deadline. Judge Manners is supposed to take a new position in Lexington in August, so he needs to make a decision any day now.), we have some great death penalty news coming out of Georgia today. The Georgia Fulton County Superior Court granted Warren Hill a stay of execution. Below is a press release from Amnesty International concerning the stay.

Georgia Court Stays Hill’s Execution on Challenge to Secrecy of Lethal Drugs

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Brian Evans, director of Amnesty International USA’s Abolish the Death Penalty campaign, issued the following statement in response to the Georgia Fulton County Superior Court granting Warren Hill a stay of execution based on a challenge concerning the secrecy of the lethal drugs the state of Georgia acquired and planned to use in Hill’s execution:

“Warren Hill today was granted a stay of execution because of the secrecy surrounding the lethal drugs. Amnesty International welcomes this development and the chance for the courts to address these troubling questions of secrecy and medical ethics.

“Beyond these important issues, Warren Hill has been determined to be ‘mentally retarded’ and thus his execution would have been unconstitutional, as the U.S. Supreme Court banned such executions in 2002. His petition on this important question is scheduled to be considered at a conference on September 30.

“Warren Hill’s petition undoubtedly has merit. All seven doctors who have examined him now agree that he is in fact intellectually disabled, yet federal courts have declined to hear this evidence, citing procedural bars. It is to be hoped that the Supreme Court, after considering this case in September, will take the actions necessary to permanently prevent Warren Hill from being executed.”

According to Amnesty International’s most recent yearly report on the use of the death penalty worldwide, the overall worldwide trend is away from the use of the death penalty. Five U.S. states have legislated to abolish the death penalty in the past six years – New Jersey (2007), New Mexico (2009), Illinois (2011), Connecticut (2012), and in May, Maryland.

Amnesty International continues its campaign to abolish the use of the death penalty in all 50 states in the United States and around the globe.

Although the stay is not based on the fact that Warren Hill is intellectually disabled, we welcome this news as it’s unconstitutional to execute a mentally impaired person. The U.S Supreme Court prohibited the execution of the mentally retarded in 2002. According to seven different medical professionals, Hill is considered “mentally retarded” and does meet the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard in Georgia. Action is still needed to prevent his execution, as the County Court in Georgia can still rule that the execution is okay and ought to take place. Please take action today to ensure that Warren Hill isn’t faced with an unconstitutional execution!

Related Links:

No News is Good News

The Death Penalty in California [Infographic]

Death Penalty News Roundup