Updates in Syria, and Other Human Rights News

SyriaThe biggest human rights story of the past few days is the chemical attack in Syria, and this month’s human rights news roundup includes a few recent developments. However, it’s not the only thing from the past month, and we have those issues covered as well. Here is our roundup of the most important human rights news stories:

Two Protests Against US Intervention in Syria

This isn’t human rights news from the past month, but news of an upcoming event. If you are in the St. Louis area, and are against a U.S invasion into Syria, then Tuesday is the chance to voice your opinion. There will be a protest on Tuesday fro 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. in front of Claire McCaskill’s office on 5850 Delmar. This is a protest against U.S military intervention and it is hosted by the St. Louis Instead of War Coalition. Make it out there if you can!

If you can’t make this one on Tuesday, then there is a Syria intervention march starting at 11 a.m. on Art Hill (if you can’t make it that early, then you can meet everyone at 2 p.m. at Kiener Plaza). August 31 is the chosen day for global rallies against war in Syria, so this one is projected to be the bigger of the two events and is part of an international movement. This one’s hosted by Veterans for Peace. Keep in mind that this one is a six mile march through St. Louis, while the first one is just a rally/protest. If marching six miles isn’t your style, then try and make it to the one on Tuesday.

Obama Administration Refused to Provide Gas Masks to Syrian Opposition

It turns out that there wasn’t just one request, and it was just requests before this most recent attack near Damascus. The Syrian opposition has been requesting gas masks and other chemical-weapons gear for over a year, with no reply from the Obama Administration or the State Department. On top of that, chemical weapons were actually used in an attack earlier this year, an attack that was not only projected to happen but one that Syrian rebels suspected would include chemical weapons. The administration has yet to answer for this problem and this lack of U.S assistance.

Today is International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances

An enforced disappearance is detention by state authorities for no apparent reason, with no knowledge of the person’s status and/or whereabouts. In 2012, enforced disappearances were documented in 30 countries, 11 of them in sub-Saharan Africa: Angola, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria and South Sudan. In Sri Lanka, it’s suspected that over 30,000 people have been forcibly disappeared since 1994.

Things are Getting More Draconian for the 2014 Winter Olympics

As most of us are well aware, the anti-gay sentiment is controversial as Russia’s “gay propaganda” law has become a cause for concern. Wentworth Miller, the star of Prison Break, came out while declining an invitation to the St Petersburg international film festival, saying he could not “participate in a celebratory occasion hosted by a country where people like myself are being systematically denied their basic right to live and love openly.” International athletes have done what they could to protest the laws, but have been scolded by the International Olympic Committee for making political gestures. Most recently, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has signed a decree banning all meetings, protests, demonstrations, and free assembly during the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

Related Links:

8 Current Urgent Actions You Should Do Right Now

Syria: UN Must Get Full Access to Investigate ‘Chemical Weapons’ Claim

14 MORE Human Rights Violations Happening Right Now

Syria: UN Must Get Full Access to Investigate ‘Chemical Weapons’ Claim

syria chemical weaponsThis press release is reposted from the Amnesty International website.

In response to the publication of a series of videos apparently showing that chemical weapons have killed scores of civilians, including many children, on the outskirts of Syria’s capital Damascus, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:

“The allegations of use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians, which Amnesty International has not been able to verify independently, underscore the urgent need for the United Nations team currently in Syria to have a full mandate and unimpeded access to all locations to investigate these and any other incidents of alleged use of chemical weapons.”

“What would be the point of having a UN team of experts in the country if they are not allowed to access the sites of the alleged attacks, collect samples and investigate?.”

“The Syrian authorities who claim no responsibility should immediately facilitate the visit of the UN team to Eastern Ghouta and other locations”.

“If the latest allegations are corroborated, the attacks would amount to war crimes. The only way to deal with the endless catalog of abuses we have witnessed in Syria is for the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court, as Amnesty International has been urging since 2011.”

“It is a violation of international law to manufacture, stockpile, transfer or use chemical weapons, which cannot distinguish between civilians and combatants.”

Amnesty International has also sent the videos to medical and other experts to verify their authenticity and to establish if the symptoms shown by those affected are congruent with the use of chemical weapons. In addition, the organization is in contact with individuals and organizations in Syria to try and gather further information about the current medical condition of people in the area.

Related Links:

8 Current Urgent Actions You Should Do Right Now

Syria One of the Worst Countries for Journalists

15 Human Rights Violations Happening Right Now

Take Action Against Syria at Tomorrow’s Letter Writing Meeting

amnesty international letter writingAs the Syrian government agrees to let the United Nations into the country to investigate the possibility of a chemical weapons attack, we must remember that there are other human rights violations happening within the country and around the world. It’s great that Syria is taking this step, but we must urge them to take additional steps to protect and to investigate human rights violations. You can urge Syria to take those steps at tomorrow’s letter writing meeting.

Letter Writing Meeting Topics

  • Two urgent actions regarding forced disappearances in Syria
  • Imminent executions in India
  • Possible execution of a mentally impaired man in the United States
  • Torture risk in Uzbekistan
  • Forced disappearance in Mexico

Letter Writing Meeting Details

Who: Our Amnesty International chapter and those interested in human rights

What: To write letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience worldwide

When: 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Where: Hartford Coffee Company on the corner of Roger and Hartford, one block off of Arsenal

Why: Because people need our help and we can make a difference

How: Just show up to the meeting! We’ll provide the paper, pens, and pertinent information on each of the cases.

What to Do for Your First Amnesty International Meeting

first Amnesty International meetingCollege starts in just another week or two, if it hasn’t started already. Once time has passed to get everyone settled in and to adjust to the dorms and the new classes, it’s time to start thinking about that first Amnesty International meeting of the year. It’s one of the most important meetings, since it will be the first impression for potential new members, and you want people to be part of your group versus other groups competing for their attention and time (whether related or not). Here’s what you need to do and to think about for that first meeting:

What You Want to Do for the Year

Have some plan for something to do i.e. an event or an issue, but leave it open-ended as well. You want new members to have some say and to feel like they can participate, instead of feeling like they have to do what the group leaders do. However, these are also new, shy, freshmen and sophomores who might want to test the waters and might not have ideas right away. Initially, you don’t want to rely on them entirely for ideas and risk looking like you’re not an organized chapter.

Tip: If you don’t have ideas, then present the possibility of attending your regional conference. The regional conference is an excellent event to create synergy in the group and to engage new members in the issues.

How You Present the Leadership Team

Or, executive committee, or group leaders, or whatever you call them. Presentation of the group leaders as well as the old members is critical, as you don’t want to come across as a clique or as something that isn’t open to everyone. You also want to come across as people interested in doing something about human rights, instead of a group of friends who are meeting to hang out. The latter will just drive away those who actually want to do something and don’t want to take the time to fit in and to play the social game.

Tip: A good way to present the leadership team is to make sure that they are part of the meeting, instead of at the front of the room or all together in one section of the room. This ensure that you folks are a part of the entire team instead of just the decision makers or the one who ultimately choose what issues you work and what events you attend/host.

Introduce Your Chapter and the Organization

Of course, there will be people attending this meeting who don’t know anything about Amnesty International as an organization. They also won’t know anything about your chapter, so you need to be prepared to explain both. This includes knowing the history of the organization, its mission, as well as a bit of history on what your chapter has done in the past (events, issues, even what typically happens at meetings). Most of the people attending may have heard of Amnesty International, or may just be interested in human rights, or may even just be interested in one or two human rights issues. This may seem boring, but it’s necessary because people won’t want to be part of something they don’t know anything about or that doesn’t align with their values or what they want to accomplish.

Preparing for the first meeting of the school year may seem like a lot, but it is the one meeting of the year that will be different from all the others. It’s the pitch to the new members so they return to the next meeting. It’s the meeting that will determine whether or not someone joins your group or decides to be part of a different activist group or in a different extracurricular entirely. It’s not a meeting that you want run extemporaneously.

Related Links:

How to Run an Amnesty International Meeting

What Amnesty International is All About

How Does Amnesty International Ensure its Impartiality?

8 Current Urgent Actions You Should Do Right Now

urgent action letterAmnesty International may not be entirely about writing letters, but it’s still a big component of our mission and our activism. Although we only spend one day a month writing letters, there’s always the chance to write a letter the rest of the time. Here are eight current urgent actions that you can do right now. Each one of these actions comes with a downloadable PDF (the headline is clickable and initiates the download), which provides all the information you need to do the urgent action (address of government official, case information, talking points etc.).

Venezuela: Activist in danger from son’s killers

Venezuelan human rights defender Víctor Martínez is in danger, as the two men
on trial for the murder of his son are free: one has escaped and the other was given parole. Urge the authorities to protect Martinez and to continue investigations regarding forced disappearances in the western state of Lara.

Albania: Roma Families Forcibly Evicted

Roma families were evicted on 7 August and are now homeless. Neither the Tirana municipal authorities nor the government have done anything to assist them or provide them with alternative housing. Write to ensure that these Roma families are assisted and given alternative housing, and that this becomes standard for all those forcibly evicted in Albania.

Mexico: Marines abduct adult and two children

Three people, two of them children, were detained by Mexican marines in the northern city of Nuevo Laredo in late July and have not been seen since. The military authorities have denied arresting them. They may have been subjected to enforced disappearance. Call on the Mexican authorities to conduct an investigation into their disappearance and to protect the families and eyewitnesses of this case.

Egypt: Egypt means to deport refugees, children

The Egyptian authorities are preparing to deport 13 Syrians to Turkey and 28 Palestinians from Syria to the Gaza Strip. The group, which includes at least 13 children and 10 women, had sought refuge in Egypt after fleeing the armed conflict in Syria. Under international law, Egypt has a responsibility to protect people fleeing the conflict. Urge the Egyptian authorities not to deport them and to grant them access to the resources they need to seek refuge.

Bahrain: Bahraini activist arrested and charged

Bahraini banker Mohammad Sanad al-Makina was arrested on 9 August at Bahrain International Airport when leaving for a holiday with members of his family. He faces several charges including “inciting hatred against the regime”. He is a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for expressing his freedom of expression peacefully. Pressure the Bahraini authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally and to protect him from torture and other ill-treatment.

Colombia: Paramilitaries Threaten Trade Unionists

Paramilitaries have threatened scores of trade unionists, many of whom are in labor negotiations, as well as human rights defenders and other organizations in Colombia. Express concern for the trade unionists at risk while demanding that the authorities provide protection and conduct an investigation into the threats.

Palestinian Authority: Hamas threaten post-Eid festival executions

The Hamas authorities in Gaza are threatening to carry out several executions following the end of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr. This may include a man known as “H.M.A.”, who was aged under 18 years at the time of one of his alleged crimes and was allegedly tortured or otherwise ill-treated during interrogation. Write to the Palestinian authorities to show concern that H.M.A. is facing execution after a trial in which he was sentenced to death for a crime committed when he was a minor and which relied upon a “confession” made when he was allegedly subjected to torture or other ill-treatment.

Myanmar: Activist Arbitrarily Detained

Human rights defender Kyaw Hla Aung, 74, has been arbitrarily detained in Myanmar since 15 July. He is in poor health and may not be receiving the medical treatment he requires. He is on trial, facing charges related to his peaceful activities. Urge the authorities to release him immediate and unconditionally, dropping all charges against him.

August Business Meeting Recap

business meeting recapLast night’s meeting was very productive, as we made progress with our upcoming events. If you happened to miss the event, then here’s what you need know about what’s happening with the chapter and the decisions we made:

Reggie Clemons Actions

As of writing this post, we do not have any additional actions regarding the Reggie Clemons decision. Although that may change in the next few days (depending on what the national organization or what our coalition partners want to do), it seems that we have another waiting game on our hands, where we now need to wait for the Missouri Supreme Court to hear the case. If we are notified of any actions that need to be taken, then we will certainly update you and advise you on how to take action.

Upcoming Fundraiser

Unfortunately, we aren’t going to have a fundraiser any time within the next few months. Not only were we unable to set a date for the event, but there were many more rules and regulations regarding our ability to raise funds as a chapter than we have anticipated. It’s not something that we want to take on at this time.

However, we aren’t without an event. We are partnering with Peace Economy Project and other organizations to host a showing of the Dirty Wars documentary. If we can make this event happen, the it’s very possible that someone from the movie might attend to speak and to answer questions. Since we have help and movement on this event, we are going to work toward this event instead and continue our work on drones and security and human rights.

Dirty Wars Reminder

We have scheduled the discussion of our latest book club reading for our October business meeting on Oct. 8. This book is over 500 pages, so don’t wait to get started. Although it’s okay if you’ve only read 100 or 200 pages, you certainly can’t contribute to the discussion if you haven’t taken the time to read it at all. Make sure to pick up a copy as soon as possible! Reading this book will also augment what’s featured in the documentary, so don’t treat this book club reading like high school, where watching the movie is an equivalent to reading the book. It’s not equivalent, so don’t think that showing up to the documentary will be the same thing as reading the book.

Big August Planning Meeting Tomorrow

amnesty business meetingIf there is an Amnesty business meeting to attend, then tomorrow is it. With school starting soon and the big holiday months on their way, this meeting is the one where the major decisions will be made. There are many events to coordinate for the rest of 2013, so if you want to be a part of the planning, or even part of the final event, then it’s best to be at Hartford Coffee Company at 7 p.m. Here’s what’s in store:

Midwest Regional Conference

We learned this week that our annual Midwest Regional Conference will be at the University of Cincinnati Law School between Nov. 8 – 10. During our meeting, we will get a head count of who wants to attend. We will also spend time sorting out our transportation options. If this is something that you want to be a part of, then please come so we know that you’re interested.

Reggie Clemons

As you may have heard, Judge Michael Manners finally made a decision on the Reggie Clemons case. This means that our fight will continue to ensure Clemons receives a new trial and that the death penalty is not used in this case (or in any case in Missouri). At tomorrow’s meeting, we will discuss the news and the avenues that we have for action and for building awareness on this issue.

Fall Fundraising Event

If you’ve attended previous meetings, then you probably know that we are in the middle of planning a fall fundraising event. Since we’d like this event to happen in late October or early November, then we will make some major decisions regarding this event tomorrow, such as the date, venue, and the exact type of event. Please attend if you want to do more than just talk about human rights or write letters, as this event will involve doing something we don’t normally do but also has a huge impact on human rights and on countless lives.

Meeting Details

Who: Amnesty International members and human rights advocates

What: A meeting to discuss upcoming events and current affairs.

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

Where: Hartford Coffee Company on the corner of Roger and Hartford. We meet in the very back past the patio.

Why: Because there’s much to talk about and much to be done!

Judge Finds that Evidence was Suppessed in Reggie Clemons Case

Reggie ClemonsThe following is a statement from the Justice for Reggie Campaign.

Judge Michael Manners, the Special Master assigned by the Missouri Supreme Court to review the case of Reggie Clemons, issued his findings today to the state’s high court. Clemons is on death row for the murders of Robin and Julie Kerry in the infamous Chain of Rocks Bridge case. Over the last four years, Judge Manners had the arduous task of reviewing thousands of pages of court transcripts, videotapes and exhibits spanning three trials and the lives of seven young people. His findings are not rulings but non binding guidance to the Missouri Supreme Court who in term will make a ruling.

Of the two critical elements of Reggie’s habeas corpus, Judge Manners found that prosecutors had suppressed evidence in Reggie’s trial and his confession was forced. He further found that Reggie’s attorneys did not establish his “gateway claim of innocence.”

This is yet another phase in the journey for justice in Reggie’s case. Supporters have waged a 22-year struggle to bring the complicated case from out of the judicial shadows into the light.

Says Reggie’s mother, Vera Thomas, “This was such a derailment of due process from the very beginning so I thank the community for all their efforts that has brought us this far. I am grateful to the Missouri Supreme Court for giving us this opportunity to open up this case and for the special efforts of Judge Michael Manners in reviewing the case. I’m also appreciative of Reggie’s phenomenal legal team who has been on this case many years.”

The Missouri Supreme Court must now rule on Judge Manners’ findings. The Justice for Reggie Campaign hopes that the court will take into consideration the tainted nature of the investigation from the onset and bring the case to a just close.

“The wheels of justice are still turning, ”said Thomas, “but there are no winners in a death penalty case.”

Related Links:

Reggie Clemons Reflection

Why Amnesty International Supports the Reggie Clemons Case

Report on the Post-Evidentiary Hearing for Reggie Clemons

Reggie Clemons Decision Revealed

Reggie ClemonsJudge Michael Manners, the Special Master reviewing the case of Reggie Clemons, has submitted his findings to the Missouri Supreme Court. He finds that prosecutors suppressed evidence and writes that he believes the statement Reggie Clemons gave to police was coerced. He also writes that he does not believe that Clemons has established a “gateway claim of actual innocence.” It is a complex case and serious allegations of misconduct by prosecutors and police appear to have been affirmed.

It is now up to the Missouri Supreme Court to determine the course of justice and rule on Judge Manners’ findings. Given the deeply flawed nature of his trial, Amnesty International hopes that the state’s highest court will move to eliminate any possibility that Reggie Clemons might be executed.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

Related Links:

Reggie Clemons Reflection

Why Amnesty International Supports the Reggie Clemons Case

Report on the Post-Evidentiary Hearing for Reggie Clemons

3 Unfounded Reasons to be Against the UN Arms Trade Treaty

UN Arms Trade TreatyThis article was originally published in the latest newsletter from the Peace Economy Project. We’re re-posting it here as the Arms Trade Treaty is discussed this week in New York. Over the weekend, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) proposed an amendment to the Senate’s budget bill that would prohibit the U.S. from signing the ATT. The Senate approved the measure by a vote of 53-46. Although it’s likely that we will end up with some sort of treaty, whether or not the Obama Administration or anyone else supports it. It’s a matter of how strong of a treaty we are going to get.

Earlier in July, Iceland became the first country to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty. If 49 more countries ratify this treaty, then the international arms trade regulations outlined in the treaty will be entered into force. The United States, although supported and instrumental of bringing this treaty to fruition, will not be on of 49 countries to ratify this treaty. In fact, it will be a shock if we even sign this treaty at all.

Even though the Arms Trade Treaty is specifically about international arms trade, and has nothing to with the Second Amendment or how U.S citizens use or purchase guns in this country (unless, of course, they plan to commit human rights abuses or purchase guns directly from China), many Americans still oppose this treaty. The main reasons behind this opposition are unfounded fears and untruths. Here are three of these unfounded reasons that, unfortunately, will prevent the U.S from signing this treaty at all.

The Arms Trade Treaty will create a national firearms registry, or will require American gun owners to register their guns with the United Nations

Even though the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the President have the power to control the import of firearms and defense items, this has nothing to do with any sort of national registry. All the treaty does is require each country to adopt measures to prevent weapons from getting into the black market by keeping records of weapons entering or leaving the country. A registry wouldn’t do anything because the weapons are already in the country, and wouldn’t mean anything to the overall international arms trade. Besides, the requirements outlined in the treaty are the same as current U.S. law. There wouldn’t be any change to the law or domestic registration if the treaty were ratified.

The Arms Trade Treaty Doesn’t Mean Anything if Countries Like Russia and China Don’t Sign It

This argument is ridiculous, because it’s similar to arguing that a law against murder shouldn’t exist because axe murderers will still murder, so the law means nothing unless axe murderers stop murdering and follow such a law. Yes, murder still exists in today’s world, but that doesn’t mean the law isn’t doing anything. Just because some countries may not sign this doesn’t mean that having the treaty in place isn’t going to have an impact or make any substantial difference. Yet, this is an argument that has been used to oppose previous international treaties, most notably the Kyoto Protocol and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The Arms Trade Treaty will Prevent the U.S from Aiding Israel

Weapons should not end up in the hands of human rights abusers, even if these abusers are our political allies or are receiving aid from the United States. If Israel is committing human rights abuses, then they should not be receiving weapons from us or anyone else. That’s the point of this treaty. If we still want to provide aid to Israel, then we can do so in a way that doesn’t mean giving or selling weapons. However, no politician wants to be seen as anti-Israel, so this argument will be enough to drive representatives away from supporting the Arms Trade Treaty.

Opposition to the Arms Trade Treaty is like opposing the construction of a school because it could be a horrible school, or because kids could fight in the halls, or because bad teachers could end up there. Sure, those things could happen, but that doesn’t mean you don’t build the school and stop kids from getting an education. You address these other issues as they arise, or you implement additional measures to prevent these things from happening. Opposing the construction of the school in this example means overlooking the bigger picture of education, just like opposing the treaty overlooks the bigger picture of human rights violations and the current contribution of the arms trade to those violations.

Related Links:

15 Human Rights Violations that are Happening Right Now

The President & Human Rights

Drones and Lethal Force: The Issue and the Action