1st Letter Writing Meeting of 2014 Tomorrow!

amnesty business meetingAre you ready to be a human rights activist this year? Is your New Year’s Resolution to be more involved in the community or to do more to make a difference? If so, then tomorrow is your chance! Starting at 7 p.m. is the very first Amnesty International St. Louis chapter letter writing meeting of the year! At this meeting, we will be writing letters to international governments on behalf of prisoners of conscience. We’ve previously written on behalf of prisoners in Iran, Egypt, China, Saudi Arabia, Belarus, Russia, and many more countries.

The meeting details haven’t changed from last year, but they are listed below in case you’ve forgotten or have yet to attend a meeting with our chapter. If you need to arrive late, or if you can’t stay for the whole meeting, then that’s okay. There’s no need to feel weird about it, as we understand that everyone has jobs and families that need attention also. Just arrive when you can and stay as long as you can. The more letters, the better! Even just one more letter can make a difference!

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, located in the Tower Grove area. We meet in the very back past the patio.

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

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How to Track Relevant Human Rights Legislation

tracking human rights legislationAn important aspect of human rights activism is tracking relevant legislation as it moves through Congress. We need to know which bills are up for a vote on the floor or at a committee hearing, and who’s sponsoring, co-sponsoring, or supporting certain bills. We also need to know dates and times as soon as possible so we can speak to our representatives right away. The hard part about all this is getting the timing right, and knowing when things happen. Most people use the press or follow certain committees, but there’s actually a better way. Below are a few possible solutions you can use to track relevant human rights legislation:

TrakBill

What makes Trakbill (which is based in St. Louis) a great choice for tracking legislation is that the software comes with real-time notifications. So, if a vote is scheduled for an important bill, then you can choose to learn about it via text message, email, or push notification. The software also comes with a calendar feature, so you can put hearings on the calendar and plan what needs to be done to prepare for the hearing.

The only downside is that Trakbill’s free version only allows you to track five bills at a time, which seems small. The company told us that they are increasing the limit to 10 within the next few, which is a little bit better. The paid options aren’t bad, as $99/month (or $599 for the year) will allow you to track 50 bills at a time. The pricing and the number of bills allotted are both more reasonable for most human rights organizations.

Votility

Online advocacy software Votility is a very good solution for tracking both local and federal legislation, but is a solution that’s better for bigger organizations because of the pricing. A small chapter like our St. Louis Amnesty chapter wouldn’t be able to afford the $250/month to track relevant human rights legislation, and we certainly couldn’t afford the $350/month for the capabilities to increase member retention and acquire new members.

However, they do have a free version for individuals, which would be a good choice for activists who want to work on their own or if a small organization wants to dedicate one person to tracking legislation and planning necessary actions. This might be one that I’ll sign up for and try for a little while to see how it works. It doesn’t seem like their free version has a limit to the number of bills you can track.

GovTrack.us

GovTrack is the only one of the three legislation-tracking tools that automatically starts on the federal level showing the big issues almost in real-time. This is a good tool to start with if you aren’t sure which bills you need to be watching, or if you want to watch everything on the federal level. They also have a browse bills by subject section, and although there isn’t a human rights section, their list of subjects is comprehensive enough to find something related to the specific human rights issues that you work on.

The downside to GovTrack is that it doesn’t seem to be as robust as the first two, where you can receive text message notifications or to use a built-in calendar. It also doesn’t seem like you can track a specific bill in one state, but can only either track the state or track a specific federal bill. However, it does seem there isn’t a limit to the number of bills or things you can track. You can also track by committee, by specific lawmaker, or by voting records, which is also a feature that TrakBill allows once you have an account (free or paid).

Overall, I’d recommend picking one or two tools to use to track relevant human rights legislation. It would put your organization in a position to do a little more lobbying, with more specific information on what your members could do to advocate for the issue.

How to Use Twitter to Promote Human Rights

Twitter human rightsTwitter may seem like a social network for the young kids, something that older human rights activists don’t participate in because there aren’t any older folks using Twitter. However, that’s a misconception, as the 55-64 age bracket is the fastest growing demographic on Twitter. That’s right, older folks are using Twitter, and you need to build their awareness about human rights issues. Hopefully, they’ll care and follow the trends the way you have, or at least spread the word and get others to care. Here’s how to use Twitter to promote human rights, no matter your age.

Completely Fill In Your Profile

There are two reasons that you want to fill in your profile completely. First, a full profile looks good. It looks like whoever is running that account is taking care of that account. It looks like whoever is tweeting cares about the things they tweet and those who follow the account. Second, a full profile is less likely to get flagged as span and to be seen as illegitimate. You take human rights seriously, but that’s not going to show on Twitter unless you take the social network seriously too. That means filling the profile and paying attention when people retweet your updates, follow you, and send you a direct message.

The following aspects of your Twitter profile should be filled in:

  • Biography – Something short, but descriptive. Doesn’t need to be too fancy.
  • Cover Photo – Unfortunately, Twitter doesn’t provide a few generic cover photos for you to use, so you do have to find one on your own. Yes, you need to have one. You also need to keep in mind the color of the text so that all of it is readable with the cover photo in the background. The plain black is boring and isn’t representative of human rights.
  • Background Photo – One of the generic ones Twitter has will suffice, but if you can create a customized background, that’s a lot better.
  • Link – Hopefully, your chapter has its own website that can be placed here. If you do have your own webpage, then it’s best to take this one step further and to create a Twitter landing page. A Twitter landing page is a specific page for people who find your Twitter account, and choose to visit your webpage through Twitter. The landing page provides additional information about your chapter, as well as your chapter’s policies on tweeting and following others.

Remember the 50/50 Rule

The 50/50 rule states that 50% of what you share on social media (Twitter, Facebook, or any other platform), should be your own content. The other 50% should be other people’s content. Yes, half of what you share on social media should be someone else’s article, tweet, picture, website etc. Twitter is not another bullhorn to use just to push your human rights messaging. You need to also interact with others, share the great things that they are doing, and not hog the spotlight.

For some chapters, the tough part might be fulfilling the ‘own content’ instead of the ‘other’s content’. To share your own content, there are a number of things you could do:

  1. Start Blogging – Once you write a blog post, share it on Twitter and share it multiple times throughout the day or week. You want to do this multiple times because if you only do it once, then not everyone will see it the one time you share it. The more times you share it (given that it’s space out over the course of a day, week, or month), then the more people that will see it.
  2. Find Facts, Figures & Demographics – Use Twitter to inform people about human rights by tweeting facts, figures, and demographics. If you can cite the source within your tweet, even if it’s just by adding their twitter handle (@humanrights as an example), then that’s even better. This gives people something to retweet and a good reason to follow you, as you inform them and provide insight into human rights issues and abuses.
  3. Start Conversations – It’s okay to tweet during the meeting, or to ask questions about human rights, or to provide comment on current news and issues. Everything you tweet doesn’t have to be a link. Simply sharing thoughts or encouraging others to share thoughts is great also.

Related Links:

How to Use Blogging to Promote Human Rights

4 Things that Need to Be on Your Amnesty Chapter Website

How to Use Facebook to Promote Human Rights

President Obama’s Leadership on International Human Rights (Part 8 of 8)

business, labor and human rightsThis is the last blog post in our eight-part series covering the Obama administration’s action and leadership on international human rights, focusing on international disability rights and the connection between labor and human rights. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is up for consideration again in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, so it would be great if we could ratify this treaty this year, among other laws and treaties.

Next week, we’ll continue with our regular blog posting, covering topics such as recent human rights news, resources to help you with your activism, and notifications for upcoming human rights events in the area. As a reminder, our first St. Louis Amnesty chapter meeting of 2014 is Jan. 14. More details on the meeting when we get closer to the date, but don’t forget that our chapter is taking action this year also.

Promoting International Disability Rights

The Obama Administration is making international disability rights a key component of our international human rights policy, carrying forward our nation’s legacy of leadership as a champion for dignity, access, opportunity, and inclusion for persons with disabilities.

Institutionalizing our Support

The Obama Administration has created the new positions of Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the State Department and Coordinator for Disability and Inclusive Development at USAID.  With the leadership of these senior officials, the United States can better ensure that foreign assistance and development programs incorporate persons with disabilities, that the needs of persons with disabilities are addressed in international emergency situations, and that our public diplomacy addresses disability issues.

Ratifying the Disabilities Treaty

In 2009, during his first year in office, President Obama directed his Administration to sign the Convention the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a treaty grounded in the same principles as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the center of gravity for efforts to expand disability rights globally.  We are working to secure Senate advice and consent for ratification so that the United States can join the other 138 parties to the treaty.  While our diplomats and development professionals are doing great work on disabilities issues, our status as a non-party to the Treaty means that we lose credibility and leverage in this area.  By joining the Treaty, the United States will carry forward its legacy of global leadership on disability rights, enhance our ability to bring other countries up to our own high standards of access and inclusion, and help expand opportunities abroad for over 50 million Americans with disabilities – including our 5.5 million disabled veterans.  Our ratification will amplify and enhance the current work of the State Department and USAID by positioning the United States to be an effective champion for the kinds of systemic reforms needed to raise standards and improve the lives of persons with disabilities globally.

Business, Labor, and Human Rights

Because the activities of businesses have impacts on the lives of millions of people around the world, the U.S. government is working with U.S. companies to help them uphold high standards and ensure their activities respect the human rights of people in the communities where they do business.

Supporting Business Activities

The United States encourages and supports the activities of business that help solve global challenges and improve the welfare of people – for example, by hosting meetings and conference calls among U.S. companies, investors, and U.S. government experts to discuss how companies can effectively address labor and human rights challenges in particular countries.

Partnering Together

We support initiatives that harness the comparative advantages of business and government by working together – such as the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights initiative, in which the United States works with other governments, companies, and civil society organizations to promote the implementation of a set of principles that guide oil, gas, and mining companies in providing security for their operations in a manner that respects human rights.

Promoting Respect for Human Rights

We promote the rule of law, respect for human rights, and a level playing field by encouraging responsible business behavior and inviting engagement by business in venues that advance best practices.  For example, as part of the easing of sanctions on Burma last year, the Department of State established reporting requirements for newly authorized U.S. investment in Burma.  This reporting process will encourage responsible investment and business operations, promote inclusive economic development, and contribute to the welfare of the Burmese people.

This United States is also a strong supporter of decent work and of internationally recognized workers’ rights as a matter of both human rights and economic policy.  We work through bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, trade, investment and development policy, and through human rights and technical assistance programs to help ensure that working people everywhere enjoy fundamental labor rights, as defined by the 1998 International Labor Organization (ILO) declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and by U.S. law.  In doing so, we work closely with our trading partners, the ILO, the private sector, and the global labor movement.

Related Links:

President Obama’s Leadership Part 1 – LGBT Rights

President Obama’s Leadership Part 2 – Women’s Rights

President Obama’s Leadership Part 3 – National Security and Human Rights

President Obama’s Leadership Part 4 – Civil Society, Open Government, Internet Freedom

President Obama’s Leadership Part 5 – Human Trafficking

President Obama’s Leadership Part 6 – Mass Atrocities

President Obama’s Leadership Part 7 – Religious Freedom

Obama’s Leadership on International Human Rights (Part 7 of 8)

religious freedomHappy New Year! 2013, especially in the last 30 days, saw many human rights victories! These include Burma’s pledge to release the rest of its political prisoners and the release of Pussy Riot. What victories will we see in 2014? Hopefully, we’ll see a human rights victory or two in international religious freedom and the Obama administration’s engagement of religious leaders. This is the focus of part 7 of our exploration of President Obama’s leadership on international human rights.

International Religious Freedom and Religious Leader Engagement

Programmatic Responses

The Department of State manages approximately $10 million in foreign assistance programs to promote religious freedom, which includes current efforts to remove discriminatory and hateful material from Middle Eastern textbooks, promote greater awareness of intolerance and the plight of religious minorities globally, and hold discussions with the Pakistan government, civil society, and the religious community on issues such as curriculum reform in the public and madrassa education systems.  The State Department also implements programs to support the Human Rights Council resolution on combating discrimination and religious intolerance, while protecting the freedoms of religion and expression.  The program assists governments in training local officials on cultural awareness regarding religious minorities and on enforcing non-discrimination laws.  The training, shaped by the needs of the host country, includes topics such as legislative reform; best practice models; prosecuting violent crimes motivated by religious hatred; metrics; and discrimination in employment, housing and other areas.

Case-specific Responses

U.S. officials press foreign governments at all levels to advance religious freedom, including through advocacy on specific cases, such as the case of Saeed Abedini – an Iranian-American pastor imprisoned in Iran – and Rimsha Masih – a Christian child accused of blasphemy in Pakistan.

Religious Leader and Faith Community Engagement

Given the critical role of religious actors in their communities, the United States has developed a strategy that encourages U.S. government officials to develop and deepen their relationships with religious leaders and faith communities as they carry out their foreign policy responsibilities.  Specifically, the strategy seeks to advance the following objectives through more robust engagement with religious leaders and faith communities, as part of a broader effort to reach out to a diverse set of civil society actors:  promote sustainable development and more effective humanitarian assistance; advance pluralism and human rights, including the protection of religious freedom; and prevent, mitigate, and resolve violent conflict and contribute to local and regional stability and security.

Related Links:

President Obama’s Leadership Part 1 – LGBT Rights

President Obama’s Leadership Part 2 – Women’s Rights

President Obama’s Leadership Part 3 – National Security and Human Rights

President Obama’s Leadership Part 4 – Civil Society, Open Government, Internet Freedom

President Obama’s Leadership Part 5 – Human Trafficking

President Obama’s Leadership Part 6 – Mass Atrocities