18 Important Human Rights Developments in 2015

human rightsCan you believe 2015 is almost over (and that the last time we blogged was over a year ago)? We accomplished so much in the past year and half, but this post is going to focus on 2015. This year was a big year for human rights, with both major milestones and major setbacks. Here are 18 important human rights developments that have taken place, or will take place, in 2015:

January 9

Raif Badawi, a blogger and prisoner of conscience sentenced by Saudi Arabia to 10 years and 1,000 lashes is publicly flogged for the first time. While the immediate global outcry helps prevent additional floggings, he remains behind bars. Raif’s cruel and unjust sentence is upheld by the Saudi Arabian Supreme Court in June, casting a further stain on that country’s already bleak human rights record.

January 22

A young woman imprisoned after suffering a miscarriage is granted a pardon by El Salvador’s Parliamentary Assembly – giving hope to the other 15 women languishing in jail on similar charges.

Update: One of those 15 other women is Teodora del Carmen Vasquez, who suffered a still-birth in 2007 and was sentenced to 30 years in prison for “aggravated homicide.” She’s one of Amnesty International’s Write for Rights cases this year.

March 10

Amnesty calls on Mexican authorities to investigate and address torture after the United Nations releases a scathing report detailing how this sickening practice is widespread among the country’ police and security forces.

April 28

Amnesty calls on Paraguay to repeal its draconian anti-abortion law after a 10-year-old girl who became pregnant after she was repeatedly raped, allegedly by her stepfather, is denied the option of an abortion.

Update: The girl, now 11, gave birth in August.

May 6

The Chicago City Council passes landmark legislation providing reparations for torture committed by former Chicago Police commander Jon Burge and detectives under his command. The reparations package marks the first time that survivors of ractially motivated police torture in the United States have been given the reparations they are entitled to under international law.

May 21

Legendary folk singer Joan Baez and world -renowned artist Ai WeiWei are awarded the 2015 Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award, which recognizes those who have shown exceptional leadership in the fight for human rights through their life and work.

May 27

Nebraska becomes the 19th U.S. state to abolish the death penalty.

Update: Nebraska’s repeal is still in limbo. A petition drive to overturn the abolition succeeded in getting enough votes, so the state will vote on a statewide referendum in November 2016. It’s important to note that Gov. Pete Ricketts, whose veto of the death penalty was overturned by the unicameral legislature, spent $200,000 of his own money to fund the petition drive.

June 1

Amnesty declares the expiration of the USA Patriot Act a symbolic repudiation of the claim that “national security” justifies giving the government an indefinite license to commit systematic rights violations.

June 8

U.S. District Judge James Brady grants Louisiana prisoner Albert Woodfox unconditional release after he has languished in solitary confinement for more than four decades and had his conviction overturned three times. The State of Louisiana has appealed the ruling and Amnesty continues to advocate for Albert’s freedom.

June 26

The Supreme Court of the United States issues a historic ruling affirming the right of same-sex couples across the country to legally marry.

Amnesty marks International Day in Support of Victims of Torture with a global push for governments to respect the ban on torture and hold torturers accountable.

July 9

Amnesty calls on Chinese authorities to end their assault on human rights lawyers after more than 200 lawyers and activists were targeted by police in a nationwide crackdown.

August 7

Amnesty marks the one-year anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by shining the spotlight on the use of lethal force and racially discriminatory conduct by law enforcement officers and calling for reforms at the local, state and national levels.

August 11

An Amnesty investigation on sexual abuse by UN peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic sends shock waves globally, leading UN Sec. General Ban Ki-moon to remove the head of the Peacekeeping Operation and triggering a call for reform of accountability measures for UN peacekeeping troops around the world.

September 8

A Union of Protection: Amnesty International’s Agenda for Refugee Protection in Europe is released, setting out the urgently needed changes in Europe’s approach to the escalating refugee crisis.

September 15

Amnesty USA brings Ensaf Haidar, wife of Raif Badawi, to Washington to lobby the U.S. government to do more to convince Saudi Arabia to free Raif and respect the rights of all people.

September 23

Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were pardoned by Egyptian leader Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi. In August, Amnesty International had said the guilty verdicts handed down against the two journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were an affront to justice that sounded the death knell for freedom of expression in Egypt. Journalist colleague Peter Greste, who had left Egypt, had also been convicted in his absence.

September 25

The U.K. government announces that Shaker Aamer, held for over a decade without charge at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, will be transferred to the U.K., where his family resides.

December 4 – 18

Amnesty International holds Write for Rights, the world’s largest human rights event, mobilizing hundreds of thousands of people to send letters on behalf of 12 cases of individuals at risk, including prisoners of conscience.

Update: Join Amnesty STL for their own Write for Rights event on Dec. 12! We’ll be at Schafly Bottleworks from 4 – 9 p.m. writing letters and having a good time. If you want to take action against human rights abuses and help those in need, then please stop by on Dec. 12 to write some letters! Even just one letter would make a huge difference!

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President Obama’s Leadership on International Human Rights (Part 5 of 8)

human rights issues asiaAfter finishing four parts in this series (links are below), and present the 5th part here, I’ve finally determined that there will be a total of eight parts in this series. Only three more to go, as today’s post discusses the Obama administration’s leadership on human trafficking.

The administration hasn’t done much on the issue, and it would be tough to take action within the next two years among the other issues to be addressed, but it’s great that human trafficking is mentioned as a human rights issue that needs to be addressed. Human trafficking is a gross human rights violation that doesn’t get enough attention, and although it’s associated with many other countries around the world, this problem is also happening here in the United States. A big part of the issue is changing some of the laws, as in some states, trafficking victims are treated like criminals instead of victims. For example, if they are forced into prostitution, then they are more likely to be treated as a criminal for selling sex, instead of as a victim for being a sex slave.

Combating Human Trafficking

Following President Obama’s call to action at the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2012, and continuing with the first-ever White House Forum to Combat Human Trafficking in April 2013, a report and recommendations to the President by his Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and a further set of commitments announced this past September, the Administration has been working across the Federal government and with partners in Congress, local, state, and foreign governments and civil society to deliver on an ambitious agenda to combat modern-day slavery, which afflicts far too many communities, both here at home and around the globe.

Improving Victim Services and Building Effective Law Enforcement:

Identifying and serving victims and ensuring effective law enforcement are core elements of our efforts to promote successful anti-trafficking strategies, both at home and abroad.   To better coordinate and strengthen services for victims of human trafficking in the United States, the Administration is developing the first-ever comprehensive federal strategic action plan, which details a series of coordinated actions to strengthen the reach and effectiveness of services provided to victims of human trafficking.  In addition to numerous law enforcement initiatives at federal, state, and local levels, federal agencies have also recently launched a pilot project with ten embassies around the world to increase the flow of actionable trafficking-related law enforcement information from host countries to law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the United States, which will be used to identify victims and human traffickers both in the United States and around the globe.

Shining a Light on Government Responses to Trafficking Around the World

The State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report) each year sheds light on the global dimensions of the human trafficking problem, including child soldiering, sex trafficking, and forced labor, and on the anti-trafficking efforts of over 180 governments, including the United States.  The honest assessments provided in the TIP Report have proven to be one of our strongest tools to encourage foreign governments to take responsibility for the trafficking occurring within and across their borders and to help target our anti-trafficking foreign assistance. In addition to the information highlighted in the TIP Report, we also engage bilaterally at the highest levels of government on this issue, make targeted use of sanctions, and support foreign governments and stakeholders on a broad array of anti-trafficking initiatives.

Strengthening Protections in Federal Contracting

In September 2012, President Obama signed Executive Order 13627 to strengthen our country’s existing zero-tolerance policy on human trafficking in government contracting, outlining prohibitions on trafficking-related activities that will apply to federal contractors and subcontractors, and providing federal agencies with additional tools to foster compliance.  This past September, the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council issued a proposed rule to implement this Executive Order and the Ending Trafficking in Government Contracting provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2013.  The Department of Defense has also published a proposed regulatory supplement with additional steps that the Department will take to further prevent trafficking in its own supply chain.

Leveraging Technology

The Administration has been working with partners in civil society and the private sector to find new ways to harness the power of technology to more effectively combat human trafficking.  As one of many such examples, after being brought together by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Council on Women and Girls, leading technology companies have partnered with advocates and survivors to develop new online applications to reach trafficking victims online and on their phones and link them with services in their community.  The National Human Trafficking Resource Center – which, since its launch, has received nearly 90,000 calls and identified close to 12,000 victims – is now operating on a new mobile texting platform to more effectively connect with under-reached victim populations.

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

Inalienable Human Rights, Human Rights Victories, and Other News

human rights newsHappy Halloween! The human rights world, unfortunately, is full of tricks and treats. We make breakthroughs and suffer setbacks. Activists have made great progress on many issues this year, but there is plenty more work to be done. Below are the latest human rights news and articles from the past month, covering both our successes and our failures.

UN Commission: ‘Gross Human Rights Violations’ Take Place in North Korea – Voice of America – It’s almost common knowledge that North Korea has human rights violations, but the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea reveals that the problem is much more extensive and horrific than we imagined. One of these issues are the political prison camps. Not only are there four fully-functional prisons, but there is evidence that one has been scaled back and that another has been closed. No one knows what happened to the prisoners who populated those prisons. This is just one of the many human rights abuses documented in the country.

30 Inalienable Human Rights that No One Can Take Away – International Political Forum – United Nations Day was last week, but the work of the UN continues beyond this one day and it’s message carries beyond the day of its founding. The 65th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights is coming up, and this awesome video by Armenian artist Ani Boghossian highlights the 30 articles in the declaration and what they mean. It’s a beautifully artistic perspective on human rights.

Solitary Confinement’s Invisible Scars – The Guardian – Amnesty International USA just finished working on the case of Herman Wallace, who spent 41 years in solitary confinement and only became a free man two-and-a-half days before his death from liver cancer. In Wallace’s case, solitary confinement was cruel and unusual punishment because there wasn’t any justified reason for the lengthy sentence to solitude. This article argues that solitary confinement itself is torture and an egregious violation of human rights.

5 Human Rights Victories in Iran You Helped Make Possible – Amnesty International Blog – If there’s ever any doubt that our activism works, that our letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience make any difference, then these five human rights victories in Iran show otherwise. It takes a lot of hard work and persistence to make these changes, and although a change in leadership helps a great deal, it’s not the only thing necessary toward progress and toward the realization of inalienable human rights. The things needed most are lots of people contributing their voices.

Human Rights Groups Criticize U.S Drone Program – Huffington Post – It’s about time that the American people know the U.S drone program and drone strikes aren’t as lawful as the governments claims them to be. There is too much evidence that shows that civilians have been killed in these strikes, with no reparations for the victim’s families or further investigation to prevent them from happening. Although the administration says that it takes steps to prevent civilian casualties from happening in the first place, there’s no way to know what these steps are or if all of them are taken in every single planned drone strike. These drone strikes also aren’t strongly supported by the countries in which they take place, as the public is also led to believe.

Amnesty’s New Executive Director, and Other Human Rights News

human rights newsSeptember has quickly come and gone, and a lot has happened in the past month. Here are the latest and greatest human rights news articles from the past month.

Bringing Human Rights Home: A Message from Amnesty USA Executive Director Steven W. Hawkins – Human Rights Now – “We have to view human rights abuses as a call to action to do everything in our power to improve the world,” as Hawkins said. Amnesty International has a new leader, and so far, things seem hopeful. We, as Americans part of Amnesty International, are in a unique place to connect human rights abuses in our country with abuses around the world. We are in a unique place to use our voices and to fight injustice in ways that others can’t.

Where There’s No Emergency Phone Number, Kenya Tweets for Help – Global Voices – This is a neat article on how social media facilitates human rights advocacy. It’s also a nice reminder on how we can take things, like calling 911, for granted. In Kenya, since there isn’t such a number, people can tweet the Kenyan Red Cross with information about an incident. The Kenyan Red Cross gathers additional information, such as location, and then sends security forces or first responders to the scene. Because the recent shooting in Nairobi, the Twitter account now reaches over 50 million people around the world.

Does the US Meet Its Own International Human Rights Standards? – MSNBC – The U.S Human Rights Network says it’s doesn’t, and has filed a joint submission to the United Nations to ask the Obama administration to meet it’s own international human rights standards. The filing particularly details concerns regarding racial profiling, gun violence, and stop-and-frisk policies, although it includes information on a series of issues, and that these concerning laws violate international treaties such as the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights.

Snowden Among Nominees for a European Human Rights Prize – The New York Times – Edward Snowden, along with Malala Yousafzai,  Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, Erdem Gunduz, and others, has been nominated for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Previous winners of this prize include Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi. The winner will be announced later on this month, and is meant to honor to individuals or organizations who have dedicated their lives to the defense of human rights and freedom of thought. The CNN Freedom Project: Ending Modern-Day Slavery is the only other American, and the only organization, nominated this year.

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.