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!

Upcoming Execution in MO, Vigils to Be Held to Spread Awareness

death penalty abolitionMissourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (MADP) will hold vigils on Tuesday, November 19 to protest the execution of Joseph Franklin, scheduled for Wednesday, November 20.”While there’s no issue of innocence, Franklin retains as a human being a fundamental right to life,” according to MADP chair Rita Linhardt. He has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic with delusions. He left a number of victims in the course of several years of murders; MADP offers condolences to the families and friends of all those victims.

Also, MADP asserts, the growing secrecy behind executions is ominous: state law forbids making known the identity of the physician, the anesthesiologist who supervises the execution, although the American Society of Anesthesiologists has spoken out strongly discouraging anesthesiologists from taking part in executions. Also, the new drug protocol for the lethal injection calls for pentobarbitol acquired from a compounding pharmacy, a type of pharmacy under much less regulation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and thus cause for worry, but the state refuses to make public the identity of the pharmacy.

Vigils Scheduled Around the State

Springfield: Tuesday, Park Central Square, 11.30 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information call Donna, 417-459-2960. Cancelled if a stay is issued by 11/17.

St. Louis: Tuesday, St. Francis Xavier Church at the corner of Grand and Lindell, prayer service from 7:15 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. Vigil on church steps from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Then, we will travel to Bonne Terre to vigil outside the prison from 11 p.m. onwards. For information call Margaret, 314-322-5159.

St. Joseph: Tuesday, The Civic Center Park at the Statue of Liberty at 5 p.m.

Kansas City: Tuesday, JC Nichols Fountain in the Plaza, 4 p.m. – 5 p.m. For information call Cathleen, 816-206-8692

Columbia: Tuesday, Boone County Courthouse in front of the columns, corner of Walnut and 8th, 5 p.m. – 6 p.m. For more information contact 573-449-4585.

Jefferson City: Tuesday, across from the Supreme Court Building at 207 West High Street, 11 p.m. to midnight. For more information contact 573-449-4585. (Cancelled: 10:30 prayer service at St. Peter’s due to renovation.)

Bonne Terre: Tuesday November 19 – Wed. No. 20, candlelight vigil outside the Bonne Terre Prison, 2727 Hwy K, 11:00 p.m. until the end of execution. Contact Margaret Phillips at 314-322-5159.

St. Louis Human Rights Event Updates

business meeting updatesIf you missed last night’s monthly business meeting, then you better pay attention! There are a lot of changes, events, and updates coming up over the next few months, so read this now to learn what’s going on. We don’t anyone complaining that they didn’t know, or that we didn’t announce it, or that they weren’t told. All the information is below for your perusal and benefit:

Dirty Wars Discussion Moved to November

If you haven’t started our Amnesty book-club book yet, then you have an extra month to read it and to prepare (which is desperately needed since our book choice is over 500 pages long). Our discussion meeting will no longer take place during our October business meeting. It will now be during our November business meeting because plans have changed for our October meeting.

Reggie Clemons Updates in October

Instead of the book discussion, our Missouri death penalty abolition coordinator, Meredith, will be presenting at our October meeting about what’s in store regarding the Reggie Clemons ruling. Even though it will be another six to 12 months before the Missouri Supreme Court addresses the Clemons case, by then, Amnesty International will have a plan of action and direction on the issue.

Midwest Regional Conference

Also at the October meeting, we will be finalizing plans for our trip to the Midwest Regional Conference in Cincinnati. This will be the last day to sign up to go, as we will be settling on a departure time and a mode of transportation. The conference is for an entire weekend, so this isn’t an easy decision, but don’t wait too long or else you will have to find your own way there if you want to attend. If you do want to attend, and you want to attend with the group, then you can let us know by sending us an email at amnestystl (at) gmail (dot) com.

Upcoming Dirty Wars Screening

Besides the conference and the death penalty abolition activities, one of our upcoming events is a screening of the documentary Dirty Wars, which is based on the current book club reading. As of now, we are planning to have this event in January, but we don’t have any further details. If you’re looking to take part in an event or to be involved with our chapter, then there’s plenty to look forward to in the coming months.

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

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

14 MORE Human Rights Violations Happening Now

human rights violations 2As the United States takes a huge step forward in human rights, many other countries still have their own leaps to take. This also means that there is much human rights work to be done, even here in our own country. Here are 14 more human rights violations happening around the world today:

Russian Federation

In February 2012, members of Pussy Riot performed mere seconds of a protest song that was critical of authorities in Russia in Moscow’s main Orthodox cathedral. Two of the band members were found guilty of “hooliganism” and are serving sentences in notoriously brutal penal colonies, while the third faces restrictions on her freedom of movement and speech.

Mexico

Forty-seven women were detained during a protest by a peasant organization in San Salvador Atenco in 2006. Dozens of these women were subjected to physical, psychological, and sexual violence by the police officers while being transferred to prison. These women are still waiting for justice.

Syria

Peaceful protests in Syria in March 2011 were quickly met by government authorities responding with deadly force, leading to systematic and widespread human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity. The citizens of Syria are currently under attack by their own government. Government forces are indiscriminately bombing entire residential neighborhoods and killing entire families.

Guatemala

Throughout Guatemala, women and girls are being victimized with little action by the government. In 2012 alone, around 560 women were murdered across the Central American country, many after being sexually assaulted. Among the most recent victims were two young girls around age six and 12 who were found strangled to death in the street in Guatemala City.

China

Human rights defender Mao Hengfeng was sentenced to 18 months in “Re-education Through Labor (RTL)” last fall because of her work standing up for human rights. Her health has worsened while in detention. In February, she was allowed to serve the rest of her RTL term at home.

Nicaragua

Rape and sexual abuse are widespread in Nicaragua as the majority of victims are under 17 years old. Nicaragua’s “Law Against Violence Against Women” (passed in 2012) was a positive step. However, some areas of the law fall short of recognizing that gender violence has its roots in the unequal relations of power between men and women.

Nepal

Sanjiv Kumar Karna and four other students in Nepal were last seen in October 2003 when they were arrested by security force personnel. They students were reportedly beaten and have not been heard from since.

Peru

In Peru and across the Americas, Indigenous Peoples continue to fight to have their rights respected.

Sudan and Chad

Civilians displaced in Darfur and in the refugee camps of Eastern Chad continue to face attacks by government forces, pro-government militias, and armed opposition groups. In recent months 500 people were reportedly killed and roughly 100,000 displaced in attacks against civilians.

Bolivia

In Bolivia, survivors of human rights violations – including torture and enforced disappearances  committed during the military and authoritarian regimes 1964-1982) and their family members are still waiting for reparations for the abuses they or their loved ones suffered.

Iran

Iran is second only to China as the world’s leading executioner. Death row inmates can be executed at short notice, and the authorities are not required to inform families prior to executions.

Colombia

In Colombia, two women are raped every hour. The country’s 45-year-old internal conflict has created a dire human rights situation in which all parties to the conflict continue to subject women to rate and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence.

Afghanistan

A recent spike in civilian deaths in Afghanistan highlights the urgent need for all parties to the conflict to take greater precautions to avoid civilian casualties. In 2012, 2,754 Afghan civilians including children, were killed in conflict.

United States

The United States is conducting a secret drone killing program that appears to violate international human rights law. Reportedly, thousands of people, including children, have been killed to date.

Related Links:

15 Human Rights Violations Happening Right Now

Drones and Lethal Force: The Issue and the Action

4 Human Rights Issues that Need Attention in 2013