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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Links:

The President and Human Rights

What Does Legalized Gay Marriage Mean for the US?

Good News on the Warren Hill Case in Georgia

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DOMA is Unconstitutional, and Other Human Rights News

human rights newsThe big news of yesterday is that the Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional! The victory means the federal government must recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples married in the 12 states that allow same-sex marriage, plus the District of Columbia, and give them the same benefits that they had been previously denied under DOMA. With this in mind, here are the other big human rights stories of the month, including the impact this ruling has on human rights:

What Do Today’s Supreme Court Decisions Mean for LGBT Human Rights? – Human Rights Now Blog – Not only was DOMA ruled unconstitutional, but Proposition 8 from California was also ruled unconstitutional. The Court said that those who brought the case to defend the amendment “lacked standing” to do so. Even though every state doesn’t allow same-sex marriage, at least not yet, these rulings mean that federal law recognizes these marriages. It also means that Californians may get the right to marry whomever they want any day now.

Force-Feeding Guantanamo Detainees is Unethical and Inhumane – The Guardian – As the U.S. takes one leap forward in human rights, we take a few steps back also. The hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay is still happening, and force-feeding is being used because “Guantánamo prisoners are irrational and approaching death”. Force-feeding is actually awful, as previously victims of force-feeding (from other prison hunger strikes) have said that it hurts a great deal and produces intense vomiting. It’s surprising this has fallen off the radar in American media, even as the situation has intensified.

Kimberly McCarthy Executed: Texas Carries Out 500th Execution – Huffington Post – While much hullabaloo was happening over other issues, Texas executed its 500th inmate this week since it resumed carrying out capital punishment in 1982. McCarthy was also the 13th woman executed in the United States, and the fourth in Texas history. It was a sad day for death penalty abolitionists everywhere. Although it doesn’t look like McCarthy was innocent, or that there was strong evidence of improprieties, capital punishment is a gross human rights violation because of its disproportional application.

Gov. Perry Scolds Teen-Mom Senator for Not Heeding ‘Her Own Example’ – ABC News – Gov. Perry also called the pro-life agenda a “human rights issue” as he once again called for a special session to look at SB 5. Texas legislators will now be back in Austin to work on passing (or not passing) the legislation again. This issue has taken center state this week as Sen. Wendy Davis filibustered the bill for over nine hours on Tuesday. The Republicans almost managed to pass the bill, but after a lot of confusion, the record showed that the vote started after midnight and after the legislative session was over. That night was a huge demonstration of democracy, and we should expect nothing less as, essentially, the whole process happens all over again.

Sudan: 14 Women Released, 20 Still Detained – Association for Women’s Rights in Development – Very rarely do we post an urgent action, but this is one that I came across that requires attention. Thirty-four women were arrested in November 2012. Although 14 have been released, 20 are still detained, and none of these women were charged with any crime. Five of the 34 women were detained with their children, ages ranging from six months to 18 months. This urgent action is to ensure that the remaining 20 women are released, or charged with a recognizably criminal offense. We also want to ensure that they are given medical treatment and are given access to legal representation.

Related Links

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15 Human Rights Violations Happening Right Now

human rights violations

Photo by Glyn Lowe Photoworks

Human rights violations are prevalent around the world, but often receive little attention in the mainstream media. On top of that, in some countries, reporting on human rights violations puts you at risk for enforced disappearance, arrest, and/or provocation from the government, law enforcement, or the military. This only highlights the need to talk about these issues and to be aware of their existence, at the very least. Here are 15 human rights violations happening in the world now:

India

Every 21 minutes, a woman is raped in India. Most rapes go unreported and even those rapes that are reported often go unpunished. Recently, a college student in New Delhi, India was attacked in a speeding private minibus with iron rods, which punctured her intestines. She and her friend were tossed from the minibus and, despite begin dumped on a crowded street, it took 40 minutes for a passerby to contact the police. The victim died.

Somalia

Somali authorities had unlawfully detained a journalist and three others linked to the case of a woman who reported being raped by state security forces. They were arrested solely because of the increasing media attention given to high levels of rape and other sexual violence in southern and central Somalia.

Myanmar

Many political prisoners are still imprisoned in Myanmar, having been falsely charged or convicted of a serious offense, arbitrarily detained, or imprisoned solely for their peaceful political activities. The formation of a government committee to review political prisoner cases is a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough to end these abuses.

Rwanda

The recent clampdown on freedom of associate and unfair trial of Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire that led to a sentence of eight years in prison have effectively created a repressive environment where people dare not speak out.

Vietnam

At the beginning of 2013, Vietnamese authorities convicted 14 pro-democracy activists for “plotting to overthrow the government.” The sentences range from three to thirteen years.

Zimbabwe

Human rights defenders and political activists in Zimbabwe have been arrested, detained, harassed, tortured, or even killed for exercising their rights to peaceful protest and freedom of assembly and association.

Bangladesh

Continued challenges face human rights activists as protestors demand the execution of Abdul Quader Mollah for his role in “beheading a poet, raping an 11-year-old girl, and shooting 344 people” during the 1971 Liberation War. As we demand justice for crimes, we cannot accept calls for the death penalty for convicted war criminals.

South Africa

Last year in South Africa, police attacks on protesting miners led to the deaths of 34 miners and more than 70 injuries.

North Korea

New satellite images raise fears that the North Korean government is starting to blur the line between the country’s horrendous political prison camps and regular villages.

Central African Republic

A precarious human rights tragedy is unfolding in the Central African Republic since the alliance of armed opposition groups, Seleka, has topped the CAR government, sending the president into exile and citizens into crisis yet again.

China

2010 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo is serving an 11-year prison sentence for co-authoring a proposal for political and legal reform in China.

Mali

The human rights situation in Mali is grave. Findings from an Amnesty International mission tell of executions and disappearances of civilians, arbitrary arrests, beatings, and other horrors reminiscent of the crimes committed in Darfur.

Sierra Leone

While stability and security have increased in Sierra Leone since 2002 with the end of the country’s decade-long war, civilians face grinding poverty, female genital mutilation is prevalent, and the maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the world.

Gambia

The human rights situation in Gambia is dire. Government opponents, human rights defenders, and journalists have been arbitrarily arrested and detained. Torture is widely used by security forces, and prison conditions are appalling.

Liberia

Victims of mass executions, mass rapes, and mutilations throughout the Liberian civilian war have yet to see all of those responsible for those abuses held accountable, as the justice system struggles to provide access to justice for all Liberian citizens.

Related Links:

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May Human Rights News Roundup – US Foreign Policy Edition

human rights newsThis month’s human rights news roundup includes articles regarding US foreign policy and how the country is handling international human rights issues or the violations in other countries. Primarily, the emphasis in on drones, but that’s not the only thing the administration is focusing on. Catch up with what President Obama and other officials are doing in this news roundup.

Obama Drone Oversight Proposal Prompts Concerns Over ‘Kill Courts’ – The Guardian – In the president’s national security speech last week, he said that he has asked Congress to consider establishing a special court or oversight board to authorize lethal action outside of war zones. He also said that the attacks will be limited and will be carried out by the US military instead of the CIA. Obama said in the speech that with a court or oversight board, it bring in an additional branch of government into the process. This worries human rights and civil liberties groups because it doesn’t change the perspective that the US has a legal right to kill suspected terrorists abroad without trial. It also continues the ‘global war on terror’ and other human rights violations associated with it, such as indefinite detention and unlawful killings.

Kerry, in Africa, Presses Nigeria on Human Rights – The New York Times – Secretary of State John Kerry made this point when he visited the country last week, urging the Nigerian armed forces to keep human rights violations in check when defending itself and the country against Islamic militants. There have been reports in the northeast provinces that the Nigerian army and policy have committed extrajudical killings against both militants and civilians. Kerry did say that the Nigerian government acknowledges the abuses, and that he supports the right of the government and the military to defend itself against the militants.

Did Myanmar President Thein Sein Deserve a Warm Welcome? – Amnesty International – Myanmar/Burma has made great progress in human rights over the past few years, most notably its release of several hundred political prisoners. However, the country and President Thein Sein still have a lot of work to do to further improve human rights in the country. In particular, it needs to build the rule of law, transparency, and accountability, and a prime example of this is with the Rohingya. They are subject to many discriminatory practices as well as growing anti-Muslim violence, but no one in government is denouncing the discrimination.

US: Take Lead Against Lethal Robotic Weapons – Human Rights Watch – Today, for the first time, countries will debate the challenges posed by fully autonomous weapons, sometimes called “killer robots,” at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Drones aren’t fully autonomous, but are very close. A UN special rapporteur has asked for a halt on fully autonomous robotic weapons. The introduction of drones and fully autonomous weapons has drastically changed warfare, and that a directive of self-restraint (which is what the US has presently regarding these weapons) isn’t enough. It would be hard to uphold if other countries start using these weapons without similar restraint.

Human Rights in Russia: Pussy Riot Takes Part in Committee Debate – European Parliament News – Although this article has nothing to do with US foreign policy, the Pussy Riot case is something that Amnesty International has been following and working on for some time. So far, only one of the three women of Pussy Riot, Ekaterina Samutsevich, has been released. The other two are still in prison serving sentences. One of them, Maria “Masha” Alekhina, is a single mother who was not allowed to defer serving her sentence until her son turned 14.

You can still take action on this issue by sending a letter to the Prosecutor General.

Related Links:

Sex Trafficking in the United States [Slideshow]

The President and Human Rights

Drones and Lethal Force: The Issue and the Action

April Human Rights News Roundup

human rights newsIt’s that time of the month where we do our roundup of some the latest human rights news from across the web. This month is another month where most of the news focuses on the United States, which is kind of a good thing, since there’s isn’t enough discussion of human rights in the United States. Below are some of most important human rights news articles from the past month:

Rights Groups, In Letter to Obama, Question Legality and Secrecy of Drone Killings – The New York Times – Our rally a few weekends ago was perfect timing, since from then on have we seen an increase in the coverage regarding drone secrecy. The impact our rally had isn’t the point. The point is that more people are paying attention to this secrecy and what our tax dollars are going toward. This nine-page letter, of which Amnesty International was a signatory, asks the administration to “publicly disclose key targeted killing standards and criteria; ensure that U.S. lethal force operations abroad comply with international law; enable meaningful Congressional oversight and judicial review; and ensure effective investigations, tracking and response to civilian harm.”

Three Human Rights Victories You Helped Make Happen – Amnesty International Blog – Yes, our work actually makes a difference! But, as a human rights activist and a reader of this blog, you knew that already. However, it’s always great to have a reminder of what you an accomplish when it comes to protecting human rights and to changing the law. Our recent victories include abolishing the death penalty in Maryland and securing the Arms Trade Treaty.

Guantanamo Bay and Indefinite Detention: Hunger Strike Continues – Human Rights Watch – Over half of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay are participating in a hunger strike at the prison, which is in its third month and is partly started by the growing realization that some of these people may never go home. Others say the protest started in February after guards handled Korans in a disrespectful way during the search. Whatever the case may be, when you consider that more than half of the detainees were approved for transfer to their home or third countries by an Obama administration interagency task force in 2009, it’s hard to see why Guantanamo Bay needs to be open.

Still the Guy Who Taught America to Torture – The Economist – Four years after the presidency of George W. Bush, it’s getting safe to discuss what his administration’s legacy is, and what this man’s legacy is as president. Particularly regarding his policies in foreign affairs, human rights, civil liberties, and the War on Terror, his record is abysmal, putting it a little more bluntly. The article makes a great point that the positions of Bush and his administration may see centrist now, but are really right-wing, and only seem centrist because the mentalities have continued to linger since he left office.

How Do I Become an International Human Rights Lawyer – The Guardian – For anyone wanting to pursue a career in human rights, human rights law is an option, albeit a competitive one. This article discusses what it takes to be a human rights lawyer in the UK (not sure if the landscape is similar in the US). Hint: learn a language and volunteer to do similar work to build experience.

Related Links:

The President & Human Rights

How Does Amnesty International Ensure its Impartiality?

Torture & Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

March Human Rights News Roundup

human rights newsIt’s Good Friday! At this point, Facebook has turned red in honor of LGBT rights and the Supreme Court case challenging DOMA right now. As marriage equality gets its week in the spotlight, we can’t forget the other human rights issues and events happening this week and that happened this month. And, we must say, that for a Good Friday, it’s actually been a pretty good month when it comes to human rights:

Delaware Senate narrowly approves bill repealing death penalty; measure now goes to House – Washington Post – Although this victory is a small one, it’s a step in the right direction. It’s unknown whether Delaware will go through with repeal all the way to the governor, but with one more state taking action, it’ll only be a matter of time before Delaware does repeal and for other states to do the same.

Malala First to Sign New Petition Calling for Protection of Teachers and Girls Who Want to Go to School – Huffington Post – Ever wondered what happened to Malala, the 14-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot for her work promoting women’s education? Well, not only did she recover from her wounds, be she is now first person (her father is the second) to sign a UN envoy petition calling on the Pakistani government to ensure the safety and security of teachers and girls who want to go to school. The petition started this week following the assassination of Shahnaz Nazli. Shahnaz, a 41-year-old Pakistani woman, was shot on her way to work at a girls’ school in Jamrud.

Buyers, Beware: UN Arms Trade Treaty will Regular Gun Ownership in the United States – Fox News – Not only did this article come out yesterday, but it IS ABSOLUTELY NOT TRUE. The UN Arms Trade Treaty will NOT regulate individual gun ownership in the United States. We repeat, this treaty will have no bearing on the Second Amendment or domestic gun ownership. The treaty reaffirms that countries have the responsibility to regulate and to control transfers of weapons that take place exclusively within its territory. The treaty will only affect trades and transfers between countries and their governments. This article in the Huffington Post does a good job outlining what’s true and not true regarding the Arms Trade Treaty.

8: A Play About the Fight for Marriage Equality – Okay, we couldn’t go this whole article without mentioning something about marriage equality. After all, it’s a monumental moment in human rights and legalizing gay marriage will be huge for the LGBT movement. Therefore, if you have 90 minutes to spare, you should watch this play about the U.S. District Court case in 2010 to overturn Proposition 8. It features an all-star cast including George Clooney, Kevin Bacon, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Martin Sheen, so if anything, you should watch the play because it’ll be downright good theater.

US Abolition Day and Good News on VAWA

Reggie ClemonsIf you didn’t already know, today is US Death Penalty Abolition Day. It’s one day dedicated to bringing awareness to capital punishment, highlighting the cases of possibly innocent people on death row and the many others who’ve been exonerated from death row. To celebrate, we are changing our profile pictures on Facebook to that of Reggie Clemons, a case that our chapter and Amnesty International has worked hard on (you can use the picture in this post if you don’t have a picture of Clemons to use). As we await the results from the Special Master, we want to continuing supporting the cause and working hard toward getting Clemons released and abolishing the death penalty. However, if you want to do more than change your profile picture, then there a few options:

  • Consider contributing to the One for Ten campaign. One For Ten will be a series of short documentary films telling the stories of ten innocent people who spent an average of ten years each on death row in the USA. All of these people were locked up and facing death for crimes they did not commit. This campaign is currently on Indiegogo and is looking for funds to keep its project going.
  • Write a letter to stop a scheduled execution in your state. Here is a list of the upcoming executions around the country.
  • Catch up with the latest news with our death penalty news roundup.

Good News on VAWA!

If you haven’t already heard, the House passed a comprehensive version of the Violence Against Women Act! A big thank you to all of those who made calls, wrote letters, sent emails, and etc., as the bill passed earlier this week by a vote of 268-138. Having already passed the Senate, the bill now heads to the White House for President Obama’s signature. This bill is badly needed, and it was a shame that it actually expired several months ago. Our work makes a huge difference, both domestically and abroad, and we will continue this work on more issues throughout the year.