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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Write for Rights and Demand Justice for Miriam Lopez

Miriam Lopez

Miriam Lopez

During our Write for Rights campaign, not every single case is about freeing someone from prison, such as the case of Miriam Lopez. Lopez, a mother of four, was detained in February 2011 for over two months without charge at a military barracks. In that time, soldiers raped and tortured Lopez, wanting her to confess to trafficking drugs through a military checkpoint.

She was charged with a narcotics offense, but released in September 2011 after her case was thrown out for a lack of evidence. Lopez maintains that her travels through the checkpoint were to visit her mother, a trip she made several times a week. She’s filed a complaint of torture to the Federal Attorney’s Office, and has subsequently received death threats for doing so. Those who raped and tortured her have never been held accountable for her actions. It’s time to change that.

Sample Letter

Jesús Murillo Karam
Federal Attorney General
Procuraduría General de la República
Paseo de la Reforma 211-213
Col. Cuauhtémoc, C.P. 06500
Mexico City
Mexico

Dear Attorney General,

I respectfully request that you take action on the case of Miriam Isaura López Vargas. I’m deeply concerned that her story is emblematic of the widespread, systematic use of torture and ill-treatment in Mexico, which has increased in recent years. However, those responsible are virtually never held accountable. It is time to send a clear message that torture and ill-treatment, whether by members of the armed forces or the police, will not be tolerated. I call on you carry out a full, prompt and impartial investigation into the torture of Miriam López.

In February 2011 Miriam López was detained by members of the Mexican army in Ensenada. Officers tortured and sexually assaulted her, pressuring her to sign false statements. She was held in pre-charge detention (arraigo) for seventy-six days, and then charged with narcotics offenses. Miriam López was released in September 2011, when her case was thrown out of court for a lack of evidence. She filed a complaint of torture with the Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDH) and the Federal Attorney’s Office and subsequently received death threats.

In November 2012, the United Nations Committee against Torture issued new recommendations to the government of Mexico to implement concrete steps to combat torture, ensure effective investigation and prosecution of abuses and guarantee victims receive reparations. I look forward to hearing what your government is doing to comply with these recommendations, and about the actions you are taking to end the impunity of those members of the Mexican Army responsible for the detention, torture and sexual assault of Miriam Isaura López Vargas.

Securing truth, justice and reparations for Miriam Lopez would send the message that torture will not be tolerated by your government. Please investigate this crime and bring those responsible to justice.

Yours,
[Your Name]

Write-a-Thon Details

Our St. Louis chapter event is this Saturday! Hope to see you there!

Who: Our Amnesty International chapter and anyone else who wants to do something good for someone else this holiday season.

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

When: Saturday, Dec. 7 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: Schlafly Bottleworks – 7260
Southwest Ave.@ Manchester. Maplewood, MO 63143

Why: Because people need our help and we can make a difference, and because it’s fun

How: Just show up and enjoy great company, food, and beer (food and beer not free). We’ll provide the paper, pens, and pertinent information on each of the cases.

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.

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.

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