President Obama’s Leadership with International Human Rights (Part 6 of 8)

preventing mass atrocitiesPart six of our eight part series focuses on preventing mass atrocities as well as multilateral efforts to prevent human rights efforts. These issues will be worth watching over the course of the next 12 months, maybe even 24 months, as many international issues progress. These issues and situations include the Thailand protests, the Ukraine protests, the situation in South Sudan, as well as increased violence and upheaval in Bangladesh and Cambodia. These situations may require UN intervention or US diplomacy, so President Obama’s leadership with foreign policy will be watched as he finishes his second term.

Preventing Mass Atrocities

President Obama announced in 2012 a comprehensive Administration strategy to prevent atrocities, underscoring that “preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America.” The U.S. government is working to implement that strategy and investing in prevention efforts within the U.S. government and around the world. As part of this strategy, President Obama established an Atrocities Prevention Board to coordinate and prioritize atrocity prevention efforts within the U.S. government. Through the Board, U.S. departments and agencies are identifying and helping address atrocity threats and developing new policies and tools to enhance the capacity of the United States to effectively prevent and respond to atrocities.

Improving our own capacities

Agencies are using early warning tools to ensure timely attention to potential drivers of atrocity risk and share our analysis with other governments; assisting U.S. embassies by providing surges of skills and expertise to help assess and respond to atrocity threats; and developing and implementing new training for personnel serving in countries at high risk.

Multilateral institutions and peacekeeping capabilities

The U.S. government is working closely with other governments to help build the capacity of the United Nations and other institutions to better protect civilians, mediate conflicts, and take other effective preventive measures.

Supporting country-specific prevention efforts

The U.S. government is undertaking and supporting preventive measures in countries around the world, including supporting the training and deployment of African Union peacekeepers to the Central African Republic; supporting efforts to prevent violence and protect vulnerable communities in Burma; supporting projects that lay the foundation for accountability for atrocities in Syria; and continuing to advise and assist regional partners as part of a comprehensive effort to mitigate and end the threat posed to civilians and regional stability by the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Strengthening Multilateral Human Rights Mechanisms

Leading at the UN Human Rights Council

Since joining the UN Human Rights Council in 2009 and following our re-election in 2012, U.S. leadership has helped muster international action to address human rights violations worldwide and make the HRC more credible and effective. The United States supported the establishment of international commissions of inquiry to investigate human rights violations and help lay the groundwork for accountability, including in Syria, North Korea, and Qadhafi’s Libya. We led the creation of a UN special rapporteur on Iran to highlight the deteriorating human rights situation. U.S. co-sponsorship helped adopt the first-ever resolution in the UN system on the human rights of LGBT persons. We built a global coalition to advance freedom of assembly and association worldwide, including by facilitating the establishment of the first-ever Special Rapporteur for these issues and by underscoring the important role civil society plays in promoting and protecting human rights. And we worked across historical divides to win adoption of a landmark resolution calling on all states to take positive measures to combat intolerance, violence, and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief, while protecting the freedom of expression.

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


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.

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

3 Unfounded Reasons to be Against the UN Arms Trade Treaty

UN Arms Trade TreatyThis article was originally published in the latest newsletter from the Peace Economy Project. We’re re-posting it here as the Arms Trade Treaty is discussed this week in New York. Over the weekend, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) proposed an amendment to the Senate’s budget bill that would prohibit the U.S. from signing the ATT. The Senate approved the measure by a vote of 53-46. Although it’s likely that we will end up with some sort of treaty, whether or not the Obama Administration or anyone else supports it. It’s a matter of how strong of a treaty we are going to get.

Earlier in July, Iceland became the first country to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty. If 49 more countries ratify this treaty, then the international arms trade regulations outlined in the treaty will be entered into force. The United States, although supported and instrumental of bringing this treaty to fruition, will not be on of 49 countries to ratify this treaty. In fact, it will be a shock if we even sign this treaty at all.

Even though the Arms Trade Treaty is specifically about international arms trade, and has nothing to with the Second Amendment or how U.S citizens use or purchase guns in this country (unless, of course, they plan to commit human rights abuses or purchase guns directly from China), many Americans still oppose this treaty. The main reasons behind this opposition are unfounded fears and untruths. Here are three of these unfounded reasons that, unfortunately, will prevent the U.S from signing this treaty at all.

The Arms Trade Treaty will create a national firearms registry, or will require American gun owners to register their guns with the United Nations

Even though the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the President have the power to control the import of firearms and defense items, this has nothing to do with any sort of national registry. All the treaty does is require each country to adopt measures to prevent weapons from getting into the black market by keeping records of weapons entering or leaving the country. A registry wouldn’t do anything because the weapons are already in the country, and wouldn’t mean anything to the overall international arms trade. Besides, the requirements outlined in the treaty are the same as current U.S. law. There wouldn’t be any change to the law or domestic registration if the treaty were ratified.

The Arms Trade Treaty Doesn’t Mean Anything if Countries Like Russia and China Don’t Sign It

This argument is ridiculous, because it’s similar to arguing that a law against murder shouldn’t exist because axe murderers will still murder, so the law means nothing unless axe murderers stop murdering and follow such a law. Yes, murder still exists in today’s world, but that doesn’t mean the law isn’t doing anything. Just because some countries may not sign this doesn’t mean that having the treaty in place isn’t going to have an impact or make any substantial difference. Yet, this is an argument that has been used to oppose previous international treaties, most notably the Kyoto Protocol and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The Arms Trade Treaty will Prevent the U.S from Aiding Israel

Weapons should not end up in the hands of human rights abusers, even if these abusers are our political allies or are receiving aid from the United States. If Israel is committing human rights abuses, then they should not be receiving weapons from us or anyone else. That’s the point of this treaty. If we still want to provide aid to Israel, then we can do so in a way that doesn’t mean giving or selling weapons. However, no politician wants to be seen as anti-Israel, so this argument will be enough to drive representatives away from supporting the Arms Trade Treaty.

Opposition to the Arms Trade Treaty is like opposing the construction of a school because it could be a horrible school, or because kids could fight in the halls, or because bad teachers could end up there. Sure, those things could happen, but that doesn’t mean you don’t build the school and stop kids from getting an education. You address these other issues as they arise, or you implement additional measures to prevent these things from happening. Opposing the construction of the school in this example means overlooking the bigger picture of education, just like opposing the treaty overlooks the bigger picture of human rights violations and the current contribution of the arms trade to those violations.

Related Links:

15 Human Rights Violations that are Happening Right Now

The President & Human Rights

Drones and Lethal Force: The Issue and the Action

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