Secretary of State Kerry embarks today on a trip to Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola. The trip offers a key opportunity to refocus U.S. leadership on the deteriorating respect for human rights by the ruling governments in Addis Ababa and Luanda and on the need for more leadership on good governance by the government of President Kabila in Kinshasa.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Amnesty International USA in the theme of “Bringing Human Rights Home.” Read all posts in the series here.
Over the weekend, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed into law a bill that criminalizes being gay. Moreover, it criminalizes the “promotion of homosexuality,” which will directly impact human rights defenders, healthcare providers or others providing services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
These additional restrictions on top of already discriminatory policies directly undermine the human rights to privacy, health and freedom of expression and association – as the way the laws in Uganda and Nigeria have been written, conducting sex education or trainings on HIV and AIDS could be interpreted as promoting homosexuality and result in jail time of several years.
The new antigay law in Uganda is alarming and, sadly, not shocking. You note that it follows the passage of similar legislation in Nigeria and fits within a growing trend that Amnesty International reported on last July.
The developments in Uganda and Nigeria underscore the depth to which many African leaders are determined to go, not only to discriminate against a segment of their populations, but also to incite hatred and potentially acts of violence. It is a failure of their obligations, internationally and regionally, to protect the rights of people living within their borders and a failure of governance.
Nigeria. Africa’s most populous nation and for many observers, a barometer for political trends in West Africa, is no stranger to internal conflict.
Internal conflicts have threatened the country from the Biafran War in the eastern part of the country in the 1960s to turmoil in the Niger Delta that pitted the regime of the late head of State, Sanni Abacha and multinational oil companies against minority groups mobilized around environmental justice and a more equitable share on oil revenues.
While there have always been tensions and outbreaks of violence in the north, often along religious lines, the current crisis has a distinctly more ominous feeling and hopefully will focus international attention on the activities of the armed group Boko Haram, as well as the Nigerian military.
On September 5, the Kenyan parliament passed a motion to withdraw Kenya from the International Criminal Court. The decision came about days before Vice President Samoei Ruto faced trial at The Hague following his indictment for committing crimes against humanity in the bloody 2007 elections violence.
Last week, the African Union announced it would hold a special session in early October to discuss whether the AU members should withdraw from the ICC even as they announced plans to request that the hearings be transferred to Nairobi. The case has raised a critical and ongoing challenge to human rights in Africa:
Can political leaders in Africa be held to account for committing serious human rights abuses?
Last week, the Defending Freedoms project launched a Week of Action in which U.S. Representatives nationwide spoke out to highlight and give voice to political prisoners being held or detained around the world for expressing their views.
Members of Congress “adopted” prisoners of conscience and stood in solidarity with them with a commitment to highlight their cases and push for their release, as well as for an end to the human rights abuses they had been subjected to.
These individuals have been imprisoned because of who they are, what they believe, and how they have chosen to express their convictions. As a result, they are prevented from enjoying the most fundamental human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards.
The Defending Freedoms project was kick-started by Representatives Wolf and McGovern adopting the initiative’s first two prisoners of conscience – Gao Zhisheng of China and Bahrain’s Nabeel Rajab. In late 2012, Congress’ nonpartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) joined the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and Amnesty International USA to create the Defending Freedoms initiative as a way to raise awareness and support for human rights and religious freedom by focusing on human rights defenders, political prisoners, and those who have been unjustly imprisoned around the world.
To the world, he is known as Nelson, an English name given to him by a teacher on his first day of school. To many South Africans, he is known by his Xhosa clan name: Madiba. And there is another name Nelson Mandela is known by, one that reflects the place he holds in the hearts of South Africans: “tata” or “father.”
Today, the former South African President and Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela, father of South African democracy and role model for human rights defenders everywhere, turns 95. It would be a notable milestone for anyone, but all the more incredible for Madiba because of the human rights issues he has helped advance during his lifetime.
At long last, the 2013 country reports documenting global human rights trends has been released by the U.S. Department of State.
This year’s report, which was first produced during the Carter administration, is as important for what it does not say – or perhaps how it says it – as it is for what it says. In looking back at events in 2012, the report highlights several alarming trends, first what can only be described as a growing assault on civil society and human rights defenders.
Could the NRA’s opposition to an arms trade treaty have consequences for US security?
There are many confusing messages coming from the National Rifle Association with regard to the effort to forge a global arms trade treaty. The NRA poo-poos arguments that point to the incredible human suffering the unregulated global arms trade is causing, including the thousands of children who are forced to become soldiers. The NRA also continues to deliberately and falsely claim that the treaty will undermine gun rights in the United States, in spite of the fact that the draft treaty text from the July United Nations conference reiterates that the treaty’s ambit is the arms trade between nations, not within them.
Underpinning the NRA’s view of the treaty and the world is that any effort to restrict small arms and conventional weapons is bad, as it undermines individual security, which can only be safeguarded by arming the “good guys.” If this is the case, then what does the NRA have to say about the recent events that transpired in Algeria and are still unfolding in Mali?
Late last week, Congress reclaimed some of its human rights mojo when the bi-partisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) announced its new Defending Freedoms Project. The TLHRC was established in 1983 by the late Rep. Thomas Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor to have served in Congress.
The project kicked off with the TLHRC co-chairmen Frank R. Wolf adopting Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng and James P. McGovern taking on the case of jailed Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab.
The goal of this new partnership is to increase respect for religious freedom and other human rights around the world through a focus on individual cases of human rights defenders and those who have been unjustly imprisoned for exercising their human rights. Members of Congress will “adopt” at least one political prisoner, using their clout to highlight each case and push for an end to the human rights violations to which the highlighted individual is being subjected.