About Jungwon Kim

Jungwon Kim is the former editor of Amnesty International USA's membership magazine and other publications. Before she joined the staff of Amnesty International USA in 2003, she worked for Newsday, Public Radio International and Russell Simmons' 360hiphop.com. She is based in New York City.
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Federal Court’s Marriage Equality Ruling: A Victory for LGBT Rights

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On Thursday a U.S. federal appeals court in Boston struck down the provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that defines marriage as between one man and one woman, in a ruling that is a victory for both marriage equality and for human rights.

The court’s decision, which will not go into effect immediately, paves the way for the Supreme Court to consider the constitutionality of DOMA as early as next year.

“Congress’ denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts has not been adequately supported by any permissible federal interest,” wrote Judge Michael Boudin in the ruling. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Afghan Women to NATO: Don’t Bargain Our Rights Away

afghan women at school

Afghan teacher Meher Afroza with her students at an Islamic school in Kabul. Under the Taliban, few girls attended school. Today 3 million girls go to school, and 20 percent of university of graduates are women. (Photo: ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images)

World leaders, dignitaries and reporters will convene in Chicago next week for the 2012 NATO summit, and among the urgent questions they will consider is that of Afghanistan’s future after the 2014 withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops.

Yet Afghanistan’s female leaders were denied a place at the table for these critical discussions—despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s promise that the United States would not forsake the rights of Afghan women.

Indeed, recent developments signal that the significant but tenuous gains Afghan women have made over the past decade are mere bargaining chips in negotiations between U.S., Afghan and Taliban leaders seeking to expedite the transition to Afghan rule. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has proposed a program of “reintegration and reconciliation” with the Taliban that holds grim implications for women and girls, and in March he briefly endorsed an edict issued by a council of clerics that would allow husbands to beat their wives in certain situations and encourage gender segregation in workplaces and schools.


Marriage Equality: It’s About Human Rights, Not States’ Rights

Maria Vargas and Maira Garcia wait on line to get married at the City Clerk's office in Brooklyn, New York, on July 24, 2011, the first day gay couples were allowed to legally marry in New York state. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

President Obama’s courageous statement today in support of marriage equality was a boon to the human rights movement. The president’s announcement was especially heartening following the news yesterday that North Carolina passed a ban on marriage for same-sex couples and other partnership agreements and that Republican state legislators effectively blocked the Colorado Civil Union Act from going to a vote.

The president’s statement is also an important act of global human rights leadership that will no doubt lend hope to lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in countries like Saudi Arabia, Uganda and Cameroon who face threats of execution, torture, imprisonment and persecution for their sexual orientation.


Journalists Under Fire: 10 Reasons to Defend Free Speech


There are plenty of reasons to bemoan the state of U.S. journalism: shuttered foreign bureaus, the slow death by strangulation of investigative reporting, the incessant chatter of the punditocracy.

But let’s be real: although a passionate muckraker might not be able to make a decent living anymore, she can still pursue a story without fearing for her life.

Not so in many other parts of the world. If the way a society treats its journalists is a measure of how repressive it is, then 2011 has been banner year for autocrats and criminals.


Laying the Groundwork, Changing the World

The closing plenary of our 50th anniversary conference was packed with activists who were treated to a bit of organizational history by two Amnesty International veterans, Ellen Dorsey and Paul Hoffman. Ellen told the hundreds of predominantly young activists in the ballroom that she joined Amnesty International as a teenager 30 years ago “because I couldn’t learn about the world in my classes in the way that Amnesty would teach me about the world,” she said. “Amnesty has given back every step of the way and invested in me.”

When Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner took the stage, Dorsey seized the opportunity to ask him: “Will you please tell President Obama to close Guantánamo?” Her question brought a raucous cheer from the audience, and several hundred people rose to their feet. When the audience finally sat down, Posner, the former executive director of Human Rights First, said, “I will and have and will continue to tell anyone I can find in the administration that we have to take our word seriously. The challenge is that we are confronted by the political reality in this country. We hear all the time from people on the other side but don’t hear enough from people telling us to close Guantánamo now.” Amnesty International Secretary-General Salil Shetty reminded us that in order for Posner and other like-minded officials within the Obama administration to have influence, they need the backing of grassroots pressure from activists like us.


Aung San Suu Kyi Speaks to Amnesty International Activists

There is an antidote to the weariness, cynicism and paralysis perpetuated by the heartless churn of our 24-hour news cycle: Just listen to the voices of those who walk the razor’s edge each day as they fight to change the world. Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi addressed Amnesty activists by phone at the end of Day 2 of our 50th anniversary conference, graciously acknowledging the role of grassroots activism in her release after 15 years of detention by the military junta and encouraging us not to forget the 2,000-plus political prisoners who remain locked up in Burma.

Her brief address was followed by a riveting speech by Jenni Williams, co-founder of Women of Zimbabwe Arise, a group of women who have been jailed, tortured and persecuted for their non-violent demonstrations to demand social justice. Williams recalled one August night when police abducted seven WOZA members. “The phone calls started at 3 a.m. We heard our members had been arrested in suburbs, so we called Amnesty International. By 12 noon, all seven members were delivered back to their homes by the same police officers who had abducted them,” said Williams.

Earlier in the day, I spotted New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof listening to similarly harrowing tales at the well-attended panel discussion, “Muzzling the Watchdogs,” featuring Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho, Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam and Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi. All three had been arrested, imprisoned and persecuted for their work to expose injustice, and each was the subject of Amnesty International urgent actions and/or international letter campaigns demanding their freedom.


Joan Baez, Steve Earle, Chad Stokes, Saul Hernandez Kick Off AGM

Tears are an occupational hazard of working a large human rights conference, perhaps never more so than Amnesty International USA’s 50th anniversary annual general meeting. More than 1,000 activists from around the United States have gathered in San Francisco this week for three days of intensive organizing, as well as the opportunity to hear from several of the courageous human rights defenders whom we work to protect and support.

I spent the most of today interviewing people who reminded me in stark terms how grassroots activism saves lives. Thanks to the gracious efforts of documentary director Joe Gantz (of HBO’s The Defenders), who had volunteered to cover the conference with his incredible crew, we began the day by recording the testimonies of Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, co-founders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA). They, along with the other founding members of WOZA, first took to the streets in 2003 to demand social justice—and as a result they have endured years of arbitrary detentions, police beatings, death threats, harassment and harsh conditions in jail.

During a recent arrest, they said, fellow WOZA members jumped into the police van in solidarity. Soon the van was packed with women.  “The police decided not to take us to the main jail, since the last time they took us there,” said Jenni, “the jail had received so many faxes, emails and phone calls from Amnesty activists.” They took the women to another jail outside of town but were again turned away by jailers who did not want the international attention. By the end of the day, they had been turned away from four jails because authorities did not want to be in Amnesty International’s spotlight.