About Larry Cox

Larry Cox is the former Executive Director of Amnesty International USA. He spent nine years at AIUSA, from 1976 to 1984, establishing the organization's Program to Abolish the Death Penalty before becoming its first Communications Director and as the first Deputy Executive Director. He then spent five years as Deputy Secretary General at Amnesty International's London headquarters. Throughout his time at Amnesty International he has served as a delegate on several international missions, including missions to Australia, Guinea-Bissau, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, the United Kingdom and Vietnam. In 1990, Larry was named Executive Director of the Rainforest Foundation, an international organization that works with indigenous peoples in the Brazilian Amazon to protect their rights. He spent an extensive amount of time working in Brazil on the issue of demarcation of indigenous territories. He went to work at the Ford Foundation in 1995 where, as part of an effort to strengthen human rights work around the world, Larry traveled to a number of countries, including Indonesia, China, India, Cambodia, Egypt, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, Chile, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. While at the Ford Foundation he co-edited and co-wrote the introduction to the report, Close to Home: Case Studies of Human Rights Work in the US. Close to Home examines the work of U.S. organizations that are using traditional human rights tools-such as fact-finding, litigation, organizing and advocacy-to reduce poverty, promote workers' rights and environmental justice, abolish the death penalty and end discrimination. A familiar public speaker, he often delivers lectures on the history of human rights in the United States, international justice and the formation of the International Criminal Court, and the need for the protection of economic, social and cultural rights both here in the US and worldwide. Larry has a B.A. in History from Mount Union College, has done graduate work at the University of Geneva and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Religion and Human Rights at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
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Matching Gift Challenge Ends Thursday – Don't Miss Out!

“As long as injustice and inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest. We must become stronger still.” – Nelson Mandela

We are shifting into overdrive!

The membership drive is coming to an end, and we’re close to meeting our new $300,000 matching gift challenge, but we haven’t crossed the finish line yet!

We need to raise $94,570 by Thursday or we’ll lose the opportunity to double our funding to $600,000.

I know you won’t let that happen – you are Amnesty. Together we are the defenders of humanity, and we have work to do.

Please donate today – no later than Thursday – to help Amnesty secure a $300,000 matching gift.

More than 13,150 donors have risen to our September challenge, inspired by Amnesty’s successes and moved by an unwavering devotion to human rights.

I am humbled by this tremendous response, and I know the dissidents and human rights activists for whom we advocate are profoundly grateful for your support.

When political prisoner Yusak Pakage was released in July, he thanked you for his freedom. He spent almost six harrowing years in an Indonesian prison for waving a flag.

When Egyptian novelist Musaad Abu Fagr was released this summer, he thanked you for your letters. A featured case in our 2009 Global Write-a-thon, Musaad was detained for speaking out against the demolition of thousands of homes in the Sinai Peninsula.

For the unjustly imprisoned, we must light the candle still.

Facing execution despite significant and persistent doubts about his guilt, Troy Davis is alive today because of your letters and phone calls. In a devastating blow to his case, a federal court recently denied his petition for relief.

As long as there is hope, we will continue to fight for Troy Davis.

Honor their sacrifices. Make your commitment to human rights today with a gift to Amnesty.

Never doubt how powerful you can be when you join your light with ours. Thank you for all you do.

President Obama signs Tribal Law and Order Act

I am thrilled to share with you a deeply moving moment in a long-awaited, hard-fought, and historic victory for Native American and Alaska Native peoples in the United States.  Last Thursday afternoon, I had the privilege of attending a special ceremony at the White House where President Obama signed into law H.R. 725 – the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010. This law entering into force marked an important step forward in beginning to address some of the many continuing injustices that Native American and Alaska Native communities – particularly women – face in this country.  It was especially meaningful to stand not just along aside my Amnesty International colleagues but with our Native partners who for so long have fought to stop the horrific violence and human rights violations inflicted on Native American and Alaska Native women.  It is their courage and determination that made this historic advance possible.

The Tribal Law and Order Act is a groundbreaking piece of bipartisan legislation that tackles the complex jurisdictional maze that allows violent crime against Native American and Alaska Native peoples to flourish.  In particular, it seeks to put an end to the epidemic rates of rape and sexual assault perpetrated against Indigenous women in the US.  As many of you know from your years of activism and support for AIUSA’s Stop Violence Against Women campaign, the situation we found Native women facing in this country when began our research in 2005 was truly appalling.  As detailed in our 2007 reported entitled Maze of Injustice, Native women are 2.5 times more likely than other women in this country to be raped. Women from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in the Dakotas told us that they couldn’t think of a single woman who hadn’t been sexually assaulted.  More than one in three Native women will be raped at some point in their lives, 86 percent of them by non-Native perpetrators. The fact that the majority of these crimes occur with total impunity points clearly to the legacy of discrimination that Native communities had faced for many generations.

Among other things, this legislation means that every Native American and Alaska Native woman now finally has the chance to get a police response, have access to a rape kit, the opportunity to see her case prosecuted and see justice served for crimes committed against her. It standardizes the much needed sexual assault protocols within the Indian Health Service to ensure that survivors of sexual assault will receive proper treatment and care and that crucial forensic evidence will be collected.  The Act also clarifies who is responsible for prosecuting crimes in tribal communities and restores authority, resources, and information to tribal governments.  While taking initial steps to restore power to tribal governments to take more direct action in cases of violent crime, it will also hold federal authorities accountable for failure to prosecute.


Combat Exploitative Child Labor with Human Rights

On June 8, 2010, I attended the “Working Together to Combat Child Labor” conference in Washington, DC.  The meeting was organized by the US Departments of State and Labor to convene high-level U.S. officials and representatives of labor, business, and non-governmental organizations to discuss effective strategies and policies to combat exploitative child labor around the world.  Below is the text of the speech I gave on a panel entitled “Making Rights a Reality”:

I would like to thank the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and the Bureau of International Labor Affairs for co-hosting this conference and for giving me the opportunity to be part of this important and urgent conversation.

I want to start by acknowledging that many of you in this room have more expertise than either I or Amnesty, as an organization, in combating child labor.  What AI has is some 50 years of experience of fighting for human rights.  What I hope we can contribute to this discussion is our understanding of the critical place of human rights in any effective effort to end child labor.

Last month, the ILO warned that progress in ending the worst forms of child labor has slowed down, and that the global economic downturn is likely to make the situation worse.  There is, however, nothing inevitable about this trend.  As the ILO’s Constance Thomas noted:

Most child labor is rooted in poverty. The way to tackle the problem is clear. We must ensure that all children have the chance of going to school, we need social protection systems that support vulnerable families – particularly at times of crisis – and we need to ensure that adults have a chance of decent work. These measures, combined with effective enforcement of laws that protect children, provide the way forward.

This is also “the way” required by the human rights norms, standards, and laws by which virtually every government is bound.  Yet, the truth is that for far too long and far too often, child labor, like the poverty in which it is rooted, has been treated by governments, international bodies, and NGOs – including my own for many years – as primarily, if not exclusively, an issue for development agencies or specialized labor organizations, but not necessarily a human rights issue. Human rights have often been seen, at best as an add-on, at worst as an obstacle to development.  It was in part to contribute to changing this, AI has launched a global campaign called “Demand Dignity” to combat the human rights abuses that force men, women and children into poverty and keep them there.  The campaign aims to make human rights integral and central to the fight against poverty and poverty related practices like child labor.


Troy Davis' Supporters Call for Justice for All

On Tuesday, on the eve of the hearing that is currently giving Troy Davis a chance to present evidence pointing to his innocence, about a hundred and twenty activists and supporters gathered at the New Life Apostolic Temple in Savannah for a community mass meeting. Member of Amnesty International USA from as far as Seattle and New York gathered with Troy’s family and the Savannah community to pray for justice and all those who suffer from the failures of the criminal justice system and the horror of the death penalty.

I was honored to share the podium with my colleagues Amnesty International UK and France, representatives of the NAACP, several death row exonerees, and Martina Correia, Troy’s sister and long-time Amnesty activist. Speaking to a crowd where many were wearing t-shirts printed with the words “I am Troy Davis”, Martina relayed a message from her brother who called her earlier yesterday and expressed gratitude for his supporters’ solidarity. It was moving to see her speak powerfully and optimistically of the faith and determination that is at the heart of the struggle for human rights.

What struck me most was the evening broke down the false division between those who seek to end the suffering of the Davis family and those who wish to honor the family of Marc MacPhail, the brave police officer who was murdered in 1989. Those who gathered prayed for all victims of terrible crimes as well as for a justice system that truly honors and comforts those who have lost loved ones to violence. This can never be achieved by yet another killing, especially of someone who has such compelling claims of innocence. I was reminded why this fight is so important, not only for Troy and his family, but for all of us and for “the soul of our country,” as one speaker put it.

In his remarks, the Reverend Raphael Warnock, Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church (once led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), summed up the struggle in Dr. King’s famous words that

“the arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Yesterday this fight continued in yet another critical stage at the federal district court in Savannah. But no matter what happens, it is a fight that will never end until we arrive at where the arc of the universe seeks to take us.

To all the activists around the world who took action on Tuesday, thank you for standing in solidarity with Troy and calling for justice.

Larry Cox is the Executive Director of  Amnesty International USA.

Troy Davis Hearing: Landmark Opportunity for Justice

The hearing at the Savannah federal district court tomorrow is both historic and unprecedented.  Never before has the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a hearing to determine if it is unconstitutional to execute someone who is innocent. While this hearing is of the utmost importance to Troy Davis and the entire Savannah community, it also carries great legal significance.

Following his conviction in 1991, the case against Davis has unraveled, with seven of the nine witnesses recanting or contradicting their original testimony. After spending 19 years on death row and facing three execution dates, Davis has been given an opportunity to present evidence pointing to his innocence in a court of law.

This is a momentous opportunity that Amnesty International worked for and welcomes. But the burden of proof has been turned on its head. The court has set a very high bar: rather than ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ Davis must clearly prove he is innocent.

With 138 death row prisoners having been exonerated since 1973, it is more than a possibility that innocent people will be executed in the United States. It is inevitable in a broken system. The justice system should therefore be especially concerned with cases like Davis.’

Even as truth and justice are sought, we cannot forget the tragedy of a life lost. Mark Allen MacPhail was the innocent victim of a terrible murder. It is important to remember that the Savannah community lost a brave public servant, and acknowledge Officer MacPhail’s family during this difficult time. It is our sincere hope that this hearing will shed more truth on what happened the night of his murder and that justice will finally be served.

Larry Cox is the Executive Director of  Amnesty International USA.  He is currently in Savannah, GA to attend Troy Davis’ evidentiary hearing.

US Must not Turn Blind Eye to Human Rights Crisis in Northwest Pakistan

This piece was originally posted on Huffington Post.

“I lost my sense when I reached the door of my house and saw and heard the crying of my close neighbors and relatives—as if hell fell on me. When I saw people putting the dead bodies of my children, parents, and other relatives in bed I couldn’t bear it anymore and fell on the ground…”

A 25-year-old man who lost nine family members when two shells fired by security forces hit his house during the battle of Loi Sam (FATA).

A young girl from Maidan flees her village carrying her younger brother on her back, they are trying to escape the fighting between the Taleban and Pakistani government forces in Lower Dir, North West Frontier Province, 27 April 2009. (c) AI

This shocking testimony by a resident of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) is a reminder that it is civilians who suffer as a consequence of the fighting between the Taleban and Pakistani government forces in northwest Pakistan. In the United States, this conflict is too often described from a pure counter-terrorism angle: “For the American people, this border region has become the most dangerous place in the world.” President Obama forgot to mention that this region is also home to millions of people, who do not support or take part in the violence and are simply trying to farm, raise livestock, weave fabrics, transport goods, raise families, build, repair, or teach.

We too rarely hear their stories. They give a human face to the suffering of millions of Pakistanis in the northwest tribal areas.

The consequence of this ignorance is that today many of the residents in northwest Pakistan live in a human rights free zone  where they have no legal protection by the government and are subject to horrific abuses by the Taleban. Unfortunately, many areas of northwest Pakistan now resemble the Taleban-ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s. The world should be alarmed by the way living conditions have deteriorated under the increasingly brutal control of the Pakistani Taleban and its allied insurgent groups; instead, the suffering of the people of this area has been largely ignored, sacrificed in the name of geopolitical interests. Most disturbing is the fact that civilians are increasingly hit on three different fronts: by the Taleban, by the Pakistani army and by U.S. Drone strikes.


Protection for women a top foreign policy priority

Originally posted on Politico.com

By Sen. John F. Kerry, Rep. Bill Delahunt, Kerry Kennedy & Larry Cox

Rita Mahato, a mother of three, works as a health adviser for the Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC) in Nepal, counseling rape victims and registering cases of domestic violence routinely dismissed by the local police. In June 2007, a mob of more than 60 men surrounded her offices, threatening to rape and kill Rita and her colleagues – demanding that they end their work. Three years later, Rita and her team continue to be threatened, harassed and physically abused, yet the police have failed to take action. Despite threats to her life, Rita perseveres defending the human rights of women and seeking justice for victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Sadly, Rita’s experience is not unique: women around the world are subject to abuse and many also face extreme poverty.

It doesn’t have to be that way. That’s why today a bipartisan coalition, led by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) in the Senate and Congressmen Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) and Ted Poe (R-Texas) in the House, will introduce the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA). Introduction of this bill supports the efforts of President Obama and Secretary Clinton to rightly put women at the very center of a broad global security agenda that factors in the great challenges of our decade and invests in the world’s peacemakers.

Passage of the bill is critical. Every day, women and girls are battered, beaten, raped or otherwise brutalized. In some countries, more than 70 percent of women have been the victims of domestic violence. And, for most of these women, justice is elusive, because where violence against women is endemic, so too are impunity and poor governance. Not only can they expect police, prosecutors and judges to refuse to investigate cases against their perpetrators, too often, they can also expect to be condemned, shamed and even punished themselves.

IVAWA will support innovative programs that challenge public attitudes and cultural practices that perpetuate and condone violence against women and girls. In settings where women are prevented or discouraged from seeking justice, IVAWA will support training for police and judicial officials on countering violence against women and respecting the rights of victims. It will allow long-term prevention efforts such as increasing women’s economic security, expanding access to jobs and education, and engaging men to change behaviors and attitudes. Societies in which women are able to live and function in relative safety, empowered to realize their aspirations and move their communities forward are healthier, better developed, and more stable. Societies that take measures to deter discrimination and violence against women are better equipped to root out terrorism, less prone to conflict, and therefore more secure.


The Nightmarish Detention of U.S. Immigrants

(Originally posted in the Bell Gardens Sun)

Coming to the United States was a “dream come true” for Deda Makaj. Now 42, Deda fled Albania 20 years ago after enduring five years in a hard labor camp, the culmination of years of persecution he and his family suffered due to their anti-communist beliefs. He escaped to Greece in 1992 and, with the help of a charity in Athens, made it to California, where he was granted refugee protection and became a lawful permanent resident.

Over the next five years, he cobbled together his American dream, beginning with a minimum-wage job and eventually buying a dollar store. He met his wife Nadia, a refugee from Afghanistan, and they had three children.

Then a combination of bad luck and naïveté tore Deda’s American dream apart. He unwittingly bought a stolen car, and he falsified his income on a home loan application upon the encouragement of his loan officer. After serving 16 months in jail for his crimes, he was immediately placed in immigration detention in Arizona. There, he spent the next four years fighting deportation until he was finally released on bond late last year.

Deda bore witness to the human rights catastrophe that is the U.S. immigration detention system: immigrants imprisoned for months before getting a hearing and sometimes years before a decision; abuse from criminal prisoners; suicides. By the time Deda was released, his business had failed.

Amnesty International’s recent report, Jailed Without Justice, details the U.S. immigration detention system, a purgatory of legal limbo where the core American value of due process does not apply. On any given night, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) warehouses more than 30,000 immigrants in prisons and jails—a number that has tripled in the past 12 years. Among them, surely, are immigrants who have committed deportable offenses or are undocumented—but the jailed also include large numbers of legal permanent residents, individuals seeking protection from political or religious persecution, survivors of torture and human trafficking, U.S. citizens mistakenly ensnared in immigration raids, and parents of U.S. citizen children.

Investigative news reports have exposed a litany of human rights abuses in the detention facilities, including physical violence, the use of restraints, and substandard medical care. While in detention, immigrants and asylum seekers are often unable to obtain the legal assistance necessary to prepare viable claims for adversarial and complex court proceedings. Sometimes they cannot even make a simple phone call to obtain documents that would prove they should go free. Some immigrants become so desperate at the prospect of indefinite detention that they agree to deportation despite valid claims.

Amnesty International has launched a campaign to pressure our government to honor its human rights obligations. Legislation is needed so that detention is used only as a measure of last resort, after non-custodial measures, such as reporting requirements or reasonable bond, have failed. Lawmakers who fear anti-immigrant backlash might consider the secondary benefits to honoring our moral imperative: the average cost of detaining a migrant is $95 per person/per day, while alternatives to detention cost as little as $12 per person/per day and yield up to a 99 percent success rate, according to ICE, as measured by immigrants’ appearance in immigration courts for removal hearings.

Congress should also pass legislation to ensure due process for all within our borders, including the right to a prompt individualized hearing before an immigration judge. Currently, ICE field office directors have the power to decide whether to detain someone; yet to incarcerate an individual for months, or even years, before a court makes a judgment on the individual’s case is an absurd negation of our nation’s stated commitment to the rule of law.

Finally, the U.S. government must adopt enforceable human rights standards in all detention facilities that house immigrants. These standards can only be overseen and enforced by an independent body that has the power to hold ICE accountable.

For more than a decade, the federal government has underwritten the unchecked expansion of ICE’s power. The result is a detention system riddled with inconsistencies, errors and widespread human rights violations. Tens of thousands of lives hang in the balance. The time has come for the U.S. government to apply the rule of law to those within its own borders.

Posted in USA

Obama Must Prosecute Bush-Era Torture Enablers

(Originally posted on the Christian Science Monitor)

With Dick Cheney and the infamous torture memos making headlines, President Obama and our nation face a choice.  Should they prosecute or protect those responsible for the torture of detainees in secret CIA detention centers? If our leaders wish to steer our country back to the right side of the law, they must act immediately and unequivocally to prosecute.

The problem is that leading senators want the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to complete its investigation into the treatment and interrogation of detainees (which could take between four and six months), before any prosecution is launched. Yet such a delay would potentially risk running out the clock on certain types of prosecution.

The federal Anti-Torture Act, for example, is subject to a statute of limitations after only eight years.  For the prosecution of crimes committed in the months leading up to September 2002 – when Bush administration lawyers produced the first of the “torture memos” that purported to make torture legally permissible – that expiration date is spring 2010.

But there is no need to wait that long.  There is already ample evidence that shows the previous administration concocted, approved, and implemented a torture policy.  What’s more, there is no legal imperative holding the Department of Justice or federal prosecutors back from launching a criminal investigation, beginning with the task of identifying who is responsible for the crimes that have already been documented.

Although the Senate Intelligence Committee report may eventually provide some insights, it cannot be a substitute for the criminal investigations required for prosecution. But given the committee’s possible complicity in allowing torture to continue despite multiple Central Intelligence Agency briefings, we should not expect its report to break much new ground.

When Mr. Obama rescinded the torture memos upon taking office, he took an important first step toward repairing the damage wrought by the previous administration on our country’s commitment to human rights and rule of law. But his statement in April to forgo prosecution of those CIA agents who carried out torture is a breach of international law.

Some critics argue that a full investigation might lead the US public to ultimately side with torture and thus prosecution could be politically counterproductive. Others argue that prosecuting hundreds of people would waste resources during a war on terror, and that it should stay focused on going after terrorists.

However, the International Convention Against Torture, adopted by the United States in 1994, compels the US to prosecute everyone who is responsible for torture, all the way up the chain of command to top government officials who authorize it. Obama himself said in April that he’s “a strong believer that it’s important to look forward and not backwards, and to remind ourselves that we do have very real security threats out there.” At the same time he also said that “nobody is above the law, and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen.” The law allows no exceptions.

Congress also has an urgent and important role to play: It must eliminate a loophole written into the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act. That piece of legislation contains provisions that were crafted to provide legal cover to torturers. This includes the defense that those who committed torture believed the acts were legal at the time, since they had been interpreted as such by the White House torture memos (none of which carried the force of law).

Legislators must also attend to the back end of the accountability process by eliminating or extending the statute of limitations beyond 2010, as Rep. John Conyers (D) of Michigan has proposed.

Efforts to hold torturers and torture enablers accountable have been launched abroad, most notably in Germany, Italy, and Spain.

Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzón, a central figure in the prosecution of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, is an example of a quick, effective actor. He recently launched an investigation into the Bush administration last month over the alleged torture of four Spanish nationals at Guantánamo under the legal principle of universal jurisdiction.

He also has ordered an inquiry into whether or not six former Bush administration lawyers created a legal framework to permit torture.

Should the Spanish court ultimately indict anyone pursuant to these claims, it is unclear whether the Obama administration would extradite former US officials. But such a development might, at the very least, prevent those former officials from traveling anywhere in the European Union and further discredit their already tainted legacies.

The Obama administration promised a new era of international cooperation and respect. It now faces the first major test of its rhetoric. If the US fails to prosecute those responsible for torture, we can take our place alongside countries we have long criticized for privileging politics over justice and accountability by letting criminals go free.

Beyond the United States’ global standing, the former administration’s policies also made Americans less safe by providing recruiting tools for terrorists. The Obama administration must show that such abuses won’t stand.

Connecticut Is Wrong To Veto Death Penalty Abolition Bill

I am extremely disappointed that Governor M. Jodi Rell today vetoed HB 6578, which would have abolished the death penalty in Connecticut.

Governor Rell’s veto of this legislation represents a missed opportunity for the state of Connecticut to extricate itself from the useless and costly boondoggle that is capital punishment.  Any other policy that wasted valuable taxpayer dollars without reducing crime or making anyone safer would have been eliminated without hesitation.

No system can be perfected enough to prevent the innocent from being sent to death row.  Recent cases have demonstrated the fallibility of Connecticut’s justice system.  In the last two years James Tillman, who was given 45 years for rape, and Miguel Roman, who was sentenced to 60 years for murder, were found to be have been wrongfully convicted.  The exonerations of these innocent men ought to make Governor Rell realize that the irreversible punishment of death has no place in a system that makes such mistakes.

This veto puts Connecticut squarely on the wrong side of history. The use of the death penalty is dropping in every state of the union, as juries pass fewer death sentences and state legislatures impose greater restrictions. Some, such as New Mexico, repeal capital punishment altogether.  An average of three countries end the use of the death penalty each year, and today more than two-thirds of nations worldwide have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

The death penalty is increasingly being acknowledged as a severe violation of human rights.  While, as the governor has argued, heinous crimes have been committed in Connecticut, the deliberate killing of a human being is never an appropriate punishment for any crime.  It is inevitable that the world will eventually outlaw this cruel practice, and it is a shame that Connecticut will not pave the way to make that happen.