About Sarah Hager

Sarah Hager is a volunteer leader at Amnesty International USA, serving as Chair of the Southern Africa Co-Group where she guides the efforts of Country Specialists monitoring human rights in twelve countries. Sarah provided crisis intervention and trauma therapy counseling services to rape survivors for seven years after college before returning to graduate school. Her Master's level coursework focused on the intersection of law and psychology and in law school, Sarah concentrated on international law and public policy. She has traveled to Russia and Thailand to complete legal research on national and international terrorism policies and the impact of HIV/AIDS policies on women. Sarah also worked in South Africa at the Legal Aid Board where she assisted with criminal defense and appellate cases as well as civil litigation challenging violations of constitutional rights. She has published a paper examining the international soft law regarding internally displaced persons and the ability of international actors to regulate behavior of States that displaces persons within a sovereign border, utilizing Zimbabwe as a case example. Sarah also volunteered as a statement taker for the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Diaspora project. Sarah has a Master's degree in Clinical Forensic Psychology from Drexel University and a law degree from Northwestern University. She currently practices law in Washington DC.
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A Perverse Equality in Malawi and Other Gay Rights News

Uganda's proposed "Anti-Homosexuality Bill" received support from Christian groups © Demotix/Edward Echwalu

Last year, a couple was imprisoned for several months in Malawi following a traditional engagement ceremony based on a law criminalizing homosexuality. Similar laws exist in about 2/3 of African Union member nations. They were eventually pardoned by President Mutharika following loud international condemnation. Apparently, however, this incident served to bring to light a gap in Malawi’s laws members of Parliament decided to address.

Early last month, a bill was passed in Malawi’s parliament criminalizing homosexuality between women. Evidently there was concern the prior law could be construed to only apply to men, and since Malawi is clearly dedicated to making all things equal, decided it was necessary consenting adult women sharing their love also deserved the right to go to prison. As far as I know, the bill has yet to be signed into law by President Mutharika.

In more positive news this week, a court in Uganda decided publishing the names of LGBT people is completely uncool. While a pending law  allowing for punishment by the death penalty for engaging in homosexuality lingers in limbo, an enterprising tabloid decided putting names and pictures in papers with the words “hang them” was an appropriate vigilante maneuver.  

So boo to Malawi legislators and three cheers to the Ugandan high court as LGBT individuals struggle to be treated with respect, dignity and human rights in Africa.

Human Rights Victory in Angola!!

Billboard showing portraits of the victims of an attack on the bus carrying the Togo national football team.

Billboard showing portraits of the victims of an attack on the bus carrying the Togo national football team.

Today, four persons incarcerated in Angola were released from prison following a decision by the Attorney General their conviction was based on outdated legislation. Francisco Luemba, a lawyer, Raul Tati, a Catholic priest, and two others were convicted in August under a 1978 statute of the crime of “other acts against the security of the state” over an attack on the Togo national soccer team in the Cabinda region of Angola. Amnesty International declared them prisoners of conscience.

Luemba and Tati were members of the now banned human rights organization Mpalabanda and for many years publicly criticized the Angolan government and the Front for the Liberation of the Cabinda State FLEC – an armed group fighting for secession of Cabinda. FLEC claimed responsibility for the attack on the Togo national soccer team. Cabinda is a sliver of land between the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo. The region is internationally recognized as part of Angola and produces a substantial part of the country’s oil exports.

“Cabinda’s public prosecutor confirmed that the men have now been released and reunited with their families.”

Amnesty USA called on activists since August to take action to secure these men’s release as Amnesty believed their conviction was based on both an unfair trial and legislation violative of international human rights norms. You took up the candle and passed it along. Thanks to your efforts, these men are free today. Once again, Amnesty activists, YOU ROCK!!

Jenni Williams of WOZA Arrested in Zimbabwe

Jenni Williams-Women of Zimbabwe Arise

[UPDATE 10:00: Jenni has been released. Just another effort on the part of the Zimbabwe police to intimidate human rights defenders. Thank you to everyone for standing in solidarity through your phone calls on her behalf. ]

This morning, the 83 activists who spent two nights in jail at Harare Central, were released on bail after being charged with “criminal nuisance.” Jenni Williams, National Coordinator of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) met the activists across the street, along with other leadership members, to greet them upon their release. While speaking with the activists to determine who needed medical assistance, police approached the group and demanded Jenni accompany them into the police station.

She is accused of “addressing a gathering” and being held at the Magistrate’s Court until transport can be provided to Harare Central. WOZA has filed suit against members of Zimbabwe’s government over conditions at Harare Central. Jenni and 70 other WOZA activists were arrested and detained at Harare Central in April. Below is information provided in their complaint:

“When they got to the cells, their senses were assaulted by the choking smell of human excreta, and flowing urine of varying colours. Even the beds were covered with human excreta, so they sat and spent the night huddled in the corridors of the cells, as they could not sit inside the cells due to the faeces. However, even the corridor itself had flowing urine and they had to use their own tissues, to clean up the area where they planned to sit on.”

Please call Harare Central and demand that Jenni be released immediately! 011 +263 4 777777

Zimbabwe Irony: WOZA Protest Police Violence, Arrested

Women of Zimbabwe Arise

[UPDATE: The 83 activists will remain in custody a second night. They are charged with obstructing traffic. At least that's a new one. And I had just accused the ZRP of being predictable...]

Today is International Day of Peace.  To commemorate the occasion, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) took to the streets yesterday in Harare and today in Bulawayo. Their mission: raise awareness about the issue of police misconduct in Zimbabwe. In response to the peaceful march, police arrested 83 protestors, almost as if they were trying to help prove WOZA’s point. You’d think the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) would get tired of being so predictable.

On Monday, 600 women and men marched in the streets of Harare,  first to Parliament and then on to Harare Central Police Station in solidarity after the initial arrests. The aim of the peaceful protest was to highlight community safety issues and police misconduct. Last month, 250 people in a Harare suburb were forcibly evicted by the police in the middle of the night. Last weekend, violence marred a constitutional consultation session in Harare.

In addition to these recent incidents, WOZA observed police behavior in select communities in Bulawayo and Harare for four months. Below is a sampling of the conduct they observed. Way to keep it classy, ZRP.

“WOZA members observed police officers beating suspects in public; harassing vendors and taking their goods for their own use; demanding and accepting bribes; drinking in uniform in public, and making people under arrest ‘run’ in front of their motor bikes and/or horses to the police station.”

The 83 WOZA members arrested spent last night in cells at Harare Central Police Station and remain there at the time of this posting. Harare Central is super disgusting and WOZA is currently suing the co-Ministers of Home Affairs over the filthy and inhumane conditions. There is also word that a member of MOZA (Men of Zimbabwe Arise) was severely beaten while in custody last evening. Fortunately, there are no reported arrests of the 1200 activists who marched in Bulawayo today.

WOZA is asking people to please phone Harare Central Police Station at +263 4 777777 to demand that the activists be released immediately.

When Even Terrorists Say "You Suck!"

Photographers sit beside a billboard showing portraits of the victims of an attack on the bus carrying the Togo national football team, ahead of a ceremony in Lome on January 15, 2010. EMILE KOUTON/AFP/Getty Images

Four men were convicted in Angola early last month for “crimes against the state” based on a purported involvement in the January terror attack against the Togo football team in Cabinda Province. The Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC), who claimed responsibility for the attack as part of its on-going separatist campaign, promptly denounced the convictions. Personally, I don’t think it’s a good sign how you are running your country when a terrorist group has a stronger moral compass on a human rights issue…

In January 2010, Angola hosted the Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament. On route to the opening games, the Togo national team was fired upon by armed rebels in the Cabinda province, killing three people. Cabinda is a small spit of land separated from the northern territorial borders of Angola by the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is rich in oil and struggled with a separatist movement for many years now.

The four men, including Prisoners of Conscience Francisco Luemba and Raul Tati, were sentenced to between three and six years’ imprisonment by the Cabinda Provincial court. Luemba and Tati are members of the now banned human rights organization Mpalabanda. They are long-standing critics of both the government and FLEC. Police arrested both men shortly after the January attack. Francisco Luemba and Raul Tati were found with documents on Cabinda and had recently attended a conference aimed at finding a peaceful resolution to the situation in the troubled region.

All four activists have been convicted of violating article 26 of the Angolan Law of Crimes against the Security of the State, which gives the authorities power to class any act as a crime. Help us tell the Angolan government these men must be released unless they are charged with a recognizable criminal offence and guaranteed a fair trial. Maybe the members of FLEC will also take this action and send a letter to the Angolan government…

A Big Mac or a House?

Residents of an informal settlement in Harare's suburb of Gunhill survey the burnt shells of their homes after police forcibly evicted them and set fire to their shacks in August 2010.

Apparently McDonald’s is eyeing Zimbabwe as a potential new market for its franchise restaurants. While this can be viewed as a positive step in international regard for the stability of Zimbabwe both politically and economically, I don’t think the 250 people rendered homeless last week are as optimistic.

In the early morning hours of August 25th, Zimbabwe police officers entered an informal settlement in the suburbs of Harare and gave residents 10 minutes to gather their possesssions before torching their homes. As if being woken in the middle of the night and told to get out isn’t scary enough, the police came armed with weapons and dogs. Fifty-five people, including 5 children, were detained without access to lawwyers until later that day. This is not the first time police raided this community, exhibiting a clear pattern of harassment by authorities. The families have since returned, but are living in the open, exposed to the elements with no access to shelter.

In 2005, the Zimbabwe government evicted approximately 700,000 people from homes and informal businesses. Very few received any compensation. The government built a few houses in rural areas to resettle those displaced, but the vast majority, including many of those displaced last week, continue to find shelter where they can. On the eve of World Habitat Day next month, this continuing disregard by the Zimbabwe government to respect the right to housing is deplorable. The people of Zimbabwe would like human rights to go with their fries.

Malawi Couple Pardoned by President

Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza departing court May 20, 2010.

It was a lovely and welcome surprise this morning to learn that President Mutharika pardoned Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga. This pardon came only because you as activists stood in solidarity with Steven and Tiwonge and demanded their rights to equality under the law. We joined the voice of the international community demanding these individuals not be persecuted because of their love.

But we are asking you not to rest on your laurels. There is still much work to be done. Acts of homophobia occur globally. Amnesty USA is taking action this June during Pride month to call attention to acts of discrimination, hindering progress towards equal rights for all.

Malawi will remain a featured case for this campaign. President Mutharika bowed to international pressure. Many governments condemned the arrest, prosecution and harsh sentencing of this couple. The United States government issued a strong statement, South African President Zuma roundly denounced their treatment, governments threatened to withdraw aid, and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon met with President Mutharika right before the announcement of the pardon.

In his pardoning statement, President Mutharika clearly showed no acceptance, understanding or appreciation of gay rights.

“These boys committed a crime against our culture, our religion and our laws … I have done this on humanitarian grounds but this does not mean that I support this.”

It is clear that discrimination and persecution will continue in Malawi and so we call for the repeal of the law allowing the arrest and imprisonment of gay people, a law that contravenes Malawi’s constitution and international treaties. Look for this action to be live when we launch our Pride campaign June 4th.

Gay Malawian Couple Sentenced to 14 Years in Prison

gay flagToday a gay couple in Malawi was sentenced to serve the maximum possible sentence of 14 years in prison. They were convicted on May 18th of unnatural acts and gross indecency. Personally, I think jailing people for expressing their love is both unnatural and indecent.

In December, Steven and Tiwonge celebrated their love with a traditional engagement ceremony at the hotel where Tiwonge worked. The publicity generated by the ceremony alerted authorities, leading to their arrest. They knew the risk they took, but are so dedicated to each other and their relationship, they proceeded anyway with their public declaration of love. Because of that commitment and desire to spend their lives together in a loving relationship, they are now sentenced to serve prison time. Tiwonge purportedly released the following statement prior to the sentencing:

“I love Steven so much. If people or the world cannot give me the chance and freedom to continue living with him as my lover, then I am better off to die here in prison. Freedom without him is useless and meaningless.”

At the sentencing, the judge stated he was giving the maximum sentence in order to scare the public and inhibit other gay people from following this “horrendous example.” Amnesty International considers Steven and Tiwonge to be Prisoners of Conscience and declared the sentence to be an “outrage.” The men have three weeks to file an appeal and Amnesty will continue to campaign vigorously on behalf of these two men. We will call upon the Appeals Court to overturn their conviction and release them unconditionally. Check back soon as an action will be live on this case in the next few days. In the meantime, please go here to get information about how you can urge the US Congress to take action on behalf of Steven and Tiwonge.

Support Congressional Resolution Demanding Release of Malawian Gay Couple!

Last week, Congressman Kirk (R-IL) and Congresswoman Baldwin (D-WI) introduced a Resolution before the US House Foreign Affairs Committee calling on the Malawi government to release Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, a gay couple imprisoned since December. They were arrested following an engagement ceremony and have been denied bail by the court. The Resolution calls for their release on humanitarian grounds and bring Malawi into compliance with international law treaties to which it is a party. Amnesty International has declared Tiwonge and Monjeza to be Prisoners of Conscience and are also urging their immediate release.

Contact your Representatives and Senators and urge them to co-sponsor this Resolution. We might not always like how we wield it, but the US still has much power and sway in this world, and this strong statement can continue to put pressure on the Malawi government to treat its citizens with the equality it has promised.

Find your Representative (top left corner of Home page)
Find your Senator (top right corner of Home page)
Contact Representative Baldwin and Representative Kirk’s offices and tell them you support this Resolution. (1.202.225.2906 and 1.202.225.4835)

Team Amnesty Enters the World Cup

world cup teamWith the 2010 World Cup quickly approaching, football fans around the world have been cheering on their teams since the qualification process began in August 2007. In total, 32 countries will match off at 12 locations throughout South Africa. As the first African country to host a World Cup, South Africa rapidly constructed new stadiums, upgraded security measures and encouraged spectators to visit their beautiful country. Recent headlines range from lackluster ticket sales to Beckham’s Achilles heel injury which renders him unable to participate in the games.

Regardless of the tournament’s final outcome, one thing is for sure, South Africa will be under scrutiny for how it has overcome the nation’s long history of Apartheid rule. Leaders are hoping to show the world it has moved beyond a system of violent racial discrimination to truly become a “Rainbow Nation”. Unfortunately Amnesty International won’t actually be competing as we have little to offer by means of star soccer athletes; but nevertheless feels it imperative to contribute our own team to the mix of international heroes. That is why we are proud to announce Amnesty International’s team of human rights defenders from around the world. Stand Up United is a team of 11 special individuals who have one common goal: equality, dignity and justice for all. Without further ado, let me introduce you to this award winning team of individuals:

1. Mukhmed Gazdiev from the Russian Republic of Ingushetia is still searching for his son who has not been seen since he was reportedly abducted in 2007. He campaigns relentlessly to raise awareness of alleged involvement of security forces in disappearances.

2. Nataša Kandić is a Serbian lawyer and human rights activist. She continues to challenge impunity for war crimes committed by Serbian military, police and paramilitary forces during the wars during the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

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