About Suzanne Nossel

Suzanne Nossel is a former executive director of Amnesty International USA.
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Why We Write #4Rights

Loneliness is creeping in.  You’ve pushed beyond the limits of exhaustion.  Your bones ache and tears have dried to your face.

You can’t go on like this. 

Then, the letters arrive.  At first, just a few.  Then, day by day, they grow.  Soon, beautiful messages scrawled on colorful paper and decorative cards fill your world.  These are letters written by people in nearby cities and far away countries.  They are messages of support and solidarity, hope and inspiration, and strength and motivation from people you don’t even know.  They are messages written to both you and those who have imprisoned you.

At that moment, you realize that these aren’t just letters – they are life lines.  You feel free again.


A Heartfelt Thanks

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, we wanted to pause and give thanks to our members and supporters for helping to make freedom and justice possible for countless people this past year. Here are some highlights of the successes and progress you helped to make possible.

Jean-Claude Roger Mbede

Jean-Claude Roger Mbede of Cameroon

Release of prisoners of conscience

Facing calls from around the world, governments released numerous prisoners of conscience in 2012. From a young activist in Azerbaijan who protested the government, to a student in Cameroon who was imprisoned on charges of “homosexuality” to an Egyptian blogger who criticized the army’s abuse of peaceful protest, the power of your voices helped open prison doors for individuals at risk around the world.

A visit from a human rights hero

On her first visit to the U.S. in more than 20 years, Burmese democracy leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Amnesty Ambassador of Conscience Daw Aung San Suu Kyi joined Amnesty International USA to inspire the next generation of human rights activists in a town hall meeting with young people at Washington, D.C’s Newseum. We were both grateful and humbled by her presence.


President Obama: Recapture the Human Rights High Ground

President Obama

US President Barack Obama gives a thumbs-up after winning the 2012 US presidential election in Chicago on November 7, 2012. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

When President Obama was first elected in 2008, many human rights activists rejoiced. It had been eight long years where the United States tortured, detained hundreds without charge and trial and tried to justify the horrors of Abu Ghraib.  His first campaign for the White House offered the promise of an administration that would recapture the United States’ credibility on human rights issues, bringing detention practices in line with international law, repudiating secrecy and ensuring that human rights weren’t traded away in the name of national security.

More simply, President Obama promised a new dawn of American leadership, one in which human rights would be given more than lip-service.

Unfortunately, the first Obama administration broke many of its promises when human rights were pitted against national security interests. When it comes to countering terrorism, President Obama has hidden behind national security imperatives to shield administration policy in secrecy and pursue programs such as expanded drone use and thwarted accountability.


US Spoils Arms Trade Talks for Now, But Fight Goes On

times square bananas action

Amnesty activists descended on Times Square the week before Arms Trade Treaty talks began in New York. (c) Bob Scott

After years of campaigning and weeks of negotiations, the Obama Administration stunned civil society and the human rights community when it did a last minute about-face and scuttled progress toward a global arms treaty that was to have come to closure last Friday.

On the final day of the July 2012 Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) Conference, at a moment when the 190 assembled delegations thought an agreement was at hand, the US, joined by Russia and China, announced they did not have enough time to resolve problems they saw in the text.

This announcement, followed by intensified lobbying by the National Rifle Association, has delayed progress towards regulating the flow of arms around the world. The National Rifle Association is now crowing about their victory in heading off the treaty. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

10 Years of Campaigning, Three Days Left to Change the World

arms trade treaty action at UN

Amadou Maiga from Mali, who has lost friends in conflict, spoke in front of a mock graveyard across from the United Nations which represents those killed by arms everyday around the world. (Control Arms Coalition/Andrew Kelly)

After 10 years of campaigning and three weeks of final negotiations, yesterday afternoon saw the belated delivery of a draft text for the Arms Trade Treaty. Governments are now in the midst of intense negotiations as they look to reach an agreement by Friday.

The draft includes a requirement that each government assess whether there is a substantial risk that an international arms transfer would be used for serious violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law, which is the “Golden Rule” we’ve long campaigned for. It would also ban transfers for the purpose of facilitating genocide or crimes against humanity.

In short, a strong Arms Trade Treaty will make it much harder to send arms to places like Syria where they will be used to harm civilians and violate their human rights.


US Joins Russia and China in Trying to Weaken Arms Trade Treaty

Right now, weapons have weaker trade regulations than bananas.

Many governments and most U.S. allies agree with human rights groups that the Arms Trade Treaty should not permit weapons exports where there is a substantial risk of serious human rights violations or war crimes, like those being committed in Syria.  However some influential states, including the United States, Russia and China, are trying to promote weaker treaty rules.

The United States should seek better company.

On Thursday, July 12, U.S. negotiators asserted that even a substantial risk of mass atrocities should not necessarily prevent states from proceeding with arms exports. Just hours later, the news broke about yet another atrocity in Syria—reports describe the Syrian army’s attack on the village of Tremseh with helicopter gunships and tanks.

The unfortunate timing of the Syrian tragedy and the U.S. delegation’s back tracking at the United Nations highlight the deadly consequences of the absence of any clear international constraints on the flow of conventional weapons.


A Step Toward Accountability in Syria

Friends of Syria Conference

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shakes hands with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the "Friends of the Syrian People" conference in Istanbul, April 1, 2012. Yasin Bulbul/AFP/Getty Images

This weekend, the roughly 80 nations that make up the “Friends of the Syrian People” conference met in Istanbul, Turkey, to decide next steps in dealing with the ongoing conflict and human rights crisis in Syria. Bloomberg and other media reports indicate that the group of nations has formally adopted a US government proposal to “form an accountability group to track human rights violations and atrocities.”

According to Bloomberg, the US government will provide $1.25 million to fund the effort:

The group would train and mentor Syrian investigators and lawyers, establish a secure database to store the information, and establish a prosecutor’s unit to collect and analyze evidence that could be used against regime officials in Syrian or international courts, the State Department official said. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST