An indigene of Bodo, Ogoniland region in Nigeria, tries to separate with a stick the crude oil from water in a boat at the Bodo waterways polluted by oil spills attributed to Shell equipment failure.(Photo credit: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)
By Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Africa Programme Director
This week’s ruling by a Dutch court in a case brought by four Nigerian farmers against the oil company Shell for pollution damage represents a small victory – but also underlines the real-world challenges facing victims of pollution and human rights abuses involving multinational companies.
The four farmers who brought the case had seen their livelihoods destroyed by oil pollution from Shell’s operations.
The court found in favour of one plaintiff, stating that Shell Nigeria had breached its duty of care in that case by failing to take reasonable action to prevent third parties tampering with oil wells and causing oil spills. Shell will now have to pay compensation to the affected farmer.
At the local level, Americans are demonstrating a strong commitment to advancing human rights. In recent elections, voters legalized marriage equality in nine states and passed the DREAM Act to expand educational opportunities for undocumented residents in Maryland. In addition, legislators in four states abolished the death penalty. The message to the nation’s leaders seems to be this: human rights still matter, and the task of “perfecting our union” remains incomplete.
As President Obama prepares to give his second inaugural address, he should embrace an ambitious rights agenda: enhancing our security without trampling on human rights; implementing a foreign policy that hold friends and foes alike accountable for human rights violations; and ensuring human rights for all in the United States without discrimination.
Measured against international norms and his own aspirations, President Obama’s first term record on human rights merits an “incomplete.” While he made the bold move of issuing an executive order to close Guantánamo on his second day in office, he has yet to fulfill that promise. The U.S. government’s reliance on lethal drone strikes is growing steadily, but the administration has provided no clear legal justification for the program. Congress has abrogated its responsibility to exercise meaningful oversight of this most ubiquitous element of the “global war on terror,” a paradigm which is in and of itself problematic. Although President Obama has on occasion stood up for human rights defenders abroad — in China, Iran, Russia and Libya — his administration has often muted criticism when it comes to U.S. allies, in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
For many of us, Indonesia may seem to be a country recovered. We may recall the conflicts in Aceh, Papua and Timor-Leste in the late 1990s, or even the violence that ravaged the country in 1965. We may think of it as a country split asunder into more peaceful parts, a region struck by a tsunami that showed its strength to recover, or the former temporary residence of President Barack Obama.
For many of us, Indonesia is a country on the other side of the planet, whose human rights challenges perhaps don’t make us sit up and take notice compared to the acute and current crises we hear flit through our TV news.
One of our postcard actions in front of the White house
This morning, Amnesty International USA delivered thousands of signed postcards to the White House. The postcards call on President Obama to push for an end to Israel’s continuing blockade of the Gaza Strip. For over five years, the 1.6 million Palestinians of Gaza have lived under an Israeli military blockade that has left more than one million Palestinians dependent on international humanitarian aid.
The postcards, signed by thousands of Amnesty International supporters and members across the US, call attention to Israel’s near ban on exports from the Gaza Strip. The Gazan economy has been effectively crippled by this export ban and other aspects of the blockade.
As a result, massive numbers of Palestinians now live in a state of permanent unemployment. Our 2012 human rights report documents that over 70 percent of Gaza’s residents now depend on humanitarian aid. While imports into Gaza have increased since mid-2010, they are still far below the levels allowed before the blockade began in 2007.
When the South African government begins ‘eradicateing the slums’, Mnikelo, Mazwi, and Zama refuse to be moved. Dear Mandela follows their journey from their shacks to the highest court in the land as they become leaders in a growing social movement.
Within the first minute of Wednesday’s 2012 presidential debate, President Obama mentioned ‘housing’. It is indeed high time that we had a wide and deep discussion about the U.S. housing crisis, the true dimensions of this crisis in terms of human rights, and what realizing the human right to ‘adequate housing’ would look like in one of the world’s wealthiest countries.
Eve Ensler will keynote the XX Factor on October 4th.
On Thursday October 4th, Amnesty International will be holding our 2nd Annual Women’s Rights Forum in Washington, D.C.
The XX Factor: Town Hall on Women’s Rights, will bring together human rights defenders, issue experts and grassroots activists on women’s human rights work to talk about the frontline women’s rights issues in the United States, and around the world. That, in and of itself, is worthy of excitement. But that isn’t all!
Here are 3 reasons to get excited about this year’s XX Factor.
1. With little more than a month until the U.S. elections, now is the time to set our agenda for the rights of women and girls for the next four years. Our panelists – Kierra Johnson, Executive Director at Choice USA, feminist scholar Linda Hirshman and Fatima Goss Graves, Vice President of the National Women’s Law Center, will tackle issues ranging from women’s economic status to reproductive freedom, as well as the importance of women’s political participation in November, and beyond.
Members of the Ogoni community outside of the Supreme Court, February 28, 2012. Esther Kiobel, center. (Photo by Erica Razook)
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Kiobel vs. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., a corporate accountability case that could have far-reaching implications for future efforts by survivors of human rights abuses committed in other countries to sue those responsible in U.S courts. The case is close to my heart, but its outcome is one that all human rights activists should be invested in.
Earlier this week, in the course of sorting through years of accumulated documents in preparation for our impending office move, I found the four overstuffed binders I created over a decade ago while researching cases for Amnesty’s 2002 report, United States of America: A Safe Haven for Torturers. The report examined the U.S. government’s failure to fulfill its obligation to investigate and prosecute individuals found in the U.S. who are accused of torture committed in other countries, and to ensure that survivors can obtain reparation in U.S. courts.
The remains of a home in Gaza after it was demolished by Israeli authorities in 2002
A few weeks before she died, Rachel Corrie wrote to her mother from Rafah, Gaza. ‘I still really want to dance around to Pat Benatar,’ she said, ‘and have boyfriends and make comics for my coworkers.’
As we know, she never had the chance to do any of those things again. Following this week’s verdict in the lawsuit filed by Rachel’s parents – accusing the Israeli military of unlawfully killing Rachel, either intentionally or through gross negligence – there has been much crucial discussion of the circumstances surrounding Rachel’s death. It is also imperative that we remember the human rights work of Rachel’s life.
Low-income demonstrators in Amritsar on May 7,2012. (Photo Narinder Nanu/AFP/GettyImages)
This August 15, India will celebrate its 65th year of independence from the British Empire. Since then, the country has seen some improvements in the livelihoods of the poorest of its citizens. However, India still has some of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world.
SOPA protesters in New York, January 2012 (Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)
Today, Amnesty International joined more than 100 organizations, academics, startup founders and tech innovators to sign on to a Declaration of Internet Freedom, a set of five principles that—if realized—would prove monumental in the longstanding fight for online freedom and universal human rights.
Many of these groups also banded together to educate about the risks and advocate for the defeat of the PIPA/SOPA bills in the US Congress (to read about our concerns with the bills, read this post).