Department of State Human Rights Reports: The Resource That Washington Ignores

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to how the 2013 Human Rights Reports were the foundation of U.S. foreign policy and a statement to the world that the U.S. is watching to make sure that foreign governments protect the human rights of their citizens (Photo Credit: Mladen  Antonov/AFP/Getty Images).

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to how the 2013 Human Rights Reports is the foundation of U.S. foreign policy and a statement to the world that the U.S. is watching to make sure foreign governments protect the human rights of their citizens (Photo Credit: Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images).

At long last, the 2013 country reports documenting global human rights trends has been released by the U.S. Department of State.

This year’s report, which was first produced during the Carter administration, is as important for what it does not say – or perhaps how it says it – as it is for what it says. In looking back at events in 2012, the report highlights several alarming trends, first what can only be described as a growing assault on civil society and human rights defenders.

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What Marriage Equality Means to Me

The Marriage Equality Bill, proposed by Labour MP Louisa Wall, passed the vote by 77 votes to 44 meaning same-sex marriage will now be legal in New Zealand (Photo Credit: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images).

The Marriage Equality Bill, proposed by Labor MP Louisa Wall, passed the vote by 77 votes to 44 meaning same-sex marriage will now be legal in New Zealand (Photo Credit: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images).

By Lexie Matheson, Academic and Program Leader for Amnesty International New Zealand at AUT University

On Tuesday April 17, New Zealand became the 13th country to legalize same-sex marriage as the Marriage Amendment Bill passed its third reading 77-44. The law will take effect in August 2013 and will allow same-sex and transgender couples to marry.

Marriage means an awful lot to me.

It hasn’t always, but when I met my spouse, I knew that this was the path I hoped we’d walk together. Things worked out, and despite a 30-year age difference and the odd gender peculiarity, we married in Te Whare Karakia o Hato Pateriki raua o Hato Hohepa – otherwise known as St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral – in central Auckland.

We were able to marry because my spouse Cushla is a natal female and I was born biologically a male, even though I identify as female and had, by that time, already begun my gender transition.

We were legally able to marry because my birth certificate said I was male even though I’m not and the church treated us as they would any other heterosexual couple, despite knowing from day one of my intention to transition. This was in 2001 and Marriage Equality was no more than a twinkle in the eye of New Zealand society – and possibly not even that.

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SCOTUS, It’s Time for Marriage Equality

Love is a (human) right, not a wrong and protecting the rights of same-sex couples in the U.S. is a step towards recognizing that fact (Photo Credit: Mustafa Ozer/AFP/Getty Images).

Love is a (human) right, not a wrong and protecting the rights of same-sex couples in the U.S. is a step towards recognizing that fact (Photo Credit: Mustafa Ozer/AFP/Getty Images).

By Emily McGranachan, Member of Amnesty International USA’s LGBT Human Rights Coordinating Group

Today the Supreme Court of the United States began hearing arguments on two pivotal cases involving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights. The focus of today’s hearing was on California’s Proposition 8, which wrote discrimination into the California Constitution by defining marriage in the state as between one man and one woman. The state constitutional amendment has been found unconstitutional by a federal appeals courts and supporters of marriage equality hope it will be struck down entirely.

Tomorrow the court hears arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which limits federal recognition of marriage to heterosexual couples. There is a great deal in the news about both cases and what they could mean for LGBT rights. The decisions made by the Supreme Court will have real impacts on individuals, children, and families, regardless of their sexual orientation.

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Five Reasons to Be Excited About Passage of the Violence Against Women Act

Activists unite in Farragut Square in Washington, D.C. for the One Billion Rising event (Photo Credit: Sarah K. Eddy)

(Photo Credit: Sarah K. Eddy)

We did it! The groundbreaking Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was just passed by the House of Representatives and will now be sent to President Obama for his signature!

It’s been a long road to victory. I wrote earlier this year about the indefensible demise of VAWA in the last Congress. The last Congress missed a momentous opportunity to stand up for the safety of all women. So women – and men – stood up for themselves; on February 14, 2013, Amnesty International joined the One Billion Rising movement to stand up, walk out, and dance to end violence against women globally. We called for Congress to quit the partisan politics and finally pass a Violence Against Women Act that included ALL communities.

Since then, we have seen the new Congress introduce and pass VAWA in the Senate and now the House has followed suit.

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Stand Up to Homophobic Violence in Honduras!

Patricio Vindel, the Executive Director of OPROUCE, an LGBT rights organization in northern Honduras, received several text messages threatening his life last fall. The situation escalated dramatically on January 22, when unidentified individuals broke into the organization’s yard and spray painted, “Patricio, you are going to die” on the office wall.

Anyone targeted by graffiti such as this would have cause for alarm. Unfortunately, the situation is much worse for Vindel because of the pattern of homophobic violence in his country. According to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), at least 31 LGBT individuals were murdered in Honduras—a small country with a population roughly the same size as that of New York City—from June 2009 to January 2011.  A report by the Honduran government’s own Human Rights Commissioner found that at least 20 LGBT people were murdered in 2010 and 2011.

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10 Reasons to Move to the Music and End Violence Against Women

One Billion Rising
On February 14th, Amnesty will join with V-Day in the One Billion Rising campaign to dance in solidarity with the estimated one billion women and girls who have experienced violence in their lifetime.

Violence against women is one of the world’s most pervasive human rights abuses. It is also one of the most hidden. Globally, one woman in three has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in her lifetime and yet, justice for these abuses is all too rare.

In the U.S., the Violence Against Women Act is a groundbreaking law that helps break the cycle of impunity for violence.  Currently up for reauthorization in Congress, you can add your voice to ask for immediate action.

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7 Ways for Obama to REALLY Earn that Nobel Peace Prize

president obama

Photo: Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

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.

INCOMPLETE

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.

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The Indefensible Demise of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

women protest violence against women

© STR/AFP/Getty Images

As the clock counted down the few remaining minutes of the 112th Congress, the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) failed to reach the finish line in a politically and ideologically divided Congress. Since 1994, VAWA has ensured that millions of women who are experiencing domestic and sexual violence, dating violence, and stalking receive the protection and support that they need through legal and social services.  After 18 years of bipartisan support, Congress’s failure to reauthorize VAWA is an outrageous and indefensible roadblock to the goal of ending violence against women and fulfilling the right of all women to live lives free of intimidation and violence.

Inexcusably, House Republican leaders’ opposition to full inclusion of all at-risk communities eventually doomed the legislation.  Congress’s inability to act means that millions of women and men will be left without access to some of the critical resources and protections contained in VAWA reauthorization.

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Native Women’s Rights Are in Danger: Tell Congress to Pass a Tribal-Inclusive VAWA that Provides Justice for All Women!

VAWA rally in washington dcThe following post is by Sarah Deer,  an Assistant Professor at William Mitchell College of Law and a member of Amnesty International USA’s Native American and Alaska Native Advisory Council.

As citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, I am extremely concerned that with only three weeks left until the end of the year, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has yet to be reauthorized. There are three new critical protections in the Senate-passed version of the bill that seek to protect particularly vulnerable communities – LGBT people, immigrant women, and Native American and Alaska Native women in particular – but Native American women are in danger of being left out.

Unfortunately, as efforts to push VAWA to the finish line have resumed, some House Members are attempting to remove protections for Native women from VAWA. This is unacceptable: all women deserve equal rights and protection under the law.

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Five Reasons That the LGBT Community in Turkey Needs Heroes Like Ali Erol… and How You can Help!

Turkish homosexuals and human rights activists chant slogans as they hold a giant rainbow flag during the Gay Pride Parade march on Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul, on June 27, 2010. Photo credit MUSTAFA OZER/AFP/Getty Images

Subject to state harassment and widespread discrimination, the Turkish Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community faces dangers on all sides.

Amnesty has long campaigned on LGBT issues in Turkey.  However, we can’t forget the heroic work of Turkish activists, who have – despite grave personal risk – worked to protect the human rights of LGBT individuals in Turkey.  Last month, one of these activists, Ali Erol, received the 2013 David Kato Vision & Voice Award in recognition of his work with KAOS-GL, one of the first and most important examples of an increasingly outspoken LGBT activism in Turkey.

Ali Erol’s work is important, because, as Amnesty has reported, the LGBT community in Turkey faces powerful threats:

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