Dispatch from Ferguson: Why We Fight

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man

Residents and faith and community leaders discuss unrest in Ferguson following the shooting death of Michael Brown during a forum held at Christ the King UCC Church on August 14, 2014. ((Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

By Rachel O’Leary, Amnesty Interntional USA Acting Deputy Executive Director for Membership Mobilization

On August 9, Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year old, was shot dead by a six-year veteran of the Ferguson police force. The next day, the community organized protests condemning the actions of the police and demanding to know the name of the officer who shot and killed Michael. Those actions continue still, a week later.

The day after the shooting, I sent a text to my colleague at 3:30 AM. It read,  “We need to go to Ferguson.” Later that week, I was on a plane, leading the Amnesty International USA human rights delegation to Ferguson, Missouri.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Repression Goes Global: Syrians in US Targeted By Syrian Embassies

Syrian Embassy in London

Syrian Embassy in London

While the United Nations Security Council keeps bickering and remains inactive, Syrian authorities go global with their repression of free speech and assembly.

By now it’s well documented by both NGOs and the United Nations that crimes committed by Syrian security forces against peaceful protesters may amount to crimes against humanity. Since mid-March, more than 2,200 people are reported to have been killed and thousands of others have been arrested.

However, now Syrian authorities are taking it to the next level. In more than four years of working on international human rights crises, I have never seen a foreign government systematically targeting peaceful protesters globally, which is exactly what the Syrian government is doing.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Syrian Activist Ghayath Mattar Killed In Detention – Show Your Solidarity

Eight ambassadors to Syria took a dramatic step this week in condemning the Syrian crackdown by attending a vigil for a well-known Syrian activist. The activist, Ghayath Mattar, was reportedly killed under torture by security forces last week in Daraya, and his death was honored by hundreds of Syrians and the ambassadors from the US, Great Britain, Japan, and other EU countries.

The coordinated attendance of so many foreign leaders was an unprecedented and powerful statement of solidarity with the Syrian people that follows the deaths of an estimated 2,600 Syrians to date and confirmed reports of at least 95 deaths in detention.

The spiraling total of detainee deaths, together with the Syrian authorities’ failure to conduct any independent investigations, points to a pattern of systematic, government-sanctioned abuse in which every detainee must be considered at serious risk. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

The New and Improved AmnestyUSA.org

We are thrilled to announce the re-launch of the Amnesty International USA website!  The new site will make it easier for you to stay up-to-date on the latest human rights news and find opportunities to make a difference.  Here’s some of what you’ll find:

  • Improved online action center where you can send urgent messages to help people at risk
  • The latest in-depth reports from our researchers on the ground
  • Easy ways for you to get involved with Amnesty in your community
  • Interactive news room to stay on top of the latest human rights news
  • Expanded issues and campaigns sections where you’ll find human rights information and activism tools
  • Spotlight on the victories you help make possible

We hope the new site is both informative and helps you become a better human rights activist.  Please let us know what you think and how we can improve in the comments below!

When A Tweet Can Change The World

Fifty years ago, Amnesty activists fought to free prisoners of conscience by putting pen to paper. In 2011, our goal is still the same, but things have gotten a little more high-tech. The pen is still a powerful tool, but now we’ve also got email and online actions in our arsenal. And now we can add another medium to that list: Twitter.

Rafiq Hakeem 14 years old was set free after Twitter campaign

In early February, 14-year-old Faizan Rafiq Hakeem was arrested in Jammu and Kashmir for throwing stones. The police detained him under the controversial Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA). Under this act, he was held for over a month without trial—and could have been held for up to two years. Despite the fact that he was a minor, authorities claimed that medical tests proved he was old enough to be treated as an adult.

Amnesty called for Faizan’s release, and this call was answered by activists on Twitter. On April 1, Alaphia Zoyab, Amnesty’s Online Communities Officer for India began tweeting from the @aiindia account, and was joined by Govind Acharya—who posts on this blog—in the US. #freefaizan became a hashtag and Twitter users from all over began tweeting for Faizan’s freedom.

Activists tweeted directly to the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah @abdullah_omar, asking him to “free Faizan.” He replied to the tweets, saying “We are looking at his case sympathetically & will decide in the next couple of days” and eventually reconsidered the case:

Tweets from Omar Abdullah responding to #FreeFaizan messages

A few days later, after this barrage of tweets, coupled with on-the-ground campaigning, on April 5 Faizan was free.

Thanks to social media, the world we live in is getting smaller and smaller—and the more interconnected we are, the harder it will be for human rights violations to go unnoticed. Faizan’s story is proof that enough voices speaking up about injustice are too loud to be ignored, especially on a public medium such as Twitter, where both action and inaction by those responsible can easily fall under scrutiny.

If you could launch a Twitter campaign to free a prisoner of conscience or promote human rights, who or what would you tweet for?

Follow us on Twitter @amnesty

Aung San Suu Kyi Speaks to Amnesty International Activists

There is an antidote to the weariness, cynicism and paralysis perpetuated by the heartless churn of our 24-hour news cycle: Just listen to the voices of those who walk the razor’s edge each day as they fight to change the world. Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi addressed Amnesty activists by phone at the end of Day 2 of our 50th anniversary conference, graciously acknowledging the role of grassroots activism in her release after 15 years of detention by the military junta and encouraging us not to forget the 2,000-plus political prisoners who remain locked up in Burma.

Her brief address was followed by a riveting speech by Jenni Williams, co-founder of Women of Zimbabwe Arise, a group of women who have been jailed, tortured and persecuted for their non-violent demonstrations to demand social justice. Williams recalled one August night when police abducted seven WOZA members. “The phone calls started at 3 a.m. We heard our members had been arrested in suburbs, so we called Amnesty International. By 12 noon, all seven members were delivered back to their homes by the same police officers who had abducted them,” said Williams.

Earlier in the day, I spotted New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof listening to similarly harrowing tales at the well-attended panel discussion, “Muzzling the Watchdogs,” featuring Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho, Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam and Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi. All three had been arrested, imprisoned and persecuted for their work to expose injustice, and each was the subject of Amnesty International urgent actions and/or international letter campaigns demanding their freedom.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Burma VJ: Human Rights Activism at Its Finest

UPDATE: Check out Amnesty’s brand new action page on Myanmar: Stand with the People of Myanmar. Demand they be given the three freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Also, show your support on twitter by start using #3freedoms

This is the first post of our human rights film series.

August 8, 2010, marks 22 years since Myanmar’s massive crackdown against student protesters, resulting in the deaths of 3,000 and the detention of countless opponents of the military junta.  Although 8/8/88 remains a disheartening defeat, it also continues to symbolize the hope for change.

Similarly, in 2007, citizens took to the streets again to wage anti-government protests.  However, this time, the demonstrations were led by thousands of monks, heralding the movement as the “Saffron Revolution” due to the color their robes.  Within weeks, the military brutally squashed the peaceful protests, evoking international condemnation and outcry.

That outcry was only made possible  by the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), a non-profit media organization based in Norway, which  filmed the events with hand cameras and smuggled the footage out of the country for international broadcasting. They communicated to the world the tense atmosphere, desire for basic human rights and desperate hope that Myanmar experienced in August and September 2007. The reporters of DVB took great personal risk to give the international community unprecedented access to the political and social atmosphere in Myanmar.

Cameras vs. Guns

Yesterday, I finally got a chance to watch Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country, an Academy Award nominated documentary created from the footage captured by the Democratic Voice of Burma during the “Saffron Revolution.”  The documentary is incredibly powerful and inspiring; Burma VJ highlights more than the overwhelming human rights abuses present in Myanmar by emphasizing the everyday devotion to freedom as well as the great personal risks that ordinary citizens assume to record political events. While emotionally poignant and insightful, Burma VJ also chronicles the challenging footsteps of video journalists in Myanmar in their quest to capture the truth. The desperate expectation for change is evident in the documentary and reminiscent of the political and social environment of August 8, 1988. 

To catch a glimpse of daily life in Myanmar and view human rights activism and advocacy at its finest, watch Burma VJ. The documentary, produced by Anders Østergaard, was just released on DVD in the United States, so update your Netflix queue, sit back and get ready for some serious human rights activism!

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

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.

Rally Echoes Congolese Plea for Help

Amnesty International activists urge the US government to support the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC. White House, November 23 (c) Msia Clark

Amnesty International activists urge the US government to support the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC. White House, November 23 (c) Msia Clark

Rallying in front of the White House on November 23, I joined over 100 activists in expressing our concern for Congolese civilians, as armed groups turn their homes into a battlefield. Three messages continue to stand out in my mind: Protect the People! Stop Violence against Women! and No Child Soldiers!

Amnesty International USA organized this event in response to the humanitarian and human rights emergency in the Democratic Republic of Congo, calling on the United States to follow through with their support of a new UN Security Council Resolution  by delivering the needed troops and equipment. The resolution passed unanimously, showing all nations understand how crucial the success of the UN peacekeeping mission is to bringing the killings, rape and abduction of children to a halt.  Now, these countries must follow through with their commitment by providing troops and equipment.

Days before the resolution, 44 Congolese NGOs wrote a letter requesting the UN Security Council and international leaders immediately supply troop reinforcements. The message that was consistent throughout their letter was that words of concern are not enough. They exclaimed, “Diplomacy always takes time, and we understand this, but unfortunately we do not have time. The population of North Kivu is at risk now; with each day that passes, more and more people die”.

The desperation is clear on the faces captured in the photos taken by reporters in the crisis region. If the troops are not on the ground and properly equipped, the UN’s resolution will be meaningless.