An Open Letter to Secretary of State John Kerry: Know Before You Go

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

Newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry arrives in the UK at Stansted Airport on February 24, 2013 in Stansted, England. Kerry is embarking on his first foreign trip as Secretary of State with stops planned in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar before returning to Washington on March 6th. (Photo by Warrick Page/Getty Images)

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I know you have a lot on your plate as you begin your first trip overseas as Secretary of StateYou’ll be visiting America’s allies in Europe and the Middle East, by my count nine countries in eleven days. According to press reports, the on-going conflict in Syria is going to be at the top of your agenda, which is as it should be. The latest estimates by the United Nations indicate that at least 60,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since unrest beganHuman rights violations there have been appalling and wide-spread.

While you continue your important work on Syria, however, I hope that you can spare some time for the on-going human rights violations elsewhere in the Middle East.  Sadly, many of these violations are undertaken by America’s allies in the region, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain.


A Full Investigation of Horrific Attacks

News regarding a wave of attacks on Armenian women in Istanbul only slowly filtered out of the Armenian press in Turkey. The Turkish press initially gave the cases little attention.  Meanwhile, Turkish officialdom has consistently maintained that these are no hate crimes but simple robberies or, according to some, “possible provocation.”

It is certainly possible that these crimes are, in fact, simply aimed at robbery. Istanbul is, after all, a huge, cosmopolitan city, with all the pleasures and dangers that a big city can offer.


The Uludere Bombing: When Will Their Families Get Justice?

Kurdish people hold pictures of victims killed in a Turkish air raid during a demonstration on May 26, 2012, in Istanbul. (Photo credit BULENT KILIC/AFP/GettyImages)

Kurdish people hold pictures of victims killed in a Turkish air raid during a demonstration on May 26, 2012, in Istanbul. (Photo credit BULENT KILIC/AFP/GettyImages)

On December 28, 2011, the Turkish military killed thirty-four of its own citizens, all civilians, most of them children in the Uludere/Qileban district, in Eastern Turkey.  The youngest was twelve.  A year has now passed and the families of these innocent people still wait for justice.

The Turkish government has offered compensation to the families of those killed.  The families, however, have refused to accept it until the truth behind the attack is uncovered and justice is done.

The families are still waiting.  On the anniversary of the Uludere bombings, Amnesty once again calls on the Turkish government to fully investigate these events and to bring those responsible to justice.


3 Things You Should Know About “Zero Dark Thirty” and Torture

Still from Zero Dark Thirty.

After seeing the new film Zero Dark Thirty, I think there are three things everyone should know:

1) Zero Dark Thirty is not a documentary. The film’s screenwriter, Mark Boal, said: “It’s a movie. It’s not a documentary… My standard is not a journalistic standard of ‘Is this a word-for-word quote?’ I’m not asking to be held to that standard and I’m certainly not representing my film as that. The standard is more, ‘Is this more or less in the ballpark?'”

2) Torture did not help find Osama bin Laden. This is established by the public record and verified by people who have access to classified information. For example, yesterday, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) sent this letter to the head of Sony Entertainment with citations pointing out that torture and other abuses did not help find Osama bin Laden.


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:


5 Reasons the Feinstein/Paul Amendment Doesn’t Fix the NDAA

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There’s a new crisis unfolding in the Senate right now over the infamous indefinite military detention provisions in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  I know the effort to fix the NDAA seems to be never-ending, but it is crucial to take action once again, as the Senate is expected to vote tonight or tomorrow. The outcome is critical for human rights.

The problem:  A new amendment to the 2013 NDAA offered yesterday by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and supported by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is being touted in some quarters as sufficient to end concerns about indefinite detention. Unfortunately, that’s not true—and it could make things worse.

Here are 5 reasons Senators Feinstein and Paul should change their amendment to truly support human rights and civil liberties:


Justice Denied for 30 Years: Six Reasons Guatemala Must Bring Rios Montt to Justice!


As our families come together for Thanksgiving, please remember of the countless Guatemalans who have never learned the truth about what happened to their loved ones.

November 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of General Efrain Rios Montt launching the bloodiest period of Guatemala’s civil war after seizing power in a coup.  The victims and their families are still waiting for justice.  Thankfully, some of them are finally getting their day in court as Rios Montt stands accused in the Dos Erres Massacre of 1982.

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In Turkey: The Ivory Tower Besieged

Turkish students stage a protest against the government and condemning the detentions of students at the universities in Ankara on June 16, 2012. (ADEM ALTAN/AFP/GettyImages)

In Turkey, it is not “publish or perish” that scholars must fear.  It is prison.

There was a time, not very long ago, that Turkey seemed on the edge of a new era of academic and intellectual freedom.  New private universities created institutional support for more independent scholarship, while the Turkish government showed at least grudging willingness to allow debate of formerly “taboo subjects.”  For example, in 2005, the ruling AK (Justice and Development Party) Party, after initial hesitation, publicly supported the first conference in Turkey that seriously examined the Armenian Genocide.  It soon became apparent, however, that the AK Party’s vision of academic freedom has clear limits.

Asserting Control over the Universities

In some cases, basic science came under attack.  In Turkey, as in the United States, there is a powerful creationist movement eager to debunk fundamental aspects of evolutionary science.  Creationism has deep roots in Turkey and the ruling AK Party has quietly picked up the banner of anti-science.  Slowly, over the past several years, major scholarly institutions have lost their independence and party hacks have replaced serious researchers.


President Obama: Keep Your Promise to Close Guantanamo

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Nearly four years ago, on his second day in office, President Obama ordered the Guantanamo prison closed within one year.  Today it remains open, with 166 detainees, and human rights violations in the name of “global war” have become the “new normal” there, at Bagram in Afghanistan and elsewhere, including indefinite detention, unfair trials, unlawful killings with drones and impunity for torture.

President Obama must make good on his promise to close the prison, and he must end–and ensure accountability for–human rights violations in the name of “global war.” Yes, there are obstacles to closure and reform–however, if President Obama were to change course and honor the U.S. government’s international human rights obligations, the path forward is clear, because human rights provide a framework that protect and ensure justice for all of us.

Here are 10 concrete steps–by no means exhaustive–President Obama can take now and in the near future to keep his promise and help make his rhetoric on human rights a reality:

1) Immediately recommit publicly to closing Guantanamo, recognize that international law applies to all U.S. counterterrorism operations, and recognize that the right way to close Guantanamo is to ensure that detainees are either charged and fairly prosecuted in federal court, or released to countries that will respect their human rights.


Hunger Strikes in Turkey: A Quiet Crisis

With relatively little attention from the international press, a quiet crisis is developing in Turkey, where hundreds of prisoners are engaged in mass hunger strikes.   The strikes originated in mid-September, with initial demands centering on Kurdish language education and the on-going refusal of Turkish authorities to allow PKK leader, Abdullah Öcalan, to meet with his lawyers.  Additional hunger strikes have sprung up in scores of prisons throughout the country, with demands diversifying as the strikes have spread and at least seven hundred men and women now participating.   Because the hunger strikers are allowing themselves water fortified with salt, sugar and vitamins to prolong the strike, these protests are likely to be long, slow, and painful.  The first strikers have already gone without food for nearly two months and doctors have indicated that some hunger strikers are nearing death.  Outside the prisons, violent clashes between protestors and law enforcement officials continue.