The Top 10 Things You Need to Know About Amnesty’s Death Penalty Report

Today, Amnesty International released its annual report on the use of the death penalty worldwide. Although 2013 saw more executions than in previous years and several countries resuming executions, there was also progress towards abolition in all regions of the world. Below, see the top 10 things you need to know from our newest report:

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This Woman Has Been Denied Justice for 17 Years

Indigenous Bangladeshi women during a demonstration demanding an end to encroaching development on their lands, still asking for the rights Kalpana Chakma fought for before her disappearance (Photo Credit: Shawkat Khan/AFP/Getty Images).

Indigenous Bangladeshi women during a demonstration demanding an end to encroaching development on their lands, still asking for the rights Kalpana Chakma fought for before her disappearance (Photo Credit: Shawkat Khan/AFP/Getty Images).

By Rebecca Landy, Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group

You probably are aware of the news reports in the last twelve months regarding the horrific sweatshop fires and building collapses in Bangladesh that killed and injured over a thousand, mainly women, laborers.

Or maybe you read recently about U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay calling out Bangladesh for the injustice and violation of international law in the recent verdict of death sentences for 152 border guards accused of murder.

But chances are you have not heard of Kalpana Chakma and the 17-year miscarriage of justice in waiting for a proper investigation into her disappearance.

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Peace in the Home and Peace in the World: Help End Violence Against Women!

By Tarah Demant, Co-Chair of Amnesty International USA Women’s Rights Co-Group

A life free from violence is a fundamental human right, yet daily, women and girls are targeted specifically because of their sex or gender, and violence in communities often affects women disproportionately. Violence against women is a global epidemic; no country or community is immune.

Violence against women is used as a tool of discrimination, control, and intimidation, and it restricts women’s choices and increases their vulnerability to further injustices. 1 in 3 women will be raped, beaten, or abused in her lifetime, yet violence against women affects us all. Consider the following cases:

  • In Sudan, women can be can be stopped by the police, arrested, jailed, and even sentenced to public flogging for nothing more than wearing pants or leaving her hair uncovered.
  • In Egypt, women protesters have faced harassment and assault while Egypt’s political leaders have remained silence about the rampant sexual violence and discrimination.
  • In Syria, more than 2 million people have fled the armed crisis, and now tens of thousands of women and girl refugees in Jordan risk further violence simply because they have no safe access to a toilet.
  • In the Democratic Republic of Congo, often ranked the worst place in the world to be a woman, women human rights defenders provide grassroots assistance to civilians, yet they themselves face intimidation, attack, rape, and sexual violence for their efforts.
  • In Bangladesh, women human rights defenders work for the rights of indigenous people throughout the country, yet 17 years after the disappearance of a high-profile Pahari activist, her family and community still waits for justice.
  • In Honduras, women human rights defenders are threatened with sexual violence for championing human rights throughout the country.
  • In Mexico, Miriam López Vargas and hundreds of other women wait for justice after torture and rape by Mexican soldiers.

What these cases have in common is a global culture of discrimination and violence against women as well as impunity for those who commit gender-based violence. And this year’s theme: From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women highlights the relationship between heightened militarism and communal and interpersonal violence.

Despite a culture of violence and discrimination women around the world are raising their voices against violence and discrimination, demanding their basic human rights, and standing against intimidation and fear. Today, what unites women internationally is their vulnerability to the denial and violation of their fundamental human rights, and their dedicated efforts to claim those rights.

You can join them this 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence as we join activists worldwide from Nov. 25 – Dec. 10 to help end violence against women. This year, we’re highlighting the seven cases above – in each instance, you can learn more, take action, and stand with women demanding their rights!

Imagine a world without violence against women. Join us this 16 Days to make that vision a reality.

#Shabhag and the Complexities of International Justice

Shahbag_Projonmo_Square_Uprising_Demanding_Death_Penalty_of_the_War_Criminals_of_1971_in_Bangladesh_09

Uprising of people at Shahbag, Dhaka, Bangladesh demanding death penalty of Kader Molla and all other war criminals who are now being tried before the International Crimes Tribunal Bangladesh for the serious crimes they have committed during the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971 (Photo Credit: Mehdi Hasan Khan).

Since February 5, there have been a series of large protests across Bangladesh coupled with violent counter-demonstrations. The protests were in response to the sentences given to Abdul Quader Mollah, a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party. He received life in prison for his role in ”beheading a poet, raping an 11-year old girl and shooting 344 people” during the 1971 Liberation War. The protesters are demanding that Mollah be executed for his role in the 1971 massacres. We are calling for the government to resist such pressure. Meanwhile the Jamaat-e-Islami has been implicated in acts of violence against minority religious shrines in the southern part of the country.

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Bangladesh Garment Workers Die Producing Cheap Clothes

Bangladesh garmet fire victim

Bangladeshi men carry the body of a victim after a fire in the nine-storey Tazreen Fashion plant in Savar, about 30 kilometres north of Dhaka on November 25, 2012. Rescue workers in Bangladesh recovered 109 bodies on Sunday after a fire tore through a garment factory, forcing many workers to jump from high windows to escape the smoke and flames. (Photo credit STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)

As Americans indulge in post-Thanksgiving shopping sprees in chain stores across the country and online, we are reminded of the real toll that cheap goods has on human rights in countries such as Bangladesh: the death toll from a horrific fire at a Bangladeshi textile factory has risen to over 110. Dhaka’s largest English-language newspaper tells of a harrowing scene inside the factory:
 
“Hot smoke filled the air within minute as soon as fire alarm rang and electricity supply became off. We were running to escape death through the dark. Many died inhaling smoke”

40 Years After Horror, Bangladesh Is Free

bangladesh

via UNHCR

I get very squeamish over military intervention. Often it results in more human rights violations that it was intended to stop. But the case of Bangladesh makes me less cynical about military-led humanitarian interventions than I would otherwise be. Bangladesh is better off than it could possibly have been under the brutal military rule of Pakistan.

On December 16, 1971, a dramatic ceremony took place at the Rama Race Course in what was then East Pakistan. The picture was beamed across the world showing Pakistani General A.A.K. Niazi signing an “instrument of surrender” with Indian General J.S. Aurora watching. Forever more, Bangladeshis know this day Bijoy Dibosh or Liberation Day.

As George Harrison put it succinctly in his song during the now iconic Concert for Bangladesh in the summer of 1971, something needed to be done:
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Bangladesh Must Take Action to Protect Women Against Fatwa Violence

Human Rights Watch has released a statement insisting that the Bangladeshi government take action without delay to enforce the orders from the Supreme Court to stop illegal punishments such as whipping, lashing, or public humiliations of women.

The issue became especially urgent when a local self-appointed group in Shariatpur district in the Dhaka division ordered 100 lashes in January 2011 for Hena Akhter, an adolescent girl, for an alleged affair, though by most accounts she had reported being sexually abused instead. She collapsed during the lashing and ultimately died. Since Akhter’s death, the local media has reported at least three suicides of girls following similar punishments.

The High Court division of the Supreme Court issued its judgment in the case on July 8, 2010, criticizing the Bangladesh government for not protecting its citizens, especially women, from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment. Saying that the punishments contravened constitutional guarantees of the rights to life and liberty, the court directed the government to investigate and prosecute those responsible and to take preventive steps with awareness campaigns in schools, colleges, and madrasas. It instructed the Ministry of Local Government to inform all law enforcement and local government officials that extrajudicial punishments are criminal offenses.

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In Solidarity with Garment Workers in Bangladesh

UPDATE: For more stuff about human rights in South Asia (Bangladesh and India, in particular), follow acharya_dude on Twitter!

In the days around Bangladesh’s Liberation Day (Bijoy Dibosh) celebrations, the country has been convulsed by a number of protests and human rights violations that will have grave implications for the future direction of the country if the government does not immediately take steps change course.

The government, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has taken a number of important steps in ensuring the protection of human rights.  But, the recent crackdown against opposition protests and the pettiness of a squabble over housing for politicians threaten to derail gains made.  Worst of all, is the deaths arising from both recent fires in garment factories and from violent street clashes between police and garment workers in Dhaka.

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Campaign of Repression Against Union Organizing in Bangladesh

Labor groups and human rights organizations have denounced the harassment of worker’s rights protesters in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka.  This harassment has escalated in the past few days to include arrest and possible torture at the hands of security forces. You can help to end these human rights violations by taking action to free the 21 detained protesters.

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Remembering Kalpana Chakma

It was about 14 years ago that a 20-year old indigenous rights activist Kalpana Chakma disappeared and is presumably dead.  We know that she was kidnapped along with two of her brothers in the middle of the night, the day before the 1996 general elections.

She was the fiery and young general secretary of the Hill Women’s Federation, a group dedicated to a peaceful Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).  She spoke out against abuses committed by the Bangladeshi Army in the indigenous areas that make up the CHT.  For this, she apparently paid with her life.

In human rights work, there is an immediacy that comes from ensuring that human rights defenders are protected now.  We also lose sight of activists in countries like Bangladesh with the whirlwind of Guantanamo Bay, Gaza and other human rights crisis closer to home.  But, we are sometimes forced to remember those rights activists who paid the ultimate price for defending the rights of their people.  Kalpana Chakma was one of those individuals and we must not rest until we bring the people who kidnapped her to justice.