One Palestinian Village Obama Should Visit

Former prisoner of conscience Bassem Tamimi holds plastic and rubber-coated bullets fired by Israeli forces.

Former prisoner of conscience Bassem Tamimi holds plastic and rubber-coated bullets fired by Israeli forces.

Yesterday morning, US President Barack Obama arrived in Israel to much fanfare.  He has said that he has come to listen.  One place he should start is the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

I visited Nabi Saleh last week as part of an Amnesty International research mission to the West Bank.  The village sits atop a hill, facing the illegal Israeli settlement Halamish.  The settlers of Halamish, like so many other Israeli settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), are backed by the lethal force of the Israeli army.

For protesting against the settlement, the residents of Nabi Saleh have paid a heavy price.  I spoke with village resident Bassem Tamimi, a man who Amnesty International previously declared a prisoner of conscience when he was imprisoned by Israel for involvement in peaceful protests.  During Bassem’s most recent jail term, his brother-in-law Rushdi Tamimi, 31, was shot by Israeli soldiers at another protest in November 2012 and died days later in a hospital.  In December 2011, another member of the village, Mustafa Tamimi, died after being hit in the face by a tear gas canister fired at close range from an Israeli military jeep.

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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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Will The Election Decide What Is Considered ‘Torture’?

torture protest washington dc

© Shawn Duffy

Yesterday The New York Times published a story with the headline “Election May Decide When Interrogation Amounts to Torture.” It compares and contrasts President Obama and Governor Romney on torture.

While there are a number of points in the article one could address—for example, the claim that techniques approved in the Army Field Manual are “nonabusive”—the bigger picture is this:

  • U.S. torture was, and continues to be, about systemic institutional failures, including an over emphasis on domestic political values at the expense of international standards, and the failure to end impunity and lack of remedy for past abuses.

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Guantanamo: Reopening Under New Management

(JTF Guantanamo photo by U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Gino Reyes)

Next Wednesday will mark the tenth anniversary of the arrival of the first detainee at the military prison hurriedly erected on the arid scrubland of the United States Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In the past decade more than 775 individuals have made that journey, the vast majority have been released without charge after years of harsh captivity, 171 still remain – many cleared for release by the military but trapped by the restrictions placed on their resettlement by Congress.

The last prisoner arrived in Guantanamo in March 2008 but this spring we can expect the first new arrivals in four years to start trickling into the facility. The passage of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) means that Gitmo has now been reopened for business.

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Blood in the Street, Injustice in the Courts, Silence from the US

While Bahraini authorities are silencing activists, opposition leaders and even medical personnel in military courts, the United States Government remains silent. We have seen the US respond to the popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, yet government officials so far have remained relatively silent on the crackdown in Bahrain – imposed on the streets and in the courts.

The most recent indications for this silent acceptance of human rights violations include the (rather secret) meetings of high level US government officials with the Bahraini Crown Prince yesterday, and the recent refusal by the State Department to testify before the Congressional Human Rights Commission.

The United States’ failure to act in Bahrain represents a tragic double standard in US Middle East policies. In Obama’s May 19th speech on the Middle East and North Africa, the President won applause for rhetoric admonishing the Bahraini Monarchy’s repression of dissent, stating that “you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.”

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Killing Osama

Politicians from across the political spectrum in the United States have been quick to hail the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of US special forces as an act of justice.  The operation may have been many things, but the exercise of the due process of law it was not.

The Obama administration has yet to set out the legal grounds under which the operation in Pakistan was conducted, with senior officials characterizing it variously as an act of national self-defense or a military engagement. From a legal standpoint neither framework is a particularly good fit.

What the operation to ‘kill or capture’ bin Laden resembles most closely is the kind of targeted assassination mission frequently undertaken by the Israeli Defense Forces and this begs the question, has the US now fully embraced a similar policy?

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Iraq Is Not Shining Example For Middle East

© Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

It’s rare to hear Iraq described as “heaven,” but that is how a Christian Iraqi described his hometown in northern Kurdistan after returning to the US from a trip to visit his family there. Electricity, food and clean water are in abundance, and Christians live in peace with their Kurdish neighbors.

In his speech last week, President Obama stressed the United States’ support for universal rights, including the freedom of religion “whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus; Sanaa or Tehran.”

Later in his speech, he presented Iraq as an example of how other countries in the Middle East should proceed:

“In Iraq, we see the promise of a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian democracy. There, the Iraqi people have rejected the perils of political violence for a democratic process, even as they have taken full responsibility for their own security. Like all new democracies, they will face setbacks. But Iraq is poised to play a key role in the region if it continues its peaceful progress.”

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President Obama and China's Human Rights: Real Change or Rehashed Rhetoric?

By T. Kumar, International Advocacy Director

The headlines are clear. President Obama exerted pressure on Chinese President Hu Jintao about China’s human rights record during this week’s summit.

While Amnesty International applauds President Obama for speaking publicly about human rights during the press conference, the question remains: will US policy in practice reflect President Obama’s rhetoric? The challenge for President Obama is to convert the overly positive publicity into real concrete action to bring improvements in China’s human rights.

Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo remains locked up in China.

The rhetoric at the press briefing should be matched by incorporating human rights into every aspect of U.S. policy, not only limited to the State Department’s human rights bureau and annual human rights dialogue.  Human rights should be part of the policy brief for all the U.S. departments that interact with the Chinese government. Importantly, human rights should play an equal and important part of the US – China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

Prior to the state visit, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations urged President Obama to meet former political prisoners from China who are currently residing in the United States. President Bush met these political prisoners before his trip to China to attend the Olympics. President Obama ignored our request for reasons known only to him. By refusing to meet these political prisoners, the administration missed an opportunity to demonstrate the seriousness by which the United States views human rights in China. President Obama’s inaction also raises the question whether he is hesitant to be tough on human rights, in the absence of giving speeches.

The repartee between the Presidents was covered extensively; but the question looms: did President Obama get any commitment from the Chinese president for any tangible improvement in human rights? Did President Obama set any benchmarks or timelines? There are several areas to focus starting with re-education through labor camps, where Chinese authorities arbitrarily detain around 200,000 people, to the execution of political prisoners, and the continued imprisonment of Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo.

President Hu Jintao acknowledged the human rights issues in response to reporters’ questions. Will President Obama do his part to translate his human rights rhetoric into practice?

President Obama endorses the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples!

Kicking off the second annual White House Tribal Nations Conference this morning, President Obama announced that the U.S. would finally endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)!

The UNDRIP is a non-legally binding human rights instrument which affirms universal standards for the survival, dignity, and well-being of all Indigenous Peoples. It provides a framework for addressing indigenous issues and was adopted by the United Nations in 2007, with the United States as one of only four countries, along with Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, that voted against the Declaration. Australia and New Zealand reversed their initial positions, and on November 12, Canada announced its endorsement of the Declaration as well.

In April 2010, the United States announced it would formally review its position on UNDRIP. Led by the State Department, the Administration held a series of tribal and NGO consultations to review what endorsement of the international human rights declaration would mean for Indigenous populations in the U.S. We are grateful to the Administration for their commitment to ensuring the ongoing engagement and consultation of tribal leaders, federally recognized tribes, and other interested stakeholders throughout this process.

This is a tremendous and long-overdue victory for American Indians in the U.S. – by endorsing the UNDRIP, the U.S. government is affirming its commitment to protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples, both at home and abroad. 

A huge congratulation to all of our Native American and Alaska Native partners and friends for this long-awaited and well-deserved victory!

And a deep and heartfelt thank you to ALL of our activists and supporters who took action to let President Obama know that you support indigenous rights – without your action, support and commitment, this would not have been possible.

World’s Largest Democracy Really Good at Detaining Kids without Charge

Protests Against Indian Rule in Kashmir - copyright Majid Pandit, used by permission

Take action to free 14-year old boy from jail in Kashmir

US President Barack Obama hailed the total awesomeness of India during his state visit to the country last week.  While it certainly didn’t cost the $200 million per day that the tabloids in the US and India made up, it was certainly worth its weight in lofty rhetoric except in the realm of human rights.  Not only did he NOT mention any human rights concerns that the US ought to have regarding India (nor did India mention any human rights concerns that India ought to have about the US), he also went out of his way to extol India’s place on the center stage (including when he was talking about the human rights situation in Burma).  As if to highlight all the bling that India has to offer (and boy does it have the bling), he dragged (kicking and screaming presumably since Obama’s opponents allege that he is anti-business) 200 business executives to ink various weapons deals mainly to pump up American Empire’s gigantic military-industrial complex on the backs of the 380 million Indians still living on $1 per day (more than the entire population of the United States).  What better way to end malnutrition than to have really awesome chest-thumping parades in New Delhi with all that fancy weaponry!  Yummy, tanks.

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