Guantanamo: Reopening Under New Management

Download PDF

(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.


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

Download PDF

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.”


Killing Osama

Download PDF

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?


Iraq Is Not Shining Example For Middle East

Download PDF

© 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.”


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

Download PDF

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!

Download PDF

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

Download PDF

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.


Congress Moves on the 2009 Tribal Law and Order Act

Download PDF

On Thursday, December 10th, the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security held a hearing to discuss the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2009, for which AIUSA was invited to submit written testimony. The bill, a close approximation of the early Senate draft of the bill, would make crucial and desperately needed reforms in tribal justice systems, helping to address the epidemic of sexual violence against Native American and Alaska Native women and girls.

Over the last few years, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) has worked to document the disconcerting realities of law enforcement in Indian Country, especially as they impact the capacity and ability to prevent and respond to sexual violence against women and girls. Our research found that Native American and Alaska Native women are more than 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than women in the United States in general. In recent months, as both the House and Senate have made headway in pushing their respective bills through committee, it seems that Congressional leaders are finally realizing the true urgency of reforming tribal law enforcement.

Both bills would make crucial steps in ensuring justice in Indian Country. These bills mandate and create structures for improving communication, transparency, and data sharing between tribal, state, and Federal agencies, increase tribal prosecutorial authorities, expand and emphasize the importance of data collection and analysis, and call for the US Attorney General’s Office to document cases it refuses to prosecute. The bills also require training for law enforcement personnel on how to respond to domestic and sexual violent crimes and require Indian Health Services to improve services for victims of sexual assault.


Women of Zimbabwe Arise Report Increased Harassment

Download PDF
Magodonga Mahlangu and Jenni Williams, Women of Zimbabwe Arise

Magodonga Mahlangu and Jenni Williams, Women of Zimbabwe Arise

Last month, Magodonga Mahlangu was awarded the RFK Human Rights Award for the work she does as co-leader of Women of Zimbabwe  Arise (WOZA). Since her return to Zimbabwe, however, she and co-leader Jenni Williams are reporting increased harassment levels by police and Central Intelligence officers. Both Magodonga and Jenni have faced heightened intimidation efforts following past international recognition, but it was hoped that since this award was presented by President Barack Obama along with Ethel Kennedy, it might buy them a little breathing space since even Mugabe has hailed Obama as a pretty cool dude. Clearly Obama’s street cred as a brother will only carry you so far.

Magodonga and Jenni were back in court last week on pending charges from an arrest in October 2008. The Supreme Court verbally ruled almost six months ago that the charges were unconstitutional but has yet to put it in writing. In the spirit of continuing to drag the process out as long as possible, the ladies were now told that their file was missing and the magistrate would not make any ruling without it and these “political cases” are sensitive. Hmmm. Political cases? I seem to remember that Magodonga and Jenni were arrested because they were marching in the streets demanding equitable distribution of food aid. You say political case, I say oppression of human rights defenders. Tomato, tomatoe.

Magodonga and Jenni were ordered to reappear Monday, January 14th. Take Action! Demand justice for Magodonga and Jenni.

Beyond the Market: Health Care as a Civil or Human Right?

Download PDF

A dramatic disconnect between principles and policies has hampered current U.S. health care reform efforts. This became obvious when candidate Obama declared health care to be a right and then proceeded to treat it as a commodity when negotiating with insurance companies a requirement for individuals to buy a commercial health insurance product.

Similarly, early on in the debate the president championed the principle of universality by promising some form of health coverage – if not necessarily health care – for 46 million uninsured people, only to lower the policy goal to 30 million American citizens in his speech before Congress, excluding many immigrants and low-income people. Since then, further policy provisions that restrict access to health coverage for immigrants – documented and undocumented – and reduce affordability for lower-income people have appeared in the health care bill adopted by the Senate Finance Committee. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST