What the Signing of the Violence Against Women Act Means to Me

sarah deer

Sarah Deer (Mvskoke Nation and Member of Amnesty International USA’s Native American and Alaska Native Advisory Council), with Ruth Jewell (Penobscot nation and President BOD of National Coalition Against Domestic Violence), Representative Tom Cole (Republican champion of VAWA and member of the Chickasaw nation) and Rita Smith, Executive Director of National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

By Sarah Deer, Mvskoke Nation and Member of Amnesty International USA’s Native American and Alaska Native Advisory Council

I was 5 years old when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Oliphant v. Suquamish in 1978.  The decision stripped tribal governments of criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian and has left Native communities vulnerable to violent crimes committed by non-Indians in our territories.

When I first began learning about this case in earnest in law school years later, I was horrified. Why would the court rule that tribal nations lacked inherent authority to protect themselves? Over the years, many Indian law experts told me that it was unlikely that Congress would overturn the decision. Unfortunately, for many politicians, prejudice and ignorance have been the primary tools used to assess the legitimacy of tribal courts.

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What Needs to Happen Next on Drones?

President Obama should publicly disclose the secret drone memos with only the redactions truly necessary, as well as the facts about who has been killed. (Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The Obama administration must follow the law on lethal force (Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

It’s been a hectic 24 hours on the Obama administration’s use of drones and lethal force. As I write this, Senator Paul has accepted Attorney General Holder’s answer about drone strikes on US soil and the Senate has confirmed John Brennan—one of the architects of the drone killing program—as Director of the CIA. There’s a lot to unpack about what’s happened and where things stand now.

But I want to focus on what should happen next to make sure that no person—US citizen or anyone else—is killed outside the bounds of law with a drone or other weapons.

1) The Obama administration must follow existing law on the use of lethal force.

Senator Durbin said yesterday that the administration is interested in working with Congress to pass legislation, but that misses a key point, namely, that the law governing any state’s use of lethal force—whether with a drone or a gun or most other weapons—already exists: international human rights law and, in the exceptional circumstances where it applies, international humanitarian law as well. The US government must follow the law.

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Why Drone Death Courts are a Terrible Idea

drones fb graphic
Public thirst is growing for more information about the Obama administration’s death-by-drone program and what can be done to ensure US policies do not authorize unlawful killings— whether of a US citizen or anyone else. Unfortunately,  a number of commentators—including the editorial board of the New York Times—have proposed the idea of a special court to review the Obama administration’s kill list, along the lines of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which reviews executive surveillance and search requests in espionage or terrorism cases. It’s a terrible idea that underscores how far from basic human rights principles the “global war” approach to countering terrorism has taken the US government.

A secret drone death-warrant court, would in some sense be issuing a warrant of execution, without the condemned person ever knowing that a “charge” has been laid, that a “trial” has taken place, or that a “verdict” and “sentence” has been passed, let alone being able to defend themselves in the proceedings in any way.  If “global war” thinking hadn’t permeated so much of the way the US government thinks and talks about how to deal with the threat of terrorism, the proposal by some to establish a special court that would secretly review and approve government proposals to conduct lethal drone strikes would immediately be rejected as a non-starter that misses the point.

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Posted in USA

Breaking: Congress Passes 2013 NDAA, President Obama Must Veto

Protest at the White House against the prison at Guantanamo Today, Congress again failed to uphold the U.S. government’s obligation to respect, protect and fulfill human rights. It passed the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with provisions that would gravely hinder the effort to close Guantanamo prison, and would further entrench indefinite detention.

This is unacceptable, morally and legally. And it’s a reason why Amnesty International and 28 other human rights, religious and civil liberties organizations sent a letter calling on President Obama to veto the NDAA.

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NDAA is Back: House Reaffirms Indefinite Detention

stop NDAA and indefinite detentionYup, it’s that time of the year again: the sun is shining, birds are singing, school’s almost out, and elected officials are trying to take our human rights away. It’s NDAA time.

What does that mean? You have two options:

1) If you’re an NDAA junkie, and already know that the Smith/Amash effort to improve the NDAA just lost in the House this morning, then sign this action calling for repeal of Sections 1021 & 1022.

2) If you have no idea what I’m talking about then keep reading for an NDAA 101.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is an important piece of legislation passed every year to authorize defense expenditures. In and of itself, it’s not a big deal. But it often gets hijacked for other purposes (see Wikipedia entry for Pork barrel) and sometimes for really bad ones–and thus our story begins.

Last year a bipartisan group led by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ) passed amendments to the 2012 NDAA that dealt with how the government detains suspected terrorists. The detention provisions, specifically Sections 1021 and 1022–signed in to law with the rest of the NDAA by President Obama on New Year’s eve while most of us were in Times Square–further entrenched indefinite detention, discrimination based on citizenship, and the paradigm of global unending war in US law.

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3 Things You Can Do To Stop Indefinite Detention & Close Guantanamo

©PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

Congress is poised to force through a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would violate human rights and undermine the rule of law.

Provisions that were snuck into the bill with little notice from mainsteam media could spell indefinite detention without a hearing, keep Guantanamo open, and hinder fair trials. With your help, we can ensure that human rights violating provisions in the draft bill do not become law.

Here are three things you can do right now:

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Stop the Ayotte Amendment and Support Fair Trials

Update: We did it — thanks to your calls, the Senate successfully defeated Senator Ayotte’s amendment to ban fair trials for terror suspects! But the fight isn’t over. Please continue to help fight against other legislation that would keep Guantanamo open.

Sentor Kelly Ayotte R-NH ©Alex Wong/Getty Images

A new and dangerous amendment has been put on the appropriations omnibus bill on the Senate floor today — and now’s the time to pick up the phone and urge your Senators to vote no. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) has introduced an amendment to H.R. 2112 that would bar all federal trials for foreign terrorist suspects and goes further than any previous attempt to undermine the fight against terrorism.

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Act Now or Gitmo Never Ends

© US DoD

When Congress returns from its summer recess in September one of the first tasks on its agenda will be hammering out a final draft of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  Unless we take action now this bill will lay the foundation for a permanent military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.

As things currently stand, both the House and Senate have both produced language in their respective drafts of the NDAA that seeks to redefine the authority under which the President conducts the ‘war’ on al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and ‘associated forces’.

One lingering concern in Congress is that the original Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks failed to create a framework under which to detain private individuals captured during military operations. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

No More Rapes: End Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Haiti

After she moved into a makeshift shelter in Dessalines Square, Champ-de-Mars, Haiti, “Suzie” and her friend were gang raped in front of their shelter.

 “After they left I didn’t do anything….I don’t know where there is a clinic offering medical treatment for victims of violence.” 

Because she was blindfolded, Suzie didn’t go to the police because she didn’t know who the men were that raped her.  She told Amnesty International that the police patrol the streets, but she’s never seen them inside the camp.

In the Haitian camps there are many women and girls like Suzie. It is therefore vitally important that both the international community and the Haitian government take immediate action to treat the issue of violence against women as a priority for the humanitarian and reconstruction effort in Haiti. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

MOMS for the 21st Century

Amnesty International’s pathbreaking report, Deadly Delivery, documented the maternal health care crisis in the United States: women in the United States have a greater lifetime risk of dying of pregnancy-related causes than women in 40 other countries, with African-American women dying at an almost four times greater rate than Caucasian women.

As Amnesty’s Mother’s Day briefing on Capitol Hill showed, legislators recognize the urgency of this issue and are responding.

Today, one of those champions is stepping up and introducing a vital new piece of legislation. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard’s (D-CA) “MOMS for the 21st Century Act” would:

  • Strengthen a geographically and racially diverse maternal health care workforce
  • Improve research and data collection on maternal health care, including identifying health professional shortage areas and promoting evidence based maternal care
  • Elevate and coordinate work on maternal health care within the Department of Health and Human Services

Amnesty International is proud to enthusiastically support the bill. The MOMS for the 21st Century Act is the first in a series of legislative initiatives that we’re working on — stay tuned for more news in the weeks to come!

Posted in USA