Saudi Arabia’s Attack on Foreign Domestic Workers

Birth certificate of Sri Lankan Rizana Nafeek.

The passport of  Sri Lankan Rizana Nafeek. She was a foreign domestic worker in Saudi Arabia.  And at the age of 17, she was arrested on charges of murdering an infant in her care. 

Saudi Arabia has a long, infamous history of denying legal rights to foreign domestic workers, but it’s still outrageous that two recent cases indicate that these workers– whom are predominantly women —  can’t even count on basic internationally accepted protections for juveniles and the mentally ill. This month, one Sri Lanka woman paid for this failure with her life. And another’s life is at risk.

The beheading of Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan foreign domestic worker, on Jan. 12 underscored the lack of legal protections for foreign workers in Saudi Arabia.  The execution came despite an international campaign protesting her death sentence as violating international legal standards preventing the execution of juveniles.

Only 17 years old at the time of the crime, Nafeek was arrested in May 2005 on charges of murdering an infant in her care. A court in Dawadmi, a town west of the capital Riyadh, sentenced her to death in 2007.


Time for a Full Court Press on Human Rights in Myanmar (Burma)

US President Barack Obama sits near Myanmar President Thein Sein as they participate in the US-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in 2011. Photo credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

On the eve of President Obama’s historic visit to Myanmar (Burma), the first ever by a U.S. President, his host, President Thein Sein, has released 450 prisoners, a move surely calculated to curry favor with the United States. A smaller amnesty announced in September, just before the UN General Assembly convened, included about 60 political prisoners.

It remains to be seen whether any of an estimated 300 remaining political prisoners will be scattered among the latest batch of parolees. Nonetheless, the prisoner release is, by any measurement, an encouraging step. It says something important about the power and influence of the United States, and the desire of the new government of Myanmar to kiss up to President Obama and bask in the economic possibilities of a post-sanctions environment.


Victory: No More Mandatory Life Sentences For Children In US

Christi Cheramie

Christi Cheramie was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole at the age of 16 in 1994.

It’s not a total ban on juvenile life without parole, but at least now courts considering the crimes of juvenile offenders will have options other than a mandated life without parole sentence. So it’s a welcome step forward.

By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that laws mandating life without parole for juvenile offenders, with no other options, are unconstitutionally “cruel and unusual punishment”.  In other words, to be constitutional, a juvenile life without parole scheme needs to have other, lesser, alternatives, so that courts will have the flexibility to consider mitigating factors that are invariably part of a young offender’s background.

While this ruling still allows for the possibility that those under 18 years of age at the time of the crime could be sentenced to life without parole, it is a step in the right direction.

According the Justice Roberts’ dissent, there are over 2,000 juvenile offenders currently serving life without parole who were sentenced under a mandatory scheme (see our infographic). This represents about 80% of the child offenders serving life without parole.


Syria's Assad Targets Children for Detention and Torture

Syrian refugee children fleeing the violence in their country gather at a partially set up camp near Jordan's northern border. © KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images

It’s almost unbelievable, a government targeting children in an attempt to repress popular uprisings.

The latest reports from the BBC that Syrian children are being targeted for detention and torture are shocking but coincide with evidence Amnesty researchers uncovered in a recent mission to the region.

According to UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay, these actions against children seem “systematic and targeted” and are being carried out by Assad’s security forces:

“They’ve gone for the children, for whatever purpose, in large numbers – hundreds detained and tortured.


Locking Up Children For Life In The US

Christi Cheramie

Christi Cheramie was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole at the age of 16 in 1994.

While their peers are finding dates for prom, submitting college applications, and starting families, over 2,500 prisoners sit behind bars in the US without the possibility of parole. What makes these prisoners unique is that they were all sentenced for crimes committed while they were children.

The US is the only country in the world that pursues life imprisonment without parole against children – and it does so regularly. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child expressly prohibits life imprisonment without the possibility of release committed by people under 18 years old. All countries except the USA and Somalia have ratified the Convention.

Americans under the age of 18 are barred from many activities including voting, buying alcohol, gambling, or consenting to most forms of medical treatment, yet children as young as 11 at the time of the crime have faced life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. This needs to change.


Teenage Nightmare in Kashmir

Contrary to Katy Perry, 16 and 17-year old boys in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K or Kashmir) are not living in a Teenage Dream; they face the daily prospect of being detained indefinitely, without charges as adults under existing law in the state. The law, called the Public Safety Act is horrible enough.

But, the detention of children is in flagrant violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child of which India is a state party. You can take action now to urge the J&K government to do the right thing. The Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, promises to bring this up in the Monsoon session of the assembly so time is of the essence!


Murder Trial of 13-Year-Old Jordan Brown Could Violate International Law

Jordan Brown Tomorrow, Pennsylvania’s Superior Court is set to hear an appeal against an earlier decision to try 13-year-old Jordan Brown in an adult court.

Jordan is charged with killing Kenzie Houk, his father’s pregnant fiancée, in 2009, when he was 11 years old; he is charged with two counts of homicide.

Amnesty International has urged US authorities in Pennsylvania not to try Jordan in an adult court, as doing so could result in a violation of international law. If tried as an adult and convicted of first-degree murder, he would face life imprisonment without parole.

Jordan Brown is the youngest person known to Amnesty to be currently at risk of being sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.  The US is the only country we know of in the world that pursues life imprisonment without parole against children – and it does so regularly. Currently there are at least 2,500 people who are serving life imprisonment without parole for crimes committed before they turned 18.

The USA and Somalia are also the only countries in the world that have not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits life imprisonment without the possibility of release for crimes committed under the age of 18. Amnesty International is calling on the US to bring its laws in line with international standards on the treatment of children accused of criminal offenses.

It is shocking that anyone this young could face life imprisonment without parole, let alone in a country which labels itself as a progressive force for human rights.

Omar Khadr: The Injustice Continues

By Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada.  Neve is currently at Guantánamo to observe the military commission trial against detainee Omar Khadr. This is his first post in series from the field.


Alex Neve stands in front of the building housing the courtroom in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.


It  seems difficult to believe that after being held here at Guantánamo Bay for close to eight years and having been put through an astonishing array of legal twists and turns – including charges being thrown out at one point and then reinstated – Omar Khadr is about to face trial by military commission, possibly this week if pre-trial proceedings are completed.

I’m here to observe these proceedings on behalf of Amnesty International. And quite honestly at this stage I find it very difficult to predict just what I will observe.  All that seems certain is that it will be another phase in the systematic injustice to which Omar Khadr has been subjected.

First, today there will be more legal arguments as to whether all or at least some of the statements Omar Khadr made in the course of over 100 interrogation sessions between 2002 and 2004 – first at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and then here at Guantánamo – will be excluded from the trial.  He has laid out detailed and credible allegations as to the many forms of physical and psychological torture and other abuse he says he was subject to at that time, including during many of the interrogation sessions.  The prosecution has maintained in its legal filings that “the accused was not tortured; nor subjected to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment”. Yet at a hearing in May, one of Omar Khadr’s interrogators at Bagram admitted to using a rape scenario as a fear tactic against the teenager. And it is clear that at Guantánamo, Omar Khadr was one of the detainees subjected to the sleep disruption/deprivation technique known as the “frequent flyer” program.


Time Running Out for Omar Khadr

Time is running out for Omar Khadr, his Military Commission trial will finally get underway on August 10th and it is likely to be completed within two weeks.

We don’t anticipate a very edifying spectacle. Khadr fired his hopelessly outclassed civilian defense attorneys last month and is refusing to participate any further in the proceedings. As he explained in a letter to the court:

“It is going to be the same thing with or without lawyers. It’s going to be a life sentence.”

It is hardly a surprise that after eight years of delay and prevarication, rule changes and procedural challenges, Khadr has no faith in the genuine independence of the military commission process. Few international observers do.

Omar Khadr was taken into US custody when he was 15 years old on 27 July 2002 in Afghanistan. On the right is a picture of him after being detained for eight years.

The case against Khadr is a weak one. There are no eyewitnesses to the primary

incident and the only real evidence against him are statements obtained from him under duress and a videotape of him apparently helping to plant an IED. It is not clear whether the tape is of a training exercise or an actual attack.

The judge in the case is still refusing to consider whether incriminating statements made by Khadr after his capture were obtained through torture – hardly a fanciful claim since his interrogator was actually convicted in a US court martial of abusing another detainee in the same facility.

Khadr’s remaining–military–attorney, Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, has petitioned the Supreme Court to consider the propriety of the US government maintaining in essence a separate legal system for US non-citizens. US citizens charged with terrorist offenses are directed to the federal courts not military commissions. As Lt. Col. Jackson notes: “separate is always unequal.”

Finally, perhaps most egregious of all, Khadr is being tried as an adult despite the fact that he was only fifteen when the alleged offenses he is accused of occurred. Under the terms of the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, of which the United States is a signatory, Khadr should properly be considered a child soldier.


Combat Exploitative Child Labor with Human Rights

On June 8, 2010, I attended the “Working Together to Combat Child Labor” conference in Washington, DC.  The meeting was organized by the US Departments of State and Labor to convene high-level U.S. officials and representatives of labor, business, and non-governmental organizations to discuss effective strategies and policies to combat exploitative child labor around the world.  Below is the text of the speech I gave on a panel entitled “Making Rights a Reality”:

I would like to thank the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and the Bureau of International Labor Affairs for co-hosting this conference and for giving me the opportunity to be part of this important and urgent conversation.

I want to start by acknowledging that many of you in this room have more expertise than either I or Amnesty, as an organization, in combating child labor.  What AI has is some 50 years of experience of fighting for human rights.  What I hope we can contribute to this discussion is our understanding of the critical place of human rights in any effective effort to end child labor.

Last month, the ILO warned that progress in ending the worst forms of child labor has slowed down, and that the global economic downturn is likely to make the situation worse.  There is, however, nothing inevitable about this trend.  As the ILO’s Constance Thomas noted:

Most child labor is rooted in poverty. The way to tackle the problem is clear. We must ensure that all children have the chance of going to school, we need social protection systems that support vulnerable families – particularly at times of crisis – and we need to ensure that adults have a chance of decent work. These measures, combined with effective enforcement of laws that protect children, provide the way forward.

This is also “the way” required by the human rights norms, standards, and laws by which virtually every government is bound.  Yet, the truth is that for far too long and far too often, child labor, like the poverty in which it is rooted, has been treated by governments, international bodies, and NGOs – including my own for many years – as primarily, if not exclusively, an issue for development agencies or specialized labor organizations, but not necessarily a human rights issue. Human rights have often been seen, at best as an add-on, at worst as an obstacle to development.  It was in part to contribute to changing this, AI has launched a global campaign called “Demand Dignity” to combat the human rights abuses that force men, women and children into poverty and keep them there.  The campaign aims to make human rights integral and central to the fight against poverty and poverty related practices like child labor.