First Impressions Count: An Agenda for Secretary Kerry’s Trip to Africa

In his upcoming Africa trip, Secretary Kerry has a rare opportunity to reiterate that human rights and good governance are priorities for the United States and to ask for meaningful reforms by these governments (Photo Credit: Jacquelyn Martin/AFP/GettyImages).

In his upcoming Africa trip, Secretary Kerry has a rare opportunity to reiterate that human rights and good governance are priorities for the United States and to ask for meaningful reforms by these governments (Photo Credit: Jacquelyn Martin/AFP/GettyImages).

Secretary of State Kerry embarks today on a trip to Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola. The trip offers a key opportunity to refocus U.S. leadership on the deteriorating respect for human rights by the ruling governments in Addis Ababa and Luanda and on the need for more leadership on good governance by the government of President Kabila in Kinshasa.

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What Everyone Should Know About Rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo

A ten-year-old girl who was raped twice in  ten days surrounded by other raped victims and a counselor (Photo Credit:  ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

A ten-year-old girl who was raped twice in ten days surrounded by other raped victims and a counselor (Photo Credit: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images).

By Rebecca Landy, Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group with the Democratic Republic of Congo Country Specialists

For almost two decades, armed conflict has ravaged the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). During this time, civilians have faced persistent human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including unlawful killings, rape, and sexual violence.

An October 2013 report by the Ministry of Gender stressed the high rates of sexual violence in areas of armed conflict – citing approximately 7,000 cases of sexual violence in North Kivu province in 2011 alone. As sexual violence is usually largely under-reported, the actual number is likely even higher.

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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.

What Does Your Cell Phone Have to Do with Armed Conflict?

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s long war, which has claimed an estimated three million lives as a result of fighting or disease and malnutrition, was fuelled by the regions vast mineral wealth (Photo Credit: Kuni Takahashi/Getty Images).

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s long war, which has claimed an estimated three million lives as a result of fighting or disease and malnutrition, was fueled by the regions vast mineral wealth (Photo Credit: Kuni Takahashi/Getty Images).

You know that phone you’re texting on? Do you know how its microchips are made?

Thanks to work by Amnesty International and partner organizations, companies that rely on certain minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo or neighboring countries now have to investigate and report on whether those minerals fund armed groups.

And it’s about more than just smartphones – conflict minerals” (tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold) are used in products like your laptop and even your car. Public disclosure of companies’ sourcing practices can have a real impact on entire industries, pushing companies to take human rights into account as they do business. Can you hear me now?

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Child Soldiers: Will the Real Obama Please Stand Up?

Child soldier with adults, Sanghe, Democratic Republic of Congo, June 2002.

Child soldier with adults, Sanghe, Democratic Republic of Congo, June 2002.

By Angela T. Chang, Advocate, Crisis Prevention and Response Team, Amnesty International USA

When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery. When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family—girls my daughters’ age—runs away from home, or is lured by the false promises of a better life, and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists — that’s slavery. It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.
– US President Barack Obama, September 2012

Despite these strong words by President Obama against the use and recruitment of child soldiers a few months ago, he got reprimanded earlier this week for falling flat in delivering on tangible actions to address this issue.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child released a new report on Tuesday, calling out the U.S. and the Obama administration for failing to adhere to its international human rights obligations by continuing to waive sanctions on military assistance, per the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act, to countries that are known to recruit and use child soldiers – a clear violation of children’s rights and a war crime if the children are under the age of fifteen. Yes, you read that right. Seems confusing and backwards? That’s because it is.

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The Children Left Out of Obama’s Inaugural Speech

Photo by Dominique Aubert/AFP/Getty Images

Photo by Dominique Aubert/AFP/Getty Images

The United States is not the only country where children are facing an epidemic of gun violence. While in the U.S., we continue to grapple with the tragic reality of children who routinely face gun violence in their communities and children who increasingly are the targets of mass shootings, in other places around the world, we see the heartbreaking consequences of children who also face the daily horrors of armed conflict, many forced to become soldiers.

During Monday’s inaugural address, President Obama said:

“Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.”

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Another Year Lost for the Lives and Dignity of Congo’s Women

Rape survivors awaiting surgery, Panzi hospital, Bukavu, South-Kivu province. Copyright Amnesty International

Three years ago when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton took the unprecedented step of travelling to the Eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to meet with rape survivors of the country’s brutal conflict, I was elated and hopeful. Elated because Secretary Clinton was doing something that had never been done before—sending the message that sexual violence is just as high on America’s foreign policy agenda as trade or traditional capital-to-capital diplomacy, and that the dignity and needs of survivors are a particular priority. Hopeful because I thought it meant perhaps three years later we would see some real change for women in that unending war.

I was wrong.

Tens of thousands of civilians have this very week been displaced following the fall of Goma, a city in Congo’s war-torn east, to the armed group M23, worsening an already dire human rights situation.  Since only April of this year, fighting between the Congolese army and the M23 armed group has displaced 226,000 people in North Kivu province, and 60,000 refugees have fled to Uganda and Rwanda. As with the many other chapters in what’s become known as Africa’s world war, sexual violence has been a trademark of the recent fighting. Amnesty International has documented numerous crimes under international law and other human rights violations committed in the course of fighting between M23 and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) army in recent months.

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A Second Chance for U.S. Leadership on Arms Trade Treaty

Arms Trade Treaty Activists Demonstrate Outside United Nations Headquarters

Amadou Maiga from Mali , who has lost friends in conflict, speaks in front of a mock graveyard across from the United Nations (UN) which represents those killed by arms everyday around the world. The group Control Arms set up the campaign to help draw attention to the issues of deaths by guns and other armaments. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

On November 8, the international community took an important step and recommitted itself to trying to rein in the unregulated global trade in small arms and conventional weapons. With a strong show of consensus, 150 countries signed on to a resolution that will restart negotiations in March 2013. There were no votes cast in opposition.

With the negotiations now scheduled, President Obama and his administration are presented with another chance to show leadership on the global stage and to answer the question of who actually drives U.S. foreign policy: the U.S. gun lobby or the President. On no other issue is this question as under scrutiny as the ATT, coming to a head when the U.S. delegation pulled a July surprise and torpedoed the negotiations in the last hours of the conference.

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Ending the Use of Child Soldiers: One Step Forward

child soldiers DRC congo

Child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo. © Amnesty International

In a victory for children in war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, the DRC government recentlysigned a plan of action with the UN to eliminate the recruitment and use of child soldiers in their military forces, including a first-of-its-kind plan for protecting children from sexual violence.

This historic step comes after several years in which the Government of the DRC had part of its US military aid withheld under the landmark Child Soldier Prevention Act (CSPA). Moving forward, it is imperative that the world and the United States keep a close watch to ensure there is a robust implementation of the national action plan including, for example thorough screening processes to prevent child soldiers recruited into the M23 rebel forces from joining the DRC military. It is arguable that given the links between M23 and the government of Rwanda restrictions on US aid should also considered for Kigali.  Whether there is effective pressure on Rwanda and M23 or not, the decision to grant the DRC a partial waiver, allowing some military assistance to go forward must be leveraged to keep the government of President Kabila on track with further incentives tied to specific benchmarks.

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