Reflections on Boston

(Photo Credit: Dominic Chavez/EPA/Landov).

(Photo Credit: Dominic Chavez/EPA/Landov).

My cousin lives in Boston and I was worried that he was somehow affected by the attacks. It immediately brought me back to 9/11 and the memory of how powerless I felt watching the Twin Towers fall. Luckily, my cousin was fine. But it wasn’t true for others. The grief of losing family and friends is unbearable.

Deliberate attacks against civilians by individuals or armed groups are always human rights abuses. Amnesty International condemns the attacks in Boston in the strongest terms. The victims have a right to remedy, including to see those responsible brought to justice in a fair trial that respects human rights and reaffirms the rule of law.

The Obama administration is right to prosecute the suspect in criminal court and ignore those calling for denial of human rights and civil liberties. The trial must be fair, the suspect must be treated humanely and we must not let fear-mongering and discrimination flourish. We all want justice and security, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it.

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Department of State Human Rights Reports: The Resource That Washington Ignores

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to how the 2013 Human Rights Reports were the foundation of U.S. foreign policy and a statement to the world that the U.S. is watching to make sure that foreign governments protect the human rights of their citizens (Photo Credit: Mladen  Antonov/AFP/Getty Images).

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to how the 2013 Human Rights Reports is the foundation of U.S. foreign policy and a statement to the world that the U.S. is watching to make sure foreign governments protect the human rights of their citizens (Photo Credit: Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images).

At long last, the 2013 country reports documenting global human rights trends has been released by the U.S. Department of State.

This year’s report, which was first produced during the Carter administration, is as important for what it does not say – or perhaps how it says it – as it is for what it says. In looking back at events in 2012, the report highlights several alarming trends, first what can only be described as a growing assault on civil society and human rights defenders.

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SCOTUS, It’s Time for Marriage Equality

Love is a (human) right, not a wrong and protecting the rights of same-sex couples in the U.S. is a step towards recognizing that fact (Photo Credit: Mustafa Ozer/AFP/Getty Images).

Love is a (human) right, not a wrong and protecting the rights of same-sex couples in the U.S. is a step towards recognizing that fact (Photo Credit: Mustafa Ozer/AFP/Getty Images).

By Emily McGranachan, Member of Amnesty International USA’s LGBT Human Rights Coordinating Group

Today the Supreme Court of the United States began hearing arguments on two pivotal cases involving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights. The focus of today’s hearing was on California’s Proposition 8, which wrote discrimination into the California Constitution by defining marriage in the state as between one man and one woman. The state constitutional amendment has been found unconstitutional by a federal appeals courts and supporters of marriage equality hope it will be struck down entirely.

Tomorrow the court hears arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which limits federal recognition of marriage to heterosexual couples. There is a great deal in the news about both cases and what they could mean for LGBT rights. The decisions made by the Supreme Court will have real impacts on individuals, children, and families, regardless of their sexual orientation.

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What a NY Times Column Gets Wrong About Israeli Settlements

Ma'ale Adumim settlement

Construction continued on the Ma'ale Adumim settlement in 2010 despite an official Israeli "freeze".

An opinion piece written last week by Dani Dayan, a leader of an association of Israeli settlers, has sparked controversy over whether – as Dayan claims – Israeli settlers have a moral right to live in Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).  What has been missing so far from the discussion is the human rights perspective on the issue that Amnesty International considers most important.

Dayan insists in his column that Israel’s Settlers Are Here to Stay” and argues that instead of trying to find a two-state solution, American diplomats should accept the status quo and “maintain the current reality on the ground.”

His argument, however, leaves out one significant fact — the establishment of settlements in the OPT violates international humanitarian law and also constitutes a serious violation of the prohibition on discrimination. The presence of settlements has led to mass violations of human rights of the local Palestinian population including, but not limited to, policies involving access to water, restrictions on movement, land confiscation and home demolitions. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Belarusian President: "Better to Be a Dictator Than Gay"

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko © STR/AFP/Getty Images

It sounds like a line from Sacha Baron Cohen’s upcoming comedy The Dictator, but it actually came from a real dictator.

Alexander Lukashenko, the president of ex-Soviet Belarus, said “better to be a dictator than gay” when responding to European criticism of the country’s democratic record. He was alluding to the sexual orientation of some European Foreign Ministers.

President Alexander Lukashenko has been ruling Belarus with an iron fist for almost 18 years. The country’s population is under 10 million and has faced sanctions. Belarus is one of the least democratic in Europe, and is Europe’s only country to have the death penalty. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Cameroon: Stop Discriminating Against LGBT People

Jean-Claude Roger Mbede

Jean-Claude Roger Mbede sentenced to 3 years in prison for “homosexuality.”

Back in December, we told you about several countries where LGBT people are at risk, and Cameroon was one of the countries we listed, and we highlighted the case of Jean-Claude Roger Mbede, sentenced to three years in prison on charges of “homosexuality” under Section 347a of Cameroon’s penal code.

The situation in Cameroon continues to be dangerous for LGBT people, or those perceived as such. Since Amnesty began working on Jean-Claude’s case, at least two more men have been sentenced to prison terms for “homosexual acts” in Cameroon. We can’t let this discrimination continue.

Jean-Claude is scheduled to have an appeal hearing on Monday, March 5th, and we’re taking action—delivering petitions and reminding the president about all the appeals he’s already received—to make sure he hears these three things loud and clear:
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LGBT Rights in Turkey: Time for Action

A gay-rights activist holding a placard reading: "Don't hate, apologize," is evacuated as he protests on April 15, 2010 in Ankara against Family Affairs and Women's Minister Selma Aliye Kavaf, who declared that she believed homosexuality was a "biological disorder, a disease." © Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

Violence, discrimination, and official contempt: a new Amnesty report on LGBT rights in Turkey outlines the difficult straits of the LGBT community in Turkey.

The report makes for grim reading.  The LGBT community in Turkey is subject to a general atmosphere of harassment and discrimination.   Violence is widespread and often comes from members of their own families.  Assault, rape, and even murder go uninvestigated and unpunished.

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Hate and Intolerance Find Support in Brazil's House of Representative

Hate and intolerance have a new stage: Brazil’s House of Representatives.  While the legislative body was created for reason and discourse, one of its elected officials has found ways to degrade the federal body by promoting racism and intolerance.  Rio de Janeiro’s congressman Jair Bolsonaro is flagrantly using the legislative chamber to make racist comments against blacks and LGBT citizens, and to disseminate militaristic ideals.

During an interview with a national humoristic program, Mr. Bolsonaro was asked how he would feel if he found his son dating a black woman. He took this as an opportunity to make racist comments and indicated that he would “never allow this kind of promiscuity” (youtube video in Portuguese).  While this interview was widely publicized and has led to a huge debate about racism in Brazil’s society, it is a shame that an elected official would even dare to speak this way of any civil group or minority.   As if that weren’t enough, Mr. Bolsonaro has also expressed his support for military regimes over democratic governments.

It is absurd that an elected official would dare to utter such words.  A person that believes that the military regime is better than democracy and who thinks that minorities aren’t humans with equal rights, ought not to be called a legislator.  Mr. Bolsonaro is on his sixth consecutive term as Federal Representative for the State of Rio de Janeiro. It has been 21 years since he was first elected… What’s even worse is that he is not alone in his attitude and racist ideals.

Another Representative, this time from the State of Sao Paulo, Mr. Marco Feliciano, wrote in his Twitter account that “the filth in homoaffective feelings are conduits to hate, crime and rejection” and that “Africans descend from ancestors cursed by Noah.”

When elected official make comments such as the ones quoted in this article, racist and oppressive groups feel empowered and justified when attacking vulnerable groups.  Just last week, Sao Paulo’s police identified 200 members of skinhead gangs that attacked and in many cases killed members of the black and homosexual communities in the city.  According to a Brazilian gay group, 260 LGBT individuals were killed in Brazil in 2010, which represented 31% increase from 2009 and a 113% increase from 2005.

It is disturbing to know that those who are in charge of approving laws to protect society are the same people responsible for spreading hate and intolerance. We will only be able to reduce the number of hate crimes in Brazil when the country’s citizens demand that the rights of everyone, including the country’s minorities, are respected and protected.  It is imperative that the legislative system focuses on the creation of  laws designed to fight racism and hate crimes. Brazilians deserve better, much better.

 

"The Injustice of Extreme Poverty"

Yesterday, at the United Nations summit on the Millennium Development Goals, President Obama unveiled a new U.S. approach to global development. It was encouraging to see the president frame poverty as an issue of rights and justice: “In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, [the international community] recognized the inherent dignity and rights of every individual, including the right to a decent standard of living. And a decade ago, at the dawn of a new millennium, we set concrete goals to free our fellow men, women and children from the injustice of extreme poverty.”

Amnesty International – along with Realizing Rights and other organizations – has been working to put human rights at the heart of the fight against global poverty. For the president to make good on his message about human rights and development, here are some key steps for him to take:

  • Fight discrimination. The president said the U.S. will “invest in the health, education and rights of women,” and gender equality is of course crucial. But other disadvantaged groups – including racial and ethnic minorities and Indigenous Peoples – must also be prioritized.
  • Ensure participation. People living in poverty must be the chief agents of change. It’s encouraging to hear the president say that, at the nation-to-nation level, the U.S. will stress “partnering with [developing] countries” in the development process rather than “dictat[ing]” from Washington. It should also create space for each country to ensure the participation of impoverished communities.
  • Improve accountability. President Obama has called mutual accountability a “pillar of [America’s] new approach” towards development. That should include accountability to human rights standards in development.
  • Respect, protect and fulfill human rights. Finally, and most importantly, the U.S. must ensure that all efforts to achieve the MDGs are consistent with human rights standards and respect the broad spectrum of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

There’s much to be hopeful about in the president’s speech. As his administration implements its new development policy, Amnesty International will continue to push for human rights standards in U.S. development policy and the MDGs.

Prop 8 Out, Equality In

The verdict is in.  A federal judge in San Francisco today struck down a voter-approved ban on gay marriage in California.

At Amnesty, we welcome the decision as Proposition 8 challenged our basic human right to be treated equally under the law.  In response to the ruling, Amnesty International USA Executive Director Larry Cox issued the following statement:

“The U.S. District Court has sent a clear message on Proposition 8: discrimination by any means is unacceptable.  This affirms not only equality in civil marriage, but the basic human right to be treated equally under the law, without regard to an individual’s sexual orientation.

“Proposition 8 served only to stigmatize same-sex relationships in ways that can fuel further discrimination. Denying equal civil recognition of same-sex relationships compounds the effects of discrimination and undermines other rights, such as the right to housing or social security.  Amnesty International welcomes today’s ruling as an affirmation of equality under the law.”