U.S. Releases Its First-Ever Strategy to End Violence Against Women Globally

survivors of sexual violence in colombia

Survivors of sexual violence unite in Bogotá, Colombia.  1 in 3 women will be victim of violence worldwide. (Photo Corporación Sisma Mujer)

The U.S. government has just released its much anticipated global strategy to prevent and address gender-based violence. The strategy, and accompanying Executive Order, will help ensure that the United States effectively prevents and responds to gender-based violence globally.

This new strategy for the first time puts the full weight of U.S. foreign policy and international assistance behind efforts to end this global human rights violation.

Why is this strategy needed?  Because an estimated one in three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. In countries from Nicaragua to Afghanistan to the United States, violence against women is global epidemic.

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Connecticut Death Penalty Abolished! (California Next?)

death penalty abolished in connecticut

With his signature, Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy signed into law the repeal of Connecticut’s death penalty, making his state the 17th, and the 5th in the last 5 years, to do away with capital punishment.  The law is not retroactive, so 11 men remain on Connecticut’s death row.

It is surely a sign of progress for the death penalty abolition movement that such a success could occur in the midst of contentious and escalating election year politics.  Previous legislative repeal victories have occurred during the more sedate odd-numbered years (New Jersey, 2007; New Mexico, 2009, Illinois, 2011).

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Entire Blockade of Gaza Must Be Lifted

On September 6th, I posted a blog concerning what I considered bad reporting by many in the mainstream media, ‘Palmer Report Did Not Find Gaza Blockade Legal Despite Media Headlines’.

Amnesty International recently signed on to a joint open letter to members of the MiddleEast Quartet — an important mediating body in the peace process that includes the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — with almost two dozen other human rights and humanitarian organizations in regards to the Palmer commission’s report on the 2010 flotilla incident and the continued closure of Gaza.

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What Is Girls' Education Without Human Rights?

Afghan girls at school

© UNHCR / Lana Slezic /GlobalAware

Education, especially girls’ education, is a no-brainer, right? Evidence shows that even a basic, primary education, has a range of positive impacts:

  • Children of educated mothers are twice as likely to go to school as those raised by mothers with no education. They are also 40% less likely to die in childhood.
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An (Im)perfect DREAM

 

12/09/10

UPDATE: HOUSE PASSES THE DREAM ACT

 

All of your calls, visits and support have worked! Thank you so much for all your hard work over the past few weeks. We are almost there- We now need to make one final push to make sure this important piece of legislation passes in the Senate as well.

This morning the Senate voted to table consideration of their own bill in order to take up the House version. We need you more than ever to urge your Senators to “Pass the DREAM Act”!

We can make history! Reach your Senators by dialing: 866-996-5161

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The day is almost upon us. Thousands of students, families and activists across the country have been waiting nine years for the passage of The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a bill that would help thousands of committed students and military officers legalize their status.

In the last few weeks calls for the introduction and passage of such legislation have reached a fever pitch with endorsements from the White House, the DOD, and DHS among others. Last week Senator Durbin (D-IL) introduced S. 3992 and a House companion bill is expected any day.

However, for many DREAM supporters the release of the long-awaited Senate bill last week dampened the spirits of some and outraged others.  

Amnesty International has historically supported the DREAM Act because it provided access to the exercise of significant human rights including the right to education, the right to family life and unity, and due process instead of deportation.  While the introduction of S. 3992 was encouraging, we’re concerned that the over-burdensome framework, including harsh grounds of inadmissibility and deportability undermine the human rights the Dream Act has historically been introduced to remedy.

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Girls' Education Under Attack in Northwestern Pakistan

Last week, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) released their “Education under Attack” report, in which they have experts discuss the incidence of politically and ideologically motivated attacks on teachers, students and school buildings throughout the world. The report includes both a case study and a country report on Pakistan, both of which paint a stark picture of the impact of the Taliban on education in northwestern Pakistan.

Young girls and men queue separately for cooked rations in Jalala camp, Pakistan, 17 May 2009. Copyright Amnesty International

Young girls and men queue separately for cooked rations in Jalala camp, Pakistan, 17 May 2009. Copyright UNHCR/H. Caux

The report tells us that between 2007 and March 2009, 108 schools were fully destroyed, an additional 64 were partially damaged, and 40,000 children, including 23,000 girls, were deprived of their education. This is occurring in the context of a ruthless campaign by the Taliban against girls’ education, which is part of a larger campaign to impose their strict social rules and norms on the people of Northwestern Pakistan. As UNESCO’s report clearly states, “The Taliban in Swat Valley, Pakistan, left no ambiguity about their intent to target girls’ education.”

As the Pakistani military celebrates the recent capture of several key Taliban leaders, it is important to remember the impact of the conflict between Taliban armed groups and the Pakistani military in the region on civilians. Clearly, the Taliban have been the cause of countless human rights abuses against civilians, including attacks on education. But any government military strategy aimed at countering the Taliban must place human rights concerns at the forefront.

Women of Zimbabwe Arise March for Education, Member Jailed

Women of Zimbabwe Arise take to the streets in Zimbabwe.

Women of Zimbabwe Arise take to the streets in Zimbabwe.

UPDATE January 25th: Today a delegation of 200 women and men marched again in Bulawayo to deliver the WOZA report regarding the collapse of the education system in the country. Once the ministry of education official had attended and received the report, members began to disperse. As they dispersed, seven riot police officers ran out of the police drill hall and started to beat the peacefully dispersing activists, innocent bystanders and vendors. One member who tried to avoid arrest by walking into the passport office was followed and beaten, after being beaten she was then told to ‘run’ to the drill hall whilst being beaten all the way there. It was finally determined that a total of eleven WOZA members were arrested, however they were released within hours without charge or explanation.

Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) took to the streets recently demanding education reform in Zimbabwe. In a report published by the organization, WOZA calls for teachers to quit demanding extra money from parents to supplement their income, the Education Ministry must improve the quality of the curriculum including the addition of human rights education, the examination system must be re-vamped and no increase in school fees in 2010.

Over 800 WOZA members marched in Bulawayo on January 13th, singing and chanting the WOZA MOYA! slogan. The demonstration proceeded without violence or arrests but they were not able to deliver their report at the government complex as police dispersed the demonstrators upon arrival. On January 18th-MLK Day, the members of WOZA marched to the Education Ministry offices in Harare and were dispersed, this time by riot police. One WOZA member, a journalist and a bystander were arrested. The demonstration was broken up before WOZA members were able to deliver the report to education minister David Coltart.

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Amnesty Secretary General Dedicates Classic Police Song to Zimbabwe

Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan meets Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, London, 22 June 2009 © Amnesty International

AI's Khan meets Tsvangirai June 2009

Amnesty International’s Secretary General Irene Khan met with Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai this week as he was wrapping up his world tour and she had just returned from a high level mission to Zimbabwe. As far as I can tell from the picture, there wasn’t actually a karaoke machine in the room, but Khan told Tsvangirai that Amnesty will be watching Zimbabwe closely over the next 100 days, looking for improvements in human rights. Only not in a stalker, creepy way as in the song, but more in line with the on going efforts of Amnesty International to bring to light the conditions that have occurred on the ground in Zimbabwe in recent years.

The severity of the degradation in human rights was on dramatic display during Khan’s visit last week, when civil activist group Women of Zimbabwe Arise staged two protests, one in Bulawayo and one in Harare. Both protests were violently broken up by riot police, resulting in serious injuries. The Harare protest occurred near where Khan was holding a press conference. Not smart to try to convince the world you are making progress on human rights issues and then beat up mothers with their babies and grandmothers in front of the head of one of the world’s largest human rights organization.

While Tsvangirai was in the US, he secured a commitment from Obama for “humanitarian plus” aid. This means increased aid to help the people in Zimbabwe with things like education and healthcare by giving the money to organizations in Zimbabwe as opposed to the government itself. All total, Tsvangirai secured pledges from donor governments amounting to around $180 million to provide some relief in Zimbabwe. This is no where near the amounts needed to begin to rebuild the country, but donor governments remain leery of the ability of the Zimbabwe government to handle direct developmental funding in a tranparent manner. Especially when the same week the new aid commitments are being announced, legislation is introduced in Zimbabwe’s Parliament to provide $30,000 loans to all Parliamentarians to buy brand new cars.

Amnesty International USA endorses the decision of the US government to increase funds that will improve the lives of the citizens of Zimbabwe. The US and international community have an obligation to protect and promote economic, social and cultural rights around the world. But Zimbabwe, we’ll be watching you.

Rebuilding Zimbabwe: How ‘Bout Them Apples?

It’s said that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. But doctors are very far away in Zimbabwe, as in entirely other countries where they might actually be paid for their services. Worse, most people don’t have anything to eat, let alone fresh fruit. Zimbabwe’s infrastructure has been in a downward spiral for at least the last ten years. The education system is in ruins, hospitals are closed, roads are impassable and the water and sewage systems destroyed.

Zimbabwe inherited a colonial infrastructure now over thirty years old. I don’t condone colonialism, I don’t think Zimbabwe was better off because the British were there and it’s not because the British left that things fell apart. It was a combination of government mismanagement and an acknowledged siphoning of funds by the central bank leading to the lack of infrastructure maintenance. Schools and hospitals, once some of the most respected in Africa are in shambles. Teachers, doctors and other health care professionals left in search of a living wage, particularly as Zimbabwe’s inflation soared to astronomical heights. The current government salary of $100US a month is not enough to feed and house their families, pay school fees, even commute to work.

Last year a cholera epidemic erupted in Zimbabwe which will soon reach the 100,000 cases benchmark. Unless the water treatment plants and sewer systems receive urgently needed repairs, it is anticipated that cholera will return at crisis levels when the rainy season resumes in October. The 2009 harvest was below projected levels, meaning Zimbabwe will be the world’s most food needy country per capita in 2009. Zimbabwe’s once effective HIV anti-retroviral drug dispersal program has faltered with the medical system collapse, and poor nutrition makes the drugs less effective and difficult to digest. Food insecurity also exaccerbates the cholera crisis.

Zimbabwe needs more than apples. It needs good governance and directed humanitarian aid (aid that is dispensed to non-governmental organizations to pay salaries and restore the infrastructure rather than through a government of which donor States remain leery) to help the people of Zimbabwe rebuild their country. Until then, apples and healthcare are both very far away.

What the UDHR Means to Me

The United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), proposed by Eleanor Roosevelt and adopted by the United Nations in 1948 established 30 articles of universal Human Rights. This document establishes and protects the framework for civilized and respectful interaction between all people and nations no matter what their political, religious or cultural beliefs. Over 190 nations have ratified this declaration; and yet surveys show that more people can name 3 members of the Homer Simpson TV Cartoon family than they can name three of their basic human rights. You can’t defend what you do not know.

At a time when we see women being stoned to death, child executions, people starving in the Eastern Sudan, children being stolen from their families and made into child-soldiers or prostitutes, prisoners being water-boarded, millions of people starving and dying of AIDS each year – we have to ask: what can human rights education do? My answer is everything. It’s where it all begins.

A friend once told me a story I will never forget. In the early 1940’s there was a young black boy in the Deep South, a sharecropper’s son. He went to school in a one-room, tattered schoolhouse. One morning, sitting by himself, he opened a third-hand, torn Civics text book. He read a page – The United States Bill of Rights. He read it again. He looked around and what he saw were white only schools, white only restrooms, and “sit on the back of the bus”. It didn’t make sense. And at that single moment, education, as it does for all of us, made that young Black boy more aware – and he decided to do something about it. His name was Martin Luther King Jr., and the rest is history.

Nelson Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can learn to love.”

Human rights violations know no borders. From child soldiers in the Congo, ethnic cleansing in Darfur, to the rise in human trafficking right here in the US, it is easy to see that the whole world needs to change.

By knowing all 30 Articles of the UDHR we can be equipped with the knowledge to fight against any injustice anywhere in the world. On this 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration, with all the turmoil that currently exists in the world, it has become more important than ever for people to know their rights, to pass them onto others, and to defend them relentlessly.

The solution to global issues such as poverty, famine, war and political unrest is encompassed by the UDHR, and human rights education is the first step in resolving these issues at a grassroots level.

I hope to see the day when human rights education becomes a mandatory part of every middle school curriculum on every continent across the world, so that every man, woman and child knows and can defend their God-given rights.