Emmanuel Jal is a hip-hop artist and humanitarian, as well as a former child solider.
Below is an open letter from hip-hop artist, activist and former child soldier Emmanuel Jal, urging President Barack Obama to push for a strong Arms Trade Treaty at the U.N. conference this month. This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.
In Sudan and around the world, children are forced into warfare. Many end up as child soldiers, forced to take lives and continue the cycle of violence that they have been born into. Child soldiers are found today in as many as 20 countries.
I was one of them. I was fortunate enough to have escaped to Kenya and found another life through music. But the lives of many children are cut short before they can escape. The most difficult part of this situation is that these children do not have a choice when they are introduced, often after they have been orphaned, to a perpetual war zone and raised by the harsh reality of the violence around them.
At the local level, Americans are demonstrating a strong commitment to advancing human rights. In recent elections, voters legalized marriage equality in nine states and passed the DREAM Act to expand educational opportunities for undocumented residents in Maryland. In addition, legislators in four states abolished the death penalty. The message to the nation’s leaders seems to be this: human rights still matter, and the task of “perfecting our union” remains incomplete.
As President Obama prepares to give his second inaugural address, he should embrace an ambitious rights agenda: enhancing our security without trampling on human rights; implementing a foreign policy that hold friends and foes alike accountable for human rights violations; and ensuring human rights for all in the United States without discrimination.
Measured against international norms and his own aspirations, President Obama’s first term record on human rights merits an “incomplete.” While he made the bold move of issuing an executive order to close Guantánamo on his second day in office, he has yet to fulfill that promise. The U.S. government’s reliance on lethal drone strikes is growing steadily, but the administration has provided no clear legal justification for the program. Congress has abrogated its responsibility to exercise meaningful oversight of this most ubiquitous element of the “global war on terror,” a paradigm which is in and of itself problematic. Although President Obama has on occasion stood up for human rights defenders abroad — in China, Iran, Russia and Libya — his administration has often muted criticism when it comes to U.S. allies, in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s taciturn, ironfisted ruler, passed away after 21 years of increasingly autocratic rule, leaving the country and its global allies at an interesting and rare crossroads: Will the country continue along its current path of political authoritarianism and its extensive machinery of suppression, or will we see the rights of Ethiopian people restored in an more transparent, accountable political system?
Zenawi’s passing marks a major transition point in terms of political leadership and governance in sub Saharan Africa, as he was part of a third generation of post-colonial leadership that succeeded in establishing themselves on the global stage while creating governments that systematically stripped individuals of their rights and then of their freedom.
17 journalists have been killed so far in 2012 and there are currently 179 journalists imprisoned around the world.
Low pay, long hours, and dwindling job opportunities are professional challenges faced by many journalists. For some, however, the risks can be considerably steeper.
At least 17 journalists have been killed so far in 2012 and there are currently 179 journalists imprisoned around the world because of their work.
These numbers only begin to describe the risks faced by journalists, bloggers, filmmakers and others who dare bring to light uncomfortable truths that powerful interests would prefer to conceal. Most of those detained or killed were reporting on human rights failings in their country.
Today on World Press Freedom Day (May 3), here is a brief look at five countries where people risk much in the service of truth:
Fall is my favorite time of year: the air is cooler, the leaves are pretty, Amnesty International student groups are back together again, and people start signing up for the Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon.
In this—the world’s largest human rights event—we use letters, cards and more to demand the human rights of individuals are respected, protected and fulfilled. We show solidarity with those suffering abuses and work to improve people’s lives.
Amnesty International welcomed Birtukan Mideksa’s release from prison yesterday. The leader of the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) opposition party in Ethiopia, Birtukan Mideksa has a long history of speaking out against the Government of Ethiopia. In the aftermath of the potentially corrupt 2005 elections, in which the ruling Ethiopian People’s Democratic Revolutionary Front (EPRDF) retained control, she was one of many CUD officials who refuse to take office and participated in mass demonstrations. The protests were violently dispersed by police: 187 people were shot dead and 765 others were wounded. Birtukan Mideksa was arrested for the first time in November 2005, charged with treason and sentenced to life in prison. After being held for 18 months, she signed a letter of apology and was released. The other terms of her pardon remain unclear.
On 28 December 2008, Birtukan was arrested for a second time, after speaking at a public meeting in Sweden regarding the process and terms of her previous release. The Government gave her three days to retract her statement, and when she refused, arrested her again. Much of her sentence was spent in solitary confinement, and she was also not allowed to see her 4 year-old daughter until mid-April, 2009.
Birtukan Mideksa’s case was featured in Amnesty International’s 2009 Global Write-A-Thon, during which thousands of people from around the world petitioned for her release by sending letters to the Government of Ethiopia. The organization Free Birtukan has also been campaigning tirelessly for her release.
Birtukan Mideksa, an opposition party leader, is serving a life sentence in Kaliti Prison in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She was previously arrested in November 2005 after the Coalition for Unity and Democracy party, of which she was a leader, disputed the results of local and parliamentary elections.
Post-election demonstrations turned violent – security forces shot dead 187 people and wounded 765 others, while at least six police officers were also killed. Birtukan Mideksa was charged with treason among other charges, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Local elders working with detainees negotiated a process which led to a pardon by Ethiopian authorities. Birtukan Mideksa and others were released in June 2007 after serving more than 18 months in prison. The exact terms of the pardon remain unclear.