Top Ten Reasons to Write for Rights

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.

Those are some pretty amazing reasons to participate, but in case you need more, here are my top ten reasons to Write for Rights: SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Displaced Roma Families Head into Brutal Winter without Adequate Housing

This post is part of our Write for Rights series.

Around 100 children, women and men, forcibly evicted from their homes by the Romanian government six years ago, continue to live in dirty, inhumane conditions.  With nowhere else to go, they are stuck in small, overcrowded metal shacks that stand next to a large sewage plant. A sign outside the plant warns of “toxic danger”, yet the authorities have failed to heed this warning and the Roma families are suffering.

The Roma families are from the Romanian town of Miercurea Ciuc, and despite the fact that authorities told them the movie was only temporary, six years have passed and there are still no plans to relocate them. The 75 people remaining are living with only 4 toilets between them, 1 tap for water, and shacks that do not provide protection from the elements, which is of serious concern for the winter season when temperatures drop below -25 °C (-13 °F). In addition, the families are also living within 300 meters of toxic waste, which is prohibited under Romanian law. Many Roma have expressed concern about their health, and the health of their families, reporting an awful stench that constantly lingers in the air.

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Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity?

(c) Amnesty International

What does liberty, equality, and fraternity mean for the Roma who are being forcibly evicted from France?  Not much.  But fortunately, today the European Union urged France to immediately suspend the expulsion of Roma people.   This decision was made after the destruction of 300 Roma camps and the expulsion of their inhabitants.

The actoins of President Nicolas Sarkozy are now under heavy scrutiny of the European Union. And rightfully so.  The country which was once viewed as a “lighthouse of democracy and freedom”, has not cast its light on the Roma population which has been discriminated against for decades.  From Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame to the 1912 French law requiring identity cards that categorized Roma as ‘nomads’ and encouraged discrimination, to their recent expulsion, Roma have long been the targets of discrimination.

We have called on France to heed the EU’s request, end the cycle of discrimination, and welcome Roma by granting them liberty, equality, and fraternity.

Angola, Meet Secretary Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Angola today on the latest stop of her seven nation tour. Our Country Specialist Jen Ziemke contributed these comments regarding issues Secretary Clinton will hopefully address in her meetings with President dos Santos.

Since 2001, Amnesty International has documented thousands of families forcibly evicted from various neighborhoods in the Angolan capital of Luanda in order to make room for public and private housing projects. These forced evictions were typically carried out without due process of law, including prior notification or consultation and the ability to dispute the evictions in a court of law. Nearly all of the evictions were accompanied by excessive use of force. Officials specifically targeted poor families who had little access to the means of securing their tenure. Angola is a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and should honor its obligations to ensure its citizen’s rights to an adequate standard of living are protected.

President Jose Eduardo dos Santos previously scheduled presidential elections for late 2009, but recent reports indicate these elections will be delayed again until at least 2010. Secretary Clinton must ensure that the US will be carefully monitoring the upcoming election process and demand that the elections to be held as soon as possible. Furthermore, President dos Santos must give all candidates and eligible parties equal access to media and campaigning and organizational resources, without fear of intimidation.

Whenever they take place, the elections will be the first presidential elections since 1992′s failed attempt that led to escalating violence and a resumption of civil war. The likelihood of violence is not as high as during that time, and it should be noted that in September 2008, legislative elections remained free from violence and were considered “generally credible.” Those elections, however, were marred by state-run media affording undue advantage to the incumbent party. Indeed the incumbent MPLA won over 80% of the vote.

Furthermore, reports that the freedom and security of human rights defenders, associations, and journalists is not being protected under the current leadership in Angola is of great concern. This is a good example of where Secretary Clinton can relay the message that, in order for the upcoming presidential elections to be considered valid in the eyes of the world, the treatment of journalists, advocates, student groups, human rights defenders and other members of civil society must improve.

The release of journalists like José Fernando Lelo from prison could also help bolster Angola’s human rights reputation. Lelo’s work is an example of a critical voice from civil society being silenced by the authorities. On September 19, 2008, Lelo was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment by a military court in Cabinda, Angola, after being convicted of crimes against the security of the state. Amnesty International believes his arrest and conviction were politically motivated, his trial unfair, and thereby we consider him a prisoner of conscience and call for is unconditional release from prison.

Humanitarian organizations operating in Angola also face uphill battles because their ability to operate is being infringed. In April 2008, the Director General of the Technical Unit for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance, a government department, announced that the government would soon stop the activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) “without a social impact”. In July he accused several NGOs of inciting violence and threatened to ban them: the Association for Justice, Peace and Democracy (Associação de Justiça, Paz e Democracia, AJPD); Mãos Livres; the Open Society Foundation (Fundação Open Society); and SOS-Habitat. These organizations have been doing critical work in the area of civil society, forced evictions, and human rights and should not be subject to government intimidation.

Secretary Clinton has the opportunity to help change Angola’s future by correcting its human rights past. We’ll be watching…

Heavy Criticism Emerges after Jerusalem Evictions

Yesterday, approximately 55 Arabs, including 14 children, were evicted from their houses in east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah after the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jewish families that claimed ownerships of the property. Soon after the evictions, these families moved in under the protection of Jerusalem police.

 

However, the US, UN, and UK have all come out strongly against these evictions. “Unilateral actions taken by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community,” the State Department said in a released statement. Chris Gunness, spokesman for the U.N. agency in charge of Palestinian refugees, said that the Arab families had been living there for more than 50 years.

Evictions, settlements, and the greater question of Jerusalem remain among the most contentious obstacles to a sustainable peace. Actions such as this are contrary to the provisions of the Geneva Conventions related to occupied territory.

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post