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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Great news for Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú!

Ines Fernandez Ortega

Inés Fernández Ortega ©Private

Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú were raped by soldiers in the Mexican Army in 2002, and have been fighting for their right to hold their perpetrators accountable for their actions.  The Inter-American Court of Human Rights just issued a ruling that greatly aids both women in their fight for justice.

On October 1 the Court issued a ruling recognizing that gross human rights violations were committed against both women and their relatives.  These violations include impunity for those responsible for the abuses as well the harassment of both the people who have supported the women in their search for justice.  The decision categorically stated that both women were raped, and identified serious flaws in the treatment of Inés and Valentina in the investigation of their abuses.

Valentina Rosendo Cantú

Valentina Rosendo Cantú ©Amnesty International

The Court also criticized the State’s attitude towards both women and demanded that certain measures be taken to re-open the criminal investigation, investigate the officials who undermined the investigations, strengthen procedures for investigating rape cases, improve medical care provided to the direct victims and provide redress for both the women, their relatives and community.  The Court also emphasized Mexico’s obligation to stop applying military justice when investigating and prosecuting members of the army for human rights violations.

Amnesty International urges the Mexican federal and state authorities to immediately implement all necessary measures to comply with the new judgments made against Mexico by the Inter-American Court with regard to violence against women.  It is time to bring justice for Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú!

Claire Lesikar, Campaign for Individuals at Risk, contributed to this post.

Local activists targeted in occupied Palestinian territories

Abdallah Abu Rahme is affable and articulate.  Last July, when I called to set up a time to talk before one of the weekly protests in his village, Bi’lin in the occupied West Bank, he made jokes and explained exactly the best way to get there from Jerusalem through all the checkpoints and roadblocks.

Abdallah’s vocation is teaching, but what takes up a good portion of his time is his involvement with the village’s non-violent popular committee which protests the wall/fence built by Israel that snakes through the occupied West Bank (WB).  Israel says the wall is being built for security reasons; others that the wall is simply strangling villages’ economies by cutting them off from their agricultural lands and water sources.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that the wall is illegal where it sits on Palestinian territory and should be removed.  Eighty percent of the wall is built on Palestinian territory, but five plus years later, most of the wall continues to sit  and be built on Palestinian land.  Popular committees have sprung up across the WB to protest the wall and over the past 18 months, there appears to be an increase in the harassment and prosecution of activists involved in this and other non-violent actions.

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In Zambia, One Person's Human Rights Violation is Another's Porn

The editor of Zambia’s largest independent newspaper, The Post, is currently on trial for distributing pornography. Chansa Kabwela was charged in July for ”circulating obscene matters with the intention to corrupt the morals of society,” punishable by a five year prison sentence. What exactly did Kabwela circulate that was so dangerous to the moral character of Zambians? Pictures of a woman giving birth on the ground outside a hospital. 

A recent nurses’ strike led to dangerous medical conditions in the country, a fact Kabwela wanted to highlight. When she received pictures of the incident, she decided not to publish them in the paper, but instead sent copies to the vice president, the health minister and several organizations. The pictures were taken by a relative of the woman, who visited clinics and the hospital in search of medical assistance due to the breach birth position of the baby. Eventually she laid down on the ground near the hospital before doctors from the hospital finally assisted her. The baby did not survive.

Reporters Without Borders calls the arrest shocking and the charges without grounds. They also accuse authorities of harassing and intimidating the newspaper’s staff. The Post is a fierce critic of President Banda, who has made no secret of his dislike for the paper, called for Kabwela’s arrest. Banda became president upon the death of Levy Mwanawasa, one year ago today. Too bad Nixon didn’t think of the same tactic: Nick Ut would have gone to trial instead of winning a Pulitzer.