Loud and Clear: Women’s Rights, In Action!

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda  (right) attends the 2008 Benefactrix Ball presented by YMCA at the Beverly Hills Hotel (Photo Credit: Leon Bennett/WireImage).

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda (right) attends the 2008 Benefactrix Ball presented by YMCA at the Beverly Hills Hotel (Photo Credit: Leon Bennett/WireImage).

As we reflected on 50 Days of Action for Women and Girls and its themes, including early marriage, violence against women, and sexual and reproductive health, we got to wondering: What does all this integrated human rights talk look like in practice?

So we turned to a woman who walks the talk and leads change herself, Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda. Take a look at her examples of women’s participation in claiming their own rights. Then take action on an issue important to you, and join us on Facebook and Twitter to stay connected. (Don’t forget to join the World YWCA’s efforts, too!)

In your experience, what does participation mean in the context of women’s rights in your country?

For women to participate, it [is] important that they know and are aware of their rights, have the social empowerment to engage and the space to exercise their voice. Women’s community groups, organizations and networks…have provided the platforms for such participation.


Child Soldiers, Rape, Displacement: Is Mali A Forgotten Crisis?


Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by fighting in northern Mali © Amnesty International

I am sure that many of you have recently heard or read about the armed conflicts and humanitarian crises in Syria and the Sudan (the latter thanks to some serious attention from celebrity actors and journalists). Less attention is being given to a country that is facing its worst human rights crisis in half a century: Mali.

The regional organization ECOWAS has been very invested in mitigating the crisis and is even preparing to send in troops. While these regional efforts are backed by the United States and other international actors, Mali’s crisis is not getting the attention it deserves and rarely makes the headlines.


International access needed to Sri Lankan former war zone

For those who haven’t already heard, the Sri Lankan government announced today that its forces had defeated the opposition Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), with all the LTTE leaders being killed this morning.  The LTTE (or Tamil Tigers, as they’ve been called) have been fighting for over three decades for an independent state for the Tamil minority in the north and east of the island.  The Sri Lankan military has now reconquered the territory once controlled by the Tigers.

I have previously posted entries on this blog expressing concern for the estimated 50,000 civilians being held as human shields by the LTTE in the war zone.  Should I be happy that the war is over?  After all, the Sri Lankan government announced yesterday that all the civilians trapped in the war zone had been rescued by the army.  According to a Sri Lankan minister, it had been done “without shedding a drop of blood;” he also said that there “was no bloodbath as some people feared.”  I’d like to believe him and the Sri Lankan government.  But they’ve denied access to the war zone for months to aid agencies and journalists, so we only have their word for it.  As the UN said today, it’s hard to be sure about reports from the former war zone.  The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) today said that it hadn’t been able to reach the area so it didn’t have first-hand information about the needs of civilians and wounded people in the area.

Amnesty International today called on the Sri Lankan government to provide aid agencies, including the UN and the ICRC, with full access to the former war zone in order to help all those in need of assistance.  Beyond that, the government should take additional steps to prevent abuses of the displaced.  We’ve already reported that some young men fleeing the war zone had “disappeared” after being detained by the army.  The Sri Lankan government should immediately implement a proper registration process for the displaced civilians and allow international monitors into the area to observe all camps, detention places and registration and screening points.   That’s the best way to protect the displaced and avoid any further human rights violations.  I’m sure we all hope for a better future now for Sri Lanka’s long-suffering people.  Having the Sri Lankan government open itself now to international scrutiny would be an important step toward securing that future.

"What went on here?" : U.S. Lawmakers Assess the Damage in Gaza

In the first congressional visit since Hamas was elected in 2006, Representative Brian Baird from Washington, Rep. Keith Ellison from Minnesota and Senator John Kerry visited Gaza yesterday.  They witnessed and reported the devastation of the population and the dire need of humanitarian assistance.  Rep.  Ellison, Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee member and the first Muslim congress member, stated that:

People, innocent children, women and non-combatants, are going without water, food and sanitation, while the things they so desperately need are sitting in trucks at the border, being denied permission to go in – Rep. Ellison.

Aid is slowed by the blockade as Palestinians rebuild.

Aid is slowed by the blockade as Palestinians rebuild.

None of the men toured the area as representatives of the Obama administration and all refused to meet with Hamas, but they opened up a dialogue between American lawmakers and Gaza residents.  Rep. Baird “wanted to witness the situation on the ground” and helped Palestinian aid workers highlight the humanitarian crisis to the BBC.  Sen. Kerry, on the other hand, emphasized the problems with Hamas leadership, while touring a bombed out American school:

…Your political leadership needs to understand that any nation that has rockets coming into it over many years, threatening its citizens, is going to respond – Sen. Kerry.

As lawmakers balance the politics of Hamas and Israeli interests, the Palestinian people are left with the shocking humanitarian devastation, 5,000 home destroyed, 1,300 lives lost, and over 5,000 injured.  More pointedly, Rep. Braid describes:

The amount of physical destruction and the depth of human suffering here is staggering. Entire neighborhoods have been destroyed, schools completely leveled, fundamental needs such as water, sewer, and electricity facilities have been hit and immobilized. Relief agencies, themselves, have been heavily damaged. The personal stories of children being killed in their homes or schools; of entire families wiped out, and relief workers prevented from evacuating the wounded are heart wrenching. What went on here? And what is continuing to go on, is shocking and troubling beyond words. – Rep. Baird.

Sri Lanka: Nowhere Safe

The war in Sri Lanka has escalated this past weekend but one thing about the 26 year conflict has not changed; Tamil civilians bear the brunt of the attacks, injuries, and deaths. 70,000 civilians have been killed. The Red Cross reports that hundreds of civilians, including children, have been killed or wounded in fighting since last week.
Vanni area in Northern Sri Lanka, including Puthikudiyiruppu and many Internally Displaced People’s camps.

Vanni area in Northern Sri Lanka, including Puthikudiyiruppu and many Internally Displaced People’s camps.

“The origins of the conflict arise from decades of the Sinhalese majority’s systematic discrimination against the Tamil minority, and its denial of the Tamils’ meaningful participation in the political process. The Sri Lankan army is almost exclusively Sinhalese. Successive Sinhalese-dominated governments have failed to effectively address these longstanding injustices.” Senator Patrick Leahy.

Civilians are sitting ducks, with 250,000 Tamil civilians trapped in the Vanni area conflict zone.  The Sri Lankan government called a 48 hour safe passageway last Friday to allow civilians to escape; only 236 emerged from the conflict zone.

“People are on the move because they are looking for a safe place. But there is no safe place,” ICRC spokeswoman Carla Haddad

Those still trapped in the conflict zone and displaced from their homes are reliant on humanitarian aid that is waiting on the edge of the conflict zone.

The civilian toll rose with strikes on February 1st, 2nd, and 3rd on the hospital in Puthikudiyiruppu hitting the pediatric unit. Twelve civilians have been killed and 30 wounded due to artillery strikes over the past two days. The government forces and the Tamil Tiger rebels have denied responsibility for the assault.

Bits of news from inside the conflict zone come from the Red Cross and healthcare professionals; journalists are barred from entry. Sixteen journalists have been killed since 1992 and 3 imprisoned in Sri Lanka since the beginning of the conflict. Lasantha Wickrematunga, editor-in-chief of The Sunday Leader, predicted his own death:

“It is well known that I was on two occasions brutally assaulted, while on another my house was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Despite the government’s sanctimonious assurances, there was never a serious police inquiry into the perpetrators of these attacks, and the attackers were never apprehended,” he wrote in the column titled, “And Then They Came for Me.”

Civilians must be protected under international humanitarian law, be they women, children, journalists or healthcare workers. Humanitarian aid must reach civilians trapped in conflict zones and the international community should be allowed access to assess the damages.

“We are deeply troubled by comments by the Sri Lankan Government threatening to expel foreign diplomats, aid agencies, and journalists. Reporters have already experienced physical attacks and intimidation, including the latest brazen assassination of renowned journalist Lasantha Wickrematunga. Together, we urge the Government of Sri Lanka to protect all of its citizens and conduct swift, full, and credible investigations into attacks on journalists and other civilians.” Senator John Kerry and Senator Richard Luger.

Written by Ally Krupar, Edited by Zahir Janmohamed

UN Should Investigate War Crimes

Last week, the UN passed a binding resolution calling for “an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire leading to the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.” Resolution 1860 also calls for “the unimpeded provisions and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance, including of food, fuel and medical treatment” and “condemns all acts of violence and terror directed against civilians and all acts of terrorism.” In addressing the issue of arms trafficking into Palestinian territories, the resolution calls for “intensified international arrangements to prevent arms and ammunition smuggling
The resolution passed, with fourteen members voted in favor.  The United States abstained.

But despite the binding resolution, both Israel and Hamas have continued their attacks.  Nearly 25 rocket attacks were fired on Israel on one day alone, January 10.  According to Israel, 13 Israelis have died, three of them civilian.

Meanwhile, Israel continues shelling Gaza, moving its land invasion deeper into Gaza.  In air and land attacks that have been waged since December 27, over 900 Palestinians have been killed.  The director of emergency services in Gaza, Dr Muawiya Hassanein, said half of the casualties were women and children.  But Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni promised more of the same from Israel: “Israel is a country that reacts vigorously when its citizens are fired up, which is a good thing,” she said.  “That is something that Hamas now understands and that is how we are going to react in the future.”

But with mounting evidence that Israel deliberately attacked civilians, prevented civilians from fleeing areas of conflict, and prevented wounded from seeking medical attention, Amnesty International is concerned that the UN resolution did not go far enough.  In a statement released today, Amnesty said, “the resolution failed to state that parties must stop violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, nor does the resolution address the mounting evidence of war crimes and other serious abuses of international law, or provide for an investigation and for those responsible to be held to account.”

For more, read here.

Gaza By The Numbers

A snapshot of Gaza by the numbers:

Humanitarian Assistance

  • Movement in and out of Gaza is all but impossible and supplies of food, water, sewage treatment, basic health care have been drastically affected by the blockade of aid. Food prices are rising and wheat, flour, baby milk, and rose 34%, 30%, and 20.5% respectively during the period May-June 2007 alone.
  • Prior to the blockade (implemented after Hamas took over total adminstration over Gaza in June 2007), around 250 trucks carrying aid entered Gaza each day.
  • As of March 2008, that number was reduced to 45.
  • According to UN figures reported in the Guardian, that number dropped to just 5 in December.
  • Most recently, the Israeli government prevented a Libyan ship carrying 3000 tons of aid from entering Gaza.

Poverty and Dependency on Food Aid

  • Number of people living in absolute poverty in Gaza in 2008: 80%
  • Number of people living in absolute poverty in Gaza in 2006: 63%
  • In 2007, households were spending 62% of their income on food.
  • In 2004, households were spending 37% of their income on food.
  • As of March 2008, there were over 1.1 million people—three quarters of Gaza—who are dependent on food aid. In less than ten years, the numbers of families who depending on UNRWA food aid has increased ten-fold


  • In June 2005, there were 3,900 factories in Gaza employing 35,000 people.
  • In December 2007, there were just 195, employing only 1,700.
  • Unemployment is close to 40%.
  • 40,000 agriculture works who depend on cash crops now have no income.
  • In September 2000, 24,000 Gazans crossed into Israel to seek cheap labor. Now that number is zero.

Schools, Electricity, Medical Supplies

  • In January 2008, UNICEF reported that schools in Gaza had been cancelling classes that required high energy consumption like IT, science lab, and extra-curricular classes.
  • Hospitals cannot generate electricity to keep lifesaving equipment working or to generate oxygen, while 40-50 million liters of sewage continues to pour into the sea daily.
  • Hospitals are currently experiencing power cuts lasting for 8-12 hours a day.
  • There is currently a 60-70 percent shortage reported in the diesel required for hospital power generators.
  • According to the World Health Organization, the proportion of patients given permits to exit Gaza for medical care dropped from 89.3% in January 2007 to 64.3% in December 2007.
  • Many of those who are given permits are blocked at the crossing itself. In October 2007 alone, the WHO confirmed that 20 patients died because they were denied access to refereal services. Five of these deaths were children.

In speaking about the current wave of violence, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gabriela Shalev pledged that Israel will “destroy completely” the “terrorist gang.”

But the facts show that much more than a “terrorist gang” is being destroyed in Gaza.

(Unless otherwise indicated, all facts in this post are from the report “The Gaza Strip: A Humanitarian implosion” co-authored by Amnesty International, Oxfam, Medcins de Monde UK, CAFOD, Save the Children UK, TroCAIRE, CARE, and Christian Aid).

Civilians Are Paying the Price in Gaza and Southern Israel

As the third day of deadly airstrikes by Israeli forces in Gaza comes to a close, civilians are paying a high price.  More than 1,400 Palestinians have been injured and more than 315 killed, many of whom are civilians.  In addition, Hamas attacks on Southern Israel have left two civilians dead.

(c) AFP

(c) AFP

This is the highest level of Palestinian fatalities and casualties in four decades of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  The escalation of violence comes at a time when the civilian population already faces a daily struggle for survival due to the Israeli blockade which has prevented even food and medicines from entering Gaza.

In March 2008 Amnesty International reported that more than 80% of Palestinians in Gaza rely on humanitarian assistance, with UN food aid going to about 1.1 million people – three quarters of the population. The report also stated that the number of families dependant on the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has increased tenfold since 1999.

To make matters worse, the death toll risks rising due to the lack of adequate medical care for the injured. The already under-resourced health sector in Gaza has been further weakened by the prolonged Israeli blockade and neighboring Egypt refuses to open hospitals to injured Palestinians seeking treatment. According to the New York Times, “one doctor said that given the dearth of facilities, not much could be done for the seriously wounded, and that it was ‘better to be brought in dead.’”

Both Israeli forces and Hamas militants bear responsibility for this tragedy.  Amnesty International is calling on Hamas and all other Palestinian armed groups in Gaza to stop firing indiscriminate rockets against towns and villages in southern Israel and reiterating its call for an end to reckless and unlawful Israeli attacks.

The Worst Crisis You Won't Read About in the News

The DRC, Zimbabwe, Cambodia, Sudan and Nicaragua–all these countries are in crisis right now. How do I know (beyond working at Amnesty International)? I can read about it in the news.

But there is at least one developing humanitarian crisis you won’t find in the New York Times:

More than 300,000 people have been displaced in Sri Lanka by fighting between the Tamil Tigers and government forces. And not only do they lack access to basic food and shelter, but the government is not allowing U.N. aid convoys to bring in desperately needed supplies.

The entire population of Birkenhead has basically been relocated  to the Wanni region of Sri Lanka, and now serve as a buffer–a human shield–between themselves and the government. The displaced don’t have shelters, and it’s monsoon season. They aren’t allowed to leave.

And why aren’t you hearing about it? Aid workers and journalists have been denied entry to the region. This video includes rare photos from the region just before access was cut off.

Amnesty International’s U.K. press office posted more yesterday on their blog.