Time to Put the Spotlight on Sri Lanka

Human Rights Activist in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan human rights activists demanding the release of all alleged political prisoners stage a protest in Colombo on July 10, 2012. (Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/GettyImages)

Sri Lanka’s human rights record doesn’t get much international attention these days. But that’s going to change on November 1 in Geneva, when the U.N. Human Rights Council examines Sri Lanka’s record as part of the Council’s “Universal Periodic Review” (UPR) procedure.

Sri Lanka has a lot to account for, especially its continuing use of security laws against peaceful, outspoken critics, including journalists. Hundreds are being detained with no charge or trial. Many detainees have been tortured while in custody, and some have even been killed. No one has been held accountable for these crimes; impunity reigns.

We have a chance on Nov. 1 to expose Sri Lanka’s shameful practices of arbitrary detention, but we need your help. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Tell Arizona's Governor to Veto SB1070!!!

UPDATE: Much to our dismay, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed the immigration bill (SB1070) on Friday. We will continue the fight for immigrant rights.

The Arizona House and Senate have passed a bill (SB1070) that would empower police officers to stop and interrogate every individual in the state regarding citizenship status and make it a crime to be an undocumented person in Arizona. If a person does not immediately present documents proving that she is legally in the US, she may be criminally prosecuted, jailed and turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation. The bill contains no safeguards against racial profiling and increases the likelihood of arbitrary arrest and detention. These are all human rights violations. Because SB1070 has already passed in the Arizona house, it’s next stop is the governor’s office. Tell Governor Jan Brewer to veto the bill. Join activists across the US as they visit the Governor on April 20th to express opposition to this bill.

Governor Jan Brewer’s Contact Information:
Phone number: 1-800-253-0883
Email: azgov@az.gov

The scapegoating of migrants, the deliberate fueling of fear and the nurturing of discriminatory, racist and xenophobic sentiments by some politicians and parts of the media have been accompanied by measures that have trampled on some of the most basic human rights of migrants, including the right to liberty and security of the person. Much of the public debate about migration is couched in terminology which is loaded and derogatory. People trying to enter another country are vilified as “illegal immigrants”, “gate-crashers”, and even as “invaders” seeking to breach the defenses of the US with malicious intent. The clear implication is that they are abusing the system and exploiting the generosity of states. Such descriptions create the impression not only that migrants have no right to enter, but that they have no rights at all.

The Right to be Free from Racial Profiling Discrimination

Discrimination through racial profiling is an assault on the very notion of human rights. It is all too easy to deny a person’s human rights if you consider them as less than human. This is why international human rights law is grounded in the principle of non-discrimination. The drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated explicitly that they considered non-discrimination to be the basis of the Declaration.

Discrimination enshrined in law, for example, where the law is used to target individuals based on nationality or ethnicity, strips away human rights. Discrimination in law enforcement can mean that certain groups are viewed by the authorities as ”potential criminals” and so are more likely to be arrested and imprisoned. It can also mean that they are more likely to suffer harsher treatment once in the criminal justice system.

Arbitrary Arrest and Detention

The right to liberty and security of the person is protected in Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the US has signed and ratified. The right to a speedy trial is guaranteed under Article 9(3), which states that all detained arrestees are “entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release” and that it “should not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody.” Article 9(4) protects detainees from unlawful detention, stating that “[a]nyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court, in order that court may decide without delay on the lawfulness of his detention and order his release if the detention is not lawful.” Improper use of detention interferes with fundamental human rights crucial to protection of the inherent dignity of migrants. Migrants have the right to liberty and to freedom from arbitrary detention (Article 9 of the ICCPR; Articles 3 and 9 of the UDHR, Article 16 of the Migrant Workers’ Convention). This means that detention should be subject to constraints, including the requirement that the detention is in accordance with the law, justified in the individual case as a necessary and proportionate measure and subject to judicial review. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has adopted Deliberation No. 5 concerning the situation of immigrants and asylum-seekers. This sets out principles concerning people held in custody and a number of safeguards governing detention. These include the right of detainees to be told why they are being held, to communicate with the outside world, to have legal counsel and contact with consular authorities and to be brought promptly before a judicial or other authority. It also recommends that a maximum period of detention should be set by law and that custody may “in no case” be prolonged or indefinite

Will the US Seek the Death Penalty in First Trial of a Former Guantanamo Detainee?

Last month, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani became the first Guantanamo Bay detainee to be brought to the United States for trial outside of the military commission system.  His trial is set to begin in September 2010 in a regular federal court. While this is hopeful news for other Guantanamo detainees awaiting their day in court, if not their release, it also means that there is a possibility that the US government will pursue the death penalty should Ghailani be convicted.

Ahmed Ghailani, born in Zanzibar, Tanzania, was arrested in Pakistan in 2004 and brought to Guantanamo in 2006 for his alleged involvement with the 1998 bombings of the US Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.  For two years he was held in secret detention by the Central Intelligence Agency, after which he was transferred to solitary confinement at Guantanamo and ultimately charged by a military commission in 2008.  Those charges have been dropped and he will now being tried in federal court on counts which include conspiring with Osama Bin Laden and other members of al-Qaeda to kill Americans, and charges of murder for each of the victims of the US Embassy attacks. Mr. Ghailani has pled not-guilty to all charges, saying that he was not a member of al-Qaeda and did not know about the attacks ahead of time.

Mr. Ghailani’s case may be a test of President Obama’s promise to shut down Guantanamo Bay, and may set a precedent for how similar cases might proceed. As a result, there will be a great deal of international attention given to his trial. It is especially important for the United States to demonstrate a commitment to human rights at this critical juncture by not seeking the death penalty for Ahmed Ghailani.

Additionally, the United States must investigate the conditions surrounding Mr. Ghailani’s enforced disappearance.  Such an investigation is required by Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the US is a party. Any information obtained under conditions that violate international standards must be declared inadmissible in court, and a thorough investigation of Mr. Ghailani’s treatment in secret detention and at Guantanamo will be essential to ensuring he is given a fair trial.

Please urge the United States government to treat Ahmed Ghailani with humanity and fairness>>

Putting a Face to Internet Censorship

I wasn’t going to post again today, but I was just reading Erica’s post, and I went to Daily Kos to check out the comments. One commenter was of the opinion that free speech is just an American construct, and others responded that freedom of expression and information are acutally guaranteed in Article 19 of the UDHR and also in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which China is a signatory. That’s good to know, but that level of discussion can make it easy to forget about the actual human cost of governments not respecting those human rights, and corporations not standing up for them.

Shi Tao knows this cost all too well. In April 2005, Chinese authorities sentenced him to 10 years in prison for using his Yahoo! email account to send a message to a U.S.-based pro-democracy website. Authorities used email account holder information supplied by Yahoo! to convict Shi Tao, and since then he has been suffering the consequences of his government’s lack of respect for freedom of expression and of Yahoo’s refusal to stand up for human rights. In addition to all the years he’s spent in jail, he’s lost his wife, who was pressured into divorcing him, and his mother faces regular harrassment.

So while it’s important to have these discussions about international law and international human rights standards, it’s equally important to remember the human suffering that results when profits and power are valued over rights.