Leahy and the Accountability Call

Senator Leahy made headlines yesterday by calling for an independent commission at a speech at Georgetown law School, to examine alleged wrongdoing during the Bush administration.  “We need to come to a shared understanding of the failures of the recent past,” Leahy said.

His statements were echoed by Senator Whitehouse who has said Congress should discharge its “independent responsibility” to investigate:

“[Senator Leahy] understands that the trust we hold for future generations can be safeguarded only when honesty, freedom, justice and compassion guide our institutions of government; that where that trust has been violated, the cost is incalculable; and that the path to recovery leads through disclosure.”

There are many voices out there, and they strike different notes, but they are essentially calling for the same thing and what is critical is to begin a process of accountability.  These are great steps forward, but it’s a long road.  Without more information in the public arena and more pressure the debate and the call for the truth is going to fall by the wayside.

The further the Bush years fade in the rearview mirror, the easier it will be to put up the kind of straw arguments that former officials have already paraded.  Yes, we are in a massive financial crisis, and yes there are many very important challenges we need to address, but the truth isn’t something we buy with spare change from our economic growth.  Truth, justice and rule of law are the very foundations of our way of life. This isn’t easy to ask for and many people would rather hide their eyes, but it’s never to late or too early to do the right thing.

The administration has to follow the facts, but we need make sure that the facts are laid out there for the public to see and debate.  As Senator Leahy eloquently put it – you have to read the page to turn the page.

This is why is important to have Amnesty members call and talk to their Senator to explain what you care about.

Human Rights Made Whole

Yesterday, the U.N. General Assembly marked Human Rights Day by unanimously adopting the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (OP-ICESCR). This historic step fills in a crucial gap in the human rights framework; former High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has described the OP-ICESCR as making human rights whole.

But to the media this looks like U.N. inside baseball, and they haven’t so much as mentioned it. (ReliefWeb, a U.N. humanitarian information portal, covered it; and here’s AI’s press release.)

So what’s it all about? In a word, it provides a means for redress for violations of economic, social and cultural rights.

One way of dividing up human rights obligations is like this:

  • To prevent human rights violations from happening.
  • To stop human rights violations that are currently happening.
  • To offer redress for human rights violations that have already happened.

The Counter Terror With Justice campaign’s call to the Obama administration in its first 100 days is a good illustration:

  • announce a plan and date to close Guantanamo;
  • issue an executive order to ban torture and other ill-treatment, as defined under international law;
  • ensure that an independent commission to investigate abuses committed by the U.S. government in its “war on terror” is set up.

That is, the call is to stop (close Guantanamo), prevent (ban torture), and begin to redress (set up an independent commission) human rights violations committed by the U.S. government in the “war on terror”. (You should, of course, sign the 100 days petition!)

Anyone who’s suffered a violation of his or her civil and political rights — like freedom of expression, freedom from torture, and the right to a fair trial — can file for redress with the United Nations. This is a matter of international law, and it empowers people in countries whose domestic courts won’t recognize their civil and political rights. That mechanism was established by the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1966.

But there’s never been an analogous system for economic, social and cultural rights – until yesterday. The OP-ICESCR finally provides a means for redress, under international law, for violations of the rights to water, food, health, housing, education and decent work.

This is a new tool for justice for refugees forcibly returned to North Korea and punished by starvation; for Roma children systematically segregated in Slovakia’s schools; and for poor families forcibly evicted from their homes in Angola to make way for new development projects.

Or, in other words:

For more, see the OP-ICESCR Coalition (which included AI).

Obama Renews Comittment to Human Rights on 60 Minutes

The tide of American politics is changing. That much is clear.

Barack Obama has inspired Americans to renew their faith in their country and has repeatedly stated that he will act to renew the moral standing of the United States in the world.

“I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture. And I’m gonna make sure that we don’t torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world.”

-President-elect Barack Obama on CBS’s 60 Minutes Sunday, Nov. 16th, 2008

What is unclear is whether or not inspiration and statements will translate into results. As we ride the wave of hope into the next administration, it is crucial that we turn the momentum into concrete action.

Amnesty International is asking that within the first 100 days of his Presidency, Barack Obama:

  • -announce a plan and date to close Guantanamo
  • -issue an executive order to ban tortue
  • -ensure that an independent commission to investigate abuses committed by the U.S. government in its “war on terror” is set up

The same grassroots energy that propeled Barack Obama to victory can now be the driving force behind America’s renewed commitment to human rights. Act now.