USA: It’s Time for Real Criminal Justice Reform

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US President Barack Obama speaks as he tours the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015. Obama is the first sitting US President to visit a federal prison, in a push to reform one of the most expensive and crowded prison systems in the world.  (Photo credit:SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

US President Barack Obama speaks as he tours the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015. Obama is the first sitting US President to visit a federal prison, in a push to reform one of the most expensive and crowded prison systems in the world. (Photo credit:SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post

Last week, President Obama put a much-needed spotlight on the vicious cycle of mass incarceration. In the past three decades, the prison population in the U.S. has ballooned due to a number of factors that have created a system rife with discrimination and other abuses. And the burden falls disproportionately on low-income people and people of color.

The President made a historic visit on July 16 to a federal prison — the first sitting president to do so. His visit spotlighted the massive overcrowding problem — he was shown one 9-by-10-foot cell that sometimes holds three prisoners — that is the result of a broken criminal justice system.

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Time to End Arbitrary Detention in Sri Lanka

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Sri Lankan policemen stand guard over prison

Sri Lankan policemen stand guard outside the main prison in Colombo (Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images)

Right now, hundreds of people are languishing in detention in Sri Lanka.  They haven’t been convicted of any crime; indeed, they haven’t even been charged with any crime.  Their detentions violate international law.  Many of them are tortured while in custody.  Some detainees have been killed.

More than three years after the end of Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war, security laws enacted to combat armed opposition groups continue to be used against outspoken, peaceful critics, including journalists, and others.

No one has been held accountable for these crimes. Impunity for human rights violations is the norm in Sri Lanka.

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Listen to the Silent Cries of the Disappeared in Kashmir

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soldiers kashmir india

Soldiers in Kashmir

I’ve been following the debate about whether India’s Jammu & Kashmir government (called J&K or Kashmir interchangeably) will lift the draconian impunity legislation (called the AFSPA) for soldiers now in place over large swathes of Kashmir Valley.

The Indian Army, for its part, makes the rather astounding claim that if they are not allowed to continue to operate in the Kashmir Valley without impunity then Kashmir will secede. I often hear this type of stuff as well—oh if we don’t continue to abuse human rights with legal cover, then the terrorists win!

The irony is that opponents of lifting legal immunity are admitting that the security forces have been responsible for widespread human rights violations in the Kashmir Valley and that is the only way to keep Kashmir in India.

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Hollywood Unites for Iranian Filmmakers

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Paul Haggis hands off Amnesty petition to Iran mission representative on June 8, 2011. © AI

World-renowned Iranian film director and peace activist, Jafar Panahi, and his artistic collaborator, Mohammad Rasoulof continue to face an uncertain future. Both men were charged with “propaganda against the state” in December, 2010, and sentenced to six years in jail.

Their lives have been in limbo for the past five months as each day carries with it the dreaded possibility of starting this lengthy period of incarceration. Panahi also received a 20-year ban on filmmaking, traveling abroad, and speaking with the media, which has been in effect since the sentencing.

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Imprisoned For Love in Malawi

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ADAM-022784-0005-C003050410-026974Homosexuality is little tolerated or accepted in much of Africa. South Africa legalized gay marriage in 2006, but incidence of hate crimes towards gay and lesbian persons are not uncommon. Uganda is currently contemplating a new law allowing the death penalty for those convicted of being gay. This criminalization of homosexuality occurs in many African countries, and Malawi is no exception. So when two men pledged their love and commitment to each other last month, they were promptly arrested.

On December 26th, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga held a traditional engagement ceremony in Blantyre’s poor township of Chirimba. Two days later, the men were arrested after the story was reported in local newspapers. The charges were “unnatural practices between males and gross public indecency.” They were reportedly beaten by police while in custody.

On January 4th the men appeared in court and were denied bail “for their own safety” and “in the interest of justice.” They are currently being held at Chichiri prison until their next scheduled court appearance on January 11th. Further, Malawian authorities have attempted to compel the men to submit to forcible medical examinations, falsely believing this will prove past sexual relations, in order to charge the men with sodomy.

Laws criminalizing homosexuality violate international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Malawi has ratified both these documents and has an obligation to abide by their precepts. Amnesty International considers individuals imprisoned solely for their private consensual sexual relationships as prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.

Expressions of love and commitment between consenting adults can never be unnatural nor violative of public decency. Tell Malawi to release these men immediately and that love is not a crime.