As the UN General Assembly begins its meeting today in New York City, Amnesty International is delivering 187,563 signatures to the White House in a global call to cut off weapons that fuel abuses in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
A cellphone can be both a powerful tool and a huge risk for human rights activists. Images and videos captured through mobile phones can reveal police brutality or even war crimes, as the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa have shown.
However, information saved on activists’ cell phones can also expose dissident networks or other sensitive data. During the recent protests in Ukraine, police reportedly used locations revealed through cell phones to track protestors.
The “digital arms race” between activists and repressive governments is the main focus of our SXSW panel Caught in the Act: Mobile Tech and Human Rights on Tuesday, March 11.
Congress is debating whether to authorize the President to use force in response to allegations that Syria used chemical weapons against opponents of the government.
Although Amnesty International has not taken – and is not likely to take – a position on the appropriateness of armed intervention, we believe the debate in Congress is inadequate, as it does not address many of the pressing issues of the Syrian crisis.
Accordingly, we have identified several steps that should be taken in response to this crisis, no matter where one lands, for or against, the use of force. They are as follows:
By Cilina Nasser, Amnesty International’s researcher on Syria
This op-ed originally appeared in MSN UK under the title “Enough hand-wringing on Syria – the world needs to take action.”
The global community has been given one last chance to turn the corner on Syria. We must take it.
It is impossible to watch the videos that emanated from Syria yesterday and not be moved, yet again, to rage about the international community’s repeated failure to end the slaughter of civilians amid the country’s internal armed conflict.
The videos – showing the deadly effects of an alleged chemical weapons attack on scores of civilians, including children, in towns outside Damascus – are just the latest chilling indication of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.
In advance of the International Day of the Disappeared on August 30th, we have the following feature on Augusto Pinochet’s regime.
Roger Plant joined Amnesty International in 1972 to cover the organization’s work on Latin America. A few months after Pinochet took power by force, he went to Chile to document the arbitrary detentions, torture and disappearances. The result was a groundbreaking report that helped shine a light on the reality of life in the Latin-American country.
As a young researcher, Roger Plant had only been working for Amnesty International for less than a year when Augusto Pinochet launched his coup d’état in 1973. With his feet barely under the desk, it was a baptism of fire – a seminal moment that would eventually define his career.
Just as storms overwhelm unattended levees, political strife and armed conflict can overwhelm the system of international law created to ensure we do not repeat the darkest periods of human history. Today marks the 15th anniversary of the adoption of the Rome Statue, which established the International Criminal Court to secure accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. This week also brings continued news of the terrible price paid by civilians as a result of such grievous crimes in Syria, Sudan and elsewhere.
Millions have been victims of these crimes in recent history, yet only very rarely have those responsible been held accountable. In the last two decades, however, progress has been made towards reversing this trend of impunity. With the establishment of the International Criminal Court, a clear message was sent around the world that failure to investigate and prosecute such crimes at the national level will not be tolerated.
Yet, every hopeful step is met with new and compelling challenges. Political alliances sometimes supersede international legal and moral obligations, shielding fugitives such as Omar al-Bashir, the sitting president of Sudan, for example, from appearing before a court of law to answer for their alleged crimes. Impunity for grave crimes robs those victimized of justice, and prevents communities and whole countries from recovering from trauma.
Yesterday, I joined the team at Sky News Arabia for a live discussion of the latest report on Syria by an independent UN panel. Special thanks to Sky News producer Arwa Sawan, reporter Joseph Khawly, and anchor Amer Abdel Aziz for giving Amnesty International USA an opportunity to share our analysis of the grave human rights situation.
The report (PDF) is a catalog of violence, suffering, and geopolitical developments, focusing on events between January 15th and May 15th of this year. It was produced by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011.
Now where will the US go on the ICC?
While international justice has seen many milestones over the last months, including the surrender of “The Terminator” Bosco Ntaganda, one of the most well known fugitives from the International Criminal Court (ICC) remains on the loose. Joseph Kony, the Lord Resistance Army’s (LRA) notorious leader, has so far evaded arrest. However, as of today, attempts to locate his whereabouts have gotten a considerable boost. In fact, thanks to satellite imagery, we might know the exact coordinates of his recent location.
Yesterday morning, US President Barack Obama arrived in Israel to much fanfare. He has said that he has come to listen. One place he should start is the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
I visited Nabi Saleh last week as part of an Amnesty International research mission to the West Bank. The village sits atop a hill, facing the illegal Israeli settlement Halamish. The settlers of Halamish, like so many other Israeli settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), are backed by the lethal force of the Israeli army.
For protesting against the settlement, the residents of Nabi Saleh have paid a heavy price. I spoke with village resident Bassem Tamimi, a man who Amnesty International previously declared a prisoner of conscience when he was imprisoned by Israel for involvement in peaceful protests. During Bassem’s most recent jail term, his brother-in-law Rushdi Tamimi, 31, was shot by Israeli soldiers at another protest in November 2012 and died days later in a hospital. In December 2011, another member of the village, Mustafa Tamimi, died after being hit in the face by a tear gas canister fired at close range from an Israeli military jeep.
As the Syrian crisis hits its two-year mark, the toll on civilians continues to grow exponentially. Peaceful protests that started in March 2011 were quickly met by government authorities responding with deadly force, leading to systematic and widespread human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity. Followed by the escalation into a full-fledged armed conflict by mid-2012, today, both government and armed opposition forces continue pursuing a military solution to the conflict. Caught in the middle are civilians, paying a horrendous price for this deadly stalemate.
Based on field research conducted over the last weeks, an Amnesty researcher inside Syria uncovered new evidence of the government’s assault on civilians, and its outright disregard for the laws of war. This is most dramatically symbolized by the government’s recent ballistic missile strikes against eastern Aleppo, flattening entire blocks and killing 160 residents; or by the increased use of internationally banned cluster bombs.