Child Soldiers: Will the Real Obama Please Stand Up?

Child soldier with adults, Sanghe, Democratic Republic of Congo, June 2002.

Child soldier with adults, Sanghe, Democratic Republic of Congo, June 2002.

By Angela T. Chang, Advocate, Crisis Prevention and Response Team, Amnesty International USA

When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery. When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family—girls my daughters’ age—runs away from home, or is lured by the false promises of a better life, and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists — that’s slavery. It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.
– US President Barack Obama, September 2012

Despite these strong words by President Obama against the use and recruitment of child soldiers a few months ago, he got reprimanded earlier this week for falling flat in delivering on tangible actions to address this issue.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child released a new report on Tuesday, calling out the U.S. and the Obama administration for failing to adhere to its international human rights obligations by continuing to waive sanctions on military assistance, per the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act, to countries that are known to recruit and use child soldiers – a clear violation of children’s rights and a war crime if the children are under the age of fifteen. Yes, you read that right. Seems confusing and backwards? That’s because it is.

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Mali, Algeria and the Arms Trade Treaty: A Parable for US Security?

© YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images

© YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Could the NRA’s opposition to an arms trade treaty have consequences for US security?

There are many confusing messages coming from the National Rifle Association with regard to the effort to forge a global arms trade treaty. The NRA poo-poos arguments that point to the incredible human suffering the unregulated global arms trade is causing, including the thousands of children who are forced to become soldiers. The NRA also continues to deliberately and falsely claim that the treaty will undermine gun rights in the United States, in spite of the fact that the draft treaty text from the July United Nations conference reiterates that the treaty’s ambit is the arms trade between nations, not within them.

Underpinning the NRA’s view of the treaty and the world is that any effort to restrict small arms and conventional weapons is bad, as it undermines individual security, which can only be safeguarded by arming the “good guys.” If this is the case, then what does the NRA have to say about the recent events that transpired in Algeria and are still unfolding in Mali?

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7 Ways for Obama to REALLY Earn that Nobel Peace Prize

president obama

Photo: Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

At the local level, Americans are demonstrating a strong commitment to advancing human rights. In recent elections, voters legalized marriage equality in nine states and passed the DREAM Act to expand educational opportunities for undocumented residents in Maryland. In addition, legislators in four states abolished the death penalty. The message to the nation’s leaders seems to be this: human rights still matter, and the task of “perfecting our union” remains incomplete.

As President Obama prepares to give his second inaugural address, he should embrace an ambitious rights agenda: enhancing our security without trampling on human rights; implementing a foreign policy that hold friends and foes alike accountable for human rights violations; and ensuring human rights for all in the United States without discrimination.

INCOMPLETE

Measured against international norms and his own aspirations, President Obama’s first term record on human rights merits an “incomplete.” While he made the bold move of issuing an executive order to close Guantánamo on his second day in office, he has yet to fulfill that promise. The U.S. government’s reliance on lethal drone strikes is growing steadily, but the administration has provided no clear legal justification for the program. Congress has abrogated its responsibility to exercise meaningful oversight of this most ubiquitous element of the “global war on terror,” a paradigm which is in and of itself problematic. Although President Obama has on occasion stood up for human rights defenders abroad — in China, Iran, Russia and Libya — his administration has often muted criticism when it comes to U.S. allies, in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

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A Critic Gets it Wrong on Amnesty International and Libya

libya protests

Libyan protesters in Benghazi in 2011 ©Sniperphoto Agency/Demotix

In an article published by The Huffington Post and Counterpunch, author Dan Kovalik misrepresents Amnesty International’s position regarding Libya and the 2011 NATO air strikes campaign.

Without offering any supporting evidence, Kovalik falsely claims in the article “Libya and the West’s Human Rights Hypocrisy” that Amnesty International “believed NATO military action would bring about the flourishing of human rights in Libya.”   Amnesty International never made such an assertion, nor did we take a position in support of NATO airstrikes.

Amnesty International generally takes no position on the use of armed force or on military interventions in armed conflict, other than to demand that all parties respect international human rights and humanitarian law.  We are consistent in our call that all governments respect human rights, no matter what the type or form of government is.

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Hacking Away at Threats

mobile phone activate

Developing an App to securely capture and transmit photo and video

In a little over a week, I’ll make my way to San Francisco to participate in an innovation event that represents the cutting edge of the promise of science and technology in the fight for human rights.

Colleagues from Amnesty International will simultaneously be convening in Berlin, and in both cities, Amnesty and their partners Random Hacks of Kindness, (with their apt slogan “Hacking for Humanity”) will seek practical solutions to the very real threats that refugees and migrants face in transit in Mexico and the Mediterranean in a two-day “hack-a-thon.”

As an aside, for those wedded to the pejorative association with ‘hack,’ ‘hacking,’ ‘hackers,’ a hackathon event is “a gathering of technically skilled individuals focusing on collaborative efforts to address a challenge, issue, or goal.” In this case, the challenge is significant.

Every year, tens of thousands of women, men and children are ill-treated, abducted or raped as they travel through Mexico without legal permission as irregular migrants. As we’ve tragically seen as people have fled Libya and elsewhere in North Africa, the “Mediterranean takes record as most deadly stretch of water for refugees and migrants in 2011“.

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Will NATO Talk to Civilian Victims of Its Airstrikes in Libya?

Libya - The Forgotten Victims of NATO Strikes

Mohammed al-Morabit, 6, killed when his home in Zitan was struck by NATO on 4 August 2011.

In the aftermath of the NATO military campaign in Libya, a certain kind of triumphalism  can be heard in the statements of NATO officials.   There is no doubt that the government of Libya’s former dictator, Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi, engaged in significant human rights violations against Libyan society.

But four months after the NATO military campaign, Libya still faces massive human rights challenges.  From ongoing torture to a political system balkanized by rival militias, it is clear that the departure of a dictator does not guarantee the protection of human rights.

Indeed, NATO itself has not fulfilled its responsibility to the survivors of the conflict.

In our latest report, Amnesty International highlights the continued suffering of civilian victims of NATO airstrikes in Libya.  As airstrike survivor Mustafa Naji al-Morabit told my colleagues during a research mission to Libya:
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The Year of Rebellion

egypt demonstration protest

Demonstrators' resilience in 2011 has changed the regional context for human rights © AP Photo / Tarek Fawzy

This week, we  approach the first major anniversary of the popular uprisings that began to sweep through the Middle East and North Africa last year. On January 14, 2011, Tunisia’s long time president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, fled the country to Saudi Arabia. Since December Ben Ali has been on trial – in absentia – along with about 40 other senior officials, for the killing of protesters.

The following weeks will be marked by the anniversaries of uprisings and the resignations of repressive dictators who were ultimately swept away by “a power governments cannot suppress” (transporting a Howard Zinn term to a different region).

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After the Uprisings, Women's Rights Must be Upheld

By Tarah Demant, Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group

© Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

The theme of this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence — “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women”— is a theme that resonates across the globe.  It’s especially timely in the Middle East and North Africa where we’ve seen unprecedented challenges to military regimes and repressive governments.

Throughout the region, women have joined with men in fighting against increased militarism and in calling for governmental and social reform.  We’ve seen women in the headlines of protest and revolution from Bahrain to Yemen, to Egypt to Tunisia and beyond.

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Crisis Mapping 2011 – State Of The Art

Over the last years we have explored the use of Information and Communications Technologies for human rights research and campaigning, using satellite images to document human rights violations, ranging from attacks against civilians during armed conflict to housing demolitions, to the impact of oil spills on communities.

At Amnesty International we are looking more and more to expand our work, trying to take advantage of technological progress and new communications tools. We’re not alone.  Others around the world are also using cutting edge technologies to bring about change and many are meeting this week in Geneva at the annual Crisis Mappers conference.

So instead of writing my own blog entry, I thought I’d give you a peak on what’s happening in the world of crisis mapping.

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US Senate Hearing Puts Women's Human Rights in the Spotlight

Tunisian women demonstrate for the protection of their rights in Tunis ©SALAH HABIBI/AFP/Getty Images

As the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa continue to unfold, serious concerns are emerging regarding the inclusion of women in the plans for new governance. In Egypt, for example, women stood shoulder to shoulder with men to topple a regime notorious for its human rights abuses and yet, now that those leaders have been forced to step down, women are too often finding their calls for an equal seat at the table rejected.

Yesterday, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing to highlight these concerns. “Women and the Arab Spring: Spotlight on Egypt, Tunisia and Libya” focused on women’s human rights and emphasized the need for the US to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Senator Boxer (D-CA), Senator Casey (D-PA), Senator DeMint (R-SC), Senator Shaheen (D-NH), and Senator Udall (D-NM) were all in attendance to discuss how the US Senate could work to support women in the Middle East and North Africa.

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