Get On the Map!

Pussy Riot mapSting, Roger Waters and a growing number of artists and activists are joining Amnesty International activists like you who are raising their voices to help free Pussy Riot.

All over the world, freedom-loving people are deeply troubled that Masha Alekhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot are still in prison.  A Russian appeals court failed to overturn their sentence in October despite a global outcry calling for their acquittal.

Russian Constitution Day

Amnesty International activists projected Pussy Riot images onto the Russian Embassy on Russian Constitution Day.

Russian President Vladimir Putin didn’t like the song they performed. And, on top of that, despite the fact that last week was Russian Constitution Day—a constitution that guarantees the right to free expression, mind you, officials are shutting down free speech all across Russia – and getting away with it.

Pussy Riot’s case connects the worlds of music and human rights.  When you add yourself to the Free Pussy Riot Map – Amnesty International’s newest human rights project for solidarity, you help deepen that connection.

When asked how he felt about Pussy Riot’s case, Sting had this to say: “Dissent is a legitimate and essential right in any democracy and modern politicians must accept this fact with tolerance.”


Southern Africa To Be One Country

Bono, South X' New Head of State

Bono, South Zamalawimbiqueothobabweibialand's new Head of State

I was very excited to read today that ten countries in southern Africa decided to join forces, eliminate borders and become one country. This will make it easier for many Westerners who already think the continent of Africa is just one country; or at least think all the countries are exactly the same and therefore propose the same “one size fits all” solutions over and over again to mostly Western created problems.

Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana and Angola will now be called South Zamalawimbiqueothobabweibialand. Recognizing this will be a challenge to fit on business cards, government officials have declared its ok to just call this new nation South Africa, since before the union it was the only country most Westerners could reliably find on a map.

It was quite a struggle to decide how this new nation would be governed, and there were points where it became quite ugly when dos Santos and Mugabe descended into vicious name calling, as both men are accustomed to longevity as heads of their prior respective states.  In the end, after many rounds of rock/paper/scissors, it was concluded that Bono would lead this new nation forward because it was felt to be the best way to secure debt relief, HIV funding and better coverage in People/US/OK magazine.

For similar reasons; Madonna will be Minister of Education (sorry to all those people who can now expect to lose their homes so she can build more schools), Oprah will be named Cultural Minister (her new talk show will launch in 2012), Brangelina will be appointed co-Ministers of Internally Displaced Persons  (expect lots of fighting between them and Madonna over those displaced for Madonna’s new schools as well as the best photo opps with their adopted children) and Mariah Carey will be Minister of Agriculture (good luck on that starvation diet Mariah!)

One of the first acts of this new nation will be to set up a large lion preserve to promote the image that lions roam free in the streets throughout Africa. Also, media relations will assure that news coverage focuses predominantly on anything bad happening in the region with an emphasis on promoting negative stereotypes, while ignoring positive stories. In particular, media will assure that any stories about the many amazing Africans working to improve conditions within their new nation will continue to rarely be printed because pictures of sad children are considered the only way to get people to care and stories of Africans helping themselves will discourage other celebrities from traveling to region for photo opps and establishing charitable organizations in an attempt to seem less self-absorbed.

Within Amnesty USA, the Southern Africa Co-group welcomes this new nation because it means much less work for us. It was getting very tiresome to lobby ten different governments about human rights conditions. Now, we only have to pester Bono. Oh, and happy April Fool’s Day.

Southern Africa Year in Review 2009

Waiting in line to vote. Amnesty International.

Waiting in line to vote. ©Amnesty International

As 2009 winds down, here’s a wrap up of the year’s highlights from the southern Africa region. From elections, to assassinations, to elections, to awards ,to elections, to boycotts, to elections, to what was all in all a fairly smooth year compared to what might have been, here are a few notes about human rights conditions in the 12 countries we monitor for Amnesty International USA.

Angola was supposed to hold presidential elections this year but didn’t. Current (and for the last 30 years) president, dos Santos, said constitutional reform must come first and this will take another two years.  Constitutional reform=good. Using it as an excuse to delay democratic elections=bad.

Forced evictions continued in 2009 in Angola. Amnesty International continues to call for an end to illegal evictions and for just compensation for forcibly displaced persons in Angola.

On a positive note, Prisoner of Conscience Fernando Lelo was released this year. Lelo is a journalist imprisoned for criticizing above noted president. However, those who were tried and convicted with him remain incarcerated. Lelo directly credited Amnesty activists for their efforts on his behalf. Pat yourselves on the back for a job well done!

Botswana held elections this year. Khama was elected to a new term, after finishing out the term of his predecessor. Major concerns in Botswana continue to be media restrictions, repression of labor unions, displacement of indigenous persons and high HIV infection rates. But Khama does his fair share of criticizing regional leaders and tweaking the nose of Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe. He mailed a congratulatory letter to the ladies of Women of Zimbabwe Arise following their win of the RFK Human Rights Award this year.

Guinea Bissau

Why Madonna May Be Good for Malawi

Madonna with her son in Malawi last March (c) AMOS GUMULIRA/AFP/Getty Images

Madonna with her son in Malawi last March (c) AMOS GUMULIRA/AFP/Getty Images

Madonna’s appeal to a Malawi court regarding her adoption of a little girl was heard this week.  Personally, I could care less if Madonna adopts another child.  I am not interested in the debate as to whether she is being given even more grief than last time because she is now a single mother.  Or whether she uses her fame, money and influence to speed up the adoption process.  I am not engaging in the controversy over whether this constitutes child trafficking, or whether the child is better off staying in her home country or growing up in a privileged white woman’s house.  Maybe this makes me a bad person.  But what I am concerned about is that Malawi is in the news at all.

Malawi is not “sexy.”  Oprah doesn’t have a school there, the international community is not focused on genocide or civil conflict within its borders, there is no oil, influence or power.  What it does have is an estimated 12% HIV/AIDS prevalence rate, is locked in the midst of a food crisis due to alternating flood and drought conditions, where 111 children out of every 1,000 die between birth and the age of five (one of the highest under-five mortality rates in the world), is the world’s 14th poorest country and is gearing up for potentially controversial general elections on May 19th.

So if Madonna has people talking about a country I would guesstimate that 95% of Americans couldn’t find on a map, let alone correctly pronounce its name, then I say “good on ya, Madge!” Keep them talking. Maybe wear that cone bra to court.  And every time you or one of your “representatives” are interviewed, maybe slip in a few of the above noted facts until people are talking more about the humanitarian conditions in Malawi that affect millions of children than they are about the impact you may have on just one child.

Written by Sarah Hager, Southern Africa Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA