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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7 Discriminatory (or Deadly) Countries for LGBT People

A quick glance at Wikipedia or this ILGA report is enough to tell you that there are a LOT of countries where it’s dangerous or deadly to be (or even to be perceived as) lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).

There are still more than 80 countries with sodomy laws, and punishment can include flogging, imprisonment, and in about a dozen jurisdictions, the death penalty. Those suspected of being LGBT are also routinely the victims of harassment, discrimination and violence. Many of those who speak up for LGBT rights – regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity – are themselves persecuted with impunity.

Here are 7 countries Amnesty International has recently had particular concerns about:

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Calling for Justice Does Not Make Us "Whores"

By Tzili Mor, Amnesty USA Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group

Every day around the world, women challenge the status quo of poverty, exploitation, impunity, and war; they question oppressive customs and harmful traditions; they fight tirelessly for human rights.

And while they may not label themselves as women human rights defenders, their beliefs and activism often subject them to marginalization, prejudice, violence, and threats to their safety and wellbeing.

They are sidelined, abducted, made to “disappear,” and killed as a consequence of their work. They face gender-specific repercussions and risks, such as sexual harassment and rape, often with no recourse for personal justice.  Their aggressors may be state actors, police, military, politicians, corporations, their community, and even family members.

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Top Ten Reasons to Write for Rights

Fall is my favorite time of year: the air is cooler, the leaves are pretty, Amnesty International student groups are back together again, and people start signing up for the Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon.

In this—the world’s largest human rights event—we use letters, cards and more to demand the human rights of individuals are respected, protected and fulfilled. We show solidarity with those suffering abuses and work to improve people’s lives.

Those are some pretty amazing reasons to participate, but in case you need more, here are my top ten reasons to Write for Rights: SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Trying Troops in Civilian Courts = Big Step for Human Rights in Mexico

Mexican soldiers © Jesus Alcazar/AFP/Getty Images

historic Mexican Supreme Court decision to ensure soldiers accused of human rights abuses against civilians be tried in civilian – not military – courts may bring Mexico closer to respecting human rights and fulfilling their Merida Initiative obligations.

In 2008, the Merida Initiative security assistance package was signed by then-US President George W. Bush. This unprecedented partnership between the United States and Mexico aims to fight organized crime and associated violence while respecting human rights.

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Lydia Cacho Threatened Again

Lydia Cacho, a journalist and human rights defender based in Cancún, Mexico, received new death threats last month by email and telephone.

On June 14, Cacho received a death threat by email, which was sent to the Lydia Cacho Foundation (Fundación Lydia Cacho) based in Spain. Three days later on June 17, she received another death threat by telephone from an unknown man. Both threats referred to her work as a journalist and warned her to shut her mouth or she would be killed.

As complaints were filed with the Police both in Mexico and in Spain, Amnesty International released an Urgent Action asking members to write to the Mexican authorities to provide adequate protection to Lydia Cacho. Take online action for Lydia right now.

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Migrants in Mexico at Risk of Mass Kidnapping, Torture, Abuse

“To put this in perspective, more people are dying in Mexico than Afghanistan.” –General Barry McCaffrey

Pictures of migrants whose relatives have no news of since they left for the US © Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images

Despite a violent “war on drugs” that started five years ago, Mexicans are experiencing an increase in organized crime and drug-related violence along the Mexican border. Other criminals are not the only, perhaps even primary, target of violence.

As it has become more difficult to conduct drug trafficking due to efforts from the Mexican government, organized crime is targeting migrants from Southern Mexico and Central Americans who are attempting to reach the United States.

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Who Cares About Treaty Obligations? Not Texas.

Can the United States find a way to respect a simple treaty obligation?  One of such obvious importance for protecting Americans traveling abroad?  We’ll find out within a week.

Under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, foreign nationals who are arrested while abroad have the right to contact their consulate “without delay” for legal assistance. However, Texas authorities never informed Mexican national Humberto Leal of this right.

Now, the case of Humberto Leal, due to be executed on July 7 for the 1994 murder of a 16-year-old girl in San Antonio, has reached the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Government of Mexico has filed an amicus brief in support of Leal’s Supreme Court petition, noting that the United States has continued to be a “forceful advocate” for Americans detained in Mexico, and urging the U.S. government to uphold its end of the treaty.

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Illegal Execution Of Mexican National Pending In Texas

Humberto Leal faces execution on July 7 in Texas for the 1994 murder of a 16-year-old girl in San Antonio.  As a Mexican national, Leal was supposed to be informed that he could contact his diplomatic representatives for legal assistance, but he was never told this.

The Vienna Convention of Consular Relations (VCCR) is a treaty that requires any foreign national arrested outside their own country to be notified of their right to contact their consulate or embassy for help.  This applies to US citizens traveling in Mexico (or anywhere else) just as much as to Mexican citizens inside the USA.  Obviously for Americans abroad this is a pretty important protection. Unfortunately, US authorities don’t always respect this right when arresting non-US citizens; and some, like Leal, have ended up on death row.

Leal was one of 51 Mexican nationals on US death rows who challenged this pattern of neglect in the US, and in 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in Mexico’s favor.  Executing Humberto Leal now would be a flagrant violation of international law.

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Relief Tempered By Sadness: The World Is Still A Dangerous Place To Be LGBT

© Getty Images

It’s been a week of incredible ups and downs for LGBT people around the world. We hardly had time to feel joy for the legalization of same-sex civil unions in Brazil, when we learned that the Ugandan parliament was getting ready to vote on a law that would have outlawed homosexuality and imposed the death penalty for some homosexual acts.

Amnesty International and many others called on the Ugandan parliament to reject the bill, and we all felt great relief today when the parliament dissolved without debating or voting on the bill. It’s entirely possible that the bill could be reintroduced when new members of parliament are sworn in next week, but at least it wasn’t passed today, as had been feared.

But the feeling of relief is mixed with sadness, because LGBT people continue to be killed because of who they are in many countries, regardless of what the laws say. On May 4th, Quetzalcoatl Leija Herrera, an outspoken advocate of LGBT rights in Mexico, was attacked and killed when he was walking home in the evening, in what appears to have been a homophobic attack. Police are investigating, but as so often happens in these kinds of cases, their inquiries are strangely focused almost exclusively on Herrera’s friends in the LGBT community.

This isn’t the first instance of police being less than sympathetic toward LGBT people that Amnesty International has documented: in 2009 we issued an Urgent Action on three transgender women in Honduras, two of whom were killed, and one of whom was beaten by police.

So while it’s great that we can celebrate progress like the legalization of same-sex unions in Brazil, it’s clear there’s a long way to go, and a lot more action needed, before the world will truly be a safe place to be LGBT.