Jabbar Savalan Freed!

“We will not be scared off by imprisonment or punishment. They may arrest us, but they can’t break us. Freedom of speech is our right, as it is the right of everyone. We will continue our struggle.” – Jabbar Savalan

Jabbar Savalan, an Azerbaijani student who spent almost 11 months in prison for a Facebook post, has been released!  He was freed after receiving a presidential pardon on December 26th.

Obviously the release of a prisoner of conscience is always a cause for celebration. We are delighted for Jabbar and his family. It is important now that his conviction is quashed and his reputation restored.

His case was part of Amnesty International’s annual Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon, during which hundreds of thousands of people in over 80 countries come together and take action to demand that peoples’ rights are respected. Over one million appeals were made as part of the 2011 marathon prior to Jabbar Savalan’s release.


Remembering 9/11

On September 11th, 2001, my wife and son were in Logan Airport waiting to board a flight to New York. I was almost 4,000 miles away working in Mostar, Bosnia.

At the time I was a war crimes investigator working for the United Nations and I was in Mostar to take a statement from a former Bosnian Prisoner of War who had been tortured by his captors.

When we finished for the day I went next door to a small café and my eye was drawn to the television in the corner, which was running footage of emergency crews responding to some kind of major disaster.

It took a few minutes for the full story of what had happened in New York to unfold and, as it did so, my blood ran cold.


Investigate War Crimes In Sri Lanka!

This week marks the second anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, between government forces and the opposition Tamil Tigers.  The Tigers were seeking an independent state for the Tamil minority on the island.  As documented by Amnesty International and a recent U.N. panel report, there are credible reports that both sides committed gross abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law, including war crimes.  Yet no one has been held accountable for these crimes.

We know that the Sri Lankan government won’t effectively investigate these abuses.

So Amnesty International has been campaigning for an international war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka.  On March 15, we took to the streets in Chicago to demand justice in Sri Lanka.  In New York City, Amnesty International activists gathered outside the Sri Lankan Mission to the U.N. on April 8 as part of “Get on the Bus – New York.”  On April 15, we demonstrated outside the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington as part of “Get on the Bus – DC.”  More recently, as shown in the photos above, Amnesty members in other parts of the U.S. have joined in calling on the U.N. to hold an international investigation on war crimes in Sri Lanka.

It would be a great help if we can get the U.S. government to publicly support our call for an international war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka.  Please write the U.S. government today, so that the victims and their families can finally receive truth and justice.

The Distinctive Vocabulary of a New York Lawyer

Back when I lived in Texas there was an TV ad (it may have run nationally) for a certain picante sauce made in San Antonio.  In the ad, a cook for a bunch of cowboys sitting around a campfire makes the mistake of using a picante sauce made in … New York City!  The last line of dialogue is, “Get a rope!”  Ha ha ha.  You used a New York hot sauce, therefore we will kill you.

The new Chairman of the Texas Forensics Science Commission demonstrated much the same mentality when he dismissed attention on the case of Cameron Willingham (executed in 2004 despite a severely flawed arson investigation) as a political tactic cooked up by “New York lawyers.”

Today, it was revealed that he used the same label for a Dallas Morning News reporter who dared to submit to him a list of questions about the Commission’s handling of the Willingham affair.  “The questions have the distinctive vocabulary of a New York lawyer,” Mr. Bradley wrote before refusing to provide any answers.

Mr. Bradley just can’t understand why New York lawyers (and Dallas reporters who sound like them) are so obsessed with the quality of arson investigations that have been used to convict hundreds of Texans, and may have sent one wrongly to his death.

Victory for Maternal Health in New York!

Jadzia (the little one), just hours after being caught by a midwife at our home.

I had written last week on this blog about the Midwifery Modernization Act that was pending before the New York State Legislature.  Well, despite a really hard core lobbying campaign by the American College of OB/GYNs, a group of midwives have prevailed!  The New York State Senate just voted unanimously to support the right of midwives to practice their trade in New York State, providing a huge boost to maternal health in the state.  Congratulations especially goes to organizations of midwives and maternal health advocates that worked tirelessly to FREE OUR MIDWIVES!

The struggle for the rights of expectant mothers continues however, so please go to AIUSA’s maternal health page for more information about what you can do to help.

If you live in New York State, you can contact your state Senator and thank them for their vote to protect the rights of expectant mothers in their state.

Posted in USA

Free Our Midwives!

Older daughter Mirabelle holding Jadzia just minutes after a home birth.

Normally I write on this blog about human rights issues in South Asia.  But, I’m also the proud father of two gorgeous (in my opinion!) daughters who were born with the loving help of a midwife.  My youngest daughter, Jadzia, was born in late September 2009 at our home, delivered by a wonderful home birth midwife, Kate Finn.

However, unless New York passes the Midwifery Modernization Act, other expectant mothers might not be able to receive quality care from midwives in New York State as my wife and daughters received, likely resulting in increased barriers to maternal care, something documented extensively by Amnesty International.  You can take action to help pass this legislation in New York!


Posted in USA