Ferguson: Today marks a pivotal moment for US human rights

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Today, we learned that a grand jury in Ferguson decided not to indict Police Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown — an unarmed 18-year-old — in August.

The community response to Mike Brown’s death, and the response that is likely still to come, mark a pivotal moment in the human rights movement and in U.S. history.

It’s a moment of passion, of frustration, and of activism.

It’s within this moment that officials in Ferguson and throughout the United States must stand up to ensure that each individual’s human rights — including the right to freely express themselves in the form of peaceful protest — are respected, protected and fulfilled. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

From Ferguson to Zimbabwe, Police must Protect Peaceful Freedom of Expression

Zimbabwe police

Riot police in military gear in the streets, dispersing peaceful protestors gathered to address grievances with their government. Protestors threatened with weapons. Civil rights violated. Despite similarities to recent events in the US, I’m not talking about Ferguson. This is Zimbabwe.
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Three Years After Earthquake, Hundreds of Thousands of Haitians Still Homeless, Facing Eviction

IDP camp Grace Village, Carrefour municipality, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, May 2012 (Photo Credit: Amnesty International).

IDP camp Grace Village, Carrefour municipality, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, May 2012 (Photo Credit: Amnesty International).

By Chiara Liguori and James Burke of Amnesty International’s Caribbean Team

“Be prepared, we will burn down your shelters, shoot you and throw you all out.”

“We’ll burn all the camp down and kill your children.”

“I will get you out of here by any means necessary.”

These are only a few of the recent eviction threats heard by residents of camps in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince which still house hundreds of thousands of those displaced by the January 2010 earthquake.

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More Evidence of Misconduct In Reggie Clemons Case

Reggie Clemons

New evidence has emerged reinforcing the contention that Reggie Clemons’ trial was marred by misconduct; a judge’s recommendations are expected by June 1 (Photo Credit: Color of Justice).

On March 18, the final oral arguments in the “Special Master” investigation of Reggie Clemons‘ case were held in Independence, Missouri. Reggie Clemons was sentenced to death in 1993 after a disturbingly flawed investigation and trial.

At the Clemons hearing before Special Master Judge Michael Manners last September, evidence of police brutality and prosecutorial misconduct in his case was presented, and this month that evidence was reinforced by new testimony of a bail investigator named Warren Weeks.

In a video-taped deposition, Weeks said that he saw evidence that Clemons had been brutalized – a golf-ball sized bump on his head – and that he submitted a written report of this observation. Weeks testified that prosecutor Nels Moss attempted to intimidate him about the report. The report obtained by Clemons’ current attorneys and presented to Judge Manners had the word “bump” or “bruise” scratched out.

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Violence in South Africa

South African police  block a march by protesting miners in Rustenburg after a security crackdown in the restive platinum belt where officers shot dead 34 strikers (Photo Credit: Alexander Joe/AFP/GettyImages).

South African police block a march by protesting miners in Rustenburg after a security crackdown in the restive platinum belt where officers shot dead 34 strikers (Photo Credit: Alexander Joe/AFP/GettyImages).

The prevalence and acceptance of violence in South Africa is disturbing. Almost 20 years after the fall of Apartheid, it is still a country deeply divided along racial, ethnic and political lines. The recent attack on a Mozambican taxi driver is simply one such example. One need only look to the police attacks on protesting miners in Johannesburg that led to the deaths of 34 miners and more than 70 injuries in 2012, or the fact that South Africa has one of the highest incidences of violence against women (and children) in the world, to understand how violence threatens this “Rainbow nation.”

Violence is not something only perpetrated in the townships of the country, but rather it is perpetrated at, and by, the highest echelons of society. When a country allows individuals who are specifically tasked to protect its citizens, such as police officers and civil servants, to commit acts of atrocity with little to no reprisal, what is the hope that ordinary citizens will not resort to such violence? Who are our role models?

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Reggie Clemons Hearing: More To Come

reggie clemons hearing st. louis missouri

Amnesty team waiting to enter the Reggie Clemons hearing, Sept 17, 2012

The Special Master hearing to review the Reggie Clemons case was halted on Thursday, but with more testimony and legal filings to come. In fact, the Special Master process looks to continue well into next year.  Given what’s at stake, and given the troubling nature of the case, taking more time is not a bad thing.

The allegations of police brutality and prosecutorial misconduct which feature prominently in Amnesty International’s report on the case were highlighted during the hearing. The alleged police abuse of Clemons, and the similar abuse of the state’s star witness Tom Cummins – acknowledged by a $150,000 settlement – are particularly disturbing and call into question the fairness of the investigation and prosecution in this case.

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The Reggie Clemons Interview: ‘I Know I’m Innocent’

Today, in the third part of “Death Penalty On Trial”, its multimedia examination of the Reggie Clemons case, The Guardian features an interview with Reggie himself.  In it, he maintains his innocence, discusses his version of what happened the night the Kerry sisters died, and describes the alleged beating he took at the hands of police.

“If you believe that somebody’s willing to beat you to death, while they’re beating you they can just about get you to admit anything.”

Watch for yourself:


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Reggie Clemons: Death Row Inmate Getting Another Chance

Reggie Clemons

Will Missouri execute Reggie Clemons despite so many doubts?

Reggie Clemons has been on Missouri’s death row for about 20 years, and as the Sept. 17 date for his hearing with a Special Master approaches, more and more attention is being focused on his case.

Today, The Guardian launched a multimedia examination of the case, including an introductory overview piece, the following video, and a moving sidebar about the Julie and Robin Kerry, the two sisters who lost their lives plunging from the Chain of Rocks Bridge on April 5, 1991.
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Atenco: Getting Closer…But We Still Need Justice!

After over four years of detention based on unjust convictions, twelve Mexican activists were ordered released last week following a ruling by Mexico’s Supreme Court that admitted that the activists had never been granted a fair trial.  They had been arrested for allegedly kidnapping police officers during protests in San Salvador Atenco in May 2006 during which police officers violently abused both men and women for their activism.  While it is wonderful that Mexico’s judiciary has freed these twelve activists, much more still needs to be done for justice to be served in the events surrounding the Atenco protests.

“This welcome move by the Supreme Court shows that state prosecutors and judges in Mexico State relied on the denial of due process as well as illegal and fabricated evidence to secure the conviction and imprisonment of the accused,” said Rupert Knox, Amnesty International’s Mexico researcher.

Simply releasing the activists is not enough: Mexican authorities need to take their actions a step further and end impunity in their country by prosecuting the officers responsible for committing crimes against protestors in May 2006 along with those who misused the justice system to secure convictions of the twelve protestors.

One of Amnesty International USA’s Special Focus cases is centered around the female victims of police abuse during the Atenco protests (see the Women of Atenco case page).  Federal authorities actually conducted an investigation that resulted in a list of 34 names of police officers who were suspected of being responsible for the sexual assault and torture of the women in the aftermath of the protests, but more than four years after the events, neither these officers, nor any of the senior officials who failed to stop or prevent the abuses, have been held accountable.

Hopefully, the release of the twelve activists is just the beginning of the government’s acceptance of responsibility for the case, and the beginning of the end for the impunity that has pervaded Mexico’s justice system.  Amnesty International will continue to pressure the federal government of Mexico to protect the human rights of its citizens, and this necessarily includes that Mexico ends impunity for police officers.