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.

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.

Thailand’s Political Transformation

This blog was originally posted on Open Democracy.

The weeks of popular protests by thousands of red-shirted demonstrators in the center of Bangkok reached a critical stage on the late Saturday evening of April 10, 2010. At that point, Thailand’s state-security forces began a crackdown against those who had gathered under the banner of the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD). A longstanding political crisis that has divided Thais into bitterly opposed camps has now become a national tragedy.

Protestors and military police clash in the streets of Bangkok on April 12, 2010.

Protesters and military police clash in the streets of Bangkok on April 12, 2010.

The immediate crisis had been escalating since mid-March 2010, when tens of thousands of members of the increasingly heterogeneous UDD began their takeover of the streets of Bangkok. The red-bedecked activists from all over Thailand carried their tents, sleeping-mats and food supplies into the area around the high-rent shopping-district of the Rajprasong intersection. The red-shirts‘ political representatives held intermittent talks with the government of Thailand’s prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva; but these broke down in the first days of April, and the protestors then vowed to stay in place until the parliament was dissolved and new elections announced.

The crackdown was launched three days after Abhisit declared a state of emergency, which provided the government with broad powers of arrest, censorship, and suspension of civil liberties. Among the first measures taken was the blocking or closure of independent media, including thirty-six websites; the popular bilingual news-site Prachatai was one of those affected. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

WTF, Vedanta Resources

Despite the bad publicity (and sternly worded blog posts from me, here and here), the UK-owned corporation Vedanta Resources and the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests show no signs of backing down from this polluting project.  I also haven’t heard whether James Cameron has taken up the tribe’s plea for assistance.  I guess he’s pretty busy at the Oscar’s tonight, but wouldn’t it be great if he said something about this at the awards ceremony?

All in all, this really sucks for the people there because the air and water in Lanjigarh, Orissa are really nasty.  Heck even the Orissa State Pollution Control Board says so.  It’s a pretty grim situation that we’ve documented extensively in this report.

That leaves you– you can take action here.   In case you need to be guilt-tripped into taking the action, see this video below.  In other words, PLEASE take action.

Secretary Clinton: when you go to Guatemala, will you put human rights at the top of your agenda?

Extrajudicial killings in Guatemala

I hope that during US Secretary of State Clinton’s March 4th visit to Guatemala, the grave human rights situation, specifically the extra-judicial killings coupled with the cloud of impunity surrounding those killings, are at the top of the agenda.  Secretary Clinton will be taking a quick trip thorough South and Central America, and her trip will be concluding in Guatemala, where she will be meeting with Guatemalan President Colom and a few other Central American leaders.

Over the past several years, various Guatemalan human rights organizations have received numerous reports of kidnappings and murders where police officers, off duty officers, hired security, or members of the armed forces are the suspected perpetrators. In many instances, officers act under direct order, complicity, or the acquiescence of Guatemalan authorities. Frequently, young men from marginalized sectors of society who have criminal records are the victims, and potential witnesses refuse to testify for fear of retribution.

It is important to note here too, that not just young men are targets; members of indigenous communities, women, and human rights activists are also at risk. Amnesty International has a current urgent action calling for the protection of the activists of civil society group, FRENA, the Resistance Front for the Defense of Natural Resources and People’s Rights (or in Spanish Frente de Resistencia en Defensa de los Recursos Naturales y Derechos de los Pueblos) three members of which have been the victims of extrajudicial killings. Currently there are no suspects.  A recent press release issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights urges the necessity for “the Guatemalan State to maximize its efforts to investigate and legally clarify these crimes and to prosecute the perpetrators and masterminds”.

In 2007, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings visited Guatemala and published a report which noted that:

“…There is strong evidence that some acts of social cleansing—executions of gang members, criminal suspects, and other ‘undesirables’ –are committed by police personnel”. 

The report found that of Guatemala’s 5,000 annual homicides, 1.4% of those cases end in a conviction. In the same 2007 report, the Rapporteur called for the “categorical rejection” by the government of the practice of extrajudicial killings and the expansion of the criminal justice system to effectively investigate murders. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Crackdown on Refugees from Burma

The humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is reporting that the Bangladesh government has launched a crackdown against the Rohingya community around the Cox’s Bazar district (see map).  The site of the crackdown is a makeshift camp of refugees in Kutupalong that is not recognized by the Bangladeshi government and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has limited access to the area.  From MSF’s press release:

More than 6,000 people have arrived at the makeshift camp since October—2,000 in January alone,” said MSF Head of Mission in Bangladesh Paul Critchley. “People are crowding into a crammed and unsanitary patch of ground with no infrastructure to support them. They are prevented from working to support themselves and are not permitted food aid. As the numbers swell and resources become increasingly scarce, we are extremely concerned about the deepening crisis.”

The Myanmar government (note that Amnesty International requires use of the UN-recognized name of the country widely known as Burma) refuses to acknowledge that the Rohingya are from Myanmar rendering them stateless.

MSF is asking that the UNHCR increase protections to these Rohingya seeking protection in Bangladesh.  At the moment, only 28,000 of the estimated 200,000 of the refugees in Bangladesh are recognized as refugees.  The result, in an already overcrowded and poor country, is that the Rohingya are vulnerable.  Human rights groups have been campaigning on the plight of the Rohingyas for a number of years, but Myanmar’s neighbors have grown impatient with the scale of the humanitarian need.  But, as MSF makes clear, the international community must support the Government of Bangladesh and UNHCR to adopt measures to guarantee the unregistered Rohingya’s lasting dignity and well-being in Bangladesh.

Sri Lanka: end impunity for human rights violations

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa said last Tuesday that no one should be above the law, including members of the police or armed forces.  This follows a widely publicized incident last week in Sri Lanka:  two youths were arrested by the police on August 12 and their bullet-ridden bodies were discovered the next day.  The killings sparked public anger and riots against the police.  Several police officers have since been arrested in connection with the murders.

I dearly hope justice is done in this case and the killers held accountable.  But there remain thousands of cases of human rights violations by the Sri Lankan security forces, including the police, where no one has been prosecuted or convicted.  The recent Amnesty International report on presidential commissions of inquiry in Sri Lanka details the government’s failure to deliver justice for serious human rights violations for decades.  I hope President Rajapaksa’s recent statement will lead to a serious, sustained effort by the Sri Lankan government to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice at last.  The ongoing impunity enjoyed by the security forces for past violations must end.

The Media Hype May Be Over, But There Is Still A Crisis In Honduras

Amnesty International issued a report today about the ongoing crisis in Honduras following the coup d’etat which took place June 28. Many press outlets have covered the report and accompanying press release which comes at a crucial time as the crisis in Honduras must be kept in the attention of the mainstream media and general public.

AI’s main concerns with the crisis as cited in the report are:

Two of the ten students who took part in the peaceful march on 30 July 2009. The imprint of the police batons is clearly visible on both students. Amnesty International

Two of the ten students who took part in the peaceful march on 30 July 2009. The imprint of the police batons is clearly visible on both students. Amnesty International

  • Excessive use of force
  • Gender-based violence
  • Use of military in civilian law enforcement
  • Freedom of expression
  • Curfew measures
  • Safety of human rights defenders

I’ll let the words of Hondurans speak for themselves to end this post, as their words are much more powerful than mine:

“We were demonstrating peacefully. Suddenly, the
police came towards us, and I started running. They
grabbed me and shouted “why do you (all) support
Zelaya’s government? Whether it’s by choice or by
force, you have to be with this government”. They
beat me. I have not yet been informed as to why I
am here detained.”

[“Fernando”, 52 year-old teacher, at a police station in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 30 July 2009]

Mexico: Merida Funds Must be Withheld Until Human Rights Conditions Are Met

Amnesty International today urged the US Congress to honor its commitment to withhold 15% of funding of the Merida Initiative until the Mexican government fulfils its human rights obligations. The Mexican government has failed to make sufficient progress in the investigation and prosecution of human rights abuses by security forces. According to the Washington Post, Senator Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee, is well aware of the grave human rights situation in Mexico, and does not intend to allow the transfer to go forward if things do not improve.

The Merida Initiative is security co-operation and assistance program through which the USA provides Mexico and Central America with equipment, training and technical assistance to support law enforcement operations. In June 2008, the US Congress stipulated that 15% of the funds to be provided by the US to Mexico in the context of the Merida Initiative must be subject to key human rights conditions, including:

  • Human rights violations perpetrated by military and police personnel to be investigated, prosecuted and tried by civilian prosecutors and judges;
  • Confessions obtained under torture or ill treatment not to be used in the justice system;
  • Civil society to be regularly consulted to make recommendations regarding the fulfilment of the Merida Initiative;
  • Improvement of transparency and accountability of the police force, and establishment of an independent mechanism to denounce abuses.

In addition to a State Department report on the broader human rights situation in Mexico, the US Congress also requested information on the investigation of the killing of US videojournalist Brad Will, whose case Amnesty has worked on for some time. The investigation of Mexico’s Federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) led to the arrest of man in October 2008. However, the evidence on which the prosecution is based has been disproved by extensive forensic studies carried out by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) and Physicians for Human Rights. As the time for the approval of Merida Initiative funding approached, the PGR commissioned a team of Canadian experts to carry out a new forensic report. The report, which has no legal standing in the criminal case, was leaked in July 2009 to the press and confirmed, in an almost word-by-word fashion the conclusions of the PGR. Both the CNDH and Physicians for Human Rights have stated that the report has no scientific validity, and Brad Will’s family has issued a statement denouncing the biased PGR investigation.

Given the situation of Brad Will’s case, the continued impunity of those responsible for other serious human rights violations, and the alarming escalation of reports of new abuses, additional US aid would only make things worse. Let’s hope Mexico takes notice and makes some big changes.

Uighur Blogger Still Held

Since July 8, Ilham Tohti, editor of the Web site Uighur Online and a professor at Central Nationalities University in Beijing, has been held incommunicado by Chinese authorities. He was interrogated after posting articles on the site and his personal blog about a clash between members of China’s majority ethnic Han group and Uighurs in Guangdong Province on June 26.

The Uighurs are a Muslim minority group in China most of whom live in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in northwestern China. For two decades now Chinese authoirities have been pursuing a campaign in the area against “terrorism, separatism and religious extremism,” in the process have diluting the Uighur population and severely restricting the civil and cultural rights of Uighurs. Ilham Tohti’s case is in no way isolated. Although authorities in XUAR set up a media center for foreign journalists in Urumqi during the recent violence, reporters have been prevented – by police, other security forces or even just people on the street – from reporting freely in the XUAR. One New York Times reporter described tour guides in Kashgar who refused to lead him around the city and translators who feared repercussions if they were to translate certain conversations. Clearly Chinese authorities fear what the people of Kashgar might say to journalists, but what’s even worse is that they’re causing residents in the XUAR to fear expressing their opinions.

All this repression suggests the unliklihood of an independent inquiry into the events last month in Xinjiang as well as open, fair trials for those who have been detained. Take action now for Ilham Tohti!