A few weeks ago the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was condemned by Senator Reid as so draconian that he could not bring it to the floor. Now it’s back and with an authoritarian vengeance.
The bill has the necessary but perpetually complex objective of outlining the budget and expenditures of the Department of Defense.
This time around, a dubious, ill-informed, and unwise “agreement” has been reached between Senators Levin and McCain to include detention provisions that threaten to bring back internment for the first time since the McCarthy era at the height of the red scare.
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.
Five years ago today, dozens of women were beaten, raped, and tortured sexually and psychologically by policeafter being detained following protests by a local peasant organization in San Salvador Atenco, near Mexico City. Despite years of legal battles, these brave survivors are still waiting for justice. None of the officials responsible for their abuse have been held accountable.
The good news is,we have a fresh opportunity to make a difference for the women of Atenco. Mexican President Felipe Calderón recently appointed a new Attorney General, Marisela Morales. As Mexico’s first-ever female Attorney General, with a history of being tough against organized crime, she is uniquely positioned to shake things up and set a new tone by standing against impunity. We need to tell her to finally ensure that the perpetrators won’t be allowed to get away with these violent abuses any longer.
Following the release of a devastatingly critical report on the shoddy work of North Carolina’s State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) crime labs, Seth Edwards, the president of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys today said he “supported a moratorium on the execution of any death-row inmates whose cases include evidence from the State Bureau of Investigations crime labs.”
The fallout from the audit of the SBI, combined with the fact that 152 death row inmates in NC are now challenging their death sentences under the new Racial Justice Act, paints a picture of criminal justice and capital punishment systems in chaos. And that may be a good thing. At least the Tar Heel state (unlike some states) has been somewhat willing to look critically at its systems of justice.
But this bout of self-examination should only be the beginning. The state’s investigation of the SBI was not comprehensive (only the serology lab was looked into; the SBI’s performance in other areas – fingerprints, DNA , ballistics, drug analysis, documents and digital – has yet to be reviewed). The Raleigh News and Observer’s recent hard hitting series provides some idea of what might be found if all those rocks were turned over. To their credit, NC DAs have demanded a full audit of the SBI.
Because executing someone wrongfully would be the ultimate injustice, it is imperative that NC take a second look at all death row cases, including those who have already been executed. Seth Edwards’ suggestion for a partial moratorium is fine, but really all executions should be halted. And really, they should be halted permanently.
For two weeks now, unarmed indigenous activists in Easter Island – or Rapa Nui – have occupied public (read Chilean) property, claiming ancestral rights to a land that has seen colonization from Peruvian slave traders to French missionaries to the island’s conversion to a sheep farm by a Scottish-owned Chilean company until 1953. As a result, the Rapanui people have been forced to what is now the only inhabitance on the island: Hanga Roa.
When I was in Hanga Roa in May 2010, I spotted a building with a hand-made sign: Rapa Nui Parliament. Outside the physically unassuming building I saw few visibly austere voices for independence for this tiny South Pacific island controlled by Chile. But media reports suggest otherwise:
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.
While many people in the US will be enjoying margaritas and nachos this evening in honor of the Mexican holiday, for the Women of Atenco, it’s not a joyful day. It’s the day after the anniversary of when they were beaten, raped, and tortured sexually and psychologically by police after being detained in San Salvador Atenco, near Mexico City. This day four years ago, many of the women were in prison, charged with crimes like “blocking public roads” while they nursed their physical wounds and hoped there would be justice for the suffering they had endured the day before. More than four years later, they are still waiting for justice.
The Death Penalty Information Center released a new study today on the high costs, and lack of real benefits, associated with capital punishment in the United States. The report, called Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis, also includes the results of a poll of 500 randomly selected U.S. police chiefs who by a more than 2 to 1 margin reject the idea that the death penalty is a deterrent (an assessment confirmed by criminologists), and, also by a greater than 2 to 1 margin, believe that the death penalty is used as a tough-on-crime symbol by politicians.
“Greater use of the death penalty” was listed as the best way to reduce violent crime by only 1% (that’s one percent) of the chiefs surveyed, and only 2% (3% in the South) believed that “insufficient use of the death penalty” interferes with effective law enforcement.
And use of the death penalty is declining anyway. For almost a decade the numbers of death sentences and executions have continued to drop. As Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told CNN “…the death penalty is turning into an expensive form of life without parole.” SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
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.
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.
Action for Human Rights. Hope for Humanity.