More than four decades ago, two young black men were convicted of the murder of a prison guard at Louisiana’s infamous Angola prison. The life sentence handed down to Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace would not only put the men behind bars – it would plunge them into a nightmare of cruel inhuman and degrading treatment for the next 41 years of their lives.
Despite the fact that no evidence tied Woodfox or Wallace to the crime, the two men were placed in solitary confinement after their 1972 conviction; 23 hours a day isolated in a small cell, four steps long, three steps across. Robert King, who was investigated for the crime, but charged and convicted instead of the murder of a prison inmate, was “lucky” to be released after 29 years of this dehumanizing treatment. The other two members of the so-called “Angola 3″ have remained there, waiting for the arc of the universe to bend slowly toward justice.
At the local level, Americans are demonstrating a strong commitment to advancing human rights. In recent elections, voters legalized marriage equality in nine states and passed the DREAM Act to expand educational opportunities for undocumented residents in Maryland. In addition, legislators in four states abolished the death penalty. The message to the nation’s leaders seems to be this: human rights still matter, and the task of “perfecting our union” remains incomplete.
As President Obama prepares to give his second inaugural address, he should embrace an ambitious rights agenda: enhancing our security without trampling on human rights; implementing a foreign policy that hold friends and foes alike accountable for human rights violations; and ensuring human rights for all in the United States without discrimination.
Measured against international norms and his own aspirations, President Obama’s first term record on human rights merits an “incomplete.” While he made the bold move of issuing an executive order to close Guantánamo on his second day in office, he has yet to fulfill that promise. The U.S. government’s reliance on lethal drone strikes is growing steadily, but the administration has provided no clear legal justification for the program. Congress has abrogated its responsibility to exercise meaningful oversight of this most ubiquitous element of the “global war on terror,” a paradigm which is in and of itself problematic. Although President Obama has on occasion stood up for human rights defenders abroad — in China, Iran, Russia and Libya — his administration has often muted criticism when it comes to U.S. allies, in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
North Carolina is a state being pulled in two directions at once. A Southern state, with that legacy of slavery and racism, North Carolina has been, historically, an avid user of the death penalty. No more. There have been no executions since 2006, and this year (for the first time in 35 years) there were no death sentences either. Passage of the Racial Justice Act in 2009, which promised to expose past and present racial biases at work in North Carolina’s criminal justice system, was hailed as an inspiring example of a Southern state courageously coming to terms with its racial realities.
Then, in April, Cumberland County Superior Court judge Meeks ruled that “race was a significant factor in prosecutorial decisions” in the case of Marcus Robinson, and commuted his death sentence. When confronted with this stark example of racial bias in practice, the political response was swift: cut and run. By July, the RJA had been gutted; next year it will probably be repealed entirely. The racial bias embedded in North Carolina criminal justice will once again be swept under the rug. Enlightenment will be shunned, and blissful ignorance embraced.
Israel is denying Palestinians their right to access to adequate water by using discriminatory and restrictive policies.
Donatella Rovera, senior researcher on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories said,
“Israel allows the Palestinians access to only a fraction of the shared water resources, which lie mostly in the occupied West Bank, while the unlawful Israeli settlements there receive virtually unlimited supplies. In Gaza the Israeli blockade has made an already dire situation worse.”
The report, “Troubled Waters: Palestinians Denied Fair Access to Water,” says Israel uses more than 80 per cent of the water from the Mountain Aquifer, the main source of underground water in Israel and the OPT, while restricting Palestinian access to 20 per cent. Israel takes all the water from the Jordan River, the Palestinians get none.
A dramatic disconnect between principles and policies has hampered current U.S. health care reform efforts. This became obvious when candidate Obama declared health care to be a right and then proceeded to treat it as a commodity when negotiating with insurance companies a requirement for individuals to buy a commercial health insurance product.
Similarly, early on in the debate the president championed the principle of universality by promising some form of health coverage – if not necessarily health care – for 46 million uninsured people, only to lower the policy goal to 30 million American citizens in his speech before Congress, excluding many immigrants and low-income people. Since then, further policy provisions that restrict access to health coverage for immigrants – documented and undocumented – and reduce affordability for lower-income people have appeared in the health care bill adopted by the Senate Finance Committee. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
Action for Human Rights. Hope for Humanity.