7 Ways for Obama to REALLY Earn that Nobel Peace Prize

president obama

Photo: Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

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.

INCOMPLETE

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.

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If They Are Not Guilty, Who Committed the War Crimes?

Around 800 people belonging to ethnic minorities were abducted and killed by the KLA© Amnesty International

Around 800 people belonging to ethnic minorities were abducted and killed by the KLA© Amnesty International

The acquittal yesterday of three high-ranking members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) after a retrial on war crimes charges has prompted Amnesty International to reiterate its call for justice for all of the victims in the 1998-9 Kosovo war, and their relatives.

Ex-prime minister and former KLA commander Ramush Haradinaj, Lahi Brahimaj, his uncle, and a fellow KLA commander, and deputy commander Idriz Balaj, were found not guilty of a joint criminal enterprise to mistreat Kosovo Serbs, Roma and Egyptians, and Albanians perceived to be collaborators with the Serbian authorities, or otherwise not supporters of the KLA.


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Displaced Roma Families Head into Brutal Winter without Adequate Housing

This post is part of our Write for Rights series.

Around 100 children, women and men, forcibly evicted from their homes by the Romanian government six years ago, continue to live in dirty, inhumane conditions.  With nowhere else to go, they are stuck in small, overcrowded metal shacks that stand next to a large sewage plant. A sign outside the plant warns of “toxic danger”, yet the authorities have failed to heed this warning and the Roma families are suffering.

The Roma families are from the Romanian town of Miercurea Ciuc, and despite the fact that authorities told them the movie was only temporary, six years have passed and there are still no plans to relocate them. The 75 people remaining are living with only 4 toilets between them, 1 tap for water, and shacks that do not provide protection from the elements, which is of serious concern for the winter season when temperatures drop below -25 °C (-13 °F). In addition, the families are also living within 300 meters of toxic waste, which is prohibited under Romanian law. Many Roma have expressed concern about their health, and the health of their families, reporting an awful stench that constantly lingers in the air.

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Roma Community in Romania Still Treated like Waste Six Years On

Families excluded

The families are socially excluded and their living conditions are inhumane © Amnesty International

By Fotis Filippou, EU Team Campaigner for Amnesty International

Amnesty International recently visited Romania, where we met with a Romani community living behind a sewage treatment plant in Miercurea Ciuc, central Romania.

More than six years after they were forcibly evicted from their homes, around 75 Roma people, including families with children, are living in unsanitary conditions in metal cabins and shacks.

Back then they were told that the move would be temporary but it has started to feel very permanent.

Fear for children's health

Many have said how unbearable it is to live there and how afraid they are for their and their children's health © Amnesty International

Many have said how unbearable it is to live there and how afraid they are for their and their children’s health © Amnesty International

Now living on the fringes of the city, the families are socially excluded and their living conditions are inhumane. The sanitation facilities are woefully inadequate, with only four toilet cubicles for 75 people and one tap for drinking water.

The metal cabins and shacks are overcrowded and provide no protection from heat and rain. The approaching winter, during which the temperature in Miercurea Ciuc can be below -25 °C, is a reminder of the need for an alternative site to be found without further delays.

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Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity?

(c) Amnesty International

What does liberty, equality, and fraternity mean for the Roma who are being forcibly evicted from France?  Not much.  But fortunately, today the European Union urged France to immediately suspend the expulsion of Roma people.   This decision was made after the destruction of 300 Roma camps and the expulsion of their inhabitants.

The actoins of President Nicolas Sarkozy are now under heavy scrutiny of the European Union. And rightfully so.  The country which was once viewed as a “lighthouse of democracy and freedom”, has not cast its light on the Roma population which has been discriminated against for decades.  From Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame to the 1912 French law requiring identity cards that categorized Roma as ‘nomads’ and encouraged discrimination, to their recent expulsion, Roma have long been the targets of discrimination.

We have called on France to heed the EU’s request, end the cycle of discrimination, and welcome Roma by granting them liberty, equality, and fraternity.

Stand Up for Roma Rights in Europe

Today as the second annual European Union Roma Summit takes place in Spain, it is a reminder that European leaders must confront the pervasive discrimination against millions of Roma across the continent.  Roma people routinely face human rights abuses and EU leaders need to speak up against racist attacks and hate speech and provide concrete measures to end discrimination in access to housing, education, health and employment.

Amnesty International, along with Romani and other NGOs, has documented the failures of the authorities in a number of European countries to protect Romani communities from discrimination. We’ve documented repeated failures to end segregation of Romani children in education and to guarantee Romani communities’ right to adequate housing.
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Roma persecution – Antiziganism – intensifies in Europe

Perhaps the most oppressed people in history, Roma – commonly referred to as Gypsies – have been persecuted since they arrived in Europe in 1300 C.E.

The New York Times reports that institutionalized and societal prejudice against Roma is enflaming violence in Europe:

[...]

Prejudice against Roma — widely known as Gypsies and long among Europe’s most oppressed minority groups — has swelled into a wave of violence. Over the past year, at least seven Roma have been killed in Hungary, and Roma leaders have counted some 30 Molotov cocktail attacks against Roma homes, often accompanied by sprays of gunfire.

[...]

In addition to Mr. Koka’s death, there were the slayings of a Roma man and woman, who were shot after their house was set ablaze last November in Nagycsecs, a town about an hour’s drive from Tiszalok in northeastern Hungary. And in February, a Roma man and his 4-year-old son were gunned down as they tried to escape from their home, which was set on fire in Tatarszentgyorgy, a small town south of Budapest.

[...]

Experts on Roma issues describe an ever more aggressive atmosphere toward Roma in Hungary and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe, led by extreme right-wing parties, whose leaders are playing on old stereotypes of Roma as petty criminals and drains on social welfare systems at a time of rising economic and political turmoil. As unemployment rises, officials and Roma experts fear the attacks will only intensify.

[...]

Persecution against Roma, as detailed in just one Amnesty International press release from yesterday, is nothing new. Neither is the unwillingness of authorities to stop the oppression. In the Czech republic, for instance:

[...]

Roma… continue to suffer discrimination at the hands of both public officials and private individuals, including in the areas of housing, education, health care and employment.

Not only do they face forced evictions, segregation in education and racially motivated violence, but they have been denied justice when seeking redress for the abuses against them.

[...]

The history of Roma persecution goes back hundreds of years ago. Throughout 16-18th century, Roma were hanged without trial in Europe. In 1921, nonetheless, Czechoslovakia shortly recognized Roma as “nationality.” In 1933, Hitler ordered sterilization of Roma. Later, up to half a million Roma were killed in the Holocaust. In just one act, 4,000 Roma were gassed and cremated in Auschwitz on August 2, 1944. Unlike the Jewish victims, Roma victims of the Holocaust are rarely researched or commemorated.

With some activism in Eastern Europe in the 1990s, Roma still face institutional and social discrimination in Europe. In Italy, the government fingerprints them. In 2008, bodies of two drowned Roma children were left at the beach while Italians and tourists vacationed a few feet away.

As late as 1998, the state of New Jersey in the US had anti-Roma laws. Popular American TV star Judge Judy has used the word “Gypsy” at least once as a synonym for a “thief” on her show after 2005. While Judge Judy’s remark can be explained perhaps by her lack of knowledge of Roma issues, the same cannot be said about influential people in countries with large Roma populations. In one such state, Romania, the president called a journalist “dirty Gypsy” in 2007.

While many Roma have historically assimilated (accepted, for example, Islam in the Middle East and Christianity in Europe), scores of them choose to keep their ancestral, migratory way of life despite hundreds of years of slavery, universal persecution and genocide. Others have established enclaves in different countries where they demand integration and respect. Roma supposedly left India as a result of foreign invasion to avoid persecution. Their common name “Gypsy” is a misconception that Roma originated in Egypt.

Many of the unassimilated Roma demand freedom of travel and not be regulated.
A unique case of stateless people, Roma do not demand independence or even political autonomy. The Roma persecution has brought about little outrage throughout the world. The problem, in this case, is definitely the lack of awareness.

In my home country Armenia, for instance, the word “Bosha” is an insult – while it used to be the ethnic name for the Roma who have either entirely assimilated or prefer to be called Lom. Their language, Lomavren, a unique mixture with medieval Armenian, has long vanished.

It is time that the world stand up against Antiziganism. Perhaps Amnesty International should adopt the cause of fighting Antiziganism as one of its main goals?