“A mother’s broken heart keeps waiting to know something about her only son, whom she has not seen for 670 days. A new hope is born on every sunrise to see Dr Mohamed Arab once again with us.”
Every year in dozens of countries around the world, thousands of men, women and children are detained by state authorities for no reason, never to be seen again. They are the “disappeared.” In 2012 alone, Amnesty International documented such cases in 31 countries.
Here are five facts you should know on August 30, International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.
As news breaks about the surrender of the “Terminator,” Bosco Ntaganda, to the United States embassy in Kigali today, the US State Department was quick to note that it “strongly support[s] the ICC and their investigations on the atrocities committed in the DRC.” Further, Ambassador Stephen Rapp, head of the Office of Global Criminal Justice, tweeted “Bosco #Ntaganda surrenders in #Rwanda and asks to the taken to the #ICC. We are helping to facilitate his transfer.”
This development, and the U.S. administration’s quick signaling of its intent to adhere to obligations to transfer Ntaganda to the court to answer charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity is welcome, and encouraging. Thus, I will not start with the call that “the US should take all steps to ensure the speedy transfer of Ntaganda to The Hague.”
By Angela T. Chang, Advocate, Crisis Prevention and Response Team, Amnesty International USA
When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery. When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family—girls my daughters’ age—runs away from home, or is lured by the false promises of a better life, and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists — that’s slavery. It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.
– US President Barack Obama, September 2012
Despite these strong words by President Obama against the use and recruitment of child soldiers a few months ago, he got reprimanded earlier this week for falling flat in delivering on tangible actions to address this issue.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child released a new report on Tuesday, calling out the U.S. and the Obama administration for failing to adhere to its international human rights obligations by continuing to waive sanctions on military assistance, per the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act, to countries that are known to recruit and use child soldiers – a clear violation of children’s rights and a war crime if the children are under the age of fifteen. Yes, you read that right. Seems confusing and backwards? That’s because it is.
Saudi Arabia has a long, infamous history of denying legal rights to foreign domestic workers, but it’s still outrageous that two recent cases indicate that these workers– whom are predominantly women — can’t even count on basic internationally accepted protections for juveniles and the mentally ill. This month, one Sri Lanka woman paid for this failure with her life. And another’s life is at risk.
The beheading of Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan foreign domestic worker, on Jan. 12 underscored the lack of legal protections for foreign workers in Saudi Arabia. The execution came despite an international campaign protesting her death sentence as violating international legal standards preventing the execution of juveniles.
Only 17 years old at the time of the crime, Nafeek was arrested in May 2005 on charges of murdering an infant in her care. A court in Dawadmi, a town west of the capital Riyadh, sentenced her to death in 2007.
Sri Lanka’s human rights record doesn’t get much international attention these days. But that’s going to change on November 1 in Geneva, when the U.N. Human Rights Council examines Sri Lanka’s record as part of the Council’s “Universal Periodic Review” (UPR) procedure.
Sri Lanka has a lot to account for, especially its continuing use of security laws against peaceful, outspoken critics, including journalists. Hundreds are being detained with no charge or trial. Many detainees have been tortured while in custody, and some have even been killed. No one has been held accountable for these crimes; impunity reigns.
On Jan. 24, 2010, Prageeth Eknaligoda, a Sri Lankan journalist and cartoonist, disappeared shortly after leaving work. A few days earlier, he had published an article critical of President Rajapaksa. Local residents told the Sri Lankan press that they had seen a white van without numbered plates close to his house around the time of his disappearance.
Prageeth had earlier been abducted in August, 2009 by a group who arrived in a white van; that time, he was released the following day, with his abductors saying that they had made a mistake. But since Jan. 24, 2010, no one has heard from him.
Over recent decades, Sri Lanka has experienced tens of thousands of enforced disappearances during civil conflict, with government forces or their agents detaining people and then denying all knowledge of their whereabouts. In virtually all cases, no one has been held accountable for these crimes.
Right now, hundreds of people are languishing in detention in Sri Lanka. They haven’t been convicted of any crime; indeed, they haven’t even been charged with any crime. Their detentions violate international law. Many of them are tortured while in custody. Some detainees have been killed.
More than three years after the end of Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war, security laws enacted to combat armed opposition groups continue to be used against outspoken, peaceful critics, including journalists, and others.
No one has been held accountable for these crimes. Impunity for human rights violations is the norm in Sri Lanka.
17 journalists have been killed so far in 2012 and there are currently 179 journalists imprisoned around the world.
These numbers only begin to describe the risks faced by journalists, bloggers, filmmakers and others who dare bring to light uncomfortable truths that powerful interests would prefer to conceal. Most of those detained or killed were reporting on human rights failings in their country.
Today on World Press Freedom Day (May 3), here is a brief look at five countries where people risk much in the service of truth:
India’s foreign policy is acombination of realpolitik and old-school “nonaligned” mumbo-jumbo that made little sense even when it was more relevant during the Cold War. In any case, they definitely don’t want to talk about country-specific human rights issues (lest Kashmir might get more play). Yet, they joined the majority to support a human rights resolution on Sri Lanka.
India has refused to condemn Syria’s brutal crackdown on its own citizens. There, it was pure cynicism on the part of South Block (India’s Ministry of External Affairs) knowing that India won’t take a hit for not condemning Syria’s war against its people.
For Sri Lanka, it’s infinitely more complicated.