Human Rights Flashpoints

This is the first edition of Human Rights Flashpoints, a weekly column about countries at risk of escalating human rights violations.

SUDAN—Abyei decision and border skirmish with Chad

Tensions are rising in South Sudan. Both northerners and southerners in Sudan are awaiting the final ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on the boundaries of Abyei, which will come on Wednesday. The borders of Abyei were one of the most sensitive issues left undecided in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended the civil war between the North and the South. The BBC reports that the verdict is seen as a key test of the peace process. U.N. Special Representative Ashraf Qazi accused South Sudan over the weekend of having soldiers in Abyei but said he was “reassured” on Monday when the army took steps to withdraw its soldiers.

In a separate development, Sudan referred Chad to the U.N. Security Council on Monday, after the Sudanese army accused Chad of launching an air raid and attacking west Darfur district with two planes on Thursday. Khartoum claims that this is the fourth raid N’Djamena has carried out in Sudan in two months. Reuters reports that Sudan is claiming France, a permanent member of the Security Council, is supporting Chad’s attacks in Sudan.

Must Reads


“All these armed groups must be immediately withdrawn to outside the area, and.. the international community [is] closely monitoring the situation in and around Abyei and expects all sides to behave in the most responsible manner in order to avoid violence.”
Ashraf Qazi, U.N. Special Representative for Sudan, July 18, 2009.

“While the members of the international community will be on hand in Abyei to witness the announcement of the panel’s decision and to assist as appropriate with its implementation, it will ultimately be the responsibility of the two parties to ensure lasting peace, stability and security in Abyei, as well as continued implementation of the CPA.”
Ian Kelly, U.S. Department of State Spokesman, July 14, 2009.

IRAN—Call for referendum and Global Day of Action

While we can expect major protests around the world this weekend, the situation in Iran remains tense. Former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami has called for a national referendum on the legitimacy of the current government in light of last month’s electoral uprising. Khatami was quoted as saying:

“The only way out of the current situation is to hold a referendum.  People should be asked whether they are happy with the current situation … If the vast majority of people are happy with the current situation, we will accept it as well.”

This call joins a long string of challenges to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini’s demand that Mahmoud Ahmedinejad be accepted as the president of the Islamic Republic. Mir Hussain Mousavi, Ahmedinejad’s main opponent during the election cycle, also released a statement yesterday insisting on the immediate release of detained protesters while also laughing off the supposed role of foreign powers during the uprising.

To date, at least 20 people have been killed during the violent protests following the June 12 election.  Hundreds of others, including politicians, journalists, and activists have been arrested and detained by police.

A Global Day of Action to demonstrate support for the civil rights movement in Iran has been planned by major human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, for this Saturday, July 25. To find events in your area, visit for a complete listing.

Must Reads


“Durability of order and continuation of the country’s progress hinge on restoring public trust.  From the start, we said there is a legal way to regain that trust.  I openly say now that the solution to get out of the current crisis is holding a referendum.”
Mohammed Khatami, former Iranian President, July 20, 2009

“Neither the president nor I have any illusions that direct dialogue with the Islamic Republic will guarantee success. But we also understand the importance of trying to engage Iran and offering its leaders a clear choice: whether to join the international community as a responsible member or to continue down a path to further isolation…. The time for action is now. The opportunity will not remain open indefinitely.”
Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State, July 15, 2009

“We’ve got some fixed national security interests in Iran not developing nuclear weapons, in not exporting terrorism, and we have offered a pathway for Iran to rejoining the international community.”
Barack Obama, July 11, 2009

Coming This Week

  • July 21: Presidential Task Forces on the War on Terror Fail to Meet Deadlines
  • July 21/22: Global Day of Action for the people of Gambia
  • July 21: Amnesty International USA 4:30pm rally at the Gambian embassy in Washington, DC to protest human rights abuses
  • July 22: Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague will issue a ruling on the boundary and status of Abyei, territory that lies at the juncture of South Sudan, North Sudan, and Darfur
  • July 22: Negotiations to resolve the crisis in Honduras to resume in San Jose, Costa Rica
  • July 25: Global Day of Action for Iran
  • Keep an eye out later on this week for a rebuttal to Khatami and Mousavi’s proposed referendum on the legitimacy of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s government

Juliette Rousselot and Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

Human Rights Flashpoints is a weekly column about countries at risk of escalating human rights violations and is brought to you by AIUSA’s Crisis Prevention and Response Campaign.

(Trying to) block out the world

On Thursday, March 12th, Amnesty USA posted a new web action aimed at getting Sudan to reinstate the operations of 13 international humanitarian aid agencies that were kicked out of Sudan and 3 domestic agencies that were shut down after the International Criminal cort issued an arrst warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.  The action targets the UN Missions of the African Union and League of Arab States and the Sudanese Embassy in the U.S.  

On Friday, calls from activists started pouring in, all with the same complaint: their emails to all three targets were being returned as “undeliverable”.   It would seem that facing a deluge of emails, the targets blocked their accounts from receiving incoming messages. So, now, Amnesty is asking activists to fax messages to these three targets urging them to persuade Sudan to rescind its orders.

The very people who ought to be looking out for the victims of the conflict in Darfur are trying to block words from reaching them that urge the continuance of life-saving support for millions of vulnerable men, women, and children.  Just as Sudan would pull the plug on this life-support system, people who could persuade Sudanese authorities to reinstate these 16 key aid groups are plugging their ears to the world’s outrage and urgent plea for help.

Anyone have any Doubts about al Bashir?

As Alertnet is reporting, relief efforts in Sudan are “plunging into Chaos” after Sudanese president Omar al Bashir ordered 16 relief organizations to pack up shop and leave. As one aid worker described it:

“Everything is crazy. Most of the agencies thrown out don’t think they’re going to get back so they’re trying to work out how to transfer everything to agencies still in Sudan.”

Or in plain UN language:

These 16 organizations employ nearly 40 percent of the aid workers in Darfur – 6,500 national and international workers. The total number of humanitarian staff affected by the Government decision in northern Sudan, including Darfur, is 7,610, of which 308 of that number are international staff and 7302 are national.

(…) the Humanitarian Country team in Sudan reports the following implications of the resulting decision by the Government to halt the programs of these 16 NGOs:

1) 1.5 million beneficiaries will no longer have access to health and nutrition services. (…)

2) Water supply, sanitation and hygiene services provided by these NGOs to 1.16 million people will soon be interrupted (…)

3) Some 1.1 million people will stop receiving general food distribution and the treatment of some 4,000 children for severe and moderate malnutrition over the next three months could be interrupted.

As you can see, there are enough reports, analyses and resources on the developments in Sudan out there (thankfully also on its wider implications). However, you should also have your own say on the dramatic developments in Sudan and – more importantly – share your opinion with the people who can contribute to reinstating the aid organizations.

Bashir Behind Bars?

I welcome today’s history-making announcement of an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Bashir.  Since 2003 I have been part of Amnesty International’s global quest to put an end to Bashir’s policies that have hurt hundreds of thousands of Darfuri civilians.  Since 2005 Bashir has prevented Amnesty from entering Darfur – but still we found a way to pull of this attempt at a blindfold over our eyes- by taking  to the skies to tell the stories and exposing the truth.  Now one day Bashir will tell his own story in the Hague.

For the Darfuri victims of widespread rape, murder, torture and forced expulsions, today’s prosecution of Bashir is an important step to stop their suffering and move toward peace and security in this conflict-ridden region.  And with this history-making gesture toward a sitting head of state, the International Criminal Court has told abusers everywhere there is no ‘get out of jail free card’ for simply being in power.

So President Bashir, stop the vitriol, drink the bitter pill and do us all a favor, and opt to have your day in Court.  Because we will not rest until you do, the 2 million Amnesty International members voices globally who will assert our pressure on you, the government of Sudan, and any member of the United Nation who’s soil you may enter as a fugitive.

Check out my article on the Atlantic Community for more on Bashir’s prosecution.

A step towards justice for Darfur?

The ICC’s pre-trial chamber has issued an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir, the head of state of Sudan. Already, the government in Khartoum has rejected the court’s decision.

The government of Sudan must comply with the arrest warrant. The ICC case against al-Bashir and already-issued arrest warrants against Ahmed Haroun and Janjaweed leader Ali Muhammad Ali Abd al-Rahman must proceed without delay. The United States–no traditional friend of the ICC–joins the ranks this morning of states and peoples around the world who demand justice for violations of the most inviolable prescriptions of international law.

Irene Khan, the Secretary General of Amnesty International echoed the legal obligations of Sudan: “The law is clear. President al-Bashir must appear before the ICC to defend himself. If he refuses to do so, the Sudanese authorities must ensure he is arrested and surrendered immediately to the ICC.”

Amnesty has long campaigned for justice for Darfur, and campaigned for Khartoum to cooperate with the ICC. Omar al-Bashir’s war crimes, steadfast obstruction of justice, and evident crimes against humanity have placed him rightly among other indicted international criminals. His role as head of state of Sudan is not a shield against the law; while he has been happy to use his power to violate the law and create an a climate of impunity, that power must–and will–bend to the most fundamental notions of justice.

Stay tuned here as news and analysis continues to develop throughout the day…

Justice for Darfur

In the next few weeks, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is expected to hand down its decision about indicting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.  Organizations such as the African Union and the Arab League are lobbying the UN Security Council to implement Article 16 of the Rome Statute, which would suspend any deliberations on the case against Bashir for a year with the possibility of an annual renewal.


We need to be wary of using the possibility of International Criminal Court indictments as a carrot and stick in seeking to end the conflict in Darfur.  Deferring the case of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir sets up a catastrophic precedent whereby politics dictates the course of justice.  Amnesty International has advocated against such interference in the ICC from the court’s inception.


More importantly, we must not forget what Darfuris directly affected by nearly six years of state-sponsored terror want – justice.  Tens of thousands of Darfuris have signed petitions asking that the case against Bashir not be deferred.  We must listen to them.

What the UDHR Means to Me

The United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), proposed by Eleanor Roosevelt and adopted by the United Nations in 1948 established 30 articles of universal Human Rights. This document establishes and protects the framework for civilized and respectful interaction between all people and nations no matter what their political, religious or cultural beliefs. Over 190 nations have ratified this declaration; and yet surveys show that more people can name 3 members of the Homer Simpson TV Cartoon family than they can name three of their basic human rights. You can’t defend what you do not know.

At a time when we see women being stoned to death, child executions, people starving in the Eastern Sudan, children being stolen from their families and made into child-soldiers or prostitutes, prisoners being water-boarded, millions of people starving and dying of AIDS each year – we have to ask: what can human rights education do? My answer is everything. It’s where it all begins.

A friend once told me a story I will never forget. In the early 1940’s there was a young black boy in the Deep South, a sharecropper’s son. He went to school in a one-room, tattered schoolhouse. One morning, sitting by himself, he opened a third-hand, torn Civics text book. He read a page – The United States Bill of Rights. He read it again. He looked around and what he saw were white only schools, white only restrooms, and “sit on the back of the bus”. It didn’t make sense. And at that single moment, education, as it does for all of us, made that young Black boy more aware – and he decided to do something about it. His name was Martin Luther King Jr., and the rest is history.

Nelson Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can learn to love.”

Human rights violations know no borders. From child soldiers in the Congo, ethnic cleansing in Darfur, to the rise in human trafficking right here in the US, it is easy to see that the whole world needs to change.

By knowing all 30 Articles of the UDHR we can be equipped with the knowledge to fight against any injustice anywhere in the world. On this 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration, with all the turmoil that currently exists in the world, it has become more important than ever for people to know their rights, to pass them onto others, and to defend them relentlessly.

The solution to global issues such as poverty, famine, war and political unrest is encompassed by the UDHR, and human rights education is the first step in resolving these issues at a grassroots level.

I hope to see the day when human rights education becomes a mandatory part of every middle school curriculum on every continent across the world, so that every man, woman and child knows and can defend their God-given rights.

A Stronger US Stance Against Mass Atrocities?

With every day that passes, grave human rights violations continue in places like Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burma. President-elect Barack Obama’s recent personnel decisions have fostered speculations that we will see a stronger US stance against the mass atrocities that are perpetrated in these countries.

Obama’s most recent pick: Today, he nominated Susan Rice as US Ambassador to the United Nations. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2007, Rice has described US policy towards the crisis in Darfur as “Inaction in the Face of Genocide”. Jerry Fowler of the Save Darfur Coalition praised the appointment and said Obama’s decision “sends a very strong signal about his approach to the issue of Sudan and Africa in general”.

Recently, Obama selected Samantha Power as a member of the Agency Review Team that will review the US State Department to make policy, budgetary and personnel recommendations. With her seminal work, A problem from hell. America and the Age of Genocide, Power has inspired scores of people in this country – including myself – to act against mass atrocities.

Will Rice and Power’s expertise and commitment to stopping mass atrocities be enough to actually change the priorities of US foreign policy?

Posted in USA