Is Internet Access A Human Right?

An internet cafe in Istanbul. (UGUR CAN/AFP/Getty Images)

A curious op ed appeared in The New York Times recently, titled “Internet Access is Not a Human Right.” In this piece—which I read as I do most news and media, via my computer—Vinton Cerf, a “father” of the Internet, makes an argument that despite the critical role of Information Communication Technologies (the internet) in the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, access to the Internet is not a human right.

I should note that his right to express himself so is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR):

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to… seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

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Amnesty Activism at Work: Dump DOMA!

Amnesty International activists take part in Gay Pride in Paris

On Tuesday, Amnesty International staff delivered the signatures of Amnesty activists and supporters to the U.S. Senate urging them to repeal DOMA and end discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

DOMA – or the “Defense of Marriage Act” – is a discriminatory law that denies lawfully married same-sex couples the right to access federal protections and benefits.

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Respect for Marriage Act (RMA) which would repeal DOMA and take an important step towards ending discrimination against same-sex couples.  Amnesty International submitted a letter of support for the Act and delivered the petitions directly to the Committee to show our support!

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Tell Arizona's Governor to Veto SB1070!!!

UPDATE: Much to our dismay, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed the immigration bill (SB1070) on Friday. We will continue the fight for immigrant rights.

The Arizona House and Senate have passed a bill (SB1070) that would empower police officers to stop and interrogate every individual in the state regarding citizenship status and make it a crime to be an undocumented person in Arizona. If a person does not immediately present documents proving that she is legally in the US, she may be criminally prosecuted, jailed and turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation. The bill contains no safeguards against racial profiling and increases the likelihood of arbitrary arrest and detention. These are all human rights violations. Because SB1070 has already passed in the Arizona house, it’s next stop is the governor’s office. Tell Governor Jan Brewer to veto the bill. Join activists across the US as they visit the Governor on April 20th to express opposition to this bill.

Governor Jan Brewer’s Contact Information:
Phone number: 1-800-253-0883
Email: azgov@az.gov

The scapegoating of migrants, the deliberate fueling of fear and the nurturing of discriminatory, racist and xenophobic sentiments by some politicians and parts of the media have been accompanied by measures that have trampled on some of the most basic human rights of migrants, including the right to liberty and security of the person. Much of the public debate about migration is couched in terminology which is loaded and derogatory. People trying to enter another country are vilified as “illegal immigrants”, “gate-crashers”, and even as “invaders” seeking to breach the defenses of the US with malicious intent. The clear implication is that they are abusing the system and exploiting the generosity of states. Such descriptions create the impression not only that migrants have no right to enter, but that they have no rights at all.

The Right to be Free from Racial Profiling Discrimination

Discrimination through racial profiling is an assault on the very notion of human rights. It is all too easy to deny a person’s human rights if you consider them as less than human. This is why international human rights law is grounded in the principle of non-discrimination. The drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated explicitly that they considered non-discrimination to be the basis of the Declaration.

Discrimination enshrined in law, for example, where the law is used to target individuals based on nationality or ethnicity, strips away human rights. Discrimination in law enforcement can mean that certain groups are viewed by the authorities as ”potential criminals” and so are more likely to be arrested and imprisoned. It can also mean that they are more likely to suffer harsher treatment once in the criminal justice system.

Arbitrary Arrest and Detention

The right to liberty and security of the person is protected in Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the US has signed and ratified. The right to a speedy trial is guaranteed under Article 9(3), which states that all detained arrestees are “entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release” and that it “should not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody.” Article 9(4) protects detainees from unlawful detention, stating that “[a]nyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court, in order that court may decide without delay on the lawfulness of his detention and order his release if the detention is not lawful.” Improper use of detention interferes with fundamental human rights crucial to protection of the inherent dignity of migrants. Migrants have the right to liberty and to freedom from arbitrary detention (Article 9 of the ICCPR; Articles 3 and 9 of the UDHR, Article 16 of the Migrant Workers’ Convention). This means that detention should be subject to constraints, including the requirement that the detention is in accordance with the law, justified in the individual case as a necessary and proportionate measure and subject to judicial review. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has adopted Deliberation No. 5 concerning the situation of immigrants and asylum-seekers. This sets out principles concerning people held in custody and a number of safeguards governing detention. These include the right of detainees to be told why they are being held, to communicate with the outside world, to have legal counsel and contact with consular authorities and to be brought promptly before a judicial or other authority. It also recommends that a maximum period of detention should be set by law and that custody may “in no case” be prolonged or indefinite

Happy Human Rights Day! Now get to work!

Human Rights Day - © AI

Human Rights Day - © AI

The date of December 10th was chosen to honor the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) more than sixty years ago today. The declaration says that every human being deserves dignity, freedom and respect. It is the first blueprint for our global rights and continues to light the way for our work today.

Protecting human rights may sound like a major undertaking, but here are 5 simple things that you can do to stand up for our universal rights today – on Human Rights Day – and for as long as it takes until human rights are realized and protected in every corner of the world.

  1. Write a letter. Save a life.
  2. The Global Write-a-thon is the biggest Amnesty International event all year. It also uses one of the oldest (and most powerful) weapons of the human rights movement – writing letters.

    We’ve seen it work! Just last year, Ma Khin Khin Leh, a school teacher in Myanmar and Hana Abdi, a women’s rights advocate in Iran, were both released from prison soon after Write-a-thon letters overwhelmed their respective government offices.

    Your letters can bring justice and human rights back to people who need it.

  3. Make a video – tell your best human rights story.
  4. Each month, YouTube’s Video Volunteers program asks folks to make videos about organizations working on a particular issue. This month’s issue is human rights. To participate, make a promotional, less than 3-minute video about a human rights organization whose work you admire. Submit it by December 21, 2009. The top 3 videos will appear on the YouTube homepage at the end of the month.

  5. Urge elected officials and corporations around the world to take action on key human rights issues
  6. Send emails directly to those responsible for ongoing human rights violations involving issues such as poverty, indefinite detention, torture and the death penalty.

  7. Write a blog on human rights and help spread the word!
  8. Your opinion counts. Blog about a human rights issue that is important to you and help get others involved.

  9. Oh yeah, join Amnesty International!
  10. For nearly 50 years, our worldwide network of activists have helped free political prisoners from jail and bring brutal human rights abuses to an end.  By joining one of the largest and most effective human rights organizations in the world, you can stand on the front lines of change.

Iran: Release Soltani

Abdolfattah Soltani was arrested at his office in central Tehran, at around four in the afternoon, on 16 June by four plainclothes security officials. The officials, who did not have a search warrant, a summons or arrest warrant, carried out a search of his office. They confiscated his files, his briefcase, his computers and his mobile phone before taking him away.

Abdolfattah Soltani is a member of the Center for the Defense of Human Rights which Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Shirin Ebadi and many other leading human rights activists founded in 2002. It was forcibly closed in December 2008 shortly before the center was to hold an event commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The CHRD, whose members continue to work under the name of the center, has three stated roles: reporting violations of human rights in Iran; providing free legal representation to political prisoners; and supporting the families of political prisoners.

Abdolfattah Soltani was represented the cases of prisoner of conscience Akbar Ganji, an investigative reporter who uncovered the still unpunished complicity of various governmentofficials in the murder of intellectuals and journalists in the 1990s, and the family of Zahra Kazemi,an Iranian-Canadian journalist who died in custody in Evin prison in July 2003. In Zahra Kazemi’s case, a Ministry of Intelligence official was tried and acquitted of her ‘semi-intentional’ murder. Hehad been considered a scapegoat for a senior judicial figure, and following the acquittal, Kazemi’s family, represented by Abdolfattah Soltani, appealed to the Supreme Court, to launch a newinvestigation into her death in custody.

Mr. Soltani was arrested in 2005 and spent 219 days in detention, of which 43 were in solitary confinement. In July 2006 he was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment by Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court for “disclosing confidential documents,” for which he received a sentence of four years; and one year’s imprisonment for “propaganda against the system.” The evidential basis for the charges brought against Abdolfattah Soltani was reportedly not made clear in the charge sheet or by the prosecution during the trial. According to reports, the verdict was issued with neither Abdolfattah Soltani nor his lawyers being summoned to court to hear it, and they were not given a copy of the verdict. Of his trial and the verdict, he said, “Neither me nor my lawyers were called for the court session mentioned in the verdict. We were unable to defend my case because we never saw the main evidence listed in the indictment.”

Abdolfattah Soltani has stated “my crime is accepting political cases including cases of journalists, students, and two nuclear defendants, otherwise, I did not break the law. They are trying to treat me in a way so that no other lawyer would accept political cases.”

To take action on his case, click here

Putting a Face to Internet Censorship

I wasn’t going to post again today, but I was just reading Erica’s post, and I went to Daily Kos to check out the comments. One commenter was of the opinion that free speech is just an American construct, and others responded that freedom of expression and information are acutally guaranteed in Article 19 of the UDHR and also in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which China is a signatory. That’s good to know, but that level of discussion can make it easy to forget about the actual human cost of governments not respecting those human rights, and corporations not standing up for them.

Shi Tao knows this cost all too well. In April 2005, Chinese authorities sentenced him to 10 years in prison for using his Yahoo! email account to send a message to a U.S.-based pro-democracy website. Authorities used email account holder information supplied by Yahoo! to convict Shi Tao, and since then he has been suffering the consequences of his government’s lack of respect for freedom of expression and of Yahoo’s refusal to stand up for human rights. In addition to all the years he’s spent in jail, he’s lost his wife, who was pressured into divorcing him, and his mother faces regular harrassment.

So while it’s important to have these discussions about international law and international human rights standards, it’s equally important to remember the human suffering that results when profits and power are valued over rights.

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.

The Price of Silence

Anniversaries are a dime a dozen. We’ve got days for everything. Sled Dog Day. Bubble Gum Day. Ballet Day. Dump Your Significant Jerk Day.  I’m not kidding. Today is different.

60 years ago this December 10th – after the horrors of World War II – the world came together to unanimously pass the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Not one nation dissented (though a few abstained). The declaration says that every human being deserves dignity, freedom and respect.  It’s the first blueprint for global rights, establishing fundamental freedoms for every human being.

I guess years of a hellish war have a way of teaching you what’s important.

60 years later, millions if not billions still suffer from tyranny, torture, injustice and inequality. Amnesty International reported earlier this year that the world’s leaders owe an apology for failing to deliver on the promise of justice and equality in the UDHR.

16 global musicians aren’t waiting around for the apology. Instead they collaborated on a new music video project called “The Price of Silence”. The video features artists who’ve personally fled oppressive regimes:

  • Yungchen Lhamo (Tibet) was born in a Chinese labor camp and left Tibet in 1989 at the age of 22, trekking across the Himalayas with her two-year old son to escape oppression from the Chinese regime.
  • Alicia Partnoy is a survivor from the secret detention camps where about 30,000 Argentineans “disappeared.”
  • Emmanuel Jal was born in war-torn Sudan in the early 1980s. He was taken from his family home in 1987 when he was six years old, and sent to fight with the rebel army in Sudan’s bloody civil war.
  • Chiwoniso recently relocated from Zimbabwe to the United States in August 2008, removing herself and her two children from the political and economic unrest there.

Other artists include Hugh Masekela, Julieta Venegas, , Angelique Kidjo, Aterciopelados, Yerba Buena, Natacha Atlas, Rachid Taha, Kiran Ahluwalia, Natalie Merchant, and Chali 2Na of Jurassic 5.

Don’t be silent. Watch it, and pass it on.  Even to just one friend, one family member.

You can also buy the track on iTunes. All proceeds go to support Amnesty International’s life saving work.

Special thanks to Link TV, Nacional Records, Aterciopelados, music producer Adres Levin (and his organization Music Has No Enemies) and video director Josh Atesh Litle for their help creating “The Price of Silence”.

How Will YOU Celebrate Human Rights Day?

Now, the outgoing Bush administration’s plans for celebrating Human Rights Day ’08 can finally be revealed!  On December 10, they are going to carry out the first U.S. Military execution in 47 years, when they put Ronald Gray to death by lethal injection.  According to CNN and several other media sources, Private Ronald Gray, a former soldier from North Carolina, is set to be executed at a federal prison in Terra Haute, Indiana by Army personnel.  His execution was approved by President Bush in July.

While there is a possibility that a federal appeals court could stay the execution, the military expects it to take place as scheduled.  The last military execution was performed in 1961, during the Kennedy administration, but was approved previously by President Eisenhower

In a not un-related story, yesterday the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee voted 105-48 to continue to press for a moratorium on executions worldwide.  As the AP dryly notes, “The United States sided with countries such as Iran, China and Syria in opposing the resolution.” 

Last year, the UN General Assembly passed a landmark resolution (pdf) urging all nations to declare a moratorium on executions with an eye to complete abolition of the death penalty.  As Amnesty International noted, the vote then was 104-54, so the anti-death penalty forces have picked up another vote, and several countries have moved from “no” votes into the “abstain” column.  These included Arab nations Bahrain, Jordan, Mauritania and Oman.  A final vote of the General Assembly, almost certainly with the same result, should take place next month.

It’s just my opinion, by I think passage of this resolution would be a much more appropriate way to celebrate Human Rights Day ’08, and the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, than what the government of the USA has in mind. 

Here’s another great way to celebrate Human Rights Day this year!