Violence in South Africa

South African police  block a march by protesting miners in Rustenburg after a security crackdown in the restive platinum belt where officers shot dead 34 strikers (Photo Credit: Alexander Joe/AFP/GettyImages).

South African police block a march by protesting miners in Rustenburg after a security crackdown in the restive platinum belt where officers shot dead 34 strikers (Photo Credit: Alexander Joe/AFP/GettyImages).

The prevalence and acceptance of violence in South Africa is disturbing. Almost 20 years after the fall of Apartheid, it is still a country deeply divided along racial, ethnic and political lines. The recent attack on a Mozambican taxi driver is simply one such example. One need only look to the police attacks on protesting miners in Johannesburg that led to the deaths of 34 miners and more than 70 injuries in 2012, or the fact that South Africa has one of the highest incidences of violence against women (and children) in the world, to understand how violence threatens this “Rainbow nation.”

Violence is not something only perpetrated in the townships of the country, but rather it is perpetrated at, and by, the highest echelons of society. When a country allows individuals who are specifically tasked to protect its citizens, such as police officers and civil servants, to commit acts of atrocity with little to no reprisal, what is the hope that ordinary citizens will not resort to such violence? Who are our role models?

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Death Penalty In 2012: Seven Significant Signs

A final tally of the Connecticut legislature's  vote to abolish the death penalty.

A final tally of the Connecticut legislature’s vote to abolish the death penalty.

By this time at the end of the year, states have generally stopped killing their prisoners. This break from executions is a good thing, and perhaps this year it will give us a chance to reflect on the larger question of our violent culture, and on how perhaps we can start focusing on preventing terrible crimes rather than simply responding with more violence.

The end of the year is also a time for looking back. Fortunately, this is also the time of year when the Death Penalty Information Center releases its year-end report, which provides a lot of good data. This year’s version reveals the geographically arbitrary (and increasingly isolated) nature of capital punishment in the U.S. In 2012, death sentences and executions maintained their historically low levels, and only nine states actually carried out an execution.  In fact, the majority of U.S. states have not carried out an execution in the last five years. Just four states were responsible for around three-fourths of the country’s executions, and four states issued about two thirds of U.S. death sentences.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Senseless Violence from Beirut to Ohio

Witness room facing the execution chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville,Ohio

Ohio execution chamber, 2009 CAROLINE GROUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images

The life of Abdul Hamin Awkal has been punctuated by violence. And on June 6, unless the Governor of Ohio steps in, his life will end in the violence of execution.

Born in Beirut in 1959, he grew up in a family with an abusive father and a history of mental illness. In 1975, when he was a teenager, the Lebanese civil war broke out, unleashing waves of violence. There followed 8 years of witnessing dismembered bodies, bombings and kidnappings. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Destined for Disaster?

When, last September, Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich stopped the execution of Joseph Murphy and granted him clemency, he reasoned that a childhood of “severe and sustained verbal, physical and sexual abuse from those who should have loved him” had left Murphy “destined for disaster.”

In that statement, Governor Kasich acknowledged our society’s cycle (really, progression) of violence – from child abuse to murder to execution – and acted to stop it.  (At least for this one case – Ohio has 14 more executions scheduled between now and January 2014.)

Delaware’s Board of Pardons and Governor face a similar choice in the case of Robert Gattis, who is slated to be put to death on January 20.  Gattis suffered through a childhood experts have described as “catastrophic to his development.”  Beginning as a small child, he was raped and molested and otherwise physically abused, by multiple abusers, including close family members.  This seriously impaired his ability to function as an adult.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

From Chaos To Progress, But Not Without Bloodshed

As beautiful as the country is, Brazil has suffered for decades from the creation and development of shantytowns, known to locals as favelas, where poverty, violence and anarchy frequently dictate a ruthless way of life. The absence of state presence in the communities has made of favelas perfect centers for drug trafficking and violence. Major cities throughout the country, especially in the state of Rio de Janeiro, have fallen victims of this troubling situation.

Foto: Silvia Izquierdo/AP (Rio de Janeiro 11/25/10)In a desperate attempt to establish some form of security, a couple of years ago, Rio de Janeiro’s authorities created the state’s Pacifying Police Units (UPP), which have been welcome by the local and neighboring communities.  UPPs have been established in 13 slums, and have been coupled with other efforts intended to bring basic services to the local communities.  The objective is to provide favelas with safety and basic services, in order to reduce local violence and relentless drug-trafficking crimes. As a result, it appears that after decades of negligence and chaos, favelas may soon join the country’s socioeconomic progress, but not without a fight.

Favela Lords are showcasing their tactics, designed to remind everyone of their power and ability to be violent.  It has become evident that they will not be displaced without bloodshed.  In the last few weeks, Favela Lords have created havoc in their own towns.  Indeed, in a huge sign of defiance, on Nov. 21, 2010 they began a series of attacks against the local inhabitants and police.  Up until last week, well over 100 vehicles had been burned and dozens of people had been hurt and attacked.Their objective is to instill fear in the community in order to retain control of the favelas.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Rio de Janeiro, Victimized by Drug Dealers

Tactical police stand by in front of the Intercontinental Hotel, in Sao Conrado Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 21, 2010. (c) ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP/Getty Images

Rio de Janeiro is back on the headlines.  This time it’s not for its role future role hosting the World Cup in 2014 or the Olympic games in 2016.  Rather, violence is again taking primary stage in the city.

On August 21st, 10 heavily armed drug dealers invaded a five stars hotel in Rio de Janeiro.  They took over 30 hostages for well over two hours. The InterContinental Hotel in Sao Conrado is located near Vidigal and Rocinha, two of Rio’s largest slums or favelas in Rio. According to local police, the men entered the Hotel to escape police gunshots.  Although the hostages were released, a woman died during the confrontation between the police and drug dealers.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated episode of violence in Rio de Janeiro.

Events as this one are just the tip of the iceberg related with the endemic violence originated by the drug trafficking industry in Rio. Drug dealers and militias make poor areas in Rio a ‘parallel’ power, leaving the government with limited or no control and influence in these communities.  Amnesty International believes that with their power over communities for illicit economic and political gain, militias threatened the lives of thousands of residents and the very institutions of the state. Public authorities, police officers and even judges receive repeated death threats from the militias. State authorities mounted a series of operations to combat the activities of the militias, leading to a number of arrests, but so far these efforts weren’t enough to stop violence in Rio.

Authorities should invest heavily in security in Brazil, not only to be able to host international events like the Olympic Games, but mainly to bring peace and safety to the local population, which is tired of living in fear and on the margin of the society.

Top 10 Summer Book List for Human Rights Advocates

Here at Amnesty, our staffers have put together a list of books on our summer reading list for human rights. We invite you to read with us as we look to books, non-fiction and fiction alike, on issues in today’s world. Here are our top 10 summer must-reads!

1.) Anil’s Ghost: A Novel
by: Michael OndaatjeAnil's Ghost

Summary: With his first novel since the internationally acclaimed The English Patient, Booker Prize—winning author Michael Ondaatje gives us a work displaying all the richness of imagery and language and the piercing emotional truth that we have come to know as the hallmarks of his writing. Anil’s Ghost transports us to Sri Lanka, a country steeped in centuries of tradition, now forced into the late twentieth century by the ravages of civil war. Into this maelstrom steps Anil Tissera, a young woman born in Sri Lanka, educated in England and America, who returns to her homeland as a forensic anthropologist sent by an international human rights group to discover the source of the organized campaigns of murder engulfing the island. What follows is a story about love, about family, about identity, about the unknown enemy, about the quest to unlock the hidden past–a story propelled by a riveting mystery. Unfolding against the deeply evocative background of Sri Lanka’s landscape and ancient civilization, Anil’s Ghost is a literary spellbinder–Michael Ondaatje’s most powerful novel yet.*

2.) Chasing the Flame: One Man’s Fight to Save the World by: Samantha Power

Summary: In this perfect match of author and subject, Pulitzer Prize-winner Samantha Power tackles the life of Sergio Vieira de Mello, whose work for the U.N. before his 2003 death in Iraq was emblematic of moral struggle on the global stage. Power has drawn on a staggering breadth of research (including 400 interviews) to show us a heroic figure and the conflicts he waded into, from Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge to the slaughter in Bosnia to the war-torn Middle East. The result is a peerless portrait of humanity and pragmatism, as well as a history of our convulsive age.*

3.) Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
by: Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunnHalf the Sky

Summary: From two of our most fiercely moral voices, a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world. With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope. They show how a little help can transform the lives of women and girls abroad.*

4.) Woman at Point Zero: Second Edition
by: Nawal El SaadawiWoman at Point Zero

Summary: “All the men I did get to know, every single man of them, has filled me with but one desire: to lift my hand and bring it smashing down on his face. But because I am a woman I have never had the courage to lift my hand. And because I am a prostitute, I hid my fear under layers of make-up.” –Excerpt This is a new edition of the best-selling novel with a specially commissioned new Foreword by Miriam Cooke.*

5.) Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations
by: Ayaan Hirsi AliNomad

Summary: Ayaan Hirsi Ali captured the world’s attention with Infidel, her compelling coming-of-age memoir, which spent thirty-one weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Now, in Nomad, Hirsi Ali tells of coming to America to build a new life, an ocean away from the death threats made to her by European Islamists, the strife she witnessed, and the inner conflict she suffered. It is the story of her physical journey to freedom and, more crucially, her emotional journey to freedom—her transition from a tribal mind-set that restricts women’s every thought and action to a life as a free and equal citizen in an open society. Through stories of the challenges she has faced, she shows the difficulty of reconciling the contradictions of Islam with Western values.*

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Iraq: Civilians Under Fire

Seven years after the US invasion of Iraq, violence is still taking the lives of countless Iraqis. Amnesty International’s new report Iraq, Civilians Under Fire exposes the ongoing violence inflicted on minority groups including women, gay men, religious minorities, and human rights activists, journalists and refugees.

Kidnapping, torture and murder are used by militias, terrorist organizations and occasionally the government itself, often with impunity.

An Iraqi man sits in the ruins of a Kurdish village after a predawn suicide truck bombing in Wardek

An Iraqi man sits in the ruins of a Kurdish village after a predawn suicide truck bombing in Wardek

Women who are abused are not safe even in the few shelters that exist. Honor killings are rampant and those who perform them are not punished. Forced marriages, forced veiling and rape are common across the country.

Gay men have been living in fear since political and religious leaders started issuing fatwas against them. In Sadr City and Baghdad gay men and men perceived to be gay were kidnapped, tortured and killed in large numbers.

Christian, Yazidi, Sabean-Mandean and other religious communities have been harrassed and brutalized since 2003, their places of worship bombed, their religious leaders systematically killed. Individuals are stopped on the streets by groups of armed men and asked for their identification cards, which indicate their religion. If they belong to the “wrong” religious group, they are shot.

Human rights activists in Iraq who try to protect abused women, gay men or religious minorities are threatened and killed by the same militias, many of which are affiliated with members of the Iraqi parliament. Journalists who speak out against the corruption in the government which has allowed the continued arming of these militias have also been threatened and killed.

With around 2.7 million internally displaced Iraqis, 1.5 million Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries that threaten to send them back, 12,000 Palestinian refugees in Iraq and 4,300 Iranian refugees in Camp Ashraf, the situation in Iraq is dire.

In the coming weeks Amnesty International will launch actions addressing each of these issues. As a new Iraqi government takes shape in the next months, it’s vital that we let them know that the world is watching and expecting them to take responsibility for the safety and security of all of Iraq’s civilians, regardless of religious affiliation, gender, sexual orientation or belief.

WOZA Activists Beaten Today in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) took to the streets of Zimbabwe over the last two days to commemorate International Day of Peace. As the flyer they handed out during their march explains,

“[I]t is a year after the global political agreement (GPA) was signed on 15 September 2008. This deal was supposed to bring peace to Zimbabwe. The United Nations theme this year is: Better than a thousand empty words is ONE WORD that brings peace. The GPA contains 6,567 words but we are yet to see if these words really stand for peace. Because we are still waiting for peace, WOZA members decided to choose a theme that shows the politicians how they can bring meaning to their words: Our theme: Social Justice will bring Peace of Mind.”

Over 1,000 members of Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA/MOZA) took to the streets of Harare yesterday. Riot police responded but no arrests or violence occurred. Six simultaneous protests converged on the offices of the United Nations, where a petition asking the UN to help intervene in Zimbabwe to restore the health and education sectors was handed in to officials in the building. The petition also called on the UN to pressure the inclusive government to stop the harassment of vendors and ordinary Zimbabweans by police.

Today at noon in Bulawayo, 1300 human rights defenders came together to repeat yesterday’s march. Their songs were silenced however as riot police swooped, beating women and men alike, to disperse them from reaching their target at Mhlahlandlela Government complex. No arrests have been reported to date but WOZA leaders are still verifying whether everyone returned safely to their homes. One man had to be driven to the hospital as he was unable to walk after being beaten by four riot police at the same time; he has a fracture to his arm and doctors are still waiting to check his leg and lower back. Over twenty other members are also seeking medical treatment at this time for the brutal beatings they received at the hands of police.

A group of men watching the man being beaten tried to mobilise people to beat the police in retaliation. This action was quickly stopped by WOZA members who explained:

“We are non-violent activists and any history should write that the people who disturbed the peace with violence were Zimbabwe Republic Police officers, not peaceful human rights defenders.”

One of those who managed to side step the beatings was Jenni Williams, who proceeded to the government complex. They chanted slogans and left the placards and demands behind before walking peacefully away. A police vehicle was deployed to locate WOZA leaders Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu after a police officer said they should stop beating just anyone and look for the leaders to beat.

Since the power-sharing deal was signed in September 2008, 40 WOZA activists have been arrested on seven separate occasions after peaceful protests, WOZA leaders Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu spent three weeks in Mlondolozi Prison and hundreds of peaceful Zimbabweans citizens were brutally beaten by police for merely speaking out about the hardships in their lives.

I guess if you are beaten every other time you march you are still doing better than when you are beaten EVERY time you march…

Loss of Foreign Humanitarian Aid Brings Major Implications for the Honduran People in Need

As always, it is those with no resources that lose out first. Despite of the acute international pressure, protests, threats of violence and the possibility of a civil war, the arrogant power struggle the Honduran Government has been playing at, has led to a critical consequence: the European Union has officially suspended millions in aid to Honduras, as Washington suspends 18 million in military and development assistance, warning the facto Government of more “consequences” to come.

The European Union’s decision to suspend 65.5 million Euros in aid comes after failed attempts to negotiate talks for the resolution of the political crisis in the country, the worst political crisis in Central America in two decades. Recently negotiation talks were mediated by the Costa Rican president and Nobel Peace prize winner Oscar Arias, who proposed a six-point plan that first and foremost requests the reinstatement of Manuel Zelaya to finish his term until late January. Delegates speaking on behalf of the interim government said that Zelaya will be arrested if he returns to his country, a statement that ignores the claims of the United Nations and the international community. Among the other proposals put forth by President Arias is: to form a coalition government, to declare amnesty for political crimes, push for advancing elections and the resignation of Zelaya to a referendum, among other things.

It is a devastating problem for a country like Honduras to lose humanitarian aid and support of entities like the Organization of American States, the United Nations, the European Union and United States. For the members of the Honduran Congress who opted for not only an illegal, but a rebellious solution to resolve an issue in their administration, the loss of millions of Euros, may not be much. Though, the loss of foreign aid has a direct and instantaneous effect for the millions of Hondurans in need living in this impoverished nation. The Honduran government should react as soon as possible before we see more violations of human rights, or more acts of violence and attacks on democracy in Central America that already hangs by a thread.

Deposed President Zelaya took a few steps into Honduran territory on Friday, immediately turning back without being confronted. As of Sunday night, Manuel Zelaya remains on the Nicaraguan border with Honduras, where he has vowed to stay until allowed to enter the country.