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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Afghan Women Spoke and Congress Listened

afghan women protest

Afghan Young Women for Change (YWC) activists, holding placards which read “where is justice?”, take part in a protest denouncing violence against women in Afghanistan in Kabul on April 14, 2012.

The U.S. Senate took a critical step to prioritize security needs of Afghan women and girls! Yesterday, Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) introduced the Afghan Women and Girls Security Promotion Act of 2012.

If enacted, this crucial piece of legislation would require the Department of Defense to develop a three-part strategy to promote and support the security of Afghan women and girls during and after the security transition process. The bill would support Afghan women’s rights by:
• Improving monitoring and response to women’s security conditions.
• Increasing recruitment and retention of women in the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) by reducing barriers to women’s participation.
• Improving gender sensitivity among ANSF personnel by requiring training related to the human rights of women and girls and by strengthening enforcement and accountability.

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Afghan Women to NATO: Don’t Bargain Our Rights Away

afghan women at school

Afghan teacher Meher Afroza with her students at an Islamic school in Kabul. Under the Taliban, few girls attended school. Today 3 million girls go to school, and 20 percent of university of graduates are women. (Photo: ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images)

World leaders, dignitaries and reporters will convene in Chicago next week for the 2012 NATO summit, and among the urgent questions they will consider is that of Afghanistan’s future after the 2014 withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops.

Yet Afghanistan’s female leaders were denied a place at the table for these critical discussions—despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s promise that the United States would not forsake the rights of Afghan women.

Indeed, recent developments signal that the significant but tenuous gains Afghan women have made over the past decade are mere bargaining chips in negotiations between U.S., Afghan and Taliban leaders seeking to expedite the transition to Afghan rule. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has proposed a program of “reintegration and reconciliation” with the Taliban that holds grim implications for women and girls, and in March he briefly endorsed an edict issued by a council of clerics that would allow husbands to beat their wives in certain situations and encourage gender segregation in workplaces and schools.

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Is the US Abandoning Afghan Women?

afghan women protest

Afghan Young Women for Change (YWC) activists, holding placards which read "where is justice?", take part in a protest denouncing violence against women in Afghanistan in Kabul on April 14, 2012.

President Obama made an announced visit to Afghanistan on May 1 to sign an agreement intended to lead to a pullback of US troops from Afghanistan by 2014. The document is very specific on issues around the arrangements related to security and interestingly, trade and commerce but inadequate when talk to turns to human rights in general and specifically women’s rights.

Amnesty will continue to urge the US government to implement an action plan to protect and promote women’s rights in Afghanistan as they pull back from the country.

Women in Afghanistan, however, aren’t waiting around for vague assurances by the US and Afghan governments. They are taking matters into their own hands and demanding justice for the victims of past human rights violations and the promotion of human rights for all in their country.

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Punishing "Moral Crimes" in Afghanistan

afghan women protest

Afghan Young Women for Change (YWC) activists, holding placards which read "where is justice?", take part in a protest denouncing violence against women in Afghanistan in Kabul on April 14, 2012.

Despite enormous improvements to women’s livelihoods in the decade since the fall of the Taliban, much action is needed by the Afghan government and the international community.

For example, women in Afghanistan face some of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, more than half of all girls in the country do not attend school, and many women are forced into marriage shortly after puberty.

To make matter worse, women can face the prospect of being jailed for reporting violence perpetrated against them as reported in Human Rights Watch’s new report, detailing the detention of 400 women and girls imprisoned in the country for “moral crimes”.

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US: Don’t Abandon Afghan Women

“We will not abandon you, we will stand with you always . . . [it is] essential that women’s rights and women’s opportunities are not sacrificed or trampled in the reconciliation process.” -U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton speaking to female Afghan officials in 2010

President Obama and Secretary Clinton’s legacy on women’s human rights will face a defining moment with the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

When the U.S. and NATO entered Afghanistan in 2001, one of the justifications of the mission was to ensure the protection of human rights, including women’s rights. More than ten years later, peace talks between the Taliban, the Afghan government and the U.S. jeopardize women’s human rights.

So where is the Obama Administration’s plan to protect and advance human rights in Afghanistan?

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US: Don’t Abandon Afghan Women

By Elsie De Laere, Afghanistan Country Specialist

Afghan women's rights activists

In his article “As priorities shift, US steps back from goals for Afghan women”,  published in the Washington Post on Sunday, Rajiv Chandrasekaran describes the quiet changes made by the US administration to divert the focus on the rights of Afghan women to ‘other priorities’.

As the Amnesty Afghanistan country specialist, I have invested a lot of energy and passion during the past four years, both here and in Afghanistan on behalf of Afghan women. I have served as a volunteer teacher trainer in Kabul and other provinces during nine trips between the summer of 2004 and spring of 2010.  Even though I admit I was always wary of the US and NATO public media efforts we were there in part to liberate the Afghan women, I witnessed first hand the little progress that was made on this issue.

I am dismayed to read that the US administration is considering the cause of women’s rights as a ‘pet project’, not a priority. When the going gets tough (as in security being worse now than some years ago), the women once again are shoved aside and resources are diverted.

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Success! Senate Holds Powerful Hearing on Women's Rights

Exciting news in the struggle to ratify CEDAW: the Senate is finally moving forward to ratify the Treaty for the Rights of Women, or CEDAW.

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, chaired by Senator Durbin, held a hearing on CEDAW. The hearing, “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights: U.S. Ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)”, featured several high profile women’s rights advocates and U.S. government witnesses, as well as a huge crowd of supporters.

An exciting group of human rights activists headlined by the stunning actress Geena Davis testified on the importance of ratification. Davis spoke poignantly of being a mother and having her three children, two boys and a girl, able to equally participate in sports and other activities. She voiced her support for CEDAW because she envisions a world where women and girls around the world have the same possibilities and opportunities as children in the U.S.

Wazhma Frogh from the Afghan Women’s Network told a heartbreaking story from her own life. In Afghanistan, girls were only supposed to clean the family’s garden, but Wazhma wanted to play with her male cousin. When her grandfather found out, he broke all of her toys as an illustration of what would happen to her if she broke any family rules again. As a result of her experiences, Wazhma has been fighting for women’s human rights in Afghanistan and has used CEDAW to deliver real change for Afghan women.

Testifying at the hearing for the U.S. government was Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State. She testified that in her travels, the number one question she is asked time and time again is, “Why hasn’t the United States ratified CEDAW?” She told the subcommittee that “some governments use the fact that the U.S. has not ratified the treaty as a pretext for not living up to their own obligations under it.” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Samuel Bagenstos from the Civil Rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice also testified in support of CEDAW.

CEDAW addresses basic human rights of women. It can be a crucial tool to reduce violence and discrimination against women and girls, ensure girls and women receive the same access as boys and men to education and health care, and secure basic legal recourse to women and girls against violations and abuses of their human rights. Amnesty International has been working in coalition to ratify CEDAW and worked hard to make this hearing such a huge success. AIUSA submitted testimony to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee in support of ratification, which can be read here.

Help us take advantage of this important opportunity by taking action and calling on Senator Kerry to work for ratification and hold a hearing on CEDAW. Let’s show the Senate that we want them to ratify the Treaty for the Rights of Women!