Kenyan Human Rights Defender Arrested in Wake of Kampala Attack

A police post in Kampala, Uganda(c) Amnesty International

As the world was watching every dribble, pass, and shot of the World Cup final match, a bomb exploded in Kampala, Uganda killing 76 people. Now, Uganda is making matters worse by arbitrarily arresting and detaining Al-Amin Kimanthi, the head of the Muslim Human Rights Forum (MHRF) in Kenya.  Kimanthi was arrested on September 15 as he flew to Uganda to observe the trial of six other Kenyans on trial for the bombing. He was charged with terrorism and murder six days later.

Uganda and Kenya both have not followed international standards nor human rights law in their handling of Kimanthi’s case.  Beginning with his arbitrary arrest and six day detention without being charged, Kimanthi’s charge sheet has no evidence linking him to the bomb attack. Furthermore, Kenya has ignored his right to habeas corpus in his incognito transfer to Uganda.  Both Kenya and Uganda have failed to respect extradition procedures which require reciprocal warrants of arrests in both countries and judicial hearings.

It seems as though Kimanthi was arbitrarily arrested for carrying out his legitimate human rights work – providing legal support to the suspects charged in connection with the bomb attack.

Amnesty is calling on the Ugandan government to release Kimanthi or specify the charges against him. The perpetrators of the July, 2010 bombing in Kampala must be brought to justice, but this must not come at the expense of international human rights law and standards.

Not all fun and games in South Africa

As the first World Cup match between Mexico and South Africa kicks off today, it is not all fun and games for the homeless, refugees, migrants and street hawkers who have faced harassment and displacement by the South African government.

This harassment has included police raids, arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment and extortion, as well as destruction of informal housing.  Regulations created to comply with FIFA World Cup requirements in host cities are being used by police to expel homeless people and street traders from “controlled access sites” and exclusion zones around World Cup venues. Penalties for offences under the regulations include fines of up to Rand 10,000 (US$1,300) or imprisonment of up to six months.

In May 2010 street trader (hawkers) protested outside the local FIFA operations centre in Soweto calling for an end to evictions and the disruption of their means of livelihood near soccer stadiums.

Elsewhere tense confrontations have occurred between police and street traders, over seizures of street traders’ goods, in the name of cleaning up the streets for the World Cup.

Xenophobic violence

In the first five months of 2010 at least eleven incidents were recorded in five provinces involving violent attacks and looting of shops, particularly of Somali and Ethiopian nationals.


Torture Awareness Month

Speaking in Grand Rapids, Michigan, last Wednesday former President George W. Bush appeared to take personal responsibility for the decision to waterboard Khalid Sheikh Mohammed:

“Yeah, we waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. I’d do it again to save lives.”

The former President’s comments remove any lingering doubt that may have remained that torture was sanctioned at the highest level of his administration.

The lack of public outcry at his remarks demonstrates all too clearly how for most Americans torture has become an acceptable tool in America’s counter-terrorism arsenal.

Prior to September 11th waterboarding was unequivocally regarded as torture in American jurisprudence. Sleep deprivation was a tool used by Stalin’s secret police. Mock executions were associated with Hollywood villains not Congressional candidates.

Then everything changed. People got scared and unscrupulous politicians sold the idea that thuggish criminality was the only route to public safety. In reality, we got less safe not more. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo created droves of new recruits for Al Qaeda and got hundreds, if not thousands, of American servicemen and women killed.

America’s decision to turn to the dark side, as Dick Cheney memorably put it, alienated our allies and made it difficult for foreign governments to work with us. It has made them more likely to withhold vital intelligence and less likely to work alongside US troops. This also makes us less safe.

We need to reboot. The election of President Obama seemed to offer that opportunity but he let it slip away. Like Dick Cheney during the Vietnam War – the President had other priorities and now torture is slowly creeping back into the mainstream.

In the past months reports have surfaced that US personnel are using sleep deprivation, enforced isolation and physical violence on prisoners held in a secret screening facility in Bagram, Afghanistan.

We have seen this movie before. Abuse inevitably escalates and America’s reputation will just as inevitably be further tarnished.

There was a time in America when torture was considered beyond the pale. The landmark 1980 case Filártiga v. Peña-Irala opened the way for foreign torturers to be pursued in US courts. The panel of American judges that heard the case commented:

“For the purposes of civil liability the torturer has become – like the pirate and the slave trader before him – hostis humani generis, an enemy of all mankind.”

I don’t know about you but I miss that America. However, it wasn’t destroyed by Osama bin Laden but by those who made political capital out of the 9/11 tragedy and by the rest of us who let them.

The Soccer World Cup is not the only global event happening this month. June is international torture awareness month. Amnesty is calling on its supporters to sign up to host an event to raise awareness that torture remains a central issue in American public life.

We cannot claim America has changed until we confront this issue and lay it to rest. Torture is both illegal and morally abhorrent. Just societies do not use it. Period. We need to send our government the message that they cannot just look the other way.

We need to reestablish the norm against torture in American politics. But we can’t do it without you. You need to raise your voice. So please get involved in torture awareness month and help rebuild an America we can all believe in.

Team Amnesty Enters the World Cup

world cup teamWith the 2010 World Cup quickly approaching, football fans around the world have been cheering on their teams since the qualification process began in August 2007. In total, 32 countries will match off at 12 locations throughout South Africa. As the first African country to host a World Cup, South Africa rapidly constructed new stadiums, upgraded security measures and encouraged spectators to visit their beautiful country. Recent headlines range from lackluster ticket sales to Beckham’s Achilles heel injury which renders him unable to participate in the games.

Regardless of the tournament’s final outcome, one thing is for sure, South Africa will be under scrutiny for how it has overcome the nation’s long history of Apartheid rule. Leaders are hoping to show the world it has moved beyond a system of violent racial discrimination to truly become a “Rainbow Nation”. Unfortunately Amnesty International won’t actually be competing as we have little to offer by means of star soccer athletes; but nevertheless feels it imperative to contribute our own team to the mix of international heroes. That is why we are proud to announce Amnesty International’s team of human rights defenders from around the world. Stand Up United is a team of 11 special individuals who have one common goal: equality, dignity and justice for all. Without further ado, let me introduce you to this award winning team of individuals:

1. Mukhmed Gazdiev from the Russian Republic of Ingushetia is still searching for his son who has not been seen since he was reportedly abducted in 2007. He campaigns relentlessly to raise awareness of alleged involvement of security forces in disappearances.

2. Nataša Kandić is a Serbian lawyer and human rights activist. She continues to challenge impunity for war crimes committed by Serbian military, police and paramilitary forces during the wars during the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.


Import Human Rights to Angola

Children living in the ruins of destroyed houses in Luanda, Angola.

Children living in the ruins of destroyed houses in Luanda, Angola.

Angola is experiencing a major revitalization as it slowly recovers from a devastating 27 year civil war that finally ended in 2002. The Africa Cup of Nations kicked off  (sorry for the soccer pun) this week: a biennial continent-wide tournament, and this year a rousing prelude to the World Cup occurring in June in South Africa. Angola is also one of the world’s top twenty crude oil exporters and a member of OPEC. This revenue stream elevates Angola’s stature as a major economic player both globally and in the region, as nations compete for Angolan oil exports.

These resulting economic ties also create political relationships. Stay with me, I am getting to my point, I promise. Angola ranks sixth in the list of countries importing oil into the United States. This means the US relies on Angola and Angola relies on the US. Thus each is in the position to influence the other on a whole host of issues. And so we have arrived: Angola is up in February for its turn under the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review (UN-UPR).

The UN-UPR is a process by which each member state’s human rights record is scrutinized by it’s peers. All member nations are subject to this review every four years, during which time other nations and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) can raise concerns, ask questions and make recommendations on how to improve human rights conditions. One of the concerns about the process, which has already played out during other state’s reviews, is peer nations won’t really raise the tough issues. Rather they lob soft balls (or maybe soccer balls?) for fear of damaging economic relationships or labeling as a hypocrit because of the peer nation’s own human rights record.

But it is the duty and responsibility of UN member states to hold each other accountable, and it is our onus as global citizens to make sure our governments step up to the plate. So we are calling on the US State Department to not go easy on Angola because we want it’s oil exports. Instead, we are demanding the US help ensure human rights are imported into Angola via the UPR process.

There are three major areas we call on Secretary Clinton to raise during the UPR process: forced evictions, the safety of human rights defenders and protections of freedom of expression and association. These are all areas of serious concern in Angola; people are rendered homeless for political and/or economic gain, human rights defenders experience repression and beatings as they work to hold the government accountable and journalists and citizens are imprisoned for speaking out and demanding positive change.

So stand up as a global citizen and encourage all UN member nations to not give Angola an easy pass under the UN-UPR next month and tell Secretary Clinton that the US must do it’s part! Economics is supply and demand. Instead of only demanding oil come out of Angola, let’s supply the tools to encourage human rights to come in!

Southern Africa Year in Review 2009

Waiting in line to vote. Amnesty International.

Waiting in line to vote. ©Amnesty International

As 2009 winds down, here’s a wrap up of the year’s highlights from the southern Africa region. From elections, to assassinations, to elections, to awards ,to elections, to boycotts, to elections, to what was all in all a fairly smooth year compared to what might have been, here are a few notes about human rights conditions in the 12 countries we monitor for Amnesty International USA.

Angola was supposed to hold presidential elections this year but didn’t. Current (and for the last 30 years) president, dos Santos, said constitutional reform must come first and this will take another two years.  Constitutional reform=good. Using it as an excuse to delay democratic elections=bad.

Forced evictions continued in 2009 in Angola. Amnesty International continues to call for an end to illegal evictions and for just compensation for forcibly displaced persons in Angola.

On a positive note, Prisoner of Conscience Fernando Lelo was released this year. Lelo is a journalist imprisoned for criticizing above noted president. However, those who were tried and convicted with him remain incarcerated. Lelo directly credited Amnesty activists for their efforts on his behalf. Pat yourselves on the back for a job well done!

Botswana held elections this year. Khama was elected to a new term, after finishing out the term of his predecessor. Major concerns in Botswana continue to be media restrictions, repression of labor unions, displacement of indigenous persons and high HIV infection rates. But Khama does his fair share of criticizing regional leaders and tweaking the nose of Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe. He mailed a congratulatory letter to the ladies of Women of Zimbabwe Arise following their win of the RFK Human Rights Award this year.

Guinea Bissau

Clinton Arrives in South Africa

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in South Africa today for meetings with President Zuma and Foreign Minister Mashabane. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to answer the phone when Hills called to ask which issues she should be sure to broach in those discussions. Don’t laugh; it could totally happen in some alternate universe. But if she had asked my advice, this is what I would have said:

Secretary Clinton must encourage South Africa to meet the promises enshrined in its Constitution and acceptance of international human rights treaties by taking a stronger stand as a leader in promoting human rights in Africa. Recent violent protests over inadequate housing and social services in several South African provinces highlight the deep tension that remains regarding the promises made by the government following apartheid and the ability of the government to honor those commitments.

As host of the 2010 World Cup, South Africa is in a unique position to demonstrate its commitment to human rights on a global stage. As a way to exemplify this commitment, I would love to see Hills push South Africa to ratify the International Convenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, but that would probably be a little awkward since the US hasn’t ratified it either.

South Africa also must do more to protect its women and girls. A recent survey revealing one in four men admits to committing a rape showcases the epidemic nature of the crisis. Further, Amnesty International has reported that women in rural areas are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, domestic and sexual violence, lack of access to health care and inadequate police protection. Secretary Clinton should raise these issues with the South African government and promote the need to protect women from all forms of violence and discrimination.

South Africa also must do more to protect those who cross its borders. Immigrants were the focus during xenophobic attacks that occurred last year on a large scale in South Africa and continue on a lesser scale today, as people already displaced from their homelands are forced into camps with minimal protections. With the special visa for Zimbabwean’s delayed in Parliament and reports of serious violence occurring near the Musina border crossing, South Africa must make greater efforts to ensure the safety and humane treatment of all persons residing there.

Finally, South Africa’s role as regional powerhouse means not only honoring its commitments to its own citizens, but also taking the lead as a regional authority in urging its neighbors to honor democratic processes and human rights within their borders. As lead negotiator and guarantor, along with the other Southern African Development Community (SADC) member States, of the Zimbabwe power sharing agreement, South Africa has a responsibility to ensure that all processes in the agreement are honored, including a new constitution, an end to impunity and respect for political parties and human rights defenders to operate without harassment by state security forces.