About Jason Disterhoft

Jason Opeña Disterhoft is the former Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Campaigner at Amnesty International USA. His current work focuses on health and housing. Prior to joining AIUSA, he interned at The Hunger Project and Oxfam America, studied philosophy at Tufts University, and went to college at Harvard University. He's from Hyde Park, in Chicago.
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Horror and Hope in Kenya's Informal Settlements

Man surveys the wreckage of his home

Man surveys the wreckage of his home

By Mariah Ortiz, Kenya Country Specialist for Amnesty USA

Imagine you are sleeping in your bed, and suddenly you hear the sounds of a bulldozer outside your window.  You have to run outside to avoid being crushed.  You escape, but your home is flattened before your eyes . . .

Now imagine that you are walking home, and the sewer suddenly ignites.  You cry out as people around you burst into flames . . .


Maternal Health Key To Empowering Women

By Amnesty’s Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group

Next week, we’ll be concluding our Mother’s Day blog series by looking at the international dimensions of maternal mortality.  Today we’d like to focus on maternal health as a key to empowering women worldwide.

Globally, motherless children are 10 times more likely to die within two years of their mothers’ death.  A mother’s health and nutrition, what care and assistance she received during her pregnancy and delivery determined whether she and you are alive today, and whether you are battling with developmental problems, birth defects, or illnesses, including perinatal HIV.

Every 90 seconds a woman dies from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications. This is 1,000 women, or more than 2 filled-to-capacity jumbo jets crashing daily.  Amnesty International considers this a human rights scandal, not only because almost all of these deaths are preventable, but because they are the culmination of abuses and discrimination against women, from insufficient access to basic healthcare, lack of comprehensive family planning and reproductive healthcare services, early marriages, gender-based violence, to inadequate redress.


This World Health Day, Shine a Light on Maternal Health

Pregnant women at a maternity waiting house in northern Sierra Leone, where they can stay fom the ninth month of pregnancy until their babies are delivered.

Today is World Health Day – and you can celebrate by shining a light on maternal health!

World Health Day marks the anniversary of the founding, in 1948, of the World Health Organization, whose constitution — signed by all 193 Members of the United Nations — states that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”

Preventable deaths in pregnancy and childbirth are violations of the right to health, and the right to freedom from discrimination due to gender, race, ethnicity, immigration status, or income level. Maternal mortality is not just a public health emergency – it is a human rights crisis.

Every 90 seconds, another woman dies from complications of pregnancy and childbirth – that’s 1,000 women every day, more than 350,000 each year. The vast majority of these deaths could be prevented, and ninety-nine percent happen in the developing world — the greatest disparity between developed and developing countries of any global health issue.


Writing for the Right to a Safe Childbirth in Burkina Faso

This post is part of our Write for Rights series.

A pregnant woman waits in a clinic in Burkina Faso.

“I did what I could to save my sister-in-law but it cost too much for a poor man like me.”

Each year, some 4,000 women in Burkina Faso die from pregnancy-related complications. Women face a one-in-28 lifetime risk of dying in childbirth. Most of those deaths could be prevented with timely access to quality maternal health care.

Albertine, a 25-year-old mother of two, died giving birth in January 2007.

She passed away at a regional hospital in Burkina Faso after delivering a stillborn child. Her brother-in-law, a farmer and mine worker, had to make several long trips to and from the hospital to borrow more than U.S. $100 – significantly more than his monthly income – to pay for blood and medicine. Albertine died while he was borrowing money to pay for a prescription.

Help prevent women dying needlessly in childbirth — be a part of this year’s Global Write-a-thon.


Sexual Violence Against Girls in Nicaragua Widespread

Rosmery, a young survivor of sexual violence at age 12, draws her hopes for the future represented by a tree which marks her past, present and future.

In Nicaragua, rape and sexual abuse are widespread, and the majority of the victims are young and female.  More than two thirds of all rapes reported between 1998 and 2008 were committed against girls under the age of 17, and nearly half of victims were under age 14.

Though there is overwhelming evidence of widespread sexual abuse in the country, and five UN expert committees have called on the government to address the issue of violence against women and girls, the Nicaraguan government is still failing to treat this human rights emergency with the urgency that it deserves.

Last week, Amnesty International published a report on sexual violence against girls in Nicaragua. The report highlights that information on preventing and responding to abuse for those at risk or suffering from sexual violence is difficult, if not impossible to find, leaving many girls trapped in abusive situations with no clear escape.  Further, the stigma associated with sexual crimes means that it’s often the survivor – not the abuser – who is blamed, and young survivors of rape or sexual abuse get little to no government support to rebuild their lives.


Amnesty Activists Raise Their Voices on the MDGs

This week, leaders from around the globe met at the United Nations to review the world’s progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). While there’s been some improvement, it’s been uneven. The world won’t win the fight against poverty until it puts human rights at the heart of the struggle. In the last several weeks, tens of thousands of Amnesty International activists have raised their voices in support of that message.

Last Thursday, in advance of the MDGs summit, Amnesty International Secretary-General Salil Shetty delivered more than 20,000 signatures and postcards from around the world to Joseph Deiss, the incoming president of the U.N. General Assembly and co-chair of the meeting.

Amnesty International Secretary-General Salil Shetty (R) delivers petitions and postcards to incoming U.N. General Assembly President Joseph Deiss (L)

Today, as the General Assembly begins the work of its annual session, including implementing the outcomes of the summit, Amnesty International activists sent a second batch of more than 20,000 signatures and postcards to Mr. Deiss — bringing the total to more than 46,000 names.

Amnesty activists mail petitions and postcards to U.N. General Assembly President Joseph Deiss

There are only five years left until 2015, the deadline for meeting the Goals. And the debate about what anti-poverty framework should replace the MDGs after 2015 — that is, what “MDGs 2.0” should look like — is already well underway. As supporters of human rights, this is a critical moment for us to insist that principles like anti-discrimination, participation and accountability be at the core of the global fight against poverty.

"The Injustice of Extreme Poverty"

Yesterday, at the United Nations summit on the Millennium Development Goals, President Obama unveiled a new U.S. approach to global development. It was encouraging to see the president frame poverty as an issue of rights and justice: “In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, [the international community] recognized the inherent dignity and rights of every individual, including the right to a decent standard of living. And a decade ago, at the dawn of a new millennium, we set concrete goals to free our fellow men, women and children from the injustice of extreme poverty.”

Amnesty International – along with Realizing Rights and other organizations – has been working to put human rights at the heart of the fight against global poverty. For the president to make good on his message about human rights and development, here are some key steps for him to take:

  • Fight discrimination. The president said the U.S. will “invest in the health, education and rights of women,” and gender equality is of course crucial. But other disadvantaged groups – including racial and ethnic minorities and Indigenous Peoples – must also be prioritized.
  • Ensure participation. People living in poverty must be the chief agents of change. It’s encouraging to hear the president say that, at the nation-to-nation level, the U.S. will stress “partnering with [developing] countries” in the development process rather than “dictat[ing]” from Washington. It should also create space for each country to ensure the participation of impoverished communities.
  • Improve accountability. President Obama has called mutual accountability a “pillar of [America’s] new approach” towards development. That should include accountability to human rights standards in development.
  • Respect, protect and fulfill human rights. Finally, and most importantly, the U.S. must ensure that all efforts to achieve the MDGs are consistent with human rights standards and respect the broad spectrum of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

There’s much to be hopeful about in the president’s speech. As his administration implements its new development policy, Amnesty International will continue to push for human rights standards in U.S. development policy and the MDGs.

Maternal Death Clock Ticks in Times Square

Yesterday morning, as world leaders began a summit at the United Nations to review progress on the Millennium Development Goals, Amnesty International activists converged on Times Square to launch a “maternal death clock”, keeping track of the number of women who are dying in childbirth worldwide. Decisions made at the summit will have life-or-death consequences.

Every 90 seconds, somewhere in the world, a woman dies in childbirth. That’s 40 women every hour — almost a thousand mothers lost every day. The vast majority of those deaths are preventable. 99% happen in developing countries.

The annual rate of decline is less than half of where it needs to be to meet the MDG target of cutting maternal deaths by 75% by 2015. The fight against maternal mortality — and the fight against poverty — won’t be won until the international community puts human rights at the heart of the struggle.

You can join the Amnesty members who took that message to the streets of Times Square this morning — sign Amnesty’s petition and tell world leaders that poverty is a human rights crisis!