About Kathryn R. Striffolino

Kathryn Striffolino is currently the Advocate & Science for Human Rights Project Coordinator for Amnesty International's Crisis Prevention & Response Unit, based in Washington DC. She conducts research, advocacy, capacity building and manages projects primarily on armed conflict and urgent human rights developments globally, with an emphasis on leveraging scientific progress and technology for human rights protection. She has been with Amnesty International since 2007 and has conducted field work in Africa and Latin America for the organization. Prior to her work at Amnesty, she lived with communities at risk in southern Mexico and studied Political Science and International Affairs. She is fluent in English and Spanish.
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Haiti: A Safe Haven for "Baby Doc" Duvalier…Really?

Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier

Jean-Claude Duvalier lunches in Port-au-Prince (Photo Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)

When I was in Haiti with Amnesty in December, training local activists in using new technology for human rights, I had the opportunity to meet many local defenders and activists.

We spoke openly about the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence in Haiti and the impunity the perpetrators of those crimes enjoy.  We also spoke about the right to housing and the illegal forced evictions the Haitian government was conducting in displacement camps.

The one topic we didn’t discuss out rightly (for good reasons) was that Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier had recently returned to Haiti, that he still has a network of supporters, and that he has not been held accountable for his alleged crimes — including torture, disappearances, and killings — committed during his 15 year reign.  Crimes for which it not appears he will not be held to account for.


Trying Troops in Civilian Courts = Big Step for Human Rights in Mexico

Mexican soldiers © Jesus Alcazar/AFP/Getty Images

historic Mexican Supreme Court decision to ensure soldiers accused of human rights abuses against civilians be tried in civilian – not military – courts may bring Mexico closer to respecting human rights and fulfilling their Merida Initiative obligations.

In 2008, the Merida Initiative security assistance package was signed by then-US President George W. Bush. This unprecedented partnership between the United States and Mexico aims to fight organized crime and associated violence while respecting human rights.


No More Rapes: End Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Haiti

After she moved into a makeshift shelter in Dessalines Square, Champ-de-Mars, Haiti, “Suzie” and her friend were gang raped in front of their shelter.

 “After they left I didn’t do anything….I don’t know where there is a clinic offering medical treatment for victims of violence.” 

Because she was blindfolded, Suzie didn’t go to the police because she didn’t know who the men were that raped her.  She told Amnesty International that the police patrol the streets, but she’s never seen them inside the camp.

In the Haitian camps there are many women and girls like Suzie. It is therefore vitally important that both the international community and the Haitian government take immediate action to treat the issue of violence against women as a priority for the humanitarian and reconstruction effort in Haiti. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Calderón and Obama: A Lot More to Discuss Than Drugs

US President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon in the Rose Garden last May. (TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Today President Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderón will meet at the White House.

While there are many issues to discuss, including the latest round of WikiLeaks documents regarding Mexico, violence on the border, and the ICE agents just murdered, we hope human rights makes it to the top of the agenda because they are integral to all issues of concern to both countries.

Amnesty USA Executive Director Larry Cox wrote an open letter yesterday to President Obama highlighting Amnesty International’s concerns and recommendations for Mexico, including concerns about the ongoing impunity given to perpetrators of violence against women and President Calderón’s proposal to the Mexican Congress to reform the military code of justice.

Amnesty International is urging the US to work with Mexico to ensure that:

  • Effective measures are implemented to prevent and punish violence against women;
  • Comprehensive measures are passed to fully protect human rights defenders and irregular migrants; and
  • Legislation is passed in Mexico that would require military personnel implicated in human rights violations to be held accountable by civilian courts.

President Calderon’s recent attempt to reform the military code of justice are not sufficient.  These reforms are inconsistent with international human rights standards, are not in line with recent binding judgments made by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and are not consistent with the Merida Initiative requirements. We don’t want to speculate about why the Calderón administration seems to be making such a half-hearted effort at improving human rights, but it’s clear that more needs to be done.

Members of the US Congress are also interested in placing human rights in Mexico at the top of the Obama administration’s agenda, as is evident by a Dear Colleague sent yesterday by Congresswoman Lee, Congressman Grijalva and 22 other Members to Secretary of State Clinton.

We certainly hope that President Obama and President Calderon decide to put human rights issues at the top of their priority list and we look forward to working with both administrations to ensure that human rights are enjoyed by all on both sides of the US-Mexico border.

Congress Should Withhold Aid to Mexico Tied to Human Rights Performance

Mass killings of migrants. Covering up human rights violations by tampering with evidence. The increase in the number of complaints of human rights violations committed by the Mexican military. Does this sound like Mexico is meeting its human rights performance obligations to receive human rights conditioned funding from the US State Department?

On September 2, 2010, the State Department released a report to Congress indicating that Mexico was indeed fulfilling human rights criteria, and would in turn receive approximately $36 million conditioned Merida Initiative funds. Releasing these funds would send the wrong message to Mexico — that the United States condones the grave human rights violations committed in Mexico, including torture, rape, killings, and enforced disappearances.

Mexico has already received roughly $1.5 billion dollars in security assistance, with 15% of select funds tied to Mexico meeting four core human rights conditions:

  1. Ensuring that civilian prosecutors and judicial authorities are  investigating and prosecuting members of the federal police and military forces who have been credibly alleged to have violated human rights.
  2. Enforcing the prohibition on the use of testimony obtained through torture.
  3. Improving the transparency and accountability of federal police forces and work with state and municipal authorities to improve the transparency and accountability of state and municipal police forces.
  4. Conducting regular consultations with Mexican human rights organizations and civil society on recommendations for the implementation of the Merida Initiative.

While the State Department has withheld $26 million in Merida Initiative funding from the FY10 Supplemental pending the passage of two items in the Mexican Congress: legislation that would enhance the authority of the Mexican National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) and Military Justice Code reforms.  Still, the core human rights criteria—mandated by the US Congress, have not been met, and therefore, the additional $36 million should also be withheld.

Human rights violations committed by Mexican security forces are not only deplorable in their own right, but also significantly undermine the effectiveness of Mexico’s public security efforts. When allocating funds, Congress, in consultation with the State Department, should not forget about human rights and should withhold human rights pegged funds from Mexico.  It’s a “shared responsibility” therefore the US and Mexico should work together, to ensure that human rights requirements are met, not just half-heartedly to release money before it expires, but to really ensure that the human rights situation in Mexico is truly better….for the Mexican people.

Aaron Barnard-Luce contributed to this post.

Still a State of Unconstitutional Affairs in Colombia?

Short answer, yes. In 2004, the Colombia Constitutional Court declared a state of unconstitutional affairs and ordered the Colombian government to address the rights and needs of the displaced population. The Colombia government has yet to implement these orders, and Colombia’s displacement crisis continues. There is an important resolution, introduced by Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA), going around the US House of Representatives that, if passed, would send a strong message of support for the work of the Colombia Constitutional Court.

House Resolution 1224, currently in the US House of Representatives, would bring the population of internally displaced peoples (IDPs) in Colombia one step further towards ensuring that their human rights are upheld.

The incidence of displacement in Colombia is not something to be overlooked – it is one of the highest in the world. Between 3 and 4 million people have been forced to flee their homes and seek refuge elsewhere in the country; a further 500,000 are believed to have fled to neighboring countries.  Even worse, is that a disproportionate number of these internally displaced are indigenous peoples, afro-descendants and campesino communities. Displacement has forced these rural dwellers to migrate to large urban areas and it has drastically increased the number of people living in city slums.

In 2004, the Colombian Constitutional Court issued two declarations calling for the Colombian government to protect IDPs and their human rights (see pages 9-18). Unfortunately, the government of Colombia has yet to implement these recommended public policies and IDPs in Colombia continue to suffer. More people are continuously forced from their land, more people are discriminated against, and more poverty exists.

37 Representatives have signed onto this resolution, but more support is needed! Contact your local Representative to bring the millions of internally displaced Colombians one step closer to justice.

Kristin Keohan contributed to this post

New technology demonstrates extreme lack of progress in Gulf Coast reconstruction

Technology has been a driving force as of late, to document a variety of things related to human rights from political violence in Kenya, to the oil spill in the Gulf Coast.

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina, one of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit the United States, caused flooding and widespread damage to the Gulf Coast. More than 1,800 people from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama died in the storm. Approximately 1,000,000 people were displaced from the Gulf Coast region.

Nearly five years later, in New Orleans and throughout the Gulf Coast, there is a continued lack of access to housing and health care, and issues related to the criminal justice system persist. Amnesty International is committed to raising awareness about the slow progress in housing recovery, as well as the demolition of public housing, and the problems of blight and homelessness in the city of New Orleans. Recent estimates of homelessness in New Orleans have ranged from nearly 10,000 individuals and families to 12,000. If so many are still homeless, where are houses being rebuilt, and who can actually afford them?

Now, thanks to technology, you can track the progress of Gulf Coast reconstruction with the Google Earth layer created by Amnesty International’s Science for Human Rights (SHR) Program. These geo-referenced photos highlight the extent of the destruction and the lack of progress in rebuilding in the lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, Louisiana. You can download the kml file of the lower Ninth Ward and use geo-visualization software, such as Google Earth, to see for yourself the full extent of the damage and the amount of work that remains to be done.

AI’s Rebuilding the Gulf project has been active in working to protect human rights in the Gulf Coast by focusing on promoting a broader range of human rights concerns that arise in disaster affected areas. Learn more about our work in the Gulf Coast and take action to reform federal disaster legislation to ensure that the human rights of those impacted by future disasters are protected.



Sung In Marshall contributed to this post.

Migrants in Mexico: Invisible Victims of Abuse

Every year, tens of thousands of women, men and children make “the most dangerous journey in the world” through Mexico as irregular migrants. More than nine out of every 10 are Central Americans. The vast majority are heading to the US fleeing the poverty and insecurity.

Not only do migrants have to travel across all of Mexico, but some must travel through other Central American countries as well such as Guatemala or El Salvador. But it is not only the length of the journey that is so dangerous, but the human rights abuses the migrants are subject to along the way, and the chilling impunity some of the perpetrators enjoy. For female travelers, 6 out of every 10 encounter sexual abuse. In the six month period between September 2008 and March 2009: 9,758 migrants were kidnapped, many of which said that public officials and police officers were either involved or complicit in the kidnapping.

Not only are migrants the targets of abuse, kidnapping, and human trafficking, but migrant defenders are also targeted as they try to protect the human rights of this at-risk population. One such defender, Father Solalinde, who runs a migrant shelter in Ciudad Ixtepec, was notified of abductions of migrants off trains near Ciudad Ixtepec. After notifying the press and assembling a group of supporters, Father Solalinde went to inspect a complex where criminal gangs were suspected of holding the abducted migrants. After discovering convincing evidence that the migrants had recently been in the building, the local police arrived, detained Father Solalinde and 18 other people who accompanied him. Those 18 individuals were Guatemalan immigrants who then went before the Mexican Immigration Service. Father Solalinde said in his struggle to protect the rights of migrants “the biggest challenge for me to overcome is the constant intimidation, harassment and disrespect from people who don’t want me to carry out my work”.


More Deaths in Northwestern Pakistan?!

Up to 71 civilians have reportedly been killed this past weekend in the Pakistani region on the border with Afghanistan. Residents from the Tirah Valley village said that the dead and wounded were civilians with no connections to the region’s militant groups.

This is just one example of many reports of civilian casualties that have reached various media outlets, throughout the past few years. It reiterates the toll that the conflict in Northwestern Pakistan has taken (and is currently taking) on civilian lives.

The Northwestern region of Pakistan, which is on the Afghan border, is very difficult to access. However, via Amnesty’s just released Eyes on Pakistan project, experts and activists alike can “access” this isolated region. This site helps to visualize the trends of the conflict that prove that Pakistan is not purely a military playground. It’s a human rights crisis.

More information to follow, so please stay tuned.

Not Pretty: New Orleans Still Devastated Almost 5 Years After Katrina!?

AGM Countdown: In the run up to Amnesty International’s Annual General Meeting in New Orleans this weekend, the Science for Human Rights program will be posting a new blog entry every day this week. All of the projects presented this week—and many more—will be at display in New Orleans.

With the AGM being in New Orleans this year, and as we are fast approaching the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall on the Gulf Coast, Amnesty International is committed to raising awareness about the slow progress in housing recovery, as well as the demolition of public housing, and the problems of blight and homelessness in the city of New Orleans. Recent estimates of homelessness in New Orleans have ranged from nearly 10,000 individuals and families to as many as 12,000.

AI has been active in working to protect human rights in the Gulf Coast as the region rebuilds after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Initially focused on the right to housing, AI’s Rebuilding the Gulf project now focuses on promoting a broader range of human rights concerns that arise in disaster affected areas.

In an effort to raise the visibility of the human rights conditions in the region, Amnesty International’s Science for Human Rights Program has created a visual representation of the level of destruction and lack of reconstruction using aerial images taken of the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, before and after Hurricane Katrina, and also by analyzing postal information by Census Block, again before and after Katrina hit. This information plainly shows how many people left the area and have not been able to return (or at least aren’t receiving mail any more) as well as the amount of infrastructure that was damaged, and as of 2009 when the aerial image was taken, hadn’t been repaired.

New Orleans postal data

Click image to see full visual

In addition to this visual representation, AI is creating a Google Earth Layer, implanting photos taken on a GPS camera from a recent AI mission to region, including stops in Gulfport, Mississippi, and New Orleans. These geo-referenced photos, along with some additional images, show the level of devastation that STILL exists to this day, as well as simultaneously demonstrating the lack of progress of reconstruction that has occurred, in particular to, the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana. This GE layer will be uploaded to our website soon.

Although it has been almost five years since Hurricane Katrina’s landfall, much still remains to be done to rebuild the Gulf Coast. AI believes that the best and most effective way to secure and rebuild lives is by respecting, protecting and fulfilling the human rights of those affected.

If you happen to be in New Orleans this weekend, please check out this project, and many other Science for Human Rights projects at AIUSA’s AGM.