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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What an "Unconstitutional State of Affairs" in Colombia!

The human rights situation in Colombia for internally displaced persons (IDPs) is deteriorating rapidly. The incidence of displacement in Colombia 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.  Indigenous Peoples, Afro-descendants and campesino communities make up a disproportionate number of those who have been internally displaced.

This level of human suffering prompted the Colombian Constitutional Court to issue two declarations in 2004 calling for the Colombian government to protect IDPs and their human rights (see pages 9-18). The government of Colombia has yet to implement the recommended public policies to adequately protect these vulnerable communities. Unfortunately their suffering continues and more people are continuously forced from their land, which is why Afro-Colombians and Indigenous Colombians need your help.

Right now an important resolution is in the US House of Representatives: Resolution 1224, which, if passed, could help IDPs in Colombia. Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia along with 22 other Representatives has sponsored this resolution, which urges the Colombian government to comply with the rulings of the Colombian Constitutional Court and protect the human rights of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities.

Don’t pass up the opportunity to urge your Representative to support this important resolution today!

When will the silence in Mexico end?

Killings in JuarezThis past week in Mexico, eight journalists have been kidnapped (of which 2 have been released alive and one dead) in Reynosa and three people have been murdered in Ciudad Juarez who have connections to the US Consulate. The perpetrators of these murders may have been involved with the ongoing battle between rival drug trafficking organizations. Violence against journalists has been a persistent problem in Mexico, where this year three journalists have been confirmed killed by the authorities, twelve journalists were killed in 2009, and 60 have been killed since 2000. The most recent kidnappings in Reynosa and the trend of violence against reporters has caused Ciro Gómez Leyva, the news director at Milenio, to write an angry column, saying “journalism is dead in Reynosa”.

Not only is it dangerous to report on the drug war in Mexico, it is dangerous to organize or advocate for human rights. In the 2009 State Department Report on Human Rights Practices in Mexico, the arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of human life was noted as a major human rights problem. One alarming case, that of Raúl Lucas Lucía and Manuel Ponce Rosas, was included in the Human Rights Report and featured in Amnesty International’s recent report called “Standing up for Justice and Dignity: Human Rights Defenders in Mexico”. These men were human rights defenders who worked with the Future of Mixtecos Indigenous Peoples group who advocate for economic and social rights regarding indigenous Me’ phaa (Tlapaneca) and the Na savi (Mixteca) people. After being assaulted by plain clothed police officers and kidnapped in the town of Ayutla de los Libres in Guerrero state at a public ceremony, their families were notified with a threatening text message of their disappearance. Several days later their injured bodies were found in Tecoanapa, Guerrero State, a 30-minute drive from Ayutla de los Libres. An investigation was opened but at the end of 2009, is still pending.

This case is emblematic of the larger problem of targeting human rights defenders which is illustrated in an Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) report. The report documented 128 attacks including 10 killings against human rights defenders from 2006 to August 2009.

The State Department Report on Human Rights noted that journalists fear revenge from police authorities and drug traffickers and that affects what they report. The news “blackouts” also have human rights implications because often that is how defenders raise awareness on abuses they encounter.


This month is the time to talk about human rights in Haiti!

The earthquake in Haiti was incredibly devastating, but now, as Haitian and other world leaders are discussing aid administration and how to best rebuild Haiti, I really hope that they incorporate a human rights framework into the plan that they finalize.

Haitian President Rene Preval is heading to Washington today, to discuss what is needed to rebuild his country the day after International Violence Against Women Day, so what perfect timing to advocate the need to ensure that women’s and girls’ rights, as are the rights of all other vulnerable populations, are included in the discussions with other top policy makers. This week he is meeting with Secretary of State Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, and the head of USAID.

Violence against women and girls is pervasive and widespread in Haiti, and certainly isn’t a new issue post-earthquake. There was a growing women’s rights movement in Haiti prior to the earthquake, and it is important that the steps that had been taken and the progress that had been made before the earthquake are not forgotten.

In light of President Preval visiting DC today, and in light of the international donor’s conference on March 31 in NYC where Haiti will be presenting a vision of their future and how the international community can assist, now is the opportunity for the Haitian government, various civil society organizations, and the international donor community to address human rights issues in Haiti, including how to protect the rights of women and girls (and other vulnerable populations) in Haiti.

More in-depth information about these two important meetings will posted soon, so please stay tuned.

Secretary Clinton: when you go to Guatemala, will you put human rights at the top of your agenda?

Extrajudicial killings in Guatemala

I hope that during US Secretary of State Clinton’s March 4th visit to Guatemala, the grave human rights situation, specifically the extra-judicial killings coupled with the cloud of impunity surrounding those killings, are at the top of the agenda.  Secretary Clinton will be taking a quick trip thorough South and Central America, and her trip will be concluding in Guatemala, where she will be meeting with Guatemalan President Colom and a few other Central American leaders.

Over the past several years, various Guatemalan human rights organizations have received numerous reports of kidnappings and murders where police officers, off duty officers, hired security, or members of the armed forces are the suspected perpetrators. In many instances, officers act under direct order, complicity, or the acquiescence of Guatemalan authorities. Frequently, young men from marginalized sectors of society who have criminal records are the victims, and potential witnesses refuse to testify for fear of retribution.

It is important to note here too, that not just young men are targets; members of indigenous communities, women, and human rights activists are also at risk. Amnesty International has a current urgent action calling for the protection of the activists of civil society group, FRENA, the Resistance Front for the Defense of Natural Resources and People’s Rights (or in Spanish Frente de Resistencia en Defensa de los Recursos Naturales y Derechos de los Pueblos) three members of which have been the victims of extrajudicial killings. Currently there are no suspects.  A recent press release issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights urges the necessity for “the Guatemalan State to maximize its efforts to investigate and legally clarify these crimes and to prosecute the perpetrators and masterminds”.

In 2007, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings visited Guatemala and published a report which noted that:

“…There is strong evidence that some acts of social cleansing—executions of gang members, criminal suspects, and other ‘undesirables’ –are committed by police personnel”. 

The report found that of Guatemala’s 5,000 annual homicides, 1.4% of those cases end in a conviction. In the same 2007 report, the Rapporteur called for the “categorical rejection” by the government of the practice of extrajudicial killings and the expansion of the criminal justice system to effectively investigate murders. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Update on Haiti and yesterday's conference in Canada

The earthquake in Haiti caused unimaginable destruction and grief for a country that was already the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. The Obama Administration has responded to the crisis with a strong expression of support to the Haitian government, and to Haitian people residing both in the US and in Haiti. This was demonstrated by the grant of temporary protected status (TPS) to Haitians in the US on January 15th. As a follow-up to this, we’re asking everyone to join us in calling on the US government to suspend the current US interdiction at sea policy, also known as the “shout test,” because it is not an effective method of identifying individuals at risk of persecution or trafficking. Under refugee and international human rights law and standards, all individuals have the right to seek protection from persecution and other human rights abuses. When boats are interdicted at sea, the US can ensure compliance with its obligations by conducting meaningful individualized review of requests for protection in a place of safety.

Yesterday, Secretary of State Clinton participated in a 1-day meeting in Montreal, Canada along with representatives of the NGO-community, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Haitian Prime Minister Jean Max-Bellerive, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, representatives from the UN, the IMF, the World Bank, the European Union, and many others to start talking about the development of a strategy to re-build Haiti.

This one-day meeting is a first-step toward a much larger reconstruction conference on Haiti, which will be taking place in the coming months. The US confirmed that they will host a conference to discuss Haitian aid in early March at the United Nations.

We strongly urge that a human rights framework be incorporated into all plans and during all phases of the relief effort and the reconstruction of Haiti including:

  • Suspension of the US government’s current interdiction at sea policy, to be replaced by a procedure that ensures an effective method of identifying individuals at risk of persecution or other human rights abuses;
  • Protection of children from abuse, exploitation and trafficking;
  • Protection of the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs);
  • Protection of women and girls from gender-based violence, including sexual violence;
  • Ensure that the Haitian authorities are able to the rule of law and establish adequate security including the establishment of a functional justice system ;
  • Clarify the role of international forces in Haiti, and establish transparent accountability measures for these forces; and
  • Cancel Haiti’s foreign debt absent any conditions that would have a negative human rights impact.

How is the US currently upholding the human rights treaties to which it is a party of?

This week, on December 15, 2009, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law held the first ever Congressional hearing on U.S. implementation of its human rights treaty obligations.  The hearing examined what the U.S. government is doing and should be doing more of, to fulfill its obligations to protect and promote human rights domestically and abroad.

Subcommittee Chair Durbin (D-IL), along with Senators Cardin (D-MD), Feingold (D-WI) and Franken (D-MN), expressed deep concern and commitment to ensuring that the U.S. continues to lead by example on the international stage, by prioritizing and addressing the numerous human rights issues that currently exist within the U.S., including issues around detention, child trafficking, Indigenous rights, and discrimination, to name just a few.
Amnesty International submitted written testimony for the hearing, which included expert testimony by key members of the administration as well as representatives of top domestic and international human rights organizations. A copy of this testimony is available if you are interested.

Do you think the Mexican military commits human rights violations?

Amnesty International does. It looks like Human Rights Watch does too. So do countless family members of those who have been “disappeared”, arbitrarily detained, tortured, or well, all of the above. Take Action On This IssueThe new report just released from AI includes some emblematic cases of human rights violations committed by the Mexican military….just in the past year. Keep in mind this report is in by no means exhaustive either. Many other NGOs have been documenting these types of cases for years, and it doesn’t look like things are getting better.

The Calderon Administration does have a tough job to do. Between combating the organized crime and drug cartels that have left some cities in a state of almost lawlessness, to working through the economic hardships that any current administration has felt, to dealing with high profile US/Mexico border issues… it’s a difficult task. Human rights have no borders though, so why has it been such a struggle to put human rights at the core of any and all governmental initiatives?

The National Human Rights Commission (of Mexico) received nearly 2,000 complaints of abuse by the military between January 2008 and June 2009. By comparison, there were 367 complaints in 2007 and 182 in 2006. An improvement? You tell me.

Kerrie Howard, Deputy Director of the AI Americas Program in London stated: “The cases that we have been able to investigate are truly shocking, but what is more shocking is that we know that this is only the tip of the iceberg.”

So if you want to do something about this, take action here.

It’s that Time of year again: IACHR Hearings

Anyone who does work on, or pays attention to anything going on in Latin America would know that it is the season for meetings and hearings to be held at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in DC.  I had never attended anything at the commission, well, until last week. I had no idea what to expect walking in, I just knew I was there as an AIUSA observer.

The building itself is really big, and nice. Spanish is one of the working languages of the Organization of American States, (OAS) along with English and Portuguese, but it may as well be THE working language. Everything was conducted in Spanish.

One of the hearings I was asked to observe at, was a public hearing including two cases regarding the human rights abuses committed by the Mexican military.  AI has been following these cases closely, and they will most likely both be included in a report that AI will be releasing at the end of November addressing how flawed the military justice system in Mexico is, and how relatively easy it is for military personnel to get away with committing human rights violations.