Desperate Reprisals: Documenting the Syrian Regime’s Abuses


The Assad regime in Syria has done everything it can to prevent the world from knowing what it is doing to its people: International media is blocked access to crisis points, international organizations are prevented from doing their jobs and human rights organizations are denied entry.

When details come out, the regime pulls out another old trick of claiming the victims are the transgressors and the government is the victim of terrorists.

The anecdote to this is documentation, and this is where Amnesty International can do valuable work.  Thursday, in a new 70-page report, Deadly Reprisals, the organization provides fresh evidence of widespread as well as systematic violations, including crimes against humanity and war crimes, being perpetrated as part of state policy to exact revenge against communities suspected of supporting the opposition and to intimidate people into submission.


No Woman, No Peace

mother and child refugees in Dadaab Kenya

© UNHCR/B. Heger

Just moments ago U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a comprehensive new plan by the U.S. government to help protect women and girls in conflict zones and ensure that peace processes include women.

The new plan by the Administration is the first ever U.S. national action plan and Executive Order to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.   Often dubbed “the women’s resolution,” UNSC Resolution 1325 recognizes that significant action is needed to protect women and girls from armed conflict and include them in peace-building.  States have been asked to create a national action plan to specifically address the issue of women, peace and security.


Rally for Filep Karma in Washington An Apt Metaphor

Today, Amnesty International activists and supporters rallied in front of the Indonesian embassy in Washington DC to raise their voices on behalf of prisoner of conscience Filep Karma, an activist who’s spent the last 7 years in prison for raising a flag.

The rally was held a week after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Indonesia for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Entrepreneurship Summit.  Amnesty International urged Clinton to publicly state that human rights will play as important a role as trade and security in US–ASEAN relations.


UN: Investigate Sri Lanka War Crimes

This past Monday, the U.N. finally released the report of its advisory panel on accountability in Sri Lanka.  Thanks go to everyone who sent an online letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asking him to release this report.

The report found credible allegations that tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the final months of Sri Lanka’s civil war in early 2009, and that both the government forces and the opposition Tamil Tigers violated international law, including committing war crimes.  The panel recommended, among other things, that the U.N. establish an international investigation into these allegations.

Sri Lanka's military held many of those who escaped the conflict in miserable conditions © Private

Today, Ban’s spokesperson explained that Ban would not initiate an international investigation into these allegations unless the Sri Lankan government consented or he was asked to do so by a U.N body such as the Security Council, the Human Rights Council or the General Assembly.

Well, the Sri Lankan government isn’t likely to consent.  They’ve rejected the panel’s report, calling it “flawed” and “biased.”  President Rajapaksa has called for mass protests against the report on May 1.

We’ll need action by U.N. member states to establish an international   investigation.  The U.S. government could play a vital role in this effort.  Please write to Secretary Hillary Clinton and ask her to support the establishment of an international war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka.

Justice For Sri Lanka On The Streets Of Chicago

By Apoorvaa Joshi, Amnesty International USA Intern

Yesterday a few Amnesty volunteers and I took to the streets of Chicago to collect petition signatures calling for justice for war crimes in Sri Lanka.  My fellow intern stopped a woman on the street to ask for her signature:

Intern: “Would you have a moment to sign a petition for war victims in Sri Lanka?  I’m from Amnesty International.”
Woman: “What is that?”
Intern: “Amnesty International is an international NGO that focuses on human –“
Woman: “No, the petition. What is it for?  Sri what?”
Intern: “Sri Lanka—we are asking Secretary Clinton to pressure the UN to launch an    investigation about the abuses that occurred during their 1626-year-long civil war.”
Woman: “I’ve never heard of it.  Did you just make that up?”
Intern: “No.  It’s a real place.  It’s off the coast of—“
“Is it in Africa?”

A few minutes later, the woman walked away having signed the petition, with educational materials in hand about Amnesty International, the situation in Sri Lanka, and where she can reach us for more information or to volunteer.


War Crimes in Sri Lanka: Time for UN to Act

Delivering the petition to the UN

Last May, Amnesty International launched a global action calling on the UN to establish an international investigation into war crimes and other abuses committed during the war in Sri Lanka.

Both the Sri Lankan government and the opposition Tamil Tigers were responsible for massive human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war during the 26-year conflict.

In response to Amnesty’s call for action, over 52,000 people signed our petition to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanding an international investigation as a first step toward accountability for these crimes.

This past Tuesday, Feb. 22, I had the privilege of accompanying Yolanda Foster, the Amnesty researcher on Sri Lanka, and Dr. Kasipillai Manoharan, the father of one of the “Trinco 5” students killed by the security forces in 2006, to the UN offices in New York as we delivered the signed petitions to the UN.  We pressed the UN to act on our petition without delay and let them know we would be following up to make sure an international investigation is promptly established.

The U.S. government has not yet joined Amnesty in our call for an international investigation.  We could use their support.  Please write to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and ask that the U.S.  government encourage the establishment by the UN of an international investigation into war crimes and other abuses in Sri Lanka.  For Dr. Manoharan’s sake and that of all the other families of the victims, we cannot stop campaigning until they receive justice.

Standing Up for Women in the DRC

This post is part of our Write for Rights Series

Yesterday, the UN Group of Experts on the DRC just released their newest report. In it, they describe how army units have been accused by local populations of “looting and burning entire villages and torturing and raping civilians in the course of their operations.” 
The recent mass rapes in the territory of Walikale this past August were a sharp reminder that this type of violence happens on a frighteningly regular basis in the DRC and at an equally frightening scale: at least 15,000 rapes were reported in the DRC last year – a figure which is likely to be much higher, as most survivors are too afraid of stigmatization and thus do not report the crimes.

What these rapes tell us is that both the DRC government and the United Nations have failed to protect civilians and to respond effectively to these crimes. Until we take the right action to ensure these crimes are effectively stopped, countless women will continue to be at risk of such violence.

This year, we’re highlighting the issue of sexual and gender-based violence in the DRC during our annual Global Write-a-thon. Starting tomorrow, the United Nations is rotating into the Presidency of the UN Security Council. So we’re asking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to use that opportunity to ensure that measures aimed at ending widespread sexual violence in the DRC are implemented.

Here’s what you can do to make a difference:

1. Participate in a local write-a-thon event
2. Send an email to Secretary Clinton today
3. Tweet to Stop Violence Against Women

Rounded Up and Raped in the Congo

A woman sits in a tent in a camp for the internally displaced after she was allegedly raped. AFP/GETTY IMAGES

During four terrible days in July and August, armed groups raped more than 300 women, girls, men and boys in the Walikale territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The perpetrators moved through 13 villages, looting, raping and abducting the local population. The rapes were planned and organized: victims were rounded up and prevented from fleeing before being raped by armed men acting under the orders of their commanding officers.

Even though United Nations peacekeepers were stationed nearby, they failed to protect these communities.

What happened in Walikale demonstrates the utter failure of both the DRC government and the United Nations to protect civilians from violence.

We can do something about this. In just two weeks, the United States will assume the presidency of the UN Security Council for the month of December– giving Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the opportunity to demand strong measures to protect civilians in the DRC from sexual violence.

We need you to let Secretary Clinton know that concerned citizens want the U.S. to take a strong stand in the Council to fully protect civilians in the DRC.

The suffering endured by the survivors in Walikale is, tragically, only one example of what the Congolese people have to endure. Sexual violence in the DRC has sometimes been referred to as “the war within the war”.

Last year alone, 15,000 cases of rape were reported. The actual figure is likely much higher, as many survivors do not report rape out of fear of being stigmatized within their communities.

Secretary Clinton has witnessed first-hand the extent of sexual violence in the DRC. In September 2009, following her mission to the DRC, she told the UN Security Council that “it is time for us…to go beyond condemning this behavior, to taking concrete steps to end it.

She also pushed the Council to adopt the concrete measures necessary to bring perpetrators of this violence to justice.

Now that the United States has another opportunity to lead the UN Security Council in taking action to protect civilians in the DRC, we can’t afford to sit quietly!

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!

AIUSA says "Unlock the Camps in Sri Lanka!"

AIUSA activists demand the release of Internally Displaced People in Sri Lanka. November 2009. (c) AI

AIUSA activists in Chicago demand the release of Internally Displaced People in Sri Lanka. November 2009. (c) AI

Across the U.S., from Boston to Chicago to San Francisco, Amnesty International activists are demanding:  “Unlock the camps in Sri Lanka!”

As the 26-year-old war between the Sri Lankan government and the opposition Tamil Tigers ended this past May, about 280,000 Tamil civilians fleeing the fighting were put in overcrowded, military-run camps which they were not allowed to leave.  The Sri Lankan government said that the civilians first had to be screened to determine if any of them were Tiger fighters.  Amnesty International has pointed out that this constitutes arbitrary detention and violates the civilians’ right to freedom of movement.

Although some civilians have been released from the camps, around 150,000 still remain and camp shelters have deteriorated as Sri Lanka has entered the rainy season.

Amnesty’s “Unlock the Camps” campaign calls on the Sri Lankan government to let civilians leave the camps if they wish, to put the camps under civilian (not military) management, and to allow aid agencies full access to the camps.

Earlier this month, AIUSA members gathered in Boston and San Franscisco signed petitions and postcards demanding that the Sri Lankan government “Unlock the Camps!” SEE THE REST OF THIS POST