US Senate Hearing Puts Women's Human Rights in the Spotlight

Tunisian women demonstrate for the protection of their rights in Tunis ©SALAH HABIBI/AFP/Getty Images

As the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa continue to unfold, serious concerns are emerging regarding the inclusion of women in the plans for new governance. In Egypt, for example, women stood shoulder to shoulder with men to topple a regime notorious for its human rights abuses and yet, now that those leaders have been forced to step down, women are too often finding their calls for an equal seat at the table rejected.

Yesterday, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing to highlight these concerns. “Women and the Arab Spring: Spotlight on Egypt, Tunisia and Libya” focused on women’s human rights and emphasized the need for the US to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Senator Boxer (D-CA), Senator Casey (D-PA), Senator DeMint (R-SC), Senator Shaheen (D-NH), and Senator Udall (D-NM) were all in attendance to discuss how the US Senate could work to support women in the Middle East and North Africa.


CIA 'Shocked' Prisoners They Sent To Libya Were Tortured

Abdel Hakim Belhaj ©Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

This past weekend has provided a few new insights into what Dick Cheney’s policy of ‘working the dark side’ actually entailed and offered a piquant example of the law of unintended consequences.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) was able to gain access to the headquarters of Libyan Intelligence after the organization’s building in Tripoli fell to rebel control. HRW’s researcher found files detailing the relationship that developed between the CIA and Gadhafi’s external intelligence service in the years after September 11th.


Millions of Slum Dwellers in Cairo Still at Risk after Mubarak

The euphoria of the revolutionary moment is wondrous — drawing out from despondency and delivering from despair, young and old, city dweller and peasant, all uniting in a collective that suddenly realizes its power.

In January, the world watched the Egyptian masses stare down the Mubarak regime, millions of ordinary Egyptians transformed into the extraordinary by their numbers and their valiant spirit. In these last days of August, the world is witnessing another valiant rout, as Libyan rebel fighters’ inch closer and closer to deposing a despot who has ruled them for decades.

In the magic of momentous change, it is difficult to spare a moment for the mundane miseries that persist after the crowds have left the squares, and the slogans hang silent. It is the plight of these people that is highlighted in “We are not dirt”, Amnesty International’s report focusing on slum dwellers in Cairo, the pulsing city that is at the heart of the Arab spring.


Gaddafi Uses Rape as a Weapon of War?

Protest for Libyan Rape Victim Iman al-Obeidi

Libyan-American women protesting in support of Libyan rape victim Iman al-Obeidi in Washington, DC. ©Getty Images

Amidst reports of hundreds of rapes by Gaddafi forces in Libya, I appeared on Alhurra TV last week to discuss this brutal human rights violation. Watch the clip (in Arabic only) here.

Amnesty International remains concerned about violence against women in the midst of the political turbulence of the Arab Spring uprisings. The use of rape and other forms of sexual violence in Libya as weapons of war are efforts to intimidate, punish, humiliate, and control women and their communities.

These rapes and other forms of sexual violence constitute grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including the crime of torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity.


Obama Speech: Will The Real Action Be For Civil Society?

President ObamaWatching President Obama deliver a major speech today on the Middle East is a reminder that even major speeches go only so far: It’s what follows them that really counts.

Certainly there was something to like about some of the rhetoric: Obama specifically pointed to the government of Bahrain, a US ally, and told it to embrace political change and to release political prisoners. “You can’t have dialogue when parts of peaceful opposition are in jail,” he said.

Likewise, his call for peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine based on 1967 borders could shake up failed negotiations.

But the rhetoric on human rights and democracy was strong two years ago when the president spoke in Cairo.  To many human rights activists in the region, the Obama Administration has spent the past two years failing to live up to that rhetoric in the region and being behind the curve of the Arab Spring.


What Will Obama Say To Muslim World?

After months of relative silence, President Obama will formally address the tumultuous events of the Arab Spring in a speech on Thursday May 19 at 11:30 am[ET].  His speech will stream live on CNN and C-Span, both in the US and internationally. Following the announcement of Syrian sanctions Wednesday, Obama is slated to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday.

At his speech tomorrow, Obama will articulate the US position on recent democratic movements throughout the Middle East, focusing on Libya and Egypt sources say, but will likely avoid details. He is also likely to mention the tumult in Syria, following US sanctions placed upon Syrian President Bashar Assad on May 18th.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney would not give details on whether the president will address the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. Sources like the Guardian speculate that this speech will be similar in tone to Obama’s Cairo speech in 2009. At that point early in his presidency, Obama strove to make amends for past aggressive US foreign policies in the Middle East. This time around, he’s expected to explain his administration’s restrained involvement in the MENA region’s affairs.

What will President Obama say to the Muslim World tomorrow?  Will he address the ongoing human rights violations in the region?  See our site for full coverage on human rights in the Middle East.  And follow us on Twitter @amnesty for our comments during the speech.

Crimes Against Humanity: ICC Prosecutor Requests Arrest Warrant For Gaddafi

10-year-old Maryam Mahmoud al-Hassouni was killed by shrapnel on 5 April 2011 from a mortar which landed in the courtyard of her home in Zawia al-Mahjoub neighbourood of Misrata while she played there. © Amnesty International

International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo today requested arrest warrants for Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and the country’s spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi,  for Crimes Against Humanity.

In the world of international justice, this request comes at lightning speed: After the UN Security Council (unanimously!) referred the situation to the ICC only days after violence and armed hostilities broke out in Libya in mid-February, the request for arrest warrants comes only three months later.

In a press conference held today, Moreno-Ocampo stated that al-Gaddafi personally ordered attacks against unarmed civilians. His office collected evidence that security forces shot peaceful protesters, that heavy weaponry was used against participants in funerals, and that snipers shot at civilians. According to the ICC prosecutor, these crimes were committed in a systematic and widespread manner and are still ongoing in areas under al-Gaddafi’s control. While the ICC judges will consider the request for arrest warrants, the Office of the Prosecutor will continue to collect evidence, including on potential war crimes committed since armed conflict broke out in Libya.


Misratah: The Spiralling Human Cost In A City Under Fire

By Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s crisis researcher

A man holds a remnant tail section from an MAT-120 cluster munition used in Misratah © Private

Here in Misratah, Libya’s third city, we have just experienced four more days of relentless shelling by Colonel al-Gaddafi’s forces.

In just two of the residential neighbourhoods I have been able to visit in the past four days – Qasr Ahmad in the east of the city and Zawia al-Mahjoub in the west – hundreds of rockets and mortar shells have rained down, literally all over the place.

I have lost count of how many homes I’ve seen that have been hit in these clearly indiscriminate attacks.

Medical clinics, schools, mosques, factories and the port – where thousands of foreign workers are stranded and waiting to be rescued – are just some of the locations that have come under attack. Fortunately, many of the residents of the houses that took direct hits escaped injury but others were not so lucky. Adults and children alike have been killed and injured in their homes and on the streets by flying shrapnel from these projectiles.


Nafousa Mountain Libyans Living In Fear

By Diana Eltahawy, Libya researcher at Amnesty International

The Dhehiba camp in Tunisia currently hosts 1,207 Libyans © Amnesty International

In normal times, Dhehiba is a quiet, small town in southern Tunisia, three kilometres away from the country’s border with Libya. Today, times here are anything but normal.

This area is experiencing a growing influx of Libyans fleeing from their homes in the Nafousa Mountain area of western Libya because of the actions being taken there by Colonel M’uammar Gaddafi’s forces.

The actual number of those fleeing is difficult to establish as most people do not cross at the official border post but instead travel by desert back roads to try and avoid the checkpoints set up by the Libyan leader’s forces. Some do then come to the border post on the Tunisian side to have their passports stamped but others continue on directly to find refuge in Tunisia’s cities.


Mines Pose New Danger As Libya Battles Rage On

By Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s crisis researcher

As fighting continues between forces loyal to Colonel al-Gaddafi and those opposed to his rule for control of the strategic oil-rich region west of Ajdabiya, yet more families are being displaced by the conflict. Evidence that al-Gaddafi’s forces have laid anti-personnel mines – which are internationally banned on account of the grave danger they pose to civilians – beside the main road on the outskirts of Ajdabiya, not just anti-tank mines, has heightened concern for the safety of local residents and people travelling in the area.

Evidence that al-Gaddafi’s forces have laid anti-personnel mines has heightened concern for local residents © Amnesty International

The anti-personnel mines were discovered only by chance when an electricity company truck drove over and detonated two of the mines on the morning of 28 March, just two days after Colonel al-Gaddafi’s forces had been forced to retreat from the area.

‘AbdelMina’ im al-Shanty, the company’s operations director for eastern Libya, told me that electricity supply workers had been dispatched to the area to repair power lines damaged during the two-week siege of the town. Fortunately, no one was injured in the blast, thanks to the sturdiness of the truck, but if any of the workers had stepped on the mines they would almost certainly have lost limbs or worse. Anti-personnel mines are banned internationally and must not be used anywhere or under any circumstances. That these anti-personnel lines were planted close to a significant population centre and in area of frequent passage is even more reprehensible.