Another Year Lost for the Lives and Dignity of Congo’s Women

Rape survivors awaiting surgery, Panzi hospital, Bukavu, South-Kivu province. Copyright Amnesty International

Three years ago when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton took the unprecedented step of travelling to the Eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to meet with rape survivors of the country’s brutal conflict, I was elated and hopeful. Elated because Secretary Clinton was doing something that had never been done before—sending the message that sexual violence is just as high on America’s foreign policy agenda as trade or traditional capital-to-capital diplomacy, and that the dignity and needs of survivors are a particular priority. Hopeful because I thought it meant perhaps three years later we would see some real change for women in that unending war.

I was wrong.

Tens of thousands of civilians have this very week been displaced following the fall of Goma, a city in Congo’s war-torn east, to the armed group M23, worsening an already dire human rights situation.  Since only April of this year, fighting between the Congolese army and the M23 armed group has displaced 226,000 people in North Kivu province, and 60,000 refugees have fled to Uganda and Rwanda. As with the many other chapters in what’s become known as Africa’s world war, sexual violence has been a trademark of the recent fighting. Amnesty International has documented numerous crimes under international law and other human rights violations committed in the course of fighting between M23 and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) army in recent months.


A Step Toward Accountability in Syria

Friends of Syria Conference

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shakes hands with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the "Friends of the Syrian People" conference in Istanbul, April 1, 2012. Yasin Bulbul/AFP/Getty Images

This weekend, the roughly 80 nations that make up the “Friends of the Syrian People” conference met in Istanbul, Turkey, to decide next steps in dealing with the ongoing conflict and human rights crisis in Syria. Bloomberg and other media reports indicate that the group of nations has formally adopted a US government proposal to “form an accountability group to track human rights violations and atrocities.”

According to Bloomberg, the US government will provide $1.25 million to fund the effort:

The group would train and mentor Syrian investigators and lawyers, establish a secure database to store the information, and establish a prosecutor’s unit to collect and analyze evidence that could be used against regime officials in Syrian or international courts, the State Department official said. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Clinton to United Nations: "Gay Rights Are Human Rights"

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the assembly at the United Nations in Geneva on December 6, 2011. ©J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AFP/Getty Images

The fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) human rights took not one but two critical steps forward this week with President Obama’s release of a Presidential Directive on LGBT rights followed closely by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s international human rights day speech at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.

As we’ve pointed out, in too many countries being gay, or being suspected of being gay, can get you thrown into jail, tortured, raped or killed.  From the so-called corrective rape of lesbians to proposed legislation to institute the death penalty for homosexuality, LGBT people around the world face the daily threat of violence simply for who they are.


A Moral Quagmire

On Tuesday the British government announced that it had reached a settlement to pay compensation to sixteen former Guantanamo detainees for the abuses they suffered in US custody. Shaker Aamer, a UK resident still held in Guantanamo, will be one of those receiving an, as yet, undisclosed financial payment.

At least six of the individuals had lodged civil claims for damages against the government in the UK. The complaints included British complicity in unlawful detention, extraordinary rendition and torture. One detainee, Binyam Mohamed, alleged that British intelligence officers had supplied questions to his Moroccan interrogators who at one point cut his penis with a knife to get him to talk.

The British government has denied any wrong doing and the Home Secretary Kenneth Clarke told the House of Commons that “no admissions of culpability have been made in settling these cases.” The stated reasons the government decided to agree to the settlement were to avoid protracted litigation, diverting resources from vital counterterrorism investigations, and estimated legal costs that could have exceeded $80m.

However, an equally pressing concern was the government’s desire to protect classified information from disclosure in court. Much of this classified information related to CIA reporting on its interrogation and treatment of the detainees in its custody.


Clinton sees human rights "progress" in Azerbaijan as it prolongs famed journalist’s sentence

The same week US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Azerbaijan, a court in the post-Soviet country added another two years of sentence to the most prominent journalist behind bars.

Speaking of human rights in Azerbaijan during her early July trip, Secretary Clinton said: “We’ve seen a lot of progress in Azerbaijan in the last 18 years.”

Eynulla Fatullayev would disagree. On July 6, while Secretary Clinton was still in the region, he was convicted of “possession of drugs” – even as the European Court of Human Rights had recently ordered Azerbaijan to release the journalist imprisoned on a number of charges.

Fatullayev, considered a prisoner of conscience and a human rights defender by Amnesty International, is already serving an eight-and-a-half-year prison sentence on ridiculous charges — terrorism (for writing an article while in prison!), defamation, incitement of racial hatred (for visiting a disputed region and interviewing “enemies”) and tax evasion — charges which the European Court of Human Rights quashed earlier this year.

Check Out Our New Video on Chad

Last week, we told you about the need for UN peacekeepers to stay in eastern Chad to help protect refugees and IDPs. We also sent an open letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about our concerns. Now you can check out our new video that sends a powerful message to Secretary Clinton and all of the US Government that we need greater civilian protection in Chad.

And don’t forget to ask Secretary Clinton to support MINURCAT’s renewal! We need you to take action today to make sure peacekeepers can stay in Chad and the Central Africa Republic. MINURCAT still has a chance.

Gaza Blockade: Amnesty International Delivers 23,000 Signatures to Clinton

A boy poses in front of one of more than 4,000 houses in the Gaza Strip that the UN said were totally destroyed or beyond repair after the war. (c) IRIN 2010. Photo by Sahari Karam/Irin. CLICK IMAGE TO SEE COMPLETE SLIDESHOW

A boy poses in front of one of more than 4,000 houses in the Gaza Strip that the UN said were totally destroyed or beyond repair after the war. (c) IRIN 2010. Photo by Sahari Karam/Irin. CLICK IMAGE TO SEE COMPLETE SLIDESHOW

Today, we delivered a petition to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, asking her to urge the Israeli government to lift the blockade of Gaza immediately. More than 23,000 people signed the petition, making it Amnesty International’s most successful Facebook petition to date.

>> Check out IRIN News’ photo gallery, which showcases powerful photographs of life in Gaza.

Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip leaves more than 1.4 million Palestinians cut off from necessary and life-saving supplies, exacerbating a situation of extreme and desperate poverty. The blockade restricts the entry of basic goods, such as food and fuel, on which the population depends on for survival.

The blockade is strangling virtually every aspect of life for Gaza’s population, more than half of whom are children. The increasing isolation and suffering of the people of Gaza cannot be allowed to continue. The Israeli government must comply with binding legal obligation, as the occupying power, to lift the blockade without further delay – Malcolm Smart, Middle East and North Africa Director, Amnesty International

Israel argues that the blockade is a natural response to the continued attacks by Palestinian armed groups, including the rockets fired from Gaza into southern Israel. But the blockade doesn’t distinguish between those responsible for the rocket attacks and those who are just trying to make it through another day. It collectively punishes the entire population of Gaza, including many women and children, who are just trying to survive with no resources.

The people of Gaza share with everyone else the right to dignified lives, free of indiscriminate and prolonged suffering. They should not be subjected to this continuation of collective punishment brought on by the blockade – Maxwell Gaylard, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory

To learn about similar petitions in the future, please join Amnesty International USA on Facebook.

Learn more about the situation in Gaza:

Suffocating: The Gaza Strip Under the Israeli Blockade (PDF)

Troubled Waters – Palestinians Denied Fair Access to Water (PDF)

Women: The Smartest Investment

In an empowering speech on Friday, January 8, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated her commitment to women’s rights as human rights. Exactly 15 years since the UN’s International Conference on Population and Development was held in Cairo, Secretary Clinton praised the progress made in improving the health and lives of women and children around the world since this groundbreaking gathering.

This progress has included a marked increase in the use of modern contraceptives from less than 10% in the 1960s to 43% today; an encouraging increase in child survival rates; and an increase in female enrollment in schools. Despite this progress, Secretary Clinton rightly emphasized the crucial need for a continued commitment toward reaching the Conference’s goals by the target year, 2015.

Secretary Clinton cited alarming statistics: half the women in the developing world deliver their babies without access to crucial medical care and 215 million women worldwide lack access to modern forms of contraception – as Clinton put it, the “numbers are not only grim, but after 15 years, they are intolerable.” Vast gendered inequities remain; and women continue to represent the majority of the world’s “poor, unhealthy, and under-fed.”

Secretary Clinton and the Obama administration’s recognition that investing in women is “the smartest investment to be made…” shows that they’re on the right track. Earlier this year, President Obama and Secretary Clinton demonstrated their support for these issues by appointing Melanne Verveer as Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues.  The creation of this position sends a strong message to the world that the United States, in its deliberations on foreign policy and foreign aid, will give top priority to issues that affect women. Ambassador Verveer has since been a strong advocate on behalf of women around the world.  In October, she testified before Congress in hearings in both the House of Representatives and the Senate on violence against women.