I was in Delhi on December 17 when tens of thousands marched in solidarity to support a young victim of rape.
On the evening of December 16, this young woman and her friend boarded a bus to return home after watching a movie. Her friend was attacked, while she was assaulted and raped by five men on the bus. Both were then left to die on the side of a busy street. Her injuries were so severe, that she succumbed to them a few weeks later.
Angered by her plight, thousands took to the streets to demand justice and accountability from a system that they think routinely ignores issues around women’s safety. Subsequently, the Indian government showed uncharacteristic speed in apprehending and trying the suspects. And now substantial efforts are under way to overhaul the country’s legal, social, and cultural response to violence against women.
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The late U.S. Representative Thomas Lantos
Late last week, Congress reclaimed some of its human rights mojo when the bi-partisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) announced its new Defending Freedoms Project. The TLHRC was established in 1983 by the late Rep. Thomas Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor to have served in Congress.
The project kicked off with the TLHRC co-chairmen Frank R. Wolf adopting Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng and James P. McGovern taking on the case of jailed Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab.
The goal of this new partnership is to increase respect for religious freedom and other human rights around the world through a focus on individual cases of human rights defenders and those who have been unjustly imprisoned for exercising their human rights. Members of Congress will “adopt” at least one political prisoner, using their clout to highlight each case and push for an end to the human rights violations to which the highlighted individual is being subjected.
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Bahraini Shiite boy crouches by pile of tear gas canisters collected by protesters (AFP/Getty Images)
Against a backdrop of ongoing human rights violations in Bahrain, the US Congress is about to hold a high-level public hearing today on events in the country. Organized by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, the hearing will focus attention on whether or not Bahrain’s government has actually followed through on the promises it made to end human rights abuses and hold violators accountable.
The hearing comes at a key time. In April of this year, Amnesty International issued an important report demonstrating the Bahraini authorities’ failure to implement human rights reforms. Indeed, Bahraini courts have continued to sentence activists to prison simply for criticizing the government.
These prisoners of conscience include Nabeel Rajab, who faces 3 months in jail for tweets that the government didn’t like. Doctors and medical workers have also been sentenced to prison following comments they made to the international media. And then there is Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a political activist who is now imprisoned on a life sentence. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (formerly known as the Congressional Human Rights Caucus) enhances and coordinates the activities of Members of Congress with a strong interest in human rights. Recently the Commission has held hearings on the status of human rights in North Korea, Morocco and Sudan, bringing in human rights defenders such as Su-Jin Kang from the Coalition for North Korean Women’s Rights, and Vincent Cochetel from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to speak with members of Congress.
If your Representative is not a member (see the membership list here), ask him or her to join! Find out who represents you and take action online.
Membership in the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission demonstrates a commitment to promoting human rights and assisting victims of abuse, and it provides members with a service to keep informed about opportunities to lend a voice of leadership on behalf of those whose voices are quelled.
Representatives can join the commission, even in the lame duck session of Congress. Join us in urging all Members of the House of Representatives to join the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and work actively to protect and promote freedom, security, and human rights worldwide.