Is Internet Access A Human Right?

An internet cafe in Istanbul. (UGUR CAN/AFP/Getty Images)

A curious op ed appeared in The New York Times recently, titled “Internet Access is Not a Human Right.” In this piece—which I read as I do most news and media, via my computer—Vinton Cerf, a “father” of the Internet, makes an argument that despite the critical role of Information Communication Technologies (the internet) in the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, access to the Internet is not a human right.

I should note that his right to express himself so is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR):

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to… seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.


All Malawians Should be Treated with Love

ADAM-022473-0005-C003049973-026548Malawi president Bingu wa Mutharika will purportedly participate in a traditional engagement ceremony on Valentine’s Day with the lovely woman he has been seen escorting of late. I wish him all the happiness in the world. But at the same time Mutharika looks forward to sharing his life with the person of his choice, two men remain jailed in Malawi because they tried to do the same.

At the end of December 2009, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were arrested following their participation in a traditional engagement ceremony. They are currently on trial for “unnatural practices between males” and “gross public indecency.” They remain imprisoned after being denied bail, purportedly for their own safety, and face public ridicule when appearing in court. They have applied for relief to the Constitutional Court challenging the constitutionality of their arrest under Malawian law but have yet to receive a ruling.

Following the arrest of Monjeza and Chimbalanga, three things have happened. First, Malawi’s gay rights movement has become much more active. Second, Malawi has harshly cracked down on gay rights activists. Third, the international community has mobilized, demanding the release of these two men and the repeal of homosexuality as a crime in Malawi. I view two of these outcomes as very positive, and unfortunately, one of them not so much. The arrest of someone for putting up posters that read “Gay Rights are Human Rights” is not only harassment, but it is violative of freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Malawi is a signatory.

Malawi is also pushing back against the international community, stating other nations and individuals have no right to dictate the laws in their country, raising fears Malawi will only entrench further on its anti-homosexuality stance in the face of this criticism. As a general rule, I appreciate the concept of sovereignty and that other States should stay out of the business of running a nation. However, when persons are discriminated against, their rights violated, their civil liberties trampled, their basic freedoms curtailed and their safety endangered purely because of who they are as individuals, it is the duty of all human beings to stand up and say that this is wrong.

President Mutharika looks to have a very busy year between settling into a new marriage and assuming the African Union chairmanship.  The increased visibility and prestige of chairing the African Union makes it incumbent upon Mutharika to set positive standards for all of the continent.  Monjeza and Chimbalanga return to court tomorrow as their case resumes. Stand up and do your duty as a global citizen and urge Malawi to treat all its citizens, gay and straight, president and average Joe, with love.

Happy Human Rights Day! Now get to work!

Human Rights Day - © AI

Human Rights Day - © AI

The date of December 10th was chosen to honor the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) more than sixty years ago today. The declaration says that every human being deserves dignity, freedom and respect. It is the first blueprint for our global rights and continues to light the way for our work today.

Protecting human rights may sound like a major undertaking, but here are 5 simple things that you can do to stand up for our universal rights today – on Human Rights Day – and for as long as it takes until human rights are realized and protected in every corner of the world.

  1. Write a letter. Save a life.
  2. The Global Write-a-thon is the biggest Amnesty International event all year. It also uses one of the oldest (and most powerful) weapons of the human rights movement – writing letters.

    We’ve seen it work! Just last year, Ma Khin Khin Leh, a school teacher in Myanmar and Hana Abdi, a women’s rights advocate in Iran, were both released from prison soon after Write-a-thon letters overwhelmed their respective government offices.

    Your letters can bring justice and human rights back to people who need it.

  3. Make a video – tell your best human rights story.
  4. Each month, YouTube’s Video Volunteers program asks folks to make videos about organizations working on a particular issue. This month’s issue is human rights. To participate, make a promotional, less than 3-minute video about a human rights organization whose work you admire. Submit it by December 21, 2009. The top 3 videos will appear on the YouTube homepage at the end of the month.

  5. Urge elected officials and corporations around the world to take action on key human rights issues
  6. Send emails directly to those responsible for ongoing human rights violations involving issues such as poverty, indefinite detention, torture and the death penalty.

  7. Write a blog on human rights and help spread the word!
  8. Your opinion counts. Blog about a human rights issue that is important to you and help get others involved.

  9. Oh yeah, join Amnesty International!
  10. For nearly 50 years, our worldwide network of activists have helped free political prisoners from jail and bring brutal human rights abuses to an end.  By joining one of the largest and most effective human rights organizations in the world, you can stand on the front lines of change.

More on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Reflections on its 60th anniversary by former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, author and former child soldier Ismael Beah, doctor and human rights activist Farai Madzimbamuto, and our own Larry Cox.

And a classic 1988 Amnesty International animated guide to the UDHR — with voice over by Debra Winger and Jeff Bridges, and music by David Byrne (among other ’80s alt-rock luminaries).

Happy Human Rights Day — write a letter and help save a life this week!

What the UDHR Means to Me

The United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), proposed by Eleanor Roosevelt and adopted by the United Nations in 1948 established 30 articles of universal Human Rights. This document establishes and protects the framework for civilized and respectful interaction between all people and nations no matter what their political, religious or cultural beliefs. Over 190 nations have ratified this declaration; and yet surveys show that more people can name 3 members of the Homer Simpson TV Cartoon family than they can name three of their basic human rights. You can’t defend what you do not know.

At a time when we see women being stoned to death, child executions, people starving in the Eastern Sudan, children being stolen from their families and made into child-soldiers or prostitutes, prisoners being water-boarded, millions of people starving and dying of AIDS each year – we have to ask: what can human rights education do? My answer is everything. It’s where it all begins.

A friend once told me a story I will never forget. In the early 1940’s there was a young black boy in the Deep South, a sharecropper’s son. He went to school in a one-room, tattered schoolhouse. One morning, sitting by himself, he opened a third-hand, torn Civics text book. He read a page – The United States Bill of Rights. He read it again. He looked around and what he saw were white only schools, white only restrooms, and “sit on the back of the bus”. It didn’t make sense. And at that single moment, education, as it does for all of us, made that young Black boy more aware – and he decided to do something about it. His name was Martin Luther King Jr., and the rest is history.

Nelson Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can learn to love.”

Human rights violations know no borders. From child soldiers in the Congo, ethnic cleansing in Darfur, to the rise in human trafficking right here in the US, it is easy to see that the whole world needs to change.

By knowing all 30 Articles of the UDHR we can be equipped with the knowledge to fight against any injustice anywhere in the world. On this 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration, with all the turmoil that currently exists in the world, it has become more important than ever for people to know their rights, to pass them onto others, and to defend them relentlessly.

The solution to global issues such as poverty, famine, war and political unrest is encompassed by the UDHR, and human rights education is the first step in resolving these issues at a grassroots level.

I hope to see the day when human rights education becomes a mandatory part of every middle school curriculum on every continent across the world, so that every man, woman and child knows and can defend their God-given rights.

The Price of Silence

Anniversaries are a dime a dozen. We’ve got days for everything. Sled Dog Day. Bubble Gum Day. Ballet Day. Dump Your Significant Jerk Day.  I’m not kidding. Today is different.

60 years ago this December 10th – after the horrors of World War II – the world came together to unanimously pass the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Not one nation dissented (though a few abstained). The declaration says that every human being deserves dignity, freedom and respect.  It’s the first blueprint for global rights, establishing fundamental freedoms for every human being.

I guess years of a hellish war have a way of teaching you what’s important.

60 years later, millions if not billions still suffer from tyranny, torture, injustice and inequality. Amnesty International reported earlier this year that the world’s leaders owe an apology for failing to deliver on the promise of justice and equality in the UDHR.

16 global musicians aren’t waiting around for the apology. Instead they collaborated on a new music video project called “The Price of Silence”. The video features artists who’ve personally fled oppressive regimes:

  • Yungchen Lhamo (Tibet) was born in a Chinese labor camp and left Tibet in 1989 at the age of 22, trekking across the Himalayas with her two-year old son to escape oppression from the Chinese regime.
  • Alicia Partnoy is a survivor from the secret detention camps where about 30,000 Argentineans “disappeared.”
  • Emmanuel Jal was born in war-torn Sudan in the early 1980s. He was taken from his family home in 1987 when he was six years old, and sent to fight with the rebel army in Sudan’s bloody civil war.
  • Chiwoniso recently relocated from Zimbabwe to the United States in August 2008, removing herself and her two children from the political and economic unrest there.

Other artists include Hugh Masekela, Julieta Venegas, , Angelique Kidjo, Aterciopelados, Yerba Buena, Natacha Atlas, Rachid Taha, Kiran Ahluwalia, Natalie Merchant, and Chali 2Na of Jurassic 5.

Don’t be silent. Watch it, and pass it on.  Even to just one friend, one family member.

You can also buy the track on iTunes. All proceeds go to support Amnesty International’s life saving work.

Special thanks to Link TV, Nacional Records, Aterciopelados, music producer Adres Levin (and his organization Music Has No Enemies) and video director Josh Atesh Litle for their help creating “The Price of Silence”.

How Will YOU Celebrate Human Rights Day?

Now, the outgoing Bush administration’s plans for celebrating Human Rights Day ’08 can finally be revealed!  On December 10, they are going to carry out the first U.S. Military execution in 47 years, when they put Ronald Gray to death by lethal injection.  According to CNN and several other media sources, Private Ronald Gray, a former soldier from North Carolina, is set to be executed at a federal prison in Terra Haute, Indiana by Army personnel.  His execution was approved by President Bush in July.

While there is a possibility that a federal appeals court could stay the execution, the military expects it to take place as scheduled.  The last military execution was performed in 1961, during the Kennedy administration, but was approved previously by President Eisenhower

In a not un-related story, yesterday the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee voted 105-48 to continue to press for a moratorium on executions worldwide.  As the AP dryly notes, “The United States sided with countries such as Iran, China and Syria in opposing the resolution.” 

Last year, the UN General Assembly passed a landmark resolution (pdf) urging all nations to declare a moratorium on executions with an eye to complete abolition of the death penalty.  As Amnesty International noted, the vote then was 104-54, so the anti-death penalty forces have picked up another vote, and several countries have moved from “no” votes into the “abstain” column.  These included Arab nations Bahrain, Jordan, Mauritania and Oman.  A final vote of the General Assembly, almost certainly with the same result, should take place next month.

It’s just my opinion, by I think passage of this resolution would be a much more appropriate way to celebrate Human Rights Day ’08, and the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, than what the government of the USA has in mind. 

Here’s another great way to celebrate Human Rights Day this year!