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Category: Human Rights

A Security Council That Works

Responsibility Not to Veto

What if you could help prevent the next Rwanda, Darfur or Syria? Would you?

Time and time again as atrocities unfold, the United Nations Security Council is called upon to act but cannot due to the threat of a veto by one of the permanent members. It’s time for that to change.

It’s time for countries to agree that permanent Security Council members have a “Responsibility Not to Veto” when it comes to genocide and other mass atrocities. has just launched a petition to asking President Obama to be part of a discussion about the responsible use of the veto at the Security Council.

We envision a Security Council that works. Imagine a Security Council that pledged not to use the veto in situations of genocide and other mass atrocities. That’s a world we want to live in. Unfortunately, permanent Security Council members have used (or threatened to use) their veto power far too often. The veto power stopped immediate life-saving action in the Rwandan genocide, Darfur, and Syria.

No leader should ever use helicopter gunships, artillery, chemical weapons or even machetes on unarmed women and children and get away with it. 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda, 300,000 so far in Darfur, and close to 115,000 in Syrian. Actions to stop each of these genocides and mass atrocities were slowed by vetoes or the threat of a veto at the Security Council. We cannot stand for inaction in the face of senseless killings.

Saudi Arabia's Human Rights Farce

Seventeenth Session of the UNHRC UPR session in Geneva (Photo: @UPRinfo)

On October 21st the UN Human Rights Council kicked off the 17th session of its tri-annual Universal Periodic Reviews (UPR) in Geneva. It is during these sessions that the human rights records of a scheduled list of countries are thoroughly examined and recommendations are made. This session began with a review of particular significance: Saudi Arabia, being questioned by representatives from Japan, Romania, and Uganda. The Kingdom recently made headlines for its rejection of a coveted seat on the UN Security Council, intended as a statement calling out the Council on its consistent failure to protect human rights in Syria and Palestine. Coupled with a recent announcement by the Saudi Foreign Ministry that they intended to seek membership on the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the coming session, it is clear that Saudi Arabia has aspirations to play an increased role in international diplomacy.

Though nobody was accusing the absolute monarchy—whose Prince Turki recently referred to Amnesty International as "Nasty International"—of being a champion of human rights, last week's UPR highlights the absurdity of Saudi Arabia's supposed championing of reform. Despite supposedly accepting nearly all of the over 100 recommendations made at its last UPR in 2009, almost no real improvements have been made. Questions were levied at the Saudi delegation over the country's detention without trial of activists, exploitation of migrant workers, and continued enforcement of the death penalty for homosexuality.

Time to Ratify the Disability Treaty.

Bob Dole in his wheelchair on the Senate floor.

The Disability Treaty is coming up in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on November 5th. This treaty is vital for anyone who actually cares about improving the lives of people around the world suffering from disabilities, and discrimination due to disabilities. The United States failed to take the lead in furthering human rights last year with its failure to ratify the Disability Treaty. Senate Republicans refused to ratify even as former Republican leader Bob Dole watched from his wheelchair. The opposition told a lot of "Big Lies" to justify opposition for a humanitarian treaty. A treaty vote that should not have been along party lines became partisan, with the notable exception of several Republican Senators including John McCain (R-AZ). McCain said that the treaty took the Americans with Disabilities Act and "expanded that kind of rights to people all over the world who don't have those rights today." This was an excellent opportunity for the United States to take the lead internationally on an issue the country has handled capably domestically with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The opportunity was squandered when the Senate did not ratify the Disability Treaty. Hopefully, the Disability Treaty will make it out of the Foreign Relations Committee after the expected meeting on the 5th of November.

The Social Network: Complicit in Exploiting Children?

Courtesy of CNET

It may not surprise anyone to learn that it's rather easy for pedophiles to indulge their proclivities online. What's a little more surprising is that this activity is not confined to nefarious underground sites. In fact, a lot of it takes place on Facebook. Facebook is not an evil corporation allied with child molesters, but there are some gaps in its regulatory system that need to be addressed.

A 2010 report from Fox News revealed that the pedophilia advocacy group NAMBLA was using the site to connect with other pedophiles, trade pornographic materials, and seek out victims. Facebook began removing the pages of various NAMBLA chapters, but this did not provide a permanent solution. Just through a cursory investigation of my own, I found a still existing NAMBLA page with 278 "likes."  Skimming the list of profiles who "liked" this page, I saw men from all over the U.S. and from Canada, the U.K., Iraq, and New Zealand, citing professional affiliations from Google to the U.S. Air Force to "sexologist." The latter's profile featured disturbing photos of a scantily clad boy who looked about 13.

Darknet into the Light

Courtesy of

Freedom is a popular rhetorical tool. It's central to the American narrative of democracy, market capitalism, and civil rights. It's often alluded to in our foreign policy when we push for countries to adopt similar polices of open government. In the past decade we have seen this narrative take a more extremist tone with libertarians espousing interpretations of this concept that most people would find unfathomable or unrealistic at the least.

Unabated freedom can also be dangerous. No policy area has seen the effect deregulation has had on our society than technology and more specifically the internet. While the internet has been an invaluable engine for growth, it has also been utilized by the less wholesome. This is especially true for the Darknet, an encrypted internet that exists on the same servers as the "regular internet", can only be accessed by special software and allows its users to remain mostly anonymous. Of course, this can be used to subvert government surveillance and censorship, but it is also the home of illicit arms and drug dealers and pedophiles rings.

The Darknet made international news with the arrest of Ross Ulbricht, the proprietor of Silk Road, an online marketplace for illicit drugs. Two years after founding the website, he made 3.6 million dollars and months before he was arrested, was in the process of paying a hit man to assassinate a cofounder of the website.

U.N. Day - Recommit to the Vision

UN Day

It's United Nations Day! Sixty-eight years ago, the U.N.'s charter came into being "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war... to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights... and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom."

But this is not just a day to celebrate what the U.N. has accomplished. It is also a time to recommit to working for a U.N. that can actually accomplish its visionary goals.

What if you could help to prevent the next Rwanda, Darfur or Syria? Would you? is pushing for the P5 - the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia and China - to agree not use their veto in the Security Council when dealing with genocide and other mass atrocities. It has happened too often:

Nearly 30 Million People Live in Slavery in 2013

The Global Slavery Index estimates that there are between 28.3 and 31.3 million people (29.8 million mean) subject to modern slavery in the world today. The Index, a project of the Walk Free Foundation, includes several related concepts in its definition of modern slavery. The mean figure of 29.8 million people includes those bought and sold as property, "classically" defined slavery; victims of human trafficking; and "forced labour", those coerced into working through various means. According to the Foundation, "the significant characteristic of all forms of modern slavery is that it involves one person depriving another people of their freedom."

As a percentage of the total population, Mauritania has the most people living in slavery. Though higher than the Index estimate, one Mauritanian NGO estimates that 20 percent of the population live in slavery. In Mauritania, "chattel slavery" is most common, meaning "adults and children in slavery are the full property of their masters who exercise total ownership over them and their descendants." This status can be hereditary and slaves can be bought, sold, and rented out. Individuals have no rights and face violence and sexual assault. Force begging is common amongst child slaves. For Americans, these conditions must bring to mind our own shameful history of chattel slavery.

No One Should Remain in Solitary Confinement

Solitary Confinement Exercise Area

Two years ago, UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, called for a ban on solitary confinement. In his words, "solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique . . . [it] is a harsh measure which is contrary to rehabilitation, the aim of the penitentiary system." This practice is widespread in the United States, sparking a two month long hunger strike by 30,000 inmates in the California prison system this summer. In American prisons, those with existing mental illnesses are often "warehoused" in isolation. The U.S. used this type of punishment on prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay as well.

The Power to Change the World


This week I had the unfortunate experience of studying for an International Development Exam at the same time as watching CNN's shutdown coverage. With less than 24 hours until the US reached the debt ceiling, congress was still discussing possibilities with no clear outcome. For the first time in my young lifetime, I watched our politicians play a game with the global economy, and I was horrified.

The US Government has the ability to make an impact in international development more than any NGO, international institution, or campaign. These 536 men and women can make a tremendous amount of change if they set their minds to it, but instead they bicker over small details. They could fix education, cure a disease or just build a road in a country with no real infrastructure. They've benefited from wonderful educations, yet they don't care about the problems current students face. They all claim to be religious people, yet they spend millions of dollars on negative campaigns instead of helping dying children in the global south. They're willing to risk a global economy meltdown over a law that's been upheld by our systems of checks and balances, yet they don't seem to be wiling to actually put foreign investment behind that global economy to help it grow.

Out of every major developed country, the US falls in last with the amount of foreign aid given. World governments, including the US, came together to commit .7% of rich countries' gross national product or GNP to international development. Italy and Spain, both countries that suffered during the 2008 Great Recession, continue to give .29 percent of their GNP, yet we only give .22. We claim to be a global leader, but we're the farthest behind in giving. Perhaps we should take the lead and try to make a real difference in the world.

The Power of Identity

Kofi Annan said that "gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance." There are many ways that investing in women's empowerment can help end poverty. For example Women tend to invest more of their wages into their families than men. However, I'm going to focus on one aspect of women's equality and development: birth registration.

My host mother, Madame Sanokho took me on a trip to deliver books to a small Senegalese village about two hours from Kaolack-the second largest city in Senegal -- where I was living. On the way she told me about the problems that girls face with achieving an education. I learned that one of their biggest challenges was not having a birth certificate because without a birth certificate children can't attend secondary school. In Senegal birth certificates cost about $25 to obtain and most families live on about a $1.25 per day so birth certificates are financially unfeasible. When we arrived at the village I met 32 girls in their final year of primary school and I asked them if they planned to go to secondary school. They all said no because they didn't have a birth certificate. People in this situation are often referred to as unregistered.

I couldn't believe that the amount of money I might spend with friends going out to dinner on a Friday night is what was standing between these girls and a more vibrant future. Birth certificates grant children access to education, health care, an identity card which allows them to work legally. Moreover, a birth certificate provides them the ability to cross borders in times of conflict and return at a later date.