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Category: Human Rights

Tragedy and Devastation in the Philippines

The Philippines are continuing recovery efforts following landfall of the deadliest typhoon to strike the country on Friday. Casualty figures are skyrocketing as contact is reestablished with outlying towns and villages. Over 10,000 people in the city of Tacloban alone are believed dead from Super-typhoon Haiyan. . Other villages were completely wiped off the map. In addition to the casualties, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced.

Filipino officials had believed the storm's speed would limit the amount of rainfall and wind, resulting in few casualties. In the past, a majority of storm-related casualties and damage came from rain-swollen rivers and mudslides; this was not the case with Haiyan. The super-typhoon produced a 10-foot tall storm surge and produced winds of 190 mile per hour with some gusts reaching 235. Evacuations began the day before the storm reached landfall but poor infrastructure, inadequate planning, and a lack of time resulted in most people not being evacuated.

One of the core values for's members is the need for strong international cooperation. Over 21 countries have pledged aid, and assistance and aid workers are already on the ground. Eighty U.S. Marines have already arrived from Japan to help with relief efforts and more are on the way. The International Red Cross has dispatched aid convoys but many are held up due to washed out bridges, roads, and debris. Some convoys have been attacked by desperate survivors prompting the Filipino military to deploy military and police forces to protect and ensure aid delivery.

Veterans Day Vision

Veterans Day Peace

Today we honor veterans. My grandfather Charlie ran away and joined the army as a 16-year-old bugle boy in World War I. My uncle Buddy's bomber was shot down over Yugoslavia in World War II. Fortunately, he was smuggled across enemy lines by resistance fighters. Perhaps you also have family stories of heroism, hardship and patriotism.

However, Veterans Day is not just about honoring those who loved their country and served. It is also a day to honor those who had the courage to serve; return home from Europe, Asia, Iraq or Afghanistan; and dedicate their lives to ending war.

Brave men and women who came home after World War II built the foundation of our movement. They shared a vision of "world peace through world law." They believed that preventing World War III was essential to humankind's survival.

Today, we continue to honor the courage of these veterans. We have a new name, use new language, communicate with new technologies and face new challenges. Nevertheless, we still seek a future where nations work together to abolish war, protect our rights and freedoms, and solve problems facing humanity that no nation can solve alone.

Ninety-five years ago "the war to end all wars" ended. Today, we still have our work cut out for us:

A Step Back for Malaysia

Courtesy of

Malaysia recently passed new amendments to its Prevention of Crime Act that represent blatant human rights violations.  Most disturbing is the contention that one of these amendments would allow prisoners to be detained indefinitely without trial.

This is happening in spite of the fact that Prime Minister Najib Razak pledged to uphold human rights, having recently abolished the Internal Security Act. Historically, the ISA had been used to hold political dissidents without charges. Critics speculate that this latest development is politically motivated, coinciding with a crackdown on opposition figures.

Najib cites recent robberies and high-profile public shootings as grounds for the legislative crackdown. "If the government doesn't act, more people will become victims," he said, claiming that the law would only apply to serious criminals. However, these amendments have been condemned by human-rights activists and criticized as a strengthening of his increasingly authoritarian regime.

Burma needs to address genocide in Rakhine State

The dire situation in the Burmese state of Rakhine has been given wider attention in the international community and UN thanks to the work of UN Special Rapporteur Tomas Quintana and U.S. Ambassador Samantha Powers. Both have called for the international community to engage with Burma to stop the ethnic and religious violence against Muslims in the Burmese state of Rakhine (on the country's west coast) and to help the country democratize.

An important step in the path to democracy would be for Burma to admit mishandling the Rakhine situation and to stop the violence in any way possible. One of the main reasons for the violence in Rakhine is a lack of economic opportunities, a factor that could be exacerbated by diplomatic or economic sanctions. The Burmese government also needs to stop the institutional discrimination against Rohingya, many of whom were forcibly displaced and live in terrible conditions in government refugee camps. 

Burma cannot become a true democracy if it continues to allow such ethnic cleansing or violence. If the country democratizes short of addressing these issues, it will be a democracy on an unstable and bloody foundation. In encouraging Burma to finally embrace democracy, the international community must not tolerate continued human rights violations. The legitimacy of a democracy depends on its ability to represent and protect ALL peoples living within its borders, be they in the minority or majority, and where all groups are represented and all grievances able to be addressed.

A Philanthropic Holiday: Trick-or-Treating for a Cause

Courtesy of

What kid doesn’t love Halloween--a day of dressing up and getting free candy? Unfortunately, kids around the world who have to worry about things like poverty, malnutrition, unsafe drinking water, and malaria aren’t lucky enough to enjoy days like this.

Every day, 18,000 children under the age of five die from preventable causes such as these. UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, is striving for world where that number is zero. UNICEF workers provide children with access to food, medical care, and education while fighting child abuse and exploitation. UNICEF works in over 190 countries and territories around the world and has helped reduce the number of daily child deaths by 17,000 since 1990.

A lot of people incorporate charity into a fun holiday tradition by trick-or-treating for UNICEF. Children and families go door-to-collecting donations, while schools and clubs can organize events to benefit the important work UNICEF is doing.

When this idea was first celebrated in 1950, the inaugural trick-or-treaters raised a total of 17 dollars.  Now the program brings in millions every year.  In the words of Howard Zinn, "We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world."

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.