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Category: Human Rights

ISIS Declares Caliphate: The Worsening Situation and the Role of the International Community

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) made a huge move yesterday by declaring a caliphate spanning large areas over Iraq and Syria. ISIS has been capturing Iraqi cities one by one for several weeks now. They have successfully overrun military forces, and in some cases made forces voluntarily retreat.

(ISIS has recognized their caliphate as crossing international boundaries and ridding the countries of lasting colonial-era borders and has therefore changed its name to only “The Islamic State”.)

Abu Muhammad al-Adani, ISIS spokesperson, made this announcement on Sunday, which was also the beginning of Ramadan. In it al-Adani declared ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the imam and caliph (religious and political successor of the Prophet Muhammad) of “Muslims everywhere."

Last week, ISIS had been suspected of overtaking an oil refinery in Baiji, Iraq that would give them control of 1/3 of Iraq’s oil output. Because of this development, President Obama approved 300 troops to be sent to Iraq. These troops are part of what is called an “assessment” mission.

Egypt Delivers a "Draconian" Ruling

Egypt is making headlines again.

Only months after a court sentenced over 600 defendants to death, Judge Sa'ed Yusef Sabri confirmed the death sentence for 183 Muslim Brotherhood supporters, including the group’s former leader, Mohammed Badie.

At the time the initial sentence was handed down, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called the proceedings a “cursory mass trial.” Many of the accused were tried in absentia, never facing trial. On Monday similar words were spoken. Ms. Pillay said she was “shocked and alarmed” in a statement and released shortly after the sentencing.

In a statement from New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reaffirmed that “Proceedings that clearly appear not to meet basic fair trial standards, particularly those resulting in the imposition of the death penalty, are likely to undermine prospects for long-term stability." The statement went on to stress that "participation in peaceful protests or criticism of the Government should not be grounds for detention or prosecution”.

Hesham Qasim, former chairman of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, has called for authorities to intervene in the matter.

Free for a Day: Meriam Ibrahim Released and Rearrested

A few days ago, my mother, who of course reads my blog posts, excitedly notified me over Facebook that Meriam Ibrahim has been released from prison in Sudan. Last week I wrote about how the court’s apostasy accusation against Ibrahim, in addition to being an egregious assault on religious freedom, was also a case study in codified misogyny. This legalized chauvinism had forced a mother to give birth shackled to the floor and had sentenced her to death--but last Monday it seemed she’d been granted a reprieve.

The international outcry against the conviction’s abuse of human rights seemed to have been answered in the Court’s latest ruling. Jehanne Henry of Human Rights watch suggested that the international pressure may have had an influence on the decision. Certainly between Amnesty International, David Cameron, and Hillary Clinton, influential voices had raised a clamour worldwide in an international campaign demanding justice for the imprisoned Ibrahim. Widespread investment and concern for the fate of one woman had transcended borders and yielded a concrete and happy result.

Still, the international community rejoiced cautiously. US Rep. Chris Smith called the release a “huge first step,” but maintained that the next was putting Ibrahim and her family on a plane to the US.

Senate Hearing on Women's Rights Affirms Importance of IVAWA, CEDAW

Senate Witness Panel on Gender-Based Violence, cred. Feminist Majority

This blog was co-authored with Ben Gross

Tuesday marked a monumental day for women around the world as the Senate Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women’s Issues gathered to address the global epidemic of gender-based violence and discrimination. Senator Barbara Boxer, presiding, convened an impressive array of witnesses that included prominent Senators as well as many other leading figures in the struggle for gender equality.

Senator Boxer emphasized in her opening remarks the need for the long-overdue passage of  the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) and the ratification of the Women’s Rights Treaty (CEDAW) as vital steps in protecting women’s rights worldwide.

Can Unitary Action Supplement International Intervention?

On Thursday, June 19th, the White House announced that the US will be cutting and redirecting aid to Uganda in response to its harsh anti-homosexuality laws. This comes roughly 3 months after the passage of the law and two weeks after Uganda’s Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa was elected President of the UN General Assembly.

The US’ specific plan includes the following, as outlined on the White House Blog:

  • Restricting entry to the United States by implementing a visa ban on Ugandan individuals involved in human rights abuses or corruption
  • Ceasing support for Uganda’s community policing program in order to address police abuse related to the anti-homosexuality law
  • Redirecting certain financial support for the Ministry of Health (MOH) to other partners by shifting funding to non-governmental organizations, thus untying US aid from the Ugandan government
  • Relocating funds for a planned public health institute and other measures relating to health programming to another country within Africa, in addition to relocating the National Institutes for Health genomics meeting to South Africa

The US will not, however, suspend humanitarian support or its commitment to help end the Lord’s Resistance Army.

World Cup Puts Global Inequality on Display

A mural street artist Paulo Ito painted on the doors of a schoolhouse in Sao Paulo's Pompela district. From Ito's Flickr feed.

With the 2014 FIFA World Cup underway in Brazil, it’s easy to ignore the headlines about protests in favor of the dramatic, high-scoring football matches capturing the attention of fans worldwide. But before we get out of the group stages, let’s focus on a chief concern of those protestors: inequalities in Brazilian society, and a corollary – how dismayingly common those inequalities are around the world.

Let’s start with Brazil. Around 15.9% of Brazilians are below the national poverty line. Just 3% of Brazilians own two thirds of the arable land, and agriculture is big business in Brazil. The most important picture of Brazil is the contrast in, say, Rio de Janeiro, between the massive favela shanty towns and the picturesque high-rise hotels immediately adjacent – the exact scene that will be playing out for tourists at the World Cup. With families locked in poverty sometimes for generations while the wealthy seemingly stay on top, desperation can easily set in.

But Brazil is only one piece of the puzzle; inequality is getting worse around the world. One study saw the top 1 percent of earners in the world increase their incomes 60 percent from 1988 to 2005; the bottom 20 percent saw no change. Eight percent of people see 50 percent of income worldwide. Coupled with staggering extreme poverty figures – we still have 1.22 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day – we all have a reason to protest.

Are Human Rights the Cost of Global Governance?,_Sam_Kutesa.jpg

Uganda’s Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa has been elected President of the UN General Assembly. While this is primarily a ceremonial position, Kutesa’s election comes with much protest, with opponents citing his string of corruption charges as well as Uganda’s own questionable laws and actions.

The most horrendous of these laws, and the main cause of concern, is Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law, which sentences violators to life imprisonment for “attempting to commit homosexuality,” along with other acts. The law also punishes businesses and owners “found guilty of the promotion of homosexuality.” Since the passage of the law, there have been many reports of violence, arrests, and other acts of discrimination, giving rise to a “culture of extreme and violent homophobia.” Many countries and organizations have responded to this by cutting aid to Uganda, with the World Bank suspending a $90 million loan directed to improve health services. 

Uganda was also found liable by the International Court of Justice in 2005 for war crimes in the Congo, for which it was ordered to pay $10 billion in reparations. This debt has yet to be paid.

Apostasy and Misogyny in Sudan

Last Tuesday announced the next chapter in a legal case that has drawn international outrage: Meriam Ibrahim, sentenced to death for apostasy, has been brought before an Appeals Court in Sudan. Ibrahim was condemned under Sharia last May for renouncing Islam and marrying a Christian, a so-called act of adultery. She gave birth in shackles and remains imprisoned with her newborn daughter. Ibrahim is trapped in a struggle between religious freedom and theocracy, but is also chained by legalized misogyny.

Apostasy is punishable by death, a penalty described in the Hadith and enforced by the Sudanese court. But Ibrahim’s punishment is not only an attack on religious freedom--it is also what happens when the gendering of religious identity is codified by state law.

The accusation and sentencing of Ibrahim are founded on the principle that women have neither the right to choose their religion nor to pass it on to their children.

Ibrahim’s only connection to Islam is through her long-absent father; she was raised by her Christian mother and considers herself Christian. Yet Sudanese law has determined her to be an apostate Muslim because the religion is patrilineal.

A Weapon of War Tolerated for Too Long

"It is a myth that rape is an inevitable part of conflict. There's nothing inevitable about it. It is a weapon of war aimed at civilians. It has nothing to do with sex, everything to do with power."

With this statement, Angelina Jolie, co-chairing with Foreign Secretary William Hauge, kicked off the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict on Tuesday in London, the first of its kind. In attendance are representatives from over 100 countries, experts in the fields, faith leaders, survivors, and NGO and international organization representatives.

The issue of sexual violence is not a new topic in the US, as sexual assault, particularly on college campuses, is at the forefront of policy action. The importance of the international community to use political will to end sexual violence in the world’s current conflicts is paramount.

Human Rights Watch recently documented cases of sexual abuse in many current conflicts including those in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote D’Ivoire, Guinea, Libya, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and Syria. This report doesn’t even include the recent discovery of sexual abuse happening in South Sudan right under UN peacekeepers' noses. Even worse, allegations in South Sudan have been made against government soldiers and rebel forces.

The four main goals for the summit are:

Why Ratifying the Women's Rights Treaty Is Important to All American Citizens

The United States has led the way for democracy and equality around the world. Through its own work as well as through collaborating with international organizations, the US has strived to guarantee better lives for all citizens. Despite such progress, recent issues regarding equality between the sexes within the US have brought to light the domestic problems we still face and how such problems prevent us from helping others around the world.

News headlines in recent months have been filled with stories of inequality and injustice against US women. President Obama’s speech on equal pay for women has led many once again to bring up the need for women to be treated as equals in the workforce and to receive the same benefits as their male counterparts.

The recent shooting near UC Santa Barbra that took the lives of seven individuals has shed light on the violence continually committed against women in the United States. The assailant, a 22-year-old male that had attended the university, left a video explaining how his actions were targeted against women as consequence of their continually rejecting him. This misogynistic attack led to a social media campaign entitled #YesAllWomen, which sought to bring attention to the need for greater protection of women’s rights.