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Category: Human Rights

Humanitarian Crises: Millions of Iraqis and Afghans Still Displaced Over 10 Years Later

There is no end in sight to the terrible repercussions of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 2,203,240 Iraqis are still displaced, living as refugees outside of Iraq or as displaced persons still within its borders. There are nearly twice as many displaced Afghans. In January of this year, 4,121,644 Afghans were refugees or IDPs. This means that Afghans represent the world's second largest refugee population after Palestinians.

A recent surge in sectarian violence in Iraq has lead to a tragic spike in the number of civilians killed this year--nearly 5,000 men, women, and children. In fact, more Iraqi civilians were killed in January to August of 2013 than in any year since 2008. In Afghanistan, there has also been an increase in violence affecting both civilians and Afghan security forces. The danger is acute for those Iraqis and Afghans who have worked for the U.S. military and its allies.

Death of the Rohingya: Genocide in Burma

In the country of Burma, a minority Muslim ethnic group --the Rohingya-- is facing extinction at the hands of the Buddhist Burmese majority. The Rohingya have long been discriminated against in Burma, by government laws and policies, hate speech, and religious conflict. According to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, he Rohingya have no legal status in Burma and as many as 100,000 have been displaced in recent years. A statement put out by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum explains the situation occurring in Burma and that something must be done to stop the genocidee.

The U.N. claims Rohingya are victims of crimes against humanity. They purposefully denied goods and services and many are relegated to internment camps. Foreign aid and assistance is not allowed to reach the Rohingya either. The anti-Muslim rhetoric in Burma is vitriolic and even the democracy movement in Burma has been eerily silent about the Rohingya. The Holocaust Museum is right; action must be taken to stop the ethnic cleansing. The U.N. used force to end the genocide in Yugoslavia but, then nothing was done to stop Rwanda. The U.N. and its members must work together to prevent Burma from becoming another Rwanda.

Responsibility Not to Veto: Creating the Security Council We Need

UN Security Council

Following a dramatic month of bluster and diplomatic turmoil, the Security Council unanimously passed a resolution demanding the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons. But it still has done nothing to halt the traumatic civil war that has so far killed over 100,000 and displaced over 7 million Syrians.

During the lead up to the agreement, US Ambassador Samantha Power complained, "The Security Council the world needs to deal with this urgent crisis is not the Security Council we have."   Her words are too true. Since 2011, Russia and China have vetoed three different Security Council resolutions condemning the Syrian regime's violence or promoting a solution.  This year Russia has blocked at least three statements calling for humanitarian access to besieged cities and four resolutions or statements condemning or expressing concern over the use of chemical weapons.  Prior to the current resolution, the Security Council could not even agree to put out a press statement expressing its disapproval over the use of chemical weapons.

I had hoped that President Obama would use his General Assembly speech to begin a dialogue with the permanent five members of the UN Security Council (P5) encouraging them to agree not to use their veto power to block action in response to genocide and mass atrocities that would otherwise pass by a majority. He came close, but I believe civil society has much more work to do to create the political cover for any P5 leader to initiate a public conversation on what we call the Responsibility Not to Veto (RN2V).

A few readers have asked me for some more background information and history on this concept.  So here goes:


Net Neutrality: The Struggle for Internet Freedom

Not Quite the World Wide Web: a three-part series about the importance of full access to the Internet for all

Like streaming video or shopping online? Are you willing to pay extra to reap all the benefits of the Internet?

A Missed Opportunity and Security Council Progress

Good news and bad news came out the UN this week: the rumored meeting between Presidents Obama and Rouhani did not come to fruition but the Security Council did come to a consensus on Syrian Chemical Weapons but the resolution did not mention consequences. Earlier this week Obama and Rouhani had exchanged letters and the language used suggested that they believed a meeting would be beneficial. Compared to the rhetoric of his predecessor, Rouhani appears to be much more moderate and reasonable. He does not deny the Holocaust nor is openly belligerent and obstinate. Obama is also more moderate that his predecessors who refused to deal with Iran in any way and seemed to want war with the country. The meeting, unfortunately, did not take place; Iranian officials explained that they were worried about the political climate in Tehran and how such a meeting would be received.  Secretary Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif did meet and had a constructive discussion. They agreed to a Security Council hearing on the Iranian Nuclear program in Geneva in October. Progress was made in improving US-Iranian relations but a meeting between Obama and Rouhani would have been more meaningful and significant and would have indicated a commitment to rapprochement.       

Bo Xilai and China's Corruption Witch Hunt

Bo Xilai before the Jinan Intermediate People's Court

The trial that captured the attention of the most populous country in the world came to an unsurprising end this weekend as Bo Xilai, a former member of the Politburo, was convicted of embezzlement, abuse of power, and accepting the equivalent of about 3.3 million dollars in bribes. Known as a charismatic populist who commands a broad base of support in Chongqing, where he was Party Secretary, Mr. Bo has been sentenced to life in prison and the court has ordered the seizure of all his personal assets. He has already filed an appeal, but it is unlikely to be successful.

But for such a predictable verdict, the trial was anything but. Widely expected to be the brief, formal, and predetermined sort of affair typical of Chinese courts, the public was instead treated to a spectacle worthy of a courtroom drama, complete with dramatic cross-examinations, fiery defense speeches, and a love triangle laced with murder. These unprecedented proceedings were even relayed online in real time through an official Sina Weibo feed, a Chinese micro-blogging service similar to Twitter. From start to finish, a concerted effort was made to ensure the trial seemed fair and transparent. Yet the Chinese courts remain a tool of the party, and the verdict was still likely decided behind closed doors - a show trial, emphasis on "show." So why put on such a spectacle for a foregone conclusion?

Pervasive Terror and The Normalization of Violence

Courtesy of ABCNews

Westgate Premier Shopping mall -- 69 dead, 200 injured. Washington Navy Yard -- 13 dead, 8 injured. Aurora, CO movie theater -- 12 dead. Sandy Hook Elementary School -- 27 killed. We are confronted with these headlines every month. A massacre shakes the psyche of a community, a city, a nation, and then the discussion quickly shifts to how we can prevent "the next one." It's an all too common narrative of tragedy, shock, bitter debate, then normalization as the memory passes and no action is taken to prevent the occurrence of such massacres. As these massacres occur with seemingly increasing frequency, the risk of becoming desensitized is greater than ever. If shock at the senseless slaughter of innocents doesn't spur governments to action in addressing the various incubators of extremism, what will?

The recent tragedy in Kenya is a case study in many shortcomings: the inability to address the neighboring failed state of Somalia, the oversaturation of weapons in the developing world, and the extreme desperation of people with nothing to lose and nothing to gain that are drawn to extremist messages. Domestic and International terror have varied causes, but violence has become a common means of expression among the desperate and disenfranchised. How should we as a society stop the violence? Please leave your comments below...

US Signs Arms Trade Treaty

Kerry Signs the Arms Trade Treaty

Secretary of State John Kerry has now added the United States' signature to the Arms Trade Treaty. This treaty is a great step forward in dealing with the unregulated and illicit global trade in conventional weapons and ammunition, which fuels wars and human rights abuses worldwide. I am so proud of thousands of members who emailed, petitioned and called the White House. Your efforts paid off! also was one of 33 national organizations who urged President Obama to sign the treaty, saying it, "...would be a powerful step demonstrating the United States' commitment to preventing mass atrocities and protecting civilians from armed conflict around the globe."

Not only is it good for our nation to have all countries operating from the same rule book, it's also our responsibility. Without the treaty, warlords and terrorists will continue to get weapons which are used to force child soldiers to kill their parents, to attack American soldiers and missionaries, and to rape refugee women and girls.

As the world's largest arms dealer, the US signature will put pressure on other major buyers and sellers such as Russia, China and India to join the treaty. US signature will add momentum to efforts to get at least 50 nations to join or ratify the agreement so it can go into force. So far, eighty-six other nations have signed the treaty and four have ratified it.

The US has the world's gold standard in national arms export trade controls. Kerry's signature now paves the way for the US to provide assistance and cooperation with other states on how to create good export control systems for themselves.

Guess Who (May Be) Coming to the UN General Assembly

Courtesy of

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir announced that he is planning to come to the US to attend the UN General Assembly.  Bashir, accused of human rights abuses in the western Darfur region of Sudan, is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).  If he goes through with these travel plans, the US government should arrest him and extradite him to The Hague to face charges for his crimes.

The ICC has indicted Bashir twice for crimes related to the conflict in Darfur that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.  The indictments include five counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and torture.  Another two counts are for war crimes, or attacking civilians, and three counts are for genocide.

Bashir has applied for a US visa to come to the UN General Assembly and is scheduled to speak next Thursday afternoon.  If the visa is granted and he chooses to attend, Bashir will undoubtedly be met with angry protesters and shunned by most other world leaders.  His motives for wanting to attend are unclear. It's been speculated that he is simply "thumbing his nose" at the US and the rest of the world.  Some UN diplomats suspect that he may not actually make good on his threat, for fear of arrest and extradition.  But this is not the first time Bashir has tested the limits of travel under ICC indictments; in July he attended an African Union summit in Nigeria, promptly returning home when protests broke out and lawsuits were filed.

Uphold International Human Rights: Don’t Cut the SNAP (Food Stamps)

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted for a bill that would cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by $4 billion per year for the next 10 years. A different version with smaller cuts was passed in July by the Senate. Colloquially known as "food stamps," this program provides 47 million Americans with the necessary funds to buy food every month. The SNAP budget in 2012 was $78 billion or 2.2 percent of the total federal budget of nearly $3.5 trillion. The argument for cuts is that the program is rife with fraud. But, according to the USDA, SNAP has a less than 1 percent fraud rate.

In 2012, the average gross income of all SNAP participant households was $744 per month. In the same year only 17 percent of SNAP households had gross incomes above the poverty line. While only 12 percent of the SNAP households received cash assistance from state or federal governments in 2012, 42 percent receive Social Security payments due to age or disability. Clearly, this program is serving a vulnerable population in need of assistance.