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Category: Human Rights

Global Leadership on Global Violence: Time to Sign the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)

What three things would you wish for given the chance? One wish may be to be wealthy, another may be to have done something differently in the past, or perhaps you would wish for world peace. These are usually what you would think of given such a hypothetical because they are largely regarded as unlikely or even impossible - relegated to wishful thinking. Though world peace is often derided in popular culture as being unrealistic, analogous to anything that would be desirable but ultimately impossible; The truth is there are concrete steps that can be taken that would make the world safer. The United States could sign the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) at the UN in September.

In fact, there is great support for the President to do just that. Today 33 national organizations have thrown their support behind the treaty. Amnesty International, the Arms Control Association, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam America, and, among others, have all sent a letter to President Obama emphatically urging him to sign the treaty at the United Nations in September. In search of bi-partisan middle ground, President Obama has neglected commonsense policies in the past in favor of ones more palatable to conservatives. This is not the time to listen to unfounded fears of gun grabbing when real progress can be made in quelling violence in conflict regions.

OMG Samantha Power Empowers Youth Activism

"OMG," Samantha Power is excited about viral videos and social media as a lever of change.  The youngest US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at age 42, gave her first speech as an Ambassador to the Fourth Estate Leadership Summit this weekend.  The event was hosted by Invisible Children, an advocacy NGO with the goal of bringing members of the Lord’s Resistance Army to justice and ending child conscription in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Her speech was current and geared toward encouraging the world’s youth to take action in whatever creative or unconventional forms.  She praised the work of Invisible Children in their “Stop Kony” campaign and the efforts they have taken since their viral video release last year.  “Today ordinary citizens don’t just advocate for change and action, they force change and they take action themselves,” Powers remarked.   She gave examples of how today’s youth don’t have to become Washington lobbyists to catalyze global change like Invisible Children’s effort to design fliers that encourage LRA fighters to defect, to distribute them to LRA-affected areas in DRC and the Central African Republic, and to build radio stations in areas of high LRA activity.

While Power embraces youth movements such as viral videos and social media, she also stressed the importance of result focused action saying, “everything else is just noise. But this new generation understands that the video is not what matters; the number of twitter followers is not what matters. These are just means to an end… What matters is the real world scoreboard.” 

Can We Get Past Putin and Focus on the Athletes?

Photo courtesy of

The Olympics, at least as I have always understood them, are known for their spirit of unity. I’ve always watched - partially for the melodramatic music playing over the rags-to-riches success story of this runner or that rower; for the close-ups of athletes crying on the podium as they hear their national anthems being played; and, perhaps most importantly, for the sense of camaraderie among the participants despite the national boundaries that separate them.

Overall, the spirit of teamwork and internationalism pervades - despite the basic fact that each country is competing against every other one. However, it is impossible to deny that the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia will be an intensely politicized affair.

The controversy is over a bill signed into law in June by President Vladamir Putin, banning “homosexual propaganda.” This law makes it illegal to give anyone under 18 information about homosexuality, and anyone deeming to be promoting gay rights can be arrested, or in the case of foreigners, detained and deported. Although Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister said the law would not “infringe on rights of people based on sexual orientation, either at the Olympics, or before or after,” the bill is intentionally vague, and comes amidst crackdowns on homosexuality throughout Russia.

Ambassador Samantha Power: Inspiring U.S. Leadership in the UN

Vice President Biden swears in Samantha Power as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

Last night I watched a really great TED talk by Simon Sinek, called "How Great Leaders Inspire Action." The argument Mr. Sinek makes is that effective leaders inspire change not by focusing on what they do, but by focusing on why they do it. To back up his argument, Sinek cites incredibly influential leaders throughout history, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Wright brothers. These leaders changed the course of history because they focused first on the motivation behind their actions and let the outcomes be a byproduct of that motivation.

The talk ultimately made me think of a young American leader who was recently confirmed as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations: Samantha Power. During this time when the UN faces many difficult issues, I can think of no one better to head U.S. leadership at the UN, largely because of the passion Ambassador Power brings to the issues she confronts. President Obama recognizes this passion, and he said in a statement following the Senate confirmation, "As a long-time champion of human rights and dignity, she will be a fierce advocate for universal rights, fundamental freedoms and U.S. national interests." Having been a foreign policy columnist, Ambassador Power has seen human rights abuses, genocide, and war from the frontlines — first-hand experiences that reaffirm her passion for the "responsibility to protect."

Atrocity Prevention: A Modern Social Justice Movement

An internet search for "social justice movements" yields what you might think - rights-based campaigns for race, gender, sexual orientation, and class equality. Courses about social movements often include histories of the Civil Rights Movement, heterosexism, and class struggles. A few themes dominate how social justice movements, and social justice as a historiographic subject more broadly, are seen. First, domestic policy movements understandably receive more attention than foreign policy movements. The peak of the Civil Rights Era in the 1960s galvanized the country on an unprecedented scale while the anti-Vietnam War movement, arguably the most important American foreign policy social movement of the 20th century, lagged behind in the political margins. Second, social movements are conventionally conceptualized around a particular form of identity politics such as women, LGBTQ, or African-Americans. These communities provide a clear organizing base to mobilize for political will-building. Third, social movements are typically rights-based - oppressed groups staking a claim to rights granted by governments.

Celebrating hope and freedom: Nelson Mandela Day 2013

Today is Nelson Mandela's 95th birthday! It is also Official Nelson Mandela International Day, a day celebrated each year to commemorate the former President and freedom fighter's dedication to a democratic South Africa and ensure his legacy and vision continue to live on.

As a part of Mandela Day, people across the globe are asked to give 67 minutes of their time to a charity or provide service to their local communities. The number 67 was chosen because it represents the number of years Mandela gave to the struggle, spanning from the first days of his membership in the ANC through his many years as a prisoner to his presidency and beyond.

While South Africans and others throughout the world celebrate and honor Mandela's life and legacy, Mandela himself remains in the hospital, in "critical but stable" condition. In fact, Mandela's stay in the hospital, which began on June 8 when he was admitted for a lung infection he first contracted as a prisoner on Robben Island, has had an incredible effect on the nation and the world.

Through the tears shed, the prayers said, and the songs and stories shared by those inspired by Mandela these past few weeks, South Africa has been united once again. South Africans' undying love for Mandela as the symbol of their strength and freedom and the fear that these may be his last days have brought people together in a way not usually seen.

Celebrating International Justice Day

Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Fatou Bensouda

Today being International Justice Day, I wanted to write a post about the International Criminal Court, but in light of the closure of the George Zimmerman trial, I feel that this piece wouldn't be complete without relating the issue of international justice to our own issues of domestic justice.

I am not alone in my disappointment in and sadness of the outcome of the Zimmerman trial. I believe that it demonstrates that the U.S. justice system is flawed, despite its centuries-long evolution and opportunity to reform. That said, public displeasure is a clear signal that our country believes in the principle of justice and wants to see it enforced.

Unfortunately, public interest is often too narrowly focused on domestic issues. However, this does not reduce the importance of ensuring justice for all peoples. Thankfully, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established just over a decade ago in order to administer justice for the world's gravest crimes, such as genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

The Power of Norm Diffusion

Last month, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and paved the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California.  Millions of people across the United States celebrated a victory for equality and progressivism.  The decisions are historic and mark a new chapter in the fight to wrestle modernity from the hands of religious conservatives.  31 years ago it was legal to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals in all 50 states; 12 years ago the American Medical Association thought homosexuality was a disease; and nine years ago same-sex marriage was illegal no matter where people lived.   

Now, same-sex marriage is legal in 12 states (as well as the District of Columbia) and six states allow civil unions.  The momentum is unquestionably on the side of equality and the long arc of the moral universe does seem to be bending toward justice.  This, as regressive legislatures and governors overturn racial protections and restrict access to abortion centers.  National gay rights advocates largely weathered the storm of 2010 and 2012 when a series of Tea Party candidates swept to victory in the South and Midwest.  

Many people attribute the success to the popularization of the idea of being gay.  The popular 1990's television show "Will and Grace" is seen as launching the gay media revolution carried on by Glee, Modern Family, and others.  But there is a broader, more universal principle the gay rights movement can teach all of us - norms are powerful and norm diffusion is an essential part of social and political change.  

Rethinking Who's to Blame

The recent protests in Egypt have been dominating international headlines and many Egyptians are looking towards the future with optimistic anticipation. Egyptians' happiness about the future, however, has been clouded over by violent sexual attacks on Egyptian women.

While many celebrated the ousting of former President Morsi in the streets around Tahrir Square on July 4th, over 80 women were victims of harassment, rape, and mob sexual assaults. The most common scenario: a group of men pushed their way through the crowd, isolated a group of lone women, and proceeded to rip off their clothes. Sometimes the attacks stopped there, but other times they escalated.

Though incidents of sexual harassment are not unique in Egypt, these latest incidents are gaining international attention because they are more serious than typical acts of sexual harassment. According to Soraya Bahgat, co-founder of Tahrir Bodyguard, a volunteer rescue group, "Egypt is full of sexual harassment and people have become desensitized to it - but this is a step up. We're talking about mob sexual assaults, from stripping women naked and dragging them on the floor - to rape."

How did Egyptians respond to these attacks? Volunteer rescue groups, such as Tahrir Bodyguard and Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment, stepped up and patrolled Tahrir Square and its bordering streets. It was lucky that these rescue groups took action because the Egyptian police force did not. As Baghat observed, "there [was] an absolute absence of any security forces in Tahrir."

International Institutions: By the Rich, For the Rich

Source: World Atlas

France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, Germany, Japan, Italy, and Canada.  

These countries comprise, in whole or part, the Group of 8 (G8), over 40% of global gross domestic product (GDP), the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), and the top position at the International Atomic Energy Agency, World Health Organization, World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Interpol, and European Central Bank.  In other words, a huge percentage of the world's money as well as almost all of the major international institutions are controlled by only eight of the 196 countries on earth, a mere 4%.  If examined more closely, the power in these organizations is even more centralized with only France, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany controlling many of the leadership positions.  

This is a different kind of 1%.  The Occupy Wall Street movement popularized the phrase in reference to the super rich in the United States that control political and economic systems.  The global 1%, or 4% in this case, is made up of states rather than individuals and concentrated groups of decision-makers in those states.  Just like the United States's 1%, the global elite are failing the world's poor and pushing them to the margins through infantilization, uneven globalization, and disingenuous development.