The Global Citizen: Human Rights
President Obama spoke this morning at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. to observe a Day of Remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust and announce the launch of a new Atrocities Prevention Board. Obama was introduced by author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. Both speakers gave moving testimony on the horrors of the Holocaust and how we can achieve the promise to "never again" allow such atrocities to occur.
Obama spoke to the need to more formally intervene to prevent mass atrocities and genocide, saying "national sovereignty is never a license to slaughter your own people." He said that "never again is a challenge to us all," adding that "remembrance without action changes nothing."
The President used the speech to outline several key actions the administration is taking to truly achieve the goal of "never again." Chief among these was the issuance of an executive order that allows for U.S. officials to impose sanctions against foreign nationals found to have used new technologies, including cell phone tracking and Internet monitoring, to help carry out grave human rights abuses. These sanctions will hopefully help address the repression of regimes, particularly Iran and Syria, who have used the internet to control and censor democracy and human rights activists.
President Obama released a statement over the weekend to the citizens of Sudan and South Sudan. South Sudan, nearing its one-year anniversary of independence from Sudan in June, has been disputing borders and control of important oil-rich regions with Sudan for several months. In recent weeks, disputes have turned increasingly violent.
President Obama's message was clear, that "conflict is not inevitable," and there is still time to lay down weapons and come back to the negotiating table. He called on Sudan "to halt all military actions, including aerial bombardments; give aid workers unfettered access to people in need; and end support for armed groups." He also requested that South Sudan "end its support for armed groups inside Sudan and cease its military actions across the border."
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When Iran is discussed in conversation, it's typically associated with two phrases: military action or nuclear proliferation. While obviously these are important issues to discuss, especially in light of the current nuclear negotiations between Iran and the six world powers, there seems to be another issue which is continually overlooked. According to the 2010 United Nation Report on Iranian human rights, written by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the Iranian government is guilty of, "excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests and detentions, unfair trials and possible torture and ill-treatment of opposition activists in relation to the post-election unrest in 2009." While the events in 2009 were terrible acts for a government to inflict upon its own people, these atrocities have not stopped since 2010 and existed for decades. These issues were recently discussed in an event hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an event which honored the sacrifice of Iranian journalist and film critic Siamak Pourzand.
GlobalSolutions.org sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling on her to demand the Bahraini government release human rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and 13 other political prisoners.
Al-Khawaja has been on a hunger strike for over two months, protesting his unjust imprisonment. In recent days, the Danish goverment's request to transfer Al-Khawaja to Denmark for treatment was denied by Bahraini officials. Al-Khawaja has dual Danish and Barhraini citizenship.
The letter reads in part,
"We are troubled by the ongoing conflict in Bahrain, where dozens have died and hundreds more have been wounded or imprisoned for protesting the human rights violations of the Bahraini government. Given the United States’ strong relationship with Bahrain, we are in the position to advocate for democratic reforms and protest the Bahraini government’s deplorable human rights record... Al-Khawaja’s health is rapidly deteriorating, so it is critical that you call for his release and for the freedom of the other jailed activists at once."
In the letter, we noted that we had started a petition campaign for Al-Khawaja's release that received over 15,000 signatures.
Click here to read the letter in full.
GlobalSolutions.org, along with fourteen other organizations, signed onto a letter to President Obama asking him to urge the Bahraini government to free imprisoned democracy and human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja. The letter, which was written by the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) can be read here.
CGS has also created a petition urging the U.S. government to speak out and tell Bahrain to free Al-Khawaja, which has so far drawn nearly 18,000 signatures. Al-Khawaja has been on a hunger strike for over two months and his health is rapidly failing, making his release from prison a matter of great urgency. To sign CGS's petition for Al-Khawaja's release, click here.
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to parliament yesterday in a landmark moment for the nation ruled by a military junta until just a few years ago. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Suu Kyi has been a long-time pro-democracy activist in Myanmar, spending several years under house arrest for her efforts against the military dictators. Suu Kyi lauded her electoral victory as "a triumph of the people" of Myanmar.
Although Suu Kyi's party will only comprise a small minority in the 664-seat legislature, the election is an important step in the movement towards democracy for the formally autocratic government. While the government is still heavily controlled by the military, the nation's leaders have shown significant signs of improving, including ending Suu Kyi's house arrest, freeing hundreds of other political prisoners, allowing opposition parties to participate in elections and calling for the end of ethnically motivated human rights violations.
These steps have led to increased international involvement for Myanmar, including the normalization of relations with the United States, who had imposed heavy sanctions on the Myanmarese government for its human rights violations. While there is still much work to be done before Myanmar completes its transformation to a true democracy, Suu Kyi's victory is a message to all pro-democracy efforts that perseverance does pay off.
In a landmark moment for international justice, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued its first ever verdict today, convicting Thomas Lubanga of the Democratic Republic of the Congo of abducting and conscripting child soldiers. In honor of this judgment, members of the Washington Working Group on the ICC (WICC), a group of the Washington-based NGOs committed to the cause of international criminal justice, sent a letter to Congress celebrating the verdict.
The letter was signed by twelve organizations, including: GlobalSolutions.org, American Non-Governmental Organizations Coalition for the International Criminal Court, Amnesty International USA, ENOUGH, The Fund for Peace, International Alliance of Women, International Criminal Court Alliance, International Criminal Court Student Network, Physicians for Human Rights, United to End Genocide, United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society, and Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.
The full text of the letter can be found by clicking here.
March 14, 2012 marks an extraordinary moment in world history. This morning, the International Criminal Court (ICC) completed its very first trial, convicting Thomas Lubanga Dyilo of forcing children to serve as soldiers in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. More than 74 million viewers have watched Invisible Children's Kony 2012 video, calling for the arrest and ICC trial of Joseph Kony. But few are aware that Lubanga, a man as despicable as Kony, has laid the groundwork for the kind of trial that Joseph Kony surely deserves.
During the trial, witnesses detailed how Lubanga and his men forced child soldiers to rape, kill and plunder. Commanders abducted children and forced them to commit terrible acts, including killing their parents - acts designed to cut off the abducted children from their families and communities. Witnesses reported that young girls were abducted by Lubanga's commanders to serve as their 'wives' and sexual slaves. Girls who were raped by commanders faced brutal violence, disease, forced pregnancy, and did not receive adequate medical care when needed.
Witness 229, a former child soldier and one of Lubanga's victims, testified that he was abducted on his way home from school, drugged and forced to travel for days to a military training camp. During training, the children were forced to follow strict disciplinary rules. The witness testified,
South Sudan and Sudan continue to fight for territory. The regime's target is now the people in the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan. More than a 100,000 residents have fled to the south after violence erupted in the contested region of Abyei. The Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has denied international relief for the people, and government military forces continue to move south, encouraged by the lack of response from around the world.
Escalating the mass murders of the Nuba and Blue Nile population, the Sudanese regime has deployed bombers to the border regions. Reporters describe being on the ground when suddenly civilians scramble to find a hiding place whenever they hear planes. Thousands are living in caves, hoping that heavy boulders will provide shelter from the bombings. The wounded have to be driven to American hospitals, more than five hours away. Sudanese officials declare that the bombers have been sent to target rebel forces; however survivors and foreign reporters argue that civilians are being targeted. Along with eliminating natural resources, government military units have captured children and raided homes. They have also allegedly fired weapons into unarmed crowds and randomly rounded people up for execution.
Until yesterday, the name Joseph Kony wasn't on the radar of most Americans. But thanks to a video campaign from the non-profit organization Invisible Children that went viral yesterday, more Americans know about Kony, the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda who has is wanted by the International Criminal Court of conscripting child soldiers. But just as quickly as the video spread across Twitter and Facebook, so has the controversy.
Last night, I had the opportunity to attend an event sponsored by the University of California Washington Center that showed the video. This event was planned weeks before the video campaign went viral, and was made even more interesting by having a representative of Invisible Children available to answer questions about its campaign and the controversy swirling around it after the video was shown.
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