Archive for October, 2009

Democratic Media? Internet Access and Human Rights

Friday, October 30th, 2009

It is because you have access to the internet that you are able to read this post. Having access to the internet allows you to learn about important issues and world events as they unfold, participate in public debates, and find opportunities for employment and collaboration in your community. However, access to the internet is also largely restricted to those who have the financial resources to pay for the necessary technology and service. This has led to significant divides in communication equality for historically-marginalized communities, such as low-income, indigenous, Latino, and African-American communities. The Media and Democracy Coalition has written a very powerful letter on this subject to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in regards to the necessary policies that would prevent non-discriminatory practices by internet service and wireless providers. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all people have the right to share in scientific advancement and its benefits (Article 27). What is the role of the U.S. government in ensuring that all people have access to advancements in communication, regardless of where they live or how much money they have? How does access to the internet influence the the realization of other human rights? More generally, how are communication and human rights interconnected?

Senate Passes Hate Crimes Prevention Act: A Victory for LGBT Human Rights

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

Yesterday, on Thursday, October 22, the U.S. Senate passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The name of the Act is in honor of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., an African-American man who was dragged to death behind a pick-up truck in Texas in 1998. This Act serves as the first major federal civil rights law protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, which will protect them from violence and provide justice for the families of hate-crime victims. The bill will now go to the desk of President Obama for his signature. An article about the history and current status of the bill, as well as the perspectives of those that oppose it, is featured in The Washington Post.

Universal Human Rights: What are the Justifications?

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

The ethic of human rights is that all people, by virtue of being human and nothing more, are entitled to basic rights and liberties. As outlined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), there are at least thirty moral obligations each person owes to the rest of humanity and vice versa. Yet, the UDHR was adopted less than a century ago, and was promoted for the most part by Western nations, especially the United States. With such a short and localized history, how are we to accept that this ethic ought to be adopted universally, for all people and all time? Contemporary critics of the doctrine of human rights have argued that it is vague, that it undermines more traditional value systems, and that it is logically incoherent. Slavoj Žižek has written several articles on the subject, including ”Human Rights and Its Discontents.” Charles Blattberg wrote an article entitled “The Ironic Tragedy of Human Rights.” What justifies our acceptance of human rights? If we agree that we all ought to act in accordance with the UDHR, what reason can we give? In contrast to most moral traditions, human rights is not justified in terms of religion, a political body, or an economic system. Some would argue it is not justified at all. So what is the reason for accepting it? What is your reason?

Latino in America: Latino Communities Reflect on Lou Dobbs

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Many are eagerly awaiting the debut of CNN’s new “Latino in America,” hosted by Soledad O’Brien. In the recent weeks however, Latino communities and organizations, such as GALEO here in Georgia, have spoken out against CNN’s hypocrisy in shedding a brief light on the stories and contributions of Latino-Americans in America while continuing air time for Lou Dobbs, who often equates “Latino” with his xenophonic phrase “criminal illegal alien.” Every time I hear this phrase, broadcast to millions of households, I am reminded of conversations I had with friends in Rwanda, for instance, who remember hearing Tutsi’s being referred to as ‘cockroaches’ in the media in the years leading up to the 1994 genocide. I am taken back to discussions with my professors who assert that the first step before mass human rights violations is the dehumanization of a group of people. To be clear, I do not in any way equate genocide with the situation of Latinos in the US, but rather, I want to highlight a very important trend in the propagation of hatred and violence in our world and question if such trends are present here in the United States and in our media.

What is the line between free speech and hate speech in news programs? Is crossing a border to seek a better life, often times because of rural poverty resulting from U.S. free-trade policy, criminal? What does it mean for a human being to be illegal?  And I won’t even begin to address the connotations of the word alien. When I witnessed the immigrant marches of 2006, I saw people holding signs that read “Ninguna persona es ilegal” (No one is illegal), and was reminded of those held by sanitation workers in 1968 as they marched behind Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., declaring: “I AM A MAN.” To me, both groups were challenging the hegemonic names given to them and were demanding to be regarded equally as human beings, and therefore, worthy of all the rights guaranteed therein. Roberto Lovato of the Huffington Post has written a powerful critique of CNN’s double-message, which also features the following video:

What is the Most Important Human Rights Document?

Friday, October 16th, 2009

What human rights document do you consider most important?

My own beliefs about human rights are shaped about equally by a bunch of gut reactions and some very abstract ideas. When something seems particularly just or unjust, I’m usually reacting at the level of “That’s right!” or “That’s wrong!”

Like I said before, I read to find out what I think. So I’m asking today about documents, because that’s where I begin to bridge the gap between my own reactions and abstractions. I think first of the Bill of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the philosophical debates that are context for these documents. I imagine some think first of the golden rule or religious scripture like the Koran, the Bible, the Torah. Maybe some think of the writings of Rousseau or Locke and philosophy concerning divine, legal, and natural rights.

Go back and look at that interview with Galbraith and Mulet. Notice that neither of them refers directly to any document, but a great deal is implied. Their disagreement is largely procedural and political, but the subtext is a very complex ground of different religious, ethnic, and legal distinctions. Building and supporting a workable human rights framework requires both agreement and disagreement. It’s often messy.

When you find yourself facing a difference between what you think is right and what a neighbor thinks, how do you bridge that gap? How about when that neighbor isn’t so near but is halfway round the world?

Do you react? Do you start to think about the abstractions behind their rights and yours? Does a particular document shape your thoughts and feelings in these sorts of moments? Which ones?

Columbus Day: A Lesson in Historical Perspectives

Monday, October 12th, 2009

While many of us are enjoying the Columbus Day holiday, it is perhaps appropriate to use such free time to consider the differing perspectives of what this day signifies both to the history of the United States and the world. Consider this passage from Christopher Columbus’s log book: “[The natives] do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance…They would make fine servants… With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” While Columbus’s ‘discovery’ marked the beginning of contact between Europe and the Americas, it also signified the foundations of imperialism that spawned the global slave trade and the genocide (the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, any national, ethnic, racial, or religious group as such) of indigenous peoples in the Americas that has continued for more than 500 years. In Costa Rica, October 12th is celebrated as Día de las Culturas (Day of the Cultures). In Venezuela, it is recognized as Día de la Resistencia Indígena (Day of Indigenous Resistance). For a man who never set foot on what is now U.S. soil, what is at stake in the United States maintaining a day of honor for Christopher Columbus? Whose history does this holiday represent?

Here is a (rather long) excerpt from the first chapter of Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” entitled Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress. A Youtube video entitled “Reconsider Columbus Day” has also been circulating in the human rights/indigenous justice blogosphere.

International Coming Out Day: Gay Rights, Identity, and Consciousness

Monday, October 12th, 2009

October 11th is Coming Out Day, an internationally-recognized awareness day meant to recognize gay identities and open community dialogue on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer issues. In the largest demonstration for gay rights this decade, thousands of gay activists and their allies took to the streets in Washington in the National Equality March, which was covered in this New York Times article. Meanwhile, here in Atlanta, I read a very powerfully written student op-ed in the Emory Wheel entitled Gay Consciousness Beyond Politics which highlights the importance of developing a consciousness that embraces the inherent dignity of gay individuals, in addition to the fight to gain equality in legislation and the larger political arena. I was moved when author Daniel Turton made the big-picture connection across movements and referenced South African anti-apartheid leader, Stephen Biko, whose phrase “Black is Beautiful” signified that in order for oppressed people to achieve liberation in society, they must first achieve liberation in their minds- which requires a transformation in consciousness in which they must first see themselves as human beings above all else.

European Union Calls for Global Death Penalty Abolition

Friday, October 9th, 2009

In light of “World Day Against the Death Penalty” on October 10th, leaders of the European Union have called on all countries of the world to abolish the death penalty. Rights organizations in the United States, such as the American Civil Liberties Union have joined the call in urging the United States to abolish the death penalty. Amnesty International has a very informative fact sheet on death penalty statistics around the world, reminding those of us in the United States that we live in one of the only industrialized democracies that continues to administer death as a form of punishment. How has the Troy Davis case here in Georgia shaped public discourse on the death penalty? Has the Obama Administration’s increased international engagement shifted the political opportunity for nation-wide abolition?

Photo: Scott Langley

Photo: Scott Langley

Education and Self-Expression

Friday, October 9th, 2009

A teen in Cobb County, GA withdrew from his high-school after being told to dress “more manly.” Read the story here. The school says his mode of dress disrupted class. He says he won’t attend where he’s not allowed to express himself. Does the student have a right to dress however he wants? Is the school’s response smart policy or gender discrimination? Should the school have taken a position on the matter at all? If so, what do you think it should have been?

Women’s Rights, Corporations, and War Zones

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Yesterday, the Senate passed an amendment that bans federal funds from corporations that prohibit sexual assault litigation because of clauses for binding arbitration they have with their employees. In effect, if a woman is gang raped by KBR (a Halliburton subsidiary) employees in a war zone, as was the case of Jamie Leigh Jones, she will have the right to a fair trial to prosecute her offenders, regardless of the fine print of her employment contract. The Minnesota Independent has written a great short piece on this legislation, and Huffington Post blogger, Howie Klein, shares his views on the topic.