Tomorrow marks the end of Women’s History Month. At the same time as we’re honoring women’s past contributions, new chapters in history are being written. In America, the most recent achievement for and by women was the passage of healthcare reform. What else will 2010 hold for women? There are high hopes for the US’ ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Also known as The Treaty for the Rights of Women, CEDAW sets a universal standard for women’s equal political, civil, economic, cultural and social rights. It was adopted by the UN in 1979 and as of March 2010, 186 countries have ratified it. The US is only one of seven countries – including Sudan, Somalia, and Iran – to have not ratified the treaty. After years of stalemate, President Obama put CEDAW back on the international treaty agenda. However there is widespread agreement that ratification will require overcoming huge legislative challenges in the Senate. An effort is currently underway by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights to ensure that the treaty is ratified in 2010.
Archive for March, 2010
On the evening of March 24, 1980, while performing mass, Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated by a death squad for his public denunciations of El Salvador’s militarized state and mass human rights violations. In 1993, a report by the U.N. Truth Commission on El Salvador revealed the person responsible for ordering the assassination as Roberto D’Aubuisson, a graduate from the School of the Americas in Colombus, Georgia. Archbishop Romero’s funeral on March 30, 1980 was attended by more than 250,000 people, and is recognized as one of the largest demonstrations in Latin American history. Today, people throughout El Salvador and the world remember a man who was committed to the principles of liberation theology and spoke out bravely against poverty, torture, and social injustice. For these same reasons, Romero was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, and is widely considered the unofficial patron saint of the Americas. Ironically, as the world celebrates Archbishop Romero, the Texas Board of Education voted on March 10th to remove all mention of Romero’s life, work, and political activism from its curriculum because he is, as members argued, “not well known.” My question: Isn’t making things known the precise point of education?
For the first time, the United States will submit a domestic human rights report to the United Nations Human Rights Council for review this fall. The U.S. refused to participate in the universal periodic review process under George W. Bush Administration, but under the current Obama Administration, the U.S. State Department under Secretary Clinton has agreed to hold itself to the same human rights standards as the other 192 U.N. member countries. Will such scrutiny of the United States’ human rights record lead to justification of abuses by other nations? What impact will such a report have on local social movements struggling for universal human rights protections, such as LGBT communities, migrant workers, and Native American groups?
U. N. Human Rights Council, Credit: OHCHR
We are on the verge of duplicating a feat only once before accomplished by humankind: the eradication of a disease by concerted and cooperative efforts. By doing this, men, women and children can live without fear of being incapacitated, and can enjoy the human ability to participate in their own self-determination – an integral part of any efforts to improve human rights. This time the disease to be eradicated is the Guinea Worm Disease which once had a reported 3.5 million cases in 20 countries in Africa and Asia in 1986. The Carter Center is spearheading efforts to eradicate Guinea Worm Disease and former President, Jimmy Carter, and his wife Rosalynn, have reported that only 2,753 cases of the disease remain in Sudan. This is down from 118,578 cases in 1996. Cases, overall, in all nations have been reduced by 99%. Smallpox, the only other disease eradicated by a concerted effort, was eliminated more than 20 years ago in a campaign orchestrated by the United Nations.
This month’s issue of Smithsonian magazine highlights the systematic demolition of the city of Kashgar in East Turkestan, also known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. Kashgar is a 1,000 year old city that is home to the Uyghur people. Uyghurs are ethnically and culturally a Turkic people who practice a moderate form of Sufi Islam. Heavy-handed repression by the Chinese government has created a dire human rights situation in East Turkestan that includes arbitrary detention, torture, and execution; severe discrimination in the areas of healthcare and employment; religious repression; forced abortion; the removal of Uyghur as a language in schools; and the forcible transfer of young Uyghur women and men to eastern China at the same as government policies bring millions of Chinese migrants to East Turkestan. The systematic demolition of Kashgar is considered yet another sinister attempt “to deprive the Uyghur of their main symbol of cultural identity.” Read this speech by Rebiya Kadeer to learn what “the Mother of the Uyghur Nation” had to say after deadly demonstrations killed hundreds of Uyghur in July 2009.
Performers are not ‘average’ people but nobody likes to get short-changed, or not paid, for work performed. The fight for the rights of working people led by groups such as musicians was one of the precursors of how unions came into existence. Currently, when you hear a song on the radio, the songwriter is paid for the airplay but the singer is not. This is a form of ‘theft of services’, since the singer is the actual performer to whom the audience responds. World renowned singer, Dionne Warwick recently appeared at a U.S. Congressional hearing to support legislation designed to assure that performers/singers are compensated. Both the Senate (S.379) and the House (H.R.848) have approved similar measures on the issue, but it remains unclear whether either chamber will bring legislation to a vote this year. Opposition to paying performers for their work is primarily led by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) which represents radio station owners. The NAB argues that paying singers will be transferring monies to foreign companies and nations, however, Dionne Warwick is a U.S. citizen, born and raised in New Jersey.
Migrants who seek to use the Egyptian border with Israel as a staging area for illegal entry into Israel have become victims of a shoot-to-kill policy, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The victims are primarily Sub-Saharan Africans – mainly from Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, through her spokesman in Egypt, Rupert Coville, has expressed ‘acceptance’ of the idea that migrants often accidentally lose their lives during their efforts to cross remote land borders, but notes that these deaths are too numerous to be accidental and are caused by lethal weapons. The government of Egypt is being asked by the Commissioner to conduct an independent investigation into the activities and policies of the border State security forces. The use of lethal force on unarmed migrants is deemed inexcusable.
This week I saw a provocative ad at a bus stop in my Washington, DC neighborhood. A picture of George W. Bush gazing out an airplane window alongside a battered piece of cardboard with “AIDS is DC’s Katrina” scrawled across it. The ad is intended to prod President Obama to act on AIDS, specifically in DC where HIV prevalence rates are at least 3% (higher than in Lagos, Nigeria). This video reinforces the message that “56,000 new US infections each year symbolize neglect and indifference.” Race played a critical role in the devastation in New Orleans and it is a central factor in the HIV epidemic in the US. African-Americans make up 12% of the population yet account for more than 45% of new infections and 46% of people currently living with HIV. AIDS is currently the leading cause of death for Black women ages 25 to 34. On March 10th –National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day – set your phone or computer to alert you every 35 minutes. This is how often an American woman tests positive for HIV. Hurricane Katrina illustrated that natural disasters are neither gender- nor color-blind. The same is true of HIV/AIDS.
This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend a welcome party for the four students who are marching from Miami to D.C. for immigration reform. It was a beautiful event filled with music, food, and people from throughout the Atlanta community. The event was organized by the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights and the Georgia Association for Latino Elected Officials, among others. The four students shared with us stories of their march thus far, including a recent encounter with a KKK anti-immigrant rally in south Georgia. Luckily, the students were accompanied by local NAACP members, and were able to sing freedom songs together while surrounded by the KKK. As they move through Atlanta, supporters are worried for their safety as they pass through Gwinnett County, where Sheriff “Butch” Conway has instituted serious anti-immigrant measures in his police force. According to Georgia immigrant rights leader, Adelina Nicholls: “Sheriff Conway is one of the most dangerous figures in Georgia, who has turned Gwinett County into a place of fear, racial profiling, arrest, and deportation.” While the welcome party was a time of celebration and fellowship, there was also recognition that there may be further incidents of fear and intimidation for the students on their long journey to the capitol. However, the students shared their unwavering hope and commitment to their cause with the audience and will proceed north in the days to come…