A peace jirga — which aims to bring together 1,500 Afghan policymakers, community leaders and elders to end the Taliban insurgency — will begin on June 2 in Kabul. The jirga will determine a reconciliation process for members of the Taliban “who are not part of al-Qaeda or any other terrorist network, who denounce violence and who will return to normal life respecting the Afghan constitution.” President Karzai asserts that this historic forum will enable Afghans to chart a way forward. At a recent meeting at the United States Institute of Peace, Karzai sought to allay fears that negotiations with the Taliban would turn Afghanistan away from its commitment to human rights. Karzai distinguished rank-and-file militants from their leadership, asserting that low-level Taliban sympathizers are “countryside boys” who are not enemies of the U.S. Although the peace jirga is slated to include at least 20 percent women, Afghan elders and community leaders have demonstrated reluctance. Many observers fear that the Afghan government, desperate for an agreement with the Taliban, will compromise on the issue of women’s rights and women will be a pawn in the negotiations. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has asserted that it is “essential that women’s rights and women’s opportunities are not sacrificed or trampled on in the reconciliation process.” Afghan women’s rights activists assert that “the US should not support any project, with any amount, where women are not strongly present.”
Archive for May, 2010
It began four weeks ago. Thousands of students at campuses across Puerto Rico began a strike to demand their right to quality public education. After the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) instituted $100 million in budget cuts, and in part inspired by other student movements in California earlier this spring, students began occupying their campuses. Sustained by food and water tossed over fences by family, and encouraged by faith leaders and unions across the country, it appears that these students will remain committed into month two until the university agrees to come to the table. University professors and workers have declared their support for the student strike and are strongly urging the UPR administration to begin negotiations. Professor and dramatist Roberto Ramos-Perea has sent an appeal to the international community outlining the reasons for the strike and documenting the human rights abuses that are being committed in response to the strike, such as the refusal of light, water, and food to the students. Thus far, the university has refused negotiations and has only responded with the deployment of riot police. Curiously, coverage of this historic strike by Puerto Rican students has been virtually non-existent among U.S. media sources. Democracy Now, however, is one exception.
Last week the Honduran government inaugurated a truth commission to investigate the June 2009 coup. The commission will “document human rights abuses related to the coup, address grievances where they are found and consider reforms to prevent similar incidents from happening again.” Human rights groups have, however, criticized the commission. Committee for the Families of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH) states, “the only purpose of the Lobo commission is to support the Honduran regime’s continued efforts to whitewash those responsible for the coup and its violent aftermath.” Since last year’s coup, a powerful nonviolent resistance movement has emerged. Women make up the majority of the movement and play a critical leadership role. The resistance is united not just by opposition to the regime but also a positive vision of a new Honduras, characterized by this slogan: “Por un constituyente no excluyente” (For a constitutional convention that doesn’t exclude). The regime has responded with brutal repression. As of last August, women’s groups documented 249 cases of violations of women’s human rights, including beatings, sexual assault and gang rapes by police. To date, COFADEH has registered 47 assassinations of anti-coup activists. On May 10, the U.N. Human Rights Council urged protection for Honduran journalists after seven were killed in the past six weeks. The truth commission has no mandate to examine these current human rights violations.
It has been an interesting two weeks, to say the least, since Arizona governor Jan Brewer signed SB1070 into law, a law which effectively makes the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and gives police broad power in detaining anyone who is “reasonably suspected” of being an “illegal immigrant.” I do not aim to provide a perspective that has not already been articulated by former Nobel peace prize winners or millions of recent immigrants whose lives will be directly impacted by such legislation. However, I would like to highlight Arizona’s recent ban of ethnic studies, which underscores what is really at the heart of Arizona’s immigration law: legalized xenophobia, targeted not at the immigration system, but at human beings of a different color, origin, and linguistic heritage than those who have the power to identify themselves as “real Americans.” This is why, on May 1st, also recognized as International Workers’ Day, hundreds of thousands of people around the country rallied for immigration reform that respects human dignity. In Washington DC, the four students who marched 1,500 miles from Miami along the Trail of Dreams were joined by thousands in their rally at the White House; in Los Angeles, more than 60,000 marched; in Atlanta, more than 5,000.
Of course, media coverage and public discourse on this issue end with the person who claims: “It’s simple. Those people are illegal.”
As a person of conscience, however, I can’t help but ask myself: Looking back in history, who gets to decide who is us or them? Who writes the laws? What happens when a certain group of people is dehumanized and made into the scapegoat, the root cause of all of the society’s problems? How would an honest, and thus radical, reading of human rights principles interpret the concept of ‘illegal people’? Not surprisingly, the only source I am able to find that seems to make some sense of this current immigration ‘debate’ is in the form of brilliant satire: