Archive for June, 2010

Troy Davis: Global Day of Solidarity

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Today, June 22nd, marks the Global Day of Solidarity for death row prisoner, Troy Davis. Davis is accused of fatally shooting Mark MacPhail in 1989. However, after serving more than 18 years on death row, Davis continues to assert his innocence, and serious questions concerning the fairness of his trial have sparked international concern in the human rights community: there was no physical evidence presented in Troy Davis’ trial, the weapon used in the crime was never found, and the case against him rests entirely on witness testimony, even though seven of the nine witnesses have recanted or contradicted their testimony and have admitted they were coerced by police.

As part of its Freedom School in Savannah, Georgia held this past week, representatives from Amnesty International USA and Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty have held educational programs around universal human rights and the death penalty, and the application of capital punishment here in the United States. The Global Day of Solidarity, which will include vigils around the world, is being organized to raise consciousness surrounding Troy Davis’ case as the Georgia Federal District Court begins reviewing new evidence, as ruled last August by the U.S. Supreme Court. Human rights groups will be holding a candlelight vigil in Savannah and at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, and along with the NAACP, will be holding hours of prayer for both Troy Davis and the family of Mark MacPhail.

Citizens at a Troy Davis Vigil

Vigil Participants Hold Photos of Troy Davis

A Woman’s Right to Choose

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

340x_burqas5710There are many choices that, in a democratic country, should be a woman’s right to make—including the choice of what to wear and where to pray. For Muslim citizens of Western countries, however, the right to make these choices is in question. In May, the French government approved a measure to ban full-body veils (burqas, niqabs) in public. According to the leader of the French National Assembly, the ban is both necessary for public safety and a good thing for France and democracy. In response, many women’s rights activists assert that the ban is patronizing and dehumanizing for French Muslim citizens. In the US, the debate is about where Muslim women can pray. A group of Muslim women have begun organizing mosque pray-ins in an attempt to end the gender segregation that occurs in nearly two-thirds of American mosques. (Segregation in mosques is not practiced traditionally and historically in Islam. In the Grand Mosque of Mecca, Islam’s holiest shrine, women and men perform all the hajj rituals, including praying, without segregation.) In a recent Huffington Post article, Jehan Harney asserts that these activists can gain supporters “not necessarily by demanding mosques change their policies to have men and women pray side-by-side, but rather demanding mosques to give women their right to choose where to pray.”

Building a United Nations That Works for Women

Monday, June 14th, 2010

GEARlogoThe United Nations (UN) is in the midst of a historic reform process that has the potential to change the status quo for women’s human rights around the world. Five decades ago, the UN became a galvanizing force for protecting and promoting women’s rights by creating a framework of international laws and commitments. However, the four small UN agencies exclusively dedicated to women’s issues lack the necessary status, funding and country presence to enable the wider UN system and national authorities to fully implement their obligations. This has limited the potential for women around the world to fully enjoy their rights in practice. In September 2009, all 192 member states of the UN General Assembly finally agreed to the creation of a consolidated and stronger UN agency for women. At this moment, member states are negotiating about this new agency. The Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR) Campaign — a network of over 300 women’s, human rights and social justice groups from around the world — is urging the General Assembly to adopt a resolution about the agency by July 2010 and to commit to fund the entity with an annual budget of 1 billion USD. Sign the petition today to ensure that the UN gets this reform right. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to influence systematic change in women’s rights worldwide.

How Do You Prove You’re A U.S. Citizen?

Friday, June 4th, 2010

“Immigration” is an issue that embodies many of the concerns and issues that are central to any discussion of human rights. It touches on many of the worries that people have about their lives. Nobody wants to experience discrimination, any form of degradation or torture, or have their movements restricted based upon nationality, religion or ethnicity. Everyone wants to be free to make a living.

USA-PassportsThere are two core questions in the current immigration issue that are not being addressed: 1)  How does someone prove their citizenship in the United States? 2)  What are the fundamental causes of illegal immigration and how do we prevent them?

Every country has the right and responsibility to protect its borders and to determine who has a legal right to inhabit the country and therefore legitimate claims on the resources of the nation and how those resources are to be distributed. In the United States, we have only one method of identifying citizenship. Only an American passport, or the newer passport card, can irrefutably identify someone as a citizen of the U.S. However, very few U.S. citizens have passports, and if they have them, no law exists that requires them to carry them on a daily basis. Many countries have national-identity-cards that details an individual’s citizenship status, but in the U.S., any talk of anything that approximates such a card, or something that might become a proxy for such purposes, instantly raises fears about government intrusion and control of personal information.

Without some national-identity-card, how does someone prove citizenship? Attempts to visually identify non-citizens, who may or may not be illegal immigrants, automatically requires a form of ‘racial profiling’, and is so arbitrary, that it leaves it to the enforcement officer to make judgments based upon their own perceptions and biases. This becomes a particular problem in the U.S. because the popular perception is that ‘illegal immigrants’ are Latinos crossing the Southern borders into the US. However, approximately 50-percent of illegal immigrants are people who have been legally admitted into the U.S. but have overstayed their visas. Therefore, most American citizen contact with illegal immigrants, are with people who are from countries not commonly associated with illegal entry, such as European and Asian countries.  Unfortunately, there is no reliable entry/exit tracking-process for people who have visited the U.S.

Ultimately, undocumented immigrants exist in the U.S. because of the ease of acquiring employment from the many businesses that hire them as cheap labor. Those businesses are also reluctant to participate in any efforts to identify undocumented immigrants.  It is likely that people would not seek to breach the U.S. borders if there was not a potential job awaiting them.

USA-PermResidence-01The appropriate questions for this dilemma are: 1)  Is there a form of citizenship identification that would be acceptable to U.S. citizens? 2)  How can the government enforce a process that punishes businesses for hiring undocumented  immigrants?

Malawi President Pardons Gay Couple Sentenced to 14 Years of Hard Labor

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

On May 29, President Bingu Wa Mutharika of Malawi pardoned Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, who were sentenced to 14 years of hard labor for homosexuality. The couple was arrested in December, a day after celebrating their engagement. Since the arrest, Malawi has faced international criticism for their criminalization and harsh punishment of individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Celebrity advocates such as Madonna are publicly celebrating the release of the two men, yet concerns still remain for their safety and the possibility of a backlash of homophobia-related hate crimes in the country. While it is clear that intense international pressure helped to bring about the pardon of Chimbalanga and Monjeza, what is the role of the international community in combating the pervasive stigma and bigotry related to homosexuality that millions of people face on a daily basis, both in Africa and around the world?

Gay Engagement Featured in Malawian National Newspaper

Gay Engagement Featured in Malawian National Newspaper