Yesterday, on June 28th, six young high school and college students held a press conference inside the Georgia State Capitol and were later arrested outside in an act of civil disobedience. This was the second action of this kind in Atlanta since April 2011. The youth were protesting the passage of Georgia House Bill 87 (HB87) and were there to send a message to other undocumented youth.
Nataly Ibarra, a 16-year old high school student testifies: “We are doing this because we want other undocumented youth to realize they need to be unafraid- unafraid of the politicians, of the police, of anyone who tells them they deserve fewer rights than anyone else. We will no longer remain in the shadows.”
The event drew several hundred community supporters and featured speakers from the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta, and the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance, and former members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
On Tuesday, April 5th, 2011, seven undocumented students risked prison and deportation to protest recent laws passed to ban undocumented students from attending college. The students engaged in non-violent civil disobedience and sat defiantly in the middle of Courtland Street in downtown Atlanta. As dozens of police arrived on the scene and approached the seated students with handcuffs, the students and their supporters chanted “Education, Not Deportation!”
Starting this fall, undocumented students cannot attend Georgia State University, the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Medical College of Georgia, or Georgia College and State University. Coincidentally, these are the same southern universities which banned African Americans from attending college more than fifty years ago. The seven students are a part of a national movement seeking to pass the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act). The DREAM Act was first introduced to Congress in 2001, but has yet to pass successfully into law. The DREAM Act would apply to persons who (1) enter the country before the age of sixteen, (2) graduate high school or obtain a GED, (3) have good moral character, and (4) have at least five years of continuous presence in the US.
Before their act of civil disobedience, the students shared their stories. Georgina Perez, 21, shared that she has been in the US since she was three years old. “I am doing this for my friends who are in the same situation and also for my mother who did everything she could to give me a better life and to have an education. We are being denied an education and criminalized for wanting an education!” Perez was the first to be arrested.
David Ramirez, who arrived in the US when he was one year old, declared: “If you are undocumented, don’t be afraid to defend your dignity. If you are an ally, don’t be afraid to be an advocate. We need to come out of the shadows and show the State of Georgia we are not afraid.”
The video, Estudiantes Arrestados Durante Protesta en Atlanta (Students Arrested During Protest in Atlanta) produced by Mundo Hispanico, documents the testimonies and arrests of these students. Dayanna Rebolledo, in the moments before she was taken to the Atlanta City jail, speaking in Spanish, said: “They can’t make us feel like we are criminals or that we are anything less than human beings.”
Near the end of the work day on March 25, 1911, a fire broke out at the factory of the Triangle Waist Company in New York City. 146 immigrant workers, the majority of which were young women, lost their lives. This tragic loss of human life is remembered as one of the pivotal moments in U.S. labor history, as it highlighted the inhumane and unsafe working conditions in which industrial workers could be subjected. Moreover, the incident served as a catalyst for transformations in New York’s labor code and the adoption of fire workplace safety standards around the country.
In a great article highlighted by GOOD, we as consumers are made aware of the human rights abuses faced by farm workers in the flower industry, including sexual harassment, poverty wages, and poor workplace safety standards. As many of us contemplate which bouquet will best express our love to our sweetheart this Valentine’s Day, we must also be conscious of issues of justice for the people who pick our flowers. Justice, as Cornel West brilliantly defines it, is “what love looks like in public.”
Unfortunately, popular floral internet companies such as 1-800-Flowers or FDT do not yet implement fair trade principles in their supply chain to ensure accountability for the human rights of floral farm workers. However, some smaller companies such as World Flowers or Inbloom Group offer fair trade certified bouquets. When we ensure that the flowers we give, the tomatoes we eat, and the sweatshirts we wear are produced with respect for the health and welfare of human beings, we can see more clearly what love really looks like in public…
After watching weeks of protests in Jordan, the collapse of the Tunisian government, and mass rallies for democratic reforms in Yemen, all eyes are now on Egypt, as the most populous country in the Arab world erupts in an unprecedented wave of civil disobedience. For four days, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians have flooded streets throughout the country, calling for the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak and demanding an end to government corruption, economic inequalities, and authoritarian rule. Many of these brave protesters include young men and women who, as one Cairo professor describes, feel that “they may actually be able to determine their own destinies” for the first time in their lives. Solidarity actions are being organized around the world in support of the Egyptian protestors.
In response to increasingly violent protests, the Egyptian government deployed its state army to confront the civilian uprising. Independent human rights observers have counted more than 1,200 protestors who have been detained, and the government has cut off all access to the internet as well as cell phone transmissions in some areas. Yet, despite the chaos, it has also been reported via live news streaming that protesters have formed a massive human shield to protect the Egyptian Museum, the most extensive collection of Egyptian artifacts and mummies in the world.
While these protests undoubtedly represent a growing tide of mobilizations for democracy and economic reforms in North Africa and the Middle East, in the case of Egypt, it is still unclear if President Mubarak will respond with further repression, if he will institute reforms as recommended by the United States, or if there will be a President Mubarak at all.
On New Year’s Eve, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon wrote an editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald outlining what he sees as the role of the UN in the upcoming year, contending that “more is being asked of the United Nations by more people in more places.” He also highlights the need to refocus on the Millennium Development Goals, which is a blueprint of strategies for nations and civil society organizations in an effort to eliminate extreme poverty around the world.
In reflecting on the state of the world in 2011, it is important to critically think about how human rights strategies intersect with issues of poverty and development. Consider Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.” What similarities and differences do you see between the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Millennium Development Goals? Why are issues of health and poverty not discussed as human rights issues in the United States? Should they be?
Currently, there are more than 5,000 distinct indigenous peoples, totaling more than 370 million Indigenous persons in the world. The Declaration seeks to safeguard and promote their collective human rights and treaty rights within their respective nation-states.
The preamble of the Declaration affirms that “all doctrines, policies and practices based on or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust.” Moreover, the Declaration recognizes that “indigenous peoples have suffered from historic injustices as a result of their colonization and dispossession of their lands, territories and resources, thus preventing them from exercising, in particular, their right to development in accordance with their own needs and interests.”
Over the past three years, Australia and New Zealand have since announced their support of the Declaration. Canada announced its support of the Declaration on November 12th, 2010. While the United States is indeed the last of the opposing countries to support the rights of indigenous peoples, President Obama’s announcement is nonetheless being welcomed and applauded by the international human rights community and Native American right groups around the country.
Today, December 10, 2010, marks the 62nd anniversary of the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)! The UDHR is the most widely translated document in the world (375 languages and dialects) and consists of a preamble and 30 articles outlining the rights that apply to all people, regardless of any distinction (race, gender, nationality, religion, class, ability, sexual orientation, etc.) simply by virtue of their membership in the human family. Article One eloquently states the spirit of human rights by proclaiming that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, they are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” While the UDHR is a declaration and is not legally binding, the UDHR served as the foundation of the modern human rights movement by inspiring the birth of international human rights law through the passage of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights. Together, all three constitute the International Bill of Rights.
Yet, most importantly, in addition to the development of legal mechanisms, the UDHR inspired local human rights movements for equality, freedom from discrimination, and self-determination around the world. What will you do today to honor the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? The 3 million members of Amnesty International are participating in a Global Write-a-Thon, writing letters on behalf of political prisoners. The human rights community in Atlanta is celebrating with an artistic program called “RISE” at the Rialto Center tonight. Others are educating themselves on how their home country ranks in its respect for human rights by reading the Human Rights Risk Atlas (the U.S. ranking may surprise you)…
To the surprise and exaltation of the international human rights community, Burmese pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi (pronounced Awn Sahn Sue Chee) was released from house arrest on November 13th. Suu Kyi’s arrest, which secluded her for 15 of the last 21 years, failed to diminish her influence as a prisoner of conscience who has courageously advocated democratization through Gandhian non-violence. Aung San Suu Kyi was originally sentenced in 1989 for her failure to leave Burma (Republic of the Union of Myanmar) after her participation in the 8-8-88 Uprising and leadership role in the forming of the National League for Democracy. Her newfound freedom is generating hope as to what this might signify for other prisoners of conscience, as well as skepticism regarding the ruling military junta’s release of Suu Kyi only a week after holding what many observers claimed to be a highly fraudulent election- and the first election since 1990. Since her release, however, Suu Kyi met with U.N. officials on November 27, and was reunited with her youngest son Kim Aris after ten years of separation.
On Monday, Githu Muigai, the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Intolerance, gave a press conference in which he presented the findings of an investigative report on racism and human rights. In his remarks on the findings of the study, Muigai said “If I have found any specific group of people to be the subject of the most insidious contemporary forms of racial discrimination, those are migrants.” Moreover, he stated, “In many parts of the world today, immigrants bear the brunt of xenophobic intolerance – and this is true of the United States, and it is of Europe, and it is of many parts of the world.”
While Mr. Muigai clearly states that countries must enforce laws regarding the flow of migrants into their borders, he also iterates “Migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, regardless of their migration status, are entitled to have all their human rights protected by the state where they live without discrimination.” The solution, he states, requires the global community to “develop systems, structures, and policies in an international legal environment in which we can address the legitimate concerns of the receiving states while being able to safeguard the fundamental humanity, in my judgment, of the immigrants.”
Great articles in the Washington Post and Reuters highlight the content of this report, and specifically, its significance in reflecting upon immigration laws in the United States, such as Arizona’s recent immigration policies, which do not meet basic international human rights standards.