Archive for the ‘Democracy’ Category

All Eyes on Egypt

Friday, January 28th, 2011

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.

Ben Curtis AP Photo

Ben Curtis AP Photo

Aung San Suu Kyi Freed: The Future of Democracy in Burma

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

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.

Aung San Suu Kyi

Nobel Peace Prize Committee, Are You Ready?

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

As Editor, it is a pleasure to welcome Yingying Jiang from Hong Kong, and present her first contribution to Human Rights Angle. -lesoltis

Every year as the Nobel Prize Committee prepares to announce its decision, the human rights community in China holds its breath and awaits in suppressed excitement, hoping that this time, the Committee will finally give the prize to Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), China’s most prominent dissident and human rights activist. The Committee announces its decision on October 8th this year.

Liu Xiaobo is currently sitting in a jail cell serving an 11-year sentence in China’s northeastern Liaoning Province. The crime? For drafting and distributing Charter 08, a manifesto signed by 10,000 people calling for bold reforms promoting democracy and human rights in China. This is not the first time Mr. Liu has been in jail, however. After playing a leading role in the pro-democracy movement in 1989, which later suffered a bloody government crackdown, he was sent to a labor camp for three years in 1996.

No Chinese citizen has ever been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. As China is on the rise to become the world’s superpower, what exactly will be its effect on the world? In recent years, it has been in disputes over territory and resources with almost every country it borders, the latest being a row with Japan over a group of deserted islands in the East China Sea. As China becomes more powerful, it will expand its sphere of influence. The problem is not about raising a fuss with one’s neighbors, it is about a government’s encouragement of nationalism and its victimhood among ordinary people, in order to bolster its grip of power over the nation. This does not bode well for the rest of the world. But there are critical voices in China, questioning the government’s treatment of minorities and its human rights records. But what becomes of those voices? They’re censored and those who dare to utter them, such as Liu Xiaobo, are punished and carted off to prison.

Peace and human rights are intimately linked. Instead of “containing China,” other nations must commit themselves to firmly standing up for those Chinese citizens like Liu Xiaobo who brave imprisonment and torture to speak out for human rights. So, Nobel Peace Prize Committee, are you ready?


U.S. State Department Submits Human Rights Report to United Nations

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

On August 23, 2010, the United States State Department submitted its first domestic human rights report to the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC). In 2006, the HRC established the Universal Periodic Review process to assess each U.N. member nation’s adherence to their human rights obligations under international law every four years.

However, in addition to the federally submitted report, a comprehensive shadow report was also published by the U.S. Human Rights Network, a non-governmental human rights organization. The report represents a compilation of 26 independent civil society submissions covering a vast range of human rights issues, and has been endorsed by more than 200 human rights organizations and advocacy groups in the United States. In a statement released by the U.S. Human Rights Network, University of Pennsylvania Law School Professor Sarah Paoletti, Senior Coordinator for the Network’s UPR Project, testifies: “Comparing the State Department report with the Network’s, it is clear that gaps remain in our respective understanding of the issues and the solutions needed to resolve them. We look forward to working with the Administration to narrow that gap in future months.”

The United States’ human rights record is scheduled for review in a series of hearings by the U.N. Human Rights Council on November 5th in Geneva, Switzerland.

US State Department

Argentina’s Senate Approves Same-Sex Marriage Bill

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

After a 16-hour debate, and a vote that ended in the wee hours of the morning, Argentina’s Senate passed a bill recognizing same-sex marriages, thus becoming Latin America’s first nation to grant homosexual couples the same rights, protections, and privileges of marriage as heterosexual couples. Less comprehensive measures towards marriage equality have been instituted in other regions of Latin America, such as the legalization of same-sex civil unions in Uruguay and in a small number of states in Brazil and Mexico. And recently last year, Colombia’s Constitutional Court granted equal civil, political, social and economic rights to gay couples, including such protections as inheritance rights and the inclusion of partners in health insurance plans. In Buenos Aires, proponents of the same-sex marriage bill framed the issue in terms of fulfilling the constitutional mandate of equality before the law and ending discrimination towards individuals based solely on their sexual orientation. Opponents, on the other hand, argued that the passage of such a bill would signify a threat to the “existence of the human species.”

Despite the existence of  reasonable objections to gay marriage based on religious belief, I find the argument that a bill granting same-sex couples the right to marry if they so choose will endanger the survival of humanity a bit absurd, if not dangerous in its fear-mongering. Passing legislation that grants homosexual couples equal rights will not magically change the sexual orientation of heterosexuals. The earth is currently the home of 6,830,000,000 human inhabitants; and according to a 2004 UNICEF report, more than 16,000,000 children are without parents, a number which is only increasing with the spread of HIV/AIDS. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that procreation is not an issue for the human race. It seems to me that the larger, more pressing issue for humanity is caring for humanity, and creating a world where all 7 billion of us have an equal chance at healthy, self-determined lives, free of discrimination in all of its forms.

Gay Pride Argentina

Gay Pride Activists in Buenos Aires (AP Photo)


The Fifth of July: A Speech by Frederick Douglass

Monday, July 5th, 2010

On this day in 1852, the day following the spectacular celebrations of July 4th, the great abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass delivered one of the hallmark speeches of the anti-slavery movement, the Fifth of July speech. The speech is a profound work that weaves together both irony and powerful demands for human liberty. It is often overlooked, however, that Douglass was invited to deliver this address by the Ladies of the Rochester Anti-Slavery Society. In understanding the significance of this speech, it is thus crucial to recognize the interconnectedness among social justice movements and how the long-fought struggles for racial equality and women’s rights were able to transform popular consciousness by drawing upon principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence- namely the existence of inalienable rights and the Right of the People to alter or abolish government if it becomes destructive of securing the rights to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. While the speech is a most pressing condemnation of the hypocrisy of the United States- in proclaiming freedom and liberty while profiting from the cruel and exploitative practice of slavery- the echo at the conclusion of the speech inspires critical reflection of the Declaration and resounds a call to action to uphold the nation’s most fundamental principles.

“Fellow citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions, whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are today rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them… To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then, fellow-citizens, is American Slavery

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which lie is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.”

Frederick Douglass

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?

Peace in Afghanistan – Will Women’s Rights Be the Cost?

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

womenafghanistanA 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.”

Students Strike at University of Puerto Rico- Day 28

Tuesday, May 18th, 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.

"University of Puerto Rico is Not for Sale"

"University of Puerto Rico is Not for Sale"

Repression and Resistance in Honduras

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

HonduranWatch_logoLast 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.