Archive for the ‘Human Rights Defenders’ Category

China Admits: Still Long Way to Go on Human Rights, But…

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

CHINA Flag -2011China’s defense of its human rights record has long centered on its success at lifting millions of people out of poverty, by providing food, clothing, housing and economic growth for Chinese citizens. They’ve always claimed these as the most relevant measurements for developing countries like itself.

This month, Wang Chen, head of the State Council Information Office, said in a speech published in the English-language China Daily on July 13, that China still has “a long way to go” before its citizens can enjoy full human rights. While admitting problems and challenges, the overall report adopts a positive tone. China plans to draft a new Human Rights Action Plan for 2012 – 2015.

While human rights criticism continues from the USA and other countries, only a retrospective look, at some future date, will be able to ascertain if some significant human rights improvements have yet occurred, or are on the horizon.

However, for now we can only try to provide perspective on what is involved in creating a society that honors ‘human rights’. While, admittedly, comparisons are always ‘risky’, five things should be noted:
1) Nobody has yet explained or provided an example of ‘development’ that does not involve some form of oppression and slavery for any society – since ancient times up until the present.
2) The Chinese have enough people to not have to enslave others outside their borders, while getting dirty and terrible work to be performed.
3) The USA was not a bastion of ‘human rights’ or ‘civil rights’ until the 1970’s, or 195 years after it began – else there would have been no need for a ‘civil/human rights movement’ to give rights to more than 50 million-plus people (African-Americans who led most of the fight for human-rights, plus all the other groups that have benefited – women, Hispanics, Asians, Jews, etc). Human rights efforts that had begun near the founding dates of the country, never gained momentum until the 1945-1965 period, but had little effect until the 1970’s.
4) Each step along the way to ‘human rights’ in the USA, even for the white majority, has been on a road that involved fights, murders, and other pitched battles. In other words, not a peaceful path with everyone holding hands and singing in harmony.
5) Even today, some human rights battles still continue in the USA.

Risking Deportation to Support a Dream

Monday, June 27th, 2011

Jose-Antonio-VargasPulitzer Prize Columnist, Jose Antonia Vargas, has decided to make himself a ‘poster boy’ for those illegal immigrants who exemplify the good reasons for passing the so-called “Dream Act” through the American Congress. He set-off a small news tsunami by exposing himself as an illegal immigrant and speaking-out for passage of the legislation.

It is too soon to know what effect his self-exposure will have on the legislation and upon his personal life. Vargas risks imprisonment and deportation by his confession. The people who assisted him, and have decided to also be exposed as helping him, risk similar possible repercussions for their actions. While admittedly an act of bravery, the reactions to his confessions have been wide and various, often dependent upon perceptions that are not specific to him.

Vargas came to the USA the way that fifty-percent of illegal immigrants do, by airplane, from the Philippines when he was 12 years old. He doesn’t explain the legal status he had for this trip, but it had to involve a legitimate USA visa, which guaranteed entry. He was accompanied by a ‘coyote’ to whom his mother delivered him in Manila, and who, in turn, delivered him to his grandparents in Mountain View, California. .Vargas at 12years oldVargas would not only have no idea of what type of visa he had, nor if that visa was correctly applied for, since he would not become aware of his illegal status until he was sixteen (16) years old, and applied for a Drivers License. At the Motor Vehicles Bureau he would ‘discover’ that his Permanent Residence (Green) Card was a fake, when the License clerk proclaimed it was fake and told him to leave and not come back. That clerk could have had him arrested, on the spot, but chose not to do so. Instead he returned home to confront his grandfather about this ‘discovery’, which resulted in the revelation that would burden him from that time forward – that he was an illegal immigrant.

This was a stunning discovery for him. From that time onward he had to learn to avoid too much attention, at the same time satisfy his intellectual curiosity and interests in doing well. His grandparents preferred that he keep his head low and only strive to work at some, more-or-less, menial job that would bring little attention to him. Instead he found that he excelled at writing and developed into an award-winning, Pulitzer Prize, Journalist. Each step along the way he had moments of great anxiety and stress, for fear of being discovered as an ‘illegal’. At several strategic moments he had assistance from USA citizens – school teachers, counselors, co-workers, etc, some of whom have also come forward to admit their help – to help him keep his secret.

There are those who criticize his appearance on the ‘immigration stage’ as an attempt to claim a special status for himself because of his accomplishments. They state that he should not be afforded any special consideration because of what he has achieved. This position misses the foundation of his argument, whether or not one agrees with it. Vargas defends people, like himself, who came to the USA as children, who by definition had no control over their illegal entry, and have known no other home, other than the USA. Dream Act GraduationHe argues that his achievements have been made as ‘an American’, which should not afford him special status, but instead indicate the possibilities of what those, like himself, can contribute to the only country that they have ever known – when given the opportunity to do so.

The ‘Dream Act’ – actually has stringent requirements for those who would be accepted in the USA. It would not apply to others who decide to now enter in hopes of qualifying. It does not allow for repatriation of relatives, including parents. It only has applicability to those who have been in the USA since childhood, for a certain number of years.

Meanwhile, Vargas has made two potential errors in his argument – things that can be misunderstood and misinterpreted by other Americans. One is that, on national television (ABC-TV) he spoke of ‘going home’ when he plans to return to the Philippines for the first time in eighteen years. For many Americans, without contact with people from foreign countries, he could be seen as foregoing his claim to being ‘American’ by claiming some other place as ‘home’. In fact, America is his home and the Philippines is his country of origin, but this type of dialog is often stated this way among immigrants, legal or otherwise. It has a nostalgic feeling and would still be reflective of memories, in this instance, gathered up until the age of 12.

The other error was that his mother, in comments about his public pronouncements, told a NY Times reporter that Vargas had obtained a Philippine passport PI-Passportas a hedge against being deported and becoming a man-without-a-country. Yet to many Americans this would seem to be a confirmation that he doesn’t truly believe that he is an American, despite his protestations, and few USA-PassportAmericans know much about passports, nationality, and the concept of dual-citizenship.

We know that children forced to depart the USA, the only home that they’ve ever known, would not be “happy campers” in their new homeland and feel that they had been done a great ‘injustice’. This would not be very good for the USA in either a diplomatic or political-economic sense.

Are we going to round-up everyone – think millions of people – and deport them? Not really.
Can the USA prevent employers from hiring illegal immigrants? Maybe, but the other lesson of Vargas’ story is how he was able to create false documentation as part of his maneuvering through the system.
The unanswered part of the story is that American employers have proven that they often prefer to hire people who have little or no rights, and are therefore totally compliant and fearful – and easy to take advantage of.

Jose Antonio Vargas has attached his ‘name’ to a cause without a certain ending. It is a risky venture to undertake. Time will tell if he has made a wise decision.

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?


2010 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award Winner

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Yesterday, September 23, 2010, Mr. Abel Barrera Hernández was publicly announced as the winner of the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award for his tireless efforts to protect the rights of peasants and indigenous peoples in Guerrero, Mexico and his commitment to end human rights abuses resulting from military impunity and narco-violence.

A press release from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights outlines how Mr. Barrera and his colleagues at the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of the Mountain work under “constant threat to protect the rights of peasants and indigenous peoples against forced disappearances, rape, arbitrary detentions, intimidation, dispossession of lands and illegal interrogations, and to improve their access to healthcare, legal representation and education.”

The award will be presented to Mr. Barrera by Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy in a ceremony in Washington, D.C. in November. Mr. Barrera joins 41 other RFK human rights laureates representing 24 countries. Recipients in recent years include the Coalition of Immokalee Workers from the United States, Dr. Mohammed Ahmed Abdallah from Sudan, and most recently, Magodonga Mahlangu and Women of Zimbabwe Arise.

Mr. Abel Barrera Hernández, right

Mr. Abel Barrera Hernández, right

Egypt: Elections Without Democracy

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010


We learned, long ago, that elections are not a panacea indicator of ‘democracy’ because they can be staged and corrupted, but democracy without free and open elections is not a possibility. Mohammed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and an Egyptian citizen, has emerged as a potential Presidential candidate in Egypt. While a recent rally on his behalf in Egypt was allowed (reportedly because it was not expected to gather many attendees) in recent days his supporters have been harassed inside Egypt and been arrested and deported from nearby Kuwait, according to a report by Human Rights Watch. Dr. ElBaradei is reported to have more than 200,000 followers on a Facebook page. The Kuwaiti’s arrested and deported ElBaradei’s supporters because Kuwait “does not allow demonstrations in this country” – but there was no reported ‘demonstration’ only a meeting of expatriates at a local café. Kuwaiti law doesn’t allow any groups of more than 20 people to assemble without a permit. This would appear to make a social party illegal and perhaps some family gatherings. It is also a vague reminder of days in the USA, first under slave laws, and then later when Jim Crow Laws first began to made it illegal for more than five black people to gather together in any location, to be seen in public parks, or participate in representative democracy via elections.

Egypt Accused of Using Lethal Force Against Migrants

Friday, March 5th, 2010

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.

UNHCHUR - Ms Navi Pillay