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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Nar Yu Right by Star Zee Promotes Human Rights Day in Sierra Leone

On December 10, International Human Rights Day, Advocaid sent a powerful message to the masses in Sierra Leone through music. Advocaid used the date to launch a song meant to educate women about their rights. 

Nar Yu Right is an upbeat tune sung by Sierra Leonean hip hop artist Star Zee.  Lyrics in the song are used to educate women on their legal rights. Some of the items mentioned are not signing anything that isn’t understood and that when taken into custody a person is innocent until proven guilty.

Advocaid is a defender of human rights. The non-profit seeks to educate women, provide free legal aid to women who cannot find a lawyer, and seeks to put an end to gender violence. 

Nar Yu Right’s music video was shot in a female prison in Freetown, according to Sonia Osho-Williams, a program officer with Advocaid. Many of the women in the prison received a free education from the creators of the video and shared their stories. 

“When you hear some of these stories about these women, a lot of them are victims of domestic violence, a lot of them are victims of gender-based violence. A lot of them, it’s as a result of retaliating or self-defense that they become perpetrators, become in conflict with the law,” said Osho-Williams.

Obama Shakes Hands with Castro on International Human Rights Day

Pete Souza, The Obama-Biden Transition Project

President Obama is coming under a lot of criticism for his behavior on International Human Rights. The most recent criticism comes after Obama shook hands with Cuban President Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in South Africa.

Freedom House rated Cuba as “not free” in a 2013 report on human rights. The report pointed to a rise in short-term detentions of political dissidents. The detentions spiked in Cuba on several occasions last year. There was a spike in March when the late and former Pope Benedict XVI visited the country. Another spike took place in July when activists Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero became involved in a car crash that killed both of them. And another took place on Human Rights Day. It has been alleged that the crash that killed Paya and Cepero happened after Paya’s car was deliberately forced off the road. 

Obama’s administration has attempted to improve relations with Cuba since the death of Fidel Castro.
“More serious thinking has to be given to an American diplomatic strategy that will encourage freedom in Cuba, and we should assess what might work and what hasn’t worked in the past,” said Arch Puddington, Vice President of Freedom House.

“Cuba is still a hellish dictatorship, but at the same time it is a country that is undergoing a measured amount of change,” he said.

Criticism of the handshake came from several lawmakers in the United States. 

The most powerful statement came from Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.) who told Fox News, “It is nauseating. He shook the hand of a murderer, a thug, and those are bloody hands.”

Ros-Lehtinen fled Cuba with her family when she was a child.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Rest In Peace Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela, a leader in human rights, has sadly passed away today at the age of 95. He was an inspiration to many. He will be missed.

Read NPR's "Nelson Mandela, Inspiration to World" to learn more about one of the greatest leaders of our time.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Human Rights Watch calls for Afghanistan to reject stoning proposal

A proposal to restore stoning as a means for punishing adultery has been put before the Afghan government. Human Rights Watch is calling for the proposal to be rejected out of hand. The group is shocked that the group, led by the Justice Ministry, working on drafting a new penal code would even consider bringing back stoning as a punishment. 

The provisions in the draft are archaic and a violation of basic human rights. According to Human Rights Watch, “if a couple is found by a court to have engaged in sexual intercourse outside legal marriage, both the man and woman shall be sentenced to ‘stoning to death if the adulterer or adulteress is married.’ The provisions state that the ‘implementation of stoning shall take place in public in a predetermined location.’ If the ‘adulterer or adulteress is unmarried,’ the sentence shall be ‘whipping 100 lashes.’” 

The new government in Afghanistan signed on to international human rights conventions and pledged to protect human rights. The proposed penal code would be a strong violation of the agreements the government signed on to. 

“It is absolutely shocking that 12 years after the fall of the Taliban government, the Karzai administration might bring back stoning as a punishment,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “President Karzai needs to demonstrate at least a basic commitment to human rights and reject this proposal out of hand.”

Rape as a weapon of war: 6000 cases of women raped during Syrian conflict

Syrian students protesting rape. Photo by Katherine Chen, Creative Commons.

A new report compiled by the Euro-Mediterranean Human RightsNetwork (EMHRN) estimates 6000 cases of women being raped and sexually assaulted during the Syrian conflict. Sadly, that number is likely a low estimate since many cases go undocumented. 

Sema Nasar, a human rights defender, collected first-hand testimonies over the first six-months of 2013. Nasar works for the Syrian Network for Human Rights and provided the testimonies to EMHRN.  

The report is titled “Violence against Women, Bleeding the Wound in the Syrian Conflict” and it documents rapes that occurred during government-backed raids in rebel strongholds, rapes in detention facilities and it points a finger at atrocities committed by government and government-allied forces. The document claims that 70% of the abuses reported were committed by these groups. 

Many of the victims have ended up pregnant, found themselves in a world that attaches social stigma to sexual violence, and remain silent on the abuses they endured because of the difficulty in bringing forward charges against the people in charge. 

Lauren Wolfe, a journalist and director of Women Under Siege, confirmed the findings in the report. Her group has been mapping sexual violence against women in Syria over the past year. It has also documented 216 reports of hundreds of victims that were raped by more than one man. 

Several of the testimonies in the report are heart-wrenching. One woman, called Aida, reported being raped on two separate occasions. After the second rape her family was informed of her death. 

“On the fifth day, two members of the security unit came and raped me. I had never seen them in the first four days. When they approached me, I told them that I am not a virgin thinking that they will let go away (...). These two members took turn in raping me and after they finished I fainted and fell on the ground. Then, they moved me to a military police hospital in Damascus and contacted my family to tell them that I was dead,” the report reads. 

There are many other testimonies just as horrifying.  The use of rape as a weapon of war needs to stop.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Drone Strikes: Human Rights Violations?

PSA on American Drones killing Pakistani Children, Public Domain
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are calling on the U.S. to investigate reports on the legality of drone strikes. Both groups have released reports citing civilian deaths by the unmanned aircrafts between September 2012 and June 2013 in Yemen and Pakistan.

Amnesty International alleges that heavy civilian casualties in Pakistan from the drone strikes may constitute war crimes and be a violation of Geneva codes.  Drone Watch, an organization which investigates drone strikes by the U.S. in Pakistan, reported that as of last January more than 3000 people have been killed due to the strikes. Drone Watch claims that “the vast majority of them civilians.” In the same report, Drone Watch listed the names and ages of 172 of the dead –all of them children
Human Rights Watch alleged that of the 82 people killed by unmanned aircraft and other aerial strikes in Yemen 57 of them were civilian casualties.

The U.S. is standing firm against the allegations by the two groups. Jay Carney, President Barack Obama’s chief spokesman, says the U.S. “would strongly agree” with claims that the U.S. acted improperly. Carney claims that all applicable law was followed with the drone strikes.

Information about drone strikes is hard to get. There is a large discrepancy with the numbers of actual drone strikes that have taken place and the real number of civilian casualties. The CIA and the Pentagon do not reveal details of the strikes, nor do they report all of them.  Those who are killed by a drone strike, if a report is documented, are listed as “enemy combatants.” 

“Enemy combatants” can be any male over the age of 12 considered to be an enemy fighter by the U.S.  This directly conflicts with the Geneva Conventions which requires all those under the age of 16 to be classified as “protected civilians.” 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

30 million people still live in slavery

Map of female trafficking, Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
According to the recent inaugural Global Slavery Index report, published by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation, there are still 30 million people living in slavery in the world. The word "slavery" encompasses a variety of conditions from forced labor to human trafficking.

Haiti, Pakistan, India and the African nation of Mauritania have the highest number of slaves in proportion to population. China had the second highest rate in proportion to population with an estimated 3 million people living in slavery.

China's slavery index includes “the forced labour of men, women and children in many parts of the economy, including domestic servitude and forced begging, the sexual exploitation of women and children, and forced marriage.”

The US was ranked 134th on the index. Not a good number at all. Its ranking shows that the US is worse off than Barbados, South Korea, Costa Rica and Cuba. 

16-year-old Activist Malala Yousafzai to be named honorary Canadian

Malala Yousafzai, 16, will be granted honorary Canadian citizenship. She is the sixth person in history to be awarded the honor. Yousafzai , a Pakistani activist for girls’ education, became famous after surviving a Taliban assassination attempt. She was shot in the head on her way home from school.

Instead of hiding from the limelight, Yousafzai embraced it and became an even more vocal defender of girls’ rights and education.

The other six people to hold honorary Canadian citizenship include the Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Aga Khan, Nelson Mandela and Raoul Wallenberg. 

July 12, Yousafzai’s birthday, has been dubbed Malala Day by the United Nations. Yousafzai does not wish to be celebrated alone.

"Malala day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights,” she said in a speech to the United Nations

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sri Lanka's Human Rights Commission gains power to prosecute

Judge's Gavel: Federal Govt., Public Domain
Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission (HRCSL) will gain the power to take legal action against human rights violators. This is the first time the Commission will be able to take legal action against violators if they do not comply with recommendations by the Commission.

The current procedure for the Commission after a complaint alleging violations of human rights is made, an inquiry takes place. After the inquiry, the Commission will issue a set of recommendations to the accused parties. The accused have a two week time frame to implement the recommendations.

If recommendations were not implemented the Commission wasn’t able to do much about it. Now, the Commission can take legal action, according to Justice Priyantha R. P. Perera, Chairman of the Commission.

An amendment, approved by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to enable the Commission to take legal action against violators will be added to the Human Rights Commission Act.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Edward Snowden, Malala Yousafzai nominees for Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought

Europe’s top human rights award, the Sakharov Prize for Freedomof Thought, could be awarded to Edward Snowden or Malala Yousafzai –two very different political activists.  Snowden has been charged with espionage and theft of government property by United States federal prosecutors.  He is known for leaking several top-secret United States and British government mass surveillance programs to the press. Snowden currently lives in an undisclosed location in Russia under temporary asylum.

Snowden’s nomination for the prize appears to be a slap at the United States by European lawmakers upset with the Obama administration’s foreign policies.  The nomination also comes after the British Parliament refused to participate in a military strike against Syria.

Malala Yousafzai isn’t a whistle-blower. She is a 14-year-oldPakistani girl who was shot in an assassination attempt by the Taliban while returning home on a school bus. She was shot in the head and neck. It was thought she would die, but her condition improved. 

The Taliban has since threatened to kill Yousafzai and her father.  The Taliban does not want women educated. They have banned girls from going to school.  Yousafzai is the face of the girls and women who live under Taliban rule. 

Yousafzai was nominated for the Sarkhov prize for her contributions to education and women’s rights activism.  She was also nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by South African activist Desmond Tutu.

Who do you think will receive the human rights award? Will it be whistle-blower Edward Snowden or education activist Malala Yousafzai?