Thursday, April 30, 2009

Human Wrongs For the Sake of Human Rights?

A new report was released recently about the usage of waterboarding on suspected Al Qaeda suspects. CIA is reported to have waterboarded these two suspects a total of 266 times. Previously, ABC news reported that these suspects were waterboarded only once. These inconsistencies put to question the nature of the President Bush’s policies. President Obama has discouraged and condemned these acts.

Some are very angry at President Obama’s reaction and some say inaction about the subject. Meanwhile, some still argue that the wrong thing done for the right reason is still justified. Torture has clearly shown not to deliver accurate results. Does torture derive from the indignant feelings felt by the torturers? Is torture ever justified? We have been evaluating torture in third world countries for our asylum cases. When we evaluate torture by our own country, is it ever justified? Is it justified anywhere? Does the use of torture change based on countries’ economic standing? Is torture ever tolerable?

Blame it on the Genes!?

In Nigeria, it is legal for authorities to lock up people just because they are mentally ill even if they have no committed any crime or had committed such a trivial crime that they should not receive a prison sentence for it. However, in Nigeria they are being held in prisons in unsanitary and unacceptable condition only because they are mentally ill. This is no fault of theirs but one can blame it on their genes. They need to be put in mental hospitals and not in jails. That will not help the mental condition of any of the people if they are put in such conditions where there is no chance of them recovering or getting better. Treating them as prisoners and as people who have committed crimes is a human rights abuse. We often overlook human rights abuses like this and we don't think much of them. Can you imagine what a big issue it would have become if in America they imprisoned mentally ill people just because they were mentally ill and not because they had committed any crime or done anything wrong. That would just not be acceptable to anyone and human rights activists would be on the roads protesting. Why then in a third world country like Nigeria does this go unnoticed and unaddressed. How long will this go on for? When will such abuse stop? When will the third world countries citizen's be given the same type of rights that other citizens in the world have? I think it is very important to have each country accountable to a higher human rights authority that can deal with these issues of human rights abuses by authorities in all countries. At least that would make them accountable to someone.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Lack of Action on Darfur?

With a new President in office and a new Congress filling the Capitol Building and it's offices there seems to be little change in the policy regarding Sudan and the Darfur region. In fact, it looks as though this is not all too pressing of an issue because blogger has underlined Darfur as being spelt incorrectly because apparently the website does not know what it is. But it is a major issue as seen from my attached article.

With the looming credit crisis, the housing meltdown, and the roller coaster of the stock market, not to mention the newfound sensationalism of "swine flu," the Darfur region seems to have fallen off of the radar of worries and injustices in this country. I have heard little from the activist celebrities or other groups on the issue as of late, and even the protest in this article only gathered 5 lawmakers to stand up to the Sudanese government.

Though the State Department has referred to this issue as a "genocide," why is the Sudanese embassy still open in the face of their blatant disregard of the problem. Not only should the United States place pressure on our allies and countries such as China and Russia to not deal with the Sudanese until this is sorted out, but also we should send a stronger message to the Sudanese government as well voicing our disdain for the problem. This truly is an example of how there is not always human rights for all.

Monday, April 27, 2009

"A Family Divided by 2 Words: Legal and Illegal

This article tells the story of a family from Ecuador who uprooted their lives to move to the United States. As educated professionals in Ecuador, they gave up a comfortable life and rewarding jobs to live in a cramped apartment and work grueling jobs that are labor intensive. Despite the hardships, this family did it all to provide their daughter with a better education. As the mother notes, “My hopes are dead. Right now we’re just focused on the education of the children and their future. Let them reach their goals and have their dreams.”

Unfortunately, it is not that easy. This family represents nearly three quarters of 2.3 million undocumented families that have one child who is a United States citizen. Like this family, 400,000 of these “mixed-status families” have children that are both citizens and non-citizens. While the younger son lacks ambition, he is a US citizen and therefore can obtain a job in the country and has access to finical aid and scholarships to finance a college education. On the other hand, the daughter was one of the 65,000 young people that graduate from American high schools each year without immigration papers. Despite her stellar grades and obvious potential, her only options were the public universities in her state. Without a social security number, she was unable to obtain the kind of job her credentials merited after graduation. She now works as a bookkeeper, in a job that she is over-qualified for and underpaid.

Is it fair to these children that are brought to the United States by their parents to be so limited in their potential? This daughter had no say in coming to this country. Because of where she was born, she can continue to excel at school and work hard but she is extremely limited in where that work can take her. Since her brother was born here, he does not have this concerns and the sky is his limit. The New York State Youth Leadership Council is pushing Congress to pass the Dream Act, which would grant legal status to high school graduates who were brought to the United States by their parents before they were 15 years old and attend college for 2 years or serve in the military. Along with providing an incentive to work hard in school, it creates an essential opportunity. It is unfair to limit the potential of children of illegal immigrants who were given no choice in their situation and this act serves to create an equal playing field for these children in "mixed status families."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Caudillo Comes to Justice

After experiencing many years of fiscal, political, and social peril, Alberto Fujimori came to power in Peru in 1990 and stayed there through 2000 with his strong-armed tactics. Fujimori bribed countless politicians and government agents, he embezzled $1 Billion U.S. dollars from the Peruvian government, and would often use the military and his Intelligence supervisor to get what he wanted. However, these were only a few of his most deplorable actions. What could be seen as his worst is what he has recently been found guilty of, not in an activist European Court, but in his own country.

Fujimori was found guilty, on April 7, 2009, of Human Rights abuses stemming from his knowledge that a death squad, the Colina Group, had killed a number of Fujimori's opponents, individuals associated with "The Shining Path," a Maoist terrorist group which started in the hills of Peru, but quickly became involved with politics and violence within it's cities, such as Lima. Though the Shining Path did not consist of angels, this was still a brazen act of unjustifiable violence. The Court also ruled on the kidnapping and murder of 10 students from a teacher's training center. These cases are only a few of a number of kidnappings that the Colina Group participated in during the years of Fujimori, and are two known cases in which he can be implicated as the "indirect perpetrator." 

This is a monumental ruling due to the fact that after being dissolved of power some nine years ago, and his subsequent fleeing of the country, Fujimori had been brought back to justice by the new government, which coincidentally is headed by the President he took control from, Alan Garcia. Not only does this help solidify his control of the country and the justice that he sought to bring the people, this is also a major issue for the region in general. After the circus that became the deportation of Pinochet and his subsequent trial before his last days of 2006, it is refreshing to see that justice may be served in the area. Though there are many factions within Peru that appreciate what Fujimori did for the government and the country, there are many more that do not appreciate his heavy handed means in which he achieved his ends. The murders and kidnappings of their own citizens by governments and indirectly their own President is never something that should be condoned or glanced over, not even for the members of The Shining Path. Though this is a recent ruling, it can only be hoped for Peru, and for the region, that this ruling is upheld and that Fujimori will pay for the Human Rights abuses that his regime inflicted.  

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

One country Two laws

It is terrifying, disgusting and heart wrecking to watch such a video so I suggest that you don't watch it. It made me feel sick in my stomach to watch something like this happening in my own country. The situation in Pakistan just gets worse by the day. It is shocking that within one country, there are two different laws. The parliament, which is actually another name for the President (Zardari), has allowed Sharia to be applied in Swat. This comes as a shock and horror story to all Pakistanis. Sitting in the capital you feel that you are safe and far away from all this, but that is not true now. It keeps getting closer and closer just like it did in Nazi Germany when one day they finally come and knock on your door to come and take you. It is truly terrifying. How is it possible for one country to survive on one law. What will come of this decision? WIll Sharia have to be implemented all over or will the Supreme Court over turn the decision. The irony is that this is an unlawful decision addressing the law. One thinks what can you do in such a situation. The Chief Justice was recently restored. It is time that he stands up to all the pillars he was supporting before he was reinstated and fights to unite the country under one law.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Refugee Camps inside the area of conflict: What is the purpose of safe zones when they don't protect civilians?

Recently, the conflict between the "Tamil Tigers" and the Sri Lankan military has intensified in the North-East area of the country. Appeals from the United Nations and the Red Cross have led the government to establish "safe zones" or "no fire zones" for civilians to ensure their safety form the fighting. This zone is about 20 sq km along the eastern coast of the country. However, this morning, 60 civilians were killed and more than 300 civilians were injured during Tamil-rebel shelling into the camps. According to foreign health officials who provide medical care inside the refugee camp, most of the injured were waiting in line to collect powdered milk for children from the clinic. Neither the Sri Lankan gov't nor the Tamil rebels are commenting on the situation. The Tamils have denied any involvment in the attacks. According ot the UN, more than 2700 people have been killed and over 3000 have been wounded in the last two months of renewed conflict.

I saw this article and it struck me as devastating and is an example how refugee camps established within the area of conflict just do not work. How can the government presume to protect its citizens from harm when the main camp is in the center of the conflict zone. I understand the desire to stay in their home region, but if it is ensure their safety, I would move the camp south of the line. Are we seeing another Korea? Or Cameroon? or Central African Republic? When does the violence end? When and more importantly how can we ensure the safety of populations affected by internal conflict?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Immigrants Looking For A Better Life Gunned Down

This past Friday, April 3rd, Jiverly Wong, a 42 year old man of Vietnamese decent entered the American Civic Center in Binghamton, New York and opened fire, killing 15 people (including himself) and injuring numerous others. The American Civic Association is an immigration support center that serves as an important resource for recent immigrants who are looking to learn English or receive other services. The suspect was reportedly a former student in English classes at the Civic Association. The majority of the victims, themselves were also immigrants searching for a better life in the United States.

Looking at these tragic events in the context of Human Rights/Human Wrongs, I cannot help but wonder if the United States is actually capable providing a better life for recent immigrants fleeing persecution and violence in their home countries. Stories have surfaced about the backgrounds of many of the victims of the Binghamton shootings. For example, Layla Khalil, a 57 year old wife and mother of three came to the United States after surviving a numerous car bombings in Baghdad. After only a few years in the U.S., she has become the victim of the same kind of violence that she sought to escape when leaving her home country of Iraq.

Furthermore, while it is hard to call a killer a victim after taking the lives of 14 other innocent people, it appears that he felt persecuted himself by law enforcement officials. According to a letter that he sent to a news station on the day of the shootings Wong states, "Of course you need to know why I shooting? Because undercover cop gave me a lot of ass during eighteen years." Obviously, it is hard to confirm or deny this apparent motive for the shootings or whether there is a mental health issue in this case, the letter indicates a feeling of isolation that produced anger because he could not speak English as well as a clear feeling persecution from police.

Thus, when looking at how the current immigration system can be amended or improved, does this story tell us anything about the necessity for assimilation and support in the process? Or is this sort of violence unavoidable? Can the U.S. accommodate all immigrants and provide the persecuted around the world with better lives? Should we be responsible for this as the most powerful nation in the world?

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Is there a moral obligation to assist refugees fleeing persecution en route?

On Monday, a boat carrying African migrants from Libya to Italy capsized, resulting in the deaths of at least 200 people. Libya is a popular stopping point for migrants whose ultimate destination is Europe, with most continuing on to Italy as a base-point for other destinations in Europe. While many travel to Europe “first and foremost to help their families back home with a paycheck,” many of these people can also qualify as refugees.” Of the 36,000 people that arrived in Italy by sea from North Africa last year, 75% applied for asylum and 50% were granted from form of international protecting.

This is not just an isolated incident. Whether it be by being thrown off board by human smugglers trying not to get caught by navies in the Gulf of Yemen, by dehydration in the hot desert between the US and Mexico, or ships capsizing in dangerous water, thousands died each year on their journeys to seek asylum. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres is quoted as saying; “We are seeing it all over the world.” He believes that Monday’s tragedy shows the desperate steps that people are willing to take “to escape conflict, persecution and poverty in search of a better life.” Human smuggling is a very lucrative business that pries on the desperation of people, particularly those who lack the resources to obtain safe travel. Since it is underground, it lacks any regulation that ensures the safety of migrants. Even if they survive, many migrants are re-traumatized en route to safety. While interning at a human rights organization, I heard numerous horrific stories about what coyotes would do to migrants, particularly women.

Does the international community have a moral obligation to provide refugees with safe transportation between the countries they are fleeing from and where they wish to seek asylum? I believe that what happened on Monday is tragic, but it is even more tragic is that this is a story that happens more often than we realize. I believe the international community should come together and discuss some sort of system that could assist asylum seekers in arriving to safety instead of only providing assistance once they are able to flee themselves from the situation of persecution.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Justice for All?: Prosecution of Kaing Guek Eav

The Khmer Rouge ruled brutally in 1975 through 1979 in Cambodia. Kaing Guek Eav, known as "Duch," was one of the regime's brutal leaders. Eav served as the commander of the secret prison S-21 in the Cambodian capitial Phnom Penh, which is estimated to have killed over 14,000 people in that prision alone. It is estimated that the regime killed 1.7 million people.

Today thirty years later, Kaing Guek Eav is being tried in front of a U.N.-backed tribunal just outside the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

Without hestitation we think "Justice! Finally!" However, I want us to rethink this system. We punish the guilty for crimes that we have come to comprehend as inhumane and thus we almost unconsciously dehumanize these people. I am in not way or form excusing the horrific, brutal and uncomprehendable actions of the Khmer Rouge. Instead I am questioning if justice comes in the form of punishment? Punishing the guilty has somewhat been transformed into mission of separating and locking up the "guilty" and ultimately pretending that they do not exist. Because the expensive bars of the system, we are "safe."

In the deep trenches that has become the complicated and incomprehensible area of violence, is there ever simply a "good guy" and a "bad guy"? Much to our diappointment our world does not allow us to simply "fight for" the ultimate "good". Some even may argue that violence of mind is more brutal than any degrating violent torture.

People make choices that are horrifying. They may rob others of their innocence, their courage, their faith, and their hope. However, in putting these people on trial and sentencing them to life in prison or death, is justice being achieved?

As Eav stands trial and the verdict become known, are the 1.7 million people's lives brought to justice?

What is justice?

Every person has the power to do horrendous and horrible things whether we admit it or not.

Perhaps still, the trail of Eav is unquestionibly necessary, but is it justice?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Obama to Beef Up Mexico Border Policy

As our borders have become stricter since 9/11 it seems as though President Obama plans to continue the trend of maintaining our nations national security. As recent as Tuesday President Obama announced a plan to increase the structure of our nations borders in order to prevent drug trafficking by our southern neighbor.
By not condoning the admittance illegal drugs or fire-arms enter the U.S. from Mexico via the major drug cartels, which were deemed extremely dangerous and out of control, President Obama is sending a strong message of disapproval to the cartels themselves, but the Mexican government as well. The plan announced last year allots 7 million dollars towards the relief efforts in protecting our borders.
All of this comes days before Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is scheduled to visit Mexico City, and President Obama to visit shortly after sometime next month. By increasing the protection at the border, is President Obama through his actions endangering his diplomatic standing/relationship with Mexico?

Protest to Stop Deportation of 30,000 Haitian Immigrants.

Protest planned in NY to stop 30,000 Haitian illegal immigrants being deported in mass.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Advocates worry Obama easing human rights stand

by Steven R. Hurst

March 13th, 2009

Excerpts from the article:

"We fear she (Sec. State Hilary Clinton) may be setting this tone as a signal to the rest of the world that human rights are not going to be one of the main issues for the administration," said T. Kumar, Amnesty International advocacy director for Asia.  "Trade and security should not be promoted at the expense of human rights."

"Part of her challenge diplomatically is going to be able to work on many fronts," said Amnesty International's Curt Goering.  "The United States cannot be credible on any issue unless it remains credible on human rights."

Obama and Clinton will likely face even stiffer criticism as they move forward with a policy designed to repair U.S. standing globally.  They are trying to show world leaders that DC is once again determined to engage the world through diplomacy rather than what critics saw as the Bush administration's tendency to rely on diktat.

I thought this article was very interesting and a good talking point.  After the recent visit of Clinton to China and her announcements pertaining to human rights, do you think that the Obama administration will proactively become the diplomatic force in the world theater; one similar to Obama's platform prior to election or do you think that the status quo will not change?  Do you think that the new administration can mend relations with other countries concerning human rights and if so how long will it take to build these relationships?  Is there change that we can believe in?  Using Goering's rationale, if the administration does not gain credibility in human rights where else will it lack credibility, and with that can there still be change? Lastly, do you think the government will chose finances over human rights and do you think any nation would choose the latter before the former?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Vocal critic of Kenyan government murdered

An influential human rights activist and his colleague have been shot dead in central Nairobi in an organised killing that sparked accusations that they were assassinated by security forces.

A week after a UN expert described the Kenyan police as “a law unto themselves” the cold-blooded shooting of Oscar Kamau Kingara and John Paul Oulu threatened to send strained relations between the olice and its population to a new low.

Mr Kingara and Mr Oulu were ambushed as they sat in a white Mercedes in rush-hour traffic on a road outside the University of Nairobi’s halls of residence. Three gunmen in dark suits fired repeatedly into the car. Mr Kingara was killed outright and Mr Oulu mortally wounded. Witnesses said the killers sped away in two cars.

Hours before the attack a government spokesman had berated Mr Kingara publically for allegedly helping the outlawed Mungiki criminal sect. Mr Kingara’s death immediately raised suspicions that the police and State were responsible.

“The human rights community in Kenya holds the Government fully and wholly responsible for the assassinations,” said Cyprian Nyamwamu, of the Kenya Human Rights Consortium. The police deny any government responsibility for the murders. The Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, condemned the killings and warned that the country was at crisis point. “We are hurtling towards failure as a state,” he said.

After the attack students fearing that police would remove important evidence and with it the best chance of finding Mr Kingara’s attackers, pushed the shot-up Mercedes into their halls of residence compound and hid Mr Kingara’s body in a stairwell.

“Without the body there is no evidence,” said one angry student, a 22-year-old who did not want to be named for fear of police reprisals.

A stand-off ensued between dozens of students holding the corpse and police reinforcements that arrived in trucks after dark. The police used tear-gas and live ammunition, while the students threw rocks and chunks of masonry.

After more than three hours, the police found Mr Kingara’s body and drove away with it, but not before one of the students was shot dead by an officer. Three policemen have been arrested for that killing.

Yesterday the dead student’s blood was still fresh on the ground near the gates, surrounded by pebbles and protected by grieving classmates who refused to allow it to be washed away.

Mr Kingara’s Mercedes remained jammed against a wall outside the student bar, a thick trail of smeared blood leading past the pool table and into the dingy stairwell where his body had lain.

“It is clear the police are utterly compromised,” said Ben Rawlence, Kenya researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Mr Kingara, the founder of the respected Oscar Foundation Free Legal Aid Clinic, published a report last year accusing the police of torturing or killing more than 8,000 Kenyans in a crackdown on the Mungiki.

Earlier on Thursday the Mungiki – a Kikuyu tribal gang that runs protection rackets and is responsible for many gruesome murders – held its own protests against police violence.

“It is imperative, if the Kenyan police are to be exonerated, for an independent team to be called from somewhere like Scotland Yard,” said Professor Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings. Last week Mr Alston issued a damning indictment of Kenya’s police and its British-trained army. At the end of a ten-day fact-finding mission he concluded that Kenya’s police “kill often, with impunity”.

Iranian assylum seeker fails in UK on claim of persecution because of sexual orientation.

March 11, 2008 -- Updated 1937 GMT (0337 HKT)

Gay Iranian teen loses asylum appeal

(CNN) -- The Netherlands has rejected an asylum plea by a gay Iranian teenager trying to escape possible persecution in his homeland.

Mehdi Kazemi believes he will face persecution if he is made to return to Iran.

Mehdi Kazemi, 19, had originally sought asylum in Britain, where he was taking classes on a student visa, because, he said, his boyfriend had been executed in Iran after saying he and Kazemi had been in a gay relationship. Britain's Home Office rejected his request, prompting Kazemi to flee to Netherlands.

Tuesday's decision by the Council of State -- the highest administrative court in the Netherlands --means Kazemi could face deportation to Britain, which he fears will send him back to Iran.

Council spokeswoman Daniela Tempelman said the council decided it must comply with the Dublin Regulation and return Kazemi to Britain. Video Watch how teenager has lost his right to remain. »

Under the Dublin Regulation, European Union member nations agree that an application for asylum submitted in any EU country would be handled by that country alone. The regulation seeks to ensures that an asylum seeker is not redirected from nation to nation simply because none will take responsibility.

Kazemi's initial appeal for asylum in the Netherlands, made in October, was rejected. He then appealed unsuccessfully to a regional court in December. His last appeal was to the Council of State in January.

Tempelman said that in order for the Dutch court to consider Kazemi's asylum application, he needed to prove that Britain did not handle his asylum application properly, but he wasn't able to prove any wrongdoing on the part of the British government.

Kazemi now has exhausted his chances for appeal in the Netherlands and, according to Tempelman, could be returned to Britain on a short notice. The British government about six months ago accepted the Dutch request to take him back.

Kazemi's lawyer will have the option of taking his case to the European Court of Human Rights to request an "interim measure" that could allow Kazemi to stay in Europe until further notice.

"If anybody signs his deportation papers and says, look, he's got to be deported to Iran, that means they have signed his death sentence," said Kazemi's uncle Saeed, who asked CNN to withhold his last name over safety concerns.

Gay rights activists in Europe and Iran are also researching Kazemi's case.


"When Britain is prepared to send a young man back to possible execution, that is inhumanity on a monumental scale," said Peter Tatchell, an activist for gay campaign group OutRage. "And I hang my head in shame, as a British citizen."

In a written statement, Britain's Home Office said that even though homosexuality is illegal in Iran and homosexuals do experience discrimination, it does not believe that homosexuals are routinely persecuted purely on the basis of their sexuality.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Mexicans seek asylum from surging violence in Ciudad Juarez

Although Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas are separated by the US-Mexico border, the two cities compose one of the largest bi-national metropolitan areas in the world. Before the end of 1848 U.S.-Mexican war, they were the same town, El Paso del Norte. Although they have seen been broken up to form two cities, each day 60,000 still people travel between these two cities.

Despite their proximity, reality is much different depending on which side of the fence you live on. Although Ciudad Juarez’s economy has been doing well in recent years, violence has escalated. Beginning with the brutal killings of more than 400 women and children since 1993 in what has been deemed by some as a “feminicide,” violence has been rising in the area. A recent surge in violence has left 350 people dead in Ciudad Juarez this year alone and 1,000 across the country. Last year, the drug violence was so brutal that 6,290 people lost their lives in Mexico. This article explains the situation in the morgues in Ciudad Juarez, which has gotten so bad that the morgue is forced to turn corpses away:

As the violence continues to increase, more and more people are coming to El Paso to seek asylum in the US. According to a BBC article, “Drug-related violence in Mexico has become so extreme that some policemen and journalists would rather sit in a cell at a US immigration detention centre than run the risk of being caught in the crossfire between rival gangs in their home country.” One journalist who is currently living in El Paso on temporary visa notes that, “I would prefer seven months in jail because it’s a matter of life and death.”

The asylum cases that we are working on involve people from countries that are located far away from the United States, in some cases half way around the globe. Fleeing from land only separated from the US by a fence, these asylum seekers from Ciudad Juarez are a large contrast to what we have seen.

My question is whether the asylum process should be different for them or does it not matter if the asylum seekers comes from .01 miles outside the US or 10,000 miles? To me, I think that we need to pay special attention and give consideration to our neighbors in this process. In addition, the US should continue its effort to control the drug war in Mexico. Along with the obvious concern that the violence could spill over to US soil, it’s impossible not to see what is going on there. As Ciudad Juarez is physically visible from the United States, I hope that we do not turn a blind eye to the situation there.

Monday, March 02, 2009

A Warning Sign? Sierra Leone tribunal convicts 3 warlords

The conviction of 3 warlords from Sierra Leone is certainly a gain for international accountability and human rights around the world. But the author has an interesting point - are we just picking on the weak links? And if so, how credible is the type of international accountability we're creating? How punitive should these tribunals be? Does there come a point when punitive measures are counterproductive?

(I'm admittedly a student from last year - but I couldn't help myself from posting when I saw the article. What can I say? I miss the class!)

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Haitians hope for Obama

Haiti is the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.  Last year alone, aside from the political and social unrest, 2008 held numerous environmental disasters including mudslides.  We all heard about the collapse of  a school in November that killed nearly one hundred young students and wounded many more.  In response to this chaos and disarray, the United Nations sent 10,000 peacekeepers to help and support.  The aid is hardly enough.  

Throughout this difficult time, the Haitian government requested that the United States grant temporary protected status to Haitian immigrants.  Bush considered the request for a few short months, before declining it and ordering further deportation of the Haitian immigrants. 
To make matters worse, many of the Haitians deported are not criminals.  Rather elderly, mothers, and people who have lived in the United States for years who have no where to go once in Haiti.  

My question to Human Rights Human Wrongs, spring 2009, is should there be a sixth element to being qualified for asylum including environmental disasters that the government cannot protect its people against?  If people starving in jails can gain asylum because their government is unable to feed them, shouldn't natural disasters count as well?  Surely IJs and ICE attorneys would see this as too large a group etc.  However, Haiti is the POOREST country in this hemisphere, there should be some loophole here.  That is not to say that the U.S. should invite all of Haiti here for a vacation during the rainy season.  But why send innocent people back into the dangers of Haiti?  Perhaps President Obama can help change this unnecessary cruelty against our weakest nation on this side of the globe.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Fake Immigration Attorney+ Real Clients= BIG Problems

By now, we are all aware that the immigration system is very much a believer that immigrants are guilty until they can prove otherwise. Guilty of what you ask? I don’t know and neither does INS or ICE-they are just guilty. This story is a direct result of immigrants and detainees having no right to court appointed lawyers and then having to resort to inexpensive and sometimes inadequate legal service. In this story we have a Dominican immigration attorney who practiced law in Dominican Republic but was never admitted to the bar in the United States. This man, Mr. Espinol, nonetheless declared himself an immigration attorney and targeting desperate immigrants, abused of the trust his Latino immigrant clients put in him. Mr. Espinol received payments from his low-income clients but would not file applications for green cards when he was paid for that among other services. Mr. Espinol infuriates me. Here is a man, in the position to help his community. The assumption is that he knows the despair in his clients; that he understands. Instead Mr. Espinol abused and exploited some of the most vulnerable people who sought him out for help. At the mercy of volunteer lawyers from the City Bar Association (NYC) in a legal clinic, Mr. Espinol’s clients find themselves in a dire situation. Some face deportation and have missed deadlines to file applications among other things. This story should remind us of the great responsibility we have taken. Many of us have met our clients and need no reminder of how REAL this is. I don’t want to resemble this Mr. Espinol not one second throughout this semester in respect to the inadequacy of my service to the client I am working with. This goes for all of us. We may not be real immigration attorneys, but everything we read, write, touch is real in these cases, and we must always be true to that.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Religion as a premise for human rights abuse

Pakistan has been in turmoil for the past few years with rising insurgency within the country. In the North West Frontier Province, Taliban leaders have come to power and have driven many out of the sanctity of their homes because of the ongoing clashes between the government and the militants. The issue of imposing Sharia Law in the country is not new. The militants and extremists have been pushing the government to impose Sharia in order to avoid clashes. The situation is out of control and the government has had great difficulty in curtailing the issue. The announcement of Sharia Law in NWFP is a human rights abuse because according to the militants and extremists interpretation of the law, women have no rights and their education is frowned upon. As the article talks about, it also gives rise to a parallel system of justice where punishment is given in the most inhumane ways. This could pose a threat to the whole country's stability because if the Taliban have been successful in having Sharia imposed in one part of the country, I don't think anything will stop them from doing so in other parts also using the same techniques of violence that they did in Swat. This decision to impose Sharia in Swat will give rise to many human rights abuses especially against women. The condition of Swat will be the same as Afghanistan under the Taliban rule. 

Think you can change the world?

A former student of mine sent the above link -- have some great ideas on changing the world? Want to win $50,000? Enter the contest -- entries are due by March 2nd.
Good luck!

Monday, February 23, 2009 the US?

I was shocked when my father told me about this story the other day... A woman beheaded here in the U.S? Is this an honor killing? A simple homocide? Is homocide ever simple? I find this story pertinent because we are all dealing with cases regarding various human rights abuses. It's a little ironic that the very abuse that many come to our country fleeing happens here, less than 500 miles away from our school. I like to think that I am culturally sensitive, but I have no tolerance for customs that dictate a painful death. I'm sure death by decapitation is far from comfortable.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Death of Detained Immigrant Inspires Online Game-kind of blows your mind

I discovered a website that will truly blow your mind away. Created by Breakthrough, an international human rights organization, the game centers on an investigation to the death of Boubacar Bah, a detained immigrant who died while imprisoned under suspicious circumstances in 2007. A spokeswoman for ICE said that the video game is “a work of fiction that dehumanizes the individuals depicted and grossly distorts conditions in detention facilities.” She added, “I believe that most informed people know that they leave reality at the door when they enter the world of video games.” I actually played the online video game which is found at . In the game, you are an undercover reporter who has applied for a job as a detention guard at the Elizabeth Detention Center in NJ where Bah died (and Fauziya was held). You move around the detention facility picking up clues, talking to other inmates, reviewing incident reports having to due with Bah, all the meanwhile taking notes. While this is a video game as ICE officials are quick to remind us, it is simply a video game because it’s an interactive virtual story being told. Throughout the game, “the content encountered along the way is backed by links to real newspaper articles, court documents and other factual material.”  

Breakthrough, the human rights organization responsible for this video game, is known to mix fantasy with reality with the goal of educating young people on immigration issues. They have another online video game called “ICED-I Can End Deportation” in which “a player assumes the role of one of five characters with uncertain immigration status, trying to avoid deportation and secure citizenship. That game can be found at It serves as a good mental workout for us so I would suggest that you take 15 minutes from “facebooking” and play these two pretty wild video games about detainees and legal status. Talk about human rights group stepping up their game huh?

Alison Des Forges: A True Human Rights Champion

I only had the opportunity to see Dr. Des Forges a few times at African Studies Association conferences. I was surprised at how physically tiny and fragile she looked. In my mind -- she was a giant -- what else could she be -- standing up to human rights abusers whatever their ethnicity, religion or political affiliation.
It came as quite the shock to hear that she had died in a plane crash --over Buffalo. To Dr. Des Forges' family -- I am sure that nothing will soothe the pain of her loss -- but I think that you should know that there are many others, like me, out there that admired her from afar. She was an inspiration and a true hero. May she rest in peace.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free,
provided they have satisfactorily filled out forms 3584-A through
3597-Q. Dwight MacDonald 1963.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Organizations Ask Obama to Act Now to Prevent Deportation of Liberians

Dear President-Elect Obama:

As community leaders and organizations dedicated to serving and advocating on behalf of the Liberian community, we write to bring to your attention an urgent issue facing Liberians living in the United States. Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), which currently protects Liberians from deportation, will expire on March 31, 2009. We ask that you make the extension of DED for Liberians for an additional 18 months an immediate priority upon taking office to ensure that Liberians are not forcibly removed from the United States.

Many Liberian refugees who fled civil war over the past two decades have made homes in the U.S. Now, they are in danger of deportation to a fragile country and separation from their families, livelihoods, and communities. The United States has extended protection from deportation to Liberians, either Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), since the outbreak of the Liberian civil war in 1990.

The fledgling democracy of Liberia, however, continues to face a period of critical rebuilding. Despite the progress that the country has made under the leadership of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, conditions have not improved enough to absorb the estimated 3,600 Liberians currently residing legally in the U.S. who will have to leave by March 31, 2009 if DED is not extended.

Historical background.

The United States has a special historical relationship with the Liberian people. In 1822, a group of former slaves from the United States arrived in what was to become Liberia’s capital city, Monrovia—named after U.S. President James Monroe. The national language of Liberia is English. Liberia has been a strategic and military ally to the United States, particularly during World War II when Liberia provided access to rubber and served as a troop transit point for American forces.

It is not surprising that when civil war erupted in Liberia in 1989, forcing hundreds of thousands of Liberians to flee, many looked to the United States for peace, safety, employment, health, and education. Liberians left one of the bloodiest conflicts in recent history. Horrific violence and human rights abuses, including mass executions, torture, dismemberment, rape, looting, banditry, and the widespread use of child combatants, traumatized the Liberian population and left the country’s infrastructure in ruins.

About half of Liberia’s citizenry was displaced and now resides throughout Africa, Europe, and the U.S. As many as 270,000 reside lawfully in the U.S., with large Liberian communities in California, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. While most have obtained legal permanent residence, the Department of Homeland Security estimates that approximately 3,600 have only the temporary legal status that is conferred by DED.

Current situation in the U.S.

In metropolitan areas with large Liberian communities, the termination of DED would adversely affect certain sectors of the economy, such as long-term healthcare, that employ large numbers of Liberians. In these areas, entire neighborhoods would be affected by people leaving their houses, apartments, and businesses behind.

Also at issue is family separation. Liberians who sought protection in the U.S. have painstakingly rebuilt their lives. They married and raised families here—including both U.S.-born and Liberian-born children. Forcing the return of those under DED would tear families apart.

Current situation in Liberia.

Liberians should not be sent back to a country that is still struggling to recover from the devastation of war. The Liberian government needs time to rebuild the infrastructure and social services necessary to support its population and to establish a stable and secure democracy. With the election of President Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia has been able to achieve a fragile stability. Nonetheless, life expectancy in Liberia today is just under 42 years. The risk of contracting diseases such as malaria, yellow fever and typhoid are extremely high. More than 85 percent of the population is unemployed. Nearly all Liberians remaining in the country live in Monrovia, which has virtually no power, clean water, or habitable building. President Johnson Sirleaf has raised concerns that the return of those with DED “would put an unbearable burden on our already strained resources.”

Liberians residing lawfully in the U.S. have been a valuable source of assistance to their relatives and friends in Liberia, sending them money that helps stimulate Liberia’s weak economy. This source of support would be severely diminished if Liberians are forced to leave the U.S.

Please act now.

We know that people do not flee their homes without reason. They leave to escape oppression, violence, poverty and desperation. They emigrate in the belief that new surroundings offer them and their families safety and security. Many Liberians have sought safety in the U.S. They have become our neighbors and have enriched our lives and our economy.

Please act immediately to ensure that Deferred Enforced Departure for Liberians does not end on March 31, 2009.


The Advocates for Human Rights, Minneapolis, MN

All Souls Unitarian Universalist, Immigration Task Force, Kansas City, MO

American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Philadelphia, PA

American Jewish Committee, New York, NY

American Refugee Committee, Minneapolis, MN

Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), Washington, DC

Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, New York, NY

Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition, Washington, DC

CASA de Maryland, of Silver Spring, Wheaton, Gaithersburg, and Baltimore, MD

Catholic Charities, Immigration Services, Archdiocese of Atlanta

Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), Washington, DC

Center for Victims of Torture, Minneapolis, MN

Chaldean Federation of America, Farmington Hills, MI

Coalition for New South Carolinians, Columbia, SC

CommunityHealth Center of Richmond, Staten Island, NY

Deported Diaspora, Boston, MA; Cambodia; Cape Verde

El Centro del Inmigrante, Staten Island, NY

The Episcopal Church, Washington, DC

Hawaii Hispanic News, Honolulu, HI

Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), New York, NY

HIAS and Council Migration Service, Philadelphia, PA

Hispanas Organizadas de Lake y Ashtabula (HOLA), Ashtabula, OH

Human Rights First, New York, NY

Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN

International Rescue Committee (IRC), New York, NY

IRATE/First Friends Visitor Program, Elizabeth, NJ

Jewish Alliance for Law & Social Action (JALSA), Boston, MA

Jewish Community Action, St. Paul, MN

Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, Tucson, AZ

Jewish Vocational Service, Kansas City, MO

Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, New York, NY

Jubilee Campaign USA, Fairfax, VA

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Baltimore, MD

Mennonite Central Committee, Washington, DC Office

NAACP, Washington, DC

National Council of Jewish Women, Washington, DC

National Immigrant Justice Center, Chicago, IL

National Immigrant Solidarity Network, Los Angeles, CA

Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center (PIRC), York, PA

Priority Africa Network (PAN), Oakland, CA

Progressive Jewish Alliance, Los Angeles, CA

Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Washington, DC

United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society, Washington, DC

US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Washington, DC

Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, Washington, DC

Westchester Hispanic Coalition, Mount Vernon, NY

West Coast Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), Rancho Palos Verdes, CA

Women’s Refugee Commission, New York, NY

The Workmen’s Circle /Arbeter Ring, New York, NY

World Relief, Baltimore, MD

NPR story of detainee transfers from York to Texas

National Public Radio’s All Things Considered broadcast a story yesterday regarding the difficulties that arise when detainees are transferred to distant detention centers; in the story, form York, PA to Texas. The story can be heard by accessing NPR’s website at:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Forced Deportation After So Called Humanitarian Effort

During the 1990's Liberia was a country raveged by Civil War which put many of its citizens into danger causing many countries around the world to open their doors to some Liberians with the hope that they would be able to escape the violence and instability. The United States in offering humanitarian relief for many of the displaced Liberians opened there doors to over 14, 000 Liberians seeking aid. What many people do not know is that there was a timeline on the visa that many of the refugees seeking help recieved, and that date is closely approaching. The U.S. is forcing deportation upon many of the Liberians who have been here for years, to leave on March 31st.

Although the U.S. was gracious in helping many of the displaced Liberians from the world of violence and substandard living conditions. But the fact remains that to force them out of their established homes, seperate families by taking parents away from American born children, and making people leave who have paid taxes and lived life just like any other citizen here. So the simple questions remains should the U.S. force these temporary citizens back to their country after establishing lives here in the U.S.?

p.s. Isn't it ironic that the flags of both countries resemble each other?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Indian Immigrant Set on Fire in Italy

This past Sunday a 35-year-old Indian immigrant was beaten and set on fire after falling asleep on a train station bench outside of Rome. Three young men believed to be responsible for this brutal crime were arrested on Monday.

Some believe that this was not an arbitrary act of violence. It may very well highlight attitudes towards immigrants in Italian society. In recent years, many Italian citizens have developed negative attitudes towards immigrants due to the rising number of immigrant arrests for high profile crimes (for example, the murder of an Italian admiral’s wife in Rome).

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano seems to be taking the right approach. He has issued a statement warning against “any display and risk of xenophobia, racism and violence.”

However, the words of Carabinieri Major Emanuele Gaeta are appalling. After investigators revealed that the attackers were suspected of having been under the influence of alcohol and drugs, he stated, “We can exclude racism as a motive because they were so high.”

This 35-year-old Indian immigrant was beaten and then set on fire. He narrowly escaped death and currently suffers from burns on 40% of his body. This crime against him could have vast implications for the safety of other immigrants living in Italy, and the possibility of this danger should not be masked. This crime should not be dismissed as an arbitrary act of violence. The fact that the attackers were abusing drugs does not eliminate the possibility that race and nationality may have been a motivating factor in the crime. Should drug use really encourage us to overlook the fact that this may have been a hate crime? Should it automatically exempt these men from facing the repercussions of such a crime?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Delicate Choice

On January 24th, Pope Benedict XVI recently reinstated four renegade bishops into the Catholic Church. These men were members of the Society of St. Pius X, a conservative Catholic group that opposes the reforms made by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Pope John Paul II excommunicated the men after they declared themselves bishops without papal recognition. Now, in an effort to consolidate the beliefs of the Catholic church, the Pope Benedict has reached out to the Society of St. Pius X. In his view, the Church is losing influence in an ever more secular world, and he hopes to avoid a schism which may seriously compromise the power of the Church. The controversy over these reinstatements surrounds Richard Williamson. In an interview last week he denied the enormity of the Holocaust. He as also suggested that the US government staged the 9/11 attacks in order to justify an invasion of the Middle East. For many, these comments represent a backwards step for Catholic-Jewish relations. While the suffering of the Holocaust signifies an important event in collective memory, the Pope's actions have the threat of alienating large segments of people.
Chester Gillis, a professor at Geeorgetown University said, “I don’t think the Vatican doesn’t care about Jewish-Christian relations, but at least it appears that internal church matters trump external relations.” It seems then that the price of healing internal rifts comes at the denial of some of the worst human rights atrocities in history. If the Pope can easily write off the Holocaust, what else can he ignore for religious unity?
Shame on you, Pope Benedict.