Monday, October 11, 2010

Gays/Homosexuals: An Acceptable 21st Century Target for Genocide?

Elie Wiesel, winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace (1986) once said:
Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Whenever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must -- at that moment-- become the center of the universe.

I would hope that Elie Wiesel would also include "sexual orientation" in that list of endangered persecuted individuals worthy of intervention.

It never ceases to amaze me how hateful humans can be to one another. I am compelled to write this post on the heels of the slew of suicides by gay teenagers in the last month (September 2010) and the rise in anti-gay sentiment most recently expressed in the Gay Pride March in Serbia last weekend, and the chilling story of torture in the Bronx involving nine attackers (16-23 years old) and 3 gay men (See NYT's article 8 October 2010 "Lured into a Trap, Then Tortured for Being Gay").

How does an individual's sexual orientation justify torture, teasing, taunting, bullying, discrimination or hatred? What is wrong with humanity?! Have we not learned anything from the past or are we simply destined to hate everyone who is different from what the majority considers "normal"?

Some say, as long as they (gays) don't flaunt it -- shove it in our faces -- they can exist -- but if they expect others to accept their behavior -- that's when they cross the line and deserve anything they get. Sound familiar?

The problem, is that people don't want to believe that gay people are gay because of their genetic makeup -- but just ask anyone who is gay -- who would "choose" to undergo societal discrimination or exclusion? Day to day life is hard enough for everyone -- imagine having to hide deep-seated emotions that you feel despite how hard you try to overcome them? Now imagine that you are in Middle School -- the worst time for so many dealing with the growing pains of adolescence -- and you are gay or you think that you may be gay?

This should be a wake-up call for our legislators. Those who are fighting to uphold discriminatory policies against gays are no better than the Hutu extremists that used the radio waves during Rwanda's chilling genocide to call for the massacre of Tutus. They may not have pulled the trigger -- but they convinced others that it was perfectly okay to hate (and kill) the Tutus because of who they were by birth. And for those legislators and others who refuse to address the issue and cower behind the scenes -- afraid perhaps that it will hurt their popularity at the polls -- the lives of those gay school children are also on your conscience. By not doing anything, you are just as culpable -- the message that is being sent to our gay children everywhere is that there is something wrong with them -- that they are less than human. Shame on you and shame on our society for being so intolerant and hateful.

So, instead of just going on and criticizing those in power, I am suggesting that if you are fed up with the intolerance and hatred -- write, call, or email your congressman or congresswoman -- write a letter to the President -- and demand that they start treating all Americans as equal citizens -- it is time that gay Americans stop being treated as second-class citizens -- and that our children can live a normal, fear-free childhood -- whether they are gay, straight or anything else!

Monday, April 05, 2010

Judge Grants Asylum to German Home Schoolers

Not your average asylum case. A German family was granted asylum in the U.S. by a Judge from Memphis because they were unable to Home School their children in Germany. In Germany home schooling is illegal and all children must attend an " officially recognized school."
Judge Burman granted asylum based on the fact that "they had a reasonable fear of persecution for their beliefs if they returned." German families can be fined for not sending their children to school and in some cases the children can be taken into custody.
The idea that Judge Burman granted asylum based on a social group being discriminated against does not seem particularly unique. However, it does raise eyebrows when Judge Burman says in his decision that the German policy is “utterly repellent to everything we believe as Americans.” Should Judge Burman be injecting his personal view of American values into his decision? What is so wrong with children being required to go to school when private school is also an option?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Burma Military Rulers Give Hints of Change?

Burma (also known as the Republic of Myanmar) is a southeast Asian country which has been under millitary junta rule since 1962 and has been heavily influenced by soviet-style centralization and minimal citizens' rights. Since that time, it has been host to a plethora of human rights abuses, especially in the past few years as people have protested the results of the May 2008 election. It is estimated that over 2,100 individuals are being held as political prisoners. Free speech, free religion, and freedom to assemble are all rights which the current military regime does not respect. The 2009 US State Dept. Human Rights Report for the country claims that "Government security forces allowed custodial deaths to occur and committed extrajudicial killings, disappearances, rape, and torture."

This BBC article takes a more optimistic approach to things. The simple fact that the reporter was invited to cover the Burmese parade suggests "either the military want to open up to gain the legitimacy they would like for the election, and more journalist visas and invitations will follow, or it was a good opportunity to show their strength and resolve to the outside world, and the door will soon slam shut." Based on the country's spotty record on international opinion and human rights, the latter option seems to be the most plausible. Nevertheless, the increased transparency is something to be hopeful about, however shallow it might seem. In a country where very basic rights are routinely violated by the state, any sort of change for the better should be recognized.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Mentally Challenged Immigrants Held in Detention for Four Years

Lawsuits against the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been filed on behalf of Jose Antonio Franco and Guillermo Gomez-Sanchez, two mentally challenged immigrants who have been held in detention for four years.  Franco, 29, has mental retardation and is the son of two permanent legal residents of the United States.  Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, Gomez-Sanchez, 48, is himself a legal permanent resident of the United States.  The two men have been transferred to many detention facilities while awaiting a hearing to contest the basis of their detention.  

            It has been pointed out by human rights organizations such as, Human Rights Watch, that ICE lacks fair policies when it comes to the detention of mentally challenged immigrants.  Franco, who is unable to tell time, is unlikely to recognize that he has been detained for four years, and he is also unable to advocate for his case to be sped up.  Having been detained for four years, Franco has still not received his bond hearing, where he would have the opportunity to be released to the care of his family living in the United States. Aryeh Neier, with Human Right Watch, spoke out against the treatment of these men by saying; "People this vulnerable need the courts to intervene to keep them from getting lost in the labyrinth of immigration detention."

            Sarah Mehta, who has been investigating ICE’s treatment of mentally challenged detainees for eight months, commented that the cases of these men are not unique and that there are many more mentally challenged immigrants who are trapped in the system.  A report will be published by Human Rights Watch in 2010, which will examine the lack of due process received by mentally challenged immigration detainees.  It is alleged that the lack of proper courtroom procedures impede the right to fair immigration proceedings, which is in violation of international human rights law.  

Friday, March 19, 2010

Health Care Bill Affects Immigrants

As the house passes the senate portions of the health care bill, most people will be debating the effects of the bill on Americans. Illegal immigrants were also affected by the bill. According to a summary of the contents of the bill by CBS, "illegal immigrants will not be allowed to buy health insurance in the exchanges -- even if they pay completely with their own money."

This past Thursday President Obama gave his support to a plan that would create a process to legalize illegal immigrants in the United States. Senators promoting the bill describe it as "a 'tough but fair' program that would require illegal immigrants to admit they broke the law and make them perform community service and pay a fine." (Washington Times) The bill would also require that illegal immigrants demonstrate a proficiency in the English language. This raises questions about what the bill might consider "proficiency," whether or not it would be reasonable to expect all illegal immigrants to learn English, and what would be done if immigrants do not pass the English test, are unable to perform community service, or are unable to pay a fine.

With the health care bill passed, it seems even more critical for illegal immigrants that a bill creating a reasonable path towards citizenship be created so that they may once again be eligible for health care.

(An interesting aside - it had never before occurred to me that when countries host events such as the Olympics or the World Cup, that they are opening the door to many potential asylum seekers.)

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Nigerian Authorities Investigate Latest Plateau State Massacre

The international community urges Nigerian authorities to intensify the investigations of recent massacres occurring in the central Plateau State, Nigeria. The most recent massacre on March, 7th killed at least 200 Christian villagers. Many of the victims were women and children. Unidentified groups of men armed with guns, machetes, and knives attacked residents of the villages of Dogo Nahawa, Zot, and Ratsat during an early morning raid March, 7th. This massacre is one of many specifically targeting Christian Nigerians in the Plateau State region.

Authorities believe the culprits are members of the Muslim Berom ethnic-based group. The massacres are thought to be in response to previous attacks against Nigerian's Muslim communities such as the January 19, 2010 raid killing over 150 Muslims. The Nigerian authorities have increased police patrol in the Plateau State due to the heightened religious-based tensions in the region. Authorities have arrested 98 in connection to the attacks thus far.

Nigeria has historically faced intense ethnic and religious animosity since the collapse of the military rule in 1999. Approximately 13,500 Nigerians have died since the government readjustment due to the ethnic- and religious-based conflicts. Human rights groups continue to stress to the Nigerian government that investigations and prosecutions must remain credible in order to properly address the root cause of the violence.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Illness Hinders Plans to Close Immigration Jail

Last month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials stated that they would close the Varick Federal Detention Facility and transfer its estimated 300 detainees to New Jersey. The detention facility’s planned closing is occurring in order to improve health care and cost-effectiveness in the nation’s detention system. Although closing the facility in New York may improve cost-effectiveness, how is sending 300 detainees to an already crowded facility in New Jersey going to improve the health care of the detainees? If anything, it is only going to worsen the health care situation in the facility. Udi Ofer, advocacy director of the New York Civil Liberties Union states “Moving detainees from New York to New Jersey is not going to fix the problem of inadequate care for immigration detainees…The absence of legally enforceable standards leads to situations where detainees are being mistreated.”
Although the detention facility was supposed to be closed by now, it is still open as some of the detainees that require extensive medical care are being rejected by other jails and facilities. Because of these rejections, these detainees continue to stay at Varick Federal Detention Facility. However, such obstacles will only lead the detainees to become a further burden to the ICE, causing them to attempt to deport the detainees at a faster rate.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Withdrawal of Benefits from Sri Lanka for Human Rights Abuses

The EU recently withdrew preferential trade benefits from Sri Lanka after an investigation into the allegation of Human Rights abuses. The benefits, worth about $135 million will certainly put a dent in the economy of Sri Lanka. The garment industry will be hit the hardest after previously enjoying tax breaks to sell merchandise to retailers in Europe. The action proposed by the EU will take effect in 6 months time in order to give the country a chance to address the "shortcomings." The year long investigation by the European Commission recently came to a conclusion following allegations of war crimes in the war between security forces of the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels. The well publicized war between the two sides has been ongoing for years and groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, U.S. State Department, and the EU have all expressed concern about the state of violations in the past.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Church Group Arrested for Human Trafficking in Haiti

On Friday night, Haitian authorities arrested ten Americans, self-professed members of what they call New Life Children’s Refuge, for attempting to smuggle 33 Haitian children across the border into the Dominican Republic. Haitian authorities allege the Americans carried no paperwork identifying any of the children, ranging in age from two months to 12 years, as orphans or clearing them for adoption.

Laura Sillsby, a member of the arrested group, commented, "We have a Baptist minister here (in Port-au-Prince) whose orphanage totally collapsed and he asked us to take the children to the orphanage in the Dominican Republic.” Sillsby also claimed, “We had permission from the Dominican Republic government to bring the children to an orphanage we have there.”

However, this attempt to convey the children across the border without any documentation raises serious concerns about the current state of children with missing parents in Haiti. In the aftermath of the earthquake on January 12, Haitian authorities have expressed concerns that the country’s children are vulnerable to child trafficking schemes, as well as attempts by legitimate groups who may inadvertently transport children out of Haiti for adoption without an adequate attempt to locate the child’s family. It would seem that this problem will persist for some time, as a sufficient period of time must be spent searching for a presumed orphan’s parents before adoptions can take place. For this reason, the Haitian government has recently cut down on many types of adoption.

It may be impossible to tell, however, whether the group confirmed the children to be orphans, and thus genuinely meant to provide refuge, or whether they were only compounding an already grave and problematic situation, fraught with shades of gray with respect to the human rights of these children.

Friday, January 29, 2010

So much for Helping Haitians

Here we go again. We'll let the thousands of Haitians who are already here in the U.S. stay under the TPS (Temporary Protected Status), but if any come by boat, or otherwise, we'll send them back, or maybe even detain them in immigration prisons. Is this humane? What should the U.S. do? Obviously, it cannot let all Haitians move to the U.S, but is this the most humane/just policy?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

US Citizenship and Immigration Services Outlines TPS for Haitians

The U.S. Government is offering Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians ALREADY in the U.S. This status will expire in 18 months, unless the government renews it. What would be interesting is to see, 1) what the government does after 18months, 2) what the government does with Haitians trying to escape Haiti by boat. Will it relax its position re. Haitian Boat People, or will those people be sent to places like Guantanamo Bay?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Google may leave China: Breaking free of the "Green Handcuffs"

The United States has consistently tiptoed around Chinese human rights issues. An American politician may occasional issue a condemnation of China and use strong language to urge the Chinese government to give its people more rights. The demand is almost always met with little reaction. 
I use the word tiptoe because America is financially bound to China. China with its large market is a place that American companies look to get rich. Even if getting rich means sacrificing values. Google entered the Chinese market looking forward to financial success even though it would require them to censor material on its Chinese search engine The people at google struggled with allowing their search engine to be censored as it went against their company slogan of "Don't be evil." However, get rich prevailed of over "Don't be evil." Google created the search engine and censored topics such as "“Tiananmen Square massacre” and the "Dalai Lama." 
After the Chinese government recently hacked into a number of prominent Chinese human rights activists gmail accounts Google is threatening to withdraw from China. Google should no longer be complicit in denying human rights by censoring the internet in China. Google should only stay in China if the internet becomes uncensored. Google should break free of the "Green Handcuffs" that China has placed on American companies and the U.S. government because human rights is more important than dollars and cents. 

Friday, January 22, 2010

Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in U.S.

With 200,000 feared killed in the recent Haitian earthquake, the U.S. Government has established Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians currently residing in the U.S. The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimates that there are an estimated 100,000 - 200,000 Haitian immigrants currently in the U.S -- temporarily or without authorization, and 535,000 Haitian immigrants in the United States. The designation of TPS status means that the Haitians here temporarily or without authorization will not be removed from the U.S. This relief from removal is temporary, and a humanitarian form of relief that does not include the granting of permanent residence in the U.S., nor the granting of "amnesty" to unauthorized immigrants.
The regulations governing TPS:
"TPS is a form of humanitarian relief "that may be granted under the following conditions:
  • There is ongoing armed conflict posing serious threats to personal safety
  • a foreign state requests TPS because it temporarily cannot handle the return of nationals due to environmental disaster
  • there are extraordinary and temporary conditions in a foreign state that prevent aliens from returning provided that granting TPS is consistent with US. national interests.
Some other nationals from countries that were granted TPS:
El Salvador
Sierra Leone
Kosovo Province of Serbia