Thursday, October 06, 2011

Egypt: Better or Worse Without Mubarak?

On this site, "human rights first" is fighting to show President Obama that Egypt is better off without Mubarek. One way in which they do this is by urging visitors of the site to send a letter to President Obama. Interestingly, the letter is already written by "human rights first", and is addressed to the White House; so that all one needs to do is push the send button.

Some highlights of the letter include...
"Dear President Obama,

I’m writing because I’m concerned that the transition set out by Egyptian President Mubarak ...does not provide a path for reform. And I’m urging you to push back on the policies of repression and false reform and to support the legitimate demands of the Egyptian people... With Mubarak in power or not, what is clear is that “Mubarakism without Mubarak,” as a witness at a Congressional hearing suggested, is no solution...
For decades, successive U.S. administrations have given their strong backing to President Mubarak, building a bi-lateral relationship on massive foreign assistance, close military cooperation, pursuit of common foreign policy objectives in the Middle East and cooperation on national security and counterterrorism. In fact and in popular perception U.S. support for Mubarak has been a cornerstone of his rule—and the repression he carried out... The U.S. government must break its unqualified support of its despotic ally."

I have a few concerns about such a letter. For one, I think that it is problematic that "human rights first" drafted a letter for people to send to President Obama. The thoughts in the letter are "human rights first" thoughts -- not the American people's ideas.

Also, I do not find the answer to achieving peace in Egypt as easy as "human rights first" asserts that it is. They seem to argue that if the U.S. Government completely reform the Egyptian Government, then all will be solved. First, I do not think the U.S. is capable of reforming a government as they suggest. And second, while Mubarak's rule was oppressive, he was able to maintain a certain level of peace for a long period of time. Once he was ousted, there were many more cases of discrimination, especially against minority groups such as Coptic Christians. Thus, the answer to peace is not as simple as "rid Egypt of all the policies of Mubarek's regime" - many of such policies (although in an oppressive sort of way) maintained peace and order. Transitioning away from these oppressive policies, while still maintaing peace, will be the challenge.

Charity of the Week: Nashville International Center for Empowerment

Sometimes, in all the stories about horrific massacres and human rights abuses, we miss the good that humans do. While I was studying abroad in Israel, I met an American from Nashville, Tennessee. She told me that she worked with a non-profit who helped Sudanese refugees to acclimate to their new lives in America. Imagining wandering the streets of Nashville without knowing a word of English sounds pretty scary, but that's what the Nashville International Center for Empowerment is meant to solve. From teaching English to helping immigrants get their first jobs, NICE is a catch-all non-profit organization that can be a godsend for desperate refugees. It's good to know that even if the American government may not be providing much-needed help to these people, compassionate private citizens can and do step in to fill the gap.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Modern-Day Slavery

This is a bizarre article about an investigation of what we would call modern day slavery across Asia. Cambodian recruitment agents target na├»ve girls from villages promising them lucrative jobs abroad. The agency then takes these desperate women to factories in Malaysia where they are forced to labor with very little pay. Women are detained at these factories and their passports are confiscated. They are not allowed to return or have any communication with their families unless families pay ransom money for their release. “In practice, the women are enslaved; debt bonded, far from home with no way to escape.”

When investigated, in a statement, the recruiting agency insisted: "Most workers willingly give their passports to their respective agents for safe-keeping, and they are able to obtain their passports at anytime upon their request.” In theory, the companies are required to hand over the passports upon request, but in practice, the employers are the ones who sign the exit visas, which means the workers can’t leave the country without permission and are stuck. The amazing part is, all of this is legal in Malaysia.

The women are part of a complex chain, recruited by the agency, employed by a middleman, who is owned and operated by a bigger company that sub-contracts the work.

People who own the recruitment agency are also relatives of the deputy prime minister of Cambodia. This is not a problem with just agencies in Cambodia, but a problem that involves higher authorities in the government. Desperate families have no way to seek justice as these women have signed contracts and other documents without knowledge of what they are going into. If they try to run away, they are arrested and returned to the factories by the police because they lack passports and proper documentation, all of which have been confiscated by the agency.

This brings an interesting issue to light. All of us can agree that we are appalled by the situation in Cambodia and Malaysia, but as consumers, do we care about the way the way our products are manufactured? For example, the computer accessories we own may very well be from debt-bonded labor. Will knowing such information stop us from using computers made in Malaysia? Of course not! We’re all talk when it comes to standing up for human rights, but when it comes to taking steps to reduce it, we’re not willing to go out of our comfort zone because it means we have to sacrifice a luxury that we feel we somehow deserve. As humans, we are inherently selfish and our attempts at improving someone else’s life only go so far. You and I are not willing to give up something that is dear to us to make a statement for someone else.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY): choosing to score political points over protecting human rights

A recent Politico article reveals disappointing, but unsurprising news that Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has put an anonymous hold on legislation currently pending in the Senate which would release $36 million in funding for benefits that the US government has promised to provide to 5,600 disabled and elderly refugees currently living in the United States. Paul argues that this benefit program - the costs of which are offset by fee increases for immigrants seeking visas - has in the past and could in the future provide funding to terrorists seeking to do harm to the United States by entering this country under the pretense of refugee status.

Paul cites the fact that two "refugees" who resided in Kentucky, the state he represents, were recently arrested for domestic terrorism activities and that they had been receiving benefits provided through this program. His solution, however, is to deny this program's funding - funding that many legitimate refugees desperately need - rather than to pose practical ways of fixing the program's flaws. Furthermore, the funding itself (a mere $36 million) is minuscule compared to most Congressional appropriations, and the harm done by the hold on its release far outweighs any contribution it would make to this nation's deficit.

This is why Paul's behavior is disappointing, but understandable. He is seeking to maintain a political image of fiscal conservatism and concern for national security, but the reality and consequences of his actions will be nothing more than the escalated poverty of some 5,600 refugees.

There is a time and place for political and ideological battles (even legitimate ones regarding the size, scope, and role of government) to be waged, but this isn't one of them.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Banning Gay Pride Parades

The Serbian government recently decided to ban a gay pride parade that was scheduled for this weekend. They cited security concerns as the reason for the cancellation. There are many organizations who had been planning to counter-protest the parade, and the government decided that these protests were too large of a security threat to allow the parade to proceed. The article that I found, "Gay pride parade ban 'dark day for human rights,'" noted that this ban marks the second time in three years that a gay pride parade has been cancelled due to security threats. These threats are mostly from ultra-nationalists and other right-wing groups who are extremely homophobic.
I think it is completely unacceptable that Serbia banned the pride parade because of its own worries about anti-pride protests. It is the government's responsibility to protect all of its citizens, and to preserve their right to freedom of speech. By banning the parade, Serbia has acquiesced to the demands of homophobic hate groups. I am appalled by the government's treatment of a minority group. This ban sends the exact wrong message to hate organizations, it tells them that their hate is justified, which is absolutely not appropriate. Every person has the right to a pride parade, and to express themselves; you cannot disenfranchise a group of people based on their sexuality. The ban is a blatant violation of human rights, and the government of Serbia should be ashamed. As the organizer of the pride parade, Goran Miletic, said, "This is a defeat for all citizens of Serbia: today, it's the gays, tomorrow, God knows which minority group."
Many would agree that the Asylum process in the United States is flawed in some ways or another. With such an emphasis on keeping people “out,” events happen daily in the life of each asylum seeker – making it more difficult for them to plead their case. Take for example – the middle of the night change of location of one refugee from one prison to the next – ultimately making it even more difficult for their probonal lawyer to work and communicate with them. Dozens of other road blocks are in place to only allow asylum to individuals who are most deserving, whatever “most deserving” could mean.  With a huge emphasis on facts and proof of testimony, it’s a wonder how any false accusations could make it through.

In this article this past summer, the New York Times – pointed to some fraudulent cases. Fraudulent cases exist in all courts in the United States. The articles negative attitude towards the overall process - just because of the few that slip the cracks - was extremely ill-found. 
These few cases do not negate the fact that there is genital mutilation, slaughter, ethnic cleansing, and conflict around the globe. Individuals escape their hell only to find themselves handcuffed and placed in another one - miles away from their home in York County Prison. A few fraudulent cases should not tarnish the already dreadful process of receiving refugee status for thousands of individuals that flee here. 

Human Rights advocacy - when they try to take away your voice

Human Rights advocacy comes in all shapes, sizes, and ways. In America, we have the ability to write or speak about issues that exist and even reach out to policy makers demanding change. Halfway across the world in India, individuals do not have the same abilities to express - as seen with Chanu Sharmila, who continues to live on a hunger strike in order to bring attention to human injustices that occur in her community (Read the full article). Though the government continues to push back (by keeping her in solitary confident and force-feeding her), she continues to live each day suffering with the idea that her actions could impact change for others. She says:  
I cannot get the advantage of exercising my nonviolent protest for justice against my concerned authority as a democratic citizen of a democratic country.