Saturday, October 15, 2011

100 US advisors are to help fight African renegade group (LRA)

President Obama recently dispatched 100 armed military advisers to Uganda to defeat the Lord’s Resistance  Army (LRA) (New york times article here!). Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch said that though the LRA is only a few hundred fighters, “they are incredibly vicious and have committed numerous massacres. It’s a group that seems to exist for no other purpose than to kill.” HRW and many other international human rights researchers strongly advocated the deployment.

Obama’s decision to act now was justified by a law passed in May by Congress, the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which strongly favored “increased, comprehensive U.S. efforts to help mitigate and eliminate the threat posed by the LRA to civilians and regional stability.” Though the first deployment of these military men and women will be to Uganda, these advisers will also travel to South Sudan, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo upon the approval of each host nation. For years LRA has killed, raped, and prevented economic development in the countries it passes through. With the mass murders of millions, it is clear that Uganda, Sudan, and the Congo are not able to protect their government and citizens alone. I'm glad to see the U.S. finally providing support for these countries to move forward.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Different Type of Asylum-seeker

The BBC reports that two Eritrean football players were denied asylum in Tanzania because they "failed to prove that their lives would be in danger" if they were to return to Eritrea. According to the Tanzanian home ministry, the young athletes were trying to escape Eritrea's crushing poverty, repressive one-party government, and national military service, but their seeking of "greener pastures" did not sufficiently constitute future persecution. Instead, the UNHCR is seeking other countries who could offer the football players "resettlement" status.

This anecdote highlights the often overlooked reality that asylum-seekers are not necessarily the poor and the marginalized. In fact, they can be successful national athletes who intentionally board the wrong plane after a tournament in a neighboring country. And while their claims of persecution might face tighter scrutiny, does that make them any less legitimate?

Persecution, in one form or another, can impact even the most well-off. Yes, those with resources and fame might be able to avoid being targeted more so than those with nothing, but they don't necessarily face different threats. Race, ethnicity, religion, political opinion, and membership in a social group are not reserved for the socioeconomically disadvantaged or for the wealthy. They are immutable characteristics that permeate societies, and which ought to be respected at all levels. Anyone who possess a demonstrable and genuine fear of persecution based on any of those characteristics deserves protection, regardless of their social placement.

When the Uprooted Put Down Roots

We've been spending a great deal of time looking at the process and past of refugees and those seeking asylum- but I'm left to wonder: what happens next? How do these people, with shattered lives and identities, begin to rebuild? This article in the New York Times describes the rise of community farms dedicated to refugee agriculture. Programs like New Roots offer significant sources of income and access to an international variety of produce- but more importantly, they offer a community and a sense of belonging. One of the most agonizing aspects of resettlement is being stripped of one's social identity. These people have come from countries where their societal norms have been entirely inverted; they have lost their families, friends, culture, and entire way of life. By rebuilding interpersonal connections and working with others for a common goal, refugees and asylees can reconstruct their sense of purpose and integrity while establishing meaningful links to a new community. In this community of shared pasts and shared goals, healing can take place.

This article is definitely worth a read- it's a hopeful change of pace from the dismaying, tragic stories of human rights violations. The refugee farm projects are a heartening reminder that people can and do come together to help their fellow man.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Women's Rights Are Human Rights

Last week, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female president of Liberia, was named as one of the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. This recognition was applauded by people around the world, as President Johnson Sirleaf is actually the first woman to be elected president in modern-day Africa. The New York Times article covering the Prize (, contains a quote from Johnson Sirleaf on the honor,
"We particularly give this credit to Liberian women, who have consistently led the struggle for peace, even under conditions of neglect."

Well, "conditions of neglect" is a rather large understatement. The title of this blog post is the link to the 2011 Amnesty International Report on Liberia. It notes that levels of rape and sexual violence against women and girls is at a very high level, despite Johnson Sirleaf's professed admiration for Liberian women. However, what truly shocked me is the statement contained in the section on Children's Rights. Amnesty International finds that female genital mutilation is still widespread in rural areas. The most horrifying fact? FGM is not specifically prohibited by law in Liberia.

I do not understand how the first female elected to president in modern Africa can lead a government that does not criminalize FGM, and instead seems to be willfully blind to the prevalence of this inhumane practice. It is incredible to me that a woman could ignore, and by extension, condone, such a violent act perpetrated against women and young girls. Despite the praise from around the world for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, I do not believe that progress can be made in Liberia until she makes an honest effort to reform Liberian laws and explicitly condemn FGM. As Hillary Clinton said, "It is no longer acceptable to discuss women's rights as separate from human rights."

Individual decisions that lead to Community Public Health Risks

Aside from clean water and sanitation, Vaccines have played one of the most important roles in the health of individuals by allowing people to survive, live longer and heather lives. Vaccines against measles, whooping cough, tetanus, polio, mumps, rubella, and so much more have saved the lives of generations. In developed countries, these diseases are vaguely known or understood by name, and very few people now a days (for example, my generation) have had any sort of direct experience with them. Even though vaccines have provided developed societies to "defeat" many of these child killers, some families are chosing to not vaccinate their children. Yet, in developing countries, the life long implications of some of these disease, such as polio, are apparent since individuals from older generations may show symptoms of paralysis from having the disease as a child. In these countries, the question of getting the vaccine for your child or not simply comes down to the availability and cost of the vaccines.

Though meals was almost completely eradicated from the US, recent outbreaks are causing children to become extremely ill. The New York times journalist Donald McNeil shows how a historical study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention  released in November 2007, death rates for 13 diseases that can be prevented by childhood vaccinations were at all-time lows in the United States. In 9 of the diseases, the rates of hospitalization and death declined over 90%. For small-pox, diphtheria and polio the death rates had dropped by 100 percent. Unethical scientists began false accusations of detrimental mental effects of vaccines (i.e. autism). In recent years, vaccines have become a hot-button topic among parents. In one community, 12 children fell ill; nine of them had not been inoculated against the virus because their parents objected, and the other three were too young to receive vaccines. Should the parents who decided not to vaccinate their children be accountable for the underage children who got the virus from contact with the unvaccinated children? If health is a human right, then should society hold individuals accountable for harming the people (or in this case, children) around them due to their decisions? The government's main role is to protect the public. Individuals must be held accountable for public Health risks that they impose on society by the choices they make.

over two dozen unarmed Coptic Christian protesters killed in Cairo

Peaceful walks by the Coptic Christian protesters ended in violence in Cairo this past Monday. The devestation occured just over a week after the burning of a Coptic Christian church in southern Egypt. The burning led to the Sunday protest, with the group demanding  equality and protection of their places of worship.

A total of 17 civilians were killed and 40 were injured. Moreover, 12 army troops died and 50 were injured. The protesters claim that they were peaceful and some other group began the violence against the military troops, ultimately leading to the chaos. This terrible unbelievable massacre has occured to peaceful demonstrators who were simply asking for their rights. Is the military to blame for the killing of over two dozen unarmed Coptic Christian protesters? It is still ambiguous as to who began the chaos, but the government simply failed to do its purpose, which is to protect its citizens. In this case, violence is used as a tool by a third party to not only attack the Coptic Christians but to also weaken the governments effectiveness, so can blame even be placed on the government?

Moreover, the Egyption finance minister, Hazem el-Beblawi, resigned the day after the protest saying that the "government failed in its main responsibility, which is to provide security, and it should at least acknowledge its failure to give this issue the effort it needed and apologize.”Instead of apologize, the government should commit their efforts to discover what group purposefully began the chaos and continues to attack the Coptic Christians.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Jail is no Place for Immigration Detainees

A report issued the other day highlights the US Government's failure to reform the immigration detention system. In 2009, the US Government committed to reforming the detention system; which places detained immigrants in jails and jail-like facilities across the country. This is problematic for immigrants as they must live amongst actual criminals, and adhere to very strict security sanctions in jail. It is also concerning for taxpayers, as the facilities are expected to cost more than 2 billion dollars in 2012 in order to house over 400,000 detained immigrants.

The current situation is not good for anyone. The prison conditions are innappropriate for asylum seekers, and American taxpayers are spending too much unnecessary money. Not only this, but US detention practices are not in compliance with International Law. Human Rights First's Ruthie Epstein reports on the current situation:

“The administration has plans to create more appropriate conditions for about 14 percent of their immigration detention beds, but the transformation away from the jail model still has a long way to go... Right now, the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers and other immigrants are still held in jails or jail-like facilities, where they wear prison uniforms and have limited if any real outdoor access.”

Reforming these costly and inhumane detention practices is clearly needed. However, it is difficult to know what steps to take. Is it beneficial to build separate facilities (that are not jails, but rather 'safe houses' of sorts) for Asylum seekers, or is this too costly as well? Or, should asylum seekers not be detained at all? But, where would they stay? Anybody else have any thoughts?


In 2010a little more than 9,500 Romanians and Bulgarians were expelled from France; so far, 4,714 Romanians and Bulgarians have been expelled from France in 2011. An immigration law, created in June 2011, targets Roma people who have had repeated short-term stays, have begged or occupied land for expulsion. France is continuing to expel innocent Roma people looking for a place to leave even after the European Commission warned France a year ago that they should take a look at their "abusive policies or face possible sanctions in the EU Court of Justice" ( Apparently the European Commission is satisfied with how France responded to their warning; however, there doesn't seem to be a change at all. France is still continuing expel Roma; for example, since mid-September, hundreds of Roma have been expelled from informal settlements in Lyon, France. France does not want the Roma people to gain the benefits that a French citizen would have. In short, France is denying the Romanians and Bulgarians the right to even come into France for a short time.

Public Executions in Saudi Arabia

Last Friday, Saudi Arabia executed eight Bangladeshi nationals for the alleged murder of an Egyptian man. The nationals were migrant workers who traveled to Saudi Arabia in search of jobs and a better life; so was the Egyptian man who was murdered.

Executions in Saudi Arabia usually happen in public. Offenders who are sentenced to death, like the Bangladeshi men, are beheaded in front of people so that everyone is aware of what happens to those who break the law. According to the Amnesty International article, court proceedings in Saudi Arabia “fall short of international standards for fair trial and news of these recent multiple executions is deeply disturbing.” The article states that, offenders may be convicted solely on the basis of confessions obtained under duress or deception. Also, foreign workers in Saudi Arabia often don’t understand the nuances of Saudi law, do not understand the Arabic language, and frequently fail to secure effective legal representation. This year, death penalties in Saudi Arabia have doubled, compared to last year, which is a little alarming as well.

The activist in the article also suggests that, “The government must establish an immediate moratorium on executions in the Kingdom and commute all death sentences, with a view to abolishing the death penalty completely.” Such a statement brings about questions that are hard to pose.

Saudi Arabia has a very low record of crimes committed and much of that statistic is attributed to their strict punishments for those who break the law. At what point can one infringe on the sovereignty of another state? What I mean by that is, their death penalty is in place according to the Sharia, the “Islamic law.” They have a religious and cultural mindset and act accordingly. Would asking them to ‘abolish the death penalty’ be an infringement of their cultural and religious values? Or would it be justified because we are inherently asking for protecting human rights?

Face to Face

"For now we see in a mirror, dimly; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known..." (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Today I met a Sudanese refugee and her six year old son. Smiling, she told me her story in broken English. She came to Lancaster about two years ago, and now plans to apply for citizenship in three years. She was from a city about four hours south of Khartoum. "Is that now in South Sudan?" I asked her. No no, she told me, even four hours south of Khartoum is still far from South Sudan. I had kind of guessed that, since she spoke Arabic to her son (a characteristic of the more Arabized north versus the African dialects in the south). With the language barrier and having just met her, I didn't get to ask the full details of her escape from Sudan. But somehow, finally meeting a real-life refugee made things more real to me. Refugees are actual, regular people: normal humans who laugh, cry, eat chips with homemade salsa, and forget the English word for "south". 

The quote at the top of this post is from a chapter in the Bible I read this morning. Little did I know how much it would frame my meeting with this refugee. After weeks of sitting and learning in class, us students do "know in part". This is like seeing something in a dirty mirror, dimly...but when we see the face of human rights face to face, we shall know fully. Something will leap out past our intellect, and lodge deep into our hearts. And that is how it should be.