Saturday, November 19, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: Is This Really About Human Rights?

Last night, I was walking around downtown Lancaster with my friend Mike and we decided to stop by the local “Occupy Wall Street” gathering, Occupy Lancaster. When we arrived, we were handed a couple of pamphlets urging the “99%” to rise up and protest the oppression of the “1%.” We then sat in on a meeting where the shivering, sickly protesters discussed recent crackdowns in Harrisburg and New York against other #OWS movements.

The occupiers seemed genuinely concerned about their rights and freedom. One man explained that in Harrisburg, the police ripped up a tent “with a knife! This big!” gesturing his hands about five inches apart, “And there were still people inside!” (Though there was no statement that any of those people were actually harmed in this action). Those gathered around the circle expressed their shock and horror, lifting their hands and wiggling fingers—the #OWS form of silently agreeing with a speaker.

But meanwhile, I had to stop myself from laughing. I’ve spent the last three months reading about female genital cutting, looking at pictures of decaying bodies, and watching videos of people getting run over by armored vehicles. The occupiers’ claims of injustice do not reach anywhere near what others worldwide have suffered.

While #OWS protesters have some serious arguments about the nature of our capitalist society, I’m dubious about how much injustice they really are suffering. Protest movements can only gain traction when there is a real sense of suffering or the government is tricked into overreacting—which explains why Egypt’s government has been overthrown, but America’s has not.

What do you think? Does economic and political inequity constitute a human rights violation, or is this just part of modern society? Are these protests in the same vein as the Arab Spring, or is this just the whining of educated white kids? Can the protesters really complain about police brutality, or are they overreacting? 

Homophobic Bill Almost Passes in Russia

Consensual same-sex activity has been decriminalized in Russia in 1993, however, LGBTI people still face widespread discrimination and violence all over Russia. St. Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city, has recently enacted a legislation to ban “propaganda for homosexuality” as it’s “converting Russia’s youth.”

The bill, which St. Petersburg’s city assembly passed nearly unanimously on the first of three readings, will effectively ban public events by LGBTI people and organizations under the pretext of protecting minors. Under the legislation, freedom of assembly and expression for LGBTI groups would be prohibited anywhere children might be present. If enacted, the law would allow authorities to impose fines of up to the equivalent of $1,600 for “public actions aimed at propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgenderism among minors.” Publications and other informative forms of literature and media representations of the LGBTI will also be restricted to what the authorities deem appropriate.

There has been a serious backlash against the bill from both the LGBTI rights activists in Russia and the international human rights organizations; specifically Amnesty International, who has urged St. Petersburg not to enact the homophobic bill which would “threaten freedom of expression and fuel discrimination against the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.”

“This bill is a thinly veiled attempt to legalize discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in Russia’s second-biggest city,” said Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Program Director.

When comparing the situation in St. Petersburg to the United States, many would say that we’re better off here because no one would think about passing legislations like that. But is that really true? We say discrimination is wrong, yet LGBTI people do not share many of the rights that are granted to heterosexuals. Is this equality?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

HRW calls on Obama to tackle Indonesian abuses

The Human Rights Watch is encouraging President Barack Obama to tackle Indonesia’s leader during his visit this week. President Obama should be meeting with President Soil Bambang Yudhoyono during this week’s East Asia Summit. In Indonesia, the light sentencing that was given to members of a religious lynch mob aggravated the local and international media. This mob was accused of killing three members of the Ahmadiyah minority sect. The same court had jailed one of the Ahmadiyah survivors of the attack in August for six months, who had lost his hand in the violence for defending himself and his friends.

In Indonesia, Christians and the Ahmadiyah Islamic sects are minorities and have experienced persecution based on their religious affiliations. The Indonesian constitution guarantees freedom of religion; however, the persecution of minority religious groups have escalated since 2008. In February, a 1,500-strong mob of Muslims set two churches alight and ransacked a third in the town of Twanging, on Java island, as they demanded that a Christian man be sentenced to death for insulting Islam. More than 80 per cent of Indonesia's estimated 240 million people are Muslim. Five per cent are Protestants and three per cent Catholic.

The Human Rights Watch is encouraging President Obama to persuade President Yudhoyono to take serious action to prevent persecution of religious minority group to provide security and to end discriminatory laws.

I think the United States have the right to step in and encourage President Yudhoyono about this current situation in Indonesia. This country stands to protect and respect human rights. It is disturbing that the president of Indonesia hasn’t taken action to prevent more persecutions onto these minority groups. It is shameful that is all over the media, and it is making the Indonesian government lacking legitimacy especially that majority of the population are Muslims.

Obama administration announces shift in immigration policy

The New York Times is reporting today that the United States government will be reconfiguring its deportation policies and procedures at every level to focus on accelerating deportations of convicted criminals and ceasing, or at least limiting, forced removal of immigrants who have committed no crime other than the illegality of their presence on American soil.

The goal of this policy revision is to reduce the burden on immigration judges, who have the unenviable task of separating families and wasting valuable time deporting individuals with no criminal record, while violent gang members and others remain incarcerated and awaiting trial. This procedural shift has been a long time coming, and ought to bode well for future changes to an immigration system in the United States that, while generous in comparison to many other countries, lacks the cohesion and consistency necessary for it to be successful.

One of the largest problems with the asylum process, and the immigration legal apparatus as a whole, is the fact the immigration judges don't have the necessary time to make the unimaginably important decisions that they are tasked with carrying out on a daily basis. Hopefully these changes will allow them to focus their energy on removing illegal immigrants who threaten our society, rather than those who are merely seeking a better life.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Aids and Orphans in Swaziland - Government does Nothing

"Swaziland's government has failed to pay more than $10m (£6.3m) in grants to Aids orphans because of its financial crisis, an IMF official has said."

Swaziland has the world's highest HIV/Aids rate (26% of its adult population is infected), leaving some 69,000 orphans. Despite this staggering and heart-wrenching reality, the Swaziland Government claims that it cannot do anything to help the situation. Officials in the Government explain that the global financial crisis has hit Swaziland especially hard, forcing the cutting of many (needed) social programs. Mr Mongardini, the leader of the IMF team that visited Swaziland, told the BBC that the government had "owed" $10m in grants to orphans and $4m to elderly people since September. Many are very skeptical of Swaziland not having enough money to pay for these much needed social programs, explaining that "lavish spending by King Mswati III and his 13 wives has worsened the crisis."

This is overall a very disturbing and depressing situation. Why is the Swaziland Government sitting and watching its citizens suffer like this? Clearly, the leaders in the Swaziland Government do not care about its people enough to try to help fix this awful situation. As bad as the financial crisis is, a Government should never choose conserving money rather than helping its citizens. A Government that does not care about its citizens is worthless and unjust - I think that a power shift (i.e. revolution) is much needed!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

East Africa continues to struggle

The tragedy unfolding in East Africa has escalated in recent days, the BBC reports, as aid workers have been abducted from UN refugee camps, rain and flooding has hampered resettlement and medical operations, and a cholera outbreak has added to the treatment responsibilities of international organizations already spread thin throughout the region.

Food shortages, primarily in Somalia, have driven millions of people from their homes and communities and into neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia, nations facing many of the same problems but which posses the functional central governments required to handle such catastrophes that Somalia has lacked for decades. What makes this situation so tragic is that fleeing certain death has only bred more hardship, a dark irony that underscores the instability and lack of socioeconomic opportunity that plagues the region.

How are refugees supposed to seek a better life if they cannot even find sufficient services in a refugee camp? One might even ask if the situation there is better than the one they left behind.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Israeli Bill to "Prevent Infiltration"...yeah right

Israel's Knesset’s Committee on Internal Affairs has discussed a new bill for the purpose of deterring asylum seekers. They do this by proposing a three-year minimum imprisonment of asylum seekers and refugees and of their children, even if there is no possibility or intention of deporting them. The proposed bill is particularly strict with asylum seekers from “hostile areas” (e.g. the Darfur region of Sudan) and enables their indefinite imprisonment.
Furthermore, the bill sets a five year prison sentence on those who offer humanitarian aid to refugees – and even fifteen years should a person persist in offering aid after being prosecuted. This continues the trend of delegitimization of human rights organizations, by criminalizing any assistance – medical, legal, humanitarian – provided to those the law defines as “infiltrators.” The bill has been scheduled for further discussion in the committee. But judging by the recent state of human rights in Israel (which is considering placing strangling financial restrictions and taxes on NGOs that are deemed "political"), this bill has a good chance of passing in the Knesset.

Israel has consistently been a force for human rights and a home for thousands of refugees. This bill would ruin that reputation, and should not be passed. 

Persecution of Musicians in the Islamic World

During the 1990's, the Taliban strictly regulated the production and consumption of music in Afghanistan, especially in the public sphere, claiming that a certain hadith would ensure that those who listen to instrumental music would have molten lead poured on their ears. Musicians who dared to defy the orders of the Taliban were tortured, exiled, and had their instruments smashed. "They were subjected to immense humiliation and disgrace,'' said Tor Gul, an Afghan guitar player, ''they were forced to ride donkeys in bazaars and other places with their faces blackened because they were told by the mullahs that they were sinners.''

Perhaps some of you might be familiar with the story of Lounes Matoub, the Berber singer and mondol player from Algeria who was kidnapped and killed by a radical Islamic group. His songs advocated Berber rights and secularism, and despite threats to his life and family, he refused to be silenced. We can see that persecution of musicians seems to occupy an intersection of the enumerated grounds; for Matoub, it is clear that he was targeted for both religious and political beliefs. However, if we consider a heavy metal singer in Afghanistan who continues to play his music with no political or religious agenda, can we say he is targeted for his political beliefs? Is belief in freedom of expression and performance a political opinion we ought to protect? Moreover, can we say that being a musician constitutes membership in a particular social group?

On a lighter note, even women are gaining more access to the production of music in Afghanistan. In this video, The Burqa Band performs one of their singles as a protest against both Taliban's rules for traditional dress and music regulation. In order to protect their identities and families, the group performs anonymously. Enjoy!

Police Brutality in the Dominican Republic

“A tenth of all the murders recorded in 2010 were committed by the police.”

There has been an alarming level of police brutality, killings, and torture in the Dominican Republic. Human rights violations are being committed by corrupt professional authorities who are not being held accountable for their actions. Between January and July 2011, 154 people were killed by the police in the Dominican Republic, according to the Office of the Prosecutor General. Reports indicate that while police officers claim that vast majorities of their shootings were in self-defense, in reality, police officers deliberately shoot to kill. There have also been reports of suspects being threatened, beaten, and tortured while in custody.

“The system for investigations of police abuse in the Dominican Republic is disorganized and lacks proper procedures to handle complaints of human rights violations by the police. Whether a police officer faces justice for a killing or torture depends largely on whether the victim or their family lodges an official complaint, the level of publicity a case attracts and the political pressure exerted on prosecutors,” said Javier Zúñiga.

Many families of victims are afraid to talk, as the new motto in the Republic is: “Shut up if you don’t want to be killed.”

This is a very interesting issue. Unlike the authorities in Syria, and Ukraine, where police are killing innocent bystanders, police forces in the Dominican Republic are killing those charged in criminal convictions without giving them a fair trial or allowing them to serve their sentences. They are ‘cleaning the streets’ by getting rid of criminals. They have justified their killings, but is it really a justification?

Turkey: An end to Freedom of Expression

The Turkish government, for the past two years, has been trying to stamp out and contending political parties. Ragip Zarakolu, owner and chief editor of the Belge publishing house, has been arrested several times with his final arrest on October 27 in Istanbul due to the materials that Zarakolu has been publishing. None of the pieces that Zarakolu ever published have advocated violence against other individuals; however, he does vocally express his belief in Kurdish rights. Busra Ersanh, also arrested in Istanbul on October 27, is on the political science and international relations board at Marmara University in Istanbul. Both Zarakolu and Ersanh are members of the Peace and Democracy Party, the party that is currently not in power. The Turkish Government has been bringing members of the Peace and Democracy Party to court charging them with crimes such as "aiming to destroy the unity and integrity of the state" and with "being a "member or leading member of the PKK" (
Since October 27 over 50 people have been arrested on similar charges as Zarakolu and Ersanh; the government is using Turkey's Anti-Terrorism Law as an excuse for arresting members of the Peace and Democracy Party. The Anti-Terrorism Law however, has a vague and extremely broad definition of what terrorism is, according to the Human Rights Watch. If convicted, Zarakolu, Ersanh, and hundreds of other people can face between 15 years to life in prison for simply stating their beliefs. Freedom of speech is something that, as Americans, is fundamentally engrained into our society that simply attempting to imagine not having them is impossible.