Friday, December 4, 2009


In January I leave for India and after spending three days a week, every week at Amnesty, I am interested to see what working for an NGO in Pune will be like and how applicable my time at AI will be once I am abroad in a unique center of India civil society movements.

The protection and promotion of human rights remains at the forefront of my interests and studies and I am excited to travel to a nation with a rich history of social justice movements and to learn from Indian culture. After three months of being the one who writes the press releases I am ready to be part of a team that is on the ground in a situation, creating the research that goes into the reports I so frequently read at my job.

So as my internship at Amnesty is coming to a close and finals are next week, I exist in a state of disbelief. Next semester I will be a senior, next semester I will not be in DC, next semester I will be in India. While abroad I will be representing America as a student and traveler, and the US is not always the easiest nation to represent. So for this final blog post I want to talk about war.

Obama's decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan is difficult to support from the standpoint of human rights. While the decision may increase security for the troops already deployed and potentially provide the surge of military force to stabilize the region - I don't believe that's an assumption I would be willing to make.

Wars have always brought greater periods of human rights abuse, whether freezing civil and political rights in the name of national security or the simple fact that war will mean civilian casualties. Our time in Afghanistan follows in this history of war and the increase of troops will not minimize this reality.

So many things have been said about the decision to increase troops in Afghanistan this week and I find it difficult not to reiterate much of what I have already heard. While I do not mean to sound trite, what I think of in reflecting on Afghanistan is the concept of modern warfare. The Taliban create promotional videos that can be accessed online to recruit new members and today when we talk about conflicts in war zones we talk about one man with a bomb strapped on his body in a market place not a battle fought between soldiers and insurgents in classic combat style.

When we talk about war in the 21st century, there is no prototype. The directed combat of the World Wars are antiquated and even the "guerrilla" war style of Vietnam has limited application when analyzing Afghanistan, or any of the other conflicts of the 21st century.

In 1991 the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, better known as the Tamil Tigers started the use of the suicide belt. While suicide missions have been a part of warfare for centuries, the introduction of the mechanized detonation of explosives on an individual has dramatically reshaped the notion of warfare. Terrorist groups use of suicide bombings foils the concept of expansive military operations and the power that large scale troop deployment. While the guerilla warfare of the Vietcong led to mass death and destruction like what the terrorist groups hope to achieve today, when the US military chose directed retaliation it was against a group of people, not a person. There were high civilian casualties during that war and egregious violations of human rights but today when a military retaliates against the terrorism it is even more difficult to justify.

Like in India, Israel or Chechnya, communities are destroyed in order to kill one individual or a reported cell planning an attack. Such action destroys the lives of many in the pursuit of few and the seemingly random attacks of suicide bombers do not end despite the unprecedented retaliation sent to stop them.

It took 25 years to end the terror of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, one of the few big wins in the war on terror. But that was an internal conflict that took place on an island 25,000 miles in area and there was no Pakistan next door, no bountiful mountain range in the east for terrorists to hide. While Afghanistan is vastly different from Sri Lanka, the history of Sri Lanka's battle against the Tamil Tigers displays the power of terrorism in destroying a nation, the violations of citizens' human rights necessary to provide the foundation to implement a total war on terror and terrorist organizations' inability to quickly collapse in the face of large military operations.

What makes Afghanistan and modern wars so difficult is that suicide attacks by fringe organizations may never end. Now that individuals can access technology and create suicide vest and understand how utilize fear in a globalized world, what can justify a win or an end to war?

Luckily Obama seems to understand that our role in Afghanistan is to clean up our "mess," so to speak, establish order in the area and help stabilize the country. While this thought resonates with my feelings about how to deal with Afghanistan, why would so many more troops be needed? Reports indicate that there are less than 100 members of Al Queda in Afghanistan yet we need to send 30,000 additional troops to the region to stop them and stabilize the situation. It seems that things like providing electricity and establishing access to clean water and health facilities are initiatives that could stabilize and improve the well being of the region.

War remains an obstacle in the protection of human rights and the promotion of progress in any nation. While a solution for the manner in which we pull out troops is difficult to decide on, the installation of more forces seems to be counter intuitive to Obama's plan to end our time in the nation and redirect the way that the US fights terrorism and promotes the protection of human rights abroad.

Friday, November 20, 2009

COP 15's offensive invitation

So here's the story of the day! :

I'm excited for the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this December. Even as the US stalls on climate change legislation and remains uncommitted to signing long term treaties at the meeting, I am eager to see what the conference will, or will not achieve and I remain hopeful that the issue of climate change will remain at the forefront of national and international debate.

But Climate Change May Not be the Only thing Heating up COP 15.

Amnesty learned today that the one and only President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir of Sudan has been invited by the Danish government to attend the Climate Change Conference. Oh snap!

Al Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Bashir is held responsible for "masterminding and implementing" much of the violence that has occurred in Darfur. Violence that the US describes as a genocide.

Amnesty describes the situation in Darfur in its news release today stating:"Hundreds of thousands of people are believed to have lost their lives since the Darfur conflict erupted in February 2003. Systematic human rights abuses have occurred, including killing, torture, rape, looting and destroying of property by all parties involved in the conflict, but primarily by the Sudanese government and government-backed Janjawid militia. Over 2 million civilians have been internally displaced by the conflict and more than 215,000 have sought refuge in neighboring Chad."

If Al Bashir were to travel to Denmark, Danish authorities must arrest him and turn Al Bashir over the ICC. Denmark is a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the ICC and the nation is legally obligated to abide by the international law of the court.

So is this a less than sneaky trap? Does Denmark think that Al Bashir will forget the international warrant for his arrest and saunter into the Climate Change Conference with his head held high and his invitation in hand?

Unlikely. The Sudanese president cancelled his planned visit to Turkey (another nation held to the Rome Statute) earlier this month after being invited by the Turkish government to attend the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

I'm not sure what is more troubling - the possibility that world leaders believe that inviting Al Bashir to leave the safety of Sudan to attend international conferences would actually be effective and lead to his capture or that despite the fact that Al Bashir is wanted for crimes against humanity he still receives invitations to the premiere events of world politics.

I doubt Al Bashir will go to Copenhagen. Looking at his travel history since the ICC issued the warrant for his arrest last spring, the Sudanese President is clearly unwilling to visit any nation that could possibly arrest him and bring him before the court.

Denmark's decision to invite Al Bashir to Copenhagen is at best tactless and from the perspective of those who believe in the protection of human rights, Denmark's invitation is offensive.

Treating Al Bashir like a true world leader, someone who is responsible to the citizens of his nation as well as the global public is unprecedented based on his legacy as president. Al Bashir lost the last of his legitimacy as a leader by escaping the ICC warrant earlier this year. It is shocking to think that a man wanted for enabling the systematic destruction of his people can be given the international respect of representing his nation at COP15.

It is tragic that the people of Sudan remain ruled over by an outlaw who continues to allow mass violence and brutality in the nation but it is idiotic to think that the fact that Al Bashir calls himself president makes this criminal worthy of international respect.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Talking to China

President Obama visits China today. The New York Times reported yesterday that the Obama administration plans to focus talks on the economy, both China's booming development and the financial recovery of the US.

The environment and human rights are mentions within the meeting. Visiting Japan this week, Obama referenced the wrongful imprisonment of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar, though the situation's application to Japan seems fairly unconnected.

It appears that strengthening ties with China will come at the expense of voicing concern over China's continuous violations of human rights. Here are 3 areas that Obama should address in his talks with China -

(1) Repression of Minority Groups: 9 Uighurs were executed in China this month in response to the July riots over the racism faced by the ethnic minority in Northern China. Abuse, unjustified imprisonment and violations of rights for Tibetans, Mongolains and Falun Gong practitioners remain informally sanctioned by the Chinese government

(2) Imprisonment and "black/secret prisons" : Amnesty reports "an estimated 500,000 people are currently enduring punitive detention without charge or trial, and millions are unable to access the legal system to seek redress for their grievances." Additionally Human Rights Watch released a report this week on their findings on China's secret jails where, within formal detention centers, there are secret areas where prisoners are tortured. HRW also reported that men, women and teenagers face sexual abuse, intimidation, robbery and violence from prison guards in the prisons of China

(3) Violence towards human rights defenders and critics of the Chinese government: Harassment, surveillance, house arrest, and imprisonment are all routine procedure when the Chinese government deals with human rights defenders. In addition, bloggers and citizens who produce "dissident media" are under attack as censorship of the internet rapidly increases. In 2007 Yahoo, Cisco and Microsoft aided China's censorship of the internet and sold the government names of Chinese citizens who were searching or blogging about "anti-nationalist" topics.

The United States needs an international ally who not only offers economic power but also a progressive understanding freedom and rights for citizens. The US can not respect a nation that can not respect its citizens.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Spies in Italy

Every now and then the public get a glimpse at the real life spy novels that are played out in modern international relations.

On Wednesday a judge in Italy convicted a base chief for the Central Intelligence Agency and 22 other Americans, almost all C.I.A. operatives, of kidnapping an imam, Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, known as Abu Omar, from the streets of Milan in 2003.

The Muslim cleric claimed that he was abducted and tortured during the year that he was missing.

And where where was he taken?

Although it is unclear, the New York Times reported that Omar was taken from Italy to Germany and then Egypt.

Nothing is specified about what occurred during the kidnapping and few of the parties involved in the capture have been identified, with a number of notable former CIA agents claiming diplomatic immunity.

While the ruling will most likely be appealed and many of the people involved will walk away free from the crimes they committed, what needs to be addressed in response to this court case is the US practice of extraordinary rendition!

Omar was abducted under a US sanctioned practice where terrorism suspects are captured in one nation and taken for questioning in another, often a country more open to "coercive interrogation techniques."

Extraordinary rendition became a favorite tool for dealing with suspected terrorists during Bush's years in office and now Obama must take a stand to end this criminal practice.

I was proud to see Amnesty quickly respond to the news on Wednesday. Counter Terror with Justice policy director, Tom Parker aptly explained AI's stance on rendition in the press release sent out on the fourth.

"The United States shouldn’t need a foreign court to distinguish right from wrong. The Obama administration must repudiate the unlawful practice of extraordinary rendition – and hold accountable those responsible for having put this system in place -- or his administration will end up as tarnished as his predecessor’s," said Parker.

Rendition is a truly outrageous policy practiced by the US abroad, it is everything that contradicts the American sense of freedom and respected for the justice system. It's terrorists who take hostages in the light of day to inspire fear and gain information and it's authoritarian regimes who hold outspoken religious leaders without due process. It should not be America.

read the before and after articles -

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Right to Water

Amnesty released the report "Troubled Waters: Palestinians Denied Fair Access to Water"this week. Addressing the disparity between Israeli and Palestinian use of water, the report found that water from the shared Israeli-Palestinian aquifer is disproportionately distributed, with Israel using more than 80 percent of the resource. Additionally, the water from the coastal aquifer, which supplies most of Gaza, is 90 percent to 95 percent polluted and unfit for human consumption.

Israel, not surprisingly, disagrees with many of the reports claims. Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cited Palestinan's illegal drilling of wells as well as Israel's adherence to the Oslo Accords, on providing resources to Palestinians, in his interview with CNN on Tuesday.

In the embittered battle between Israelis and Palestinians it should be expected that resource allocation, like weapons use and land entitlement, will be fiercely debated. The more important issue that goes beyond the disparity in wealth and weapons is the fundamental importance of water.

There is currently no enforceable UN convention on the right to water. Additionally, the right to clean, potable water remains unsupported by the WTO, World Bank and the IMF who often fund the development plans to grant communities access to water. All of these organizations instead support privatization and exclusionary control of the resource internationally.

The situation in Gaza is a case study on the problems that water creates and will continue to create over the next decade if not addressed on an international level.

The privatization of water from Bolivia to Detroit has enabled governments, backed by corporations to displace and disadvantage low income communities. Not only used as a tool for "urban renewal" and increased taxes, control of water continues to fuel territorial fighting in Sub Saharan Africa and unsustainable building initiatives, like the 3 Gorges dam on the Yangtze.

Human health and the biodiversity of the planet are dependent on water. Because water is inherent to the survival of all life it seems to be forgotten, its safety assumed. The right to clean water is the most basic of human rights. It is interwoven within all other human rights - life can not be imagined without it. Yet water is not protected. Peoples access to water and its potability is not guaranteed.

The UN has acknowledge this reality, adopting the words but not the action necessary to guarantee all people access to water: “the right to water clearly falls within the category of guarantees essential for securing an adequate standard of living, particularly since it is one of the most fundamental conditions for survival.” But UNDHR has yet to be altered to include the defendable protection of access to potable public water. Such a step would give the issue the international legitimacy, enforcement measures and precedent for adoption in national law that are desperately needed.

Schools can close, speech can be censored but when water is unavailable people don't just protest, they disappear. Famine, disease, death, displacement, war. All of these exist today and all of these are increasingly brought about by the privatization of water and the growing scarcity of water.

The situation in Gaza, in all of its forms, is a tragedy. Human rights abuses that have taken place on both sides and the inability to establish true peace between Palestinians and Israelis is a dark part of 2009, as it has been a dark part of history for decades.

The issue of water that the Palestinian people face speaks to a greater conflict growing between nations and within nations. Water must remain a public good, a human right. If not handled with equitable and far sighted thought and legislation, the global issue of an individuals right to water will become the greatest humanitarian crises of the 21st century.

From the World Health Organization :

- an estimated 1.7 billion people still lack access to clean water

- 2.3 billion people suffer from water-borne diseases each year

- Water-borne diseases occur due to the inability to provide clean water, but increasingly due to pricing of water. Pre-paid water meters are installed in poor areas in order to ensure profitable supply and services are cut-off if citizens fall behind on their payments. Privatization of water has only exacerbated the problem.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Don't Tase me Bro! (for fear of potential lawsuits)

Taser use became one of the hot topics in the news and for Amnesty this week. The company Taser International released a report on the 12th informing police agencies to avoid tasering suspects in the chest, neck and head. This recommendation on proper taser procedure ''has less to do with safety and more to do with effective risk management for law enforcement agencies,'' Taser International said in a statement last week.

The company still believes that tasering someone in the chest is a low risk procedure but as the Associated Press reported, the new guidelines against the practice "will make defending lawsuits easier."

While the news from Taser International is meant to quell controversy over the topic of tazing potential suspects, Amnesty International reported in 2008 that since 2001 over 350 people have died after being shocked by tasers.

you can check out the AI page on tasers from this link -

Limited research has been conducted by Taser International on the medical repercussions of using a taser against someone. This lack of evidence on the safety combined with Amnesty's research creates a troubling situation. Out of the over 350 case that AI reported, in 50 of those cases, medical examiners were able to cite a direct link between taser shocks and death.

Information is still coming in on the safety concerns of tasers. What is known:

- personal or civilian tasers are currently available to the public

-Tasers are currently used by 14,200 law enforcement agencies in the US

- 96 lawsuits have been filed against police forces that used tasers in unprovoked or unnecessary circumstances

Taser International obviously is looking to legally cover itself with the release of their new report. And this concern regarding future lawsuits and taser defense only further raises my suspicions about the actual repercussions of taser use.
Issues of police brutality and use of unnecessary force against suspects often trouble cities. Yet it seems that the use of this seemingly non-lethal devise does little to prevent the violence or the death of suspects and civilians, defying the logic that that prompted law enforcement to adopted taser 10 years ago.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Quick Note

My newest post from Friday can be found below the Letter to the Editor