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

Friday, October 9, 2009

Letter to the Editor

Immigration reform - specifically on the detention of immigrants - is bordering on a point of political transformation. The DHS announced this week that the US government will no longer hold detainees in prisons. I wrote a quick template letter the editor for Amnesty on this issue and I wanted to share it -

Immigrant Injustice

Dear Editor,

Recently the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that immigrants detained in the United States will no longer be held in prisons during their detention. The decision by Secretary Napolitano is an important step but this only one step.

The United States expects to detain more than 440,000 immigrants annually including asylum seekers, lawful permanent residents, survivors of torture and U.S. citizens.

Amnesty International reported in March that immigrants can be detained for months or years without any form of meaningful individualized review of whether their detention is necessary. The vast majority of people in immigration detention are unable to obtain the legal assistance necessary to present viable claims in court.

New legislation from Congress is needed to ensure all immigrants and asylum seekers have access to affordable bonds and individualized hearings on the necessity of detention.


Amnesty International member

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Demand Dignity

Amnesty Internationale's Demand Dignity Campaign is the newest and, I believe, the most progressive pursuit of activism for the NGO since the organizations inception. Demand Dignity is a frame shift for AI's approach to protecting human rights.

Demand Dignity focuses on poverty. From DC to Mumbai, Dignity is Amnesty's first international campaign that fights for the importance of economic, social and cultural rights for all people.

The campaign makes maternal mortality, housing and slums and corporate accountability central to this years activism. In the US there are plans for a renewed push for the US to sign CEDAW and volunteers abroad will work on the ground with communities bringing attention to clear cases where peoples natural rights have been ignored, leaving them without access to proper health care, water or shelter.

Demand Dignity blends the zone of human rights with sustainable development, women's rights and other specialized fields like health and environmental protection.

The fact is, human rights activism is a field of work that almost naturally connects within a broader framework of development. Yet looking at AI's history until the late 90s the organization categorically chose to focus on individuals suffering at the hand of terrible government regimes and cases that were emblematic of larger problems rather than the problems themselves. AI has brought great awareness to global problems but groups like OxFam and Doctors without Borders are often the organizations that tackle the larger issues that bring about the cases of wrongful imprisonment, torture and violence.

Amnesty first appeal to the western world's belief in the importance of human rights came in the form of civil and political rights. The idea of getting public support for individuals at risk and pressuring governments to release prisoners of conscious gained success due to the western public's support of individual rights that they viewed inherent to "good government" and "democratic freedom."

From this beginning, AI expanded. The organization made the move to expand the protection individuals, not only those in prison, but also people subjected to violence, disappearances and intimidation by their government. Later this premise of defending those who are subjected to state abuse went to the local level - the systemic issues of violence - the home, domestic abuse and the protection of women. Moving from individuals to communities, torture to all violence, AI continued to expand its work.

It is from this transformation that AI reached the campaign it champions in 2009.

Poverty disempowers citizens. It fosters discrimination between classes, races and cultures. Without resources, health or hope that circumstances will change, poverty enables violence, substandard medical practices, non-government/informal sector control of resources leading to gangs and the ghettoizing of communities.

Poverty is the root of human rights violations. If communities, nations or individual are unable to participate or be recognized by a political system, and due to their economic status, be denied decent levels of shelter, health care, food, clean water and safety, then there is no way to move forward in the protection of human rights.

Amnesty has taken a bold and necessary step in calling for action in its campaign for Dignity. Truly recognizing the important roles of poverty and development in the protection of human rights

listen to secretary general of AI - Irene Khan talk about her new book on poverty on Democracy Now

Friday, October 2, 2009

Is it Powerful or Problematic to Withhold Aid to Nations?

Nations in turmoil are often those states most dependant on aid. Somalia, Haiti, Ethiopia all receive aid from the US and UN, whether providing humanitarian relief with food and medicine or money to fund development.

These "fragile states" are, as the title suggests, politically unstable. Often plagued by terrorism, corruption and widespread health concerns, nations that receive aid are constantly under the scrutiny of international observers and the aid-donor nations. But not surprisingly, the political chaos that prompts the giving foreign aid, also brings about the choice to withhold aid...

Yesterday the United States postponed its aid donation for Somalia. In a nation where 1 in 5 children are malnourished and famine in the central region of the country appears to be imminent, the decision to withhold all funds to the nation is the last thing needed in Somalia. As the primary donor state for UN aid funding in Somalia, the US holds crucial power over the life of the nation.

Somalia remains in a state of political danger. The nation has not had a lasting central government since 1991 and recent reports from the UN continue to note that there is no rule of law in Mogadishu. While President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, elected in 2009, is believed to be the best hope for the stabilization of Somalia, Sheik Sharif and his government are deeply reliant on US weapons and aid to continue to improve the nation.

And the president of Somalia has a great deal to do in the nation. Their are serious issues regarding the prevalence of pirates, terrorists and gang lords in the nation. Not to mention problems of basic public health ranging from severely limited potable water to lack of infectious disease treatment.

The US is withholding aid because they believe that the current funds are getting into the hands of terrorist rather than development projects and civilians.

It's true that the Shabab terrorist group is a powerful and expanding force in the nation, increasingly connecting to the Al Qaeda network of terrorism.

Yet cutting off aid leaves Somalia an even greater victim to the powers of terrorism. Many researchers and scholars have noted that the the extreme poverty, lack of education and resources in places like Somalia, Afghanistan and other fragile states, decades prior to fundamentalist empowerment, led to the rise in of jihadist terrorism in the nations. By cutting aid and further entrenching the nation in poverty, the US does little to combat the longevity of terrorism in Somalia.

Clearly aid distribution needs to be reformed but not at the expense of civilian's health and security. While weapons should not get into the hands of Shabab members, the promised medical services and food distribution can not be stressed by the US' pandering on the issue of aid allocation. Did we just now realize that Somalia may be a corrupted nation controlled by terror? Didn't we know that 6 months ago? 6 years ago? There is a great deal for the Somali people to do to in socially and politically restrengthening their nation but if the State Department believes that cutting off aid will bring the internal reform and improvement needed to assure the US that all of its aid is being properly directed, they will find themselves terribly mistaken.