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Friday, November 13, 2009

The Right to Express Your Sexuality

A new bill before the Ugandan parliament, which proposes a death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” and “serial offenders”, demonstrates that many nations still impose harsh penalties for public expressions of homosexuality. A sentence of life imprisonment will be imposed for touching a person with homosexual intent. Membership in gay organizations, advocacy of gay human rights and the provision of condoms or safer sex advice to gay people will result in seven years jail for “promoting” homosexuality. Failing to report violators to the police within 24 hours would incur three years behind bars. The new legislation will also apply to Ugandans who commit these "crimes" while living abroad, even in countries where such behavior is not a criminal offense.

Only a handful of nations (the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Canada, New Zealand, and the UK) ensure full equality and protection under the law for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) persons. No international human-rights convention that provides for the sexual rights as human rights and equality of the LGBT community exists, a fact that prevents more progressive nations from bringing pressure to bear on the African and Islamic states where homophobia is enshrined as law.

Stand up for LGBT rights!

Read more here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Write for Rights – Join the Global Write-a-thon!

Promote freedom and human rights by joining Amnesty International's annual Global Write-a-thon, the world's largest letter writing event!
This global action marks the International Human Rights Day on 10 December, bringing people together from all over the world to make a difference in the lives of prisoners of conscience, human rights defenders, victims of torture and other individuals at risk.

Use the proven power of writing letters and get involved!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Linking Human Rights and Migrant Empowerment for Development

There is a linkage between human rights, migrant empowerment and development. UNDP Report 2009 makes this point, defining empowerment as “the freedom to act in pursuit of personal goals and well-being”.  It suggests that migrants through movement can enhance development. “However, the reception of the host country obviously matters, especially when migrants face local hostility.” In this way, one of the key obstacles is persistent anti-migrant sentiments and discriminatory practices, enforced by beliefs, policies, ect., which can criminalize migrants. This has been exacerbated by the global economic crisis and rampant unemployment. Migrants are viewed as a second-class work force, against whom the local workers must compete. This perspective must be addressed, whether real or imagined. Migrants can be more productive and contribute more if they are not excluded. To this effect, international treaties must provide guidance and the rights respective to migrant status (to education, health, right to work, and such) must be respected. It is the duty of national human rights institutions to ensure that the rights of migrants are implemented as they are currently neither implemented nor respected.  

At the Palais des Nations in Geneva, we had the pleasure of attending an Expert Seminar on Linking Human Rights and Migrant Empowerment for Development.
One of the panelists was Mr. Abdelhamid El Jamri,Committee on Protection of Rights of Migrant Workers. He spoke of the need for migrants to be supported at the socio-economic level. There is currently a dual approach, a compromise between the political and economic position in a host country, to temporary/secular migration; the political, which wants to reduce migration inflows, versus the economic, which seeks to develop to fill in gaps of manpower. This is a natural phenomenon, which needs to be taken into account. Migrants need to have access to their rights, and these rights must be strengthened. Those who wish to return temporarily to their country of origin should be able to do so without fear of losing residence if they are outside the country for too long; they should be able to go back. We need to help create a balance as well as assist countries in better managing migration. Mr. El Jamri recommended that host countries work together with other countries for a positive impact on development. He calls on states to form a partnership on migrants and to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers as well as the two ILO treaties and conventions; we need to spread good practices. Strengthening rights is the best way to tackle illegal migration.  

Another panelist was Mr. Ibrahim Awad, the Director of the International Migration Programme, International Labour Office (ILO). He spoke about the legal framework and how this process has resulted in integration, as well as the need for provisions in conventions, conventions specific to migrants, and gender conventions specific to migrants.
A third panelist was Ms. Angela Li Rosi,voluntary repatriation, integration in first country of asylum, and resettlement. She stated that there is a need to focus on integration because integration starts when a person arrives; they need access to social and economic rights. In this way some key challenges currently faced are the reception and integration of refugees, and the integration of 3rd nationals, including refugees, as a priority. Moreover, some key obstacles facing migrants are the lack of knowledge of local language and culture, and discriminatory and negative attitudes within host communities; refugees are excluded from bilateral arrangements with third countries on access to the labor market and asylum seeks have limited access to rights. Ms. Li Rosi recommended that the media be used as a tool for positive social integration. the Senior Policy Adviser for Policy Development and Evaluation Service, Executive Office, UNHCR. She spoke of the inclusion, protection, and acceptance of refugees and others of concern in the host society, who have a long journey to full enjoyment of rights. She mentioned three lasting solutions: 

To read more see here:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Switzerland to confront 'suicide tourism'

The Swiss government’s outline of the details of proposals to ban or severely restrict assisted suicide as part of plants to tackle “suicide tourism” falls back to the Euthanasia debate. In Switzerland euthanasia is illegal; however, physicians assisting suicide has been made legal since 1918. Switzerland has an unusual position regarding assisted suicide. Even non-physicians can perform it. Essentially, even though euthanasia is illegal, it is legally condoned.

The Swiss are currently looking at two draft proposals on assisted suicide. As part of the proposals, patients would have to provide two separate medical opinions proving that they have a terminal illness and are expected only to have months to live. Those who are chronically or mentally ill would find it more difficult to get help in ending their lives. Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumf contends that organizations involved in assisted suicide were “testing the boundaries of the law” and that death by this method should not become a “profit-driven business”. In a statement, the justice ministry said that “suicide must only be a last resort” and that it was committed to protecting human life. Her argument may be regarded in view of those ‘Against’ euthanasia; opponents typically raise the point that euthanasia will lead to its misuse. ‘Opponents’, on the other hand, would argue that the decision of the patients should be accepted, as it is their right to decide. 

To read more see here:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Contemporary Forms of Slavery

Mrs. Gulnara Shahinian, the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, including its causes and consequences to the Human Rights Council during the 12th Session of the Human Rights Council in October (2009). 

In her report, Mrs. Shahinian contended that slavery exists all over the world and that it continues to persist and evolve. Causes for bonded labor have not changed the times. Discrimination, cost, social status, labor and such are still causes of bonded labor and further enhance the vulnerability of the poor. Forced labor not only occurs in trafficking. This is only 20%; 80% is still not addressed. Given the gravity of violations, which frequently result in forced labor, it is important that all forms of slavery defined in the slavery conventions be given their due prominence. Bonded labor affects women, children, and men in different ways. For example, it affects men more in the construction sphere and women in large-scale agriculture. Moreover, forced labor particularly affects women and girls in forced labor for economic exploitation. It is necessary to take specific action to address bonded labor as a separate crime. Mrs. Shahinian highlighted the need to create awareness and develop laws that specifically target bonded labor, as despite the illegality of bonded labor, there is a lack of international enforcement. As a consequence, due to such things as illegal contract and astronomical interest rates, a person in bonded labor is bonded for life.

Mrs. Shahinian visited Haiti to assess the challenges. The poorest country in the Americas, plagued by political instability, crisis and natural disasters, Haiti has a long-established survival strategy by those in the rural area. They send their children, termed "restavek children", to urban areas in hope that they will send back money; this does not entail any transaction between families and the children. The result is the economic exploitation of children, as the host family expects the child to work much harder, and the flagrant disregard for their life. With the introduction of intermediaries and agents, the process has become increasingly commercialized. If left unaddressed, it will lead to an increased number of children engaged in this practice. It is important to address this issue. Assuring human rights based on the development of society is critical to the sustainability of peace. Poverty and social exclusion are at the heart of poverty, and thus it is crucial that the MDGs be realized, as they will have a significant impact on this issue. Strong political will, commitment and collective action are needed now, especially at the MDG goal date nears. 

To read more see here: 

Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery
UN Voluntary Fund on Slavery

The Issue of Toxic Waste

Special Rapporteur Mr. Okechukwu Ibeanu presented to the Human Rights Council during the 12th Session of the Human Rights Council in October his report on the adverse effects of the movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights.

Mr. Ibeanu contended that, since the establishment of the mandate in 1995, progress is evident. At its 9th session, the mandate was strengthened. On the basis of this resolution, the mandate now has the task of investigating the effects on all toxic wastes, whether illicit or not. To this effect, there has been a growing recognition of this phenomenon, and it requires global action. He highlights the existing problems and new problems regarding toxic waste, with the view of minimizing the risks posed to the enjoyment of human rights.

In November, he will go to India. This will provide a useful opportunity to see the progress made and the challenges that need to be addressed with regards to toxic waste. Ship breaking is a major issue in South Asian countries. He hopes to continue dialogue in this respect with his stay in India. A ship can be recycled, providing jobs for many people. While in principle, recycling is the best option, the conditions prevailing in most ship breaking yards continued to be a concern. “Beaching” generates high pollution and has adverse impacts on local communities, which rely on agriculture. There are several mechanisms in place to address these concerns; this is a positive step. That said, a clear timetable and a clear process for eliminating beaching need to be established. 

To read more see here: 

Special Rapporteur on the adverse effects of the movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and waste on the enjoyment of human rights

The Issue of Human Rights Obligations Related to Access to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation

Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN independent expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation, presented her report to the Human Rights Council during the 12th Session of the Human Rights Council in October this year. Her report focused on her mandate in Egypt and Cost Rica.
Ms. De Albuquerque’s mandate is framed in the human rights perspective, and focuses on a collection of good practices and recommendations for the realizations of the MDGs; she intends to collect good practices in the forthcoming meetings that will transpire. After devoting considerable time to the subject, she is even more convinced that sanitation is a fundamental human right. In that regard, we are in the midst of a sanitation crisis. We need to break the taboo on the language with regards to sanitation. It is undoubtedly a human right and of human dignity. Access to sanitation should be guaranteed to all; it should be a human right imperative and a human right in itself. She argues that it should be understood that it is a significant component to the standard of living. There is currently a trend towards its recognition as a distinct right. She calls on the Council to recognize this trend, as there are clear implications. Moreover, there are many misconceptions and misinterpretations, which create obstacles to the full enjoyment of the human right to sanitation.

In Costa Rica, for its part, national policy recognizes access to drinking water as an inalienable human right. In this way, on the whole, Costa Rica has achieved considerable success in this area. Costa Rica has recently invested considerably in facilities for waste, water and sanitation. That said, it faces difficulties in its legal framework, which is no longer runs parallel to the present social and economic situation in the country. The complex network and lack of clarity creates confusions, and policies are hampered by the lack of infrastructure and human resources. In addition, there is a lack coordination of the institutions involved. Only 3.5% of water is purified before being discharged into the natural environment. Moreover, persons belonging to marginal and vulnerable groups, those in poverty, those of African descent and migrants, and other such groups have limited access. Furthermore, difficulties have arisen out of construction and tourist spheres. Her report offers recommendations.
Costa Rica, in response to her report, welcomed the report. It agreed that it desperately needed a new law on water, as the law goes back to 1942 and is obsolete. However, it would like to note that it has been making efforts to bring the system up-to-date, and this has led to a bill. Moreover, it has one of the three best coverages of water in the Caribbean. That said, a lack of infrastructure has led to considerable pollution of water, as 63% of polluted water goes into the natural systems. A solution to this problem is of higher priority to the state. Supplementary solutions are also being sought. One result is the executive establishment of an instrument to reduce pollution, increase the efficiency of water, and create progress in the degradation of the environment. Cost Rica is aware of the difficulties in access to water and the disposal of sanitation, particularly in some segments of the population. Finally, it would like to highlight that in December 2008 it established a policy on water management, where guidelines were established towards planning a clear water policy.

In Egypt, the country still faces many challenges with regards to the quality of water and access to sanitation. There are many disparities between rural and urban areas, and formal and informal habitations. Her report with regards to Egypt will be presented next year.

Egypt, in response to her report, stated that this issue is at the core of its policies. It affirmed that legislation law is at an advanced stage and the rate of coverage has increased exponentially in recent years. That said, it recognizes that many challenges remain. Among these challenges are the disparities that need to be addressed as well as the need to improve both the quality of and access to water. Once it has achieved the required coverage, the next step on the agenda is water quality, giving special attention to rural areas. Egypt continues to subsidize water services, has three levels of water monitoring, has initiated new projects with regards to access of water and sanitation, and is currently considering the preliminary qualifications. 

Monday, October 26, 2009

Human Rights in India and Pakistan

At a side-event during the 12th Session of the Human Rights Council in October this year, several panelists sought to provide a comprehensive picture on human rights in India and Pakistan.

One panelist focused on human rights in Orissa, India. In Orissa, 2.3% of the population is Christians, half of which is Roman Catholic. During Christmas 2007 and August-September 2008, planned and systematic attacks were carried out against Christians by the Hindu nationalist organization led by the BHP. During the 2008 attacks, more than 100 Christians were slaughtered, resulting in the largest persecution of Christians in India since independence. The excuse was the previous murder of the BHP activist/leader; Christians, however, see these actions as part of the ‘Hinduization’. By mid-October, the State arrived at some sort of peace. That said, the BHP imposed clear conditions on the returnees (those Christians who had fled), stating that the Christians could return provided they convert to Hinduism and did not initiate any course cases against the attackers. Given these conditions, despite the miserable conditions, many Christians chose to stay in the camps, which had been formed after the attacks, because they felt threatened. Many of the Christians filed reports with the police, however the police refused to register the reports, and, those petitions that were actually filed, were also registered as one. The Christians, who were targeted in these attacks, demanded that the state pay for damages/ due compensation; this, however, has been strongly opposed by the BHP. Many of the Christians cannot return due to the culture of impunity.

Another panelist conveyed the circumstances in Gujurat, a state in India, suggesting that the lessons learned from the violence in Gujuart in 2002 should be applied to Orissa. In 2002, nearly 2,000 people were killed, 107 of which were burned alive, and 205 families were permanently displaced. Following the events, the government did not offer to conduct investigations, nor the chance for dialogue or something along these lines. Moreover, only 59 postmortems have taken place so far. Even human rights organizations have been shying away from responsibility. Even if individuals and/or families can afford to rebuild, companies will not sell to them. Furthermore, witnesses are killed if they are willing to help, so almost always they will not present themselves as witnesses to the court. On the whole, the picture is one of social and economic disparity/disproportion. How can we strengthen the democratic institutions in India? How can we work with the youth? How can we create awareness? “We need to strengthen democratic structures and the democratic system.” India was founded on secularism and democracy. These are still there, however, in the last few years there has been a systematic movement to break this. At present, India is approximately 80% Hindu, within which are various castes and cultures. Despite this there seems to be a “uniting factor” under the desire to build a kind of Hundu nation. Wherever there is a sizable situation, there will be a movement against minorities, like Christians or Muslims for example, where hate campaigns are systematically carried out.

Another panelist presented us with the human rights environment in Pakistan. He spoke of recent attacks against minorities, stating that violence has been allowed because the government and society have different manifestations. We see much communal violence in Pakistan. This is largely because Pakistani blasphemy laws allow for violence to go unchecked. On the whole, we see much organized violence. For instance, terrorist attacks as well as a pattern of using and abusing blasphemy laws. These laws were inducted into the Penal law between 1980 and 1986 by the previous military dictator as a form of protecting the honor of the Prophet and the Koran. They are problematic because they are religion specific, whereas Pakistan is multi-religious. In addition, on technical grounds, these laws are not complementary to international laws and justice. Moreover, they do not define the very crime. Successive governments have failed to take a stand on this. Consequently, about 966 individuals have been victimized by these laws, nearly half of which were religious minorities; 33%, 15% of which were Christian and 15% Hindu. Effectively, Pakistan is a struggling democracy. In order to make it successful, it is necessary to repeal these laws. The fight against extremism should include an ideological stand against the abuse of religion. On the whole there is an appetite against religious minorities in laws, the constitution, and policies; non-Muslims are also barred from certain offices. During UN Universal Periodic Reviews criticisms are denied. In this way, we are in need of reports on the status in Pakistan, like in other countries, in order to create awareness. The last report on religious tolerance was in 1995. Since then, none have been invited. in Pakistan, an extreme form of which is perpetrated and aimed at specific communities. In Pakistan minorities equate to about 3% of the population; 1.6% is Hindu and 1.5% is Christian. In this way, Pakistan is “sitting on many flashpoints” as well.

A fourth panelist spoke about the role of the World Council of Churches (WCC). While the 20th century was a century of religion, the 21st century is one about politics of identity. The fundamental question is single identity versus dynamic identities. The people being attacked are not just Christians, they are also people who are poor, tribal, and dalit; they are attacked because of a variety of reasons. The main issue behind all of this is: how do you keep a static identity and commit people to one? A second observation is that together with the growth of fundamentalism, there is the loss of democratic space. As a result, individuals are taking laws into their own hands. How can we proceed? Government agencies don’t necessarily need to act upon pressure from below. There needs to be a space where we can put pressure on governments and they will feel lit. Minorities can come together, or, perhaps the Human Rights Council, the UN, or other governments can put pressure externally. The WCC is trying to respond to some of these challenges faced by minorities in India and Pakistan, but it cannot do so alone.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Human Rights in Yemen

At a side-event during the 12th Session of the Human Rights Council several panelists gave us a broad picture of the human rights situation in Yemen.

According to Ali Hussein Mohammed Al-Dailami, Executive Director of the Yemen Organization for the Defense of Rights and Democratic Freedoms (YODRDF), the Houthis are a community in Yemen from the Zaidi Islamic School who are severely discriminated against. The Houthis are not allowed to celebrate their religious ceremonies. Moreover, they are prevented from having their own religious leaders from their community; the government imposes religious leaders. The effect is, of course, a conflict because the communities do not recognize the imposed authorities. While the government argues that this movement wants things to transpire through violent means, the Houthis contend that they are just asking for their basic rights. Mr. Al-Dailami expressed the need for a campaign to meet the needs of IDPs (internally displaced persons) because one of the critiques is that, even with international assistance called by the government, there is not enough aid delivered to the victims. He also recommended that a special rapporteur go to Yemen. “We want the release of all the political detainees and to stop the war because of all the humanitarian consequences.”

Hael Sallam Ali Othamn, a lawyer and human rights activist from Yemen, spoke about the competition in Yemen, arguing that those currently in power came to power using the revolutionary legitimacy. “The aims of the revolution are essentially being used as an ideological reservoir in order to give legitimacy. Though none of the objectives of the revolution have been realized, so there is really no reason to keep the power in the hands of those who have it now." Those in power felt threatened by the Houthi movement and, in reaction, sent their armies to the Houthi region. “The situation is very critical and all institutions are in threat of collapsing. And all this because of the widespread corruption used as a policy.

Muneer Mohammed Al-Sakkaf, a lawyer and human rights activist from Yemen, addressed the issue of protests in southern Yemen. He said that although the North and South achieved unity in 1994, each had a different political system, and thus, since the beginning of the union, there has been a problem of how to rule the country. They managed to agree on a document, but this document was not respected. In the end, the representative of Northern Yemen took power at the detriment of the southern representative; for instance, more than 100,000 military personnel were forced to retire. The political power set up some committees to address the problems relating to various injustices, but they could not solve them. As a result, movements in the south arose on the grounds of seeking to regain their rights. “The very cause of the problem is that the political power does not share the power and does not include the South in decision-making. They should engage in a comprehensive dialogue with the movements to draft a document like the one signed in 1994; a document that is inclusive. Though it is doubtful that this will come to pass, as today the government won’t even sit around a table with other parties.”

Human Rights in East South Asia, A Focus on the ‘Seven-Sisters’ of India

At a side-event during the 12th Session of the Human Rights Council in October this year, several panelists, seeking to give us a picture of the human rights situation in East South Asia, focused on the ‘Seven-Sisters’. (The 7 tribal states of northeast India, which were incorporated into India despite differences.)
According to one panelist, Meghalaya, one of the provincial states in India, once called the Scotland of the East, has lost its splendor over the years. This can be attributed to illegal migrants, from both inside India and outside, who migrate and cross into Meghalaya every day. Once representing approximately 90% of the population, tribals now equate to about 70% of the population. If steps are not taken to control this “menace”, tribals will face being reduced to a minority due to numerical insignificance. The state, however, is refusing to look at this. The central government looks upon the tribals of Meghalaya in an indifferent manner; this makes them feel as though they are not part of India. Meghalaya was once renowned as the hub of education, but schools have now become commercialized institutions that are too expensive for the people, especially those living below the poverty line. There are also high dropout rates and the basic rights for children, education of those below 14 years old, is just a dream. Moreover, the health system is in shambles. Particularly in rural areas, doctors do not want to work at community health centers due to the dire conditions and lack of facilities. To complete the picture, there are many violations of human rights in northeast India. Crimes against women are rising, children are frequently raped, and torture and murder are an every day occurrence. As a result, Meghalaya is lagging behind in social, economic, and political rights.
According to another panelist, Dipmoni Gayan, Assam was one of the most resourceful of the Seven Sisters. Like in Meghalaya, a major problem in the state is the influx of foreigners. Another major issue is development. Although the government envisions development, it has no proper plan or policy in place in the region. On the whole, the people of Assam are unhappy. Many in Assam have reverted to violence in attempts to confront the government with their plight. As a result, Assam has been facing nearly 51 years of insurgency and counter-insurgency. Moreover, the state of human rights is abysmal. If the army and armed forces commit crimes, the cases that are sent to the state and national human rights commission, however these cases are usually not reviewed. There is the dream of Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of power distribution, where the local level has access to power and can invest in for its own community. But, it is too corrupt at all levels for this. It is a dream that has failed.

The current situation in Manipur reflects that of Assam and Meghalaya. A recent statement from the Prime Minister of India confirmed that Manipur is the most violent state in India in terms of the conflict in the region. The central government has a long history of using the military to deal with the problems in the region. As a result, the government encourages the outright abuses on the part of the police. Unfortunately, Manipur is facing a type of “Punjab” solution, a blue star operation to crush the opposition through attacks.

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