By Sahar Aziz, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Sahar Aziz is an associate professor at Texas Wesleyan School of Law where she teaches national security and civil right law. She previously served as a senior policy advisor at the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The views expressed are her own.
Reports that the Internal revenue Service has been targeting Tea Party-affiliated nonprofit organizations has grabbed headlines, but should come as no surprise. In part because of ten years of expanding government powers, much of it under the guise of national security, selective enforcement of the law has increasingly become a norm rather than an aberration.
But some in the Muslim community might have a question – why are conservatives so surprised (and outraged) by this news when Muslim nonprofits and their leaders have been under intense scrutiny for over a decade? And when so many Muslim groups and individuals have faced scrutiny simply for the religion they follow?
By Letta Tayler, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Letta Tayler is a senior terrorism-counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch with an expertise in Yemen. You can follow her @lettatayler. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
The last time Amina al-Rabeii video conferenced from Yemen with her brother Salman, a detainee at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, she barely recognized the skeletal man on the screen.
“His eyes were sunken into dark recesses,” al-Rabeii told me when we met recently in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital. “He was slumped in his chair and he could barely keep his head up. He couldn’t concentrate and he didn’t seem to register what we said. We could hardly keep from crying.”
Salman al-Rabeii, 33, was reportedly picked up in Afghanistan in December 2001. He is among the scores of detainees participating in a three-month-old hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention without charge at Guantanamo. He also is among about 90 Yemenis at the prison – the largest bloc by nationality and the group at the heart of the current Guantanamo crisis.
By Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Karin Deutsch Karlekar is project director of Freedom House’s annual Freedom of the Press report. The views expressed are her own.
At first glance, it might seem counterintuitive that media freedom is on the decline. After all, in a world in which news is being produced by a broader range of professionals – as well as citizen journalists and bloggers – information is flowing at faster rates than ever before. And with news being transmitted through a greater variety of mediums – including newspapers, radio, television, the internet, mobile phones, flash drives, and social media – one might expect the level of media freedom worldwide to be improving, not worsening.
Yet Freedom House’s annual Freedom of the Press report, which measures the environment journalists operate within as well as access to news and information, shows that the world’s media are often facing growing pressures in a range of political settings. An overall decline in the level of global media freedom – reversing last year’s improvement – was driven by declines in almost every region of the world. Reasons for the deterioration included the continued, increasingly sophisticated repression of independent journalism and new media by authoritarian regimes; the ripple effects of the European economic crisis and longer-term challenges to the financial sustainability of print media; and ongoing threats from nonstate actors such as radical Islamists and organized crime groups.
By Dimitri Gkiokas, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Dimitri Gkiokas is a banker who now lives in Germany. The views expressed are his own.
“Can you believe these things happened just 150 years ago?!” exclaimed a young voice behind me. Lincoln had just finished in a Parisian cinema. I was not surprised by the audience's exuberant applause at the end credits: Well-deserved for the tired, yet persistent president, who had finally made it through the painful vote for the abolition of slavery. But that “just 150 years ago” reminded me of the modern-day slavery that continues today.
I recently left the Middle East after a decade in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Both are places of invariable desert yellow monotony and mind-blowing heat, with a fine touch of 90 percent humidity during the summer months – unbearable for most, but apparently not the tens of thousands of Indian, Nepalese and Bangladeshi construction workers melting in the heat of the Arabian Peninsula.
The prize for their back-breaking work: $5 a day for working in appalling conditions 12 hours a day 7 days-a-week; for frequently being deceived and blackmailed by rogue employment agencies back home; for signing contracts they cannot read and effectively being held hostage by an all-mighty employer in their new destination country; for being fully marginalized by the host societies; for living with hundreds of other workers, and as the BBC notes, sometimes six or seven crowded into a 3-by-3-meter room in dreadful desert camps without proper sanitation; for abandoning all hope of ever enjoying the love of family life.
By Isabelle Arradon, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Isabelle Arradon is deputy Asia-Pacific director of Amnesty International. The views expressed are her own.
From the outside, it looked like just one of the many large traditional houses you find across Aceh, Indonesia. But at the height of the military operations during the Aceh conflict in the 1990s, locals would call it the “torture chamber.”
The house, also known as Rumoh Geudong, was taken over by the Indonesian military’s feared Kopassus special operations command in 1990. Between 1997 and 1998, possibly hundreds of men and women are thought to have been tortured or even killed there, all because they were suspected of ties to the armed pro-independence movement Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM).
A fact-finding team from Indonesia’s national human rights commission arrived in 1998 to investigate the house, and found electric cables and human remains on the floor, and blood stains on the walls. Witnesses reported that the military had ordered them to dig up human bones from the premises before the team’s arrival.
By Salil Shetty, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Salil Shetty is secretary general of Amnesty International. The views expressed are his own.
“If the death penalty is not a deterrent, and it is not, and if the death penalty does not make us safer, and it does not, then it is only high-cost revenge.”
These words could easily have come from me or one of my colleagues at Amnesty International. We have after all been campaigning for abolition since the 1970s because we view capital punishment as the ultimate cruel and inhuman form of punishment.
But the quote actually comes from Charles M. Harris – a senior judge in Florida, one of only nine states in the United States to carry out death sentences in 2012.
By Reed Brody, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Reed Brody, counsel with Human Rights Watch, works with the victims of Hissène Habré and Jean-Claude Duvalier and observed the opening of the Riós Montt trial. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
Former Guatemalan strongman Efraín Ríos Montt went on trial in Guatemala City late last month on charges of genocide relating to the massacres of indigenous Mayan people during his rule.
The trial of a former dictator is a remarkable development in a country where impunity for past atrocities has long been the norm. But it also confirms a heartening trend toward bringing to justice the perpetrators of the worst atrocities, no matter how long ago the acts were committed. Indeed, Ríos Montt is the third former dictator in less than two months to face charges stemming from crimes committed in the 1980s and earlier.
On February 28, the former Haitian “President for Life,” Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, was forced to answer questions by an appeals court looking into allegations of human rights crimes committed during his rule, from 1971 to 1986. On February 8, meanwhile, Senegal and the African Union inaugurated special chambers within the Senegalese justice system to try crimes committed under the 1982 to 1990 rule of the exiled former dictator of Chad, Hissène Habré.
Editor’s note: This is an updated version of an article published in February 2013.
Last year, President Barack Obama announced that he now supports same-sex marriage, setting off a new round of debate in the U.S. over the issue. His support came on the heels of North Carolina voting to implement a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in two cases that will have major implications for gay rights in America. One case looks at whether voters can block same sex marriage, as was the case with California's Proposition 8. The other looks at the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. That act was signed into law by former President Bill Clinton, who said recently that he regretted the decision. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has announced her support for gay marriage, saying "gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights."
But where around the world is same-sex marriage legal, where is legislation likely to happen next – and where is it criminalized?
Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty answers GPS readers’ questions on the arms trade, social media and LGBT rights.
You’re at the United Nations in New York this week for discussions on a new conventional arms treaty. Nuclear arms, rockets, missiles – they tend to be what grabs headlines. Why should more attention be paid to what’s going on with conventional arms, and a treaty specifically?
There are two reasons why this is so important. First of all, the catastrophic human cost of the unregulated flow of conventional arms is mind numbing – the numbers are just unbelievable. There are half a million people dying every year. If you take the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, then since 1998 almost 5 million people have died either directly or indirectly as a result of armed conflict and persecution.
The people who are affected most are also the most marginalized. Often when we think of conventional arms, we think of soldiers who are dying, but civilians are also dying – woman, the elderly and children are dying, too. And most people are not aware of the extent to which arms are also used as a weapon in rape and other crimes of sexual violence. And it is not just women who are raped. We see gender based violence of a sexual nature against boys and sometimes men. Amnesty International’s work on the ground has shown so much evidence of this. This week, we released a report on Cote d’Ivoire. Another report my colleagues have been working on covers Guinea. There was a woman there who was being raped by a soldier, while another soldier was holding a gun to her head. Then there’s Mali. The research we did there had so many examples of child being conscripted, particularly by the militias. In the last couple of years, we have examples of almost 20 countries in which we have documented the use of child soldiers.
All this comes back to the fact that many countries are awash in arms. There needs to be an international treaty that prohibits irresponsible transfers of arms and ammunition. In Cote d’Ivoire, because of the irresponsible flow of arms there, all sides in the conflict have been involved in serious human rights and humanitarian law violations. The human costs are so high, and this doesn’t even take into account the disruption to social services such as health care and the education system and how people’s livelihoods are devastated.
The United Nations this week sees negotiators reconvening to try to hammer out an agreement on how to regulate the global trade in conventional weapons. Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty is in New York this week for the conference, and will also be fielding questions from GPS readers on this and other issues.
Shetty, the organization’s eighth secretary general, joined Amnesty International in July 2010, and readers are invited to submit their questions in the comments section about Amnesty’s work and the key international issues the organization covers.
By David Scott Mathieson, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: David Scott Mathieson is a senior researcher covering Myanmar in the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are his own.
Myanmar President Thein Sein has been touring Europe touting his country’s unlikely transformation in the past two years from the archetype of authoritarian repression to a supposedly shining example of peaceful transition towards democracy. But how much of this is real reform and how much is window dressing? How much have human rights genuinely improved on the ground in Myanmar?
To be sure, Myanmar’s quasi-civilian government has enacted a series of changes and made further promises to the international community that justify increased engagement. Several hundred political prisoners have been released in a series of amnesties, restrictive laws repealed and new laws on peaceful assembly and association promulgated (though not without flaws), media restrictions largely removed, government and military commitments to end forced labor and child soldier use by 2015, and the government signing ceasefires with ethnic armed groups.
By Madhav Nalapat, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Madhav Nalapat holds the UNESCO Peace Chair at Manipal University in India. The views expressed are his own.
Despite the 2008 economic crash and lingering possibility of a Eurozone collapse, the West still clings to its one-size-fits-all mentality – especially when it comes to political systems. Democracy is still almost inevitably defined in terms of the Western model, with periodic elections to choose representatives to a parliament or head of state. Local variants, such as Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga system, are dismissed as not really democratic. But this “universalization” of the Western approach – especially for countries embarking on the path of democratization – is misguided.
I was an early believer in the Middle East democracy project, with the caveat that first there needs to be a comprehensive reform of school curricula. The present fare offered to young minds, especially in Saudi Arabia, is a mishmash of confused ideas cloaked in theology. The result is that the education system fosters minds that are in many cases unable to properly grasp reality, ones that instead too often focus on vague concepts that get superimposed onto the real world. It’s little wonder that conspiracy theories are so prevalent in the region.