In the wake of World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt was the driving force behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United Nations adopted in 1948. Since then, women have played an essential role in the human rights movement, as advocates, organization, journalists, politicians, teachers, and lawyers.
Some are women’s rights activists; most are human rights activists who happen to be women. As women, they face unique challenges, from sexism to cultural bias to repression, which often takes the form of gender-based violence. But time and again, women activists refuse to be silenced.
At Human Rights First, we’re privileged to work with an array of courageous women leaders. We support their work, highlight their struggles, and amplify their voices. And we partner with them to press the U.S. government, American businesses, and international organizations to support human rights. For example, we teamed up Pakistani activist Shehrbano Taseer to block a proposed blasphemy code at the United Nations, and we brought Esraa Abdel Fattah, a leader in Egypt’s revolution, to the United States so that together we could urge policy makers and tech companies to protect the ability of activists to use the Internet without fear of persecution.
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Human Rights First
We’ve been urging the U.S. to stop doing business with Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state arms dealer, which is selling weapons to the brutal Assad regime in Syria. Now a bipartisan group of seventeen United States Senators, led by John Cornyn (R-TX) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), is taking up the cause. In a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, they express “grave concern” over this “serious policy problem.”
Russia is Syria’s top supplier of arms, and Russian weapons have been found at the scene of atrocities. In January, Rosoboronexport signed a deal with Syria to sell 36 combat jets capable of hitting ground targets, and the company’s spokesperson says it has no plans to stop.
At the same time Rosoboronexport benefits from a nearly $1 billion contract with the U.S. Department of Defense—signed on May 26, 2011, months after the crackdown began. The U.S. should cancel the contract immediately.
As Bahrain’s uprising enters its second year, Bahraini citizens demanding democracy and human rights show no signs of giving up. The largest protest yet, with an estimated 100,000 people marching on a highway west of the capital Manama, took place just days ago. The regime had intensified its crackdown in a largely successful attempt to deter protests marking the Feb 14th anniversary of the uprising’s beginning. But this huge rally, which came in response to a call from Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim, suggests that the democracy movement is stronger than ever.
Brian Dooley of Human Rights First—who has done groundbreaking reporting on the abuses of the Bahraini regime—had been denied access to the country during February. But he’s back in Bahrain, where he is reporting from the appeal hearing of 20 medics who were detained, tortured, and sentenced to long prison terms in sham military trials. The regime took them into custody last year after they provided medical care to protestors.
Over the next few years, the United States will give the government of Afghanistan control of the more than 3000 prisoners at Bagram Air Base. We welcome the transfer but only if it protects the rights and safety of the prisoners. A recently announced agreement between the two countries falls short.
We’ve documented the human rights problems at Bagram, where many suspects are detained indefinitely based on secret evidence and have no access to lawyers. The transfer agreement threatens to exacerbate these problems and raises concerns about the potential for widespread abuse.
The agreement contains no mechanism to ensure due process or humane treatment. As Daphne Eviatar of Human Rights First told CBS news, “Afghan security services have a history of using torture to elicit confessions, and that was found just within the past year by the United Nations, so it’s not clear from this agreement how the United States will make sure that’s not happening.”
After spending nearly a decade in U.S. custody, Majid Shoukat Khan has pled guilty before a military commission to conspiracy, murder, attempted murder, providing material support for terrorism, and spying. Khan—who tried to kill himself at Gitmo by chewing through an artery in his arm—agreed to testify against fellow detainees in exchange for a lighter sentence.
The deal may be in the best interest of both the government and Khan, but it’s not in the best interest of justice. As Melina Milazzo of Human Rights First points out in the Washington Post, Khan was charged with terrorism and conspiracy, which are not war crimes under international law and were not originally crimes in the military commission system. “Prosecuting people for conduct that was not a crime when they committed the act violates the ex post facto prohibition enshrined in the Constitution and the international legal principle of legality,” Milazzo says. That’s not the example we should be setting.
This was only the seventh conviction in the military commission system and the first of a so-called “high-value detainee.” Federal courts, by contrast, have secured more than 400 convictions of terrorists since 9-11 while protecting the rights of suspects. The military commission system is a risky strategy for cases of such importance. The United States should recommit itself to trying terrorism cases in the federal courts, where there is a wealth of experience and a solid track record.
U.S. Prepares to Continue Egypt Military Aid Amid Dispute
Nicole Gaouette, Bloomberg, March 18, 2012
Detention for Immigrants That Looks Less Like Prison
Kirk Semple and Tim Eaton, New York Times, March 13, 2012
U.S. must aid Afghan judicial system
Daphne Eviatar, Politico: Opinion, March 13, 2012
War’s Strange Bedfellows
Mark Thompson, Time, March 12, 2012