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Posts Tagged ‘2009’

The kitty is not as innocent as it looks.  Behind the cute caricature lies a company which is arbitrarily raising interest rates and reducing credit limits to customer as a result of the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 that was passed in May.  Interest rates from one bank can be raised because the consumer was late on another card in a practice called universal default.  It charges exorbitant late fees because it is profitable and because it can.  There is a lack of legislation to protect the customers as a result of the clout of the banking industry’s lobbyists.

These are a few lessons that I learned after watching PBS’s Frontline tonight.  Their latest piece is called the Card Game which you can watch online here.

I know this issue has nothing to do with human rights, but I was struck by one comment made by the producer/ reporter of the show.  Lowell Bergman has worked for 60 Minutes, the New York Times, and produced a number of Frontline shows.  He won a Pulitzer Prize for the NY Times in 2004 for his report on worker safety violations and the weakness of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  This report can be watched here with links to his articles for the Times here.

He writes that “a system has been developed where the affluent pays the least and the most vulnerable people pays the most”.  The simplicity and truth of that statement struck me while I was watching the piece.

Credit card banks profit the most from the poor who can’t make their payments on time and are charged high rates of interest and late fees while people who pay their entire balance on time benefit indirectly because they don’t have to pay annual fees or high interest rates.

I don’t defend people who are fiscally irresponsible, but I get angry when people are forced to pay for health care with credit cards because they don’t have insurance.  They then get stuck in a vicious cycle of debt at no fault of their own.

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Last week, I was able to attend a panel with a Kennedy School professor, a member of Physicians for Human Rights, and a photojournalist who worked in the Darfur region.  Here are some of the things that I picked up at the event.

Photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale was in the region from in the region from 2003 until 2008. He traveled there about 12 times in that period to Chad, Darfur and Central African Republic.  He documented the plight of villagers as they tried to escape the janjaweed for refugee camps within Darfur and in Chad. He was kind enough to allow me to post a few of his pictures from that time on this blog.

He mentioned how at the sound of airfare or helicopters, entire villages would cluster around huge trees so that it would shield them from the bombs.  This was happening to hundreds of villages in Darfur while they were moving from their homes to the camps. It is hard to fathom until you see some of the pictures he has taken.

Sudanese displaced take refuge under a tree in Disa, Northern Darfur out of the heat of the day and out of view of the Antanov responsible for the bombing, there are estimated to be 2,000,000 displaced in Darfur who are trapped on the east, west and south by government troops and in the north by the desert wasteland which will certainly claim the lives of their livestock and weaker members of their family.  Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

Sudanese displaced take refuge under a tree in Disa, Northern Darfur out of the heat of the day and out of view of the Antanov responsible for the bombing, there are estimated to be 2,000,000 displaced in Darfur who are trapped on the east, west and south by government troops and in the north by the desert wasteland which will certainly claim the lives of their livestock and weaker members of their family. Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

There is reason for them to hide as the Sudanese army/ janjaweed was throwing phosphorous bombs from the back of helicopters and planes.  The results are horrific, and I’ll let Marcus’s photo do the talking.

Abakar Tidjani 17 years old lies in bed in Abeche suffering from 3rd degree burns to 80% of his body. He was playing with a grenade when it exploded. Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

Abakar Tidjani 17 years old lies in bed in Abeche suffering from 3rd degree burns to 80% of his body. He was playing with a grenade when it exploded. Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

What seemed to outrage Marcus the most is that the refugees could live in make shift shelters waiting months for assistance outside the camps without any hope of assistance.  He asks, “how can the international community allow this to happen?” No human should have to feel like animals stripped of dignity.

Sudanese Refugees in Eastern Chad wait to register in the Tulum refugee camp. Supplies of food and water are sporadic and moving into the rainy season the supply route will get worse.  Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

Sudanese Refugees in Eastern Chad wait to register in the Tulum refugee camp. Supplies of food and water are sporadic and moving into the rainy season the supply route will get worse. Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

There are currently 3 million internally displaced people (IDP’s) in the region.  At the camps, families make the conscious decision to send the women to fetch for firewood even though they are raped by militia/ janjaweed, and even men from the camps during their journey because the alternative would be death for the men.

It is nearly impossible to prosecute any man of rape under current Sudanese law.  For a successful prosecution, the victim would need 4 male eyewitnesses to support your claim or 8 female eyewitnesses.  There is tremendous stigma associated with rape, so the women do not talk about it.  They fear that they will be accused of adultery or so defiled that they are not worth marrying.

Even though the Bush administration declared Darfur a genocide, the government was slow to act because Sudan was helping with US intelligence in the Middle East.  The Obama administration has been preoccupied with other issues like health care, the economy, and Afghanistan/ Pakistan.

Thirteen international non-government organizations were kicked out, and 3 Sudanese aid groups were shut down after the International Criminal Court issued its arrest warrant for president Omar Bashir.  This has left a tremendous void for the people.

The only way forward is to put pressure on China to cancel their contracts for  Sudanese oil and for Chinese weapons that Omar Bashir is providing the janjaweed.  This would be economically difficult for America to ask of China.

Ideally, the international community would force China’s hand using the ICC’s decision as its basis.  Money talks, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) could put pressure on China by forcing it to pay tax on key exports for dealing with a criminal.  China has an unfair economic advantage because other countries are not willing to deal with a human rights violator for its oil.

China should pay the consequences for its economic activity because their business is abetting a genocide.  Unfortunately, this will continue as it has made deals with the Guinean dictator despite soldiers involved in mass rape and killings during a protest earlier this year.

This can only be stopped if China is punished.  The question is, “Does the international community have the political will to make this happen?”  Unfortunately, we may already know that answer.

Special Thanks to Marcus Bleasdale for his work and for allowing me to post some of his pictures on our blog.  I encourage you to check out his website and take 10 minutes to watch a piece he did on the conflict in the Congo.

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I attended the UN Global Voices film festival last evening, and they held a panel discussion on human rights and cultural heritage.  During the panel, I wondered at what point does human rights take precedence over cultural heritage. And when that happens, I wondered how we could help eradicate the practice without sounding like an imperialistic world power trying to impose our values and morals onto other cultures.

The example I gave was female circumcision or genital mutilation.  Here’s one paper on the practice.

Prevalence of female circumcision in Africa

Prevelance of Female Circumcision in Africa, Demographic and Health Surveys and Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys

It is a heinous practice that seems to be part of rite of passage into adulthood for sub-Saharan African females.  I picked this example because this seems to be a clear human rights violation.

Should the international community or even foreigners living in these countries stand up to voice their outrage on this practice or should they respect the native’s right to pass their tradition down to another generation.  For instance, should a Peace Corps volunteer working in Kenya refuse to go to a female circumcision ceremony or should that person respect her hosts and do as the Romans do?

One could ask the same question about the practice of extending women’s necks with the addition of rings in Burma and Thailand or the caste system and the untouchables in India.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an easy answer.  I feel that the only way that this practice can be changed is from within the community themselves so that the people can feel that they have ownership of their decision.  However, that could take a long time to do.

Education is the key, and the developing world needs to properly educate its female populace.  The right to education is a human right that was declared by the United Nations in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The UN should restrict voting privileges of any country in violation of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  However, we know this won’t happen because of politics.

Should we respect a country’s cultural heritage or should we trumpet human rights and denounce their practice?  What are your thoughts?

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Greeting BFP Blog Readers!

Amy and Alicia and I, all international justice enthusiasts, have decided to start exploring international justice (IJ) issues using our group blog. I spent well over a year working closely with AIUSA’s Program on International Justice and Accountability. The Program focused on the international justice components of several conflicts, including demanding an International Criminal Court investigation into the conflict in Darfur. I loved my time with the program. I learned a lot about the international justice system, why it was important to human rights activism in general and I had the opportunity to work with some very talented and brainy folks who are super committed to the international justice system and growing grassroots support for that system in the U.S. The Program closed earlier this year, but the BFP invested so much time in training and networking in this area that I plan on continuing our work.

As an organizer, I’ve had a difficult time trying to get people to respond to the term “international justice”. It is both too vague and too clear. Of course human rights activists want justice! Isn’t that all we do, really? And yet justice itself is really the focus of IJ work. It means using the mechanisms provided by international law to ensure that allegations of the very worst human rights abuses- torture, disappearances, genocide, and crimes against humanity- are investigated and if necessary, prosecuted. But getting a grasp of international law, processes and these mechanisms can be downright intimidating. AIUSA has provided some fantastic fact sheets and even a film online that explores some of the key concepts with exceptional clarity. You can find those resources at

With these “What is International Justice” posts, we’ll be exploring these mechanisms in practice, looking at the role the tools of international justice could play in the many ongoing conflicts in the world. We’ll also be looking at some of the inherent problems with the notion of international justice. In addition to the posts from BFP -ers, I’m hoping that I can arrange for a few current and former IJ colleagues to guest blog about their thoughts and work.

So while you folks spend the weekend reviewing the AIUSA film and fact sheets (hey, an IJ activist can dream, right??!), I’ll be researching more about this : http://www.salon.com/wires/ap/world/2009/09/01/D9AEPAFG4_lt_chile_dirty_war/index.html and this http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2009/08/24/holder/index.html.
I think it is interesting that the role of the International Criminal Court is to hold the “architects” of these crimes accountable while the Chilean investigation seeks to investigate “all who have participated” and the Holder investigation is, at least for now, only looking at CIA interrogators and some military contractors. I look forward to reading some more and picking the brains of my brilliant friends working in the field. I will report back next week for sure!

In solidarity,
Jenn

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Slumdog for $400, 000

Slumdog for $400, 000

Apparently $400, 000 can buy you a Slumdog Millionaire actress, at least that’s what a British journalist found out when he posed as a potential buyer from the Middle East according to AP.   This just shows you how much slavery is a problem in India.  They are desperately poor and seem to have little regard with women, a perfect mixture for slavery.

What does it take to end slavery?

A. Political Will

B. People power in the form of a grassroots movement

C. Economic opportunity

D. All of the above

Everyone can join in the movement to end slavery.  We’ve done it before in the 19th century, and we know what needs to be done to make that happen.  It has to start on the ground with ordinary people like you and me.  Be part of the movement today by writing to your state senator about Montigny’s bill which would finally put human trafficking legislation into the Massachusetts lawbooks.

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Workers from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers stage a silent silent theater depicting the brutal details of the latest slavery case at the steps of the Old Capitol in Tallahassee.  Photo by Jacques-Jean Tiziou

Members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers stage a silent theater depicting the brutal details of the latest slavery case at the steps of the Old Capitol in Tallahassee. Photo by Jacques-Jean Tiziou

It’s been a whirlwind last few days.  There was the screening of Holly at Suffolk University Law School on Thursday, and then there was Amnesty International’s Annual General Meeting.  Amnesty members staged a rally for immigration rights at City Hall on Friday.  I’ll try to write more when I have time about the AGM.

The main reason why I’m writing is that there has been a major development for the slavery/ trafficking cause in Florida.  The Coalition of Immokalee Workers met with Gov. Crist to talk about the working conditions of tomato and orange pickers in Florida.

After the meeting, the governor told the Naples Daily News that he was “deeply moved by what they had to say and we want to help them as much as we possibly can.”

Later that week, Governor Crist stated his support for the workers in a letter where he makes the following points:

  • “I have no tolerance for slavery in any form, and I am committed to eliminating this injustice anywhere in Florida…”
  • “I support the Coalition’s Campaign for Fair Food, whereby corporate purchasers of tomatoes have agreed to contribute monies for the benefit of the tomato field workers. I commend these purchasers for their participation, and I encourage the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange and its members to participate in the campaign so that these monies can reach and provide assistance to the workers…”
  • “I look forward to working with you and your organization in the future to advance these important causes.”

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is a grassroots organization that has fought for the rights of tomato and orange pickers in Florida.  These workers are mostly Latino men who are at times trafficked into the country to pick the tomatoes for our fast food burgers and fajitas.

They have successfully put pressure on Taco Bell, McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, and Whole Foods to raise the wages of the tomato pickers that are contracted to work on their supplier’s fields.  They are now working on a letter writing campaign targeting Chipolte Mexican restaurants.  Please join in and help fight another form of trafficking by downloading this letter and sending it to your local Chipolte branch.

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I stumbled upon this article this morning, and I just wanted to share it.  This is another example of how trafficking can happen right underneath our noses.

According to boston.com, five women were arrested in a nation wide sex sting operation called Operation Cross Country. “Seventeen FBI agents and plainclothes officers were struggling to arrest two kicking and screaming young women” at the ritzy Boston Marriott Long Wharf on Friday evening. Apparently trafficking is not only found in divey looking motels along Rt. 1, but at high class hotels where weddings and proms are held.

According to the Globe, “the goal of the sweeps, being conducted in over 30 cities, is to target pimps, rescue juveniles, and gather intelligence, according to law enforcement officials.

The Boston sting led to the arrests of five women, ages 19 to 33, who allegedly showed up at the Marriott after agreeing to provide sex for up to $300 an hour to undercover officers. The officers had responded to advertisements posted on the Craigslist website, according to Boston police reports.”

Russell Kleber, a spokesman for the FBI’s Boston office, adding that the arrests were “aimed at combating sex trafficking of children.”

It is commendable that law enforcement officials were able to track down the prostitutes, but they have to determine if the prostitutes are victims of trafficking and are treated as victims and not criminals.  My impression from the article is that the women were arrested and will be treated as criminals which prevents future trafficking victims from stepping forward to be a witness against their masters.  Most of these women did not enter prostitution by choice so they should be treated as victims.

Finding traffickers is often the most difficult part of the operation, and we should not put up barriers for victims to go to law enforcement officials.

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