Posts Tagged ‘human rights’

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,

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This is the first of my (intended) weekly posts on resources that encourage readers of this blog to stay abreast of human rights news as well as become aware of interesting sites and articles that assist in activist capacity building and personal enrichment.

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Increasingly, satellite technology is coming into use as a tool to monitor human rights crises and provide infallible evidence of injustices and crime in real time.  I first heard of satellite imagery being used in this manner several years ago when the Zimbabwe government denied razing nearly 5,000 buildings and farms and internally displacing nearly 700,000 of its own country’s people in Operation Murambatsvina (meaning “drive out rubbish”).  

Amnesty International found the following, very clear before and after shots of the forced demolition and evictions:

Amnesty/Digital Globe

Satellite images from 2002 and 2006 showing the destruction of the Porta Farms settlement outside Harare. Photo: Amnesty/Digital Globe

AI also embarked on a satellite imagery project to document the ongoing crisis in Darfur, called “Eyes on Darfur.”  Increasingly, these types of tools and situation reporting, (including social media), seem to foster a greater sense of connection, deepened understanding and impassioned action among activists, journalists, students and others.  Pictures often can drive action more powerfully than words.

Outside the scope of Amnesty’s work with satellite technology, I recently learned that the UN Institute for Training and Research has an Operational Satellite Applications Program (UNOSAT)  that uses geographical information systems, field workers, satellite imagery experts and more to deliver “satellite solutions to relief and development organisations within and outside the UN system to help make a difference in the life of communities exposed to poverty, hazards and risk, or affected by humanitarian and other crises. ”

I came across Gaza Strip Damage Maps when searching for some of the latest information regarding the Israeli bombing of the UN compound

UNOSAT as you’ll see has maps for many other countries and regions and for various events ranging from train collisions in North Korea to population distributions in Mexico. 

I think we’ll be seeing more and more satellite technology make its way into how humanitarian crises and other human rights news are reported and also digested by readers – perhaps it will be the one extra push some might need toward pursuing action.

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Zimbabwean children picked up corn that had spilled from a truck on a recent Sunday along a road south of the capital, Harare. Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Associated Press

Zimbabwean children picked up corn that had spilled from a truck on a recent Sunday along a road south of the capital, Harare. Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Associated Press

This post will mostly highlight photos from Zimbabwe and key stats/ quotes from today’s NY Times article on Zimbabwe.  According to the Times by CELIA W. DUGGER, “a recent United Nations survey found that 7 in 10 people had eaten either nothing or only a single meal the day before” in Zimbabwe.

They are in their seventh year of hunger as a result of Mugabe’s policy of breaking up the predominately white owned farms that was distributed to his followers.  This year, he contributed to their hunger even more by banning, “international charitable organizations from operating, depriving more than a million people of food and basic aid after the country had already suffered one of its worst harvests” from June to August.

NGO’s and western governments who help distribute food to the poor during Mugabe’s reign have in a way, kept him in power.  They prevented starvation which could have led to social unrest from within the native population that could have potentially unseat the dictator.

“The World Food Program is short of nearly half the food needed for January, said Richard Lee, a spokesman.”

“People rise before the sun. . . to fill metal pails with the small, foul-smelling hacha fruit. . .the fruit is now infested with tiny brown worms. Nevertheless, the women peel it, crush it and soak it in water. Some of the worms float to the surface and can be skimmed off.”

“Maidei Kunaka grinds the animal feed she earns in exchange for her labor on a nearby ostrich farm — an unappetizing amalgam of wheat, soy bean, sand and what she calls “green stuff” — to nourish her three children.”

As a result of Mugabe’s failed agricultural policies, “the annual harvest of corn, the main staple food, has fallen to about a third of its previous levels, the Development Program reported.”

The New York Times

A man dug a grave at a cemetery in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital. A ferocious cholera epidemic, spread by water contaminated with human excrement, has stricken more than 16, 000 people across Zimbabwe since August and killed more than 780 people. Photo: The New York Times

The cholera epidemic could devastate the country because of the weakened population.  Hopefully this will change with the new administration, but we must urge both administrations that if we are defenders of democracy, we should support Morgan Tsvangirai who won the first round of voting and force Robert Mugabe out of power first indirectly by sanctions like ones proposed by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice

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Robin Chan

Concerned citizens write to a number of world leaders and representatives about specific human rights cases during the 2008 Writeathon at the First Parish Church in Harvard Square on Friday night. The writeathon was in conjunction with Human Rights Day which is on December 10. Photo: Robin Chan

I survived my first writeathon over this weekend.  My elbow was soar from doing it, but it was a good soar. I wanted to write a quick post to try to continue the energy and enthusiasm from Human Rights day by asking members of the Boston Firefly Project to help me out with my campaign against trafficking.

During my search for trafficking information, I stumbled upon Massachusetts Senate Bill No. 97.  It is a bill that was drafted to put anti-human trafficking legislation in the Massachusetts lawbooks.  From my understanding, the bill is currently before the Senate Ways and Means Committee and would expire if no action is taken by December 31, 2008.

The bill was put forth by Senator Mark Montigny in 2007.  I would like to request our readers to take fifteen minutes out of your day and write to your state representative and state senator and ask them what is the status of State Senate Bill No. 97 and to encourage them to act before the bill expires.  You may have to use the traditional letter writing approach as my state senator apparently does not accept e-mail. Remember, “all politics is local” as Tip O’Neill once said.  Change starts with you.  Thank you.

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Just wanted to quickly post a link of a sex trafficking report done by a Houston Chornicle photojournalist.


A victim of Houston's sex-trafficking ring is now living with her two sons, ages 6 and 9. They were reunited last summer after she spent more than two years getting visas for herself and her boys. Photo by: JULIO CORTEZ, CHRONICLE

It seems to be an overview of the problem.  The main points are that even if the leaders of trafficking rings are behind bars, the victims are still fearful of retaliation by his or her friends or relatives back home in Mexico or elsewhere.  One victim said that, “I came to [America] with the dream of making things better for my children, but instead of helping them I’ve actually sacrificed them.”


The player is built in the Houston Chronicle website so you have to go there to watch the 3:35 piece.

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