Amnesty International History

Those who watched Barack Obama take office were part of a far-reaching celebration of the once seemingly impossible becoming reality. From isolated villages around the world to metropolitan cities, millions of people felt included in the President’s message of hope and the possibility of change.

In his inaugural address, President Obama rejected as “false” the choice between safety and respect for human rights. He moved swiftly to turn words into action, issuing three executive orders that held the promise of an end to some of the most contentious policies of the past administration’s “war on terror”.

  • He ordered the closure within a year of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, symbol of the previous government’s disregard for human rights.
  • He ordered the CIA to close any long-term detention facilities it was operating, and prohibited it from operating such facilities in the future.
  • He banned the harshest techniques used by the CIA in its secret detention program, a program in which enforced disappearance and torture.

Regarding only the US:

Our country is one of the most prosperous countries in the world and it still has millions of our citizens living in poverty. Stark racial disparities persist in housing, health care, employment, education and the criminal justice system.

Half of the 46 million people in our country have no medical insurance belong to racial or ethnic minorities. Two thirds of those without insurance have incomes near or below the Federal Poverty Level.

President Obama’s has pledged to raise the quality of health care and lower as an important step in his Administration, but it must be backed by practical measures and adequate funding to ensure universal access to health care.

Ill-treatment in police custody and jails remains a serious concern, as does the increasing use of electro-shock weapons such as Tasers in US law enforcement. Tasers have been linked to dozens of deaths in recent years, such weapons must be suspended or limited to situations where they are necessary to protect life and avoid the use of firearms.

Racial minorities are disproportionately the victims of police brutality, harassment and unlawful shootings. Black men remain 6.5 times more likely to be imprisoned than white men and black women are incarcerated at three times the rate of white women.

Our new administration must urgently address the causes of such disparities and racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. It is vital that President Obama’s promise to ban racial profiling by law enforcement agencies is effectively implemented.

The death penalty, racism and deprivation are inextricably interlinked. The vast majority of the more than 3,000 people on death row are too poor to pay for legal representation, and numerous studies have shown that race, particularly the race of the murder victim, influences the application of the death penalty.

Since 1990 more than 1,000 men and women have been put to death by the state. The new administration should lead the country away from this cruel, inhuman and degrading practice by announcing a moratorium on federal executions.

Women of all races and social classes in the USA face the threat of domestic violence, rape and sexual abuse. But for Native American and Alaska Native women the risks are greater; they are more than 2.5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than other women in the USA. Full enforcement and funding of the Violence Against Women Act could help tackle the scourge of such violence.

The new administration also needs to show leadership in ending discrimination against lesbians, gay men and bisexual and transgender people. Measures to ensure people are not criminalized because of their sexual orientation or gender identity should be part of comprehensive legislative reforms aimed at ensuring that the human rights of all are respected, without discrimination.

The government must also do more to address the human rights of migrants, including the lack of due process for non-US citizens in deportation proceedings; indefinite and mandatory detention policies; and the inhumane conditions under which many immigration detainees, including asylum seekers, continue to be held.

Regarding the International Community:

President Obama among other things should:

  • Ratify all core international human rights treaties and protocols, and withdraw limiting conditions on treaties it has promised to uphold.
  • Ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
  • Re-engage with the Human Rights Council.
  • Promote respect for human rights in its bilateral relations with other countries.

One welcome measure already taken by our new administration was to lift the “global gag rule”, the ban on federal funding for international organizations that provide or advocate reproductive health services, including safe, legal abortions.

The administration should remove remaining restrictions and increase funding for programs addressing reproductive health, maternal health and sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS/HIV.

In relation to the ongoing tragedy in Darfur, our country has been a strong voice for the millions of victims of the conflict. But it can and should do more. It should provide funding and equipment to the peacekeeping effort. It should strengthen the arms embargo and support the ICC.

In response to the Middle East and the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, we should support a UN fact-finding mission to carry out a prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigation of allegations of serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed by all parties during the conflict in Gaza and southern Israel. It should impose a full arms embargo on both sides and place human rights at the center of efforts to revive the Middle East peace process.

Such responses to these and other international crises would signal the “new era of responsibility.”

The international support for Barack Obama’s election and his first executive orders reaffirms the enduring hope for a world in which the values embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, crafted by the us and others over 60 years ago, are once again at the center of the US domestic and international political agendas.

Articles & Videos of Interest Regarding Human Rights:

Newswire Updates:

Spain’s Judges Cross Borders in Human Rights Cases: U.S. Officials Among Targets
from Wash Post – World News by Craig Whitlock

MADRID — Spanish judges are boldly declaring their authority to prosecute high-ranking government officials in the United States, China and Israel, among other places, delighting human rights activists but enraging officials in the countries they target and triggering a political backlash ……

Secret Memoir Reveals Dissent From Chinese Leader
from Wash Post – World News by John Pomfret

Zhao Ziyang violated one of the central tenets of Communist Party doctrine: He spoke out. But it is only now, four years after his death, that the world is hearing what he had to say.

Thailand’s anti-human rights commission
from UPI Asia Online by By Awzar Thi

Despite concerns from human rights defenders at home and abroad, Thailand’s upper house on May 1 approved the seven nominees for the country’s National Human Rights Commission. Four of the seven are either ignorant of or opposed to human rights as they are internationally defined.

Update 03 May 09:

Meris Lutz: The Pink Army
from The Full Feed from HuffingtonPost.com by Meris Lutz

Hassan (not his real name) is one of a handful of gay Iraqis who have sought refuge in Lebanon since the beginning of the year, when, according to Iraqis and human rights workers interviewed for this post, some sort of understanding was reached between the Iraqi government and the Mahdi Army to “cleanse” Iraq of homosexuals.

Update 1 May 09:

Agony of repatriated Khmer Rouge refugees
from UPI Asia Online by By Chak Sopheap

One of the untold tragedies of U.S. policy has been the forced repatriation of young Cambodians who went to the United States as refugees but were sent back to their home country after committing crimes. Most have no family there, do not speak the language, and have little hope of escaping poverty.

Update 24 Apr 09:

Government Should Make Bagram Documents Public, Says ACLU
from ACLU Newsroom

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today asked the Obama administration to make public records pertaining to the detention and treatment of prisoners held at the Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records pertaining to the number of people currently detained at Bagram and their names, citizenship, place of capture and length of detention. The ACLU is also seeking records pertaining to the process afforded those prisoners to challenge their detention and designation as “enemy combatants.”

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