Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Friday is Human Rights Day

Take a moment to remember the last few years of the previous century: the military dictatorships of Latin American are for the most part gone; the communism of the USSR dissolved rather than exploded; majority governments occurred in all of southern Africa; Central America ceased being a killing field for the poor; and human rights was on a march forward. The world governments created the International Criminal Court (ICC) and it looked and felt like the bad folk of governments would be chased and maybe imprisoned for crimes against humanity. Human rights groups were popping up all over the world and progress was being made.
Then, 9/11 occurred and America lost thousands of people. American anger channeled fear instead of courage; Iraq is invaded for unknown reasons still; torture begins in the jails of Iraq by our forces; water boarding, a torture technique, is used often and repeatedly; secret prisons are set up in many countries and we send prisoners to these places to be tortured by others; Guantanamo becomes a prison of infamy and reduces the respect for law to this day; unmanned drones are put into frequent use in targeted killings as weapons with no accountability while official statistics on the number of innocent civilians killed are absent (some studies suggest ten to fifty civilians are killed for every one militant insurgent); the new President enlarges the war in Afghanistan; Bagram prison rivals Guantanamo in another attempt to reduce our level of decency and thus up the hatred of American forces in the region; and all the while, Bin Laden roams the earth freely ten years after his hits on our cities. American efforts to mix security issues with human rights lowered the prestige, interest and support of human rights. Press and media move as the governments move--away from human rights. What happened to the momentum, to the wave that swept human rights through our streets and past our doors? It seems as though the tide has gone out.
Instead of getting depressed and angry and disillusioned, I offer a model to emulate who I got to know over three meetings and one letter. His name was Peter Benenson, the founder of Amnesty International. Most of the world does not know him or about him: he never sought the lime light, the TV shows or the award chase, and he even refused to go to Oslo when Amnesty won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977. A simple lawyer in London, Peter refused the knighthood nonsense of the crown. He had time to write a long, warm and personal note to me once I left Amnesty after twelve years, but you could not get him to a fancy dinner. He was a humble man who sought solace in the Catholic shrines of Europe after a car accident. But make no mistake, his idea and action of that idea changed the world. This Human Rights Day is a time to stop and remember how Peter Benenson brought that idea to life.

The above is from Jack Healey's "Human Rights Day - December 10, 2010" (Huffington Post) about Peter Beneson who started Amnesty International and was the organization's president from 1961 through 1966 before leaving it. Human Rights Day is this Friday. Amnesty didn't start it, the United Nations did:

The promotion and protection of human rights has been a major preoccupation for the United Nations since 1945, when the Organization's founding nations resolved that the horrors of The Second World War should never be allowed to recur.
Respect for human rights and human dignity "is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world", the General Assembly declared three years later in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1950, all States and interested organizations were invited by the General Assembly to observe 10 December as Human Rights Day (resolution 423(V)).
The Day marks the anniversary of the Assembly's adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Over the years, a whole network of human rights instruments and mechanisms has been developed to ensure the primacy of human rights and to confront human rights violations wherever they occur.

This UN web folder contains background and notes:

Human Rights Day 2010 on 10 December recognizes the work of human rights defenders worldwide who act to end discrimination.
Acting alone or in groups within their communities, every day human rights defenders work to end discrimination by campaigning for equitable and effective laws, reporting and investigating human rights violations and supporting victims.
While some human rights defenders are internationally renowned, many remain anonymous and undertake their work often at great personal risk to themselves and their families.

Human rights are universal rights. They're not rights that belong to a certain region or to only one specific group of people or to one gender. IRIN reports on the International Organization for Migration's [PDF format warning] new survey of Iraqi women heading households where "74 percent are struggling to secure adequate nutrition for their families," that 40% of the women cannot work due to "health problems and social norms" while 71% of those who could work remain unemployed. Salama Smeisim, activist, explains, "The oppression against women is still continuing in Iraq. The plight of the displaced women has not been dealt with seriously. They need adequate houses to preserve their dignity, schools for their children, electricity and drinking water." As Hillary Clinton has noted regularly for years, "Human rights are women's rights." It's a topic she regularly touches on and we'll note this from her December 14, 2009 speech at Georgetown (link has text and video):

And of course, we have to remain focused on women – women’s rights, women’s roles, and women’s responsibilities. As I said in Beijing in 1995, “human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights,” but oh, I wish it could be so easily translated into action and changes. That ideal is far from being realized in so many places around our world, but there is no place that so epitomizes the very difficult, tragic circumstances confronting women than in eastern Congo.
I was in Goma last August, the epicenter of one of the most violent and chaotic regions on earth. And when I was there, I met with victims of horrific gender and sexual violence, and I met with refugees driven from their homes by the many military forces operating there. I heard from those working to end the conflicts and to protect the victims in such dire circumstances. I saw the best and the worst of humanity in a single day, the unspeakable acts of violence that have left women physically and emotionally brutalized, and the heroism of the women and men themselves, of the doctors, nurses and volunteers working to repair bodies and spirits.
They are on the front lines of the struggle for human rights. Seeing firsthand their courage and tenacity of they and the Congolese people and the internal fortitude that keeps them going is not only humbling, but inspires me every day to keep working.

Human rights means freedom from persecution due to gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. Alsumaria TV quotes Pope Benedict XVI stating, "Respect for the rights of all is a requisite for civil coexistence. May this, our prayer to the Lord and our solidarity bring hope to those who are suffering. I am thinking about many difficult situations, like the continual attacks against Christians and Muslims in Iraq." And they note, "Iraq's Immigration and Displaced Directorate in Dahuk Province announced that it has received more than 80 Christian families displaced from Baghdad and Mosul in fear of armed attacks. The Directorate expects more families to move soon." This wave of attack on Iraqi Christians began October 31st with the assault on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad in which at least 70 people were killed and another 70 wounded. This is John Pontifex's "ACN gives help as Christians flee persecution" (Aid to the Church in Need:"

FAMILIES fleeing persecution in Mosul and Baghdad are to receive emergency aid from leading Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
The charity for oppressed and other suffering Christians has agreed payments of $20,000 for victims of the 31st October massacre at Baghdad’s Our Lady of Salvation Syrian Catholic Church which left up to 58 dead and more than 70 injured.
A further $13,000 will be sent to poverty-stricken Christians from Baghdad who have fled to the Iraqi cities of Kirkuk and Sulaymaniyah.
And in Zakho diocese, in the far north of the country, ACN is giving over $30,000 to provide food packages for hundreds of Christian families.
The aid will be distributed by Chaldean Sisters of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate.

ACN’s announcement comes amid reports that 500 Christian families – more than 2,000 people – have fled Baghdad and Mosul in the past few weeks amid continuing violence and intimidation.
Reports earlier this week emerged that Hekmet Jaboure Samak and his wife, Samira, an elderly Christian couple from Baghdad’s Bealdeyat district, had been killed in their home.
Church sources in Baghdad told ACN that the attackers broke into the home where the couple had been living for many years.
After killing the two Christians, the attackers comprehensively looted their home. “Everything was taken,” the Church source said.
Speaking from northern Iraq, Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil thanked ACN for its continuing help, saying that Christians were now very afraid.
He said: “The Christians in Baghdad and Mosul do not have a dignified life. They feel afraid even in their own home. They cannot move freely.
“They have to think twice about going to church on Sundays.”
Archbishop Warda added: “People would leave immediately if they could. The only thing that is stopping them is that in many cases they are poor and if they left they would struggle to find a job, schools for their children and a home to live in.”
The archbishop claimed that estate agents in Baghdad had reduced the value of properties owned by Christians which would mean that if they sold up they would struggle to find a decent alternative home.
Helping Christians in the Middle East is a priority for Aid to the Church in Need.
Pope Benedict XVI recently told the charity to focus on supporting the region’s faithful, where he said “the local Church is threatened in its very existence”.

Editor’s Notes

Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in about 130 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 162 languages and 48 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
While ACN gives full permission for the media to freely make use of the charity’s press releases, please acknowledge ACN as the source of stories when using the material.

For more information or to make a donation to help the work of Aid to the Church in Need, please contact the Australian office of ACN on (02) 9679-1929. e-mail: or write to Aid to the Church in Need PO Box 6245 Blacktown DC NSW 2148.
On Line donations can be made at

The following community sites updated last night:

And we'll close with this from Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal about repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell:
Help us gather thousands of feminist voices who will work to help repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT). Act now by signing this Feminist Pledge for Love and Integrity and forwarding it to friends and family. We don't have a moment to lose.
"This is about integrity," Admiral Mullen adamantly stated in his opening statement at the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" hearings. "Our people sacrifice a lot for their country, including their lives. None of them should have to sacrifice their integrity as well."
Don't Ask Don't Tell calls for the discharge of anyone in the military who openly acknowledges being gay or lesbian. If Senators do not vote to repeal DADT in the lame duck session, before the newly elected members take office in January, this injustice will continue.
Lesbian women are disproportionately ousted as a result of DADT. In 2009, 48% of those discharged from the Army were women, even though women make up only 14% of the Army. Women were more than half of those discharged from the Air Force, where women make up 20% of the service. In the Marines, women make up just 6% of the force, but were 23% of discharges under the policy. Women comprise 14% of the Navy, but were 27% of the discharges under DADT.
Sign the Love and Integrity Pledge to stop these injustices. We will not stop fighting until DADT is repealed.
Since Don't Ask Don't Tell was instituted by President Bill Clinton in 1993, over 13,000 military service personnel have been discharged from the military. This number is staggering and we need your help.

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