Hey Mr President: Here’s 10 shameful human rights issues you need to get work on…

Dear President Trump,

I’m not an American citizen nor am I of American heritage (I do have Italian-American family mind!) BUT in any case,  I think it’s safe to say that your presidency affects every one of us worldwide. As global citizens, in an increasingly connected and globalised,  world we should be looking out for our brothers and sisters, advocating for human rights and denouncing both threats towards and violations against human freedoms and human rights worldwide.

Long since the start of your presidential campaign, you’ve gathered a lot of media attention. I myself, never expected you to take over office but well – this is theoretically your democratic right. The American people spoke! Out of ignorance, fear and hatred I may add BUT that time has passed. Now you’re ready to settle into the White House and are starting to take on your presidential duties. In light of this, I’d like to remind you of some core human rights abuses which the US needs to address. You state you are the “land of the free” after all… a land which is on show to the entire world…

  1. Abuse of the right to a fair trial: At the end of 2015, Amnesty International recorded a total number of 107 detainees at Guantánamo – most being held without charges having being pressed. These men lie in wait, without hope, facing torture and humiliation. If you believe these men (or anyone else) have committed criminal acts, then take them to trial whilst respecting their right to legal representation and a FAIR trial.
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  2. Abuse of the right to freedom of expression and permissibility of hate speech: Freedom of expression is an important right but that doesn’t mean that citizens should be able to spout inflammatory obscene, hate speech and harass other members of the public. Permissible exceptions to the First Amendment include: “incitement, defamation, fraud, child pornography, obscenity, fighting words and threats”. Well, take a look at some of these gentlemen in the videi below harassing Muslims on the streets and ask yourself, is this acceptable? Freedom of expression is one thing, hate speech and hate crimes are another….

3. Threats to religious freedomYou claimed in December 2015 that you will uphold the right to freedom of religion, when you stated:

“Religious liberty is enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution. It is our first liberty and provides the most important protection in that it protects our right of conscience.”

I would however like to compare that to the comments you made regarding Muslims entering the US and American mosques and draw your attention to the fact that since you became elected, there has been a sharp rise in the number of Islamophobic incidents. American Muslims, Jews – every rational person – is counting on you to respect their right to freedom of belief…

4. Denial of the right to adequate health careThere are a series of critical abuses and  health care issues which need addressing:

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An insurance based health care system often leaves citizens unable to receive medical assistance

Lack of a national health care system: Former  President Barack Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on 23rd March (2010). As a result, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that roughly 32 million extra people will have health insurance by 2019 after the law is fully implemented. 32 million people will however remain uninsured. This is simply not good enough – every human has the right to emotional and physical wellbeing and to access adequate health care.

Abuse of mentally ill prisoners: Mentally ill prisoners have been beaten, pepper sprayed, shocked, burnt and have sometimes even died in custody. Staff training, resources, greater knowledge and awareness is crucially needed to address such inhuman treatment and provide the necessary level of care required. Further information can be found in the Human Rights Watch report – I urge you to watch this video (although I found it very distressing – simply because the reality is just that shocking): https://youtu.be/OCaKethFbEg.

Inadequate medical care for transgender women in custody: US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) introduced a new policy in June 2015 to provide transgender women in immigration detention with certain protections. However, despite this new policy, transgender women in ICE custody still receive inadequate medical care, as well as reporting sexual and verbal harassment whilst in detention.

Inadequate maternal health care: In a report published by the WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and The World Bank (1990-2008), the USA is ranked 50th in the world for maternal mortality. In fact, the issue of maternal health has long been a concern for Amnesty International. In 2013, the maternal mortality rate was 17.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, with “significant racial disparities” among different racial groups – very concerning indeed. Native American and Alaska Native women who are raped for example, are faced with continuous lack of access to medical care including examinations and emergency contraception. African-American women are also almost four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than their white American sisters. I found a range of shocking information via “U.S. Public Health Emergencies: Maternal Mortality and Gun Violence” and Amnesty International’s 2015/2016 report.

5. Abuse of the right to privacy: The US government continues to spy on its citizens by urging major US mobile phone and internet companies to loosen the security measures of their systems so the government can spy more easily on its citizens during criminal investigations. In May 2015, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression called on all countries (including the US) to respect citizens’ right to privacy and “refrain from weakening encryption and other online security measures” due to the fact that human rights defenders and activists across the world rely on the security of such tools and weakening encryption and other online security measures poses a danger to citizens own security. According to Human Rights Watch, although Congress passed the USA Freedom Act in June 2015 which limits the government’s ability to collect phone records and detailed new measures for greater transparency and oversight of NSA surveillance, the law does not restrict surveillance by the government justified to undertake “mass violations of people outside US borders”. Human Rights Watch also highlight how the law does not look at several modern surveillance means from malware to the interception of of all mobile phone calls in any given country. Very worrying indeed…

6. Use of torture, inhuman and degrading punishment and treatment:

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Protesters dressed as Guantánamo detainees

Back in January 2016, former President Obama banned the use of solitary confinement for minors in federal prisons. OK – one change, but there is still a long way to go. Having already documented the abuse of mentally ill inmates, the torture of prisoners in Guantánamo is also no secret; including sexual assault, sleep deprivation, mock executions, being forced to watch other inmates being tortured – and the list goes on… Mr President, I’d also like to draw your attention to this comment you made regarding the waterboarding of prisoners/detainees:

“Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would. In a heartbeat. I would approve more than that. It works… and if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway for what they do to us“.

Torture is inhuman, inhumane and in any case Mr President – it doesn’t work! “Evidence” and “confessions” extracted under torture are not reliable. We are living in the 21st century, where are you…?!

7. Use of police violence and arbitrary arrest: Following on from point number six, another tragic issue that has been featured a lot in the media recently is the abuse of black Americans by the police – even resulting in their death. We’re not talking about one-off incidents here, we’re talking about recurring patterns of violence, inequality and a culture of racism and abuse. Please don’t deny this. Amnesty International’s 2015/2016 US review records 43 deaths at the hands of police Tasers (across 25 states), reaching a total of at least 670 Taser-related deaths since 2001 (as of 2016). Just in case you think these people were a threat, most were unarmed and appeared to post no threat of death or serious injury when the Taser was used. It is estimated that the number of people who have been killed by law enforcement officials ranges from around 458 to 1,000+ people each year. This is however an estimate as the authorities did not track the exact number of people killed… How convenient… As we all know (and as backed up in the Amnesty report), black males are disproportionately affected by police killings…

8. Discrimination/inequality based on gender, “race”, colour, culture and sexual orientation:

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Black American men are six times more likely to be imprisoned than their white brothers

This is such a big point – where do I start? I’ve already touched on several inequalities including treatment in maternal health care and the use of excessive police force towards black males, so let’s also talk about the fact that African-American males are more likely to be arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned than their white male counterparts for drug offenses committed at “comparable rates”  – according to Human Rights Watch who state that: “African Americans are only 13 percent of the US population, but make up 29 percent of all drug arrests. Black men are incarcerated at six times the rate of white men.”

There is so much discrimination it’s difficult to even squish it into one post…but here’s one more documented by Human Rights Watch: “At time of writing, 28 states do not have laws banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, while three states prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation but not on gender identity.” Everyone has the right to work free from discrimination. This just isn’t good enough!

And whilst we’re at it, women don’t just face inequality in the workplace but sexual violence crossing socio-cultural ethnic groups at disproportionate levels. Native American and Alaska Native women not only face inadequate levels of health care but are also dis proportionally affected by sexual violence. They are 2.5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted or raped then other women in America. Such issues need to be addressed Mr President.

9. Detention of migrant and asylum-seeking childrenI’m quite frankly shocked and worried by your attitude towards migrants, asylum seekers and refugees… We’re all human and we all deserve the right to a peaceful, stable life free from torture, persecution and war and a decent standard of living. What’s worse is that the US detains asylum seeking women and – wait for it – CHILDREN. The USA has the largest detention immigration system in the world, including a huge amount of asylum-seeking mothers and children from Central America. Such treatment has a devastating psychological impact on these mothers and children. In June 2016, the government announced it would be limiting the practice of detaining mothers and children long-term for those who pass the first stage of the asylum-seeking process. According to Human Rights Watch, in July 2015, a federal judge ruled that the State’s family detention policy “violated a 1997 settlement on the detention of migrant children“. Policy has improved as those appearing to make a “legitimate” asylum claim are released within weeks but family detention still continues. Mr President – such children should never be detained and migrants, refugees and asylum seekers must never be detained for simply seeking protection and US residency.

10. Use of corporal punishment in schools – including against disabled children19 US states still use corporal punishment in schools. Even more shocking is the fact that disabled children are disproportionately affected by such behaviour. Corporal punishment is – as I believe – wrong. Add to this the fact that such punishment will greater affect disabled children’s physical and psychological conditions, this is just completely unacceptable. Across the globe, 124 countries have criminalised such physical punishment in State schools. So why is the USA  – the so-called land of “freedom, equality” etc. – so far behind Mr Trump…?

So, there we have it. There are so many social, cultural, political, economic and human rights issues in the USA which need addressing Mr President, but here’s 10 to get you started. Why not show toady’s protesters something positive? Why not prove us wrong? It’s up to you…

Key information sources:

Amnesty International: United States of America 2015/2016

Human Rights Watch: World Report 2016: United States, Events of 2015

Image credits:

Donkey Hotey, Waywuwei, Justin Norman, Ben

Welcoming child refugees means listening to them

img_20160917_125813The plight of child refugees in Europe has been an ongoing issue, in particular since the Syrian crisis spiked in the last few years. Last spring, following pressure from civil society and charitable organisations, politicians voted on the Dubs Amendment, announcing it would be accepting 3,000 child refugees from overseas. Just a few weeks ago, according to figures from Safe Passage UK, there were over 1,000 unaccompanied child refugees living in makeshift refugee camps across the Channel in northern France, including the infamous “Jungle” in Calais – aptly named due to the unregulated mass of makeshift tents and complete lack of regulation, assistance from international aid organisations, sanitation facilities or infrastructure.

Here, thousands of refugees fleeing war, poverty and human rights abuses from all over the world including Afghanistan, Eritrea and Syria lay in wait to start a new life. In the Jungle in particular, there were around 387 children legally entitled to come to the UK under the Dublin Convention due to the UK residency of their family members. Some tried to start their own journeys to their families – including a 14 year old boy from Afghanistan who this September was killed on a French motorway whilst trying to reach the UK.

Until this point, the only progress being made was for those children referred on the Safe Passage UK programme, a project set up by the organisation Citizens UK to establish safe legal routes to the UK for unaccompanied child refugees and vulnerable adults in Europe. However, after announcing it would be building a wall to block access from across the channel, the UK government responded to the French government’s decision to dismantle the camp in Calais by beginning to process the safe transfer of unaccompanied minors with families in the UK. This could not have come at a more crucial time. These children could simply have disappeared off the radar. According to Europol, there are already over 10,000 “disappeared” refugee children within Europe. The risks these children face are devastating, as they remain vulnerable to such human rights abuses as child labour, sexual exploitation (rape, child marriage, prostitution) and both radicalisation and recruitment by terrorist organisations offering both economic sustenance and a sense of belonging. In light of this, on the 16th October, the first group of children were transferred to the UK. According to Citizens UK, 200 children have now arrived. However, this represents just a small percentage of the children seeking refuge in both France and across Europe. Following the official clearance of the Jungle on 26th October, there were a reported 1,500 unaccompanied child refugees left in the area where the camp once stood, resulting in a subsequent process led by the French authorities to transfer these children out of the area. In such context, it is more essential than ever that adequate preparation and procedures are put in place to both bring and welcome refugee children.

Here in the UK, where these children begin the long process of re-building their lives, we need to guarantee that we do our best to ensure their well-being and social inclusion so they can lead happy, healthy lives in all senses: socially, economically, culturally, emotionally, and physiologically. Ensuring these children’s wellbeing involves more than providing refuge in a safe space, protected from the physical harm of active conflict. It is fundamental that children are safeguarded against all types of harm, including the risk of trafficking and radicalisation.

Above all, to successfully safeguard this vulnerable group of children and help them integrate into British society we must listen to their stories, their views, their opinions and their needs – first of all as children and secondly as refugees.

Child to Child – participation and safeguarding

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Hearing All Voices – Child to Child (London)

As one of the leading international NGOs on children’s participation, Child to Child believes in teaching essential skills and providing safe, inclusive spaces to enable children to give their views, voice their needs, and fully participate within society as active, engaged citizens. Since 2011, Child to Child has been running its project Hearing All Voices in London, working with disadvantaged young people in secondary schools and FE colleges and teaching staff to create an environment where students are listened to, taken seriously and supported to take social action. This project has been immensely successful in terms of both staff and student outcomes. The tools and outcomes of this project – testimony to the value and need for child participation – are something we can build on.

UK government policy, including education, health and social care needs to ensure that refugee children have the means to participate, in order to be safeguarded from harm. If we are to ensure that child refugees lead happy, healthy, integrated lives in which both the traumatic experiences of the past are addressed and their cultural, religious and social identities can also flourish, then let us learn from them rather than excluding them from decision-making processes. If we truly want to welcome this group of vulnerable children and guarantee their wellbeing, then let them participate and let us listen.

Credits:

This article was first published by Child to Child on 02/11/2016 (c)

Feature image copyright: Max Bryan (2016) (c)

Additional blog imagery: Elizabeth Arif-Fear

Cutting away their childhood – the facts about #FGM

gender-symbols-1161576.jpgFebruary 6th is International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). FGM includes: “procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons” (WHO, 2016). This usually involves cutting and removing parts of a girl’s/woman’s genitalia with razor blades, scissors, nails and glass without anaesthetic. There are no health benefits whatsoever to these “procedures”- in fact the reality is very much the opposite. It’s a sad reality for the millions of girls and women worldwide who face confusion, pain, suffering and violation through the practice of FGM as parents, family members and the wider community attempt to suppress girls’ sexuality, preserve their “honour”, adhere to social pressure and increase their  daughters’ “eligibility” as brides by adhering to male demands, outdated traditional cultural practises and a false/differing interpretation of religion. More than 125 million girls and women have been cut in the name of FGM across 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East with 3 million at risk each year (UNICEF, 2013; WHO, 2016). Educating communities and spreading the word are key to putting an end to this barbaric practice. So, let’s bust the myths and get the key facts about what exactly FGM is, how, why and where it happens and look at how you can campaign against this gross violation of human rights.

Busting the myths

1. FGM is the female equivalent of or can be compared to male circumcision 

FALSE: Female genital mutilation is sometimes also referred to as FGC (Female Genital Cutting) and also incorrectly labelled as “female circumcision” by certain people but this is totally inaccurate. Whatever your stance on male circumcision – FGM is entirely different. It is child abuse, violence and torture aimed at controlling a female’s sexual behaviour, denying her sexual pleasure within marriage itself and preserving her “honour” for the sake of others according to certain social-cultural beliefs and norms regarding marriage and female sexuality.

2. FGM is an Islamic practice

FALSE: Whilst unfortunately there have been certain so-called “scholars” who support FGM, FGM is un-Islamic. Not only does it pre-date Islam as a cultural practice, it is neither “required” according to Islamic standards and goes against Islamic principles such as health, not inflicting bodily harm, free will and a  woman’s right to sexual pleasure within marriage. The Muslim Council of Britain for example has specifically denounced the practice as un-Islamic. FGM is a cultural issue not a religious requirement. It is misunderstood in religious terms, misplaced, misused and therefore practiced by some Muslims, Jews and Christians and also some animists.

3. FGM is only an African/Middle Eastern issue

FALSE: FGM is instead a global issue. It is prevalent and most common in Africa (27 countries in the African subcontinent to be precise), including Egypt in North Africa and many sub-Saharan countries such as Somalia, and also in Middle East (e.g. Kurdistan, Oman, Yemen and Jordan). However, FGM also occurs in both Malaysia and Indonesia and within migrant communities in Europe, the USA and Australia. UNICEF has now reported that FGM is practised in Indonesia although in a less “severe” form of scratching rather than in the form of slicing off flesh. FGM firstly does not represent (any one) culture or people as a whole – even though it does form part of certain socio-cultural traditions amongst some people. Secondly, due to migration, FGM affects girls and young women whose older family members are migrants  but they themselves are not e.g. young American and British born girls whose parents previously migrated abroad. In an increasingly globalised world and in a world where we should all be fighting injustice, this is a global issue.

4. FGM is always carried out by non-medically trained relatives/community members 

FALSE: In most cases this is the case. Paid/unpaid “cutters” do the job with rusty nails, scissors, pieces of glass and razor blades. However, FGM is also performed by professional health care providers in certain countries (believe it or not…). This is often due to the belief that it is “safer” (UNICEF, 2013). In Indonesia, FGM is carried out in hospitals – although it is claimed that the female genital cutting which is carried out is not “mutilation” in the way we commonly give reference to (but in any case it is classified as FGM according to WHO guidelines).

5. Criminalising FGM in countries such as the UK and USA has outlawed and stemmed the practice entirely

FALSE: Living in a country where FGM is illegal does not mean you are “safe”. Not only does FGM occur illegally behind closed doors, parents also take their daughters abroad to get them cut instead – known as “holiday cutting“. A young girl may be “going to holiday” when in reality, she will leave the UK uncut and come back as an unfortunate silent victim of FGM at the hands of her family and community members in her parents’ home country.

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FGM – the facts

1. There are four types of FGM

Type 1: Clitoridectomy: the partial or total removal of the clitoris […] and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce […].

Type 2: Excision: […] the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora […], with or without excision of the labia majora […].

Type 3: Infibulation: […] the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy).

Type 4: […] all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

Source: WHO (2016)

Once a girl has been cut, for obvious reasons the procedure is irreversible – although she can be “unstitched”. “Unstitching” (deinfibulation) may occur to benefit the victim’s health, allow her to have sex or to help with childbirth (WHO, 2016). Girls are usually cut between the ages of infancy and 15 years old but FGM can also include adult women (ibid.).

2. Sex, urinating and childbirth can be incredibly painful and complicated for women who have been cut

There is also the risk of infection, cysts, death from blood loss, infertility and a higher risk of infant mortality concerning the death of newborn babies born from mothers who have been cut (WHO, 2016). For women who have undergone forms of FGM categorised as type three, periods and urinating are obviously particularly unpleasant and painful. Women also suffer from emotional and psychological issues such as depression and PTSD.

3. FGM is not a “medical procedure” but simply a means to control women biologically, emotionally, physically, socially and sexually

In communities where FGM is “the norm” or “prized”, “uncut” women are seen as “dirty” and potentially “promiscuous“. Cut women cannot expect sexual gratification from their husbands but are indeed expected to “perform their wifely duties” despite the pain involved in sexual intercourse and later in childbirth. Her body become solely his. There can be no soulful, spiritual, loving, emotional “oneness” between such two spouses – simply enslavement. However, within communities opinions on FGM differ and make no mistake – not all young (single) men are in favour of it.

4. FGM is a clear, gross violation of human rights

FGM violates 
women and girls’ right to life and physical integrity including freedom from violence (including torture) and the right to health, in direct contradiction to human rights legislation including:The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), The International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

5. The fight against FGM is working as the number of cases is decreasing but we need to keep on fighting!

Criminal legislation has already been introduced in a number of countries and further to this, new legislation in the UK for example aims at controlling parents and specifically stopping them from taking their children abroad if there is significant concern that the purpose is for “holiday cutting“. Doing so is a criminal offence – not just performing FGM itself within the UK for example. Whilst the UK for a long time has been slow on the issue of FGM within the UK and regarding criminal convictions, France for example has already made several convictions. States are taking action and the focus has shifted onto not merely where FGM is being practiced but where its victims are being brought from and how and where cutters are being aided.

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Campaigning – Join the fight against FGM

FGM has to stop and the fight must go on. So how can we get involved in eliminating this practice and helping its tragic victims?

There are already (as expected!) lots of bodies, people and organisations involved in this area. The Guardian has been running their End FGM Guardian Global Media Campaign for several years now. They were successful in their work supporting Fahma Mohamed – a young British Muslim who created a petition directed to UK Education Secretary Michael Gove asking him to raise awareness of FGM in schools. She successfully highlighted the issue on a global level. Her campaign was met with approval by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and her work sparked change. This all started with her collaboration with the UK NGO Integrate Bristol. Small steps lead to big things. Raising awareness and petitioning does work!

Here’s a few places to start:

  • If you are a teacher or you work closely with children – learn about FGM and speak to relevant staff and authorities if you are concerned about a child being at risk of FGM. Read and pass on the following info for UK based teachers
  • There is a free UK 24-hour NSPCC FGM helpline for those that need advice or to make referrals if you’re worried about a child being at risk. You can call 0800 028 3550 or email fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk. Contact the police or crime stopping services/agencies in your area if you in trouble or if you have to report abuse
  • If you’ve been a victim of FGM or worry you may be at risk – seek help and support from specialised organisations in your local area. Those in the UK can contact The Dahlia Project on 020 7281 8920 or 020 7281 7694 which helps victims of FGM. Services are free
  • A list of specialist FGM clinics in the UK is available here

FGM must stop. Such torture cannot carry on. Attitudes, beliefs and practices must change. Raise your voice and speak out in the fight to #EndFGM!

Sources and credits:

A list of sources and further information is available to download here

Image credits:

Amnesty International (feature image – edited), Dominik Gwarek, Jaime Cooper, Jeffrey Clairmont

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