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

‘When They Took Me Inside’ Syria’s Saydnaya Prison, ‘I Could Smell the Torture’

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Screenshot from ‘Inside Saydnaya’, Amnesty International’s video report of its findings. Source: Amnesty International (YouTube)

Written by: Joey Ayoub

At least 17,723 Syrians have died in custody since 2011, a new damning report by the international human rights group Amnesty International has revealed. The report, entitled “‘It Breaks The Human’: Torture, Disease and Death in Syria’s Prisons”, started of with what is common knowledge by now, namely that:

Torture and other ill-treatment have been perpetrated by the Syrian intelligence services and other state forces for decades, fostered by a culture of impunity that is reinforced by Syrian legislation. However, since the current crisis in Syria began in 2011, the situation has become catastrophic, with torture committed on a massive scale.

But one particular prison highlighted by Amnesty International’s report may be the most notorious of them all. In a Facebook post, the well-known Syrian intellectual and dissident in exile Yassin Al-Haj Saleh, who has himself spent 16 years in regime prisons for being a member of a communist pro-democracy group, described it as “the most horrible place on earth”. Eyal Weizman, director of theForensic Architecture agency of Goldsmiths, University of London, even told British newspaper the Guardian “that the building is, itself, an architectural instrument of torture.”

Al-Haj Saleh and Weizman are both referring to Saydnaya prison, a military prison facility located 30 kilometers north of Damascus. It was this prison that Amnesty International attempted to expose in collaboration with Forensic Architecture and backed by first-hand testimony of 65 torture survivors.

Their accounts bear witness to some of the horrors endured by dissidents of the regime inside Saydnaya since the start of the revolution in 2011. Tales of the many methods of torture, including rape, were featured in the short documentary ‘Inside Saydnaya’ released by Amnesty International to coincide with the publication of the report.

One man, named ‘Jamal A’ by Amnesty International to protect his identity, was arrested for helping civilians displaced by the fighting and sent to Saydnaya in October 2012, where he stayed until January 2014. He recalls:

When we first arrived, they put us all in the shower [area of the cell], on top of each other. We were naked of course. My penis was touching [a fellow detainee’s] back. I got cramp and had to move my leg, and my friend took the space that I made. Then I accidentally put my foot down on his penis. He screamed. For this, they were beating us with a steel bar on the front of the palms. I had had an operation on my hand earlier, and we told them [but] they just concentrated on that spot, and beat it harder. The surgery meant that I had 10 times the pain.

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Salam featured in ‘Inside Saydnaya’, Amnesty International’s video report of its findings. Source: Amnesty International YouTube

‘Salam’, a lawyer from Aleppo, was arrested in September 2011 and sent to Saydnaya from January 2012 to June 2014 for taking part in peaceful demonstrations. He told Amnesty International that he could ‘smell the torture’ as soon as he entered the prison:

When they took me inside the prison, I could smell the torture. It’s a particular smell of humidity, blood and sweat; it’s the torture smell. They took me three floors underground. There were seven of us after the beatings. We were taken into our cell. It was about 2.5 meters by 3 meters. There was a big wall at the end of the room with a hole. There is no shower, just a toilet. It’s dirty and wet; water is leaking from the roof of the cell. It’s totally dark; there is no light; you can’t even see the other people in the same room with you.

Another activist, ‘Shappal’, who advocated for the rights of Kurds in Syria, said he was repeatedly beaten while the guards yelled ‘Bashar is your God’, referring to Syria’s President Bashar al Assad, who has clung to power throughout the last five years of civil war:

They brought the food, but it was very little. They spent two hours beating us and saying ‘Bashar is your God’. They did the same for the detainees in the other solitary cells – we could hear them coming to us, cell by cell, and going down the row after us. Of course the other solitary [underground] cells were next to each other in a row, but the sound of beating was so loud that it could reach the sky.

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Screenshot from ‘Inside Saydnaya’, Amnesty International’s video report of its findings. Source: Amnesty International YouTube

‘A testimony to hold the mass-murdering Syrian regime accountable’

These testimonies follow a report released by the UN Commission of Inquiry in February 2016 in which the killings of detainees occurring between 10 March, 2011 and 30 November, 2015 were examined based on 621 interviews. It concluded:

Detainees held by the Government were beaten to death, or died as a result of injuries sustained due to torture. Others perished as a consequence of inhuman living conditions. The Government has committed the crimes against humanity of extermination, murder, rape or other forms of sexual violence, torture, imprisonment, enforced disappearance and other inhuman acts. Based on the same conduct, war crimes have also been committed.

In a statement released with the report, Philip Luther, the director at Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program, stressed that the international community, specifically the governments of Russia and the US, must commit to ending these practices

The international community, in particular Russia and the USA, which are co-chairing peace talks on Syria, must bring these abuses to the top of the agenda in their discussions with both the authorities and armed groups and press them to end the use of torture and other ill-treatment.

Speaking to Global Voices, Yassin Swehat, a Spanish-Syrian blogger, journalist and co-founder of the commentary site Al Jumhuriya, reflected:

Although Amnesty’s report does not contain new information for Syrians who have lived and are living under the threat of arrest every day, subjected to the mechanism of authoritarianism surrounding the issue of detentions, worsened by rampant corruption (to know the prisoner’s conditions, to locate him, to deliver clothes or medicine, or to know if he’s even alive), it is a very important report that documents how the second Assad era, the era of Bashar, created its private iconic prison that followed the iconic Tadmur prison of the first Assad era, the era of [Bashar’s father] Hafez al Assad.

Unfortunately, I worry that the fate of this report will be similar to the [2014] Caesar leaks [detailing the torture and execution of prisoners by Syrian authorities], as the world proved its indifference towards human rights violations practiced by the regime and its allies.

But this report is a very important document, and will have importance in the Syrian historical memory without a doubt, and I hope that it carries legal importance one day, like a testimony to hold the mass-murdering Syrian regime accountable.

Luna Watfa, the co-founder of Woman Organization for Syrian Prisoners and a former detainee herself, who spent 13 months in Syrian government prisons, asked her Twitter followers to read Amnesty’s report:

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The Committee to Protect Journalists took this opportunity to remind us of a journalist for Palestine Today, Bilal Ahmed Bilal, who died in December 2013, nearly two years after being sent to Saydnaya:

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Credits:

Article written by: Joey Ayoub, first published via Global Voices (19/08/2016)

Feature image: Surian Soosay

 

 

Torture and Transplants – China’s Bloody Secret

china-flag-1418969 (3).jpgWhen we hear about human rights, we often hear about China due to its poor human rights record. Whilst China is well known for a range of human rights abuses, its economy continues to grow and the State has been working on its international relations. President Xi Jinping visited the USA last September, followed by the UK in October and protesters drew attention to China’s human rights abuses. Indeed – it’s essential more than ever to bring China’s often bloody secrets (further) out of the closet.

One such ongoing issue that has been publicised but is not frequently in the media is that of China’s illegal organ harvesting. This tragic issue has many shocking elements: illegal imprisonment, torture, death, blood money, religious and ethnic oppression  in short… mass murder.

Organ transplants in China

China is the world’s second biggest organ transplant provider – with the USA at the top. However there are a variety of worrying factors regarding China’s:

  • High number of organ transplants: 10,000 per year
  • Incredibly low rate of voluntary organ donors due to cultural beliefs
  • Lack of a national organ donation or distribution system (supposedly until 2014)
  • Incredibly short waiting times: two to four weeks (according to 165 organ transplant centres)
  • Lack of laws allowing the use of organs from people who are brain dead or have undergone cardiac arrest
  • Lack of accountabilitytransparency and traceability according to the World Health Organisation‘s guidelines
  • Resistance to investigation
  • Duty to ethical organ donation which requires “voluntary and informed consent”

Sources: European Parliament (2013), Matas (2008)

In 1984, China introduced a law to allow transplants from executed prisoners. In 2005, Deputy Health Minister Huang Jiefu declared that 95% of organs used for transplants were sourced from executed prisoners (Sherif et al., 2014). However, following allegations of forced organ harvesting using imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners, Canadian human rights lawyer David Matas and former Canadian Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific David Kilgour were asked to investigate the issue by The Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of the Falun Gong in China (CIPFG) in 2006. Their report Bloody Harvest (2007) declared the allegations to be true: China is harvesting organs through the imprisonment of persecuted Falun Gong practitioners.

The anti-Falun Gong campaign

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Falun Gong (aka Falun Dafa) is a peaceful spiritual movement akin to Buddhism, founded in China by Li Hongzhi in 1984. It is now practised worldwide. In 1992, Falun Gong was officially recognised by the State and was given a permit to teach across the country. However, by 1996 problems began to arise with the Falun Gong movement and the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) political and economic demands. Censoring and harassment later started and by 1999 the CCP started its campaign to wipe out the practice and banned Falun Gong. Practitioners were beaten and taken to detention centres and an anti-Falun Gong media campaign began. The reason? Whilst the CCP has labelled Falun Gong as an “illegal cult” (see this Chinese non-governmental anti-cult website as an example), reasons cited are “fear” and “jealousy”.

As one of China’s persecuted religious minorities, the Falun Gong face discrimination in regards to work, finance and education, destitution and are forced into labour camps and “education centres” – facing imprisonment, various forms of torture and death – including: forced labourbeatings, burning, water torture, rape and sexual assault, brainwashing and worst of all since 2000: the unwilling removal of their organs and death.

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Harvesting high price human organs

The Matas-Kilgour report was first published in 2006 – in which roughly 20,000 organ transplants are reported to have taken place (2007, Sharif et al., 2014). Their research across China included:

  • Evidence from organ transplant/information centre websites (later closed down)
  • Donor recipient interviews
  • Information on corpses of imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners with missing organs
  • Telephone calls to hospitals/transplant centres

The following is taken from a phone call to Director Song at the Oriental Organ Transplant Centre in Tianjin City (2006):

N: Her doctor told her that the kidney is quite good because he [the supplier] practises …Falun Gong.

Song: Of course. We have all those who breathe and with heart beat…Up until now, for this year, we have more than ten kidneys, more than ten such kidneys.

N: More than ten of this kind of kidneys? You mean live bodies?

Song: Yes it is so.

Source: Matas and Kilgour (2007)

After being imprisoned, Falun Gong prisoners undergo specific medical tests (unlike other prisoners). When required they are “taken to surgery” – still conscious and under a low level of anesthetic Falun Gong prisoners’ organs are removed. Medics then place the bodies in a boiler/incinerator to remove all traces – the victim could be alive or dead at this stage. There have also been other cases of corpses being “collected” by so-called ” relatives”.

Confessions from medics and their families confirm claims involving Falun Gong practitioners and other persecuted minorities. Former Uyghur surgeon Enver Tohti declared he removed the organs of an executed Uyghur prisoner in 1995:

A moment later there were gun shots. Not one, but many. […] An armed police officer approached us and […] pointed to a corpse, saying ‘this is the one’.

[…] our chief surgeon [..] told me to remove the liver and two kidneys. […] we took the body into the van and removed his liver and kidneys. An operation to repair an organ is very difficult and takes a very long time to do, but this […] was an operation of extraction, so it was easy and quick.

Falun Gong and other persecuted minorities share the same fate. Not only have Falun Gong practitioners suffered but Uyghur (Muslim) and Tibetan prisoners have also been victims of forced organ transplants as well as House Christians (European Parliament, 2013).

Donor recipients were originally high ranking officials and their family members. Nowadays however, anybody from within and outside China with enough money can buy an organ. In 1996, The China International Transplantation Network Assistance Centre in Shenyang City advertised the following prices on its website (http://en.zoukiishoku.com/):

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Source: Matas and Kilgour (2007) – website archive

National and overseas donor recipients from countries such as Taiwan are paying for nothing more than state murder with huge revenues.

Although Matas and Kilgour (2007) acknowledged the potential difficulty in proving or disproving the allegations due to a lack of corpses, freedom of speech in China and information from the State, their conclusion from their research was that the allegations were true. Author Ethan Gutmann in his 2014 book “The Slaughter” declared that between 2000-2008, organs were harvested from: 65,000 Falun Gong practitioners and 2,000 – 4,000 Uyghurs, Tibetans or House Christians and Kilgour has confirmed that human organ trafficking in China is ongoing today.

In 2014 China claimed to have introduced a new computerized system including organs of both voluntary donations (following a Red Cross scheme introduced in 2010) and those of executed prisoners but this excludes prisoners of conscience and the fact that China had previously declared it would stop using organs belonging to executed prisoners (Sharif et al., 2014).

Human rights abuses

China is abusing a number of universal human rights, including: the right to lifereligious freedom and freedom from torture. Whilst the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – supported by China – is not legally binding, some of the very few international human rights conventions that China has ratified and consequential legal violations are:

These conventions establish a variety of rights including: freedom from torture and “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health” (ICESCR, Art.12).

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The ongoing campaign

Despite investigations, reports and the ratification a number of human rights conventions, 15 years later this tragedy is ongoing. So what can we do to stop this brutality? Well for starters, how many of your friends, family members and acquaintances know about this shocking reality? The first time I heard about it myself was in London in China Town just a few years ago. There is a mountain of information online and various NGOs involved in research and campaigning such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and the organisation Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH) who launched a petition to the United Nations in 2013.

To take action, you can:

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  • Raise awareness – blog, Tweet, share, give a talk, street campaign
  • Sign the Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting petition to the UN
  • Sign the Friends of Falun Gong petition to the US Secretary of State (US and non-US residents)
  • Sign the Stop Organ Harvesting in China petition (US residents only)
  • Donate your time/money to relevant NGOs

It’s crucial that Falun Gong practitioners, Muslims, Christians and Tibetans be free from persecution. The Tibetan struggle is ongoing, religious discrimination and persecution is increasing towards Uyghur Muslims and House Christians and the issue of forced organ harvesting has not disappeared even if the media remains rather quiet.

Get signing and get shouting!

Salam!

Sources and further information:

*Images from FreeImages.com shares under a Creative Commons licence