The White House took a break from rallies for health care reform this week to issue a condemnation of human rights conditions in Cuba. U.S. President Barack Obama called the death of a hunger striker and repression of human rights activists as “deeply disturbing” in a March 24 statement. “These events underscore that instead of embracing an opportunity to enter a new era, Cuban authorities continue to respond to the aspirations of the Cuban people with a clenched fist,” he added. The president’s words—perhaps his harshest criticism of the Cuban government since taking office—come during a time of protests in Havana and Miami over recent attempts to silence a dissident group known as Las Damas de Blanco, or the Ladies in White.
The annual release of a report on human rights by the U.S. State Department is mandated by law, and the Bush administration is hardly the first to face uncomfortable questions about its qualifications to judge such issues. As usual, this year's report reviews progress and pitfalls around the world—not including the United States—and highlights major offenders. But senior officials acknowledged the report also comes at a time when Washington's own adherence to human rights principles is under fire.
The women’s rights movement in Pakistan suffered a blow (Australian) when a religious extremist recently shot and killed cabinet minister Zilla Huma Usman as she prepared to address a public meeting without a veil covering her face. A prominent rights activist, Usman had previously drawn the ire of conservative Muslims when she helped organize a mixed-gender marathon. Her assassination came within days of Pakistan’s Women’s Rights Day, as well as the proposal of the new Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill, which outlaws forced marriages (Daily Times) and strengthens women's right to inheritance.
When China won the bid to host the 2008 summer Olympics, it pledged to address environmental concerns, human rights grievances, and restrictive press laws. International Olympics Committee inspectors gave Beijing high marks when they held their first review (Reuters) of the city’s preparations in mid-January.
Arab militias known as Janjaweed have terrorized Darfur's African civilians with the backing of Sudan's government since 2003, despite international clamor against what the U.S. government and human rights groups call genocide. Peace negotiations between the Sudanese government and rebels teetered on the brink of collapse for nearly a week until Friday morning, when the Sudanese government and Sudanese Liberation Movement—the largest rebel faction—agreed to a deal called "a shaky foundation" by the Financial Times. The pact, which rebel leaders agreed to "with reservations," was brokered by U.S., British, and African Union (AU) mediators, including U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who rushed to the talks in Abuja, Nigeria after the sides failed to meet an April 30 deadline (AllAfrica.com). The history and main players of the Darfur crisis are explained in this CFR Background Q&A.
Cânân Arin casually shrugs when describing the occupational hazards of being a leading women's rights advocate in Turkey. A few years ago, Arin recalls, a doctor in Istanbul survived a beating from her husband that left her spine broken in three places. When Arin helped the doctor initiate divorce proceedings, the abuser came after her as well.
"He threatened me, he tried to bribe me, he tried everything against me because there was no way to break me," says Arin, a lawyer who has pioneered the movement to provide shelter and legal services for domestic violence victims in Turkey. An unfaltering, powerful woman of 63, Arin knew she was the last line of defense for the woman; her family had turned her away and her abuser had evaded jail by paying a $2 fine.
In the early 1980s, Oscar Torres (search) and the other boys in his neighborhood would clamber up to the corrugated tin roofs of their one-room shacks to hide from military officers, who forcibly recruited children as young as 12 years old to fight in El Salvador's civil war. Boys who did not become soldiers often fought for guerrilla forces.
"That was our daily life," recalls Torres, 34, who fled to the United States in 1984. "We didn't think it was anything extraordinary."
Two decades later, screenwriter Torres was initially reluctant when Mexican filmmaker Luis Mandoki encouraged him to co-write a script based on his war-torn childhood for the film "Innocent Voices," which is being released Friday in major U.S. cities.
"He asked me, 'Why me?'" said Mandoki. "But by the end he realized, 'It's not just about me.'"
Before the film's closing credits roll, statistics flash across the screen about child soldiers forced to fight for national militaries and rebel groups. Although more than 190 countries agree that a person legally becomes an adult at the age of 18, the United Nations estimates that 300,000 children under that age are engaged in as many as 30 conflicts around the globe, from Uganda to Colombia, from Sri Lanka to Sierra Leone.
"It's become like a global virus," said P.W. Singer, author of the book "Children of War" and national security fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.
Two summers ago, irma Vatric, a young Muslim survivor of the Bosnian conflicy, learned that her participation in a youth program would involve working alongside Serb teens to organize a field trip for orphans. She agreed to go but said she would not speak to the youth team leaders from "the other side."
"She ended up in a conversation with a Serb girl who had spend many years during the war in a basement, just as she had," said Kate Chumley, Bosnia Projects Co-Director for the Children's Movement for Creative Education (CMCE), based in New York City. "It was an emotional moment, and both felt like [reconciliation] is possible."
The Chilean Supreme Court's decision to try August Pinochet put human rights violators on notice that judgment may yet come knocking on their doors. Pinochet was formall charged in January with one murder and nine kidnappings in a lawsuit brought against him by victims' families.
Political debate over capital punishment is dividing New York state lawmakers. Governor George Pataki reinstated the death penalty in 1995 to fulfill a campaign promise, but in June the state's Court of Appeals ruled one of the sentencing guidelines unconstitutional.
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Don't feel bad if you didn't know that the United Nations International Decade of the World's Indigenous People ends in December. The United Nations is considering a repeat performance due to criticism it made little progress in advancing indigenous rights since 1995, although it did establish the Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues. Marcos Matias Alonso, a Mexican forum member of Nahuatl descent, referred to decade as a "relative failure."
When the Taliban was in power, most of the women who filmed Afghanistan Unveiled could barely leave their homes, let alone study or work. But in 2002, the young documentarians - some still teenagers - traveled across mountains, rivers, and deserts to make the first film by and about Afghan women.