Roger’s note: I am thankful that I don’t have to spend up to thirty five years in prison. I cannot begin to imagine what that would be like. Chelsea Manning apparently has not been bowed by the draconian and vengeful punishment loaded upon her by the criminal United States military. A profile in courage.
Nov. 25, 2013, Time
I’m usually hesitant to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. After all, the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony systematically terrorized and slaughtered the very same Pequot tribe that assisted the first English refugees to arrive at Plymouth Rock. So, perhaps ironically, I’m thankful that I know that, and I’m also thankful that there are people who seek out, and usually find, such truths. I’m thankful for people who, even surrounded by millions of Americans eating turkey during regularly scheduled commercial breaks in the Green Bay and Detroit football game; who, despite having been taught, often as early as five and six years old, that the “helpful natives” selflessly assisted the “poor helpless Pilgrims” and lived happily ever after, dare to ask probing, even dangerous, questions.
Such people are often nameless and humble, yet no less courageous. Whether carpenters of welders; retail clerks or bank managers; artists or lawyers, they dare to ask tough questions, and seek out the truth, even when the answers they find might not be easy to live with.
I’m also grateful for having social and human justice pioneers who lead through action, and by example, as opposed to directing or commanding other people to take action. Often, the achievements of such people transcend political, cultural, and generational boundaries. Unfortunately, such remarkable people often risk their reputations, their livelihood, and, all too often, even their lives.
For instance, the man commonly known as Malcolm X began to openly embrace the idea, after an awakening during his travels to the Middle East and Africa, of an international and unifying effort to achieve equality, and was murdered after a tough, yearlong defection from the Nation of Islam. Martin Luther King Jr., after choosing to embrace the struggles of striking sanitation workers in Memphis over lobbying in Washington, D.C., was murdered by an escaped convict seeking fame and respect from white Southerners. Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician in the U.S., was murdered by a jealous former colleague. These are only examples; I wouldn’t dare to make a claim that they represent an exhaustive list of remarkable pioneers of social justice and equality—certainly many if not the vast majority are unsung and, sadly, forgotten.
So, this year, and every year, I’m thankful for such people, and I’m thankful that one day—perhaps not tomorrow—because of the accomplishments of such truth-seekers and human rights pioneers, we can live together on this tiny “pale blue dot” of a planet and stop looking inward, at each other, but rather outward, into the space beyond this planet and the future of all of humanity.
Chelsea Manning, formerly named Bradley, is serving a 35-year prison sentence at Fort Leavenworth for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
Roger’s note; The U.N.vote against U.S. embargo against Cuba: the United States and Israel against the rest of the world. A metaphor for today’s geopolitical reality. And the Ambassadors justification for the embargo “to encourage respect for the civil and human rights.” Does the phrase “supreme hypocrisy” ring a bell?
At the symbolic vote on Tuesday for the resolution called “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba,” 188 members of the 193-member body voted for the resolution.
The U.S. was joined only by Israel in voting against the resolution. There were three abstentions—Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.
“The US policy against Cuba is suffering from an absolute international isolation and discredit and lacks every ethical or legal ground,” said Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla.
“Our small island poses no threat to the national security of the superpower,” he said. “The human damages caused by the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba are incalculable.”
“Seventy-six percent of Cubans have lived under its devastating effects since the day they are born,” he added.
Ambassador Ronald Godard, U.S. Senior Area Advisor for Western Hemisphere Affairs, defendend the embargo, saying, “Our sanctions policy toward Cuba is just one of the tools in our overall effort to encourage respect for the civil and human rights consistent with the Universal Declaration, to which the United Nations itself is committed.”
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ROGER’S NOTE: WHEN I READ ABOUT AMERICA’S TORTURE CHAMBERS (AND I DO NOT PUT THAT PHRASE IN QUOTATION MARKS) AND THE NEARLY 100,000 MOSTLY BLACK, LATINO AND FIRST NATIONS PEOPLES BEING TORTURED DAILY, I THINK OF THE AMERICAN MEDIA AND POLITICAL CULTURE AND ITS SELF-RIGHTEOUS, ARROGANT AND HYPOCRITICAL SERMONIZING ABOUT THE SOVIET GULAG OR THE NAZI CONCENTRATION CAMPS. I WANT YOU TO IMAGINE THAT THE AVERAGE TIME FOR AN AMERICA PRISONER IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IS SEVEN AND A HALF YEARS WHEN THE UNITED NATIONS ETHICAL STANDARD IS FIFTEEN DAYS MAXIMUM.
He has not had human contact or a good night’s sleep in nearly three decades. Every single day, he wakes to the sound of metal doors clanging open and a pair of disembodied hands pushing a tray of food through a slot into his 64-square-foot cell.
L to R: Kimberly Richardson (of the Peoples Institute for Survival), Robert King (who spent 31 years in isolation), and Theresa Shoatz, whose father Russell Maroon Shoatz is also in long-term solitary confinement. (Credit: Ann Harkness/cc by 2.0)
For the next 23 hours, he will stare at the same four walls. If he is lucky, he’ll be escorted, shackled at his ankles and wrists, into a “yard” – an enclosure only slightly larger than his cell – for an hour of solitary exercise.
This is how Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, a prisoner in the restricted housing unit at the State Correctional Institute (SCI) Frackville in northern Pennsylvania, has spent the past 22 consecutive years.
On Thursday, Shoatz’s lawyers submitted a communication to Juan E. Mendez, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, urging him to inquire into why a “father, grandfather and great grandfather” is being held in extreme isolation despite having a near-perfect disciplinary record for over 20 years.
The appeal comes on the heels of a surge in public debate on the practice of solitary confinement in the United States, where on any given day an estimated 81,000 men, women and children are held in some form of “restricted housing” unit, according to Federal Bureau of Justice statistics.
Authorities in each state have a myriad of euphemisms for the practice: administrative segregation, secure housing units (SHUs), “supermax” facilities, protective custody. Whatever the language, critics say the basic conditions remain the same: extreme isolation and sensory deprivation for years at a time.
According to a 2012 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the restrictions imposed in “maximum security” facilities often “exceed the fathomable. In Pennsylvania’s most restrictive units, for example, prisoners have all the usual supermax deprivations plus some that seem gratuitously cruel: they are not permitted to have photographs of family members or newspapers and magazines.”
Mendez has already affirmed that holding a human being in isolation for a period exceeding 15 days constitutes a violation of the U.N. Convention Against Torture (CAT).
Back in 2011, his office called for a complete global ban on the use of solitary confinement “except in the most extreme circumstances and for as short a time as possible”, citing numerous studies – some dating back decades, others as recent as Amnesty International’s 2012 report ‘The Edge of Endurance’ – that have documented the long-lasting psychological impacts resulting from even a few days of social separation.
This past August, a hunger strike involving over 30,000 prisoners protesting conditions in restricted housing units at the Pelican Bay State Prison in California prompted the rapporteur to make an urgent appeal to the U.S. government to “eliminate the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement under all circumstances”, stressing that the average U.S. prisoners banished to the hole typically stays there roughly 7.5 years – “far beyond what is acceptable under international human rights law.”
Harold Engel, an attorney with over 43 years of experience and a retired partner of the global corporate law firm Reed Smith, said he co-signed the appeal Thursday in the hopes that an investigation undertaken by the office of the special rapporteur, housed at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, will bring an end to indefinite isolation.
“I first became involved in this case because my daughter told me about Shoatz’s situation and I found it abhorrent,” Engel told IPS.
“As I learned more I realised there wasn’t any clear law on the question of whether keeping someone in solitary confinement under conditions that Shoatz has been kept in violates the eighth amendment of the U.S. constitution [prohibiting the government from imposing cruel and unusual punishment] – which, in my opinion, it does.”
Speaking to IPS under condition of anonymity, an inmate who spent several years in solitary confinement in a Pennsylvania prison before being released back into the general population said his life was measured out in a series of arbitrary numbers: he was permitted one hour of exercise on five days out of the week; he was allowed three meals a day but zero contact visits with his family. His cell contained a single cot and one steel sink. Showers were taken thrice weekly, overseen by guards.
“Getting through each day felt like hewing a single stone from a mountain of despair,” he said.
Bret Grote, an activist who has worked for over six years with the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) – an advocacy group comprised predominantly of prisoners’ families, ex-prisoners and their supporters – says he and others have documented “hundreds upon hundreds of instances of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment inside the solitary confinement units of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC).”
“The approximately 2,500 prisoners warehoused in solitary by the PA DOC are held in units where physical abuse, psychological deterioration, retaliation for exercising constitutionally-protected rights, food deprivation, extreme social isolation, severely reduced environmental stimulation, theft and destruction of property, obstruction of access to the courts, and racist abuse are normative features,” Grote told IPS.
As Shoatz’s lawyers await an official response from the U.N. rapporteur, they are holding out hope that a full investigation into his case could also bring some respite for the tens of thousands of others enduring such conditions.
And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
Ecosystemsin the Ecuadorian Amazon have been contaminated with by-products of oil extraction
Tomorrow, October 15, a landmark trial opens in federal court in New York City: Chevron Corp v. Steven Donziger et al., one of the world’s largest oil companies against the attorneys and advocates who represent the 30,000 “Lago Agrio Plaintiffs.” The case is the latest in a long and often tragic saga of the Ecuadorian victims struggle for justice.
I am writing this because I don’t want the real issue to be forgotten. The Ecuadorian communities are fighting for justice for the human rights violations and environmental crimes committed by Texaco between 1971 and 1992 in the Northern Ecuadorian Amazon. Since 1993 these Ecuadorian victims have been seeking relief in the largest environmental lawsuit in Latin America to date.
In 2003 I visited the affected communities in the Ecuadorian provinces of Orellana and Succumbios, and I have long supported them in their quest for justice.
Bianca Jagger by an oil pit, Ecuador, 2003I am not writing as an apologist of the legal team, nor am I condoning their behavior — but I feel the need to speak up on behalf of the Ecuadorian victims who may now never get the justice they deserve. It’s critical that Judge Lewis Kaplan, the media, and the public at large don’t lose sight of the real issue.
Between 1971 and 1992, Texaco embarked upon reckless oil exploration, pumping 1.5 billion barrels of oil from Ecuador. Texaco carved more than 350 oil wells in a rainforest area roughly three times the size of Manhattan and dumped approximately 16.5 billion gallons of oil-contaminated water into unlined pits — one and a half times the amount spilled by the oil tanker Exxon Valdez. When Texaco left Ecuador in 1992, it left behind 916 unlined open toxic waste pits, some just a few feet from the homes of residents. Leeching of highly toxic wastewater byproducts of oil extraction from these pits contaminated the entire groundwater and ecosystem in one of the world’s most valuable rainforests. As there is no running water in the region families, including thousands of children, have no alternative but to drink, bathe, and cook with poisoned water from streams, rivers, lagoons and swamps that have been contaminated by Texaco.
U.S. states have laws requiring that pits have impermeable liners. Louisiana and Texas, two major oil-producing states, passed such laws in the 1930s. Texaco must have been aware of the dire consequences of leaving unlined pits exposed — they made a calculated decision, based on profit. The company saved an estimated $3 per barrel of oil produced by handling its toxic waste in Ecuador in ways that were unthinkable and illegal in the US. The cost to the human population is immeasurable. Ecosystems have been destroyed, diseases have proliferated, crops have been damaged, farm animals killed.
During my visits to the affected communities in 2003, I was appalled at the evidence of the consequences of direct exposure to these toxic waters. The suffering and environmental devastation I witnessed is not a fabrication, or a fiction. There is a toxic legacy left by Texaco for present and future generations.
In May 1995, three years after Texaco left Ecuador, the Republic of Ecuador and Texaco reached a settlement regarding Texaco’s obligations to clean up a percentage of the well sites roughly corresponding to its percentage ownership in the consortium that made money from the drilling. Ecuador’s state-owned oil company, PetroEcuador, was the 62.5 percent majority owner of that consortium from 1976 to 1992, so Texaco was required to clean up only a minority of the well sites. The settlement would later form part of Chevron’s claims that the case had been settled. It did not, however, extinguish the claims of individual third parties, or affect the rights of the communities affected by Texaco’s actions. Certainly the “clean up” undertaken by Texaco was limited and has made no material difference to the lives of the Ecuadorian communities.
Ecosystems contaminated by Texaco’s activities in Ecuador.
The Texaco disaster culminated in the largest environmental lawsuit in Latin America to date; brought by 30,000 plaintiffs from the Ecuadorean Amazon. They filed a billion dollar class action against Texaco in New York. Texaco moved to dismiss the U.S. lawsuit on forum non conveniens grounds. In 2002 the court granted Texaco’s motion, and the case moved to Ecuador on the condition that the company stop using an expiration of the statute of limitations as a defence and that any judgment be enforceable in the U.S. Among the plaintiffs are five indigenous tribes, the Cofán, Siona, Secoya, Kichwa and Huaorani.
The Ecuadorian Amazon in the wake of Texaco.
Chevron acquired Texaco in 2001. Unlike the Exxon Valdez and the Deepwater Horizon accidents, where Exxon and BP, respectively, took some responsibility for their negligence, Chevron has successfully managed to move the case outside of the U.S. because it provided them with two options: to rig the judicial system in a foreign country, or to dodge its responsibility by not recognizing the validity of the verdict if it was not in their favor.
In February 2011, Judge Nicolas Zambrano issued a final verdict, ordering Chevron to pay $18.5 billion to the Ecuadorian plaintiffs. But as Chevron has no holdings in Ecuador, the plaintiffs have been unable to collect that judgement.
Chevron has paid more than $400 million to an army of lawyers to help the company avoid payment and spent over $100 million in lobbying firms to influence U.S. lawmakers and government officials to affect Ecuador’s trade with the U.S., and to discredit Ecuador, its government and legal system. Chevron has even been lobbying Congress and the U.S. Trade Representative not to renew Ecuador’s Most Favored Nation status, which expired on July 31, 2013.
Even prior to the 2011 Ecuadoran ruling, the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, representing Chevron, was shifting the case physically, from Ecuador to New York, from pollution and human rights to attorney ethics.
Gibson Dunn won U.S. court orders forcing the makers of the feature documentary CRUDE to turn over 600 hours of raw footage on the Ecuadorean case in 2010. This footage apparently shows an attorney for the Ecuadorian communities, recounting how he has put pressure on Ecuadorian judges. Now Chevron has accused the attorney of fraud and racketeering — of attempting to obtain the settlement for his own personal benefit, and brought the civil lawsuit against the trial lawyers and consultants for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs.
Chevron brought three collateral actions against the Ecuador judgment in a New York federal court, all overseen by Judge Lewis Kaplan, who has a puzzling attitude toward the case. The Ecuadorians asked that Judge Kaplan be recused from the case in 2011. In their writ of Mandamus the Ecuadorians expressed their concern at the Judge’s language — referring to them as the “so-called Lago Agrio plaintiffs,” and in one written order, describes them as “a number of indigenous peoples said to reside in the Amazon rainforest.”
On Jan. 26, 2012, a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Judge Kaplan previously overstepped his authority when he tried to ban enforcement around the world of the $18.5 billion judgement against Chevron Inc. for environmental damage in Ecuador. But Chevron has retaliated.
Which brings us back to the suit that begins tomorrow, October 15, in a federal district court in New York, once again before Judge Kaplan. In order to avoid a trial by jury Chevron has dropped their claims for damages against the defendants. There is a massive imbalance of power and resources between the two sides. Unlike Chevron, the defense has scant resources — as demonstrated by this motion by Julio Gomez, which asks that the trial schedule reflect the fact that
My firm has no funds to hire an associate, a paralegal or even an assistant to help me through trial given the fact that I have insufficient funds to cover outstanding bills – much less fees going into trial. I have not even been able to contract the two assistants who aided me temporarily with the filing of Defendants’ draft pre-trial submissions in August.
Chevron has also subpoenaed nine years’ worth of email metadata — from September 2003 to 2012 — from 101 email accounts belonging to people with connections to the case. Data requested includes names, time stamps, and detailed location data and login info. Judge Kaplan granted this subpoena in September 2013. According to Mother Jones, this strays dangerously close to violation of First Amendment rights.
The Republic of Ecuador is also seeking leave to intervene to protect the confidentiality of privileged documents which appear to have made their way into Chevron’s suit without explanation.
The case of the Ecuadorians is being lost in a legal labyrinth. Avenues of legal recourse are being closed off, so that the victims have nowhere to turn.
The $18.5 billion judgement in favor of the Ecuadorian plaintiffs should have been historic, a landmark, a precedent for ending impunity for powerful multinational corporations in the developing world and achieving justice. It was a beacon of hope. But after 20 years of long, hard battle, I am beginning to have serious doubts as to whether the victims in Ecuador will ever be compensated.
The Ecuadorian communities were the victims of exploitation by a multinational corporation, Texaco. Their lives, and that of their children, are affected by the toxic waters that leaked into water sources on which they are dependent. This is the real issue, and it is a story that is all too common throughout the developing world. With their legal team on trial, who will pursue justice for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs now?
I appeal to Judge Kaplan, to the media, and to the public at large — please don’t forget what is at stake here. Don’t let this legal imbroglio eclipse the issues which are really at the heart of this case: human rights, justice and environmental protection.
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Bianca Jagger is a prominent international human rights and climate change advocate. She is the Founder and Chair of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador, Member of the Executive Director’s Leadership Council of Amnesty International USA, Trustee of the Amazon Charitable Trust, and on the advisory board of the Creative Coalition. For over 30 years, Bianca Jagger has campaigned for human rights, social and economic justice and environmental protection throughout the world.
Overrides law banning such aid; critics charge ‘Obama becoming an expert at waiving human rights laws’
- Sarah Lazare, staff writer
President Obama pictured in 2009 (Photog: Mark Wilson/Getty)
Amid the hoopla of the government shutdown, the White House quietly passed a bill Monday that overrides a law banning military aid to countries that use child soldiers.
The Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 prohibits the U.S. government from providing military assistance to countries that directly use, or support the use of, child soldiers. Built into the law is an option allowing the U.S. president to override the ban if he/she deems it necessary.
On Monday, President Obama issued complete waivers to Yemen, Chad, and South Sudan, opening up those countries to U.S. military aid despite their known use of child soldiers, declaring in a written memorandum it is “in the national interest of the United States” to override the ban.
Obama also granted partial waivers to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia to allow “International Military Education and Training” and “nonlethal” defense for both countries and “provision of assistance under the Peacekeeping Operations authority for logistical support and troop stipends” in Somalia. According to Think Progress writer Hayes Brown, these waivers open the door for military aid for ongoing “peacekeeping” operations in both these countries.
“Obama is becoming an expert at waiving human rights laws,” writes Ken Hanly in Digital Journal. “He waived part of a law last month that banned the US from supplying lethal aid to terrorist groups so he could send aid to Syrian rebels. In the case of Egypt, Obama has refused to call the coup by the armed forces a coup and by doing so does not run afoul of a law that would ban aid to a country where there had been a military coup.”
“Human rights are to be promoted but only insofar as they do not conflict with US national interest as understood by the president,” he added.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government has come under criticism for filling its own military ranks with hundreds of thousands of teenagers, including 17-year-olds who can enlist with parental consent.
Ignored by English-language media, rural uprisings spread across industries as hundreds of thousands protest US-backed govt
- Sarah Lazare, staff writer
Protests in Sincelejo (Photo: Marcha Patriotica)
A nationwide strike in Colombia—which started as a rural peasant uprising and spread to miners, teachers, medical professionals, truckers, and students—reached its 7th day Sunday as at least 200,000 people blocked roads and launched protests against a U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement and devastating policies of poverty and privatization pushed by US-backed right-wing President Juan Manuel Santos.
“[The strike is a condemnation] of the situation in which the Santos administration has put the country, as a consequence of its terrible, anti-union and dissatisfactory policies,” declared the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT), the country’s largest union, in a statement.
The protests and strikes, largely ignored in the English-language media, have been met with heavy crackdown from Colombia’s feared police, with human rights organization Bayacareporting shootings, torture, sexual assault, severe tear-gassing, arbitrary arrests, and other abuses on the part of state agents. Colombia’s Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon recently claimed that the striking workers are being controlled by the “terrorist” Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in a country known for using unverified claims of FARC connections as an excuse to launch severe violence against social movements.
“Violent clashes continue in rural areas where farmers and truck drivers have been setting up roadblocks since Monday, and the Santos administration has deployed 16,000 additional military personnel to ‘control the situation,’” Neil Martin of the Colombia-based labor solidarity organization Paso International told Common Dreams Sunday. “There have not been deaths reported in relation to this violence, but human rights organizations and YouTube videos have documented military personnel beating protestors, stealing supplies, carrying out vandalism unwarranted arrests, and generally inciting violence.”
Protesters are levying a broad range of concerns about public policies that devastate Colombia’s workers, indigenous, and Afro-Colombian communities. The US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement has forced small farmers to compete with subsidized US products, made them more vulnerable to market fluctuations, and eroded their protections and social safety nets through the implementation of neoliberal policies domestically. Farmers are demanding more protections and services in a country beset with severe rural poverty.
Meanwhile, the Colombian government is handing out sweetheart deals to international mining companies while creating bans and roadblocks for Colombian miners. Likewise, the government is giving multinational food corporations access to land earmarked for poor Colombians. Healthcare workers are fighting a broad range of reforms aimed at gutting and privatizing Colombia’s healthcare system. Truckers are demanding an end to low wages and high gas prices.
“This is the third or fourth large-scale non-military rural uprising this year,” Martin told Common Dreams.
Colombian workers organizing to improve their lives are met with an onslaught of state violence: Colombia is the deadliest country in the world for union activists, according to the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, and 37 activists were murdered in Colombia in the 1st half of 2013 alone, leading news weekly Semana reports.
Santos, who says he refuses to negotiate while the strikes are taking place, has so far been unsuccessful in his efforts to quell the swelling protests that are paralyzing much of the country, particularly in rural areas.
“[W]e just want solutions to our problems,” Javier Correa Velez, the head of a coffee-growers association called Dignidad Cafetera, told the Miami Herald. “The strike is simply a symptom of an illness that the entire agriculture sector is suffering from.”
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Today in Switzerland: more than 50 All Out members delivered our petition of over 322,000 names from around the world to the International Olympic Committee.
In fewer than 200 days, Russia will host the Winter Olympics. Their anti-gay laws are fuelling terrible violence and murders across the country and they fly in the face of the Olympic values of friendship and respect.
That’s why we gathered at Olympics HQ today to ask the Olympic Committee to speak out against Russia’s anti-gay crackdown, face-to face.
The Olympic Committee hasn’t hosted such a gathering before! Their Director of Communications accepted the massive petition and held a long meeting with us.
He listened to our concerns and announced that the Olympic Committee has now asked for the Russian government to state in writing that no athletes or visitors will be persecuted because they are gay. That shows they’re feeling our pressure to do more – but it’s not enough.
We’re going to keep asking the Olympic Committee to be a true guardian of Olympic values, by speaking out against the Russian anti-gay crackdown. The International Association of Athletics Federations spoke out today – it’s time for the Olympics to follow.
Today the 1.8 millionth member joined All Out, and together we did something really important for people power. We showed the biggest world leader in sport that we’re not just anonymous names on the internet. We’re real people and we want them to speak out for love and equality.
Right now, we’re figuring out the next things we can do together to persuade the Olympic Committee to speak out. If we can do it, it will build the pressure on President Putin to stop the anti-gay crackdown. So watch out for the next call to action!
Thanks for going All Out,
Andre, Guillaume, Hayley, Jeremy, Joe, Marie, Mike, Tile, and the rest of the All Out team.
PS: Recently, more than 3,738 All Out members chipped in for a fighting fund to power the campaign. That meant we could send some of our team to Switzerland to deliver the petition in person. There’s so much more to do – and it’s not too late to help by chipping in to support All Out. Click here to donate: https://www.allout.org/donate
Roger’s note: As a life-long Latin Americanist I have taken a deep interest in the Honduras coup and have posted several analyses. What is particularly of interest and concern to me has been the role of (former) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (and likely Democratic Party standard bearer in 2016). Her foreign policy stance towards Bolivia, Ecuador and especially Venezuela represents a continuation of the Bush Administration’s and the United States’ historic hegemonic relationship with Latin America, dating from the days of the Monroe Doctrine. But the role she played in legitimizing the military coup against the democratically elected Zelaya government, takes us back to the days of gun boat diplomacy, albeit using surrogate gun boats (and one is reminded of the white washing of the coup that has just happened in Egypt). The allies of the Clinton family and the Democratic party have had a direct role in supporting the illegitimate Honduran regime. Here is one link: http://prospect.org/article/our-man-honduras.
Published on Tuesday, August 6, 2013 by Al-Jazeera
Dams funded by foreign investors are threatening the cultural heritage and livelihood of Honduras indigenous peoples.
On July 3, Hondurans demonstrate demanding a halt to crime and violence. (Photo: EPA)
It is all too easy for one’s eyes to glaze over at the headlines of yet another murder in Honduras, the country that earned the dubious moniker of the world’s murder capital. Forty-nine year-old Tomas Garcia was shot dead on July 15, just one of thousands of victims. Violence marches on unabated as observers become desensitised to the mounting human toll, comforted by the illusion that the carnage is associated with, and perhaps even justified by anti-social behaviour, a convenient misconception that provides a buffer between us and the grief for the fallen.
Yet Garcia’s murder is not the result of unrestrained gang or narcotrafficking violence, corruption or random crime, and its inclusion as a statistic obscures his murder’s political motivation and the tragedy it leaves in its wake. The unarmed Lenca indigenous community leader was shot at close range in front of a crowd of witnesses. Garcia’s 17-year-old son Allan was seriously injured. The act was not random but was instead part of a pattern of systematic and calculated repression by Honduran authorities.
Garcia was killed because he stood at the front of a peaceful protest against the Agua Zarca hydro-electric dam, which is largely financed by foreign investors and threatens the cultural heritage and livelihood of his community. Well aware of the danger he faced but unable to turn away from his community’s struggle, Garcia’s courageous stand leaves his widow to care for their seven children.
His assassination was preceded by escalating intimidation – threats and harassment, and menacing security personnel. Garcia’s community is resisting the hydro-electric project that was enticed by Honduras’s “open for business” slogan engineered in the wake of the coup that deposed democratically-elected president Mel Zelaya.
Indigenous communities have been objecting to the illegal sale of their territory to transnational companies who seek to extract profits by harnessing and privatising communally-owned water. Yet in September 2010, the Honduran National Congress awarded 41 hydroelectric dam concessions, during a time when the government of Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo’s legitimacy was still questioned by the majority of Latin American governments.
A month later, a coalition of indigenous groups, including members of the Tulupanes, Pech, Miskito, Maya-Chortis, Lenca and Garifuna peoples, convened a meeting to organise in resistance to the illegal concessions, many of which were granted on indigenous territory without proper consultation and consent of the groups.
These omissions violate International Labor Organization Convention 169, which requires that “Consultation with indigenous peoples should be undertaken through appropriate procedures, in good faith, and through the representative institutions of these peoples” and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous groups have also noted that various international mechanisms designed to address climate change have contributed to the exploitation and degradation of the land for which they have served as rightful and responsible stewards for generations. These include the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism and the Program of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD). The rights of indigenous communities to prior informed consultation and consent are being bulldozed, just like their ancestral land.
The Agua Zarca Dam project in Garcia’s community is one of the disputed concessions, part of four interconnected dams along the Gualcarque River. The project is coordinated by a partnership between the Honduran company Desarrollos Energeticos S.A. (DESA), which owns the concession, and the Sinohydro Corporation of China, which seeks to develop the hydro-electric power. The web of investor friendly legislation and support from the Lobo administration empowers the companies to violate human rights with impunity. According to Berta Caceres, General Coordinator of the indigenous coalition COPINH (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations) that seeks to defend indigenous territories, the companies are supported and protected by the Honduran security forces.
Lenca residents of Rio Blanco claim that the dam threatens to degrade the surrounding environment, deplete the local water supply, diminish their livelihood and destroy the spiritual connection to the land that is foundational to the community’s history and survival. The Lenca communities are engaging in peaceful resistance to the construction by blocking the access road, action that has drawn a swift and brutal response from the government, along with a campaign to vilify the protestors.
The conflict escalated on May 23, when police ended 50 days of peaceful community resistance by forcibly removing protestors. A day later, the repression took an ominous turn when Caceres was arrested on the spurious charge of illegally possessing a weapon, shortly after she criticised the police eviction action. Although the charge was provisionally dropped following an international outcry, the local prosecutor is appealing the dismissal, and the case is far from over.
Business friendly, taken to an extreme
The Lobo administration signaled its embrace of a neoliberal development model when it convened an economic conference in May 2011, entitled “Honduras is Open for Business”. The government sought to reassure investors that risks would be minimised and profits maximised, promising unprecedented access to the country’s exploitable resources, many of which are located within indigenous territory that is subject to the protection of various international protection schemes. The intervening years have witnessed an ambitious and far-reaching legislative agenda that gives primacy to corporate rights.
Human rights observers fear that the recently passed “Law for the Promotion of Development and Reconversion of the Public Debt” will only intensify the exploitation of resources for the benefit of foreign investors and the country’s own economic elites and exacerbate the illegal dispossession of indigenous and campesino communities. The law authorises the Lobo administration to employ the nation’s natural territory and the “idle” resources it contains as collateral to investors who can then exploit concessions for future profits.
Critics of the law note that it was pushed through with little debate and even less transparency, as the details of implementation remain shrouded in secrecy. Observers contextualise the rush to pass the law in advance of November’s national presidential election as a bold effort to entrench protections for business interests, fearing that Xiomara Castro, wife of deposed president Mel Zelaya, and head of the newly formed Libre party will implement democratic reforms. President Lobo has tacitly acknowledged as much in recent days, opining that a Libre party victory would be a disaster that would not be well received by the business community.
The Rio Blano conflict is emblematic of broader struggle
Similar struggles are percolating across Honduras as the dispossessed seek to protect their livelihoods and their lands from the agro – and business oligarchs who partner with the military and police in meting out repression for acts of resistance to their absolute power. In the Bajo Aguan, over a hundred campesinos have been killed resisting eviction by agro-oligarchs led by Dinant Corporation’s Miguel Facusse.
The Afro-Indigenous Garifuna people along the Caribbean coast are struggling to protect their land from ecotourism and “model cities” that will strip local control and displace ancestral communities. Human rights defenders are criminalised throughout a country with a notoriously corrupt judicial system that consistently fails to vindicate their rights.
This repression reinforces centuries of historical exploitation and suffering, but occurs in the context of a surprisingly vibrant and resilient popular movement struggling for a more inclusive, participatory and egalitarian future for Honduras. As with the rest of Latin America, foreign influence is ubiquitous, and should be held to account.
International financial institutions, including multilateral development banks, provide development aid and impose structural adjustment policies that advance the neoliberal agenda. Governments provide aid to military and police who have supported the economic and political status quo and have been complicit in the repression. Counter-narcotics efforts are increasingly militarised, and private foreign investors demand obscenely favourable conditions and returns, irrespective of the human costs.
Hondurans deserve a brighter future, free from unfettered repression, intractable corruption, stark inequality and pervasive poverty. The international community must stand in solidarity with the Honduran popular movement and its courageous leaders and demand that the country’s future be determined by the free, democratic and fair election of a government that advances the interests and rights of all Hondurans, not just its economic and political elites.
The US military has no plan to close the infamous Bagram prison in Afghanistan—often referred to as the “other Guantanamo“—despite claims it is winding down the US-led war in Afghanistan.
“Is there a plan [to close the prison]? No,” Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, told the Washington Post in a report published Monday.
Top officials admitted a few weeks ago that there is no end in sight to the prison. “Our impression is that Bagram will remain open even after U.S. combat operations cease in December 2014,” Pentagon spokesperson Todd Breasseale toldRolling Stone in late July.
In March, approximately 3,000 Afghan inmates were handed over to the Afghan authorities, who in exchange gave the US permission to continue running the prison for “third party nationals.”
Despite widely publicized claims that the US handed over control of the prison to Afghan authorities, the US in fact maintains a powerful role at the prison and complete control over the 67 non-Afghan prisoners, two thirds of them Pakistani, with many captured in other countries and transported to the prison.
Now, US officials are saying that the “best solution” is to maintain US oversight of the prison for decades, even though the green light has not been given by the Afghan government. As the Washington Post reports:
The best solution, [officials] say, is to keep the facility open under U.S. oversight, possibly for decades. It is not at all clear, though, that the Afghans will permit that.
As at Guantanamo, U.S. officials have deemed a portion of the Bagram prisoners too much of a threat to send home to countries that can’t or won’t keep them locked up. Officials worry that it might not be possible to convict the men in U.S. courts, because evidence could be classified or seen as weak.
And like those held at Guantanamo, Bagram prison inmates are held in hellish limbo due to that fact that no admissible evidence exists to convict them, including confessions obtained through torture or details of their alleged crimes lost in the fog of war.
The few who have been cleared for release by a review board are still behind bars, and many have languished for over a decade in a prison notorious for torture and abuse, including sleep deprivation, beatings, sexual assault, rape, and humiliation.
“Like Guantanamo, Bagram keeps people out of the reach of the law,” Shayana Kadidal—senior managing attorney of the Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative at the Center for Constitutional Rights—told Common Dreams. People are held at Bagram so that they can be hidden from the courts by arguing that they are in a war zone and law does not apply.
The US refusal to shut down the prison comes as the Obama administration balks on the supposed 2014 date of withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Yet critics charge that, even if that pullout date is honored, the human rights abuses against Bagram prisoners—whose numbers continue to increase—will continue.
“For the past decade, the U.S. has been able to hide Bagram behind the shield of ongoing military conflict in Afghanistan,” Tina M. Foster, director of the International Justice Network, told the Washington Post. “What’s happening now is that the shield is disappearing and what’s left is the legacy of the second Guantanamo, which is going to last beyond the Afghan war.”
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Roger’s note: what can one say about the Obama US government’s reactions to Snowden and his disclosures? The panicky reflexes of a dying empire? Question: should Snowden be flying into exile from Russia, is Obama capable of ordering his plane shot down? Nothing anymore will surprise me.
Edward Snowden along with Sarah Harrison of WikiLeaks (left) at a meeting with human rights campaigners in Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow today where he released the following statement. (Photograph: Tanya Lokshina/Human Rights Watch)
Hello. My name is Ed Snowden. A little over one month ago, I had family, a home in paradise, and I lived in great comfort. I also had the capability without any warrant to search for, seize, and read your communications. Anyone’s communications at any time. That is the power to change people’s fates.
It is also a serious violation of the law. The 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution of my country, Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and numerous statutes and treaties forbid such systems of massive, pervasive surveillance. While the US Constitution marks these programs as illegal, my government argues that secret court rulings, which the world is not permitted to see, somehow legitimize an illegal affair. These rulings simply corrupt the most basic notion of justice – that it must be seen to be done. The immoral cannot be made moral through the use of secret law.
I believe in the principle declared at Nuremberg in 1945: “Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring.”
Accordingly, I did what I believed right and began a campaign to correct this wrongdoing. I did not seek to enrich myself. I did not seek to sell US secrets. I did not partner with any foreign government to guarantee my safety. Instead, I took what I knew to the public, so what affects all of us can be discussed by all of us in the light of day, and I asked the world for justice.
That moral decision to tell the public about spying that affects all of us has been costly, but it was the right thing to do and I have no regrets.
Since that time, the government and intelligence services of the United States of America have attempted to make an example of me, a warning to all others who might speak out as I have. I have been made stateless and hounded for my act of political expression. The United States Government has placed me on no-fly lists. It demanded Hong Kong return me outside of the framework of its laws, in direct violation of the principle of non-refoulement – the Law of Nations. It has threatened with sanctions countries who would stand up for my human rights and the UN asylum system. It has even taken the unprecedented step of ordering military allies to ground a Latin American president’s plane in search for a political refugee. These dangerous escalations represent a threat not just to the dignity of Latin America, but to the basic rights shared by every person, every nation, to live free from persecution, and to seek and enjoy asylum.
Yet even in the face of this historically disproportionate aggression, countries around the world have offered support and asylum. These nations, including Russia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador have my gratitude and respect for being the first to stand against human rights violations carried out by the powerful rather than the powerless. By refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation, they have earned the respect of the world. It is my intention to travel to each of these countries to extend my personal thanks to their people and leaders.
I announce today my formal acceptance of all offers of support or asylum I have been extended and all others that may be offered in the future. With, for example, the grant of asylum provided by Venezuela’s President Maduro, my asylee status is now formal, and no state has a basis by which to limit or interfere with my right to enjoy that asylum. As we have seen, however, some governments in Western European and North American states have demonstrated a willingness to act outside the law, and this behavior persists today. This unlawful threat makes it impossible for me to travel to Latin America and enjoy the asylum granted there in accordance with our shared rights.
This willingness by powerful states to act extra-legally represents a threat to all of us, and must not be allowed to succeed. Accordingly, I ask for your assistance in requesting guarantees of safe passage from the relevant nations in securing my travel to Latin America, as well as requesting asylum in Russia until such time as these states accede to law and my legal travel is permitted. I will be submitting my request to Russia today, and hope it will be accepted favorably.
If you have any questions, I will answer what I can.
Whistleblower Edward Joseph Snowden is a US former technical contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee who leaked details of top-secret US and British government mass surveillance programs to the press.