Thursday, December 10, 2009

International Human Rights Day Today

As we celebrate International Human Rights Day today, a little reminder of some folks around the world who aren't exactly celebrating just yet:

Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, has been under house arrest in Burma for almost 14 out of the past 20 years.

Her crime?  She was elected Prime Minister of her country in 1990 with 59% of the vote.  The military junta prevented her from assuming office.

She was taken forcibly to detention, where she remains today.  She is denied visitors.


A young Tibetan writer and university student, Tashi Rabten (pen-name Te’urang), the editor of the banned literary magazine the Shar Dungri (Eastern Snow Mountain) on the 2008 protests in Tibet, is feared missing, according to Tibetan bloggers. He was a student of Northwest Minorities University in Lanzhou and has not been seen since July 26, when the university closed for summer holiday. Tashi also authored a collection of work called “Written in Blood”. [1]

According to the Washington based International Campaign for Tibet, there are fears for his safety because his recent book is being dealt with as a “political matter”. A Tibetan source told ICT that Tashi has been under surveillance for some time.

Sangpo, a 30-year-old monk from Lhora Monastery, was arrested on August 8th after a surprise raid in his residence, after Chinese police found a scroll painting of the Dalai Lama and a a half sack full of Video CDs of Dalai Lama’s speech in his room.

He was taken away and his present whereabouts remain unknown.  Imagine that. In Tibet today you can suddenly disappear, without a trace, simply by having a CD of the Dalai Lama in your house.
Tibetan nun Yangkyi Dolma, from Kardze, arrested on 24 March this year, died four days ago,

on December 6th, in the early morning at Chengdu hospital, according to confirmed information received by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.  What caused this young woman to die while being detained?

On 6 June 2008, three monks, Tsewang Drakpa, Thupten Gyatso and Gyatso Nyima staged a peaceful protest in Drango County, Kardze,calling for more freedom and human rights for the Tibetan people. Within minutes of their protest they were arrested and are now being held in Chengdu city detention center.  Visitation rights have been denied to their families. You are not allowed to protest peacefully in today's Tibet.
Kunga Tsayang, a Tibetan monk of Amdo Labrang Tashikyil Monastery, who wrote under a pen name "sun of snowland" (Tib: Gang-Nyi) was an amateur photographer,  passionate writer, essayist, and chronicler of the new Tibetan generation.  He was arrested last March 17th for allegedly posting political essays on an internet website and sentenced last week, in a closed-door trial, to five years in prison.[2]

Tenzin Choedak, a Tibetan returnee from India, was sentenced to 15 years of  imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 Yuan in September following his participation in last year’s spring uprising in Lhasa, according to reliable information received by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy. The protests that began on March 14, 2008 in Lhasa spread across many parts of Tibet.  Choedak was arrested after his image was caught on CCTV footage, showing him protesting in the streets.

In mid-2008, monks at Pangsa Monastery staged a peaceful march against  China's crackdown of the March 14 protest in Lhasa and other peaceful protests that year.  Eleven of those monks have gone missing, their whereabouts unknown.  Their names are: Khenpo, Thupten Lungrig, Nyima Tenzin, Lobsang Tendar, Pema, Lhakpa Tserin, Tenpa Thinlay, Lhakpa, Kangtsu, Thupten Nyima, and Gyatso Kalsang. Engage in a peaceful protest in Tibet, and you can 'disappear'.

IN CHINA there is harassment, surveillance and unlawful house arrest for signers of Charter 08, persecution of human rights lawyers and practioners of Falun Gong, as well as incarceration of over 1,200 religious and political prisoners.

 Human rights lawyer Wang Yonghang has been sentenced to seven years' imprisonment in connection with his work representing Falun Gong practitioners and for publishing articles on internet sites outside of China.

Human rights activist Huang Qi, who was critical of the government's response to the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province and who gave legal advice to its victims has been sentenced to three years’ imprisonment following an unfair trial. 

IN THE MIDDLE EAST: On 27 December, as 2008 drew to a close, Israeli jets launched an aerial bombardment of the Gaza Strip, where 1.5million Palestinians live, crowded into one of the most densely populated areas of the planet. In the following three weeks,more than 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including some 300 children, and some 5,000 were wounded. Israeli forces repeatedly breached the laws of war, including by carrying out direct attacks on civilians and civilian buildings and attacks targeting Palestinian militants that caused a disproportionate toll among civilians.

IN AFRICA:  On 24 November, three prominent Sudanese human rights defenders were arrested by the NISS in Khartoum. Amir Suleiman, Abdel Monim Elgak and Osman Humeida were arrested and tortured in custody before being released.

The conflict in Darfur continues unabated with increased attacks and violations of international humanitarian law: rape, murder and destruction of dwelling places leading to mass evacuation and homelessness.

IN MEXICO:  Serious human rights violations committed by members of the military and police including unlawful killings, excessive use of force, torture and arbitrary detention. Several journalists killed, human rights defenders threatened.

IN UZBEKISTAN: a mere seven years ago  34-year-old Muzafar Avazov, then being held in Jaslyk Prison, had his fingernails ripped out and was boiled alive [3] It's now 2009; has there been any improvement in this country's human rights record? Nope. According to Amnesty International, "There was little improvement in freedom of expression and assembly. Human rights defenders, activists and independent journalists continued to be targeted for their work. Widespread torture or other ill-treatment of detainees and prisoners, including human rights defenders and government critics, continued to be reported." Government officials of countries that do not immerse prisoners in boiling water continue to express concern.  But that's as far as it goes. 

IN THE U.S.A.: Continued reports of police brutality and ill-treatment in prisons, jails and immigration detention facilities. Fifty-nine people died after being shocked with Tasers, bringing to 346 the number of such deaths since 2001.  Prisoners held without trial, indefinitely, in Guatanamo Bay.

Women the world over are still being subjected to rape, beatings and murder by husbands, soldiers, and strangers.

For Amnesty International's State of the World's Human Rights Report 2009, click here.

 ~ ~ ~ ~

I began this posting intending to include but a few examples, and leave it at that.  But I soon became overwhelmed with the sheer number of reports of arrest and detention, torture and abuse, violence and extreme measures toward people without regard to their basic human rights.  The stories are endless; names and photographs of people suddenly taken away, missing, dead.  The victims' plight is noted, catalogued, and except for their families and small pockets of concerned and dedicated activists, the incidents are soon forgotten by the majority of us, busy with our own lives.

But for today, for this one day, December 10, the day set aside for Human Rights, let's call attention to them.  That it's still continuing.  That this blatant, malicious mistreatment and abuse of a fellow human being by means of intimidation and force, just because one can--is not going unnoticed.  We should not remain silent. We will not remain silent.

Imagine a year without all these stories not coming in, week after week after week.
Imagine a world where one doesn't feel it necessary to beat someone to a pulp just to prove a point,
where laws are not routinely circumvented or ignored and lawbreakers are held accountable and made to face the consequences. Imagine it one day not being all about Control--control of one human being,  or of a whole group of human beings, or of an entire country, by entities who simply want to be ...  in control.

Perhaps, in future, a more substantial effort to change this situation can be made, not by merely voicing perfunctory official "expressions of concern" and turning a blind eye because one doesn't want to anger one's economic partners in international trade or one's politial allies in some joint endeavor, but by attention to the matter and meaningful action.  This is more than a game of the dance of diplomacy.  These are people's lives at stake.

Every human has the right to be.  To just ... Be.  Not just some, but all.  All, equally.

If only words in the Declaration of Human Rights we sign and proclaim ... would amount to more than just words.

Sources:  Amnesty International, Tibetan Center for Rights and Democracy, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights reports, International Campaign for Tibet

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