Humor, Hope, and Human Rights: On the Loss of Robin Williams

Luckily for me, though perhaps not for them, I have had the opportunity to meet, work with, and come to know a few comedians. I was the advance man for Dick Gregory's cross-country Run Against Hunger in 1976 and had a campaign for human rights in Burma take off with the involvement of Jim Carrey in 2007.

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Human Rights Are for All Folks: Security and Liberty

This spring, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein, traditionally sympathetic to the intelligence community, accused the CIA of searching and spying on the computers of Senators and their staffers. CIA head John Brennan loudly asserted that "nothing could be further from the truth."

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Manifest Delusion: Debunking American Exceptionalism to Protect Human Rights

It's hard to not think about America with our Independence Day recently renewing fresh memories of fireworks, barbecues, and flags. A country of superlatives in matters economic, military, and cultural exports, talking about America's future finds fountains of opinions often strong but which mostly sing the same chorus.

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Revolvers: Blurred Lines Between Human Rights Organizations and the State Department

Americans have long held governments, as well as politicians, as not quite worthy of trust. With a public that already believed that governments trick the citizenry to enrich politicians and insiders, people have been further shaken in recent years. 

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On Universal Human Rights: Navi Pillay, Prince Zeid, and Keeping a Strong Voice at the United Nations

My first meeting with Navanetham ("Navi") Pillay was when she was studying law while at Harvard University along with Jessica Neuwirth. Neuwirth eventually became the legal advisor at Amnesty International USA and one of the producers of the Human Rights Now music tour.

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Twenty Five Years After Tiananmen

The Tiananmen Square Massacre occurred 25 years ago, with troops moving into Beijing and the Square by late on the morning of June 3 and with a full assault going on by the early hours of June 4. Estimates of deaths range from the hundreds well into the thousands, with many more injured.

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On a Human Rights Attitude and Advocacy: The Gregory-Chappelle (or Angelou-Baldwin) Doctrine

Having lost Maya Angelou only a few days ago, I'm reminded of her indefatigable commitment to not merely embrace the world but to wrestle with its problems and not let them go until the world became better for everyone. 

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Truth, Justice, and Accountability: The Luck of the Irish?

To many outsiders, and the vast majority of Americans, it is difficult to imagine how truly grimly awful the period of discord known as The Troubles was to those in Northern Ireland. Sited mainly there, with plenty of spillover to both the Republic of Ireland and also across the sea in England, the conflict between the late 1960s and late 1990s involved over fifty thousand casualties in the part of Europe that Americans usually think of primarily as "like America."

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An American Retreat from Human Rights

In an ideal world, we'd need no military, no war, and no violence. But we do not yet live in an ideal world, and even the most peace-minded among us would appreciate that there is a need for a military to defend the United States. But what are we doing with the military we have? Are we treating the soldiers themselves with anything resembling dignity or are we treating them like insensate property?

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Sunflowers, Symbols, and Nukes: A 2014 Taiwan Primer

Taiwan is the little island that has both disappeared from the political stage and is everywhere present in the everyday lives of people throughout the United States. It is not mentioned in any meaningful way in discussions of policy in the halls of our political institutions or media and it is not discussed as anything other than an afterthought in discussions of the People's Republic of China (PRC). But it is far too easy to dismiss Taiwan without a closer look. While the People's Republic of China has over 60 times the population, it is Taiwan that clocks in with a GDP four times as large per capita, a vibrant multiparty political system, religious and press freedoms that are among the best in Asia, and provisions for national healthcare that place it on par or even ahead of the EU.

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Twisting Honor, Twisting Human Rights: America and Torture

There was a time when the American public demanded something like consequences for leadership failures that transgressed ethical and moral lines. The Watergate scandal brought down the Nixon presidency, but the sense in the country was that it was an indictment of failed policies ranging from Kissinger's brutal wars in Southeast Asia to the roughshod trampling of public opinion that was really what brought him down. In the Reagan era, there was a massive loss of confidence in the aftermath of the Iran-Contra Scandal and there were extensive and publicly televised hearings on this issue. Now? Now the Bush presidency involved running riot over international agreements and the very foundations of the United States and virtually nothing happened. Could things be worse? Yes. The Obama presidency has seen these policies continued or extended with both implicit and explicit statements that there would not be any pursuit of justice against those who offended it so deeply.

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Counting Down: Burma's Race to the Bottom for Human Rights

As someone who has been long-interested in the struggle for the peoples of Burma to earn for themselves the full promise of human rights and real democracy, I waited with the world for the promise of reform and transition. Having been a founder of theUS Campaign for Burma, a deep advocate for the cause of all ethnic nationalities there, and the leadership of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to lead her country from the darkness of authoritarian abuse to the brightness of an empowered future, I watched and held my breath in the so-called thaw in Burma. 

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Taiwan's Straits: Democracy at a Crossroads

Taiwan is situated at a crossroads culturally and geographically. With linguistic roots in common with Southeast Asia, contemporary cultural influences from Northeast Asia, and impacts felt internationally in technology and business, the island straddles a number of tectonic plates that make it seismically active. 

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The Torture of the Torture-Excusers

Once upon a time, I recommended that we find an attorney general who would pursue the former administration for torture, disappearances, and secret prisons. Doesn't having the nation come to terms with these formative and basic violations of the principles set forth in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (both letter and spirit) and our very own Constitution seem like a good way to have begun to move forward? 

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Of Padraig and Principle: Why Americans Got Saint Patrick's Day Wrong Again

Yesterday was another St. Patrick's Day. While most Americans seem to think that it's an excuse to drink heavily throughout the day and to ape the worst caricatures of "Irishness," the Feast Day of St. Patrick is a cornerstone of the nation of my own heritage and a cornerstone of a people who have been able to come back from terrible colonization and abuses both at home and abroad. While the Irish now might seem integrated into American life, the time wasn't so long ago that the Irish were reviled around the world as unfit for civilized society. It is another personal reminder of the frailty of respect unless there is vigilance, another lesson in the imperatives that we all must act upon to expand and preserve the principles laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Once again, with some exceptions here and there in the form of protest, the American pop culture machine mostly renders St. Patrick's Day without inspiration and with a lot of rowdiness. The Obama administration has, again, failed to use this holiday and Feast Day as a lesson to teach and learn.

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First Ladies, First Principles, and Foundational Documents

In 1948, Eleanor Roosevelt, former first lady, took examples of the dregs of history and aimed for a better ever after. With clarity, power, and consensus, she shepherded the creation and ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The resulting document has become the bedrock for international human rights work around the globe and across cultures.

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