human-rights-action-center

Campaign to Print the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Into Passports

Given that less than 5% of the world knows of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights existence at this time, it seems that the only way to get the document seriously distributed is through the passports.
What I want is for governments to own their own document. It is for all people, but governments need to acknowledge its existence. Because passports are the official representation of government, if the declaration is in all passports, it becomes an official documentation of the world.
I would like you to WRITE A SIMPLE LETTER of this affect, asking your senator, congressmen and our new government to do this. If the United States Government were to do this, it would send a good signal to the rest of the world that we intend to live by international standards and would signal that the new government is quite serious about protecting the rights of all people.
All it takes to get this done is a presidential order. It doesn't need any new legislation.

Thanks for your support,
Jack Healey

Sign the Petition

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Human Rights Are Beyond Politics — Justice Should Be Too

Jack Healey   Posted by Jack Healey in The Huffington Post

As we look into the New Year, it is also time to look back and see which governments might free a prisoner or two due to the decline of age or ill health. With honoring the traditions that are represented by a holiday that celebrates a religious figure who focused on forgiveness, love, and redemption, it seems a perfect time to look inward to the United States and outward to another country and to make a single recommendation for each one.

My suggestions for the USA is to finally let Leonard Peltier, who after thirty six years in jail, go home. Convicted in a trial with more procedural and witness issues than would possibly be permitted today, he has served more than enough time to reckon with any sentiment of justice. Multiple murderers have been released more quickly than Peltier and numerous human rights groups internationally have called for his release for two decades. His health is currently frail and the circumstances of his extradition to the United States and prosecution here was, charitably put, questionable. His history brings to mind the wars against the American Indians by white settlers bent on enforcing the delusion of Manifest Destiny even at the price of genocide. Peltier was(is) and Indian traditionalist. He helped defend those ways in a showdown where two FBI against were unquestionably killed, though likely not by him.

Shaky evidence helped convict Peltier for the shooting deaths, but he has always maintained his innocence. He was a member of the American Indian Movement(AIM), a group who believed that standing up for the past as well as the present was important. Not all American Indians joined or supported this movement but AIM was firm in their ways of keeping their own authority with regard to maintaining their cultures and their languages. In the early 70′s , many of us in positions to do so gave both material and political support to this movement. Now regardless of how either side of this debate has felt in the past, it is time to say enough already. 36 years suffices for any one with suspicious trial circumstances. His health is failing. He should not die in jail. Our newly re-elected President can free him at this time. It would be gracious and uplifting to all Indian people throughout the Americas, North Central and South. It would be an overdue step to reconciling the indigenous peoples of this land with this nation that claims freedom and liberty for all. Isn’t this the time for reconciliation and forgiveness?

Internationally, I’d plead for a commuted sentence for Chen Shui-bian, the former democratically elected two-term President of Taiwan. For four years, his health needs were systematically neglected by the present government of Ma Ying-jeou. Confined to a tiny cell for twenty three hours a day with another cellmate (who had other options to be outside of the cell). He was confined to a cell without a bed, table, shower, or flush toilet. Complaining frequently of illness to the prison authority, he was ignored or dismissed as having “only the flu.” Ignoring for a moment the fact that flu viruses are worthy of treatment when one is incarcerated in close quarters, the fact of the matter is that his treatment and appropriate diagnosis wasn’t taken seriously even with ten consecutive days of 180+ systolic blood pressure measurements. With medical care limited to flash visits and incredibly quickly rushed tests outside of the prison, but never adhered to modern neutral medical standards of care. After delay and deferral, Mr. Chen’s physical and mental health collapsed significantly to the point that he had a number of mini-strokes to his once prodigious wit. He entered a phase of severe depression, slurred speech, and several identified brain blockages.

Finally receiving limited treatment, all bills are being passed on to his already burdened family as prisoners are exempted from coverage by national health insurance (in spite of international standards making medical care for prisoners being the real and financial responsibility of the state for those is incarcerates). There is still a constant menace of being subject to a return to his prison cell regardless of physician recommendations and his years of poor medical care have put him in a condition of permanently damaged health and well-being. The use of a penal system to kill prisoners is an old and tired line of action by desperate regimes. With massive political divides existing between the Green-Blue divide, Chen’s DPP (Green) is the only non-KMT government in Taiwan’s post-colonial history and Ma’s KMT seems to be backsliding towards an only-nominally multiparty system with punitive extractions of all-but-the-KMT (Blue). President Ma’s abysmal approval ratings would likely get a substantive lift to move towards reconciliation across this bridge if he would show the courage and honor of commuting a sentence or allowing a real medical parole.

Both American and Taiwanese Presidents would go a long step to restoring the respective national honor of their countries to the world, or themselves to their people, and to honoring the sense that redemption, forgiveness, and having things get better. In this season that the light is beginning to return to the Northern Hemisphere, where people around the world gather to celebrate the birth of a man who preached such things as essential elements of humanity’s potential and promise, can’t we take a decisive step forward to a better world. Can’t we recognize when justice has been served and move forward together?

Obama: Stop Killing Innocents, Period

Jack Healey

    Posted by Jack Healey in The Huffington Post

 

In the 1980s, the word “disappeared” entered the human rights lexicon. It was a term that came up through circles of human rights defenders in Latin America, where it was associated with the thousands of activists who were taken in the night. Kidnapped people would languish in prisons, be tortured or even killed, but their families would be given no notice. For their loved ones, these people seemed to have just disappeared.

The term resonated with families of politically active people around the globe; South Africa, Burma and the former USSR are a few places where human rights defenders began to use “disappeared” to describe the state of their loved ones. Today it’s rare that you hear about a disappearance, but only because human right abuses are taking new forms.

For innocents caught in Obama’s drone wars, disappearances come from thousands of miles in the air. The practice also brings to mind another human rights term — “extrajudicial killings.” We don’t have a new word for talking about the drones, but maybe we should.

A recent Washington Post op-ed suggests that there have been 3,000 deaths at the hands of these weapons and of those “scores — maybe hundreds” were civilians. Other sources are far less generous. Quoted in the UK’s Independent, a report by legal experts at NYU and Stanford argues that fewer than two percent of those caught in the drone strikes that hit Waziristan, Pakistan are known militants.

There is no question that the death count is controversial. Early in the summer of 2012 the New York Times ran a front page story that revealed that the Obama administration is quite liberal in labeling people killed by the drones as al Qaeda. Any young man near a suspected al Qaeda member, who happens to become the victim of drone fire, is counted as al Qaeda by the administration.

More questions arise when you consider the validity of the sources on the ground who identify suspected al Qaeda members; are they doing the work of the U.S. government or settling a local grudge? Rahiel Tesfamariam points to a New York Times article which documented a drone strike used against a group of militants about to attack the Yemeni military, raising the question of whose battles the U.S. is fighting. Is the drone war just digging America deeper into domestic disputes?

Particularly atrocious is the practice of “double tap” drone strikes, where a suspected militant is fired on, then those who arrive at the scene to give help are blasted, as well. This practice makes the United States seem barbaric in the eyes of those who witness it and creates a useful image for those trying to fan anti-American sentiment.

As the administration looks to expand its drone usage to more countries, such as Mali, the time is ripe to ask questions about these policies.

Human Rights groups such as Amnesty International and influential journalists such as theWashington Post editorial board have called for reform, asking that the U.S. government to better define its rules of engagement and bring the drone wars out into the open by getting Congress more involved and switching the operations from the secretive CIA to the more publicly accountable Department of Defense.

These are all good ideas, but I would like to suggest something starker. The U.S. should stop its short sighted and counterproductive drone war because it creates many future “enemies” for every one that it kills.

An Obituary for Frank Barsalona: The Man Who Made Rock With a Conscience

Jack Healey

   by      Founder, Human Rights Action Center

Frank Barsalona was the architect who built the temple of rock. He was the guy that transformed it from just music into a movement, turned it into something that reached people all over the world and changed the way we related to one another.

I first met him in 1985, when he helped the organization I was head of, Amnesty International USA, to organize the Conspiracy of Hope and Human Rights Now tours. He was the one who gave me advice on how to handle and operate with musicians like U2, Bruce Springsteen, Sting and Peter Gabriel to tour for Amnesty International; the guy who sacrificed $21 million out of his own pocket in order to help us out; the guy that drove me up to Madison Square Garden the night I asked Bruce Springsteen to join the Human Rights Now Tour. Frank believed in human rights down to his toes. Outsiders might attribute this marriage between human rights advocacy and rock to great musicians like Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman and Youyou N’Dour, and truly they did through their music. But getting there, and done with direction, persuasion and kindness — that was all Frank. He went on to help me organize the Chilean tour called “From a Hug to a Hope” in 1990 where Sting got to sing his anthem “they dance alone” to the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo for whom it was written. Throwing all his energy and considerable talent into getting young people across the world involved in fighting for human rights in places like Chile and Greece.

The first time I met him, he was seated behind his huge mahogany desk in the middle of his long, dark office. I remember thinking that being allowed into his office to chat one-on-one felt like meeting the Shah of Iran without his bodyguard. I remember how proper and polite he was, dressed in a suit and tie at all times — he was all old world manners, style and business. He loved loyalty in a business that has little or none.

He was moral, too, one of the most moral people I’d met in the industry. He loved that I’d been a priest before getting involved in human rights, and he used to occasionally tell me he was going to quit the whole business and join the seminary. Once, I told him that if he did want to join the seminary, he’d have to accept poverty as one of his vows. “Oh,” he said, laughing. “Trust me. I’ll find a way around that one.”

He had no fear in calling people out on their mistakes, either. I remember him shouting down Bill Graham, the great music promoter of San Francisco, for a mistake he’d made. And at the end of it, Bill stood up, shook hands with Frank and telling him he was right, admitted that he should have handled the situation differently. Frank had that effect on people — he brought out the best in them, whatever it took.

Earlier this morning, before I’d heard the news that Frank had passed, I was sitting in my basement office, trying to figure out how to organize a concert for Leonard Peltier. I was on the phone with one of the organizers Jack Magee, and found myself telling him that we needed Frank’s help here, that he was the only one who could really turn an idea into a concert that could actually change things. He had a way of bringing magic to any show he organized without any fingerprint, and he had the same wonderful effect on all the people worked around him.

Obama Is Getting Rangoon Right, We Should Too

Jack Healey

  by , Founder, Human Rights Action Center

I met Daw Aung San Suu Kyi twice. The first time was in the wooden two-story, headquarters of her party, the National League for Democracy, in Rangoon. The year was 1999 and though she had already captured the imagination of the world, many experts questioned her ability to deliver any real successes to Burma’s people. However, groups of loyal supporters, in Asia, the U.S., and the world over, kept the faith.

When I met her again last month, in the beautiful Los Angeles home of Hollywood heavy-hitter Jimmy Miller, the world was celebrating the real and admirable progress that her movement has made. Thirteen years later, she was the same person; quiet, dignified, strong, and focused. And I left the second meetings with the same feeling of inspiration that I had after the first.

Poet, John Milton once wrote, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” This she did, imprisoned in her own house for roughly 18 years, her defiance became a global symbol of resistance to authoritarian rule. With quite dignity, she has moved the mountain. And the symbolism of her victory runs deeper when you realize she achieved it all from the home of her father, Burma’s liberation hero, General Aung San. World interest has only grown with last year’s parliamentary elections and the government’s loosening of restrictions on free speech.

Just yesterday, President Obama became the first sitting president to visit Burma; a trip that was certainly warranted, to a county that was diplomatically isolated for much of the latter half of the 20th century. The trip was a great showing of friendship with Obama being gracious and kind, standing on the podium alongside Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, he promised to remain loyal to those who struggle in Burma. The bond between Hillary Clinton and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was clear, as they both used their wits to make this moment happen. The Secretary had said years before in China that “women’s rights are human rights.” And yesterday’s historic meeting between the two powerful female leaders, struck me as a significant realization of those words. And the warmth between the leaders is understandable give that American support played a small, but significant, role in this victory.

In the U.S. credit should be given where credit is due. In a too rare example of leaders actually leading, Clinton, the Bushes, and Obama have all stood firmly behind Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s movement for decency and fairness in Burma. These presidents knew, and could pronounce, her name, and entertained all of us working on this side of the struggle with visits to the White House, Senate and House. Mitch O’Connell, Dianne Feinstein, and John McCain were outstanding in their efforts to support the sanctions. Taking their cues from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, U.S. leaders they tightened the sanctions during Burma’s darkest days, and have moved to loosen them in response to her recent calls.

Unfortunately, today, some of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s longest supporters seem unable to adjust their stances for the changing times. As President Obama’s plane was landing in Burma, critics started with a chorus of “too soon.” Some were as bold as to say that the president should not visit countries that hold political prisoners, a statement that I’m sure Leonard Peltier and an unknown number of other political prisoners in the United States would be surprised to hear.

Now that the democracy icon is free from house arrest, and her party is actively contesting seats in parliament, her supporters in the West should grant her the freedom to lead. There is still a long and rough road ahead as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party work toward creating a free and democratic society in Burma. Her efforts are going to need every bit as much support as they did when the party was banned.

Atrocities persist in Burma. The oppression of the Muslim Rohingya people is immense, and Obama was right to speak against it in no uncertain terms. This is an issue that Daw Aung Suu Kyi could take a cue from the president on, having been too quiet herself. Ethnic groups along the borders still struggle with Burmese military occupations of their land, and there are hundreds more political prisoners who need to be freed. These issues, however, should not be an excuse for rights groups to scoff at real progress.

My view is this: Once Daw Aung San Suu Kyi shook hands with the military, light arrived in a dark place and she still remains a beacon of hope for the Burmese people. We, who participate in this movement from the United States, need to listen to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Not as a personality but as the leader followed by a real base of the democratic forces in Burma. As democracy and decency and fairness spreads throughout the land of Burma, there will be time for arguments, clarifications, and dissent. For now, let us stick with the Mandela of Asia whose name everyone now knows. That too is an accomplishment for us Americans.

Can Human Rights Be Saved?

Jack_headshotPosted by Jack Healey in The Huffington Post

This is a piece I never thought I’d be writing. A unique moment is about to begin in American history.

The United States is about to add an unknown number of political prisoners to its jails. After a legacy of torture inherited by the Bush/Cheney team, we are about to see the Obama administration sign off on a law that would permit indefinite military detention of American citizens without trial, process, or even formal charge. Add the National Defense Authorization Act to a long list of disappointments. There has been no closure of Guantanamo. Torture at the hands of American authorities may have been deterred, but renditions which outsource prisoners to be tortured in other countries continue. Detainees in Guantanamo have been held without trials for over 10 years, despite the fact that some of these men have been acquitted, and declared “legally” free. Looking at the situation we’re in today, I’m reminded of the main prison in Port-au-Prince in Haiti, which I visited years ago. The prison held men who had actually been issued their release papers. How is it possible that our judicial system is beginning to resemble one of the most broken systems in the world without the American public taking notice?

It’s not getting better. It’s getting worse.

The authorized execution of two American citizens went through with the approval of this administration. Drone attacks have increased, and have occurred with little media or advocacy oversight, so we don’t have any reliable or comprehensive numbers of how many innocents have been killed. The legal cover for torture that the United States has created to justify its actions has stained our record and has created cover for people like Zimbabwe’s Mugabe or Syria’s Assad to disregard the basic universal rights of its own population. With the National Defense Authorization Act about to become law and SOPA on the brink of it, we are facing new challenges that do not merely fail to address the grotesquerie of the Bush/Cheney years; they are deepening and extending the violations.

More than a decade after 9/11, our national identity is still governed by the specter of fear that can be called up casually with the mention of Islam or terrorism. Indeed, they have become interchangeable terms. Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has denied the reality of Palestinian identity, Herman Cain knows nothing about Libya, Bachmann is engaging in open hate-mongering, and Romney is declaring his support for using military force to take back a spy drone that crashed in Iranian territory. The nuclear threat of Iran is used to fan our fears and to justify our military expenditures. We are expected to believe that Iran is a greater threat than North Korea’s repeated avowals to use its weaponry to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire.” We beat the drum of Islamophobia drum against Iran, a nation with a population that has a strong cultural affinity to the United States. There is no human rights baseline for our foreign policy anymore.

Outside of the government, there exists some human rights groups (Enough and Human Rights Watch) who have endorsed the use of American military “advisers” to enter transnational missions to hunt and kill men like Joseph Kony. Regardless of whether someone is a despicable violator of human rights (and Kony certainly is), it is a disturbing precedent to have human rights advocates calling for military involvement.

Under these conditions, how can we increase access to human rights? How can we save them in these dim times?

Currently, less than five percent of the world’s population is even aware of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Though there are inevitable questions of enforcement, people must first have access to the knowledge that they have rights. We might print the UDHR in all passports internationally. We might try to teach one another that rights are important to protect especially when they’re difficult to protect. We might demand the media to press candidates at all levels of political office to ask questions about human rights at debates and in political positions. We might incorporate human rights awareness into the curriculum of educational systems. We might actually have a national discussion on this issue that can ground and provide a baseline for all others.

We must make people look at one another to see the basic spark of humankind that binds us together. If we can create enough awareness, it might be possible to move beyond a simple conspiracy of hope to the reality of another world beginning. Ordinary people and citizens of all nations must educate and agitate in defense of human rights in their universal relevance and specific applications. Indeed, Occupy Human Rights. We are the 100%.