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

human-rights-action-center

Television Without Millionaires?

Jack_headshotPosted by Jack Healey

in The Huffington Post

In the first phase of the AIDS crisis, a campaign was initiated to have a Day Without Art to highlight the impact of HIV in society by drawing attention to the impact it had in arts communities. Today, over 8,000 museums and galleries take part internationally to alternately shroud or highlight works of art on Dec. 1 of every year, on World AIDS Day. It was/is a simple and astonishingly effective interruption of the narrative of business-as-usual to see so many individuals and institutions to come together to draw attention to the fact that the AIDS crisis exists and continues to complicate and crush communities under the weight of treatment complications and prejudice.

Recently, I talked to a friend who has a fairly substantive job in broadcasting. We have a history of dialogue and he has helped me to realize ideas from time to time. On this occasion, he thought that my idea was a stunt when I presented it. It is completely earnest. The idea is simple. What would happen if we broadcast an entire day’s programming without a single millionaire being visible on the screen? Inclusive of hosts, announcers, guests, meteorologists, sports figures, and actors, there would be nobody who was a millionaire on television for an entire day. How interesting it would be to see both who was absent from our living room screens, but also who was present.

Might we realize the national and international audience about how much their newscasters are often much wealthier than their everyday homilies imply? If we really understood how much money was concentrated in the hands of sports stars, could we hold them to higher standards? If we saw how many actors we might think of as rich still being visible, would we understand how easily we will accept little to perform for our own corporate masters? Most notably of all, how many members of our political class, pundits and policymakers and politicians proper, would be unable to appear due to the size of their bank accounts?

What would happen if the entire television audience recognized the degree to which their lives were being described and choices dictated by the global rich rather than the global majority? How many unheard voices would get to be heard if we removed some of the rich from the airwaves for a day? Would the proportions in the media be along the same lines that the Occupy movements’ numbers? Is the proverbial One Percent taking up Forty Percent of content or are they controlling far far more than that?

Would such a day not honor the heart and soul of people who are trying to change things in the territory of media that take up more and more of our lives? What would talk shows discuss on this day? Who would host the talk shows? Before dismissing such a suggestion as a form of quasi-class-warfare, we might wake up and see the degree to which our narratives are class biased and resemble the objective standards very little indeed.

What would happen in a world wherein, instead of parceling out stays in the White House Lincoln Bedroom to top campaign donors, there were a national lottery that allowed average citizens the chance to win and stay overnight? What would happen if congressional portraits and offices were only provided to politicians that were not millionaires?

I do not mean to impugn the presence of wealth per se. There are many people who use their accumulated monies to try to do real good in the world, just as there are many who do not. It is a fine thing to improve one’s material condition in the world and surely those who claim that money can’t buy happiness usually make the statement with a full belly and while warm under a roof. But it is this Occupy Wall Street movement (or movements, more properly) that has begun to draw attention to the fact that inequality is a problem and that as a society we have lost sight of the fact that there are obligations to those among us that need care and support. You may quibble over the idea of the particular number, but that is not important.

Of Andy Warhol’s many quotes, he famously announced: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” While we can read this as an accurate impression of our attention-deficit-heavy modern news cycle, we might remember that the wealthy get to continue their fame far longer than a simple brief burst. After being ceaselessly asked to comment on his famous quip, he’d regularly complicate interviews by spinning the quote, including the statement that “in the future only 15 people will be famous.” It is the wealthy that have been controlling the message and the narrative of the media. It is the later statement by Warhol that seems to be the more prescient.

The early years of A Day Without Art were punctuated by elaborate public stunts by Visual AIDS, ACT-UP and Gran Fury among others. Their spectacles and interventions challenged the perception and sentiment enough to focus attention on faster access to drugs and a more sustained commitment to research with the recognition that AIDS has effects on all of us. The implications of a A Day Without Millionaires might be just as jarring and more so. For the rich and the poor, economic inequality has consequences for us all. Occupy Everywhere.

Should Human Rights Groups Support an Army?

Jack_headshotPosted by Jack Healey

in The Huffington Post

As a 50-year veteran of the human rights movement, I was surprised to hear human rights groups’ responses to President Obama’s recent announcement that the U.S. would send 100 military advisers to central Africa to aid the fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Extreme pro-interventionist groups, such as the ENOUGH Project, unequivocally cheered the decision as an “important step towards a more effective approach” and called for the U.S. to provide an additional “surge of military, intelligence, logistical, and diplomatic support.” Tom Malinowski from the more moderate Human Rights Watch commented in the New York Times that Human Rights Watch had “been advocating for such a deployment.”

This endorsement of military action illustrates a lot about how the human rights movement has changed. During the Cold War, when I was the executive director of Amnesty International U.S.A., special caution was made to ensure that we were a neutral voice in conflict. In fact, in the early days of Amnesty International, members would send an equal number of letters supporting political prisoners in the communist, capitalist and third world blocs.

When the Cold War ended, political distinctions were less clear and the human rights movement began to strategize around how to leverage power to hold human rights abusers accountable. This turn presented new challenges for those who advocate universal human rights. Who would be the enforcer of global accountability? For those skeptical of any one country having the power of enforcement the International Criminal Court seemed to be a good solution. However, others were comfortable leveraging unilateral U.S. action. The conversation around Obama’s recent deployment illustrates the challenges of this new approach.

There is no question as to the wickedness of the Lords Resistance Army. However, the militaries of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan themselves have very spotty human rights records. After supporting U.S. military advisers to these countries, the human rights community now has a vested interest in portraying their mission as a success. What does it mean when the groups that are supposed to be referees now have a horse in the race? Who will make the condemning declarations if the well-intentioned training that the U.S. is providing is used against the innocent? The problem of vested interests goes deeper.

For the United States, this mission is not strictly humanitarian. As Jendayi Frazer, the former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, recently noted on Public Radio International, the U.S. military advisers are partly a reward to the Ugandan military for being a good ally to the United States in its global war on terror. There is a danger when human rights groups ally themselves too closely with U.S. security interests that they may lose their legitimacy as neutral actors.

The United States’ position in this effort becomes increasingly muddied when understood in the context of renewed focus by the U.S. military on the continent of Africa. In 2008, for the first time in history, the United States set up a military command solely to monitor its operations in Africa. AFRICOM was created to help facilitate the U.S. war on terror in Africa but also to secure access to natural resources. (The United States now gets more of its oil from Africa than it does from the Middle East while many of Africa’s most oil rich regions suffer great political instability.) Surely, the United States has the right to pursue its strategic interests around the globe. When these interests seem to align with killing very bad people it is understandable that human rights organizations may be excited to back them.

My recommendation is that human rights groups stick to what they were good at, calling all sides out for their abuse and advocating sound policy that promotes human rights for all. Their policy recommendations however, should stop sort of advocating unilateral military programs. Doing so compromises the very mission of these organizations, whose value lies in their capacity to be a neutral and universal advocate of all victims of human rights abuses.

Jack Healey was executive director of Amnesty International U.S.A. from 1980-1993. He currently heads the Human Rights Action Network.

 

Lessons From 1968 for 2012

Jack_headshotPosted by Jack Healey

in The Huffington Post

As America faces its next election, we find ourselves in the middle of a growing schism: left and right, rich and poor, peace and war. This gap has grown so wide that it feels as though we are living in a disjointed America where even neighbors seem countries apart. Where we see soaring unemployment, a diminishing middle class and endless war, politicians see opportunity. They pin citizen against citizen, convincing us that our nation’s problems are caused not by their careless leadership, but by our own people. We have the power to overcome their petty feuds and put our country back into the rightful hands of its people.

The upcoming 2012 presidential election is marked by a schism, but we were in a very similar situation before the 1968 election. We lost the brilliant, young leadership of Bobby Kennedy. President Johnson promised peace, but delivered Vietnam. Anti-war feelings turned into a movement that stopped Johnson from running again and ended Humphrey’s presidential run because he stuck with Johnson’s Vietnam War. The ‘long hairs’ split from their fathers’ crew cuts and turned to Janis Joplin, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. Catholics began the eternal discussion of the pill and abortion, which lead to many exiting parishioners. We lost the visionary Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the riots after his death distanced white and black communities from each other. The fabric of society began to tear here and there once the tanks in the streets positioned themselves in major cities of the North. The schism did not heal, and the problems that caused it remain unsolved. The nation jerked from one party to the other in the hopes of reuniting the country. But to no avail.

Political strategist Lee Atwood, a visionary of the Republican Party, read the tea leaves of the changes in civil rights and built a southern strategy that the Republicans of Nixon rode into power. That coalition holds up today as conservatives still pander to fear and states rights as they use anti-Muslim sentiment to hype a war against a religion. However, this time both parties are tiring of the wars, of the losses of our soldiers, of the losses of fortunes spent on inane wars. The Iraq war is just as baseless as the Vietnam War. The antiwar movement is starting again, but this time the people of all sides respect the soldiers fighting and dying. However, we still struggle with issues such as high minority unemployment which is significantly higher than white unemployment. Again, the fabric of America is tearing.

The ‘long hairs’ are now the parents and thus the reverse is true — their children are the short hairs. Instead of LBJ spinning in basic positions, we now have Obama spinning: no to torture, but yes to drones (with no reports of how many innocent people have been killed by the military); Gitmo was to disappear, but it is still here; Soldiers return to much praise, but little help for employment; and even injured soldiers go unnoticed once home. Generals are everywhere: talking, lobbying, making sure the military industry stays eternally strong and costly. Catholics, now embarrassed as money flies out the door to cover the costs of priests abusing thousands of children, are still split over women’s rights. The clergy has gotten more conservative than ever with bishops threatening to withhold Holy Communion from liberals. There is no Joan, Janis or Bob give the anti-war moment a singular voice, but with access to the internet everyone can share their own voice. We have the weapons to fight back and stop the schism.

Though it is still a year away, the 2012 election is starting to look and feel like 1968. The national splits and chasms from forty years ago are still evident and clear today to any one who looks closely. The same battle lines are being formed: we will elect leadership for one side or the other of that chasm, but we have yet to elect one president who can handle and heal these splits. That is what we need, but looking at the field of 2012, I am guessing our need will go unfulfilled. Mediocrity will continue in the daily lives of the politicians and those we pick to represent us, the citizens.

1968 is back. I can feel it. More wars are coming, wars fought more and more by unmanned drones. The justification of these “extra-legal executions” is shaky at best. Imagine if all the governments of the world could afford their own drones — the skies would be filled with faceless assassins. Sovereignty is abused all over the world by these drones and by military brass as extraordinary renditions continue. Cheney and Bush wrote a new definition of torture so that they would never be held accountable for their actions. People must be held responsible whether for torture or targeted killing.

2012 must be the year to unelect the status quo. If we stay on the current track, we will repeat the same mistakes from forty years ago by shifting the blame for our country’s problems from one hand to the other. In another forty years, we will be faced with the same problems: a stalled economy, a stalemate on women’s rights, another war and another anti-war movement struggling to find its voice — unless we challenge our elected officials to solve these problems now. We need true leaders like Kennedy and Dr. King, leaders who will close the economic gap between the rich and poor, leaders who will not feed the rhetoric of fear that is responsible for distancing red states from blue states. Let the upcoming election be a signal to all politicians that we will not settle for mediocrity: we have learned from the mistakes of ’68 and together we stand firm in our resolution to break the mold. It is up to us to mend the fabric of America.

I Want My AJE!

Jack_headshotPosted by Jack Healey

in The Huffington Post

 

It is not hard to find examples of investigative reporting that changed the world. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, and Seymour Hirsh’s famous exposé of American soldiers’ abuses in Vietnam, helped end slavery, reform the food industry, and end the war in Vietnam. At Amnesty International we used reports, press appearances, and rock concerts to spread the word about human rights abuses committed by governments around the world. Sometimes this too helped create positive change, prisoners were freed and repressive regimes toppled.

There is no doubt that a story is a very powerful thing. But who decides which stories get heard?

In America, a small number of corporate conglomerates hold the keys to powerful amplifiers. If a cable company does not carry a channel, the voices represented on that channel are less likely to be heard by the American public. This is true even with the rise of the Internet; most Americans still get their news from TV.

Unfortunately, our media waste too much time reporting on celebrities, sensationalizing family dramas, and giving opinions — not news. I want my news to be factual, socially relevant, and delivered from diverse perspectives. Al Jazeera English (AJE) helps to fix this problem by providing solid reporting from diverse perspectives not often heard in the mainstream U.S. press.

AJE is truly global in its coverage. It is the only news network with more bureaus in Asia, Africa, and Latin America (the regions where most of the world’s people live) than in Europe and North America and has won accolades and awards for its coverage of the tsunami in Japan, the drug war in Mexico, this year’s inspiring “Arab Spring.” But it does not stop there. Its coverage of the U.S. is also top-notch. The channel has had superb reporting on how the current economic crisis is affecting Americans.

The channel is also global in its reach. It broadcasts to over 250 million households in 120 countries on 6 continents and is the most watched news channel on YouTube with over 2.5 million views per month. Surely Americans want in on this worldwide phenomenon.

I am lucky to live in Washington, D.C. where my cable company provides me access to the channel. Regrettably, not everyone here in the U.S. can watch it. Cable companies in only 5 places across the U.S. offer 24-hour access to AJE (Washington DC; Toledo OH; Burlington VT; Bristol County, RI; and most recently New York City, NY). This is not enough.

A global power needs an informed citizenry. Cable companies should provide access to this valuable resource to all their costumers. This would be a great step toward helping Americans understand the culture and politics of other regions, in turn helping us become better neighbors to the world.

The public can play a role in making this happen. In the 1980s, when MTV was first launched, cable companies were reluctant to carry the channel. So musicians and music lovers launched the “I want my MTV ” campaign encouraging fans across the country to call their cable companies to ask for the channel. (Google “Sting, I want my MTV” for some fun 80s nostalgia). Now MTV is a staple in all basic cable packages.

Just as music lovers rallied for MTV, lovers of democracy and freedom of information must rally behind Al Jazeera English. This is going to require mass citizen action. Call your cable companies today and join one of the media activist groups working for this great cause. Rethink Press’ website is a great place to start: http://rethinkpress.org.

As we Americans try to piece together our future, it would be helpful to know what those too often ignored by the media are doing, saying, hoping, and striving for.

Sign the change.org petition.

08.01

2011

Former Burmese Child Soldier to Speak in Congress

Guest post by Grace Powell, HRAC intern

“I experienced my first battle at Bayintnaung and Kanelay. Because it was my first experience I [was] really scared during the battle. I was 14.”—Hein Min Aung, Former Child Soldier in Burmese Army

 

I was sitting there, in the basement office of a rowhouse on Capital Hill, reading the report. It was my first week at Human Rights Action Center, a small human rights organization run by former director of Amnesty International, John Healey. The organization has been working to end human rights in Burma (Myanmar) for the past twenty years. I was seventeen when I started working for HRAC, still in high school and totally inexperienced.

The report hit me in that way that I think only happens when you’re a teenager, when you have the capability to be totally and completely moved by something you hear or something you read. Reading that Burma has more child soldiers today than does any country in the world, that boys as young as seven or eight are forced to carry guns and shoot civilians and that they are beaten for crying and not permitted to contact their families was a shock. We all hear about the plight of child soldiers in places like Uganda, but the well-kept secret of the Burmese government is that they have bolstered the size of their military by conscripting children. And it’s not just the government. Opposition groups in Burma have done the same thing to both boys and girls.

Given the chance to work on my own project at HRAC, I decided to focus on the issue of child soldiers. With the help of Mr. Healey, I got into contact with the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma. We began calling Representatives on the Foreign Affairs Committee to see if they would be interested in working with us to raise awareness about the plight of Burmese child soldiers in Congress.

The office of Texas Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, the sponsor of a resolution calling for governments around the world to end the use of child soldiers, offered to sponsor an informational briefing on the issue. Working with Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, we found a former child soldier by the name of Hein Min Aung, an incredible young man who offered to tell his story in the briefing in the hopes of drawing attention to the nearly 70,000 young boys still in the Burmese military today.

Despite the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi, General Secretary of the National League for Democracy, has finally been released from house arrest, human rights abuses are still rampant in Burma today. While activists hope that her release will bring much needed change to Burma, the child soldiers of Burma cannot wait for slow-moving political change. They need help now.

The briefing is set to take place on August 3rd, 2011 at 4pm in 2253, Rayburn Office Building. The story that Mr. Aung tells on that day is not going to be easy to hear. And yet, it’s a story that I think needs to be told, because this is one of those issues that is only going to change if people start to get informed, and get involved.

Is the briefing itself going to create mass change in Burma, is it going to free even one child soldier from the government military? The answer is, unfortunately not. And yet, maybe somebody in that briefing room will be moved by what they hear that afternoon. Maybe the next time they hear the word “Burma,” they will think of Mr. Aung and the thousands of boys like him.

It’s going to take a lot of people, a lot of money and a lot of dedication to end the use of child soldiers in Burma. But we’ve got to start somewhere. So come by the briefing—it’s open to the public, and you just might find yourself interested in what Mr. Aung has to say.