Entries in Human Rights (20)


Supreme Court Debates Whether US Courts Can Take Human Rights Cases Overseas

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- When a Supreme Court Justice tells you that a sentence in your brief is “striking,” it’s not always a good thing.

In fact, for Paul L. Hoffman, a lawyer trying to win a case before the court, it was a very bad thing.

Hoffman appeared before the justices last February on behalf of 12 Nigerian plaintiffs who are seeking to sue a subsidiary of Shell Petroleum for allegedly aiding and abetting human rights violations in Nigeria between 1992 and 1995. At issue was whether corporations can be held liable in U.S. courts for human rights violations allegedly committed abroad.

But Justice Samuel Alito wondered what Hoffman’s case was doing in U.S. courts in the first place.

“The first sentence in your brief in the statement of the case is really striking,” Alito said, before reading the sentence: “This case was filed … by twelve Nigerian plaintiffs who alleged … that Respondents aided and abetted the human rights violations committed against them by the Abacha dictatorship … in Nigeria between 1992 and 1995.”

Here’s what Alito wanted to know: “What business does a case like that have in the courts of the United States?”

A few days after arguments, the court made a rare request. Instead of deciding Hoffman’s case, the court wanted both sides to submit new briefs on the bigger issue framed by Alito: why should a case with foreign petitioners and foreign respondents, alleging misconduct that took place abroad, be heard in a U.S. court?

On Monday, the justices met again, starting their new term, to hear arguments on that question.

Hoffman argued a law passed by the First Congress in 1789 called the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) allows the courts to recognize a cause of action for violations of the laws of war outside the United States. The ATS says that district courts have jurisdiction “of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violations of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”

The ATS had been unused for decades until the 1980s, when several courts allowed human rights cases to be brought under it.

On Monday, Justice Alito picked up where he left off last term: “Why does this case belong in the courts of the United States,” he asked, “when it has nothing to do with the United States other than the fact that a subsidiary of the defendant has a big operation here?”

Other justices seemed skeptical of Hoffman’s position.

Justice Anthony Kennedy asked Hoffman, “What effects that commenced in the United States or that are closely related to the United States exist between what happened here and what happened in Nigeria?”

Hoffman admitted that the “only connection” between the events in Nigeria and the United States is that the plaintiffs are now living here because they received asylum.

Justice Antonin Scalia said that national courts have been the deciders when a violation is alleged on American soil. But he was concerned about the turning-of-the-tables aspect of this case: “To give national courts elsewhere the power to determine whether a United States corporation in the United States has violated a norm of international law is something else, it seems to me.”

Kathleen Sullivan, a lawyer for Shell, stood up and told the justices directly, “This case has nothing to do with the United States.”

The U.S. government is asking the justices for a middle ground. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said that the ATS does not mean foreign cases such as this one should automatically be heard in American courts.  “There just isn’t any meaningful connection to the United States,” he said.

But he asked the justices to leave the door open for suits under the ATS when the connection to the United States is stronger.

The justices should decide the case by June.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Blind Activist Chen Guangcheng Visits Capitol, Says China ‘Deteriorating’

SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages(WASHINGTON) -- Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese human rights activist who captured international headlines earlier this year after escaping house arrest, met with top congressional leaders at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday to plead for assistance from the U.S. government in standing up for human rights worldwide.

Chen, who spoke to reporters through a translator, said the human rights situation in China today is “deteriorating,” but that “as more and more Chinese people are not afraid to stand up and assert their rights, change in China is inevitable.”

“Great cruelty has resulted from efforts to maintain social stability, resulting in a situation in which there is no ethics, rule of law or justice,” Chen said. “Equality, justice and freedom do not have borders, so I hope all of those who pay attention to human rights in China will continue to work diligently in this regard and even though perhaps all of you do not pay close attention to the development of human rights in China over the last few years, there has been a lot of progress, and I do believe that there will be a movement towards a better society with more civil society and justice.”

House Speaker John Boehner said it was “truly an honor and privilege” to welcome Chen to the Capitol, telling reporters that Chen’s plight “humbles us and reminds us why we cherish life and freedom so much and why we work so hard to preserve and protect these fundamental values.”

“While our economic relationship with China is important, the United States has an obligation to engage China and press for democratic reforms and improvement in its human rights practices,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said. “We cannot remain silent when fundamental human rights are being violated. We cannot remain silent when religious liberty is under attack, and we cannot remain silent regarding China’s reprehensible one-child policy."

“When it comes to guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of all of her citizens, the Chinese government has a responsibility to do better, and the United States government has a responsibility to hold them to account.”

Chen, 40, was arrested in 2005 for condemning China’s one-child per couple law. After hiding out in the U.S. Embassy for a few days in May, Chen eventually sought medical treatment at Chaoyang Hospital in Beijing after being told that Chinese officials would have killed his wife if he had remained at the embassy. He later received an exit permit to study in the United States after accepting an invitation from New York University.

In addition to the House speaker, Chen met with other senior House leaders including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Reps. Chris Smith, Joseph Crowley and Adam Smith, all prominent advocates in Congress for improving human rights throughout the world.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


ICE Deports Human Rights Violator to Bosnia for Crimes Against Humanity

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images(LAS VEGAS) -- Dejan Radojkovic, a former Bosnian-Serb police commander, Wednesday was deported to his native country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, for genocide crimes and atrocities against the Bosnian people. The deportation concluded a successful effort by the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement office (ICE) that investigated the case.

“I applaud the outstanding work by ICE attorneys, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents, and ERO officers in bringing a successful conclusion to this case. We will continue to work tirelessly to ensure our country does not serve as a haven for human rights violators and others who have committed heinous acts,” ICE Director John Morton said Thursday in a statement.
Upon arriving in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo Thursday, Radojkovic, 61, was immediately turned over to Bosnian law enforcement officials.
A former Las Vegas resident, Radojkovic faces charges for his role in the Srebrenica genocide. The genocide took place over the course of several days in July 1995 when thousands of Bosnian Muslims, mainly men and boys, were led to a “safe area” and then executed.
Authorities allege that Radojkovic used his position as a commander in the Special Forces Brigade to carry out the crimes.

ICE worked closely with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Bosnian and Herzegovina prosecution as well as international court to complete the removal of Radojkovic from the United States.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Bush Celebrates Democracy Activists, Sides with Syrian Resistance

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As President George W. Bush quietly returned to Washington Tuesday, he brought along a slew of global democracy activists known mostly for never being quiet.

Tuesday’s lineup at the George W. Bush Presidential Center-sponsored event, “A Celebration of Human Freedom,” included Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian activist living in Washington; Bob Fu, a native Chinese pastor; and Normando Hernandez, a former political prisoner in Cuba.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, joined the conference via Skype from her living room in Myanmar, formerly Burma.

“These are extraordinary times in the history of freedom,” Bush said. “In the Arab Spring, we have seen the broadest challenge to authoritarian rule since the collapse of Soviet communism. Great change has come to a region where many thought it impossible. The idea that Arab people are somehow content with oppression has been discredited forever.”

“America does not get to choose if a freedom revolution should begin or end in the Middle East, or elsewhere. It only gets to choose what side it is on,” he added.

Abdulhamid, founder of the Tharwa Foundation and one of the earliest dissident voices behind the Syrian uprising, introduced Bush Tuesday, emphasizing the importance of fearless activism.

“The price of activism could be the death of the human body. But the price of silence could result in the death of human spirit, a far greater price to pay,” Abdulhamid said.

“All of us here today join you in hoping and praying for the end of violence and the advance of freedom in Syria,” Bush told Abdulhamid as he took the stage.

When Suu Kyi appeared on the big screen above the stage, she too offered her support to Abdulhamid’s home country.

“I would like to say to the people of Syria, we are with you in your struggle for freedom,” she said.

Asked if she had a solution to the violence in Syria that has claimed more than 12,000 lives in the last 15 months, Suu Kyi replied, “If there was an easy answer, I think Syria would be at peace now.”

But Suu Kyi said she’s hopeful about peace abroad and at home.

Last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States would begin to ease sanctions in Myanmar, and on Monday, Sen. John McCain advocated for the suspension of sanctions, echoing the recent move by the European Union.

“I am not against the suspension of sanctions, as long as the people of the United States feel that this is the right thing to do at the moment,” Suu Kyi said Tuesday.

“I do advocate caution, though,” she said. “I sometimes feel that people are too optimistic about what we are seeing in Burma. You have to remember that the change in Burma is not irreversible.”

And there is reason for optimism. Suu Kyi was sworn in on May 2 as a member of parliament and will soon make her first trip abroad in more than two decades, to London and then Oslo, Norway, to finally accept her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.

In one final word, Suu Kyi offered advice to her fellow activists: “Persevere. You’ll get there in the end. Don’t lose hope. There are many people who are with you in mind and in spirit.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama Declines to Comment on Escaped Chinese Dissident

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama sidestepped a question about Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng Monday, refusing to confirm reports that the U.S. is protecting the human-rights advocate.

“I’m aware of the press reports on the situation in China, but I’m not going to make a statement on the issue,” the president told reporters during a joint news conference with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of Japan.

“What I would like to emphasize is that every time we meet with China, the issue of human rights comes up.  It is our belief that not only is that the right thing to do because it comports with our principles and our belief in freedom and human rights, but also because we actually think China will be stronger as it opens up and liberalizes its own system,” the president added.

U.S. authorities are reportedly attempting to secure American asylum for the blind self-taught lawyer who escaped house arrest last week. Chen, who has fought against forced abortions and corruption in China, is currently under the protection of U.S. diplomats in Beijing, according to activists.

The situation has created a diplomatic crisis ahead of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to China later this week for the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue meetings.

“We want China to be strong and we want it to be prosperous, and we’re very pleased with all the areas of cooperation that we’ve been able to engage in.  But we also believe that that relationship will be that much stronger and China will be that much more prosperous and strong as you see improvements on human rights issues in that country,” Obama said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Iraq Approves First Human Rights Commission

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD) -- Baghdad's current problems notwithstanding, the Iraqi parliament took a positive step to disassociate the country from its violent past by approving the first-ever independent human rights commission.

Something that would have been impossible during the long, violent reign of Saddam Hussein, the commission is designed "to monitor all violations of human rights in all fields and in all governmental and non-governmental institutions," according to one Iraqi lawmaker.

Essentially, any Iraqi can issue a complaint to the commission, which is intended to supplant the current Human Rights Ministry following the 2014 elections, although it could happen much sooner than that.

The action was hailed on Tuesday by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the United Nations.  It's a step forward after several steps back because of simmering feuds between the Shiite-dominated government and the Sunni and Kurdish minorities that threaten national reconciliation.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Physicist Fang Lizhi, China's Most Prominent Dissident, Dies at 76

John B. Carnett/Popular Science/Getty Images (NEW YORK) -- Fang Lizhi, a physicist and one of China's most prominent dissidents and human rights advocates, died on Friday at age 76, the New York Times reports.

Lizhi, a scientist, endured persecution by the Chinese government throughout his life and eventually gained many followers in China for speaking out against the Communist system. He published a letter to Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1989 to petition for the release of political prisoners, which spawned a student-led pro-democracy movement that culminated in the infamous Tiananmen Square massacre. Lizhi sought refuge with his family at the American Embassy in Beijing until being granted permission to leave the country a year later.

Lizhi later taught physics and spoke out on human rights at the University of Arizona in Tucson until his death. His son Fang Ke said that the cause of his father's death is unknown.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Egypt Preventing US Human Rights Workers from Leaving Country

Egyptian soldiers stand guard in front of a U.S. NGO in Cairo on Dec. 29, 2011. FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images(CAIRO) -- Four weeks after their offices where raided by Egyptian soldiers, 10 or more American and European human rights workers have been forbidden from leaving the country.

One of the "virtual" captives is Sam LaHood, the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

At the time it happened, a spokesman for Egypt's general prosecutor's office said the 17 raids on at least 10 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were in response to accusations that they were allegedly operating without licenses and had taken foreign money illegally.

However, critics contend that the military regime that replaced ousted President Hosni Mubarak one year ago is simply trying to exert its authority over independent groups monitoring its activities.

The three U.S.-based entities were Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute.

Besides causing an international incident, Egypt is jeopardizing the $1 billion in annual aid that it receives from the U.S.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s son was informed by his attorney he is under investigation on suspicion of managing an unregistered NGO and receiving "funds" from an unregistered NGO.

After the President Obama-supported ouster of longtime U.S. ally Mubarak, hard-line Islamists have swept into power in Egypt and elsewhere as part of the so-called "Arab Spring" democratic movement.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Rights Groups Say Egyptian Government Is Targeting Females 

MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Egyptian army and security forces are targeting female protesters, subjecting them to violence, torture, sexual assault and threats of rape in line with pre-revolution practices, according to international and Egyptian human rights organizations. 

"Nothing has changed over all. Law enforcement officers still feel that they are above the law and that they don't have to fear prosecution, it's a green light that legitimizes an excessive use of force, sexual assault and torture," said Heba Morayef, Egypt Researcher for Human Rights Watch.

In January, Egypt's military establishment seemed to be protecting the demonstrators, male and female, who flooded Cairo's Tahrir Square and toppled long-time president Hosni Mubarak. Now that the military runs Egypt via the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), critics say it has resorted to the same brutality once used by the Mubarak government against female demonstrators, most notably during street protests against the regime between 2005 and 2007.

On Sunday, Egyptian soldiers were caught on video beating and disrobing a veiled female protester. At least three soldiers are seen on tape exposing the young woman's midriff and bra under the black robe she wears as part of her religious veil, kicking her, stomping on her stomach and hitting her head with batons. The video appeared on television around the world and went viral on social media and the internet, sparking outrage, and even a comment from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who condemned the "systematic degradation" of Egyptian women.

The day after the beating of the veiled protesters, thousands of Egyptian women took to the streets in the largest all-female protest since Egypt's independence, demanding the end of military rule.

Via Facebook, the Egyptian government issued an apology for the beating and for the treatment of female demonstrators, expressing "its great regret to the great women of Egypt for the violations that took place," and vowing that "all legal measures have been taken to hold accountable all those responsible for these violations." But Morayef expressed skepticism about real change in the treatment of women by security forces, noting that the apology did not include explicit orders banning violence and sexual assault on female protesters.

Human rights activists believe there is a purpose behind the Egyptian security forces' use of violence against women. In Egypt's conservative, male-dominated society, women are not supposed to express themselves so openly in public. The violence, according to critics, serves as punishment not just for defying authority, but for violating the rules for women, and is meant to deter other women from joining the protests.

"Female activists still have the double burden of being a female who is protesting," explains Mozn Hassan, a women's rights activist and director of a Egyptian feminist organization.

Blatant physical harassment has long been a fact of daily life for women on Cairo's streets. During the early days of the Tahrir Square uprising, however, women who joined in the protests found that they enjoyed a new freedom and safety. Tahrir became an unusual "safe space" for women protesters during the 18-day revolution. Women still comprised only a small fraction of the protesters in Tahrir Square, but they were much more visible than they had been during the years of low-level resistance to Mubarak.

After Mubarak was toppled, however, the "safe space" evaporated. Many instances of violence and sexual assault on women have been reported since, none of which have yet been prosecuted, according to HRW.

Women who have publicly reported their assaults at the hands of the military since the revolution have been doubted, shamed and accused of being prostitutes. Many keep silent because the Egyptian public still holds the military in high regard, say activists. "Women are terrified to file complaints because the military remains a red line in Egyptian society," said Morayef.

Soldiers reportedly performed "virginity tests" on seven women they detained in March during a protest on International Women's Day. The military announced on Tuesday, nine months after the incident, that the incident had been referred to the High Military Court and is at the trial stage. The lawyer for one of the victims told HRW that he was not given any information about the trial when he inquired Thursday morning.

In November Egypt's riot police, under the military's command, arrested several female journalists and protesters and "sexually assaulted and beat at least two of them," according to HRW. One of the detained was Mona Al Tahawy, an Egyptian-American journalist who described her assault on Egyptian television. "They groped my breasts […] I was pulling so many hands out of my pants, screaming, 'Stop!' I was the only woman there, surrounded by men."

After the incident, an Egyptian army colonel was quoted in the New York Times as saying, "What did she expect would happen?"

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Pushes for More Gay and Lesbian Rights Abroad

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AFP/Getty Images(GENEVA) -- The White House will begin taking a harder look at its allies' treatment of gays and lesbians when reviewing decisions about foreign aid.

In introducing the new policy, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a conference in Geneva Tuesday, "Gay rights are human rights."

President Obama will direct all U.S. agencies abroad to make certain diplomacy and aid programs "promote and protect" the rights of homosexuals.

The new policy could affect aid to certain governments in the Middle East and Africa now receiving large amounts of U.S. backing.  For instance, same-sex activities are forbidden in Pakistan and Afghanistan, while gays and lesbians can be executed in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said the new policy should not be misconstrued since "We are not talking about cutting aid or tying aid, but we are talking about using all of our tools, including assistance, to translate our principles into action."

But Republicans have already come out swinging.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination, said, “Promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America’s interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers’ money."

Perry claimed the president is, "at war with people of faith in this country.  Investing tax dollars promoting a lifestyle many Americas of faith find so deeply objectionable is wrong."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio