30 September 2014

US signs endless-war treaty in Afghanistan, appears insane

Today, according to the Washington Post, the US and Afghanistan signed a security agreement that "allows for 9,800 U.S. troops to stay in the country past 2014 to help train, equip[,] and advise Afghan military and police forces."

We've been in Afghanistan since 2001. We've spent the past 13 years "help[ing] train, equip, and advise Afghan military and police forces." If it hasn't worked by now, there's got to be an underlying reason that requires a different approach.

It brings to mind Albert Einstein's definition of insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

23 September 2014

China is exporting torture

Research by Amnesty International (AI) and the Omega Research Foundation has uncovered a "flourishing trade" in the "export of tools of torture by Chinese companies" which is fueling human rights violations worldwide.

A new report, titled China's Trade in Tools of Torture and Repression, alleges that more than 130 Chinese companies are currently involved in the "production and trade of potentially dangerous law enforcement equipment."

According to AI, "Some of the devices openly marketed by these companies - including electric shock stun batons, metal spiked batons, and weighted leg cuffs - are intrinsically cruel and inhumane and therefore should immediately be banned. Other equipment - that can have legitimate use in policing - such as tear gas and plastic projectiles or riot control vehicles - is being exported from China even when there is a substantial risk of serious human rights violations by the receiving law enforcement agencies."

"Increasing numbers of Chinese companies are profiting from the trade in tools of torture and repression," said Patrick Wilcken, an AI security trade and human rights researcher. "This trade - which causes immense suffering - is flourishing because the Chinese authorities have done nothing to stop companies supplying these sickening devices for export or to prevent policing equipment falling into the hands of known human rights abusers."

"There is no excuse whatsoever for allowing the manufacture and trade in equipment for which the primary purpose is to torture or inflict cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment on people," said Wilcken. "These heinous acts are totally banned under international law and Chinese authorities should immediately place a ban on the production and trade in such cruel and inhumane devices."

Most of the Chinese companies are state-owned.

AI and Omega are urging the Chinese authorities and those of all other countries to:

- impose an immediate ban on the production and trade of inherently abusive equipment;

- immediately suspend or deny trade licenses for the supply of other equipment to law enforcement agencies and forces where there is a substantial risk the equipment will be used to commit or facilitate serious human rights violations;

- establish export control regulations and practices for the control of security and police equipment that can have a legitimate use but is easy to abuse; and

- end all torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and punishment, as well as the use of arbitrary force, and investigate all allegations of such acts to bring the perpetrators to justice.

>> Download the report (PDF).

22 September 2014

US State Dept announces aid to Gaza; too little too late?

Today, the State Department announced that the US will provide more than $71 million in "additional life-saving humanitarian assistance to help meet emergency needs in Gaza," noting that "[m]ore than 58,000 people are still sheltering in United Nations facilities and basic necessities like food, clean water, and fuel remain in short supply throughout the territory."

Good. That aid is much needed.

However, we must not lose sight of the fact that the US appears to be playing both sides of this conflict.

Israel, which US officials repeatedly refer to as our "ally", remains the largest recipient of military assistance, having received some $3.1 billion in military aid last year alone.

Our $71 million in humanitarian aid to Gaza pales in comparison.

And it seems ironic, given that our aid to Israel has contributed to the need for our aid to Gaza.

14 September 2014

Get a flu shot, give a free vaccine to a child who needs it

It's time for my annual flu shot, and I'm going to get mine at Walgreens this year. That's because Walgreens is partnering with the United Nations Foundation's Shot@Life campaign.

When you get a flu shot at Walgeens now through October 13, the program will provide a vaccine against polio or measles to a child in a developing country.

To learn more about the Shot@Life program, click here.

Note: Walgreens is not paying me to promote their flu shots (or for anything else). I just think this program is worth sharing.

13 September 2014

Student POC released from prison in Tajikistan

More proof that worldwide activism can save lives: According to Amnesty International, Alexander Sodiqov has been released from prison in Tajikistan and is now back home in Canada!

Amnesty considered Sodiqov a prisoner of conscience "who was detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression, as he had been undertaking legitimate academic research intended for publication." He was the subject of Amnesty's Urgent Action 157/14.

Thanks to all who took action on his behalf.

08 September 2014

Busted: See satellite images of Russian military build-up in Ukraine

Amnesty International has released satellite images that appear to illustrate "a build-up of Russian armour and artillery in eastern Ukraine." This is despite the Kremlin's denial of any involvement in the fighting in Ukraine.

You can view the images here.

Click on an image to view a detailed analysis of what you're seeing.

Thanks to technology like this, it's harder now for the bad guys to hide their actions.

Read more about Amnesty's findings in Ukraine here.

02 September 2014

Amnesty condemns Israel's latest illegal land grab

We recently learned that Israel is planning to illegally "settle" 988 acres of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank - the largest such land grab in 30 years. Even the generally pro-Israel U.S. government is pushing back this time.

And now Amnesty International (AI) - which researches, reports on, and condemns human rights abuses on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - has issued a statement about this latest move by Israel, saying that "[t]he Israeli authorities' outrageous plan to expropriate nearly 1,000 acres of land in the West Bank is illegal and must be rescinded immediately."

"Israel's strategy of illegally confiscating land for settlements in the West Bank must stop once and for all," said Philip Luther, AI's Director for the Middle East and North Africa. "Not only it is illegal under international law but it is leading to a wide range of violations of Palestinians' human rights on a mass scale."

"Reports that that the Israeli cabinet justified this land grab as a reaction to the deplorable murder in June of three Israeli teenagers suggests this is an act of collective punishment and that Israel is moving further and further away from its obligations under international law," Luther continued.

According to AI, "Israel is appropriating the land based on its interpretation of a law dating back to the Ottoman era which declares an area 'state land' if it has not been cultivated or farmed for several consecutive years." But the Ottoman era was hundreds of years ago. Things have changed, including international human rights laws and treaties.

It's time for Israel to get with the 21st century and start respecting Palestinian human rights and other obligations under international law. Failure to do so will only continue to exacerbate tensions throughout the Middle East region. And we certainly don't need that.