Wednesday, December 31, 2008
U.S. prosecutors want a Miami judge to sentence the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor to 147 years in prison for torturing people when he was chief of a brutal paramilitary unit during his father's reign.
Charles McArthur Emmanuel, also known as Charles "Chuckie" Taylor Jr. is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 9 by U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga. His conviction was the first use of a 1994 law allowing prosecution in the U.S. for acts of torture committed overseas.
A recent Justice Department court filing describes torture - which the U.S. has been accused of in the war on terror - as a "flagrant and pernicious abuse of power and authority" that warrants severe punishment of Taylor.
"It undermines respect for and trust in authority, government and a rule of law," wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Caroline Heck Miller in last week's filing. "The gravity of the offense of torture is beyond dispute."
A jury convicted Emmanuel in October of torture and torture conspiracy involving seven victims and use of a firearm in a violent crime. His attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
Emmanuel, a U.S. citizen born in Boston, was head of the Antiterrorist Unit in Liberia from 1997 to 2003, when his father left power. Trial testimony described the ATU, also known as the "Demon Forces," as an elite battalion used to silence opponents of the president, train fighters for other African conflicts and conduct brutal interrogations of prisoners.
Witnesses described horrific torture techniques involving electric shocks, molten plastic, lit cigarettes, hot clothes irons, bayonets and even biting ants shoveled onto people's bodies. Prisoners were often kept in water-filled pits covered by heavy iron grates and barbed wire.
The number of girls who leave their communities or even their countries to clean other people's houses, has surged in recent years, according to labor and human rights specialists. The girls in the maid trade, some as young as 5, often go unpaid, and their work in private homes means the abuses they suffer are out of public view.
The ILO, a UN agency based in Geneva, said more girls under 16 work in domestic service than in any other category of child labor. The organization said that maids are among the most exploited workers and that few nations have adequate regulations to safeguard them.
Rights groups say rural families often send their girls off to work willingly, as a way to escape poverty, not understanding the risks of abuse. And the employers are often only marginally better off. Having climbed a step or two on the economic ladder, they can afford one of the first trappings of prosperity: a girl to do the chores.
Human Rights Watch has documented nearly 150 cases of female domestic workers from Indonesia who killed themselves in recent years in Singapore, many jumping to their deaths from high-rise apartments. In Saudi Arabia, thousands of girls and women from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Indonesia and other nations have fled abusive employers, according to the New York-based rights group.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
I confirmed this story with my Catholic friends and it can be found in Mathew 2.13-15.
Mary and Joseph were forced to flee with their infant son into Egypt to escape King Herod's soldiers, who were trying to find and kill Jesus on account of the prophecies that foretold his coming. Herod felt Jesus would pose a political threat to him. Jesus was a refugee. He and his family were persecuted for their imputed political opinion, their ethnicity and religion or all three. Jesus, then, would have had a lot in common with some of the asylum-seekers currently awaiting deportation in jails around the United States.
Federal judges in some parts of the United States are delaying the swearing-in of new citizens, apparently so that courts can keep millions of dollars in naturalization fees paid by immigrants, according to a new government report and immigration analysts.
In one of the nation’s busiest courts, a judge’s delay caused nearly 2,000 people to not receive the oath in time to register for November’s general election, according to the ombudsman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Michael Dougherty, in a 13-page report posted on his office’s internet site.
The claim was filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an organ of the Organization of American States, of which the United States is a founding member. It charges that the United States is failing to live up to the group’s declaration on human rights, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.
It cites violence against Latinos, including the murders over the past five months of three immigrants: Jose Sucuzhanay in Brooklyn, Marcelo Lcero in the Long Island town of Patchogue on Nov. 8, and Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Pa., on July 14. In all three cases, prosecutors say the assailants used anti-Latino slurs. Hate-crime attacks on Latinos rose 40 percent between 2003 and 2007, the petition says, citing the FBI.
The complaint also cites the rising use of agreements that allow local communities to deputize their police forces to carry out immigration law. They were created after Sept. 11, 2001, to increase cooperation between local police departments and federal immigration authorities. The group argues that deputization leads the police to treat all Latinos as suspects of immigration violations, engenders mistrust of the police among Latinos, divides communities and promotes a belief that Latinos can be attacked with impunity.
The United States has not recognized the commission’s decisions as binding, but has sometimes responded to them in the diplomatic arena, lawyers at Latino Justice say. In order for the petition to go forward, the commission must determine that the plaintiffs have exhausted all domestic legal remedies.
Rep. Hilda Solis has been a key leader for immigrants, workers, and comprehensive immigration reform throughout her career and we eagerly welcome the good news that she has been selected as the next Secretary of Labor. Joining Gov. Janet Napolitano at the Department of Homeland Security, Sen. Hillary Clinton at the State Department, Gov. Bill Richardson at the Department of Commerce, and other key nominees, Rep. Solis is joining a strong team that can work with Congress on behalf of the President to deliver real reform for the American people on the issue of immigration.
Increasingly angry and outspoken about their uncertain fate, the generation that came of age in the camps is challenging the traditional sheiks, upending the age-old authority structure of their tribal society and complicating efforts to achieve peace.
In the short run, the emergence of the shabab makes any peace negotiations even more tangled, as rebel leaders will have to keep one eye focused on their most combustible constituents, who are opposed to any compromise with the government. In Kalma camp in South Darfur last year, the Fur ethnic group rose to evict all members of the Zaghawa clan to punish their leaders for signing the first Darfur peace agreement with the government. The protests, led by the shabab, helped drive more than 10,000 people from the camp. They also resulted in the killing of several shabab activists. Although shabab is the name used to describe the young Darfurians, they are not connected with the Shabab insurgent group in Somalia.In the long run, outsiders also worry that a cohesive militant group will organize across Darfur’s many camps, just as they emerged in the Palestinian territories and among Afghan refugees.
The shabab, strident in their politics, watch warily for any sign of compromise with the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is being sought by an international prosecutor on charges of genocide and war crimes against the people of Darfur. Humanitarian officials suspect there are jails that the shabab help run in the camps, and that they mete out punishment like whippings to transgressors.
“The traditional structure of authority is beginning to break down,” said a Western diplomat in Khartoum, the capital, with wide experience in the camps. “The rebel leaders can no longer control the population through the sheiks.”
Made into cold-war castoffs when the Communists won that proxy war in 1975, more than 100,000 Hmong (pronounced MONG) refugees were resettled around the world in places like St. Paul; Fresno, Calif.; Thailand; France; Australia; and — quietly, but successfully — this former prison colony on South America’s northeastern hump.Since arriving more than 30 years ago, the Hmong, who account for only about 1.5 percent of French Guiana’s 210,000 people, have thrived. Once penniless, the refugees and their families produce up to 80 percent of the fruit and vegetables sold in this overseas French department, which must import other food at a high cost from mainland France or Brazil.
Long viewed as outcasts in Laos and other parts of Southeast Asia, the Hmong here are known for their success, on display in their large homes with new Peugeot and Toyota pickup trucks parked outside. Their nearly homogenous enclaves in Cacao and two other villages, Javouhey and Régina, are unlike anywhere else on this continent.
Walking Cacao’s dirt roads one hears mostly Hmong, interspersed with a bit of French. Some women wear sarongs. Merchants sell tapestries depicting the saga that led them to this jungle, after treks in the mid-1970s to Thai refugee camps from their mountain homeland in Laos, a former French colony.
The first Hmong arrived from France in 1977 and were greeted with protests from the Creoles, an ethnic group descended from African slaves, who chafed at what was viewed as preferential treatment for a new ethnic group in an impoverished area. French authorities initially gave each Hmong a few dozen francs a day on which to survive.
The settlers pooled those payments to buy fertilizer and tractors. Slowly, after years of labor, the Hmong became self-sufficient. They now grow large quantities of previously scarce vegetables, like lettuce, and tropical varieties of fruit like cupuaçu, which is oblong, has a white pulp and is found in the Amazon basin.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Brand new research published by the Refugee Council shows UK border controls in countries outside Britain are failing to protect refugees who may be fleeing persecution in their home countries.
A wide ranging series of interviews, coupled with fieldwork in Turkey, one of the common transit countries to the UK, revealed that UK border controls may result in refugees being sent back to the country of persecution. Officials employed by the British government and stationed out in transit countries are briefed to stop people coming to the UK without proper documents, despite the fact that refugees are generally unable to get documents from the governments that persecute them. These officials, and the airline personnel who work with them, have no method of identifying those who desperately need to get to safety.
The report, Remote Controls: How UK border controls are endangering the lives of refugees, reveals the UK has implemented a series of measures that extend its border controls far beyond its shores. Immigration officials are posted to refugee countries of origin, such as Sri Lanka, and transit, such as South Africa, a country which is used by Zimbabweans as a route to safety. Visa regimes, carrier sanctions, and Airline Liaison Officers based in foreign airports, also exist to control travel to the UK, without any allowance for the need for refugees to get to safety. As a result, many end up stranded in countries such as Turkey that have limited provision for refugees, and which may end up sending refugees back to their country of origin, potentially seriously endangering their lives.
In displaced persons camps in Darfur, women -- who risk "only" being raped, rather than being killed -- face constant danger whenever they venture out of the camps to collect firewood. As Liv Ullman, honorary chair of the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, reminds us, though, sexual violence is not the only threat associated with gathering firewood, and nor are women in Darfur the only ones who are endangered.
Nor is sexual violence the only aspect of the problem. Firewood, burned indoors, produces toxic fumes that threaten the health of children. The need for firewood is frequently a rationale for keeping girls out of school. And its collection -- which often includes cutting down trees on agriculturally marginal land -- is a major factor in irreversible environmental degradation.
History was made at the United Nations when 66 countries signed onto a General Assembly declaration in support of the decriminalization of homosexuality. France--which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union--spearheaded the resolution, which was a 13 point declaration "to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention."
Opposing the resolution, were the United States, the Holy See, and members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. This latter group issued its own statement claiming the declaration would ease restrictions against pedophilia. The United States couched its opposition in legal technicalities. "We are opposed to any discrimination, legally or politically," said Alejandro D. Wolff, the deputy U.S. ambassador. "But the nature of our federal system prevents us from undertaking commitments and engagements where federal authorities don't have jurisdiction."
Despite the opposition, this was a pretty significant event for the United Nations--and for the world. A resolution like this is non-binding, meaning that it does not have the force of law anywhere. But in the long run these kinds of resolutions do help to foster the genesis of new legal norms and new human rights.
Medicines sans Frontieres (a.k.a Doctors Without Borders) released its annual list if the years' top ten humanitarian crises.
The links will take you to a detailed description of each individual crisis, accompanied by slides and photos of what MSF is up against. It is a powerful reminder that we in politically stable communities with functioning health systems have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season.
- Somalia's Humanitarian Catastrophe Worsens
- Beyond the International Spotlight, Critical Health Needs in Myanmar Remain Unmet
- Health Crisis Sweeps Zimbabwe as Violence and Economic Collapse Spread
- Civilians Trapped as War Rages in Eastern Congo
- Millions of Malnourished Children Left Untreated Despite Advances in Lifesaving Nutritional Therapies
- Critical Need of Assistance in Ethiopia's Somali Region
- Civilians Killed and Forced to Flee as Fighting Intensifies in Northwestern Pakistan
- No End in Sight to Violence and Suffering in Sudan
- Iraqi Civilians in Urgent Need of Assistance
- HIV/TB Co-infections Posses Health Battle on Two Fronts
From the United Nations:
A troubling new report from Human Rights Watch suggests that civilians fleeing fighting between Tamil separatists and the Sri Lankan army are being warehoused in government run "welfare centers" that are "just badly disguised prisons."
They face severe shortages of food and other essentials because of government restrictions on humanitarian assistance. Individuals and families who have managed to flee areas controlled by the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been detained in poor conditions in army-controlled camps.
"Hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped in a war zone with limited aid because the government ordered the UN and other aid workers out," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "To add insult to injury, people who manage to flee the fighting end up being held indefinitely in army-run prison camps." International humanitarian law is very clear on how to treat civilians in internal armed conflict. In a letter to the Sri Lankan government Walter Kalin, the Secretary-General's Representative for the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) voiced his concerns.
"IDPs, who are civilians and who retain their right to freedom of movement, must not be detained in camps...Only the most limited and narrow exception would be allowed for a temporary relocation or restriction of civilians, and only then for imperative military reasons or when safety of the civilians so requires."The point is, this wreaks of arbitrary detention. IDPs should not be treated as POWs.
Developing countries’ economies have been growing faster than those of developed countries for some time, including remarkable growth in African countries. But it is now clear that the financial crisis that emerged in the financial sector in developed countries and then spread to developed countries’ real sectors, such as manufacturing, has already affected confidence in the financial markets of emerging economies, and is starting to affect poorer countries.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
The program, Bank on California will seek to create 100,000 accounts over two years among residents here and in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and Fresno. It is based on a two-year trial in San Francisco, where 31,000 accounts were opened by first-time users.
Under the program, more than 30 banks and credit unions will receive grants from the William J. Clinton Foundation to enable them to offer residents low- or no-fee accounts, to train them how to use banks and in many cases to waive overdraft fees the first few times.
Many of the “unbanked,” as those in the finance world refer to people lacking accounts, are immigrants who fear doing business with commercial banks, or people who have a history of accumulating so many overdraft, below-minimum-balance and other fees that they end up forfeiting their accounts.
According to the US Census Bureau's 2007 American Community Survey, there were 38,059,694 foreign born in the United States, which represents 12.6 percent of the total US population.
Data on the nativity of the US population was first collected in the 1850 decennial census. That year, there were 2.2 million foreign born in the United States, 9.7 percent of the total population.
Between 1860 and 1920, the foreign born as a percentage of the total population fluctuated between 13 and 15 percent, peaking at 14.8 percent in 1890 mainly due to European immigration. By 1930, the share had dropped to 11.6 percent (14.2 million individuals).
The share of foreign born in the US population continued to decline between the 1930s and 1970s, reaching a record low of 4.7 percent in 1970 (9.6 million individuals). However, since 1970, the percentage has risen rapidly, mainly due to large-scale immigration from Latin America and Asia.
Friday, December 12, 2008
“The time has come for the European Union to step forward,” Mr Amado wrote to EU counterparts in a letter to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “We should send a clear signal of our willingness to help the US government . . . through the resettlement of detainees. As far as the Portuguese government is concerned, we will be available to participate.”
Finding countries to take prisoners who are no longer considered “enemy combatants” is key to closing the camp – which president-elect Barack Obama has pledged to do. President George W. Bush repeatedly said he wanted to shut it, but he ultimately rejected a proposal by Robert Gates, his defence secretary, to bring the detainees to the US.
The Pentagon has approved about 50 detainees for release out of the current population of roughly 250, but Washington has been unable to find countries to take the prisoners.
The US has tried unsuccessfully since 2004 to persuade EU states to take some Muslim Uighurs from China’s Xinjiang region who had been approved for release. Some countries feared that taking them would spark Chinese retaliation.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Attorney and advocate Brent Renison of Surviving Spouses Against Deportation asks the Obama transition team to take a look at the unjust, nonsensical "widow penalty" that the current administration is using to deport surviving spouses of deceased U.S. citizens
Some stories of these widows on CBS:
Raquel, like all the other widows 60 Minutes met, had entered the U.S. legally. Still, immigration has been rejecting requests for permanent residence if the American spouse died before they had their immigration interview to prove their marriage was based on love. But the government can take months - sometimes more than a year - to schedule that interview. Raquel's mother-in-law, Linda, says Raquel shouldn't be penalized because the bureaucracy didn't move fast enough. ‘They were doing things legally. They filed the right papers. They filed them in a timely manner. Things were not processed in a timely manner. And they're, and then my son died. This was not something that you can foresee,' Linda says."
Even if the government agreed with a Canadian citizen’s claims that American officials sent him to Syria in 2002 to be tortured, he should not be allowed to sue for damages because there was no Constitutional violation and Congress has not authorized such lawsuits, a Justice Department lawyer argued on Tuesday before a federal appeals court in Manhattan. The lawyer, Jonathan F. Cohn, added emphatically that the government did not agree with the claims made by the man, Maher Arar, who has been trying to sue for the deprivation of his rights. His case has come to symbolize the hotly debated government policy, known as extraordinary rendition, of moving terror suspects to countries that engage in torture.
Mr. Arar, who was detained in September 2002 as he changed planes at Kennedy International Airport on his way to Canada from a vacation in Tunisia, was later sent to Syria, where he spent a year in confinement and, he says, was tortured.
He was released in 2003, and Canadian officials later concluded that he had had no involvement with terrorism.
A suit filed by Mr. Arar was dismissed in 2006 by a federal judge in Brooklyn. That ruling was affirmed in June by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
But in a highly unusual step, the appeals court decided to rehear the matter, and on Tuesday 12 judges engaged in a spirited debate with Mr. Cohn and Mr. Arar’s lawyer — and with one another — over whether Mr. Arar could sue.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
The vessel that weighs about 5 tons and can stay aloft for 18 hours, cost US $10 million. It will execute its first mission, designed to spot people crossing the border illegally, in January.
"We determined that it was appropriate to resume based on the circumstances in Haiti," Nicole Navas, a spokeswoman with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said, declining to comment further.
"The individuals being returned have final orders of removal and the necessary travel documents."
The move to deport Haitians comes at a time when Haiti is still trying to recover from back-to-back storms that heaped wide scale devastation. The tempests -- two of them full-fledged hurricanes -- left at least 800 people dead, tens of thousands homeless, and caused about $1 billion in damages.
Immigrant advocates found hope in the suspension, issued in September. They said the halt could pave the way for temporary protected status, or TPS, a program that temporarily suspends deportations and allows undocumented Haitians to obtain work permits.
Immigrant advocates expressed further relief when authorities allowed more than 50 Haitians to be released from a Broward detention center. Ankle bracelets were used to monitor their whereabouts, they said.
When Kennedy announced that he would step down from Judiciary and give up his gavel as chairman of the Immigration subcommittee, he said: “I remain deeply committed to civil rights, equal opportunities and immigration reform, and I will always be involved in those important debates and discussions.”
Monday, December 8, 2008
The Compete Blog (which posts a wealth of interesting data charts mined from monitoring web surfers) posted statistics about proportion of web surfers that visit political websites: Colorado, Connecticut and New Jersey are at the top. Colorado was a battleground state.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Brent Johnson notes that in reading the comments after the article, there doesn't appear much sympathy for who cannot understand English.
K.K. is not here because he wants to be. He is one of 189 Cambodians who have been banished from the United States in the past six years under a law that mandates deportations for noncitizens who commit felonies. Hundreds more are on a waiting list for deportation. Like most of the others, K.K. is a noncitizen only by a technicality. He was not an illegal immigrant. He was a refugee from Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge “killing fields” who found a haven in the United States in 1980. He was an infant when he arrived. In fact, he was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and had never seen Cambodia before he was deported. But K.K.’s parents were simple farmers who failed to complete the citizenship process when they arrived.
Like some children of poor immigrants, K.K. drifted to the streets, where he became a member of the Crips gang and a champion break dancer. It was only after he was convicted of armed robbery at 18 that he discovered that he was not a citizen.
Like many deportees, he arrived in Cambodia without possessions and without family contacts. He was a drug counselor at first and then founded his break dancing club, Tiny Toones Cambodia, where he now earns a living teaching about 150 youngsters and reaching out to hundreds more. With the financial support of international aid groups like Bridges Across Borders, based in Graham, Fla., he has expanded his center into a small school that teaches English and Khmer and computers in addition to back flips, head stands and krumping, or crazy dancing.
The tension is subterranean, but unremitting. By mayoral executive order, the [NYPD] police are banned from casual questioning about immigration status—but who knows, as Alberto said, “when we’ll bump into a racist cop and he’ll ask for our papers?” And so you’ll see certain dark-skinned people move to the next car when they spot a blue uniform on the subway. They steer clear of hospitals until they are too sick to stand. The undocumented are muted when landlords withhold heat, or bosses refuse to pay, or Feds search their bedrooms without warrants. When you are “out of status,” you learn to keep quiet. To dodge exposure. To stay to work another day.
A century ago, a migrant like Alberto could have crossed the open Southwest border as he pleased. Fifty years ago, with immigration still unrestricted within the Western Hemisphere, he might have gained admittance after a head tax and literacy test. Thirty years ago, he would have entered unlawfully and then been rescued by the amnesty of the late eighties. But Alberto joined a later cohort, the surge that followed passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994. More than anything, NAFTA crystallized a neocolonial conceit: that the U.S. could foster a free flow of trade and capital while freezing Mexican labor in its tracks. The hitch was that people, unlike commodities, moved of their own accord. Unable to compete with subsidized American corn, Mexican farmers lost their livelihoods—and where else could they go? Though Alberto might seem like a classic “target earner,” he did not act in isolation. Millions of the poor have been pushed out of Mexico, and the Border Patrol has yet to build the barrier to stop them. They live outside the law because the jobs here outnumbered the legal pathways. And they formed the critical mass for Alberto’s decision to follow his relatives and try his luck in Brooklyn.
The border emphasizes how much the U.S. and Mexico rely on each other, and, like siblings, it also illustrates the tension between them. As the U.S. builds new fences and heightens patrols, a drug war on the Mexican side has killed thousands of people this year alone. Meanwhile, trade across the border continues to grow.