Posts Tagged ‘USA’

Ross LaJeunesse and human rights policy at Google

January 3, 2020

The former Google Exec said it was driven out after trying to start a human rights program

An illuminated Google logo can be seen in an office building in Switzerland on December 5, 2018. (Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters)

Several newspapers (here the BBC) wrote on 2 January 2020 about ex-Google executive Ross LaJeunesse revelations concerning the firm’s human rights policy. This matters more than usual in view of Google’s self-professed commitment to human rights, e.g. in the context of the Global Network Initiative (GNI) which brings information technology companies together with NGOs, investors and academics. Founding companies are: Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo!. GNI’s principles and guidelines provide companies with a framework for responding to government requests in a manner that protects and advances freedom of expression and privacy. Companies that join GNI agree to independent assessments of their record in implementing these principles and guidelines [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/05/23/facebook-joins-the-global-network-initiative-for-human-rights/. Or by providing funding [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/08/excellent-news-huridocs-to-receive-1-million-from-google-for-ai-work/].

A former Google executive has raised concerns about the tech giant’s human rights policies as it eyes expansion in China and elsewhere. Ross LaJeunesse, the firm’s former head of global international relations (until May last year), said he was “sidelined” after he pushed the company to take a stronger stance. Google defended its record in a statement, saying it has an “unwavering commitment” to human rights.

Mr LaJeunesse is now campaigning for a seat in the US senate. He said his experience at Google convinced him of the need for tougher tech regulations. “No longer can massive tech companies like Google be permitted to operate relatively free from government oversight,he wrote in a post on Medium.

Google’s main search business quit China in 2010 in protest of the country’s censorship laws and alleged government hacks. But it has since explored ways to return to the country, a major market, stirring controversy.bLaJeunesse said Google rebuffed his efforts to formalise a company-wide programme for human rights review, even as it worked to expand in countries such as China and Saudi Arabia. “Each time I recommended a Human Rights Program, senior executives came up with an excuse to say no,” he wrote. “I then realized that the company had never intended to incorporate human rights principles into its business and product decisions. Just when Google needed to double down on a commitment to human rights, it decided to instead chase bigger profits and an even higher stock price.

Google said it conducts human rights assessments for its services and does not believe the more centralised approach recommended by Mr LeJeunesse was best, given its different products.

View at Medium.com

‘Just Mercy’ – starring Michael B. Jordan as human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson – goes into premiere

December 26, 2019

in Heavy.com of 25he film Just Mercy – starring Michael B. Jordan as lawyer Bryan Stevenson – will be released nation-wide as from 10 January 2020.  The movie is based on Stevenson’s best-selling memoir, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/20/equal-justice-initiative-founder-bryan-stevenson-winner-of-2019-thomas-dodd-prize/]

It tells the story of how the Harvard law graduated moved to Alabama in order to help inmates who were wrongly condemned as death row prisoners. The main court case in the film focuses on one of Stevenson’s first clients, Walter McMillian, aka “Johnny D.” who’s played by Jamie Foxx in the movie, a 41-year-old tree-trimmer who was charged for the 1986 murder of Ronda Morrison, a local white teenager.Stevenson’s story is lesson in justice, persistence, and pushing to do what’s lawfully right. McMillian was released from prison after seven years on death row, he passed away from early on-set Alzheimer’s in 2013. However, Stevenson is still very much alive, and still working as attorney for the Equal Justice Initiative, which he founded in 1989. As described on their official website, “EJI is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the U.S., challenging racial and economic injustice, and protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.” Stevenson, who recently celebrated his 60th birthday, has helped release 135 wrongly accused prisoners sentenced to death.

We don’t see those kinds of stories very often and I think that’s created a void in our consciousness about what’s happening,” Stevenson told Delaware Online. “We have the highest rate of incarceration in the world and most people in this country have no knowledge of that. That lack of knowledge and that lack of compassion is what’s made us so vulnerable to the abuse that is on display in this story.

Over his career, Stevenson has earned 40 doctoral degrees, including those from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oxford, and University of Pennsylvania. He’s also won a long list of awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Prize, the ABA medal, which is the American Bar Association’s highest honor, and the National Medal of Liberty from the American Civil Liberties Union. As a professor, he’s racked up even more hardware. In 2003, the SALT Human Rights Award was presented to Mr. Stevenson by the Society of American Law Teachers. In 2004, he received the Award for Courageous Advocacy from the American College of Trial Lawyers and the Lawyer for the People Award from the National Lawyers Guild. In 2006, New York University presented Mr. Stevenson with its Distinguished Teaching Award.

https://www.justmercyfilm.com/https://www.facebook.com/JustMercyFilm/

The Real-Life Bryan Stevenson Now: Where Is He Today?

 

 

USA’s International Women of Courage Awards for 2019

December 18, 2019

Stock Daily Dish on 16 December 2019 reports that Melania Trump made a rare public appearance to present 13 women with the 2017 Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award. The prize honors those who fight for women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk. “Together, we must declare that the era of allowing the brutality against women and children is over while affirming that the time for empowering women around the world is now,” Mrs. Trump said. She called on leaders to “continue to work towards gender empowerment and respect for people from all backgrounds and ethnicities,” and on the international community to fight all forms of injustice. For more on this award – and 7 more that have ‘courage’ in the title – see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/international-women-of-courage-award.

Each US embassy can nominate one woman for the award. The 13 women honored this year are:

Malebogo Molefhe (Botswana), who used to play for the Botswana national basketball team, has served as an advocate for survivors of gender-based violence after she was attacked and shot eight times by her ex-boyfriend in 2009 and confined to a wheelchair,

Rebecca Kabugho (Democratic Republic of the Congo), has led peaceful anti-government protests calling for credible elections in the DRC, and spent six months in prison for her role as an activist

Major Aichatou Ousmane Issaka (Niger), currently the deputy director of social work at the Military Hospital of Niamey, was one of the first women to join the Nigerien army in 1996, and was one of the first to attend a military academy. She has served throughout Niger, including in the Diffa Region, a stronghold of the Boko Haram terrorist group.

Veronica Simogun (Papua New Guinea), the founder and director of the Family for Change Association, who works to help shelter and relocate women affected by violence,

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (Vietnam), a blogger and activist who promotes environmental and human rights issues under the nom de plum Me Nam or Mother Mushroom. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/18/vietnamese-blogger-mother-mushroom-released/]

Saadet Ozkan (Turkey) was a primary school teacher, who uncovered a “decades-long pattern of sexual abuse” and forced a criminal investigation of the principal; she still supports the victims and their case as a private consultant.

Jannat Al Ghezi (Iraq), helps Iraqi women escape violence, rape and domestic abuse, as well as Islamic State terrorism and occupation, and offers them shelter, training, protection and legal services through the Organization of Women‘s Freedom in Iraq

Sister Carolin Tahhan Fachakh (Syria), known as Sister Carol, runs a nursery school in war-torn Damascus for more than 200 Muslim and Christian children, as well as a tailoring workshop for internally displaced women.

Fadia Najib Thabet (Yemen) is a child protection officer who has dissuaded young boys from joining Al-Qaeda, exposed its Yemeni branch Ansar al-Sharia as a recruiter of child soldiers and reported on human rights violations for the UN Security Council.

Sharmin Akter (Bangladesh), a student who refused an arranged marriage at age 15, which resulted in the prosecution of her mother and her much-older prospective husband,

Sandya Eknelygoda (Sri Lanka), who fought for justice after the disappearance of her journalist husband in 2010 and who has served as a voice for the families of others who have disappeared during the country‘s civil war.

Natalia Ponce de Leon (Colombia), who has become a human rights activist for the victims of acid attacks after a stalker threw a liter of sulfuric acid on her in 2014,

Arlette Contreras Bautista (Peru), a domestic violence survivor and activist, who helped launch the Not One Woman Less movement, which aims to increase the social and political awareness of women‘s rights and gender-based violence in Peru.

The newspaper noticed that Mrs Trump did not mention her husband or his presidential administration during her 10-minute remarks.

“The Animal People”, how terrorism charges were laid against animal rights activists

December 16, 2019

In the Intercept of 12 December 2019, use the release of the new documentary film “The Animal People” – which is available on demand as of this week  – to focus on the story of Harper and his co-defendants, all of whom were convicted under spurious charges of conspiracy to commit terrorism — though none of whom were found to have participated directly in any illegal acts. These were activists who attended raucous but legal protests, shared publicly available information about corporations on their website, and celebrated and supported militant actions taken in the name of the SHAC campaign. That is, they were convicted as terrorists for speech activity. It sounds eerily like the criminalisation fo human rights defenders today:

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Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty protesters. Still: Courtesy of Virgil Films

The SHAC 7 case is a lesson in how legal instruments can be deployed to shut down dissent. At a time of renewed criminalization of protest activity nationwide, the so-called green scare stands as a worrying benchmark for the repression of political speech and the re-coding of protesters as criminals and terrorists. The capricious application of conspiracy charges — which we have seen recently deployed against protesters from Black Lives Matter advocates to Standing Rock water protectors — was mastered in the SHAC 7 prosecution. But “The Animal People” doesn’t only emphasize the excesses of the corporate-state power nexus; it recalls the passionate moral commitments of the SHAC members, and reminds us of a potent protest strategy and set of tactics, which I for one would happily see deployed again.

 

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The first half of the film traces the rise of what seemed, at certain times, to be an “unstoppable” movement. What began as a series of protests in the U.K. soon spread to the U.S., as activists in cities across the country took it upon themselves to confront Huntingdon-affiliated companies and shareholders. Some of the most committed organizers spent hours on complicated research into Huntingdon’s financial infrastructure, following the money to find any and every chokepoint on which to put pressure: be it the major banks and insurance firms propping up the company, or even the janitorial services contracted by a given Huntingdon lab. The information about potential targets was then shared on the SHAC website for activists to use as they saw fit.

……

SHAC tactics were, as any radical political experiment necessarily is, imperfect. Under the campaign’s banner, some activists exposed the names of children of targeted executives —  an outlier action, to be sure, but one that visibly still haunts a number of the SHAC defendants in the documentary. The prosecution also made much of the publication on the SHAC website of such information, even though the defendants had no direct involvement. (In the only incident of human harm associated with the movement to shut Huntingdon down, U.K. activists at one point assaulted CEO Brian Cass.)

Skepticism also hovers around the decision to focus wholly on closing Huntingdon, given the prevalence of abusive animal testing. The idea had only been to start with the company, which had already come under public scorn following the release undercover video footage of animal abuse in their labs (parts of which are replayed in “The Animal People”). The activists had planned to win against HLS and expand from there; the biochemical and pharmaceutical industry, with the weight of the federal government behind them, ensured otherwise. Huntingdon has since changed its name to the banal and faux-Latinate “Envigo.”

…..

“The Animal People,” along with most every decent retelling of the SHAC 7 case, makes clear that the six individuals indicted on terror charges were fall guys in the government’s scrambling attempt to put a stop to a movement, which was, against all odds, bringing major corporations to heel. “Corporations get to do what they want — that’s a rule in our society,” Lauren Gazzola, a former SHAC 7 defendant with a robust knowledge of constitutional law, tells the filmmakers. “We challenged the right of this corporation to exist.”

The story of who gets to be a labeled a “terrorist” in this country reflects the ideological underpinnings behind government policy and law. Under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, expanded in 2006 into the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a terrorist is someone who intentionally damages or causes the loss of property — including freeing animals — used by the animal enterprise, or conspires to do so. It is an obscene state sanctification of corporate private property over life.

…..

As I have written, the current pattern in law enforcement of labeling protests as “riots,” invoking slippery statutes of collective liability, and attempting to justify harsher crackdowns are all troubling for the same reason……

“The animal rights movement has really been the canary in the coal mine when it comes to modern government repression of activist campaigns,” the film’s co-director Denis Henry Hennelly told me by email. The sentiment was echoed by Potter, the journalist. “This is the new playbook for the criminalization of dissent,” he told me. “I’ve already seen it applied to other social movements, both here in the U.S. and internationally. In the years since the trial, though, it has only become more prescient.”

For viewers with little to no knowledge of this history of animal liberation struggle and its repression, “The Animal People” offers a compelling primer, organized through archival protest footage, old home videos of some of the SHAC 7 defendants, interviews with legal experts and investigative journalists, one smug businessman who was targeted by a SHAC campaign, and more recent interviews with the former defendants. As with any 90-minute film, the story the directors, Suchan and Hennelly, chose to tell is only one slice of an international and dispersed movement’s history. But for a documentary with some Hollywood backing — animal lover Joaquin Phoenix is an executive producer — “The Animal People” stands uncomplicatedly on the side of the SHAC defendants and doesn’t dampen their anti-capitalist message.

For Stepanian, this element of animal liberation and the necessary connection with anti-capitalist environmental activism can’t be forgotten. “In terms of the direct-action animal liberation movement today, it’s largely impotent compared to the time period of the SHAC campaign, because most messaging falls squarely in what is safe within the framework of capitalism: Much of the activity revolves around better consumer choices,” Stepanian told me. “I’d like to see another campaign with a lens critical of capitalism, which understands that it is this socioeconomic system which rewards the worst practices when it comes to the treatment of animals as resources, and rewards rapacious attitudes towards the environment.”

The film closes with a montage of uprisings, from students in Hong Kong, to the gilets jaunes in France, to Black Lives Matter activists in the U.S., and marchers for liberation in Palestine. It’s a minimal gesture toward intersectionality in a film that underplays the aspects of SHAC that were dedicated to shared struggle. “It’s not OK to be singular in your solidarity; justice and liberation for all life is paramount,” Stepanian told me, recalling how, prior to his indictment, he went on two organizing road trips with former Black Liberation Army member Ashanti Alston. “We are all intersectional activists,” he said of his former co-defendants.

Jake Conroy of the SHAC 7, who joined one of the road trips, comments near the film’s end: “It’s not just about earth liberation, it’s not just about human liberation, and it’s not just about animal liberation. It’s about collective liberation.”

https://theintercept.com/2019/12/12/animal-people-documentary-shac-protest-terrorism/

Carter Centre: Human Rights Defenders speak out

December 10, 2019

At the occasion of international human rights day 2019, the Carter Center published “Human Rights Defenders: In Their Own Words“, a selection of participants at the 12th Human Rights Defenders Forum in Atlanta [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/22/carter-centre-wants-to-preserve-the-stories-of-human-rights-defenders/]:

  • “The right to defend human rights is a right already recognized. We have to be mindful and careful and state clearly that no one should be defamed, persecuted, prosecuted, or killed because they exercise their right to defend rights, regardless of their political position.”
    CLAUDIA SAMAYOA
    Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos
    Guatemala
    and
    ALEJANDRA SERRANO PAVÓN
    Environmental Law Alliance
    Mexico

  • “We believe that if people understand the concept of human rights and are able to apply it to their lives, then there will be more peaceful coexistence. Then government can cut down on the bills for buying arms and ammunitions. Then development can take place because everybody’s living peacefully and they’re able to go about their normal businesses fully.”
    HALIMAT JIBRIL
    Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN)
    Nigeria

  • “We have seen the rise of many youth-led movements around the world, and these young protesters are speaking out and standing up not just on the issue of environmental crisis, but also on land rights, on democracy. All of them are using the internet as a tool not just for communication but also for organizing and mobilizing these campaigns.  One concrete way we can support youth-led movements is to make sure that these internet tools remain accessible, safe, and truly empowering.”
    RAYMOND “MONG” PALATINO
    Global Voices
    The Philippines

  • “The Palestinian people, just like all people around the world, are seeking the preservation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And when that is undermined in one part of the world, it is undermined everywhere. I feel like the Palestinian situation is just a microcosm of global injustice. If we can solve one, we can solve the other. But big problems require collective minds.”
    WESAM AHMAD
    Al-Haq
    Palestine

  • “Every time that we’ve had significant change in our country, religion has been at the heart of it. It’s been part of what motivates people. It speaks to our values. To neglect religion in thinking about human rights would be to neglect a huge part of the resources that we have in taking on the injustices we face.”
    COLLEEN WESSEL-MCCOY
    Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice
    United States

  • “Solidarity is not about ‘me’; it’s about ‘we.’ It’s about just being there – not being ahead of somebody or behind somebody, but standing with them.”
    STACEY HOPKINS
    Activist
    United States

  • “The relationship we build between people is the greatest wealth we can have. It is beyond money. It goes beyond what you have in your bank account. When you have a good relationship with the people – your friends, your family, your colleagues – that is a good foundation to build a country.”
    HALIDOU NGAPNA
    Carter Center Human Rights House
    Democratic Republic of Congo

  • “In 1996, we embedded human rights into our three-year program. Immediately, we started seeing change. It was like a revolution. Community members started coming out and promoting their own rights, started talking about their responsibilities. This was possible because we talked about all the aspects of human rights – economic rights, cultural rights, political rights, and civil rights. After people understood human rights, we started seeing changes in deeply rooted cultural practices, including female genital cutting and child marriage. They started having dialogues around gender-based violence against women and girls. Women started taking political positions, because they now understood they have the right to vote, and the right to be elected. Things started changing.”
    GODFREY OCHIENG OKUMU
    Tostan International
    Senegal

  • “If you’re not indifferent, the world will be different. Challenging our own indifferences is extremely important.”
    RAMESH SHARMA
    Ekta Parishad
    India

  • “In 2015, our lives began to change completely. We lost our jobs; we lost our homes; we lost our country; we lost our dignity. But we did not lose hope, and we will never lose hope.”
    MUNA LUQMAN
    Food4Humanity
    Yemen

  • “The motto of our organization is taken from John 17:21, which says, ‘That all of them may be one.’ If all should be one, there should be no violence, there should be no quarrel, there should be no killing. For all of us to be one, there must be love. There must be peace. There must be unity. And there must be togetherness.”
    VICTORIA BOLANLE IHESIULOR
    Christian Association of Nigeria, Women’s Wing
    Nigeria

    https://www.cartercenter.org/news/features/p/human_rights/hrdf-in-their-own-words.html

COP25: climate defenders also needed to be shielded

November 28, 2019

Tomorrow, 29 November, 2019, young people will gather at locations around the world for a Fridays for Future Global Climate Strike. On 2 December, United Nations delegates, world leaders, business executives, and activists will meet at the 25th Conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP25) in Madrid to discuss ways to protect the environment. Participants in these events should also discuss ways to protect the protectors: the individuals and groups targeted around the world for their efforts on behalf of the planet.

Music to our ears: songs for human rights

November 5, 2019

The Speak Up, Sing Out Music Contest 2020 is on. In collaboration with the GRAMMY Museum, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights invites students to write and produce original songs that speak out against human rights abuses. The format is open to any genre of music. The Grand Prize winning songwriter will participate in a GRAMMY-related event. ENTRY DEADLINE: APRIL 20, 2020.

Getting your voice heard can really change your community, society, more than you could ever think.” says the 2019 Speak Up, Sing Out contest winner Tess Lira shares the inspiration behind her empowering song “Solid Gold” and encourages songwriters to trust their voices.

For some of my ealrier posts on music and human rights, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/music/

https://mailchi.mp/rfkhumanrights/calling-all-student-filmmakers-854437?e=99673fdc45

1 million $ Berggruen Prize for Justice Ginsberg for her human rights stance

October 25, 2019

Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/UPI | License Photo
On 23 October 2019 UPI reported that Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg received a $1 million prize for her support of human rights and gender equality. The Berggruen Institute, a non-partisan think tank, presented the fourth annual award to Ginsburg, 86. The institute was founded in 2010 by billionaire philanthropist Nicolas Berggruen.
I am delighted the Jury has chosen to honor such a prolific leader in the field of jurisprudence,Berggruen said. “Throughout her career, Ginsburg has used the law to advance ethical and philosophical principles of equality and human rights as basic tenets of the USA..Her contributions have shaped our way of life and way of thinking and have demonstrated to the world the importance of the rule of law in disabling discrimination.”

The Berggruen Prize for Philosophy & Culture is given each year to someone who has contributed to self-understanding and advancement in the world. Ginsburg chose to donate her winnings to a charity or non-profit organization she has not revealed.

https://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2019/10/23/Justice-Ginsburg-awarded-1M-prize-for-support-of-human-rights/7351571852581/

Winners of the 2020 Andrei Sakharov Prize (of the APS) announced:

October 23, 2019

The American Physical Society (APS) on 22 october 2019 announced the Society’s Spring 2020 prize and award recipients. This includes the 2020 Andrei Sakharov Prize [see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/andrei-sakharov-prize-aps] which goes to:

Ayşe Erzan, Istanbul Technical University
For her lifelong commitment to human rights, especially for her steadfast defense of the rights of citizens to criticize those in power, even at great personal cost.

Xiaoxing Xi, Temple University
For his articulate and steadfast advocacy in support of the US scientific community and open scientific exchange, and especially his efforts to clarify the nature of international scientific collaboration in cases involving allegations of scientific espionage.

https://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/updates/spring-prizes20.cfm

Lantos Award Human Rights Prize 2019 to Bill Browder, the instigator of the Magnitsky Sanctions

September 30, 2019

On 27 September 2019 at 10:30 the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice has given its Lantos Human Rights Prize 2019 to Bill Browder, the driving force behind the Magnitsky Sanctions. for more on this award see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/lantos-human-rights-prize.

[In 2008, Sergei Magnitsky, a young Russian lawyer who uncovered massive tax fraud perpetrated by Russian officials, was charged with the very offenses he had uncovered. In an effort to cover up the crimes he had exposed, Magnitsky was sent to prison where he later died from abuse, neglect, and mistreatment. Bill Browder, for whom Magnitsky had worked, vowed to dedicate himself to seeking justice for Sergei and this crusade has made him a global human rights leader. First passed by the US Congress in 2012, the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act authorized sanctions of government officials implicated in serious human rights abuses. ..Since its enactment, the US Government has sanctioned more than 70 officials in over a dozen different countries. Most recently, Magnitsky sanctions were enacted to penalize those Saudi Arabian officials implicated in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.]

Bill Browder’s campaign for justice and accountability did not stop in the United States. Since 2012, similar Magnitsky laws have been enacted in Canada, Estonia, the United Kingdom, Latvia, and Lithuania. Despite fervent opposition from Russia and other lawless regimes that prefer to have their human rights abuses go unnoticed and unpunished, the European Union, Australia, France, Germany, Ireland, Denmark, Italy, and other EU member countries are considering the passage of their own Magnitsky laws.

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/11/10/patrick-desbois-french-priest-who-uncovered-nazi-killings-awarded-lantos-prize/

https://www.prweb.com/releases/media_advisory_lantos_foundation_to_award_human_rights_prize_to_bill_browder_at_washington_ceremony/prweb16598333.htm