Posts Tagged ‘USA’

David William McBride Is Nominated for Four International Human Rights Awards

April 6, 2021

This blog has a special interest in human rights awards and their laureates (see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/02/digest-of-laureates-ready-this-blog-changes-orientation/)

Still, it is rare to see an item that so openly advances a candidate as in Newsfile Corp. of April 1, 2021. It states that recently, David William McBride was nominated for four international human rights awards: 2021 Distinguished Services to Humanism Award, 2021 FrontLine Defenders Award, 2021 Sydney Peace Prize, and 2021 Václav Havel Human Rights Prize. These four awards have all made outstanding contributions to the development of international human rights and have a good reputation and recognition.

For the “FrontLine Defenders Award”, the “Sydney Peace Prize” and the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize (Council of Europe), see the Digest: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest

From 2014 to 2016, McBride successively provided the American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) with information about the war crimes committed by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, and reported the details in 2017. The following year, he was charged with five crimes related to national security, with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. He was not guilty of every charge at the preliminary hearing in May 2019 and is still awaiting trial. In the same year, the “Brereton report” was released. The report found that the Australian Special Forces allegedly killed 39 unarmed prisoners and civilians in Afghanistan, and 2 of them were even tortured and killed. Severe condemnation of the incident was issued around the world. After the fact verification was announced, the Australian people and politicians began to call for the revocation of the prosecution against McBride. Previously, McBride stated that my duty is to “stand up and be counted”, and I did it. What has happened from now on is irrelevant in many ways. I did what I thought was necessary. My main enemy is not the command system, or even the police, but myself. When the reporter asked what he thought of the upcoming charges, McBride said, “They keep threatening me to go to jail. If I am afraid of going to jail, why would I become a soldier?”

The winners of the four awards will be announced around April.

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/david-william-mcbride-nominated-four-095700067.html

Next logical step: US Rescinds ICC Sanctions

April 4, 2021

ICC permanent premises
Permanent premises of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Netherlands. © 2018 Marina Riera/Human Rights Watch

US President Joe Biden’s cancellation of punitive sanctions targeting the International Criminal Court (ICC) removes a serious obstacle to the court’s providing justice to the victims of the world’s worst crimes, Human Rights Watch said on 2 April 2, 2021. Biden revoked a June 2020 order by then-President Donald Trump authorizing asset freezes and entry bans to thwart the ICC’s work. This was expected after an appeal by many NGOs, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/19/large-group-of-ngos-call-on-biden-administration-to-repeal-icc-sanctions/

In announcing the repeal of the executive order, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that “[t]hese decisions reflect our assessment that the measures adopted were inappropriate and ineffective.” The State Department also lifted existing visa restrictions.

“The Trump administration’s perversely punitive sanctions against the ICC showed stark contempt for the victims of grave international crimes and the prosecutors who seek to hold those responsible to account,” said Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “In removing this unprecedented threat to the global rule of law, President Biden has begun the long process of restoring US credibility on international justice through the ICC.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/04/02/us-rescinds-icc-sanctions

Turkey: arrests and backsliding on femicide

March 22, 2021

Living close to Turkey, I follow the situation there perhaps with more worry than others. And nothing good seems to happen:

Turkish police detained three district heads of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and seven others in Istanbul on Friday over alleged links to militants, police said, two days after a court case began over banning the party.

Separately, Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD) co-chairman Ozturk Turkdogan was arrested by police at his home, IHD said, prompting human rights groups to call for his release. Turkdogan was then released on Friday evening, the association said.

Responding to the arrest today of Öztürk Türkdoğan, the president of Turkey’s Human Rights Organisation, Esther Major, Amnesty International’s Senior Research Adviser for Europe, said:

“The detention of Öztürk Türkdoğan is outrageous. With ink barely dry on the Human Rights Action Plan announced by President Erdoğan two weeks ago, his arrest reveals that this document is not worth the paper it is written on.

After over three years in jail without a conviction, one of Turkey’s highest-profile detainees, Osman Kavala, is “not optimistic” that President Tayyip Erdogan’s planned reforms can change a judiciary he says is being used to silence dissidents.
A philanthropist, 63-year-old Kavala told Reuters that after decades of watching Turkey’s judiciary seeking to restrict human rights, it was now engaged in “eliminating” perceived political opponents of Erdogan’s government.
Kavala was providing written responses via his lawyers to Reuters’ questions days after Erdogan outlined a “Human Rights Action Plan” that was said will strengthen rights to a free trial and freedom of expression. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/16/osman-kavala-and-mozn-hassan-receive-2020-international-hrant-dink-award/ and

Not surprisingly this is leading to reactions, such as a bipartisan letter penned by 170 members of the US Congress to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in which the lawmakers have urged President Joe Biden’s administration to consider the “troubling human rights abuses” in Turkey.  “President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party have used their nearly two decades in power to weaken Turkey’s judiciary, install political allies in key military and intelligence positions, crack down on free speech and (the) free press,” the letter said. Dated 26 February but made public on 1 March, the letter asks Washington to formulate its policy regarding Turkey considering human rights, saying that the Erdogan administration has strained the bilateral relationship. 

On top of this Turkey has pulled out of the world’s first binding treaty to prevent and combat violence against women by presidential decree, in the latest victory for conservatives in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party. The 2011 “Istanbul Convention| [SIC], signed by 45 countries and the European Union, requires governments to adopt legislation prosecuting domestic violence and similar abuse as well as marital rape and female genital mutilation. Conservatives had claimed the charter damages family unity, encourages divorce and that its references to equality were being used by the LGBT community to gain broader acceptance in society. The publication of the decree in the official gazette early Saturday sparked anger among rights groups and calls for protests in Istanbul. Women have taken to the streets in cities across Turkey calling on the government to keep to the 2011 Istanbul Convention.

Gokce Gokcen, deputy chairperson of the main opposition CHP party said abandoning the treaty meant “keeping women second class citizens and letting them be killed.” “Despite you and your evil, we will stay alive and bring back the convention,” she said on Twitter. Last year, 300 women were murdered according to the rights group We Will Stop Femicide Platform.
The platform called for a “collective fight against those who dropped the Istanbul convention,” in a message on Twitter.
The Istanbul convention was not signed at your command and it will not leave our lives on your command,” its secretary general Fidan Ataselim tweeted.

Kerem Altiparmak, an academic and lawyer specializing in human rights law, likened the government’s shredding of the convention to the 1980 military coup. “What’s abolished tonight is not only the Istanbul convention but the parliament’s will and legislative power,” he commented.

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1822001/middle-east

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/turkey-outrageous-arrest-lawyer-makes-mockery-erdogans-human-rights-reforms

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1828581/middle-east

https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2021-03-19/turkish-police-detain-pro-kurdish-party-officials-anadolu

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1818641/middle-east

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/03/24/turkey-erdogans-onslaught-rights-and-democracy

Will Loujain al-Hathloul be released on Thursday 11 February? – She was.

February 9, 2021

Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul had been sentenced to almost six years in jail (AFP/File photo) By Ali Harb in Washington

After more than 1,000 days in detention where she endured torture and hunger strikes, Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is expected to be released on Thursday, her sister revealed in a tweet on Monday. 

A Saudi court sentenced Hathloul to close to six years in prison late in 2020 on charges of contacting foreign organisations stemming from her human rights work. With time served and the court suspending part of the jail sentence, she was set for release in March. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/29/loujain-al-hathloul-sentenced-to-over-5-years-prison-by-saudi-terror-court/]

Her early release would come weeks into the administration of US President Joe Biden, who has vowed to “reassess” relations with Riyadh and prioritise human rights in its dealings with the kingdom. In a phone call with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan last week, US Secretary of State Tony Blinken stressed “several key priorities of the new administration including elevating human rights issues and ending the war in Yemen”, according to a statement by the State Department.

In 2019, Hathloul and fellow detained feminist activists Nouf Abdulaziz and Eman al-Nafjan received the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award. In 2020 she received the Prix de la Liberte (Normandy) and the Magnitsky award [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/1a6d84c0-b494-11ea-b00d-9db077762c6c] See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/18/%e2%80%8b%e2%80%8bmartin-ennals-award-finalists-2021-announced/

And it did happen on 10 February 2021: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/02/saudi-arabia-release-of-womens-rights-defender-loujain-al-hathloul-long-overdue/

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/loujain-al-hathloul-saudi-activist-be-freed-sister-says.

However, see https://redactionpolitics.com/2021/03/07/loujain-al-hathloul-still-not-free-argue-human-rights-groups/

Pakistan goes after family of escaped human rights defender Gulalai Ismail

February 4, 2021

Mohammed Ismail, above in 2019, faces charges of sedition and terrorism financing, which human rights defenders say are bogus and thinly veiled revenge against the family for embarrassing the state security services.
Mohammed Ismail, above in 2019,.Credit…Saiyna Bashir for The New York Times

Jeffrey Gettleman and Zia ur-Rehman report in the New York Times of 3 February 2021 that Mohammed Ismail, father of the women’s rights activist Gulalai Ismail, now faces harsh terrorism charges that critics say are about revenge, not justice. (Digest: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/91dafeaf-7056-466f-82b9-4a380ba6391a]

Gulalai Ismail, one of Pakistan’s boldest human rights defenders and a stalwart critic of Pakistan’s security services, succeeded in escaping to the United States in 2019, humiliating the authorities who had been persecuting her. Now Pakistan has taken aim at her parents, accusing them of terrorism, and throwing her father, who was recovering from Covid-19, into jail.

A bail hearing ended with Mohammed Ismail being led away in handcuffs. He faces charges of sedition and terrorism financing, which human rights defenders say are bogus and thinly veiled revenge against the family for embarrassing the state security services.

Ms. Ismail, who now lives in New York and has applied for political asylum in the United States, said the charges against her and her parents were “malicious and false.” “This is about setting a precedent,” she said on Wednesday, by phone from Brooklyn. “If a woman raises her voice, the whole family will face consequences.

Ms. Ismail made a name for herself by spotlighting the rampant abuse of women and girls in Pakistan, especially gang rapes perpetuated by government soldiers. She also joined the Pashtun Protection Movement, a human rights protest group known as the P.T.M., and whose rallies became the focus of a massive crackdown by the Pakistani security forces. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/10/06/gauri-lankesh-and-gulalai-ismail-win-2017-anna-politkovskaya-award/]

https://www.ucanews.com/news/civicus-demands-release-of-pakistani-rights-activist/91311#

Black Lives Matter wins Olof Palme prize 2020

February 1, 2021

A woman holds up a placard with the slogan “Black Lives Matter” as people march in Brixton, south London to protest against police brutality in the US after two recent incidents where black men have been shot and killed by police officers. Daniel Leal-Olivas, AFP

AFP reported on 30 January that the international civil rights movement Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation on Friday won Sweden’s Olof Palme human rights prize for 2020.

The foundation was honored for its work promoting “peaceful civil disobedience against police brutality and racial violence all over the world,” prize organizers said in a statement.

The Black Lives Matter movement, founded in 2013 in the United States, has “in a unique way exposed the hardship, pain, and wrath of the African-American minority at not being valued equal to people of a different color,” the statement said.

The movement had its major international breakthrough in the summer of 2020 following several cases of extreme brutality in the US, including the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Prize organizers noted that an estimated 20 million people have taken part in Black Lives Matter protests in the US alone, and millions more around the world. 

This illustrates that racism and racist violence is not just a problem in American society, but a global problem.”

For more on the Olof Palme Prize see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/60DE9060-BC07-450D-B6B8-5A64C0F6D612

https://news.abs-cbn.com/overseas/01/30/21/black-lives-matter-wins-swedish-rights-prize

Human Rights Defenders ask Biden not to nominate people who condone torture to intelligence posts

December 22, 2020

Their appointment would undermine the rule of law and U.S. credibility around the world. It would be a callous rebuke to… all those who care about human rights and the protection of basic dignity.” writes Brett Wilkins in Common Dreams of 21 December 2020.

Mike Morell, under consideration for CIA director, is also under fire for defending torture. (Photo: Witness Against Torture/Flickr/cc)

Anti-torture activists and advocates are urging President-elect Joe Biden to avoid nominating torture apologist Michael Morell for CIA director. (Photo: Justin Norman/Flickr/cc) 

Survivors of torture by U.S. or proxy forces and their advocates on Monday issued an open letter urging President-elect Joe Biden not to nominate torture apologist Michael Morell for CIA director, and calling on the Senate to reject the nomination of Avril Haines for director of national intelligence. 

The letter—which was also sent to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee as well as to Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris—was organized by Marcy Winograd of Progressive Democrats of America, Medea Benjamin of CodePink, and Jeremy Varon of Witness Against Torture. 

In addition to those three activists, signatories to the letter include:

  • Mansoor Adayafi, a Yemeni author imprisoned without charge or trial for 14 years in the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
  • Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian refugee and artist who was jailed without charge in Guantánamo for 11 years.
  • Moazzam Begg, a British Pakistani imprisoned at the U.S. airbase at Bagram, Afghanistan—where he says he witnessed Americans murder two detainees—and then, for three years at Guantánamo Bay before being released without charge. 
  • Sister Dianna Ortiz, a missionary from New Mexico serving during the Guatemalan Civil War who in 1989 was kidnapped, raped, and tortured—she says under the supervision of an American operative—by agents of the genocidal U.S.-backed regime. 
  • Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, a U.S. Army whistleblower who a decade ago revealed that former President George W. Bush and senior members of his Cabinet knew that most of the men and boys imprisoned at Guantánamo were innocent but kept them locked up anyway. 
  • John Kiriakou, a CIA whistleblower who was prosecuted and jailed for nearly two years by the Obama administration for exposing U.S. torture.

“We believe that the record of Morell and Haines disqualifies them from directing intelligence agencies,” assert the letter’s signers, who in addition to those mentioned above include some two dozen other activists and advocates. “Their appointment would undermine the rule of law and U.S. credibility around the world. It would be a callous rebuke to people like ourselves and all those who care about human rights and the protection of basic dignity.” 

“Morell, a CIA analyst under Bush and both deputy and acting CIA director under Obama, has defended the agency’s ‘enhanced interrogation’ practices,” the letter notes. “These included waterboarding, physical beatings, sleep deprivation, stress positions, and sexual humiliation.”

The letter also opposes the confirmation of Biden DNI nominee Haines, who “overruled the CIA inspector general by choosing not to punish agency personnel accused of hacking into the Senate Intelligence Committee’s computers during their investigation into the CIA’s use of torture.”

“In addition, Haines was part of the team that redacted the Senate Intelligence Committee’s landmark 6,000-page report on torture, reducing the public portion to a 500-page summary,” the authors write. They add: 

Haines also supported Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel for CIA director. Supervising a CIA black site in Thailand in 2002, Haspel was directly implicated in CIA torture. She later drafted the memo authorizing the destruction of the CIA videotapes. Like Morell, Haines has worked both to defend torture and surpress evidence of it. She too, is incompatible with the stated aim of the Biden-Harris administration to restore integrity and respect for the rule of law to government.

“The new administration must show the American people and the world that it acknowledges past disturbing U.S. conduct and will ensure that such abuses never recur,” the letter states. “To do that, it needs intelligence leaders who have neither condoned torture nor whitewashed the CIA’s ugly record of using torture.”

“That is why we urge President-elect Biden not to nominate Mike Morell for director of the CIA and the Senate to reject the nomination of Avril Haines for director of national intelligence,” it concludes. “The people of the United States and the world deserve better.”

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/12/21/human-rights-advocates-biden-no-torture-defenders-allowed

USA and 3 other countries in the Americas downgraded by human rights researchers

December 17, 2020

On Wednesday, 16 December 2020 Débora Leão and Suraj K. Sazawal published an opinion piece in IPS entitled: “USA Downgraded as Civil Liberties Deteriorate Across the Americas” (Débora Leão is a Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance. She has a Master of Public Policy degree. Prior to joining CIVICUS, Débora worked on advocacy and research related to civic participation, urban development and climate justice. Suraj K. Sazawal serves on the board to Defending Rights & Dissent and is co-author of ‘Civil Society Under Strain’, the first book to explore how the War on Terror impacted civil society and hurt humanitarian aid.

Protests in New York City against racism and police violence, following the death of George Floyd. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Few images better illustrate the recent decline in civil liberties in the United States than that of peaceful protesters near the White House being violently dispersed so Donald Trump could stage a photo-op. Moments before the president emerged from his bunker on June 1 to hold a bible outside a boarded-up church, federal officers indiscriminately fired tear gas at people who had gathered in Lafayette Park to protest about the police killing of George Floyd. This was far from an isolated incident: nationwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality have been met with widespread police violence.

Since May, the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks fundamental freedoms across 196 countries, documented dozens of incidents where law enforcement officers, dressed in riot gear and armed with military grade-equipment, responded to Black Lives Matter protests with excessive force. These include officers driving vehicles at crowds of protesters and firing tear gas canisters and other projectiles at unarmed people, leaving at least 20 people partially blinded.

Throughout the year, journalists and health workers, clearly marked as such while covering the protests, have been harassed and assaulted. In one incident caught on live TV, a news reporter and camera operator from Louisville, Kentucky were shot by police with pepper balls while covering protests over the police killing of Breona Taylor.

This sustained repression of protests and an increased crackdown on fundamental freedoms led to the USA’s civic space rating being downgraded from ‘narrowed’ to ‘obstructed’ in CIVICUS new report, People Power Under Attack 2020.

This disproportionate response by law enforcement officers to protesters goes beyond what is acceptable practice when policing protests, even during an emergency. Under international law, people have a right to assemble freely. Any restrictions to this right must be proportionate and necessary to address an emergency or reestablish public order.

While recent brutality against protests for racial justice is concerning, the decline in basic freedoms in the USA began before this crackdown. The repression seen in 2020 was preceded by a wave of legislation limiting people’s rights to protest.

In recent years, several states enacted restrictive laws which, for example, criminalise protests near so-called critical infrastructure like oil pipelines, or limit demonstrations on school and university campuses. Increased penalties for trespassing and property damage are designed to intimidate and punish climate justice activists and organisations that speak out against fossil fuels.

In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, some of the ‘anti-protest’ bills introduced this year seem particularly cruel, for instance, by proposing to make people convicted of minor federal offences during protests ineligible for pandemic-related unemployment benefits.

Growing disregard for protest rights underscores wider intolerance for dissent. In parallel with restrictions on the freedom of peaceful assembly, the USA also saw an increase in attacks against the media, even before Black Lives Matter demonstrations erupted. Over the past three years, the CIVICUS Monitor has documented the frequent harassment of journalists by the authorities and civilians while covering political rallies or when conducting interviews.

Correspondents critical of the Trump administration or reporting on the humanitarian crisis in the USA/Mexico border region sometimes faced retaliation; documents obtained by ‘NBC 7 Investigates’ in 2019 showed the US government created a database of journalists who covered the migrant caravan and activists who were part of it, in some cases placing alerts on their passports.

In January 2020 a journalist was barred from accompanying Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in an official trip to Europe after Pompeo objected to the questions by another reporter from the same outlet.

The harsh treatment of people wanting to express themselves and the decline of civil liberties is part of a broader global decline in fundamental freedoms. Our new report shows less than four percent of the world’s population live in countries that respect the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

Each country’s civic space is rated in one of five categories: ‘open, ‘narrowed, ‘obstructed,’ ‘restricted,’ or ‘closed’. The USA was one of 11 countries downgraded from its previous rating.

Another recent example may be that on 15 December 2020 five independent UN human rights experts expressed serious concern over the arrest and charges brought against an indigenous leader (Nicholas Tilsen, human rights defender of the Oglala-Lakȟóta Sioux Nation), for peacefully protesting a political rally held last July at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, located on treaty lands of the Great Sioux Nation.

In the Americas, three other countries showed significant declines: Chile and Ecuador were downgraded to ‘obstructed’ and Costa Rica’s rating changed to ‘narrowed’.[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/01/even-costa-rica-has-serious-problem-with-protection-of-indigenous-defenders/] In the first two countries, as with the USA, rating changes reflected unnecessary and disproportionate crackdowns on mass protest movements.

Violations of protest rights were common across the region, with detention of protesters and excessive use of force among the top five violations of civic freedoms recorded this year. In addition, the Americas continue to be a dangerous place for those who dare to stand up for fundamental rights: across the world, 60 percent of human rights defenders killed in 2020 came from this region.

The authorities must engage with civil society and human rights defenders to create an environment where they are able to fulfil their vital roles and hold officials accountable.

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/12/1080122

John Legend Receives High Note Global Prize 2020 from UN

December 11, 2020

John Legend has become the 2020 winner of the High Note human rights prize. For more on this award see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/748829a0-11fb-11ea-a6e6-0b8b95100eab.

For first one see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/28/first-high-note-global-prize-goes-to-cyndi-lauper-for-her-work-with-lgbtq-youth/

I believe in the power of music to inspire us, to connect our hearts, to give voice to feelings for which words alone won’t suffice, to wake us up out of complacency, to galvanize and fuel social movements,” the singer said upon accepting his award. “Artists have a rich tradition of activism. We have a unique opportunity to reach people where they are, beyond political divisions, borders, and silos. And it’s been my privilege to use my voice and my platform to advance the cause of equity and justice.” See: <a href="http://<iframe src="//content.jwplatform.com/players/Ge9Alkkq-zFOPDjEV.html" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0" scrolling="auto">//content.jwplatform.com/players/Ge9Alkkq-zFOPDjEV.html

Over his 20-year career, Legend has been closely involved with a variety of causes. In 2007, he started the Show Me Campaign to improve access to education, while the Bail Project has advocated for ending mass incarceration and making it easier for released prisoners to find work by removing criminal background checks from job applications. In his High Note Global Prize speech, he touched on his most recent campaign, #FreeAmerica, which is aimed at broad criminal justice reform.

He went on to highlight his most recent campaign, #FreeAmerica, which works toward criminal justice reform. “As a citizen of the United States, and of the world, I know that for far too long our most essential systems have served to perpetuate inequity and injustice,” he shared. “In order for us to create a just world those systems need to change.”

With this award we celebrate a multitude of advocates, generations of movement leaders who have put their shoulder to the wheel of progress,” he concluded. “I don’t stand here absorbing these accolades for myself. I stand here grateful for their ideas and their energy and honored that I can amplify their voices by using my platform.”

https://latestnewspost.com/news/entertainment/tv-shows/john-legend-receives-united-nations-human-rights-high-note-global-prize/

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/john-legend-united-nations-human-rights-high-note-global-prize-1101344/

About the Chilean American Poet and human rights defender, Marjorie Agosin

November 9, 2020

Jackie Abramian, contributor of ForbesWomen of 5 November 2020, gives a voice to Chilean-American poet, novelist, and human rights activist Marjorie Agosin. The piece is too rich to summarize, so here it is in full:

Chilean American Poet, Marjorie Agosin
Chilean American Poet, Marjorie Agosin. John Wiggins

Like a beam of light piercing through the darkest tunnels of human destitute, Chilean-American poet, novelist, and human rights activist, Marjorie Agosin unveils the misery of the marginalized, weaving Latin America’s brutal history with her own Jewish traditions of survival and endurance. Memory and remembrance surface and resurface as a constant in Agosin’s writing. She ­flirts with her ancestral ghosts to unveil universal pain, desperation of loss and exile, and a yearning to belong.

Braided Memories - Marjorie agosin
In Braided Memories (Solis Press, 2020), Marjorie Agosin awakens her great-grandmother, Helena … [+] Marjorie Agosin

Her most recent poetry collection, Braided Memories (Solis Press, 2020), with photographer Samuel Shats, awakens her great-grandmother, Helena Broder’s memory, and escape from Vienna for Chile after the 1938 “Night of Broken Glass.” Agosin journeys to Prague and Vienna to shed light on her ancestors–finding their Stolperstein–stumbling stones of brass plate inscriptions of Holocaust victims’ name and life dates, set before their homes. Her great grand cousins’ spirits fly over Vienna “like a Chagall dream.” In Helena’s imprisoned “silent gaze” she imagines her train ride from Vienna with strangers “familiar in the knowledge of certain escape.” We learn how Helena taught Agosin to “leave glasses of wine before the vacant places” of the dead, how she “acquired the blessing of forgetfulness” and left to “roam on the other side of imaginary spaces.” Agosin, grateful for the remembering gift, becomes Helena’s “tranquil memory.

“The hand that writes knows before the actual writing foreshadows. I hear a voice, a spirit that comes to me—call it intuition or God. You either suppress it or follow it for the magic of discovery,” speaking in her gentle Chilean accent, Agosin is alone with her creative thoughts in spaces that make poetry happen. “Poetry is the soul of life, the language of sentiments. Poetry is not in a hurry—the world is in a hurry and that’s why we fail to see the most important problems of our civilization.”

As a human rights activist, Agosin’s 84 works of poetry, fiction, and literary criticisms have earned her the Pura Belpré Award, Letras de Oro Prize, Latino Literature Prize, Jeannette Rankin Award in Human Rights, U.N. Leadership Award for Human Rights, the Gabriela Mistral Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the Chilean government, and the Fritz Redlich Human Rights Award by the Harvard Program on Refuge and Trauma. She holds a BA from the University of Georgia, an MA and a Ph.D. from Indiana University–and has been a Professor in Latin American studies and Spanish at Wellesley College for over 30 years.

Born in the U.S., Agosin spent her childhood in Chile before the rumbles of a U.S.-backed coup sent her family fleeing the país de poetas (land of poets) to settle in the U.S. The coup overthrew the democratically elected socialist leader, Salvador Allende and on September 11, 1973 brought Augusto Pinochet to power. During the 17-year rule, Pinochet imprisoned, tortured and killed some 130,000 Chileans–and thousands “disappeared.”

Tapestries of Hope, Threads of Love - Marjorie Agosin
Tapestries of Hope, Threads of Love (U. of New Mexico Press, 1996) is Agosin’s landmark work with a … [+] Marjorie Agosin

Tapestries of Hope, Threads of Love (U. of New Mexico Press, 1996) is Agosin’s landmark work with a foreword by Isabel Allende. It spans 30-years of interviews with members of Latin America’s most influential women’s resistance the Arpilleras (burlapin Spanish) movement. The tapestries of embroidered cloth scraps made by impoverished women memorialize the “disappeared” loved ones under Pinochet’s rule. Agosin worked with the initial group of 12 women and brought their stories to the world. They were part of the anti-Pinochet art workshops, funded by Vicarâia de Solidaridad human rights organization of the Chilean Catholic Church. The embroideries, smuggled and sold abroad, provided income for the destitute women. {see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/22/arpilleras-making-a-come-back-as-blankets-that-protect/]

“As a woman and a mother, this is the most important work I’ve done–it changed my life,” Agosin was 24 when she first saw an Arpillera shown by the Chilean National Literature Prize-winning writer, Antonio Skármeta–whose book Ardiente paciencia inspired Academy Award-winning movie on Neruda, “IL Postino”.

Arpillera
Arpillera, means burlap in Spanish, a patchwork picture made by the women, became popular in Chile … [+] Marjorie Agosin

Like poetry, women’s distinct resistance movement reaches the core of what it means to be human, Agosin believes. The tapestries reveal an innate grief, immortalize memory, unfulfilled yearning to reunite with loved ones, and the trauma of lifelong scars.

In her most favorite poem The Most Unbelievable Part, Agosin explores how power corrupts and turns ordinary people into torturers. How in 1973 Pinochet designated La Esmeralda, the 1400 feet-long Chilean navy training vessel, into a detention and torture center for the “disappeared.”..

“Poetry is the intimacy of memory–it transcends history. The poem wrote the story of the tortures on La Esmeralda, not the other way around,” explains Agosin. “Torture is a metaphor for how power works—how a woman of privilege treats her maid.”

Considering Chile her home that gave her “a beautiful language” (she still writes in Spanish), and refuge to her family when they came on ships from war-torn Europe, Agosin’s exilic yearning of the familiar stranger expresses the constant pangs of un-belonging. In her Pura Belpré Award–winning young adult novel, I Lived on Butterfly Hill (Atheneum Books 2014)

Kids Post Summer Book Club Selections
WASHINGTON DC – JUNE 01: I Lived on Butterfly Hill by author Marjorie Agosin is one of the Kids … [+] The Washington Post via Getty Images

and its sequel, The Maps of Memory: Return to Butterfly Hill (Atheneum Books2020), Agosin recreates her happy childhood in Chile through the 11-year-old Celeste Marconi’s life. Her peaceful life, extended family, deep ties with the sea and the pelicans of the hill-town of Valparaiso unravel with the political shift to dictatorship. Celeste goes into exile to Maine and returns years later to find her country scarred by the brutality of dictatorship, and is determined to find her displaced classmates, re-build and heal her town and country. Like Celeste, Agosin is not totally at home in Chile.

“I’m home in books, poems, writings, friendships, history, travels–in places where Jews lived, and among trees and nature–human beings are not exiled from the beauty of the world,” Agosin immerses herself in her seacoast Maine home–which reminds her of Chile– surrounded by her garden dotted with quaint alcoves that invite the visitor to stop, rest, and embrace nature. “I’m at home in sacred places, from mosques to churches to synagogues.”

In A Cross and a Star: Memoirs of a Jewish Girl in Chile (Feminist Press, 1997)and Always from Somewhere Else: A Memoir of My Chilean Jewish Father (Feminist Press, 2000)Agosin meets her parents at history’s crossroads. Her father, as an infant with chickenpox, was hidden, crossed the ocean and was named Moisés. He became a medical doctor in Chile and later emigrated to the U.S., becoming a foreigner once again. Her blond, blue-eyed mother could only attend an impoverished rural school–not a Catholic school because she wasn’t baptized, nor the German school run by the Nazis.

“My mother’s story explains what’s it like to be a minority in south of Chile when the Nazi’s arrived–how Chile denied and marginalized its minorities and its indigenous people,” Agosin wonders why vast majority of Chile’s Jewish community stood in silence against Pinochet’s atrocities as she explores human rights abuses from Latin America to the unfair partition of Israel which offered a refuge for the Jewish people displaced by the Holocaust–and in process displaced the Palestinians. 

“Unfortunately Israel continues to suppress the Palestinian people that deserve the right of self-determination. To continue with the occupation of their lands violates the spirit of Israel as a vibrant democracy. Only a two state solution will allow Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and with the dignity each one deserves,” Agosin states.

Agosin is inspired by her “amazing group of politically engaged” students at Wellesley College whose worldview, commitment to academic learning, open expression, and internships across the world to engage with the vulnerable reflects in their “gratitude for the possibility of learning as they face economic and emotional challenges amidst a pandemic.” Her immense empathy and loyalty to amplify all injustices reveals an undeniable allegiance to the spiritual and universal values of preserving memory.

“Memory is the active cause. Memory will not remember itself, like the Stolperstein tiles. Memory is a process, a constant commitment; without it we won’t remember the future. Memory is the future of the past,” Agosin confirms.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackieabramian/2020/11/05/chilean-american-poet-marjorie-agosin-unpacks-remembrance-giving-the-future-a-past/?sh=5b80f5fb12f4