Last week the world watched as a pastor in Florida with a 50-person congregation launched a message of intolerance and bigotry that reverberated across the world.
Reverend Terry Jones seized a moment. He rode the wave of fear and bigotry generated by those who sought to politicize 9/11 and exploit prejudice to block the building of a Muslim cultural center in downtown Manhattan.
In this country, we do not tell people where and how to pray. The freedom of every person to worship in his own way was one of President Roosevelt’s famous “Four Freedoms” and formed the basis for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is central to who we are as a nation.
That is why Human Rights First supported the interfaith movement protesting the “Burn a Koran” event. To counter the Dove World Outreach Center’s 10 reasons to burn a Koran, we gathered our own 10 reasons not to burn the Koran, compiled from nearly 5,000 responses received online. We gave away free bookmarks proclaiming that Americans Don’t Burn Books. And—because we believe that the answer to hate speech is not to restrict it, but to confront it, by speaking out for tolerance—we urged all our leaders to do so.
President Obama, General Petraeus, Secretary Clinton, the Vatican, Mayor Bloomberg and many others did just that. Those voices—and yours—need to be heard around the country and the world. We must speak out against intolerance wherever it occurs. Vandalism against mosques and anti-Muslim protests, which continue, are unacceptable.
We are urging ALL our leaders to stand up against hatred and for the fundamental principles that have made this country great—religious freedom, pluralism, and tolerance. Join us!
President and CEO
Human Rights First
Later this week, world leaders will come together at the UN to discuss a range of global issues, and Sudan will be high on the agenda. In January, residents of Southern Sudan will vote on whether or not they would like independence from the rest of the country.
Administration officials, including the former Director of National Intelligence, have sounded an alarm about the potential for violence and atrocities against civilians in Southern Sudan around these referenda. We saw with Darfur that international outrage was swift, but action was slow. That needs to change.
Last month, a resolution was introduced in the Senate that would enhance the capacity of the United States to act to prevent mass atrocities. The bill breaks new ground by encouraging action against third-party actors that enable these crimes—an issue Human Rights First has been raising in meetings with policy makers.
The U.S. combat mission in Iraq has officially ended, but two unfinished tasks need to be addressed: contractor accountability and protection for Iraqi refugees.
While the number of American troops in Iraq is on the decline, the number of private contractors—many of them armed—is expected to double by the end of the year. Did you know that the U.S. government doesn’t even track how many contractors and subcontractors work for them abroad? And it’s still unclear how or even whether these contractors can be prosecuted if they commit serious crimes. We need improved oversight and accountability—a new HRF report explains the reforms that are needed.
As for refugees, over 200,000 Iraqi refugees are registered with the UN refugee agency in the region and, after five years of exile, many are increasingly vulnerable and in need of assistance and resettlement to third countries such as the U.S.. In recent written testimony submitted for the record to the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, we proposed a number of reforms which would improve the protection of Iraqi refugees awaiting resettlement to the U.S. We continue to advocate for these reforms with senior officials at the White House and Department of State.
HRF will be pushing our recommendations to make sure these critical tasks do not remain unfinished.
4 days. 12 congressional candidates. 5 retired generals. 6000 of your letters.
We visited Illinois last month as part of our campaign to educate candidates of both parties about national security, the need to close Guantánamo, and the ability of our federal courts to bring terrorism suspects to justice. For more details, read the report-back on our blog.
On Sunday, we were up on the air in Indiana. Our 30-second ad ran during NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS’s Face the Nation, Fox News Sunday, ABC’s This Week, and CNN’s State of the Union. We chose Indiana because the issue of closing Guantánamo has surfaced in the Senate campaign there, but the record of federal courts vs. military commissions on trying terrorism suspects—403 convictions in federal court to 4 in military commissions—had not.
Members of the group of retired military leaders were in DC last week meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder, members of Congress and the political campaign committees. Help spread their message—sign our petition to candidates supporting closing Guantánamo and using our courts.
Microsoft just received a wake up call about the dangers of complying with repressive governments on anti piracy laws. Russia has been using these laws to crack down on non-violent government critics and civil society organizations.
Microsoft has a vested interest in anti piracy enforcement, but targeting activists doesn’t protect its intellectual property. Repressive governments aim to cripple political opponents and curb basic freedoms.
This news provides yet another example of why companies need to work in partnership with civil society to address government efforts to curb online speech. We are helping to establish those partnerships with the Global Network Initiative. Read more about it.
A new arrest suggests that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos may be continuing the repressive policies of his predecessor, Alvaro Uribe.
Human rights defender David Ravelo was charged with aggravated homicide on September 14th, based on testimony from one witness, detained paramilitary Mario Jaimes Mejía, who stands to have his prison sentence reduced by 12 years for implicating Ravelo in the crime. Ravelo is actively involved with two NGOs dedicated to the protection of human rights. In the months preceding his arrest, Ravelo and his family received anonymous death threats and harassment.
Ravelo’s arrest occurred against the backdrop of widespread judicial persecution of human rights defenders. Our Baseless Prosecutions report documents the pattern, and led to the release of dozens of activists. However, this latest arrest shows that the problem continues. We’ll follow this case closely and let you know how you can help.
The recent controversy around the deportation of Roma (Gypsies) from France has drawn attention to the discrimination suffered by this minority group across Europe. We have been sounding the alarm to governments and institutions to strengthen protection for Roma and combat hate crime against members of the community.
This year we’re presenting our human rights award to one of our partners in this battle—Viktória Mohácsi has been a tireless advocate for Roma people in Hungary and throughout Europe. We will present the award to Ms. Mohácsi at our annual Human Rights Award Dinner in New York City on October 21, and will work with her to address the threats faced by the Roma in France, Hungary, and throughout Europe.
The New York Times published a letter from Devon Chaffee on access at Guantánamo.
Tad Stahnke was quoted in a Washington Post article covering the U.S. report to the UN on our human rights record.
The Guardian featured HRF’s new report and quoted Melina Milazzo in its article on “Cowboy Contractors.”