RIGHTS


Asia Bibi faces death penalty for “blasphemy” [Updated]


Sick:

In this village in Pakistan’s Punjab province a tearful 12-year-old girl ponders if the Pakistani government will soon hang her mother. “Whenever I see her picture I cry,” Isham Masih told CNN. “I want my mother back. That’s what I’m praying for.” This month a Pakistani court sentenced Isham’s mother, 45-year-old Asia Bibi, to death, not because she killed, injured or stole, but simply because she said something. Prosecutors say Bibi, who is a Christian, broke Pakistan’s strict blasphemy law by insulting Islam and the prophet Muhammad, a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment according to Pakistan’s penal code.

UPDATE: Falsely accused:

A preliminary investigation shows that a Pakistani Christian woman has been falsely accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammed, a government official said Monday.

“The president asked me to investigate her case and my preliminary findings show she is innocent and the charges against her are baseless,” Pakistani Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti told CNN.

Asia Bibi, who has been jailed for nearly 15 months, was convicted in a Pakistani court earlier this month of breaking the country’s controversial blasphemy law, a crime punishable with death or life imprisonment, according to Pakistan’s penal code. She was sentenced to death.

Bibi filed a petition for mercy Saturday, and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari asked Bhatti to investigate the case, Bhatti said. Bhatti emphasized Monday that he has reached only preliminary conclusions and will submit a final report Wednesday to Zardari’s office.

UPDATE II: Protesters oppose pardon for Pakistani Christian:

Around 250 hard-line Muslims staged a demonstration in the central Pakistani city of Lahore on Wednesday, warning the president not to pardon a Christian woman sentenced to death for insulting Islam.

They also denounced any attempt to change Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which critics say is often misused to persecute Christians like Asia Bibi and other minorities. Her case has prompted outrage from human rights groups and a personal appeal from Pope Benedict XVI for her release.

But hard-line Islamic groups in Pakistan have pushed back and some have even threatened officials in the past who suggested reforming or repealing the blasphemy law. These groups have significant power since politicians from the major parties rely on them for votes.

UPDATE III: Pardon denied:

A Pakistani court has barred President Asif Ali Zardari from pardoning a Christian woman sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam, in a case that has prompted criticism over the country’s blasphemy law.

Pakistan mother denied presidential pardon for ‘insulting Islam’

Asia Bibi, a Christian, has been sentenced to death after falling foul of the country’s blasphemy law

Asia Bibi, a Christian woman in Pakistan been sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam Asia Bibi, who has been sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam. Photograph: Str/APA Pakistani court has barred President Asif Ali Zardari from pardoning a Christian woman sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam, in a case that has prompted criticism over the country’s blasphemy law.

Bush is getting a pass for torture, but could he face legal problems outside the U.S.?


I’ve been following the astonishing callousness and carelessness with which George W. Bush admits to having authorized torture:

The U.S. media long ago determined that George W. Bush’s transgressions have ceased to be newsworthy. One of the reasons is that the Obama administration made the disastrous decision not to investigate Bush. That cop-out allows Bush to freely admit he approved torture…

Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said, “Waterboarding is broadly seen by legal experts around the world as torture, and it is universally prosecutable as a crime. The fact that none of us expect any serious consequences from this admission is what is most interesting.”

M. Cherif Boussiani, an emeritus law professor at DePaul University who co-chaired the U.N. experts committee that drafted the torture convention, said that Bush’s admission could theoretically expose him to prosecution. But he also said Bush must have presumed that he would have the government’s backing in any confrontation with others’ courts.

Georgetown University law professor David Cole, a long-standing critic of Bush’s interrogation and detention policies, called prosecution unlikely. “The fact that he did admit it suggests he believes he is politically immune from being held accountable. . . . But politics can change.”

Here’s an interesting perspective:

Now that President Bush is back with an autobiographical book defending his tenure, so are those who want him arrested for torture. In this article from France’s Rue 89, Jean-François Lisee informs that every country – all 146 of them – that are signatories to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, are obliged to arrest Mr. Bush, and Lisee points out that a few have already begun proceedings against Bush Administration officials.

For the Rue 89, Jean-François Lisee writes in part:

If no action is taken against Bush in his home country, that opens the possibility of indictment in a third country.

A total of 145 other countries, including Canada, are signatories to the U.N. Convention Against Torture. And all signatories have committed to enforcing its provisions, even against offenders residing in other territories.

Therefore, with varying degrees of success, proceedings have been initiated in Spain and Belgium against foreign heads of state, notably the Chilean Pinochet. Water boarding is now considered a form of torture worldwide, and those responsible must be prosecuted.

In fact, a court in Madrid last January opened proceedings against Bush advisers who wrote memos illegally authorizing the use of torture. The case is pending, but the issue was pursued precisely because no American authority took action against the officials responsible.

It’s a safe bet that George W. Bush is now in the crosshairs of the Spain tribunal. If it were to condemn him, even in absentia, he would then be subject to the mutual extradition treaty in force among 24 European countries. In other words, Bush couldn’t travel to any of these countries without incurring the risk of being deported to Spain to serve out his sentence.

Inspiring: Anuradha Koirala fights trafficking of Nepal’s women and girls


A true hero:

Anuradha Koirala is fighting to prevent the trafficking and sexual exploitation of Nepal’s women and girls. Since 1993, she and her group, Maiti Nepal, have helped rescue and rehabilitate more than 12,000 victims.

Koirala: I would like to urge all the human beings around the world: Please close your eyes and imagine these girls are your daughters, and you will feel the pain of being trafficked.

Don’t watch this video of Afghan women


A terrible reality for Afghan women:

Even the poorest families in Afghanistan have matches and cooking fuel. The combination usually sustains life. But it also can be the makings of a horrifying escape: from poverty, from forced marriages, from the abuse and despondency that can be the fate of Afghan women. “If you run away from home, you may be raped or put in jail and then sent home and then what will happen to you?” asked Rachel Reid, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who tracks violence against women.

Returned runaways are often shot or stabbed in honor killings because the families fear they have spent time unchaperoned with a man. Women and girls are still stoned to death. Those who burn themselves but survive are often relegated to grinding Cinderella existences while their husbands marry other, untainted women. “Violence in the lives of Afghanistan’s women comes from everywhere: from her father or brother, from her husband, from her father-in-law, from her mother-in-law and sister-in-law,” said Dr. Shafiqa Eanin, a plastic surgeon at the burn hospital, which usually has at least 10 female self-immolation cases at any one time.

The most sinister burn cases are actually homicides masquerading as suicides, said doctors, nurses and human rights workers. “We have two women here right now who were burned by their mothers-in-law and husbands,” said Dr. Arif Jalali, the hospital’s senior surgeon. Doctors cited two recent cases where women were beaten by their husbands or in-laws, lost consciousness and awoke in the hospital to find themselves burned because they had been shoved in an oven or set on fire.

Unless you’re prepared to be shocked and enraged, don’t watch this video:

Bush’s bombshell: I broke the law


This story should be as big as the midterms, but it won’t be. The U.S. media long ago determined that George W. Bush’s transgressions have ceased to be newsworthy. One of the reasons is that the Obama administration made the disastrous decision not to investigate Bush. That cop-out allows Bush to freely admit he approved torture:

Human rights experts have long pressed the administration of former president George W. Bush for details of who bore ultimate responsibility for approving the simulated drownings of CIA detainees, a practice that many international legal experts say was illicit torture. In a memoir due out Tuesday, Bush makes clear that he personally approved the use of that coercive technique against alleged Sept. 11 plotter Khalid Sheik Mohammed, an admission the human rights experts say could one day have legal consequences for him.

In his book, titled “Decision Points,” Bush recounts being asked by the CIA whether it could proceed with waterboarding Mohammed, who Bush said was suspected of knowing about still-pending terrorist plots against the United States. Bush writes that his reply was “Damn right” and states that he would make the same decision again to save lives, according to a someone close to Bush who has read the book.

Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said, “Waterboarding is broadly seen by legal experts around the world as torture, and it is universally prosecutable as a crime. The fact that none of us expect any serious consequences from this admission is what is most interesting.”

M. Cherif Boussiani, an emeritus law professor at DePaul University who co-chaired the U.N. experts committee that drafted the torture convention, said that Bush’s admission could theoretically expose him to prosecution. But he also said Bush must have presumed that he would have the government’s backing in any confrontation with others’ courts.

Georgetown University law professor David Cole, a long-standing critic of Bush’s interrogation and detention policies, called prosecution unlikely. “The fact that he did admit it suggests he believes he is politically immune from being held accountable. . . . But politics can change.”

The disparate threads of 2009/2010 politics come together in this admission:

First, it reminds us how radical Bush really was and why America recoiled in disgust, lurched left and elected a Democratic president.

Second, it highlights the irresponsibility of the press, who should be blasting this on every front page. Remember, the media still has agenda setting power and tells the public what matters.

Third, it bring into stark relief the political and moral tone-deafness of the Obama White House. If you can’t hold an American president accountable for breaking the law on a matter as grave as torture, then you have no moral authority — and questionable political acumen.

Fourth, it explains why someone like Sarah Palin can get elected president.

Fifth, it is yet another vindication of the progressive community, whose warnings about Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bybee, Yoo, Rove, Rice, Ashcroft, etc. have proven to be prescient.

The final insult is that it takes Darrell Issa to threaten investigations of Bush while Democrats mope around after their midterm drubbing:

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) pledged on Wednesday to investigate both Barack Obama and George W. Bush with his newfound subpoena power when he takes over as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“I’m going to be investigating a president of my own party, because many of the issues we’re working on began [with] President Bush or even before, and haven’t been solved,” Issa said during an interview on MSNBC’s “The Daily Rundown.”

America is not America if we lose our moral compass. It matters not one iota if round-the-clock indoctrination by the rightwing noise machine numbs the majority of our citizens and makes the unacceptable acceptable to them. The rest of us must speak out forcefully in defense of the fundamental principles that undergird our nation.

Don’t listen to me, listen to the Bible: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

UPDATE: Marcy raises an intriguing point about Bush’s confession:

At least from Smith’s description, it appears that Bush says nothing about approving the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah (nor the reported waterboarding of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi). Mind you, Ron Suskind has reported that Bush was intimately, almost gleefully, involved in ordering torture for Abu Zubaydah. But Bush doesn’t cop to that in his book. Now, there may be good reason for that. After all, John Yoo had not yet written the memo claiming that waterboarding did not amount to torture at the time Abu Zubaydah was first tortured.

According to multiple reports, the White House–Alberto Gonzales at least, if not his boss–approved the torture of Abu Zubaydah on a daily basis. And when you read the Bybee Memo and the OPR Report on it, it’s very clear that the memo carved out legal authorization specifically for the torture directly authorized by the President. Indeed, the White House’s prior approval for torture–potentially up to and including waterboarding–may explain the urgency behind the memo in the first place, to provide retroactive legal cover for Bush’s unilateral disregard for US laws prohibiting torture.

White House focuses on domestic violence


This is good:

The White House will announce several policy initiatives on Wednesday that are aimed at reducing domestic violence, including pilot programs targeted at children and pregnant women, financial and housing assistance for victims of abuse and a national campaign to reduce sexual violence, according to a memo about the plans.

There are programs targeted at children, including a fund to assist pregnant women who are victims of domestic violence in five states — North Carolina, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia and Washington — and Head Start centers in six states – Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico and South Carolina – will launch a program to help staff members identify signs of domestic violence in children and respond appropriately.

HUD will release guidelines for housing authorities and landlords who have tenants who may be victims of domestic violence, a move that codifies protections outlined in the Violence Against Women Act. The FDIC will expand its Money Smart financial literacy curriculum on Friday to include information for victims of domestic violence.

The Justice Department will announce the start of a pilot program intended to get more private lawyers to offer services to domestic violence victims pro bono.

Here are some stats for context:

Of all the women murdered in the U.S., about one-third were killed by an intimate partner.

According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes every year.

More than 600 women are raped every day.

The Justice Department estimates that one in five women will experience rape or attempted rape during their college years, and that less than five percent of these rapes will be reported.

Bill O’Reilly and Juan Williams reveal a terribly warped set of priorities


The blow-up du jour is Juan Williams’ termination by NPR for insensitive comments about Muslims:

NPR has terminated its contract with Juan Williams, one of its senior news analysts, after he made comments about Muslims on the Fox News Channel.

From my perspective, this is the most notable portion:

Mr. O’Reilly said, “The cold truth is that in the world today jihad, aided and abetted by some Muslim nations, is the biggest threat on the planet.” Mr. Williams said he concurred with Mr. O’Reilly.

The biggest threat? Bigger than preventable hunger and disease that kills millions of women and children? Bigger than the scourge of sexual violence and domestic abuse that endangers our mothers, sisters and daughters? Bigger than the wholesale ravaging of our planet and global warming? Seriously?

This reveals a terribly warped set of priorities. I’m not surprised O’Reilly said it. I would have expected better of Juan Williams.

Barbaric: forced abortion at eight months in China


Words fail me:

Context from a 2007 TIME report:

Harrowing details have emerged in recent news reports of alleged forced abortions in China’s impoverished Guangxi province. Earlier this month as many as 61 pregnant women were injected with an abortive drug after being dragged to local hospitals, according to media accounts. Human rights activists say actions allegedly carried out by family planning officials there are unlikely to be isolated. Along with forced sterilization and other coercive methods of birth control, forced abortion continues to be practiced occasionally by officials in remote parts of China despite its having been banned by the central government in Beijing.

Two Aishas: two tragedies, one survivor


***Trigger Warning***

Bibi Aisha:

An Afghan woman whose ears and nose were cut off by her abusive husband as punishment for running away – and whose mutilated face was featured on the front of an international magazine – has undergone extensive plastic surgery.

Aisha was married to a Taliban fighter when she was aged just 12 when she and her sister were handed over in order to settle a family debt according to local custom known as baad. The girls reportedly endured many years of abuse, and were forced to sleep in a stable with the fighter’s family’s animals. Aisha was often beaten and her in-laws treated her and her sister like slaves.

Eventually Aisha ran from the house but her husband – who returned from fighting inside Pakistan in order to find her and restore “family honour” – tracked her down in Kandahar. He took her back to Oruzgan district where he lived and on the way he cut off her nose and ears. Essentially left for dead, she managed to crawl to the house of her uncle but he refused to help her. Eventually a relative took her to a US-operated hospital.

Aisha Duhulow:

13-year old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was stoned to death in Somalia by insurgents because she was raped. Reports indicate that she was raped by three men while traveling by foot to visit her grandmother in Mogadishu. When she went to the authorities to report the crime, they accused her of adultery and sentenced her to death. Aisha was forced into a hole in a stadium of 1,000 onlookers as 50 men buried her up to the neck and cast stones at her until she died. A witness who spoke to the BBC’s Today program said she had been crying and had to be forced into a hole before the stoning, reported to have taken place in a football stadium. She said: ‘I’m not going, I’m not going. Don’t kill me, don’t kill me.’ “A few minutes later more than 50 men tried to stone her.” The witness said people crowding round to see the execution said it was “awful”.

Last February, I wrote about a young Turkish girl buried alive by relatives in a so-called “honor” killing that was carried out as punishment for talking to boys, referring to the males who commit these heinous deeds as monsters:

First, let me say this: the brutalization of women and girls cuts across all religious and cultural boundaries, so this isn’t just about dis-‘honor’ killings, though few things are more heinous than a father murdering his daughter (after dispassionately discussing it with other family members). It’s about the things males do to females and will continue to do unless the outcry is loud enough that the world begins to take notice.

In a December post, I made a painfully easy prediction: women would have another horrible decade. I gave a few examples.

Like this:

Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist, cannot bear to listen to the stories his patients tell him anymore. Every day, 10 new women and girls who have been raped show up at his hospital. Many have been so sadistically attacked from the inside out, butchered by bayonets and assaulted with chunks of wood, that their reproductive and digestive systems are beyond repair. “We don’t know why these rapes are happening, but one thing is clear,” said Dr. Mukwege, who works in South Kivu Province, the epicenter of Congo’s rape epidemic. “They are done to destroy women.”

Here’s a BBC story from this morning:

A wealthy British landowner has been found guilty of murdering his estranged wife. Prout’s wife asked him for a divorce before she went missing…

Or this, from 2005, that uses a perfect word to describe the men who do these things:

When Amy Rezos went to meet her estranged husband to talk about a divorce, she never imagined what would happen next. When the couple separated, Chris got a hotel room. On July 2, 2004, Amy thought she was meeting him in the hotel to finalize the details of the divorce. Instead, she was walking into a carefully planned trap. As the couple argued over the custody of their two boys, Chris snapped. “I just remember seeing a look on him that I had never ever seen before in my life. It was a look … like a monster,” she said. Amy was savagely beaten. Someone in a nearby room heard the commotion and called the police. When officer Paul Lovett arrived, Chris Rezos tried to convince him that they were victims of a robbery. But Lovett didn’t buy it. “I could see a woman on the floor covered in blood. The bathroom was covered in blood. I was certain she was dying. I asked her to blink once for no, twice for yes,” Lovett said. As the 35-year-old woman lay near death, Lovett tried to speak to her, “I asked if your husband did this to you and blink once for no, twice for yes, and she blinked twice,” he said.

I could post thousands of these and it wouldn’t capture the depth and breadth of the problem. It comes down to this: there simply isn’t sufficient public outrage about gender-based violence to spur political action.

In the aftermath of Haiti, I asked a simple question: “If the World Can Mobilize Like This for Haiti, Why Not for Sexual Violence in Congo?

The world’s response to Haiti is fully warranted – anything less would be reprehensible. But one thing about it frustrates me: why can’t we muster the same sense of urgency, the same focus, the same acceptance that other lesser activities must be temporarily set aside; why can’t we mobilize as quickly and react as fiercely and forcefully when it comes to similar calamities across the globe? Say, for instance, the monstrous sexual violence in Congo? When young girls are being gang-raped with bayonets and chunks of wood, their insides ripped apart, how can the world take it in stride? There’s simply no excuse for a muted response, let alone indifference. None.

Some readers said the global inaction with respect to Congo boils down to conflict mineral Coltan, and to some extent that’s true. But the bigger problem is apathy. Nick Kristof articulates it well:

Sometimes I wish eastern Congo could suffer an earthquake or a tsunami, so that it might finally get the attention it needs. The barbaric civil war being waged here is the most lethal conflict since World War II and has claimed at least 30 times as many lives as the Haiti earthquake. Yet no humanitarian crisis generates so little attention per million corpses, or such a pathetic international response.

‘Pathetic’ is an understatement.

Sometimes I feel like we were all born into an alternate universe, a psychotic, twisted, perverted version of what life should be. Our existence is marked by unimaginable violence, hideous acts of evil against the most innocent among us. It’s like living in a perpetual horror movie.

As I wrote recently, across the globe, women’s rights, their basic dignity, is under assault. It can manifest with physical violence, but it can also be part of a pervasive pattern of sexism and misogyny. Whatever form it takes, one thing is clear: there can be no justice on earth until there is justice for women.

UPDATE: More horrific details about Aisha’s ordeal:

Promised to a Taliban fighter by her father when she was 12 to satisfy an obligation, Aisha was married at 14 and had been used as a servant and forced to sleep in an outbuilding with her in-laws’ animals. When she fled their abuse, neighbors turned her in.

She was jailed briefly, and her father retrieved her and returned her to his in-laws, after being assured they would treat her better. Instead, her husband walked her into a mountain clearing and held her down while his brother chopped off her nose and ears as other Talib watched. Then they left her to die in the mountains where they’d disfigured her.

“I passed out,” she said in an interview with CNN’s Atia Abawi.  “In the middle of the night it felt like there was cold water in my nose.”

It was her own blood, so much of it, she told Abawi. “I couldn’t even see…”

Somehow Aisha managed to feel her way to her grandfather’s home, where she was hidden and then spirited away to a medical center run by the U.S. military, who eventually transferred her to a privately-run women’s shelter…  After 10 weeks’ care, Aisha was stabilized enough to go to the Grossman Burn Center for a series of rehabilitative surgeries that the center had offered to perform pro bono.

Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo wins Nobel Peace Prize — has Obama honored his?


President Obama received his Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 for what the world hoped he would do. Liu Xiaobo was awarded his for what he’s already done:

Liu Xiaobo is a human rights activist who has called on the Chinese government to be accountable for its actions. He has been detained, arrested, and sentenced repeatedly for his peaceful political activities, including participation in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

Along with more than three hundred Chinese citizens, [he] signed Charter 08, a manifesto released on the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December 10, 2008), written in the style of the Czechoslovak Charter 77 calling for greater freedom of expression, human rights, and for free elections. As of May 2009, the Charter has collected over 8,600 signatures from Chinese of various walks of life.

Late in the evening of December 8, 2008, two days before the official release of the Charter, Liu Xiaobo was taken away from his home by police. Another scholar and Charter 08 signatory, Zhang Zuhua, was also taken away by police at that time. According to Zhang, the two were detained on suspicion of gathering signatures to the Charter. While Liu was detained, in solitary confinement, he was not allowed to meet with his lawyer or family, though he was allowed to eat lunch with his wife, Liu Xia, and two policemen on New Year’s Day 2009. On June 23, 2009, the Beijing procuratorate approved Liu Xiaobo’s arrest on charges of “suspicion of inciting subversion of state power,” a crime under article 105 of China’s Criminal Law.

When Obama won the prize last year, I wrote the following:

The news that President Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize is sure to set off another round of praise, hand-wringing, scorn, awe, judgment, jealousy, pride, and so much more.

It’s a truism that Barack Obama is proof we can achieve big things and fulfill big dreams. But there are constant questions: What constitutes greatness? What is success? Failure? What does it mean to be ‘important’? Is anyone really more important than anyone else? Where is the recognition for those courageous souls who endure deep suffering with great dignity? Does it matter whether they’re recognized? Is their achievement any less significant because it goes unheralded? And what is achievement? Is it material? Is it the attainment of our own arbitrary goals? Is Obama’s success really achievable by everyone? In our society, is it attainable by a woman? By the oppressed and disenfranchised around the world? By the voiceless?

Some of the answers are not what we’d like them to be.

I lost my father a decade ago, but his lessons were those taught by so many fathers: dignity, loyalty, hard work, honesty. I look for those qualities in other people and measure myself against them. I admire those who give selflessly, those who stand for something, whose beliefs matter to them, whose life’s purpose is to make the world a better place. A shining example: Sérgio Vieira de Mello. His story ended far too soon.

But Obama’s is being written before our eyes. And we are helping to write it. Let’s make it one of true greatness.

One of the reasons I admire fellow progressives who place principle above party and speak out against this administration when they perceive a breach of Democratic values is that they are trying to shape the course of events by exerting political pressure based on core ideals. They are writing Obama’s story with him and holding him to standards of greatness, to the standard deserving of a Nobel Prize.

Which is why they condemn indefinite detention, Constitution-defying assassination of American citizens, needless escalation of war, foot-dragging on gay rights, regression on women’s reproductive freedom and deception on life-threatening environmental damage, among other things. None of these activities comport with the high hopes and ideals surrounding the 2008 election, the belief (and relief) that the Bush-Cheney era would be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Prizes and awards honor individuals and are symbolic gestures, but ultimately, these prizes belong to each of us if we play our part in making the world a more just, more humane place. We can do that in many ways, big and small. One way is to hold ourselves and those around us to standards of fairness, justice, honor and dignity and to act and speak out when those standards are breached.