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Update

Red Cross: Sri Lankan war zone a "humanitarian catastrophe"

The International Committee of the Red Cross today described the Sri Lankan war zone as "an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe."  For the third consecutive day, the ICRC has been unable to evacuate seriously wounded or ill patients and deliver desperately needed food, due to ongoing combat in the area.  The U.N. reported today that fighting between government forces and the opposition Tamil Tigers was continuing with heavy casualties in the war zone, which is about the size of Central Park in New York.  The U.N. has continued its high-level involvement; it was announced that Secretary-General's chief of staff would be sent to Sri Lanka…

May 15, 2009

Update

Disappearance of Sri Lankan human rights defender

It's not only the war zone in northern Sri Lanka where people are at risk.  On May 7, Stephen Sunthararaj was abducted in Colombo, the capital, by five men dressed in military uniform and carrying pistols.  At the time, he was traveling in his lawyer's car with his wife and two children, when two men on motorcycles pulled up in front of the car to stop it.  As the car stopped, a white van pulled up next to it and the five men emerged and forced Sunthararaj into the van which then drove off.  There's been no word from Sunthararaj since then.  The police…

May 15, 2009

Update

Life for Darfuri Refugees in Chad Still Desperate

Amnesty International researchers just completed a mission to Chad to investigate the growing number of Darfuri refugees there.  Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty Canada, has been documenting the mission: We left Chad [on Tuesday], with heavy hearts, a sense of regret that much of our work was curtailed because of insecurity, and a determination to intensify our efforts to bring safety back to eastern Chad.  And as always -- after spending time at the frontlines of human rights struggle -- we have also left with the inspiration of this country’s many courageous and ingenious human rights defenders well lodged…

May 15, 2009

Update

The Hits Keep Coming from Obama

(As originally posted on Daily Kos) And the hits just keep coming. Despite its pledge to reintroduce greater transparency to government the Obama administration reversed itself again this week, announcing that it would now seek to block the release of detainee abuse photographs sought by the ACLU. Then yesterday the CIA announced, in a fine example of Orwellian double-speak, that it would not release memos cited by former Vice-President Dick Cheney because they are subject to a Freedom of Information Act suit being pursued by Amnesty International USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Center for Human Rights and…

May 15, 2009

Update

The Name Says It All: Burma's Insein Prison

Myanmar's opposition leader and Nobel prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has been brought to the country's infamous Insein (pronounced "insane") prison, to face trial on May 18. The prison has been described as the "darkest hell-hole in Burma" and houses many of the country's more than 2,100 political prisoners. Just recently, after years of campaigning by Amnesty International, Mah Khin Khin Leh has been released from there. Aung San Suu Kyi's transfer to Insein prison has sparked international outcry, led by Amnesty International activists. The UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, made the following…

May 15, 2009

Update

International tribunal needed on Sri Lanka

While the fighting in Sri Lanka's war zone reportedly intensified today, we saw a couple of firsts in terms of public statements on the crisis:  for the first time, the U.N. Security Council formally met and called on both of the warring parties to allow civilians to leave the conflict area.  President Obama also spoke out today on the conflict, for the first time since becoming President.  Both statements were very welcome; indeed, Amnesty International just today had called on both the Obama Administration and the Security Council to act to save the civilians trapped in the war zone. The…

May 14, 2009

Update

Aung San Suu Kyi Charged Today in Myanmar

Myanmar’s (Burma) pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was charged today with violating the terms of her house arrest after an American man allegedly snuck into her home last week.  She now faces a prison term of up to five years – just weeks before her house arrest was set to expire on May 27th. With general elections coming up next year many have questioned the timing of the arrest as pretext to prevent Suu Kyi’s involvement.  Is it merely a convenient coincidence?  You decide. Suu Kyi’s female companion, Khin Khin Win, and Khin Khin Win's daughter were also arrested…

May 14, 2009

Update

Irony, Zimbabwe Style

Last week, 18 human rights defenders and political activists in Zimbabwe had their bail revoked, sent to prison and then bail granted again the following day after Zimbabwe civil society and the international community responded with outrage. These persons were part of a group of individuals forcibly disappeared late last year by suspected state agents. Following the re-arrest and then re-release debacle, a story was published in the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper listing the names of police officials and intelligence agents suspected of being involved in the forcible disappearances. The names were drawn directly from court documents filed by the attorney…

May 13, 2009

Update

Sri Lanka: While the UN talks, the killing goes on

While members of the U.N. Security Council met informally in New York yesterday to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka's war zone, there were claims of more civilian deaths from shelling in the zone.  The opposition Tamil Tigers accused government forces of killing at least 45 civilians in a fresh artillery attack, while the Sri Lankan government has denied any knowledge of the incident.  Since independent observers are barred from the conflict area, it's impossible to confirm claims made by either side. The Sri Lankan government has in recent months successfully reconquered most of the territory once controlled by the…

May 12, 2009

Update

"Finding Goodness Where You Least Expect It" – Interview with WOZA Founder Jenni Williams

Anyone who met Jenni Williams and her colleague Magodonga Mahlangu at AIUSA's Annual General Meeting this Spring knows what amazing, uncrushable spirits these women have, despite having been jailed, beaten, and threatened repeatedly by Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe. But if you weren't fortunate enough to meet them, or you'd like to get a deeper look into what makes the women of WOZA keep going, check out this great interview with WOZA founder Jenni Williams that was published in the Guardian this past Sunday. She is truly an amazing woman. Although Jenni and Magodonga expected to have had their trial by…

May 12, 2009

Update

Satellite Imagery Offers Glimpse on Sri Lankan War Zone

New satellite imagery analysis released by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) offers a glimpse on Sri Lanka’s northeastern war zone. The analysis – initially requested by Amnesty International USA and Human Rights Watch – compares two images from May 6 and May 10, 2009, in order to produce additional evidence on the recent attacks. It "reveals evidence of probable artillery shelling as well as major population displacement", according to a press release by AAAS. The images show numerous possible shell impact craters and destroyed houses. The most visible feature of the image comparison is the removal…

May 12, 2009

Update

UN: bloodbath now in Sri Lanka

Yesterday, a doctor working in Sri Lanka's war zone reported that at least 378 people were killed by shelling over the weekend.  The doctor said that 1,122 others had been injured and that the firing appeared to have come from the government side.  Gordon Weiss, the U.N. spokesman in Sri Lanka, said: "We've been consistently warning against a bloodbath, and the large-scale killing of civilians including more than 100 children this weekend appears to show that the bloodbath has become a reality." Sri Lanka has been embroiled in a civil war for about 26 years between the government and the opposition Tamil Tigers,…

May 11, 2009