Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Interesting, that...

I have not updated this thing in far too long. My apologies. Life has been chaotic to say the least but I'm graduating soon and heading to the University of Oregon in Eugene, to embark on my master's in International Studies. That is all for now. More to come later...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

i cannot make you care but maybe i can make you think

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963
US black civil rights leader & clergyman (1929 - 1968)

Is there a punchline to this? Is there some hidden joke or invisible clause that says oh wait a minute, injustice anywhere is contigent upon those defining justice and those defining justice obviously retain the power to decide who then is responsible for injustice?

I am presenting a chapter in two weeks on the rights of transgender people to safe and adequate (and affordable) healthcare.
I am presenting a slideshow in two weeks on WHY a gay pride parade in Idaho is relevant to those who fight for the very basic human and civil rights that others often take for granted.
ALSO, in three weeks, I am defending my honors thesis linking the local history and policy of HIV/AIDS to the national struggle for humanizing those living with HIV/AIDS.

Again and again, the conversations shift to me having to explain WHY one person's struggle should make a damn bit of difference to another...


Why should you care if a transgender prostitute has access to healthcare?
Why should you care if a gay man has AIDS, regardless of questions of risky behavior, education or socioeconomics?
Why should you care if someone a government considers a terrorist or terrorist threat is caged, tortured and held without charge or access to legal counsel?
Why should you care if Idahoans march in a parade?
Why should you care if someone feels offended by a religious monument inside a courthouse?
Why should you care if a President or any leader can claim his or herself and his or her nation exempt from any sort of international law that is deemed unfriendly to the whatever NOTIONS that nation holds sacred, even those of freedom and democracy?


I keep going back to the quote by one of the most highly regarded civil rights leaders EVER and wonder exactly where the punchline is, if such effort will remain a joke.

For sanity's sake, I HIGHLY recommend the fantastic essay by Maia Ettinger titled, "The Pocahontas Paradigm, or will the Subaltern please shut up?" from the book Tilting the Tower edited by Linda Garber. Here's a quote so that you might see why:
"An interesting thing happens when people of color or queers speak up in class: everyone else feels silenced...In this case, however, race and sex categories are both over- and under inclusive." She explains that this "everyone else" includes what she calls, "People lacking an Agenda (PLAs), people whose interest in race, class and gender is grounded in something other than the need to survive in an alien culture and/or to assess in good faith their own position in the multiple systems of subordination that constitute the culture."

Why? Why should you care? Why should anyone?

Is injustice anywhere, injustice everywhere or is that just a nice turn of phrase?

What possible good is an education that touts critical thinking if one is neither encouraged nor expected to engage in the very debates that do make us uncomfortably and sometimes painfully aware that yes this privilege IS a result of someone else's oppression and that maybe even this FREEDOM IS precisely because someone else is caged.

What possible right can exist as a privilege? Either it is a right that the law will protect OR it is a privilege the law can ignore and even be bent to take away.

Where is the human in human rights if not in every SINGLE human being regardless of sex, religious orientation, race, class, education, family history or legal status?

I am excited about my projects. I am excited because I see every sentance as a chance to engage in an debate far larger than the borders of this state or this country. I see each discussion had and each lecture attended and each coffee shop debate as a chance to refuse and refute the comfort of silence and invisibilty.

In short, I see them as not only a chance but a part of the responsibility that an education entails and the quote and the legacy of King and others EXPECTS of all of us.

Friday, March 31, 2006


Currently, my senior research projects are all in history and my interdisclipinary project is designing my own human rights curriculum proposal (complete with pedagogy, syllabus, annotated bib and the like).

My senior research projects are:

McNair Scholar Summer Research Title:
Visibility as Power: A Historical Analysis of the Gay Pride Parade in Idaho

Honors Senior Thesis Title:
Representative Bodies: The History and Policy of HIV/AIDS in Idaho

I have written extensively in my undergraduate on themes of visibility and the role of language in both a liberatory and oppressive function. My degree is in Human Rights Studies. Previous paper topics include: Post-Colonial Feminism, Gay Marriage, Language and Law, Civil and Refugee rights (particularly African American civil rights and Cambodian and Vietnamese Refugee Rights).

I am leaning toward a degree either in History (modern european or modern american history), international studies or literature and modern thought. The grad schools I'm seriously considering are: Stanford, UC Berkeley, Brown, Oxford, Washington State and Oregon State University.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

interesting article that i'm writing an opinion piece on...op piece soon to follow

CONNECTIONS; Hate Crimes: What Is Gained When Forbidden Acts Become Forbidden Beliefs? By EDWARD ROTHSTEIN (NYT) 1026 wordsPublished: September 19, 2005Thirty years ago, hate crimes did not exist, though plenty of crimes committed out of hatred did. Could it be that the only thing that has changed is that we now have both? And perhaps that the concept of hate crime is more a burden than a benefit?
Such was the unease I felt on Tuesday night at the New York Tolerance Center of the Simon Wiesenthal Center listening to a panel of human rights advocates discuss a new report about hate crimes. The report, ''Everyday Fears: A Survey of Violent Hate Crimes in Europe and North America,'' written by Michael McClintock, the director of research for Human Rights First (formerly the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights), focuses on the United States, Canada, and 53 European and Central Asian countries.
It argues that hate crimes are on the increase and are not being taken seriously enough. In France, reports of violence against gay men more than doubled from 2002 to 2003. In Britain, anti-Semitic assaults on individuals doubled from 2003 to 2004. In the Netherlands, anti-Muslim violence flared after the murder of the filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004, leading to acts of arson and assault. The particular accounts are chilling.
What is to be done? At the panel, Mr. McClintock argued that ''data stops hate,'' that knowing the extent of hatred would lead to legislation and control. His report argues for the expansion of legal and governmental structures to monitor and prosecute hate crimes.
Europe might already seem well armed. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has increased its focus on hate crimes in its Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. According to Mr. McClintock's report, the security organization also has an international hate crimes program that has been documenting its member nations' failures to document those crimes. The European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance and the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia also combat what the monitoring center calls ''racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism at the European level.''
But Human Rights First also says that only 19 of the 55 nations in the security organization actually have hate crime legislation and that only five include ''sexual orientation and disability bias'' in their criteria. Denmark does not make racism a factor in criminal law; France does but won't separate out statistics about particular groups. As for the United States, in the latest survey 90 percent of enforcement agencies did not report data on hate crimes at all.
The report suggests that all hate crimes are vastly undercounted, noting that ''the highest levels of violence were found where there was increasingly effective monitoring and reporting (in Germany and France).''
But how are such crimes to be identified? The concept of hate crime developed only in recent decades out of a particular political perspective. It asserts that there are groups so injured by being at society's margins that any further injury rising out of hatred is particularly heinous. A hate crime is not just an individual crime but a reflection of a presumed social crime. Prosecution of hate crimes is a form of social exorcism, a declaration that traces of past sins will be expunged.
This is more peculiar than it may seem at first. Usually, a crime is prosecuted because it is a forbidden act; a hate crime is prosecuted because of a forbidden belief. Usually, punishment is assessed by judging a criminal's plans: Was the murder premeditated? Was it accidental? In hate crimes the motive is central: Was it done out of greed? Was it done out of hatred? Prosecuting hate crimes is meant to be an attack on prejudice, meant to reform feelings, not just behavior.
Thus hate crimes tend to fit a particular political ideology. It is not really group hatred that gives hate crimes their meaning, but social grievance. In the United States, for example, there is palpable discomfort when an incident of black-on-white crime is called a hate crime. It doesn't fit the model: where's the victim's social grievance? Anti-Semitism has also typically been seen as the spur to a hate crime only when it comes from the far right, as an extension of familiar fascistic victimization.
Human Rights First refers to terrorist acts as spurring hate crimes in retaliation but not as hate crimes themselves. They are ignored even though the Washington sniper of 2003, John Allen Muhammad, made his group hatred apparent, and even though radical Islamic clerics regularly preach hatred against Jews, infidels and Westerners and urge that it be acted upon (with considerable success). These are not considered hate crimes because the victims are not considered socially aggrieved.
In fact, debates about hate crimes can even resemble debates over who merits social restitution. This report urges that the concept be standardized: hate crimes should be crimes based on prejudice motivated by race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and disability.
Given all this, it is not surprising that statistics are inconsistent and difficult to come by, that some hate crimes prove to be crimes committed for other motives, that some hate crimes are not crimes at all and that others go unrecognized. Hate crimes are hard to prove and easy to claim, related to feelings not acts. It is not clear that monitoring and reporting will eliminate hate crimes. More agencies and legal structures are now devoted to them than ever before, without diminishing their prevalence.
Is it possible that one of the best ways to eliminate hate crimes is to jettison the concept itself? As for eliminating acts of hatred well, that is a more serious problem.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

state by state analysis

This site is a fantastic wealth of information on everything from health care coverage to state spending. Please check it out. ~peace~

Friday, December 23, 2005

senior honors project prospectus (excerpt)

I'm determined as of late...to look at the way individuals and communities respond to crises and face unfathomable odds. My senior honors project will hopefully reflect this in a way that is both useful and inspiring. Here's an excerpt fro my prospectus. I'll begin this project in the Spring.

Community Response to HIV/AIDS in Idaho
The first case of HIV/AIDS in Idaho was reported in 1985. Idaho’s first Gay Pride Parade occurred in 1990. In 1994, Proposition One (an anti-gay initiative in Idaho) was defeated. This research delves deeper into the history surrounding these events to explore and analyze community involvement and response to HIV/AIDS in Idaho from 1985 to 2005. The purpose of this project is two-fold. First, the research offers a history of HIV/AIDS, told by those who have lived and/or documented it. Second, this project gauges the origins, existence, and efficacy of local community resources, response, and outreach programs. It will culminate in a web log or blog, which will serve to connect the history with updated and interactive links to existing resources, support systems, and statistics of HIV/AIDS in Idaho. It will also result in a paper, which will detail the process of compiling this history through interviews and archival research.
This project is significant in that it documents the history of the AIDS crises in Idaho. This could easily invite future comparative analysis between the historical and political responses in Idaho with other states with lower rates of reported cases of HIV/AIDS. Ideally, it could also help community members, particularly those in need of such services, better understand what is available currently and how such services might be utilized or improved. This project holds personal significance in that I have been involved in health care since 1998. I have also been involved in and passionate about AIDS awareness, education and activism since 1989. I have written countless papers and even a play about AIDS, examining specifically the multiple ways AIDS has been historically debilitating and dehumanizing. Finally, this project holds professional significance for me as an aspiring academic. Health care as a human right is still a heavily debated issue, particularly with regard to HIV/AIDS treatment. The national history of the AIDS crisis and the current international struggle with soaring infection rates in younger and younger people shows however, that there is a place for and need of integrating education/awareness with analysis of the efficacy of existing programs and resources. It is my hope that this research can help to illustrate why access to quality health care is and should be a human right. To this end, I intend to build upon the connections made between socio-economics, race, gender and access to health care, eloquently and passionately described by Dr. Paul Farmer, in his book, Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights and the New War on the Poor.

I did not find any books or scholarly articles specifically addressing the history of or community response to the AIDS crisis in Idaho. There is, however, ample writing on the relationship between socio-economics, health care and the human rights of those with HIV/AIDS. Proponents advocate a rights-based approach to health care, which would assure every person has access to quality medical care and specifically, to the resources needed to maintain health. Opponents quickly label this unrealistic, idealistic and some even consider it, unjust. Richard D. Lamm argues, “Rights are adversarial and individual, where health policy has to balance both who is covered and what is covered for all citizens. We can and should provide basic healthcare to all citizens, but this should be done through the legislature, not the courts and it should be accomplished as a matter of good social policy, not by playing the trump of rights”1. Lamm focuses on limited resources and the differing ways in which health is even defined. He maintains that while governments should provide healthcare to citizens, they should do so not because it is a right but because it is good public policy.
Such an argument does not include any mention of those whose lives may go unaccounted for in such policy. Lamm does address this though, by stating, “We, in fact, limit healthcare in one of the cruelest ways that any nation can do so—by simply leaving people out of that system”2.
Historically, the AIDS crisis offered a prime example of how easily a government can choose to leave people out of legislative protection, out of housing protection, out of employment protection, out of, in fact, having any human rights at all. This is why entering this debate at a local level and grounding it in local response and outreach is so crucial. Idaho was not Washington, New York, or California. Idaho has been minimally impacted by the AIDS crisis compared to those states. However, according to the most recent statistics from aidsaction.org, in September 2004, Idaho’s drug assistance program for AIDS treatment was capped and had a waiting list of 34. There may be less “need” here due to the fact that a smaller percent of Idaho’s population is knowingly infected but there is obviously still need.
Being that this project has a two-part focus, I will approach it similarly. First, I plan to ground my research in the archives of the Diversity newsletter, the Idaho Statesman, Your Family, Friends and Neighbors or YFFN by focusing specifically on the reaction to AIDS/HIV within the history of the pride parade. Second, I intend to synthesize this archival research with interviews from those who participated in and/or organized the parade as well as various community responses and activist groups dealing specifically with HIV/AIDS in Idaho. I will use the blog I create to document and compile the results of this part of the research. When this is complete, I plan to compile a list of HIV/AIDS resources exclusive to Idaho and to compare their utilization of the national and state funding of HIV/AIDS programs and outreach. I hope to conduct interviews with local leaders to document their views on the efficacy of Idaho programs compared to other Western states and those existing nationally as well, which would give a human take on the statistics offered by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. My primary methodology will be compiling and presenting data attained through archival research, existing infection statistics, funding reports and personal interviews.

another story

Marina Pisklakova is Russia’s leading women’s rights activist. She studied aeronautical engineering in Moscow, and while conducting research at the Russian Academy of Sciences, was startled to discover family violence had reached epidemic proportions. Because of her efforts, Russian officials started tracking domestic abuse and estimate that, in a single year, close to fifteen thousand women were killed and fifty thousand were hospitalized, while only one-third to one-fifth of all battered women received medical assistance. With no legislation outlawing the abuse, there were no enforcement mechanisms, support groups, or protective agencies for victims. In July 1993, Pisklakova founded a hot line for women in distress, later expanding her work to establish the first women’s crisis center in the country. She lobbied for legislation banning abuse, and worked with an openly hostile law enforcement establishment to bring aid to victims and prosecution to criminals. She began a media campaign to expose the violence against women and to educate women about their rights, and regularly appears on radio and television promoting respect for women’s rights. Pisklakova’s efforts have saved countless lives, at great risk to her own.

When I started the first domestic violence hot line in Russia in 1993 (we named it Anna, Association No to Violence), I was alone, answering calls four hours a day, every day, for six months. I was counseling people in person the other four hours. I couldn’t say no; there were so many women. I had no training, no distance, no boundaries. But at the same time, I don’t know how I could have done anything differently.
Without realizing what I was embarking upon, I began this work while a researcher at the Institute for Socio-Economic Studies of the Population within the Russian Academy of Sciences. While coordinating a national survey on women’s issues, one day I received a survey response I did not know how to classify. It described a woman’s pain and suffering at the hands of her husband. I showed it to some colleagues and one of them told me, "You have just read a case of domestic violence." I had never heard this term before. It was not something even recognized in our post-Soviet society, much less discussed. I decided I needed to learn more about this mysterious phenomenon.
Shortly thereafter, I encountered the mother of one of my son’s classmates in front of the school. Half of her face was severely bruised. She wouldn’t tell me what had happened. One evening a few days later, she called me. Her story shocked me. When her husband was wearing a suit and the button fell off, and it was not fixed quickly, he took a shoe and slapped his wife in the face. For two weeks she couldn’t go out. She was really distressed, and hurt—physically and emotionally hurt—because half her face was black and blue. I asked her, "Why don’t you just leave him?" A very typical question. And she said, "Where would I go?" I said, "Divorce him. Get another apartment." She said, "I depend on him completely." And in this exchange, I saw everything: the way the abuser was consolidating control, decreasing self-confidence, and diminishing self-esteem. I also heard her story of how he would come home and go to the kitchen, touch the floor with his finger, and, if there was the slightest dirt, ask sneeringly, "What did you do all day?" The floors in Russian kitchens always have some dirt, especially if you have kids at home who are running around—the kitchen is often the center of family life in our small apartments. For outsiders, scenes such as I have just described might seem ridiculous, but I was to soon discover that they were commonplace. For this woman, our conversation was an opportunity to communicate with someone who didn’t judge her, who didn’t say, "What did you do wrong?" I didn’t realize that I had actually started counseling her. But I did realize from her story that from psychological violence comes physical violence.
So I started thinking that I should help her; I should refer her to somebody. And then I realized that there was nowhere to go. I cannot tell you my feelings. I really felt hopeless and helpless. In Russia there is a saying, "He beats you, that means he loves you." I now knew the meaning of that saying. I asked myself, "What can you do about a cultural attitude?" But I knew what I had to do. I started the hot line. One cold January day, a woman called in and I started talking with her. After a few minutes, she stopped, saying, "I am not going to talk to you on the phone. I need to see you." So I said, "Okay," and when she came in, her first tearful words were, "I’m afraid my husband is going to kill me and nobody will know." She told me her story. Her husband was very nice until she told him she was pregnant. At that point, everything turned upside down. He became very controlling. She was vulnerable and dependent: "I was terrified; his face was not happy. It was like he’d won. As though he was thinking, ‘It’s my turn. Now I can do whatever I want to you.’" The danger was real.
My first reaction was, "Oh, my God, what am I going to do now?" I knew the police would do nothing. But I called the police in her district anyway. The officer seemed nice, but then he immediately called the husband and said to him, "What is your wife doing? And why is she going around talking about family matters? Look, if you do it, do it quietly." I realized how hopeless the problem really was for her. Her problem became mine. I could not walk away. I called a woman I knew who was a retired lawyer and said, "I don’t have any money and this woman doesn’t have any money. But she needs help. She needs a divorce and a place to live." In Moscow, housing is a big problem. When this woman married her husband, she traded her apartment to his family and now his brother lived there. So she had nowhere to go. She was trapped. Her story got worse. When their first baby was nine months old, her husband tried to kill her. "I don’t know how I survived," she told me. The lawyer and I helped her file for divorce. That’s when the husband told her, "I will kill you and nobody will know. And I will just say to everybody that you ran off with another man and left your baby." I started calling her every morning just to make sure that she was alive. For three months, the lawyer counseled us at each stage and helped us develop a plan.
In the midst of all of this, the situation took a scary turn. The woman called and said: "They know everything we are talking about!" Her mother-in-law worked at the phone company and we quickly figured out that she was listening to her calls. I said, "You know, maybe it’s better. Let them hear about all the support that you have outside." So we started pretending we had done more than we actually had. On the next phone call, I started saying, "Okay, so this police officer is not helpful, but there are lots of other police I am going to talk to about it and your lawyer will, too. So don’t worry." The next time she came to see me, and she said, "They became much more careful after we started talking that way." Eventually her husband left their apartment, partly because the lawyer told us how to get him out, and partly because he and his family realized that she was educated about her rights now. Ultimately, they got a divorce. Her father-in-law came to see her and said, "You have won, take the divorce, and take back the apartment; you will never see my son again."
Soon after this success, a friend of hers in a similar situation started legal proceedings against her own ex-husband and also got her apartment back. I was elated, and for the first time, encouraged! Even in Russian society, where there were few legal precedents, a woman who is willing to do so can stand up for her rights and win. But these stories are just a small fraction of the thousands we continue to hear day after day. Unfortunately, most of the women who call us do not know their rights, nor do they know that they do not have to accept the unacceptable.
There have been some bad moments along the way. One time I picked up the phone and a male voice started saying, "What is this number?" I was cautious since it was not common for a man to call our hot line like that. I responded with "Well, what number did you dial?" And he said, "I found this phone number in the notes of my wife and I am just checking—what is it?" I told him, "Why don’t you ask your wife? Why are you calling?" And at first he tried to be calm and polite, saying, "Look, I’d just like you to tell me what it is." And I said, "If you don’t trust your wife, it’s your problem. I am not going to tell you what it is and I am not asking your name. If you introduce yourself maybe we can talk." And then he started being really aggressive and verbally abusive and he said, "I know who you are. I know your name. I know where you are located. I know where you live. And I am going to come there with some guys and kill you." My husband was there with me at the time and saw I was really scared, though I said to the man on the phone, "I am not afraid of you," and just hung up. I still don’t know whose husband it was. He never came. Another time, my phone at home rang late at night and a man said, "If you don’t stop, you’d better watch out for your son." This really scared me. I moved my son to my parents’ home for a few months. That was tough for a mother to do.
There are different estimations of domestic violence in Russia. Some say now that 30 to 40 percent of families have experienced it. In 1995, in the aftermath of the Beijing Women’s Conference, the first reliable statistics were published in Russia indicating that 14,500 women a year had been killed by their husbands. But even today, the police do not keep such statistics, yet their official estimates are that perhaps 12,000 women per year are killed in Russia from domestic violence. Some recognition of the dimensions of this problem is finally surfacing.
Under Russian law, however, only domestic violence that results either in injuries causing the person to be out of work for at least two years, or in murder, can be considered a crime. There are no other laws addressing domestic violence in spite of years of effort to have such laws enacted by the Duma. But, in my work and in our fledgling women’s movement, we have on our own expanded the functional definition of domestic violence to include marital rape, sexual violence in the marriage or partnership, psychological violence, isolation, and economic control. This latter area has become perhaps one of the most insidious and hidden forms of domestic violence because women comprise 60 percent of the unemployed population—and the salary of a woman is about 60 percent of a man’s for the same work.
A friend started working with me in January 1994, and by that summer we had trained our first group of women who began to work with us as telephone counselors. In 1995, I started going to other cities in Russia putting on training sessions for other women’s groups that were starting to emerge and who wanted to start hot lines or crisis centers. Next, we started developing programs to provide psychological and legal counseling for the victims of domestic violence.
By 1997, we had also started a new program to train lawyers in how to handle domestic abuse cases. Under present Russian law, the provocation of violence is a defense which can be argued in court to decrease punishment. This is perhaps the most cruel form of psychological abuse, because it all happens in the courtroom right in front of the victim. She is made to look responsible. The victim is blamed openly by the perpetrator. Regrettably, there are still many judges who will readily accept the notion that she was in some way responsible, and let the perpetrator avoid being held accountable for his actions. The final trauma has been inflicted.
At the start of the new millennium, we have over forty women’s crisis centers operating throughout Russia and have recently formed the Russian Association of Women’s Crisis Centers, which is officially registered with and recognized by the Russian government. I am honored to have been elected as its first president.
My parents have been incredibly supportive of my work. My father, a retired military officer, once said to me, "In Soviet times you would have been a dissident, right?" And my reply to him was, "Probably, because the Soviets maintained the myth of the ideal—where domestic violence couldn’t exist, officially." The attitude during Soviet times was that if you are a battered wife, then you had failed as a woman and as a wife. It was the woman’s responsibility in our society to create a family atmosphere. It was up to her to maintain the ideal. That’s why women came to me who had been brutalized for twenty-six years. I was the first person they could turn to openly, and confide something they had to hide within themselves throughout their life. This is still true to a great extent today.
I am not an extraordinary person. Any woman in my position would do the same. I feel, however, that I am really lucky because I was at the beginning of something new, a great development in Russia, a new attitude. Now, everybody is talking about domestic violence. And many are doing something about it.

more on Ka Hsaw Wa

Ka Hsaw Wa is the founder of EarthRights International, a nongovernmental organization that filed a precedent-setting lawsuit against a U.S. corporation for torture committed by its agents overseas. The suit charges that Burmese government agents hired by Unocal, a U.S.-based oil company, to provide security, transportation, and infrastructure support for an oil pipeline, committed extortion, torture, rape, forced labor, and extrajudicial killings against the local indigenous population. Ka Hsaw Wa knows about the abuses committed by the military regime firsthand. He has spent years walking thousands of miles through the forests of Burma, interviewing witnesses and recording testimonies of victims of human rights abuses. He has taught hundreds of people to investigate, document, and expose violations of international human rights. As a student leader in the 1980s, Ka Hsaw Wa organized pro-democracy demonstrations in Rangoon. He was seized and tortured by agents of the Burmese military regime, in power since 1962 (and renamed SLORC - State Law and Order Restoration Council - in late 1988). When police opened fire on peaceful demonstrators, one of Ka Hsaw Wa’s best friends died in his arms. Ka Hsaw Wa fled into exile along the Thai border. To protect family members he took a new name, Ka Hsaw Wa, which means "white elephant." Ka Hsaw Wa’s meticulously compiled documentation of systemic rape and forced labor is relied upon and cited by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other international organizations. He has collaborated on several books about the abuses, including School for Rape (1988): "Take over 300,000 men, many of them under the age of seventeen and largely uneducated. Force some of them to enlist at gunpoint and promise all of them a salary they never receive entirely. Give them guns and bombs. Train them to shoot, to crawl through the jungle at night, to ambush. Convince them that their enemies are ethnic minorities, students, women, anyone who disagrees with the government, and that these millions of people are traitors or infidels. Starve them. Withhold their mail and don’t allow them to send any letters. Forbid them from visiting their families. Force them to beat each other for punishment. Abandon some of them if they are too sick to walk. Abuse them verbally and physically every day. Allow them plenty of alcohol and drugs. You have just created the army of Burma’s ruling military regime." Ka Hsaw Wa’s work, at tremendous personal risk, continues in the jungles of Burma.
Kerry Kennedy
I’ve been doing this for eleven years. Most of the time I coordinate fieldwork, collect information, conduct fact-finding missions, and train my staff to do the same, specifically in the pipeline area of the U.S. oil company Unocal. We currently have a lawsuit pending against Unocal. The crux of the case is that a U.S. company is using human rights abuses to further their profit margins.
We interview people inside Burma and ask questions about human rights violations perpetrated by the military government. We hear cases of torture and forced labor, forced portering and rape, and extrajudicial killings. Sometimes I collect information outside of Burma along the Thai border and at other times I collect it in the refugee camps.
The villagers who support us keep in touch secretly or by code. We use radios and GPS (Global Positioning Systems) to find our way through the jungle. It is extremely dangerous. There are a lot of military bases. We listen to the radio in order to track the military’s movements and to avoid being caught. I wear black clothes and carry a backpack. We travel with a maximum of three people at a time. Sometimes, the military walks across the path just in front of us, so close we can touch them. We have to be very careful. I have been shot at twice.
We make our decisions based on the movement of the troops. Normally, we don’t go into the villages because it’s so dangerous. Instead, we ask the people to come secretly to the jungle because we don’t want to expose ourselves to them and also because we might put them in jeopardy. Among the villagers, there are spies for SLORC, the local military organization. Therefore, we must be very, very careful.
There are many human rights violations directly connected to the Unocal pipeline. The most common is forced labor and portering. The latter occurs when soldiers force villagers to carry their ammunition, their supplies, and food. The porters are not paid for their labor and, at times, they try to escape and to report these crimes to the authorities. If they are caught, the porters may be tortured, imprisoned, or possibly killed by members of SLORC. This happened recently to a close friend of mine. He and a group of villagers had been collecting information for me in order to help themselves and to raise public awareness of local human rights violations. SLORC suspected him of these activities and killed him.
Likewise, in the last four or five years, I have heard of twelve to fifteen rapes against local women by SLORC soldiers providing security for the pipeline. Two of these rape victims are plaintiffs in our lawsuit. The whole area is crawling with soldiers and these women were raped while walking between their village and a nearby farm.
In response to abuses like these, I organized a group of students in 1988 to protest against SLORC and to demonstrate for democracy. Though I was living in Rangoon, each student in my group organized a demonstration in the towns outside Rangoon. Eventually, there were protests all over Burma to educate people about democracy and to resist SLORC. During one demonstration in Rangoon, two of my friends were shot. One died there with me; the other was shot through the mouth and jaw. I carried him to the hospital but, in order to escape, I had to abandon him.
I didn’t want to leave Burma and my elderly parents, so I decided to go to an area outside of Rangoon. At that time, I stayed in the jungle and observed the terrible lives of the villagers. In the morning, the villagers took hoes and baskets and were forced to build things for the military. One day the owner of the house that I was living in said, "Tomorrow I have to go and work for the dogs again." "What are you talking about?" I asked. "The villagers refer to the soldiers as dogs because they hate them," he replied. "We don’t have time to do anything we need to do because we always have to work for them. We don’t get any pay." Then, I got a letter from my mum saying, "Son, it’s too dangerous. Wait for me and I will come to see you." My mother came and I said goodbye to her.
I walked through the jungle for five days to the Karen area with another student and a villager. As we neared the village, I saw a sight that I will never forget. I saw a dead woman with a large tree branch in her vagina. I walked to the village and I asked about her. The villagers told me that she was a nurse and that a group of soldiers had taken her to cure one of their comrades who had contracted malaria. Instead, they raped and killed her. It was so sad.
I stayed around the village for quite a while. This totally changed my life. Since no one was doing interviews at the time, I decided to do some. I talked to everyone. I talked to one mother whose son had committed suicide because a group of soldiers had forced him to have sex with her. The soldiers then clapped their hands and called the boy a motherfucker. The son later killed himself out of shame. The mother was heartbroken. It was then that I made the decision to work for these people.
In the beginning, I had neither a pen nor paper to work with. I went to the Karen National Union (KNU) resistance authority and was dismissed as just another young student. The union told me that this kind of incident happened all the time and that no one cared. They told me not to bother, but to take arms and to fight the soldiers. I didn’t know how to go about the work I wanted to do without the necessary resources or support. I kept approaching the KNU and asked them to buy me a tape recorder, paper, and a pen with which to write down and pass along important information to the concerned people. They simply told me not to fool myself.
I made a decision to continue working on the testimonies. All that I could do was to talk with the people and to absorb their stories as best that I could. We were living in the middle of the jungle, so I decided to go to a town to get some paper and a pen. I used these resources to write messages to people, but no one listened and no one even cared. "What am I doing?" I thought. I was so frustrated.
Finally, in the beginning of 1992, I met a man by the name of Kevin Heppner. He was a Canadian and together we started doing human rights documentation. I translated the testimonies to English, he typed them, and we sent them to anyone who might be interested. Kevin primarily sent the information to human rights groups like Amnesty International because I didn’t have papers to cross into Thailand. I got arrested four or five times in Thailand because I was illegal there. They’d put me in jail for seven days and then release me. It was extremely difficult. In the beginning, we were very poor. Finally we met a woman from France who gave us money for paper and mailing. I was so happy that we could finally do something.
In Burma, I was arrested before the student uprising and tortured as well. A friend of mine had had a fight with one of the authorities’ children and then had disappeared. Although I didn’t know where he had gone, the authorities tortured me and insisted that I tell them of his whereabouts.
The torture began with something referred to as the "motorcycle ride," in which I was forced to assume a specific position and to utter the sounds vroom, vroom, vroom. Once I was exhausted, my shins were beaten with a special tool with a tough outside and pure metal core. Next, I was subjected to "the railway." I had to pretend to ride a railway and to call out the name of each stop.
If I didn’t know the name or if I pronounced it incorrectly, I was beaten. They would beat me continuously and let me break, asking me the same question repeatedly. Finally, I couldn’t say anything more and they didn’t believe me. Before I passed out, I was tortured once more. There was a cement floor with a pile of sharp rocks in one corner. These rocks were typically used for roads and construction. I was forced to swing myself across them until I would talk. "I can’t say anything," I said. They continued to torture me until the pain was unbearable. They stepped on my back and asked me whether I was going to talk. Again, I responded that I didn’t have anything more to say and they kicked me. Two of the soldiers, their faces covered, held me and proceeded to punch and kick me. I was so angry but all I could do was to look at them. I finally started to throw up blood and passed out. Although the entire ordeal lasted for about three days, I’ve seen worse. Some of my friends have been shot and killed.
A lot of my former classmates now have their Ph.D.’s in the United States. They are educated and come here with money. I think to myself, "What am I doing?" I don’t gain anything for myself and I can’t seem to do anything to lessen the suffering of the villagers. I see the situation worsening and I blame myself for not being able to do enough. At the same time, I can’t quit. If I turn my back and walk away, there would be no one to address the issue.
In 1994, one of my friends died and I wanted to give up. I decided that I had to do something for myself. I needed an income to be able to give money to the people. "If I turn my back," I thought, "who is going to do this work?" The suffering would never end. Although it was a hard decision to make, I decided not to stop working for the people. I committed myself to poverty, living in the jungle with very little available food. There was a time when I wanted to shoot myself when there wasn’t any water and we had to eat raw rice. We couldn’t cook for fear that the soldiers might see the fire. One of us contracted malaria and we didn’t have any medicine. It was very cold in the hills and all we had was a sheet of plastic and blanket to cover ourselves. Some people felt sorry for us and gave us a hammock. In the rainy season, life was very tough. Although we hung our hammocks to avoid the leeches on the ground, in the morning we realized the leeches had fallen from the trees and sucked our blood.
We knew the difficulty of the situation, but if we wanted to help the people, we had to make big sacrifices. At times we felt dumbfounded because we had committed a great deal of time without seeing significant results. At one point, I saw the documentation in the trash that we’d been working so hard on. It had been scrunched up and thrown away. I felt heartbroken, though I understood that the issue they were working on was different than ours. I had to be open-minded and to understand the situation. It was so difficult for us to get that piece of paper mailed and to document the suffering that the people had endured. We have an ideal goal: we just want people to be treated like human beings.
I don’t know if courage comes from power or from pain. I remember a time that I listened to someone’s testimony and my whole body began to shake. It was the most horrible thing I had ever heard. The wife of a revolutionary had been arrested in an attempt to get to her husband. The soldiers killed their baby and burned it, then forced the mother to eat it because the father didn’t come back. Tales like this repulse me and simultaneously give me courage. The suffering that I have endured is nothing compared to theirs. These peoples’ needs are greater than my own.

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Sometimes it is difficult to imagine how one person can do anything to bring about social change. Of course we have the larger than life icons of human rights and humanitarianism but here are a few names you may not have heard or read about. I like reading about what people have done because it reminds of all one CAN do.

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Ka Hsaw Wa
Co-Founder and Co-Director, EarthRights InternationalWinner of the 1999 Goldman Envionmental Prize, the 1999 Reebok Human Rights Award, andthe 2004 Sting and Trudie Styler Award for Human Rights and the Environment
Ka Hsaw Wa is a member of the Karen ethnic nationality in Burma. In 1988 he led peaceful student demonstrations in Rangoon, calling for human rights, democracy and an end to military rule. In the ensuing crackdown by the Burmese regime, he was captured and tortured. Upon his release, he fled the country. Since that time, he has traveled clandestinely to remote areas of Burma to interview witnesses and victims of human rights abuses perpetrated by the junta.
In the course of this investigation, Ka Hsaw Wa realized that his people face another threat—that of transnational corporate investment aimed at exploiting Burma’s resources. He found that the killings, rape, torture, forced labor and relocation of villages were all connected to the exploitation of natural resources in the name of development. In particular, the Yadana pipeline which cuts through the Tennaserim region of Burma has been the cause of widespread brutality and forced labor, compounding the persecution of ethnic minorities populating this area.
In 1995, Ka Hsaw Wa joined two American lawyers to found EarthRights International (ERI), an organization initially conceived in response to the Yadana Project. Subsequently, ERI has applied the earth rights concept to other regions in the world where protection of human rights and the environment is intrinsically connected. As ERI’s co-director, Ka Hsaw Wa has been instrumental in the creation of new strategies for corporate and government accountability as well as innovative training programs aimed at building the capacity of indigenous peoples to protect their rights, restore control over natural resources and conserve the environment.
Ka Hsaw Wa has been honored for his work with the Goldman Environmental Prize, Reebok Human Rights Award, the Sting and Trudie Styler Award for Human Rights and the Environment, and the Conde Nast Environmental Award. In speaking tours around the world, Ka Hsaw Wa has made the international community aware of the oppression his people suffer under the military junta and inspired many new activists to take action to defend Burma.
"We will not let them defeat us. We know the companies and their military partners have lots of money, guns, power and influence. But they do not have what we have. We have truth, we have justice, we have courage, and most importantly, we have each other to protect human rights and the environment. We will win."

Mexico’s first openly homosexual member of Congress, Patria Jiménez Flores was elected in 1998 at the age of forty-one. The ninth of ten children in a conservative Catholic family, Jiménez overcame her own family’s prejudices to confront the bigotry of society at large. She works on issues of homophobic violence, violations of basic rights, sexual and sexuality education, cultural activism, and awareness of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. In addition she is a leader on domestic violence initiatives and a supporter of peace negotiations with the Zapatista rebels in Chiapas. As a member of the national legislature, Jiménez works on behalf of sexual minorities, and for the dispossessed and voiceless throughout Mexico. Between 1991 and 1993, some twenty-five gay men were assassinated in Mexico, mostly among the Chiapas transvestite community. Jiménez has been a relentless advocate for justice, pressuring police to reopen the investigations. On the day of this interview, Jiménez was on the phone to Chiapas, hearing from local human rights organizers that authorities had used violence again that morning, and her presence would help prevent confrontation. Could she possibly come in time for the demonstration? Despite the caseload of legislation confronting her, Patria Jiménez was on the next flight.
Kerry Kennedy
Twenty-five transvestites were executed, one by one, in the state of Chiapas. The murders were carried out with high-powered weapons, those reserved for the exclusive use of the armed forces and the judicial police. There was a private party at which someone allegedly made a video, so what the governor allegedly did was to kill all the people who may have had something to do with that. And while violent discrimination is more pronounced in municipalities with a right-wing party in power, other states within Mexico have had their share of human rights violations against gay, lesbian, or transgendered people.
In Mexico City, with the election of the new government (the Party of the Democratic Revolution), we saw a change to greater visibility and freedom of expression. Proposals we made to improve the human rights situation of sexually diverse people included the creation of the first community center for them. We could have done it alone, but it was important to have government support. This is an ongoing struggle.
I have been a lesbian activist for twenty years. I think that not feeling guilty about it, not having to request permission simply to live without hiding, is liberating. I don’t know if it’s a consciousness that you learn. I certainly was strengthened by feminist discourse, by finding groups of women who reflected on everything—sexual roles, the division of labor, violence. What I learned is that you can’t discriminate on the basis of a human condition. You can’t ask a Chinese person to have round eyes, or someone to change their skin color, or a homosexual to be heterosexual. But in my culture this truth is not universally acknowledged.
It starts, of course, in the home, this phenomenon of family violence against children who are gay. It begins with silence, with marginalization within the family environment, with punishment. By brothers, fathers, uncles. In a minor, small way, I felt this while growing up, too. Family conversation was always negative when it came to the issue of homosexuals. And, of course, that’s what makes someone repress the idea that he or she is a homosexual.
Let me tell you one story. At one point, one of my brothers was threatened by my relationship with one of his girlfriends. She had written me a letter, and he opened it before I did—because he was jealous, I suppose. Of course, I wasn’t involved with his friend in any way. I was only sixteen at the time, and he was maybe nineteen. At that point I still didn’t have any idea that I was a lesbian. And this letter didn’t really say anything special, but after reading it my brother spoke to me in really offensive terms. "You fucking lesbian," he said. I responded, "But why ‘fucking’? And I don’t understand—what’s wrong with being a lesbian? Why is it an offense?" I didn’t like his attitude. Furthermore, I knew it showed a lack of respect to read my letter. It was my first experience of rebellion, of responding to the prejudices of the larger society we live in, of personal anger.
You see, I was never in the closet. I left home so they wouldn’t try to take me to a psychologist or psychiatrist. But when I did finally leave home I was out in the streets—literally—marching and proclaiming who I was. The first demonstration I went to I unfurled a poster at the Iranian Embassy, because they were killing women who took off their veils. It was a big sign saying: "Mexican Lesbians Against the Assassination of Iranian Women." People looked at it, and came back to look again. We always took the opportunity to forthrightly declare that we were lesbians protesting this or that. Because I believe it is very important to get involved within social movements as lesbians, homosexuals, and bisexuals, and to work within them, like the indigenous movement in Mexico, for example. That gave us presence, and made us, and them, realize that one is not alone.
In my life I have heard a lot of stories from women. Stories that explain what it means to live a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered life, with all its disadvantages, in such a heterosexist society. I began late in the 1970s to consider ways to solve problems or, at least, to diminish the levels of anxiety with which gay people lived.
By the time I actually had lesbian relationships, I was already very independent. I left home because I knew I would not be able to change my entire family, and it was always a given that they were going to try to change me. I tried to write them a letter saying I thought I had already learned everything that I could from my family, and everything I had left to learn was beyond the boundaries of our closed world. That was a crisis for them. My sisters told my mother I had a sexual deviation problem. But by the time they actually reacted, I was already gone. Later, I rebuilt my relationship with my mother. She imagined that my world was full of problems, that I would never have a home. But I showed her that I had a house and a job, and that I had continued studying. And when we finally sat down face to face to talk, she said to me that the only thing she wanted to know is whether I was happy. Then she said, "But why can’t you be like your sisters?" And I responded, "Would you really want their lives for me?"
Still, my whole life I always felt my mother’s support, her love. Parents always know if their children are gay. With me, my mother never spoke about gay issues, but she’d buy me a pair of pants, or a particular shirt, as though she knew. And she seemed to understand that what I was doing was right for me.
With being lesbian comes the pressure of tremendous responsibility. There’s always a pressure to show that we’re better. I don’t know if it’s positive or negative, but we strive to be the best we can at work. It’s part of our seeking acceptance and I like to think that through this effort we can support and help other lesbians. Part of my effort is to show that I’m qualified. Though I don’t actively feel discrimination, because I think I’ve done my job well, I recognize that discrimination is impregnated in daily life. It can be felt in the way people look at you.
Here’s one example. In Orizábal, in the state of Veracruz, the mayor decided to detain all transsexuals who are prostitutes. So what did they do? They picked up the prostitutes, and all the gays and lesbians, too. How did they pick them up? By their appearance alone. The prostitutes were liable to be picked up for actions, administrative violations: for selling their bodies, for lascivious conduct. But lots of young gay people were brought to jail solely because of their appearance. Similarly, if young people were caught carrying condoms, they were accused of prostitution.
There is discrimination. In Mexico City and the other big cities, gay people gain strength from being part of a group. But elsewhere in Mexico, people are alone and isolated. When someone in this situation gets our telephone number, they call us; and today, we get hundreds of calls. The movement has done a lot, providing services, creating groups, supporting sexual diversity.
But there is much more to accomplish. What I would like to do through radio and television programs is to get families to know that they should not discriminate against their children. We’re pushing for a climate in which young gay men and lesbians can have positive relations with their families and friends.
But there is an outside world, too, to contend with. It’s still a reality that someone gay could lose their job if it becomes known. A professional, a cardiologist, even someone of real eminence can be fingered as a homosexual by anyone on the street. The professional then might lose his or her job. Still. Today. That’s why we need legislation. This is a process that has been evolving, the understanding that it is important for gay people to know that they have rights. For twenty years that’s been our work—to explain that we are citizens, that we pay taxes. And now that sexually diverse communities understand that they have the same rights as everyone else, our work is to get them to exercise their rights. We’re just at the point where gay people know that we have power. We surprised ourselves when we proposed to march to the center of Mexico City during the annual demonstration. People showed up by the thousands and said, "Yes, we are citizens."
It was an important step in the process we are living now. We can’t reach all gay people in Mexico, but our organization is becoming more accessible all the time. But we have to force the government—it doesn’t matter if it is the National Action Party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or the Party of the Democratic Revolution—to provide equal treatment, to stop discrimination, to respect the right to health care and a job for gays. In order to exercise these rights you have to demand them.
But things are slowly changing—and for the better. We’ve reached agreements related to young people unable to finish their studies because of their sexual orientation, as in the case of transgendered people, who often feel that their only option is prostitution. We’re discussing this with authorities on the district level, so that when transgendered people arrive, dressed however, they are not discriminated against. They should be treated as citizens with access to this type of privileges, scholarships, and services that the government gives to other people, so they can have a trade. And we’ve had a positive response. We’ve also asked on a district level for the establishment of places to sell condoms in public, to help limit the spread of HIV, along with a person who can dispense information, but at this time even basic salaries are not sufficient to purchase condoms.
We succeeded in establishing the office of the Social Ombudsman, who receives complaints from citizens, gives support, investigates complaints, and punishes wrongdoers. They are going to open a window for people to lodge complaints, related to sexual diversity—whether you were fired or kicked out of your school or your apartment, or suffered some physical attack. They’ll work on your case and give you advice—without discrimination. These are the things we have seen on the positive side of the balance.
There have been some interesting developments in working with the men and women members of the Chamber of Deputies. We eliminated the terms "homosexualism" and "homosexual practices" from the legal vocabulary (considered under the criminal code to be aggravating factors in the crime of corrupting minors). Representatives from all political parties accepted this change as natural and normal at the negotiating table. They said it was fine, a good proposal, and moved it forward to the Senate. In Mexico City, it will also be approved. So progress has been made.
The right-wing National Action Party and the Church have led powerful attacks against gays and lesbians. We requested a meeting with Church leaders to ask them to stop discriminating against sexually diverse people. There was no response, so I made a proposal to groups of religious people (who happen to be gay) to make a pilgrimage to the Virgin of Guadalupe. It was a great initiative, because we will reclaim the right to be spiritual, to profess a religion, without having to worry about the religious hierarchy. When I look back on this, I will know I did the best that I possibly could. For my private life, I steal time. I don’t really have time, just little pieces, days, sometimes hours. My work schedule includes lesbian groups, the lesbian-gay movement, my work in Congress, the legislative initiatives on which I work, marches, meetings, protests, publishing a magazine, writing. Plus the congressional commissions on which I sit—which are important for me: equality and gender, human rights, and population and development. But I just don’t have time for everything.
And I will look back and realize the true meanings of many things, like courage. Courage is when, in Chiapas, you ask a general to remove his troops from a community because they are entering houses at night, frightening people. You have to talk to that general, to confront someone with weapons and power, to overcome your timidity and fear. Today they tell me I’m going to Chiapas, to lead the people on a march into the community of La Realidad. When we get to the roadblock, there will be armed paramilitaries. These are the most risky situations: entering communities in which my truck is surrounded by paramilitaries threatening to burn it, saying that they will kill us. It used to make me afraid, but it doesn’t any more. Because I am never alone. Even when people ask me to go in front, to confront the troops or the paramilitaries, they come with me, so we’re a group.
My fear disappears when I begin to speak in these situations, without raising my voice. I just try to explain to people what’s going on. I’m afraid inside, but calm outside. It’s only when I get home that I react. The morning after, I wake up and say, "What did I do?" That could be brave. I don’t know. I’m not someone who takes risks. Others have been beaten up, but this has not happened to me. If that happens to me some day, it will be part of the work. I just hope they don’t hurt me too badly.
But I take courage by realizing that here is an opening, and we have been able to move forward on difficult cases. I’ve gotten a reputation of being a good advocate. But it works because there is openness on the part of the other side. They are small cases, but they are very important, because they have to do with people’s lives—someone in jail, rape victims, a pregnant woman, a person kicked out of work after twenty-five years. Very small cases, but it’s their lives. And it’s so worth fighting for.

Raji Sourani is Gaza’s foremost human rights lawyer, and the founder and director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and former director of the Gaza Center for Rights and Law. In the 1980s, Sourani was widely recognized for his effective defense of Palestinians before the Israeli military courts. In connection with his defense work, Sourani was four times held in detention by the Israelis, beaten and subjected to mental and physical abuse. Sourani has represented Palestinians facing deportation and closely monitored detention and prison conditions. Reaching out to Israeli human rights organizations, he formed links regarded with suspicion by fellow Palestinians but which proved to be effective in the pursuit of human rights. He was detained by the Palestinian Authority in 1995, following statements critical of their establishment of a state security court. Since the signing of the Declaration of Principles by the Government of Israel and the PLO, and the establishment of limited Palestinian self-rule, Sourani has advocated strict adherence to international standards for the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. And despite the danger of repercussions, he is an outspoken critic of human rights violations committed by both sides. In his bold and principled stance, Sourani has won wide respect, and has been recognized by numerous international organizations for his courageous work.

We Palestinians are living in a highly complicated situation, which is unprecedented in modern history. Six years after the signing of the Oslo Accords, what we are experiencing in the occupied territories is a system of de facto apartheid, developed under the auspices of peace. We are nearly a forgotten people, consigned to a second-class existence. We are far from practicing our right of self-determination and independence.
After fifty years of conflict, and thirty years of occupation in the Palestinian Territories, the Oslo Accords were signed nearly seven years ago by the government of Israel and the PLO. These accords were intended to provide a transitional interim arrangement for a period of five years as a means of moving towards a final resolution of the conflict. The basic philosophy behind the accords was that they were designed to serve two main purposes. The first was to develop a setting in which trust could be built between the two sides; the second was to develop a framework in which to resolve the final status negotiations within five years. It is clear that trust between the two sides has not improved, and in fact, in some areas are at an all-time low. Furthermore, the final status negotiations did not even begin within the five-year interim period, which ended on May 4, 1999.
Policies since the signing of the Oslo Accords include aggressive settlement expansion, fragmentation of the Palestinian Territories by the construction of settler bypass roads, military installations, and the establishment of new settlements, and unprecedented levels of land confiscation. Furthermore, the Israeli policy of closure over the entire Palestinian Territories has not only severely restricted the right of freedom of movement, but has dislocated families from different areas. Closure has also cut the Palestinian Territories off economi-cally and socially, both from the rest of the world, and from the other parts of the Occupied Territories themselves. This has led to further economic deterioration and dependence on Israel. In Jerusalem, Israeli policy has been to eject Palestinian residents, through house demolitions, the imposition of Israeli domestic law over Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, withdrawal of residency permits, harassment, and settlement activity.
House demolitions provide one example of what Palestinian families face in their encounters with Israeli occupation authorities. Homes are demolished as a form of illegal collective punishment against families of whom one member may be suspected of an offense. Alternatively, homes are demolished simply because they were built without the necessary building permit from the occupation authorities—a permit which in many cases is practically impossible to obtain. The outcome of these demolitions is to impose collective punishment and to "ethnically cleanse" the Palestinian population. Palestinian families are often given only twenty-four hours notice to remove their belongings when Israel moves to clear certain areas for settlement. These families suddenly find themselves out on the street, their home demolished in minutes before their very eyes.
Of course, I have to talk about torture. Under international law, torture is absolutely illegal, and we cannot be selective. We have to have one standard for all people, Israeli or Palestinian, regardless of race or religion. But for decades the Israeli General Security Service has been torturing Palestinian detainees with impunity. Recently, a report released by the Israeli Special Controller confirmed what we have been asserting to the world community for years—torture has been widely and systematically used by Israeli interrogators against Palestinian detainees.
After twenty years of struggle against torture, we—Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations and lawyers—received a decision from the Israeli High Court of Justice in September 1999, finally recognizing that torture is systematically practiced. The Court, however, went on to find that the reason torture is illegal in Israel is simply because there is no law to legalize it. The Court, scandalously, went as far as to suggest that if the government of Israel should decide that they wanted to allow the use of torture, they should pass a law to that effect.
The Palestinian people are impatient to have their state in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, a combined area that composes only a scant 18 percent of historical Palestine. Even so, the current Israeli government has gone even further and has clearly stated its intentions: the complete annexation of East Jerusalem, no return to the 1967 borders, no right of return for refugees, and the continuing existence of Israeli settlements.
Clearly this does not meet the minimum level of Palestinian aspirations. This has become a situation leading nowhere. Some time ago, Israel had a choice between divorce or marriage. Israel chose divorce, represented by the two-state option, in order to preserve the Jewish nature of the state of Israel. But the most basic requirement of the two-state option is that the Palestinian people have their own state. This minimal requirement has yet to be fulfilled. The one-state option (with equal rights for all citizens regardless of race or religion) was rejected by Israel. Instead all we have are fragmented Bantustans of Palestinian control, with the Israeli military occupation continuing over the Palestinian Territories as a whole.
It must be stressed that in the past six years, the Israeli occupation, in its legal and physical form, has remained a very real part of our daily lives. The world may think that peace is on the way here, but the reality on the ground is very different. I can assure you that never before has the overall human rights situation deteriorated as dramatically. The Gaza Strip has a total area of around 165 square kilometers, of which Israel continues to control around 42 percent. Twenty Israeli settlements have been established in the Gaza Strip, housing some five thousand settlers. In the remaining 58 percent of the Strip, 1.2 million Palestinians live in some of the most cramped conditions in the world.
In the year 2000, with the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa behind us, this situation cannot be tolerated. In fact, if the situation continues it will inevitably lead to a renewed cycle of bloodshed and violence. We observe with deep disappointment that the fruits on the ground of the Oslo process could not be further from the stated intention of building confidence between the parties and resolving a final agreement for a just and lasting peace in the region. We also affirm our belief that there can be no possibility of real, just, and lasting peace without respect for human rights.
The Oslo Accords were signed between the government of Israel and the PLO, the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, expressing their aspirations and having led their legitimate resistance against the occupation. We, the Palestinian human rights community, believed from the very beginning that it was essential to both our self-respect as a people, and for the ultimate achievement of our goal of a democratic state, that the practices of the Palestinian Authority, in the very limited areas in which it was granted jurisdiction under the Oslo Accords, be closely monitored. We were, from the outset, committed to the development of a society that would respect the rule of law, democratic principles, and human rights.
We believe that the particular experiences of the Palestinian people, and the consequent development of a strong Palestinian civil society, can enable us to develop a unique state in the region—namely, a truly democratic state. We still hope to succeed in this goal, and many Palestinians remain steadfast in working towards this end.
As local human rights organizations, we thought that the struggle for the development of this democratic society and the strengthening of Palestinian civil society would be easier than the struggle against the Israeli occupation. Now we see we were wrong; it is a deeply complex process and much more difficult than we imagined. We are deeply concerned by certain practices of the Palestinian Authority which violate human rights standards, including restrictions on the freedom of expression and assembly, undermining the independence of the judiciary, and the establishment of state security courts.
Without in any way offering this as an excuse for those practices, we nevertheless deem it necessary to express our concern at the role played by both the Israeli and American administrations in promoting these violations of human rights by the Palestinian Authority. This role is particularly perplexing since the stated strategic interest of both these parties is real and lasting peace in the region. The development of a genuinely democratic system in the Palestinian Territories not only promotes the necessary stability for such peace, but is in fact an essential prerequisite for any kind of true peace. For fifty years Israel has complained that it should not be expected to make peace with dictators. This only makes Israeli and American obstacles to the development of a genuine democratic society in the Palestinian Territories all the more perplexing, while raising serious questions as to their genuine intentions.
No one needs peace—a just peace—more than those who are oppressed. The fact that the Palestinian people have become the victims of those who were once victims themselves only shows how important it is to remember this point. In terms of both political and human history, it is deeply saddening when the victim becomes the victimizer of people who are guilty of nothing except existing in their homeland. The Palestinian people have suffered for the past century, and for the past fifty years have been the victims of Israeli human rights violations. We must all acknowledge the lesson of history—that reconciliation cannot begin without recognition and apology.
True peace must be between people, not simply between leaders. The possibility of this materializing is severely undermined by the Israeli policy of closure, which, as well as violating the basic human rights of Palestinians, also creates a division between peoples by preventing any meaningful contact between Palestinians and Israelis.
We used to have an excellent relationship with our Israeli counterparts, human rights groups and lawyers. They used to come to us, we would go to them. They would invite us to lecture or speak at public meetings. We would work alongside each other on particular cases and causes. This created wonderful chemistry. But now, after more than five years of the closure policy, we are totally disconnected from our Israeli friends. We still cooperate, by telephone, E-mail and fax, but we are no longer able to have the human contact, because we can no longer come and go as we please.
I believe deeply in the need for peace, but my own life taught me that there can be no peace, no justice, without human rights. Witnessing massive and violent human rights violations on a daily basis makes quite a mark on a young mind and heart. In my youth I saw many people killed, arrested, or beaten before my eyes—including my brother, who was arrested, in early 1968. He was in prison for three years. As a kid, at school, I saw the army beat students for participating in demonstrations. Our daily life was really hell. My family is deeply rooted in this place—I’m not, by definition, one of the many refugees in Gaza. But everybody felt like strangers in our homeland.
Our lives were totally controlled by the occupation. When you are as young as I was and see all this happening, it leaves a strong impression. You begin to ask: What’s going on? Why is this happening? Why are these unfair things happening? Why was our neighbor’s house demolished? Why was my brother imprisoned? Of course anyone who feels and begins to understand what is going on wants a better future, a better life, and you want to express it in one way or another.

For me the next stage came after my arrest and imprisonment. I saw the other side of the moon. All I had seen before did not prepare me for the hell I found myself in, even if I, as a lawyer, was treated to the "VIP" hell. When you are being subjected to torture, you want to die ten times a day. And I saw how torture was being used systematically, even on kids as young as twelve.
I thought: all these prisoners, their miserable conditions, the systematic torture and abuse, and nobody knows anything about it. And then I thought of the house demolitions, the land confiscations, the daily beatings. I said to myself: I’m a lawyer, can’t somebody be a witness to these crimes? Can’t we reduce the suffering even minimally, some way or another? I thought that surely it was possible, through sustained human rights work, to let the world know about the practices of the Israeli occupation, and in doing so to help these victims. So that is what I decided to do. And I’ve been doing it for twenty years now.
I’ll never forget one time after being released from administrative detention, having been detained simply because of my human rights work, the Israeli officer said to me, "Raji, this is your last arrest, and I hope you know what that means." It was a threat, but we believed in our work, in our struggle, in human rights. I hate to speak about our own suffering as human rights activists. We have to be strong enough to make people feel, and know, that we can defend them. We have to be strong enough to take care of the real victims.
I simply believe that human rights, democracy, and the rule of law are not luxuries. They are crucial necessities—the oxygen of meaningful life. We see the violations on a daily basis. We see the victims, we know them, we live with them. What keeps us going is the belief that you can do something, even if it is just a little something. And even if we cannot improve the situation, at least we can stop it from deteriorating further.
I believe we must continue to struggle to defend the rights of the victims, we must continue to reject all forms of human rights abuses. We must believe that it is worth it to make even small changes. For the sake of the victims of these abuses and injustices, we must carry out our work professionally. We must be vigorous in our defense of the persecuted and bold enough to never stop opposing their victimizers, no matter who they may be.
I don’t believe in violence, and I don’t think it is a solution. Nor do I believe that Palestinians are the only ones whose blood is sacred. All human life is sacred, no matter which nationality, race, or religion. But we cannot accept the situation as it is. We must do something.
I don’t want to see more suffering. Whatever we do today may bear its fruits tomorrow. Like Martin Luther King Jr., we too have a dream—a dream and a very legitimate agenda, to get rid of the occupation, to determine our own destiny, and to have an independent state—a state where democracy, human rights and the rule of law prevail. As I have said, the obstacles we are now facing are very complicated, much more so than pre-Oslo. But we are determined to go on with the struggle—all the way.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

no such thing as breathing room

This semester has been one thing after another and thus, I've neglected the heck out of writing anything on this page. I'm writing now with the hope of correcting that, however briefly.

That said, there's some fun things coming up this week that I am tremendously exciting about.
First, BSU is hosting a point of view conference on HUMAN RIGHTS!!!! Click on the subject heading for the schedule. The events that I'm planning on attending for sure are:
“Human Rights Definition” with sociology professor Virginia Husting. 1-1:50 p.m., Student Union Farnsworth Room. “The Hague War Crimes Tribunal” with history professor Nick Miller. 9-9:50 p.m., Student Union Bishop Barnwell Room.“The Environment and Human Rights,” with anthropology professor John Ziker and history professor Lisa Brady. 2:40-3:30 p.m., Student Union Farnsworth Room.• “Understanding Globalization: Pros/Cons,” with the Boise State Talkin’ Broncos Debate Team. 4:10-5 p.m., Student Union Farnsworth Room.

Beyond this, I've spent many many hours in the past week researching graduate programs and trying to narrow down an academic career path I truly wish to pursue. My choices, beyond the specific disciplines of English, History or Sociology, are human rights studies (of which, the graduate program choices are QUITE limited) and American Studies. After having researched both hrs and american studies, I'm actually leaning towards Human Rights Studies OR International Relations with a specific emphasis on Human Rights. I want to understand America in a global context and Human Rights in its global applicability. I've spent days now going through various human rights journals, human rights syllabi, graduate programs here and abroad and faculty bios to weigh my options. Graduate Programs in Human Rights include the University of Denver's , Columbia University's MA in Human Rights Studies and a plethora of degrees/programs in places such as Ottawa and Oxford among others. Graduate/PhD programs abound in International Relations however and many of the Universities that I'm seriously considering have both faculty and research fascilities/programs/journals dedicated to Human Rights Studies. I've come across some wonderful human rights journals in this "scavanger hunt" that make me excited about the idea of being a scholar in this field.
Here are the links to those:
Human Rights Dialogue

Ethics and International Affairs Journal http://www.carnegiecouncil.org/listpublications.php/prmPubTypeID/37

Harvard Human Rights Journal

From this research, I've had the pleasure of trying to figure who can be called "Experts" in the field of Human Rights. I have favorite authors and books, certainly, but trying to narrow done particular theorists, theoretical approaches, renowned scholars and academic contributions has proved quite challenging.

I'm also being interviewed this week for the "Women Making History" award at BSU, submitting poems for publication, researching for my senior honors thesis prospectus, researching for my McNair's project, taking a workshop on Understanding Trauma and attending a parent-teacher conference. Researching the professor bios and especially their academic publications is also incredibly exciting, as the idea unfolds: I could work with these people someday. I could have these discussions, review books such as these, publish my own research. I am not ruling out American studies either, just trying to decide on a graduate program that will allow the challenge, freedom and experience to do the kind of work I want to do. More to come later. ~peace~