Tag Archives: human rights abuses

Amnesty report documents human rights concerns in Ferguson

Amnesty International has released On the Streets of America: Human Rights Abuses in Ferguson, which documents the human rights concerns witnessed first-hand by observers while in Ferguson Aug. 14-22. The report also outlines a series of recommendations that need to be implemented with regard to the use of force by law enforcement officers and the policing of protests.

Amnesty released the report in advance of its Midwest conference, which is taking place in St. Louis this weekend.

In August, after the shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Amnesty dispatched a human rights delegation to monitor protests and the police response.

“What Amnesty International witnessed in Missouri on the ground this summer underscored that human rights abuses do not just happen across borders and oceans,” said Steven W. Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA. “No matter where you live in the world, everyone is entitled to the same basic rights as a human being — and one of those rights is the freedom to peacefully protest. Standing on W. Florissant Avenue with my colleagues, I saw a police force, armed to the teeth, with military-grade weapons. I saw a crowd that included the elderly and young children fighting the effects of tear gas. There must be accountability and systemic change that follows this excessive force.”

What happened between Michael Brown and Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson remains uncertain, due to conflicting reports. Brown was unarmed and as such it calls into question whether the use of lethal force was justified. Amnesty’s report urges the Missouri Legislature to amend the statute that authorizes the use of lethal force to ensure that the use of lethal force by law enforcement would be limited to those instances in which it is necessary to protect life.

The report also details the impact of city, county and state law enforcement and officials’ responses on the rights of individuals in Ferguson to participate in peaceful protest.

Amnesty International documented a number of restrictions placed on protestors, including the imposition of curfews, designated protest areas and a “five-second” keep walking rule. Intimidation of protesters is also included in the report, which details the use of heavy-duty riot gear and military-grade weapons as well as questionable protest dispersal practices, including the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and long range acoustic devices.

“This is about accountability,” Hawkins said in a news release. “The events in Ferguson sparked a much-needed and long-overdue conversation on race and policing in America. That conversation cannot stop. In order to restore justice to Ferguson, and every community afflicted by police brutality, we must both document the injustices committed and fight to prevent them from happening again. There is a path forward, but it requires substantive actions on the local, state and federal levels.”

The mistreatment of journalists and observers is another area of focus highlighted in the report. At least 19 journalists and members of the media were arrested by law enforcement while others were subjected to tear gas and the use of rubber bullets.

In the report, Amnesty renewed its recommendation that the Department of Justice conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the death of Michael Brown, implement a DOJ-led review of police tactics and practices nationwide and release nationwide data on police shootings.

The report calls for Congress to pass the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act.

Cameroon court upholds prison sentence for gay text message

An appeals court in Cameroon on Dec. 17 upheld a three-year sentence against a man found guilty of “homosexual conduct” for sending a text message to another man saying: “I’m very much in love with you.”

Activists said the court’s ruling in Yaounde, the capital, marked yet another setback for gays and lesbians in Cameroon, widely viewed as the most repressive country in Africa when it comes to prosecuting same-sex couples.

Jean-Claude Roger Mbede, 32, had been provisionally released on bail in July after serving a year and a half in prison. His lawyer has 10 days now to file an appeal to the country’s Supreme Court.

Holding back tears, he said he wasn’t sure whether he could withstand more jail time given the conditions he faced there.

“I am going back to the dismal conditions that got me critically ill before I was temporarily released for medical reasons,” he told The Associated Press by telephone. “I am not sure I can put up with the anti-gay attacks and harassment I underwent at the hands of fellow inmates and prison authorities on account of my perceived and unproven sexual orientation. The justice system in this country is just so unfair.”

Mbede’s provisional release earlier this year followed pressure from rights activists over his deteriorating health aggravated by malnutrition and repeated assaults.

Homosexuality is illegal in many African countries, and lawmakers in Liberia, Nigeria and Uganda have recently presented legislation that would strengthen anti-gay laws that are already on the books.

But even in those countries, prosecutions are rare or nonexistent, said Neela Ghoshal, a researcher in the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.

Cameroon’s penal code calls for sentences ranging from six months to five years for people found guilty of “sexual relations with a person of the same sex.” And last year, 14 people were prosecuted for homosexuality and 12 were convicted, according to Justice Ministry records cited by Human Rights Watch.

“It’s the country that arrests, prosecutes and convicts more people than any other country that we know of in Africa for consensual same-sex adult conduct,” Ghoshal said.

“In most of these cases there is little or no evidence. Usually people are convicted on the basis of allegations or denunciations from people who have claimed to law enforcement officials that they are gay.”

She said many suspects were tortured or otherwise treated poorly in custody until they gave confessions, which were then used as evidence against them.

In October, two men were convicted of homosexuality because of their “effeminate” appearance and because they were drinking Bailey’s Irish Cream, which was viewed as a drink favored by gay men, according to a statement issued Nov. 16 by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Andre Banks, executive director of All Out, said Mbede had already been significantly harmed by the case against him because of pervasive anti-gay stigma in Cameroon.

“Roger said he had to leave the university where he was studying because of the attention from the case and because of the mounting threats and fear of violence that have been very concerning to him,” Banks said. “He’s worried that he won’t be able to have a normal life in Cameroon because of the amount of attention it’s brought to him.”

Lawyers defending those accused of homosexuality also have faced death threats including Mbede’s attorney, Alice Nkom.

A text message sent in October to Yaounde-based lawyer Michel Togue, who has also defended people accused of homosexuality, similarly threatened his children. Attached to the message were photos of the children leaving school.

Supreme Court’s first cases for October involve affirmative action, human rights, drug-sniffing dogs

The Supreme Court term now getting under way holds the prospect for major rulings about affirmative action, gay marriage and voting rights.

A look at cases the court already has agreed to hear and other top cases in the pipeline:

RACIAL PREFERENCES – In Fisher v. University of Texas, to be argued Oct. 10, the court will weigh Texas’ limited use of race to help fill out its incoming classes. The outcome could result in a major cutback in the use of racial preferences at the nation’s colleges.

ACCOUNTABILITY FOR HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES – The justices will consider whether American courts may be used by foreign victims to sue over human rights violations abroad. The case of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, to be argued on Monday, concerns claims that the oil giant Shell was complicit in atrocities committed by the Nigerian government against its citizens in the oil-rich Niger delta.

DRUG-SNIFFING DOGS – Two disputes involving drug-sniffing dogs will be heard by the court on Halloween. In one, the question is whether a dog brought to the front door of a home to sniff for marijuana amounts to a search. In the other, the court will consider a dog’s reliability and qualifications as a drug-sniffing animal in a case involving a traffic stop and a warrantless search that found the ingredients for making methamphetamines in a pickup truck.

FIGHTING TERRORISM – The government is trying to shut down a constitutional challenge to a law that lets the United States eavesdrop on overseas communications. Lawyers, journalists and human rights advocates filed a lawsuit that objected to the latest version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The issue at the high court, to be argued Oct. 29, is whether the law’s challengers are entitled to make their case in federal court.

The following issues probably will be heard this term:

GAY MARRIAGE – The justices are expected to take up gay marriage in at least one of the many appeals pending at the high court. Several lower federal courts have struck down as unconstitutional a provision of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that denies federal benefits, including favorable tax treatment and health benefits, among many others, to legally married same-sex couples. The court almost always has the last word when federal laws are struck down. A separate appeal involves California’s ban on gay marriage, ruled unconstitutional by federal courts.

VOTING RIGHTS ACT – Several appeals also ask the court to invalidate a cornerstone of civil rights era legislation, a provision of the Voting Rights Act that requires all or parts of 16 states, most in the South and all with a history of past discrimination, to get approval from the Justice Department or the federal court in Washington before instituting any changes affecting elections and voting. Some justices expressed skepticism about the need for this measure in a 2009 decision that sidestepped a definitive ruling.