Tuesday, January 29, 2008

State of the Union

I pulled this letter to President Bush off the Amnesty International Website. I think it's worth a few minutes of your time.

January 28, 2008

The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I write in advance of your State of the Union address to urge you to speak to the most pressing human rights issues faced by people around the world and here in the United States. It is essential that all who listen to your State of the Union Address hear that the United States stands for the highest human rights standards and that our nation is committed morally, politically and financially to improving human rights in the world.

As this nation recovered from the shock of the attacks on September 11, 2001, you provided a vision in your State of the Union address in January 2002 for an America that stands firmly in support of human dignity and human rights of all.

"America will lead by defending liberty and justice because they are right and true and unchanging for all people everywhere. No nation owns these aspirations, and no nation is exempt from them. . . But America will always stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the power of the state; respect for women; private property; free speech; equal justice; and religious tolerance."

And yet just days ago, January 11, 2008, marked the 6th anniversary of the first transfer of detainees to Guantánamo Bay. On this anniversary, thousands of people across this nation and in more than thirty countries staged protests calling for this facility to be closed, for the basic right of habeas corpus to be restored to all, and for the United States to make clear once and for all that it upholds unequivocally the absolute ban on torture and ill-treatment. The totality of the detention regime in Guantánamo - harsh, indefinite and isolating - amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and is in violation of international law. If America is to be true to the ideals and vision you articulated in January 2002, all those who remain in detention in Guantánamo must either be charged with a crime and given a fair trial or released unconditionally. If America is to represent the ideals you stated so clearly, all secret and clandestine prisons must be closed, extraordinary renditions ended, and the absolute ban on torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment must be understood to apply to everyone, wherever they are held. America must stand firmly for the rule of law and equal justice for all.

As we look at conditions around the world, the horrific crisis in Darfur, Sudan, continues to demand immediate attention and action. U.S. leadership has been instrumental in achieving progress, but it is more essential than ever now to ensure the full deployment of UN-African Union peacekeepers to bring about greater security. We urge the United States to support UN efforts to secure ground and air transport equipment, including twenty four helicopters, and we urge you to press more strongly to end Khartoum?s obstruction of the deployment. We urge you to use your influence on European and other donor countries to ensure that much-needed equipment is provided and that you offer to provide U.S. funds for the helicopters. We also ask you to reach out to allies that can effectively press the Government of Sudan to end its obstruction and facilitate the deployment of the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).

Around the world, women and girls continue to face epidemic levels of violence that cuts across all countries, social groups, ethnicities, religions, and socioeconomic classes. Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation that includes rape, domestic violence, acid burning, dowry deaths, so-called honor killings, human trafficking, female genital cutting and other harmful practices. The United States has a historic opportunity to ensure a systematic approach for ending the suffering of millions of women and girls. The International Violence Against Women Act is groundbreaking legislation that lays out a powerful international agenda to combat violence against women and girls and help achieve prosperity and stability around the world. The bill allocates more than $175 million in U.S. assistance per year to fund international programs that prevent violence, encourage legal reform and changes in public attitudes, promote access to economic opportunity projects and education, and support health programs; it also directs the U.S. government to create a comprehensive, five-year international strategy to reduce violence against women and girls in ten to twenty low and middle income countries. We urge you to support this bipartisan legislation wholeheartedly and to ensure it is fully funded and implemented.

Within the United States, violence against women affects Native American and Alaska Native women disproportionately. Native women are two and one half times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other women in the United States. It is shocking that a complex maze of tribal, state and federal jurisdiction enables perpetrators to rape with impunity and makes it nearly impossible for survivors to achieve justice. Correcting this shameful situation is long overdue. Among the necessary changes are: amending the Indian Civil Rights Act to recognize the authority of tribal courts to impose penalties proportionate to the offences they try, consistent with international human rights standards; recognizing the concurrent jurisdiction of tribal authorities over all crimes committed on tribal land regardless of the Indigenous identity of the accused; providing more funding for law enforcement - including to process forensic evidence, and maintaining relevant databases - and for tribal courts and legal systems, in compliance with international standards of justice; and instructing the Indian Health Service (IHS) to create standardized protocols for treatment of rape victims, make available sexual assault nurse examiners, and provide increased funding to the IHS including for rape kits. We urge to take these urgent steps to end the current maze of injustice and ensure perpetrators of rape and other violent crimes against Native women are better able to be prosecuted. We urge you to make this part of your legacy.

Two years ago, you launched an initiative to lend support to brave defenders of human rights around the world. The plight of individuals at risk, especially those at risk for defending fundamental human rights for themselves and others, is at the core of Amnesty International's mission. There are innumerable individuals who inspire us with their courage and commitment and who deserve our intervention, such as Ma Khin Khin Leh, a teacher in Burma; Shi Tao, an internet dissident in China; Zmitser Dashkevich, a youth leader in Belarus; Fathi el-Jahmi a free speech advocate in Libya; and Yusak Pakage and Filep Karma who are imprisoned in Indonesia for simply raising a flag. As you travel and meet with leaders from around the world, we urge you to make it a priority to raise these cases. We know that when this has happened in the past, some human rights defenders have been released, such as was the case with Rebiya Kadeer, Haleh Esfandiari, Father Ly, and Bulgarian nurses who were being held by the Libyan government. We urge you to make this a consistent priority with the leaders of countries that are friend or foe, standing with those who put their lives on the line for the principles of freedom and human rights.

Mr. President, as you deliver the State of the Union address, we call on you to recommit this nation to stand firmly for the rights of all people, wherever they are, and to be a voice for those who are unable to be heard because of repression they endure. As you address the nation, we urge you to announce your intent to close Guantanamo, to end renditions, and secure a universal ban on torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. We encourage you to persevere in your advocacy and funding to end the violence in Darfur. We ask you to stand for women everywhere by supporting the International Violence Against Women Act and by taking concrete action to end the maze of injustice that has allowed countless Native women to be raped and suffer other forms of violent assault. We urge you to be a voice for human rights defenders around the world and a consistent advocate for human dignity and human rights of all, both in word and deed.

We look forward to your address,

Larry Cox Executive Director

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