“As a white person, we have to listen”


Grammy-winning rapper Macklemore’s levelheaded comments about race in an interview on New York City’s Hot 97 caught my attention. Consider this snippet:

“If there’s anything positive that has come out of their [Eric Garner and Michael Brown] deaths—if there’s anything positive—I believe it has brought attention to injustices that have been plaguing America since the jump. Racial profiling. Corrupt judicial system. Police brutality. These are things that now have attention. Now people are talking about these things. Which is great. People are mobilizing. I’ve been inspired by the mobilization.

“For me, as a white dude—as a white rapper—I’m like, how do I participate in this conversation? How do I participate? How do I get involved on a level where I’m not co-opting the movement or I’m not making it about me, but also realizing the platform I have and the reach that I have, and doing it in an authentic and genuine way. Racism is uncomfortable to talk about. White people, we can just turn off the TV when we’re sick of talking about racism. We can be like, ‘Oops, I’m done.’ It does not work that way for everybody, but that’s what we can do. White ‘liberal’ people want to be nice. We don’t want to mess up. We don’t want to be racists. We want to be like, ‘We’re post-racial and we have a black president and we don’t need to talk about white privilege. It’s all good, right?’ It’s not the case. I was talking to somebody the other day, and they said to me, ‘Silence is an action.’ It is my privilege that I can be silent about this issue. And I’m tired of being silent about it. I’ve been silent for a long time about it. Because I didn’t want to mess up. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing. I didn’t want to offend anybody.

“But it is so imperative right now that we have this race conversation in America. If we’re going to progress. If we’re going to move past this. If we’re going to work together—truly work together—we have to get past that awkward stage of the race conversation, step up and just have it. I don’t where that starts, other than just speaking about it. You just have to start talking about it.

“As a white person, we have to listen. We need to listen, direct the attention to people of color on the ground mobilizing, listen to those people, and take some direction on how we can actually make this conversation happen.”

By: Susan L. Banovetz, The Advocates for Human Rights’ communication director

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2014’s Lesson: Take Action. Lives Depend on It.

Painted hand for WordPressDecember has been a terrible month for human rights—from the U.S. Senate’s report confirming the use of torture, to the slaughter of Pakastani school children, to two grand jury decisions not to indict police officers for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Overall, 2014 has been an extremely troubling year. Some human rights abuses garnered a lot of attention; many did not, taking place under the radar of the media and public conversation. Let’s consider a few examples, and let them serve as a call to action.

  1. Boko Haram militants kidnapped 276 girls from a school in Chibok, Nigeria one night in mid-April. This travesty garnered wide media attention and support from around the world, with celebrities carrying “Bring Back Our Girls” placards and rallies demanding the girls’ return. Unfortunately, 219 girls are reported to remain in captivity. Boko Haram continued its reign of terror, and is responsible for other atrocities throughout Somalia and Nigeria during 2014, including kidnappings, mass recruitment of child soldiers, and bombings of churches and public squares. Just this month news reports surfaced that Boko Haram kidnapped at least 185 women and children and killed 32 people in northeast Nigeria.
  2. Central American refugees―mostly children (and many by themselves)―are seeking asylum, after journeying across one of the world’s most dangerous migrant routes to escape horrific violence in their home countries. The crisis was brought to light and much of the nation was shocked when, in June, images of children being held by US authorities surfaced, showing children crowded in makeshift prisons, and crammed into rooms and sleeping on concrete floors. Instead of treating them as refugees and in accordance with internationally-recognized human rights standards, the U.S. has treated these children as national security threats, warehousing them in razor-wired prisons, detaining them in horrendous conditions, and subjecting them to expedited proceedings to deport them at warp speed and back to the life-threatening dangers they fled.
  3. The terrorist organization ISIL has committed gruesome acts of violence that have alarmed the world community, including murdering political opposition members in mass, enslaving and brutalizing women and girls, and forcing young boys into its ranks. An August attack by ISIL in the Sinjar region caused thousands of Shiites and Yazidis to flee; in October, ISIL abducted 5,000-7,000 Yazidi women and children and sold them into slavery, reported the UN.
  4. Grand jury decisions not to indict police officers for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner highlighted racial profiling, police brutality, and failures of the justice system throughout the country, including a police officer shooting 12-year-old Tamir Rice to death in Cleveland, Ohio.
  5. The Ethiopian government attacked a student protest in the nation’s Oromia region in April, killing as many as 47 students, as some reports indicate. The Ethiopian government has persecuted and targeted the Oromo people for years, subjecting Oromo to abduction, mass incarceration, and extreme levels of torture, including electric shock and repeated rapes.
  6. Nearly 200,000 people have been killed and millions more took flight because of violence in Syria―the world’s largest refugee crisis resulting from a civil war that has raged in the region following popular uprising during the Arab Spring in 2011. To date, UNHCR estimates that more than 2.5 million refugees have fled the disaster, surpassing the refugee crises in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, and Central America.
  7. Countries took huge steps backward for rights of LGBTI communities, enacting draconian laws which punish homosexuality with prison terms, torture, and death. Members of LGBTI communities in some countries are hunted down by vigilantes and are beaten or killed. In 2014, Uganda enacted one of the most notorious laws—its “Kill the Gays” law—punishing homosexuality with life in prison. The Ugandan Constitutional Court struck down law. Unfortunately, because the court ruled on procedural grounds rather than on the merits, the court’s decision does not bar parliament from adopting an identical law in the future. And homosexuality remains a criminal act in Uganda, as it was before the new law was signed.
  8. The U.S.’s use of drone strikes are a significant setback to international law, setting new precedents for use of force by nations around the world. As of November 2014, attempts to kill 41 people resulted in snuffing out the lives of an estimated 1,147 individuals, reports The Guardian. The U.S. has, to date, used drones to execute without trial some 4,700 people— including civilians and children—in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, all countries against whom the U.S. has not declared war, the organization Reprieve reports.
  9. An Egyptian court sentenced 529 people to death in a mass trial in March. The next month, a court sentenced another 680 to death in a proceeding that lasted only a few minutes. These mass executions, issued by a military government than came to power in a July 2013 coup, represent some of the largest ordered executions in the last century. Activists who supported efforts to oust former President Hosni Mubarak continue to be rounded up and targeted by the military, aiming to crush political opposition and to roll back achievements made during the Arab Spring. And in November, an Egyptian court dismissed conspiracy to kill charges against Mubarak, and he was cleared of corruption charges; he will likely be freed in a few months.
  10. Women and girls have suffered immeasurably where they should be safest, in their homes. Women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, motor accidents, war and malaria, according to the World Bank. On average, at least one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused by an intimate partner in the course of her lifetime. One high profile domestic violence incident this year involved NFL player Ray Rice beating his then-fiance into unconsciousness and flattening her to the floor of an elevator. As a result of the attack, Rice was suspended for two games. When TMZ posted the video of the attack for the world to see, the NFL suspended Rice indefinitely and the Baltimore Ravens pressured his victim to apologize. Ultimately, the NFL reversed its decision to suspend Rice indefinitely in late November.
  11. Harmful cultural practices violate women. Many governments “address” human rights violations—even the most cringe-worthy, stomach-churning―against women and girls by punishing the victims. Or—as in the case of women from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala seeking refuge in other countries—governments turn their heads to the violence, empowering the perpetrators and further victimizing and subjugating the women. These abuses include acid attacks, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, honor killings, bride burning, and gang rapes. Consider the death of Farzana Iqbal, 25, in May in Pakistan; her family stoned her to death outside a courthouse in Pakistan because she sought to marry without consent from her family a man she loved. Consider Hanna Lalango, 16, who died a month after she entered a public mini-bus in Ethiopia and was gang-raped by strangers for five days―a case similar to one in India two years ago, but one that did not garner the same level of attention and outrage. As an added note, Lalango’s father said he would not have made the case public if his daughter had lived because the shame would have shadowed her for the rest of her life.
  12. The U.S. Senate “torture report” released on December 9 graphically details the CIA’s use of abuse, including keeping a prisoner awake for 180 hours with his hands shackled over his head, threatening to sexually assault and cut the throat of a detainee’s mother, penetrating a detainee’s anus for “rectal feeding,” and tying a prisoner to a floor until he froze to death.
  13. Taliban militants stormed a school in Peshwar, Pakistan and killed more than 130 students in a terrorist attack on December 16 to retaliate against the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai, the young girl who caught the world’s attention for being shot for going to school. Responding to the Peshwar slaughter, Malala stated, “I, along with millions of others around the world, mourn these children, my brothers and sisters—but we will never be defeated.”
  14. Forty-three students traveling to a protest in Mexico were rounded up and “disappeared” in September. The mayor of Iguala, Mexico in concert with local gangs ordered the capture and murder of these students, reports indicate. Federal police may also have complicity in the crime. The act has garnered widespread attention in Mexico, with people questioning the legitimacy of federal and state Mexican authorities, who for years has been corrupted by the influence of narco-traffickers and gangs.
  15. More than 2,000 Gazans were killed when Israel launched a military operation in the Gaza strip in July to stop rocket attacks that followed an Israeli crackdown on Hamas in retaliation for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. The disproportionate level of force used by the Israeli military resulted in large number of civilian deaths. Of the 2,192 Gazans killed, about 1523 civilians (including 519 children), 66 Israeli soldiers, five Israeli civilians (including a child), and one Thai civilian were killed, reports indicate. At the end of the conflict, 110,000 people were internally displaced and 108,000 were made homeless, according to Amnesty International.

What can we do in the face of these human rights violations and the countless others that go unnoticed? Pay attention. Look behind the headlines. Make our voices heard by public officials, leaders, and the world community. Volunteer for projects that address the issues most important to us. Support organizations such as The Advocates for Human Rights which take on the larger systemic issues that allow human rights abuses to continue. We are not helpless. In 2015, we can, by working together, move closer to our vision of a world in which all people live with dignity, freedom, justice, equality, and peace . . . because every person matters.

By: The Advocates for Human Rights’ Deepinder Mayell, Robin Phillips, Jennifer Prestholdt, and Susan Banovetz

Donate now. Because every person matters.

“He could take her away from us”

Woman cryingI watched someone close to me become a victim of the horrific cycle of domestic violence. Her name is Kavita.

“My fiancé took out his anger on me,” she said. “I was told I was worthless and stupid. Sometimes, it was very subtle—he would withhold his affection from me, or he would completely ignore me like I was not even there. The worst was when he would slam me against a wall, hit me, or hold me down until I was unconscious. It was horrible to listen to him laughing as he tortured me.

“He was controlling. There were rules for everything. I was not allowed to do my homework on the couch because it was brand new and he worried that I would get ink on it. Whenever he was gone, I would sneak and do my homework on the couch. (Perhaps I was trying to get some power back.) One day, I dropped my pen on it and left a small mark. I looked at the clock; it was 1 p.m., and I knew he wouldn’t be home until 6 p.m. or later. I quickly got out soap and water, and I was able to get the stain out. I was so relieved.

“Not five minutes later, I heard a key in the front door. He was home—early. I panicked, and I sat on the spot so he wouldn’t see it. He walked into the door, and the first thing he said to me was, ‘What the hell did you do?’ How did he know? I got up and tried to laugh it off, telling him that it was an accident, and that I had succeeded at getting the stain out and was just waiting for the sofa to dry. He acted like it was okay, and I was happy. Five minutes later, he grabbed the back of my ponytail and pulled me to the ground.

“We began our relationship in Minnesota, while we both were in school. Soon after, he left for Washington, D.C. and medical school with the U.S. Navy. After many conversations, he persuaded me to leave college and my family and friends and move to D.C. to be with him. I was used to living in the Midwest, and D.C. was a whole new life for me. I became isolated. I now think that this was part of his plan.

“Money wasn’t an issue for my fiancé; the Navy paid him well while he was in school and he had other resources. But, soon after moving to D.C., I learned that in a different and harmful way, money was indeed an issue for him—he used it to leverage power and control. He controlled all of our finances, and he controlled what I purchased. I was only allowed to buy expensive clothes. Even though we had the money, he made me work full-time at a cake shop and part-time at a high-end clothing store in order to get a discount to subsidize the extravagant purchases. I never saw the money I earned because he made me give it to him. One day at the grocery store, he held up the line and told me that I had to pay for the groceries, or we would starve the next two weeks. I was so embarrassed and humiliated. I charged the groceries on my credit card. Eventually, I maxed out my credit card because he would make me pay for everything.

“Even though I’m extremely close to my parents, it took me a long time to confide in them—they were miles away in Minnesota—that something was wrong. Even though they sensed something was wrong, I was frightened to say anything. When I finally did, my mom would get mad at me for not leaving my fiancé. My dad told my mom that if they didn’t support the relationship, they may lose me forever. ‘She’s planning a wedding with him, and she’s already in D.C. He could take her away from us,’ my dad cautioned my mom.

“I needed to hear that I was loved, even though I had left everything to be with my fiancé. My dad reminded me how much he loved me, and told me that what I had with my fiancé was not a loving relationship. My dad told me that I deserved respect, and that when a man hits a woman that is not respect or love. The level of support my dad gave me helped me leave my fiancé.

“I know now that there were many aspects of abuse in that relationship. It was all about power and control. And my response was a common one. ‘I love him, and there are times he is very loving toward me,’ I would tell myself and my parents. I hoped—I believed—he would change. ‘Why would he really want to hurt me, someone he loves?’ I would ask myself. I downplayed his behavior and the abuse, telling myself that it was not that bad and that it could be much worse. I thought I deserved it every time I was hit. I believed I was dependent—financially and otherwise—on him. And I was afraid to leave. I feared what would happen to me or my family if I tried to leave. I know now that when leaving the abuser, it is the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship.

“I know now that my parents, especially my dad, were wise and did the right thing. They didn’t blame me, and they were there for me. I can only imagine how frantic and sick they must have been, living so far away from me and worrying about me, wondering if they would get a call about me being in a hospital—or worse. They helped me develop a plan to leave, and they helped me put it into action. They didn’t keep what was happening to me private. They spoke up. When I was ready, they told close family and friends, creating a circle of support for me.

“I know now that one in four women and one in seven men aged 18 and older in the United States have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. I know that this is an epidemic that affects every single person.

“I know that many people don’t have the network of support I had. That’s why it’s important for communities to respond to help victims realize they can survive on their own. The best thing you can do for your community is help educate them that they should not tolerate attitudes that contribute to a mindset that someone should be entitled to exercise power and control over another person. Come together to create a network that victims can turn to when they are leaving the abusive relationship. Just like a neighborhood watch, these folks can help a victim leave the relationship. Go to your local shelter and local police to discuss options on helping the victim report the incidents of abuse. Remember, strength is in numbers.

“Each of us needs to speak up and take action because, now or in the future, it could be someone close to you—your daughter, your son, your sister, your brother, your best friend, or even you.

“I watched someone close to me become a victim, and that person was me.”

By: Lindsay Kavita Dreyer, a staff member with the Advocates for Human Rights.

End the Imprisonment of Children & Mothers

Stock Photo woman behind fenceYesterday, The Advocates for Human Rights and more than 120 national and regional organizations wrote to President Obama opposing this week’s opening of the Dilley, Texas family detention center. 

While Congress and the Administration prepare for a joyful holiday season, many children will spend this holiday season in jail instead of with relatives here in the U.S. who are willing to care for them and for their mothers.

These families are not a border security problem. They are among the most vulnerable immigrants, seeking safety and the opportunity to tell their story to a judge. They should not be the centerpiece of a continued “surge” of border enforcement strength. The Advocates and others take issue with the Administration’s message that locking up mothers and children at the border is justified to deter others from attempting a journey that may be necessary to save their lives.

Join us in fighting for the safety of these mothers and children, as well as for ending their incarceration. Contact President Obama and members of U.S. Congress who represent you.

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

We, the undersigned civil rights and civil liberties, human rights, faith, immigration, labor, criminal justice, legal, children’s rights, and domestic violence advocacy organizations, oppose the opening of the new family detention facility in Dilley, Texas. While Congress and the Administration prepare for a joyful holiday season, many children will be spending this holiday season in jail instead of with relatives here in the U.S. who are already willing to care for them and for their mothers. The Dilley facility will be the largest immigration detention facility in the country, with a planned 2,400 beds to incarcerate children and their mothers who are fleeing extreme violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala and rush them through the deportation process without due process.

The regional refugee crisis in Central America demands a humanitarian response by the United States, not a show of force. These mothers have faced unimaginable suffering and danger and have come to the U.S. seeking protection, often with close relatives in the U.S. who are willing and able to provide for them. They are not evading law enforcement; they are seeking out Border Patrol officers.

These families are not a border security problem. They are among the most vulnerable immigrants, seeking safety and the opportunity to tell their story to a judge. They should not be the centerpiece of a continued “surge” of border enforcement strength.
The evidence is undeniable that many of these families qualify for protection under U.S. law. Extremely high percentages of these detained women and their children have been granted asylum by immigration judges or been found to have a credible fear of persecution by asylum officers. We take issue with the Administration’s message that locking up mothers and children at the border is justified to deter others from attempting a journey that may be necessary to save their lives. This rhetoric belies our nation’s legal obligation to protect asylum seekers and is inhumane. These children and mothers are not tools for a border messaging campaign.

As the Dilley facility opens, immigration attorneys volunteering from across the country to provide free representation to families isolated in detention centers at Artesia, New Mexico and Karnes, Texas are making a tremendous difference in the lives of these families and the outcomes of their cases. We all know the importance of legal counsel to immigrants who are trying to express their fears and navigate our complex immigration system. But the massive outpouring of pro bono efforts that have resulted in so many asylum victories for families in Artesia, New Mexico and Karnes, Texas is neither sustainable nor easily replicable, especially for a facility the size of Dilley. We fear that many of the women and children detained in Dilley will go without representation. Without counsel, women are less likely to be found having a credible fear of persecution—the first step to seeking asylum. Credible fear grant rates will fall. And children and mothers who need protection will be returned to danger.

The closure of Artesia as Dilley opens is a clear bait-and-switch. Many families currently detained at Artesia will be transferred to Karnes or to Dilley, not released. As relieved as we are that families will no longer be held at Artesia – a facility in the middle of the desert where repeated violations of human rights and due process occurred – the opening of Dilley signals a ramp up, not a reduction, in family detention.

Detention makes it extremely difficult for traumatized asylum seekers and other vulnerable immigrants to ask for and receive the protections of our laws and the services they need. A detained family may only have a matter of days to seek help before being summarily deported without the opportunity to see a judge. Moreover, your Administration has made it uniquely difficult for these mothers and children to obtain a fair and reasonable release on bond – even when they have absolutely no criminal history and pose no public safety threat, even when they are facing severe medical and psychological difficulties in detention. Furthermore, no satisfactory explanation has been provided as to why proven alternatives to detention (ATDs) are not being considered in those cases where a family cannot otherwise be released, since it would save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and accomplish the goal of compliance with removal proceedings. ATDs would also increase access to counsel and therapeutic services for those who experienced trauma.

Detaining mothers and children and rushing them through to deportation is wrong. The public scandal and lawsuit that ended family detention at the T. Don Hutto facility in 2009 demonstrated that detention is a wholly inappropriate place for children and their mothers. But by the middle of next year, your Administration will be detaining nearly 4,000 mothers and children, a forty-fold increase in the use of detention on immigrant families.

With your Executive Actions, you have pledged to protect families. But Dilley will force many families back directly into harm’s way. We urge you to reverse course on family detention and close Dilley.


American Civil Liberties Union
American Immigration Council
American Immigration Lawyers Association
Americans for Immigrant Justice
Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence
Asian Americans Advancing Justice
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance
ASISTA Immigration Assistance
Center for Community Change
Center for Gender & Refugee Studies
Center for Human Rights & International Justice, Boston College
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Refugee & Immigration Ministries
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Detention Watch Network
Disciples Home Missions
Disciples Home Missions Family and Children’s Ministries
First Focus
Franciscan Action Network
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Futures Without Violence
Grassroots Leadership
Human Rights First
Jesuit Conference
Justice Strategies
Kids in Need of Defense
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Leadership Team of the Felician Sisters of North America
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
NAFSA: Association of International Educators
National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association
National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council of La Raza (NCLR)
National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON)
National Immigrant Justice Center
National Immigration Forum
National Immigration Law Center
National Latin@ Network: Casa de Esperanza
National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
New Sanctuary Coalition
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Salvadoran American National Network
Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)
Southern Border Communities Coalition
Stone Grzegorek & Gonzalez LLP
Tahirih Justice Center
United We Dream
We Belong Together
Wheaton Franciscans
Women’s Refugee Commission
Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights at the University of Chicago

American Jewish Committee
Disciples Home Missions
Disciples Justice Action Network
Disciples Women
Human Rights Watch
Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity
Physicians for Human Rights
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother
The Advocates for Human Rights
The Episcopal Church
US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE)
Asian Law Alliance
Bill of Rights Defense Committee-Tacoma
Border Action Network
Causa Oregon
Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA)
Collaborative Center for Justice
Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto
Conversations With Friends (MN)
Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project
Florida Immigrant Coalition
Franciscans for Justice
Gibbs Houston Pauw
Human Rights Initiative of North Texas
Humane Borders
Illinois Coalition for Immigrant & Refugee Rights
Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota
Immigrant Law Group PC
Immigrant Rights Clinic
Immigration Center for Women and Children
Immigration Clinic, University of North Carolina School of Law
Immigration Task Force, Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Inter-faith Coalition on Immigration (MN)
Kentucky Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Kentucky Immigration Reform Committee
Kino Border Initiative
Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center
Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice
Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA)
Michigan United
Mountain View Dreamers
New Mexico Immigrant Law Center
New Sanctuary Coalition of NY
North Carolina Justice Center
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project
Palabra Santa Barbara
Pangea Legal Services
People Acting in Community Together
Proyecto Azteca
Redwood Justice Fund
Safe Passage Project
Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network (SIREN)
Stop The Checkpoints
Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition
The Queer Detainee Empowerment Project
University of California Davis School of Law Immigration Clinic
University of Texas School of Law Civil Rights Clinic
University of Texas School of Law Immigration Clinic
VACOLAO – Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations
Walker Gates Vela PLLC
Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence

14-year-old Exonerated after Execution

george-Junius-Stinney-JrWhen he was executed 70 years ago in South Carolina, 14-year-old George Stinney Jr. was so small he had to sit on a stack of books on the electric chair to reach the electrodes. Yesterday, Judge Carmen Mullins vacated the decision that had meant death for the child. Civil rights advocates have spent years trying to get the case reopened, arguing that George’s confession had been coerced. They finally succeeded.

While seven decades have passed since George was executed, his case illustrates human rights abuses inherent in the death penalty that continue today.

Police contended at the time that George, who was black, had confessed to the crime of murdering two young white girls, 11-year-old Betty June Binnicker and 7-year-old Mary Emma Thames. The supposed confession came after hours of harsh interrogation, without either of his parents or an attorney present. Reports claim police officers offered the young boy ice cream if he confessed to the murders. His “confession” was said to be verbal, and there is no written record of a confession.

“False confessions are a very real, contributing factor to innocents being sentenced to death,” said Rosalyn Park, The Advocates for Human Rights’ research director. “One study shows that false confessions constitute nearly 10 percent of the causes behind wrongful convictions.” Park represents The Advocates on the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty’s steering committee, and she chairs the working group for World Day Against the Death Penalty.

George’s court-appointed white attorney, who at the time was preparing a run for the South Carolina state house, mounted no defense during a trial that lasted less than three hours. Moreover, there was no physical evidence linking George to the murder and no record on paper of his confession for the jury to consider. The courtroom was packed with 1,500 people, all white. Blacks were not allowed.

His family did not have a chance to provide the child’s alibi or present evidence in defense of their loved one because they had been run out of town. George’s father was not allowed to speak to or see his son before the trial.

It took only 10 minutes for the all-white jury to convict him. Two months later, George was electrocuted.

George’s case is representative of the racial bias pervasive throughout the capital punishment system today. “If the victim is white, a defendant is more likely to be sentenced to death than if the victim is black” said Park. “The race of the defendant also increases the likelihood of a death sentence, and black persons are disproportionately overrepresented on death row in comparison to the general population.”

George’s case also indicates how the United States is behind international norms, said Parks. Although international law has long prohibited the execution of a juvenile offender, executing juvenile offenders was only abolished in the United States in 2005 with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The Advocates for Human Rights has submitted a shadow report to the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee on the death penalty in the United States. Let’s hope that the next time the United States’ human rights record is reviewed by the United Nations, the death penalty will have been abolished in the United States, allowing the country to hold its head high.

Learn more:

By: Susan L. Banovetz, communication director for The Advocates for Human Rights

Egypt Waiting for U.S. Citizen Mohamed Soltan to Die

Mohamed Soltan“Mohamed died, and came back to life,” said a nurse earlier this month while attending to the care of U.S. citizen and Ohio State University graduate Mohamed Soltan, who has been on a hunger strike for 324 days (as of December 17) in an Egyptian prison. Mohamed’s hunger strike is in protest to his illegal detention related to his arrest in August 2013 by Egyptian authorities on what is described as politically-motivated charges.

While the nurse was measuring Mohamed’s blood sugar—which was about 30 at that time—Soltan lost consciousness following a seizure. Everyone in his cell screamed, declaring him dead. They panicked and started to rub sweets on his lips to raise his blood sugar level in hopes of raising his sugar levels and preventing him from choking his tongue. He remained unconscious for another 20 minutes. When he regained consciousness he was rushed to the urgent care facility. Soltan did not remember anything, including names of immediate family members. He reported experiencing cold chills and hot flashes.

Mohamed was later transferred to Qasr Al Aini Hospital. When they measured his blood sugar, it was around 23. They hooked him to an IV, injecting calcium, glucose, and magnesium into his fragile body. Based on the tests, they concluded that those deficiencies had caused the seizure.

Mohamed was left alone in urgent care. When he woke up, he asked to see his father and was denied. He was accompanied by a guard around the clock instead. Mohamed demanded once again to see his father, when the request was denied again he became really angry and experienced what could only amount to a nervous breakdown. He started beating his head on the door’s metal bars. The incident was immediately reported to the officer in charge, but Mohamed received no sympathy. His request to be accompanied by his father in what is sure to have felt like his last moments on this earth was denied despite the proximity of the cell his father is held in to his (15 meters)

The family is deeply saddened by the news of Mohamed’s deteriorating health and emotional state. “It is especially heartbreaking to learn of the psychological torture he and his dad experience in being denied the comfort of each other’s company in a situation this dire and bleak,” Mohamed’s family said. “It appears the current regime is determined to see Mohamed dead. We pray that Allah SWT ends the oppression Mohamed and others are suffering.”

The end is nearing
This week, Mohamed has been transferred to the ICU in Asr AlAiny hospital due to the complete deterioration of his health. Mohamed refusing medication and check-ups as as a form of strike due to inhumane treatment and the transfer of his father to Aqrab Prison. “Mohamed continues to face emotional pressure from the Egyptian authority as they have isolated him from the outside world by not allowing people to see or speak to him,” the family said.

By the family of Mohamed Soltan

More about Mohamed Soltan
Mohamed Soltan, U.S. citizen and an Ohio State University graduate, took part in the Rabaa Square Protests after the military coup in Egypt toppled the democratically-elected government. Although Soltan is not a Muslim Brotherhood member, his desire to help and his ability to speak both English and Arabic fluently, led him to becoming the media spokesman dealing with international reporters. He was a sympathizer of the cause that promoted democracy, freedom, and social justice for Egypt. He strongly believed in nonviolence.

He was a first-hand witness when the army took down Rabaa square. On August 14, he was shot in the arm by an army sniper. His efforts were not deterred, as he continued to participate in pro-democracy protests. On August 25, police forces arrested Soltan, along with three other Egyptian youth.  It is reported that he is facing charges on bizarre, fabricated counts, and awaits the day that he is fully absolved and reunited with his family and friends.

At the onset of his detention, Soltan was moved from prison to prison to ensure that his whereabouts would remain unknown. Once his family was finally able to connect with him, Soltan informed them of the intense brutality he was facing on a day to day basis while in prison. “The brutality with which I have been treated has been mind boggling,” he said. “During the day, soldiers and police would get in two straight lines, and we would have to run in between them as they beat us with rocks and sticks. They roused anger amongst the officers by falsely proclaiming that we had killed police officers. The officers stripped off our pants and shirts as they beat us with clubs. They put us in jail cells with what must have been 60 other inmates, and it was terribly hot and water was not made available to us. I saw an inmate suffer a heart attack right before my eyes and not receive proper medical attention. The surgical wound on my arm was open and oozing, and not one of the guards seemed to care because I was labeled a political prisoner.”

After months of illegal detention, Soltan finally stood before a judge in January 2014. No evidence was presented and no argument was made, the judge simply ordered him to be held for another 45 days. In protest, Soltan entered into a hunger strike immediately following the hearing on January 26, 2014 with no plans to end it before he is released for lack of evidence against him. Throughout the year, Egyptian authorities have ignored him, with hearings scheduled and postponed throughout his detention.