Remembering the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre

Sharpeville 1960

South Africans commemorate the 55th anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre on Saturday, when 69 people were killed and 180 others wounded for protesting apartheid. The day is hallowed on the South African calendar as “Human Rights” day, but as politicians lead the nation in remembering Sharpeville, what is often forgotten about that bloody day is just as significant as what is recalled.

Those gunned down in Sharpeville, a township south of Johannesburg, were not the only ones who died on March 21, 1960 protesting “pass laws” – a domestic passport that black males were ordered to carry and produce upon request – part of the segregation system that severely restricted movement.

In Langa, a shanty town close to Cape Town, police also opened fire on protesters, killing three people. At least 26 others were wounded. In the chaos that ensued, a driver who transported two journalists to the township was also killed.

The Sharpeville massacre was the turning point in the history of political resistance to Apartheid in South Africa. Since 1994, March 21 is Human Rights Day in South Africa. March 21 is also the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in memory of the massacre.

Violence Against Women and the Effectiveness of Gender Violence Laws

Domestic violence victim

In 1999, Jessica Lenahan-Gonzales’s estranged husband took her three girls in violation of a permanent restraining order requiring him to remain at least 100 yards from her and her children. The police of Castle Rock, Colo., failed to enforce the restraining order — after multiple requests — and the three girls were murdered by the estranged husband. A legal case against the police force reached the Supreme Court and, in a 7-to-2 decision, the court ruled that Castle Rock and its police could not be sued for failing to enforce a restraining order. In 2011, the case reached the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which found that the United States failed both to protect Lenahan and her daughters from domestic violence and to provide equal protection before the law. Further, said the IACHR, “all States have a legal obligation to protect women from domestic violence,” and this is “a problem widely recognized by the international community as a serious human rights violation and an extreme form of discrimination.”

Violence against women (VAW) is a pandemic, by any measure, and the repeated failures on the part of nations to provide meaningful recourse for victims of entrenched gender violence has led to growing calls by national and transnational actors alike for the adoption of stronger gender-violence legislation in all countries. Consequently, several important questions arise regarding the adoption and strength of domestic gender-violence laws, including:

  1. What laws protecting women from gender-based violence currently exist and how strong are these protections?
  2. What differences in gender-violence laws exist across countries?
  3. What influences the adoption and strength of gender-violence laws?


VAW &The LawIt is these questions, among others, we tackle in our new book “Violence Against Women and the Law.” While the way we approach these questions has roots in the research program studying whether being party to an international human rights instrument has any effect on state practice, it is our assumption that any effect international law may have on state human rights behavior comes via its effect on the creation and/or improvement of related domestic law. By identifying and understanding the strength of gender-violence laws, we can better understand the causes and consequences of variation in both the scope and strength of these laws.

For our analyses, we produced an original data set containing information about the adoption and strength of laws addressing four forms of violence against women – rape, marital rape, domestic violence and sexual harassment – for 196 countries from 2007 to 2010. A four-point measurement scheme was created to denote the strength of domestic legal guarantees against the four forms of VAW in these countries: nonexistent/discriminatory laws received a 0, incomplete/weak laws a 1, correlative laws a 2, and fully-provided-for legal prohibitions received a 3. Using these data, we examined the domestic and international factors explaining variation in the strength of gender-based violence legal protections as well as the role legal protections play in various gender-related outcomes.

The map at the top of this post shows the spatial distribution of countries’ overall level of VAW-related legal protections for the year 2010. The map is based on an additive index of rape, marital rape, domestic violence and sexual harassment legal protections, ranging from 0 (no protections for any of these four types of VAW) to 12 (fully-provided legal guarantees for all four).

Europe and North America display the strongest overall legal protections. To be cautious, it is important to recognize that, with regards to legal guarantees, “fully-provided-for” does not mean “perfect” or “in no need of improvement,” as no country would inhabit those categories. Further, it is also important to remember that the map reflects law, not practice. However, along with our legal data, we created data about each country’s level of actual enforcement. One of the findings in this regard was that where women possess greater economic decision-making power, law enforcement personnel appear to more-regularly enforce VAW-related legal protections.

The weakest legal protections are found in Western Asia, which accounted for 21 percent of the countries, worldwide, receiving a 0 for marital rape laws in 2010. It also accounted for 44 percent of the countries, worldwide, that received a 0 for legal protections against domestic violence in 2010. Western Asia’s share of these poor scores is even more remarkable considering that it comprises only 10 percent of the countries in our sample.

There exists, on average, a good deal of variation in legal protections against our four types of VAW and, over time, these levels of legal protections are quite stable. The figure below depicts the global average of legal strength scores, by type of VAW, in 2010. Rape receives the strongest legal protections, followed by domestic violence, sexual harassment and marital rape. In our book, we explore these differences, including possible cultural-based explanations, explanations based on the public-private sphere divide, and whether there is a general sequence in which gender-based violence laws are enacted.

Mean VAW Ver2

The bars in the figure below come from stereotype regression analyses investigating the possible associates of legal prohibitions against domestic violence and sexual harassment, and they represent the change in the probability that a country has full legal protection against these forms of VAW (a score of 3 on our ordinal scale), given a one standard deviation change in the value of a given variable.

The figure reveals that women in government make a difference in the strength of their country’s legal protections related to gender-based violence. As the percentage of women in the legislature increases by about 10 percent (one standard deviation from the median), countries are about 10 percent more likely to adopt full legal protections against domestic violence and sexual harassment. This is a fascinating finding as various studies in comparative politics and international development argue that women in government are not likely to be representative of women writ large because they come from elite families, are not feminists (who are filtered out during nomination processes), and are token representatives without real power to affect the agenda, among various other arguments.

Second, increased economic globalization (measured as trade in merchandise as a percent of GDP) is associated with lower sexual harassment legal protections (an 8.7 percent decrease in the probability of adopting full sexual harassment legal protections). We suggest that perhaps because legal protections against sexual harassment are often enforced in the workplace, trade liberalization may encourage governments to avoid involvement in the private economic sphere. Further, this finding contributes to the debate over the influence of economic globalization on women’s rights/status. As well, this may be evidence in favor of the view that economic globalization can result in a type of individual-level race to the bottom where women are afraid to report cases of sexual harassment in order to remain competitive with other women for employment opportunities.

Interestingly, given recent debates, we also observe that international law can make a difference in the strength of domestic violence legal protections. As the time since a country has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) increases (by about eight years), countries are more (23.4 percent) likely to adopt full legal protections against domestic violence. Further, those countries who placed a full reservation on Article 2 – the centerpiece of CEDAW that charges parties to, among other things, “embody the principle of the equality of men and women in their national constitutions or other appropriate legislation” – were found to have reliably weaker domestic violence and marital rape laws. So, not only did international law show itself a reliable factor in advancing domestic legal prohibitions on violence against women, it did so even when simultaneously accounting for 12 other possible explanations of the strength of these laws.

Finally, strong laws matter. Countries with greater domestic legal protections against gender violence have less gender-based inequality, greater levels of human development and lower female HIV rates; again, simultaneously accounting for a dozen other possibilities that could affect these outcomes. In fact, not one of these dozen other possible alternative explanations was found to be associated with improvements in all three outcomes in our study: inequality, human development and reduction of female HIV incidence. This may be related to our finding that countries with stronger gender-violence laws had better enforcement of those laws; another link in the chain of international law’s indirect effectiveness.

These findings run counter to the propositions of critics of international law such as Eric Posner and Samuel Moyne, who argue that international human rights law such as CEDAW may be more than toothless, it may be pernicious. Rather, our findings are in sync with the work of Beth Simmons, who finds that social mobilization around women’s issues increases the longer a country is party to CEDAW. Such mobilization, most likely, goes a good ways toward explaining how CEDAW indirectly strengthens domestic gender-violence laws over time. This is a prime example of the kind of indirect, but very real, effect of international law that Posner’s zero-order empirics in “The Twilight of Human Rights Law,” for example, do not refute.

Further, we do not buy into the argument, also made in Posner’s recent book, that international human rights law can be seen as ineffective merely because if a law supporting one treaty is passed, the possibility exists policies may be made to the detriment of another treaty commitment. Damnation by such a puritanical standard reduces government responsibility for willful policy substitutions detracting from human dignity, is in defiance of the imperfect realities of how norms grow in complex polities, and invokes the famous aphorism warning us against making perfect the enemy of the good.

While it is, of course, necessary to accept the limitations of law, the gap between law and practice, and the challenge of victims’ access to available social services, law nonetheless represents an important step in ensuring protections for women. Unless we know what laws are in place and what factors contribute to their adoption and strength, we cannot hope to initiate legislative reform. We hope that the data and analyses in our book provide a basis for scholars and policymakers to further address important questions related to the elimination gender-based violence.

David L. Richards is associate professor of political science and human rights at the University of Connecticut. He is a co-founder of the CIRI Human Rights Data Project. Jillienne Haglund is a post-doctoral research associate at Washington University in St. Louis. Their new book “Violence Against Women and the Law” has just appeared from Paradigm Publishers. This article originally appeared in the Washington Post on February 11, 2015. 

Beyond Coincidence: Boris Nemtsov Joins List of Dead Putin Critics

Boris Nemstov 1

Boris Y. Nemtsov, a prominent Russian opposition leader and former first deputy prime minister, was shot dead last Friday evening in central Moscow in the highest-profile assassination in Russia during the tenure of President Vladimir V. Putin.

The shooting, on a bridge near Red Square, under the towering domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral, ended Mr. Nemtsov’s two-decade career as a champion of democratic reforms, beginning in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, and just days before he was to lead a rally to protest the war in Ukraine.

Mr. Putin condemned the killing, the Kremlin said, and Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said the president would personally lead the investigation.

The killing only added to the sense of a country backing away from the future many foresaw here in the early 1990s, when Mr. Nemtsov got his start as an up-and-comer in the years of the first post-Soviet president, Boris N. Yeltsin, and where doors are now closing on the vision of a pluralistic political system of the type he had said he wanted for Russia.

“They have started to kill ‘enemies of the people,’ ” the former opposition member of Parliament Gennady Gudkov posted on Twitter. “Mr. Nemtsov is dead. Who is next?” President Obama condemned the “brutal murder” of Mr. Nemtsov, 55, in a statement from the White House Friday.

Mr. Obama recalled meeting with Mr. Nemtsov in Moscow in 2009 and praised him for his “courageous dedication to the struggle against corruption in Russia.”

A dashing, handsome young politician of the early post-Soviet period, Mr. Nemtsov soared into the upper levels of government, and he was often touted as an heir apparent to Mr. Yeltsin. Mr. Nemtsov was then discredited, like so many others in the political elite of the 1990s, by political missteps, chaos and corruption, though he himself was not implicated in any wrongdoing. Mr. Putin eventually prevailed in the maneuvering to succeed Mr. Yeltsin.

While others from the Yeltsin years went into business or dropped out of view, Mr. Nemtsov chose to dive into the beleaguered opposition, at times standing in tiny crowds in street protests in the rain, enduring arrests and focusing attention on government corruption. The opposition movement swelled in 2011, with tens of thousands in the streets of Moscow, but was crushed by Mr. Putin when he returned to the presidency in 2012.

“I love Russia and want the best for her, so for me criticizing Putin is a very patriotic activity because these people are leading Russia to ruin,” Mr. Nemtsov said in an interview in 2011, republished Saturday on the Meduza news site. “Everybody who supports them in fact supports a regime that is destroying the country, and so they are the ones who hate Russia. And those who criticize this regime, those who fight against it, they are the patriots.”

In recent years, Mr. Nemtsov’s star had been eclipsed by Aleksei A. Navalny, the anticorruption blogger who played a leading role in the 2011 protests. But Mr. Nemtsov remained active and was a leading organizer of this weekend’s planned rally.

Mr. Nemtsov was organizing the rally in part because Mr. Navalny is currently serving a two-week jail sentence for handing out leaflets on the subway. The rally was also noteworthy because it was the first political action inside Russia specifically endorsed by Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, the exiled former political prisoner, who had signed the petition for a parade permit.

The investigative committee of the prosecutor’s office said gunmen shot Mr. Nemtsov four times in the back as he walked over the bridge, and by accident or design theatrically placed his body on the wet asphalt with the Kremlin visible behind. No suspects have been reported to be in custody.

While such contract street killings were commonplace in Moscow in the 1990s, the violence had dwindled under Mr. Putin, making the killing of Mr. Nemtsov all the more shocking. He is by far the most prominent public figure to die in such a fashion, though just one in a string of murders of opponents of Mr. Putin, most notoriously the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the human rights researcher Natalia Estemirova and the security service defector Aleksandr V. Litvinenko. And while low-level criminals have been detained in some cases, the investigations in Russia never traced back to those who ordered the murders.

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Beyond Coincidence: Several of Vladimir Putin’s critics have met a fate similar to that of Boris Nemstov.

The Interfax news agency cited an unnamed security service operative as saying the murder was a “provocation,” coming as it did just days before the opposition march.

Mr. Nemtsov was an atomic physicist who got his start in politics organizing protests against the planned construction of a nuclear reactor in his home city of Nizhny Novgorod, on the Volga River east of Moscow. In a recent interview with the magazine Sobesednik, Mr. Nemtsov had said his mother feared that Mr. Putin would have him killed for his outspoken, unbowed criticism of the war in Ukraine.

“She is truly scared that he could kill me soon for all of my statements, both in real life and on social networks,” Mr. Nemtsov said in the interview. “This is not a joke; she is a smart person.”

Asked by the magazine if he was worried Mr. Putin would kill him, Mr. Nemtsov said he was “somewhat worried, but not as seriously as my mother.”

The Interior Ministry confirmed the murder of Mr. Nemtsov at around 1 a.m. in Moscow, a report that was confirmed by his shocked and saddened supporters.

“Unfortunately I can see the corpse of Boris Nemtsov in front of me now,” Ilya Yashin, a co-founder of the Mr. Nemtsov’s political party, told Russia’s news website. “I see the body and lots of police around it.”

Reprint: Boris Nemtsov, Putin Foe, Is Shot Dead in Shadow of Kremlin -By Andrew E. Kramer | NYT and Boris Nemtsov Joins List of Dead Vladimir Putin Critics -By Terry Moran | ABC News

Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex

Black Men in Prison

Imprisonment has become the response of first resort to far too many of the social problems that burden people who are ensconced in poverty. These problems often are veiled by being conveniently grouped together under the category “crime” and by the automatic attribution of criminal behavior to people of color. Homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, and illiteracy are only a few of the problems that disappear from public view when the human beings contending with them are relegated to cages.

Prisons thus perform a feat of magic. Or rather the people who continually vote in new prison bonds and tacitly assent to a proliferating network of prisons and jails have been tricked into believing in the magic of imprisonment. But prisons do not disappear problems, they disappear human beings. And the practice of disappearing vast numbers of people from poor, immigrant, and racially marginalized communities has literally become big business.

The seeming effortlessness of magic always conceals an enormous amount of behind-the-scenes work. When prisons disappear human beings in order to convey the illusion of solving social problems, penal infrastructures must be created to accommodate a rapidly swelling population of caged people. Goods and services must be provided to keep imprisoned populations alive. Sometimes these populations must be kept busy and at other times — particularly in repressive super-maximum prisons and in INS detention centers — they must be deprived of virtually all meaningful activity. Vast numbers of handcuffed and shackled people are moved across state borders as they are transferred from one state or federal prison to another.

All this work, which used to be the primary province of government, is now also performed by private corporations, whose links to government in the field of what is euphemistically called “corrections” resonate dangerously with the military industrial complex. The dividends that accrue from investment in the punishment industry, like those that accrue from investment in weapons production, only amount to social destruction. Taking into account the structural similarities and profitability of business-government linkages in the realms of military production and public punishment, the expanding penal system can now be characterized as a “prison industrial complex.”

The Color of Imprisonment
Almost two million people are currently locked up in the immense network of U.S. prisons and jails. More than 70 percent of the imprisoned population are people of color. It is rarely acknowledged that the fastest growing group of prisoners are black women and that Native American prisoners are the largest group per capita. Approximately five million people — including those on probation and parole — are directly under the surveillance of the criminal justice system.

Three decades ago, the imprisoned population was approximately one-eighth its current size. While women still constitute a relatively small percentage of people behind bars, today the number of incarcerated women in California alone is almost twice what the nationwide women’s prison population was in 1970. According to Elliott Currie, “[t]he prison has become a looming presence in our society to an extent unparalleled in our history — or that of any other industrial democracy. Short of major wars, mass incarceration has been the most thoroughly implemented government social program of our time.”

To deliver up bodies destined for profitable punishment, the political economy of prisons relies on racialized assumptions of criminality — such as images of black welfare mothers reproducing criminal children — and on racist practices in arrest, conviction, and sentencing patterns. Colored bodies constitute the main human raw material in this vast experiment to disappear the major social problems of our time. Once the aura of magic is stripped away from the imprisonment solution, what is revealed is racism, class bias, and the parasitic seduction of capitalist profit. The prison industrial system materially and morally impoverishes its inhabitants and devours the social wealth needed to address the very problems that have led to spiraling numbers of prisoners.

As prisons take up more and more space on the social landscape, other government programs that have previously sought to respond to social needs — such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families — are being squeezed out of existence. The deterioration of public education, including prioritizing discipline and security over learning in public schools located in poor communities, is directly related to the prison “solution.”

Profiting from Prisoners
As prisons proliferate in U.S. society, private capital has become enmeshed in the punishment industry. And precisely because of their profit potential, prisons are becoming increasingly important to the U.S. economy. If the notion of punishment as a source of potentially stupendous profits is disturbing by itself, then the strategic dependence on racist structures and ideologies to render mass punishment palatable and profitable is even more troubling.

Prison privatization is the most obvious instance of capital’s current movement toward the prison industry. While government-run prisons are often in gross violation of international human rights standards, private prisons are even less accountable. In March of this year, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest U.S. private prison company, claimed 54,944 beds in 68 facilities under contract or development in the U.S., Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Following the global trend of subjecting more women to public punishment, CCA recently opened a women’s prison outside Melbourne. The company recently identified California as its “new frontier.”

Wackenhut Corrections Corporation (WCC), the second largest U.S. prison company, claimed contracts and awards to manage 46 facilities in North America, U.K., and Australia. It boasts a total of 30,424 beds as well as contracts for prisoner health care services, transportation, and security.

Currently, the stocks of both CCA and WCC are doing extremely well. Between 1996 and 1997, CCA’s revenues increased by 58 percent, from $293 million to $462 million. Its net profit grew from $30.9 million to $53.9 million. WCC raised its revenues from $138 million in 1996 to $210 million in 1997. Unlike public correctional facilities, the vast profits of these private facilities rely on the employment of non-union labor.

The Prison Industrial Complex
But private prison companies are only the most visible component of the increasing corporatization of punishment. Government contracts to build prisons have bolstered the construction industry. The architectural community has identified prison design as a major new niche. Technology developed for the military by companies like Westinghouse is being marketed for use in law enforcement and punishment.

Moreover, corporations that appear to be far removed from the business of punishment are intimately involved in the expansion of the prison industrial complex. Prison construction bonds are one of the many sources of profitable investment for leading financiers such as Merrill Lynch. MCI charges prisoners and their families outrageous prices for the precious telephone calls which are often the only contact prisoners have with the free world.

Many corporations whose products we consume on a daily basis have learned that prison labor power can be as profitable as third world labor power exploited by U.S.-based global corporations. Both relegate formerly unionized workers to joblessness and many even wind up in prison. Some of the companies that use prison labor are IBM, Motorola, Compaq, Texas Instruments, Honeywell, Microsoft, and Boeing. But it is not only the hi-tech industries that reap the profits of prison labor. Nordstrom department stores sell jeans that are marketed as “Prison Blues,” as well as t-shirts and jackets made in Oregon prisons. The advertising slogan for these clothes is “made on the inside to be worn on the outside.” Maryland prisoners inspect glass bottles and jars used by Revlon and Pierre Cardin, and schools throughout the world buy graduation caps and gowns made by South Carolina prisoners.

“For private business,” write Eve Goldberg and Linda Evans (a political prisoner inside the Federal Correctional Institution at Dublin, California) “prison labor is like a pot of gold. No strikes. No union organizing. No health benefits, unemployment insurance, or workers’ compensation to pay. No language barriers, as in foreign countries. New leviathan prisons are being built on thousands of eerie acres of factories inside the walls. Prisoners do data entry for Chevron, make telephone reservations for TWA, raise hogs, shovel manure, make circuit boards, limousines, waterbeds, and lingerie for Victoria’s Secret — all at a fraction of the cost of `free labor.'”


Devouring the Social Wealth
Although prison labor — which ultimately is compensated at a rate far below the minimum wage — is hugely profitable for the private companies that use it, the penal system as a whole does not produce wealth. It devours the social wealth that could be used to subsidize housing for the homeless, to ameliorate public education for poor and racially marginalized communities, to open free drug rehabilitation programs for people who wish to kick their habits, to create a national health care system, to expand programs to combat HIV, to eradicate domestic abuse — and, in the process, to create well-paying jobs for the unemployed.

Since 1984 more than twenty new prisons have opened in California, while only one new campus was added to the California State University system and none to the University of California system. In 1996-97, higher education received only 8.7 percent of the State’s General Fund while corrections received 9.6 percent. Now that affirmative action has been declared illegal in California, it is obvious that education is increasingly reserved for certain people, while prisons are reserved for others. Five times as many black men are presently in prison as in four-year colleges and universities. This new segregation has dangerous implications for the entire country.

By segregating people labeled as criminals, prison simultaneously fortifies and conceals the structural racism of the U.S. economy. Claims of low unemployment rates — even in black communities — make sense only if one assumes that the vast numbers of people in prison have really disappeared and thus have no legitimate claims to jobs. The numbers of black and Latino men currently incarcerated amount to two percent of the male labor force. According to criminologist David Downes, “[t]reating incarceration as a type of hidden unemployment may raise the jobless rate for men by about one-third, to 8 percent. The effect on the black labor force is greater still, raising the [black] male unemployment rate from 11 percent to 19 percent.”

Hidden Agenda
Mass incarceration is not a solution to unemployment, nor is it a solution to the vast array of social problems that are hidden away in a rapidly growing network of prisons and jails. However, the great majority of people have been tricked into believing in the efficacy of imprisonment, even though the historical record clearly demonstrates that prisons do not work. Racism has undermined our ability to create a popular critical discourse to contest the ideological trickery that posits imprisonment as key to public safety. The focus of state policy is rapidly shifting from social welfare to social control.

Black, Latino, Native American, and many Asian youth are portrayed as the purveyors of violence, traffickers of drugs, and as envious of commodities that they have no right to possess. Young black and Latina women are represented as sexually promiscuous and as indiscriminately propagating babies and poverty. Criminality and deviance are racialized. Surveillance is thus focused on communities of color, immigrants, the unemployed, the undereducated, the homeless, and in general on those who have a diminishing claim to social resources. Their claim to social resources continues to diminish in large part because law enforcement and penal measures increasingly devour these resources. The prison industrial complex has thus created a vicious cycle of punishment which only further impoverishes those whose impoverishment is supposedly “solved” by imprisonment.

Therefore, as the emphasis of government policy shifts from social welfare to crime control, racism sinks more deeply into the economic and ideological structures of U.S. society. Meanwhile, conservative crusaders against affirmative action and bilingual education proclaim the end of racism, while their opponents suggest that racism’s remnants can be dispelled through dialogue and conversation. But conversations about “race relations” will hardly dismantle a prison industrial complex that thrives on and nourishes the racism hidden within the deep structures of our society.

The emergence of a U.S. prison industrial complex within a context of cascading conservatism marks a new historical moment, whose dangers are unprecedented. But so are its opportunities. Considering the impressive number of grassroots projects that continue to resist the expansion of the punishment industry, it ought to be possible to bring these efforts together to create radical and nationally visible movements that can legitimize anti-capitalist critiques of the prison industrial complex. It ought to be possible to build movements in defense of prisoners’ human rights and movements that persuasively argue that what we need is not new prisons, but new health care, housing, education, drug programs, jobs, and education. To safeguard a democratic future, it is possible and necessary to weave together the many and increasing strands of resistance to the prison industrial complex into a powerful movement for social transformation.

Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex -By Angela Davis | History Is A Weapon

Recommended: US Sells Prisoners to the Highest Bidder -By Mary Turck | Al Jazeera America

❃ Who’s Getting Rich Off the Prison-Industrial Complex -By Ray Downs | VICE

❃ Shocking Facts About America’s For-Profit Prison Industry (+Infographic) -By Beth Buczynski, Care2 | Truthout

❃ Criminal: How Lockup Quotas and “Low-Crime Taxes” Guarantee Profits for Private Prison Corporations | In the Public Interest

❃ How the Prison-Industrial Complex Kills People For Profit (w/Henry Rollins) | Brave New Films (Video)

❃ The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness  -By Michelle Alexander (Book)

Teju Cole: Unmournable Bodies

The Eiffel tower’s lights are switched off in Paris on January 8, 2015, in tribute to the twelve people killed the day before in an attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo (Photo Credit: Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu/Getty).

(Originally published January 9, 2015) A northern-Italian miller in the sixteenth century, known as Menocchio, literate but not a member of the literary élite, held a number of unconventional theological beliefs. He believed that the soul died with the body, that the world was created out of a chaotic substance, not ex nihilo, and that it was more important to love one’s neighbor than to love God. He found eccentric justification for these beliefs in the few books he read, among them the Decameron, the Bible, the Koran, and “The Travels of Sir John Mandeville,” all in translation. For his pains, Menocchio was dragged before the Inquisition several times, tortured, and, in 1599, burned at the stake. He was one of thousands who met such a fate.

Western societies are not, even now, the paradise of skepticism and rationalism that they believe themselves to be. The West is a variegated space, in which both freedom of thought and tightly regulated speech exist, and in which disavowals of deadly violence happen at the same time as clandestine torture. But, at moments when Western societies consider themselves under attack, the discourse is quickly dominated by an ahistorical fantasy of long-suffering serenity and fortitude in the face of provocation. Yet European and American history are so strongly marked by efforts to control speech that the persecution of rebellious thought must be considered among the foundational buttresses of these societies. Witch burnings, heresy trials, and the untiring work of the Inquisition shaped Europe, and these ideas extended into American history and took on American modes, from the breaking of slaves to the censuring of critics of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

More than a dozen people were killed by terrorists in Paris this week. The victims of these crimes are being mourned worldwide: they were human beings, beloved by their families and precious to their friends. On Wednesday, twelve of them were targeted by gunmen for their affiliation with the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Charlie has often been aimed at Muslims, and it’s taken particular joy in flouting the Islamic ban on depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. It’s done more than that, too, including taking on political targets, as well as Christian and Jewish ones. The magazine depicted the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost in a sexual threesome. Illustrations such as this have been cited as evidence of Charlie Hebdo’s willingness to offend everyone. But in recent years the magazine has gone specifically for racist and Islamophobic provocations, and its numerous anti-Islam images have been inventively perverse, featuring hook-nosed Arabs, bullet-ridden Korans, variations on the theme of sodomy, and mockery of the victims of a massacre. It is not always easy to see the difference between a certain witty dissent from religion and a bullyingly racist agenda, but it is necessary to try. Even Voltaire, a hero to many who extol free speech, got it wrong. His sparkling and courageous anti-clericalism can be a joy to read, but he was also a committed anti-Semite, whose criticisms of Judaism were accompanied by calumnies about the innate character of Jews.

This week’s events took place against the backdrop of France’s ugly colonial history, its sizable Muslim population, and the suppression, in the name of secularism, of some Islamic cultural expressions, such as the hijab. Blacks have hardly had it easier in Charlie Hebdo: one of the magazine’s cartoons depicts the Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira, who is of Guianese origin, as a monkey (naturally, the defense is that a violently racist image was being used to satirize racism); another portrays Obama with the black-Sambo imagery familiar from Jim Crow-era illustrations.

La Liberte AssassineeOn Thursday morning, the day after the massacre, I happened to be in Paris. The headline of Le Figaro was “LA LIBERTÉ ASSASSINÉE.” Le Parisien and L’Humanité also used the word liberté in their headlines. Liberty was indeed under attack—as a writer, I cherish the right to offend, and I support that right in other writers—but what was being excluded in this framing? A tone of genuine puzzlement always seems to accompany terrorist attacks in the centers of Western power. Why have they visited violent horror on our peaceful societies? Why do they kill when we don’t? A widely shared illustration, by Lucille Clerc, of a broken pencil regenerating itself as two sharpened pencils, was typical. The message was clear, as it was with the hashtag #jesuischarlie: that what is at stake is not merely the right of people to draw what they wish but that, in the wake of the murders, what they drew should be celebrated and disseminated. Accordingly, not only have many of Charlie Hebdo’s images been published and shared, but the magazine itself has received large sums of money in the wake of the attacks—a hundred thousand pounds from the Guardian Media Group and three hundred thousand dollars from Google.

But it is possible to defend the right to obscene and racist speech without promoting or sponsoring the content of that speech. It is possible to approve of sacrilege without endorsing racism. And it is possible to consider Islamophobia immoral without wishing it illegal. Moments of grief neither rob us of our complexity nor absolve us of the responsibility of making distinctions. The A.C.L.U. got it right in defending a neo-Nazi group that, in 1978, sought to march through Skokie, Illinois. The extreme offensiveness of the marchers, absent a particular threat of violence, was not and should not be illegal. But no sensible person takes a defense of those First Amendment rights as a defense of Nazi beliefs. The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were not mere gadflies, not simple martyrs to the right to offend: they were ideologues. Just because one condemns their brutal murders doesn’t mean one must condone their ideology.

Rather than posit that the Paris attacks are the moment of crisis in free speech—as so many commentators have done—it is necessary to understand that free speech and other expressions of liberté are already in crisis in Western societies; the crisis was not precipitated by three deranged gunmen. The U.S., for example, has consolidated its traditional monopoly on extreme violence, and, in the era of big data, has also hoarded information about its deployment of that violence. There are harsh consequences for those who interrogate this monopoly. The only person in prison for the C.I.A.’s abominable torture regime is John Kiriakou, the whistle-blower. Edward Snowden is a hunted man for divulging information about mass surveillance. Chelsea Manning is serving a thirty-five-year sentence for her role in WikiLeaks. They, too, are blasphemers, but they have not been universally valorized, as have the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo.


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The killings in Paris were an appalling offense to human life and dignity. The enormity of these crimes will shock us all for a long time. But the suggestion that violence by self-proclaimed Jihadists is the only threat to liberty in Western societies ignores other, often more immediate and intimate, dangers. The U.S., the U.K., and France approach statecraft in different ways, but they are allies in a certain vision of the world, and one important thing they share is an expectation of proper respect for Western secular religion. Heresies against state power are monitored and punished. People have been arrested for making anti-military or anti-police comments on social media in the U.K. Mass surveillance has had a chilling effect on journalism and on the practice of the law in the U.S. Meanwhile, the armed forces and intelligence agencies in these countries demand, and generally receive, unwavering support from their citizens. When they commit torture or war crimes, no matter how illegal or depraved, there is little expectation of a full accounting or of the prosecution of the parties responsible.

The scale, intensity, and manner of the solidarity that we are seeing for the victims of the Paris killings, encouraging as it may be, indicates how easy it is in Western societies to focus on radical Islamism as the real, or the only, enemy. This focus is part of the consensus about mournable bodies, and it often keeps us from paying proper attention to other, ongoing, instances of horrific carnage around the world: abductions and killings in Mexico, hundreds of children (and more than a dozen journalists) killed in Gaza by Israel last year, internecine massacres in the Central African Republic, and so on. And, even when we rightly condemn criminals who claim to act in the name of Islam, little of our grief is extended to the numerous Muslim victims of their attacks, whether in Yemen or Nigeria—in both of which there were deadly massacres this week—or in Saudi Arabia, where, among many violations of human rights, the punishment for journalists who “insult Islam” is flogging. We may not be able to attend to each outrage in every corner of the world, but we should at least pause to consider how it is that mainstream opinion so quickly decides that certain violent deaths are more meaningful, and more worthy of commemoration, than others.

France is in sorrow today, and will be for many weeks to come. We mourn with France. We ought to. But it is also true that violence from “our” side continues unabated. By this time next month, in all likelihood, many more “young men of military age” and many others, neither young nor male, will have been killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere. If past strikes are anything to go by, many of these people will be innocent of wrongdoing. Their deaths will be considered as natural and incontestable as deaths like Menocchio’s, under the Inquisition. Those of us who are writers will not consider our pencils broken by such killings. But that incontestability, that unmournability, just as much as the massacre in Paris, is the clear and present danger to our collective liberté.

Reprint: Unmournable Bodies -By Teju Cole | The New Yorker

Recommended: Charlie Hedbo Shooting (Wikipedia)

Teju Cole is a photographer and the author of two works of fiction, “Open City” and “Every Day Is for the Thief.” He contributes frequently to Page-Turner.

Last Words . . .

Journalist Shirin Barghi collected the last words of men like Michael Brown — young, black, killed by authority figures while unarmed — and turned them into powerful illustrations. The minimalist images, twelve of which appear below, are poignant echoes of the victims’ final moments. All illustrations are by Shirin Barghi (@shebe86).

Posted in loving memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Jan 15, 1929 – April 23, 1968). He, too, was unarmed when an assassin’s bullet ripped through his body, silencing him forever.

Alabama Senator Schools Charles Barkley On How Bad Slavery Was In Epic Open Letter


Last month, Charles Barkley referred to Ferguson protesters as “scumbags” who “aren’t real black people.” After being called out for his offensive remarks by TNT colleague Kenny Smith in an open letter, the pair confronted each other during an episode of “NBA on TNT.” That’s when Barkley made an asinine statement about slavery: “I don’t think anytime anything bad that happens in the black community we have to talk about slavery,” Barkley said. “Listen, slavery is, uh, well, I shouldn’t say one of the worst things ever, because I don’t know anything about it other than what I read or what my grandmother told me.”

According to Barkley, slavery wasn’t so bad. It’s a statement that many white supremacists are probably pinning to bulletin boards in glee. But Alabama Senator Hank Sanders was deeply hurt by what Barkley said, and composed an epic open letter to teach Sir Charles just how bad slavery was and how it still affects us today. This letter can be found on Senator Sanders facebook page.

Dear Mr. Barkley,

I write you out of love. I write you out of profound pain. I write you out of deep concern. I hope you accept this letter in the spirit that I write.

Mr. Barkley, I understand that you said, in so many words, that slavery was not so bad and that you were tired of people bringing up slavery. I was shocked by both statements. Then I was mad. Then I was terribly disappointed. Finally, I was just in deep hurt and great pain. Now, I am trying to help you and all those who may think like you.

Mr. Barkley, allow me to tell you why slavery was “not so bad,” but very, very bad. First, African people were snatched from their families, their villages, their communities, their tribes, their continent, their freedom. African people were made to walk hundreds of miles in chains. They were often beaten, poorly fed and abused in many ways. Women and girls were routinely raped. The whole continent was ravaged and still suffers to this day. Mr. Barkley, this is very, very bad.

Second, African people were placed in “slave dungeons” for weeks and sometimes months until the slave ships came. They were often underfed, terribly beaten, raped and stuffed together so tightly they could hardly move. African people were packed in the holds of ships with little space to even move. They performed bodily functions where they lay and then lived in it. They were oftentimes beaten, raped and abused mentally, physically and emotionally. Many died from disease and broken spirits. Some were so terribly impacted that they jumped overboard and drowned when brought to the deck of the ships. Millions died during the Middle Passage from Africa to the Americas. Mr. Barkley, this is very, very bad.

Third, African people were broken like wild animals. They were stripped of every element of their identity. Their names were taken. Their languages were taken. Their religions were taken. Their histories were taken. They were forbidden to have family. They had no rights to own anything. They were considered property. Their personalities were permanently altered. Their freedom was taken. They became chattel sold from “slave blocks.” This crushing of identity impacts us to this day. I call it the psychology of the oppressed. Mr. Barkley, this is very, very bad.

Fourth, African Americans were worked from “kin to can’t;” that is from “can see” in the morning to “can’t see” at night. There was no pay for their long, hard labor. Many were poorly fed. Most felt the lash of the whip. All felt the lash of the tongue. Many were repeatedly raped. Their children and other loved ones were sold at will. Some mothers killed their baby girls so they would not have to endure the ravages of slavery. Mr. Barkley, this is very, very bad.

Fifth, African Americans had no right to defend themselves no matter what was done and how wrong it was. By law, they could not even testify against their abusers. As U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Toney said in the 1857 Dred Scott case, “A Black man has no rights a White man is bound to respect.” This became the law of the land and its legacy bedevils us to this day. Mr. Barkley, this is very, very bad.

Sixth, African Americans were perceived and treated as sub human. The only way enslavers could square this terrible treatment with their Christian beliefs was see us as less than human. Therefore, they could proudly place such beautiful words in the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution with impunity: i.e. – “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” To them, African Americans were not human so these beautiful words did not apply. Even the U.S. Constitution designated us as 3/5 of a person. That’s why White terrorists, in and out of uniforms, can kill us without punishment. The legacy of being less human lingers with us today. Black lives are worth much less than White lives. Mr. Barkley, this is very, very bad.

Seventh, it required great violence to implement and maintain the worse form of human slavery known to humankind. It required unbridled violence by enslavers, slave catchers, local, state, federal governments and the entire society. Maintaining the institution of slavery created a very violent society that infests us to this day. That’s why the United States has far more violence than any country in the world. Mr. Barkley, this is very, very bad.

Eighth, even after slavery formerly ended, we still had Jim Crow. These same imbedded attitudes generated state-sanctioned terrorism for nearly another 100 years. The Ku Klux Klan and other terrorist groups hanged, mutilated, maimed and murdered without any punishment. It was state sanctioned terrorism because the “state” did not do anything to prevent it. That’s why even during the Civil Rights Movement murders took many years before even a modicum of justice was forged. Just look at the deaths of Medgar Evers, James Chaney, the three little girls murdered by the bombing of a Birmingham Church and so many others. That is why today Trayvon Martin could not walk the streets of his neighborhood and Jordan Davis could not play loud music in his car and Eric Garner was choked to death and Michael Brown was gunned down. Mr. Barkley this is very, very bad.

Mr. Barkley, if you knew your history, you would not say slavery is not so bad and you are tired of people bringing up slavery. The legacy of slavery is everywhere. However, you are not totally to blame because you were deliberately denied the opportunity to learn your history. That is one more legacy of slavery. I hope you will seek the full history for yourself so that you will not ever say such things again.

In deep concern, (emphasis added)

Hank Sanders

Henry “Hank” Sanders (born October 28, 1942) is a Democratic member of the Alabama Senate, representing the 23rd District since 1983. He is the longest-serving chair of a legislative budget committee in Alabama, having first been named to Chair of the Senate Finance & Taxation Committee in January 1996 and serving in it for four consecutive terms. Hank “The Rock” Sanders is serving his eighth term in the Alabama Senate. He first received his nickname “The Rock” by his mother because of his solid, steady and reliable nature, and that nickname has been adopted as a slogan in his political campaigns for the Alabama Senate.


Senator Hank Sanders (Facebook page)

15 Human Rights Causes to Support in 2015

Happy New Year! 

May 2015 bring you health, happiness, prosperity and a renewed sense of purpose.

Today’s post continues a tradition I started last year, whereby I dedicate the first post of the new year to noteworthy organizations, causes, and individuals committed to the advancement of human rights or the protection of Mother Earth. The criteria for this year’s list is the same as it was last year. But I did make two minor changes. First, I modified the title, choosing to use the word “causes” instead of “organizations.” The former more aptly describes the list below. The second change involves the total number of organizations. Going forward, this number will be consistent with the new year. Ergo, 15 organizations for 2015. Lastly, readers should know the numbers are intended only as placeholders and counters. I refuse rank or otherwise organize the list because I think they’re all great!

Of course, the list below could be twice as long and each additional entry would be completely justified and equally deserving of recognition. But don’t fret, in about 365 days I’ll pay tribute to 16 more organizations. Feel free to leave a comment if you work for or know about an organization or person that deserves recognition. Now, and without further ado…

❃ My 15 for 2015 ❃

1.  Orquesta de Instrumentos Reciclados de Cateura (The Recycled Orchestra) and the Landfill Harmonic. Featured earlier this year on CBS 60 Minutes, the story develops in one of the poorest slums in Latin America. Just outside Asuncion, Paraguayans capital; Cateura is the city’s trash dump. It is built on a landfill. Here, people live in a sea of garbage. And they live from garbage. Every day, tons of rotting detritus spill from trucks and people swarm over it to pick the pieces of trash that are their livelihood.

The people of Cateura may be the poorest of the poor but they are proud and the life of their slum is vibrant. Family bonds, rivalries and friendships are intense. Surrounded by stories of drug-violence, alcoholism and destitution, they make herculean efforts to reaffirm their life and dignity.

A few years ago, one of the garbage pickers, “Cola”, an untutored genius of the slum, got together with local musician Favio Chávez to make instruments for the children of the slum. There was no money for real instruments so together they started to make instruments from trash – violins and cellos from oil drums, flutes from water pipes and spoons, guitars from packing crates. All the instruments are entirely made of garbage. They call it “The Recycled Orchestra of Cateura”.

The Orchestra has grown from just a few musicians to over 35. Their recent fame have peak the interest of the families and children of the community in such way, that many children are now enrolling for music classes. The music school of Cateura, does not have their own building yet, but teaches music and how to build recycled instruments to more than 200 kids of the landfill. 

Landfill Harmonic is a film about the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura and the transformative power of music. The film also highlights two vital issues of our times: poverty and waste pollution. The film is still in production. They are close to completion but need any help they can get from you to pay for editors, audio mixing and color correction. Make a donation via Creative Visions, Landfill Harmonic’s 503c fiscal sponsor.

Donate Musical Instruments. Landfill Harmonic has set up an instruments’ bank in Marina del Rey, CA. They will gladly receive your instrument at Eureka Productions, Inc 4223 Glencoe Ave, Suite – C125 Marina del Rey, CA 90292, and, given the opportunity, send it to the Orchestra.

2.  The Pollination Project seeks to unleash the goodness in every person through a daily generosity practice that makes seed grants, 365 days a year, to individual social change agents who seek to spread compassion in their communities and in the world for the benefit of all.

The Pollination Project does not fund projects that support the consumption, distribution, farming, eating of animals or animal products. Nor do they fund projects that attempt to colonize others through religion or dogma. Instead the Pollination Project seeks to fund the very grassroots.

Since January 1, 2013, the Pollination Project has been proving that small grants make a huge difference. Its daily $1000 seed grants has already supported nearly 800 social change projects in 53 countries and counting. Grantees are everyday heroes working on some of today’s most important social change issues at the local, national and global levels.

Oh, and here’s the best part: 100% of your donation goes to the grantee! No matter what amount you give – there is a direct connection between you and the grantees who are healing and empowering their communities and our planet. #GiveHappy!

3.  World Food Programme (WFP) is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. Born in 1961, WFP pursues a vision of the world in which every man, woman and child has access at all times to the food needed for an active and healthy life. WFP work towards its vision with its sister UN agencies in Rome — the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) — as well as other government, UN and NGO partners.

On average, WFP reaches more than 80 million people with food assistance in 75 countries each year. About 11,500 people work for the organization, most of them in remote areas, directly serving the hungry poor. WFP is part of the United Nations system and is voluntarily funded.

Redress4. REDRESS is a human rights organization that helps torture survivors obtain justice and reparation. REDRESS works with survivors to help restore their dignity and to make torturers accountable.

Following his release in 1984, torture survivor Keith Carmichael begin to consult with various human rights experts in an effort to learn how to seek reparation for torture. Carmichael soon realized that while existing NGOs helped survivors in other ways – by campaigning for their release, providing safe havens and medical care – none assisted them to obtain reparation. While the right to reparation existed in law, the practical difficulties in obtaining reparation proved difficult to overcome. Carmichael set out to change this practical reality for survivors and, in 1992, developed REDRESS in consultation with four esteemed colleagues committed to obtaining reparation for victims of torture.

REDRESS aims to obtain justice for survivors of torture; to hold accountable the governments and individuals who perpetrate torture; and to develop the means of ensuring compliance with international standards and securing remedies for victims. The primary strategies of REDRESS are casework, advocacy, and capacity building.

REDRESS provides services free of charge to torture survivors and thus relies on the generosity of its supporters. Individual donations can help cover essential costs of cases, such as legal research and investigation, medical and psychological reports for survivors, notary and court fees, translation and interpretation costs, etc.

DoSomething5. makes the world suck less☺. It is one of the largest nonprofit orgs for young people and social change. It’s 3.2 million members tackle campaigns that impact every cause, from poverty to violence to the environment to literally everything else. Any cause, anytime, anywhere. You don’t need a car, a parent, or money to participate in any of their campaigns, just the motivation and desire to DO SOMETHING!

Bring Back Our Girls 6. Bring Back Our Girls. On April 14th, 276 school girls were kidnapped from the Chibok Government Secondary School in Nigeria by Boko Haram terrorists. Since April 2014, Boko Haram has continued its reign of terror – torturing and slaughtering men, burning buildings, and kidnapping women and children.

Boko Haram’s campaign of violence and terror has outraged the international community, including a team of volunteers in California who started the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. The campaign is comprised of students, mothers, and activists (myself included). We are dedicated to the immediate rescue and return of all the schoolgirls and women kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria. The #BringBackOurGirls campaign made this year’s list because it’s an excellent example of how everyday people can join forces to advance the call of human rights at home and abroad. Both the website and accompanying facebook page was created by Ramaa Mosley, filmmaker and co-director of the wildly successfully documentary Girl Rising.

7. #BlackLivesMatter was created by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi in 2012 after Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman, was acquitted for his crime, and dead 17-year old Trayvon was posthumously placed on trial for his own murder. Rooted in the experiences of Black people in this country who actively resist our dehumanization, #BlackLivesMatter is a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society and has directly led to the extrajudicial killings of Black people (e.g., Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, etc.) by police and vigilantes.

#BlackLivesMatter is working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. We affirm our contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression. We have put our sweat equity and love for Black people into creating a political project–taking the hashtag off of social media and into the streets. The call for Black lives to matter is a rallying cry for ALL Black lives striving for liberation.

HeForShe8. HeForShe is a solidarity campaign for gender equality initiated by UN Women. It aims to engage men and boys as agents of change for the achievement of gender equality and women’s rights, by encouraging them to take action against inequalities faced by women and girls. Grounded in the idea that gender equality is an issue that affects all people — socially, economically and politically — it seeks to actively involve men and boys in a movement that was originally conceived as “a struggle for women by women”.

A special event was held to kick-start the HeForShe campaign on 20 September 2014 at the United Nations in New York. It was hosted by UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson, who spoke about her own path to feminism and challenged all men to promote women’s rights and gender equality. Additionally, UN Women made a call to mobilize the first 100,000 men in the campaign, a goal successfully reached in just three days. US President Barack Obama, actor Matt Damon, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are among some of the high-profile male champions featured on the site.

The HeForShe map — which uses a geo-locator to record global engagement in the campaign — was also activated. The map counts the number of men and boys around the world who have taken the HeForShe pledge, as UN Women works towards its goal of engaging 1 billion men and boys by July 2015. The campaign website also includes implementation plans for UN agencies, individuals and civil society, as well as on university and college campuses, both through online and sustained engagement.

Favela Painting9. The Favela Painting Project  is the name of a series of community artwork in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil painted by Dutch artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn (known as Haas&Hahn) with the help of local people. Firmeza Foundation, an organization based in Netherlands runs the project. The project aims to provide an opportunity for people to transform their own neighborhood from a place seen as negative into a place that is able to communicate its creativity, beauty and innovation to the outside world through art.

Three artworks have been completed under project thus far. The first artwork in the project, “Boy with Kite” was completed in 2006 followed by the completion of the second artwork in 2008 – both painted in Vila Cruzeiro, a slum in Rio de Janeiro. In 2010, the duo painted murals over 7,000 square meters (75,000 sq. ft.) of public square in the Santa Marta. The ultimate goal of the artists is to paint an entire hillside favela in the center of Rio.

While painting the houses brings a visual improvement, plastering them helps with controlling moisture, acoustics and temperature. Through training and hiring, jobs are created in places where opportunities are scarce. More people coming to see the artwork will bring new business and employment opportunities for locals.

The projects create a voice for the inhabitants, influence public opinion and media, and can help to change perception and remove the stigma associated with favelas. The project is mainly funded by grants and donations made via Kickstarter.

NO MORE10. NO MORE is a public awareness and engagement campaign focused on ending domestic violence and sexual assault. Using its signature blue symbol to increase visibility and foster greater dialogue, NO MORE seeks to break social stigma, normalize the conversation around domestic violence and sexual assault, and increase resources to address these urgent issues. NO MORE is aligned with hundreds of organizations working at the local, state and national levels on prevention, advocacy, and services for survivors.

The signature blue “vanishing point” [logo] evolved from the concept of zero – as in zero incidences of domestic violence and sexual assault. It was inspired by Christine Mau, a survivor of domestic violence and sexual abuse who is now the Director of European Design at Kimberly-Clark. The symbol was designed by Sterling Brands, and focus group tested with diverse audiences across the country who agreed that it was memorable, needed and important.

NRDC logo11. National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) is the nation’s most effective environmental action group, combining the grassroots power of 1.4 million members and online activists with the courtroom clout and expertise of more than 350 lawyers, scientists and other professionals. The New York Times calls NDRC “One of the nation’s most powerful environmental groups.” The National Journal says they’re “[a] credible and forceful advocate for stringent environmental protection.”

NRDC priorities include:
Curbing Global Warming and Creating the Clean Energy Future
Reviving the World’s Oceans
Defending Endangered Wildlife and Wild Places
Protecting Our Health by Preventing Pollution
Ensuring Safe and Sufficient Water
Fostering Sustainable Communities
NRDC 2014 Victories 

ProPublica 212. ProPublica is an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. 

Its mission is to expose abuses of power and betrayals of the public trust by government, business, and other institutions. They do this by producing journalism that shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them..

ProPublica is headquartered in Manhattan and was founded by Paul Steiger, the former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal. It is now led by Stephen Engelberg, a former managing editor of The Oregonian and former investigative editor of The New York Times, and Richard Tofel, the former assistant publisher of The Wall Street Journal.

ProPublica has been the recipient of numerous awards, including a 2011 Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting and a 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting.

TMP13. The Marshall Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization founded on two simple ideas:

1) There is a pressing national need for high-quality journalism about the American criminal justice system. The U.S. incarcerates more people than any country in the world. Spiraling costs, inhumane prison conditions, controversial drug laws, and concerns about systemic racial bias have contributed to a growing bipartisan consensus that our criminal justice system is in desperate need of reform.

The recent disruption in traditional media means that fewer institutions have the resources to take on complex issues such as criminal justice. The Marshall Project stands out against this landscape by investing in journalism on all aspects of our justice system. Its shaped by accuracy, fairness, independence, and impartiality, with an emphasis on stories that have been underreported or misunderstood.

2) With the growing awareness of the system’s failings, now is an opportune moment to amplify the national conversation about criminal justice.

The Marshall Project believes that storytelling can be a powerful agent of social change. Its mission is to raise public awareness around issues of criminal justice and the possibility for reform. Although The Marshall Project is nonpartisan, it is not neutral. The hope is that by bringing transparency to the systemic problems that plague our courts and prisons, The Marshall Project can help stimulate a national conversation about how best to reform our system of crime and punishment.

Unlock Iran14. UNLOCK IRAN is an immersive digital campaign led by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) to raise awareness about Iran’s “prisoners of rights”—individuals jailed for their beliefs, lifestyle or profession.

The very things we celebrate people for (e.g., exercise of intellectual, political, religious and artistic freedom of expression and association) are consider high crimes. The result: hundreds of jailed lawyers, artists, scientists, and other prominent Iranian citizens.

There are approximately 945 prisoners of rights currently jailed in Iran’s prisons for exercising their basic rights and freedoms. With new leadership in Iran, and renewed international engagement with the country, UNLOCK IRAN stands in an optimal position to take the existing groundswell and pivot it towards human rights issues.

Sign the UNLOCK IRAN Petition, calling on Iranian officials to publicly acknowledge human rights abuses against prisoners of rights currently jailed in Iran, or make a donation. The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) receives 100% of all donations, which are used to ensure the stories of prisoners of rights are documented in detail and are used by Iran’s civil society and global decision makers as a tool for progress.

Just Vision15. Just Vision highlights the power and potential of Palestinians and Israelis working to end the occupation and build a future of freedom, dignity, equality and human security using nonviolent means. Founded in 2003, Just Vision is based in Washington DC, New York and East Jerusalem. It is nonpartisan and religiously unaffiliated. Just Vision’s overarching goal is to foster peace and an end to the occupation by rendering Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders more visible, valued and effective in their efforts. 

Just Vision drives attention to compelling local role models in unarmed movement-building and demonstrate to journalists, community leaders, public intellectuals and students – in the US, Israel, Palestine and beyond – what is possible when leaders at the grassroots choose to act. Just Vision tells under-documented stories through award-winning films, digital media and targeted public education campaigns that undermine stereotypes, inspire commitment and galvanize action.

Donations to Just Vision helps drive critical attention to the stories of Israelis and Palestinians pursuing freedom, dignity, equality and human security using nonviolent means.  All contributions are tax-deductible in the United States.

Last Year’s Edition: 24 Human Rights Organization to Support in 2014

Yeonmi Park: My Escape from the Darkest Place in the World

Yeonmi Park 2Park Yeon-mi (stylized as Yeonmi Park) is a North Korean defector and human rights activist who escaped North Korea in 2007 and currently lives in South Korea. 

Park was born on October 4, 1993 in Hyesan, Ryanggang, North Korea. Her father was a civil servant who worked at the Hyesan town hall as part of the ruling Workers Party, and her mother was a nurse for the North Korean Army. Her family lived in Hyesan until 2002, when she moved to Pyongyang to join her father who was then a businessman. Her family was wealthy during most of her childhood, although the family later struggled after her father was imprisoned for allegedly engaging in an illegal trading business. Park has an older sister, Eunmi.

Her views of the Kim Dynasty changed when she watched a pirated DVD of the 1997 movie, Titanic, which made her realize the oppressive nature of the North Korean government. The movie taught her the true meaning of love and gave her “a taste of freedom.” This realization of the government’s cruelty was further revealed when, at nine years old, she witnessed the execution of one of her mother’s friends for selling DVDs and watching a James Bond movie.

Park’s father was diagnosed with colon cancer while interned in a labor camp. In 2005, he used a bribe to secure his release from the camp in order to receive medical treatment. When reunited with his family, he urged them to plan their escape to China. Unfortunately, her older sister Eunmi left for China early without notifying them.

Park and her family escaped North Korea by traveling through China with the help of brokers who smuggle North Koreans into China. One of their smugglers threatened to report them to the authorities if Park didn’t have sex with him. Her mother intervened for her safety by offering herself to the smuggler, who then raped her in front of Park.

In January 2008, Park’s father died at 45 while the family was living in secret. They were unable to formally mourn him, in fear that their profiles would be discovered by Chinese authorities, and buried his remains in a nearby mountain. Park said, “there was no funeral. Nothing. I couldn’t even do that for my father. I couldn’t call anyone to say my father had passed away. We couldn’t even give him painkillers.”

After the burial, they rode a bus for two days to a Christian shelter headed by Chinese and South Korean missionaries in the port city of Qingdao, China. Due to the large Korean population in the city, they were able to avert the attention of authorities. With the help of the missionaries, they took a chance and fled to South Korea through Mongolia.

After this harrowing journey, Park became a human rights activist, student, and a celebrity. In April 2014, South Korean intelligence discovered her sister, Eunmi, who is now living in Seoul; Eunmi had escaped to South Korea via China and Thailand. Park and her mother eventually reunited with Eunmi.

Park is currently enrolled in Dongguk University in Seoul as a third-year student and majors in criminal justice. In her spare time, she has taught herself fluent English by watching a Friends TV series DVD box set and watching YouTube videos.

Park has written and spoken publicly about her life in North Korea, having written for the Washington Post, and interviewed by The Guardian. Park has detailed her harrowing escape at several well-known events like TEDx Youth in Bath, TEDxHangang in Seoul, the One Young World Summit 2014 in Dublin, North Korean Millennial, and the Oslo Freedom Forum.

Sources: Yeonmi Park, TEDx, Wikipedia

President Obama Restores Full Diplomatic Relations With Cuba

US-Cuba 2

On December 17, President Barack Obama ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba and the opening of an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century as he vowed to “cut loose the shackles of the past” and sweep aside one of the last vestiges of the Cold War.

The surprise announcement came at the end of 18 months of secret talks that produced a prisoner swap negotiated with the help of Pope Francis and concluded by a telephone call between Mr. Obama and President Raúl Castro. The historic deal broke an enduring stalemate between two countries divided by just 90 miles of water but oceans of mistrust and hostility dating from the days of Theodore Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill and the nuclear brinkmanship of the Cuban missile crisis.

“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” Mr. Obama said in a nationally televised statement from the White House. The deal, he added, will “begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas” and move beyond a “rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”

In doing so, Mr. Obama ventured into diplomatic territory where the last 10 presidents refused to go, and Republicans, along with a senior Democrat, quickly characterized the rapprochement with the Castro family as appeasement of the hemisphere’s leading dictatorship. Republican lawmakers who will take control of the Senate as well as the House next month made clear they would resist lifting the 54-year-old trade embargo.

For good or ill, the move represented a dramatic turning point in relations with an island that for generations has captivated and vexed its giant northern neighbor. From the 18th century, when successive presidents coveted it, Cuba loomed large in the American imagination long before Fidel Castro stormed from the mountains and seized power in 1959.

Mr. Castro’s alliance with the Soviet Union made Cuba a geopolitical flash point in a global struggle of ideology and power. President Dwight D. Eisenhower imposed the first trade embargo in 1960 and broke off diplomatic relations in January 1961, just weeks before leaving office and seven months before Mr. Obama was born. Under President John F. Kennedy, the failed Bay of Pigs operation aimed at toppling Mr. Castro in April 1961 and the 13-day showdown over Soviet missiles installed in Cuba the following year cemented its status as a ground zero in the Cold War.

But the relationship remained frozen in time long after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, a thorn in the side of multiple presidents who waited for Mr. Castro’s demise and experienced false hope when he passed power to his brother, Raúl. Even as the United States built relations with Communist nations like China and Vietnam, Cuba remained one of just a few nations, along with Iran and North Korea, that had no formal ties with Washington.

Mr. Obama has long expressed hope of transforming relations with Cuba and relaxed some travel restrictions in 2011. But further moves remained untenable as long as Cuba held Alan P. Gross, an American government contractor arrested in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison for trying to deliver satellite telephone equipment capable of cloaking connections to the Internet.

Raul & Pope Francis

Cuban President Raúl Castro & Pope Francis

After winning re-election, Mr. Obama resolved to make Cuba a priority for his second term and authorized secret negotiations led by two aides, Benjamin J. Rhodes and Ricardo Zúñiga, who conducted nine meetings with Cuban counterparts starting in June 2013, most of them in Canada, which has ties with Havana.

Pope Francis encouraged the talks with letters to Mr. Obama and Mr. Castro and had the Vatican host a meeting in October to finalize the terms of the deal. Mr. Obama spoke with Mr. Castro by telephone on Tuesday to seal the agreement in a call that lasted more than 45 minutes, the first direct substantive contact between the leaders of the two countries in more than 50 years.

Excerpt, read U.S. to Restore Full Relations With Cuba, Erasing a Last Trace of Cold War Hostility -By Peter Baker | NYT