Shedding Light on Human Rights Abuses against Indigenous Peoples in Colombia

In Colombia, a country where generations of people have been traumatized by the decades-long armed conflict, the situation for Indigenous Peoples is particularly dire.  This week, James Anaya, the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, completed a 5-day visit to that country, finding that the human rights of Indigenous Peoples have been fundamentally compromised by the conflict.

In fact, even as the Special Rapporteur gathered evidence that Indigenous Peoples are targeted by combatants, displaced in massive numbers and targeted with assassination, the murders continued.  During the days of James Anaya’s visit, IPS reported that multiple Indigenous people were abducted and killed.

La Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia (ONIC), a Colombian Indigenous Peoples’ rights organization, has worked to document this disturbing trend of violence against Indigenous Peoples.  In 2009 alone, ONIC has counted 60 politically-motivated killings of Indigenous people.

In preparation for his trip, MADRE provided support to ONIC in their efforts to gather information and testimonies from the Indigenous community.  In particular, MADRE helped to facilitate the travel of a group of Indigenous women to the capital, where their voices would be heard, and supported the inclusion of testimonies by Indigenous women in the report submitted to the Special Rapporteur.

The Nicaraguan Abortion Ban Tortures Women

When women don’t have access to abortion services, their lives are in jeopardy.

This truth has been abundantly clear in Nicaragua, where a total abortion ban has denied necessary treatment to women and girls and backed medical professionals into a corner.  A bill passed by the Nicaraguan National Assembly in October 2006, which came into force a year ago, criminalized all instances of abortion—including to save the life of the pregnant woman.

This week, a new Amnesty International report adds evidence that the Nicaraguan abortion ban directly contravenes international human rights standards.  Women seeking to end a pregnancy are left with no choice but to carry the pregnancy to term or to have an unsafe, illegal abortion.  This includes women and girls who have become pregnant as a result of rape or incest, putting them through unnecessary additional trauma.

What’s more, doctors and other medical professionals have been forced into an untenable position.  The new law includes prison sentences for health workers who cause even unintentional harm in the course of treatment.  So a doctor treating a woman for a life-threatening pregnancy complication, miscarriage or other illness runs the risk of jail time, creating a perverse incentive to deny necessary medical treatment.
Following the 2006 decision by the National Assembly, MADRE partnered with a coalition of organizations to confront the abortion ban.  These organizations included the Autonomous Women’s Movement (Movimiento Autónomo de Mujeres-MAM), a Nicaraguan women’s rights organization; the Center for Constitutional Rights (Centro de Derechos Constitucionales); and the International Women’s Human Rights Law Clinic at CUNY School of Law.

Together, this coalition worked to present this case before international human rights bodies, to demonstrate the real impact of the ban on women’s lives and to illustrate that the ban violates human rights standards.  In October 2008, MADRE Program Coordinator Natalia Caruso traveled to Geneva with members of the coalition to present a shadow report before the UN Human Rights Committee.

In May 2009, the case was again presented before the UN Committee against Torture, showing that denying women access to necessary medical care constitutes a form of torture.

In both instances, the committees found that the total abortion ban violated international standards on women’s human rights and called for the Nicaraguan government to reform this law.  But until this ban is finally revoked, Nicaraguan women will continue to pay the price with their lives.

To read the Amnesty report, “The Total Abortion Ban in Nicaragua,” click here.

*Cross-posted on RH Reality Check Reader Diaries.

The Biggest Danger to Women’s Rights in Afghanistan

When people in the US talk about the scourge of violence against women in Afghanistan, discussion tends to stop cold at one word: culture. As if culture is some sacred terrain upon which we dare not tread. The flawed syllogism goes like this: misogyny is endemic to Afghan culture. We can’t criticize that culture without reinforcing a racist agenda and justifying US military intervention. Therefore, we can’t take a stand against misogynist violence in Afghanistan.

We can argue the assumptions embedded in that logic, but ultimately, the culture conversation misses the point. Afghan culture may be misogynist, but so is every culture. There’s nothing unique about the suffocation of women’s potential to live as full human beings, backed up by extreme violence and justified by religion and nature. The difference between Afghanistan and any other place is the extent to which women have succeeded in winning rights and transforming culture in the process.

What, then, is obstructing progress for Afghan women? For one thing, women who seek to exercise their basic rights are systematically hunted down and killed. A new United Nations report grimly confirms what women in Afghanistan have been telling us all year: women are being harassed and even assassinated for holding jobs, speaking out for their rights or simply appearing in public without a male chaperone. Women politicians, teachers, nurses, artists, aid workers, journalists and other professionals are being targeted by ultra-conservatives aiming to create a society in which women have no rights and no role in public life.

Despite the danger, Afghan women continue to demand their rights. Remember the hundreds of women who took to the streets of Kabul in April? They took their lives in their hands to protest a new law sanctioning marital rape.

Ultimately, though, Afghan women’s prospects for transforming their society are undermined by the US-led war. In fact, many Afghan women activists identify the war as the biggest danger to women’s rights in Afghanistan

Over the past eight years, uncounted numbers of women and their family members have been killed, displaced and terrorized. The war has had a disproportionate impact on women, who have had to sustain family life and meet everyone’s needs for food, water, childcare and a host of other services through years of violence, constant insecurity and grinding poverty. In addition to endangering women’s lives, the war has eroded the political space for women to advocate for their rights.

That’s why the Feminist Majority Foundation’s endorsement of the US war in Afghanistan is so perplexing. The FMF rightly argues that the US owes a tremendous debt to the people of Afghanistan, having induced 30 years of war and misery there. They’ve got the history right, but the conclusion wrong. US guns, bombs and military occupation cannot bring about a society based on human rights. However, a US commitment to education, sustainable agriculture and equitable economic development just might.

Those kinds of policies are what’s needed to reinforce a beleaguered but vibrant Afghan women’s movement, including courageous activists involved in securing food, housing, healthcare and education for women and families, defending women’s shelters, holding peace demonstrations, demanding women’s full participation in public life and fighting for interpretations of Islam that support women’s rights. No foreign military occupation is going to do those things. Afghan women themselves will have to do it.

Through our Afghan Women’s Survival Fund, MADRE is working to support the women who risk their lives to defend women’s human rights.  For more information about the Fund and how you can help, click here.

*Cross-posted on Afghan Watch.

myMADRE Brings You the Latest

Three stories show that securing women's rights transforms lives.

Malalai Joya uncovers the lie that US occupation has liberated women, citing her expulsion from the Afghan Parliament for expressing her opinion and the naming of two warlords as running mates in the upcoming presidential election as evidence.

Policies by Haiti's Ministry of Women's Affairs and Women's Rights and MINUSTAH try to make women in Haiti feel "more protected" when reporting sexual violence.

Kenyan cabinet officials are to discuss how to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of post-election violence. A bill that will eliminate presidential immunity from prosecution if passed was discussed this Monday.

The Afghan parliament has been working on a bill to "criminalize discrimination against women" for the past several years. It will be among the first pieces of
legislation discussed once Afghan parliamentarians return this week
from summer recess.

A report shows that, in Latin America, women bear the brunt of household chores, child-raising and care of the elderly. While the number of women active in the labor market has risen dramatically within the past few decades, "There has been no significant shift, in the dominant view of social reproduction as a woman’s responsibility, rather than a societal need."

CEDAW Gathers to Review the Women’s Human Rights Records of Twelve Nations

We didn’t want to let this one slip below the radar—the 44th annual session of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) launched on Monday at the UN and will continue until August 7.

CEDAW was adopted by the UN in 1979 as an international bill of women’s human rights: the right to education, equal employment, child care, social security, and reproductive health, to name a few. It always shocks me to remember that the US has still not ratified CEDAW since President Jimmy Carter signed it in 1980.  US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice has indicated that ratifying CEDAW will be an “important priority” for the Obama Administration, but as of yet, we’ve seen little movement.

The US is one of only seven nations in the world not to ratify the treaty—some thirty years after it was first adopted. The other six are Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Nauru, Palau, and Tonga.  (Qatar recently decided to leave this infamous group.)  Ratifying CEDAW represents that country’s commitment to implement laws that prevent discrimination against women and to address abuses of women’s human rights.

At each session, the CEDAW committee of experts on international women’s human rights meets to review the record of member nations. This year the following countries are up for review: Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bhutan, Denmark, Guinea-Bissau, Japan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Liberia, Spain, Switzerland, Timor Leste, and Tuvalu. 

MADRE will continue to follow this year’s session. Take a look here to read reports submitted by states under review, the CEDAW Committee and by civil society organizations on the status of women's human rights in those countries.

Have you come across any other information to share about the current CEDAW session?

US Military Presence in Afghanistan Undermines Women’s Rights

In a new blog entry over at the Feminist Peace Network, Lucinda Marshall takes on the notion that continued US military presence in Afghanistan is beneficial for women's human rights. She gathers evidence–including MADRE resources we've previously posted on this blog–to clearly demonstrate that the war in Afghanistan was never intended to protect the rights of women. Rather, US military presence has undermined women's rights by contributing to the resurgence of the Taliban and prolonging a war that continues to cause widespread civilian suffering.

You can read the blog entry in full here. Here are a few excerpts:

War today is not fought on some obscure battlefield. It is fought in cities and towns where people live. When hospitals and homes and fields and schools are destroyed, there is no place for women to obtain medical care, or a warm shelter to call home, food to put on the table or a way to educate themselves or their children.


At the end of the day, militarism is not about upholding human rights, it is about asserting control and the cost of that is always the loss of life and liberty for those who have the misfortune to be in the line of fire. The U.S. is not waging war in Afghanistan for the benefit of Afghanis and their welfare is purely incidental to that mission.

myMADRE Brings You the Latest

In Uganda, sixty eight percent of women
have experienced some form of domestic violence
. Women's rights
activists are pushing for this to change, and while there is no
legislation targeting domestic violence presently on the books, a draft
bill is currently before parliament.

Kenya's cabinet has finally adopted a draft National Land Policy. Women's rights activists are following the process closely, advocating for major changes to dramatically shift a legal framework that has denied women
access to land and property rights.

Due to Peru's failing Health Service Lottery, hundreds of poor,
rural, and Indigenous pregnant women are dying because they are being
denied health services, Amnesty International has found in a new report.

A military review has called for reforming the practices at the Bagram US Air Base in Afghanistan. Abuses by US soldiers have already led to the deaths
of two detainees in 2002, who were beaten and hung from the ceiling of
their cells by their arms.

Humanitarian aid groups in Afghanistan have been forced to increase
their security due to escalating attacks
. Purchasing protective
equipment and personnel has made this work much more expensive and

Overcrowding in Kenyan camp housing Somali refugees has led to the
rapid spread of disease. There have already been 35 cases of measles.

Survivors of Domestic Violence May Be Eligible for Asylum, After Shift in US Policy

Today, we saw the news that a shift in US immigration policy may create the possibility of granting asylum in the US to survivors of domestic violence.  In the New York Times, this article retells the heartbreaking story of a Mexican woman known in US immigration court documents only as L.R., who was held captive and repeatedly raped by her common-law husband.  Fearing for her life, she applied for asylum in the US, and a court filing by the Obama Administration has opened up the possibility of a positive decision.

Below is a statement that MADRE released today on this development:

With a recent court filing in the case of a woman from Mexico
seeking asylum in the US, the Obama Administration has signaled a shift
in immigration law to make it possible for women survivors of severe
domestic and sexual abuse to seek and obtain asylum.

In a
marked departure from the Bush Administration position, the new policy
holds that battered women do meet the standard of membership in a
"persecuted group."  This change in categorization by the Obama
Administration recognizes that domestic abuse is not simply a private
or family matter.  Rather, it represents a violation of women's human
rights and merits consideration in asylum cases.

While this
express change in policy creates possibilities for battered women, it
remains to be seen whether the unidentified Mexican woman in the case
in question will actually be granted asylum.  The policy also maintains
strict limitations in order for women to qualify.  Women must be able
to provide evidence of the severity of their abuse and of the lack of
recourse in their own countries.  In one specific exception, the shift
in policy does not apply to women escaping genital mutilation.

MADRE welcomes this opening in US immigration law, calling for the full
realization and implementation of this important policy shift.  We
emphasize that freedom of movement is a fundamental human right not
only for asylum seekers, but for all, and that additional policy
changes are needed to bring all of US immigration law into compliance
with the full range of international human rights standards.

“In Afghanistan, killing a woman is like killing a bird.”

Malalai Joya refuses to be silenced.  She is the youngest woman member of the Afghan parliament, and she has been relentlessly targeted with deadly violence for speaking out against violations of women's human rights.  In this article she wrote for the Sunday Times, she chronicles the path that led her to publicly denounce the warlords and human rights violators integrated within the Afghan government, a courageous stand followed by several attempts on her life. Her account flies in the face of any claims that the US occupation of Afghanistan has secured women's rights.

I’m the youngest member of the Afghan parliament, but I’ve been threatened repeatedly with death because I speak the truth about the warlords and criminals in the puppet government of President Hamid Karzai. Having survived at least five assassination attempts, I’m forced to live like a fugitive, moving every night to stay ahead of my enemies.

For the 31 years I’ve been alive, my country has suffered from constant war. After September 11, 2001, many of us thought that — with the overthrow of the Taliban — we might finally see some light. But we’re still faced with a foreign occupation and a government filled with warlords who are just as bad as the Taliban.

Afghan women like me, who vote and run for office, have been held up as proof that we enjoy democracy and women’s rights. It’s a lie. In Afghanistan, killing a woman is like killing a bird. We remain caged, without access to justice, and still ruled by women-hating criminals.

Read the rest here.

Apply for a Fall Internship at MADRE Today!

We're happy to announce that this is your chance to get a behind-the-scenes look at MADRE's work, to support women's human rights worldwide, and to gain some work experience!  We're accepting applications for the fall internship session at MADRE, and the deadline is next week.  For more information about what positions are available and how to apply, click here.

Feel free to pass this message along!