Illegitimate Honduran Elections Go Forward–With US Support

Honduras' illegitimate acting government went forward with presidential elections Sunday despite widespread belief that a rogue regime could not hold valid elections. The United States, Panama and Costa Rica were among the few countries saying that they would recognize the results of elections held by the de facto government, which ousted the last democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya at gunpoint in a June coup.

Conservative Porfirio Lobo won handily, besting his main opponent, Elvin Santos, by a margin of 16 to 18 points, according to preliminary counts. Santos has conceded. 

The de facto government, led by Roberto Micheletti controls the mass media.  The regime has committed widespread human rights abuses in the five months it held power. Police beat and abused protestors, particularly women, who peacefully took to the streets in support of Zelaya and of democracy. A coalition of women calling themselves Feminists in Resistance banded together to continue to protest the coup, draw international attention and provide support to those injured by police.

Women's human rights advocates Jessica Sanchez and Adelay Carias wrote a report earlier this month to shed light on the "systematic attack on women" under the coup regime. Carias also had this to say about the prospect of the de facto government holding elections: "Free and fair elections are impossible in a context of repression.
They will not be recognized as legitimate in Honduras or the rest of
the world. The U.S. may be alone."
Well said.

The UN withheld support for the election. The Organization of American States, the Carter Center and the European Union also did not send observers.

The United States' support of elections under an illegal coup sanctions the coup and the illegitimate regime's human rights abuses.  The Obama Administration's position has cast doubts among other Latin American countries regarding the US' purported support for democracy.

There's no telling if a Lobo government will roll back the restrictions on civil and human rights the de facto government introduced. But two things are certain.  First, there is no positive leadership coming from the US.  And second, Honduran women aren't backing down. Read more about Feminists in Resistance here.

Indigenous Colombian Human Rights Defender: Aída Quilcué

Today, on the International Day on Women Human Rights Defenders, we wanted to highlight the story of Aida Quilcué, a tireless defender of the rights of Indigenous Peoples in Colombia.  For speaking up and advocating for Indigenous Peoples, Aída has faced deadly threats against herself and against her family.  Nearly a year ago, her husband was tragically killed in an attack many speculated as being meant for his wife.  In the months since, she and her family have been continually harassed.
 
Government and corporate attempts to gain control over natural resources in Indigenous lands have meant that Indigenous Peoples in Colombia are under constant threat.  They have been displaced, confined, detained and murdered in staggering numbers–and Aida continues to speak out.

Aida is a key figure behind the Social and Communitarian Minga, a group that opposes free trade agreements that contravene human rights, armed conflict, laws that deny people their land, and harmful policies advanced by Alvaro Uribe’s government.  This group has been targeted by Colombian army forces for their outspoken united front against government policies.
 
In August of this year, in the Awa Indigenous region of Colombia, 12 people were massacred.  They were killed as they slept by FARC rebels, who accused them of collaborating with the government's armed forces.  As the decades-long armed conflict grinds on, Indigenous Peoples continue to be targeted.

Aida is one of many women worldwide who risk their lives to advance human rights for their families, for their communities and for all.

On the Eve of the Honduran Elections, Remember Women’s Demands

Tomorrow, Honduras will hold an election that will attempt to legitimize a de facto government that rose to power through a coup, deposing a democratically elected leader.  As these developments move forward, we wanted to take the opportunity to re-post an open letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that was recently signed by leaders of international women's human rights organizations.  The letter reads in part:

Dear Secretary Clinton,

We turn to you now in recognition of your extraordinary commitment and
with great respect to urge you to address the abuses of women’s human
rights occurring at present in Honduras. As numerous national and
international human rights groups have documented, the de facto regime
has engaged in a systematic campaign of intimidation, physical and
sexual abuse, and torture. Increasingly, women have been the target of
this campaign. We urge you to condemn the violence unleashed against
the Honduran people, and in particular against Honduran women, and to
take every peaceful measure possible to avoid further violence.

The situation for Honduran women constitutes a human rights crisis. As
Secretary of State, you have declared women’s rights to be a pillar of
U.S. foreign policy. At the United Nations, you have worked to ensure
that women’s rights and well-being are a matter of international and
global concern, and have stated that allowing women’s rights to be
violated with impunity in one place, jeopardizes women`s rights
everywhere. Today, we urge you to confirm that in Honduras women’s
rights are human rights and must be protected.

It was the
rupture of democratic order in the country that gave rise to the
current crisis in women’s human rights in Honduras. Therefore, only an
immediate return to constitutional government can stop the rapid
deterioration of women's rights.  Hastily improvised elections–
without the full participation of Honduran society, international
recognition, or the reinstatement of the elected president–cannot be
free or fair and do not guarantee a return to rule of law. Only a
return to rule of law can reestablish legal institutions for redress of
human rights violations and end the current situation of impunity for
crimes against women.

Make sure to read the full letter here.

Take Action: International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.  This day recognizes the massive levels of violence against women worldwide, the advances that women's human rights advocates have made over generations to counter this threat and the work that remains to be done.

Today is also the first day of the annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence.  Every year since 1991, activists from across the globe have used this moment as an opportunity to organize, share strategies and take action to combat gender violence.  Originating from the Center for Women's Global Leadership, over 2,000 organizations have taken part over the past nineteen years.  The 16 Days of Activism will continue through December 10, Human Rights Day, recognizing the inextricable connection of gender violence as a human rights violation.

Earlier this month, we highlighted on our website that the UN Secretary General's campaign, titled UNiTE to End Violence Against Women, will be moving forward with a particular focus on Latin America and the Caribbean.  Guatemala will serve as a focus point for the coming campaign activities, a fact that will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the dramatic escalation in violence against women in that country.  Today, MADRE Executive Director Vivian Stromberg released a statement on this, saying:

We at MADRE, an organization demanding women’s rights worldwide, are outraged and angered by the violence against women in Guatemala and the apparent lack of repercussions perpetrators of women’s violence face.

The fact that we must use terms such as femicide to describe the atrocities being committed points to the epidemic nature of this problem. Just in the first half of this year there have been 265 femicide cases, and this figure does not include the cases that go unrecorded. Women in Guatemala have for too long been ignored in both domestic and international justice processes. MADRE applauds the United Nations efforts in conjunction with the women of Guatemala to bring this historically invisible issue to light.

This message in available in Spanish.

Banner_large 

Here is also a great opportunity for you to take part in these days of activism: Take Back the Tech is posting an action every day for 16 days.  Organized by the Association for Progressive Communications, Take Back the Tech spotlights the use of technology to raise awareness of gender violence and to combat it.  Today, they invite us to post on Twitter, Facebook and our other communications networks and take a stand against gender violence.  Keep checking back on their site for new actions in the coming days.

*Image credit: Take Back the Tech

myMADRE on Africa: AFRICOM

Though President Obama ostensibly puts a high premium on
transparency and also has the reputation of differing greatly from his
predecessor on foreign policy, thus far he has said little on Africa.  What he has said has been largely a continuation of a Bush-era
approach. This mini-series will attempt to shed some light on President Obama's Africa policy.

AFRICOM

The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) was launched by Bush in February 2007 and became operational
in October 2008. Previously the African continent was divided into
relationships with three different U.S. military headquarters: EUCOM, PACOM and CENTCOM. (SOUTHCOM and NORTHCOM round out the worldwide list.) With responsibility for every African nation except Egypt, AFRICOM includes more countries than any other command.

The command is headquartered in Germany "for the foreseeable future." General William Ward,
the head of the command, has characterized AFRICOM as a "listening
organization," according to the AFP. According to the AFRICOM Web site and other press statements, the command's focus is on "war prevention" not warfare.

Still,
many people spoke out against increased U.S. military
presence in Africa
, critiquing it as a self-interested attempt not only
to secure a front of the "war on terror," but to lay a claim to
Africa's resources.

The Obama Administration has thus far
either continued or increased most of the Bush funding for
military initiatives in Africa. He plans a big upsurge in funding for
the Peacekeeping Operations program and will nearly double the
counter-terrorism funding. This article
by Daniel Volman, director of the African Security Research Project in
D.C., goes into greater detail about the administration's plans.

The one-year anniversary of AFRICOM being operational saw training exercises that drew controversy.  In one, General Ward was forced to defend
the decision to hold a training exercise in Gabon when the country was
reeling after violent protests followed a contested election in early
September. Some were concerned that the training could be misused by
soldiers, who were deployed to quell post-election violence.

The
tone of AFRICOM official statements is that it's simply a slow process to
convince the people of African nations that they can trust U.S. intentions. At any rate, it's clear Obama is not turning back the
clock on Bush's militarization of Africa.

Transgender Activist Silvia Martinez Speaks Out

Diversidades 005_edited We asked the readers of this blog to submit questions for Silvia Martinez, a MADRE partner and transgender activist from Nicaragua.  We're so happy to be able to share with you her reflections on the questions that we passed to her.  Below, you'll find her answers in the original Spanish, as well as an English translation.

Today, on Transgender Day of Remembrance, we honor the memories of all those people whose lives were taken because of anti-transgender hatred.  We also honor all those–like Silvia–who are continuing the struggle to advance the rights of transgender people worldwide.

SPANISH ORIGINAL

1. Cuales son los logros que han sido los mas satisfactorios para vos?

El ser reconocida y aceptada en un espacio regional como la OEA en donde hemos estado trabajando para que se reconozca la violacion de los derechos humanos de la poblacion Trans en America Latina y el Caribe y que ademas podamos contar con herramientas legales para el reconocimiento de nuestra identidad femenina y que podamos tener oportunidades.

2. Cuales son los desafios que enfrentas como activista?

Considero que existen dos desafios:

i. El que se reconoza la identidad Trans desde el contexto legal, para poder acceder aquellos derechos humanos como la educacion, la salud, el empleo entre otros.

ii. Que estemos reconocidas por nuestras capacidades mas alla de nuestra identidad sexual como ciudadanas.

3. Como ha cambiado tu trabajo desde que colaboras con activistas fuera de Nicaragua por los derechos de la comunidad transgenero?

Creo que veo que nuestros sueños son mas palpables mas reales por que siento que estoy construyendo un mundo mas justo para todos y todas las Humanas que deseamos vivir en Paz y en Armonia.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

1. What successes have you been most proud of?

Being recognized and accepted in a regional forum by the Organization of American States where we have worked to recognize the violations against transgender human rights in Latin American and the Caribbean.  We have sought out the legal tools to recognize our feminine identity and the opportunities that come along with it.

2. What are some of the challenges you face in your activism?

There are two major things that I see as a challenges:

i. The recognition of the Trans identity in a legal context in order to access the human right to education, health, employment, and more.

ii. The recognition to be known as citizens beyond our sexual identity.

3. How has it changed your work to partner with activists for transgender rights outside of Nicaragua?

I believe that many of our dreams are becoming more real and palpable, since we have worked to construct a more fair world with justice for all men and women that dream to live in peace and harmony.

Silvia Martinez

myMADRE Brings You the Latest

The World Food Summit, which took place in Rome, ended on Wednesday with what Oxfam called "crumbs" for commitments
The Summit was another failed effort for countries to set targets or
deadlines on action to help end world hunger by 2025.  Undernourishment
affects almost a billion people globally.

Next week the regional chapter of the UN-led campaign "Unite to put an End to Violence against Women” will launch in Guatemala. The campaign urges state governments to allocate resources to implement laws protecting women from violence and to provide services to women victims.  MADRE partner Sandra Gonzalez of the Women Workers' Committee in Guatemala will be participating in this event, to speak about violence against women maquila (sweatshop) workers.

Humanitarian groups published a study,
The Cost of War, that documents the stories of 700 Afghans. The study
shows that the vast majority of those interviewed blame the
continuation of conflict in their country on poverty and corruption.

Women will bear a disproportionate burden
of the hardships caused by climate change, according to a report by the
United Nations Population Fund. Women in developing nations will be
affected differently than men because women do a larger share of
agriculture work and have less access to other employment
opportunities, the report noted.

The new European Union president was
announced this week.  EU leaders named Belgian Prime Minister Herman
Van Rompuy as the bloc's first president.  The EU leaders also named
the new EU foreign affairs chief, Baroness Catherine Ashton of
Britain. 
Both are virtually unknown outside of their respective countries, but
were voted in unanimously.

myMADRE on Africa: Africa in the Media

Sometimes it feels like
the mainstream press only pays attention to Africa when the news is
bad. Take these wire service updates posted by the New York Times in
the last couple weeks, for example:

  • Two leaders of a rebel militia,
    the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) made up of
    extremist Hutu refugees, were arrested in Germany. The men, Ignace
    Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni, are suspected of committing crimes
    against humanity in the DRC.
  • Somali pirates, stepping up attacks, have hijacked a ship flying a Panamanian flag and carrying 18 crew members.
  • A UN-backed court is trying former Liberian president Charles Taylor, the first African ruler to stand trial for war crimes,
    for instigating murder, rape, mutilation, sexual slavery and
    conscripting child soldiers in connection with his alleged smuggling of
    arms and diamonds.

My message is certainly not that these topics aren't newsworthy. They
are, and they should be diligently and thoroughly reported. Indeed, we
as readers should try to ensure that these topics don't slip our
consciousness amid bigger headlines on US domestic politicking and Middle
Eastern conflict.

Still, it would be just as much a mistake passively accept this skewed
perspective on Africa as complete. When the United States and other
nations view African nations as either a potential threat to security
or a potential source of resources, and nothing more, the human rights
of African people are compromised.  For instance, food rations to starving civilians in Somalia have been cut because American officials feared that food and funds were being diverted to a terrorist group.

We should stay aware of what is happening in all corners
of the world. Here in the US, we have a particular obligation to focus on countries impacted by US foreign policy and regions in which the US has
situated a permanent military command center. It is only then that we can fully
assess the foreign policy initiatives of the Obama Administration.

If we're satisfied with headlines like the ones in the New York Times, we miss out on the more nuanced perspectives, ones that acknowledge the complexities and the dynamism of African politics, social movements and more.  Here's a couple news sites that focus on coverage of Africa. Do you have any suggestions to add to this?

  • Africa News frequently updates its news and also features business, culture and sports.

  • All Africa has five offices worldwide and boasts that it posts 1,000 stories per day in English and French.

  • Africa Focus features in-house advocacy and analysis as well as news feeds from other sources.

  • Pambazuka News delivers commentary and analysis designed to promote social justice for the pan-African community.

Take Action: Defend Women’s Reproductive Rights in US Healthcare Reform

Last weekend, the US House of Representatives passed a landmark
healthcare reform bill—one that massively set back women’s reproductive
rights.  The bill’s Stupak Amendment exceeds any other federal law in
restricting women’s access to abortion.  In addition to being denied
abortion services in the public option, women receiving federal
subsidies to purchase even private insurance plans are banned from
buying plans that cover abortions.  

For women, then, the Stupak Amendment means that they would actually
lose reproductive health coverage that they currently have. Today, over
85 percent of employer health plans include abortion coverage. If the
Stupak Amendment is retained in the final version of the bill,
insurance companies will have a strong incentive to drop abortion
coverage in order to participate in the new health insurance market
created by the reform.  

People in the United States should not be forced to choose between
urgently needed healthcare reform and access to the full range of
internationally recognized reproductive rights.

Send this letter to President Barack Obama, and demand that the Stupak Amendment be stripped from the healthcare reform bill.