Sunday, November 18, 2012

Enabling access to justice is crucial to building inclusive societies Saturday, 17 November 2012: ㉮justice caused through disability of any kind is our focus and requires sustained efforts to ensure that we eliminate all the barriers that result in failure of justice, said Honorable Minister of Law and Justice, Dr. Ashwani Kumar. He was speaking at a two-day international conference of experts that started today in New Delhi, organized by the Department of Justice in the Government of India and UNDP, to share best practices towards improving access to legal aid for the poor and marginalized. Outlining the importance of legal aid as a tool of empowerment, the Minister stressed,㔨e right to legal aid is not merely a constitutional directive or statutory right but is an unalienable and integral part of the basic fabric of the Constitution of India.䠼o:p> The conference has brought together representatives from 20 countries to discuss legal empowerment and exchange views on strengthening the capacity of the institutions responsible for ensuring equitable access to justice. Lise Grande, United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative said, ㉭proving access to justice is essential for expanding poor peopleⳠchoices, ensuring that they benefit from IndiaⳠprogressive legal provisions and are able to break the cycle of exclusion.䠼o:p> Since 2009, the UNDP-Department of Justice Partnership on access to justice has reached out to over two million people across 87 districts with the aim of improving the institutional capacities of justice service providers. Initiatives focus on ways to empower communities to demand justice and secure entitlements under rights-based legislations and government schemes. Click here for more. About UNDP UNDP partners with people at all levels of society to help build nations that can withstand crisis, and drive and sustain the kind of growth that improves the quality of life for everyone. With offices in more than 170 countries and territories, we offer global perspective and local insight to help empower lives and build resilient nations. Photo Caption: (from left to right) Mr Marcus Brand, Human Rights and Access to Justice Advisor, UNDP Asia Pacific Regional Centre; Ms Lise Grande, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, India; Dr Ashwani Kumar, Honorable Minister of Law and Justice; Mr D.K. Sikri, Secretary, Department of Justice (DoJ), Ministry of Law and Justice; Mr Atul Kaushik, Joint Secretary, Department of Justice, Ministry of Law and Justice.
Letter from the President and CEO
It was the most striking moment of our annual Human Rights Dinner, one that was shown on TV and across the Internet: Chen Guangcheng, in tears, embracing actor Christian Bale. Last year when Chen was under house arrest in China, authorities rebuffed Bale when he tried to visit the "barefoot lawyer." The two met for the first time—with a hug—when Bale presented Chen with our Human Rights Award.
What gave this moment its power was Chen’s story: his teaching himself the law so that he could help others; his courage in the face of repeated persecution; his heroic journey from house arrest to the American embassy.
His story is ongoing. We gave him the award—and he accepted it—to highlight the need to help public interest lawyers and other persecuted Chinese citizens. They include his nephew, Chen Kegui, who—after defending himself and his family when government thugs broke into their home—was charged with a crime and imprisoned. "This award," Chen said in his speech, "for me and for my colleagues, is an example of the waves building and gathering power. Together, we are the rising tide of kindness, decency and respect for the rule of law."
While the dinner is an occasion for us to honor activists and others who have contributed to the struggle for human rights, it is also a chance for our organization to renew our commitment to challenging the United States to live up to its ideals. As Chen said, "My hope is that all of us, as we go forward, will make human rights a priority."
Sincerely,
Elisa Massimino
President and CEO
Human Rights First
Massimino Gets the Lay of the Land in Bahrain
Human Rights First’s CEO and President Elisa Massimino spent a week in Bahrain gathering information about the conflict that has gripped the country since February 2011. That’s when activists, along with those in several other Middle Eastern countries, rose up to demand their rights.
Traveling with retired U.S. Navy Admiral John Hutson, a member of our board, Massimino met with both activists and government officials. She returned believing more strongly than ever that the United States must press for democratic reforms. "Democracy advocates are frustrated the United States hasn’t backed their cause more forcefully," she said. "But they hold out hope that it will use its leverage with the regime to curb abuses and find a way forward."
The "way forward" is a political dialogue, which could then lead to reforms the country desperately needs. As Human Rights First Brian Dooley reports at Foreign Policy, the situation in Bahrain is deteriorating and could descend further into bloodshed. The United States should try to help Bahrain avoid that disastrous outcome.
At Gitmo, 9-11 Hearings Stumble Along
Hearings for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four alleged co-conspirators resumed in October as Judge James L. Pohl delved into questions that must be settled before the trial can begin. Covering the hearings via closed-circuit TV from Ft. Meade, Maryland, Daphne Eviatar reports that it’s still not clear whether the commissions, now in their third incarnation, are subject to the U.S. Constitution. Also at issue were whether the public has a right to know what happened to the defendants in CIA "black sites" and, relatedly, whether the government can treat detainees' memories and experiences as "classified."
The Obama administration had intended to try the 9-11 suspects in the time-tested, rights-respecting federal court system but changed course in the face of political pressure. The impact of that decision is becoming clearer as the Gitmo hearings reveal the flaws inherent to the military commission system. Human Rights First is working to make sure the President fulfills his promise to close Gitmo in his second term.
Fighting Hatred While Protecting Free Expression
Protests over an offensive anti-Muslim film have revived calls at the United Nations to ban "defamation of religions." We helped block such an effort last year because it would bolster national blasphemy laws, which have led to repression and violence. Writing recently in the Washington Post, Elisa Massimino pointed out that "blasphemy laws tend to inflame passions and encourage violence, in the way that Jim Crow laws in the United States gave license to lynch mobs."
In a joint statement with the Muslim Public Affairs Council, we present an alternative vision, one that combats intolerance while safeguarding freedom of speech and religion.
Tech Challenge to Focus on Enablers of Atrocities
For the last few years, we’ve made the case that to effectively combat mass atrocities, the United States must target "enablers"—the governments, businesses, and individuals that support perpetrators. In the last year, the Obama administration made cracking down on enablers a pillar of atrocity prevention, and now the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Humanity United are offering up to $10,000 for innovative ideas on using technology to target enablers. This is the first round in a challenge that will cover various aspects of atrocity prevention.
 HRF in the News
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