International Human Rights Weekly News Roundup

by  Pauline Canham and Lauren Ng

 

This week’s stories in focus:

 

Authoritarian police tactics threaten democracy in the US

20UNREST-PORTLAND-VETERAN-videoSixteenByNineJumbo1600-v2The Mayor of Portland, Oregon, has called the strong-arm tactics of federal agents in his city as a “direct threat to democracy” and warns other officials that their cities could be next.  Mayor Ted Wheeler has asked for the agents to be removed, stressing the tactics are “abhorrent” and “are leading to more violence”, rather than quelling it.   Trump has responded by saying local leaders have lost control and he is trying to help.

Portland has seen a wave of protests since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May and rallies have become increasingly violent with clashes between police and protestors escalating in recent days.  Language coming out of the White House has done little to calm the situation, with the Homeland Security Secretary calling protestors “anarchists” and Trump blaming democratic leaders for the chaos.  Federal agents have appeared to snatch people off the streets into unmarked vehicles and detained them without justification.

A video has emerged of a Navy veteran being attacked by camouflaged agents, striking him with batons, which resulted in a broken hand, and pepper spraying him at close range directly into his face, without provocation.   David Steel said he had wanted to talk to the officers about why they were “violating their oath to uphold the constitution” and he was standing still with his hands by his sides when he was attacked.  This can clearly be seen in the video that’s been viewed over 3 million times.

The Oregon Attorney General has sued the federal government for unlawfully detaining protestors, requesting a restraining order to prevent federal agents from making any more arrests.  Ms Rosenblum stated “These tactics must stop”, adding that the tactics used by The Department of Homeland Security, US Marshals Service, US Customs and Border Protection and Federal Protection Service, are preventing people exercising their First Amendment right to protest and are “out of character with the Oregon Way.”  Meanwhile, the mothers of protestors have come out onto the streets to protect their children’s right to protest but linking together to provide a barrier between protestors and federal forces.

President Trump, however, has applauded the actions of officers in Portland, saying they’ve done a “fantastic’ job and threatened to use similar tactics in more liberal democratic cities.

 

1921 Tulsa Race Massacre – a new horizon for US reparations?

Tulsa_dig2Nearly 100 years after one of the most brutal racial events in US history, a test excavation for the mass graves of the Tulsa Race Massacre victims will begin this week.

Between May 31 to June 1 in 1921, a white mob burned Tulsa’s local Greenwood community, a thriving black neighborhood, then known as the “Black Wall Street”, to ashes. Within 24 hours, thousands of Black Americans were displaced from their homes and an estimate of 300 people were killed.

For years, it has remained unknown as to where the victims of the massacre were buried. An investigation was initially initiated in 1991, yet discontinued shortly after. The Tulsa Race Riot Commission’s in 2001 made clear in their recommendations that officials should investigate the location of the graves, but Tulsa failed to comply.

However, due to the unresolved questions surrounding the massacre, Tulsan Mayor G.T. Bynum reopened the investigation in 2018. In December 2019, forensic scientists of the State of Oklahoma Archaeological Survey detected anomalies in the ground that could indicate the existence of two mass burials on city-owned property. The senior researcher of the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey, Scott Hammerstedt, felt confident that this discovery was “something associated with the massacre”. While the test excavation was initially postponed in March due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Bynum announced it will be restarting this week:

“As a city, we are committed to exploring what happened in 1921 through a collective and transparent process – filling gaps in our city’s history and providing healing and justice to our community. In the past 99 years, no other agency or government entity has moved this far into an investigation that will seek truth into what happened in Tulsa in 1921.”

Furthermore, earlier in May this year, Human Rights Watch published a detailed report highlighting how city officials have continued to obstruct rebuilding of the Greenwood area and reject offers of medical and reconstruction aid. In addition, ongoing police brutality in the area have destroyed the prosperity and livelihood of the local community. It is hoped that unearthing this truth will allow the start to an important part of restoring justice for Black Americans – that of reparations.

 

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International Human Rights Weekly News Roundup

by Amita Dhiman and Julia Kedziorek

 

Focus on ‘Black Lives Matter’

BLM1The ongoing protests in America since the killing of George Floyd, a 36 year old black man, over the use of a fake $20 note, has brought into focus the excessive use of force against protestors by the U.S. government.   From the use of tear gas to the use of paintball guns, a variety of methods have been used to disperse the crowds. Though tear gas is known as a “non-lethal” form of crowd control, the gas used to disperse protesters is dangerous because, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, ‘‘[it contains]  chemical compounds that temporarily make people unable to function by causing irritation to the eyes, mouth, throat, lungs and skin’’.   Its use is prohibited under International Law;   the Geneva Gas Protocol of 1925 banned “the use of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases” in warfare but did not specify which gases.  The U.S. did not ratify this agreement until 1975 and reserved the right to use it in “situations where civilian casualties can be reduced or avoided”.

Amnesty International has conducted an investigation over the excessive use of tear gas by 22 countries during any kind of protests in their country.  The militarized response to the protests in the US has reinforced the calls for change in policing approaches, a call which has finally been heard by the President, as he announced an Executive Order to curb police misconduct on 16 June.

BLM2Across the U.S., the authorities have been cracking down on and detaining protesters. One such protester was Devaughnta Williams, a New York City janitor who, due to his essential worker status, was exempt from curfew.  He was arrested along with 250 others and spent a week in jail.   Protestors are being held in cramped and unsanitary conditions in overcrowded jails, risking further the spread of COVID-19.  Human Rights Watch has urged that the prison populations must be reduced and custodial arrests must be made only if necessary during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Focus on Covid-19

corona-covid-19-covid-corona-app-app-program-software-application-contactThis week, the UK Government announced its abandonment of its contact-tracing app, after three months of work, due to its lack of compatibility with Apple technology.  Instead it was announced on Thursday that a new app will be introduced based on the Google-Apple model being used in other countries.

Many states including Germany have recently launched a mobile phone application to trace people who have come into contact with infected patients.  The new technology raises questions around the right to privacy as in many cases the method of data storage is unknown.  The applications sometimes require people to take so-called ‘selfies’, which they then send in along with GPS information.

Amnesty International reviewed 11 mobile phone apps from various countries mapping Kuwait, Bahrain and Norway as the most dangerous for privacy reasons.  In Qatar, where the new tracking app was made mandatory, many issues relating to its accuracy and efficiency were raised.  Bahrain’s ‘Be Aware’ app enters users into a game show where they can win a monetary prize if they are found at home obeying lockdown.

This type of incentive raises questions about the monitoring of personal geometric and biometric data without safeguards. Norway stopped their mobile phone app over privacy concerns and it’s clear that governments must balance the need to trace the spread of coronavirus without intrusive data collection.

Other stories making the news around the world

International

Africa

Asia

Europe

Middle East

North America