The United Nations could be a great force for human rights in the world. But I find it hard to believe it will reach any meaningful goal if it continues to avoid actually appointing people who have miserable records on human rights to the UN’s high commission on human rights. Ban Ki-Moon has appointed Croatian justice minister Ivan Simonovic to the top human rights post at the UN headquarters in New York (the position is the UN Assistant Secretary-General for human rights, who will liaise with the UN High Commissioner for Human rights, Navi Pillay, in Geneva). Simonovic has served in the Croatian government for over fifteen years, including during the Balkan wars where the Croatians conducted ethnic cleansing of Serbs. Simonovic has been criticized for not adequately pursuing accountability and justice, both at home and at The Hague, for Croatian war crimes.

There were many qualified candidates for this job, but one can’t help but wonder the extent to which Ban made the hire to avoid pissing off known human rights violators like the Chinese government.

Big Government

Oklahoma style.

I’ve never been taken by the right’s attacks on “big government.” Most of it has always struck me as a handy catch-all for programs and policies that they just don’t like, while very few have actually any impact on the way these people will lead their lives. The EPA regulating pollution-causing industrial process is not big government, it’s merely a policy that some corporations don’t like. And corporations aren’t people, so people who treat them as such aren’t that serious in my book.

On the other hand, when the state legislature in Oklahoma says that a woman cannot sue her doctor if she’s given birth to a child with birth defects and the doctor lied about it being a healthy fetus while she was pregnant, that, my friends, is Big Government. It is legislating a doctor’s beliefs onto his patients. Or more specifically, it is legislating a halo of legal immunity around a doctor who lies to patients and in so doing rips constitutionally protected rights out of their hands.  If nothing else, every member of the Oklahoma state legislature who voted to override the Governor’s veto to make these anti-choice laws a reality should be banned from ever complaining about the size and role of government ever again.

Condemning Hate

The New York Times editorial board has a truly righteous condemnation of Uganda and the American Christian Evangelical preachers who are leading the charge to pass a bill outlawing homosexuality in Uganda. There is plenty that is being written already about Uganda’s odious bill, which if passed would punish homosexuality with death. But what is equally important is that these Evangelical leaders must bear responsibility for being architects of this agenda of hate. The NYT editorializes:

Now the three Americans are saying they had no intention of provoking the anger that, just one month later, led to the introductionof the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009. You can’t preach hate and not accept responsibility for the way that hate is manifested.

I think it goes beyond that. If Americans are going abroad to help push a legislative agenda that, when realized, leads to the execution of one Ugandan for their sexuality, these Evangelicals should be prosecuted here. There must surely be a way for the US to claim universal jurisdiction for prosecution of the architects of this hateful, murderous law. That some of the architects happen to be American should make the case that much easier to mount.

The Times editorial board thinks that if the anti-gay bill becomes law in Uganda, the US should cut off aid to that country. Surely that would be a nice gesture, but we’re not talking about a move that might affect one or two poor Ugandan gays. We’re talking about a bill that is the functional structure for genocide; it should be treated as such. If it becomes law, the people who made it reality should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.

China: Liu Xiabo Sentenced to 11 Years for Thought Crimes

Leading Chinese political dissident Liu Xiaobo was sentenced by the Chinese government to 11 years in jail for “inciting subversion of state power”; additionally Liu is banned from speaking or writing about politics at all for two years. Liu is one of China’s most high profile advocates of free speech and democracy. He was on trial for his role as a leading author of Charter 08, a courageous document released a year ago calling for the end to one-party rule and other liberalizing political reforms. It was signed by thousands of leading dissidents and intellectuals inside China, including Tibet’s most vocal advocate for freedom from inside Tibet, Woeser.

The jailing of Liu for a thought crime is yet another sign that economic growth and access by western multinational corporations has not liberalized the Chinese Communist Party nor sped realization democracy within China.

The State Department has a standard, milquetoast statement out, but nothing from Secretary of State Clinton nor President Obama. Human rights hasn’t been high on the agenda for the online progressive movement this past year, but Clinton & Obama’s handling of China when it comes to human rights has been one of the biggest disappointments during the first year of the administration for me personally.

Dear Jim Wallis

Dear Jim Wallis,

The Stupak Amendment does not achieve “neutrality” by the government when it comes to funding abortion coverage. It makes it impossible for a woman to buy insurance that covers abortions, which are, by the way, legal procedures in America. By creating a two-tiered health care system where wealthy women can have abortion insurance (and, subsequently, afford to have abortions if needed), but poor women do not have the option of health insurance that covers abortion on the exchange or in the public option, the Stupak amendment creates precisely the sort of situation where women may be forced to turn to back alley abortions or dangerous self-inflicted procedures.

Please stop telling women and progressives that they are unreasonable to oppose this dangerous legislation.  Demanding that their legal rights be preserved by health care reform legislation is not “secular fundamentalism,” but your refusal to stand up for poor women who want to legally obtain abortions is, in fact, a pretty shade of religious fundamentalism. That it comes from an ostensibly progressive religious leader is all the more disconcerting.


Matt BH

“I’m Being Deported”

Walter Lara is a 23 year-old honor student facing deportation on July 6, 2009. Walters family immigrated from Argentina when he was three years old. He has only known life as an American, and proudly declares that the United States is my home.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson wrote the Department of Homeland Security on Walter’s behalf, requesting that they defer action on Walter’s deportation because “he has earned the chance to live and work here and call America home.”

Sign onto Sen. Nelson’s letter and on Thursday, July 2, 2009, we will deliver Sen. Nelson’s letter with your co-signature to the Department of Homeland Security.

Co-sign a letter by Senator Bill Nelson to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to stop Walter’s deportation.

You can also call Secretary Napolitano’s office by using SEIU’s Click to Call Tool: http://call.seiu.org/9/walterlara.