human rights abuses

It’s Time to Tell the Truth About Human Rights

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Recently, several human rights groups noted that the U.S. State Department has upgraded the status of some countries, notably Malaysia and Cuba, regarding human trafficking in order to improve diplomatic relations with those countries. Human trafficking, which is modern day slavery, is the illegal buying and selling of people, typically for forced labor or forced prostitution. 

As a human rights worker, I know it is vitally important to tell the truth about human rights and to not falsify official reports about human rights in order to achieve diplomatic goals.

Human rights workers are rarely “purists.” They fight a lonely battle, often knowing there is little they can do in the offending country and knowing that “good” countries such as the US often will choose to elevate diplomatic goals over human rights goals. That is a fact of life. But when we make such choices, we must do so knowingly, with our eyes open, and not falsify reports or documents in order to sanitize our decisions.

Our official reports must have credibility. The whole point of preparing Trafficking In Persons (TIP) reports — or, for that matter, any human rights reports — is to provide a solid basis for analyzing the problem and identifying the countries involved. Once the U.S. is known to “cook the books” on the TIP reports, it loses its moral authority.

The Torture of Our Hypocrisy

Solider in isolation painted with an American flag. Image courtesy CURAphotograp
Solider in isolation painted with an American flag. Image courtesy CURAphotography/

We remain bound to such a torturous future, because we continue to condone what we condemn. Over the past several decades our U.S. State Department has condemned Iran, North Korea, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and numerous others for their use of torturous techniques such as waterboarding, stress positions, forced standing and nudity, threats of harm to person and family, sleep deprivation, use of loud music, prolonged solitary confinement and the seclusion of prisoners in small spaces. But the recently-released U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report on the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) detention and interrogation program revealed that the U.S. has done exactly to others what we have so adamently condemned of others. In other words, if hypocrisy is a mask, then not only does our nation seem to wear one, but our faces have clearly grown to more fully fit into it.   

VIDEO: Shifting the Conversation in North Korea

For decades, the totalitarian regime of North Korea has subjected its people to propaganda, intimidation, and starvation. None of this, however, will stop Steven Kim's work to support the people of North Korea.

A Relentless Faith,” by Sylvia Yu, in the April 2013 issue of Sojourners magazine, details how Kim endured imprisonment for his efforts to assist refugees from North Korea as they escape to China seeking a better life. His work sheds light on the human rights abuses in North Korea, which are rarely mentioned in the media.

Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), a U.S.-based organization, also seeks to shift the media’s attention away from the politics of North Korea to the stories of the people. The world needs to know the human rights violations occurring in North Korea.

Watch the video below to find out more about the people of North Korea. Read “A Relentless Faith” to understand their plight, and support LiNK in redefining the public’s perception of North Korea.


Elaina Ramsey is assistant editor of Sojourners magazine.


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The Body in Pain

When Mel Gibson premiered The Passion of the Christ in 2004, pundits wondered if Hollywood seriously believed that movie-goers would pay millions to see yet another sandals-and-robes epic about the Holy Land, especially since the actors spoke in Latin, Hebrew, and reconstructed Aramaic. There were no big-name stars, special effects, or even a parallel 3-D version.

But the public loved the film, to the tune of more than $600 million in earnings. Many were deeply moved by the story, which centers on Jesus’ suffering in the hours before he is crucified.

Previewing it, critic Roger Ebert remarked on the excruciating torture Jesus undergoes. He is whipped, flayed, beaten, pierced, and denied water. "The movie is 126 minutes long, and I would guess that at least 100 of those minutes, maybe more, are concerned specifically and graphically with the details of the torture and death of Jesus. This is the most violent film I have ever seen."

What is the contemporary definition of torture? The legal language is in Article 1 of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified by the U. S. Senate in 1994. In plain English, torture is the intentional infliction of severe mental or physical pain or suffering by or with the consent of state authorities for a specific purpose. That purpose could be to punish, elicit information, take revenge, or simply instill fear.

According to the Denmark-based International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, common methods of torture include "beating, electric shocks, stretching, submersion, suffocation, burns, rape, and sexual assault." Another category is psychological torture --"isolation, threats, humiliation, mock executions, mock amputations, and witnessing the torture of others" -- all of which have potentially devastating consequences.

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July 2011 Sojourners
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