< /head > Colorado Coalition for Human Rights: May 2006

Monday, May 22, 2006

1 in 136 U.S. Residents Behind Bars

From the AP via the Common Dreams NewsCenter:

Prisons and jails added more than 1,000 inmates each week for a year, putting almost 2.2 million people, or one in every 136 U.S. residents, behind bars by last summer.

The total on June 30, 2005, was 56,428 more than at the same time in 2004, the government reported Sunday. That 2.6 percent increase from mid-2004 to mid-2005 translates into a weekly rise of 1,085 inmates.

Of particular note was the gain of 33,539 inmates in jails, the largest increase since 1997, researcher Allen J. Beck said. That was a 4.7 percent growth rate, compared with a 1.6 percent increase in people held in state and federal prisons.

Prisons accounted for about two-thirds of all inmates, or 1.4 million, while the other third, nearly 750,000, were in local jails, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Beck, the bureau's chief of corrections statistics, said the increase in the number of people in the 3,365 local jails is due partly to their changing role. Jails often hold inmates for state or federal systems, as well as people who have yet to begin serving a sentence.

"The jail population is increasingly unconvicted," Beck said. "Judges are perhaps more reluctant to release people pretrial."

The report by the Justice Department agency found that 62 percent of people in jails have not been convicted, meaning many of them are awaiting trial.

Overall, 738 people were locked up for every 100,000 residents, compared with a rate of 725 at mid-2004. The states with the highest rates were Louisiana and Georgia, with more than 1 percent of their populations in prison or jail. Rounding out the top five were Texas, Mississippi and Oklahoma.

Click here to read the article.

--Tom Hayes

More Corruption in Congress Revealed

From the Washington Post, a detailed article about the corruption of Congressman Jefferson of Louisiana. The FBI apparently has him on video accepting bribes. From the article:

Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.), the target of a 14-month public corruption probe, was videotaped accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from a Northern Virginia investor who was wearing an FBI wire, according to a search warrant affidavit released yesterday.

A few days later, on Aug. 3, 2005, FBI agents raided Jefferson's home in Northeast Washington and found $90,000 of the cash in the freezer, in $10,000 increments wrapped in aluminum foil and stuffed inside frozen-food containers, the document said.

The 83-page affidavit, used to raid Jefferson's Capitol Hill office on Saturday night, portrays him as a money-hungry man who freely solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, discussed payoffs to African officials, had a history of involvement in numerous bribery schemes and used his family to hide his interest in high-tech business ventures he promoted in Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria.

Click here to read the article.

--Tom Hayes

Friday, May 19, 2006

An Exercise of Victim Rights or Vigilantism?

Here is an interesting editorial that appeared in the USA Today on May 9th, 2006:

Injustice after all: How should victimized offenders be treated?Posted 5/8/2006 9:48 PM ET

A college student who was brutalized for years bludgeons his father. A teen tormented by his parents guns them down. A wife who was raped and beaten by her husband stabs him to death. How should society — and the legal system treat cases such as these? Compassion would be a good start.

The crime was horrific. Mulumba Kazigo, a 26-year-old college student, went to his father's home in suburban New York in August, beat him with a bat while he slept and dumped his body in the woods.

Friends and colleagues of Joseph Kazigo, a popular and respected surgeon, couldn't fathom why his son would do such a thing. Then his family members came forward with an ugly secret. For decades, Joseph Kazigo had brutalized his children — beating them bloody, imposing severe punishments for the most trivial infractions and forcing the children to rise at dawn to run 6 miles around the family home, among other cruelties.

Mulumba Kazigo told prosecutors that days before the killing, he learned that his father was beating his mother and that she feared for her life. Though prosecutors admit Joseph Kazigo was a brute, a plea deal would send his son to prison for 20 years for manslaughter (about 17 years with good time). That's almost as shocking as the crime.

Prosecutors argue the penalty would be appropriate because Kazigo planned the attack, covered it up and was old enough to choose a less violent solution. But Holly Maguigan, a New York University law professor and former criminal defense lawyer, says she was horrified by the possible long prison term. "The prosecutor's job is not to get convictions, but to do justice," she says. "How is it possible that this murder is like a drive-by shooting or like police officers acting at the behest of organized crime?"

Kazigo's trial is one of several recent, well-publicized cases in which defendants killed family members after a history of abuse. Instead of recognizing they were so traumatized and isolated by the abuse that they felt they had no other way out, prosecutors treated them like criminals. Decades after psychologists and defense attorneys established the existence of battered wife/child/person syndrome, many prosecutors seem reluctant to show leniency in cases that cry out for it.

Each year, 200-300 parents in this country are killed by their children, often by teenagers who live in abusive, dysfunctional homes, according to Paul Mones, a trial lawyer and author of the book When A Child Kills: Abused Children Who Kill Their Parents. About 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the USA, according to findings of the 2000 National Violence Against Women Survey, by the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A Justice Department study of people charged with killing their spouses in the country's 75 largest counties in 1988 found that 44% of the women had been physically assaulted or threatened with a weapon around the time of the killing.

But battered women are not getting away with murder. A study of more than 200 appellate opinions on homicide cases involving battered women found that 75%-80% of them were convicted — the same rate as female defendants in other homicide and serious felony trials who were not battered.

Getting away with nothing

In Alamogordo, N.M., last month at a sentencing hearing, residents rallied outside the courthouse in support of Cody Posey, who was 14 when he shot his father, stepmother and stepsister two years ago. Prosecutors portrayed him as a sociopath, but about 40 witnesses at the trial testified to having witnessed countless acts of verbal and physical abuse inflicted on him by his father and stepmother.

Here's the thing: If 40 adults in the community couldn't figure out a way to get this kid out of an abusive home, why does the legal system expect him to find a mature, non-violent means of escape? As Gary Mitchell, Posey's defense attorney, put it: "How much do we ask of a child when not one of us would have tolerated it?"

In New York, Sung-Ann Choi-Lee, 30, is facing murder charges in the fatal stabbing of her abusive husband in 2004. Battered women's advocates have called on the district attorney to drop the charges. They say that Matthew Lee repeatedly beat, raped and harangued his wife and that on the night of the crime, he raped her when she was nine months pregnant. She gave birth only hours later.

A critical problem in such cases is that the law of self-defense isn't flexible enough to address the reality of the situations abused people find themselves in. One is allowed to use deadly force only to defend oneself against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm. In each of these cases, there was a lull between the abuse and the crime. But psychologists and advocates for battered people say because abuse victims live in constant fear that the abuse will resume at any time, the threat always feels imminent. A psychologist testifying on behalf of Posey said depression, abuse and the sense that things would never improve drove him to the point of despair on the morning he shot and killed his family.

"Sometimes it's very difficult to bring the victimization into the court as evidence, or the district attorney doesn't allow it," says Sister Mary Nerney, director of STEPS to End Family Violence, which provides services to victims. "There's a lack of understanding about how domestic violence affects people, particularly after they've been trying to get help. Often, help isn't available or isn't appropriate."

Who else knew?

In Posey's case, many adults knew he was being abused, but few attempted to stop it. Choi-Lee sought help from several ministers, but supporters say the Korean woman was ashamed of the abuse and felt an obligation to try to make the marriage work. It's unclear who knew what was going on in the Kazigo household, though his attorney says police and school officials were informed. But the cultural mores of this Ugandan-American family, which gave the father total dominance, might have made it difficult to seek help.

I don't condone murder as a solution to domestic abuse. But if we as a society don't intervene to protect abuse victims, we at least owe them compassion when they are pushed beyond enduring it.

Perhaps because of dubious cases such as that of brothers Lyle and Erik Menendez, who killed their parents in 1989 in California, Americans have grown cynical about the "abuse excuse." Advocates for battered women say though the courts were once open to allowing evidence about the history of abuse into murder trials, they've grown more reluctant. Prosecutors and juries tend to believe the woman is lying, or question why she didn't just leave, says Sue Osthoff, director of the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women. "We're a society that continues to be in denial about the level of abuse that goes on behind closed doors," Osthoff says. "We have a lot of education to do to help people understand the reality of battered people's lives."

How should we respond to such cases? The police, family protective agencies, schools and citizens need to intervene more aggressively when they know or suspect that abuse is going on. We need to provide more options for abuse victims — from safe houses to information about how to leave and what legal protections are available. Laws can be changed to allow the history of abuse to be considered as an element of the imminent danger requirement of self-defense. And we can put pressure on prosecutors to understand the dynamics of domestic abuse, and to realize they shouldn't treat abused people who strike back the same way they'd treat a drive-by shooter.

After Posey was convicted of murder and manslaughter, the trial judge did the right thing by choosing to sentence him as a juvenile instead of as an adult. He was committed to the care of juvenile authorities until he's 21, instead of being sent to prison for life.

Choi-Lee is charged with second-degree murder, but the prosecutor could choose to offer a plea for a lesser crime, or dismiss the case altogether.

As for Kazigo, who's due to be sentenced Wednesday, the prosecutor, or judge, can choose to reduce his sentence. Considering what he has been through, he doesn't deserve to spend the next two decades in prison.

Sheryl McCarthy is a freelance writer and columnist for Newsday newspaper in New York.

Posted by JB

Egypt, Defying West, Jails Hundreds at Rally

From the New York Times:

Egyptian security forces beat and arrested hundreds of demonstrators on Thursday, its leaders holding firm in a drive to silence protests and reassert the power of the state in the face of criticism from the United States and the European Union.

As Egypt prepared for officials from around the world to arrive for the World Economic Forum on Saturday, a judge was also reprimanded for saying publicly that elections here were rigged, and an opposition leader's appeal was denied, condemning him to serve a five-year prison term on charges widely seen as politically motivated.

The government rejected criticism from Washington and the European Union over its crackdown on demonstrators supporting judges' demands for independence, and for criticism of its use of emergency laws to detain political critics.

Click here to read the article.

--Tom Hayes

Sunday, May 14, 2006

New U.N. Rights Group Includes Six Nations With Poor Records

From the New York Times:

Six nations with poor human rights records were among those elected to the new Human Rights Council on Tuesday, although notorious violators that had belonged to the predecessor Human Rights Commission did not succeed in winning places in the new group.
China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan, countries cited by human rights groups as not deserving membership, were among the 47 nations elected to the council. But in a move hailed by the same groups, both Iran and Venezuela failed to attract the needed votes.
Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said: "The good news is that we did better than expected in the voting because Iran and Venezuela both lost. Venezuela's losing shows that bluster and anti-Americanism isn't enough to get elected."
Nations running for the council had to meet more demanding standards than in the past.
The previous commission was long a public embarrassment to the United Nations because countries like Sudan, Libya and Zimbabwe became members and thereby thwarted the investigation of their own human rights records.
The United States did not run for a seat on the council, saying that the new body did not go far enough to correct the deficiencies of the old one. The council was created on March 15, in a 170 to 4 vote, that the United States, Israel, Palau and the Marshall Islands opposed.

Click here to read the article.

--Tom Hayes

Thursday, May 11, 2006

More Spying by the NSA Revealed

The USA Today reports:

The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.

The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren't suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.

Among the big telecommunications companies, only Qwest has refused to help the NSA, the sources said. According to multiple sources, Qwest declined to participate because it was uneasy about the legal implications of handing over customer information to the government without warrants.

Qwest's refusal to participate has left the NSA with a hole in its database. Based in Denver, Qwest provides local phone service to 14 million customers in 14 states in the West and Northwest. But AT&T and Verizon also provide some services — primarily long-distance and wireless — to people who live in Qwest's region. Therefore, they can provide the NSA with at least some access in that area.

Members of both parties have raised objections to this program and it seems as though this will cause even more problems for the Bush administration and their nomination of General Hayden as CIA director. In addition, this revelation raises even more serious constitutional questions, as the collection of these phone calls was done without a warrant. Bush's argument has always been that the NSA is spying on people with connections to terrorism, but this program targets ordinary Americans, not suspected of any wrong doing. I think this is only the beginning, as more secret programs may arise in the future.

To read the original USA Today story, click here.

--Tom Hayes

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Human Trafficking and the Bush administration

In yesterday's NY Times, Nicholas Kristof writes a column giving the Bush administration credit for attempting to curb human trafficking. As he writes:

Yet there is one area where Mr. Bush is making a historic contribution: he is devoting much more money and attention to human trafficking than his predecessors. Just as one of Jimmy Carter's great legacies was putting human rights squarely on the international agenda, Mr. Bush is doing the same for slave labor.
We don't tend to think of trafficking as a top concern, so Mr. Bush hasn't gotten much credit. But it's difficult to think of a human rights issue that could be more important than sex trafficking and the other kinds of neo-slavery that engulf millions of people around the world, leaving many of them dead of AIDS by their early 20's.

To be fair, this administration has done a lot to try to put a stop to the sex trade and the slavery of our time. However, I don't understand why the administration doesn't do a better job publicizing their efforts to try to get even more resources devoted to the cause. Maybe their message just doesn't make it through the media's filter that produces nothing but crap, but I think a more focused PR campaign highlighting successes in this area could lead to more private donations and support.

To read the full column by Kristof, click here.

--Tom Hayes

UN Aid Workers Said to Abuse Young Girls in Liberia

From the NY Times:

Liberian girls as young as 8 are being sexually exploited by United Nations peacekeepers, aid workers and teachers in return for food, small favors and even rides in trucks, according to a new report from Save the Children U.K.
The report said the problem was widespread throughout
Liberia, a small country struggling to get back on its feet after a long and bloody civil war.
Save the Children based its findings on interviews with more than 300 people in camps for displaced people and in neighborhoods whose residents have returned after being driven away by war. They said men in positions of authority — aid workers and soldiers, government employees and officials in the camps — were abusing girls.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

U.S., Allies Agree to Palestinian Aid

From the Washington Post:

The United States bowed to pressure from its allies on Tuesday and agreed to support a new program to temporarily funnel additional humanitarian aid directly to the Palestinian people.
A statement by Mideast peacemakers, issued after a day of closed-door diplomatic meetings, did not suggest precisely how much or what kind of aid they would provide. But the agreement seemed to underscore a concern that months of withholding most aid from the Palestinians, part of an effort to pressure the new Hamas-led government toward a more accommodating stance with Israel, was harming the Palestinian people.

Click here to read the article.

--Tom Hayes

Friday, May 05, 2006

Sudan, Main Rebel Group to Sign Peace Plan

From the Washington Post:

The government of Sudan and the biggest Darfur rebel faction agreed early this morning to strike a peace deal, raising hopes for a breakthrough in the bloody conflict that has left more than 2 million people homeless.

Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick, who has spent three days--and nights-- shuttling between the parties in talks held in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, announced the accord. Two smaller rebel groups balked at signing the deal, despite intensive pressure from Zoellick and other foreign officials gathered for the final push.

As many as 450,000 people have died from the fighting or disease and malnutrition during the conflict, which broke out in early 2003 when two African rebel groups attacked police stations and military outposts. The United Nations and human rights groups accuse the Arab-led central government of supporting militiamen, called the Janjaweed, to crush the rebellion. About 2,000 villages have been destroyed in Darfur, which is an area the size of France.

U.S. officials believe an accord is essential in order to convince Khartoum to accept a United Nations peacekeeping force that would include logistical assistance from NATO. The African Union currently has a 7,000-person force with a limited mandate that many experts say has been ineffective at stopping the fighting.

The Sudanese government and the rebel groups have broken many agreements with each other during two years of peace negotiations. But U.S. officials believe reaching an agreement with the largest group, headed by Minii Minnawi, is key to achieving a lasting accord.

As negotiations stretched into the wee hours, Nigeria's president, Olusegun Obasanjo, confronted the rebel leaders and told them they should accept the agreement crafted by Zoellick or they will miss a historic opportunity. Minnawi accepted while the others walked out of the talks, with one of the groups appearing to splinter further.

In the past year, Zoellick has become the administration's point man on Sudan, making four trips to Khartoum and the Darfur region to press the two sides to reach an agreement. He also has shepherded efforts to implement another peace deal, signed last year, that ended a 20-year conflict between Khartoum, which is Arab and Muslim, and the southern part of the country, which is largely animist and Christain.

Three deadlines for a peace deal had passed since Sunday, and the final agreement is an amended version of a draft document produced earlier in the week by the African Union, which mediated the talks. It calls for a cease-fire, disarming of the Janjaweed militias, the integration of thousands of rebel fighters into Sudan's armed forces and a force to protect civilians.

Political provisions included guarantees that rebel factions will have the majority in Darfur's three state legislatures. But the rebels did not get the national vice presidency they had sought.

Minnawi spokesman Saifaldin Haroun told the Associated Press the faction still had concerns about power sharing, but was no longer insisting Sudan have a vice president from Darfur.

The other factions were holding out over demands for a vice president's spot as opposed to a top presidential adviser from Darfur and concerns that security and compensation for war victims were not guaranteed.

One faction is led by Abdel Wahid Nur, who founded the Sudanese Liberation Movement that launched the revolt against the government but has since split. One of Nur's top negotiators, Abdulrahman Moussa, said he was forming his own Front for Liberation and Renaissance and taking half of Nur's camp with him to support the peace agreement.

The other rebel group is the Justice and Equality Movement.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A National Academy of Public Service?

From the Washington Post, an article about a push to create a national public service academy. From the article:

The proposed United States Public Service Academy would offer an all-expenses-paid education to 5,000 undergraduates. Its liberal arts curriculum would emphasize leadership development, analytical thinking and service to others, with requirements for summer service internships and a year of study abroad.
Graduates would be required to work for five years in public service. They could choose from jobs in state, local or federal government, law enforcement, public health, education or nonprofit organizations.

To view the website of the proposed National Service Academy, click here.

This seems like an excellent idea to me, having spent a summer with the Americorps working with a local non-profit Colfax Community Network. I think a lot more young people would choose national service if there were incentives and a national academy promoting the idea.

--Tom Hayes

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Developments in bringing peace to Darfur

While protests over the weekend amplified the call for something to be done about the genocide in in Darfur, the process of adding a UN presence aided by NATO has hit a roadblock. Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick has joined the negotiations for peace. To join the millions of people already putting pressure on our government representatives go to http://savedarfur.org/home and read about what you can do to help bring peace to Darfur.

--Tom Hayes

Bolivian President Seizes Gas Industry

From the Washington Post:

Bolivian President Evo Morales seized control of the country's natural gas industry Monday, sending soldiers to occupy fields that he contends private companies have plundered for years.

Morales said that unless foreign energy firms agreed to give Bolivia's state oil company oversight of production and a majority of their revenue generated in Bolivia, the government would evict them from the fields.

It will be interesting to see how Washington reacts to this move by Morales as past actions at nationalizing key industries has resulted in the overthrow of democratically elected governments (Iran in 1954, Guatemala in 1954, Chile in 1973). I don't think that will happen in this case however, since the U.S. is more concerned with the Middle East right now. In addition, the article reports that, "About 25 international energy firms operate in Bolivia. Brazil's Petrobras and Spain's Repsol YPF have the largest operations in the country, and Exxon Mobil Corp. of the United States maintains a smaller presence." So perhaps our business interests are not threatened enough to send in the military like in the past. I'd like to know about others reactions to this news and what you think the future holds for the Bolivia/U.S. relationship.

Click here to read the article.

--Tom Hayes

Monday, May 01, 2006

It's May Day, and Immigrant workers ain't happy!

Yes, today were quite possibly the largest demonstrations the state has seen in it's history. Official estimates put the numbers of attendees at 75,000. Traffic in downtown was snarled for hours. The march was three miles long, yes, three miles of people crammed into downtown to demand their human and worker rights.

All this on a day that commemorates a labor rights campaign led by Chicago anarchists and laborers in 1886 to create the 8 hour day and 5 day week. The campaign was ultimately successful, but at the end several leaders of the movement were railroaded to death sentences after a police officer was killed at a celebratory rally for the campaign. The trials ended in the public hanging of August Spies, Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer and George Engel, most of whom were immigrants themselves.

Denver schools stated absentee rates for the day as high as 75% in some schools. Meaning that the march was mostly populated by families. Whole businesses shut down, and I can imagine that many downtown executives were unable to get back to work after lunch just because of the traffic jams downtown.

Of course there was the (sometimes) thinly veiled racist anti-immigrant counter-demonstrators. In fact one counter-demonstrator's sign read "No More Wetbacks." However there were only about 50 counter-demonstrators who have no concept of natural rights. To them, rights are for Americans, not humans. Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo also had his own screed on the issue.

Overall, we are at a turning point in history in terms of human and immigrant rights in this country, and Colorado in particular. We need to make sure everyone's human rights are respected, and watch out for backlashes in the form of immigration roundups in the next few months.



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