Friday, December 30, 2011

Global Rights 2011: A Year in Photos

Every day I am humbled by the courageous work undertaken by our partners and individuals who work with us, most often in dangerous and uncertain environments. Their work on the frontlines inspires me to continue my efforts to bring about a more just world for all—where everyone’s human rights are protected and respected.

Real, sustainable change can only happen from the bottom up – beginning with the individual and the community.  I wanted to share with you some photos of our human rights partners who were on the frontlines for justice in 2011.

Our work is designed to foster human rights cultures that support and defend human rights for future generations. For example:

Access to Justice: In Afghanistan, we’re training the future generation of young lawyers. You can check out Enjilla and Abdullah’s story here.

Women’s Rights: In Morocco, we’re mobilizing women to pass legislation to combat gender-based violence.  A ratified bill would be the first of its kind of the Arab world. See how Zahira became a leader for this movement.

Racial and Ethnic Equality:
 In Peru, we’re mobilizing the Afro-Peruvian community to use regional and international bodies like the Organization of American States to combat discrimination.  Click here for photos. 

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Rights: In Sierra Leone, we are training partners in the LGBTI community and network to monitor and document human rights violations.  

Natural Resources and Human Rights: With our Congo-Brazzaville partners, we are taking documented human rights violations resulting from natural resource exploitation and advocating with the government to implement change.  

I look forward to our continued partnerships and bringing you more stories from the frontlines in 2012. To support our work, click here.

Happy New Year,

Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

“I read, I forget. I practice, I learn.”

“I read, I forget. I practice, I learn.”  That was a quote I heard last Saturday at our Partners’ Conference in Kabul. 

Professor Lutf Rahaman Sayeed of Kabul University’s Shar’ia Faculty was talking about Global Rights’ Practical Legal Education (PLE) program in Afghanistan.  He said that many Hafidh, those who have spent their lives memorizing the Koran, adopt this method for their studies.

Practical Legal Education Program Partners' Conference

When I heard the quote, I knew that Professor Sayeed had hit the nail on the head in explaining how Global Rights trains the next generation of lawyers in Afghanistan.

We have worked closely with the Law and Shar’ia faculties in Afghanistan since 2005 to craft two unique practical legal education courses, as well as a well-received legal fellowship program. 

Our program is designed to be hands on so that fourth-year Law and Shar’ia students acquire practical legal skills, as well as a clear understanding of human and women’s rights.  Almost 1,800 students at Kabul, Nangarhar, Al-Biruni, Balkh, and Herat Universities have been through one or more of the PLE components:
  • Young Lawyers in Training Program (YLTP) expands access to justice through intensive training in Afghan civil and criminal procedure, and in international human rights law for Law and Shar’ia students in their final year of study.
  • Legal Fellowship Program (LFP) provides fellowships to promising young Law and Shar’ia graduates to work in Afghanistan’s formal justice sector and in local human rights and justice non-governmental organizations.
  • Family Law Clinical Education Pilot Project (FLC) offers practical training in family law matters to Shar’ia students.

Last weekend, we had asked our partner universities to come together for the Partners’ Conference to give us feedback on our PLE program and to discuss how we could continue to work together to strengthen it.  I heard time and time again from faculty and student alumni how much better prepared students are to enter the workplace having gone through Global Rights’ PLE program.  Therefore, feedback included the desire to expand the program at our current universities so that more students could attend the PLE course and to expand the program to more universities throughout Afghanistan.

Group at Partners' Conference

Conference participants agreed the people of Afghanistan still lack knowledge about how to use the legal system and assert their rights, but programs like Global Rights’ are educating the next generation of young lawyers so that they, in turn, can help citizens understand and effectively use the legal system. 

The Deputy Minister for Higher Education for Academic Affairs, Mohammad Osman Babury, said, “From the bottom of [my] heart,” the program “strengthens the pillars of rule of law and justice that are critical for sustainability in Afghanistan.” 

To become sustainable, Deputy Minister Babury is supportive of integrating the PLE curriculum into Shar’ia and Law faculties at all Afghan universities, which is a testament to the program’s value.  While it may take a number of years to adopt the PLE program fully into the universities’ curriculum, Global Rights will continue to work with the faculties and students to provide practical legal education to the future leaders and lawyers in Afghanistan.
Happy Holidays,

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Other Side of Afghanistan

Recently there has been a great deal of international attention on the imprisonment of an Afghan woman, Gulnaz.  She was sentenced to twelve years in prison for adultery, when in fact she was raped by her cousin’s husband.  After serving two years, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai “pardoned” her and released her from prison following intense advocacy by human rights activists all over the world.

Too often we hear negative stories about Afghanistan and more so about the treatment of women. People often ask me, “Is anything positive happening over in Afghanistan?”

My answer is yes, absolutely.  Just this week I touched down in Kabul, Afghanistan to see our groundbreaking programs in action. 

On Wednesday, I had the privilege to meet all of our local partner organizations – Justice for All, Voice of Women OrganizationAfghanistan Independent Bar Association, and Afghan Women’s Network – that implement our Legal Advice Bureaus (LABs) in Kabul, Herat, Mazar and Nangarhar provinces.  We designed the LABs to assist poor and marginalized people, particularly women, secure access to the services they need to understand and assert their legal rights in family court.

The concept of providing pro bono legal services is new in Afghanistan and Global Rights’ LABs are setting a new standard for access to justice, especially for women.

The expansion of the LABs outside of Kabul is also met with great demand.  The LAB in Mazar launched in October 2011.  The following month, they received 81 individuals seeking legal advice.  It really is incredible that in just one month we provided that many people with legal assistance who would have had nowhere to turn before. 

Watching the mock trial
I also had the opportunity to witness fourth year Shar’ia students at Kabul University in our Young Lawyers in Training Program (YLTP) conduct a mock trial.  

YLTP is unlike any other legal education course in Afghanistan.  It provides fourth-year Law and Shar’ia students with practical legal skills that they do not receive in their theoretical university instruction, as well as a clear understanding of human and women’s rights.

I was thrilled to see that the "players" of the trial – judges, clerk, prosecutor, defense lawyer and accused – were all women, performing in front of a mixed crowd of both men and women. 

The Dean of the Shar’ia Faculty pulled me aside and told me that our hands-on, practical training program is contributing to a stronger rule of law that protects the rights of individuals.  

This is exactly what the Afghan justice system needs in order to succeed.  By training the future generation of Afghan lawyers and judges to apply laws fairly and correctly, it will become less and less likely that women like Gulnaz will be subject to imprisonment for crimes they do not commit.

So, again, the answer is yes.  There are positive stories coming from Afghanistan and Global Rights is championing them each and every day.  Whether it is inside the court room, or outside, we are helping Afghans create a stronger rule of law that protects all citizens, rich or poor, male or female.

- Susan

Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Celebrating Human Rights

On behalf of myself and all of the Global Rights staff, we would like to honor our local human rights partners around the world. Today is Human Rights Day, a day to recognize that human rights bind us together as a global community.

Today, I stopped to read a letter from President Bill Clinton that hangs in the hallway near my office. He wrote it in honor of a past Human Rights Day celebration we hosted. I pass this letter every day, sometimes multiple times a day, but the words he wrote to Global Rights really jumped out at me today.

President Clinton wrote to us:

“Organizations like Global Rights – dedicated to speaking up for those who have no voice and to shining light into the darkness of human rights abuses – help carry this struggle for all of us. You can take great pride in your role in ensuring that thousands of individuals around the world have better access to justice, can demand accountability from their governments, and understand their rights in a concrete and meaningful way.”

We take great pride in our work because we take great pride in working with and learning from our local partners. By providing local, grassroots organizations with skills and tools to create change, we are fostering and strengthening human rights cultures from the ground up, every day.

So, on this Human Rights Day, I want to thank all of our partners for speaking up for those who can’t, for their persistence, hard work, and dedication to ensure that all individuals – regardless of class, color, gender or sexual orientation—are able to live free of human rights violations.


Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

You Are Not Alone

For those of you who did not have the pleasure to listen to Secretary Clinton’s speech on Recognition of International Human Rights Day yesterday, I found her remarks incredibly powerful and inspiring.

In her speech in Geneva, Secretary Clinton clearly spelled out why the respect and fair treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people worldwide is a moral imperative.

She made it crystal clear that LGBTI rights are human rights and human rights are LGBTI rights by saying “All people deserve to be treated with dignity and have their human rights respected, no matter who they are or whom they love.”

What resonated with me most though was what she specifically addressed to LGBTI women and men worldwide:

“Wherever you live and whatever the circumstances of your life, whether you are connected to a network of support or feel isolated and vulnerable, please know that you are not alone.  People around the globe are working hard to support you and to bring an end to the injustices and dangers you face.”

You are not alone.

I think of the activists in Sierra Leone who were part of our LGBTI training just two weeks ago.  I think of our Sierra Leonean partners Why Can’t We Get Married and Dignity who are fighting for their rights under incredibly difficult circumstances.  What an inspiring, and yes comforting, message for them to hear.

“You are not alone” goes to the very core of Global Rights’ work.  As Suraya Pakzad of Voice of Women, a partner in Afghanistan, puts it, Global Rights works “shoulder to shoulder” with activists to break down barriers that deny people their human rights.  We work alongside activists and partners to provide skills and adapt tools for individuals to create change so that human rights can thrive. 

We know change must come from the ground up - from the communities in which we work.  But Secretary Clinton called on all people to bring an end to the injustices and dangers LGBTI people face.

And that is why Global Rights is doing its part to work in Sierra Leone and Nigeria to empower its LGBTI advocates - to fight for their dignity and for their human rights.

The Secretary called on individuals to make a difference.  She called on the international community.

She also heeded a special request to government leaders:

“To the leaders of those countries where people are jailed, beaten, or executed for being gay, I ask you to consider this:  Leadership, by definition, means being out in front of your people when it is called for.  It means standing up for the dignity of all your citizens and persuading your people to do the same.  It also means ensuring that all citizens are treated as equals under your laws, because let me be clear – I am not saying that gay people can’t or don’t commit crimes.  They can and they do, just like straight people.  And when they do, they should be held accountable, but it should never be a crime to be gay.”

These government leaders have made the news these last few months. Ugandan and Nigerian lawmakers have made efforts to pass discriminatory anti-homosexuality legislation.  The government of Sierra Leone formally rejected recommendations made by the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to abandon legal provisions targeting sexual orientation and consenting adult sexual activity.  This action was taken in spite of government rhetoric of “protecting all Sierra Leoneans regardless of sexual orientation.”

Members of the LGBTI community, you are not alone.

But Secretary Clinton would not say the same thing to those who continue to discriminate. She made an excellent insight on the history of human rights:

“…The march toward equality and justice has continued.  Those who advocate for expanding the circle of human rights were and are on the right side of history, and history honors them.  Those who tried to constrict human rights were wrong, and history reflects that as well.”

I sincerely hope government leaders take Secretary Clinton’s point carefully to heart.  I hope they decide to join the right side of history.


Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

Monday, December 5, 2011

"Will Global Rights Teach Us?"

Abi Baiyewu, our Nigeria Country Director, just sent us photos from her assessment trip last week to Dareta and Abare communities in Zamfara state, a resource rich state located in the northwestern Nigeria. 

The spot where the mine collapsed
 When I saw the photo of the collapsed gold mine in Dareta where four artisanal miners were buried alive in October I shuddered.  Then when Abi told me that the government did nothing to rescue them and has done nothing since to address the safety of the workers, it was clear to me how important Global Rights new project in Zamfara State is going to be. 

Last month, Global Rights launched a project to build local civil society capacity in Zamfara to improve the transparency and accountability of state and local government resource management governance.

To give you some background, commercial quantities of gold deposits were found in Zamfara in 2002.  This discovery ordinarily should have been a blessing to the rural, poor community which lives on less than a dollar a day.  Unfortunately, this discovery has been more of a curse than a blessing.

The Nigerian government has granted licenses to foreign mining firms which do not conduct the actual mining, but purchase semi-processed nuggets from artisanal miners. The mining companies get a good bargain for these nuggets from miners who risk their lives daily in unregulated and dangerous mines.

The mining has also had devastating impact on the community at large.  The unregulated artisanal gold mining has led to lead poisoning, which was brought to light in March 2010. The poisoning has affected over 18,000 families, killing more than 1,000 children and 500 adults.  Just two weeks ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that the lead poisoning is still impacting surrounding communities.

Despite the ongoing tragedies, the Nigerian government continues to neglect the welfare and safety of gold miners and the local communities.

Children in Dareta
In Dareta, Abi was told that 79 children died in three weeks during the peak of the poisoning.  One mother asked Abi:  “We keep appealing to international donors to assist us obtain clean water, make our environment safe enough for our children and teach us how to recognize poisoning symptoms; but there is also a lot our government can do. Will Global Rights teach us how to access assistance from government?” 

The answer is yes.  And the key to her question is “teach us” because we know that change and accountability must come from the community.  We will build our local partners’ capacity with targeted toolkits and trainings to build their knowledge and skills to help them seek greater accountability from their government.  Abi and her team will also work with its partners to develop an advocacy campaign to engage government at all levels to demand transparency and accountability to protect their rights.

We appreciate the Ford Foundation’s support for this critically important project to improve government accountability in Zamfara.  We will keep you updated on our progress with our local partners in Zamfara State to improve the lives of those who live in the communities affected by gold mining. 


Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth