In Human Rights News: Marriage Equality, Deported Veterans, Indigenous Rights, and more

In Human Rights News: November 9 - 15, 2013

In this week's Human Rights News we find issues related to marriage equality, deportation, disability rights, healthcare, indigenous rights, workers' rights, the death penalty, racial discrimination and gun violence, and reproductive rights.

MARRIAGE EQUALITY IN THE US. The Hawaii Senate approved a bill on Tuesday that will extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. Governor Neil Abercrombie, who spearheaded the bill, signed the legislation into law on Wednesday, making Hawaii the 15th U.S. state to legalize gay marriage. The number of states with marriage equality has doubled in the past year, which has led to renewed efforts in more conservative states to keep same-sex couples from achieving legal recognition. Indiana lawmakers have proposed an amendment to the state's constitution that would strengthen the already active state ban on gay marriage and civil unions. Al Jazeera reports that while the amendment has bipartisan support, opposition is growing. This week, Indiana University became the first public university to openly support equal rights for same-sex couples, and some of the state's largest employers have joined a coalition against the amendment. If the amendment passes the Indiana House and Senate, it could go to ballot in November, 2014. Read about marriage equality in Hawaii and in Indiana at Al Jazeera.

DEPORTED VETERANS. On Veterans Day last Monday, Jorge Rivas posted a story on Fusion about deported U.S. veterans. According to the group Banished Veterans, tens of thousands of non-citizens have been deported despite their service in wars and conflicts including Vietnam, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Multiple studies have found that when soldiers experience combat, they become more at risk for substance abuse problems. Many of the veterans interviewed by Fusion were deported for drug-related misdemeanors, and once arrested and deported, veterans lose all access to VA benefits. Rivas writes, “They are essentially left without any resource to address the issues that led to their behavior.” In a similar article on Policy Mic, Mike Mulrany writes that our veterans "deserve to live out their lives in the United States. They took up the cause to serve, and our government should ensure they stay in the country they fought to protect." Read the Fusion article here and the Policy Mic article here.

VETERANS URGE CONGRESS TO APPROVE CRPD. Veterans groups throughout the country are voicing their support for the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), an international treaty that is being reconsidered by the Foreign Relations Committee. Think Progress interviewed Chris Neiweem, an Iraq  War vet and the policy director of Vets First, about what the treaty would mean for the roughly 5.5 million disabled veterans and their families. The treaty would not impact American law, as it is modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act, but it would mean changes for veterans who work and travel overseas. Neiweem said that he was encouraged by last week's hearing. When the CRPD was blocked last year, there were concerns that the senators did not have adequate time to properly consider the treaty before voting. Those concerns are mostly gone, he said, leaving many Senate Republicans open to learning more about the treaty before deciding on the issue. Read the full article here at Think Progress.

OPINIONS ON THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT. In a Huffington Post op-ed published on Friday, Anthony W. Orlando writes that the failures of Obamacare do not prove that the government cannot be trusted to manage the country's healthcare system. He provides five reasons for this, the first being that Obamacare is not a government-run healthcare system. The Affordable Care Act sets up an online exchange where people can sign up for private insurance; the government's roles are to set basic standards that private plans must meet and to provide a place where people can find those plans. Orlando's biggest and final argument in support of his thesis is that the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, the only part of the law that is government-run insurance, has been running smoothly. Nearly 400,000 people have signed up for insurance through Medicaid or CHIP (Medicaid for children) this month. Read the entire article here

Salon’s Thom Hartmann released an article this week about how Fox News, aided by billionaires and conservative think tanks, effectively kept the Public Option out of the Affordable Care Act. In the proposed health reform legislation, the Public Option was a government health insurance program that would “serve as a more efficient and compassionate alternative to private health insurance plans.” It would have created competition and provided incentives for private insurance companies to lower their prices and improve their services. In the fall of 2009, the Washington managing editor of Fox News, Bill Sammon, sent an email instructing all of his news anchors to use “government option” to replace the term Public Option. This was significant because Republican pollsters had discovered that while the American public was split in their opinions of the Public Option, they were overwhelmingly against the "government option." Government option implied a government takeover of healthcare which, like “death panels,” was one of the fear-based myths promoted by the right-wing messaging campaign funded by large for-profit health insurance corporations. A few months after Fox News anchors shifted their language, the Democrats were forced to drop the Public Option from the health reform bill. Read the full story here at Reader Supported News.

THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS WOMEN. Indigenous women from around the world released a declaration this week in the framework of the World Conference of Indigenous Women. The "Lima Declaration," endorsed by nearly 200 female leaders from Africa, the Pacific, Europe, Asia, Latin America, North America, and Russia, demands that States restore the control of their communities in the handling of their lands. Moreover, the indigenous women warned in the declaration that they are prepared to defend their communities' lands and resources with their lives. Resources that hold fundamental economic and strategic value for countries (e.g., water, energy, biodiversity) are located mostly in indigenous territories, which presents a risk for communities in these territories. A recent study conducted by CEPAL shows that the expansion of mining, forestry, and other industries in Latin America has resulted in displacing millions of indigenous women from their ancestral homes to urban areas. Read the complete story here.

THE STORY BEHIND THE FAST-FOOD ORGANIZING CAMPAIGN. In These Times came out with an in-depth article this week on the national movement of fast-food workers organizing for better pay and conditions. So far, the campaign has organized four one-day strikes, culminating in a 60-city walkout this summer. The movement, which has no official name but commonly goes by the “Fight for 15,” is backed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the largest unions in the country. In These Times spoke with over 20 low-wage workers and organizers involved in the campaign, nearly all of whom expressed concern about the SEIU’s emphasis on media coverage. As one worker said, “The strategy is to wait until [bosses] actually fire you because they can get more publicity. But it’s easier to keep your job instead of fighting to get it back.” Concerns aside, the workers and organizers made it clear that they do support the movement for providing a place for workers to form relationships and share information. Read the full article here at In These Times.

JIMMY CARTER CALLS FOR AN END TO THE DEATH PENALTY. Former President Jimmy Carter called for a new nationwide moratorium on the death penalty on Tuesday at a national symposium at the Carter Center. Carter argued that the death penalty is applied so unfairly in the United States that it qualifies as a form of cruel and unusual punishment prohibited under the Constitution. "The only consistency today is that the people who are executed are almost always poor, from a racial minority or mentally deficient," he told the Guardian. "It's almost inconceivable in these modern days to imagine that a rich white man would be executed if he murdered a black person." Methods for executing prisoners have become increasingly inconsistent following a critical shortage of drugs used in lethal injections. New techniques include adding previously untested sedatives to lethal injection batches and concocting improvised mixtures of chemicals through loosely regulated compounding pharmacies. Read the whole story here at the Guardian.

LAW AND ORDER UPDATES. The man who shot Renisha McBride on November 2 in Dearborn Heights, Michigan has been identified and charged with second degree murder, manslaughter, and possession of a firearm during a commission of a felony. Theodore Paul Wafer, 54, shot McBride in the face after she knocked on his door seeking help following a car accident. Click here to sign a letter to both thank the county prosecutor for charging Wafer and encourage her to continue the fight for justice. In Florida, Marissa Alexander, a black woman sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot during an argument with her abusive husband, is still behind bars. This Wednesday, a judge was expected to decide whether Alexander could be released on bond while she waits for her new trial. Circuit Judge James Daniel failed to rule on the bond request, citing a backlog of cases and hearings. Also this week, the Supreme Court refused to hear a case concerning pre-abortion ultrasounds for women in Oklahoma. The decision effectively upholds the state supreme court's ruling to strike down the law requiring "the performance, display and explanation of a pre-abortion ultrasound."

in the news, marriage equality, Hawaii, Indiana, veterans day, deported veterans, CRPD, disability rights, ACA, Obamacare, Fox News, Public Option, indigenous women, fast food workers, workers' rights, Jimmy Carter, death penalty, Renisha McBride, Marissa Alexander, abortion rights