As 2013 begins to draw into itself for holiday season and the arrival of the coming new year, it is worth thinking about what human rights issues might be put onto our collective front-burners. Of course there are unfortunately far too many issues to create a perfect list even if if we were to go into the hundreds. But fires start with a spark, so start with, here are fourteen for 2014.
1. Burma: Support Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
After decades of isolation, Burma seems that it might be encouraged to stand with the international community and to become an emergent democracy that gives more respect for human rights. But it's going to take a while and the cards are stacked against Aung San Suu Kyi in Burmese politics. She deserves continued support during the transition.
2. Taiwan: Free Chen Shui-bian.
The former president has been convicted on corruption charges and is serving a term in prison. But his sentence remains disproportionately high for his non-violent offenses and his treatment is troubling. Subjected to considerable neglect and problematic behaviors by the State, the former opposition politician oversaw the first transition to power away from the KMT and has seen his health plummet and ongoing cases against him continue to appear. Releasing him on compassionate grounds would be a way to signal to the world that Taiwan is serious about human rights.
3. Sri Lanka: End Government Abuses of Tamils and Others.
In spite of the dubious words of the Sri Lankan government, the extremist behaviors of the Sri Lankan government continue to spiral into cycles of religious hatred and ethnic marginalization. More should be done to end it. Now.
4. United States: Free Leonard Peltier.
Leonard Peltier was extradited to the United States under dubious evidence and has been languishing in prison for decades. With failing health and a definite rationale for parole/pardon, this would be a big step forward to signaling that the US takes the rights of its native peoples seriously and really does want justice for all.
5. LGBT/HIV Discrimination: End it in Uganda, Russia, and Everywhere.
With the opening of the Winter Olympics coming up soon and Russia's antigay laws still in place, with the ongoing efforts of evangelists to create a higher bar for terrorizing the LGBT populations in Uganda, and with restrictive travel restrictions still in place, the world's LGBT population deserves the same access to human rights and freedoms from stigma as everyone else. It is overdue to move in this direction and to actually get there for equality for all.
6. Iranian and Saudi Human Rights: Support them.
The world is quick to wag a finger at the actions of the governments of Iran and Saudi Arabia, but how much have we done as individuals or organizations to actively and aggressively support the pursuit and achievement of full human rights in these nations? How much do we know? How much more can we do?
7. End Drone Attacks.
This issue is so cut and dry that it really is three simple words needed. We're still killing people and it needs to stop.
8. Close Guantanamo & end Sanctions on Cuba.
The travesties that occur against international human rights standards in Guantanamo Bay detention are grim. The very ongoing fact of Guantanamo is an affront to most Cubans (and should be to Americans as well). The persistence of sanctions on travel to Cuba prevent access and awareness of most Americans to the actual conditions, both problems and promise, of an important and worthy neighbor. Sanctions should be scaled back or removed and Guantanamo should be closed, and not only its detention facility.
9. Scale back Universal Surveillance.
There are too many eyes in the skies, and in the streets, and elsewhere and a subsequent erosion of privacy and a legitimate fear of state-organized abuse based on surveillance data that shouldn't be anyone's business. The model of Total Information Awareness is beyond Orwellian and an affront to the dignity that should be accorded all people.
10. Support Iraqi and Afghan Human Rights Education and Documentation.
Too many news organizations rely on reports that can be tinged with bias. The best sources of reporting and documenting on human rights abuses in these countries recently subjected to invasion would be to train and support local efforts to work on human rights awareness and access.
11. Match Military Spending with Social Spending.
If we matched, globally, the sort of military spending we have with the sort of social spending we might, we might save considerably on longer term outcomes in cost and we'd get an immediate payoff with conscience.
12. End Religious Violence.
In a time of many traditional religious celebrations, we'd do well to recall a central truth of all major faiths that peace matters. Using religion to justify violence does a vast disservice to all people and principles of conscience. End it all now.
13. Support a Stronger Voice for the UNHCHR to help Syrian refugees.
More than enough have perished in the Syrian civil war and those who survive are given short shrift of help by international agencies. We need to learn to discover what refugees need and then honor that need with strong support. War is a horrible thing. Surviving a war shouldn't be even worse.
14. Listen to Africans on Africa's development needs.
It is high time that donor countries stopped swooping in with grand plans on what Africa needs. It would be useful to have that discussion with full and complete African participation rather than having exterior voices come in and shut down locally known needs.
Ask yourself what you might do to support these goals, to make your own wishlist, to collaborate with others to talk about human rights. It's a worthy goal. Awareness is the first step to organizing for better access. You can see a long-term project I'd like to see happen here. In the meantime, let us move forward in solidarity to respect the UDHR. May you spend this season recalling our shared humankind and moving forward to honor and protect it for all.