The D.C. skies were clear and bright over the weekend, but in the St. Gregory hotel, the pall of grief was thick in the air. Over the course of an extraordinary weekend, Amnesty International human rights activists, along with witness after witness, spoke to an audience of about fifty committed supporters on the Executive Director’s Leadership Council. It was unspeakably depressing to listen to these human rights activists speak of the unbelievable abuses of human rights by the United States government, in violation of the rule of law–complicity in torture, extraordinary rendition, denial of the right of Habeas Corpus, and so much more. And it was terribly disturbing to hear these people of conscience recount the sad statistics about the state of human rights in the world—4 million affected in the Darfur genocide, one out of every three women in the world a victim of sexual violence, four million Iraqis displaced. But it was the first hand witnesses who moved me to tears.
Among them were the amazing Betty Makoni, Director and Founder of the Girl Child Network in Zimbabwe, a rape survivor herself, who volunteers her life to save others, who helps women come up with strategies of how to protect themselves from systematic rape and abuse that they confront every day in their villages and communities, who tells us that rape is a death sentence for women because of Aids, who bears witness to victims like the two year old girl who came to her office bleeding, her genitals destroyed by rape. Little girl bleeding. What can one say to such a thing?
And Sarah Deer, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, a victim advocate and legal specialist, whose words speak of a culture of abuse where Native American women, victims of sexual violence, have no access to even the most basic protections like forensic (rape) kits to help in prosecution for those who have the courage to report these crimes:
My grandmother was raped.
My mother was raped
I was raped.
My daughter was raped.
My daughter has just given birth
I do this work because I want to protect that child
And Garelnabi Abbas Abusikin, refugee from the Darfur genocide, whose father, brother, younger sister, grandmother, uncle and more than 60 friends and fellow Zaghawa tribesmen were killed by government-backed Janjawid forces, bearing witness with his extraordinary photographs.
And General Jose Gallardo, who was jailed for more than eight years for publishing a Master’s thesis that accused the Mexican army of corruption and human rights violations, who spoke through a translator. “They have tried to silence me,” he said, “but human rights are non-negotiable.” General Gallardo is one of THOUSANDS of prisoners of conscience across the globe.
I’ll blog more about these extraordinary people and the many others I heard, and the crucial work Amnesty is doing in my next post. I need time to process such suffering and courage.
On a happier note, I enjoyed time with fellow conference attendee, the great film director, raconteur, and human rights activist, Paul Mazursky, who was in his glory regaling us with tales of old Hollywood, complete with spot-on impressions of Orson Wells, Sidney Portier, Charlton Heston and Peter Sellers.
More on all this tomorrow. It was a long drive back from D.C.