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A Global View of Human Rights
Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International, speaking Mexico City, in August 2007. (AP)

Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International, speaking in Mexico City in August 2007. (AP)

A new Sudan policy out today from the Obama administration — and immediate scrutiny from human rights advocates of its impact on a campaign called genocide.

It’s been a tough decade for human rights. As if terror and torture and war on terror weren’t tough enough to deal with, then came economic collapse.

From dissidents in prison to populations in peril and poverty, it’s a hard world.

This hour, we’ll talk with the secretary general of Amnesty International worldwide, Irene Khan, and The New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof, about human rights up against tough times.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

Guests:

Irene Khan joins us in our studio. She is has been secretary general of Amnesty International, the world’s largest human rights organization, since Sept. 12, 2001. She’s the first woman, the first Asian, the first Bangladeshi, and the first Muslim in the job. Her new book is “The Unheard Truth: Poverty and Human Rights.”

Joining us from New York is Nicholas Kristof, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times and author of the On The Ground blog. He is the co-author, with Sheryl WuDunn, of “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.”

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  • Cory

    What I have come to realize is human rights really haven’t come all that far.

    If you think you have some sort of basic rights, just wait until you lose your job, or your health insurance. What if your region or nation suffers a natural disaster or terrorist attack and martial law is declared. Even worse, imagine your nation capitalizing on nationalist fears and diminishing your civil rights.

    Even democratic governments have become so corrupt that many have declared corporations to have the rights of persons. How often is the winner of an eletion the one who is best funded? Important legislation can no longer be crafted without the influence of corporations. Finally, if you think your home is your castle, wait until you are driven out of it by ever growing property taxes or your government declares “eminent domain” and bulldozes your home to make way for a big box retailer.

    I guess what I’m saying is we really don’t have human rights beyond what we’ve had through much of history. We are allowed to make our way through life fairly unimpeded unless someone or something with authority decides we can not. Most of us know what kind of world we’d like to live in. We just need to realize our power and make it happen.

  • Joanna Drzewieniecki

    Thank you, Tom, for this interview.

  • Joanna Drzewieniecki

    Oops, Tom. It is not true that during the Cold War everyone in the “West” could agree on human rights. Plenty of people in and out of governments in the West did not condemn human rights violations in countries who supported “us” in the Cold War, including dictatorships in Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East! Many others fought hard for years to get the US government to take steps to condemn human rights violations in such countries. I believe that Carter was the first to condemn these violations in Latin America though his record in other parts of the world was not as good.
    That said, I think considerable progress has been made in various parts of the world including Eastern Europe and Latin America and here and there elsewhere. Just as importantly, there is much more of consciousness around the world of the concept of human rights and, to a lesser extent, the international law that protects these rights.
    Still, human rights are not respected in many places and many ways. And, as we saw with the torture debate, people can very easily forget all about human rights when they feel threatened in some way.

  • millard-fillmore

    Irene Khan mentioned women’s education in the Islamic world and how it is promoted. Perhaps she should comment on the Taliban throwing acid on young girls and disfiguring their faces for the crime of wanting to go to school and study. I’d also like to know whether she meant education in a madrassa where verses from Koran are taught (including how bad kaffirs are), or education in proper schools where young and impressionable minds can learn beyond religious brainwashing.

    Maybe she could address why Taslima Nasrin – a Bangladeshi woman and writer – was hounded out of Bangladesh solely for writing a book, and why did she receive death-threats, and why was she assaulted by Muslims at public functions and why does she need heavy police protection and secret travel plans.

  • millard-fillmore

    Perhaps On Point should have invited Ayaan Hirsi Ali to this program – it would’ve been an interesting discussion between the guests.

  • wavre

    It’s so easy to criticize and ignore that some of those human rights abuses are encouraged to protect the interests of those countries that called themselves ” the civilized world”.

    From the luxurious oval office to innocent children killed by “sophysticated weaponry”,from the Madrasses to those girls disfigured because they want to go to school,from corporate board rooms to massacres in mineral rich third world countries by their sponsored militias…
    It’s all BARBARISM to me, from wall street to the jungle.

  • Dan Muroff

    The human rights abuses and the genocide in Sudan have become an international travesty. And while Congress has consistently condemned the Sudanese government, only a few members stand out as having led on this issue and having made a difference.

    In 2003, Congressman Mike Capuano cast a spotlight on the plight of those suffering in slavery in Sudan when he introduced and shepherded passage of a resolution through the US House of Representatives condemning this widespread practice. He went on to co-found the Congressional Caucus on Sudan and he led efforts to secure $50 million in federal funds for the African Union Mission in Sudan (see http://mikecapuano.com/page/content/sudan/ to see more about what Mike has accomplished on this issue).

    Obviously, most members of Congress are indignant at the Sudanese government’s deplorable actions – Mike Capuano has been fighting hard to make a difference.

    Dan Muroff served as Washington Chief of Staff to Congressman Capuano (1999 to 2003).

  • Michael

    Human rights in the last 8 plus years continues to regress for suposed security in place of it. Saudi A is allow to abuse it’s people human rights cause their a U.S. ally iran cannot but could under the shah, Israel is allow to abuse isareli arab human rights because there a U.S. ally, China can abuse it’s people Human rights cause it’s the one of the U.S. biggest trading partner, based on what western country holds power or not in Africa depends who gets criticized or brought to justice for abusing human rights, Minorities in America human rights are abused on almost a daily basis by police officer who are supposed to serve and protect all Americans. The UK has cameras everywhere watching it’s citizens, the U.S. wire-taps its own along with rendition, torture without any trial.

    especially when the U.S. and western powers abuse the human rights of its people and others it shows what hypocrites we in the U.S. and West truly are telling other countries there wrong and should be brought to justice yet when these western powers do the same its okay.

    We need to International Court with Teeth that can go after people and countries that do abuse human rights, not this pick and choose based on whose our allies and who are not. If a country commits war crimes they should be brought to justice or at least some of the people who allowed such to happen.

    just on CNN a arpaio Sheriff Joe is arresting anyone of latino descent arresting them all and turning them into the feds as illgels, he stated he arrested 66 people because there were Mexicans, and 30 were illegal when asked about the violation of the rights of the other 36 plus people he said they looked illegal.

    http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/us/2009/10/19/nr.arpaio.ice.immigration.cnn

    what a scumbag and this will be one of the people that take away our rights in the guise of justice and law enforcement

  • yuri

    Words, words, words. What purpose is served by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights if a “democracy” like Israel is allowed to subject an entire people to Occupation and, in so doing, deny them the most fundamental of human rights–in effect, violating 29 of the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration? (see
    http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/)

  • wavre

    I agree with Yuri 100%, Israel unfortunately is not the only country,I’ve cut and paste an all post to that effect:

    The only place Obama can bring peace in an instant, if he really wants it, it’s in the Congo(DRC).

    The foreign’s armies(Rwanda,Uganda,Burundi and Angola to some extent) fueling the unrest in that part of the world( 5-7 millions people have perished already+thousands of women and men raped!)on behalf of international big businesses(european,asian, and american) because of(oil,coltan,gold,diamonds…)

    Those african countries that i have just mentioned are plundering the mineral ressources of their neighbor the Congo with the complicity of the world community that is getting a windfall profit in form of debt reimbursement by those countries to the IMF and BM!

    While in the senat,Obama worked on the issue, he knows it from top to bottom. As a nobel prize winner, this should be an easy one!

    Why? BECAUSE THOSE ARMIES ARE TRAINED AND SUPPORTED BY THE USA!with black americans soldiers actively participating in combat,leading bataillon!

    Unfortunately his pragmatism so far has not been in favor of peace and justice for the people,neither here at home nor abroad, but more into appeasing the rich and powerful money interests that have manage to inflitrate the Obama white house with their “watchdogs”in the top echelon of decision making.

  • Christopher Bieda

    Irene Khan said two things that incensed me:

    First was that talking to (“engaging” was her word, a clear echo to “constructive engagement”) repressive regimes was always a good idea; was that AI’s approach–or even hers–during apartheid?

    Second was her suggestion that Islam was being applied selectively, according to the requirements of the local power structure, and that this selective application neutered the objection that Islam was ever responsible for what are regarded (by AI and Khan) as regressive social policy, especially towards women. Specifically, she excuses the straightforward application of sharia law regarding women when it is ignored regarding usury as an exercise in power, not Islam, because some societies do not apply sharia in a straightforward manner (while also ignoring usury in its midst). That one society practices a looser or relaxed Islam is, of course, an exercise in power, but it is equally an exercise in Islamic practice as the explicit basis for the policies applied is sharia. Is the opposition of universally-male Roman Catholic bishops to abortion in U.S. an exercise in power or Catholicism, Irene?

  • Joel Demay

    It’s all a question of perspective.

    For us over in Europe (I’m French) the US is a massive Human right abuser. On it’s own people: With dozen of convicts (mostly non white males) sentenced to the death penalty every year. And with 50M people denied access to healthcare. According to our standards these are two massive/characterized violation of basic human rights. But most people in the US don’t see it that way, so it’s all relative. Every society has it’s own set of references…. Imagine Finland, or Holland advocating Regime change in the US to put an end to the Human rights violations in the US ?

  • MIchael
  • Rob

    Human rights and democracy can not be used as an excuse to overthrow a country, mass killing, commercial interests, control of the world. You guys konw who I am talking about.

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