Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Human Rights USA Launches Online Store

Human Rights USA recently launched its online store at

Come check it out and buy holiday gifts for your friends and family. Show your support for human rights in the United States and help us end torture, slavery, and gender-based violence in the United States.

All proceeds benefit Human Rights USA, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

To start shopping, click here.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

"A Victory for Freedom"

Blogger, philanthropist, and conservative activist Doug Wilson wrote today on about our recent lawsuit against Yahoo! "Democracy scored a huge victory earlier this month," said Wilson, when "Yahoo Inc., the Internet company made famous by their search engine, settled out of court with two Chinese journalists who sued the company under U.S. human rights laws for providing the Chinese government with identifying information about their Internet use."

Wilson continued, "Human Rights USA is an important organization whose good work expands far beyond the Yahoo case. Refugee women who want to spare their daughters from sexual abuse have earned the right to do so; the work of Human Rights USA directly resulted in the court decision that established that female genital mutilation qualifies as torture. Their work on another case set a precedent that the usual deadline to file asylum claims need not apply to sexual abuse victims with severe traumatic stress, who might hesitate to report such instances out of fear."

For the full blog post, click here.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

German Court Asked to Review Decision Not to Investigate Rumsfeld in Torture Case

Today, human rights groups appealed to the Frankfurt High Regional Court in Germany, asking the court to review a German federal prosecutor's decision not to proceed with an investigation into high-ranking U.S. officials' involvement in the abuse and torture of detainees held in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. The request, which names former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former CIA Director George Tenet, and other high-ranking military officers and former government attorneys as the subjects of the investigation, is the second of such requests to be filed in Germany.*

The first complaint was filed in November 2004 by German attorney Wolfgang Kaleck, with the support of U.S. and international human rights groups. A German prosecutor dismissed that request, stating that the nations of the victims and the accused should be given the first opportunity to conduct the criminal prosecutions. However, since that first request was filed, U.S. officials have failed to take any action in investigating the allegations of abuse and torture. Moreover, now that the U.S. Congress has passed the Military Commissions Act, the likelihood that U.S. officials will ever be prosecuted in the United States has become virtually nil.

The MCA, signed into law on October 17, 2006, presents significant legal obstacles to prosecuting U.S. officials in U.S. courts. The MCA narrowly limits the types of conduct for which U.S. officials may be held liable, essentially granting them immunity for particular types of criminal conduct such as acts of torture. In addition, the statute allows defendants to claim, as a defense, that the detention and interrogation tactics they used were "lawful," or that the defendant didn't know that certain types of techniques were unlawful. The Office of Legal Counsel, which advises the Attorney General and the Executive branch on the lawfulness of proposed courses of conduct, has previously stated that certain forms of torture are lawful -- a view that has been widely criticized by legal scholars and the human rights community.

The MCA's broad grant of immunity, particularly for crimes like torture that violate well-recognized human rights standards, disregards the United States' binding obligations under international and domestic law. The United States, as a party to the Convention Against Torture, is bound by the treaty's prohibition against torture. The United States is also obligated under U.S. domestic law not to commit torture. The Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998 incorporates article 3 of the CAT, which prohibits countries from transferring individuals to countries where they will more likely than not be tortured. Under U.S. criminal law, the Torture Convention Implementation Act makes it a crime to violate the CAT's anti-torture provisions.

Even though torture is unlawful under domestic and international law, the MCA significantly limits the liability of U.S. officials for their human rights abuses. Furthermore, the U.S. government's unwillingness to enforce these obligations means that injured parties must look to foreign courts to secure justice. Without any guarantee that the United States will enforce its obligations not to torture, we now turn to foreign tribunals to hold perpetrators accountable for committing major human rights abuses.

Human Rights USA supports the German court's review of the prosecutor's decision not to investigate human rights violations committed by U.S. officials. HRUSA has submitted supporting evidence to accompany the petition for review. Among the supporting evidence provided by HRUSA are two complaints filed by HRUSA with the U.S. Department of Justice, seeking an investigation into the CIA's extraordinary rendition program and into the detainee abuse taking place in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, as well as an affidavit by HRUSA's Executive Director, Morton Sklar, detailing the organization's efforts to seek criminal accountability for these major human rights abuses. The fact that HRUSA's requests for investigation went unanswered by the U.S. government only underscores the necessity for the German court's review of this case.


*Under German law, German courts may exercise universal jurisdiction over defendants who are alleged to have committed genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, regardless of the nationality of the parties or the location where the alleged acts took place. However, German law does not obligate federal prosecutors to open an investigation.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Yahoo Settles Internet Human Rights Case

Facing strong Congressional pressure and the threat of court-ordered discovery proceedings, Yahoo agreed to settle the lawsuit filed against it by Human Rights USA on behalf of internet users in China, who were jailed for exercising their free speech rights. This is the second major case in which a U.S. corporation has been held financially accountable, through a settlement agreement, for its involvement in human rights abuses. The other case was Unocal, which involved major human rights abuses by the oil and gas company in its construction of a gas pipeline in Burma.

The Yahoo lawsuit, filed in April, sought to hold the internet company accountable for its complicity in handing over identifying internet user information to Chinese authorities, which was used to arbitrarily arrest and detain two of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit -- well-known Chinese journalist Shi Tao, and pro-democracy advocate Wang Xiaoning. Both men have been subjected to abuse and torture while in prison. It is suspected that many more individuals have been similarly affected by the sharing of internet user information, including journalists and bloggers listed in two recent reports issued by Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

While the details of the settlement agreement remain private according to its terms and the parties' wishes, the issues raised in the course of litigation and in the Congressional hearing indicate some of the key points that were the focus of concern. These include the urgent need to secure, as soon as possible, the release from prison of Wang Xiaoning and Shi Tao; preventing further disclosure of internet user information that could lead to arbitrary arrest and torture; and the need to aid other prisoners who have been jailed as a result of the disclosure of identifying internet user information.

The resolution of the case by settlement agreement is not a perfect solution. Human Rights USA would have preferred that the court make specific findings, on the record, about the unlawful nature of Yahoo's actions, and that the case reach a final judgment that would be legally enforceable by the court. However, the plaintiffs and their families, along with Congress, felt strongly that immediate action was needed to secure the release of the prisoners, particularly given the five years it would take to bring the case to an end, which would have extended beyond the prison sentences that the two plaintiffs are serving.

This settlement agreement highlights the fact that U.S. corporations must pay greater attention to the consequences that their actions have on human rights, and that they will be held accountable for participating in, or aiding and abetting, major human rights abuses.

The agreement should also provide incentive for Congress to adopt the Global Online Freedom Act, a statute which, if passed, would prohibit U.S. internet companies from disclosing identifying internet user information to repressive governments that are likely to use such information to put a clamp on free speech and free press rights. This law would also provide U.S. companies with additional justification for not complying with government requests for this type of information, where compliance would result in the imprisonment or torture of individuals for repressive purposes.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Congress Asks Yahoo to Apologize to HRUSA's Clients

In a hearing on November 6, 2007, Rep. Lantos, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, urged Yahoo! CEO Jerry Yang to apologize to Wang Xiaoning and Shi Tao, two of Human Rights USA's clients, for handing over their identifying internet user information to Chinese authorities, which led to their arrest, detention, and abuse and torture while imprisoned. "I do not believe that America's best and brightest companies should be playing integral roles in China's notorious and brutal political repression apparatus," said Lantos.

Gao Qinsheng, Shi Tao's mother, and Yu Ling, Wang Xiaoning's wife, attended the hearing, sitting directly behind Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang and General Counsel Michael Callahan during their testimony. Human Rights USA filed suit against Yahoo in April 2007 for its complicity in handing over Wang's and Shi's identifying information to Chinese authorities. As reported by the New York Times, "Lawmakers demanded to know what Yahoo would do to help Shi's family and reacted with derision when neither Yang nor Callahan provided a concrete answer."

For additional news items on this issue, please see below: