Punishing Crime…With Crime

August 23, 2010 at 11:56 am (Human Rights)

Most people have heard of the concept of retributive justice through sayings such as “an eye for an eye” or “let the punishment fit the crime.” Simply put, retributive justice means administering a punishment that is equal or proportionate to the crime.

People do not often think about the possible severity of using these techniques when punishing criminals, however. What if retributive justice meant torturing someone or rendering them paralyzed?

In a recent entry on the blog Human Rights Now, Amnesty International described a case of retributive justice that left my stomach turning. Two years ago, a fight between two brothers in Saudi Arabia left one brother paralyzed. After seven months in prison, the aggressor may receive an additional punishment. In a “how-does-it-feel?” move, the judge wants to inflict paralysis on the man.

According to Amnesty International, “one hospital reportedly said it would be possible to administer the injury at the same place on the spinal cord as the damage the man is alleged to have caused his victim.” It is hard to say which is more disturbing—the judge’s ruling, or the fact that a hospital is willing and ready to intentionally paralyze someone!

What is interesting to note is that Saudi Arabia has signed the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. How can Saudi Arabia argue that intentionally paralyzing someone does not violate this convention? Retributive Punishment has been a part of Saudi culture for centuries, however there is no place for this kind of violence in a forward-thinking world. Besides, they signed the UN Convention that seeks to end these inhumane acts!

The crime this man committed should not be excused by any means. However, rendering someone paralyzed for the rest of his life because he left someone else paralyzed leaves the world with nothing but two paralyzed people.

For more information:

Amnesty International Blog Post

United Nations Convention Against Torture

Status of the UN Convention Against Torture


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Darling, don’t got to worry. You’re locked in tight.

December 9, 2009 at 11:13 am (Human Rights)

The college campus: young people laughing and talking, studying on the grassy quad in front of the library, hustling and bustling between classes and groups meetings, and…teargas?

College campuses are usually thought of as places of free thought, free speech, and self-betterment, a place where students can explore themselves and the world around them. The Iranian government, through its reaction to recent student protests in Tehran, have replaced thoughts, opinions, and constructive criticism with violence and oppression.

Students are protesting the methods used and the outcome of this year’s elections of the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. While students just want their thoughts and opinions heard, the government seeks to use violence to keep them quiet. A Tehran University student detailed his anxiety to the Associated Press on December 7th, stating:

“I shout slogans and demonstrate but try not to provoke any clash with the security. We are worried.”

The response from the government…riot police, batons, teargas, and arrests. Systems of communication were shut down, including cell phone networks and social networking sites such as Facebook.

Amnesty International has condemned the Iranian government’s response to the protests and has called for the release of peaceful protestors who are currently being detained. The organization’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa announced this week:

“All those arrested for simply attending today’s demonstrations should be immediately and unconditionally released. The Iranian authorities continue to treat peaceful dissenters as criminals in violation of Iran’s Constitution.”

Students see rallying and protesting as the only means to get a noticed because criticism of the government is not tolerated in Iran. While the government has declared such methods illegal, there are not many alternatives for bringing concerns to the government’s attention.

Ahmadinejad’s main rival from this year’s elections posed the following question:

“Let’s say you suppressed students and silenced them. What will you do with the social realities?”

The government may be able to silence students for the time being, however the issues at hand are still very real and cannot be silenced. Young people in Iran are especially committed to bring change to the country and its government.

As you walk through campus discussing your unique ideas and opinions, remember those throughout the world who are afraid to speak about their concerns, or better yet, those who are punished for caring about the country in which they live.

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Will they remember to tell it right?

May 28, 2009 at 4:40 pm (Human Rights) (, , , , )

An interesting point about the new United Nations resolution on Sri Lanka was brought to my attention in a recent update by Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka country specialist. The resolution that was passed was drafted by the government of Sri Lanka!

Jim McDonald, Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka country specialist, put it this way:

“What’s next for the Human Rights Council – asking the Sudanese government to draft a resolution on Darfur?”


A government body that has been accused of gross human rights violations for numerous years creating their own resolution just doesn’t seem right.

On May 13th, President Obama spoke about the conflict in Sri Lanka. The video can be found at the end of this post. I applaud President Obama for recognizing this crisis and bringing it to the public’s attention. The President also acknowledged the dramatic loss of lives and widespread suffering being experienced by civilians in Sri Lanka. He called for the Tamil Tigers to lay down their arms and also asked the Sri Lankan government to end indiscriminate shelling that has led to countless civilian casualties. While he did acknowledge that both sides were responsible for the humanitarian crisis, President Obama failed to call for accountability and to recognize that an independent investigation of both parties should be conducted. Why say that the behavior of the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government will not be tolerated without any consequences or follow up?

President Obama closed his statements on Sri Lanka by asking the government to open its borders to humanitarian aid agencies to alleviate the crisis that he described as close to a catastrophe. Without global outreach and the acceptance of aid by various aid agencies the civilian population will continue to suffer.

 “I don’t believe we can delay. Now is the time for all of us to work together to avert further humanitarian suffering.” — President Obama


Does the international community have the right to investigate this government for its actions? Is it really our business? Yes. The country of Sri Lanka has signed and ratified numerous United Nations treaties that aim to protect civilians and uphold human rights worldwide. If the country makes a promise to the international community to uphold human rights, it has an obligation to do so. Otherwise, what’s the point of even having these treaties?

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Quiet down–I need to make a sound

May 27, 2009 at 7:41 pm (Human Rights) (, , , , )

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

The past week brought to an end a violent conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the small island country off the coast of India.

A recent update by one of Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka country specialists, Jim McDonald, described the dire humanitarian situation that continues to plague the country despite the end of the war. Currently, approximately 250,000 civilians are displaced in Sri Lanka. Of that 250,000, 80,000 are children. These civilians have been forced to live in camps with severely limited access to necessities such as food, water, and medical care. McDonald describes…

“The Sri Lankan government has recently restricted access to the camps by international aid agencies, including the U.N. and the International Committee of the Red Cross.”

McDonald’s report acknowledges that both the government of Sri Lanka and the rebel LTTE group, or Tamil Tigers, have been responsible for mass human rights abuses since the conflict began in 1983. These abuses include targeting civilians, the use of torture, and the recruitment of child soldiers.

Someone needs to be held accountable for these atrocities. Most importantly, however, humanitarian solutions need to be appropriately applied across the country to ensure the health and safety of civilians. Many of these civilians have lost everything important to them due to a climate of violence and the lack of a rule of law, as McDonald recognizes.

On May 26th and 27th, the United Nations Human Rights Council met to discuss the situation in Sri Lanka. A May 27th news release by Human Rights Watch describes the new resolution passed by the United Nations that has disappointed human rights supporters throughout the world. The resolution focuses solely on human rights abuses committed by members of the Tamil Tigers, and neglects to address those committed by the government. In addition, the resolution failed to initiate action regarding the current humanitarian crisis.

Juliette de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch stated the following:

“The Human Rights Council did not even express its concern for the hundreds of thousands of people facing indefinite detention in government camps. The council ignored urgent needs and wasted an important chance to promote human rights.”

Human Rights Watch described the resolution that was rejected by the United Nations, with main opposition stemming from Brazil, Cuba, India, and Pakistan. The key aspects are as follows:

1. Urged government cooperation with humanitarian organizations and the protection of displaced civilians

2. Asked the government to respect media freedom and to investigate attacks against journalists and human rights defenders

3. Called for keeping the UN Human Rights Council informed about the situation on the ground in Sri Lanka

Perhaps most importantly,

4. Called for the investigation of abuses committedby both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE

Why were these requirements turned down and substituted by a resolution that largely commended the Sri Lankan government for its actions? The new resolution is much too weak.

Over the years the conflict in Sri Lanka has been largely downplayed and skewed by propaganda set up by the groups involved. However, some have set out to educate the public about the crisis. Popular singer-songwriter M.I.A often uses her music as a platform of encouraging social and political change and has spoken about the events occurring in her home country of Sri Lanka. In an interview that aired on January 28th, M.I.A described…

“a systematic genocide…[that has] just escalated to the point that there’s 350,000 people who are stuck in a battle zone and can’t get out.”

The singer continues to describe that aid, humanitarian organizations, and journalists are banned from the area. In the interview, M.I.A references a common misconception of Sri Lanka’s Tamil people: that being Tamil means being a part of the terrorist organization known as the Tamil tigers. She states that…

“human beings around the world have to be taught that Tamil equals Tamil civilians first, and the Tamil Tiger is a separate thing. And both of those groups are different. It’s like a square and a circle.”

The upcoming days will reveal how the world will respond to the situation in Sri Lanka. We can only hope that the innocent civilians whose lives have been torn apart by the conflict are given the attention and care they deserve as soon as possible.

Additional News/Information:


Listen/Watch/Read this.

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