President Obama was in Senegal last week, the first stop on his three-country visit to Africa. The trip kicks off Obama’s efforts to deepen the United States’ engagement in Africa focusing on trade and investment, democratic institution-building and economic opportunities for young people. The president is traveling with a team of economic advisors and representatives from the private sector and will be speaking with members of civil society and judicial leaders.
Why Senegal Was Chosen
The US ambassador to Senegal affirmed that Senegal was selected because of its political stability and democratic record. Indeed, the Senegalese people are the pride of West Africa because last year they peacefully elected as president an opposition member in a highly contested presidential race. The country plays an important diplomatic role in francophone Africa. It is a large contributor of troops to international peacekeeping missions and a strong US ally in fighting transnational security threats including terrorism, drug trafficking and maritime piracy.
We were thrilled to see Senegal host President Obama and it was a moment to celebrate his homecoming to the land of Teranga (hospitality). Read More
The fight for food aid reform is about to come down to an historic vote. With our partners at the leading development and humanitarian organizations in the country, we just released a joint statement of our support for updating the U.S. food aid system, making it more flexible and effective.
Building on the ideas for reform we have been promoting for years, last month President Obama called for improvements to our outdated and inefficient international food aid system. This week the House will vote on a bi-partisan amendment, sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) to provide greater flexibility and help more people with our international food assistance without spending any additional U.S. taxpayer dollars.
As committed AJWS activist Jonathan Zasloff recently noted the reforms have widespread support, from organizations spanning the ideological divide from the Heritage Foundation to the Center for American Progress. It’s not surprising, as the reforms are really just common sense updates to outdated laws.
[The current, outdated law requires that] the vast majority of our aid be provided in the form of U.S.-sourced commodities, but] the U.S. needs greater flexibility to respond quickly and effectively to emergencies and longer-term food insecurity. In emergency situations in particular, the delivery of U.S. commodities can be extremely difficult – due to insecurity, as has been the case in Syria, or due to a host of other obstacles. Purchasing food locally or regionally, or providing cash transfers/food vouchers that work through local market systems, is often the best option for getting food aid to people who need it. Independent research has shown this approach can reach people considerably faster than shipping commodities from the U.S. These are well-tested and proven approaches that come with strong safeguards to ensure assistance is delivered quickly and not diverted from those in need.
Email your representative in Congress now and tell him or her that food aid reform matters to you!
When 870 million people around the world suffering from hunger every day, making every food aid dollar count is not only a responsible use of taxpayer money — it is a moral imperative. We thank all of our partners and supporters who have brought us so close to making these critically important reforms into a reality.
Wilmer Gutiérrez Gómez (right), a leader of AJWS grantee Coordinadora Chorotega, works to defend the land rights of indigenous communities. Photograph by Stefanie Rubin
American Jewish World Service has worked in Nicaragua for 14 years, focusing on two of the most pressing challenges facing some of the most disadvantaged groups in the country:
- The struggle for land, food, water and resources needed for the survival of indigenous people
- Human rights violations against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people
This week, a group of AJWS supporters will travel to Nicaragua to engage with nine of our grantee organizations. They’ll meet with staff members who are mobilizing their communities to make long-lasting change.
Our grantees take on critical rights issues in Nicaragua—like Coordinadora Chorotega, which trains local leaders to take legal action against the government’s sale of indigenous land. There’s also Grupo Safo, which recently opened the first health clinic in Nicaragua specifically for lesbian, bisexual and transgender women.
Want to learn more? Check out Promoting Human Rights in Nicaragua, a new review of AJWS’s work in the country.
A Ugandan activist holds up a popular tabloid ‘Red Pepper,’ one of several newspapers inciting prejudice and violence against LGBTI people in Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal and LGBTI people are routinely denied their rights. Photo: Evan Abramson
A new report released last week by the Pew Research Center reveals alarming data about attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities around the world. Here are a few statistics that shine a spotlight on the countries in which AJWS works:
- In El Salvador, 35 percent of survey respondents believe the LGBTI community should be accepted, whereas 62 percent do not;
- In Kenya, 8 percent of survey respondents believe the LGBTI community should be accepted, whereas 90 percent do not;
- In Uganda, 4 percent of survey respondents believe the LGBTI community should be accepted, whereas 96 percent do not.
These attitudes are symptomatic of the oppression LGBTI people face on a regular basis—the loss of their jobs, unequal access to healthcare and limited opportunities for education. LGBTI people are ostracized, rejected, threatened and assaulted just for living their lives.
It gets worse.
On Friday, May 10th, Guatemalans breathed a sigh of relief. Judge Yasmin Barrios read the verdict against Efraín Ríos Montt for the whole world to witness, and in solidarity, defenders of human rights from every corner of the globe sighed right along with them. In a landmark case, Ríos Montt was sentenced to 80 years in prison for crimes against humanity and genocide against the Ixil Mayan indigenous people during the US-backed Guatemala civil war that lasted for 36 years.
A new era of justice in Latin America?
It was the first time that any former dictator from the region had been convicted on Latin American soil. It set a precedent, and evoked hope for the future of justice and accountability for the many crimes committed against indigenous peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean. Read More
The news from Guatemala on Friday evening, May 10 stunned the world—a Guatemalan court sentenced former general José Efraín Ríos Montt to 80 years in prison for genocide. While we are deeply gratified by this historic verdict, we know that much work remains to be done to ensure justice in Guatemala.
Supporters of human rights across the globe had been watching for months as the Guatemalan courts pursued this landmark case. As the trial unfolded, it exposed the genocide of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people and attempted to hold former military leaders accountable for the atrocities committed during the country’s bloody and decades-long civil war. Read More
Ever since it was given over three thousand years ago on Shavuot, the Torah has offered Jews a vision of how the world should work. I was thinking about this vision this past December when I was asked to represent HIAS (the 120-year-old Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) at a United Nations conference in Geneva dealing with the status of refugees. The UN invited faith-based organizations to reflect on, among other things, how lessons learned from their religious traditions could offer guidance to the treatment of refugees today. In preparing my opening statement for the conference, I reflected on a subject I had never previously thought about in any systematic manner but that is clearly a pressing issue in the world, as the UNHCR estimates that there are currently 15.1 million refugees worldwide.
What does the Torah tell us about refugees and how they should be treated?
A great deal, I soon learned. Let me cite four examples. Read More
Originally posted on the blog of the Brooklyn Food Coalition.
This looks good.
As part of the 2014 Budget Request released last week, President Obama included a proposal that would overhaul America’s international food aid system. It’s not a perfect proposal and it still needs to be approved by Congress, but it’s a huge leap forward.
Right now, the U.S. has a well-intentioned yet wildly inefficient food aid system. Unlike other donor countries, the U.S. ships food from here rather than donating money to purchase food available in or near disaster-stricken countries. As a way of unloading surplus grain, this system works well. As a smart, efficient way of responding to humanitarian crises, it’s atrocious. Read More
Is Shell Oil too big to punish?
That’s the question that our friends at EarthRights International (ERI) asked during their recent campaign in which they called upon the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold human rights for people who have been exploited by big businesses.
In October of 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell Oil). Shell, through its work with Nigeria’s military regime, was accused of killing nine peaceful protesters and the torture of countless others in the Ogoni region of the Niger Delta. Specifically, the plaintiffs of the case allege that “Shell bribed and tampered with witnesses and paid Nigerian security forces that attacked Ogoni villages.” The case was originally filed in 2002 by 12 Nigerian refugees who are now living in political asylum in the United States. The lead plaintiff, Esther Kiobel, was married to one of the “Ogoni Nine”—a group of nine activists from the Ogoni region of Nigeria who were executed by hanging in 1995 by the military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha. Read More
Women from the Waslala Association of Entrepreneurial Women, an AJWS grantee in Nicaragua, rally to end violence against women.
More than a year ago, Nicaragua passed the Comprehensive Law Against Violence Toward Women (Law 779), which represents significant advances in addressing a pervasive problem in the country. The law recognizes that violence takes many forms—physical, psychological, sexual and economic. It also calls for more state resources to respond to violence against women—in all ways that it manifests. It condemns any public official who gets in the way of women pursuing justice in the courts, and it directs federal resources to build violence prevention programs.The law is comprehensive in addressing multiple forms of violence, but does it skillfully address Nicaragua’s demographic and regional diversity? Checking the pulse on this step forward, AJWS grantees in Nicaragua offer insights about the law’s challenges and opportunities: Read More