BellaOnline has a new Human Rights Editor. Lisbeth Cheever-Gessaman She is an active member of Amnesty International, Women to Women International, and the Native American Rights Fund. I asked her a few questions so we could get to know her.
Question: How did you become interested in human rights?
Lisbeth: A love of humanity, a lifetime of observation, a sense of accountability and an indignance for apathy all play their parts - but essentially it's a personal call resultant from a passion for life, and the inherent respect for it.
Question: Americans are often unaware of the genocide occurring throughout the world, where is genocide an issue in the world today and what is being done about it?
Lisbeth: The conflict in Darfur is predominant. Death estimates currently range from 200,000 to 450,000 people; with over two million displaced and in a state of famine, bewilderment and terror. Itís a campaign of racial genocide and systematic destruction where women are raped with bayonets in front of their children, who are in turn slaughtered. Villages are torched with those too ill or weak to abandon them left behind to burn alive. And itís Africa, where economic interests are non-existent, and without celebrities invoking their cache, media interest is minimal. Itís unsexy. So we have another burger and let the politicians discuss and debate it while the UN drags their feet, and meanwhile theyíre literally stuffing the wells of the villages with the bodies of children.
So, what has been done so far? The African Union is currently in place but lacks the means to effectively support humanitarian efforts. Sudan has openly expressed its refusal to allow UN troops in and until international support intervenes, the crisis can only worsen. This is a situation potentially graver than Rwanda or Bosnia, but lacking the press that both of those conflicts procured. And if we continue to sit and do nothing to denounce it, we are its accomplices.
Question: My son is in the military; once again, he is in Iraq. The Iraq war and The War on Terrorism have brought to public attention, the issue of torture. What is your opinion of the debate currently occurring between the Congress and the Bush Administration on what is torture and how detainees should be treated and tried?
Lisbeth: Torture is never acceptable from the standpoint of advocacy, and its efficacy is questionable. Beyond that, anytime a governmental administration seeks to pursue total immunity or abandon its own accountability from crimes, that we should be concerned as its citizens is a gross understatement. How much leverage and power do we give over blindly to a just leadership let alone a potentially corrupt one? How many rights do we sell in order to feel safe? Is it acceptable to abandon the support of the International community by decrying the very conventions we have sworn to uphold?
Our government has the moral and legal imperative to answer these questions, but as a people, we carry an even greater responsibility of asking them in the first place. And if we donít know what to ask, if being informed is limited to a 30 second sound byte on CNN - then how can we hold anyone but ourselves responsible for the answers we inevitably will get?
Question: If someone is interested in human rights, where would you suggest they go to learn more and become involved?
Lisbeth: One of the daunting tasks when I started down this road was knowing exactly where to start, let alone what to do and how to do it. Itís one of the reasons I believe people choose to remain uninvolved: Itís simply too monumental, and weíve all got tragedy fatigue.
So Iíve put a lot of sweat equity into building a reference point for all things pertaining to human rights, and what each individual can do to make an impact. Thatís my commitment, maintaining a site where you can research everything from Human Rights Education to the wording of the Detainee Bill from Congress itself. Iíll tell you which charities are really making a difference, as well as providing the resources for contacting your Congressmen, Senators and the President himself.
Barring my shameless plug, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and are all fantastic places to start. Ditto UN Volunteering for online volunteering opportunities.
Question: With the November elections fast approaching, what issues relating to human rights, do you think we should be asking candidates about?
Lisbeth: Darfur, Iraq, Civil Rights, Criminal Justice, Health Care reform, the Federal Deficit and Immigration rights and issues certainly come to mind.
Question: How do you feel the Bush Administration has done on the issue of human rights?
Lisbeth: It seems to have established a legacy of precedents. Guantanamo, Abu Gharib , the Invasion of Iraq; the Specter-Cheney Bill, the Military Commissions Act, the Federal ID mandate and the Patriot Act are all attestments of an administration that holds power and policy above individual rights and freedoms. Only time will tell to what extent the real damage has been done.
Be sure to check out BellaOnlineís Human Rights site to read great articles by Lisbeth Cheever-Gessaman. She is drawing attention to some really important issues.