Here, There and Everywhere

Archive for February, 2012

Protect Brazilian Rainforest

Gabriel

A decade of progress protecting the Amazon rainforest is in serious trouble.

The Brazilian agribusiness lobby is on the offensive. They’ve already used their influence to limit the government’s ability to enforce laws out in the field. Now they have their sights set on a new Forest Code bill that would provide amnesty to forest criminals, severely weaken protections for the Amazon and open up a section of forest larger than the state of Minnesota to possible deforestation.

This bill would spell disaster for the Amazon rainforest if passed. It’s already made its way through the Brazilian Senate and now it’s up to President Dilma to decide whether or not it becomes law. Now is our chance.

President Dilma cares about Brazil’s global reputation and wants to be a leader. Let her know that the world is watching and urge her to veto the new Forest Code bill before it’s too late!

Our goal is to get 30,000 Americans to join their allies in Brazil in speaking out against this law before she makes her final decision. That could be any day now in the coming weeks.

On the campaign trail, President Dilma stated that she wouldn’t sign a law that grants amnesty to forest criminals or reduces the size of protected areas in the Amazon. Politics are the same everywhere. And just like in the US, it is going to take massive public pressure from inside and outside Brazil to overcome special interests and make sure that President Dilma keeps her word.

The situation is so urgent that we’re sending our new flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, to Brazil later this month to help out. She’ll be leaving Florida and setting sail for the Amazon to support the campaign directly.

Brazilians have made it clear they don’t want this — about 80% oppose the bill. But this isn’t just a Brazilian issue. Amazon rainforest destruction has global consequences.

Greenpeace, along with other groups in the Amazon and allies within the Brazilian government, have made huge strides in the last ten years when it comes to protecting the Amazon. We can’t afford to let big agribusiness win this one.

President Dilma needs to hear from you…send her a message now.

For the forests,

Daniel Brindis
Greenpeace Forest Campaigner

Support Bahraini People

Dear Gabriel,

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the start of protests in Bahrain. Tens of thousands are expected to take to the streets to protest a government that has committed terrible violence against its own citizens.

When Bahrain’s streets awaken in protest tomorrow, will government forces crack down on peaceful demonstrators again? Will there be more tear gas, torture, killings?

We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. But we do know that tragedy is not inevitable.

Take action for a better tomorrow in Bahrain. Call on the Bahraini government and security forces to respect peaceful protest and assembly — today, tomorrow, and for all the days to come.

As protests enter their second year, the Middle East and North Africa remain in turmoil. As I wrote you over the weekend, the crisis in Syria is escalating. Civil society is under attack in Egypt. We can’t let violence against peaceful protesters rekindle anew in Bahrain.

If the Bahraini government keeps its promises — to end torture and excessive force, to release peaceful protesters from prison, and to hold those responsible for abuses accountable — it should have nothing to fear from nonviolent protests demanding political reforms.

Under pressure, Bahrain’s government has taken some positive steps forward — but human rights violations continue in the country. Scores of people sentenced to prison terms for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly during last year’s protests are still facing criminal charges.

Two of those prisoners, leaders of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association, face a critical hearing this coming weekend that could grant them their freedom — or keep them jailed for years.

The situation in Bahrain is dire, but it is not hopeless — and we can have tremendous influence. Bahrain takes its international image seriously. And since Bahrain is a country with such close ties to the U.S., the Bahraini government is uniquely susceptible to pressure from the U.S. government and U.S.-based activists.

Your action today could mean peace in Bahrain tomorrow. Tell the Bahraini government that you are watching closely — and that when tomorrow comes, you expect them to do the right thing for human rights.

With hope for tomorrow,

Sanjeev Bery
Advocacy Director, Middle East and North Africa
Amnesty International USA

Stop Violence in Syria

Dear Gabriel,

The death toll continues to rise in Syria. Hundreds of largely unarmed people have reportedly been killed in the city of Homs alone. The crisis in Syria is escalating.

The world must do everything in its power to end the Assad regime’s violent crackdown. Instead, Russia, a country with influence over Syria, appears to be standing by while crimes against humanity are being committed.

Demand that Russia put real pressure on Syrian authorities to end the military assault on Homs.

Last weekend, Russia, together with China, vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Syria, crushing one of the last and best hopes of ending the violence that has claimed thousands of lives since March. The resolution — though watered-down — was the closest the global community had come to taking firm action toward ending the violence that has brought Syria to the brink of civil war.

While diplomats wrangled at UN headquarters over the weekend, the Syrian government unleashed a barrage of attacks in Homs. The attacks included the use of heavy weaponry such as tanks in residential areas and claimed hundreds of lives, killing more than a dozen children.

As the Assad regime’s strongest foreign backer, Russia is poised to play a central role in stopping the killing and preventing the bloodbath that will occur if fighting between the government and protesters continues unchecked.

Join Amnesty’s millions-strong global human rights movement — demand that Russia take steps to bring an end to the grave human rights violations that are being committed in Syria.

When Russia blocked the Security Council from taking meaningful action to stop the massive human rights violations in Syria, it stated that it has a better plan for resolving the crisis. But its veto has only served as a green light to the Assad regime to continue to use any means to crush the resistance.

Urge Russia to take public and decisive action to oppose the atrocities being committed in Syria.

Sincerely,

Sanjeev Bery
Advocacy Director, Middle East & North Africa
Amnesty International USA

Meet Alex Kaberuka

From Amakuru!

Meet Alex, the newest member of the ROP (Rwandan Orphan’s Project) team.

Alex Kaberuka’s story mirrors the backgrounds of so many of the boys living at the ROP. Alex was just five years old on April 7th, 1994, the day the Rwandan Genocide began. His father, an employee at the International Red Cross, gave Alex to his friend and coworker, who was from Kenya, and made him promise that he would take his son with him to Kenya and that he would put Alex through school so he could have a future. He then rushed back to his office at the Red Cross to see how he could help other victims. By the end of the day the killers found him and Alex no longer had a father.

Fast forward 12 years and Alex was back in Rwanda, having finished school in Nairobi as his father’s friend had promised. Alex became a professional soccer player in Rwanda (not a very lucrative job) in 2007. In 2010 he met Sean, one of the ROP’s coordinators and before long the two became good friends. In 2010 Sean decided to organize the ROP’s first official sports team, the ROP Eagles football team, but he wanted someone to lead it who would not only be a coach of soccer, but a mentor and a role model for the boys. Alex stepped forward and volunteered for the role.

Alex took a haphazard group of young boys and teenagers and transformed them into two disciplined teams who had learned the importance of leadership, teamwork and hard work and the rewards they offer. The boys took to Alex from the first practice and nearly every day boys were asking, “Where’s Coach?”

When the ROP Playroom was opened Alex was our first choice to be in charge of it. Alex’s patience with the younger boys and his ability to get them to respect rules and even to come to him with their problems were assets we simply couldn’t pass up on. Then, in December, long time caretaker Osea retired from the ROP, leaving us with a gaping hole in our caretaking staff. With barely a second thought Alex was offered the position. All the staff was thrilled with the choice, and when we announced it to the children they erupted in applause.
Since then Alex has continued to deepen his relationships with both staff and children. The ROP Eagles have become a team that are respected in the local sports community and the children continue to look to Alex for advice and solutions for their problems, as if he is their older brother. When asked what his favorite thing is about working at the ROP he says, “I really enjoy working with these people and having an opportunity to improve the lives of these boys”.

Help the Syrian People Now

Dear Friends,

This urgent video appeal just came in from one of Avaaz’s brave citizen journalists in Syria — our community may be the only one that can help Danny and his friends before the next massacre.

Right now, the regime is murdering men, women and children and tearing cities apart. China and Russia just handcuffed international action at the UN and gave Assad license to unleash his murder machine to crush the Syrian Spring once and for all. But Danny and the democracy movement are more determined than ever and are urgently asking for our continued international solidarity and support.

Let’s be clear — as embassies close, medical agencies withdraw and journalists pull out, Avaaz has the only network that is both smuggling medical equipment and journalists in and images and information out. The UN has failed, but we can help peaceful democracy heroes like Danny loosen the dictator’s grip on their country. Click here to see Danny’s appeal and chip in now so we can continue our Arab spring campaigning and support for citizen journalists — if 20,000 of us donate now, we can get aid to the most besieged cities and towns before the next attack:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/smuggle_hope_into_syria_q/?vl

Activists like Danny are risking their lives for freedom and counting on our global support. On Saturday, Syria’s brutal forces killed another one of Avaaz’s citizen journalists, a 23-year-old named Omar who was a leader of our 400-strong network of activists as he pulled people from the rubble after a deadly massacre in Homs. Omar died as he lived, photographing the regime’s crimes, helping others and sacrificing for freedom. After the regime kicked the international media out, brave civilians like Danny and Omar have risked their lives to break the news blackout and help 18 of the world’s leading journalists from foreign news outlets into the locked-down country. It’s likely that the images you have seen on your TV or photographs in your newspaper came from this courageous team.

But that is just a part of what the Avaaz project has done. Thanks to the generous support of members across the world, Avaaz is providing a rare lifeline of critical support to the democracy movement in Syria. When activists told us medicines were running out, we set up a smuggling network to deliver over $1.8 million worth of medical equipment into the country, saving thousands of lives. When the Syrian National Council was struggling to present a credible leadership alternative to the world, we organized meetings in the UN, Russia and across Europe to support their work.

Day after day, Danny and Omar and hundreds of other heroes have turned out to film and protest, facing down tanks with no support from international governments. But what happens in the next two weeks will be decisive. This is the pinnacle of the Arab Spring and the global struggle against brutal despots. Together we can secure a lifeblood to the resistance and walk with the brave Syrian people on their journey to freedom. Click to watch Danny’s desperate appeal and make a life-saving donation now:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/smuggle_hope_into_syria_q/?vl

This year people power in the Middle East has taught the world an important lesson — together we are stronger than the fiercest dictator, and fiercer than the most ruthless army. On the streets of Syria, Avaaz is a beloved partner in the struggle for freedom. As one opposition leader put it, “the Syrian people have gained strength from knowing that the world, through the Avaaz community, stands with them.” Together, we have made the impossible possible and with our help Assad’s regime will come to end.

With hope and determination,

Alice, Ian, Antonia, Emma, Ricken, Mouhamad, Morgan, Wissam, Sam, Bissan, Will and the entire Avaaz team

Rwandan Orphan’s Nursery

From Amakuru! News from the Rwandan Orphans Project.

ROP Nursery Now Open for Business

Thanks to donations from AIC, a Kigali based charity, and some other fundraising, the ROP (Rwandan Orphan’s Project) was able to repurpose one of our rooms to become the new ROP Nursery School. The school is open to children from around the area whose parents pay school fees for their children to attend. This is the first income generating project for the ROP and is already showing promise with an opening enrollment of 16 students, yielding $800 for the ROP. We are continuing to advertise with hopes of filling the school’s capacity of 30 children which will bring in approximately $2500 every three months, or enough to cover the secondary school fees we are currently spending each term for the boys under our care.

Jenny Clover, coordinator, came up with the idea after realizing the wealth of toys, games and art supplies the ROP received from various donors throughout 2011. She said: “We feel incredibly lucky to have received such wonderful donations, and our boys love to play and learn with them. So for us to be able to generate income from these same items while also helping the local community is a great opportunity for the ROP. We hope our nursery will continue to grow and benefit us.”

Go Rwandan Orphan’s Project!

From Amakuru!

A fantastic year for the ROP, but there is still much to achieve.

The year 2011 was quite a year for the ROP (Rwandan Orphan’s Project)! In December three of our six graduates started university at two of Rwanda’s top universities, having won prestigious government scholarships because of their impressive grades. The year also saw the opening of the ROP’s library and playroom, a room full of books, art supplies and toys unlike anything our children or staff has ever seen before. We built a wonderful new kitchen that is both more efficient and more environmentally friendly than our old kitchen. The ROP also added a mental health program to the project, staffed by a psychologist and an experienced social worker. This program adds another facet to the care we already provide our children by ensuring that their mental health is looked after as well as their physical health.

There were many other achievements, but none bigger than the purchase of our own land back in September. This is the first asset that we can truly call our own and it is a major step forward in our journey towards becoming independent and self sustaining in the future.

As great as 2011 was, we all expect 2012 to be even better. We have a newly-opened nursery school that is the ROPs first income generating project. We’re also building new partnerships that we hope will allow us to reach our goal of starting construction of new buildings on our land this year.

But despite all these improvements, we still face real problems. We lack a steady, regular income to meet our monthly costs, which is our biggest struggle,

We are also trying to raise money to begin construction of a new ROP Center on our land. These are lofty goals but we believe that they are achievable. We hope to begin by raising funds to build several greenhouses on our land that would allow us to grow high value crops to generate income for the Center year round. The next phase of the project would be constructing the classrooms, offices and other necessary rooms that would make up the new and larger ROP School. The final phase of the building would be the raising of dormitories, a dining hall, a kitchen and other facilities and upon completion the staff and children of the ROP would make a final transition to our new home. We know we will face great challenges to get there, but we continue to believe that people from here in Rwanda and around the world will see what our program gives to so many orphans and vulnerable children and will be inspired to help us.

Murakoze (Thank You)!

Better Fuel Efficiency

Dear Gabriel,

What will it take to cure our dangerous and unhealthy addiction to oil and reduce the threat of runaway global warming?

Stronger fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for American cars and trucks are essential – and your email right now to the Obama administration will help support their landmark new standards for cleaner cars and trucks.

Please take action today – you can stand up for better gas mileage, less oil, and a safer climate future – but you don’t have much time to act.

We have set a goal of generating 50,000 supportive comments before the public comment period for these standards closes on February 13th — just 10 days from now.

Please act now and send a strong message to anyone who would block this landmark step towards cleaner air.

The EPA and Department of Transportation have proposed tough new standards to require America’s fleet of passenger cars and trucks to average 54.5 miles per gallon by model year 2025.

Together with the “Phase One” model year 2012-2016 rule finalized in 2010, these tough new standards will more than double America’s average fuel economy and are expected to:

Save families an estimated $8,200 in fuel savings over the lifetime of a new vehicle by 2025, for a total of $1.7 trillion in national fuel savings over the life of the program.
Reduce oil consumption by an estimated 2.2 million barrels a day by 2025 – more than our daily 2010 oil imports from the entire Persian Gulf.
Reduce carbon dioxide pollution by over 6 billion metric tons over the life of the program – equivalent to the emissions from the United States in 2010.
Generating less pollution, putting more money in your wallet, reducing our addiction to oil, modernizing America’s fleet of cars and trucks – what’s not to like?

Please take action today to support stronger fuel economy standards.

This is a dramatic and bold proposal and the Obama administration has earned the support of automakers, autoworkers, consumers, environmental groups, and many other key stakeholders.

But, anti-environment ideologues in Washington oppose it and are searching for ways to block its implementation. That’s why we need your help today to ensure a cleaner future.

Please send an email today to help break our addiction to oil and to slash America’s dangerous climate pollution.

Cleaner cars, less oil, and healthier air are just a click away.

Thank you for your support,

Steve Cochran
Vice President, Climate and Air

Torture In Nigeria

Dear Gabriel,

After months of torture in Nigeria, labor activists Osmond Ugwu and Raphael Elobuike will go to trial Friday on murder charges that human rights groups call “an apparent bid by the police and prosecution to silence union activists.” And the two activists could face the death penalty if they lose.

But Damian Ugwu (no relation to Osmond) knows that the only “crime” the two men have committed is empowering workers in Nigeria to demand fair compensation and humane treatment.

Damian is convinced that international outcry can save Osmond and Raphael — not only from an unfair sentencing but from the possibility of assassination while imprisoned, too, which their friends fear. He started a petition on Change.org calling on government officials to drop all charges against Osmond and Raphael and release them immediately.

Click here to sign Damian’s petition calling for imprisoned labor activists Osmond Ogwu and Raphael Elobuike to be released immediately, and all charges against them dropped.

As an activist with the Social Justice Advocacy Initiative in Lagos, Damian has seen, again and again, how set-ups like this have succeeded in silencing human rights and labor activists. In fact, he says it’s not uncommon practice for the Attorney General, who’s tasked with bringing capital charges like murder, to show up at pre-trial hearings and trials for politically charged cases to intimidate judges.

But even with only a few hundred signatures on his petition so far, Damian says it is already making a difference: At the most recent pre-trial hearing for Osmond and Raphael, the Attorney General was conspicuously absent.

In the few days left before Osmond and Raphael’s trial, a surge in international outcry could tip the balance and save these two labor heroes from being wrongly sentenced, and possibly even put to death.

Click here to sign Damian’s petition calling on Nigerian authorities to release non-violent labor activists Osmond Ugwu and Raphael Elobuike immediately, and drop the false charges against them.

Thanks for being a change-maker,

– Weldon and the Change.org team

Nonviolence in Syria

From Nation of Change
by Stephen Zunes
1 February 2012

Unarmed Resistance Still Syria’s Best Hope

The Syrian pro-democracy struggle has been both an enormous tragedy and a powerful inspiration. Indeed, as someone who has studied mass nonviolent civil insurrections in dozens of countries in recent decades, I know of no people who have demonstrated such courage and tenacity in the face of such savage repression as have the people of Syria these past 10 months.

The resulting decline in the legitimacy of Bashar al-Assad’s government gives hope that the opposition will eventually win. The question is how many more lives will be lost until then.

While the repressive nature of regime has never been in question, many observers believed it would be smarter and more nuanced in its reaction when the protests of the Arab Spring first came to Syria in March. Indeed, had the government responded to the initial demonstrations like those of Morocco and neighboring Jordan with genuine (if relatively minor) reforms and more subtle means of crowd control, the pro-democracy struggle would have probably faded rather quickly.

Instead, the regime has responded with live ammunition against overwhelmingly nonviolent demonstrators and with widespread torture and abuse of detainees, even as the protests spread to every major region of the country. The death toll as of this writing now stands at more than 5,000.

Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, where the opposition was relatively united and was able to take advantage of divisions within the ruling circles, the elites in Syria have been united against a divided opposition. Decades of human rights abuses, sectarian divisions, suppression of independent civil society institutions, ubiquitous secret police, and an overall culture of fear have made it difficult to build a unified opposition movement. Furthermore, the Israeli occupation of the southwestern region of the country, foreign invasions and occupations of neighboring Lebanon and Iraq, and periodic threats by Turkey, Israel and the United States have allowed the nationalistic regime to further solidify its control.

Another difference is that Assad is not a singular ruler, but part of a powerful oligarchy composed of top military officers, wealthy businessmen, Baath Party officials and others. Dictatorships that rest primarily on the power of just one man are generally more vulnerable in the face of popular revolt than are oligarchical systems where a broader network of elite interests has a stake in the system.

Syria has not had much experience in democracy. Its brief democratic period following independence was aborted by a CIA-supported coup in 1949. Following two decades of coups, countercoups, a brief union with Egypt, and chronic political instability, Defense Minister Hafez al-Assad seized power in 1970 and ruled until his death in 2000. Despite that the republican Baath movement was founded in large part on opposition to dynastic succession so common in the Arab world, Assad was succeeded by his son Bashar. The younger Assad, while allowing for an initial wave of liberalization upon first coming to power, soon cracked down on dissent. Indeed, the only liberalization subsequently has been on the economic front, and that has primarily benefited only a minority of Syrians and greatly increased social inequality.

Read complete story at Nation of Change.

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