Monthly Archives: August 2012

When Lunacy Rules, the Arms Trade Treaty Fails

by Alex Emmons, Co-Coordinator

I grew up in Fairfax, Virginia, 10 minutes from the national headquarters of the NRA. I know a lot of gun owners. I also know that local gun owners understand the responsibility that comes with being armed. I respect gun ownership – on the condition that gun owners are nonviolent and law-abiding. I also maintain that if someone demonstrates violence or insanity, they should not be given a gun.

That was the message of a June 2012 Amnesty International protest in Times Square. This message, however, was not about local gun owners. Protestors were instead demonstrating for stronger controls on the international arms trade. Under present rules, arms merchants are free to sell military weapons to dictators, terrorists, and perpetrators of gender-based violence.

By selling guns to human rights violators, arms dealers profit from enabling oppression, slaughter, and rape. The international arms trade has been guilty of keeping dictators like Bashir Al-Assad and Saddam Hussein in power. Arms merchants have also enabled civilian violence and mass rape – like that committed by the army of and various militias in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Representatives to the UN convened in July to negotiate a solution. With the world’s first ever Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), the UN attempted to ban the export of weapons to the world’s worst human rights violators. Contrary to the criticisms of the NRA, the ATT did not address domestic gun sales or ownership.

But that didn’t stop President Obama from killing the treaty. On the final day of negotiations, American delegates declared that they had not been given enough time to read the 11-page treaty. Their interests were all too clear. The United States is the largest exporter of weaponry. American arms exporters make about 25 billion dollars a year by arming the world. Any regulation at the international level would come with a noticeable cost to American industry.

Treaty negotiations ironically failed one week after the terrible tragedy in Aurora Colorado. President Obama had just finished calling the nation to “prayer and reflection” about arming dangerous men. It is clear that he is not willing to stand strong on that point in the international arena. And the world will continue to suffer for it.

The ATT is a necessary measure for a world safe from dictators and terrorists. Tell heads of state to support the ATT by signing the Control Arms Campaign’s petition.

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Filed under Domestic Politics, Human Rights

Endorsing Political Repression: The Yale-NUS Venture

by the Yale Amnesty Co-Coordinators

The first round of admissions has ended at Singapore’s newest college, even though the new campus is not expected to open until August 2013. That’s right—the venture in which Yale University has partnered with the National University of Singapore (NUS) to create Yale-NUS College, Singapore’s first liberal arts program, is going full steam ahead. The school offers students the chance to take coursework across broad interests in discussion-based classes. The Yale-NUS website states: “Learning is different here… the Yale-NUS curriculum emphasizes critical thinking….” The Yale-NUS partnership, however, is built on hypocrisy.

The laws of Singapore forbid critical expression. The Singaporean constitution allows the government to illegalize any speech deemed a threat to public security. According to Amnesty International, the Singaporean Government fines and detains opposition leaders for “public speaking without a permit.” Even foreign journalists, like Alan Shadrake, have been imprisoned for critical publications.

Amidst an outcry from Human Rights Watch, covered by local paper the New Haven Register, Yale President Richard Levin and Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis have tried to pacify concern. Levin released a statement saying that the Yale-NUS partnership will yield “pedagogy encouraging critical inquiry.” Lewis has said Yale-NUS would “protect academic freedom for…discussion and publication.” Both statements seem to be lies on face.

The Singaporean Government must approve all Yale-NUS political associations. Only one campus location is available for public speaking, and only with a special government permit. Faculty will not be able to publish anything critical of local government. As the Wall Street Journal reported on July 16, protests are not allowed on campus, and partisan political societies are similarly outlawed. We find it hard to believe that either President Levin or President Lewis can honestly believe that NUS will protect critical discussion. We’re joined in this uneasiness by the editorial staff of the Yale Daily News, which published an editorial on the issue on July 23. This came on the heels of their most recent article as part of their continuing coverage of the Yale-NUS venture.

Yale-NUS claims that its curriculum emphasizes leadership development. But the college does not stand on a strong enough foundation to do so. According to Yale’s Free Expression Policy, true leadership requires being able to critically engage with social institutions. It requires students to be able to propose solutions and advocate for reforms. If Yale-NUS suppresses those skills, it cannot claim to provide a legitimate liberal arts education.

In July, Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party wrote to Professor Pericles Lewis, Yale-NUS President, condemning Yale’s hypocritical creation of a university that stifles speech and political expression while promising academic freedom. [Check out his letter here.] We support you, Dr. Chee Soon Juan! Yale’s shameful acquiescence to an authoritarian government is unacceptable, and we must fight for change.

Through the Yale-NUS partnership, Yale is endorsing human rights violations. As student activists in a chapter of Amnesty International, a group founded to support freedom of political expression, we cannot accept this decision and will continue to pressure the Yale administration to change this policy of political repression.

For a clearinghouse of information on human rights in Singapore as well as the Yale faculty, alumni, and student reactions to the Yale-NUS venture, check out the website put together by Yale faculty, a joinable site on the classesv2 server. Learn how to log in here!

Please check back with us soon for more updates and join us in the fall to protest President Levin’s decision. We’re hoping to build a coalition with other student groups to ensure that Yale lives up to its human rights obligations. Please send us an email at or contact one of our co-coordinators to get involved.


Filed under Human Rights, Yale-NUS