Monday, March 31, 2008

Insurance Troubles for Same-Sex Couples

The Washington Post released a story detailing the inability of a same-sex couple in Idaho—-one of 21 states that does not recognize same-sex unions—-to receive the insurance benefits of their partner because of their sexual orientation. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and gay civil rights groups argue that this is a blatant example of discrimination against same-sex couples. In a similar case, the ACLU is pursuing action against H&R Block for not allowing gay couples to file their income taxes online, including in states that recognize such civil unions. ACLU writes, “failing to provide gay couples with civil unions the option of filing their taxes online as it does for married couples is in violation of a state law that bars discrimination based on sexual orientation and civil union status.”

The AAA does not support any law or policy that discriminates against lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered individuals. We urge insurance companies to recognize unions of all types, regardless of sexual orientation. The AAA has released the following statements relevant to this matter:

AAA Statement on Laws and Policies Discriminating against Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Persons

AAA Statement on Marriage and the Family

Washington Post


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Indigenous Groups in Amazon Threatened by Big Oil?

The negative impact of unregulated development and industrialization on indigenous groups and territories is an all too familiar story to anthropologists. Rising global energy prices are fueling oil development across the globe, and Peru is no exception. The drive of developers into the oil-laden Amazonian rainforest poses serious threats to the area’s indigenous groups, National Geographic reports, and approximately 75 percent of Peru’s Amazon rainforests have been leased to oil prospectors and developers. BBC News details the story of one of Peru’s indigenous communities, the Achuar, that is not isolated, and is filing a class action lawsuit against Occidental Petroleum for contaminating their territory and damaging their population's health. David Hill of Survival International says, “Isolated Indians are especially vulnerable to any contact, because they have no immunity to outsiders’ diseases.” The elusiveness and vulnerability of some indigenous groups makes it difficult for civics and rights organizations to assess the impact of expansion into the rainforest. Oil and gas companies, along with Peruvian President Alan Garcia, maintain that there is no evidence for the existence of these groups, and that their presence may have been conjured up as a means to oppose development. Rights groups are currently petitioning the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to intervene in this matter.

How can anthropologists contribute to this dialogue? Can social scientists verify the existence of such groups while respecting their desire to remain isolated?

BBC News article

National Geographic article

Organization of American States

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Iraqi Refugees, part 2

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) released a report this week detailing the current Iraqi refugee crisis. With numbers exceeding 4 million, the Iraqi refugee (and IDP) population is the third largest in the world. The report draws attention to the slow response of the US to admit refugees or grant them asylum. The US goal of admitting 12,000 Iraqi refugees by October seems a long way off given that the US has only managed to resettle 1,876 refugees this fiscal year. Despite this lag in admittance, Ambassador James Foley, Senior Coordinator on Iraqi Refugee Issues, believes the US can reach its goal now that the proper infrastructure is in place abroad. Congress, however, has its doubts. The report also underscores the need to provide billions of dollars in aid for refugees and their host countries, while improving conditions in Iraq that would enable their safe return. AAA members may wish to press Congress for more support and funds for refugees and IDPs. Please take a moment to send a pre-generated letter to your Senator & Representative using Amnesty’s online action center (see link below).

AAA members and guests are encouraged to share their thoughts and experiences about refugee and IDP issues. What are the impacts of displacement on refugee populations, their host countries, and surrounding regions? What contributions can anthropologists make towards addressing refugee crises? Are there particular caveats to this crisis that the international community has failed to consider?

IRC Report [pdf]

CNN Article on IRC Report

Amnesty Advocacy Letter to Congress

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Forced Labor

Newsweek recently published an article on a type of human trafficking that is largely ignored by the media--forced labor. Although media coverage of human trafficking largely focuses on forced prostitution and elements of crime, the market for forced laborers is far larger, with the UN’s International Labor Organization putting their numbers over 12.3 million worldwide. Forced labor occurs when workers are deceived about the nature of their work and/or conditions of their employment contract by predatory employment brokers. They are often confined to their workplace, given wages far below what was promised by their brokers, subjected to violence, and threatened with arrest, imprisonment, or deportation. Nations, such as Malaysia, can unwittingly propagate the trafficking of people by implementing laws that require companies to confiscate foreign workers’ passports and report runaways to the police. With only a few thousand trafficking convictions every year, the AAA is concerned about the continued growth of this market and the current actions that governments are taking to oppose it, as well as identify and compensate its victims.

Newsweek Article

UN International Labor Organization

International Organization for Migration

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Thailand Reinstates War on Drugs: AAA President Takes Action

In a recent advocacy letter to Thailand Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) president Setha Low and AAA Human Rights Committee Chair Sara Davis voiced their opposition to Thailand’s recently-reinstated war on drugs.

In the letter included below, Low and Davis point to two grave concerns related to Thailand’s new drug war—the barriers to HIV treatment and prevention for injection drug users in Thailand and the high number of extrajudicial executions that occurred during the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s 2003 drug war and are occurring again under Prime Minister Sundarevej.

Over 600 people have been killed since the launch of the anti-drug campaign in early February, the BBC reported in late February. Other victims of the anti-drug policies include HIV-positive injection drug users, who are denied antiretroviral treatment due to their status as drug users. The Thai government estimates that 40 to 50 percent of injection drug users in Thailand are HIV-positive.


Related Links

Thai Drug Wars Attacked, BBC, February 24, 2008

Thai Crackdown on Drug Dealers, BBC, Feburary 4, 2008

Thailand: Denial of HIV Treatment Erodes Success on HIV, Human Rights News, November 27, 2007

Deadly Denial: Barriers to HIV Treatment for People Who Use Drugs in Thailand, 57-page report by Human Rights Watch

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Iraqi Refugees

Rep. William Delahunt (D-Mass.), chairman of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, is urging the US to step up efforts to provide assistance for Iraqi refugees. On February 26, 2008, Deputy United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Craig Johnstone, testified to the subcommittee regarding US efforts to alleviate the Iraqi refugee problem. With approximately 2.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 2 million refugees, the Iraqi refugee situation is the largest in the world. Syria, Jordan, and Iraq’s other neighbors are sheltering the vast majority of Iraqi refugees, but funding for refugees and their host communities remains scarce. The International Organization for Migration reported that it only received 28 percent of its $85 million request for assistance with IDPs. Johnstone believes this lack of funding could be disastrous, “The lack of assistance to refugees and host communities in neighboring states could also lead to a mass (coerced) return to Iraq as the ability of host governments to provide assistance, as well as the coping mechanism of refugees, incrementally fail. The likelihood that the bulk of refugees will not be able to return to their original home and will be forced into secondary displacement will also have a significant destabilizing effect on the social and security environment within Iraq.”

Johnstone’s Written Statement:
Delahunt’s Opening Statement:

News articles:,8599,1717488,00.html

In addition to increasing financial support, the US is expected to admit 12,000 refugees by the end of the fiscal year. As of February 2008, only 1,432 refugees have been admitted, leaving 10,568 for admission by September 30th. The administration has come under heavy criticism for its poor performance in admitting refugees, and many argue that the US needs to improve efforts to resettle the most vulnerable individuals.
Briefing Transcript: