Solitary Confinement Is Cruel and All Too Common

This article is reposted in its entirety from The New York Times and is written by their Editorial Board. 

If mass incarceration is one of modern America’s deepest pathologies, solitary confinement is the concentrated version of it: far too many people locked up for far too long for no good reason, at no clear benefit to anyone.

The practice “literally drives men mad,” Justice Anthony Kennedy of the Supreme Court said in an appearance before Congress last March, highlighting the case of a California man isolated for 25 years. In July, President Obama became the first president to denounce the use of solitary. Locking people up alone for years or decades, he said, “is not going to make us safer. That’s not going to make us stronger. And if those individuals are ultimately released, how are they ever going to adapt?”

These remarks are notable only because they come from the highest levels of government. Many Americans have been aware of the horror of indefinite solitary confinement for years.

On Tuesday, the slow push for meaningful reform got a big shove in the right direction. In a sweeping, unprecedented class-action settlement, California officials agreed to a drastic overhaul of the state’s solitary confinement system, the largest, most indiscriminate and most brutal in the country.

 Alex Nabaum

Alex Nabaum

The settlement — which ends a lawsuit brought on behalf of a number of long-serving inmates — will mean the immediate release of more than 1,000 isolated inmates back into the general prison population. When the suit was filed in 2012, 500 of these inmates had been held for more than 10 years in tiny, windowless cells with virtually no human contact. At most, they had 90 minutes a day to take a shower or stand alone in a concrete “yard.” (A 2011 United Nations report said that stays longer than 15 days could amount to torture.)

The offenses that landed them in solitary? Most often, it was evidence that they were “affiliated” with a prison gang, whether or not they had broken any rules. The risk they posed to other inmates was rarely a factor. Still, they had to wait six years for a chance at review. Any evidence of continuing gang ties meant at least six more years.

Since 2011, tens of thousands of California inmates have gone on hunger strikes to protest the state’s use of solitary confinement. Under the settlement — negotiated by the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the inmates — California will end indefinite solitary sentences. In all, the reforms are expected to reduce the state’s solitary population, which is now over 2,800, by more than half.

The reduction will come from two groups. Prisoners who have been held for 10 or more years will be moved to a special restricted unit with other inmates, where they can take educational courses and have normal human contact as they prepare to return to the general population.

And all those held in solitary because of gang connections will be released immediately to the general population, unless they have recently committed a serious offense — like assault, possessing a weapon, or selling drugs. Even in those cases, there is a clear, time-limited path for inmates to work their way out of solitary.

The national problem remains. Despite important reform efforts by officials in states like Colorado, Washington and Ohio, on any given day at least 80,000 people are held in some version of solitary. And despite overwhelming evidence of the psychological damage solitary confinement inflicts on inmates, no court has yet ruled that it violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. (A concurring opinion by Justice Kennedy in June hinted strongly that he would be open to such a claim.)

Therein lies the importance of California’s settlement: If a state with the worst record can do something to reduce its reliance on solitary, broad reform is surely possible around the country. Obviously prison officials need flexibility in managing truly dangerous or vulnerable inmates. But as those officials themselves have begun to agree, locking people in near-total isolation for years is not the answer. 

Dispatches: US Justice Censures Overuse of Solitary Confinement

Original article from Human Rights Watch, written by Jamie Fellner.

United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has lambasted the all too common use of solitary confinement in US prisons. From a human rights perspective, prolonged indefinite solitary confinement is cruel – and in certain circumstances can amount to torture.

He did so in a concurring opinion that had nothing to do with prison conditions – the case was a challenge to jury selection procedures in a death penalty case. But following the conviction, the defendant, Hector Ayala, has spent 25 years in solitary, or “segregation,” as corrections officials prefer to call it. The practice typically consists of 22 to 23 hours a day – and 24 on the weekends – locked alone in an often windowless cell. The misery it inflicts can be incalculable.

Federal courts have for decades practiced a “hands-off” form of constitutional scrutiny, deferring to correctional officials’ judgment in running prisons. The courts have never rejected solitary confinement as unconstitutional – unless imposed on persons with mental illness. In this instance, one landmark case noted that such confinement was the equivalent of putting a person with asthma in a room with no air. In another case, the Supreme Court required a modicum of due process before solitary was imposed.

Prison officials can, and do, place and keep prisoners in solitary for months, years, and even decades with little or no evidence that it is truly necessary for reasons of prison safety. In rare cases, extended segregation may be appropriate. But if so, then officials should modify the conditions to ease the isolation, idleness, and other deprivations in acknowledgment that this is a human being they are isolating.

Justice Clarence Thomas responded to Kennedy’s critique of solitary by noting that Ayala’s “accommodations” are “more spacious” than those of his three victims who are buried in the ground, and that he’s had a far longer life than they. Thomas seems to be justifying a standard that would permit the state to mete out cruelty to prisoners that would match the cruelty they had inflicted on their victims, hardly the US constitution’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

All prisoners, regardless of their crimes, must be treated with respect for their humanity and human dignity. It is welcome to see Kennedy question the use of solitary and to virtually call out for a case in which the court could fully review its constitutionality.

 

Justice Department Reaches Landmark Settlement with Alabama to Protect Prisoners at Julia Tutwiler Prison

 Robin Nelson/ZumaPress.com

Robin Nelson/ZumaPress.com

On May 28th, The Department of Justice filed a complaint and settlement agreement in the district court of the Middle District of Alabama to protect prisoners at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Alabama, from sexual victimization by correctional officers.  The agreement filed is designed to resolve the Justice Department’s findings of sexual abuse and sexual harassment at Tutwiler.

In January 2014, the Justice Department issued a findings letter concluding that Tutwiler subjects its women prisoners to a pattern and practice of sexual abuse in violation the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  The findings identified several systemic failures that led to the pattern of abuse, including ineffective reporting and investigations and no grievance policy.  Tutwiler also failed to hold culpable staff accountable for abuses. 

“Prisoners are entitled to be safe from sexual predation by staff, and to live in an environment free from sexual assault, sexual harassment and the constant fear of these abuses,” said the head of the Civil Rights Division, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta.  “Our agreement uses gender-responsive and trauma-informed principles designed to address and eliminate the culture of abuse that Tutwiler’s women prisoners have suffered from and endured for years.”

Alabama has already begun to put in place important reforms to address the department’s findings including the Governor’s creation of an agency-level position of Deputy Commissioner of Women’s Services.  Wendy Williams, Ed.D., has been appointed to the position, and is charged with implementing gender-responsive practices at Tutwiler and with leading long overdue culture change.  The department looks forward to continuing to work with the Warden, the Commissioner and the dedicated Tutwiler staff who will be part of the solution going forward. 

Alabama’s willingness to engage in this cooperative resolution also eliminates the expense of a protracted lawsuit and offers women immediate protections.  “We very much appreciate the state’s cooperation and willingness to work to bring about meaningful and sustainable change on these important issues,” said U.S. Attorney George L. Beck Jr. of the Middle District of Alabama. 

The agreement comprehensively addresses the causes of the abuses uncovered by the department’s investigation.  It draws upon gender-responsive, trauma-informed principles to build on the Prison Rape Elimination Act National Standards, which are designed to prevent, detect and respond to custodial sexual abuse and sexual harassment throughout our nation’s prisons and jails.  The agreement tailors the more generalized national standards to target the specific problems revealed at Tutwiler and to meaningfully address the harm to Tutwiler’s women prisoners.

The agreement requires Tutwiler to protect women from sexual abuse and sexual harassment by ensuring sufficient staff to safely operate Tutwiler and supervise prisoners, supplemented by a state-of-the-art camera system.  The agreement also provides safeguards to prevent staff from unnecessarily viewing prisoners who are naked or performing bodily functions.

Tutwiler must ensure that each prisoner knows of her right to be free from sexual abuse and harassment, and that each prisoner is aware of the several internal and external methods to report abuse, including a new grievance process.  Tutwiler will protect prisoners from the threat of retaliation by monitoring the housing, programming and disciplinary status of any prisoner who reports or alleges abuse.  Further, women who allege sexual abuse are entitled to unimpeded access to medical treatment and crisis intervention services.  

The agreement also has provisions directed toward staff including the requirement to  thoroughly train all staff on their duties to prevent, detect and respond to sexual abuse at Tutwiler.  Staff will also be trained on how to manage, interact and communicate appropriately with women prisoners and with their lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender nonconforming prisoners. 

The agreement requires that all sexual abuse and sexual harassment allegations are promptly, thoroughly and objectively investigated and appropriately referred for prosecutorial review, and that alleged victims are advised of the outcome of their allegations.  Tutwiler must also take appropriate disciplinary action against staff found to have engaged in sexual abuse or sexual harassment or to have violated Tutwiler’s sexual abuse and sexual harassment policies and procedures. 

Tutwiler will put in place a quality assurance program to track and analyze data to ensure that sexual abuse and harassment is being adequately prevented, detected and responded to.  Significantly, an independent monitor will evaluate Tutwiler’s progress towards meaningful reform and assist Tutwiler’s compliance efforts.  The agreement requires the monitor to provide compliance reports to the court every six months.

Tutwiler’s prisoners have already seen some changes implemented following the department’s investigation.  One current prisoner recently wrote to the Civil Rights Division to say, “[W]e thank [DOJ] for all you are doing and are looking forward to all the miraculous things to come.”

The investigation was conducted by the Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Middle District of Alabama.  Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt.   

Ai Weiwei's Alcatraz Exhibition '@Large' Opens September 27th

Alcatraz

This article was originally written by Andrew Dalton of SFist. Celebrated Chinese dissident, architect and artist Ai Weiwei's highly anticipated exhibition "@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz" will open this fall on September 27th and run through the end of April 2015. The exhibition will feature seven site-specific installations in four different locations on the former federal prison island, three of which are not normally open to the sightseeing public.

The exhibition is being put on by San Francisco's FOR-SITE foundation along with the stewards of the island at the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. According to this morning's official announcement, it will offer "a new cultural lens through which to experience the notorious military and federal penitentiary turned national park."

The works are meant to explore questions of human rights and freedom of expression in the context of incarceration, detainment and protest. Ai himself was secretly detained by the Chinese government for 81 days in 2011 on charges of tax evasion. Since his passport was revoked and he is still not permitted to leave the country, don't expect the artist to make an appearance at the site. The works were developed in Ai's Beijing studio.

From the official announcement:

The large-scale sculpture, sound, and mixed-media works will be installed in the two-story New Industries Building where “privileged” inmates were permitted to work; the main and psychiatric wards of the Hospital; the A Block cells, the only remaining section of the military prison that was constructed in the early 20th century; and the Dining Hall.

Aside from the dining hall, all of those locations are usually off limits to visitors. During the exhibition's five-month run, they will all be open to the ticket-buying public.

Tickets go on sale to the general public through Alcatraz Cruises next month on June 27th and will include access to the exhibition as well as the general Alcatraz audio tour. Tickets to Alcatraz typically sell out weeks in advance, but expect them to go even faster with the extra cultural draw. A limited number of same-day tickets will be set aside for anyone who can make it to the Early Bird boat at 8:45 a.m. daily. Tickets will be $50 for adults and juniors, $38.25 for children (5-11), and $48.25 for seniors.

[Official Site] Tickets via Alcatraz Cruises

Feature photo by Sam Breach.

Remembering the Grace of Dr. Maya Angelou

This week the literary and civil rights world lost an true heroine, advocate and mentor, Dr. Maya Angelou. She will be remembered not only for her pursuit of justice and her literary genius, but also for the graceful way in which she conveyed her messages. We believe that the below video captures this grace. Her words and spirit will be missed. To read about her legacy, click here.

Congratulations to Global Witness for Winning the TED Prize AND the Skoll Award for Entrepreneurship!

Global-Witness

NEW YORK, March 5, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- TED and the Skoll Foundation are proud to join in making a unique announcement: each will direct their annual million-dollar prizes to Global Witness. TED will grant its award to Charmian Gooch, Global Witness Co-Founder and Director. The Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship will honor all three Co-Founders and Directors – Patrick Alley, Charmian Gooch, and Simon Taylor – and the organization itself for its extraordinary innovation in disrupting an unjust and unsustainable status quo.

Though TED and the Skoll Foundation separately decided to honor Gooch and Global Witness with their 2014 awards, the organizations are making a joint announcement to highlight the value, merit and distinct contributions of this cutting edge investigative and campaigning organization. For 20 years, Global Witness has run pioneering analysis and campaigns against natural resource-related conflict and corruption and associated environmental and human rights abuses.

"I am thrilled to announce Charmian Gooch as the 2014 TED Prize winner," said Chris Anderson, TED curator. "That both TED and Skoll independently selected Charmian and Global Witness as recipients of these prizes is a remarkable testament to their daring investigative and campaigning work. The TED Prize is granted annually to an inspiring individual with a world-changing wish – one that Charmian will reveal at the TED Conference in just two weeks' time."

TED, the nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading, awards its annual prize to an extraordinary individual with a bold, creative vision to spark global change. The TED Prize leverages the TED community's resources and invests $1 million into a powerful, world-inspiring idea. 2014 TED Prize recipient Charmian Gooch will announce her wish live from the main stage at the annual TED Conference. The session will be broadcast globally for free on March 18 (6-7:45 pm PDT):http://tedlive.ted.com/webcasts/2014

"Social entrepreneurs are, by definition, disruptors. Patrick, Charmian, and Simon's leadership epitomizes great social entrepreneurship in Global Witness's quest to expose global conflict, corruption, and environmental degradation, lifting millions out of poverty and protecting the environment. We are delighted to announce Patrick, Charmian, and Simon as among our 2014 Skoll Awardees," said Sally Osberg, President and CEO of the Skoll Foundation.

"Skoll and TED both connect and showcase inspiring, entrepreneurial, breakthrough innovators. We are thrilled to be working closely with our TED colleagues, who share our mission to catalyze social change."

The Skoll Foundation presents the Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship each year to transformative leaders who are disrupting the status quo, driving large-scale change, and are poised for even greater impact. Recipients of the Skoll Award gain leverage and scale through a global community of social entrepreneurs and other innovators dedicated to solving the world's most pressing problems. Global Witness's Patrick Alley, Charmian Gooch, and Simon Taylor will be honored along with other 2014 Skoll Awardees at the 11th Annual Skoll World Forum in Oxford, April 9-11.

"Everyone at Global Witness is honored and thrilled to receive these two prestigious awards, from two remarkable organizations," said Charmian Gooch, Co-Founder and Director of Global Witness. "They truly are a rocket boost to our work – making it possible for us to carry out even more cutting edge investigations, report on matters in the public interest, and launch hard hitting campaigns that challenge vested interests and change the system. I'm personally also very excited about the prospect of announcing the details of my TED Prize Wish live from the TED conference in March. This being our 20thAnniversary year, we couldn't have wished for a better birthday present."

About Global Witness

Founded in 1993, Global Witness is a UK not-for-profit based in London and Washington DC.

Global Witness investigates and campaigns to change the system by exposing the economic networks behind conflict, corruption and environmental destruction. The organization focuses on undertaking hard-hitting investigations into matters of public interest that expose the companies, the corrupt, the bankers, the corporate executives, and the middlemen of various kinds who willfully enable corruption to take place on a grand scale. Global Witness reports on these matters, and launches campaigns that change the terms of debate and set the global agenda.

Patrick Alley, Co-Founder & Director, Global Witness Since posing as a timber buyer in Global Witness's first investigation into the Thai-Khmer Rouge timber trade in 1995, Patrick has taken part in over fifty field investigations in South East Asia, Africa and Europe and in subsequent advocacy activities. Patrick has focused on Global Witness's campaigns on conflict resources, notably former Liberian President Charles Taylor's'arms for timber' trade, the minerals trade in Eastern DRC and more recently the Central African Republic, as well as providing strategic direction for Global Witness' work on forest issues, especially challenging industrial scale logging and land grabbing in the tropics. In addition, he is involved in the strategic leadership of Global Witness.

Charmian Gooch, Co-Founder & Director, Global Witness Charmian worked on Global Witness's first ever investigation into how the illegal timber trade between Cambodia and Thailandwas funding the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. Subsequent to that, Charmian developed and launched Global Witness's groundbreaking campaign to combat 'blood diamonds,' using detailed research and field investigations across Africa andEurope. Global Witness was nominated for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for its work on conflict diamonds, and in 2005 the organization received the Gleitsman International Activist Award. Charmian has wide-ranging experience advocating for international policy solutions to address natural resource-related conflict and corruption. In addition, she is involved in the strategic leadership of Global Witness.

Simon Taylor, Co-Founder & Director, Global Witness Simon worked on Global Witness's first ever investigation into how the illegal timber trade between Cambodia and Thailand was funding the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. After that, Simon launched and led Global Witness's oil and corruption campaign inDecember 1999, after investigating companies and elite groups involved in this sector. This began the global call for transparency around payments by companies to governments for natural resources, leading to Global Witness's conception and co-launch of the Publish What You Pay (PWYP) campaign, which now consists of over 790 civil society organisations worldwide. Simon has detailed expertise of natural resource-related corruption and extensive advocacy experience, and continues to be at the forefront of the push for a global standard of revenue transparency legislation, as well as being actively involved in Global Witness's work to expose corruption in the sector.  In addition, he is involved in the strategic leadership of Global Witness.

For press inquiries: Andrea Pattison +44 7703 671 308 apattison@globalwitness.org

About the TED Prize The first TED Prize was awarded in 2005, born out of the TED Conference and a vision by the world's leading entrepreneurs, innovators, and entertainers to change the world – one wish at a time. The original prize: $100,000 and the TED community's range of talent and expertise. What began as an unparalleled experiment to leverage the resources of the TED community has evolved into an ambitious effort to spur global-scale change.

From Bono's the ONE Campaign ('05 recipient) to Jamie Oliver 's Food Revolution ('10 recipient) to JR's Inside Out Project ('11 recipient) and Sugata Mitra's School in a Cloud ('13 recipient), the TED Prize has helped to combat poverty, take on religious intolerance, improve global health, tackle child obesity, advance education, and inspire art around the world.

For Press Inquiries: Erin Allweiss +1 202 446 8265/ Erin@thenumber29.com

About the Skoll Foundation & the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship

The Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship distinguishes transformative leaders who are disrupting the status quo, driving large-scale change, and are poised for even greater impact. Recipients of the Skoll Award gain leverage and scale through a global community of social entrepreneurs and other innovators dedicated to solving the world's most pressing problems.

The 2014 Skoll Awardees will be honored at the 11th Annual Skoll World Forum in Oxford, April 9-11. Sign up to watch the live stream from Oxford here.

For press inquiries: Suzana Grego +1 650 331 1021/ sgrego@skollfoundation.org

A Must Watch: Ken Roth on the Colbert Report

Take Ken Roth, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, who is a human encyclopedia on all things human rights and mix in Stephen Colbert, a political satirist/comedian + the last person you'd expect to discuss human rights abuses and you get a very entertaining interview.


Here are some of the gems that emerged from the interview:

Colbert: "My guest is Ken Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch. If he's here, who's watching the humans?"

Roth: "No one likes to have their human rights abuses known. Even Saddam Hussein tried to hide his human rights abuses against the Kurds." Colbert: Right, I don't tell anybody about my interns.

Colbert: "I don't want to be on the wrong side of Apartheid…again. It's a long story."

Colbert: "King Hamad, again, is a friend of mine. President Xi and Hamad and I get together and it's like…have you ever seen 'The Hangover?' It's like that; only the tiger belongs there." (on the King of Bahrain and the President of China).

The 20th Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide in which 800,000 Rwandans where brutally killed over three months. In honor of the victims that lost their lives, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect has sent an open letter to all UN member states asking them to take "concrete steps" in preventing mass atrocity crimes and to essentially fulfill their commitment to the Responsibility to Protect principle.

Your Excellency,

Twenty years ago, on 11 January 1994, the Hon. Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Roméo Dallaire, then Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda, sent his infamous ‘genocide fax’ to UN Headquarters warning that Hutu extremists were stockpiling arms and preparing lists of Rwandan Tutsis to be exterminated. Between 7 April and 19 July 1994, after Dallaire’s warnings of impending atrocities went unheeded, over 800,000 Rwandans were killed during the genocide. The horrific events that transpired during those 100 days later served as the impetus for all UN Member States to commit in 2005 to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

The commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide is an important opportunity for the international community to honor the victims. In this spirit, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect calls upon all UN Member States to take concrete steps during this period to demonstrate their commitment to the prevention of mass atrocity crimes and R2P.

States can do this by:

  • Appointing a National R2P Focal Point, a senior-level government official responsible for mainstreaming the prevention of mass atrocity crimes and R2P domestically. Thirty-five countries from across the globe have already appointed a R2P Focal Point;
  • Publicly affirming that the prevention of mass atrocity crimes is a national priority and demonstrate this by developing a national action plan to strengthen domestic and international capacities to prevent mass atrocity crimes;
  • Recognizing the 20th commemoration of the Rwandan Genocide within national legislatures and fostering all-Party initiatives on the prevention of mass atrocity crimes;
  • Ratifying relevant legal treaties, including the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, if they have not already done so;
  • Supporting multilateral initiatives aimed at the voluntary restraint on the use of the veto in situations of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In particular, the Global Centre encourages the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – to publicly commit to this during the 20th commemoration of the Rwandan genocide.

The Rwandan Genocide was a preventable tragedy. Conscientious reflection and determined action by all UN Member States during the 20th commemoration of the Rwandan Genocide will make it clear that the world will no longer tolerate genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Yours truly, Dr. Simon Adams Executive Director

Tel-Aviv Unveils Memorial in Honor of Gay Holocaust Victims

This article has been reposted in its entirety from the Huffington Post. TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israel's cultural and financial capital unveiled a memorial Friday honoring gays and lesbians persecuted by the Nazis, the first specific recognition in Israel for non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Monument To Honor LGBT Holocaust Victims Inaugurated In Tel Aviv
Monument To Honor LGBT Holocaust Victims Inaugurated In Tel Aviv

Tucked away in a Tel Aviv park, a concrete, triangle-shaped plaque details the plight of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people under Adolf Hitler's Third Reich. It resembles the pink triangles Nazis forced gays to wear in concentration camps during World War II and states in English, Hebrew and German: "In memory of those persecuted by the Nazi regime for their sexual orientation and gender identity."

The landmark joins similar memorials in Amsterdam, Berlin, San Francisco and Sydney dedicated to gay victims of the Holocaust. While Israel has scores of monuments for the genocide, the Tel Aviv memorial is the first that deals universally with Jewish and non-Jewish victims alike and highlights the Jewish state's rise as one of the world's most progressive countries for gay rights.

"I think in Israel today it is very important to show that a human being is a human being is a human being," Mayor Ron Huldai said at the dedication ceremony, where a rainbow flag waved alongside Israel's blue-and-white flag. "It shows that we are not only caring for ourselves but for everybody who suffered. These are our values — to see everyone as a human being."

Israel was born out of the Holocaust and its 6 million Jewish victims remains seared in the country's psyche. Israel holds an annual memorial day where sirens stop traffic across the nation, it sends soldiers and youth on trips to concentration camp sites and often cites the Holocaust as justification for an independent Jewish state so Jews will "never again" be defenseless.

But after 70 years, Tel Aviv councilman Eran Lev thought it was time to add a universal element to the commemoration. Lev is one of many gays elected to public office in Tel Aviv, a city with a vibrant gay scene that has emerged as a top international destination for gay tourism.

"The significance here is that we are recognizing that there were other victims of the Holocaust, not just Jews," said Lev, who initiated the project during his brief term in office.

As part of their persecution of gays, the Nazis kept files on 100,000 people, mostly men. About 15,000 were sent to camps and at least half were killed. Other Nazi targets included communists, Slavs, gypsies and Jehovah's Witnesses.

Unlike their persecution of Jews, however, there was no grand Nazi plan to exterminate gays. Nazis viewed being gay as a "public health problem" since those German men did not produce children, said Deborah Dwork, director of the Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.

"The idea was to change their behavior, not to eradicate them, not to murder them," Dwork said. The policy was far from sweeping — as evidenced by the rampant homosexuality among the ranks of the Nazi Party's SA paramilitary wing, which helped pave Hitler's path to power. The most famous gay Nazi was Ernst Röhm, one of the most powerful men in the party before Hitler had him executed in 1934.

Later, the Nazis outlawed homosexuality and the Gestapo set up a special unit targeting homosexuality. In the Buchenwald concentration camp, the Nazis carried out experiments to try and "cure" homosexuality. Those sent to the camps were forced to wear pink triangles, compared to the yellow stars that Jews bore on their clothing. Gay Jews wore an emblem that combined the two colors.

Today, Israel is one of the world's most progressive countries in terms of gay rights. Gays serve openly in Israel's military and parliament. The Supreme Court grants a variety of family rights such as inheritance and survivors' benefits. Gays, lesbians and a transsexual are among the country's most popular musicians and actors.

Moshe Zimmermann, a professor from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the memorial project's historical adviser, said the Tel Aviv monument marked a big step in Israel by ridding itself from what he called a monopoly of victimhood.

"We are finally shedding the load of being the lone and ultimate victim," he said. "We can learn from this that by recognizing the victimhood of others, it does not diminish the uniqueness of your own victimhood."

Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images | Uriel Sinai via Getty Images