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


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 Since his passport was revoked and he is still not permitted to leave the country, don't expect the artist to make an appearance at the site.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.

Achieving a Nuclear Weapon-Free World in a Post-Cold War Era

Every day, people suffer and die from starvation.  Every day, children develop asthma from the contamination of coal-fired power plants.  Every day, women are subject to unspeakable violence.  It has been nearly seventy years since a nuclear weapon was used to wage warfare on a population.  Why, in the face of all these other daily horrors, should we care about the consequences of an unlikely nuclear event? Nuclear weapons are one of the few things that could cause destruction on a global scale. Joe Cirincione, President of Ploughshares Fund, points out that “of all the problems and challenges we face in our personal lives, our community, our nation, there are only two that threaten destruction on a planetary level: global warming and nuclear weapons.  Both of these are caused by machines that we invented. Both of these threaten to destroy everything else we’ve invented, including civilization itself. But both of these are preventable, even reversible.”

A nuclear attack or accident would happen very quickly, most likely resulting in complete devastation to a major population center.  The fallout could last for thousands of years. We talk about “weapons of mass destruction.”  A more descriptive term would be “weapons of mass atrocity.”  Nuclear weapons inflict a triple-header: the heat; the blast; the grim effects of radiation.

Descriptions of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings are universally gruesome, both in the immediate aftermath and in the lingering deaths that occurred for years afterwards due to radiation exposure. If you are haunted by the horrific relics of the atomic bombs dropped in 1945, the casualties of nuclear testing on populations in the Marshall Islands, Nevada or Kazakhstan, or the fallout from Fukushima or Chernobyl, consider this:  today’s weapons are twenty times more powerful than those used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The devastation that they would cause would be unlike any the world has ever seen before.

So why are we still stockpiling these weapons?

Experts now believe that nuclear deterrence has become more of a liability than a benefit. In 2007, senior statesmen George P. Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn and William Perry made a case in the Wall Street Journal that:

Nuclear weapons were essential to maintaining international security during the Cold War because they were a means of deterrence. The end of the Cold War made the doctrine of mutual Soviet-American deterrence obsolete. Deterrence continues to be a relevant consideration for many states with regard to threats from other states. But reliance on nuclear weapons for this purpose is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.

In a time when we’re moving toward ever more targeted interventions and fewer civilian casualties, it’s worth asking how many nuclear weapons we even need?  The generally accepted number of nuclear weapons that would destroy life as we know it on Earth is about three hundred.

The United States has roughly seven thousand.

Altogether, there are still 17,000 weapons in the world, the majority of which are in the U.S. and Russia.  And yet, the Cold War is over.  Arsenals are  (fortunately) declining.  But the threat of nuclear catastrophe has arguably expanded under the auspices of terrorism, failed states, regional antagonism, and potential for accident due to neglect or human error.  Nothing else, however terrible, could cause as much damage as even one nuclear weapon on one city.

So what can we do?

Given that the United States is the only country that has ever used a nuclear weapon, the United States must lead in the effort to stop their spread.  That means that we have to reduce our own stockpiles. We can’t have it both ways.  We can’t have the capacity to destroy the world twenty-five times over and simultaneously take the high moral ground.

We are making headway.  In 2010, we passed the New START Treaty with a healthy margin of 71 senators from both sides of the aisle – something that would have been practically automatic in previous years, but which became problematic in a political environment where obstructing the administration even on routine or popular policy became the practice on the Right.  This victory was facilitated by a consensus that included many unusual bedfellows: faith communities and libertarians, arms control experts and grassroots activists.  Ploughshares Fund was able to play an important part as a funder by implementing what I call the “Five C’s”: we collaborated with other organizations; we convened thought leaders and influencers; we contributed our funds to enhance the work of non-profits and individuals; we created entities that helped us communicate our position.  The treaty passed in the Senate, and with more than enough votes.

Now we are making headway in Iran. For the first time since the Shah was overthrown in 1979, we are in talks with Iran.  We have an interim agreement.  They have frozen their enrichment program.  And they have let in inspectors who have confirmed that Iran is rolling back its enrichment program. These developments are profound.  That reversing proliferation can be accomplished without a military conflict in turn gives life to the idea of reductions in our own arsenal and the arsenals of countries that we don’t perceive as threats.  As Joe Cirincione says, “We often talk about countries like Iran and North Korea, but there are no countries like Iran and North Korea. There is only Iran and North Korea…. But if you can stop them, if you can stop Iran from getting a weapon and contain or even roll back the North Korean program, you’re really… looking at the end of proliferation. ”

Over the past few years Ploughshares Fund has provided its expertise, its convening power, and millions of dollars to advance a diplomatic solution to this crisis and to prevent another disastrous war in the Middle East.  Ploughshares Fund has funded dozens of organizations and is coordinating these groups in Washington.  This is what Ploughshares Fund does: it works toward eliminating the risk of a nuclear event by ultimately achieving a nuclear weapon-free world.  To do so, we invest in the smartest people with the best ideas.  We move these ideas forward.  We engage others in the discussion.  And we’re in it to win.


Terry Gamble Boyer serves on the board of trustees of Ploughshares Fund, a publicly supported foundation that funds, organizes and innovates projects to realize a world free from the threat of nuclear weapons.  Along with her husband, Peter, she funds and supports organizations and individuals concentrating on climate change and energy solutions, believing that the opportunity for a safer, fairer, cleaner world is now.  She currently serves on the board of The Ayrshire Foundation, Island Press and The Urban School of San Francisco, as well as the advisory board of The Truman National Security Project and Center for National Policy.  A writer and Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Michigan, she is the author of two novels.

Putting Our Money Where the Internet Is

It’s time for a global fund for the internet. Civil society is the frontline for the defense of the internet and its users around the world. For years, the efforts of technologists, activists, and academics have kept the internet open and free; in many places today, these same people are best hope against balkanization and government consolidation of control. Despite their heroic and essential efforts, these groups remain chronically under-resourced. It’s time the internet supports its frontline defenders and the future of the net.

Over the past few decades, the internet has grown from a small network connecting a few academics and research institutes into a global network weaving together billions of people, cultures, and interests. Yet despite the rapid pace of growth and innovation, a significant issue has yet to be sufficiently addressed: How do we preserve an open, safe, and innovative internet landscape while avoiding fragmentation and consolidation?

In countries from the United States to the Philippines, from Brazil to Russia, from Jordan to Bangladesh, an active and vocal civil society has been critical in advancing freedom of expression and information, privacy, access, and innovation on and through the open internet.

But despite their successes, these civil society groups remain chronically under-resourced and unequally distributed.  They are perennially absent from many key forums and decisions at the national and global level; struggle to keep up with complex regulatory and technical developments; and often lack the might and resources to engage a wider popular constituency. And although an army of promising new groups have sprung up around the world to defend the internet and the rights of its users, many of them remain fragile and isolated.

To protect the internet from consolidation and control, we need an empowered civil society that can bring together their global resources and local expertise to influence policy and mobilize grassroots support for the internet. Otherwise we risk an internet that is fragmented, poorly regulated and governed by interests that would obstruct the free flow of information across networks and borders.

The next few years will be critical in determining both users’ rights and the business models that underpin the internet. And users face entrenched opposition: powerful governments pursuing their own foreign policy and national security agendas, a host of companies with billions of dollars of revenue on the line, operators willing to trade services and surveillance for the right price.

To address these inequalities protect the interest of users worldwide, civil society requires resources in the form of funding -- and lots of it. That’s why, as Dan Gillmor and others have recently suggested we need to rally resources to the cause. It is time for civil society to form a global fund to protect the open internet and defend the rights of internet users worldwide.

A central role for the fund will be investing in the ability of civil society to positively impact policy decisions at national and global policy forums, develop campaigning skills, build relationships with media for effective public communications, and create space for civil society to share their on-the-ground expertise, strategy and practice .

This new endowment must enjoy long-term funding for a sustained period, and commit itself to working globally. Through a fair, transparent, and inclusive process that is sensitive to participant’s needs and opinions, the new fund could develop three core program funding areas, as follows:

Firstly, Advocacy and Coordination: Funding here will be committed to increasing the coherence and effectiveness of civil society advocacy by providing resources to convene various groups ahead of key decision moments and forums. Programming will focus on increasing collaboration among civil society groups working in related areas; enabling the smooth exchange of information, best practices, and lessons-learned among civil society; and investing in evidence-based innovative policy research and development among civil society groups.

Secondly, Organizational Development: This funding program will build and strengthen civil society’s existing capacity and structures. At the moment, nearly all funding from major foundations, governments, and corporations focuses on specific programmatic outcomes, while neglecting the core infrastructure needed to run effective and healthy organizations. By providing support for core funding, the endowment will develop sustainable core capacities of civil society groups, increase training on issues such as financial management, strategic planning, and fundraising, and facilitate best-practice peer exchanges among the various participating groups. Our battles ahead require strong and resilient infrastructure.

Finally,  Campaign and Communication: An organization’s policy expertise and professional capacity is only as powerful as its ability to find supporters and allies. Funding for campaigns and communication will provide civil society groups with the necessary resources to educate and engage the public, instill the importance of an open internet, and mobilize users creatively both offline and online to protect their rights and freedoms. We need a multistakeholder global movement that can respond to threats as they occur, which is principled, powerful and above all effective.

An open internet is not out of reach. Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and even certain governments have an interest in preserving an open and innovative internet that drives innovation, job creation, and economic growth. Private foundations have an interest seeing the groups they support flourish and succeed in their missions. A fund to protect the internet demands that all these players come together and support this effort. Keeping the internet open is the challenge of our times, because it will increasingly be the enabler of all our fundamental rights. The upcoming RightsCon Silicon Valleyin San Francisco provides an excellent forum to develop this idea, and turn it into a reality.

Feature image by Flickr user, Symplio.


Brett Solomon is co-founder and Executive Director of Access ( and founder of RightsCon Silicon Valley. Access defends and extends the digital rights of users at risk around the world. By combining innovative policy, user engagement, and direct technical support, the organization fights for open and secure communications for all.

Brett was Campaign Director at, the world’s largest online activist community now with over 19 million subscribers in all 193 countries, and the founding Executive Director of GetUp!, an Australian grass roots online organization with over 600,000 members. Brett was Campaign Coordinator at Amnesty International Australia and prior to that worked at Oxfam Australia, where he founded the International Youth Parliament, an international network of young social change leaders from 140 countries tackling issues such as poverty, conflict and globalization.

Brett sits on the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on the Future of the Internet. His organization, Access, was nominated and shortlisted for the prestigious Sakharov Prize at the European Parliament. Brett is an Arts Law graduate of the University of Sydney and holds a Masters of International Law from the University of New South Wales.

No More Poor Nations Come 2035, According to Bill Gates


In his annual letter on the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates makes a bold statement on the future of global poverty. He believes that "there will be almost no poor countries left in the world" by the year 2035. Because poverty and human rights violations are inextricably linked, we are curious to hear your thoughts on his claims in the  human rights context. If he is correct, what might this mean for human rights in the relatively near future? Below is a recap of his letter (though you can click here for the letter in its entirety). Please use the comment section below to let us know your thoughts.

It is a myth that "poor countries are doomed to stay poor," and by the year 2035, "there will be almost no poor countries left in the world," Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates writes in his latest annual letter about the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and conditions in the nations where the foundation works.

Gates sees a world where once-impoverished countries have already made tremendous progress and where more will follow their lead.

Here's some of his thinking:

— "The global picture of poverty has been completely redrawn in my lifetime. Per-person incomes in Turkey and Chile are where the United States level was in 1960. Malaysia is nearly there, as is Gabon. And that no-man's-land between rich and poor countries has been filled in by China, India, Brazil, and others."

— "Since 1960, China's real income per person has gone up eightfold. India's has quadrupled, Brazil's has almost quintupled, and the small country of Botswana, with shrewd management of its mineral resources, has seen a thirty-fold increase. There is a class of nations in the middle that barely existed 50 years ago, and it includes more than half of the world's population."

— "So the easiest way to respond to the myth that poor countries are doomed to stay poor is to point to one fact: They haven't stayed poor. Many — though by no means all — of the countries we used to call poor now have thriving economies. And the percentage of very poor people has dropped by more than half since 1990."

— "That still leaves more than 1 billion people in extreme poverty, so it's not time to celebrate. But it is fair to say that the world has changed so much that the terms 'developing countries' and 'developed countries' have outlived their usefulness."

— "Don't let anyone tell you that Africa is worse off today than it was 50 years ago. Income per person has in fact risen in sub-Saharan Africa over that time, and quite a bit in a few countries. After plummeting during the debt crisis of the 1980s, it has climbed by two thirds since 1998, to nearly $2,200 from just over $1,300. Today, more and more countries are turning toward strong sustained development, and more will follow. Seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies of the past half-decade are in Africa."

— "The bottom line: Poor countries are not doomed to stay poor. Some of the so-called developing nations have already developed. Many more are on their way. The nations that are still finding their way are not trying to do something unprecedented. They have good examples to learn from."

This recap is reposted in its entirety from NPR and is written by Mark Memmott. Photo by Maurizio Gambarini /EPA/Landov.

Fighting The Cruelty Of Human Trafficking, Social Entrepreneurs Craft New Models For Helping Victims

This article is reposted in its entirety from Forbes and was written by Tom Watson. President Obama has named January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month – public campaigns aimed at shining a light into the darkest corners of human cruelty: modern-day slavery and the trafficking of human beings in the United States and around the world.

One effort to combat trafficking and help its victims centers on the creativity and energy of social entrepreneursPartnership for Freedom is a coalition of funders in partnership with the Federal government to identify and fund new models for “innovative and sustainable social services for human trafficking survivors,” created by Humanity United, which is partof The Omidyar Group, and launched in partnership with the Obama Administration at the Clinton Global Initiative in 2012. The coalition includes the Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Housing and Urban Development as well as the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Initiative,Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation, and other private donors, led by Pierre and Pam Omidyar.

That’s a lot boldface names, but one aspect of the partnership is well worth noting: a public funding challenge that asks social entrepreneurs to propose new solutions for helping victims of human trafficking in the U.S. That challenge has a prize of up to $1.8M over two years to fund the big ideas and measure their impact. Last month, a pool of 162 ideas from more than 260 organizations in 39 states was culled to a dozen finalists – later this spring, as many as three projects will be chosen for funding.

But while the funding is clearly top down, the ideas are much more bottom up.

And that explicit connection to social services practitioners, regional nonprofits, and a range of social entrepreneurs firmly links the hands-on knowledge and experience in this very difficult societal issue with the kind of support that can get a project off the ground, measure its impact and success – and potentially position the idea for greater scale and sustainability.

“The anti-trafficking space has been around for 15 years, we have laws and strong policies in the books, a great system of justice and engaged law enforcement and social services,” explained Catherine Chen, director of investments at Humanity United. “But there  has been little to no work on innovation around solutions in getting survivors out of the situation and helping them to rebuild their lives. We found this area particularly exciting, and the goal is try and spur groups on the ground, to think big – frankly, bigger than the current funding mechanisms at their disposal.”

The finalists for the initial challenge are intentionally diverse; they include ideas like:

  • SafeNight, a mobile and crowdfunding technology to increase emergency short-term shelter for human trafficking survivors, proposed by Caravan Studios, a division of TechSoup.
  • The Networked Survivor, a plan for creating powerful career paths and networks for survivors of human trafficking, proposed by the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking.
  • Homes for a New Horizon, an initiative designed to economically and socially empower Hawaii’s forced labor trafficked survivors and their families though an agricultural center, created by Pacific Gateway Center.
  • Thrive Partnership, a new community-based model for assisting survivors of domestic sex trafficking in the greater Baltimore area toward long-range goals of increased independence and self-sufficiency proposed by  the Araminta Freedom Initiative

One aspect that drove the decision to create a challenge – even in an age of manifold philanthropic contests that often leave nonprofits weary and defeated – was the idea of pushing for innovation, while also creating an entirely new funding channel. “For most providers, the primary funding mechanism has been the Federal funding model,” said Chen. The application barrier was purposely kept low, she explained; proposals were limited to no more than six pages with no fancy graphics or charts. “We wanted to keep the bar low intentionally at the beginning,” said Chen. Applicants were asked to answer one major questions – how could they increase services and improve the lives of trafficking victims in one of three particular areas: better housing, increased empowerment, or improved social services.

Last week, the finalists gathered in Washington DC for a day of collaboration aimed at tightening the proposed models, thinking through the models, and taking advantage of outside experts provided by the funding coalition to provide different viewpoints and additional knowledge. The pairing of these experts had a dual purpose: to help the teams with their ideas, but also to expose the experts to an issue area they may not be familiar with. For example, a landscape architect will advise the agricultural project in Hawaii, an expert from LinkedIn will counsel on the creation of a  professional network, experts in housing, homeless welfare,  refugees, and foster care will work on other projects. There was also coaches in communications, public relations and story-telling. Human trafficking, admits Chen, is often a hard story to tell – and a tough cause to sell.

Yet, Partnership for Freedom sees a maturing in the services area and a desire of those working so hard to end trafficking to improve systems, use better data, leverage technology, and take a chance on new models. The coalition’s fund in designed to be risk capital for those ventures. “This really needs a grassroots movement behind it,” said Chen. “We need to engage and activate professionals who wouldn’t have any interaction with this issue.

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

Fireside Chat with Intel CEO, the Enough Project and activist Robin Wright

This article is reposted in its entirety from the Enough Project. On Tuesday, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced that its entire 2014 line of microprocessors would be conflict-free making them the first in the rare mineral-heavy industry to completely phase out conflict minerals in one of their products.

This announcement was followed by on Wednesday by a conversation and moderated Q&A with Intel and social activists, including the Enough Project, on the challenge for the electronics industry, as a main users of metals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in making conflict-free products.


Watch the full fireside chat here:

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

Glancing Back at 2013


This year was rife with important milestones, achievements and events related to the human rights movement. We’ve compiled the milestones that most resonated with us. Let us know what resonates with you in the comments section below. 1) Defeated Militia: Colonel Sultani Makenga, Commander of the M23 rebel group in the eastern DRC, surrendered in Uganda along with 1,700 of his rebel fighters this past November. The M23 were ambushed by the Congolese army (also backed by 3,000 UN fighters) and were forced to either be captured or flee. It was under these pressures that they declared a ceasefire, ending a very bloody 20-month uprising.

2) In RemembranceNelson Mandela, former South African President and beloved anti-apartheid leader, died on December 5th 2013. Widely called “Madiba,” Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years for his political activities during apartheid in South Africa.  Despite his imprisonment he preached the importance of reconciliation and represented survival in the struggle for human dignity. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and leaves behind a legacy of equality, justice and freedom.

Seamus Heaney, an Irish poet and playwright who won the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature in 1995, died on August 30th, 2013. One of his most famous poems spoke of suffering and conflict in Northern Ireland. Below is an excerpt; for the full poem click here.

History says, Don't hope On this side of the grave, But then, once in a lifetime The longed-for tidal wave Of justice can rise up And hope and history rhyme.

3) AppointmentsSamantha Power’s appointment as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations began on August 5th, 2013. Power is widely considered one of the most important thought leaders and is most known for her strong human rights background and specifically for her extensive genocide research. She wrote “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” a study on the response of U.S. foreign policy in regards to various cases of genocide. She also authored “Chasing the Flame: One Man's Fight to Save the World,” a book about the heroic life of Sergio Vieira de Mello.

4) Symbol of Defiance: Surviving a gunshot wound to the head for defending her right to an education, Malala Yousafzai continues to promote girls education and serves as an inspirational role model for millions of girls around the world. Malala publically debuted with a moving speech to the UN to mark her 16th birthday.  Malala tells her story of being shot by the Taliban in Pakistan in newly published book, “I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban.”

5) Most Perplexing Conflict: Syria’s civil war continues to escalate in intensity, complexity and scope. For more than two years, violent conflict has ravaged this country and has maimed or taken the lives of thousands of innocent civilians and produced an epic refugee crisis with estimates of 6.5 million people now forcibly displaced with little access to aid or security. Widely considered one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises partly due to the internal chemical weapons attacks that have killed more than 10,000 Syrians, international observers remain baffled as to a viable political (non-military) solution that would result in meaningful peace and lasting stability.

6) More than Meets the Eye: When Edward Snowden, former CIA worker, leaked classified details of the NSA surveillance program, he initiated a controversial, if not historic, debate on privacy vs. security in a post 9/11, digital world, questioning how far the government should go to protect the American public. At the core of this debate is whether the metadata surveillance collected in the name of national security is pursued at the expense of civil liberties, such as privacy rights and freedom of expression. Human rights defenders say current surveillance policies must be reformed to respect privacy and maintain freedom of speech. This is a debate worth following as the implications are serious and far-reaching. For more information click here.

7) Notable Movies: 12 Years a Slave, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Anita and Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.

8) Favorite Reads: The Lemon Tree, The Glass Palace, Long Walk to Freedom, The Kitchen House, Strength in What Remains.

9) Favorite Tweets

@CivCenter: When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” -Kenyan proverb

@AmbassadorPower: Violence against women isn’t cultural, it’s criminal. Equality can't come eventually; we must fight for it now.

10) Stunning Statistic: The NSA tracks 5 billion cell phone records daily!