Monday, January 16, 2017

Standing Rock and the Right to a Fair Trial

Editors' Note:  The HRAH Blog welcomes Lauren Carasik, Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Western New England School of Law. Lauren, who works with the Water Protector's Legal Collective, writes this report.

by Lauren Carasik

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its supporters have largely faded from view since the Department of the Army declined to issue the easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to drill under the Missouri River on December 4. The agency said it would prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to evaluate alternative routes for the pipeline, assess the pipeline’s environmental and cultural impacts, and, notably, include an analysis of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s treaty rights. Yet more than a month later, the Army Corps has not published a Notice of Intent to Prepare an EIS, prompting advocates to call on the Corps to begin the process without delay. The sense of urgency is motivated by the expectation that the incoming administration will act quickly to remove impediments to the pipeline’s completion. President-elect Donald Trump has indicated his support for the DAPL and other energy infrastructure projects, including the Keystone XL Pipeline. Rick Perry, Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Energy, recently resigned his position on the board of the DAPL’s developer, Energy Transfer Partners, and Scott Pruitt, tapped to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, is a leading opponent of environmental regulations. Adding to the dismay, the Senate recently elected John Hoeven, (R-ND), a pipeline supporter, as chair of the Indian Affairs Committee. Fearing a government hostile to the interests of DAPL opponents, activists have redoubled efforts pressuring the project’s financiers to divest.

Meanwhile, as the New Yorker notes, the criminal cases against nearly 600 water protectors arrested in connection with the protests are becoming increasingly contentious, at a time when many defendants whose cases are moving forward are still unrepresented by a lawyer.   The shortage of defense attorneys admitted to practice in North Dakota prompted the Water Protectors Legal Collective (WPLC), to submit a petition in December asking the North Dakota Supreme Court to temporarily ease the rules for admission to practice law in the state. Currently, out-of-state lawyers must either apply to be admitted to the North Dakota bar pro hac vice or apply for reciprocity, both of which still require the continued participation of in-state counsel. Among those submitting comments in support of the petition were nearly 200 law professors, who wrote that “We are concerned that under these circumstances the rights guaranteed the defendants by the state and federal constitutions cannot be upheld.  The right of both indigent and non-indigent defendants to adequate and effective counsel undergirds the guarantees of a fair and speedy trial, due process and equal protection that constitute the cornerstones of the rule of law.”

Compounding concern about fair trials, Acting Morton County State’s Attorney Ladd Erickson has evinced his hostility to the arrestees, including by resisting discovery requests and filing a motion to require public defenders to keep track of costs and expenses so that the state can seek reimbursement from defendants, suggesting that their right to counsel is contingent on the nature of and motivation for the crimes for which they are charged. Erikson argued that “Each protester attack on our police officers, each riot, and each incidence of private property destruction has been done to create fake news videos used to bring attention, celebrities, both passionate and gullible people, and finally money – all to be focused on multiple issues of national discontent… Most protest criminal defendants are simply props for videos of staged events.” He further said that “Our systems are set up so criminal defendants have their constitutional rights enforced. To the contrary, our systems are not set up to be foddered by economic weaponry when people from around the world come to intentionally commit crimes for political purposes and have North Dakota taxpayers pick up the tab.” Erickson’s argument apparently persuaded Judge Bruce A. Romanick, who presided over the first criminal trial: he ordered the two water protectors convicted in December to repay $500 in costs.

WPLC president Brandy Toelupe called Erickson’s characterizations inflammatory, and “intended to poison local jury pools to prevent fair trials and to provide cover for his mass overcharging and false charging of arrestees, dearth of evidence, and refusal to comply with local and Constitutional requirements for producing required discovery in these cases.”

January 16, 2017 in Indigenous People, Lauren Carasik, Water | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Reed Brody and Juan Mendez appointed to join the International Commission of Jurists

By Lauren E. Bartlett 

Image1This week the International Commission of Jurists announced the election of five new commissioners, including Reed Brody and Juan Mendez. The International Commission of Jurists is made up of 60 judges and lawyers from across the globe and “promotes and protects human rights through the Rule of Law, by using its unique legal expertise to develop and strengthen national and international justice systems.”  The International Commission of Jurists is one of the oldest human rights and rule of law-related NGOs and has been key in the drafting and adoption of many international human rights instruments,  including the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and more.

Mr. Brody is Counsel and Spokesperson for Human Rights Watch, and Mr. Mendez recently wrapped up his second term as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture. Both Mr. Brody and Mr. Mendez have long histories of promoting human rights in the U.S. and many successes to celebrate, including helping to pressure the U.S. to change its policies regarding prisoner abuse. Please join me in congratulating Mr. Brody and Mr. Mendez and anticipating future terrific U.S. human rights advocacy.

January 15, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy

Next month the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy will assemble human rights activists from all over the world.  Each year the summit is held on the eve of the UN's Human Rights Council's annual session.

The conference website says the meeting will bring together "hundreds of courageous dissidents and human rights victims, activists, diplomats, journalists and student leaders to shine a spotlight on urgent human rights situations that require global attention."

Registration is free. More information may be found here.




January 12, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Death of Treaty Supremacy

In an insightful new blog posting, Professor David Sloss describes the historical context for the current crabbed interpretation of the Supremacy Clause's role in incorporating international law into US jurisprudence, and challenges us to think about how things could be different -- if not under the incoming administration, then in the future.  Sloss explores the issue in greater depth in his new book with Oxford University Press, titled The Death of Treaty Supremacy.  According to the publisher's blurb, the book:

Provides the first detailed history of the Constitution's treaty supremacy rule and describes a process of invisible constitutional change;

Analyzes the implications of U.S. ratification of the UN Charter, which obligates nations to promote human rights "for all without distinction as to race";

Discusses the implications of the de facto Bricker Amendment for contemporary constitutional theory; and

Discusses contemporary, doctrinal controversies related to self-execution and treaty supremacy.

January 11, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Why Human Rights Matter to Anti-Trafficking Efforts


Jonathan Todres

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.  Despite the tireless efforts of many, as President Obama stated  in his recent Presidential Proclamation, “the injustice of modern slavery and human trafficking still tears at our social fabric.” This month provides an opportunity to both raise awareness about the problem and galvanize Image1support for action that can reduce the prevalence of human trafficking.

There is a growing body of law at the international, national, and state levels addressing human trafficking specifically.  Although those represent important developments, there has been limited progress on the root causes of human trafficking. That’s where human rights come in. Human trafficking thrives because there is demand for the good and services produced by exploited individuals and because there are millions of vulnerable adults and children.

The foundational principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” – is a direct challenge to the devaluation of human lives that is embedded in the demand side of human trafficking. Human rights education  fosters tolerance and reduces disregard for others’ rights.  And, when realized, human rights – including the rights to birth registration, health care, education, and housing; labor rights; and the principle of nondiscrimination, to name a few – can reduce the vulnerability of marginalized populations so that they are not pushed into human trafficking settings.

The challenges we face today as human rights advocates are seemingly endless. It’s often difficult simply drawing sufficient attention to rights violations. Human trafficking is one area where everyone from policymakers to parents wants action.  Demonstrating the value of human rights to human trafficking can help advance anti-trafficking efforts and serve as a model for applying human rights approaches to other pressing issues.

January 10, 2017 in Jonathan Todres, Trafficking | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Solitary Confinement: Support for Massachusetts Reforms


As the Massachusetts legislature considers a bill that would restrict use of solitary confinement to 30 days, with hearings every 15 days and a bar on solitary for pregnant, deaf, and blind prisoners, the Boston Globe has come out in support of the pending legislation.  The Globe's editorial ran January 6, under the headline: Mass. Prisons Call it Solitary.  The UN Calls it Torture.  Kudos to the Globe editorial board for weighing in on this issue, and for driving home the U.S.'s status as an international outlier.

January 9, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Gender Equality and Mr. Trump

Martha Davis reported recently on a meeting between Donald Trump and the new UN- Secretary General, Antonio Guterres.  Part of Guterres agenda is to support gender equality.  Only a few weeks ago, the Trump transition team requested that the State Department provide information on "gender-related staffing, programming, and funding."  The memo that was sent to State specified areas of inquiry, which included efforts to end gender-based violence as well as efforts to promote women's participation in political and economic spheres. 

This request raises concerns about what motivated the inquiry.  Are these global programs likely to be eliminated in the coming years- or maybe months?  The only other agency of which the new administration made a similar inquiry was seeking the names of those at the Energy Department who support measures to halt climate changes.  Energy refused to release the names.

Senator Jean Shaheen of New Hampshire, responded "I pledge to work with the incoming administration to advance policies that support and protect women and girls world wide, but I can promise that if the next administration intends to role back programs designed to lift women up, it will very quickly meet stiff opposition in the Senate."

Much will be revealed when we know how then President Trump responds  to the Women's March on Washington.


January 9, 2017 in Equality, Gender, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Can Senator Sessions be entrusted to protect human rights?

Image1by Risa E. Kaufman, Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute

Is Senator Jeff Sessions qualified to enforce the nation’s civil rights laws and ensure that the U.S. protects and respects human rights at home and abroad? This question must drive the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on Sessions’ nomination to be U.S. Attorney General. The hearing is set for January 10th.

Civil and human rights organizations have denounced President-elect Trump’s nomination of Senator Sessions, noting that, throughout his career, Sessions has expressed views and taken actions that are anathema to human rights, including the rights of racial and ethnic minorities, women, immigrants, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. He voted against the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, has taken a hard line against immigration reform, questioned the necessity of the Voting Rights Act, supported a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, opposed a bill to grant workplace discrimination protections to LGBT people, and voted against a measure reaffirming the prohibition against torture. He has disturbing ties to anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim groups and a close relationship with Breitbart News. The Senate rejected his nomination for a federal judgeship in 1986, based in part on testimony that he made racist statements and called the NAACP and ACLU “un-American.”
Compounding his alarming record on civil and human rights, Senator Sessions has failed to provide the Senate Judiciary Committee with complete information upon which to consider his nomination to be the federal government’s chief law enforcement officer. In advance of this week’s confirmation hearing, Sessions provided an incomplete response to the Senate Judiciary Questionnaire, leaving out key documents from his time as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, Alabama Attorney General, and in the U.S. Senate. A supplement to his original response continued to omit relevant press releases, op-eds, media interviews, and speeches. Last week, Senator Patrick Leahy, the outgoing ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, expressed concern over Sessions’ failure to fully disclose materials relevant to his nomination.
There have been remarkable acts of protest in the lead-up to the confirmation hearings. The NAACP held a sit-in at Senator Sessions’ Alabama offices, resulting in the arrest of the national NAACP president and others. A Moral Monday March to the Capitol is planned for January 9th. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights organized a Congressional sign-on letter of over 140 national organizations opposing Sessions’ nomination. And over one thousand law professors have urged members of Congress to reject the nomination.
As these and other actions underscore, a full and open hearing to examine Senator Sessions’ fitness to be Attorney General requires comprehensive documentation of his public writing, speeches, and interviews, tough questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and continued vigilance on the part of human rights advocates. His record must be assessed by the light of the civil and human rights that the office of Attorney General is charged with protecting. Close scrutiny of the incoming Trump administration, and accountability for its actions, start now.

January 8, 2017 in Risa Kaufman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 5, 2017

"Ring in the New"

On Wednesday, President-elect Trump had a formal phone call with the new UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres.  It was the first day on the job for Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister. 

Just last week, President-elect Trump tweeted that the UN was "so sad."  Now, the UN is reporting that the two officials had a "very positive discussion" and look forward to more engagement. 

Climate change, gender equality and human rights are key priorities for the new UN head, as set out in Secretary-General Guterres' sweeping vision statement for the UN under his leadership.


January 5, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Future of HumanRights.Gov

Many readers of this blog will recall that during presidential transitions, a lot of government information previously available on the internet disappears.  This "clean wipe" is a relatively new internet tradition that seems to have started with the Clinton-Bush transition, when the site was redesigned overnight to go live in its new format on January 20.  According to press reports, old information is archived and preserved, but it certainly becomes much less accessible going forward. 

That a new Administration wants to engage in internet branding is no surprise, so come January 20, advocates should be ready. During prior transitions, some advocates were frustrated when agency data was suddenly no longer readily available.  For US human rights advocates, modifications -- or even the demise -- of may have consequences. is official US government site for international human rights-related information.  The current site includes, among many other things, a calendar of the US government's civil society consultations on human rights in 2015 and 2016.  Will that information be stripped from a Trump Administration site?  What other speeches and links will be taken down and rendered less accessible, if not completely inaccessible?

Meanwhile, catch while you can.  Two current postings are particularly pertinent to US human rights advocates.  First, longtime disability rights advocate and special advisor to the State Department, Judith Heumann, delivers a Tedx Talk that includes a strong statement in support of US ratification of the International Convention on Disability Rights.

Second, the site lays out relevant links and background on the new National Action Plan for Responsible Business Conduct.

Of course, there are other sources for most of this information on the web.  But a one-stop site for factual information on US human rights work, as well as information on the US positions on human rights, has been not only useful but has also facilitated dialogue between advocates and the government.  So, a word to the wise -- take screen shots and download important information that you'd like to be able to use in the future while you still can.

January 3, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Cost of Water

Following up on yesterday's post, clean water is a right for all people.  But  for many  towns, achieving clean water is only one step in securing that right.  Many towns are relinquishing water rights to private equity ventures.  Believing they have insufficient resources to replace water infrastructures that often are the sources of polluted water, municipalities are selling the rights to water profits in exchange for the investors' agreement to replace aging water systems.

The result is unaffordable water for many residents.  A recent New York Times article highlighted the dilemma for individual residents.  Focusing on Bayonne, N.J., where water rates have risen 28% since water management was outsourced, despite representations from city officials that water rates would be frozen for the first four years of equity management.  Residents also used less water while being billed at dramatically higher rates.

Private investors taking over water resources creates an automatic diminution of human rights.  While private companies more easily can manage pipe replacement and other infrastructure repairs, the nature of the investment relies upon profits being generated for the investors. 

Humans can adapt to detrimental living conditions of all sorts.  Dirty air can shorten our lives, but typically consequences are not immediate.   But without water, death comes within a matter of days.  The state's obligation to provide healthy living conditions is incompatible with privatization.  Short sighted municipal managers often see only the immediate benefits of privatization - cash with which the municipalities can pay down existing debt.  Short sighted planning most likely resulted from mismanagement that responded only to immediate needs or crisis. The long term impact of decision making is often missing from local government thinking. 

The best way to ensure sustainability in meeting basic human needs is for planners to engage seventh generation thinking.  The Iroquois Confederacy is credited with naming this philosophy that has been adopted by other native tribes.  The philosophy requires that leaders consider the impact of their decisions on the seventh generation to follow. 

The Iroquois constitution was the greatest influence for creating the US constitution.  Unfortunate indeed, that the seventh generation mandate was not absorbed into the white man's founding document.



January 2, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Coming Up: Scientists and the Human Right to Water, January 2017

Mark your calendars for an important meeting coming up January 26-27, 2017 on the human right to water.  The Science and Human Rights Coalition of the AAAS will be meeting in Washington, D.C., with a range of distinguished speakers and workshops.  A particular focus will be the role of scientists in furthering the human right to water.  For more information and to register, click here


January 1, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Recommended Reading: "Boom, Bust, Exodus," A Nuanced Account of Globalization and Dislocation in Two Cities

This year's Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)-Duke Human Rights Book Award goes to “Boom, Bust, Exodus: The Rust Belt, the Maquilas, and a Tale of Two Cities” (Oxford University Press, 2016).

Authored by University of Chicago lecturer Chad Broughton, the book "uses a transnational and longitudinal approach to tell a human and humane story of the NAFTA-era from the point of view of those most caught up in its dislocation. These include former industrial workers and their families in the Rust Belt; assemblers and activists in the borderland factories known as maquiladoras; and migrant laborers from the Mexican countryside." The Chicago Tribune calls the book "exhaustive and rewarding."  The Publisher's Weekly review reports that "Broughton has written a powerful indictment of corporate greed and poor public policy, balanced by a tribute to the perseverance of the working-class people of two nations."


In the press release announcing the WOLA-Duke award, Broughton observes that “After an election cycle filled with divisive sloganeering about trade and immigration, I believe it’s critical to move beyond demagoguery in order to understand these complex social and policy issues as they are felt in the everyday lives of working people on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. I hope “Boom, Bust, Exodus” has contributed to the effort to amplify their voices and their cause."


December 29, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

More Cities Declare Freedom from Domestic Violence a Human Right

New Bedford and Fall River, Massachusetts passed resolutions declaring freedom from domestic violence a fundamental human right.

The resolutions, passed in November, resulted from the work of UMass Law students  enrolled in the school's Domestic Violence course. The students did amazing work and were Image1divided into teams, one for Fall River and one for New Bedford. Any professors considering assigning adoption of the DV-HR resolution as a class project, will find the process a beneficial one, as will the students. Students report unexpected results, not the least of which is realizing the benefits of local action on a universal human rights project.

Some student reflections follow:

"My initial understanding of the resolution, specifically why DV should be recognized as a basic human right definitely changed.  As we read more and more material, it becomes obvious that although people recognize that DV is bad, attaching a human rights label forces it into the conscious of a wider group. Instead of being labeled as a family or local problem, it becomes a national and international issue that necessitates action."

"As we began to work on background research for our project, I felt myself becoming more interested and vested in creating the resolution. I had never worked on one prior to this course, so the task still seemed quite daunting to me. Looking back, this experience was not what I was worried it would be. I learned, I changed, and I left the meeting inspired to begin working on a similar resolution for my native city."

"This is one of my favorite projects during my law school career because I feel like we  did something that will be beneficial to members of the Fall River and New Bedford communities, now and in the future."

"In order for the communities to stand up and take its rightful place, they must first be aware of the presence of domestic violence in their community and the complexity of the issue. I believe drafting the resolution is definitely taking the right step in the right direction."


December 28, 2016 in Domestic Violence, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Educating Mr. Trump

One hundred forty characters is not really enough to do justice to the wide-ranging work of the United Nations.  But that didn't stop President-elect Trump from trying to use his twitter account to do just that, calling the UN "just a club for people to have a good time."  It's unfortunate that the President-elect doesn't have a better understanding of the UN's work and the US role in this international body.

First, it's worth noting that there is great depth of popular support for the UN within the United States.  When the Pew Foundation conducted an in-depth study just this past spring, it found that 64 percent of Americans had a favorable view of the United Nations.  While this number masked a significant partisan divide, with Democrats much more likely than Republicans to support the UN, the president-elect would do well to note that one of the key constituencies in his electoral college victory, Independents, also registered 64 percent support. 

Second, the President-elect may be unaware of the importance of UN, and US, leadership in furthering human rights worldwide.  For all of the internal critiques of the Obama administration's human rights record, the Administration's engagement with UN agencies over eight years has certainly increased global awareness of the positive aspects of US human rights achievements.  Under Obama, the United States has regularly submitted reports to UN bodies concerning its human rights record and goals, a practice that then gives our country additional credibility when we criticize human rights failings elsewhere.  Further, the current Administration has begun using the human rights reporting process to engage our own state and local governments in achieving -- and highlighting -- national human rights goals.  Yes, we may use this platform to tout our own achievements (Obamacare is one of them), but these UN treaty monitoring bodies are far from feel-good social clubs. The international human rights dialogue moderated by these bodies is real and constructive, and the US would lose  both stature and credibility it if scaled back its robust participation.

Finally, the incoming Administration's tweets do nothing to address the growing concern across America -- in states of all hues -- that human rights are of little import to the President-elect.  This year's Human Rights Day on December 9 was accompanied by columns, op eds and protests around the country from concerned citizens.  In 2008, even before he took the oath of office, the incoming President Obama issued a stirring statement on human rights day signalling US commitment to these issues.  The President issued similar statements each year during his two terms, concluding with the Presidential Proclamation commemorating human rights week in 2016.  Sadly, to date we've had only tweets from the incoming administration. 

December 27, 2016 in Martha F. Davis, United Nations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 26, 2016

Micro-grants for Human Rights Work

Perhaps during this holiday season, you have some down time to plan future human rights work.  Here are two possible sources for seed funding and/or supplemental support for worthy projects.

First, the Arthur Helton Fellowship program administers "micro-grants" of $2000 for law students or new professionals to help them with human rights projects.  Arthur Helton was a prominent US human rights lawyer, tragically killed in 2003 in Baghdad.  The application deadline for 2017 is January 23, 11:59 a.m. EST.  For more information, follow this link.

Second, the Lantos Foundation administers the Front Line Fund, which provides small grants to support front-line human rights work.  Congressman Tom Lantos was the only Holocaust survivor elected to Congress and a passionate advocate for human rights.  His legacy of human rights work continues through the congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and through the work of the Lantos Foundation.  Front-line grants are intended to support "brave individuals and organizations in their fight against injustices around the world."  Grant amounts start at $1500 and are awarded on a rolling basis.  For more information, follow this link.  


December 26, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Meaning of Christmas

by Jeremiah Ho (Ho, Ho)

Since the secularization of the holiday season (and arguably before that), Christmas and all the other end-of-the-year holidays we have grown to celebrate have collectively transcended beyond the celebration of a religious icon.  Ultimately, the holiday season has become one opportunity to reflect on humanity beyond the religious—does anyone remember the 1980s all-star celebrity charity song, Do They Know It’s Christmas?

This opportunity descended upon Minnesota’s Mall of America earlier this month when the mall operators hired Larry Jefferson to be one of their seasonal mall Santa’s.  Jefferson is  not a newcomer to playing the role of Santa Claus.  He has been playing Santa for over Image120 years.  The picture of him on a recent online NPR article shows that he’s got a bushy silvery beard and jolly great smile.  He’s got the red velvet suit with the traditional white furry trims.  Back in August (on Santa’s summer downtime) a CBS Sunday morning article on the yearly Discovery Santa Conventions interviewed him as a participating attendee.  For all intents and purposes, Jefferson is a bona fide practitioner of the so-called “Santa Arts” (my own phraseology here).  I’m convinced that he probably even knows (or can probably profess to know) if you’ve been naughty or nice this year.

The only thing is, Larry Jefferson is African American.  He’s the first African-American Santa that the Mall of America has ever hired.  This observation is why Jefferson as Santa received some notoriety and coverage—first, as perhaps a symbol of late-coming progressiveness by the mall authorities, and then secondly, as a figure of some racist backlash by the public for deviations from the traditional white Santa representation.  According to HuffPost, local Minnesota news outlets who asked the public to weigh in on the hiring of Jefferson as Santa received such insulting, racist comments that those surveys had to be halted. 

News of this prompted the Asian-American actor, George Takei, to take to Twitter on a December 3, 2016 posting that while observing people’s reactions, he was reminded that during World War II, “in our internment camp he (Santa) was Asian.  So there.”     

So there is right.  Although Santa Claus is a figure borrowed from various European folklore traditions and has now been reinterpreted in the United States, Santa is not just a figure but also an idea.  After all, having participated in various secret Santa exchanges over the years, haven’t I myself, an Asian-American man in his thirties, played “Santa” too? 

“Santa” transcends physical attributes and ought to go to the heart of humanity.  To look at Santa from the exegetical perspective—to require the rosy white cheeks and the traditional Anglo connotations—is missing the point.  Larry Jefferson attributed those reactions to him as part of “the times in which we are living in.”  But the times we are living in has also included an African-American man in the role of U.S. president for the last eight years, as well. 

The backlash for “Black Santa” not just lacked Christmas spirit, but the human spirit as well.  On the personal level, it left Jefferson without dignity in his role to bring cheer to families at the Mall of American.  On the bigger level, this Bah Humbug  threatens respect for humanity if these "are the times we live in."

Links mentioned about Larry Jefferson’s story are below:


CBS Sunday Morning:


December 25, 2016 in Jeremiah Ho | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Duty to Consult with Indigenous Peoples

Dean James Anaya (Colorado) and Professor Sergio Puig (Arizona), have posted a timely new article on SSRN, forthcoming in v. 67 of the University of Toronto Law Journal.  The article, titled Mitigating State Sovereignty: The Duty to Consult with Indigenous Peoples, specifically addresses processes for resolving conflicts between business and indigenous human rights -- an issue much in the news as native people and allies protest the Dakota Pipeline.  As the former UN Rapporteur on the Rights on Indigenous Peoples, Dean Anaya has considerable on-the-ground experience with this issue.  The abstract is below: 

Abstract:  Few areas of international practice illustrate the tensions between business and human rights better than the implementation of the duty to consult with indigenous peoples. Consultations give indigenous and tribal peoples a safeguard for the protection of their rights when confronted by governments and business enterprises’ decisions that may directly affect them. While states and corporations begin to take this duty seriously, states struggle with tailoring adequate processes and corporations appeal to property rights protections to limit their scope. Based on two case studies in Latin America, we provide a new theoretical lens to understand the problems resulting from divergent conceptualizations of this duty. After clarifying common doctrinal imprecisions, we argue for reinforcing indigenous peoples’ rights with mechanisms for direct participation in benefits within the United Nation’s ‘protect, respect, and remedy’ framework to mitigate the adverse consequences of the existing distribution of sovereign power.

December 22, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking Recommends that the U.S. Adopt a Stronger Focus on Labor Exploitation and Cease Prostitution Arrests

by Cynthia Soohoo

Image1In what may be the last official UN human rights expert visit to the U.S. for a long time, last Friday, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking, concluded her 10-day visit to the U.S. In an official statement issued on Monday, she encouraged the U.S. to adopt a more proactive and systemic effort to address forced labor and labor exploitation. She also questioned the focus and impact of the U.S.’s current anti-trafficking strategies, which rely heavily on prostitution arrests.

U.N. human rights experts must be “invited” before conducting official country missions. The Obama administration has been fairly open to visits from UN Special Rapporteurs and expert Working Groups. Since 2009, at least 13 official visits were conducted prior to Giammarinaro’s visit. However, the U.S. has been widely criticized for refusing to invite Juan Mendez, the former U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, despite repeated requests for in an invitation over Mendez’s 6 year term.

Special Rapporteur and Working Group visits can provide important opportunities to raise the visibility of current rights violations and pressure government reform. For instance, following visits this past summer and fall, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention urged the U.S. to cease mandatory detention of all migrants and specifically called for the end of detention of families and unaccompanied minors, and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Assembly and Association criticized U.S. security forces for using excessive force against the protesters at Standing Rock.

Visits can also challenge current policy assumptions and provide opportunities to encourage human rights based solutions. Preparation for visits often brings activists working on different issues and in different locations together providing unique opportunities to collaborate. This is especially important on issues like trafficking where there is widespread public and political attention, but where current policies may be ineffective or have an adverse impact on victims of abuse and exploitation.

In her official statement the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking praised the U.S.’s commitment to address trafficking and its “impressive number of laws and initiatives,” but she noted that many anti-trafficking initiatives can have “an adverse impact on trafficked persons.” In particular, laws and policies that focus on arrest of people engaged in sex work result in fear of law enforcement that make it more difficult for trafficking victims to come forward. Further, criminal convictions make it difficult for victims to gain stability and independence by imposing substantial barriers to obtaining housing, education and employment.

The Special Rapporteur recommended that the U.S. adopt “a human rights based approach to trafficking which includes the de-criminalization of those who engage in prostitution” and “encourage[d] law enforcement officials to use their discretion to avoid arresting sex workers as they can be potential victims of sex trafficking.” Her recommendations are consistent with international human rights principles that emphasize that victims of trafficking should not be prosecuted for violations they were forced to commit as a result of their trafficking situation.

The Special Rapporteur urged the U.S. to adopt a preventative approach to trafficking and explore root causes that make people vulnerable to trafficking including “[s]ocial and economic inequalities, humanitarian and economic situation in neighborhood countries, [and] increasing stigmatization of migrants.” She also encouraged the U.S. to reconsider immigration and labor policies that make workers vulnerable to traffickers, specifically criticizing work visas that tie workers to employers because “they are prevented from denouncing exploitation for fear of losing their job or their residence status.”

The Special Rapporteur’s recommendations will become all the more urgent in the coming months as the Trump administration considers whether to adopt even more restrictive immigration policies. “Walls, fences and laws criminalizing irregular migration do not prevent human trafficking,” she warned.  “On the contrary, they increase the vulnerabilities of people fleeing conflict, persecution, crisis situations and extreme poverty, who can fall easy prey to traffickers and exploiters.” 


December 21, 2016 in Cindy Soohoo, Trafficking | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

California Takes Step Toward Children’s Bill of Rights

Jonathan Todres


On December 5, 2016, California state senator Dr. Richard Pan introduced the Bill of Rights for Children and Youth in California.  The bill will consider aims create a “comprehensive framework” for addressing rights and needs of children.

If approved by the Legislature, the Bill of Rights for Children and Youth in California would achieve two important aims. First, it would provide recognition of California children’s basic human rights, including “the right to parents, guardians, or caregivers who act in their best interest,” “the right to live in a safe and healthy environment,” “the right to appropriate, quality education,” and “the right to appropriate, quality health care.”  These are foundational rights that would help ensure that every child in California can develop to his or her fullest potential.

Second, the Bill of Rights would provide a roadmap for action. The Legislature would be required by January 1, 2022 to develop evidence-based policy solutions to secure the rights of all children across the state, determine the resources needed to achieve this framework, and identify and obtain such resources.

Of course, there will be challenges on the road to achieving these goals, particularly in an era of limited budgets, but the Bill of Rights builds in a five-year period to develop appropriate solutions (even though many children really cannot wait until 2022 to access quality education or a safe environment).

No doubt there will be some who resist the first part of the Bill of Rights—the recognition of children’s rights, or human rights more broadly (see, e.g., the recently adopted Mountain View Human Rights City resolution).  So let’s be clear on what it means to resist the idea that children have rights.

The foundational principle of human rights is that rights are inherent. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that “[a]ll human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” (Article 1). Long before that, the U.S. Declaration of Independence proclaimed that “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” In other words, if you are human, you have rights.  If you resist the idea that children have rights, you are saying that rights are not inherent, but that they are granted to you by the government only when you reach adulthood.

Perhaps you accept that rights are inherent and thus that children have rights, but you have reservations about the Bill of Rights’ roadmap for action. If your concern is that ensuring health care or safe environments for children is “socialist,” you are overlooking two points (beyond the fact that the U.S. will not become a socialist country): (1) recognizing children have a right to necessary medical care does not mean the government has to be the provider; and (2) if you have time to argue over whether socialism could ever gain traction in the U.S. instead of having to focus on figuring out how to ensure there is food on the table for your children, you are in a privileged position, and not every family or child is.

Second, if your concern is it will cost too much to ensure “quality education” for every child, what you are really saying is that you don’t think it’s a priority. Anyone who has ever worked with a budget, whether it is for an appropriations bill or a grocery list, knows that you must make tough choices.  But if you don’t support the idea that every child should have access to quality health care and education, you are saying that our children’s development matters less than every other line item we choose to fund.  Surely the future of our children—and thus this country—matters more than that.

I, for one, applaud the California legislature for taking this on, for daring to envision a world in which every child has the care and support needed to develop to his or her fullest potential.

December 20, 2016 in Children, Jonathan Todres | Permalink | Comments (1)