Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Country-specific scrutiny at the United Nations Human Rights Council

On May 17, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the US Congress conducted a hearing on the UN Human Rights Council.  A video and transcripts of the hearing are available here.  In conjunction with the hearing,  Naomi McMillen and Ted Piccone of the Brookings Institution recently released a new, detailed and rigorous analysis of the UN Human Rights Council's country-specific reviews.   The authors conclude that:

"Since the United Nations Human Rights Council was created in 2006, it has made significant strides toward improving the enjoyment and protection of human rights for all individuals around the world through a complex strategy that involves a combination of softer and tougher approaches, from building up the capacities of states through technical assistance to criticizing them frankly on the international stage. Despite its accomplishments, critics claim that the Council has failed to live up to its original mandate and has devoted far too much attention to vague thematic issues instead of focusing its efforts on addressing serious human rights violations in country-specific contexts. While the Human Rights Council has historically devoted more of its time and resources to thematic concerns, in the past four years it has shown an inclination to confront efforts to curtail country-specific human rights issues with greater country-specific scrutiny. If the current trend persists, the Council will be well placed to have lived up to its mandate to protect and promote human rights by addressing human rights violations wherever they occur."

May 24, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Severe Financial Crisis at the IACHR Threatens Human Rights Infrastructure

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported on May 23 that a severe financial crisis has forced it to suspend hearings and that it anticipates laying off 40 percent of its staff on July 31, 2016.  Here is a link to this alarming press release, with background information on how this situation has developed over the years.  A report in the Jamaican Observer describes just one of the pending human rights claims that will be affected by this suspension.

May 23, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

What Has the European Convention Ever Done for Us?

The UK is in the midst of the "Brexit" debate over continued participation in the European Union.  Some British politicians, however, are calling on the UK to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, instead of, or in addition to, an EU exit.  

After all, asks Patrick Stewart in this clip, what has the ECHR ever done for Britain?

(Warning:  Contains a tad of strong language, and may induce nostalgia for Monty Python).


May 23, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Most of the world recognizes it’s wrong to criminalize women for having an abortion, what about Indiana?

by Cynthia Soohoo  Soohoo.jpg

On Monday, the Indiana Court of Appeals will hear oral argument to determine if Purvi Patel was wrongly convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison for seeking to terminate her own pregnancy.  Through a questionable reading of Indiana law, the prosecution was able to convict Patel of two inconsistent crimes: feticide and child neglect.  If affirmed, Indiana’s expansion of these crimes will pose a serious threat to women’s constitutional right to choose to terminate a pregnancy and will place all women who fail to deliver a healthy baby in danger of criminal prosecution.

Patel was convicted of feticide for purchasing drugs over the internet to induce an abortion. Yet, Indiana’s feticide law was never intended to apply to abortions.  The law was passed following the shooting of a pregnant woman that caused a stillbirth.  Recognizing feticide as a crime was intended to protect women by punishing criminals who commit violent acts against them that result in the loss of a pregnancy.  However, prosecutors in Patel’s case were able to convince the trial judge that the feticide provision also applied to abortions that failed to comply with Indiana’s abortion law. Among other requirements, Indiana abortion law required that abortions be performed by a physician and prohibited the administration of abortion inducing drugs later than 9 weeks.

Not only is Patel’s conviction inconsistent with a fair reading of the feticide statute, it opens the door to the prosecution of other women who chose to have abortions if they fail to follow the exact requirements of Indiana’s abortion laws.  This creates a real danger of unfair prosecutions because Indiana, like many other states, has imposed detailed requirements for legal abortion.  Some are legitimate health regulations necessary to protect women’s health, but others are onerous and arcane requirements designed to discourage women from having abortions or make it more difficult to obtain them.  Ironically, unnecessary and burdensome requirements probably increase the likelihood that women will decide to terminate a pregnancy on their own as Patel is accused of doing. Indeed many women in the U.S. feel that clinical abortion care is out of their reach because of cost, increased restrictions, limited access and increased travel distance to clinics. Others may opt for self-induction because of mistrust of, or difficulties navigating, the formal healthcare system.

Criminal prosecution of women for terminating their own pregnancies is relatively rare outside of the U.S.  As discussed in an amicus brief filed by CUNY Law School’s Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic, international human rights experts on health and women’s rights have recognized that imposing criminal penalties on women who have abortions violates their human rights.  It also places women’s health at risk because women who experience serious medical complications after an abortion or miscarriage may be too afraid to seek medical help.  Although this may sound far-fetched, Patel was arrested at the hospital after she sought treatment for hemorrhaging that resulted in the loss of 20% of her blood.

Even in countries with laws that criminalize abortions, it is very rare for women to be prosecuted for ending pregnancies or obstetric emergencies. The reluctance to prosecute women results from recognition that when pregnant women are criminally prosecuted under homicide, feticide, manslaughter or criminal abortion laws, there is a high risk that the laws will be unfairly and selectively enforced.  Many pregnancies naturally end in fetal demise and in many places in the world and in minority communities in the U.S. infant mortality rates are unacceptably high.  When women are prosecuted for abortion, feticide and homicide, all women who do not deliver healthy babies are turned into potential criminal suspects.

El Salvador criminalizes abortion in all circumstances, even if a woman’s health or life is endangered by the pregnancy, if she is the victim of rape or incest or if she cannot afford or is unable to care for a child.  And, it is one of a small number of countries that actually prosecutes women.  As a result, many women are forced to get clandestine and possibly unsafe abortions.  The law also creates a real danger of prosecution for women who don’t deliver healthy babies.  Many of the women who end up being prosecuted are poor women who have sought medical help in public clinics following miscarriages.  Several highly publicized cases involving the imprisonment of poor women for homicide following miscarriages, stillbirths and obstetric emergencies have led to widespread international criticism from human rights organizations and U.N. human rights experts.

As states across the country continue to pass laws that make it more difficult for women to access safe and legal abortion, let’s hope that the Indiana Court of Appeals recognizes that hospital waiting rooms should not be turned into crime scenes and that women should not be criminalized for terminating their own pregnancies or for failing to deliver a healthy baby.

May 22, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Does the Right to Civil Counsel Include Effective Counsel?

The answer is:  not yet.  

SCOTUS is entertaining a cert petition that requests that the court address whether, when civil counsel is appointed, the party is entitled to effective assistance of counsel.   While your first response may be "Of course!" the answer may not be obvious in some jurisdictions, as reported on SCOTUSBlog.  While the Tennessee case in question is specific to termination of parental rights, if the US Supreme Court accepts the case for hearing, the court's decision could have a wide ranging impact on the quality demanded of court appointed lawyers in a range of civil cases.  As noted in yesterday's post, cases that address parental rights are those (at this juncture) that most easily are identified as triggering the right to counsel.  

The case is Vanessa G. v. Tennessee Department of Children's Services.  And the statute in question is Tenn. Code Ann. Section 37-1-126(a)(2)(B)(ii)  which states in part "a parent is entitled to representation by legal counsel at all stages of any proceeding under this part in proceedings involving termination of parental rights[.]"  The Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed that parents are entitled to appointment of counsel in termination cases, but noted that nothing in SCOTUS' 1981 Lassister decision mandates that counsel be effective.  In so ruling the court also rejected the notion that the criminal standard of "ineffective assistance of counsel" must or need be imported to civil matters.  

With the concept of a civil right to counsel in matters involving fundamental human rights becoming more recognized, the Vanessa G. case, if accepted, could act as a guide to states as they struggle with redefining which civil cases demand the appointment of counsel and the level of skill litigants may expect when counsel is appointed.  We know what the answer would be in Massachusetts, which has already held that counsel must be competent.  But this may be the time for clarity on the national level.

May 19, 2016 in Advocacy, Children, Civil Right to Counsel, Margaret Drew, social justice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

When Access to Civil Counsel Becomes a Fundamental Right

Back to home pageAs reported by John Pollock of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, recently the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in L.B. v. Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court ruled that parents have a due process right to counsel when seeking modification or termination of a guardianship of their children, provided that the parent "make a modest yet meaningful preliminary showing that he or she has a colorable case” for removal or modification.  This case was a followup to Guardianship of V.V., which recognized the constitutional right to counsel for establishment of such guardianships.  The NCCRC provided assistance to the petitioner and amici in both V.V. and L.B.
The decision expands the rights of parents to legal representation beyond cases of termination of parental rights or the appointment of a non-parent guardian.  The decision establishes the right to counsel when the parent seeks to change an existing guardianship, revisiting the possibibilty of the restoration of full parental rights or at least a modification of an exisitng guardianship.  The case sets out parameters for demonstrating the need for counsel and suggests specific guidelines for the lower court to consider to make the process of demonstrating need for counsel easier than what the Probate and Family Court had suggested.
The case advances the rights of litigants to appointed counsel in areas that have significant impact on their human rights and those of their families.  
For more information on the case, read here





MA case.

Russell's article.

May 18, 2016 in Civil Right to Counsel, Margaret Drew, social justice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Is This Wisdom or Justice Delayed? Zubik v Burwell

by Margaret Drew

On Monday, the Supreme Court decided Zubik v. Burwell by not deciding.  The court remanded the consolidated cases to their various intermediary courts.  The Court suggested that the lower courts, all but one of which upheld the government mandate providing access to birth control even for those employed by religious organizations, might find that the parties are able to reach solutions that protect women's access to birth control in ways that do not infringe on religious rights.  Thoughtful analyses have been written on this per curium decision, such as those noted on SCOTUSBlog

My reflection focuses on process, rather than substance.  While the Court suggests that in any settlement, women's right to birth control access must be protected, the court does not provide specific guidance on how the parties will reach settlement.  The court has taken an approach more commonly found in trial courts.  Encouraging settlement or engagement in ADR processes is common, if not required, in trial courts.  Some appellate courts also recommend or demand settlement discussions prior to scheduling cases for argument. 

In a time when angry philosophical divides inhibit discussion of finding common ground, the Court has effectively designed a plan for the parties to accommodate each other's concerns while preserving constitutional protections.  The Court did so by first requiring the parties to submit written plans on what settlement might look like.  Presumably the exercise informed the court on whether the parties could approach solution. This week's decision remands the cases with the knowledge that settlement is possible because the parties have already designed accommodating plans through their Court submissions. 

More importantly, the court has shifted focus from divisiveness to compromise.  Historically, this is the art of politics -- an art that has been rejected of late.  Beyond finding resolution of the case in controversy, the Court is providing guidance to the public as well as to other government branches on how to find meaningful resolution.  The Zubik controversy is an emotional one.  The stakes are high for women as well as for religious employers.  If common solutions can be found in this case, there is no reason why compromise should be rejected as a means of resolution in most political disputes.   Even if the parties cannot accommodate the separate interests, the attempt is significant. The Justices may be best suited as leaders and teachers in demonstrating how reasoned collaboration protects interests while promoting cooperation.   Indeed, the Court employed this process in reaching its per curium decision, modeling the art of reasoned cooperation.   

May 17, 2016 in Margaret Drew, Reproductive Rights, Women's Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Passing of US Human Rights Visionary, Michael Ratner

We were saddened to learn of Michael Ratner's death on May 11, at age 72.  In addition to his many other contributions to individual liberties, few lawyers have done as much to bring human rights home to the US.  Ratner's bold litigation on behalf of Guantanamo detainees following September 11 -- and the rights that he secured for his clients -- is one of his most visible legacies.  But in the 45 years of Ratner's association with the Center for Constitutional Rights, he also led the growth of one of the most effective human rights advocacy centers in the world, and mentored two generations of advocates who understand that human rights can be made real here and abroad only through continued struggle.  As the Center for Constitutional Rights observed, even while we mourn our profound loss, we can best pay tribute to Michael Ratner's life by continuing with the same vigor that he brought to his life's work. 

May 16, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Most Useful New Human Rights Resource

By Lauren E. Bartlett

Last month the Human Rights Brief, a student-run publication of the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law, launched a new, very user-friendly website at hrbrief.org.   The Brief is a fantastic resource on human rights cases and news from around the world and I hope you check it out.   The new website is searchable by region and/or human right (children’s rights, women’s rights, environmental rights etc.), and it is updated almost constantly by the 50+ students that work for the Brief.  The student writers also cover each of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hearings in March and October each year and write up descriptions of the hearings (in both English and Spanish), and provide photos and live streaming of the hearings as well.   As both a former staff writer (many moons ago) and former supervisor of the students who make this resource as dynamic and useful as it is, I am very proud to share the new website with you and I encourage you to share this human rights research tool with your students.

May 15, 2016 in Lauren Bartlett | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 12, 2016


by Margaret Drew

This post follows up both Risa Kaufman's earlier post on UN Special Procedures and the U.S. visit and Martha Davis' post on two writings that take a critical look at the use of Special Procedures.    Earlier this week I checked in with Rebecca Landy of the  US Human Rights Network (USHRN).  Rebecca is the organization's Human Rights Outreach and Advocacy Manager. The following reports our conversation. Image1

Rebecca, would you tell us a bit about the UN process of reviewing US compliance and progress with the various UN conventions?

While most folks in the United States are focused on our presidential election process – there is another important process for our democracy that will happen on a similar cycle – the reviews of the US’ human rights records on the three core UN human rights treaties our government has ratified.

The most recent rounds of those periodic reviews under the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), and Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) took place in 2014-2015 with each treaty body Committee releasing a set of Concluding Observations (or Recommendations) for the U.S. government.

But in addition to those periodic reviews, there are also one year follow-up reviews to the Concluding Observations that take place for each of these treaty bodies. Two of those for the U.S. happen to be occurring this week at the UN in Geneva. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website explains that the purpose of these follow-up reviews is “To monitor more closely the implementation of some of their recommendations that they consider urgent, priority or protective, and implementable within one or two years.”

When will the reviews happen and what is their likely scope?

The consideration of the U.S. CAT follow-up report took place on Monday and the CERD follow-up is happening this Friday. Unfortunately neither of these reviews was live webcast or in public sessions, so we will have to wait for the official reports to be released to learn more. That said, we do have a general sense of what those reports will cover based on the designated issues for follow-up. For CAT there are five follow-up issues and for CERD there are three issues for follow-up.

What are the specific issues?

For CAT, the issues are 1. Inquiries into allegations of torture overseas; 2. Guantanamo Bay detention facilities; 3. Interrogation techniques; 4. Excessive use of force and police brutality; and 5. Passage of the ordinance entitled Reparations for the Chicago Police Torture Survivors.

For CERD, the issues are 1. (a) to investigate and prosecute excessive use of force and (b) prevent of excessive use of force;  2. Immigrants; 3.  Guantanamo Bay- specifically for the US to provide updated information for closing within one year.

Is there any significance in the identification of these particular issues?

Of note is that there is overlap in the issues these two treaty bodies considered “urgent, priority or protective, and implementable.” That designation means that we can exert extra pressure on the U.S. government to hold them accountable to these recommendations. Both include follow-up recommendations on excessive use of force and Guantanamo Bay (an issue also in the ICCPR follow-up last summer). While we wait to learn whether the UN experts determine if the U.S. has made progress on these issues - you can read the CAT civil society follow-up shadow reports and government report here and the CERD civil society follow-up shadow reports and government report here.

Do you have any expectations for the substance of the reports?

According to the Guardian the total number of people killed by U.S. police officers in 2015 shows rate of death for young black men was five times higher than white men of the same age and the situation for immigrant communities being targeted by police is no better. Also,President Obama has yet to keep his promise of closing Guantánamo, including ending indefinite detention without trial.  Given that,  the follow-up reports by both Committees will not be  encouraging.  If so, we can take these reports to help push the government to action and advance a people-centered human rights movement at home. And we can be sure that any progress that is recognized in these reports happened because civil society, including grassroots communities, kept organizing!

What significance does the election have on this process and the substantive issues reviewed?

With the Obama Administration soon coming to an end, U.S. advocates hope the human rights legacy for this administration includes progress on these issue areas as well as the establishment of a long-term infrastructure and institutionalization to improve and ensure domestic implementation of international human rights treaties and recommendations.

Editors' notes: You may join USHRN’s CAT and CERD Listervs to keep posted and receive the reports once they become available.  Also, USHRN organized many of the shadow reports submitted as part of the reviews. Though not covering the substance of the reports, the press release from the UN CAT session noted the impressive number of U.S. civil society shadow reports “the Committee had received 22 alternative reports for follow-up, 12 of which related to the follow-up of the United States” – showing a level of engagement by U.S. civil society that was coordinated and powerful.













May 12, 2016 in CAT, CERD, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

New Scholarship on Special Procedures

Earlier this week, Risa Kaufman blogged about upcoming UN Special Procedures visits to the United States.  For a critical look at these UN mechanisms, check out two new articles.

First, in the February 2016 issue of Human Rights Quarterly, Rosa Freedman and Jacob Mchangama raise questions about the growing number of Special Procedures in this article, "Expanding or Diluting Human Rights?: The Proliferation of United Nations Special Procedures Mandates."  Here's the abstract:



The United Nations Special Procedures system was described by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan as “the crown jewel” of the UN Human Rights Machinery. Yet, in recent years, the system has expanded rapidly, driven by states creating new mandates frequently on topics not traditionally viewed as human rights. This article explores the connection between forms of governance and the states voting for and promoting these newer mandates. We explore states’ potential motivations for expanding the system and the impact on international human rights law. This article forms an important part of discussions about Special Procedures and rights proliferation.

Second, Rosa Freedman and Francois Crepeau have posted a forthcoming book chapter on SSRN, titled "Supporting or Resisting? The Relationship Between Global North States and Special Procedures."    Note that the article includes a case study of the US response to Special Procedures in the area of poverty.  The abstract is here:


Scrutiny of the relationship between Special Procedures and States typically focuses on mandate holders’ independence and expertise, as well as the impact of their work ‘on the ground’. Global South countries have been criticised for ignoring visit requests, resisting recommendations contained within reports, and seeking to undermine Special Procedures by introducing new, vague mandates on subjects not traditionally viewed as falling within the human rights matrix. Little attention, however, has been paid to the relationship between Global North States and Special Procedures. This chapter will interrogate the relationship between those countries and mandate holders, individually, and the system more broadly. The research will demonstrate that while Global North States typically have supported Special Procedures mandates – through sponsoring, promoting or voting for them as well as through financial contributions – they tend only to engage fully with mandates where the focus is on civil and political rights or on certain categories of vulnerable groups. Using four case studies – the UK and adequate housing, Canada and food, the EU and migrants, the US and poverty – we shall explore the ways in which Global North States often resist and undermine particular mandate holders’ activities. Analysis will focus on the reasons for that resistance, which challenge the principle of universality of human rights. In particular, we shall highlight the ideological divisions that remain, despite Global North States paying lip service to the indivisibility of human rights. As well, we shall document the increasingly frequent political attitude of many Global North States who insist that, considering their human rights record, they ought not to be visited and criticised by Special Procedures mandate holders, who should rather concentrate their energy on States with much worse human rights records.



May 11, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

You Say Traditional - I Say Oppressive

Millennial men report  a much higher rate of  believing that both parents should share housekeeping and child care equally.  That, of course, is until they have children.   Image1


There are multiple studies revealing that a vast majority of millennial men  believe that equality in domestic tasks should be the norm.  But those same studies reveal that the reality of millennial lives, particularly those who are parents, do not engage in equal child care or housekeeping.  Those who study this phenomenon say that millennial men revert to "traditional" roles once they become fathers.  Perhaps millennial mothers might view this as a reversion to oppression, not tradition.

Fathers who take time to care for, and bond with, their new children are more likely to understand their  shared parenting responsibilities in a way that other fathers can not.   Researchers conclude that a major barrier to active paternal parenting is the lack of sufficient leave policies with most businesses. 

The most serious barrier to co-parenting, however, is not the lack of workplace policies.  Even in companies that permit parental leave for both parents, fathers in heterosexual relationships more often refuse to take advantage of the leave.  Why? Because their managers are not taking parenting leave.  In order to engage millennial fathers in child care, they must be relieved of their fear of being adversely judged by other men in the workplace.   This can most effectively happen when male senior employees take advantage of parental leave policies or encourage other men to do so.  

Males in our culture are burdened with constant judging by other males on whether or not they are "real men".   A shift to a culture that permits males to be themselves is not difficult to attain.  Older, accomplished men can create change quickly simply by encouraging millennial men to make room for family.  

May 10, 2016 in Children, Margaret Drew, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

State Department Announces Upcoming Visits to U.S. by UN Special Procedures

Risa E. Kaufman, Executive Director, Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute


This is turning out to be quite a year for U.S. engagement with UN human rights experts. Last month, at a meeting with U.S. human rights advocates, the State Department announced that three UN special procedures will make official visits to the United States between now and the end of the calendar year. Maina Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Assembly, plans to visit the United States from July 11-25, 2016. The UN Working Group on arbitrary detentions and the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons will each visit the U.S.  The trafficking expert's visit is set for December 5-16, 2016, while the Working Group dates are TBD.  Special procedures (which include Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups) are independent human rights experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor human rights situations in specific countries or related to a thematic issue throughout the world.

The newly announced visits come on the heels of recent visits to the United States by the UN Working Group on discrimination against women (November 30-December 11, 2015) and the UN Working Group on people of African Descent (January 19-29, 2016).  Each of those visits concluded with a strong press statement summarizing the group’s findings during the course of the visit. The Working Groups will present their formal reports and recommendations later this year.

These UN human rights experts are among the 41 special procedure thematic mandates covering a diverse range of issues, including torture, mercenaries, and the rights of human rights defenders, as well as education, migrants, and food. Special procedures base their evaluations on standards drawn from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights norms. They are not limited in their review by whether a country has ratified a particular treaty, a fact that is especially relevant with respect to the United States.


The official country visit is a key working method of the special procedures. The experts may make such visits only upon receiving a formal invitation from the country’s government. One hundred and fifteen UN member countries, not including the United States, have issued a standing invitation to the special procedures. For several years, U.S. human rights advocates have urged the United States to invite the Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, to examine solitary confinement practices in U.S. prisons, and to meet with people imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. The U.S. has not yet extended an invitation allowing the requested access.


But special procedures aren’t limited to making official country visits. They also can receive and act on allegations of human rights recommendations from impacted individuals and communities, as well as conduct thematic studies and develop reports on crosscutting and systemic human rights concerns. And they can work more informally, including by conducting unofficial visits, participating in hearings at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and issuing press statements.  Just last week, three UN special procedures -- the Special Rapporteurs on housing, extreme poverty, and water and sanitation -- issued a joint press release on the human rights impacts of the contaminated water supply in Flint, Michigan, in advance of President Obama’s visit to Flint.

How can U.S. advocates make the most of the upcoming visits and other opportunities for engagement with these UN human rights experts?  In 2015, the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institutedeveloped a guide for effective advocacy with the UN special procedures, geared towards U.S. advocates.  And, next month, the Institute is hosting a full day symposium (and free CLE) on the topic. (Registersoon, as space in limited.)

The US Human Rights Network (USHRN) will share information on the recently announced visits as such information becomes available. Join the USHRN’s International Mechanisms listserv to stay posted. And, if your organization is interested coordinating aspects of the visit, contact USHRN’s coordinating center.



May 10, 2016 in Risa Kaufman, United Nations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 9, 2016

ICE: Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center

Within Immigration Customs Enforcement  is a unit that investigates war criminal and other human rights abusers from entering or remaining in the United States. 

According to its website, the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center has four missions:

  1. To prevent the admission of foreign war crimes suspects, persecutors and human rights abusers into the United States.
  2. To identify and prosecute individuals who have been involved and/or responsible for the commission of human rights abuses across the globe.
  3. To remove, whenever possible, those offenders who are located in the United States.
  4. To oversee the development of programs in response to President Obama’s Presidential Study Directive-10, the prevention of mass atrocities.


Last Monday, ICE deported Halil Dacaj Image1who is suspected of organizing war crimes against Serbian collaborators by beating them during interrogations and by turning those detained over to the Kosovo Liberation Army for further torture.  In 1999, Dacaj entered the US on a fraudulent passport and visa.  He was ordered removed in 2003 by an immigration judge but he was not arrested until last August.  Last week  Dacaj was deported and surrendered to authorities in Kosovo. 


May 9, 2016 in Margaret Drew, War | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Ten Years Later: The Status of the United Nations Human Rights Council

By design, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. Congress focuses on foreign affairs, and not on human rights issues within the U.S.  But sometimes the domestic and the international overlap, as is the case in the Commission's upcoming hearing to examine the current functioning and effectiveness of the UN Human Rights Council.  The hearing will be held on May 17, 2016, at 2 p.m., at a location to be determined. More information is available here.

Confirmed witnesses include Ambassador Keith M. Harper, Representative of the United States to the United Nations Human Rights Council; Ms. Erin M. Barclay, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organizational Affairs, U.S. Department of State; Mr. Scott Busby, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State; Dr. Mark P. Lagon, President, Freedom House; Mr. Ted Piccone, Senior Fellow in the Project on International Order and Strategy, Brookings Institute; Mr. Hillel Neuer, Executive Director, U.N. Watch; and Mr. Marc Limon, Executive Director, Universal Rights Group.

In announcing the hearing, the Commission offered the following background:

On March 15th, 2006, the United Nations General Assembly voted to replace the  controversial 60-year-old U.N. Commission on Human Rights, criticized for being bureaucratic, focusing only on the human rights of developing countries, and allowing membership by states with deplorable human rights records, with a new body, the UN Human Rights Council.  The Council, which was launched with high expectations, struggled in its early years to overcome the Commission’s legacy and chart a path in support of the global application of universal rights and freedoms.  It was in the context of this struggle that President Obama decided in 2009 that the United States would seek election to the Council, in order to promote a “…balanced, credible, and effective UN Human Rights Council.”

Seven years later, the United States has completed two active terms on the Council that featured new country-specific action on Iran, Syria, Burma, DPRK, among others, and a renewed focus on universality, including freedoms of expression and assembly.  Still, some continue to accuse the Council of an anti-Israel bias and membership continues to be problematic. This hearing will examine the successes and shortfalls of U.S. engagement with the U.N. Human Rights Council, its current forms of operation and priorities, and possible options for reform that would help the Council more effectively achieve its original mandate.   

This hearing will be open to members of Congress, congressional staff, the interested public and the media. For any questions, please contact Isaac Six (for Rep. Pitts) at 202-225-2411 orIsaac.Six@mail.house.gov, Kimberly Stanton (for Rep. McGovern) at 202-225-3599 orKimberly.Stanton@mail.house.gov.

May 8, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Hidden Human Cost of the Flint Water Crisis

Imagine finding out that the contamination of your water was deliberate.  And the perpetrator was your local government.   Much more is at stake beyond the already significant physical health risks that the contamination brings.  Along with the potential, if not likely, short and long term health conditions the water brings, comes the knowledge that those on whom you rely for that element most critical to life cannot be relied upon.  

The residents of Flint are experiencing mental health problems as a direct consequence of the contamination.  In addition to the uncertainty of accessing safe water, residents experience isolation as friends and family stop visiting, reluctant to expose themselves and loved ones to the risks.  Children are experiencing anxiety resulting from exposure to frequent discussion of the crisis.  Some are experiencing guilt resulting from their inadvertent exposure of children to the contaminated water.

Mental health counsellors have organized centers such as the Flint Community Resilience Group  to assist residents experiencing depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions. 

Michigan State University School of Social Work has a website updating the public on the crisis and available resources.




May 5, 2016 in Environment, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Update: Review of U.S. by CRC Committee Upcoming

by Jonathan Todres

Although the United States stands alone as the only country that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), it has ratified two of the three Optional Protocols to the CRC – one on sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography and the other on the involvement of children in armed conflict.  And the time has come for the U.S. government to be reviewed again under the Optional Protocols. The formal session with the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child and the U.S. government is set for May 2017. While that might seem far away, the U.S. government has already submitted its report (available here) on both optional protocols to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child.  For NGOs working on these issues, the deadline for alternative reports is July 1, and the Pre-Sessional Working Group with NGO representatives is scheduled for October 3-7, 2016. ECPAT-USA is again coordinating the lead alternative report under the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children.  Similar efforts are underway on the Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict.

As noted in a previous blog, the review process presents a critical opportunity to advance law, policy, and programs aimed at ensuring children’s rights and well-being.

As the process evolves and, ultimately, as post-review action gets underway, I will continue to provide updates.

May 3, 2016 in Convention of the Rights of Children, Jonathan Todres | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 2, 2016

Human Rights at Sea

Last week, the UN's World Maritime University in Malmo, Sweden, and the University of Genoa co-hosted a symposium on Migration at Sea.  Topics ranged from the role of merchant ships in rescue operations to refugee reception procedures in the Mediterranean to smugglers in Africa and information hubs in Singapore.  A highlight was learning more about a new organization, Human Rights at Sea, founded by a British maritime barrister in 2014.  Among other things, Human Rights at Sea takes on the treatment of refugees on the seas, labor rights of seamen, and business and human rights issues raised by unsustainable fishing practices.  

Though many of the presenters were focused on migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean, the US Coast Guard was represented at the conference as well, with a knowledgeable speaker who discussed US operations in the Caribbean.  The US had a number of "best practices" to share, including bilateral agreements with source countries that ensure open lines of communication when problems arise.  Still, after a day of European speakers talking about refugee rights, and refugees' exploitation by smugglers and traffickers, there were quiet gasps in the audience when the US Coast Guard speaker clicked through to a slide labeled "The Migrant Threat," with the insignia of US Department of Homeland Security in the corner.  The conference moderator quickly pointed out the clear difference in orientation between the US and the other countries represented at the meeting.  

For Americans in the audience, it was a reminder that Human Rights at Home in the US must include US practices at sea.









May 2, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Financial Cost of Hate

by Jeremiah Ho

Jeremiah Ho's faculty portrait.

The fall-out from the North Carolina anti-LGBT bill seems to continue. With the numerous businesses taking their ventures out of the state (including notables such as PayPal and Angie’s List) and big-name entertainers (Bruce Springsteen, the band Pearl Jam, and Ringo Starr) cancelling shows in North Carolina, the question of the economics of the business backlash is obviously inevitable.  According to a PBS Newshour’s piece that aired this week, the economic backlash based on cancelled conventions has cost the state at least $8 million dollars.  That’s not chump change, given that the bill (HB2) was passed only within the last two months.

The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law recently weighed in on the answer to the fiscal question for such anti-LGBT legislation—this time examining the fiscal impact of the Tennessee anti-LGBT bill (HB 2414) and the costs beyond the boycotts and backlash of private businesses. Instead, the Institute released a report this month that examines the fiscal impact from an administrative angle.  In sum, the researchers note that there are three major areas in which there would be negative financial impact to Tennessee with the bill in effect.  First the study notes that there might be a loss of federal educational funding of up to $1.2 billion annually as a result of Title IX violations.  Secondly, the loss of federal contracts to educational institutions could rise up to $3 million to $9 million annually as a result of violations of Executive Order 13672, which prohibits federal contractors that receive more than $10,000 in federal contracts annually from discriminating against their employees and job applicants based on gender identity.  Lastly, there likely will be costs incurred as a result of litigation and federal administrative enforcement.  The report can be found here.

If the report is accurate, then are these costs that both the citizens and the state of Tennessee will tolerate because of legislative intolerance? Is this a worthy cost of fear and hate?  

May 1, 2016 in Economics, Jeremiah Ho, LGBT, Transgender | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

"Brainy Award" Winners Examine US Human Rights Issues

Last week, the Carnegie Corporation announced this year's 33 Carnegie Fellows, winners of the so-called "Brainy Awards."  The good news, as these awards reveal, is that many of the best brains in the country are focusing their work on issues that take human rights seriously here at home.  Leading the way is Margaret Burnham, professor at Northeastern University School of Law and founder of the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project.  A long-time civil rights advocate, Burnham has spent recent years developing research methods to uncover racially-motivated cold cases -- murders, lynchings, and other tragic crimes -- from the mid-twentieth century US.  Having identified the cases and underlying facts, she and Northeastern Law students work with families and communities to bring some element of restorative justice.  With her award, Burnham will create a digital archive to preserve information about these cases and individuals into the future.

Other awardees include Josh Dubler, a professor of religion at the University of Rochester who asks, "why not prison abolition?"  Thomas Weiss, a professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, will develop ideas to make the United Nations more effective.  Jains Hainmueller, a political science professor at Stanford, will conduct a quasi-experimental study on what works to promote refugee integration in the US and Europe.  Also on the issue of human rights at home, but from a different orientation, Duke Law Professor Curtis Bradley, a long-time critic of judicial references to foreign law, will conduct a project on democratic accountability and foreign comparative law. 

All in all, a brainy bunch, whose work makes clear that implementing human rights in the US remains a vital cause.

April 28, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)