Does fighting for human rights actually make a difference? Scholars, policymakers, lawyers, and activists have asked that question ever since the contemporary human rights movement emerged after World War II. At any given moment, headlines supply plenty of reasons for skepticism. Today, the news is full of reports of Rohingya refugees fleeing a campaign of murder, rape, and dispossession in Myanmar; drug users dealing with brutal, state-sponsored vigilantism in the Philippines; and immigrants and minorities facing the wrath of extreme right-wing and populist movements in European countries and the United States. It is easy to succumb to a sense of despair about the laws and institutions designed to protect human rights.
In 1968, the legal scholar Louis Henkin wrote that “almost all nations observe almost all principles of international law and almost all of their obligations almost all of the time.” Subsequent empirical studies, primarily in the fields of international trade and international environmental law, have confirmed Henkin’s qualified optimism. But in the field of international human rights, empirical studies have sometimes led to more pessimistic conclusions. In a 2002 article in The Yale Law Journal, for instance, the legal scholar Oona Hathaway concluded that “although the practices of countries that have ratified human rights treaties are generally better than those of countries that have not, noncompliance with treaty obligations appears common.”
Hathaway and others who have analyzed international human rights regimes have generally focused on the efficacy of specific laws, institutions, or methodologies: for example, the number of human rights treaties that a given country has ratified, the existence of domestic legislation that reflects international norms, or the presence of national human rights institutions. But few have stepped back and considered the overall impact of the broader international human rights movement. In her new book, Evidence for Hope, the political scientist Kathryn Sikkink fills that gap—and the news, she reports, is better than one might fear. Drawing on decades of research into transnational civil society networks and international institutions, Sikkink counters skeptics from the left and the right who have argued that the persistence of grave human rights violations throughout the world is evidence that the international movement has failed and should be abandoned altogether. On the contrary, she concludes, the struggle for human rights has indeed made a difference: “Overall there is less violence and fewer human rights violations in the world than there were in the past.”
Sikkink contends that skeptics have relied on the wrong metrics to measure progress and have failed to see shifts in the human rights movement that have made it more durable. She is even relatively bullish about the prospects for continued progress in the Trump era. In this way, she distinguishes herself from the many activists and scholars who fear that the populist nationalism that helped put Donald Trump in the White House could reverse hard-fought human rights gains of the past few decades, both in the United States and abroad.
President Trump's disturbing remarks about certain countries has prompted both outrage and response worldwide as well as within the human rights communities. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called the remarks both shocking and shameful. The Commissioner, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, noted that there is no way avoid labeling the remarks "racist". "You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as 's***holes', whose entire populations are not white and therefore are not welcome", remark that people from Norway would be welcome and not reach the conclusion that the president is racist.
Overlooking the fact that it is hard to imagine why Norwegians would want to emigrate to the US under President Trump, the President's remarks come closer to the truth of the current state of affairs in the US than any prior remark. The President may have been able to hide behind terrorism and Homeland Security warnings in his earlier comments around refugees from war engaged, middle eastern countries. But there is no terrorism threat to the US from Haiti or the other targeted countries. The difference is skin color. And that is the underbelly of the vile backlash the US is currently experiencing.
The UN High Commissioner distilled the impact of President Trump's comments to the core danger. "This isn't just a story about vulgar language, it's about opening the door to humanity's worst side."
The shuttle to Logan airport picked me up at 4:40 am. I had given a presentation the day before and was returning home early in time to teach my afternoon class. If you haven’t been on the road before 5:00 am, I recommend it for only one reason: it provides a valuable reminder of how many people work really hard. In the darkness of that hour, while most people are sleeping and most businesses are closed, you'll come across overnight desk clerks at hotels, shuttle drivers, 24-hour gas station attendants, long distance truck drivers, and others working through the night. It has been a long time since I worked all night, but I recall the toll it takes. And for some people, that night shift is one of two jobs they’ll work that day. I suppose, in this bizarro world of today’s politics, I expected to acknowledge that it is possible the hotel desk clerk was in fact an undercover millionaire who just liked working nights. However, contrary to what some politics pundits might suggest, the exception--if it exists--does not disprove the rule. Most people do not prefer to spend their nights working and away from their families. What came to me during the hour-long ride to the airport is the importance of human rights: the right to a fair wage, decent working conditions, health care, and more. Most of us working in human rights understandably focus our energy on individuals or communities confronting urgent and often severe violations of human rights. But being on the road before 5:00 am is a reminder that human rights remains relevant to all individuals, in all walks of life.
The Irish Yearbook of International Lawis now accepting submissions for the next Volume (Volume XIII (2018)). Edited by Professor Siobhán Mullaly (incoming at NUI Galway) and Professor Fiona de Londras (University of Birmingham) — members of IntLawGrrls — and published by Hart Publishing, the Yearbook is internationally peer reviewed and publishes longer and shorter articles on all areas of international law.
The Irish Yearbook of International Law is committed to the publication of articles of general interest in international law as well as articles that have a particular connection to, or relevance for, Ireland. Articles are usually 10,000 to 12,000 words in length, although longer pieces will be considered. The Yearbook also publishes a small number of shorter articles and notes, which should not exceed 6,000 words.
In prior posts, Martha Davis announced that Mountain View (CA) city council passed a resolution designating the municipality as a human rights city. Prof. Francisco Rivera, informed us of concerns and frustrations that arose during the city council debate and the important work that his students did in educating council members on the human rights framework.
In late May, Mountain View mayor, Ken Rosenberg, discussed the challenge of implementing the vision of a human rights city. In an op-ed opinion, Rosenberg announced that Mountain View would be home to an institute whose goal is to create 100 human rights cities all over the world “based on learning and integrating human rights into every aspect of our daily lives”. Beautifully said.
Mayor Rosenberg credited the work of The People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning for educating him and others to the human rights way of life. Mayor Rosenberg also acknowledges that The People's Movement has the expertise to implement the vision of the new institute.
The Yogyakarta Principles for eliminating sexual identity and gender discrimination were written in 2006. In 2010, an Activists Guide to the principles was published. The target audience for the guide is LBGTQ activists, with a secondary audience being academics and others interested in human rights implementation. The principles themselves are directed toward the state, and in particular those creating and implementing policy.
Recently a global conference was held in Bangkok to discuss updating the principles by addressing any existing gaps.
Stephen Leonelli of the Men Who Have Sex with Men Global Forum, seeks to bring more awareness of HIV to the principles. At present, there are only two references to HIV contained in the principles. Leonelli, who was a representative at the Bangkok meeting, has written a critique of the principles from the perspective of what changes might be made in order to appropriately address HIV/AIDS.
One of Leonelli's goals is to bring awareness to the collateral consequences of having HIV. Often acknowledged are the public health concerns HIV raises. But less appreciated are the impacts of criminalization, discrimination, violence and stigma. To read more on Leonelli's suggestions for advancing HIV awareness through the Yogyakarta Principles, click here.
The revisions are scheduled to be completed this fall.
The firing of FBI Director James Comey has placed us in political and perhaps constitutional crisis. President Trump fundamentally does not believe in political process and constitutional protections.
Human rights, and more specifically US civil rights, are threatened. Expectations of presidential incompetence and buffoonery were widespread on inauguration day. But the worst fears were that the dangerous behaviors exhibited by prior extreme narcissistic leaders would surface, evidenced by disregard of democratic process and by impulsive, maniacal acts. The firing of James Comey is the triggering act of disregard for independence that see Americans struggling to preserve human rights. In addition to human rights conveyed at birth, our civil rights were empowered through the Bill of Rights and constitutional amendments.
The anti-democracy demon is loose.
The excuse for the firing was clever. Comey’s mishandling of the Clinton email issue was deliberate interference with free elections. Comey himself ignored protocol and three times made announcements that placed Secretary of State Clinton in a position of being damned if she protested Comey’s behavior and damned by letting the information sit in the public consciousness.
Comey, for his part, failed to disclose the summer investigation of Trump – Russia connections. His focusing on misuse of a personal email server, which has had no proven detrimental impact on our country’s safety or political health, smelled of misogyny and election tampering particularly when coupled with his withholding of information that might prove treasonous. While Comey may have conducted an “independent” Clinton investigation, his use of the information was not neutral.
So yes – firing Comey based upon the Clinton email investigation could be justified.
The problem is that the firing did not happen on January 21.
But firing Comey now over the email investigation is pretext and will not save the president from exposure. Whether the President’s narcissism at being publicly challenged by Comey by continuing the Russia investigation triggered the Comey firing or it was the knowledge that treasonous acts are about to be exposed is almost irrelevant.
Fully exposed is this: What our president most fears is truth. And he is willing to use extreme measures to prevent challenge and exposure. He is willing to undermine, if not destroy, established democratic processes in order to preserve his self-image.
Case in point: almost lost in the shadow of the Comey firing was the arrest of reporter who repeatedly asked Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price if domestic violence would be a pre-existing condition under Trumpcare. The reporter was arraigned and released only after posting $5,000.00 in bail. First amendment freedoms are threatened.
While this is a time when Americans should be afraid, this is not the time to engage fear based responses. Americans have shown recent resistance through organized and spontaneous activism. Human rights activists within and without our borders have proven to be skilled strategists. Goal number one must be development of a global plan to contain Trump.
For at least the last 20 years, the U.S. government has followed a consistent policy on engagement with supranational human rights institutions that exercise supervisory jurisdiction over it, like UN treaty bodies and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). This week the Trump Administration broke with a key part of that policy. In a brief phone call to the headquarters of the Inter-American Commission, the principal human rights organ of the Organization of American States, a State Department official summarily informed the Commission that no U.S. representatives would attend the next day’s scheduled hearings on the U.S.’s domestic human rights record, including the Administration’s recent executive orders on immigration, arbitrary restrictions on migrants’ access to asylum, and the decision to allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to move forward. A feeble reason was given. So feeble was it that the spokesperson acknowledged it would be unacceptable if proffered by any other government of the region.
U.S. human rights advocates have expressed anger and alarm at the no-show. They have called the move hypocritical, emblematic of the Trump Administration’s utter disregard for human rights and human rights institutions, and a “new low” for U.S. policy. All that is true. But if we are to figure out the best strategies for reversing what we hope is not a “new normal,” it is important that we are honest about what has changed, who specifically is injured by that change, and how we can move toward a better overall policy course.
In this regard, we should not fall into the trap of painting in too rosy a hue the United States’ longstanding policy of engagement with supranational human rights treaty bodies like the IACHR. That policy has had two reliable, if conflicting, components. The first – the one advocates are focusing on this week -- is a policy of active formal engagement with the institutional processes of the supervisory organ. The U.S. reliably shows up – often with high-level and inter-agency delegations, and sometimes with local as well as federal government interlocutors. Even in situations where ongoing domestic litigation may create the possibility of conflicts, the U.S. still sends delegations to observe, listen, record, and convey assurances of the U.S.’s respect for and commitment to the supervisory organ’s processes.
Rarely, if ever, does the U.S. acknowledge responsibility for human rights misconduct. But it does do something institutionally just as important: It engages the legal claims made against it, and aggressively defends itself from IACHR findings of violation. It vigorously defends its conduct as lawful and justified under regional human rights norms, and regularly challenges the procedural contours of the IACHR’s competence over specific matters. In so doing, it seeks to demonstrate that it takes the IACHR’s work seriously as a supranational institution, that it values civil society access to regional human rights claim-making, and that it defends the process of OAS member states being forced to “justify” their conduct before the IACHR in human rights terms.
This is indeed what human rights institutions like the IACHR are designed to do. Such institutions have many functions, at local, national and supranational levels. But, fundamentally, their purpose is to open and guarantee spaces for direct engagement between identified rights-holders and government agents responsible for protecting said persons’ rights. Such spaces are necessary when rights-based claims can’t be redressed effectively at the domestic level, whether because democratic institutions are weak and inaccessible or institutions don’t problem-solve through a human rights and rights balancing lens. In such cases, as with the immigration, asylum, and water security issues that were to have been discussed at the IACHR this past Tuesday, policy decisions often result in unjustifiable or unjustifiably severe impacts on certain groups. Human rights institutions like the IACHR exist to act as a space through which claims to such abusive or unjustified policymaking can be raised, and direct dialogue on how to redress the policy failures can be fostered with those directly responsible for it.
And, yet, there is a second reliable component of the U.S.’s longstanding treaty body engagement policy: The U.S. vigorously rejects any obligation to change its policies or practices as a result of formal engagement or the treaty body recommendations that come out of it. For U.S. claimants, then, the very purposes to which the “engagement” component of U.S. policy is outwardly directed are undermined completely by the policy’s second component of no domestic policy impacts.
What, then, are we to make of the implications of this week’s “no show” announcement for U.S. human rights advocacy at home? The actors most severely injured by it are, of course, the IACHR as an institution and the millions of claimant communities throughout the Americas who rely on the IACHR’s convening capacity to bring their governments to the table to address human rights harms. Indeed, the fact that the U.S. has for decades now made a point to be at every hearing, has been an important factor in maintaining the Commission’s institutional credibility and power, and in pushing back against those states that have threatened to withdraw from the process. Without specific enforcement powers or even the ability to issue binding orders, the Commission is powerless if it loses its convening capacity. If the U.S. won’t show up, why should Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua or the Dominican Republic?
In this regard, U.S. engagement policy has never been about U.S. claimants. It has been about other governments – the “bad ones” – who might otherwise (like the U.S.) wish to disregard the IACHR’s engagement-promoting processes. The U.S. recognizes that the IACHR has played a vital and historic role in strengthening commitments to democracy and human rights throughout the region, and that strengthening the IACHR’s convening capacity is one of the most effective (and cheapest) ways to promote regional security and stability. The U.S. has therefore sought to offer itself as an “example” of the kind of high-level, interagency engagement the U.S. expects other countries of the Americas to follow.
The “no show” policy decimates this longstanding foreign policy goal. To the extent it becomes a permanent feature of U.S. policy, it removes any pretense of U.S. respect for IACHR engagement, rendering the U.S. indistinguishable from the region’s most rogue of states. For U.S. advocates committed to the regional human rights system as an institution and to our sister communities throughout the Americas, then, the “no show” policy must be reversed. Doing so will entail vigorous advocacy at the State Department level to remind officials of the reasons U.S. treaty body engagement policy has consistently favored “showing up” and engaging on the merits, even when authorities believe those claims to be unmeritorious. These reasons relate to the security and stability of the region as a whole, irrespective of how the U.S. treats internal claims made against it.
Of course, U.S. communities are harmed, too, by the “no show “policy. Yet, because U.S. engagement policy was never designed to dignify them or take their claims seriously as a practical matter, the potential shift in U.S. policy changes their opportunity structure in much more limited ways. Thus, U.S. engagement may be helpful in identifying contact points in government to put domestic political pressure on, or in organizing communities to frame claims as human rights violations, or in understanding U.S. positions on the meaning of distinct norms or processes. But it doesn’t help in getting solutions that can be implemented as part of a problem-solving process of human rights protection.
If the opportunity environment for human rights claimants in the U.S. is to change a very different set of advocacy strategies will be needed. The U.S. disregards human rights at home because it has no incentive structure to address such claims in human rights terms; political disputes are not discussed in human rights language, and political actors face no political consequence for ignoring claims brought against it before supranational treaty bodies like the IACHR. To change this, a much more complex process of building human rights from the bottom up in the U.S. needs to take place. We need to be building and strengthening our domestic human rights commissions, such that local and state actors begin to address issues in the language of human rights. We need to build human rights cities in which our communities, politicians, and the media discuss local issues of justice and equality in human rights terms. And we need to be passing human rights ordinances that require our cities, townships, and counties to routinize human rights methodologies of self-assessment, audit, and justification.
Only when human rights have direct meaning and domestic pull for U.S. political actors, local and national, will U.S. treaty body engagement policy shift in such a way that it matters in practice whether the U.S. is a “no show” or not. Until then, we need to work tirelessly to preserve and strengthen the credibility of supranational human rights systems like the IACHR for regional communities that can use them directly to make domestic change.
[Editors' Note: This blog is the part of our symposium series on the Administration's failure to participate in the IACHR hearing on March 21. The other postings, by Deborah Weissman, Sarah Paoletti, and JoAnn Kamuf Ward, respectively, arehere,here and here. Lauren Carasik and Margaret Drew comment here. Rick Wilson's comments are here.]
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ 161st Period of Sessions – which concluded with hearings on the United States – will be marked by the unprecedented failure of the United States government to appear. Apparently, the Commission received notice from the US Department of State on Monday, March 21st, that it would likely not attend the hearings scheduled for the next day.
The US government’s absence was a noted contrast from the Obama Administration’s engagement with the Commission. Then, the government showed up, and often showed up in force – with representation from the Department of Justice, and other federal agencies implicated by the petition, or with oversight responsibility over the rights at issue. The Obama Administration took seriously as part of its foreign policy agenda a demonstration of the importance of robust civil society engagement. Advocates were not without their critiques of the Obama Administration’s participation in Commission’s hearings, especially when representatives made their oft-repeated statements that they did not recognize the Commission’s interpretation of international law or recommendations as binding, or provided testimony that highlighted the disconnect between rights rhetoric and reality, but the government showed up. They sat and listened while they were critiqued, and answered questions posed to them, as a demonstration for their respect for the Commission and its role in protecting and promoting human rights across the region (even, if not always within the United States). Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program, noted: “This is another worrying sign that the Trump Administration is not only launching an assault on human rights at home but is also trying to undermine international bodies charged with holding abusive governments accountable.”
In response to a media inquiry, a spokesman for the US Department of State said the U.S. had “tremendous respect” for the IACHR, and excused its absence, saying, “It is not appropriate for the United States to participate in these hearings while litigation on these matters is ongoing in U.S. courts.” But the first hearing of the day was a merits hearing on behalf of a Japanese-Peruvian who had been interned by the United States government during the period of Japanese internment – where the Commission had already ruled on admissibility, evidencing exhaustion of domestic remedies and no pending litigation. Another hearing raised issues of U.S. policies and practices that serve to deny migrants access to asylum, issues that predate the Trump Administration. The other hearing was brought by the Commission to address the recent Executive Orders and DHS Policy Memos. Certainly, the Executive Order implementing a ban on entry of individuals from 6 Muslim-majority countries and suspending all refugee admissions are subject to litigation, but while some measures taken under the guise of national security are the subject of active litigation, other elements are not. Also at issue was Trump’s Executive Order that allowed drilling to move forward on the Dakota pipeline. In the past, though, where there has been pending litigation, the U.S. has still showed up. The government representatives would simply decline comment on specific questions that directly implicated pending litigation.
The government’s absence was noted with dismay by the Commissioners and the advocates present, as well as those watching from afar. The fear is that the U.S. government’s failure to show is emblematic of its disregard for human rights, and specifically the rights of migrants, environmental and indigenous rights, and its disrespect for international human rights institutions. And one is left wondering, would it have been worse if the US had appeared?
[Editors' Note: This post is the first in a series of perspectives on the US government's failure to participate in the IACHR hearing on Tuesday, March 21. The second post, from Professor Deborah Weissman, is here. The third post, from JoAnn Kamuf Ward, is here. Professor Johanna Kalb comments here and commentary from Margaret Drew and Lauren Carasik is here. Tara Melish comments here, and Rick Wilson's comments are here.]
Reportedly, the Trump administration is considering withdrawing the US from the UN Human Rights Council.
The reported reasons are the council's treatment of the Jewish state as unfair. Other reasons include that countries with gross human rights violations are permitted to sit on the council. President George W. Bush had similar concerns, but President Obama reversed the Bush decision.
That the administration is considering withdrawal is no surprise, but nonetheless is another move with shocking consequences. One wonders about the integrity behind the concerns. A strong supporter of long-time ally Israel, Trump's protest is understandable. But what is concerning is that US withdrawal would come at a time when human rights are being restricted within our boarders. The immigration orders and enforcement tactics ignore human rights. Muhammad Ali, Jr. and his mother were detained at a Florida airport because of their names and reportedly were questioned extensively about their religion. A French historian who is a visiting professor at Texas A & M was detained for 10 hours and nearly deported. President Trump instructed law enforcement to make crimes committed by the undocumented "highly publicized" while at the same time NYT, CNN and others were prevented from attending a briefing with press secretary Spicer.
At the same time, women's rights and rights of minorities are waning. Assaults on women, Jews, Muslims, and racial minorities have increased since the inauguration, if not the election.
Refusal to participate by Pres. Bush did not carry the same veiled threat as does a refusal to participate made by President Trump. Non-participation at this point removes another possible source of help that might otherwise be available to US citizens who wish to stop the erosion of their human rights. While withdrawal may be symbolic in many ways, one of those symbols is an ongoing attempt to eliminate human rights in the US.
In the wake of the Appeals Court setback to Donald Trump’s Executive Order to ban entry of nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries and suspend refugee admissions, his administration began following through on its promise to crackdown on undocumented immigrants, with raids reported in 6 states, stoking terror in immigrant communities. The stepped up enforcement highlights two other EO’s on immigration that have garnered less attention than the travel bans, but will wreak their own havoc.
The EO Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, signed on January 25, blocks funds to sanctuary cities and prioritizes the deportation of immigrants who have been convicted of or charged with a criminal offense, committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense or "have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter," among others. After the raids began, Trump tweeted that "The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise. Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!" But among the first deported was Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, a mother of two whose felony consisted of using a false social security number in 2008. She came to the country as a teenager, and was detained when she attended her annual check in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Her children provided a wrenching account of their family torn asunder by their mother’s deportation.
The January 25 EO on Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements also affects refugees. The order directs the Department of Homeland Security to begin building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and ends the “catch and release” program, expanding indefinite detention for undocumented migrants, including families. Authorities can also deport those apprehended at the border immediately, although many of them have international protection needs, especially those fleeing Central America’s violence plagued Northern Triangle countries – Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Trump’s order runs afoul of the country’s non-refoulement obligations. Many presenting at the border have valid asylum claims, and Mexico, which receives aid from Washington to stem the flow of migrants reaching the U.S. border, has been unable or unwilling to protect rights and safety of migrants traveling through its territory.
Conditions in the Northern Triangle countries remain dire. On January 31, the NGO Global Witness issued a report on “Honduras: The Deadliest Place to Defend the Planet.” The report found that 123 people have been killed protecting their land in Honduras since the 2009 coup that ousted democratically elected president Mel Zelaya. “Our investigations reveal how Honduras’ political and business elites are using corrupt and criminal means to cash in on the country’s natural wealth, and are enlisting the support of state forces to murder and terrorise the communities who dare to stand in their way,” said Billy Kyte, a campaigner for the organization. The report highlights the murder of indigenous and environmental activist Berta Cáceres, an internationally acclaimed human rights defender who won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. Her killing elicited international condemnation. Although the Honduran government has arrested the crime’s material authors, including several who had ties to the military, Cáceres’ family denounces the state’s failure to identify the intellectual authors of her murder.
Among the recommendations in the Global Witness report are the withdrawal of U.S. security aid to the country. “As Honduras’ biggest aid donor, the US should help bring an end to the bloody crackdown on Honduras’ rural population,” said Global Witness Advocacy Director Billy Kyte. “Instead it is bankrolling Honduran state forces, which are behind some of the worst attacks. The incoming US administration must urgently address this paradox, which is fueling, not reducing, insecurity across the country.” Shortly after releasing the report, two Global Witness employees working in Honduras were widely disparaged and threatened with legal action for their work. In a statement, Amnesty International said it is “concerned that the intensity of the smear campaign against human rights defenders, and the silence of the Honduran authorities rejecting statements that stigmatize their activities, facilitates physical attacks against them.”
Despite an abysmal human rights record in Honduras, Washington continues to provide funding to the government. Until deadly violence in Honduras abates, desperate refugees will continue to flee. And if the Trump administration has its way, desperate refugees will not find protection at the U.S. border. Human rights abroad and human rights at home are often closely intertwined.
Acting Attorney General Sarah Yates last week instructed Justice Department lawyers not to defend the Trump Administration's executive orders on immigration. By that night, she was fired. Immediately following, the order was rescinded.
Yates' letter was eloquent and clear in outlining her function within the government and how it differs from the role of White House legal counsel.
Yates' refusal to comply with orders contrary to accepted legal and human rights practice echoes the Justice Department's response to White House directives during Watergate. Then, White House disregard for the rule of law was rebuffed by Attorney General Elliot Richardson and others within Justice, leading to their firing. Those firings are known as the Saturday Night Massacre.
Just as Martha Davis' post noted Justice Scalia's remark that the Korematsu facts could happen again, we are reminded that executive attempts to dismantle fundamental legal structures is being repeated.
At the DC Women's March, Gloria Steinem spoke of President Trump's mental health problems. We now know that President Nixon was delusional and suffered from the same grandiosity as President Trump. But this time we were forewarned.
In 2017, the United States of America turned its back on refugees. History will judge us poorly, but that’s no consolation for the children, women, and men fleeing war zones today, thinking America represents safety and freedom. So while the Statue of Liberty boldly declares, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” the U.S. government has abandoned that ideal. In 2017! But this essay is not about Pres. Trump’s executive order, or the extraordinary responses by so many lawyers and other citizens who stood up for the rights of refugees and Muslims. It’s about the more deeply-rooted beliefs that allow such an executive order to come to fruition in the first place.
The executive order reflects a particular world view, an understanding of the world built on a tiered othering. Demonizing an entire people based on their country of origin or religion is only possible when we refuse to recognize their humanity. From the slave trade to World War II portrayals of the enemy to human trafficking narratives, racialized, spatial, gendered, and class-based forms of othering have enabled laws and acts that violate the rights of certain individuals.
I lived in New York City at the time of 9/11. I vividly remember the horrors of that day and its aftermath. I will never forget the smells, the missing person signs all over my neighborhood in the days that followed, the burnt office paper scattered on my block. But what I also remember is one of the most extraordinary expressions of humanity: Muslims, Jews, Christians, and others coming together for a candle light vigil in my neighborhood a few days later. I recall hearing about attacks on Muslims in parts of the country nowhere near the terrorist attacks. And I don’t recall a single such incident in New York City. Because we were neighbors, we saw the humanity in each other. The terrorists were just that. Everyone else in the neighborhood was a neighbor, a New Yorker, an American.
It’s hard to think about the long game when there are so many pressing crises that threaten the rights, and even survival, of millions of people right now. At some point, however, we must develop a meaningful response to these underlying attitudes. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that education “shall be directed …to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms…[and] shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups.” Education is critical. And we need to be innovative in our approach; it cannot be limited to formal classroom settings.
Literature and other art forms offer important spaces through which viewers can appreciate and understand the humanity of others. Explaining his approach to writing children’s books, Walter Dean Myers stated that when he wrote about poor inner-city children, he wanted “to make them human in the eyes of readers and, especially, in their own eyes. I need to make them feel as if they are part of America’s dream, that all the rhetoric is meant for them, and that they are wanted in this country.”
As Walter Dean Myers highlights, othering occurs not just with people in distant lands, but also with marginalized populations in cities and towns across this country.
My father used to say “America is the second best country in the world. There is no number 1, yet.” In other words, greatness is achievable only by acknowledging our own flaws and working to address them. The problem with othering is not only that it results in devaluing the Other, it also fosters characterizations of the Self as virtuous and without fault.
When we turn our back on others, be they refugees or children living in poverty in the United States, we are anything but virtuous.
Action is urgently needed to avoid repeating the awful choices of prior generations that we now condemn. But we also must build a sustainable movement that teaches tolerance and respect for one another, so that we can end the cycle of human rights abuses.
Note: The views expressed here are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of any institution or organization that I work for or have an affiliation with.
State and local officials can be a bulwark against the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine human rights. Their potential was on full display during Trump’s first weeks in office.
With immigrants as his prime target, President Trump signed a sweeping executive order temporarily suspending refugee admissions, indefinitely banning refugee admissions from Syria, and imposing severe restrictions for 90-days on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. Earlier, he issued an order to begin construction on a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico and ramp up immigration enforcement within the United States. For those “sanctuary jurisdictions” that resist this crack down on their residents by limiting cooperation with federal authorities on immigration enforcement, Trump ordered withholding of federal funding, thus carrying out a promise made on the campaign trail.
In the midst of these assaults on human rights, we’ve seen massive nation-wide organizing and public protests, remarkable collaboration to develop swift legal challenges, and courageous resistance and dissent from within the federal government. State and local officials from many jurisdictions are stepping in and stepping up, as well, vowing to protect local communities.
State and local efforts to protect human rights, particularly in the context of immigration, are not new. In recent years, sanctuary jurisdictions have emerged as a response to the over-enforcement of draconian federal immigration restrictions which separate families and disrupt lives and livelihoods. New York, Seattle, Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. are among the 39 cities that have declared that they will not share information with federal authorities on immigration status or turn their citizens over to federal immigration authorities for minor infractions. Four states (California, Connecticut, Vermont, and Rhode Island) and hundreds of counties make up the ranks, as well. Jurisdictions take wide ranging and differing approaches to their sanctuary policies. What they share, however, is a principled commitment to keeping immigrant communities safe and to ensuring equal treatment of individuals.
In this new era, the stakes are increasingly high. Indeed, in the wake of the executive order threatening loss of funding, some sanctuary jurisdictions are rethinking their approach. Miami-Dade’s mayor ordered county jails to comply with federal immigration detention requests, citing the over 300 million dollars of federal funding at stake.
But others are standing firm. New York Mayor Bill De Blasio vowed to prioritize city policies that foster positive ties between law enforcement and immigrant communities. And he suggested that the City would sue the federal government if it withholds funding pursuant to the new executive order. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said that Boston would not be intimidated by threatened federal cuts. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a guidance for local authorities on how to limit participation in immigration enforcement, and suggested model sanctuary provisions. California’s Governor Jerry Brown, too, has spoken out strongly about his state’s commitment to “defend everybody – every man, woman and child – who has come here for a better life and has contributed to the well-being of our state."
Other examples of state and local resistance to the Trump agenda have emerged. In response to the January 27th executive order halting refugee admissions and imposing a 90-day ban on entry of immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, sixteen state Attorney’s General issued a joint statement condemning the order as "unconstitutional, un-American and unlawful," and vowing to challenge the order in court. As of this writing, the Governor and Attorney General of Washington announced plans to file broad-based litigation seeking to invalidate the order, and the Attorney General of Massachusetts announced the intention to join in litigation brought by the ACLU.
The emergence of vocal state and local leaders, speaking out for foundational human rights principles of equality and non-discrimination, regardless of citizenship status, illustrates the critical role that state and local governments play in safeguarding human rights, particularly where the federal government fails to do so. Notably, a number of sanctuary jurisdictions have also made express commitments to promote and protect human rights. Boston and Seattle are among the eleven self-proclaimed “Human Rights Cities” in the United States – a number that continues to grow. Los Angeles and San Francisco have enacted ordinances based explicitly on international human rights treaties. Chicago has likewise committed to address domestic violence and children’s rights as human rights issues. Add to these examples innovative efforts by mayors, legislatures, and state and local agencies across the United States to incorporate human rights into local law and policy.
As these actions by mayors, governors, and Attorneys Generals illustrate, human rights do, indeed, begin in small places, close to home. And state and local officials will have an increasingly vital role to play in ensuring that the United States protects and respects human rights in the age of Trump.
Over the past few decades, I wondered what it would take for women to mobilize. Increasingly, we have been disrespected. "Bitch" has come into conversational use. Music is often disrespectful toward us and we continue to bear the brunt of familial care-giving and then penalized for it in the workplace. Why were women being so passive? We failed to pro-actively and collectively use our power.
Donald Trump's election as president mobilized women in a way unseen in the history of this country, if not all of the world? Did the election of a sexual predator clarify women's vision of the future for us and our planet? We were able to mobilize to protect the next and future generations of daughters and sons. Because the next generation is in danger of living in a regressive and more repressive culture, women rose.
Solidarity among sisters world wide informs us of the power of women. Women are out of the closet in a way unseen in America. Never before has the international sisterhood organized so effectively.
Trump is not the only one threatening our rights. Government supports institutional oppression while the media mostly portrays women in ways that diminish their autonomy and existence, whether you are a presidential candidate or a single mom trying to make it through the day.
Our obligation to future generations and to the planet is to keep our power in play for good. The out of sync patriarchal world has resulted in violence, corruption and spiritual decline. The time is now for women to restore the world to balance, not eliminate the masculine, but bring the masculine and feminine into balance.
None of this would have happened but for the actions of Mr. Trump.
Editor's note: Prof. Francisco Rivera guest blogs to give us a first-hand account of bringing the Human Right City resolution to Mountain View, CA.
As Martha Davis posted, the City Council of Mountain View, CA passed a resolution last week adopting the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights as guiding principles and designating Mountain View as a Human Rights City. Students in the International Human Rights Clinic at Santa Clara Law provided technical assistance to the city throughout the process. Ultimately, as Martha mentioned, the resolution passed, but not unanimously. In the clinic’s press release, we highlighted positive comments from the mayor and other councilmembers who voted in favor of the resolution. What we did not mention were the comments from the two councilmembers who voted against it. I think it is important for us to become familiar with those arguments so that we can be better prepared to address them.
A video recording of the City Council’s session can be accessed here, with the relevant discussion taking place from the 4hr 31min mark through the 5hr 28min mark.
Consider the following exchange between Councilmember John Inks and Councilmember Ken Rosenberg (the person primarily responsible for this resolution):
Councilmember Inks: “I guess I am biased by my American history and the principles that we have in this country, which are based on liberty and freedom, including economic freedom. […] This resolution […] is a springboard for a UN-style sort of governance and economic policy. […] Basically it is a manifesto for socialism, as opposed to the American tradition, which is based on constitutional principles, rule of law, economic liberty, and personal freedom, and not what is in the UN document (the UDHR).”
Councilmember Rosenberg: “Are you saying this (the UDHR and the resolution) subverts our laws?”
Councilmember Inks: “It is contrary to American tradition.”
Councilmember Rosenberg: “American tradition supports human rights.”
Councilmember Inks: “Ultimately, the UN principles get down to designing the desired political system, which is a socialist system, so I won’t be supporting the resolution.”
The frustration on Councilmember Rosenberg’s face was unmistakable.
Councilmember (and former mayor) John McAlister also voted against the resolution. He said, “This UN deal […] for me, it’s too much. There could be some unknowns in there, and I have a feeling this could come bite us in the rear end sometime. […] I will not be supporting the idea of becoming a Human Rights City, but I would be willing to recommend that we consider implementing some framework –not necessarily a human rights framework – but a policy that incorporates human dignity and respect for all.”
For me, these exchanges highlight how the human rights message is often misunderstood, particularly by those in government. We must do better to address these misconceptions. In response to similar concerns raised by the City Council and by the Human Relations Commission, our students prepared a FAQs document on Human Rights Cities. Maybe we should collectively engage in similar efforts to frame responses to common criticisms of the applicability and relevance of the human rights framework in the US.
Celebrate Human Rights Day and celebrate yourselves! While we have focused the last several weeks on an anticipated backlash on human rights, let's be mindful of the progress that we have made in injecting the human rights framework into the US advocacy and academic dialogue.
Each of you has played no small part and are honored on this day. The community is thriving despite tremendous challenges. We have learned to lean on each other and build upon each others work. This is an era we will survive through community. We will survive the challenges by respecting the dignity of all human beings and tending to the care of each other. Thanks to you!
We are saddened to report the passing of Hope Lewis, Professor at Northeastern University School of Law. Professor Lewis was a passionate voice for human rights at home and abroad, and a leading scholar on economic, social and cultural rights. Hope's colleague, Professor Margaret Woo, contributes to this account of Professor Lewis' life and her many accomplishments.
L. Hope Lewis passed away on December 6, 2016 after a long and courageous battle with illness. Beloved daughter, treasured friend to many, champion of the poor and disadvantaged around the globe.
Born on May 14, 1962, Professor Lewis was a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, Harvard College, and Harvard Law School. She joined the Northeastern University School of Law faculty in 1992. A passionate champion of the poor and disadvantaged, Hope focused her teaching and scholarly work on human rights and economic rights in the global economy. She was a founder of the law school’s Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy and served as the faculty director of the law school’s Global Legal Studies.
An internationally recognized legal scholar and commentator on human rights, she authored numerous articles and co-authored the seminal textbook Human Rights & the Global Marketplace: Economic, Social, and Cultural Dimensions (Brill, 2005). Professor Lewis was a co-drafter and compiler of the "Boston Principles on the Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights of Non-citizens," a project of the law school’s Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy. She was a founding co-chair of the American Society of International Law (ASIL) International Disability Rights Interest Group and served on the ASIL executive council between 2010 and 2013. She served on the board of governors of the Society of American Law Teachers and the executive committee of the Association of American Law Schools Section on Minority Groups.
The Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) honored Professor Lewis in 2015 with the Shanara Gilbert Human Rights Award. She was the 2014 Kate Stoneman Visiting Professor of Law and Democracy at Albany Law School. Professor Lewis was a 2008 Sheila Biddle Fellow (Ford Foundation) of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African & African-American Research at Harvard University.
Apart from her scholarship and activism, Professor Lewis was well known for her commitment to her teaching and to her students. In recognition of her extensive work in mentoring students and colleagues, she was awarded the 2001 Haywood Burns/Shanara Gilbert Award at the Northeast Regional People of Color Legal Scholarship Conference and the 2012 American Bar Association’s Mayre Rasmussen Award for Mentorship of Women in International Law. Legally blind, she was also a recipient of the 2011 Thomas J. Carroll Award from the Carroll Center for the Blind and the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind.
Professor Lewis will be missed by her family, colleagues, students, and all of those who knew and loved her.
For more information on services and to sign the guestbook, click here.
There are many paths for local human rights advocates to travel as they seek to establish and secure a human rights' perspective in local communities. Risa Kaufman wrote on the many of the options available to advocates.
This post focuses on the option for your community to become a Human Rights City. For those exploring the concept, there are definitions and explanations from early and newer coalitions. From the website of the People's Movement for Human Rights Education comes one definition:
'What are human rights cities? Imagine living in a society where all citizens have made a pledge to build a community based on equality and nondiscrimination; --where all women and men are actively participating in the decisions that affect their daily lives guided by the human rights framework; where people have consciously internalized the holistic vision of human rights to overcome fear and impoverishment, a society that provides human security, access to food, clean water, housing, education, healthcare and work at livable wages, sharing these resources with all citizens-- not as a gift, but as a realization of human rights. A Human Rights city is a practical viable model that demonstrates that living in such a society is possible!"
The imperative to commit to human rights communities has never been more urgent.
I knew something was up when a policeman ushered me away from a cordoned off entrance to the Richard Rodgers Theater. But then again, this was Hamilton, and the presence of celebrities and politicians in the audience is almost a common occurrence. So it wasn’t quite a surprise when the woman in the seat in front of me told me the Vice President was attending the show. How great to watch the show with Joe Biden, I thought, glancing around the theater to see if I could spot him. That’s when Mike Pence walked in.
I bought our tickets to see Hamilton back in January. My daughter’s friend Alicia, a self-proclaimed theater geek had introduced us to the show. Alicia is Chinese-American, like me, and has written eloquently about what Hamilton means to children of immigrants, who are Americans but are often made to feel we are not part of our own country. Our family listened to the soundtrack non-stop. We were entranced by the story of the imperfect founding father, “a bastard, orphan, son of a whore.” We loved the history and patriotism, the focus on the promise of America in a story centered on immigrants, African-Americans and women. It made us feel that we were part of the narrative.
Then the election happened.
When Mike Pence walked in, there was a mix of applause and jeers. I stood silent, annoyed that Pence was going to ruin yet another thing for me. As the show went on, I’ll admit that it was cathartic to cheer with fellow New Yorkers when Angelica Schuyler sang we “hold these truths to be self-evident/that all men are created equal/and when I meet Thomas Jefferson/I’m gonna compel him to include women in the sequel.” And again when Hamilton and Lafayette proclaim “Immigrants: we get the job done.” Towards the end of the first act, King George comes on stage to warn the newly freed colonists how hard it is to rule, singing “when your people say they hate you, don't come crawling back to me.” Cheers were so loud that the actor, Rory O’Malley, had to stop singing.
During the intermission, my daughter speculated that Pence might skip the second act. Even though I’ve written to criticize Pence’s policies in Indiana and am truly scared about his agenda for the country, I found myself hoping that he would stay. I actually wanted him to see Hamilton. Hamilton is a beautiful play created by a diverse cast and crew. It represents a vision of America and American values that is important for the Trump/Pence administration to hear.
After the play, Donald Trump tweeted that the cast should apologize. The theater should be a special place, he said, calling the cast “rude” to Mike Pence, “a good man.” Like many others, I question the hypocrisy of essentially asking for a safe space for the future vice president, when Trump and his supporters mock the need for such spaces for young people and minorities on college campuses. However, I agree that as a country, we need to create spaces for dialogue and theater should be one of them.
But Hamilton’s cast and crew have absolutely nothing to apologize for. They performed a wonderful, inspiring, and thought provoking show. Rather than allowing Pence to sneak out after being jeered by the audience, the cast asked Pence to stay, urging the crowd to refrain from boos. The crew welcomed the Vice-President Elect and thanked him for attending the show. They also expressed a fear that many of us feel: that the new administration will not protect us. Brandon Victor Dixon, the actor who plays Aaron Burr, closed by saying he hoped that the story told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds and orientations would help to inspire Pence to uphold our inalienable rights and to work on behalf of all of us to uphold American values. I can’t think of anything more American than that.