Thursday, November 20, 2014

Nurse at Risk for Refusing to Force Feed Guantanamo

With thanks to Sarah Dougherty of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and the Bringing Human Rights Home network, we post the following statement just issued by PHR.  More background on the general issue of forced feeding and on this case in particular is available here from Lesley Wexler's blog on the topic, and in Martha Davis's blog post of May 27, 2014:

Navy Nurse Should Not be Punished for Declining to Force-Feed Guantánamo Detainees

PHR Welcomes American Nurses Association’s (ANA) Statement Supporting Nurses’ Professional Autonomy

 New York, NY - 11/19/2014

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today welcomed the American Nurses Association’s (ANA) statement supporting a nurse who refused to force-feed Guantánamo detainees based on his professional ethical obligations. PHR urged the U.S. Navy to end any disciplinary actions against the nurse, who has been charged with misconduct and faces potential discharge from the military.

“Nurses, like physicians, have professional duties to respect the autonomous decisions of their patients and never participate in ill-treatment or torture,” said Dr. Vincent Iacopino, PHR’s senior medical advisor. “This nurse has shown exemplary commitment to his profession’s ethics by refusing to comply with a military policy that has no clinical justification and is inherently harmful. The Navy should not punish him for refusing to compromise established ethical principles.”

Today’s statement represents the first time the ANA has spoken publicly about force-feeding at Guantánamo, signaling the wider nursing community’s interest in the nurse’s situation and the military’s treatment of medical professionals. The ANA also released communications it had with top defense officials urging them not to punish the nurse for exercising his professional rights and duties. PHR emphasized that the codes of conduct for nurses and physicians mandate respect for patient autonomy and the principle of doing no harm, and that military clinicians are legally and ethically bound to comply.

The Navy is considering holding an administrative trial that could lead to the nurse’s discharge from the Navy, in which he has served for 18 years. His decision not to participate in force-feeding was revealed through Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Guantánamo detainee challenging his force-feeding in federal court. Dhiab’s case has shed light on the cruel and unnecessary methods used at Guantánamo, including the use of five-point restraint chairs and forced cell extractions.

“All physicians and nurses share a duty to put their patients first and act in their best interests, no matter the circumstances,” said Widney Brown, PHR’s director of programs. “Punishing this nurse for upholding the humane treatment of his patients sends a message that medical professionalism is not respected at Guantánamo.”

The World Medical Association and the American Medical Association are among the leading medical groups that prohibit force-feeding of competent adults. PHR said that health professionals should never take part, and pointed out that the main purpose of the Department of Defense’s force-feeding policy is to keep detainees from protesting over a decade of indefinite detention without charge. In response to criticism of these practices, the U.S. government has applied secrecy rules to any information regarding its treatment of hunger strikers.

PHR calls on the U.S. government to:

  • ·         Immediately end the practice of force-feeding hunger strikers and institute policies and procedures consistent with the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Tokyo and Declaration of Malta on Hunger Strikers;
  • ·         Ensure that no health professionals are compelled to participate in force-feeding, and that those who refuse do not face disciplinary or retaliatory actions for complying with their professional obligations; and
  • ·         Commit to full transparency around hunger strikes at Guantánamo and medical management policies and protocols, including the release of Dhiab’s force-feeding videotapes.


November 20, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Public Shaming as a Tool in Human Rights Violations

Over the years I have observed, and represented,  individuals who were so humiliated by the court that they determined not to pursue remedies against their abusive partners.  As with other forms of discrimination, many incidences of this form of abuse go unadressed because the target of the humiliation is too discouraged to permit further action.   Let me describe two incidents of which I am aware and verfied through transcripts and discussions with the principals.  

One woman sought a civil protection order against a man who had sexually assaulted her on two occassions.  The first time was as she was walking into her apartment building.  The second happened when the individual broke into her apartment and assaulted her.   The unrepresented woman explained to the court the circumstances of the assaults by the man who up until the first assault was unknown to her.  The judge's response, in denying the protection order, was to ask if she had heard the saying "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."  The woman was absolutely devasted, as you might expect.

On another occasion, a judge denied a protection order after hearing that theh oarties had sex within the prior few weeks.  The judge in that instance interpreted the petitioner's act as evidence that she was not afraid of the intimate partner.  Upon learning that the petitioner was receiving public benefits, the judge instructed her to turn around. The judge then announced that the petitioner had just wasted money of the taxpayers who were supporting her by bringing her frivilous petition.

In both instances, attorneys approached the petitioners and offered to assist with any further actions.  Both petitioners were too humiliated and embarrassed to pursue further action. 

While these incidents might seem extreme, these and more subtle forms of humiliation are often employed by government representatives to silence those who bring claims of abuse and other forms of discrimination.  The frequency of public shaming and other forms of humiliation that ar employed to maintain control over a targeted group are innumerable.  This is particularly so for those who have been oppressed by institutional as well as individual discrimination.  These are examples of just one of the situations where human rights advocates can make a positive difference in the lives of the oppressed.  Even if no further action is taken, validating the experience of the survivor makes is significant.

November 19, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The AALS Section on International Human Rights

    The Association of American Law Schools (AALS)'s Section on International Human Rights was founded in 2000, emerging from the first AALS Workshop on Human Rights in 1999.  The Section immediately inspired the publication of a Human Rights Module on crimes against humanity for use in human rights and international law courses.  Since its inception, the Section's activities have expanded, and it now sponsors a number of activities to stimulate and support scholarship on international human rights, including an annual call for papers and special programs during the AALS annual meeting each January.

     The Section also publishes a Newsletter.  Professor Richard Klein, the current Section chair, recently circulated an invitation for Newletter submissions on member activities, including "any news of articles or books that you may have written or that you think would be of general interest for our membership to know about."  In addition, Professor Klein invited submissions of short essays "on a timely human rights issue that you would wish our membership to read," and notices of upcoming human rights-related conferences.

    Readers of this blog will want to make sure that the AALS Section's newsletter includes highlights of recent human rights work in the U.S. -- for example, the systematic work of human rights clinics to spearhead local human rights resolutions on violence against women  or new scholarly publications focused on human rights and U.S. immigration laws.

    Member submissions to the AALS Section's Newsletter should be made by Monday, November 24, to    



November 18, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Upcoming Human Rights Training in Portland, Oregon

By Lauren E. Bartlett

 On December 12, I am participating in a human rights in the U.S. litigation and advocacy training in Portland, Oregon, with the Portland Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and Prof. Gwynne Skinner.  The training is open to all legal aid attorneys, public defenders, other public interest attorneys, professors, law students, and members of community organizations.   This day-long training will provide practical strategies, sample arguments, and resources to integrate human rights into daily work at the state and local level in the U.S.  5.5 CLE credits are available for Oregon-licensed attorneys and registration is available online.

 This is the most recent human rights training organized by the Local Human Rights Lawyering Project at American University Washington College of Law.  The Project aims to normalize international human rights law at the local level by incorporating the use of the international human rights framework into the everyday work of legal aid attorneys in the U.S.  Last year we held similar trainings with colleagues in New York City, Miami and Irvine.  We have also held a series of webinars on various issues including housing, international child abduction, domestic violence, disability rights and more.  The materials for our past trainings and videos of the webinars are all available for download on our website.   The Project’s Human Rights in the U.S. Handbook for Legal Aid Attorneys  forms the core of our training materials and can also be downloaded from our website.  Since its formal launch in October 2011, the Project has trained more than 1,600 attorneys across the U.S. through in-person meetings and webinars and the Handbook has been distributed to more than 2,000 people. 

November 17, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Report from Geneva: The Committee Against Torture Pushes the U.S. on Youth and Gender Issues

by Cynthia Soohoo 

As expected, during this week’s review of the U.S.’s compliance with the Convention Against Torture, the Committee Against Torture chastised the U.S. on Guantanamo, prison conditions and solitary confinement. Less expected – but equally significant – was its tough stand against violence and detention of youth and sexual and gender violence. 

Prior to the review, the Committee received information from U.S. NGOs across the country coordinated by the U.S. Human Rights Network. Here in Geneva, they heard the moving testimony of Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, the parents of Michael Brown, Martinez Sutton, whose sister Rekia Boyd was shot by a Chicago police officer, Anjelique Wadlington, who was incarcerated as a youth in New York, and the inspiring advocacy of the We Charge Genocide Campaign around police violence against youth against color in Chicago.

U.S. activists also testified about serious gender and sexual violence issues. The Committee heard from Sam Brinton and Samantha Ames about the dangerous use of conversion therapy against LGBT youth, from Monica James about police and custodial violence against transgender women, from Barbara Blaine about priest sexual abuse, from Stephanie Schroeder about sexual violence in the military, and from Women’s All Points Bulletin and Black Women’s Blueprint on rape and sexual assault by police officers. 

The advocacy and information provided to the Committee clearly had an impact. During the review, the Committee asked several questions about around police violence against youth of color in Chicago, including the deadly use of tasers. They asked about the numbers of youth being held in adult jails and prisons and about sexual abuse and solitary confinement of youth. They also questioned the U.S. about the detention of unaccompanied minors and migrant families. 

Several Committee members asked about the use of conversion “therapy” on LGBT youth. They also expressed concern about police harassment and violence against transgender women and the treatment of LGBT detainees and sexual abuse by the police. The Committee questioned the U.S. about the shackling of pregnant women in detention and the lack of access to sexual and reproductive health care in immigrant detention. They also pushed the U.S. to address legal and structural barriers that prevent victims of sexual violence in the military and by the Catholic clergy from obtaining a remedy. 

The Committee’s concluding observations should come out on November 28.

November 14, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Human Rights Clinic Issues Report on Solitary Confinement

Deborah M. WeissmanProfessor Deborah Weissman of the University of North Carolina School of Law announced that she and her students enrolled in the Immigration/Human Rights Clinic recently issued a comprehensive report on solitary confinement as torture.  

One of the many heart-wrenching details of the report is a section on prisoner narratives.  As one Illinois incacerated man reported:

"The C-MAX was said to have been designed to house the IDOC’s ‘worst of the
worst’ in an effort to help state authorities re-gain control of their prison system.
This couldn’t be further from the truth because most of us have been sent here
based merely on the fact that we have mental illnesses or in retaliation for filing
lawsuits, grievances, or past disciplinary histories...This facility functions more as
a mental institution than a prison of rehabilitation and it serves no penalogical
purpose other than to warehouse prisoners. As the duration of our isolation drags
on and the degree of our conditions of confinement deteriorate you begin to see
the psychological effect that this place has on us. We know that we will spend all
day in these cells with absolutely nothing constructive to do with our time and we
do not know if we will ever leave here. This knowledge overwhelms many of us
and it leads many of us to insanity, causing attempted suicide, suicide, body
mutilation, hanging, eating and throwing feces, and other extreme acts."

This report is particularly timely as this week the U.S. is reviewed in Geneva regarding its compliance with the Convention Against Torture.

The full report may be read here.

November 13, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Child Survival and the Interdependent Nature of Rights

by Jonathan Todres

Children of domestic abuse victims are more likely to die before their fifth birthday than similarly situated children of mothers who were not abused, according to a new study by Samantha Rawlings and Zahra Siddique, Domestic Abuse and Child Health. In addition to child mortality data, the study examined other critical health issues including low birth weight and stunting, finding that “children of domestic abuse victims face an important long term disadvantage over their lifetime.”

Though the study focused on developing countries, it is consistent with results from studies in the U.S. and a reminder that adverse consequences for children are often unseen. In the U.S., more than 3 million children witness domestic violence in the home each year. The high profile case of Ray Rice generated justifiable outrage over his violent acts against his fiancé (now wife). Yet there was little mention of the impact on and consequences for their young daughter.

Human rights law is unequivocal: domestic violence is a human rights violation. The Convention on the Rights of the Child also mandates in article 19:

“States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.”

This obligation encompasses the harms suffered from witnessing abuse of other family members.

The child health consequences also remind us of the interrelated and interdependent nature of rights. Importantly, this includes vertical relationships among rights. Ensuring the rights of women can advance the rights and wellbeing of children. Similarly securing rights for all children, including girls, can ensure that girls develop into women who are aware of and able to realize the full range of their rights, including the right to live free of violence. Too often the connections between rights—both vertical and horizontal—are under-appreciated.

Ultimately, securing the rights of all individuals will require greater recognition of and accounting for the interdependent nature of rights and more partnerships between advocates focused on different treaties and rights.

For more information on the interrelated nature of rights, see:

Gillian MacNaughton & Diane F. Frey, Decent Work for All: A Holistic Human Rights Approach , 26 Am. U. Int'l L. Rev. 441 (2011),

Jonathan Todres, Rights Relationships and the Experience of Children Orphaned by AIDS , 41 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 417 (2007) 

November 12, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Loretta Lynch's Qualifications

Loretta Lynch, President Obama's nominee for Attorney General, has had an impressive career as a federal prosecutor and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.  Interestingly, she has also had some direct experience with the international human rights system.  This past August, Lynch was a member of the United States delegation that traveled to Geneva to report on U.S. compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

Lynch's testimony to the CERD Committee focused on criminal justice. While acknowledging that there is more to do, she defended the U.S. record stating that:

    From the reduction of the use of solitary confinement, to the expansion of the federal clemency     program, to our support for the retroactive reduction of penalties for non-violent drug offenders     to the reduction in the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, we have worked     to improve our criminal justice system in furtherance of our human rights treaty obligations.   We     look forward to the future and the opportunity to do even more.

International law is not likely to be a focus of Lynch's confirmation hearings, yet in a year when the U.S. has been reviewed under both CERD and CAT, with a Universal Periodic Review on the horizon, and with the Department of Justice playing an important role in these reviews, there may be some attention to her human rights positions.  Indeed, when Eric Holder testified during his confirmation hearings in 2009 that torture such as waterboarding violated international law, it made news.  There is little indication in Loretta Lynch's prior record that she has championed a human rights framework.  But given the range of human rights issues within the DOJ's ambit, Lynch's recent participation in the CERD review should be seen as enhancing her qualifications for the job of Attorney General.

November 11, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Human Rights at the Border: Front and Center

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


 In the aftermath of last week’s election, the outlook for meaningful and rights-protecting immigration reform is bleak.  Nevertheless, the past few weeks have seen significant efforts by regional and international human rights experts and advocates to promote and protect the rights of people at international borders. U.S. human rights advocates have redoubled their efforts, as well.

 On October 22, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon presented a report to the U.N. General Assembly on the promotion and protection of human rights of migrant children and human rights at international borders. The report details human rights challenges and concerns such as systematic and arbitrary detention; conditions of detention; access to the rights to education, health, and adequate housing; use of excessive force by authorities; and interception and push-back practices.

To address the violations detailed in the Secretary General’s Report, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released “Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights at International Boarders,” setting out core obligations that already exist in international documents to guide human rights safeguards at borders.  U.S. migrants’ rights advocates have hailed the Guidelines as an important tool in the fight to address the human rights crisis at the U.S. border.

 In the week following the release of the report and guidelines, on October 27, human rights advocates held a hearing at the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to call attention to the U.S. border crisis.  The thematic hearing was requested by University of Pennsylvania’s Transnational Legal Clinic, The University of Texas School of Law’s Immigration Clinic, The ACLU, Women’s Refugee Commission, National Immigrant Justice Center, National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities, CEJIL, and the Washington Office on Latin America, and was accompanied by a request that the Commission issue precautionary measures. 

 The hearing followed on the heels of a visit by the IACHR to the southern U.S. border.  From September 29 through October 2, the Commission visited sites in Hidalgo, McAllen, Harlingen, Karnes City and San Antonio to monitor the human rights situation of unaccompanied children and families who have crossed the southern U.S. border. At the conclusion of the visit, the Commission issued a press release  noting grave concerns and urging the United States to improve conditions. The visit and press statement underscore the importance that the Inter-American human rights system is placing on the issue more generally. This summer, Inter-American Court issued an Advisory Opinion on the Rights and Guarantees of Children in the Context of Migration and/or in Need of International Protection, setting out basic obligations and guiding principles under the American Convention and the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man.

 And, of course, many of these issues and concerns will be raised this week during the U.N. Committee on Torture’s review of U.S. Compliance with the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.  U.S. human rights advocates have put issues such as prolonged and indefinite immigration detention and non-refoulement of asylum-seekers front and center at the review, likely to result in concrete and U.S.-specific recommendations from the Committee later this fall. 

 U.S. advocates are working round the clock to urge legislative and policy reforms and litigate challenges in U.S. courts on immigration-related issues. The recent attention and concern by international and regional human rights experts to violations at the border offer a potentially powerful boost to this critical work. 

November 10, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 7, 2014

Street Harassment and Human Rights

by Leigh Goodmark

Photo of Leigh Goodmark


This week’s gender violence controversy:  A woman walks through New York City cataloging the catcalls she draws as she walks.  An advocacy organization posts the video.  Commenters notice that the video only shows men of color harassing the woman on the street.  The organization responds that for various reasons, the white men were all edited out.  And the underlying point of the video is lost in the (both predictable and totally warranted) backlash—that a woman cannot walk down the street in New York City without men of all races commenting on her appearance, her failure to smile, her dress, and her body.

The controversy surrounding the Hollaback! video is unfortunate in that it obscures what is a real problem for all women, but particularly young women.  The right to walk down the street unmolested, unremarked upon, and unafraid should be a basic human right.  That right is jeopardized, however, by the catcalling, commentary, and hostility that many women face when they are unwilling to respond positively to this unwanted attention.  Such harassment reflects the sense of entitlement that some men feel to make their opinions about the women they pass on the street known, regardless of whether those opinions are sought or encouraged.  The extreme end of this exercise of entitlement?  Mary Spears, an engaged woman, was shot to death after she refused to give a man she didn’t know her name and phone number.

Title III of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women requires states to take “appropriate measures…to ensure the full development and advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men.”  One important question is what form efforts to combat street harassment should take.  In response to the Hollaback controversy, the New York Times Room for Debate offered a variety of perspectives on whether street harassment legislation is appropriate. Whatever one’s perspective on the need for legislation, however, it is hard to argue that women’s exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms is not undermined by street harassment.  Legislatively or otherwise, states need to address this pervasive form of gender discrimination.

For prior posts on this topic click here and here.

November 7, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Another City Declares Freedom from Domestic Violence A Human Right

As this blog has noted previously, due to the work of clinic law students, cities across the country have declared freedom from domestic violence to be a fundamental human right.  While visiting at Chicago this semester, Carrie Bettinger Lopez led her students in the effort for Chicago to join in the domestic violence resolutions.  On October 8, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's signature ensured that  Chicago would be the thirteenth city to adopt a resolution acknowleding domestic violence as a human rights concern.

Prof. Bettinger-Lopez, who is visiting with the University of Chicago Law School's International Human Rights Clinic, engaged clinicians across the country to encourage cities to adopt similar resolutions following the decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Lenahan v. United States.

The Chicago resolution specifically  commits the city "to respond diligently to acts of domestic violence, and that each of the city's departments shall incorporate the principles embodied in this resolution into their policies and practices." 

November 6, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

New Research on Impacts of Human Rights Treaty Ratification


A new article posted on SSRN enters into the ongoing debate on the effectiveness of treaties in promoting state parties' human rights compliance.  Professor Christopher Fariss of the Penn State Political Science Department argues in his new analysis, Human Rights Treaty Compliance and the Changing Standard of Accountability, that the positive effect of human rights treaty ratification greater than some scholars have previously asserted.  Here is the abstract:


Researchers have puzzled over the finding that countries that ratify UN human rights treaties, such as the Convention Against Torture, are less likely than non-ratifiers to respect human rights. The changing standard of accountability -- the set of expectations that monitoring agencies use to hold states responsible for repressive actions -- masks real improvements to the level of respect for human rights and explains this anomalous finding. Using a novel dataset that corrects for systematic changes in monitoring reports over time, I demonstrate that the ratification of human rights treaties is associated with higher levels of respect for human rights.



November 5, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Human Rights Magazine Looks at the Role of States

Quick, what's the name of the quarterly magazine put out by the American Bar Association's section on Individual Rights and Responsibilities?  If you're one of the thousands of members of this section, you'll know: it's Human Rights.

The ABA's IRR section was founded in 1966 with a mission to (1) raise and address often complex and difficult civil rights and civil liberties issues in a changing and diverse society; and (2) ensure that protection of individual rights remains a focus of legal and policy decisions, both within and beyond the ABA.  As the topics covered in Human Rights magazine demonstrate, that mission encompasses domestic civil rights, but also includes a growing emphasis on international human rights perspectives.

The current issue of Human Rights magazine, available on-line, is focused on states, including articles on education rights and the freedom to marry.  The issue closes with a profile of retired Oregon Supreme Court Justice Hans Linde, a champion of state court use of international norms as persuasive authority; see his majority decision on prison privacy issues in Sterling v. Cupp.

While Human Rights addresses issues from a decidely legal standpoint, with articles contributed by legal experts in their fields and civil rights taking the lead, several other magazines work the human rights beat with a more accessible, journalistic approach and a global reach.  Yes! Magazine is specifically focused on human rights, with a slogan of "dignity and freedom for all."  Likewise, The MaG has a worldwide focus for its human rights reporting, though unlike Yes!, The MaG is exclusively on-line.  And also in the on-line categody is Global Voices, a citizen media forum that includes many stories on human rights from around the world.

As the meaning of human rights continues to broaden within the U.S. legal community, beyond the limits of the term civil rights, Human Rights magazine will also likely continue to evolve and expand its human rights coverage and perspectives.


November 4, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Sorensen Center Launches at CUNY Law School

by Cynthia Soohoo

Lawyers spend a lot of their time crafting arguments.  But equally important for lawyers doing human rights work is the ability to connect with others and to engage and inspire.

Last week, CUNY Law School launched the Sorensen Center for International Peace and Justice.  Ted Sorensen served as close advisor and speech writer for President Kennedy.  Sorensen is known for crafting President Kennedy’ s letter to Khrushchev that helped avoid nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis.  He also drafted speeches for Kennedy on civil rights.  Sorensen went on to have a prominent career as an international lawyer, but wrote in his memoir that he hoped to be remembered “as a servant of international peace and justice.” 

The Sorensen Center will build on CUNY Law’s strong commitment to public interest work and international peace and justice going back to the work of the late Haywood Burns and Rhonda Copelon and continuing through the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic and Professor Lisa Davis’s current work addressing gender-based violence during and after armed conflicts and disasters.  Camille Massey, former Vice President of Global Strategies and Programs for the Council on Foreign Relations and CUNY class of ’95, will lead the Center as its Founding Executive Director.

The Sorensen Center will deepen students’ international experience and training through global summer internship placements and seminars led by Scholars-in- Residence.  Justice Richard Goldstone, former Justice on the South African Constitutional Court and the first Chief Prosecutor for the International Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, is currently at CUNY as the Center’s inaugural Scholar-in-Residence.

At the Center’s launch on Monday, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said, “I can think of no tribute to Ted Sorensen more fitting than an institution which will both challenge young minds and equip them with tools for leadership.”

Friends and colleagues remember Ted Sorensen as a writer able to distill complex ideas or arguments to their essence in a way that motived and inspired.  Fitting with Sorensen’s talents and legacy, the Sorensen Center will collaborate with lawyers and institutions nationally and internationally to advance intellectual exchange and protect the rights of individuals affected by instability, conflict and repression.  The Center will also host an annual retreat on communications.

More information about the Sorensen Center is available here.


November 3, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 31, 2014

Show and Tell: The Use of Visual Media to Document, Describe, and Discourage Gender Equality

By Lesley Wexler

Women and men are increasingly taking to social media to challenge street harassment, domestic violence, and sexual assault. In addition to the forms noted in Martha Davis’ earlier post,  I offer some additional examples and the varied purposes they serve.

In one creative tumblr, an anonymous man has solicited pictures of men taking up too much space on trains. The creator keeps the commentary to a minimum letting the pictures speak for themselves. While the assertion of space on a train need not be identified as a human rights violation, the tumblr is subtitled “A classic assertion of privilege” for a reason. The pictures aptly identify one form of everyday microaggressions women face in public spaces and visually display the seemingly unquestioned authority to ignore the interests of others. The author does respond to write-ins justifying the biological need for men to take up more space and in so doing offers a humorous and relatable approach to the need for equality on issues both big and small.

Moving on to the visual documentation of women, several blogs and twitter conversations use pictures to challenge the idea that women’s clothing creates consent for street harassment and sexual assaults. The Stop the Catcall tumblr asks women to submit pictures of what they were wearing along with the story of how they were cat called. By showing herself in varied outfits and locations, the author demonstrates that the constant is the male belief in their authority to speak to her body rather than the nature of the clothing. A tumbler website, "What I Was Wearing When I Was Raped" does just that. The site collects and displays women protesting their rape while wearing the outfit they were raped in. And twitter hosted a conversation in which women wrote in descriptions of their outfits when raped (many accompanied by pictures). Such campaigns document the pervasiveness of aggressions, big and small, as well as effectively debunking the idea that women who dress provocatively are asking for it. None of these women were asking for it and for many, the effort to cover their bodies seems as likely to garner street harassment as the decision to uncover parts. Perhaps equally important, these visual displays allow women a public opportunity to reclaim their stories. They provide voice for women to emphasize what they found important about these events to a generally hospitable audience.  

At Columbia, Emma Sulkowicz has been carrying her mattress all over campus as a protest of the University’s treatment of her alleged rapist.  Her performance piece has stood as an important piece of a growing movement at Columbia with the mattress serving as a key piece of symbolism in organized protests. Her piece has also invited visible demonstrations of support with other students helping to carry her mattress.  Her performance piece is part of a larger strategy to bring accountability to a University charged with chronic mismanagement of rape allegations and she is one of 23 students to file a federal complaint.

Quite recently, Hollaback! released a video of a woman walking New York as a camera crew documented her street harassment. Meanwhile, group Funny or Die reimagines the same walk through new york by a white man and comically identifies his privileges.  Viewed together, they capture the imagination and help create understanding in a way that speeches and statistics alone are unlikely to do.

Of course, such challenges are not without personal costs such as reporters’ violations of Emma Sulkowicz’s personal space and the death threats to the actress of the street harassment video.  But identifying women as subjects of human rights and documenting their violations and expressing how such violations make them feel goes beyond simple creation of and enforcement of law. Social media campaigns seem poised to play an important part in this ongoing struggle.

October 31, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

From Cradle to Grave, the U.S. Protected Jean-Claude Duvalier

Photo of Fran Quigley

By Fran Quigley

In February of 2013, I stood in a sweaty, overcrowded Port-au-Prince courtroom and watched as Jean-Claude Duvalier answered questions about hundreds of his political opponents being arrested, imprisoned, and killed during his tenure as Haiti’s “President for Life.”

Many of Duvalier’s rivals were held in the notorious three prisons known collectively as the “Triangle of Death”—Casernes Dessalines, Fort Dimanche, and the National Penitentiary. One political prisoner held in the Casernes Dessalines recalls being placed in a cell underneath the grounds of the National Palace, where Duvalier lived. The prisoner was led to an area so dark he could not see, but a guard’s torchlight revealed the man was locked in a room amid the skeletons of former prisoners.

At the court hearing I attended, Duvalier ducked responsibility, saying that the killing and oppression was done without his knowledge.

Then he walked out of that courtroom a free man, which is how he died earlier this month, at age 63. Court rulings were still pending at his death, but the process was moving at a glacial pace and several of the interim decisions had been in Duvalier’s favor. Meanwhile, Duvalier met with Haitian and international political leaders, was acknowledged on the dais at public events, and was often spotted dining at expensive restaurants.

In researching a book on the struggle for human rights in Haiti, I spoke with Human Rights Watch’s Reed Brody about the Duvalier situation. “Can you imagine any other country where a former dictator accused of political murders and leaving people to rot and die in prison is allowed to just walk back into his country and remain free?” Brody asked. But he also said that the Haitian government did not bear sole responsibility for seeing that justice is done. “Part of this is the fault of the international community. Where is the outrage we would have if the brutal leaders of Iraq or Serbia were walking around free? We would not allow this anywhere else.”

But it was allowed to happen in Haiti, largely because of the studied indifference of the U.S. government. Shortly after Duvalier’s surprising 2011 return to Haiti from exile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her staff made it clear that any prosecution was a matter solely for the Haitian government to handle.

The U.S. taking a hands-off approach to another country’s human rights issues would be more defensible if our hands were not so bloodied by the tragedy in question. For decades, the U.S. provided money, weapons, and troops to sustain the Duvalier regime in Haiti, even after human rights abuses were well known. Jean-Claude Duvalier’s father, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, even used USAID trucks to carry supporters to his political rallies. More recently, Secretary Clinton successfully pushed the candidacy of current Haitian president Michel Martelly, who opposed the prosecution of Jean-Claude Duvalier and welcomed Duvalier’s son into his administration. 

The determined Duvalier victims and tireless human rights advocates won a key victory in the prosecution last February, when the Haitian Court of Appeals ruled that Duvalier could be tried for his human rights crimes. But there was still a long road ahead when Duvalier died, a road that could have been traveled years ago if the U.S. had stepped up. The U.S. could have provided diplomatic cables and other evidence from the Duvalier era that would have helped make the prosecution’s case. The U.S. could have assisted in ensuring the safety of Duvalier victims fearful of testifying against him. And the U.S. could have used its bully pulpit and status as Haiti’s chief source of aid to push for prosecution. Instead, the Obama administration, likely wary of a trial destined to expose embarrassing evidence of U.S. complicity in Duvalier’s crimes, did nothing.

As a result, the Haitian people lost out. On a previous visit to Haiti, I interviewed Raymond Davius, who still carries the physical and psychological scars from being imprisoned and tortured for daring to join a political party that opposed Duvalier. “The problem is not as much about Duvalier himself as it is what he represents,” Davius said. “If Haiti does not judge Duvalier, we have lost the opportunity to send a message to Haitian leaders who think they can kill whoever they want and steal whatever they want, and not be judged.”

Instead, the message after Duvalier’s death continues to be one of impunity in Haiti, if you are rich enough and powerful enough. From his cradle in the National Palace run by his despotic father to his grave, where the latest U.S.-backed Haitian president called for a salute to an “authentic son of Haiti,” Jean-Claude Duvalier enjoyed U.S. protection.

I ended my column on the February, 2013 court hearing with this sentence: “The U.S. has enormous influence here, and most observers feel Duvalier will be held accountable for his crimes only if the U.S. speaks up.”

We didn’t, and he wasn’t.

            Fran Quigley is a clinical professor at Indiana University McKinney School of Law and the author of How Human Rights Can Build Haiti (Vanderbilt University Press, 2014.)


October 30, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

State Quarantines, Ebola and Human Rights

Last Sunday, Kaci Hickox, a nurse placed under mandatory quarantine in New Jersey after returning from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, went on CNN and criticized the "knee-jerk reaction by politicians" to Ebola.  Said Hickox of her quarantine,  "This is an extreme that is really unacceptable, and I feel like my basic human rights have been violated."  

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has posted a measured statement on U.S. quarantines that makes the same point, noting that the Siracusa Principles, rather than politics, should be the touchstone for determing responses to public health challenges.  And as Human Rights Watch has articulated, these international human rights principles "require that restrictions on human rights in the name of public health or public emergency meet requirements of legality, evidence-based necessity, and proportionality."  An in-depth discussion of these human rights standards and Ebola is captured in a video featuring Widney Brown, Director of Programs at PHR, taped at Roosevelt House in New York City.  As Professor Sarah Cleveland and others have noted, these standards are applicable to all levels of government, not just federal entities.

Meanwhile, of course, the epicenter of the crisis is in West Africa, not New Jersey or New York or the handful of other states that have announced mandatory quarantines.  One important concern articulated by PHR is that aggressive state quarantines will discourage those with relevant skills from helping during this crisis where help is most needed.  Partners in Health, working closely with local medical organizations in Liberia and Sierra Leone, is hiring short and long-term clinical and non-clinical staff to help on the ground in West Africa.   As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated, “the only way to stop Ebola is to stop it at its source” -- a source that includes, as Alicia Yamin points out, persistent poverty and neglect.  In the U.S., measures that distract us from focusing on that source are the real threat.


October 29, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Human Rights Tour 2014

They brought us the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, One Direction, and now . . . the Human Rights Tour!  The British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) is in the midst of their fourth annual Human Rights Tour, with events still to come on October 28 in Londonderry, November 4 in York and November 6 in Norwich.  So far, the BIHR tour is staying on their side of the pond, but it's still worth a look as US activists examine effective models for local engagement stateside. 

According to the BIHR website:

"The idea is simple, go across the UK holding free to attend pop-up events in local communities, raising awareness about human rights, how they are relevant in our lives, and having a space for debate and discussion."

Since 2011, the BIHR has hosted 52 events in 35 cities, directly reaching 4000 people and serving almost 12,000 cups of tea! 

Why do this, you ask?  BIHR responds:

"Rather than talking about what people think about human rights, we go out and have the conversation in communities up and down the UK. We believe it’s important to provide the space for people to gain knowledge and confidence about human rights. To have a forum for questions, open debate and discussion which engage people, and empower them to really reflect on what human rights means to them." 

The results bear out the effectiveness of this strategy.  98% of those responding said that they saw human rights as relevant to their everyday lives after attending the BIHR session, and 88% felt more confident using human rights to challenge questionable practices.

This year, the BIHR's grassroots outreach is more important than ever.  In early October, Prime Minister David Cameron announced his controversial plan to repeal the current U.K. Human Rights Act, which implements the European Convention on Human Rights in the U.K.  The BIHR called the proposal an "act of vandalism" against the British public.

October 28, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Campus Violence, Part Two: Human Rights, Dignity and Process

According to a National Institute of Justice study, a majority of teens who date described themselves as either victims or perpetrators of abuse within the dating relationship.  Much of this violence happens on school campuses.   Friday's post addressed sexual assault and other abuse against members of campus higher education communities and the difficulties faced by students who participate in university administrative hearings. Following a sexual assault or other abuse over which the  educational has jurisiction, students face options should they decide to pursue a remedy.  For many reasons, a student may decide not to pursue criminal charges.  They may, however, decide to pursue an administrative hearing within the university system, typically through campus Judicial Affairs. The sensitivity and civility of these hearings varies between those that safeguard against disrespectful proceedings and those that permit behaviors that humiliate the complaintant.  

Earlier this month, Pepperdine University hosted a conference  Student Life, Relationship and the Law: Confronting Domestic Violence in Higher Education.  The interdisciplinary conference brought together those working with students who have experienced campus violence and those who engage in scholarship on violence.  While the difficulties faced by survivors in finding appropriate remedies was part of the discussion, so was implementing remedies.  One significant part of the identified problems is a lack of respectful treatment during administrative hearings.  Several speakers suggested changes that could restore dignity to campus investigations and hearings. As stated in Article One of the Declaration of Human Rights, "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights."

Schools need to create processes that are culturally sensitive.  In particular, African-American and LGBT students feel at particular risk for not being treated respectfully during school administrative hearings and other parts of the investigatory process.  Prof. Deborah Weissman and others addressed the need for remedies to be available to diverse students in a way that treats them with dignity and respect and provides settings and processes that are designed to incorporate the needs and wishes of those who historically have been marginalized. 

A link to the substative discussion is found here.

A related suggestion is for Judicial Affairs hearings officers and others invovled in the process must be vetted for cultural sensitivity and subject matter competency.  Misunderstanding of sexual assault, use of stereotyping of relationships and parties can victimize all parties to the hearings.  Some hearings leave students humiliated and without a sense of fairness.  Many of the same barriers faced by parties in criminal hearings are present in some campus judicial office hearings. Being a member of the faculty or campus administration does not qualify those individuals to hear concerns regarding sexual assault and other abuse.  Likewise, academic qualifications do not ensure neautrality or lack of bias.  Campuses need to engage experts on abuse to participate in hearings and ensure that all involved in the process are familiar with the issues being heard and the sensitivities involved.

Recently members of the Harvard Law School faculty criticized Harvard's revamped sexual assault policy.  The new policy is not unlike that of many universities.  The professors bring a perpspective rooted in criminal law to campus proceedings.  Any accused student is wise to consult with counsel before engaging in either campus or criminal hearings.  A misunderstanding exists, however, that students are deprived of counsel at campus administrative hearings.  While attorneys and other advisors are not permitted to conduct courtroom-like examinations, the students are able to consult with counsel or other advisors at any stage of the process, should they decided to participate.  Bringing a criminal law perspective to these hearings would virtually shut down the purpose of the hearings, which is intended to be remedial, not punitive.  The applicable standard of proof at campus hearings is preponderance of the evidence.  Once campus processes take on attributes of crimnal hearings, officers will confuse the standard of proof with reasonable doubt.  A shift of both purpose and standard can happen in ways that are not obvious and may not be intended.   But the consequence would be essentially to close the admisinstrative avenue of recourse to those students who wish to pursue a non-criminal avenue of redress. 



October 27, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Campus Violence, Part One

In 2011, Vice President Biden delivered his “Dear Colleague” letter to college campuses across the nation.  The letter reminded campus administrators of their obligations to protect and provide services to those who experience gender discrimination, including relationship violence.  The letter referenced specific protections and obligations incumbent upon colleges and universities to make known to students, including the school’s resources and processes in the event a student experiences violence. Subsequently, the Department of Education announced the investigation of over 50 campuses that may have inadequate campus responses to gender violence.  Non-compliance can range from deficient web posting of Title IX resources to failure to provide fair hearings for sexual assault survivors seeking remedies through their schools.

3900 campus sexual assaults were reported in 2012. Many schools saw an increase in reporting which is attributed to more responsive efforts on the part of colleges and universities following announcement of the government investigations including more accurate reporting of campus crime.  Nonetheless, sexual assault victims continue to report disrespectful hearings and ineffective resources  in both finding help as well as suitable remedies through the university systems.

Student participants in university hearings more often than not describe dissatisfaction with the pre-hearing process and the process itself.  Hearings officers may not understand violence and others who dismiss the seriousness of an assault.  Same sex students and students of color have complaints that echo victims' complaints of negative experience when they engage the criminal justice system.  Stereotypes can permeate the process or enhance of distrust of the process.  While many students fail to report sexual assault, under reporting is particularly high with students of color and and gender variant students. 

Part two of this post will address recent discussions on how to address campus violence in ways that respect  and are meaningful for all targets of campus violence.







October 24, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)