Monday, December 19, 2016
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.
Sunday, December 18, 2016
Kudos to Pittsburgh, PA, which on December 6 joined San Francisco and others as the latest US CEDAW City! In a unanimous vote, the city council agreed to establish a commission to affirmatively review city agencies for gender bias. The local legislation follows CEDAW and gives the city a methodical approach to identifying and redressing gender bias in city operations.
One week later, on December 13, the Silicon Valley city of Mountain View passed a resolution to become a Human Rights City. The city had considered such an action for more than a year, but press reports suggest that divisive statements made by President-elect Trump during and after the election finally created momentum to move ahead. "At this time, we need to stand up and say that human rights are very important," said the Mountain View Mayor during consideration of the measure.
Kudos to Professor Francisco Rivera and the Santa Clara Law School international human rights clinic, which provided important technical assistance to move the effort forward.
Thursday, December 15, 2016
Standing Rock tribal members protesting the pipeline placement have petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. According to a report on International Law Grrls, "The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and Yankton Sioux Tribe, with Earthjustice and the American Indian Law Clinic – UC Boulder, submitted a Request for Precautionary Measures Pursuant to Article 25 of the IACHR Rules of Procedure Concerning Serious and Urgent Risks of Irreparable Harm Arising Out of Construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline to the IACHR."
Among the relief sought is a request to end state violence at the protest site and ensure the safety of those engaging in "peaceful prayer." The Standing Rock website has information on the environmental and other issues as well as a link to the petition. A copy of the petition may be found here.
While the press was prompt in announcing that on December 4, the Army Corps or Engineers determined that it would not grant a permit for the pipeline route to include running underneath the local tribe's water supply, the connrection to the power of the tribes' IACHR petition was not reported.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Professor Lewis' scholarly work focused on the intersections between human rights and race, gender, disability, immigrant status, and other cross-cutting issues. Her work in these areas was widely read and anthologized, and will remain an important part of the human rights canon far into the future.
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Monday, December 12, 2016
Ryan Speedo Green's star is on the rise. The 30-year-old winner of the Metropolitan Opera Council Auditions, currently performing in the Met's production of La Boheme, is an unlikely break-out bass baritone, not least because he served several stints in solitary confinement when he was age 12. As described in the new book by Daniel Bergner about Green's trajectory, Sing for your Life, Green was an angry African American boy in Virginia, surrounded by violence, when he was sent to juvenile detention. Because of his infractions, he spent much of his time in a solitary cell. After his release, he doubled down on trying to find his way through involvement in football and Latin Club, then gradually came to realize his deep interest in music and performing and -- in an incredible success story -- is now a member of the Vienna State Opera.
Interestingly, Green attributes his success not to his time in solitary, which drove him to despair, but to the interventions of special mentors and teachers -- the teacher who used Martin Luther King Jr.'s speeches to teach Green about his own worth and potential; the vocal coach who focused on developing Green's voice while drilling down to improve his diction; the aide at the detention center who noticed and supported him in small ways.
On December 5, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have imposed modest but important curbs on the use of solitary confinement. including restrictions on such incarceration of young inmates under age 21. Christie defended his actions arguing that the criminal justice system needs flexibility to impose extreme sanctions, despite evidence that solitary confinement simply serves to undermine prisoners' mental health, rather than teach them a lesson.
Having reached the rarified heights of grand opera, Ryan Speedo Green is one-of-a-kind -- but his story has lessons for policymakers like Christie. As Green found, simple recognition of his humanity did more to heal him than multiple stints in solitary confinement.
Sunday, December 11, 2016
"Trump Picks El Chapo to Run the DEA" I immediately burst into laughter when I read this headline from the Borowitz report.
While advocates of all sorts may develop a dark sense of humor as a coping.mechanism, how much better if we can have at least one belly laugh each day. Below are some suggestions to get you started- and please send us what makes you laugh. We will compile a list for a later blog.
In addition to the Borowitz Report, which is now published as part of the New Yorker, most of us are familiar with Saturday Night Live's political skits. And then there is John Oliver on Comedy Central, which may be the least painful way to follow new era politics.
Whatever makes you laugh, keep doing it. And please share.
Saturday, December 10, 2016
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!
Thursday, December 8, 2016
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.
Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Months of protests carried over seasons and a mini-city grew up around the site protected by the Sioux. In the spirit of human rights advocacy, hundreds of veterans traveled to North Dakota to reinforce and support the protestors. Lawyers organized in anticipation of arrests. Violence erupted marking at least one with severe injuries.
Then the Army Corp of Engineers announced it would explore alternate routes for the planned pipeline, but compromise does not appear to interest the pipeline producers. Peace - temporary peace.
The lessons from this most recent Native attempt to save the earth are likely to be far reaching. After generations of broken treaties and other government deceptions, the Sioux are aware that the next administration may default to the original pipeline route. The Sioux reminded us of the power of civil protest. What happens when the new administration is in place will be instructive on both tactics to be employed by the new government and its response to civil disruptive actions.
Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Like other businesses, law firms are subject to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In November 2016, several London-based firms met to share ideas about how to implement these guidelines in the practice of law. The report of the workshop is available here. Legal ethics professors take note: while this material is rarely covered in ethics textbooks, it goes to the heart of the questions concerning lawyers' roles.
Monday, December 5, 2016
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.
Sunday, December 4, 2016
The Austin, Texas Human Rights Commission is considering whether these extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. The Commission has proposed that the Austin City Council condemn Donald Trump's discriminatory statements and ban sale of Trump products in the city. After its initial introduction, the resolution has been tabled pending additional amendments. However, even after revision, its prospects are unclear. Several of the Commissioners have indicated that they view the resolution as "political," and outside of the scope of the Human Rights Commission's responsibilities. Others, however, say that the Commission has a responsibility to speak out.
The issue may ultimately be decided by the city council, where several members are already on record opposing Trump and the new administration's policies. As council member Gregorio Casar stated, invoking the power of cities to address human rights, "In Austin, we’re not just going to resist through protest. We are going to resist by being a powerful example of effective government. Trump will not bring solutions to our community. We will. We will pass policy that truly fights economic inequality. We will create jobs, and we will help those who desperately thirst for change and fairness in our society.”
Thursday, December 1, 2016
By Risa Kaufman, Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute
Human rights and social justice advocates are still reeling from the election and assessing what, exactly, a Trump administration will bring. Conversations with colleagues around the country underscore our alarm, and also our resolve.
Trump’s campaign rhetoric and his initial nominations for key appointments have triggered high alert. His campaign statements and proposed policies, if enacted, gravely threaten the rights of so many. Trump’s disdain and disregard for core human rights norms such as equality and non-discrimination; his campaign’s (and some of his nominees’ and advisors’) embrace of racist, misogynist, Islamophobic, homophobic rhetoric and proposals; and his support from anti-internationalist and white nationalist groups are all cause for deep concern about a Trump administration’s respect for human rights and engagement (or non-engagement) with international and regional human rights systems.
While there is still so much that is unknown at this point, at least one thing is certain: strong, coordinated, and strategic U.S. human rights advocacy has never been more relevant and necessary.
U.S. advocates have a deep history of engaging international human rights to mobilize and fight against rights violations at home. And they have long understood the value of leveraging international pressure to affect change within the United States. As Katherine Sikkink reminds us, domestic advocacy paired with international pressure were key in the fight for civil rights and to end Jim Crow. More recently, they played a critical role in exposing and curbing the Bush Administration’s policies and practices on torture and rendition (though accountability remains an ongoing battle).
As we find our way in this disorienting new environment, I offer three thoughts on the relevance and direction of our efforts in the years ahead:
- State and local human rights efforts are more important than ever.
Already, cities around the country are standing up to the incoming Administration, declaring themselves to be Human Rights Cities and Sanctuary Cities, and pledging to protect their residents from harmful policies and practices. Some are developing local ordinances implementing human rights standards, such as those found in CEDAW, into local policies. Officials throughout state and local government have a role to play here. And they need not start from scratch. Mayors, state and local human rights commissions, and city councils, among others, have already forged a path. Advocates play a key role in urging the localization of human rights and working with local officials to make it a reality.
- We need to cultivate deeper and more genuine transnational collaboration.
Human rights defenders around the world operate in dangerous conditions and face increasing threats and closing space for their work. U.S. advocates have much to learn from our international colleagues, and must seek out and develop genuine opportunities for transnational collaboration to fight for human rights here at home and across the globe.
- We must stand with and support impacted communities.
Vulnerable individuals and communities are under significant threat in the United States. These include people of color, women, people with disabilities, Muslims, LGBTQI people, immigrant populations, and people living in poverty. So, too, are people who live outside the United States, and who are impacted by its actions and policies. In this post-election climate, we are reminded of the critical need, now and always, for U.S. human rights advocates to work in partnership and stand in solidarity with communities and individuals, and to support their organizing and advocacy work as they resist, oppose, and defend against actions and policies that threaten human rights.
U.S. human rights advocates and the larger social justice community are on high alert. And we are prepared.
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
As the reality of Trump's election sinks in, more and more academic institutions and faculty groups are staking out positions in support of immigrants, people of color, religious freedom, freedom of speech, gay rights, and human rights, all of which have been threatened by the incoming President or his senior staff. For universities that were founded on the robust exchange of ideas, and that thrive on diversity, these are critical issues that strike at their core. As Columbia University President Lee Bollinger told a group earlier this month, "[t]he University is not a political institution—we do not take positions on political issues. But when you have a system that produces a president and vice president that challenge the central idea of a university, one has to do something."
A number of the open letters and statements, including one signed by more than a hundred university presidents, are here. Others include this statement from faculty at the Perkins School of Theology of SMU, Texas, and this from a group of Tufts faculty.
Many of these statements invoke human rights as emblematic of the fundamental values threatened by the incoming administration. The Columbia Human Rights Institute explicitly stands with its social justice allies and calls on the new administration to respect human rights. A group of Berkeley Clinical Faculty call for safeguarding the human rights of their clients, as well as students and staff.
In his Columbia speech, Bollinger issued an immediate mandate to “teach the Core Curriculum with more fervor and passion than it has ever been taught before.” In law schools, courses on human rights, constitutional law and legal history take on new significance as we return to core debates that we thought were long ago resolved by common agreement on the rule of law. It's comforting to think that those of us in academia can do something to stem the tide of racism, mysogyny, xenophobia, and fear, by teaching with fervor and passion. But is that enough? As Bollinger said, "one has to do something," and as events unfold, we may be called upon to do more.
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Have we ever needed human rights education more? For new ideas about the why and how of human rights education and what we can do in our own classrooms, check out the new book by Audrey Osler, Human Rights and Schooling: An Ethical Framework for Teaching for Social Justice.
According to the publisher:
Human Rights and Schooling examines the theory, research, and practice linking human rights to education in order to broaden the concept of citizenship and social studies education. Bringing scholarship and practice together, the text uses concrete examples to illustrate the links between principles and ideals and actual efforts to realize social justice in and through education. Osler anchors her examination of human rights in the U.N Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training.
The author will be discussing her book at RFK Human Rights in Washington, D.C. on December 1. For more information and to RSVP for this free event, click here.
Monday, November 28, 2016
Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Dubravka Simonovic, spoke about global concerns of increased risks to women as fundamentalism and "populism" rise around the globe. A group of UN human rights experts including Simonovic, Alda Facio, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice; and Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, issued a joint statement expressing the concerns of many women around the globe.
“In the face of rising populism and fundamentalisms and deplorable setbacks on the women's human rights agenda, we need more than ever to unite our forces to preserve the democratic space in which women human rights defenders represent an essential counter-power and a colossal force of action.”
"The experts highlighted a host of specific challenges faced by women rights defenders – including misogynistic attitudes, threats of sexual assault, travel bans, lack of protection and access to justice, imprisonment, killings, laws which violate their rights, gender-based defamation questioning their “femininity” or sexuality, and gender stereotyping which questions their engagement in public life instead of sticking to their caretaker role in the family."
US women recognize the fragility of their advances in the post-Trump climate.
What supports the concerns of US women is the fact that there has been no general outcry from men denouncing the wave of misogyny that has let lose since the Trump campaign began. If men are not willing to risk the ridicule of other men by taking a public stand against misogyny, how can women be safe? Particularly silent are the men of Congress. Are all too busy worrying about how to get along with the incoming president? Or they are concerned with how to retain their seats and have Trump's support. This is no time for cowards to represent us. But bravery has not been a hallmark of many of our male representatives for some time. The few vocal male congressional supporters are insufficient to create change. There was some hope when Republican leadership publicly stated they could not support Trump because of his videotaped remarks. But that assessment seems to have diminished in the race to preserve their status. Respecting and accepting the process is very different from silence in the face of bias.
Sunday, November 27, 2016
The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless were the creative forces behind the development of Housing Not Handcuffs. HNH is focused on ending homelessness, but recognizing that a current barrier is the criminalization of living in public. As the number of homeless in our country has risen, so has the wave of laws that criminalize poverty.
One absurd and punitive nature of laws criminalizing homelessness is to create criminal records for those who need housing. Yet, the no-criminal records renting policy of many private and public landlords, deprives those whose housing need is greatest from achieving their goal of adequate and secure shelter.
HNH encourages localities to adopt policies that incorporate the goal of creating affordable housing as a way to end homelessness rather than short sighted and self-defeating arrests.
Preventing unlawful evictions is another method of preventing homelessness. Preventing eviction is tied significantly to the movement to provide counsel for those being evicted. We have written before on the right to counsel and for more information see the website for the National Coalition for the Civil Right to Counsel. NCCRC is one of the HNH supporting organizations.
Friday, November 25, 2016
The UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking will visit the United States between December 6-16th.
Rapporteur Judge Maria Grazia Giammarinaro will visit four US cities to meet with civil society, grassroots organizers and government officials. According to the UN Website, the duties of the rapporteur are threefold,
1. Take action on violations committed against trafficked persons and on situations in which there has been a failure to protect their human rights.
2.Undertakes country visits in order to study the situation in situ and formulate recommendations to prevent and or combat trafficking and protect the human rights of its victims in specific countries and/or regions.
3. Submit annual reports on the activities of the mandate.
The special focus of the visit will be on women and girls.
A question posed by the US to the Special Rapporteur is: Anti-trafficking strategies should be comprehensively integrated into humanitarian efforts. How does Special Rapporteur Giammarinaro believe we can raise awareness within the humanitarian community about the risks and consequences of human trafficking?
A prior report on trafficking focused on countries in conflict. While not experiencing civil war, the US is now sharply divided. No word has come from the Trump administration on the either the visit or the issue.
Wednesday, November 23, 2016