Friday, December 22, 2017
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court allowed implementation of the Administration's travel ban even while litigation challenging the ban in the lower courts continues. International human rights law is in the mix in the lower courts, with several briefs filed on behalf of the International Bar Association. Interestingly, these briefs defend the fundamental human rights principle of judicial independence as well as examining relevant international refugee law. Here is the description provided by the IBA:
"Prompted by the comments of President Donald Trump and other United States Executive Branch officials questioning the validity of judicial rulings, and denigrating the motives and integrity of US federal judges, the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) has submitted amicus curiae briefs to US courts in the pending travel ban cases. In the amicus briefs, the IBAHRI urges the courts to consider international law principles regarding judicial independence and due process rights of refugees in assessing the travel bans."
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) is inviting applications for its Human Rights Innovation Fellowship on the topic “Resisting Criminalization.” The application deadline is January 17, 2918. Individuals or non-profit organizations with an innovative project that is relevant to the fellowship’s theme can apply. In addition, advocacy organizations, academic institutions, research centers, grassroots organizations, and UUSC partners may apply for the fellowship. The fellowship will provide funding up to $25,000.
The fellowship proposal should address a major challenge facing individuals and/or communities who are criminalized in the United States. Criminalization refers to policies and practices that stigmatize, scapegoat, and profile whole communities as “criminal” or “terrorist.” UUSC’s primary goals in this campaign are to advance community protection strategies and expanded sanctuary, decriminalize poverty, and advance restorative justice.
More information is available here.
Tuesday, December 19, 2017
by Martha Davis
Back in 1986 or so, I was an associate at a large NYC law firm. At the time, Janet was heading up the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. As I recall, she arranged to hold a reproductive rights law training session at the NYC Bar Association, and one of our firm partners lined up a group of associates to attend. I don't remember what sorts of legal issues we were learning about exactly, but what stuck with me was something that Janet said near the end of the training.
Standing in front of our group, she said, "we need to bring out the crazies."
What? At that moment, she seemed a little crazy herself. What was she talking about?
When we all looked at her blankly, she explained. Basically, she said, we should craft our arguments so that they give the other side an opportunity to show how crazy they are. Let them reveal themselves. Bring out the crazies!
I'm sure she gave us an example, but I don't remember it. I do remember thinking about these words many times over the years. Most recently, they came to mind when I worked with the Raoul Wallenberg Institute on a report on access to water and sanitation for Roma residents of Sweden. When our report came out, a spokesperson for the Swedish government protested that there was no obligation to provide water to Swedish residents. The government took this position in Sweden, no less. I thought to myself, yes, we've brought out the crazies!
Janet has left us all a rich legacy in her life's work to make the world a better place, particularly through the institutions that she built to carry on her work. Part of that legacy, what we can continue to remember and draw inspiration from, was her boldness.
Lawyers concerned about human rights and women's rights will need all of that we can muster. The fight goes on, and the postscript to my story shows how difficult progress is. The same NYC firm that sponsored associates to go to Janet Benshoof's reproductive rights law training in 1986 now has a policy against taking on abortion-related cases as pro bono matters. Hmmm. What would Janet do?
Monday, December 18, 2017
Last week's Human Rights Day, December 10, set off a round of proclamations commemorating the 69th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
President Trump issued one official proclamation to: (1) name December 10 Human Rights Day; (2) designate December 15 Bill of Rights Day, and (3) name December 10-17 as Human Rights Week. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a terser, more focused statement urging "all nations to respect their commitments enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and apply them equally to all."
The US government website also announced that the 2017 Human Rights Day kicked off a year-long campaign to mark the 70th anniversary of the UDHR.
No specific activities for the year-long campaign have been identified as yet, but as the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty explained in his Washington, D.C., press conference on December 15, there is no shortage of human rights challenges to address. While touring the U.S. from December 1 through 15, the UN rapporteur saw dense settlements of homeless, open sewage in backyards, lack of basic infrastructure, and life-threatening gaps in medical services. The Rapporteur denounced the federal tax bill that would further accumulate wealth among a very few, and put the blame, as well as the onus, on the government to provide for the basic rights of its residents as a component of democratic guarantees.
The Rapporteur hoped that he might provoke a tweet from the President. None so far. But far better would be if the Special Rapporteur's report served as a blueprint for the government's year-long campaign leading up to the UDHR's 70th anniversary. Taking concrete actions to address the most serious human rights issues at home would be a more fitting way commemorate it than just words.
Sunday, December 17, 2017
Since the election of Doug Jones as Alabama's junior senator, much has been written about women voters and their role in the election. I fear that this attention is perpetuating stereotypes about women and reinforcing cultural traditions of holding women to standards different from men.
Mercifully, Moore was not elected. But this has not stopped criticism of his white women supporters. Yes- the majority of white female voters in Alabama voted for Roy Moore. Interestingly, black voters supported Jones in an overwhelming amount (95-96%). Black women supported Jones at a slightly higher (but statistically insignificant) rate (98%) than black men. There is no doubt that the black vote was crucial to the Jones victory.
Equally important was Alabama's Senator Shelby's acknowledgement that he intended to vote for a write-in and not Moore. Approximately 22,000 Republican voters followed Shelby's lead and wrote in a name that was not Moore's. Those write-in ballots nearly matched the number of votes by which Jones won the election. That vote was equally crucial to the Jones election.
With so many critical confluences merging to elect the democratic candidate, why are white women being vilified?
68% of white voters supported Moore. 58% of white, college-educated women voted for Moore as opposed to 43% of college graduates overall. 72% of white men voted for Moore. Yet little, if anything, is being written about the men . The majority of women who voted for Moore identify as evangelicals. The majority of white women who did not vote for Moore do not identify as evangelicals, yet the focus on religious differences driving the white female vote is under-discussed.
Black men supported Jones at nearly the same rate as black women. Shouldn't we be thanking black men as much as the women? White men supported Moore at a higher rate than did white women. But I have read nothing focusing on the white male voters.
I posit that the focus on women raises notions of patrimony, this time being promoted by as many women as men. The focus implies that women are held to a higher moral standard than men and that women alone carry the burden of ensuring pedophiles and other dangerous men are not elected. Granted, more women than men are victims of sexual harassment and assault which may create a faulty presumption that no women will support a man with a demonstrated history of assaulting women. But when we raise our expectations that all women will vote as a block, we remove individual autonomy from our Alabama sisters. Also, we perpetuate what male culture has done to women for centuries - we hold different expectations of women than men under the guise of morality.
Equality ought to mean that women can make as many flawed decisions as men. Autonomy means that women are free to make their own decisions, even if we disagree with those decisions.
And above all, the social critics should be mindful that this tactic of dividing different groups of women has been used successfully by men for centuries. Turning the women against each other in their and the public's minds has prevented women from joining together when they do find common ground.
There is no need to separate out the black female vote when their vote was not very different from the votes of black men. The only reason for doing is to contrast the black female vote for Jones with the white female vote for Moore. Thus is the path of dividing and demonizing women.
Friday, December 15, 2017
The UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights has concluded his official visit to the United States. His preliminary findings, available here, were released at a press conference on Friday, December 15.
These findings give us an opportunity to look in the mirror and see the US as other countries see us -- a place with great wealth, a nation of innovators, but also a place of deep poverty, where democracy is gradually being undermined by growing inequality, racial divides and accompanying indifference.
The Trump Administration allowed the Special Rapporteur to visit, yet senior federal officials and Republican leaders were apparently too busy to meet with him in Washington. How can US human rights advocates ensure that this report gets the attention that it deserves?
Thursday, December 14, 2017
The ABA has announced its 2018 law student writing competition sponsored by the Forum on Affordable Housing and Community Development Law. The announced organizers of the competition announced "The goal of the competition is to encourage law students to become involved in the Forum. It is also intended to attract students to the affordable housing, community development or pro bono practice fields, and to encourage scholarship in these fields." The winner will receive $1,000.00 cash prize and an additional $1,000.00 for travel expenses to the Forum's annual meeting.
Eligibility and topic requirements are:
Open to all law students who are at the time of entry, (a) enrolled in a law school that is at the time of entry, ABA Accredited, (b) members of the ABA and the Forum, (c) at least 21 years old, and (d) U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. Employees of the ABA, its respective affiliates, and immediate family or household members of such employees are not eligible for the Competition.
Entries should address any legal issue regarding affordable housing and/or community development law.
For additional requirements, click here and scroll down to information on the 2018 Writing Competition Guidelines.
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
This week, sixteen-year-old Mohamad Al Jounde from Syria was awarded the International Children's Peace Prize for his work ensuring the rights of Syrian refugee children. When he was 12 years old, Al Jounde, a Syrian refugee himself, decided that he was going to establish a school for children in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley refugee camp. He convinced family members and other volunteers to help build the school and to teach various classes. After only a few years, the school now provides education to 200 children.
Al Jounde’s inspirational work matters so much because Syrian refugee children have suffered both tremendous disruption in their lives and countless violations of their human rights. His work also matters because education has a multiplier effect; as Katarina Tomaševski, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, wrote: “Education operates as a multiplier, enhancing the enjoyment of all individual rights and freedoms where the right to education is effectively guaranteed, while depriving people of the enjoyment of many rights and freedoms where the right to education is denied or violated.”
Al Jounde’s work is also a poignant reminder: Not only do children’s rights matter, so do children’s voices. Children are powerful allies in the movement to secure human rights for all. Mohamad Al Jounde’s advocacy on behalf of refugees. Malala Yousafzai’s bravery in standing up to the Taliban. The thousands of courageous children who marched in the Birmingham Children’s Crusade in 1963 to challenge racial discrimination in the United States. And countless other young people who have worked to fulfill the ideal that human rights belong to all. The youth of yesterday and today offer innumerable models of courage.
We should celebrate Mohamad Al Jounde’s work. And, as we do, we should remind ourselves of the transformative capabilities of young people and ensure that their voices and ideas are heard.
Monday, December 11, 2017
by Serena Parekh, guest contributor, Assoc. Professor of Philosophy, Northeastern University
On November 21, a federal judge permanently blocked one of President Trump’s most controversial executive orders: cutting federal funding to the scores of sanctuary localities across the country that have refused to assist the federal government in deporting local residents. As the battle now moves to the appeals court, legal issues will continue to make the news. Less flashy perhaps, but critical to our democracy, are the philosophical issues raised by sanctuary cities.
The idea that cities have a special role to play in protecting all local residents, and that the federal government overreaches when it interferes with those obligations, is fundamental to the philosophical thought that undergirds our democracy.
That is not to say that the philosophical issues raised by sanctuary policies are easy. In fact, they reveal a genuine tension at the heart of the system of nation states. On the one hand, democratic nations have a right to control immigration, including deporting people who are in the country without authorization. On the other hand, nations have a moral obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the basic human rights of all people on their territory, regardless of their legal status. In order to fulfill this latter group of rights, states have to create conditions that allow everyone in the country to, for example, trust the police, feel confident in the judiciary, and feel safe reporting crimes. By building a firewall between local police and federal immigration enforcement, sanctuary policies create the conditions that are necessary for upholding basic human rights without compromising the nation’s right to control immigration.
Why are human rights so important? These are the rights that are necessary for all human beings to lead a minimally decent life (freedom from torture, security, basic education). There is wide-spread agreement among philosophers and others that no state can fail to uphold this set of rights for all residents on its territory and still consider itself legitimate.
In practice, this require some form of sanctuary policies. Residents cannot exercise their basic human rights if they are worried about deportation for them or their families. The human right to security especially seem to require that residents are confident reporting crimes to the police and believe that police will treat them with respect.
For philosopher Joseph Carens, an expert in contemporary political theory who focuses on immigration and political community, balancing these considerations requires the existence of a firewall between police and other agencies responsible for rights protection and immigration. Why? Without this strict division, individuals will be unwilling to assert their rights. Clearly, if you are afraid that you will be arrested and deported, you will be less likely to call the police when you have experienced a crime or fear that you will be a victim of a crime. This has already occurred: there has been a 25% drop in reports of domestic violence within the Latino community this year with fears of an increase deportation. This is an example of a government’s failure to provide the basic right of security to all its residents.
One might object that the primary obligation of the government is to protect the security of its citizens first and foremost, even if this means infringing on the rights of non-citizen residents. Indeed, our current President is keen to remind us of the crimes committed by undocumented immigrants in our country, although he is incorrect: immigrants, both legal and illegal, commit far less crime than native born citizens.
But even if the assertion were true, the objection misses an important feature of sanctuary policies. The police can still choose to cooperate with immigration authorities if they deem the immigrant in their custody to be violent or a danger to society. Sanctuary policies in no way compromise the safety of citizens, and in the view of many in the police, strengthen it by helping the police to do their job. It turns out that sanctuary policies may be necessary for the government to protect citizens as well.
Philosophical analysis indicates that local sanctuary polices are not only justified, but are actually necessary to the government’s continued legitimacy and its ability to protect all residents on its territory. This should not be irrelevant to the Administration or the courts.
Sunday, December 10, 2017
Editor's Note: Guest blogger Kate Kelly attended hearings last week at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In this Human Rights Day blog, she reports on police killings in the US. Ms. Kelly is a legal fellow at Columbia's Human Rights Institute.
Gone are the days where many considered international human rights law to be too esoteric, or irrelevant to the American context. A heightened concern for protection of basic rights has led to a renewed elevation of concerns at the global level. Just this Tuesday, dozens of mayors from the U.S. joined with city leaders from around the world to sign their own climate pact, the “Chicago Charter,” as a response to President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Also this week, a wide array of civil society groups and local governments have engaged with the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, as he kicked off his two week visit to the United States.
Despite these examples, which are increasing, the federal government’s approach to international and regional human rights treaties and mechanisms has largely been one of exceptionalism. The U.S. relationship to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR), punctuates this point. While the Commission is seated in our nation’s capital, the U.S. helped to create the Inter-American Human Rights System, the United States has yet to ratify the main legal agreement that governs the system, the American Convention. In honor of its obligations as a member of the Organization of American States (OAS), the U.S. has typically participated in hearings and cases to address human rights concerns. Though, as was highlighted here in March, the U.S. was conspicuously absent from the IACHR hearings at the start of the new administration.
The U.S., however, did participate in a series of IACHR hearings on Thursday. Federal officials, primarily from the State Department, attended hearings on topics including the crisis in Puerto Rico, and labor rights in the automotive industry. One hearing, requested by the ACLU, Santa Clara University International Human Rights Clinic and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, put a spotlight on police brutality and police murders of black and brown citizens, invoking the international language of extrajudicial killings.
U.S. activists and advocates have long framed the murders of black Americans at the hands of police in international human rights terms. For example, in 2014, the parents of Mike Brown, Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr. spoke to the United Nations Committee Against Torture, pleading for “global intervention” to address their son’s death. Explaining this violence in terms of “extra judicial killings” builds on this legacy, highlights the epidemic of police brutality, and reinforces that the murders at the hands of police lack legal sanction. It can be especially powerful in a forum with unique experience addressing extra judicial killings in other countries in the region, like the IACHR.
Extrajudicial killings are, by definition, homicides carried out by state actors absent valid legal proceedings or adequate due process of law. Based on protections for the right to life, and security of person, human rights law prohibits governments from arbitrarily depriving their citizens of life. (This obligation springs from Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 4 of the American Convention).
States are required to act to prevent, investigate, punish and provide compensation for human rights violations. However, States often disregard their duty to prosecute the state actors, typically police or military officers, for extrajudicial killings. The U.S. is not immune to this pattern of impunity. Mapping Police Violence has found that in only 1% of cases of police violence that occurred in 2015 has there been any individual officer accountability.
A groundswell of attention to the murders of unarmed black Americans by police has grown out of tireless work of the Black Live Matter movement, and other grassroots groups around the country. New media racial justice activists like Shaun King have been pivotal to the increased visibility of the scope of impunity -- King first addressed the epidemic of police violence as “extra judicial killings” in 2015. King’s powerful testimony kicked off yesterday’s IACHR hearing on this topic, highlighting the unwarranted deaths of many, including Rekia Boyd, a 22-year-old African-American woman, who was fatally shot in the back on March 21, 2012, in Chicago, Illinois by an off-duty police officer.
The hearing was also a moment for impacted families to speak, including Luis Poot Pat, Cousin of Luis Góngora Pat who was killed by police in San Francisco, CA, and Maria Hamilton, the mother of Dontre Hamilton who was killed by police in Milwaukee, WI. Ms. Hamilton, who founded Mothers for Justice United, testified that her family waited for 18 months for a review by the Justice Department (DOJ) of her son’s murder. Even after the review was complete, the officer responsible was not charged. Mrs. Hamilton urged the Commission to take action, including a visit to the U.S. to learn more about this issue, and develop strong recommendations.
The ACLU Human Rights Program highlighted that just in 2017 alone, at least 903 people have already been shot and killed by law enforcement officers, including more than 300 who were fleeing from officers when they were shot. Jennifer Turner of the ACLU urged the federal and state governments to conduct prompt and thorough reviews of extra judicial killings by police, provide urgent compensation to victims’ families, among other recommendations.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, Special Rapporteur for the United States, articulated that police brutality is also a problem in her home country of Jamaica. She urged the U.S. to establish independent review mechanisms for crimes by police, outside of the normal prosecutorial system, as they have recently instituted in Jamaica. She also encouraged the United States to improve training, provide full reparations to victims, as well as address the issue of wide access to firearms.
U.S. representative Genevieve Libonati committed to report back to the Commission on the steps the government will continue to take to fulfill its obligation to protect the right to life of all Americans. She likewise conceded that “the US human rights record, like all countries, is imperfect.”
Commissioner José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez concluded the IACHR hearing by stating, “Ending impunity is the best guarantee to stopping repetition of these crimes against citizens.” The Inter-American Commission is vital to keeping the spotlight on the United States efforts to end impunity, and we must continue to ensure that the IACHR, and other human rights bodies have accurate data and information on human rights concerns, so that we can continue to insist on human rights accountability. Robust engagement of both civil society and the U.S. media with these international mechanisms will help strengthen both accountability and respect for international human rights.
Thursday, December 7, 2017
On December 4, President Trump announced that he would dramatically downsize two Utah
National Monuments - Bears Ears by 85 percent and the Grand Staircase-Escalante by roughly half. The reduction, totaling two million acres, represents the biggest rollback of federal designated land protection in U.S. history. The Bears Ears monument is home to an estimated 100,000 Native American archeological and sacred sites. President Obama designated Bears Ears in 2016, while the Grand Staircase-Escalante was protected by President Clinton in 1996, both under the Antiquities Act, a 1906 law that allows presidents to unilaterally set aside public lands to protect “objects of historic and scientific interest.” In contrast, National Parks are designated by acts of Congress.
The announcement came a week after Trump sparked controversy during a ceremony honoring World War II veteran Navajo code talkers by reviving his feud with Senator Elizabeth Warren, indirectly referring to her as “Pocahontas,” an intended slur that offended the families of the code talkers. Critics also questioned the optics of holding the ceremony against the backdrop of a portrait of Andrew Jackson, whose bloody enforcement of the Indian Removal Act caused thousands of Native American deaths.
Hours after the announcement, opponents hit back. A coalition of five Native American tribes - Hopi, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni and Ute Indian- filed suit to block the move. According to Native American Rights Fund (NARF) attorney Matthew Campbell, “Bears Ears is one of the most important places for Indian Country, and that is why Indian Country came together to advocate for this important place. Trump’s attack on Bears Ears is an attack on all of us, and we will fight to protect it.” The tribes argue that the Antiquities Act allows a president to designate but not to revoke monument status, and that Trump has exceeded his authority by curtailing the monuments so sharply that he has in effect eliminated their protections. Trump’s move is not unprecedented – previous presidents have made much smaller reductions, but their right to do has never been tested in court. The move bodes ill for Trump’s respect for Native sovereignty. As NARF points out, “This latest action follows on the heels of the Administration’s other actions against Tribes: (1) issuing the permit to the Dakota Access Pipeline, (2) issuing the permit to the Keystone XL, and (3) revoking the Executive Order to protect the Bering Sea on April 28th. Tribes vigorously opposed all of these efforts. The Administration uses the term “tribal sovereignty” but clearly does not understand what that means.”
The same day, Earthjustice filed suit on behalf of a group of environmental and conservation organizations, including the Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and seven others, claiming that the decision to shrink the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante was unlawful. “While past presidents have used the Antiquities Act to protect unique lands and cultural sites in America, Trump is instead mangling the law, opening this national monument to coal mining instead of protecting its scientific, historic, and wild heritage,” said Earthjustice’s attorney Heidi McIntosh.
The outcome of the litigation will have far-reaching implications for the preservation of natural resources, including whether the designation of national monument status will be rendered effectively meaningless if it can be easily reversed by subsequent administrations. In making the announcement, Trump said “public lands will once again be for public use.” But as NARF’s Executive Director John Echohawk sees it, the reality is that the lands will provide private benefits instead, with potentially damaging environmental and cultural consequences. He said “It is clear that Trump’s attack on Bears Ears is motivated by his desire to undo decisions made by his predecessor, but also to grant political favors to the Utah politicians who would see our sacred lands plundered for short-term economic gain that could come from drilling for oil and mining for uranium.”
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
As the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty tours the country during his official visit to the United States, we offer another in a series of blog entries on US poverty:
by Max Dismukes, Northeastern School of Law '19
Forget the archetype of the idyllic countryside: there are proportionally more people living in poverty in rural communities than in cities or suburbs throughout the United States.
Because it exists in remote, untraveled communities, the devastating realities of rural poverty can be invisible for those living in the country’s urban centers. As this map shows, the highest rates of rural childhood poverty cut a contiguous swath through the South, from Arizona to West Virginia.
Not only is poverty higher in rural places, but it is also more persistent, generation to generation. The metaphor of escaping poverty takes on its true meaning for rural Americans. Geography is destiny, and the only path to upward mobility so often leads away from home and toward the city.
Nowhere is the interplay between geography, poverty, and opportunity more salient than in New Mexico, with the highest rate of childhood poverty of any U.S. state at 29.9% (See table R1702). That rate is substantially higher in the state’s most remote, rural communities. For instance, in Columbus, NM, an isolated town of 1,200 on the U.S.-Mexico border that was famously attacked by Pancho Villa in 1916, 75% of children live below the poverty line (Search Columbus, NM).
Meaningful access to the civil justice system is a powerful tool for combating poverty. It is perhaps no wonder then that legal aid can be extraordinarily difficult to obtain for people living in places with the most persistent poverty. For every 10,000 New Mexicans, there are 26.6 lawyers, compared to the national average of 40.3. For every 10,000 New Mexicans living in poverty, there are 0.47 legal aid lawyers, compared to the national average of 0.64. The concentration of lawyers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, where the density of attorneys actually exceeds the national average, masks the full extent of the shortage in the state’s rural areas. Half of New Mexicans, but less than one third of legal service providers, live in rural parts of the state. In Columbus, the nearest attorney is 33 miles away in Deming; and the nearest legal aid office is 92 miles away in Las Cruces (See here for citations and additional information).
New Mexico Legal Aid (NMLA) is deeply committed to serving New Mexicans in every part of the state. Through remote representation, partnerships with pro bono attorneys, and other strategies, NMLA does much to compensate for its lack of neighborhood offices in every county.
Nevertheless, there is a significant shortage of attorneys willing and able to help New Mexico’s rural poor with their most pressing legal needs. This shortage is compounded by language barriers, great distances to the nearest courthouse, ineffective government agencies, and poor internet infrastructure. In turn, the lack of adequate social services exacerbates the negative socioeconomic effects that arise from an inability to redress any violations of legal rights through the civil justice system.
Despite serious humanitarian concerns, issues of rural poverty in the 21st century are prone to the fatalistic argument that society is urbanizing, and it is not worth expending resources on dying rural communities. But is the abandonment of remote, rural places really a necessary corollary to progress? Looking abroad suggests that it is not. In Finland, for example, poverty and childhood poverty are virtually nonexistent, and this high standard of living extends with relatively little variation from Helsinki throughout the country’s rural north. Finland also provides publicly funded legal aid to its residents, both rural and urban, who need and are unable to afford representation.
The lack of a right to civil counsel in New Mexico and the United States is a human rights issue. In the words of Gabriela Knaul, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, “legal aid is both a right in itself and an essential precondition for the exercise and enjoyment of a number of human rights.” For families with children living in poverty, this is especially true. Not only are their immediate economic and social rights staked on the outcome of a given legal problem, but so too is their right to a life of opportunity and self-determination. Defending against an eviction or securing back pay for stolen wages does not only keep a family in their home or give them the money to provide for their basic needs. It also prevents a downward spiral into homelessness and abject poverty that interferes with a child’s education, physical and mental health, and ultimately, her ability to lay the groundwork for a happy, successful life.
Providing a right to civil counsel, operationalized through a system of neighborhood legal aid offices extending throughout the state, would help New Mexico’s impoverished rural children to realize their right to equal opportunity. Lawyers have remarkable power, and legal aid provides hope for combating multigenerational poverty. This reallocation of power and the shifting of financial resources that accompanies each successful case has the potential to allow rural people to defeat poverty where they are, without having to escape from it.
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
December 1st was world AIDS Day.
Over 37,000 people in the US are newly diagnosed with HIV each year. 37 million people world wide are living with HIV or AIDS. The opiod crisis has increased the number of new transmissions. Women in abusive relationships are at increased risk for HIV. Yet many perceive the problem as no longer a crisis in the US because of the effectiveness of treatment (Art). But not everyone has access to treatment. Transportation issues remain a huge barrier to treatment, particularly in rural areas. The gutting of the affordable care act exacerbates the problem. A high percentage of men who have sex with men die from HIV/AIDS.
Those living with HIV experience workplace and housing discrimination, typically following the disclosure of private medical information.
And criminally, those living with HIV are at risk for prosecution if they have sex without disclosing their medical condition to the partner, despite the fact that taking ART as prescribed virtually eliminates any risk of transmission. Arrests and prosecutions under these criminal disclosure statues are disproportionately against people of color.
While the public impression is that HIV and AIDS is no longer a critical problem, those living with HIV and AIDS tell very different stories. For additional information on living with HIV here are just a few sources of information: Positive Women's Network; Center for Disease Control; and AIDS United.
Monday, December 4, 2017
By Margaret Drew
NBC executives should be worried. Their unwillingness to address sexual harassment is well documented. Disrespect for women exhibits itself in many forms. While the degrees of disrespect vary, they are interconnected. Matt Lauer should have been fired thirty seconds after his "interview" with Hillary Clinton during the last presidential campaign ended. During that interview, Lauer repeatedly interrupted Ms. Clinton. He diverted her from the intended topic of the president's role as commander-in-chief by frequently raising the well worn e-mail issue. When matters turned to issues of military leadership, Lauer reminded Clinton that time was short, attempting to prevent her from giving a comprehensive answer. And then Mr. Trump, on the other hand, was unchallenged, even when he made statements that could be easily disproved. More details of the interview may be seen here. NBC failed to discipline Lauer for what most female viewers recognized as misogyny. Hillary Clinton's turmoil during that interview and her split second decision-making on handling the dilemma is documented in her memoir What Happened.
And was NBC management not listening when Katie Couric revealed in 2012 that Lauer often pinched her on her rear "alot". That behavior alone was sufficient to fire Lauer. Then let's not forget that not only did NBC delay in reporting on the Trump/Bush sex videotape, NBC had it in its possession since 2005.
Either of the prior behaviors were adequate to alert NBC execs that there was likely more serious sexual misconduct going on. But those with the power to stop the abuse refused to investigate. Other actions by NBC were telling. The network refused to run a well-documented expose of Harvey Weinstein's sexual offenses written by Ronan Farrow, despite the network's approval of the article as well-documented. NBC's failure to honor its commitment to Farrow was puzzling, but consistent with the network's refusal to address mysoginy and sexual misconduct in any form. NBC would have had the scoop on the Weinstein debacle. The New Yorker ran the article instead. A more recent New Yorker article refers to NBC's actions post-Lauer as the "Theater of Accountability."
Are NBC execs worried that the next people fired for sexual misconduct will be one of them?
Sunday, December 3, 2017
By Margaret Drew, UMass Law School
Signs indicate that two powerful forces are escalating simultaneously.
The periodic threat to fire Secretary of State Tillerson will inevitably lead to actual firing, particularly now that a potential successor has been named. Replacement was inevitable following Tillerson's public acknowledgement that he called the President a moron. The speculated replacement is Mike Pompeo, CIA director. Pompeo disdains negotiation with those known not to support the US. Iran, for example, is a country Pompeo says he would not negotiate with. As the President increases his noises around North Korea, the more war with North Korea seems inevitable.
At the same time, Special Prosecutor Mueller's investigation is accelerating. A deal has been struck with Michael Flynn in exchange for his ongoing cooperation with Mueller's investigation. Reportedly Jared Kushner is one of those against whom evidence is mounting. The closer Mueller probes Trump family members, the more likely we will see aggresssive and destructive backlash.
War with North Korea can be manipulated in several ways. War can be the distraction Trump seeks from the Mueller investigation. Historically, the country has been reluctant to change leaders during war time. If Trump perceives that he will be forced out of office, he may leave the White House after doing the most harm as possible. Nuclear exchanges with North Korea would be one way to inflict serious damage.
But there is an alternative. Rather than firing the special prosecutor, Mueller could be given the option of indicting the President or Trump family members, or stopping the investigation and avoiding the consequences of war. Will it be Mueller's choice?
Thursday, November 30, 2017
by Martha F. Davis, Professor, Northeastern University School of Law
InterCultural Cities (ICC), a programme of the Council of Europe, is not widely known in the U.S., but that may change. Arriving at the ICC meeting in Lisbon earlier this week, I believed that I was the only American. Soon, however, I met a diversity consultant based in Minneapolis who is working with several Minnesota cities to come on board, and an activist from Washington, D.C., who has been pushing the idea in the District. To date, no U.S. city has joined the group.
This is the ICC’s tenth year. It is a membership organization, with member cities large and small paying annual dues. Upon joining, a city conducts an audit to determine their baseline for dealing with cultural diversity. A team of experts visits to assess the city, with periodic reports and visits following thereafter to evaluate the local government’s progress in achieving its goals. Throughout, the ICC provides expert guidance and a supportive presence to those within the city who are devoted to issues of diversity and inclusion.
The meeting I attended focused on local approaches to dealing with refugees and migrants, building on the idea that intercultural initiatives speed the inclusion of new arrivals into existing communities and deter radicalization that might otherwise come with isolation. A recurring theme was the tension between national and local governments, with nations making decisions about borders and resource allocation that undercut local agendas for growth, innovation and cultural exchange that rely on new arrivals.
Interestingly, US city activism in the Trump era was repeatedly cited as a model. “American cities seem well organized,” one speaker noted, citing the sanctuary city movement. And under the right circumstances, attendees observed, they’re not afraid to assert power, as we’ve recently in the local response to climate change.
Still, the overall tenor of the meeting was sobering. The rise in populism is worldwide, and cities alone – however strong – will not be able to save progressive values if the populist movement grows. The Council of Europe and UN representatives, the mayors and vice mayors, and the NGOs and academics were looking for something more for their toolboxes -- a technique for spreading democratic values and human rights norms while providing language and vocational training, housing assistance and meeting other basic needs.
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
The Center for Constitutional Rights recently released a report on mental health consequences for those released from solitary confinement. The report was issued in conjunction with Stanford University's Human Rights in Trauma Mental Health Lab. Nahal Zamani of the Center commented on the results of the joint study.
"In the report, based on interviews with about 30 individuals at three maximum-security prisons, researchers found that prisoners formerly held in long-term solitary confinement in California’s Security Housing Units (SHUs) face continuing mental health consequences even after being transferred to general population. Interviews revealed a range of continued, and potentially permanent, adverse consequences, including: mood deterioration and depression, intense anxiety, emotional numbing and dysregulation, cognitive impairments, modifications in perception of time, physical health ailments, distressful relational estrangement with family and/or friends, and diminished capacity for socialization."
To read the full report, click here.
The report is a companion to earlier research conducted by the Center and members of Yale Law School's International Human Rights Clinic documenting the impact of near total isolation in prisons.
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
With an upcoming focus on extreme poverty, discussion must be had on how economic decisions are made in the US. Buddhist economics looks for a "middle way" between profitability, full employment and sustainability. One false foundation of US economics doctrine is a belief in certainty. We see certainty, or perhaps it is inflexibility, playing out in the tax plan pending in Congress. Those claiming that trickle down economics theory is valid believe - or claim to believe- that the more money retained by the wealthiest business owners, the more jobs that will be created. While this theory has been disproved, the notion is hawked with certainty.
In the other extreme, living a life of prayer and mediation may be ideal for some, but few can afford the luxury of a contemplative life, absent a wealthy patron. For most, spirituality must be woven into a life that includes work so that the individual can survive, meet basic needs and sustainability. Finding balance between entitlement and necessity would be one middle way. In order to establish full employment for those who need resources to support self and family, that middle option must be developed. There is no one prescription except that in Buddhism, one would be a consumer only to the extent that one's needs are met and sustainability must be a factor is business decisions.
US corporate economic policy rests in large part upon obsolescence. Products are often not made for sustainability and require frequent replacement. In other instances consumer desire for the latest version or upgrade drives consumer purchasing, again without reflection on sustainability. Attachment to goods is countered by the Buddhist principle of non-detachment. Reductions in force with no work replacement for employees counters Buddhist belief that all are connected. In Buddhist economics, sustainability, fairness and compassion are equal parts with profitability.
How do we begin to find the "middle" economic way? Business must view the creation of a healthy workforce as a priority. Corporate responsibility needs to extend to the health and happiness of employees. Business must recognize that executive success is best measured by the connection to the people that comprise the workforce, not to the dollars earned. Supporting each individual to engage in "right livelihood" is essential to Buddhist economics but also to the sustainability of US ideals of opportunity. Demanding that shared prosperity benefit all does not require income leveling. Once the lowest of employees is paid an amount that permits workers to meet their needs and the needs of their dependents, CEO compensation may be irrelevant.
Monday, November 27, 2017
Lawsuits filed by cities and states around the country are challenging the Trump Administration's efforts to penalize sanctuary jurisdictions for protecting their residents. The courts will sort out the legal issues (and have already enjoined the enforcement of the Administration's Executive Order cutting off federal funding to sanctuary cities). But what are the underlying moral issues at stake?
To find out more: Plan to attend a lecture by Dr. Shelly Wilcox on Thursday November 30, at 3:30 p.m., at Northeastern University School of Law, 416 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA, in room Dockser 230 on the morality of "sanctuary cities."
Dr. Wilcox is a Professor of Philosophy at San Francisco State University. As she describes it,
"This talk explores the moral issues associated with local sanctuary policies. I examine three arguments in favor of sanctuary policies—the
public safety, civil disobedience, and collective resistance arguments—and I defend the latter. In doing so, I address several important issues that
have received scant attention in the philosophical literature on migration, including migrant detention and deportation, the criminalization of
migrant subjects, and the militarization of national borders."
Sanctuary cities include Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Austin and the list goes on -- more than 300 cities, counties and states have declared their sanctuary status.
Are sanctuary city policies justified morally speaking? Come to the lecture on November 30 to learn more about this politically important topic. For more information, click here.