Friday, November 14, 2014

Ushering human rights out of the closet

On November 7 the Washington Post ran a column entitled "The two words that scare the World Bank" written by the U.N. Human Rights Council's special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston. The two words? "Human rights."

The Los Angeles Times' editorial board opined on October 16 that "the human rights of all those who seek refuge must be respected" in reference to reports that our immigration border officials and courts may be turning away, and deporting, victims of human rights violations at alarming rates.

And on October 27, Jessica Lenahan testified before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) about the death of her young children in a domestic violence and police incident in 2005.  Ms. Lenahan, and her attorney Caroline Bettinger-Lopez who directs human rights clinics at the law schools of the Universities of Chicago and Miami, alleged to the IACHR that the United States has failed to implement changes to domestic violence laws and policies in the three years since the Commission decided that the goverment had violated Jessica's human rights--and those of her daughters--in the 2005 incident. 

Why is discourse about human rights so closeted in law- and business-related discourse, particularly in the U.S.? What keeps it in the closet? 

Philip Alston, in his column for the Post, asserts that the "official reason" for the World Bank's "long-standing aversion to discussing human rights" is its proscription from considering political matters according to the Bank's Articles of Agreement.  Alston points out that after the Cold War, many nations had an understandable aversion to human rights debates. 

As a teacher of those who will populate our justice system for a generation or so, I profoundly hope that aversion is waning.  And although it may appear an empty gesture to some, I offer for consideration the September 2014 Proclamation issued by President Obama "reaffirm[ing]" the basic human right to be free from violence and abuse" to mark the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act.  That proclamation resulted, in no small part, from the work of Professor Bettinger-Lopez and her colleagues, some of whom are contributors to this website. Slowly but surely in the wake of the 2011 IACHR decision, they have lobbied U.S. cities large and small for the passage of proclamations declaring freedom from domestic violence a fundamental human right.

And in September, 136 law professors signed onto a letter authored by my Penn State Law colleague Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia urging the President to offer amnesty to undocumented workers.  Although this week's USA Today column by attorney Paul Reyes does not expressly use the possibly-scary words "human rights," the message is clear.  Like Professor Bettinger-Lopez and her colleagues, Attorney Reyes, Professor Wadhia, and the other law professors who submitted that "Dear Mr. President" letter are the ushers leading human rights out of the closet.

| Permalink


Post a comment