Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Women and War Crimes

Picture1By Margaret Drew, Associate Professor of Law, UMass Law School

Women have been raped and otherwise assaulted during war as far as memory can reach.  Domestic abuse also increases during war, with women being the primary targets.

Sexual abuse of women and girls is tactic of war, not a byproduct of war.

As Jewish women have been attempting to tell the world, the female Hamas captives and other victims suffered horrific sexual and other gender-based abuse.  A New York Times investigation found that rape was not an isolated offense, but part of a pattern of gender-based violence by Hamas.  There is no reason to hide the graphic details.  Women for generations have attempted to call attention to their suffering during war only to be unheard.  Following the October 7th attack, bodies of women were found with legs splayed and clothing torn.  Women alive and dead were found with genital injuries.

One survivor gave a detailed account of sexual abuse of women during the attack as reported by the New York Times:

“The first victim she said she saw was a young woman with copper-color hair, blood running down her back, pants pushed down to her knees. One man pulled her by the hair and made her bend over. Another penetrated her, Sapir said, and every time she flinched, he plunged a knife into her back.  She said she then watched another woman “shredded into pieces.” While one terrorist raped her, she said, another pulled out a box cutter and sliced off her breast.  “One continues to rape her, and the other throws her breast to someone else, and they play with it, throw it, and it falls on the road,” Sapir (the survivor) said.  She said the men sliced her face and then the woman fell out of view. Around the same time, she said, she saw three other women raped and terrorists carrying the severed heads of three more women.” 

Some Jewish women blame other women for the lack attention to their plight.  #Me TooUnlessYou’reaJew particularly addresses the failure of United Nations Women to immediately recognize and condemn the slaughter and abuse of women.  On December 1, 2023 UN Women finally issued a statement that recognized Hamas’ actions but was without detail and was without an action plan other than encouraging women from Israel and Gaza to report abuse.

The failure of the world to act has little to do with the fact that the sexually abused and killed women were Jewish.  I do not know of a war in which there has not been initial or ongoing sexual abuse of women.  The Serbian-Bosnian war is the most recent example of widespread sexual abuse of women during war.  In that case one Serbian motivation was to impregnate Bosnian women so diminish Bosnian ethnicity.  The Serbian military set up “rape camps”.  Bosnian women were released only when they became pregnant. 

UN member states have been aware of the sexual abuse of women in Rwanda for decades. 

We have no reason to believe that Palestinian women are not suffering sexual abuse, as well.  We know that Palestinian women suffer from high rates of domestic violence, which increases during war.  We likely will hear of stranger rape and rape by soldiers as time passes. Only today, as I am wrapping up this blog, the UN issued a press release with reported incidents of abuse of Palestinian women and girls:

“We are particularly distressed by reports that Palestinian women and girls in detention have also been subjected to multiple forms of sexual assault, such as being stripped naked and searched by male Israeli army officers. At least two female Palestinian detainees were reportedly raped while others were reportedly threatened with rape and sexual violence.”

Other reports note that photos of female detainees in degrading circumstances were taken by the Israeli army and uploaded online.

Lack of action to assist Israeli women and other female survivors of war sexual abuse is not because of their religious affiliation. The abuse occurs because they are women.  The world has not raised its collective voice to protect women during war.  The perpetrators, world leadership, and the military share the blame – these are primarily male actors.  Until men prioritize the prevention of female sexual abuse, their abuse within and without of war will not diminish.

February 20, 2024 in Women's Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 5, 2024

March – April 2024 Deadlines: Calls for Input by Human Rights Mechanisms

The following calls for inputs have been issued by UN Human Rights Mechanisms with deadlines in March – April 2024 and law professors whose practice, research, and/or scholarship touches on these topics may be interested in submission:

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Call for inputs to inform the High Commissioner’s report on how climate change can have an impact on the realization of the equal enjoyment of the right to education by every girl. Deadline March 1, 2024. Read more.

Working Group on Business and Human Rights – Call for inputs to inform the Working Group’s report on respecting the rights of LGBTI people in the context of business activities: fulfilling obligations and responsibilities under the UNGPs. Deadline March 1, 2024. Read more.

Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education – Call for inputs to inform the Special Rapporteur’s visit to the United States of America, scheduled to take place from 29 April to 10 May 2024, focused on academic freedom and safety at all levels of education and access to public education from kindergarten to 12th grade without discrimination. Deadline March 2, 2024. Read more.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Call for inputs on application of digital technologies in the administration of justice, to inform the Secretary General’s report to the General Assembly on human rights in the administration of justice. Deadline March 9, 2024. Read more.

Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – Call for inputs on the challenges faced by mobile Indigenous Peoples, and the initiatives undertaken by States, Indigenous Peoples and other stakeholders to recognize and respect their rights, to inform the Special Rapporteur’s upcoming report. Deadline March 15, 2024. Read more

Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries – Call for inputs to inform the WG’s 2024 thematic report on financing and mercenaries and mercenary related actors. Deadline March 15, 2024. Read more.

Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries – Call for inputs to inform the WG’s 2024 thematic report on arms trafficking and mercenaries and mercenary related actors. Deadline March 15, 2024. Read more.

Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights – Call for inputs to inform the Special Rapporteur’s 2024 thematic report on Pollution Information Portals and strengthening access to information on releases of hazardous substances. Deadline March 22, 2024. Read more.

Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing – Call for inputs to inform the forthcoming reports of the Special Rapporteur on resettlement as a human rights issue. Deadline March 31, 2024. Read more.

Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery – Call for inputs on the role of workers’ organisations in preventing and addressing contemporary forms of slavery. Deadline March 31, 2024. Read more.

Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and Committee on Migrant Works – Joint call for inputs to inform concept paper on obligations of state parties on public policies for addressing and eradicating xenophobia and its impact on the rights of migrants, their families, and other non-citizens affected by racial discrimination. Deadline March 31, 2024. Read more.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Call for inputs on promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Africans and of people of African descent against excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officers through transformative change for racial justice and equality. Deadline April 1, 2024. Read more.

Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Girls – Call for inputs to inform the Special Rapporteur’s report on violence against women and girls in sport. Deadline April 8, 2024. Read more.

 Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Call for inputs to inform the expert workshop and High Commissioner’s report to the Human Rights Council on the centrality of care and support from a human rights perspective. Deadline April 13, 2024. Read more.

Special Rapporteur on Unilateral Coercive Measures – Call for inputs to develop a comprehensive set of Guiding Principles to be used by states, regional organizations, businesses and other actors with regards to sanctions and compliance, and, by that, to minimize negative impact of all types of sanctions, compliance and over-compliance with sanctions on human rights. Deadline April 30, 2024. Read more.

This information was compiled from https://www.ohchr.org/en/calls-for-input-listing.

February 5, 2024 in Advocacy, United Nations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 25, 2024

New Article: Making the World Safer and Fairer in Pandemics

Gostin, Lawrence O. and Klock, Kevin A. and Finch, Alexandra, Making the World Safer and Fairer in Pandemics (December 22, 2023). Abstract below.

Global health has long been characterized by injustice, with certain populations marginalized and made vulnerable by social, economic, and health disparities within and among countries. The pandemic only amplified inequalities. In response to it, the World Health Organization and the United Nations have embarked on transformative normative and financial reforms that could reimagine pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response (PPPR). These reforms include a new strategy to sustainably finance the WHO, a UN political declaration on PPPR, a fundamental revision to the International Health Regulations, and negotiation of a new, legally binding pandemic agreement (popularly called the “Pandemic Treaty”). We revisit the cavernous shortcomings of the global Covid-19 response, explain potentially transformative legal reforms and the ethical values that underpin them, and propose actionable solutions to advance both health and justice.

January 25, 2024 in Books and articles | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 19, 2024

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s decision bans life without parole sentences for people under age 21

By Noelle Gulick, 3L Northeastern Law

On Thursday January 11, 2024, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) released an important decision stating that life without parole (LWOP) sentences for people under 21-years-old are unconstitutional. The case is Commonwealth v. Sheldon Mattis, and the court raised the minimum age that a person can be sentenced to LWOP to 21-years-old. Before this decision, the age was 18-years-old. Extending the decision to those who are 18-, 19-, and 20-years-old is a strong step in the right direction of protecting the human rights and dignity of these people.

In this case, Mattis argued that his mandatory sentence of life without parole violated the Massachusetts state constitution’s article 26 which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. He argued that it is cruel and unusual to expect someone, especially a child or “emerging adult”, to spend the rest of their life in prison without any possibility of being released even on parole.

The court looked at new research on brain development after the age of 17, diminished culpability, social science, susceptibility to peer influence, and the greater capacity for change that younger people have. The court stated that this category of “emerging adults” (18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds) have many of the same “neurological characteristics” as kids under 18-years-old have.

It has been accepted that LWOP nationwide is not a suitable sentence for kids under 18. However, Massachusetts is the first state in the United States to ban life without parole sentences for people under 21, following the lead of other nations, international standards, and human rights law.

The court’s analysis included a look at other nations’ decisions and international statutes, noting that the UK has banned life without parole for anyone under 21 at the time of the offense. It also noted that Canada has ruled that life without parole is unconstitutional for anyone, no matter the age. Life without parole sentences, particularly for young people, are widely condemned under international law. One of the concurring opinions in this case cited the Convention on the Rights of the Child. There are several human rights treaties that condemn juvenile life without parole including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The ruling is retroactive, which means that people who have already been sentenced to life without parole for something that occurred when they were 18-20-years-old will soon be eligible to apply for parole. This means that about 70 people who were convicted in Suffolk County will become eligible for parole.

This decision is a step towards limiting the large number of life without parole sentences that are given in the United States, protecting the human rights of people facing these sentences, and to the United States following international legal norms.

January 19, 2024 in Advocacy, Criminal Justice, Juveniles | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Event 1/18: Human Rights of Women Webinar

On January 18, from 4:30-5:30pm EST, join the ABA International Law Section’s Women’s Interest Network (WIN) and the ABA International Human Rights Committee for a special webinar devoted to the current status of human rights of women and consider the advances in as well as backlash against human rights of women since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted 75 years ago. The distinguished speakers will include Judge Delissa Ridgway, Elizabeth M. Zechenter, and Catherine van Kampen.

The Zoom link for the webinar can be found here.

January 16, 2024 in Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Women's Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

U.S. failure to engage in constructive dialogue with U.N. experts during the 2023 ICCPR Review – Part II

By Ámbar Reyes Pérez, Musa Siam, Roaa Hussien, 3Ls at UIC Law, and Professors Sarah Dávila A., and Lauren E. Bartlett

Part I of this two-part post was published here and builds on the previous post written by Profs. Dávila A. and Bartlett on the 2023 ICCPR review.

Benefits of Human Rights Treaty Reviews for State Parties

The benefits of reporting incentivize countries to participate in treaty reviews. Human rights treaty reviews allow them to gain technical advice from experts on implementing the rights set out within the treaties they have ratified. Moreover, the treaty review allows for the conversion of interstate complaints into reports, allowing regional and international human rights mechanisms to engage with those reports of human rights violations.  

The core foundation of the human rights reporting process is engagement. In compiling these reports, countries are supposed to reflect and assess their own human rights situations, including violations. Countries are encouraged to conduct comprehensive reviews of their human rights policies implementation and progress and then identify gaps presenting obstacles to achieving a society based on dignity and human rights. The bottom line is that human rights treaty body reporting allows for review by other countries, United Nations entities, constructive dialogue, civil society input and international expert advice.

The Role of U.S. Civil Society in the Human Rights Treaty Review

The Human Rights Committee considers the role of civil society key to fulfilling its mandate effectively. Specifically, the Committee considers it necessary that the constructive dialogue be based on information received from the state party, other United Nations entities, and civil society.  Civil society provides information to the state party, which the state party should put in its periodic reports.  Civil society also provides information directly to the Committee through alternative or “shadow” reports and the presentation of oral information during briefings with the Committee.

Ahead of the review of the United States in October 2023, U.S. civil society submitted 127 shadow reports to the Human Rights Committee.  A summary of those reports was compiled by the International Human Rights Clinic at UIC Law and the Program on Human Rights and Global Economy at Northeastern Law.  The shadow reports covered issues as broad as the need to establish a National Human Rights Institution, to discrimination based on gender and sex, freedom of expression, assembly and association, Indigenous rights, the right to privacy, treatment of non-citizens, refugees and asylees, rights to food and water, criminalization of homelessness and poverty, and the treatment of persons deprived of liberty, among others.

U.S. civil society was also able to both formally and informally present oral information to the Committee. Committee members participated in informal briefings organized by U.S. civil society in July and September 2023, with two in-person during the week leading up to the formal review in October 2023.  In addition, the Committee allowed almost ninety minutes for U.S. civil society to present during the formal NGO briefing for its 139th session on Monday October 16, 2023. There were a record number of U.S. civil society members present in-person in Geneva for the review - over 140 persons traveled to Geneva to attend the review. Oral presentations by directly impacted persons made up the majority of those oral presentations to the Human Rights Committee, including those impacted by death by incarceration sentences, those subjected to racial discrimination and excessive force at the hands of the Border Patrol, Indigenous voices, and more.

As has been noted on this blog previously, the Fifth Periodic Report submitted by the United States to the Committee was  incomplete and outdated.  Therefore, the information provided by U.S. civil society helped provide the Human Rights Committee with a fuller and more accurate understanding of the human rights issues and violations of human rights at the federal, state, and local level in the United States.

The Constructive Dialogue at the U.S. Review in 2023

The Constructive Dialogue between the Human Rights Committee and the U.S. took place on October 17 and 18, 2023. On October 17, Ambassador Michèle Taylor began by giving some broad opening remarks to the Committee. The Country Report Task Force for the U.S. Review, consisting of Committee members Tijana Šurlan, Imeru Tamerat Yigezu, Changrok Soh, Marcia V.J. Kran, and Yvonne Donders, then began asking the U.S. government delegation direct questions, most of which focused on information provided by U.S. civil society. Other Committee members also asked additional questions to the U.S. delegation.  For example, Ms. Donders asked what the U.S. does to combat racism in the criminal justice system and what targets does the U.S. set to eliminate bias. 

The U.S. government delegation then had a chance to respond to the Committee’s questions. The U.S. officials’ responses consisted entirely of reading pre-written statements that did not directly address the questions the Committee asked. The Committee then took a brief break and came back to ask a few more questions.  The U.S. delegation responded briefly before the Committee Chair Abdo Rocholl adjourned the session for the day.

On October 18, 2023, the Country Report Task Force started off by asking deeper, more probing questions of the U.S. delegation. For example, Committee Member Kran asked what measures the United States is taking to address voting disenfranchisement for those who have served felony sentences. Ms. Kran also asked the U.S. delegation to please engage with her and her colleagues’ specific questions and not speak generally. The U.S. delegation again responded by reading pre-written statements that did not directly address the questions asked by the Committee. The Committee took a break and when the Committee came back, a few additional Committee members asked questions.  The U.S. delegation responded again by reading pre-written statements that were only sometimes responsive to the questions presented by the Committee.

When Ambassador Michèle Taylor began providing her broad closing remarks, U.S. civil society members silently stood up and turned their backs on the Ambassador. Once the Ambassador completed her remarks, civil society turned and sat back down. In her closing remarks, Human Rights Committee Chair Abdo Rocholl re-emphasized that the Committee recommended that the United States ratify each of the United Nations human rights treaties and thanked the large number of people from U.S. civil society and government who attended the review - she said thanks in a few indigenous languages - before formally closing the Fifth Periodic Review of the United States by the Human Rights Committee.

The protest was important for U.S. civil society members who were present at the U.S. review. They were frustrated and outraged over the U.S. government’s failure to reply to the Committee’s important questions. The sheer number of civil society members in the room and the dramatic but otherwise un-interrupting silent protest was meant to send a strong message to the U.S. government. Hopefully the U.S. government will do better next time.

January 10, 2024 in Advocacy, ICCPR | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 8, 2024

U.S. failure to engage in constructive dialogue with U.N. experts during the 2023 ICCPR Review – Part I

Picture1Photo @Kaitlyn Kennedy

By Ámbar Reyes Pérez, Musa Siam, Roaa Hussien, 3Ls at UIC Law, and Professors Sarah Dávila A., and Lauren E. Bartlett

This two-part post builds on the previous post written by Profs. Dávila A. and Bartlett on the 2023 ICCPR review.

On October 18. 2023, U.S. civil society engaged in a spontaneous protest over the failure of the U.S. government delegation to engage in constructive dialogue with the U.N. Human Rights Committee (“Human Rights Committee” or “Committee”). Photos and videos of that protest when viral, with news media and social media across the globe discussing the protest without knowing the context. During closing remarks by U.S. Ambassador Michèle Taylor during the Human Rights Committee’s Fifth Periodic Review of the United States, U.S. civil society members silently stood up and turned their backs.  Once the ambassador completed her remarks and the Committee Chair Tania María Abdo Rocholl began her closing remarks, civil society members sat back down.  This silent protest was a powerful statement by U.S. civil society organizations expressing frustration and outrage over the U.S. delegation’s failure to reply to the Committee’s important questions about broad domestic and foreign policy human rights issues from systemic racism, militarization, mass incarceration, reproductive health, immigration, detention, as well as the U.S. failure to protect civilians and prevent mass atrocities in Gaza. 

This blog post attempts to address what the constructive dialogue between the Human Rights Committee and the government delegation is supposed to look at during the country review process and helps to explain why the U.S. civil society delegation was spurred on to engage in that powerful protest on October 18.

How the treaty reporting procedure and constructive dialogue is supposed to happen

Once countries (“State parties”) have ratified the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (the “ICCPR”), then the country is subject to periodic reviews by the Human Rights Committee of its compliance with the treaty. The Committee begins the reporting process (under its Article 40 of the ICCPR obligations) by first composing the Country Report Task Force, composed of 4-5 members of the Committee who will lead and direct the periodic reporting process, and a country rapporteur who is the person leading the drafting of the list of issues and coordinating different procedures throughout the reporting process (with the Human Rights Committee Secretariat’s support), including organizing the substantive contribution of Committee members in the reporting process.

Generally, the review consists of four steps: (1) submission of State party initial or periodic report; (2) constructive dialogue between the State party and the Committee, which includes in-person meetings in Geneva with government delegates and civil society; (3) the Committee issuing Concluding Observations; and (4) follow-up to those Concluding Observations.

The Committee’s examination of State party reports is pursuant to Rule 68 of its Rules of Procedure. These reports must be based on the list of issues created and shared by the Committee with the State party.  That list of issues helps frame the scope of the review, including for the purposes of the constructive dialogue.

The United Nations General Assembly passed resolution 68/268 (Apr. 2014) and encouraged collaboration between treaty bodies to create an aligned methodology to be used in constructive dialogue with State parties. The aim of this methodology is to make the dialogue more effective and productive, as well as to maximize the available time for productive dialogue. (Res. 68/268, at para. 5) Additionally, it asked that the Committee, and other treaty bodies, “adopt short, focused and concrete concluding observations…that reflect the dialogue with the relevant State party.” (Res. 68/268, at para. 6). Moreover, during the in-person review in Geneva, the country is inv​​ited to bring a delegation with representatives from different bodies, agencies, and entities that may respond to questions posed by the Committee.

The purpose of this constructive dialogue is to elicit an effective process in which the Committee analyzes and reviews human rights developments in the State Party under a specific treaty. In general, the face-to-face dialogue follows the same broad structure for all treaty bodies: (a) the State party is invited to send a delegation to attend the meetings at which the committee will consider the report of the State party; (b) the head of the delegation, usually a representative of the Government of the State in question, is invited to make a brief opening statement; (c) members of the Committee, in some cases led by the country rapporteur(s) or country task force, pose questions on specific aspects of the report of particular interest or concern; and (d) the State party delegation responds to those questions.

An initial review requires a comprehensive assessment by the Committee of the enjoyment by all of the rights in the ICCPR concerned and the related compliance by the State party. A periodic report is more focused on previous recommendations made by the Committee. In practice, however, and with some degree of variation between the different treaty bodies, the difference between the dialogue concerning an initial report and a periodic report is minimal.

The formal review, in person in Geneva, then takes place over two consecutive working days with a three-hour session on each day. These public sessions are usually attended by UN observers, civil society representatives, which may include directly impacted persons, and a National Human Rights Institute (“NHRI”) if the State Party has one. However, the U.S. does not have an NHRI. An NHRI’s purpose is to promote and safeguard human rights domestically. It is an independent, non-governmental entity that establishes productive relationships with the government and with non-governmental organizations (“NGOs”). Some key functions of NHRIs include providing advice to the government, monitoring human rights within the State and within its actions, and engaging with the broader international human rights community. NHRIs are regulated by the 1993 Paris Principles which establishes responsibilities, composition, and operating methods.

While the Biden Administration has “centered” human rights in the execution of U.S. foreign policy, it has not established an NHRI. The lack of a U.S. NHRI was a question posed by Committee member Soh during the first day of the review in October 2023. The U.S. delegation response follows a long trend of the U.S. abstaining from “mainstream international human rights standards.”

An NHRI may help facilitate the work of a National Mechanism for Reporting and Follow-up (“NMRF”).   The NMRF is supposed to coordinate and prepare reports on a country’s human rights developments. It is also supposed to engage with regional and international human rights mechanisms to track and follow-up with domestic implementation of treaty obligations. The NMRF performs its duties by consulting with the NHRI and with civil society organizations to ensure its approach is comprehensive in safeguarding human rights.

A lack of both an NHRI and a NMRF hinders the U.S.’s ability to consistently and timely report to the Committee, and such hindrance affects the promotion and enjoyment of human rights across the nation. A lack of both an NHRI and a NMRF also hindered the constructive dialogue between the Committee and the government delegation during the 2023 U.S. Review.

January 8, 2024 in Advocacy, ICCPR | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Event 1/9: A National Human Rights Institution for the US: Why Don't We Have One?

1-9

On Tuesday January 9, 2023, at 12pm ET/9am PT, the American Bar Association's Section on Civil Rights and Social Justice will be holding a webinar with the Campaign for an NHRI in the US (a coalition effort led by the Southern Poverty Law Center, ACLU, AIUSA, Northeastern Law School Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy, UCI International Justice Clinic, Human Rights Educators USA and more).  This webinar is free and open to the public.  We are trying to educate and build support within the ABA to support the effort to establish an NHRI in the US. 

The registration link for the event is here

January 2, 2024 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

One Thing the U.S. Must Do to Protect Human Rights in the Immediate Aftermath of the 75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Samantha Barzaga

By Samantha Barzaga, 2L at Florida State University College of Law and a member of the International Human Rights Advocacy Clinic

December 10, 2023, marked the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document outlined, for the first time, a fundamental global standard of human rights for universal protection. The Biden administration should commemorate this special occasion by designating Temporary Protected Status for the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, is a program that allows migrants living in unsafe countries to work and live in the United States for an extendable period of time. The Department of Homeland Secretary can designate a country for TPS if there has been an ongoing armed conflict, an environmental disaster, or some other extraordinary condition that would not allow nationals to return. Though only one is required, the DRC satisfies all of these requirements.

Since 1996, the Central African region has faced escalating conflict. This is largely due to the First Congo War, beginning in the wake of the 1994 genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda. After this genocide, nearly two million Hutu refugees settled in the North and South Kivu provinces. Some of these refugees were Hutu extremists, which led to the organization of militias by Hutu groups, and eventually Tutsi militias to combat these Hutu groups in the Congo. The result was a gruesome war replete with human rights abuses and mass displacement.

The Second Congo War in 1998 was similar to the first war, eventually ending in 2003. It caused around five million deaths, and millions of people remained internally displaced by 2008. These wars have led to ongoing conflict and human rights abuses through today, exacerbated by intervening causes along the way including a severe Ebola outbreak in 2018 and the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo in 2021.

I spoke with a Congolese refugee who experienced the 1996 conflict firsthand. He lived in the city of Uvira and remembered leaving the Congo in October of 1996. He walked almost 500 kilometers to the city of Kalemie, and on the way witnessed rampant shootings and people running for their lives. He saw a baby get shot, and the mother left the baby and ran away. He recalled people running into lakes and drowning. Someone was beheaded in front of him. He survived by drinking rancid water and consuming tree roots. When he arrived in Kalemie, youths were being recruited to join the rebel soldiers, so he eventually fled to Meheba refugee camp in Zambia. From there he made his way to Zimbabwe, where he met his wife and started a family. He eventually ended up in the United States just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This refugee’s story is one of countless similar narratives as confirmed by The UN Mapping Report, which catalogs the most serious human rights incidents occurring in the DRC between 1993 and 2003. It highlights the ramifications of this conflict including the inability to protect borders, prosecute crimes, and maintain strong branches of government.

For these reasons, hundreds of organizations and over fifty members of Congress have called on the Biden administration to designate TPS for the DRC. The U.S. has previously acknowledged the severity of the situation in the DRC. In October 2022, the Department of State issued a Level 4 Travel Advisory warning U.S. citizens not to travel to the DRC. The advisory underscored the ongoing conflict, violence against civilians, and humanitarian crisis. It is time for the Biden administration to heed the call to protect the Congolese. There is no better time than the immediate aftermath of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

December 27, 2023 in Migrants, Refugees, Universal Declaration of Human Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 21, 2023

New Op-Ed: How Biden can formalize his promises to safeguard human rights

Jamil Dakwar and Noah Ponton, How Biden can formalize his promises to safeguard human rights, The Hill (Dec. 21., 2023). Excerpt below.

This December marks 75 years since the adoption of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a monumental document that has mainstreamed human rights and put them at the center of global freedom, peace and justice.

For President Biden, who declared at the beginning of his presidency that human rights are “among the most powerful and persuasive tools in our foreign policy kit,” this anniversary is an inflection point for his administration to reflect on how it has attempted to overcome his predecessor’s shameful record on human rights and lead “by the power of our example.” 

December 21, 2023 in Universal Declaration of Human Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 18, 2023

Doxxing in the Ivy League and the Universal Right to Privacy

by Anezka Krobot, 3L at St. Louis University School fo Law

In the wake of the situation in Gaza, there has been some conflict regarding the treatment of pro-Palestine student activists from prestigious universities, who have been doxxed and threatened because of their views on the conflict.

On the night of the Hamas attack on Israel, October 7, 2023, a coalition of Harvard student groups published an open letter stating that Israel was wholly to blame for the violence that had taken place. No names of individual students were released alongside the letter, but it only took a few days for the doxxing to begin. A truck with a digital billboard was purchased by conservative nonprofit Accuracy in Media and circled Harvard Square showing the names and photos of students affiliated with the groups who had published the letter, with a headline labeling them “Harvard’s Leading Antisemites.” Affected students were contacted and harassed, as well as members of their families, from parents to younger siblings. Accuracy in Media, which has the self-proclaimed mission of “exposing media bias” and “holding journalists as well as public and private officials accountable, has also purchased trucks to dox students at Yale.

Harvard established a task force on October 25, which provided targeted students with resources and services, provided a forum for their concerns and suggestions, and coordinated with staff and administrators to ensure the students’ safety. However, did the doxxing of these students, who had made conscious efforts to remain anonymous while expressing their beliefs, constitute a violation of their human rights?

Doxxing is “the intentional revelation of a person’s private information online without their consent, often with malicious intent,” according to the International Encyclopedia of Gender, Media, and Communication. The private information can include phone numbers, home addresses, ID numbers like Social Security numbers, or even private, intimate photos. It has been a form of online attack since the 1990s, but became a huge issue in 2014, when members of alt-right forums began harassing female video game developers and gamers in a phenomenon known as “Gamergate.”  Since then, some states in the U.S. have passed bills banning or providing remedies for victims of doxxing, but most states do not have any safeguards against or remedies for victims of doxxing, and there is no federal legislation on the issue.

Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights state respectively that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honor and reputation,” and that “everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all people have “the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

The most recent resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age was adopted by the Human Rights Council in September 2019, which states that all states “should ensure that any interference with the right to privacy is consistent with the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality.”  The resolution also calls for states to develop or maintain “preventive measures and remedies” for violations of privacy, and recognizes that “the right to privacy can enable the enjoyment of other rights and the free development of an individual’s personality and identity, and an individual’s ability to participate in political, economic, social and cultural life, and noting with concern that violations or abuses of the right to privacy might affect the enjoyment of other human rights, including the right to freedom of expression and to hold opinions without interference, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.” 

The Harvard students have the right to express their opinions on the treatment of Palestinian people under the Israeli regime, and being doxxed significantly interferes with their freedom to hold those opinions. Obviously, others are also allowed to disagree with them, but to doxx them goes beyond all principles of necessity and proportionality in this situation. Here, not only the students’ rights to privacy have been affected, but also the rights to privacy and safety of their families, who never made a statement about Gaza, and some of whom are minor children. Now, people know where those families live and have their contact information. In exercising your own right to free expression, you should not be allowed to violate another person’s right to privacy.

Read more about the UN’s stance on the right to digital privacy here. Read more about the UN’s stance on freedom of expression here.

December 18, 2023 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 14, 2023

In celebration of Human Rights Day the IHRC releases the Summary of Record of the 107th Session of CERD.

AlejandraBy Alejandra PalaciosStaff Attorney, International Human Rights Clinic at UIC Law

“We must understand the role of human rights as empowering of individuals and communities.” – Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

On Human Rights Day, we take time to reflect on the activities and work done by everyone involved to further human rights in the United States during the 107th Review Session by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

From August 8th to August 30th, 2022, the CERD held its 107th Session where it reviewed the U.S.’s efforts to implement the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination. CERD holds governments accountable for their international obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (“ICERD”). It does so by evaluating state practice and regular reporting, examining State Party reports and issuing recommendations to the State Party in order to fulfill their obligations under ICERD. 

To hold States like the U.S. responsible under the treaty, members of civil society submit detailed reports to CERD regarding the State’s lack of protection against racial discrimination. In response, the State prepares a report to CERD describing the fulfillment of international obligations pursuant to the treaty. Members of CERD, including the Country Rapporteur, then consider the State’s report and construct a list of issues with civil society’s concerns to return to the State’s delegation. Finally, CERD provides concluding observations and recommendations that the State must implement. This process is designed to encourage meaningful dialogue between the U.S. as the State Party, civil society, and the Committee.

The CERD’s list of themes for the U.S. Review included: racial profiling; discriminatory practices in education; the discrimination of immigrants and non-citizens; gun violence and the use of excessive force by law enforcement; voting rights; women’s and reproductive rights; and environmental racism and pollution. During the review, Country Rapportuer, Ms. Pansy Tlakula, and other members of CERD requested information and questioned U.S. efforts to address racial discrimination based on the list of themes presented.

CERD expressed regret that the U.S. had not established a national action plan to combat systematic racism and structural discrimination, an issue raised civil society in shadow reports. Although the Committee recognized positive developments by the U.S., it urged them to do more to further the protection of social and economic rights, including access to health care and safe abortion; address disparities in sentencing and the use of excessive and deadly force by law enforcement; protecting the right to protest and speak freely; improve relations with Indigenous Peoples, among many other recommendations.

In its concluding observations, the Committee expressed concern that “the lingering legacies of colonialism and slavery continue to fuel racism and racial discrimination…undermining the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all individuals and communities.” This was followed by a call for a commission to study and develop reparation proposals for slavery – effectively linking current challenges experienced by Black Americans and people of African descent to the issue of slavery.

On August 24, 2023, the U.S. submitted a follow-up report to the concluding observations of the 107th Session. Pursuant to the Committee’s request, it provided information about maternal mortality and sexual and reproductive health, Indigenous Peoples, and migrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, and stateless persons. The U.S. acknowledged there is “significant work ahead to eliminate the racial and ethnic disparities” in these fields.

The U.S. must continue to engage with international bodies like CERD as it grapples with systemic racism and other human rights violations domestically. The experts on the Committee provide a blueprint to address structural discrimination through their concluding observations and recommendations. The U.S. has an obligation under the ICERD to strive meet the standards outlined therein. Being aware of what happens internationally to set standards for human rights is instrumental to grassroots movements challenging the status quo. Making that information accessible to the public, affected populations, and civil society is instrumental in creating persuasive arguments that push towards change.

After engaging in human rights advocacy at the United Nations CERD in Geneva, Switzerland, the International Human Rights Clinic releases a Summary of Record of the 107th Review of the United States in relation to its obligations under the treaty. In working alongside civil society organizations and groups, the clinic produced this record to support continued advocacy to combat systemic and structural racism in the United States. The Summary of Record is available here.

The purpose of the Summary of Record is to provide an overview of the discussions on the themes presented during the 107th Review Session of the U.S., along with details about the input from Civil Society. The summary of record also includes a short description of themes presented in prior sessions demonstrating how the themes evolved over time. This document can serve as a reference material to be used by the directly impacted individuals, organizations, and the public.

December 14, 2023 in CERD | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Event 12/18: International Migrants’ Day Webinar

On Monday, December 18, from 9:00-10:00 A.M EST, please join the Migrants Rights Initiative, based at the Cornell Law School Migration and Human Rights Program, for a virtual discussion of regional leadership on soft law instruments protecting migrant rights, including the 2019 Inter-American Principles on the Human Rights of all Migrants, Refugees, Stateless Persons and Victims of Human Trafficking and the 2023 African Guiding Principles on the Human Rights of all Migrants, Refugees and Asylum Seekers.

The event will will feature a discussion between the Hon. Commissioner José Luis Caballero Ochoa of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Hon. Commissioner Selma Sassi Safer of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, moderated by Professor Ian M. Kysel, Cornell Law School.

Simultaneous French, Spanish and English Interpretation will be provided. Register for the event here.

December 13, 2023 in Migrants | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Event 12/7: UDHR Anniversary Celebration with Center for Reproductive Rights

On December 7, 2023, from 9-10 A.M. EST, join the Center for Reproductive Rights and other leading human rights organizations for a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). They will be highlighting the critical role of sexual and reproductive rights and gender equality in realizing the promise of the UDHR for all.

The distinguished speakers will be Cataline Devandas, Sibongile Ndashe, Macarena Saez, Monica Simpson, and H.E. Roberto Armando de Leon Huerta. The event will be moderated by Rachana Desai Martin.

There have been both historic advancements and unprecedented assaults on sexual and reproductive health and rights in the past few years. This event will provide a space for participants from key leaders working to advance these rights, particularly the most marginalized, and what still needs to be done to advance and protect human rights for all.

This event is virtual. Find the Zoom link to the webinar here.

December 3, 2023 in Reproductive Rights, Universal Declaration of Human Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 1, 2023

December 2023 – March 2024 Deadlines: Calls for Input by Human Rights Mechanisms

The following calls for inputs have been issued by UN Human Rights Mechanisms with deadlines in December 2023 – March 2024 and law professors whose practice, research, and/or scholarship touches on these topics may be interested in submission:

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Call for inputs to inform the High Commissioner’s report to the Human Rights Council on the impact of arms transfers on human rights. Deadline December 31, 2023. Read more.

Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures – Call for inputs to collect relevant articles, reports, publications and information to develop the Sanctions Research Platform. Deadline January 1, 2024. Read more.

Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights – Call for inputs for his thematic report on “Eradicating poverty in a post-growth context: preparing for the next Development Goals.” Deadline January 15, 2024. Read more.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Call for inputs to inform the Secretary-General’s analytical study on the impact of loss and damage from the adverse effects of climate change on the full enjoyment of human rights, exploring equity-based approaches and solutions to addressing the same. Deadline January 31, 2024. Read more.

Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls – Call for inputs to better understand the relationship between prostitution and violence against women, to clarify terms, approaches and actions States should take in order to maintain the spirit of international human rights law and to effectively protect women and girls from all forms of violence. Deadline January 31, 2024. Read more.

Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – Call for inputs on “Laws, legislation, policies, constitutions, judicial decisions and other mechanisms in which States had taken measures to achieve the ends of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in accordance with article 38 of the Declaration.” Deadline January 31, 2024. Read more.

Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures – Call for inputs on “Access to justice in the face of unilateral sanctions and over-compliance.” Deadline February 28, 2024. Read more.

Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing – Call for inputs on the topic of resettlement as a human rights issue. Deadline March 31, 2024. Read more.    

This information was compiled from https://www.ohchr.org/en/calls-for-input-listing.

December 1, 2023 in Global Human Rights, United Nations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Event 12/5: IAOHRA Human Rights Day Event

On December 5th, 2023, from 1-2:30P.M. EST, join the International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies for a webinar in celebration of International Human Rights Day. The featured speakers will be Dr. Domenico Zipol and Dr. Rodrigo A. Carazo.

The mission of the International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies (IAOHRA) is to provide opportunities and forums for the exchange of ideas and information among member agencies and other human rights advocates.

IAOHRA assists in developing programs for eliminating illegal discrimination in employment, housing, education, public accommodations, public services, and commercial transactions, including banking and lending practices.

We develop educational programs on human rights and civil rights issues and serve as a clearinghouse for information exchange between human rights agencies around the world.

This event is virtual. Register for this webinar here.

November 30, 2023 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

U.N. Human Rights Committee Offers Critical Recommendations for Transgender Rights in the United States

Nic US Consultation 2 Nic US Consultation 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

By: Nic Stelter, Student Fellow & Tamar Ezer, Acting Director Human Rights Clinic, University of Miami School of Law

As we mark the end of Transgender Awareness Month, the United States needs to take a hard look at rampant discrimination against transgender communities. Since 2019, laws violating transgender rights have swept the country:

  • 14 states limit discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in schools and prohibit the use of transgender students’ names and pronouns.
  • In 9 states, transgender individuals are prohibited from using the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity in schools, as well other public spaces in some cases.
  • 22 states ban at least some forms of gender-affirming health care for children, and 5 of these states punish gender-affirming care as a felony.
  • In 23 states, transgender students are banned from participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity.
  • We’ve seen book bans double with 45.5% of books targeted written by or about LGBTQ+ individuals.

Moreover, lawmakers have introduced over 500 more bills limiting transgender rights in just the last year.

Our Human Rights Clinic had the opportunity to support a coalition, including Human Rights Watch, Equality Florida, Florida Health Justice Project, Southern Legal Counsel, and Southern Poverty Law Center in advocacy before the United Nations (U.N.) Human Rights Committee, as it reviewed the U.S. for compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This included submission of a shadow report on human rights violations against transgender communities, development of a factsheet, and oral presentations to the Committee.

Earlier this month, the Human Rights Committee released its Concluding Observations and underscored with concern “the increase of state legislation that severely restricts the rights of persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Additionally, it pointed to hate crimes and prevalent discrimination in access to housing, employment, and other services. The Committee found violations of the rights to equality and non-discrimination; freedom of expression; privacy; family; life; and freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

To prevent these abuses, the Human Rights Committee urged the U.S. to “adopt all measures necessary to ensure that state laws that discriminate against persons based on their sexual orientation and gender identity are repealed and that comprehensive legislative initiatives prohibiting discrimination on those grounds . . . are adopted at the federal, state, local and territorial levels.” The Committee further called on the U.S. to investigate harassment and violence against transgender individuals and make sure that “perpetrators are brought to justice and victims are provided with effective remedies and redress.”

It is time for the U.S. to heed the Committee’s recommendations. Its findings, as Human Rights Watch noted, are “a wake-up call for state and federal lawmakers.” As one of our partners, a former teacher and transgender resident of Florida, poignantly stated, “Trans people are humans too and deserve to live in this country.” Let’s make the U.S a place where everyone can live with dignity. We hope the Concluding Observations can serve as a tool in pushing this forward.

November 29, 2023 in Advocacy, ICCPR, Transgender, United Nations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

News: UN Special Rapporteur Calls Out U.S. and Three Major Corporations, for “Trapping Workers in Poverty”

Three of the largest corporations in the world - Amazon, DoorDash, and Walmart - received letters from the UN Special Rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights on August 31, 2023, in which he called them out for their treatment of workers. The Special Rapporteur specifically referenced Amazon and Walmart’s union-busting activities, which has hampered the ability of workers to utilize their right to collective bargaining and better their conditions, pay, and benefits, and DoorDash’s insistence that their delivery drivers are independent contractors rather than employees, which denies them traditional employment benefits such as minimum wage guarantees. He also referenced a U.S. government report which stated that employees from these companies are among the highest recipients of government medical and food assistance, arguing that employers have a responsibility to give their employees a path out of poverty, instead of relying on government assistance to justify paying their workers the lowest wages possible. 

The Special Rapporteur also wrote to the United States government on August 31, 2023, going through all of the allegations against all of these companies and requesting information on its plans to address the widespread in-work poverty in the country. “The allegations against Amazon, DoorDash and Walmart would constitute flagrant violations of these rights and it is time for these corporations, and the U.S. Government, to be held accountable,” he said.

Read more about this topic here. Find the original letters from the Special Rapporteur and the responses from Amazon and Walmart here.

November 21, 2023 in Business, Poor, United Nations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 16, 2023

News: UN Special Rapporteur on Racism Issues Statement Following United States Visit

The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Ashwini K.P, has issued her official statement following her two-week visit to the United States this past month. She visited Washington D.C., Detroit, MI, Flint, MI, Los Angeles CA, Baton Rouge, LA, and Atlanta, GA, where she met with federal and state authorities, individuals from racial and ethnic groups, civil society organizations, service providers, academics, and other stakeholders to get a full picture of the state of racism in the United States.

In her press conference on November 14, 2023, Ashwini implored the U.S. government to “increase its efforts to address enduring systemic racism,” and expressed shock at how deeply the system of racism runs in every state she visited, and how these systems continue to reinforce themselves. She cited testimonies she received from members of racially marginalized groups, which detailed voter disenfranchisement, homelessness, environmental racism, racially discriminatory food systems, inequitable healthcare and health outcomes and discriminatory migration governance systems. Ashwani warned that the U.S. needs to increase and improve its anti-racism efforts, and further address white supremacy, underlying power imbalances, and historical drivers of racism and racial discrimination.

Read the UN’s press release here. Read the Special Rapporteur’s full statement here.  

November 16, 2023 in Discrimination, Race, United Nations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

New Article: A Global View of U.S. Backsliding on Democracy and Reproductive Rights

Martha F. Davis and Risa Kaufman, A Global View of U.S. Backsliding on Democracy and Reproductive Rights, ACS Blogs, Expert Forum (Nov. 13, 2023). Excerpt below.

This month, the United Nations Human Rights Committee concluded its review of the United States’ human rights record. Nine years had passed since the Committee’s last review of the U.S. With many urgent issues to address – including gun violence, excessive use of force by law enforcement, climate change, and Guantanamo – the Committee trained particular focus on the state of reproductive rights and democracy in the United States. The Committee’s alarm over the flood of restrictions on reproductive and bodily autonomy, alongside its deep concern over attacks on the right to vote, points to the deep connections between reproductive rights and democracy. Americans have a front row view of these connections in the wake of the Supreme Court majority’s decision in Dobbs to eliminate federal constitutional protections for abortion and leave the issue up to the political branches and the states. The global perspective offered by the UN review is a reminder, however, that regression on reproductive rights reinforces and supports erosion of democracy. These are mutually reinforcing trends. And the UN review underscores the urgency of safeguarding both.

November 15, 2023 in Advocacy, ICCPR, Martha F. Davis, Reproductive Rights, Risa Kaufman, United Nations, Women's Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)