Thursday, December 13, 2018

State Department Human Rights Staff Speak Up

After criticizing some of the formal government statements issued regarding human rights day earlier this week, its now time to give credit and kudos to the staff of the State Department's division of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor for their video blog series on the provisions of the UDHR that are most meaningful to them! 

The link to the series is available at the State Department blog, DIPNotes.  Drawing on their own personal experiences -- for example, as a public defender prior to joining the State Department, or as a young student living in a foreign country -- staffers movingly describe why the provisions of the UDHR are important benchmarks in the world, and why they continue to believe in the power of human rights.

December 13, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Santa Clara County in California Becomes “Human Rights County”

By: Francisco (“Fran”) Rivera Juaristi, Santa Clara School of Law

Prof. Fran Rivera and students of Santa Clara Law's International Human Rights Clinic with Santa Clara County Board of Supervisor Dave Cortese

On November 20th, 2018, the Board of Supervisors of the County of Santa Clara approved a resolution designating December 10th as Human Rights Day and declaring the County as a “Human Rights County.” The resolution was drafted by the International Human Rights Clinic at Santa Clara Law, promoted by the county’s Human Relations Commission, and supported by the Human Rights Program at San Jose State University and other community members. A signed version of the resolution is not yet available electronically (although a clean version can be found under item 11 of these minutes), but the text of the resolution can be found below.

At a minimum, the resolution challenges and rejects the divisive narrative coming from the Trump administration. It presents a counter narrative that is rooted in the official recognition of the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings. It highlights the county’s role in welcoming immigrants, refugees, and people of diverse identities, abilities, religions, opinions, and status. It defines the role of government as a vehicle for the promotion and realization of the rights mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The resolution’s importance lies not only in its substance, but also in its reach. Santa Clara is the 6th most populous county in the U.S., with a population of 1.8 million people. It is also home to some of the largest and most influential businesses in the world, including Apple, Google, eBay, and Yahoo!

This resolution is a next step in a broader strategy aimed at the recognition and implementation by local governments of internationally recognized human rights. In December of 2016, Mountain View passed a resolution to become a Human Rights City. It is now in the process of implementing a pilot program that seeks to apply a human rights lens to city projects. In December of 2017, the County of Santa Clara passed an ordinance aimed at implementing CEDAW locally. Consequently, the County created a CEDAW Task Force and, with the assistance of the International Human Rights Clinic at Santa Clara Law, the county is about to publish a report that addresses homelessness through a gender and human rights lens, and is in the process of implementing the report’s recommendations. On December 10th, 2018 the county celebrated Human Rights Day with a public panel discussion about human rights with the heads of the following five executive county offices: Immigrant Relations, LGBTQ Affairs, Labor Standards and Enforcement, Cultural Competency, and Women’s Policy. Students from Santa Clara Law and San Jose State also discussed their local human rights work.

Next on the agenda is the publication of a periodic joint report between the county and the community that will evaluate the county’s overall human rights work, including in the area of business and human rights.

We are lucky to have great political leadership at all levels of local government that is willing to push forward with this progressive agenda and seeks to solidify the application of a human rights framework throughout all government operations.


WHEREAS, recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world; and

WHEREAS, all human beings are entitled to rights and freedoms without distinction on any basis, including race, color, creed, sex, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, abilities, socioeconomic status, marital or partnership status, immigration status, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status; and

WHEREAS, on December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations to promote universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms; and

WHEREAS, the Declaration calls upon “every individual and every organ of society” to “strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures … to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance”; and

WHEREAS, the Declaration embodies the values that define us as a people, the ideals that challenge us to perfect our union, and the liberties that generations of Americans have fought to preserve at home and abroad; and

WHEREAS, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, universal human rights begin “in small places, close to home,” and “unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world”; and

WHEREAS, the principles set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guide the spirit of our laws, practices, and policies carried out with and on behalf of the residents of Santa Clara County; and

WHEREAS, Santa Clara County can be a model for our country and for the world as a Human Rights County—a county where we welcome persons of all races and ethnicities, including persons who recently arrived or have lived in this country for generations; where refugees and their American-born children are welcome; where women can feel safe walking alone, where people feel comfortable practicing the religion of their choice; where transgender persons are made visible and respected, where LGBTQI residents can live openly and freely, where all residents are an equal part of our diverse tapestry, and where anyone who wishes to live in acceptance of others can find refuge; and

WHEREAS, the County of Santa Clara can be a leader among other counties in the promotion of human rights and human dignity, because it recognizes the fundamental principle that “[a]ll human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and that “[t]hey are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”; and

WHEREAS, the County of Santa Clara has made great efforts to implement human rights principles in the establishment of the Division of Equity and Social Justice housing, the Offices of Cultural Competency, Immigrant Relations, LGBTQ Affairs, and Women’s Policy; and

WHEREAS, the Human Relations Commission of the County of Santa Clara was established in 1972 based on the spirit of the Declaration to advise the Board of Supervisors on human rights issues in the county and to promote respect for diversity and inclusion of all people; and,

WHEREAS, Human Rights Day celebrates a milestone in our commitment to uphold the inherent dignity and worth of every person, honors the legacy of a historic document that helps ensure that its ideals endure for the generations to come, and reminds us of our roots as one human family, forever dedicated to upholding the central tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Board of Supervisors of the County of Santa Clara, State of California, hereby designates December 10, 2018, and December 10 of each succeeding year as Human Rights Day; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Board of Supervisors hereby declares this county a “Human Rights County” that explicitly embraces the principles of inclusion, respect, involvement, and the recognition of equality, freedom, and human dignity for all.

December 12, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

What's to Celebrate?

Human Rights Day, December 10, 2018, was marked by statements issued by President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.  Always symbolic, these annual proclamations seem even more meaningless than usual when the U.S. has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accords, has withdrawn from the UN Human Rights Council, has used cruel family separation policies to deter asylum seekers, and is defending the use of tear gas against a motley group of refugees including women and children. 

Both President Trump and Secretary Pompeo link human rights to economics, suggesting that the primary reason to observe human rights is because it will contribute to economic stability.  Further, both of these statements equate human rights with civil and political rights, bounded by the terms of the U.S. Bill of Rights. 

Compare these statements to the aspirational statement issued by the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, in which he praises the courage of human rights defenders worldwide, and observes that "At home, we are working hard to build a country where all Canadians are free and safe to be themselves, and can go as far as their dreams will take them. We continue to take concrete measures to fight racism and discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. We will keep taking meaningful actions to advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, and continue to work hard to put an end to human trafficking."

The contrast between these approaches is clear.  Even in commemorating Human Rights Day, the U.S. Administration is taking every opportunity to try to minimize the breadth and scope of human rights.  During Human Rights Day and Week and beyond, we must resist this attempt to revise and rewrite human rights norms, and to celebrate the vibrant U.S. human rights movement that continues to speak truth to power at every turn.

December 11, 2018 in Global Human Rights, Martha F. Davis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 10, 2018

Providing Counsel For Indigents in Civil Matters

For several decades now, states have used the suspension of driver and professional licenses of those who are not paying court ordered child support.  The process is controversial.  Suspension of a professional license might prompt a recalcitrant doctor or lawyer to pay up.  But even in those cases it seems counterintuitive to withdraw a license that permits the responsible parent to earn money while seeking to enforce a child support order. 

The practice crosses over to human rights violation, however, when the state suspends a driver's license from indigent people who have no way to find work without transportation.  Deprivation of transportation results not only in loss of work, but lack of contact with family and friends, lack of access to educational and medical services, and daily routine disruption for those with few resources to find alternative transport. 

Now a New Jersey court has found that the practice of suspending an indigent's driver's license with appointed counsel for a hearing on the suspension the process is not constitutional under New Jersey law.  In Kavadas, et al v Martinez the court held that "a driver's license suspension is a consequence magnitude that triggers the right to counsel in criminal and municipal cases."  The New Jersey Supreme Court previously held that fundamental fairness guarantees the right to counsel at proceedings in which substantial interests are at stake.  

Editors' note:  Thanks to John Pollock of the National Council for a Civil Right to Counsel for bringing our attention to this important case.


December 10, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Progress on Providing Dignity to Menstruating Inmates

Prof. Margaret Johnson brings us this piece written with her clinic students from University of Baltimore Law School who worked on the disturbing problem of  women prisoners being denied basic menstruation provisions. The students conducted thorough research.  If any reader would like a copy of the post with footnotes, please contact Margaret Drew, contact information below. Guest authors are Katherine Haladay, J.D. ‘19, Alexis Holiday, J.D. ‘19, Alexis Sisolak, J.D. ‘19, and Makeda Curbeam, J.D. ’19, student attorneys, and Margaret E. Johnson, Professor of Law and Director, Bronfein Family Law Clinic, University of Baltimore School of Law

Since 1978, the Maryland female prison population has increased by more than 300% - a trend that is not localized only to Maryland. In fact, women are the fastest growing segment within the prison population in the United States. Jails, prisons, and other facilities lack in their response to the needs of this changing population. In Maryland, we hear stories of women who desperately need menstrual products. Some women on the inside go as far as making tampons from toilet paper and the insides of panty liners or mattresses. Other women tear up bedsheets to use as pads or choose to decline family visits because they have bled through their uniforms due to a lack of and/or the poor quality of menstrual products. Unfortunately, for one woman, this makeshift product led to toxic shock syndrome and an emergency hysterectomy.

The Bronfein Family Law Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law represents clients and engages in community-based projects regarding legal family issues. The Clinic joined the Reproductive Justice Inside (RJI) Coalition, a Maryland-wide project to address the needs of incarcerated individuals seeking quality and timely sexual and reproductive healthcare.

As of February 2018, Maryland did not have a law requiring the provision of menstrual products to those who were incarcerated. As a result, residents of the prisons complained to RJI of product shortages and the prison itself requested that RJI donate products. Due to the need for products in Maryland’s prison and jails, legislators sponsored a bill in the Maryland General Assembly requiring the provision of menstrual products for persons who are incarcerated.

We and other clinic student attorneys jumped into action because the provision of menstrual products is a basic human right for those who menstruate. The student attorneys, in conjunction with RJI and past residents of Maryland prisons, provided both written and oral testimony to the Maryland General Assembly in February 2018 in support of the proposed bill.

In support of our testimony, we conducted a national survey of the fifty states’ and the District of Columbia’s laws regarding menstrual products for persons in correctional facilities. When we first conducted our study in February 2018, we found that only eighteen states had any provision identifying the issue of providing menstrual products to inmates. Of those eighteen states, eleven states required the facility to provide inmates with these products whereas the other seven states did not specify how inmates would access the products; of those eleven, only two specifically required that those products be provided at no cost. Of the eighteen states, nine states required the state to provide menstrual products only upon demand so they were not freely available. Two states provided unspecified access to menstrual products.

The bill unanimously passed the Maryland House and the Senate and on April 24, 2018, Governor Hogan signed the bill into law. As of October 1, 2018, Maryland correctional facilities are required legally to have a written policy and sufficient supply of free menstrual products.

With this new law, Maryland became a leader in the country with this initiative of making menstrual products available, at no cost, and with unfettered access. This fall, the Clinic student attorneys have filed multiple public information act requests with each Maryland county facility to obtain their policies to ensure compliance with this new law. We have also drafted a model policy to provide to the facilities should they need assistance.

As of November 2018, even more states - for a total of twenty - now require the provision of menstrual products to incarcerated persons and they offer even more access to the products than previously. Of those twenty-one states, fifteen states now require that inmates be provided with menstrual products. Seven states now provide menstrual products free of cost as opposed to two.

In the 2017-2018 legislative session on the federal level, The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act (Senate Bill 1524) would have guaranteed menstrual products to all inmates, as well as other important rights to incarcerated persons, such as outlawing shackling of persons while giving birth. The proposed bill did not make it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Like much legislation, there are areas to improve regarding Maryland’s menstrual products law.  First, while the law is inclusive of transgender men and nonconforming persons who menstruate by calling the products “menstrual hygiene” products and not “feminine” products, it is not inclusive because it requires the provision of products only to female inmates. Therefore, this legislation does not provide access for transgender men or non-binary persons who menstruate. In this way, it differs from the pending federal law.

Second, the legislation does not address the quality of the products. Previously, inmates bled through pads that were previously provided because they were so thin. This could still be the case with the products provided under the new law as it does not specify the product quality. Overall, this legislation is hugely positive – it provides products, both pads and tampons, to incarcerated women. Before, inmates only received pads. The products are now provided free of charge. This is impactful because most women incarcerated have limited economic means and this legislation provides a little bit of dignity and safety to inmates.

Also, the institution must provide the products not only on demand but also provide them at intake and make them freely available. Giving free access to products also addresses the coercion that may exist if an incarcerated person needs to beg for a pad from a correctional officer. Further, the bill requires a policy for proper disposal of the products. This addresses the prior health issues of the lack of a proper way to throw away a used product.

Moreover, this legislation paved the way for other states to provide incarcerated persons with menstrual products – a basic human right for all.



December 9, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Human Rights Research

As we prepare for next semester, there are on-line resources that students new to the field can explore to learn the basics of human rights research. 

Image1The University of Michigan has "A Basic Approach to Human Rights Research" guide  on it Human Rights Advocacy and the History of International Human Rights Standards webpage.  A portion of the webpage states:  Human rights organizations invented the genre of human rights research.  It typically resembles evidence gathered for a legal argument rather than analysis in the tradition of social science.   Human rights organizations do not seek to describe general social conditions; rather, the main objective of human rights reporting is to document patterns of human rights violations and expose the perpetrators, institutions and policies that facilitate abuse."  Links take the reader to Recognizing Problems, Accountability for Abuse, Making Policy Decisions and other topics, including research methodology.

Georgetown Law Library has a Human Rights Law Research Guide.  The guide is "designed to help researchers identify relevant secondary sources on human rights law and to quickly and efficiently locate the full texts of primary law materials, including treaties, country reports, and case law."  The website notes that the resources pay special attention to the human rights of women on an international level.

Human Rights Watch addresses the organization's research.  While the discussion is limited to their studies, students could learn much about human rights reading of the various research methodologies engaged by HRW research and their methodological challenges. 

The United Nations provides links to human rights collections as well as links to their own sources. The webpage has links to Human Rights research centers, human rights institutions and general international legal resources. Links connect readers to specialized international legal sources and conventions and treaties.

Several other research guides exist, such as one designed by New York University

We might consider a first assignment for students to conduct their own search for human rights research guides and explore specific methods of human rights research to discuss early in the semester. 









December 6, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Sorry Record of Police Abuse of Black Women and Girls

Earlier this year, Cara McClellan wrote an opinion piece "The Deafening Silence Around Police Violence Against Black Women and Girls". 

McClellan contrasts the publicity generated when two African-American men were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks when they were in the store to meet a friend.  That viral video of the arrest was shown on the internet and national television.  One consequence of the arrest was a one day shut down of all Starbucks stores to present a diversity training to Starbucks employees. 

A week later, 25 year old African-American woman Chikesia Clemons questioned and Alabama Waffle House why she was being charged for plastic ware, a police officer told her that he would "break her arm", wrestled her to the ground and pulled her shirt so that her breasts were revealed.  That video of her arrest was also circulated on the internet.  McClellan wrote of the long history of state violence against women particularly police violence.  Added to the violence against black women and girls is the added sexual abuse.  Females who are arrested report clothing being torn from them such as happened to Ms. Clemons.  McClellan wrote:  "Black woman women bear a double burden- carrying the weight of a weaponized skin color and the invisibility of a silenced gender.

For those interested in exploring the topic further, Andrea J. Ritchie wrote about police violence against women and girls of color in her book Invisible No More.



December 5, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Defenders in Development Reach out to Pompeo, Mnuchin

In a publicly released letter, last week the Defenders in Development campaign called on the U.S. State and Treasury Departments to take steps to protect human rights defenders.  According to the letter sent to Secretaries Pompeo and Mnuchin,  

"As owners and shareholders of development banks, the US and other governments must do more to ensure that DFIs [development funding institutions] are fulfilling . . .  human rights obligations and promoting sustainable development.While we welcome steps taken by the US to support HRD protection, we are concerned that the United States may actually be undermining these efforts through the actions of its bilateral development cooperation, multilateral banks, and other DFIs in which we participate. Given the alarming increase in attacks on defenders within development activities, we urge you to bring more attention to this issue and to the critical role of DFIs in the following ways:

Take urgent action toward enacting the reforms identified above and promoting an enabling environment for human rights and meaningful public participation in development processes;

Use the anniversary of these important human rights milestones to bring attention to the critical role that human rights defenders play in ensuring effective, equitable, and sustainable development; and

Make a public commitment to take all measures necessary to ensure that the US’ development policies, investments, cooperation, and other activities respect, protect, and fulfill human rights, prevent reprisals, and safeguard defenders.

To advance this commitment, the 20 signatory organizations below call upon the United States to lead by example making a commitment to ensure that US international development interventions respect human rights, promote an enabling environment for public participation in development decisions, and safeguard defenders. In particular, we call upon the Administration to include specific reference to protection for human rights defenders in the context of development interventions in a statement commemorating the December 2018 anniversaries of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. We also request an opportunity to meet with your offices to discuss this issue and how the US can signal this critically important commitment."


December 4, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Incarcerated Denied Private Conversations With Their Attorneys

In what is a practice suspected to be widespread, men incarcerated at a Kansas prison were secretly recorded when speaking with their attorneys.  The prison was the Leavenworth Detention Center, which is privately run.  Defense attorneys uncovered the scheme and a court-appointed investigator was assigned.

The public defenders requested the release of 67 inmates whose attorney-client conversations are known to have been recorded and they plan to ask for the release of approximately 150 more. 

As early as 2008, attorneys complained of recordings o their calls to incarcerated clients.  Complaints were lodged in two counties in California where eavesdropping on calls between the incarcerated and their lawyers, as well as psychiatrists, clergy and doctors is a felony.  Other states where recording complaints have been made include Florida, Michigan and Texas.  This year an inmate of a Wisconsin prison filed suit because his calls with his attorney were recorded, to his detriment.

The jailers' defenses include the inability to terminate digital recordings.  Some say that phone numbers from the lawyers directory are keyed into the system so that calls will not be recorded.  But that system ignores cell phone and other numbers not found into the  directory.  Yet one company was found to record attorney-prisoner phone calls even when the lawyers' telephone numbers were in the system. 

Prosecutors routinely listen to prisoner recordings searching for any illegal activity.  But when listening to prisoner/lawyer conversations learn trial strategy and other privileged information that make a fair trial unlikely.


December 2, 2018 in Margaret Drew, Prisons | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Tear Gas at the Border

Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU's Human Rights program, has penned an important opinion piece for the Washington Post providing some perspective on the tear gas trained on migrants on the southern US border over the past weekend. 

After surveying the police use of tear gas against protesters in Ferguson and elsewhere, Dakwar writes,

"Not every use of tear gas by police is illegal. But it’s an indiscriminate weapon: Tear gas cannot distinguish between the young and the elderly, the healthy and the sick, the peaceful and the violent; it cannot tell whether a person is an unarmed rallygoer or a curious bystander. That is why it is rarely appropriate to use against protesters, and why its use should be regulated."

He continues, "The United States has no specific rules regarding tear gas and requires no particular training for its use. When law enforcement officers do use tear gas, they should give clear and easily audible warnings beforehand, ensure that anyone who is not violent is far enough away to be unaffected, and provide prompt medical attention to everyone — violent or not — who is affected."

Dakwar concludes that in this instance "the use of tear gas against unarmed people fleeing violence in one country — many of them seeking asylum — is cruel and inhumane; it violates U.S. international human rights obligations. By using tear gas against them, our government mocks our obligation to protect the world’s most vulnerable. But the United States needs to rethink how it deploys chemical weapons against its own people, too, especially those who are exercising their right to protest."

A link to the full op ed is here.

November 29, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Harmonizing Religion and Human Rights

On December 5, the Carter Center will hold a public conversation on Harmonizing Religion and Human Rights.  Former President Jimmy Carter will be one of the participants.  According to the web announcement, to mark the occasion of Human Rights Day, December 10, "a panel of religious leaders will explore what the scriptures of some of the world’s major religions have to say about human rights. How can we align religious life with human rights? What role should spiritual leaders play in promoting human rights? And what can everyday people of faith do to defend human rights and encourage mutual respect between people of different religions?"

With families separated at the border and children tear-gassed, all in the name of preserving "American values," examining the religious roots of human rights and the American idea -- and encouraging religious leaders' engagement with these events -- can only be a good thing.  The event, which runs from 7 - 8:15 p.m. on December 5, will be live-streamed here.

November 28, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

US Human Rights Advocates: Need a Boost?

On November 16, an optimistic Michael Posner delivered the 2018 Horatio Ellsworth Kellar lecture at the University of Minnesota School of Law, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the law school's Human Rights Center.  We've accomplished a lot, he said, but "we must push back" against current efforts to marginalize human rights.  The current "America First" policies are "both misguided and wrong," he observed, and are counterproductive to American interests.  "We're fighting for the soul of American foreign and domestic policy," he concluded.  "It's a marathon, not a sprint."


November 27, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 26, 2018

Essential Reading(s)

The University of Pennsylvania Press has made a longtime commitment to human rights scholarship through its Studies in Human Rights Series, led by the wise and indefatigable editor Bert Lockwood.  Whether you are reading for personal enlightenment, purchasing for your library, putting together course readings, or thinking about gift-giving, we highlight the series' recent and forthcoming titles relevant to US human rights:

(1)  Human Rights Transformation in Practice, ed. Tine Destrooper and Sally Engle Merry (Oct. 2018).  "In Human Rights Transformation in Practice, editors Tine Destrooper and Sally Engle Merry collect various approaches to the questions of how human rights travel and how they are transformed, offering a corrective to those perspectives locating human rights only in formal institutions and laws. Contributors to the volume empirically examine several hypotheses about the factors that impact the vernacularization and localization of human rights: how human rights ideals become formalized in local legal systems, sometimes become customary norms, and, at other times, fail to take hold. Case studies explore the ways in which local struggles may inspire the further development of human rights norms at the transnational level."

(2) Beyond Virtue and Vice:  Rethinking Human Rights and Criminal Law, ed. Alice Miller and Mindy Jane Roseman (Jan, 2019).  "Beyond Virtue and Vice examines the ways in which recourse to the criminal law features in work by human rights advocates regarding sexuality, gender, and reproduction and presents a framework for considering if, when, and under what conditions, recourse to criminal law is compatible with human rights. Contributors from a wide range of disciplinary fields and geographic locations offer historical and contemporary perspectives, doctrinal cautionary tales, and close readings of advocacy campaigns on the use of criminal law in cases involving abortion and reproductive rights, HIV/AIDS, sex work and prostitution law, human trafficking, sexual violence across genders, child rights and adolescent sexuality, and LGBT issues.

(3) Joyful Human Rights, William Paul Simmons and Semere Keseste (Jan. 2019).  "​A pioneering work that thoughtfully explores human rights in the context of the most joyful of human experiences, Joyful Human Rights disrupts current human rights thinking and practice and leads us to challenge the foundations of human rights afresh.  The term “human rights” is now almost always discussed in relation to its opposite, “human rights abuses.” Syllabi, textbooks, and academic articles focus largely on abuses, victimization, and trauma with nary a mention of joy or other positive emotions. 
Focusing on joy shifts the way we view victims, perpetrators, activists, and martyrs. Importantly, focusing on joy mitigates our propensity to express paternalistic or salvatory attitudes toward human rights victims."  More information is available here.

 In addition to these titles, the Penn Series includes many other recent books, focusing on topics ranging from Argentina to Thailand.  Check out the entire list here.

November 26, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Human Right To Adequate Housing

In October the UN Rapporteur on Adequate Housing visted New York to discuss her thematic report on Informal Settlements.  Leilani Farha is the UN Rapporteur and her report covers  a wide range of human rights approaches in addressing the many problems faced by those who live in informal settlements, which is the preferred term for what many refer to as slums.

The problems are complex and require not only thoughtful intervention but sensitivity to the needs and preferences of those living in informal settlements.  For example, forced relocation is not endorsed but for those who wish to relocate, finding improved and adequate housing is essential.  

The right to adequate housing is "increasingly viewed as a commodity.  Housing is most importantly a human right.  Under international law, to be adequately housed means having secure tenure - not having to worry about eviction or having your home or lands taken away.  It means living somewhere that is in keeping with your culture, and having access to appropriate services, schools, and employment."

A right to tenancy and lack of formal eviction processes are concepts that can be difficult ones for many living in America.  Our focus is on landlord property rights.  Given the economic and human costs of eviction, the less formal route of discussion and negotiation may at some point become a preferable alternative.

In the meantime, the report comments on Farah's visiting housing in appalling conditions, while other parts of the municipality provides luxury housing.  The gap between rich and poor is universal.   As the report states, we must begin by refusing to accept the unacceptable. 


November 25, 2018 in Homelessness, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Resources on Special Procedures

Looking for a one-stop site to check on the activities of UN Special Procedures?  The ILGA's got you covered.  For the past year+, they have published a monthly update of calls for input, upcoming country visits and other activities.   While the ILGA's primary focus is sexual orientation and gender identity issues, their update takes a broad view and includes Special Procedure activities addressing race, the environment, human rights defenders and many other issues.  Check out the November issue of the ILGA Info Note here.

November 22, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving To Our Readers

Wishing you peace and happiness this Thanksgiving.


Thanksgiving Image

November 21, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The UN Warns of Human Rights Impact of the Digital Welfare State

Technology has its own biases.

US scholars are raising concerns regarding lack of cultural competency and other biases that are built into technological tools used to obtain information from those seeking to access public benefits.  These concerns were recently reiterated by the UN Rapporteur for Extreme Policy who raised concerns about the UK's move to digitize the delivery of public services.  

Philip Alston warned that   "A major issue with the development of new technologies is lack of transparency.  Evidence shows that the human rights of the poorest and most vulnerable are especially at risk in such contexts."

Digital tools used in the US as well as the UK do not account for those whose primary language is not English.  Sherley Cruz, who studies the lack of cultural competency in most digital tools, notes that the tools do not account for those who have limited or no experience with digital tools  let alone those who are illiterate or who do not understand any complexity in the wording used by the tool.  And there is no transparency in how the tools are configured or how responses are assessed.  Prof. Cruz' article is forthcoming in the University of Tennessee Law Review.

The Special Rapporteur's full statement may be viewed here.


November 20, 2018 in Global Human Rights, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 19, 2018

Universal Children’s Day: An Opportunity for Common Ground

Jonathan Todres, Professor of Law, Georgia State University

Image1All parents share one thing in common. Whatever our differences – across race, religion, socio-economic status, political beliefs, and more – every parent wants the best for their children. We disagree on a lot these days, but I haven’t heard a single parent wish that their children will do worse than they did.

Now consider this ambitious vision proclaimed almost thirty years ago: Every child in the world “should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding” and be raised “in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity.” This ideal reflects what all of us would want for our children, for all children. After all, no parent hopes their children will suffer misery, war, and inequality.

This grand vision was announced in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Adopted in 1989, the CRC was the first comprehensive human rights treaty on children. It established a holistic framework for ensuring the rights and well-being of all children. The CRC covers both civil and political rights (such as freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment) and economic, social, and cultural rights (such as the right to education). It also includes rights unique to children (such as the right to know and be cared for by one’s parents).

Given the universal appeal of its goals, it won’t be surprising to hear that it’s the most widely-accepted human rights treaty in history. Every country in the world has ratified the CRC, except the United States.

In the United States, the CRC has become a victim of much broader political and ideological battles, a phenomenon that too often tragically happens to children themselves. Highly charged rhetoric masks the reality of the CRC and children’s rights more broadly—that is, the fulfillment of children’s rights is consistent with what the vast majority of parents want for their kids. They want their children to have access to health care and education, to be free to observe their faith without government interference, to live without discrimination, and to grow up without suffering violence or exploitation.

Despite the major role the U.S. government played in drafting the CRC and the numerous similarities between U.S. law and the treaty, the U.S. government isn’t likely to ratify the CRC anytime soon.

But given the shared values in what parents dream of and what the CRC mandates for children, the idea of children’s rights remains relevant in the United States. We don’t have to wait passively for government to act; we can take action, guided by children’s rights values.

So, for Universal Children's Day (November 20) or any day thereafter, here are three steps each of us can take to forge common ground and improve the lives of children:

         1.  Read the CRC. Whether it is the CRC’s declaration that the family is “the fundamental group of society,” the  19  provisions of the CRC that recognize the vital role of parents              and the family in the lives of children, the treaty’s  support for education, its prohibition on torturing children, or something else, find an element of the CRC that             resonates with your values as a parent, family member, American, or human being.

        2.  Find and support (financially or as a volunteer) an organization in your community that advances an aspect of the  CRC that you support.

        3.  Vote for kids. And not just on election day. Make your voice heard often, by urging your representatives to support initiatives that help secure the rights and well-being of             children.

 If we all can do that, then this Universal Children’s Day can be a turning point, a day when we found common ground on which to build a world where every child can develop to its full potential.



November 19, 2018 in Children, Convention of the Rights of Children | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 18, 2018

International Observers Report on US Midterms

As previously reported here, the OSCE conducted election observations of the most recent midterm elections on November 6.  On November 7, the observation team issued a preliminary report, available here

Among other things, the OSCE noted that the disenfranchisement of convicted felons in some states violates US international commitments.

Further, the report noted that some states refused to cooperate with election observers.  According to the report:

"Election observation is regulated by states. Restrictions on election day observation by international observers were in place in 12 states. While federal government departments and agencies supported and facilitated the work of the [monitoring team], political and electoral authorities in several states declined to meet with . . . observers, and in one state prevented observation altogether. Such restrictions on international election observers are not in line with OSCE commitments undertaken by the US

The OSCE observation team also noted that the election was "marked by frequently divisive and intolerant rhetoric, including several incidents with xenophobic and anti-Semitic connotations."

In general, while the OSCE team concluded that the elections were generally carried out in an orderly and professional way, there were a number of significant deficiencies.    

For more information, and to view the OSCE press conference on November 7, click here.

November 18, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Lawyers Needed: Survivors of California Fires Need Lawyers From Across The Country

Prof. Jeff Baker of Pepperdine Law School made a national request for help from lawyers.   The area residents are in need of legal help as a result of the recent (and ongoing) fires.  After lawyers are trained by FEMA and are comfortable with the processes, they will be eligible to take a case even if not licensed in California.

Here is Jeff's message:

We need your help. Today, I am officially launching the Disaster Relief Clinic to serve Malibu, the Santa Monica Mountains, and the Conejo Valley here in Southern California where the Woolsey Fire is still burning. 
Pepperdine students are displaced and scattered, and we are closed through Thanksgiving, when we are embarking on a massively ambitious, dense final week of school and finals, all while we try to be compassionate to the students. I do not want to put volunteering on their plate until we can launch the clinic course in January. 
So now, we need volunteer lawyers and clinical law profs. We're going to run an emergency, triaged VLP.  I need lawyers and law profs to take cases by referral.  I hope that you can recruit students at your schools and clinics to work under your supervision to handle cases and questions as they arise. (I have no capacity to supervise other people's students; I'm sure you understand). 
Spread it far and wide. 
I will provide some training on FEMA matters soon, and I have some excellent, ready resources for fire responses in California for everyone who volunteers, thanks to FEMA, MoFo and Horwitz & Levy.  
Write me directly with questions, but please volunteer quickly. 
Thank you all, 

Jeffrey R. Baker
Associate Clinical Professor of Law
Director of Clinical Education
Pepperdine University School of Law
Malibu, California
(310) 506-6350




November 15, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)