Tuesday, July 9, 2024

IACHR Hearing on Michael Brown's Case and Police Violence in the U.S.

On July 10, 2024 (tomorrow), almost a decade after Michael Brown’s murder at the hands of Ferguson police, the Brown family will appear before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) for hearing on Brown’s case. Featuring testimony from Brown’s mother, Lezley McSpadden, as well as attorneys and activists from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Howard University’s Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center, the hearing will provide an opportunity for public accountability in Brown’s killing. The hearing, which will be conducted virtually and is open to the public, represents the first time in history that the Inter-American Commission will hear an individual case about police violence in the United States.

Following the hearing tomorrow, the IACHR will publish a report outlining their findings on the case and issuing recommendations to the United States government. Representing Ms. McSpadden, RFK Human Rights and Howard University have requested that the IACHR recommend an independent investigation into Brown’s death; a public apology to Brown’s family; and the implementation of key U.S. legislation such as the BREATHE Act and the recently reintroduced Helping Families Heal Act, which would expand mental health services for communities harmed by police violence. A full list of proposed remedies can be found here.

The hearing will be livestreamed on Wednesday, July 10, 2024, at 4:00pm ET. Visit https://www.oas.org/en/iachr/ to watch.

July 9, 2024 in Criminal Justice, IACHR, Police | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

New Article: Advancing Human Rights Education in the United States: A Call for Action in the Public Education System

Conroy, Shannon M., Advancing Human Rights Education in the United States: A Call for Action in the Public Education System, Immigration & Human Rights Law Review: Vol. 5, Iss. 2, Article 4 (2024). Abstract below:

Human rights education is education about, through, and for human rights. In 2004, the United Nations General Assembly implemented the World Programme for Human Rights Education. The World Programme provides global coordination for human rights education and promotes a common understanding of human rights education. Over the last twenty years, the United States failed to implement either federal or state human rights education programs. This article examines the academic and international discussion about human rights education for students in the United States, and argues for the need for stronger human rights education in public primary, secondary, and higher education institutions in this country.

July 2, 2024 in Books and articles, Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 21, 2024

Rahimi: Success for Abuse Survivors

Picture1By Margaret Drew, Associate Professor at UMass Law School

On June 21, 2024, the US Supreme Court issued its opinion in the Rahimi case.  Mr. Rahimi, who was subject to a civil protection order, was arrested for possession of firearms as forbidden by 18 U. S. C. §922(g)(8).  The Court, in an 8-1 vote, upheld the statute. “When an individual has been found by a court to pose a credible threat to the physical safety of another, that individual may be temporarily disarmed consistent with the Second Amendment.” Only Justice Thomas dissented.

There is a history of governments withholding firearms from those they considered dangerous.  While these laws were often used against classes of people, such as Native Americans and Blacks, the history of government limitations supported the ban.

Not all courts ban the possession of firearms, despite the federal law at issue.  One hope by advocates is that post-Rahimi more states will suspend the possession of guns and ammunition from abusers.  According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, most intimate partner homicides are committed with firearms. In addition, abuser’s access to a gun increases the risk of intimate partner death by 1000%

Mr. Rahimi was hardly a sympathetic litigant.  He had a cache of firearms when he was arrested.  And his arrest was not related to any action toward his former intimate partner.  Mr. Rahimi, it appears, is a generally violent man.

I suspect that future lawsuits will parse the meaning of “temporary” prohibitions.  Even for those states that enter “permanent” restraining orders, typically a hearing mechanism is provided to address whether the restrained party may be exempted from the firearms possession ban.  

Victories for intimate partner violence survivors are rare enough. Let’s take time to rejoice in this decision.

June 21, 2024 in Domestic Violence, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Podcast: From the Frontlines: Reflections on Decades of the Racial Justice Movement

On the May 15, 2024, episode of the Harvard Carr Center’s podcast, Justice Matters, “From the Frontlines: Reflections on Decades of the Racial Justice Movement” co-hosts talk with Prof. Gay McDougall, distinguished scholar in residence at the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham University School of Law and member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Prof. Mc Dougall discusses her decades of experience in the racial justice movement, as well as the function of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, her youth in Jim Crow’s Georgia, her work with Nelson Mandela, George Floyd’s murder, the Biden Administration’s policies concerning race, and the upcoming 2024 US Presidential election.

Access the full episode here.

June 20, 2024 in Race, United Nations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 14, 2024

Housing, Not Punishment to Address Homelessness

_TE HeadshotBy: Tamar Ezer, Acting Director, Human Rights Clinic, University of Miami School of Law

Can you be punished for sleeping? The U.S. Supreme Court is considering this very question in Grants Pass v. Johnson, a seminal case with critical implications for homelessness. The Court is deciding whether the 8th Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment protects against laws punishing people for sleeping outside when there is no alternative shelter.

An increasing number of U.S. cities have sought to make homelessness invisible by criminalizing and fining activities people experiencing homelessness must engage in stay alive, such as sleeping, eating, or lying down. According to a 2019 survey of 187 cities, 55% have laws prohibiting sitting and or lying down in public; 72% have laws prohibiting camping in public places; and 60% laws prohibiting loitering, loafing, and vagrancy.

However, punishing homelessness is counterproductive. At best, it merely shuffles people to different parts of the city, disrupting social networks. More often, it results in fines people cannot pay, jail time, and criminal records, further impeding access to employment and housing. As the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights highlighted in his visit to the U.S., “[U]npayable fines and the stigma of a criminal conviction . . . virtually prevents subsequent employment and access to most housing.”

Moreover, criminalization is costly. Diverting resources to law enforcement can cost two to three times more than it would to provide affordable housing. As David Peery, the Executive Director of the Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equity (MCARE) states, “Criminalization is an expensive way to make homelessness worse.” Additionally, criminalization has a disparate impact by race.

Punishing homelessness is also a human rights violation. Our Human Rights Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law, working with the National Homelessness Law Center, had the privilege of supporting the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights in submitting an amicus brief to the Supreme Court on the relevant international human rights law.

The brief asserts that punishing homelessness through the imposition of fines and fees for life-sustaining activities violates international human rights law. Moreover, it argues that a human rights analysis, centered on the international human right to freedom from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, should inform interpretation of “cruel and usual punishment,” which has historically taken “evolving standards of decency” into account.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in April. Justice Kagan highlighted, “[F[or  a homeless person who has no place to go, sleeping in public is kind of like breathing in public.” And Justice Sotomayor underscored the poignancy of the plight facing people who are unhoused, “Where do we put them if every city, every village, every town lacks compassion-- and passes a law identical to this? Where are they supposed to sleep?”

A decision is expected this month. Please see additional information and opportunities to support on social media at https://johnsonvgrantspass.com/.

June 14, 2024 in Criminal Justice, Homelessness | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

June 2024 Deadlines: Call for Inputs by Human Rights Mechanisms

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

Special Rapporteur on the human right to a healthy environment – Call for inputs to inform the Special Rapporteur’s forthcoming thematic report, specifically to provide an initial assessment of the status of the implementation of the right including the most important advances, challenges, and opportunities for its effective implementation, as well as to advance the understanding of the impact of implementation through an intersectional lens. Deadline June 18, 2024. Read more.

Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children – Call for inputs to inform the Special Rapporteur’s forthcoming report on gender, peace, and security, particularly analyzing progress made on responding to trafficking of women, as well as recognising the gendered impact of conflict insecurity, including to LGBTQIA+ persons. Deadline June 20, 2024. Read more.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Call for inputs the preparation of the 2024 report of the UN Secretary-General on the implementation of the UN General Assembly resolution A/RES/78/234, with special focus on how to address hate speech, systemic racism, the legacies of slavery and colonialism, and discrimination faced by those of African-descent and migrants/refugees. Deadline June 30, 2024. Read more.

Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity – Call for inputs to inform the Independent Expert’s report on AI and international solidarity, particularly regarding AI’s relationship to international solidarity, how AI is used to process cases/claims, algorithmic discrimination of vulnerable populations, oversight and education regarding AI, and efforts taken to reduce disinformation. Deadline June 30, 2024. Read more.  

The Committee on the Rights of the Child – Call for inputs to inform the drafting of comment No. 27 on children’s access to justice and effective remedies and to help clarify terms, approaches and actions States should take in order to implement the right of all children to access justice and effective remedies. Deadline June 30, 2024. Read more.  

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

June 12, 2024 in United Nations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 10, 2024

New Article: Protesters’ legal rights are up for debate

Danielle Braff, Protesters’ legal  rights are up for debate, ABAJournal (May, 2024)

With protests continuing to unfold across the country, the legal society turns their spotlight to reemphasize what rights these demonstrators do and do not have.

The First Amendment offers broad protection to freedom of association and expression as long as the forum is in a public space, says Irina Tsukerman, a national security and human rights lawyer and president of Scarab Rising, a geopolitical risk strategic advisory in New York. This amendment also protects so-called “hate speech,” unless the hate speech is directly threatening violence or if it incites criminal activity. States also have individual hate speech laws, but under the First Amendment overall, you can’t be prosecuted for your beliefs.

This article further explores the complexities surrounding the rights of protesters in the United States, especially in light of recent demonstrations on various issues like police brutality and pro-Palestinian activism. It highlights the balance between free speech, protected under the First Amendment, and actions that may cross into harassment or incitement of violence.

Read the full article here.

June 10, 2024 in Books and articles | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 25, 2024

May – June 2024 Deadlines: Calls for Inputs by Human Rights Mechanisms

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

Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions – Call for inputs to inform the Special Rapporteur’s forthcoming report intended to address the risk of unlawful deaths of LGBTQI+ persons worldwide with a view to identifying main issues/challenges, emphasizing best practices, and offering evidence-based recommendations for improved protection of their right to life. Deadline May 10, 2024. Read more.

Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children – Call for inputs to inform the Special Rapporteur’s forthcoming report exploring the existing and emerging sexually exploitative practices and abuse against children in the digital environment, as well as the role artificial intelligence plays in facilitating the sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children and how states and other child protection stakeholders can respond to this problem. Deadline May 15, 2024. Read more.

Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in Law Enforcement – Call for inputs to inform the Special Rapporteur’s forthcoming report, specifically information on promising initiatives and positive or good practices; and on obstacles, challenges and lessons learned in ensuring access to justice, accountability, and redress for excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officials against Africans and people of African descent. Deadline May 24, 2024. Read more.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Call for inputs for contributions to a Romani Memory Map for the Americas, a crowd-sourced initiative done jointly with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO); Laboratorio de Estudos sobre Etnicidade (LEER /Universidade de São Paulo), Brazil; Gonzaga University, USA; and the Institute of Ethnology of the Czech Academy of Sciences, as well as with Roma human rights defenders and Roma civil society organizations throughout the Americas and beyond. Deadline June 15, 2024. Read more.  

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

April 25, 2024 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Supreme Court of India Recognizes Right Against Adverse Impacts of Climate Change

The Supreme Court of India, in a ruling published on Friday, April 5, 2024, officially recognized the right against the adverse impacts of climate change, saying it is intertwined with the right to life and equality that are embedded in the Indian constitution.  

The case at issue was regarding the conservation of two endangered bird species – the great India bustard and the lesser florican. The Supreme Court of India reversed a 2021 blanket ban against overhead powerlines over an area of 99,000 square kilometers covering parts of the states of Gujarat and Rajasthan that had been put in place to protect the birds. The court said that only allowing underground power transmission cables in such a large area, which also has an incredible potential for clean energy such as wind and solar, will severely impact the country's clean energy shift that is necessary to attain its climate goals. By doing so, it will impede global efforts against climate change, thereby threatening fundamental rights of Indians, such as the right to life, equality, access to energy, among others. 

Read portions of the decision here.  

April 11, 2024 in Environment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Event 4/24: The Surge In Child Labor: Conventions, Laws, and Challenges

On April 24, 2024, from 1:00-2:00pm ET, please join the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice for a webinar exploring child labor. The distinguished speakers will be Zama Neff, Benjamin Smith, and Jessica Leinward, and the event will be moderated by Elizabeth Barad. 

The recent rise of children at work is due to the increase in inflation and the cost of living, and in the United States, lessening of state protective laws and the use of migrant children. The International Labor Organization indicates there are 160 million children engaged in child labor, working in jobs that deprive them of their childhood and harm their mental and physical development. Some of the worst forms of work involve sexual exploitation. The BBC reported a mother forced to put her daughter into sex work to help support the family and survive living costs. In the United States, at least 14 states have rolled back child protection laws, and the NY Times reported that migrant children are employed in brutal work all across the U.S. Despite the International Labor Organization's prohibitive child labor laws, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the U.S. Department of Labor's laws, these practices persist. Our expert panelists will propose possible solutions.

This event is free and open to the public. Register for this event here.

April 4, 2024 in Children, Immigrants, Trafficking | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 26, 2024

New Article: False Promises of Protection: Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales and The Supreme Court’s Failure to Protect Human Rights

Kylie Rhoton, False Promises of Protection: Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales and The Supreme Court’s Failure to Protect Human Rights, Immigration & Human Rights Law Review: Vol. 5, Iss. 1 (2024). Excerpt below.

Speaking in front of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Jessica Gonzales highlighted her struggle to get answers and justice after her abusive ex-husband’s murder of her three daughters. The United States’ justice system brought her no recourse. She was first failed by her local police department and then by the highest court of the United States which refused to recognize that Gonzales had any Due Process entitlement to having her restraining order enforced against her abusive ex-husband. Jessica Gonzales’ struggle encapsulates the United States’ systemic and continuous failure in adequately addressing the human rights issue that is domestic violence.

February 26, 2024 in Books and articles, Domestic Violence, Gender Violence | Permalink | Comments (0)

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?


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)