Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Save the Date: October 22nd - Advancing U.S. Social Justice Through Human Rights

On October 22nd, the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute will celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Bringing Human Rights Home (BHRH) Lawyers’ Network with an event entitled Advancing U.S. Social Justice Through Human Rights

The BHRH Lawyers’ Network connects over 800 lawyers from the domestic civil rights, human rights, and legal services communities to share information and develop strategies for integrating human rights to advance U.S. social justice advocacy.  

The October 22nd celebration will feature a keynote address by Caroline Bettinger-López, the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women and the director (on leave) of the University of Miami School of Law’s Human Rights Clinic.  Following the keynote address, the Institute will host a panel of prominent academics and advocates drawn from the BHRH Network membership discussing issues including national security, racial justice, movement building, homelessness and housing, working with legal services and human rights litigation. Experts will reflect on how a human rights framework has made a difference in advancing domestic social justice advocacy efforts over the past 15 years, ways in which the field has grown and shifted, and lessons learned from both successful and unsuccessful efforts to integrate human rights at home.  An evening reception will follow the day’s events.

In addition to the October 22 celebration, this fall the Institute is hosting a series of talks focusing on human rights in the United States.  Included in this series is Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (Oct. 7); Larry Cox, co-director of Kairos: The Center on Religions, Rights and Social Justice, and former executive director of Amnesty International USA (October 13); and Katrina Anderson, senior human rights counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights.   More information about the October 22nd event and speaker series can be found here.  To RSVP for the October 22nd event, contact Greta Moseson at

September 30, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Open Access: Refugee Scholarship and Resources

In response to the refugee crisis in Europe, Oxford University Press has made more than 30 book chapters, journal articles, and pieces of content from online resources freely accessible to assist those working with refugees on the ground, as well as anyone who would like to know more about the framework of rights and obligations concerning refugees. Find out more here

September 29, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Save the Date: Judge Rosemary Barkett Speaks on Bringing Human Rights Home

The 2015 James Madison Lecture at NYU Law will be presented by the Honorable Rosemary Barkett, Judge Iran - United States Claims Tribunal, The Hague, former United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.  Her lecture is titled "Bringing Human Rights Home? I Thought They Were Already Here."  The lecture will be held on October 22 at 6 p.m.  More details are available here.

According to the NYU Law website, the Madison Lectures are the most important lecture series at the NYU School of Law. Begun in 1960, the lectures are designed to enhance the appreciation of civil liberty and strengthen the sense of national purpose.  It is certainly a measure of progress that "human rights" is the topic of this year's lecture.

Past NYU lectures on "human rights at home" have had tremendous reach.  A particular example is the Brennan Lecture on State Courts and Social Justice delivered by Massachusetts Chief Justice Margaret Marshall in 2004, titled "'Wise Parents do not Hesitate to Learn from their Children': Interpreting State Constitutions in the Age of Global Jurisprudence." 

Like Chief Justice Marshall's Brennan Lecture, Judge Barkett's Madison lecture will be published and will, we anticipate, continue to deepen the national conversation on human rights in the U.S. 

September 28, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ferguson Report's Call To Change

 Image result for images for brian gilmore michigan state
Guest author Prof. Brian Gilmore contributes this commentary on the Ferguson Report:

The recently released Ferguson Commission report lays down a challenge to a nation torn apart by revelations of police abuse.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon created the commission last year in response to the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, though the authors of the report note that they were not charged with investigating his death.

 Through “open community meetings across the region” and after talking with researchers, scholars, clergy, legislators and civic leaders, the commission has produced a report that is comprehensive and potentially transformative.

“We are not even suggesting that institutions or existing systems intend to be racist,” the commission states. “We are pointing out … that the data suggests, time and again, that our institutions and existing systems are not equal, and that this has racial repercussions.”

There are 189 policy recommendations in a portion the report describes as a “call to action.” There are a few that especially stand out.

First, and most importantly, the commission calls for comprehensive police reform. This includes more and better training for officers and the creation of a database on the use of force — all with the goal of decreasing violent confrontations.

Second, the commission takes mass incarceration head-on and presses for criminal justice reform. It urges an immediate change in sentencing laws and the elimination of incarceration altogether for some minor offenses. It pushes the police and prosecutors to change processes that include disregard of the fundamental rights of those accused of crimes. And it calls for the creation of community justice systems designed to address problems in a different way.

Third, the commission asks for a special effort to do more for the youth. It suggests better education and nutrition for young people, improved health outcomes, the reform of school disciplinary policies and practices, and more investment in early childhood education.

These recommendations are crucially important. An unarmed black person is twice as likely to be killed by a police officer as a white individual. The United States contains 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, even though the country only makes up 5 percent of the world’s population. The unemployment rate for black youth is 20.7 percent, according to the latest numbers. Young people of color face daily challenges.

There have been other significant reports in the past that have documented racial injustice and proposed constructive responses, but they have been largely ignored. Let’s not make the mistake of dismissing the Ferguson Commission report, which provides a blueprint for reform across the nation.

Editor's note: Prof. Gilmore wrote this piece for the Progressive Media Project and it first appeared in the Bangor Dailey News

September 28, 2015 in Equality, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 25, 2015

Scrutinizing US Resistance to CEDAW

Why is the US among a small handful of countries that has not ratified CEDAW?  At this summer's meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA), the winner of the Victoria Schuck award for best book on women and politics was Defying Convention: U.S. Resistance to the U.N. Treaty on Women's Rights, by Lisa Baldez.  In making the award, the APSA called the US failure to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) a "neglected puzzle" and praised Baldez for laying out clearly "what is at stake and the consequences of non-ratification for women in the U.S. and women around the world." Feminist historian Eileen Boris has posted a review here

For the time being the United States is holding company with Iran, Somalia, Sudan, and two small Pacific Island nations (Palau and Tonga) which have also failed to ratify CEDAW.  However, US cities are moving ahead, getting the job done despite federal inaction.  In the past few weeks, both Santa Monica, California and Miami-Dade County, Florida, adopted the principles of CEDAW.  More cities -- Honolulu?  Washington, D.C.? -- are in the pipeline.  At some point, federal representatives will see which way the wind is blowing.  Maybe by then, they will realize that their failure to act isn't a show of federal strength, but an act that weakens the country.

September 25, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Breaking News

Risa Kaufman sends us the following:
Today in Geneva, the United States appeared before the UN Human Rights Council to formally accept (and reject) the 343 recommendations that resulted from its 2nd Universal Periodic Review in May 2015.  
You can view the archived webcast here.
The US UPR report and recommendations are found here.  The U.S.'s written responses are found here

September 24, 2015 in Risa Kaufman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Mandela’s Legacy and Solitary Confinement: From Robben Island to… A Prison Near You?

By JoAnn Kamuf Ward, Associate Director, Human Rights in the U.S. Project, Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute;  Lecturer-in-Law, Columbia Law School

Nelson Mandela is known in South Africa as “Madiba”, a clan name that evokes intimacy, despite his status as a larger than life activist and national leader.  As a statesman, he was soft-spoken yet firm.  Photographs often showed him donning his signature smile.  These portrayals of Mandela belie the personal suffering and strife he experienced as a young leader of the ANC.  Mandela spent 27 years in prison for leading efforts to dismantle apartheid, 18 of them in a single cell on Robben Island, measuring a 7 feet by 9 feet.  Like many deprived of their liberty, Mandela did forced labor, lived in squalor, suffered through demeaning slurs, and was denied the most basic human dignities.   Being forced to work in intense heat caused Mandela’s “snow blindness,” damaging his vision irreparably.  

But it was the final years of incarceration that most challenged Mandela’s resolve.  In 1982, he was transferred to a prison on mainland South Africa, where he was subjected to prolonged isolation.   As he later recalled it was solitary confinement that was “the most forbidding aspect of prison life. There is no end and no beginning….One begins to question everything.”  So, perhaps it is not surprising that Mandela’s legacy includes the potential for reform of solitary conditions prisons around the world, including in the U.S.  

Since 2012 there has been an ongoing international effort to develop practical guidance on how governments can improve prison conditions, known as the Mandela Rules.  In May, in an important step forward, the Vienna Crime Commission approved the rules.  The Mandela Rules offer a much needed update to The Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, developed in Geneva in 1955 – long before our current epidemic of mass incarceration and the general proliferation of solitary confinement across the United States.

The 2015 Mandela Rules have been heralded as “one of the most significant human rights advances in recent years.”  This is strong praise to be sure, as the Mandela Rules were the result of years of intergovernmental negotiation.  Yet, there is much to commend the new standards. For starters, the Rules operate from the premise that prisoners should be treated with basic dignity, a fundamental paradigm shift for most US prisons.   The rules also reflect the fact that torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment are realities in prisons.  The Rules call for staff to be trained on how to treat prisoners humanely AND state that allegations of torture and CIDT should result in an investigation by an independent national authority.

The Mandela Rules also delve into specifics of how to treat prisoners with dignity, including strict limitations on the use of solitary confinement.  According to the Rules, solitary should be used “only in exceptional cases as a last resort for as short a time as possible and subject to independent review.”  There is also a blanket prohibition on the use of solitary for more than 15 consecutive days.  Further, solitary is prohibited where it would exacerbate the condition of a prisoner with mental or physical disability or where women and children are involved.   

A number of the 122 rules echo calls by US rights advocates, including in the arena of education and rights of women.  Rule 104 calls for education and training in prison, and for education of youth to be compulsory.  Rule 48 expressly prohibits the shackling of pregnant women during labor (which the NY Times reported on this week). The Mandela Rules also reflect recommendations from UN experts, including members of the Committee Against Torture, and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez.  During the 2010 UPR, the United States also received a recommendation to ensure human rights protections in US prisons, including maximum security prisons (Rec 177, which the US accepted).

While the Mandela Rules resulted from years of government negotiation, US groups, especially the ACLU, were deeply involved in the revision of the Rules, alongside international groups coordinated by Penal Reform International, and Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.   By engaging with the reform process, civil society groups and human rights experts were able to inform the outcomes.  One last hurdle remains before the Rules are final:  formal adoption by the UN General Assembly later this year.

Of course, even when adopted, the Mandela Rules will be soft law.  As a non-binding framework for prison reform, the challenge in the U.S., and around the world, will be implementation.   But there is already evidence that the Rules won’t just remain on the shelf.  The United States has supported adoption of the rules, and included corrections officials from Washington and Colorado on its delegation to negotiate the Rules.  Both states have worked to reduce the use of solitary and have discussed their own efforts to improve prison conditions, including reducing solitary, throughout the development of the Rules.    

The Mandela Rules offer specific, practical standards to bolster reform of U.S. federal, state, and local prisons.  In the context of a renewed focus on solitary by the Obama Administration and the September settlement putting an end to the use of indefinite solitary at Pelican Bay, the Mandela Rules offer another tool in the struggle to eradicate solitary confinement.  Human rights advocates will play a key role in publicizing the Rules and underscoring their relevance to prison administrators.     

September 24, 2015 in JoAnn Kamuf Ward, Prisons | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Next Generation and Human Rights Education

Recently, the local public international school in Lund, Sweden (where I am spending the year as a Fulbright scholar) invited me to speak on the topic of "what are human rights."  My audience consisted of a group of twenty-five 5th graders from Sweden, the UK, Canada, Pakistan, India, the US, China, Iran and no doubt other places, too. 

I have to say, I was impressed.  The kids have been going through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provision-by-provision.  They are up to Article 12, and they were very knowledgeable about the origins of the document and why human rights are important.  They even knew the difference between a declaration and a treaty!

However, then we started to talk about practical application of human rights.  And because it's been in the news in the US, I brought up the issue of women in military combat positions.  I assumed that, understanding equality issues, they would immediately see that anyone who is qualified should be permitted to serve.  And there was, in fact, one lonely student who articulated that view.  But the rest who spoke (both boys and some girls) were adamant that women need to stay home and, as one Swedish boy said, "take care of babies and clean the house."

So here's where the rubber meets the road.  Even in a country that values gender equality and in a school that takes human rights education seriously, 10-year-olds can't get beyond women as caregivers.  Of course, at age 10, the kids' views on equality may be colored by deep fears that their own moms could come to harm and they'd be left to fend for themselves.  But I'm afraid that these understandable fears for a 10 year old may form the foundation for rigid gender views in adulthood. 

In short, human rights education in the early grades is critical and wonderful, but standing alone, it's all academic.  Kids need real-world role models and examples of gender equality in movies and other media from an early age (certainly before age 10) in order to truly understand that both men and women can "take care of babies and clean the house," or not.



September 23, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Is Grocery Shopping Supporting Labor Trafficking?

The next time you sit down to dinner, will you wonder if the food you are eating was produced as a result of U.S. labor trafficking? Consumers often are unwitting supporters of labor traffickers.

This summer the Ohio chicken industry was the focus of a labor trafficking raid.  In July, a chicken farm in Marion, Ohio was raided and ten individuals were found to be living in deplorable conditions and working without pay.  The Guatemalan natives, eight minor teens, one only 14 years old, and two adults were smuggled into the U.S. by two traffickers, one Guatemalan and one Mexican man.  As is typical, the workers were brought into the U.S. with promises of work for pay.  The traffickers kept the workers' pay and used threats of physical harm to keep the workers silent.  The company, Trillium Farms, reported to have cooperated in planning the raid with the FBI, stated that it used outside labor contractors and was not aware that the workers were trafficked.  The two traffickers pleaded guilty to various crimes. The employer, Trillium Farms, has not been charged.

Trillium claims to be the largest egg farm corporation in the Ohio.  The company regularly advertises for work and directs applicants to its Human Resources department.  Reliance upon third parties to secure workers is not unusual in any industry, however.  In labor intensive ones, employers may use contractors as a way of avoiding liability for employing undocumented workers, but the scheme also permits slave trafficking to flourish.  Simply being unaware that employees are trafficked cannot be an acceptable defense.  When a company is unaware, that usually means that there is combination of lack of human trafficking training as a priority for all employees, and a "hands off" policy in terms of middle management interaction with those whom the contractors bring to work.

What we have not heard from Trillium is how the company will ensure that traffickers are not engaged in the future.

According to a government report issued this summer, only 15% of global trafficking convictions in 2014 involved labor trafficking.  Yet it is estimated that non-sex labor trafficking schemes far outweigh the number of sex trafficking ones in the number of individuals trafficked.  Something has to change in government's approach to prosecuting and ending labor trafficking.  A good beginning might be for U.S. corporations to be held strictly liable for the use of trafficked workers.  Corporate liability, along with the resulting publicity, might ensure hiring and supervision policies that effectively eliminate trafficked workers.  

Mitigating factors might be affirmative efforts by employers who discover trafficking to work with the government to free the individuals.  In addition, and more importantly to the workers, would be for the employers to provide employment and to obtain housing, documented status and other supports to those workers discovered to be slaves.  






September 22, 2015 in Margaret Drew, Trafficking | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 21, 2015

GQUAL: Bringing Women to the Bench and to the Table for Beijing+20

Cindy Soohoo  introduces one of her CUNY students, who writes the following post:

By Katy Naples-Mitchell

This year marks the 20th Anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women – a convening on women’s human rights that produced the landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Recent press coverage of the anniversary has focused on the Beijing Declaration’s relationship to the new sustainable development goals. But a new campaign called GQUAL by the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) is taking a different tack by focusing on women’s representation in international positions of power.

 What does Beijing+20 have to do with GQUAL?

Part G of the 1995 Beijing Declaration addressed “Women in Power and Decision-making,” focusing on the strategic objective to “Take measures to ensure women's equal access to and full participation in power structures and decision-making.” Although the Declaration was primarily aimed at gender parity commitments within Member States, the Declaration also targeted obligations to bring women into the fold in the upper echelons of international decision-making. For example, in paragraph 193(a), the Declaration explicitly called on the UN to “achieve overall gender equality, particularly at the Professional level and above, by the year 2000….”

 Fast-forward to today:

CEJIL’s new GQUAL campaign reveals the significant shortfalls in reaching these gender equality goals and frames the issue as a violation of states’ obligations to respect the principle of non-discrimination. According to the GQUAL campaign launch materials, as of June 2015, women occupied only 21% of all positions within the main international and regional tribunals. In most cases, member states are responsible for nominating and electing candidates for these positions. Not only are they falling short on their non-discrimination obligations, but states also continually fail to circulate transparent guidelines that respect gender parity to ensure equality in candidate nominations and voting processes.

GQUAL calls for bringing awareness to, and ultimately correcting, the severe gender imbalances in international tribunals and monitoring bodies – putting the onus on states to nominate qualified women judges to serve on international tribunals. The GQUAL campaign’s strategies will include:

 Publicizing the current lack of gender parity within international mechanisms and tribunals

  • Growing grassroots support for gender parity
  • Disseminating information regarding available positions
  • Demanding transparency behind selection processes and enforcement guidelines

 The campaign launch is timely, not only because of the Beijing+20 anniversary but also because of statements out of Geneva just this week. On Tuesday at the 30th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, UN High Commission for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein spoke about the lack of gender parity in UN human rights bodies and the “need to do better than our societies…to lead by example.” Mr. Al Hussein reminded Member States that at its 6th session in 2007, the Human Rights Council had encouraged states to nominate more women to human rights treaty bodies, mechanisms, and international courts and tribunals. He remarked that he pledged to undertake his own efforts to correct continuing imbalances, including refusal to take part in any panel that does not include women experts and to improve gender parity within his office, where “although women are 57% of staff graded ‘Professional’ and above, they still represented barely one-third of senior managers.”

 To learn more about GQUAL, visit the campaign’s website, infographic, or facebook page.

September 21, 2015 in Cindy Soohoo, Women's Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 18, 2015

A Tale of Two Judges: Confronting Water Issues in Michigan

by Martha Davis

Yesterday, in a decision that has not yet been widely reported, the federal district court in Detroit affirmed the bankruptcy court's dismissal of a citizen challenge to the city's water shutoffs.   With the charged atmosphere around water in Detroit, it is perhaps no wonder that the judge deciding the case did not hold oral argument.  However, the absence of an oral argument on the issue compounded feelings that the result was inevitable and that the court had its mind made up before the papers were even filed.

In general, the court repeated and reaffirmed the lower court's conclusions.  However, the district court spent considerable time discussing whether a delinquent commercial customer is "similarly situated" to a human being for purposes of an equal protection claim.  The plaintiffs had alleged that the dissimilar treatment between corporations and individuals constituted an equal protection violation.  According to the court, however, the comparison must be made between an individual and another individual, not between a commercial entity and an individual -- this despite the extensive and growing case law concerning corporate "personhood" for purposes of the Bill of Rights.  Though amici to the plaintiffs had submitted an extensive brief on the relevant international law and its persuasive significance, the decision did not even mention that issue.

The plaintiffs must now decide whether to seek further review before the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. In the meantime, local activists continue to push for adoption of an affordability plan -- an effort that becomes even more important in the wake of this federal district court decision. 

Interestingly, a decision from a local Michigan judge in early August took a completely different approach.  Considering the water rate crisis in Flint, Michigan, the court there ruled that rate hikes must be rolled back and enjoined further water terminations.  At the end of August, the judge allowed the case to go forward as a class action, a move which reportedly brought Flint officials to the settlement table for the first time.  On September 17, the state appellate court denied the city's request for a stay of the initial order, essentially establishing a moratorium on water terminations.

A foundational principle of federal courts is that they can transcend local politics and render unbiased rulings.  But in Michigan, it appears to be the state court judge rather than the federal one, applying the law fairly but also responsive to the people and savvy to the politics, who is able to move toward justice.

September 18, 2015 in Martha F. Davis, Water | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

USHRN Biennial Conference Announced

The US Human Rights Network Biannual Conference will be held December 10-13 in Austin, Texas. Scholarships are available.  The following information is provided by USHRN: 

About the Conference

Advancing Human Rights 2015 is an opportunity for human rights and other social justice activists, organizers, leaders and scholars to:

  • ·         come together to build on our successes over the past two years
  • ·         inspire and energize each other
  • ·         strategize and collaborate
  • ·         expand and strengthen our advocacy, leadership and networks
  • ·          sharpen our tools to become more strategic and effective in the movement for human rights and social justice in the United States


Sharpening Our Vision, Reclaiming Our Dreams

As we look back over the wins of the past half-century, we understand the importance of today's moment to sharpen our vision of the world we want, and reclaim the dreams of those who fought before us. Join us to share strategies and engage in collective action to re-center an economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) agenda for the movement; expand our response to the fight against racial oppression, poverty, inequality, violence and the criminalization of black, brown, indigenous peoples groups, transgender people, women and other economically and politically marginalized groups; and realize all human rights for all.


About the Network

The US Human Rights Network is a national network of organizations and individuals working to build and strengthen a people-centered human rights movement in the United States, where leadership is centered on the most directly affected by human rights violations, and the full range of diversity within communities is respected and embraced. We work to secure dignity and justice for all.


Attend the Conference! Next Steps

Register for the conference or visit the conference website to learn more.


Scholarships are availabledeadline September 30, 2015. Apply today!


September 17, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Sex Work, Safety and The Spector of De-Criminalization

As a nation we need to decide if reducing prostitution is a societal goal.

The ACLU recently affirmed its position that prostitution should be decriminalized.   The organization supports decriminalization for sex between consenting adults.  I suspect that most would agree.  The position is not without controversy and criticism, however.  For those who advocate against violence, the solution is not simple.  After all, women are still battling the inevitable rape defense of "consent". 

In support of its position, the ACLU stated that while arresting prostitutes has been the policy for centuries, it has been ineffective in reducing prostitution.  If the goal is to reduce prostitution, what this position ignores is that while arresting sex-workers is and always has been an ineffective solution, what has not been consistently tested is a policy of arresting customers.  In fact, most district attorney's offices have a policy of not arresting or prosecuting customers, despite the fact that soliciting prostitution is a crime.  Any efforts at arresting customers typically have been temporary.   The policy of  arresting only the seller in the transaction historically has resulted in protecting men while making criminals of women.

Customers can be the knowing or unwitting promoters of human trafficking.  The idealization of the suburban housewife deciding on a sex work career or the college student looking for funds to pay for her education are sometimes true.  But many female sex workers are trafficked, enslaved and not independent in their work.  The younger the sex worker, the likelier she is trafficked.  Prior traumatization, including rape and incest, are common histories of sex workers.  Many have addictions compounding the issue of whether or not consent can be given.  "Consent" for many sex workers is not a realistic concept, yet lack of consent would be  nearly impossible to prove.   How are those being paid for sex to overcome a consent defense in a rape or assault and battery hearing? While the ACLU and others supporting decriminalization of consensual sex still endorse enforcement of anti-trafficking laws. One consequence of decriminalization will be enforcement of anti-trafficking laws primarily when minors are involved. Like statutory rape, another controversial concept, it is easier to prove crime based on age than other sex crimes.

Why individuals engage in sex work is not always straight forward. Certainly sex workers should not be arrested for their services.  Particularly those women who have been trafficked will be protected by decriminalizing the sale of sex.  Current laws re-victimize and re-traumatize trafficked victims who are then swept into the criminal justice system.

We do not know if trafficking will decrease if customers are arrested.   Sweden and some other countries have implemented customer arrest.  "Compelling evidence shows that across-the-board decriminalization supports sex trafficking without improving health, safety or control of organized crime, as demand for unsafe and dangerous sex rises exponentially. Decriminalization is a failed experiment" reports Max Waltman, a Ph. D. candidate at Stockholm University. Many disagree. While prostitution may be  in Sweden, we do not know if trafficking has been reduced.  And isn't trafficking and other forced prostitution the essential problem to be solved?

And what do sex-workers say?  Some independent sex workers favor decriminalization. Others worry that decriminalization will lead to customers being more abusive.  They argue that if the purchase of sex services is decriminalized, the abused sex worker will effectively have no recourse.  Police and prosecutors will find it nearly impossible to prosecute abuse perpetrated by a customer.  While assault and battery will remain a crime, the customer's saying that the abuse was bargained for will be difficult to disprove.  But the threat or risk of a customer being arrested might at least give the sex worker some control over a customer's behavior.  The power imbalance needs to shift from the customer to the sex worker if the workers are to attain any level of safety.    At the moment, we have no remedies in place that empower the workers. 

Remedies are complex.  Cultural shifts need to occur before sex workers gain courtroom and popular credibility.  Before comprehensive decriminalization occurs, there must be assurances that effective systems are in place to protect abused sex workers and those who are in the profession involuntarily.  The solutions are not going to be as straightforward as  whether to decriminalize or not. 



September 16, 2015 in Margaret Drew, Trafficking | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Mark Your Calendars: October Human Rights Events Break New Ground

Check out these three exciting human rights conferences coming up in October:

First, on October 5, the Center for Human Rights at University of Washington School of Law presents “Access to Information as a Human Right.” Grounded in the UW CHR’s partnerships with organizations and communities struggling for truth and accountability in post-war El Salvador, the conference will explore the right to access to information as a frontline of transnational campaigns for justice. More information is available here.

Second, on October 9-11, the University of Washington School of Law will host a conference on The Human Right to Family Planning.  Billed as the first conference of its kind, the event will bring together "advocates, doctors, nurses, lawyers, public health professionals, pharmacists, politicians, academics, researchers, NGOs, donors and others working to ensure family planning services are guaranteed for all people!"  For more information, click here.

Third, on October 16-17, the University of Chicago's Pozen Family Center on Human Rights sponsors a conference titled "Human Trafficking, Labor Migration, & Migration Control in Comparative Historical Perspective."  Information on speakers and registration is available here.

Do you know of other conferences that would be of interest to our readers?  Send us an e-mail, or submit a comment to the blog.


September 15, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Welcome Dayton, Welcoming America: Cities and Counties in the U.S. Welcome Refugees and Other Immigrants


By Lauren E. Bartlett

This summer I moved from Washington, D.C., to Ohio where I have taken a new position as Director of Law Clinics and Assistant Professor of Law at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio.  I have never lived in such a conservative area and bringing human rights home has taken on new meaning and presented new challenges for me here (for example, instead of facing home

schoolers at Senate hearings, I now face homeschoolers every time I walk out of my house and often in my house).  And yet, there are incredible human rights movements and opportunities, right here, on the North Coast.

With news of anti-immigrant rhetoric flowing from the mouths presidential candidates and the refugee crisis in Europe (including right here) drowning out pretty much everything else this week, I latched on to a couple of news items on refugees and other immigrants that are relevant to human rights and my new home.

The first was from earlier this week when the Pope urged every parish in Europe to take in one refugee family.  The second was a statement released by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants urging Europeans to start focusing on, among other things, “investing in integration measures – especially through supporting the action of cities – and developing a strong public discourse on diversity and mobility as cornerstones for contemporary European societies.”

It hit me that Dayton, Ohio, is way ahead in welcoming refugees and other immigrants.  As are Columbus, Akron, and Cincinnati, Ohio.  So are Detroit and East Lansing, Michigan.  These cities are among a long list of municipalities working to actively welcome refugees and other immigrants to help grow their economies and reverse population declines.  In fact, cities and counties from 33 states across the U.S. during the week of September 12-20, 2015, will be celebrating contributions made by immigrants in their communities and trying to spur local policies on inclusion.  For example, Welcome Dayton, is holding a variety of events including a citizenship clinic.  Welcoming America, an umbrella network for the municipalities and groups working on local immigrant-friendly initiatives, has a list of events being held across the U.S.

While I recognize that welcoming immigrants at the local level is very different than the consequential step of the federal government taking action to welcome refugees from Syria and Eritrea, I see this as a very important human rights action at the local level and something that should be replicated widely.  In my mind, this is part of the “Trickle Up” effect that Risa Kaufman has written about on this blog before.

As it is important to always walk the walk to bring the human rights home to the most local level, at home and personally, I  hope you will get involved in some of the Welcoming America events near you.  If you want to take a big step to #welcomerefugees to your home, there are a couple of organizations that are taking applications for foster families willing to host unaccompanied refugee or other immigrant youth.

By the way, it can be pretty lovely here in Ohio.  Here’s a photo from my drive to work:




September 14, 2015 in Lauren Bartlett | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 11, 2015

Protecting Syrian Refugees: A Timely Report

With the refugee crisis boiling over in Europe and President Obama's announcement that the US would accept 10,000 Syrian refugees, the Boston University International Law Clinic's late 2014 report, Protecting Syrian Refugees: Laws, Policies, and Global Responsibility Sharing, provides some important background and perspective.   The result of two years of fieldwork and legal/policy analysis, the report develops a series of original proposals for a comprehensive worldwide plan of action that involves a mixture of short-term and long-term resettlement strategies, including approaches to social integration.   The report is a companion piece to a recent publication from Oxford addressing the issue from a European perspective.  Kudos to the BU law students and their faculty advisor, Susan Akram, for taking on such a complex and fraught issue, and contributing to the debate about human rights approaches to this refugee crisis in the US and abroad.

September 11, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

5 Reasons U.S. Human Rights Advocates Should Pay Attention to the New Sustainable Development Goals

By Risa E. Kaufman, Executive Director, Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute; Lecturer-in-law, Columbia Law School

At the end of this month, an extraordinary group of world leaders will gather at the U.N. in New York to adopt a new agenda intended to eliminate global poverty by 2030. Countries have been negotiating the terms of these anti-poverty goals for several years. I’ve previously noted the significance of the Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) explicit incorporation of human rights, and, with David Udell of the National Center for Access to Justice, remarked on specific implications of Goal 16, which calls on the United States and all countries to ensure access to justice as a means of accomplishing the larger goal of ending poverty.

The SDGs are not perfect. Nevertheless, with their remarkably broad scope and emphasis on universality and human rights, the SDGs offer a new tool and significant opportunities for U.S. social justice advocates. Here, I suggest five reasons why U.S. human rights advocates should pay attention to the SDGs.

 1. Data

The SDGs potentially will generate a significant amount of data related to U.S. human rights concerns. The SDGs are comprised of 17 goals and 169 targets on a remarkable array of social, economic, and environmental issues. By March 2016, the U.N. Statistical Commission will release a set of global indicators to guide the data collection that will help countries achieve the goals and targets.  Each country, including the United States, will be expected to draw on those global indicators to form its own national-level indicators.

Through these global and national-level indicators, the U.S. will track its progress on human rights concerns including gender equality, maternal health care, access to justice, housing, hunger, education, clean water and sanitation, climate change, employment, and inequality. Thus, the SDGs will generate important statistical information which potentially will influence government programs, research, and funding, and which U.S. advocates can incorporate into their advocacy with government officials, the media, communities, and interested stakeholders.

 2. Reporting Opportunities

 The SDGs offer new opportunities for advocates to report on U.S. progress (or lack of progress) in improving conditions on a range of human rights issues. The SDGs call on each country to track how it is implementing the goals and targets, and to engage with civil society to conduct regular national-level reviews. Though the U.S. has not yet developed the precise mechanism it will use to monitor its implementation of the SDGs, it is expected to do so once the global reporting system is established. Because the SDGs track human rights issues, advocates will be able to use the process to raise awareness around human rights concerns within the United States, particularly on issues concerning economic, social, and cultural rights (such as access to healthcare, education, and housing). In addition, the goals, targets, and indicators will offer important benchmarks for monitoring and reporting on U.S. human rights treaty compliance and human rights progress during the Universal Periodic Review process, as well as offer U.N. special procedures important information with which to assess U.S. human rights progress and concerns.

 3. Government Engagement

 The SDGs offer significant opportunities for U.S. human rights advocates to engage with the federal government on domestic human rights concerns. The SDGs are intended to be highly participatory, and indeed in international negotiations over the terms of the SDGs, the United States championed Goal 16’s inclusion of participation and transparency. Moreover, the U.S. Chief Negotiator for the Post-2015 Process recently noted that the SDGs and their emphasis on “leave no one behind” largely reflect U.S. domestic policy priorities. Thus, advocates can and should engage in dialogue with the U.S. government as it develops the national-level indicators that the United States will use to measure its progress with the SDGs, as well as what process it will use to review progress at the national level.

 Through these conversations, advocates can give voice to areas of human rights concern in the United States, as well as ensure that civil society plays a key function in reviewing progress. As the United States has sought to do with the Universal Periodic Review, it can use the SDGs as an opportunity to model transparency and inclusivity and engage with civil society to determine relevant national level indicators, thus sparking important conversations around pressing human rights concerns within the United States.

 4. Cross-Global Learning

 By establishing universal goals and a global reporting mechanism, the SDGs offer opportunities for U.S. advocates to learn from advocates and reformers around the world working to ensure robust implementation of the SDGs in other countries. Global-level indicators will generate data that will promote cross-global comparison, as well, allowing U.S. advocates to gauge U.S. progress on economic, social, and environmental concerns in light of global trends. Likewise, the SDGs may facilitate new cross-border alliances between stakeholder communities around the world as advocates work to monitor and urge progress on SDG implementation internationally.

5. Funding

The SDGs are not likely to result in the flow of international development funds to the United States.  Nevertheless, the SDGs may influence the philanthropic community within the United States.  By establishing priorities, benchmarks, and data, the SDGs may promote evidenced-based giving, and help to set priorities for grant makers on a host of human rights concerns falling within the scope of the SDGs.

Of course, with opportunities come challenges. The SDGs are no exception; there are many obstacles to ensuring that the SDGs have a positive impact on human rights within the United States. These include the challenge of ensuring that the United States adopts meaningful national-level indicators and a robust process for monitoring its domestic implementation. Other difficulties include a general lack of public education and awareness around the SDGs and human rights more generally.  

Nevertheless, global adoption of cross-cutting and interconnected goals that explicitly embrace the full scope of human rights offers significant opportunities for advocacy on domestic human rights concerns. U.S. advocates should embrace the SDGs as a new tool to raise awareness, track progress, and promote the full realization of human rights at home.

September 10, 2015 in Penny Venetis, Poor, Risa Kaufman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Human Trafficking, Survivors, and Social Science Research

 by Jonathan Todres

 Human trafficking is a gross violation of human rights. We know that victims and survivors experience physical, psychological, and emotional harm.  Yet on August 18, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned a trafficker’s conviction for “possession and use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence,” when the crime in question was sex trafficking (U.S. vs. German de Jesus Ventura).

 The relevant statutory language defines a “crime of violence” as “an offense that is a felony and—(A) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, or (B) that by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.” 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3).  The Fourth Circuit concluded that sex trafficking does not meet the requirements of section (A) because it can be committed “nonviolently—i.e., through fraudulent means.”  As to section (B), the court stated first that “the relevant inquiry is whether there is a substantial risk that the defendant will use physical force against the victim in completing the crime” (as opposed to any other individual, say a purchaser of sex). And then the court concludes – in a footnote – that “we are not persuaded that the ordinary case of sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion involves a substantial risk that the defendant will use physical force as a means to commit the offense.” The Fourth Circuit doesn’t cite to any research in support of this conclusion. In fact, research suggests that the great majority of trafficking victims suffer physical injuries (On health consequences, see, for example, C. Zimmerman et al.; Todres).

This opinion is reminiscent of the Ninth Circuit’s opinion in U.S v. Castaneda (239 F.3d 978 (9th Cir. 2001)). In that case, three Filipina women who were lured to Saipan under false pretenses found themselves in a foreign country with little or no money and the legality of their presence in country tied to their place of employment. The women were forced by their employer to provide sex to men in a night club. Yet the Ninth Circuit questioned whether these women were coerced, noting “there wasn’t a gun put to their head,” and that they weren’t forced to line up for selection by male customers but only “instructed” to do so.

 In these and other cases, courts fail to understand the experience of trafficking victims and other survivors of human rights violations. That Ventura will be left with a 30-year sentence, even after his Section 924(c) conviction is vacated isn’t a satisfactory answer. Why are courts failing to see the experience of victims of human rights violations for what it is? There may be a host of reasons, from deficiencies in the evidence presented to implicit bias.  Whatever the reason, social science offers a potential answer: it can provide evidence-based research that can demonstrate the likelihood of physical violence by traffickers, or the impact of trauma might have on a victim’s decisions whether or not a gun is put to her head.

Many cases have benefitted from such evidence, dating back to the experiments of Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark in Brown v. Board of Education, and even earlier. Human rights advocates, and the populations they represent, would be well served by forging more partnerships with social science to ensure future courts cannot ignore the true experience of those who suffer human rights violations.


September 9, 2015 in Jonathan Todres, Trafficking | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Countering the “Politics of Forgetting” by Documenting Grassroots Efforts for Accountability for Torture

By:  Deborah M. Weissman

Reef C. Ivey II Distinguished Professor of Law,  University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law

 It is now common knowledge that following the events of September 11, 2001, U.S. officials ordered, facilitated, and actively participated in the extraordinary rendition and torture of hundreds of individuals suspected of involvement with terrorism.  Beginning in 2005, documentation from official U.S. and European government sources, the media, and various human rights groups revealed Aero Contractors, a private North Carolina-based contractor headquartered in Johnston County, was operating many of the rendition flights.  These flights have come to be known as “Torture Taxis.” Through the work of plane spotters, investigators, government officials, international institutions, U.N. bodies, and journalists, it is now known that Aero Contractors was directly involved in the extraordinary renditions of Binyam Mohamed, Abou Elkassim Britel, Khaled El-Masri, Bisher Al-Rawi and Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah. 

A group of North Carolina residents formed a grassroots organization, NC Stop Torture Now and since the 2005 revelations, they have worked tirelessly to obtain accountability and transparency with regard to the state’s role in extraordinary rendition and torture, now known as the CIA’s Rendition/Detention/Interrogation  (RDI) program.  Ghosts of Johnston County is a documentary film about this ongoing struggle.  Through a combination of home video recordings, observational footage, archival materials, and interviews with local residents, Ghosts of Johnston County unveils an “on the ground” account of the struggle to achieve justice for the victims of U.S. sponsored torture.  It ends with a personal and moving dialogue between local advocates and Abou El-Kassim Britel, an Italian citizen of Moroccan descent who, in 2002, was transported by Aero Contractors from Pakistan to Morocco. There, he was held in secret and tortured before being released in 2011. The extraordinary rendition of Britel has yet to be publicly acknowledged by the U.S. Government. The film also includes critical commentary by Col. Morris Davis, a native North Carolinian and the former lead U.S. prosecutor at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center. 

The film can be accessed at  (password gojc_web) and is available for use by human rights activists and educators.  If you do view it, the filmmaker, Eric Juth, has a request:  He asks: 

If you have any questions about the project, or plan on showing the film for educational purposes or in public/group setting, please notify its director, Eric Juth, by contacting him at, so that he may document this for his record. Additionally, please consider supporting Juth's work by purchasing a DVD copy of the film for your university's or institution's library, or by making a donation to him through paypal ( or on the "Tip Jar" button on Vimeo."

 For the past six years, the UNC School of Law Human Rights Policy Seminar has worked with NC Stop Torture and with Abou Elkassim Britel and his spouse, Anna.  We have contributed to the documentation of North Carolina’s involvement in the torture program, and produced a number of policy reports, briefs, and petitions focused on North Carolina’s role in the RDI program.  We remain inspired by the work of the dedicated citizens who comprise this grassroots group.

 As victims of extraordinary rendition continue to surface, and as details emerge about the United States' use of torture during the war on terror, the efforts to achieve justice for the survivors persists, even in places as seemingly removed from the front lines as a rural county in North Carolina. 



September 8, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 7, 2015

California Moves Ahead on Equal Pay

On Monday, August 31, the California Senate passed the California Fair Pay Act, a law that will take a significant and unprecedented (in the US) step towards workplace equality.  While a number of states and municipalities have adopted "comparable worth" as the standard for measuring wage fairness in public sector jobs, California's new law will extend that standard to the private sector as well.  

Notably, California's Fair Pay Act has the effect of further implementing, on the subnational level, the provisions of CEDAW, the Women's Rights Convention adopted by San Francisco and endorsed by many other California municipalities.  CEDAW specifically accords women"[t]he right to equal remuneration, including benefits, and to equal treatment in respect of work of equal value," a principle reflected in the California Fair Pay Act language.  

Unfortunately, the U.S. government continues to register its opposition to this approach. Indeed, one of the U.S. draft reservations intended to restrict CEDAW’s domestic impact if and when it is ratified by the U.S. is to CEDAW's provision on "equal pay for the work of equal value."  California's bold move should encourage the federal government to re-evaluate this position and join with its peer nations in ratifying CEDAW.


September 7, 2015 in Economic Justice, Martha F. Davis, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)