Sunday, January 31, 2016
Hollywood loves a good bad guy.
From ruthless mobsters to drug kingpins to serial killers, evil characters are often plucked from real-world events. As human trafficking has garnered more attention, it was inevitable that the issue would hit the big screen. Traffickers, after all, are your quintessential villains. They enslave and exploit human beings for profit.
Today, a growing number of films portray a hero taking down a human trafficking ring.
The Taken series, in which Liam Neeson plays an ex-CIA operative with “a very particular set of skills,” is arguably the best-known example. In the first installment, Neeson has 96 hours to rescue his daughter from an Albanian sex-trafficking ring in Paris that abducts young girls, drugs them and sells them to Middle Eastern sheikhs. He succeeds, of course, in supporting-cast-obliterating fashion.
In Human Trafficking, an earlier made-for-television movie, Mira Sorvino plays a New York City police officer who goes undercover to take down a Russian trafficking ring.
And in The Whistleblower, which is based on a true story, Rachel Weisz plays an American working as a UN peacekeeper in postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina who uncovers a trafficking operation.
These movies have helped raise awareness of human trafficking. But there’s one problem. As my research shows, Taken, The Whistleblower and Human Trafficking propagate and reinforce several critical misunderstandings about trafficking.
All three films portray only sex trafficking of young women and girls. The movies depict Americans as heroes, and “others” – Albanians, Arabs, Russians – as villains. The Whistleblower offers a more nuanced picture with both an American hero and some Americans involved in the exploitation. Finally, in true Hollywood fashion, rescue represents the end of the story.
A viewer might leave these movies unaware that there is more than trafficking for sex, that labor trafficking also exists and that it occurs in numerous industries, from agriculture and manufacturing to restaurants and hair salons. Viewers might not know that men, women, boys, girls and transgender individuals are all targets of human trafficking.
Viewers might also be misled into thinking that the problem is a foreign one, leaving them unaware of the role Americans play in human trafficking. In fact, some traffickers are American, and the U.S. drives demand for inexpensive goods like clothes and electronics, some of which is made possible by the work of exploited individuals.
Finally, moviegoers might have no idea that rescue is really only the beginning of an even more challenging process – assisting and supporting survivors in their recovery and reintegration into their communities.
Why does this matter? This is Hollywood, after all. We know that James Bond does not represent the reality of life as a spy, despite the more battered, world-weary spin Daniel Craig has given him recently. But most of us don’t engage in espionage after a spy movie ends.
Human trafficking is different. As President Obama highlighted in a recent presidential proclamation declaring January national slavery and human trafficking prevention month, every sector of society can play a role in combating this problem.
The president echoed what many scholars and advocates like myself have emphasized: a comprehensive, multisector response is needed to prevent human trafficking.
This effort requires that people know not just that human trafficking exists, but exactly what it is.
As with other violent crime, only a fraction of the population has any personal experience with human trafficking. Few individuals have talked with a survivor about his or her experiences, and not many have read the existing research on human trafficking. Most of the public garners much of what they know about human trafficking from media portrayals of the issue. This includes some individuals now working on anti-trafficking initiatives. I’ve listened to scholars and advocates at conferences praise these movies without mentioning their inaccuracies. It seems even the savviest among us believe more from the media than we discard.
If popular portrayals of human trafficking shape what advocates and the general population understand about the issue, then they will also shape what people advocate for. And federal and state law and policy on human trafficking reflect many of the same distortions found in films on human trafficking.
Beginning with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000 and continuing with dozens of laws adopted at the federal and state level since then, the law on human trafficking has centered primarily on criminal law, reflecting the “rescue” narrative. Such law enforcement is necessary but not sufficient. Other critical components – prevention and services for survivors – have received much less in the way of resources.
The depiction of young women and girls trafficked for sex as the quintessential victims has shaped law enforcement efforts, leading to a prioritization of combating sex trafficking of women and girls over labor trafficking or the plight of exploited men, boys and transgendered individuals.
When media portrayals show only sex trafficking of women and girls, the risk is that labor trafficking and other vulnerable and exploited individuals do not receive the attention they need. In fact, research by the International Labor Organization and other organizations suggests that the number of labor trafficking victims may well exceed the number of sex trafficking victims.
In addition, current anti-trafficking law and advocacy continues to pay too little attention to the root causes of this exploitation. The lack of emphasis on prevention reflects the popular notions that “rescue” is what is needed. It also indicates an unwillingness to acknowledge that mainstream U.S. culture and consumerism contribute to the demand for the goods and services provided by exploited individuals. In contrast to Hollywood portrayals, the reality is that the food we eat and the clothes we wear may well be produced by trafficked labor.
Of course, Hollywood is not going to stop making action movies. But we can do a better job of calling attention to the disconnect between cinematic portrayals of human trafficking and the reality of the problem. The desire to keep celebrities engaged in particular social issues is understandable given the attention they can bring to an issue, but it should not mean remaining silent in the face of inaccurate or unbalanced portrayals.
Ultimately, it is critical that policymakers and advocates have access to and rely on evidence-based research and survivor perspectives on human trafficking so that they can develop responses that are likely to make a difference.
Editors' Note: This post originally appeared The Conversation
Thursday, January 28, 2016
The Kansas Appeals Court last week blocked a law that would have placed restrictions upon a woman's right to obtain an abortion. The decision was split, 7-7, which is determined to support the lower court decision, in this case an analysis that the Kansas state constitution protects a woman's right to abortion. The 2015 law in question would have outlawed the surgical procedure dilation and evacuation which is considered the most common and the safest abortion procedure for second trimester abortions.
The lower court judge analogized the Kansas constitution with the federal one, stating that both constitutions provide the same protections and that the law created an impermissible obstacle.
Then this week tables were turned on anti-choice activists who had demanded an investigation into Planned Parenthood. Houston prosecutors had been urged to investigate Planned Parenthood for what anti-choice advocates claimed to be the entities' illegal disposal of fetal tissue. Part of the evidence the advocates alleged implicated Planned Parenthood, were illegally made videos. Investigators said that the grand jury considered evidence for over two months. Rather than indict Planned Parenthood, the jury indicted the two advocates who engaged in the surreptitious film making. They were indicted on felony charges of tampering with a governmental record and misdemeanor related to purchasing organs.
Once again, Planned Parenthood is being proactive. The organization has sued abortion opponents claiming a three year criminal enterprise to target the organization. The advocates are alleged to have used illegal techniques in attempting to discredit Planned Parenthood.
The new, aggressive policy of suing opponents that harm, or attempt to harm, the organization is a responsible and effective tactic that seeks consequences to those who attempt to defame and dismantle Planned Parenthood.
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
If I had to name a single U.S. Supreme Court case that effectively highlights the entrenched problems of the American criminal justice system, it would be Montgomery v. Louisiana: from the 1963 murder of Charles Hurt Jr., a white deputy sheriff in East Baton Rouge, to the conviction of Henry Montgomery, a developmentally disabled African-American teenager, to the ensuing half-century during which Montgomery has been warehoused at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.
In other words, when Montgomery v. Louisiana is viewed through almost any critical lens, the deep fissures in our broken system are clearly apparent: the legacy of Jim Crow as reflected in the disproportionate representation of people of color in today’s courtrooms, jails, and prisons; the nation’s continued reliance on mass incarceration to solve intractable societal ills; and the refusal of many prosecutors, judges, and juries to consider criminal offenders — even those who are children or are intellectually compromised — as worth more than the worst thing they have ever done.
In November 1963, Deputy Hurt was shot and killed in a park in Scotlandville, a town in the segregated South that has since been annexed by Baton Rouge but which at the time was the largest majority African-American town in Louisiana.
At the time of his death, Deputy Hurt was on patrol, looking for kids who were truant from school. One of his daughters has described her late father as someone who “saw beyond race at a time when such vision was uncommon at best” and even initiated a “Junior Deputy” program for boys from Scotlandville.
Immediately after the shooting, there was a wide-ranging search for Hurt’s killer, with hundreds of deputies and police from neighboring parishes setting up roadblocks and making mass arrests in Scotlandville. Dozens, if not scores, of African-American men from 12 to 59 years old were arrested, held and questioned about the murder.
Among those arrested was Henry Montgomery, a mild-mannered 10th-grader with intellectual limitations who had turned 17 only two weeks earlier. Unfortunately nicknamed the Wolf Man due to his oversized teeth (an “alias” that was publicized prior to the trial), Henry lived with his grandparents, as his mother was autistic and had her own challenges.
Detectives brought Henry to his grandparents’ house, where he pointed out a .22 caliber pistol in the rafters and then accompanied them to the park where he re-enacted the crime. The detectives audiotaped Henry’s confession, during which he stated that he had left school to take a nap in the park and had run into Deputy Hurt behind the recreation center. When Hunt was patting him down, Henry panicked and shot him with the pistol he had placed in his jacket pocket.
In February 1964, a jury of 12 white men deliberated for a day and half before returning a guilty verdict and a death sentence for Henry Montgomery. The Louisiana Supreme Court reversed his conviction two years later and ordered a new trial due to the trial court’s denial of both a motion to continue and a motion for a change in venue, which had been based on threats of cross burnings by the Ku Klux Klan before the trial and East Baton Rouge Parish’s adoption of a resolution proclaiming the first day of the trial to be “Charles Hurt Day.”
Five years later, although the mood of the community was calmer, it took another all white and male jury a mere 90 minutes to convict Henry of first degree murder, after which he was sentenced for an offense committed as a juvenile to mandatory life without parole (JLWOP) and sent to Angola.Fast-forward 50 years. Henry Montgomery is 69 years old and the U.S. Supreme Court has held in a 6-3 vote, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy and including Chief Justice John Roberts along with the liberal contingent of the court, that its June 25, 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama declaring that life without parole should be reserved for only the “rarest of children” whose crimes reflect “irreparable corruption” applies retroactively.
This means that Montgomery, along with the approximately 1,000 or more inmates whose sentences were imposed before Miller (in states that had subsequently found Miller not to apply retroactively or had not yet addressed the question), will now have an opportunity for release.
In fact, the court in Montgomery has gone a step further than many anticipated by suggesting that, rather than conduct resentencing hearings in which the parties must opine whether the inmate was “permanently incorrigible” at the time of the original sentence, states may instead consider whether the inmate should be considered for parole, i.e., release from prison under specified conditions.
The court even referenced (although it did not confirm) Henry Montgomery’s good behavior at Angola, including the fact that he established an inmate boxing team and served as a role model to other inmates, as “relevant” examples of “one kind of evidence that prisoners might use to demonstrate rehabilitation.”
The process by which the court decides that a decision is retroactive was established in its 1989 ruling in Teague v. Lane, which requires retroactive application when the court declares a new rule of “substantive” law but not one of “procedural” law.
With Montgomery, the court ruled that Miller’s prohibition of mandatory life without parole for juvenile offenders was more than a procedural rule merely requiring the judge or jury to consider the defendant’s “youth” before the sentence. Instead, the court ruled that Miller more profoundly “rendered life without parole an unconstitutional penalty” for juveniles whose crimes “reflect the transient immaturity of youth,” and, thus, was the announcement of a new substantive rule.
In classic form, Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, contends not only that the court lacks jurisdiction to decide the case (meaning that the rule of Miller was procedural and not substantive), but that “the decision it arrives at is wrong.” He asserts that the court’s resolution of the jurisdictional issue is ends-oriented, driven by the majority’s desire to reach the merits rather than a commitment to follow precedent, which he calls “nothing short of astonishing.” He argues that rather than apply Miller to the facts at hand, the majority rewrites it: “This whole exercise, this whole distortion of Miller, is just a devious way of eliminating life without parole for juvenile offenders.”
It remains to be seen whether Montgomery v. Louisiana will be the death knell for JLWOP. As it stands, judges maintain the discretion to conclude that particular juvenile offenders convicted of homicide are, in fact, intrinsically incapable of redemption and will never be fit to re-enter society. There may be resentencing hearings and reviews by parole boards, but there are no guarantees of release, as we have already seen in states that have found Miller to be retroactive.
Yet, it cannot be denied that Justice Kennedy has continued to chip away at what he considers to be “disproportionate” and thus unconstitutional punishment for juveniles: with Roper v. Simmons, it was the death penalty; with Graham v. Florida, it was JLWOP for nonhomicide offenses; and with Miller v. Alabama, it was mandatory JLWOP for homicides.
With Montgomery, the court’s most consistent swing voter has authored an opinion that leaves little room for the state to justify sentencing a juvenile to die in prison. As Justice Kennedy wrote over a decade ago in Roper, “When a juvenile offender commits a heinous crime, the State can exact forfeiture of some of the most basic liberties, but the State cannot extinguish his life and his potential to attain a mature understanding of his own humanity.”
Editor's Note: This post first appeared on the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
In July, a University of Cincinnati Police Officer shot Samuel DuBose to death. Mr. DuBose was black and he was unarmed. The white officer pulled Mr. DuBose over for an automobile violation (no front license plate) and the shooting was filmed on the officer's body camera. At the time that the killing became known, the University, in not its finest hour, cancelled classes and closed the campus. Whatever anticipated demonstrations or riots the school was anticipating never happened. What did happen was that Officer Ray Tensing was arrested and is waiting his trial for murder.
Despite its initial overreaction, the University President, Santa Ono, stepped up in negotiations with Mr. DuBose's family. President Ono has generally been considered a vibrant and effective leader. On Martin Luther King Day, as a result of settlement negotiations, he obligated the University to pay $4.85 million to Mr. DuBose's family. Settlement was reached after only two days of negotiations. While the University did not admit liability, the School will apologize to the family as part of the agreement. "Dr. Ono said the university felt a “civic responsibility” to go beyond the kind of cash settlement customary in police-involved deaths." The President went on to say that he wanted to be clear that the University cares not only about the DuBose family but about peace in the City, as well. It was one of Mr. DuBose's daughter, Raegan Brooks, who discussed the pain of the experience, including the negotiations that at times caused emotional disturbance of what felt like putting a price on her father's life. She also spoke of her prior intentions to attend UC, plans that changed after her father's death.
Since the killing, the University has established a community advisory council on which a family member of Mr. DuBose will sit.
Monday, January 25, 2016
For the past two years, human rights advocates across the United States were deeply engaged with reviews of the US human rights record in Geneva, Switzerland. Reviews by the CERD, the Human Rights Committee, the Committee Against Torture. and the U.S. UPR necessitated an immense amount of reporting, as well as trips to Geneva for those who were able to secure the resources and make the time. Yet, with the conclusion of the UPR last spring, it seemed that the windows of opportunity to raise human rights concerns with U.N. human rights experts, and U.S. officials were closing.
Yet, fortunately for human rights, that has not been the case. Instead, a flurry of activity has opened new opportunities to push for U.S. human rights accountability. And these opportunities are right here at home. The U.N. Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and Practice concluded its US visit on December 11. The experts traveled to Oregon, Alabama, Washington, D.C. and Texas to participate in a range of meetings with civil society and government actors, and received a range of written submissions. The visit was a valuable opportunity for candid conversations on the status of women’s rights in the United States, which informed the Working Group’s preliminary findings. The visit also garnered media coverage in local Alabama media (here and here), and national outlets, Vox and Huffington Post.
This week, the human rights conversations continue. Indeed, the visit of the U.N. Working Group on People of African Descent is already underway. (The Working Group previously visited the U.S. in 2010).
The Group’s current ten-day tour of the United States, has an emphasis on the fulfillment of human rights at the city level. The trip kicked off with federal government meetings, but much time will be spent in the field. The Working Group will visit Baltimore, Maryland; Jackson, Mississippi; Chicago, Illinois; and New York City. In each location, these human rights experts will meet with mayors, attorneys general, and advocates of all stripes. This visit comes at key time, when issues of racial discrimination and inequality are front and nationally and locally, from the presidential debates (or, at least some of them) to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan .
The U.S. Human Rights Network Coordinating Center has played a key role in organizing the visit, working with local steering committees in each city, and collecting written submissions in advance of the visit. All of the written and oral interventions by civil society and government representatives will inform the Working Group’s preliminary findings, which should be releasedthis Friday, as well a more comprehensive report to the Human Rights Council later this year.
I welcome the visit to New York, my hometown, where the Working Group members will meet with elected officials, staff from the State Attorney General’s office, and importantly, spend half a day meeting with civil society to address a range of issues, including housing, education, and policing.
The Working Group’s meetings with local government officials offer an incredible opportunity to lift up human rights violations, discuss local policies that work, and propose context-specific recommendations for progress. How local officials respond is likely to vary across cities, and across office holders. But there is a 100% guarantee that the visit lays the groundwork for future advocacy, which local groups should seize upon and leverage in future advocacy.
Lest you need some taking points to inform how to frame human rights when talking to your local officials, or want to demonstrate that human rights are a valuable tool in local policymaking, you can look to this recent piece by Birmingham Mayor William Bell: Human Rights as a Vision for the Future of our Cities.
By continuing the human rights conversation in every available venue, we can build the foundation for change.
Sunday, January 24, 2016
This week Flint, Michigan's Governor apologized for the lack of response by him and the state of Michigan's for the state's diverting contaminated water to the residents of Flint. The water is brown and filled with lead contaminants. President Obama declared a national emergency in Flint because of the water crisis.
Family members, particularly children, are experiencing high blood lead levels since the state changed the source of the city's water from the Lake Huron to the polluted Flint River. Flint is a city with a high population of low income families who primarily are people of color. In addition to changing the water source for Flint, the state stopped taking measures that minimize lead leaking from the old and dangerous water pipes.
To watch a video detailing the history of the crisis click here.
UMass Law School student Ashley Williams, a member of the Black Law Student Association, is mobilizing law students in soliciting water donations to residents of Flint, Michigan. In order to assist the Flint community, Ms. Williams contacted the University of Michigan Law School BLSA. Michigan Law students were already involved in assisting the Flint community, and gave Ms. Williams important information, support and advice on how collect and transport water. The Law School had already established designated drop points where trucks arrive to transport donated water to Flint.
Ms. Williams, who grew up in a poor neighborhood of Philadelphia, immediately identified with the problem when she heard of the contaminated water. " I felt it was important to show that the residents of Flint had a support system from busy students who have their own tight budgets. This was important to me because it's exactly what I would want for my city. " She asked where she could send water, even if a small amount of her own donation. Ms. Williams said that "she began to think of how big an impact this support would have if all students were involved, along with some corporate support. " Ms. Williams has contacted New England law schools as well as social organizations and corporations in various parts of the country to assist them in organizing water efforts of their own. Ms. Williams said that she came to UMass, which has a social justice mission, to be able to help people. Though busy with law school demands, she believes that service cannot wait until graduation.
Friday, January 22, 2016
On the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Dean and professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, Sandro Galea, writes in US News and World Report that: "Reproductive rights worldwide are inextricable from gender equality and human rights, particularly the human rights of women." Two recent international developments confirm this worldwide understanding. First, late last year, a high court judge in Belfast found that Northern Ireland's restrictive abortion law was "incompatible with human rights." Second, just days ago, the UN announced that Peru will compensate a young woman forced to carry an anecephalic fetus to term because state health workers refused to perform an abortion.
Meanwhile, activists in the US are increasingly raising up the ways in which abortion access contributes to US women's equality. From the amicus brief of women attorneys who have had abortions, to the 1 in 3 campaign, to the Draw the Line campaign with real women's stories at the core, women's equality is the central theme. Importantly, these campaigns focus on experiences of women across class lines, rather than highlighting impacts of abortion restrictions on low income women who cannot afford to travel to far away clinics or who may not be able to pay for a night in a hotel room during a mandatory waiting period. When it comes to abortion, women's options certainly differ based on their resources, but the impact of abortion restrictions on women's equality resonates across classes and hopefully, in the well of the Supreme Court, too.
Thursday, January 21, 2016
Around the world, human rights lawyers and activists know about the “Torture Memos” – a series of memos prepared from 2001 to 2007 by lawyers for the US Office of Legal Counsel advising the US military and CIA that they were not bound by the plain meaning of the Geneva Conventions. On Monday, when I spoke about legal ethics and the torture memos at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights in Oslo, the conversation turned to the importance of creating clear ethical frameworks as a means to avoid ethical breaches in times of emergency.
Asbjorn Rachlew, a Norwegian psychologist and criminologist based at the Centre, described a time when professional psychologists were asked to strategize about getting accused perpetrators to waive their right to remain silent. Like the 9/11 effect in the US leading to acceptance of torture and curbing of civil liberties, the Breivik shootings in Norway on July 22, 2011, created a feeling that some sort of psychological manipulation of accused perpetrators might be acceptable. It took an appeal to human rights standards, a fixed external framework, to remind the psychologists that individuals accused of crimes should not be manipulated into giving up their rights.
Knut Aspland, an anthropologist at the Norwegian Centre, noted that concerns about use of anthropological data to support torture caused the American Anthropological Association to take a stance condemning “the use of anthropological knowledge as an element of physical and psychological torture," building on the baseline ethical obligation of anthropologists to “do no harm.” Again, an ethical framework adopted in advance of an emergency worked to ensure that professionals understood their obligations to avoid human rights violations.
US lawyers are subject to extensive ethical codes that can be enforced through state bar structures. And the state bars and American Bar Association have often responded to ethics challenges by reforming these frameworks to ensure that they set a baseline for the future. Lawyer’s involvement in Watergate spurred reforms in legal training, with mandatory ethics classes and a separate ethics exam as part of law licensing. After the financial scandals of the 1990s, the ABA’s Model ethics rules were amended to require lawyers, under some circumstances, to report out their client’s wrongdoings to enforcement authorities.
ABA leaders roundly condemned the Torture Memos as a failure to meet professional obligations. But no reforms to the profession’s ethics frameworks followed. The organized bar has treated the Torture Memos as an instance of lawyers who fell short, not as a challenge to the ethics framework itself. An outside observer, noting that Jay Bybee is now a federal judge with life tenure and that John Yoo was recently appointed to a prestigious endowed professorship, would have good reason to question whether such failure is even deemed troubling by the profession.
However, there are lessons that the American Bar might learn from the Torture Memos saga that could be reflected in the Bar’s extensive ethics frameworks, to be drawn on in times of emergency. In particular, the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct nowhere mention protection of human rights as a professional ideal. In a legal system where the status of human rights is sometimes unclear, despite the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, this omission matters.
As the Norwegian Centre discussants observed during our meeting, the Code of Conduct for European Lawyers explicitly notes the significant role of lawyers in “safeguarding human rights in the face of the power of the state.” And in Norway and other European countries, lawyers learn that international human rights law is part of their law and therefore implicitly incorporated into their ethics codes. Despite strong arguments to the contrary, human rights law has not gained the same level of acceptance in the US. Explicit references to human rights are needed here, even if they are not necessary in other legal ethics codes.
Interestingly, the ABA is taking tentative steps in this direction, but from a different angle. In June 2015, with co-sponsorship from the Norwegian government, the ABA Center for Human Rights was co-convener of a meeting in Geneva that examined the role of human rights in the rules of professional conduct of Bar Associations through the lens of business and human rights. While US ethics rules currently do not mention human rights in the context of business advice, the ABA Center is charting a path toward raising the issue in this arena.
The Torture Memos, however, have not gotten the same ethical traction. As with the reforms that followed Watergate and Enron, amending the bar’s ethics rules to explicitly acknowledge lawyers’ important role in safeguarding and protecting human rights would be a step toward establishing an ethical framework that will better serve the profession when the next emergency comes around.
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
In contrast to the bleak news reported yesterday, the U.S. Navy is continuing its proactive response to the needs of sexual assault survivors. The Navy is considering a fast track discharge process for personnel who have been sexually assaulted and apply to leave the Navy as a result. For those who remain in service, the Navy is developing a system that will prevent the alleged perpetrator and the survivor from being placed in the same command, even years after the incident that led to the allegations. Admiral John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations, is sensitive to the situation where an alleged perpetrator might not be discharged, for example where there is no conviction. As reported on Military.com, Richardson said that the Navy is considering development of an app based on those in use on some college campuses that will make it easier to report sexual harassment or assault. "Such a tool would help remove stigma for survivors, making reporting data more accurate and possibly reducing stigma preventing male sexual assault victims from coming forward."
Monday, January 18, 2016
U.N. "Peacekeepers" stationed in the Central African Republic have been exposed for paying for sex with girls. The prices paid ranged from 50 cents to $3.00. Not surprisingly, the girls are part of a prostitution ring organized by boys and young men pimps, in this instance from M'poko, a camp for the internally displaced. The offending soldiers were from Gabon, Morocco, Burundi and France.
The Washington post reported the most recent news, but the UN learned of the behavior last summer. While the headlines typically read that U.N. Peacekeepers paid young, underage girls for sex, perhaps a better headline would be that UN Peacekeepers supported a local prostitution ring in the sexual abuse of young girls. I don't think that anyone will argue that the thirteen year old girls voluntarily participated as sex workers as a lifestyle choice. Their circumstances of being displaced, in addition to their sex and age, made them particularly vulnerable. Also last summer, Amnesty International reported the rape of a 12 year old girl by a U.N. Peacekeeper. After initially denying reports of sexual exploitation, the UN is now investigating.
The story of the Peacekeeper exploitation was reported by Human Rights Watch in August. As Sarah Taylor reported, the UN at last may be shifting the way it views sexual abuse and exploitation, which has been reported in many countries in addition to CAR. Rather than consider these actions as conduct offenses, the UN, according to a report issued by the Secretary General, is encouraged to view this abuse as conflict-related sexual violence. In September, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced several initiatives including banning anyone with a history of sexual violence from serving with the UN.
The UN and other military authorities avoid, however, the central issue of why sexual abuse and exploitation is not the first issue addressed whenever troops are deployed. Crimes of sexual abuse against women and children is a documented reality around the world, but particularly for areas of conflict. Before the UN, or any individual country, sends troops to protect elections or assist refugees, the first mission might be to safeguard the residents from abuse, particularly sexual violence. Other missions are secondary.
Sunday, January 17, 2016
As we observe Martin Luther King Day, one reflection is on the enormous influence that Dr. King has had over decades of activists. The Black Lives Matter movement has extended, as well as incorporated, techniques employed by Dr. King.
For those whose youth was spent in political protests, followed by a comparatively passive period, the Black Lives Matter movement is heartening. Not only has effective advocacy been missing from the landscape in any widespread sense since the 1980's, at times Dr. King's techniques were considered outdated. The Black Lives Matter movement has proved those criticisms faulty. Black Lives Matter sparked national and international conversation. Protests with masked students holding signs reading "I can't breathe" and hundreds of young protesters marching with hands in the air were dramatic and effective. Microagressions and implicit bias are now discussed in a variety of settings and populations. There is a test for implicit bias on Harvard's website. Dr. King's leadership resulted in extraordinary civil rights accomplishments that have not been fully realized. Black Lives Matter has transformed the civil rights movement to a human rights movement in its continued search for dignity in both strategy and result.
Friday, January 15, 2016
The first phase of briefing in Whole Woman's Health v. Cole was completed last week. The petitioners' briefs and the 45 amicus submissions make clear how much is at stake for women, and what women will lose if the Supreme Court stands aside as the right to have an abortion is further compromised and eroded.
Given the Supreme Court's recent decisions grounded in concepts of human dignity, particularly the line of marriage equality cases, it is no surprise that human dignity has important place in a number of the briefs, including the briefs on behalf of Advocates for Youth and the National Women's Law Center.
However, only one of the amicus briefs brings to bear the human rights law invoked by such references to human dignity. The brief of the Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, represented by Counsel of Record Cynthia Soohoo (a Human Rights at Home blog contributor), argues that the U.S. Supreme Court should take special note of the international decisions concerning reproductive rights. Here is a relevant excerpt from the brief's Summary of Argument:
"The reasoning of international bodies when considering whether a state can erect barriers to access
lawful abortion services provides a useful perspective for the Court to consider. In particular, the European
Court of Human Rights (“ECHR”) has repeatedly held that once a country recognizes that women have a right
to abortion, it cannot adopt a legal framework that limits a woman’s ability to obtain one."
Finally, one amicus brief that has received considerable attention is the brief filed by 113 women lawyers and law students describing the circumstances of their own abortions. Unlike the pseudonymous Roes and Does and Moes that dominate reproductive rights case law, these women are sufficiently well-established and powerful (and indeed, also brave) to put their own names before the Court. Their names matter, since many of these women have reached the highest echelons of the legal profession -- pinnacles that they reached because, they state, they were able to control their own reproductive choices. These women lawyers offer their peers on the Court some insight into real world challenges facing not just low income "other" women, but the very women who argue Before the justices, who work as their clerks, who write the law review articles that they cite, and who are the first line readers and interpreters of the Court's decisions. It remains to be seen if Justice Kennedy will be moved by their stories. But by coming forward, these 113 women may have given women's human dignity a face that the Court will finally recognize.
Thursday, January 14, 2016
“Poetry has a lot to offer a world in crisis — and, in particular, in environmental crisis. For centuries, poets have given voice to our collective trauma: naming injustices, reclaiming stolen language, and offering us courage to imagine a more just world. In a world such as ours, poetry is an act of cultural resilience.” – Melissa Tuckey, “Introduction on Ecojustice Poetry”, Poetry Magazine, January 2016.
I want to gently urge you all to read the January 2016 issue of Poetry Magazine, which is dedicated to ecojustice poetry. The human right to a healthy environment feels clear, alive, and magical when you are in the midst of reading these poems and prose. Sitting in what seems to be the middle of this grey, frigid, winter landscape, finally arrived, I need inspiration to put on the several layers of clothes required to walk outside, let alone inspiration to seek environmental justice for all. While I have never thought of myself as a lover of poetry; it’s growing on me. I appreciate the celebration of language, the oddity of content and structure, the imagery, and the freedom of poetry. Also, I’m learning not to dwell on logic when reading poetry, which seems to be a good lesson for reading emails from my law students as well.
If you don’t know where to start or don’t have time to savor each and every poem, start with From “summer, somewhere” by Danez Smith, which more obviously than others touches directly on race, environment and justice. Maybe then read Crossing a City Highway by Yusef Komunyakaa to see the urban landscape come to life with its subtle references to severe environmental degradation. And don’t miss Water Devil by Jamaal May, who makes me feel like I can reach out and grab the things he is describing.
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
by Margaret Drew and Martha Davis
Last night President Obama gave what was billed as his last State of the Union Address. We review that speech to consider how deeply President Obama incorporated human rights themes into his vision of the American future.
Franklin D. Roosevelt set a high bar for State of the Union speeches in 1941 with his "Four Freedoms" speech. In that speech, President Roosevelt went beyond the Four Freedoms to also identify the foundations of a healthy and strong America: "Equality of opportunity for youth and for others. Jobs for those who can work. Security for those who need it. The ending of special privilege for the few. The preservation of civil liberties for all."
Sound familiar? In large part, the identical foundations were sounded by President Obama, who acknowledged Roosevelt during his own speech. An important difference is that Roosevelt's address was delivered at the beginning of his 3rd term, laying out an agenda that he would champion during the coming years. In contrast, President Obama largely presented these themes as challenges for the future, for the next 5 to 10 years, with few specifics about what his own administration's affirmative contributions might be over the next 12 months.
On the specific human rights challenges facing the nation, the speech was mixed. On one hand, the President identified some human rights goals that were accomplished, such as the Affordable Care Act -- certainly with its flaws, but on a path toward realization of the human right to health. He also praised the nation's contributions to ending the Ebola crisis and moves toward clean energy that help preserve human rights in the long run.
On the other hand, he identified several human rights goals that remain unachieved in the final year of his presidency. He cited the failure to close Guantanamo, as he has in all but one of his State of the Union addresses, but with no new ideas about how to gain its closure. The President also identified criminal justice reform and substance addictions as among the social issues yet to be tackled. A State of the Union address may not be the time for details, but some of President Obama's calls for human rights-related reforms were particularly blurry. For example, what does immigration "reform" encompass? Will fair processes be assured? Will meaningful legal representation be part of reform?
In the speech itself, President Obama followed President Roosevelt's 1941 outline. The first set of future challenges he addressed centered on equality of opportunity. He cited universal pre-K and more affordable higher education, key components of children's human rights and the human right to education. On the second major issue, economic opportunity, the president spoke of wage equity, portability of benefits, paid leave and a higher minimum wage as needed reforms to address a changing workforce and to ensure freedom from want.
Discussing security, President Obama focused internationally rather than domestically. Here, he departed from President Roosevelt's focus on wartime preparations and instead commented on international developments that have a profound effect on international human rights implementation, and indeed, the viability of the international human rights system. He decried isolationism, but at the same time observed that the role of the nation state has declined, and "the international system built after World War II is struggling to keep pace." Again, without offering any specifics, he urged that it is "up to the United States to remake that system." Yet in describing his administration's efforts to eliminate Osama Bin Laden and other terrorist groups and individuals, President Obama glossed over any human rights issues that his approach might raise.
Finally, in perhaps the most effective portion of the address, President Obama followed Roosevelt's lead and turned to "ending the special privilege for the few," and "preserving civil liberties for all." With veiled references to the Koch brothers, the president called for bipartisan efforts to reform campaign finance laws and ensure that elections are not controlled by a few wealthy families. He called on all Americans to champion the fundamental right to vote. And he decried broad political rhetoric that brands individuals based on religion and curbs civil liberties.
There were some notable omissions from President Obama's address. He did not, for example, dwell on issues of race, even though this was a year of significant racial tension in American cities. And he did not utter the phrase "human rights" even one time, though many of the themes that he sounded resonated in human rights terms.
In his first innaugural address, President Roosevelt delivered the famous admonition that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." President Obama's speech, though short on specifics, directly challenged the fears that motivate so many current debates over borders, voting, religious freedom and even social supports and climate change. America's economy is strong, he said, and our military is unsurpassed. President Obama urged us to reject fear, arguing that we are resourceful and creative, and we need not fear diversity. This effort to replace fear with hope as a basis for American domestic and foreign policy may be the biggest contribution that the 2016 State of the Union speech made to the cause of US human rights.
Monday, January 11, 2016
The United Nations Association of the U.S. (UNA-NCA) reports in a recent release:
"The year 2016 will be an important one for the Human Rights Program of the United Nations. Under the agreed rules for the UN's Human Rights Council, the United States will take a year off, without being a member, but will almost certainly be canvassing support for re-election in the fall when UN elections are held. Closer to home, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is expected to establish an office in Washington DC, and the High Commissioner and UN special rapporteurs will undoubtedly face challenges in the Middle East and beyond."
The UNA-NCA is sponsoring an important event to explore US perspectives on the 2016 UN Human Right Program on January 27, 6 - 8 p.m., at American Foreign Service Association, 2101 E Street NW Washington, DC. Key speaker will be here. More information is available
Sunday, January 10, 2016
According to Arizona state legislators some minority women abort fetuses because of their race. In 2011, Arizona passed a law prohibiting an abortion provider from performing an abortion on a woman who wants to abort her fetus because of its race and/or sex. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Arizona arguing that this law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, because it stigmatizes minority women by suggesting that they discriminate against their fetuses (assuming that it is even possible to do that).
But just a few weeks ago, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied the petitioners in the case, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF), their day in court. The Court rejected the appeal on standing even before getting to the constitutional issues, because the ACLU did not bring forth a woman who wanted to abort her fetus due to its race and/or sex. Perhaps because few (if any) such women exist.
It is true that the rate of abortion among African American women is five times higher than among Caucasian American women and for Latina women it is twice as high. Anti-abortion advocates argue that this occurs because abortion providers target minorities for abortion services in an attempt to reduce the number of people of color that are born. On the other hand, pro-choice advocates argue that the disproportionately higher rates are due to a lack of access to and failure to use contraception.
The logic of the Arizona race-selective ban is tortured because it is structured like its more popular cousin, the sex-selective abortion ban, which prohibits women from aborting their fetuses because of its sex. Sex-selective bans have been introduced in over half of the state legislatures in the United States and passed by eight states. On the other hand, Arizona is the only state in the United States that bans both race-selective and sex-selective abortion; eight other states and the United States Congress have considered and rejected race-selective abortion bans (although the majority of the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of both race-selective and sex-selective bans in 2012).
Proponents of sex-selective abortion bans argue that Asian Americans discriminate against the sex of their fetuses and this causes a disproportionate number of abortions of female fetuses. They further incorrectly argue that there are "missing women" in the United States. They then apply this logic to race to argue that race discrimination causes a disproportionate number of minority fetuses to be aborted.
However, the analogy falls apart when the actors with the purported racist and sexist intent are brought into the picture. In the case of sex-selective abortion bans, proponents argue that the sexist beliefs of Asian American parents cause them to obtain the abortions. To the extent sex-selective abortions are occurring in the United States, it would appropriate to argue that they occur because of a parent's desires for a child of a particular sex. On the other hand, it makes no sense to argue that women abort their fetuses because of a particular racial preference of their fetus. Yet, the Arizona law assumes that minority women abort their fetuses because they do not desire to have minority children.
The disproportionate rate of abortions among minority communities in the United States is an important concern that should be investigated, discussed, and solved. The Arizona law is not intended to do that. While it is unlikely that anyone will ever be prosecuted under the Arizona law, the statute itself is offensive. It also strains the patient-doctor relationship. By denying the appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has missed an opportunity to strike down state laws that use racial and gender equality as a ruse to restrict abortion rights.
Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post
Thursday, January 7, 2016
by Jeremiah Ho
It has been evident that within the last century, dignity has become a leveraging point for advancing challenges to human rights violations and restrictions within the law. Its post-Enlightenment, fundamental universality replaced previous versions of humanity and has been regarded as a normative individual entitlement. In addition, the broadness of its meaning and application allows different social movements to carve out particular nuances between the status quo and desired norms. Thus, dignity is a normative.
Even before Obergefell v. Hodges, the anti-gay rhetoric that stole dignity away from sexual minorities for decades was a way in which the denial of their civil rights was justifiable under the law. As others such as Martha Nussbaum have recounted (see Nussbaum, From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation & Constitutional Law 2010), challenges fought in court and state legislatures over gay rights in the past were lost by gay litigants and gay rights advocates partly because the dominant rhetoric against sexual minorities was couched within the politics of disrespect—that, for instance, gays were living in a lifestyle premised on a morally-blameworthy choice or they were susceptible to illnesses or that they practiced sexually-deviant, perverse acts.
To some waning degree, that rhetoric of disrespect still remains and are still being used by opponents of gay rights and marriage equality. But for the most part, we’ve moved toward recognizing that dignity exists in sexual preferences and away from a politics of disrespect. But a good question to ask in the recent shadow of Obergefell is whether the dignity recognized by the Court specifically accorded sexual minorities the respect that they should be entitled to for being who they are or whether the dignity rhetoric in Obergefell stopped short of this view and settled for addressing the respectability of choices of same-sex couples for wanting to participate in marriage. The nuance seems slight but in the age where we recognize micro-aggressions and find assimilationist politics confining, the use of dignity to leverage rights by characterizing it between respectability of choices that a sub-group engages in to fit into the dominant culture (e.g. same-sex couples trying to obtain marriages) is a significant distinction from using dignity to accord the respect that a sub-group deserves based on identity alone.
As we begin 2016 and progress (hopefully) toward nondiscrimination for sexual minorities, respect certainly seems like the winning route to take when it comes to using dignity to speak about elevating the status of sexual minorities to a protected class—whether judicially or legislatively. Respectability, in comparison, has the potential to elongate a conversation where LGBTQ individuals are considered as “the other.” Dignity as respect reframes the discussion away from choices and existence in a way that deprives the dominant culture opportunities to comment, and instead, places the subgroup in a light where such type of judgment is not allowed.
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
In Human Rights in Children’s Literature: Imagination and the Narrative of Law, Todres and Higinbotham identify the ways in which human rights discourse appears in children’s literature, and how children’s books thus teach children about their rights and the right of others. The authors conclude that children’s literature is an “important cultural transmitter” of human rights concepts to children. Todres, a law professor at Georgia State University School of Law (and a co-editor of this Blog), and Higinbotham, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology, base their conclusions, in part, on a study they conducted with school aged children. In the study, they found that kids readily identify and grasp human rights messages contained in the books they read.
The book is prompted by Article 42 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which contains the obligation to make children’s rights “widely known,” as well as social science research indicating that human rights education has a positive impact on learning, civic engagement, and social behavior.
Throughout the book, the authors explore numerous examples of the ways in which both classic and more recent children’s books convey core concepts contained in the CRC. Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! and Yertle the Turtle are examined for the important lessons they impart about dignity, the universality of rights, and children’s right to participation. The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, illustrates the ways in which children’s literature can transmit and teach key human rights principles of best interests of the child and non-discrimination. The book contains counter examples, as well, including Cinderella and Curious George.
Interdisciplinary in its approach, Human Rights in Children’s Literature weaves together children’s rights law, children’s literature, human rights theory, human rights education and research, and literary theory. Chapters within the book are organized around the core rights and principles contained in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, including participation rights, non-discrimination, right to family and identity, children’s civil and political rights, the best interests of the child, and the right to life, survival, and development, among others.
For those working to bring human rights home, the book offers important and unique insights on the role that children’s literature can play in shaping a culture of human rights, near and far.
Tuesday, January 5, 2016
Approximately one-quarter of the U.S. population is restricted from voting in elections, entering freely into contracts, and exercising control over important decisions about their own health. These denials would offend the sensibilities of almost anyone if the population in question were adults, but because they are children, little objection is voiced.
Of course, children are different. The developmental nature of childhood necessitates a more nuanced understanding of children’s rights, balancing protection and care with emerging autonomy. Thus, the liberal rights tradition built on the autonomous individual is at times an awkward fit for children’s rights, especially in the case of young children. However, the fact that children’s rights are different does not mean they are non-existent. Rights are inherent. And too many children in the U.S. experience poverty, homelessness, maltreatment, and exploitation. These rights violations demand a response.
While the United States famously continues to be the only country in the world that has not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, a home-grown effort is underway: a push for a national children’s bill of rights. Last Fall, Representatives Karen Bass (D-CA), Judy Chu (D-CA) and Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) a House Resolution calling for passage of a Children’s Bill of Rights. The Children’s Bill of Rights, which First Focus—a bipartisan organization that advocates on behalf of children and families—has championed, would establish that every child in the U.S. is entitled to measures that ensure their physical, social, and emotional well-being. It also would establish that children are entitled to an education that would enable them to reach their fullest potential and be prepared as adults to contribute to their families and communities.
The Children’s Bill of Rights would cement our commitment to ensure that children have what all (or nearly all) parents would wish for their children anyway: protection from harm, a relationship with caring parents, access to a safe, quality learning environment, and appropriate health care when needed. It deserves everyone’s support.
So with the New Year, perhaps our collective resolution should be to guarantee that no child is left behind—not in the political slogan-sense of the word, but rather undertaking a genuine commitment to reach every child and secure his or her rights. A national Children’s Bill of Rights would be a good start.
Monday, January 4, 2016
Three Ohio legislators plan on filing a bill that would require women who miscarry or abort to cremate or bury the fetus. Significantly, the drafters made no attempt to appear gender neutral. They have placed the burden for cremation or burial exclusively on mothers. Misogyny undisguised. The legislators gave no thought to the trauma that women can experience when miscarriage occurs. Whether an abortion is spontaneous or planned, many women struggle with the often difficult decisions and emotions that surround both. Disregard toward women is exposed in this bill, as is the assumption that women alone are responsible for their pregnancies.
In what appears to be an unintended offense, the bill ignores the reality for many men, as well. Men often participate with their partners in decision making on whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term. Men also suffer when unwanted miscarriage occurs.
The legislators are not original, however, because Arkansas and Indiana have already passed similar laws. The legislators took up the cause once Attorney General Mike DeWine was proven wrong on his claims around Planned Parenthood's fetal donation program. Searching for a way to keep fetus disposal alive as a political issue, these legislators took up the cause in promoting the cremation or burial scheme. DeWine moved on to claims that Planned Parenthood is disposing of fetus in landfills. Planned Parenthood has had enough. The organization obtained an injunction against DeWine from taking any action to block its fetus disposal.
Perhaps these men are unable to see themselves as part of a global anti-female culture. The New York Times reported on the sexual and other violence against Syrian women refugees as they attempt to make a new life in another country. Women are victims of war in ways that men are not, notably because of the sexual violence they experience. Whether the abuse is sexual, physical or legislative, the ultimate impact, if not one goal, is to remove women's control over their bodies and their lives. It is all one.