Sunday, May 8, 2016

Ten Years Later: The Status of the United Nations Human Rights Council

By design, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. Congress focuses on foreign affairs, and not on human rights issues within the U.S.  But sometimes the domestic and the international overlap, as is the case in the Commission's upcoming hearing to examine the current functioning and effectiveness of the UN Human Rights Council.  The hearing will be held on May 17, 2016, at 2 p.m., at a location to be determined. More information is available here.

Confirmed witnesses include Ambassador Keith M. Harper, Representative of the United States to the United Nations Human Rights Council; Ms. Erin M. Barclay, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organizational Affairs, U.S. Department of State; Mr. Scott Busby, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State; Dr. Mark P. Lagon, President, Freedom House; Mr. Ted Piccone, Senior Fellow in the Project on International Order and Strategy, Brookings Institute; Mr. Hillel Neuer, Executive Director, U.N. Watch; and Mr. Marc Limon, Executive Director, Universal Rights Group.

In announcing the hearing, the Commission offered the following background:

On March 15th, 2006, the United Nations General Assembly voted to replace the  controversial 60-year-old U.N. Commission on Human Rights, criticized for being bureaucratic, focusing only on the human rights of developing countries, and allowing membership by states with deplorable human rights records, with a new body, the UN Human Rights Council.  The Council, which was launched with high expectations, struggled in its early years to overcome the Commission’s legacy and chart a path in support of the global application of universal rights and freedoms.  It was in the context of this struggle that President Obama decided in 2009 that the United States would seek election to the Council, in order to promote a “…balanced, credible, and effective UN Human Rights Council.”

Seven years later, the United States has completed two active terms on the Council that featured new country-specific action on Iran, Syria, Burma, DPRK, among others, and a renewed focus on universality, including freedoms of expression and assembly.  Still, some continue to accuse the Council of an anti-Israel bias and membership continues to be problematic. This hearing will examine the successes and shortfalls of U.S. engagement with the U.N. Human Rights Council, its current forms of operation and priorities, and possible options for reform that would help the Council more effectively achieve its original mandate.   

This hearing will be open to members of Congress, congressional staff, the interested public and the media. For any questions, please contact Isaac Six (for Rep. Pitts) at 202-225-2411, Kimberly Stanton (for Rep. McGovern) at 202-225-3599

May 8, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Hidden Human Cost of the Flint Water Crisis

Imagine finding out that the contamination of your water was deliberate.  And the perpetrator was your local government.   Much more is at stake beyond the already significant physical health risks that the contamination brings.  Along with the potential, if not likely, short and long term health conditions the water brings, comes the knowledge that those on whom you rely for that element most critical to life cannot be relied upon.  

The residents of Flint are experiencing mental health problems as a direct consequence of the contamination.  In addition to the uncertainty of accessing safe water, residents experience isolation as friends and family stop visiting, reluctant to expose themselves and loved ones to the risks.  Children are experiencing anxiety resulting from exposure to frequent discussion of the crisis.  Some are experiencing guilt resulting from the inadvertent exposure of their children to the contaminated water.

Mental health counsellors have organized centers such as the Flint Community Resilience Group  to assist residents experiencing depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions. 

Michigan State University School of Social Work has a website updating the public on the crisis and available resources.




May 5, 2016 in Environment, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Update: Review of U.S. by CRC Committee Upcoming

by Jonathan Todres

Although the United States stands alone as the only country that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), it has ratified two of the three Optional Protocols to the CRC – one on sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography and the other on the involvement of children in armed conflict.  And the time has come for the U.S. government to be reviewed again under the Optional Protocols. The formal session with the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child and the U.S. government is set for May 2017. While that might seem far away, the U.S. government has already submitted its report (available here) on both optional protocols to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child.  For NGOs working on these issues, the deadline for alternative reports is July 1, and the Pre-Sessional Working Group with NGO representatives is scheduled for October 3-7, 2016. ECPAT-USA is again coordinating the lead alternative report under the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children.  Similar efforts are underway on the Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict.

As noted in a previous blog, the review process presents a critical opportunity to advance law, policy, and programs aimed at ensuring children’s rights and well-being.

As the process evolves and, ultimately, as post-review action gets underway, I will continue to provide updates.

May 3, 2016 in Convention of the Rights of Children, Jonathan Todres | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 2, 2016

Human Rights at Sea

Last week, the UN's World Maritime University in Malmo, Sweden, and the University of Genoa co-hosted a symposium on Migration at Sea.  Topics ranged from the role of merchant ships in rescue operations to refugee reception procedures in the Mediterranean to smugglers in Africa and information hubs in Singapore.  A highlight was learning more about a new organization, Human Rights at Sea, founded by a British maritime barrister in 2014.  Among other things, Human Rights at Sea takes on the treatment of refugees on the seas, labor rights of seamen, and business and human rights issues raised by unsustainable fishing practices.  

Though many of the presenters were focused on migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean, the US Coast Guard was represented at the conference as well, with a knowledgeable speaker who discussed US operations in the Caribbean.  The US had a number of "best practices" to share, including bilateral agreements with source countries that ensure open lines of communication when problems arise.  Still, after a day of European speakers talking about refugee rights, and refugees' exploitation by smugglers and traffickers, there were quiet gasps in the audience when the US Coast Guard speaker clicked through to a slide labeled "The Migrant Threat," with the insignia of US Department of Homeland Security in the corner.  The conference moderator quickly pointed out the clear difference in orientation between the US and the other countries represented at the meeting.  

For Americans in the audience, it was a reminder that Human Rights at Home in the US must include US practices at sea.









May 2, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Financial Cost of Hate

by Jeremiah Ho

Jeremiah Ho's faculty portrait.

The fall-out from the North Carolina anti-LGBT bill seems to continue. With the numerous businesses taking their ventures out of the state (including notables such as PayPal and Angie’s List) and big-name entertainers (Bruce Springsteen, the band Pearl Jam, and Ringo Starr) cancelling shows in North Carolina, the question of the economics of the business backlash is obviously inevitable.  According to a PBS Newshour’s piece that aired this week, the economic backlash based on cancelled conventions has cost the state at least $8 million dollars.  That’s not chump change, given that the bill (HB2) was passed only within the last two months.

The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law recently weighed in on the answer to the fiscal question for such anti-LGBT legislation—this time examining the fiscal impact of the Tennessee anti-LGBT bill (HB 2414) and the costs beyond the boycotts and backlash of private businesses. Instead, the Institute released a report this month that examines the fiscal impact from an administrative angle.  In sum, the researchers note that there are three major areas in which there would be negative financial impact to Tennessee with the bill in effect.  First the study notes that there might be a loss of federal educational funding of up to $1.2 billion annually as a result of Title IX violations.  Secondly, the loss of federal contracts to educational institutions could rise up to $3 million to $9 million annually as a result of violations of Executive Order 13672, which prohibits federal contractors that receive more than $10,000 in federal contracts annually from discriminating against their employees and job applicants based on gender identity.  Lastly, there likely will be costs incurred as a result of litigation and federal administrative enforcement.  The report can be found here.

If the report is accurate, then are these costs that both the citizens and the state of Tennessee will tolerate because of legislative intolerance? Is this a worthy cost of fear and hate?  

May 1, 2016 in Economics, Jeremiah Ho, LGBT, Transgender | Permalink | Comments (0)