Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Now Available On-Line: A Major Address by Outgoing UN High Commissioner Zeid

The Jacob Blaustein Lecture delivered by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in October 2017,  is now available on-line, along with an introduction by Felice Gaer, the Blaustein Institute director.   More information about the Blaustein Institute's work is available here.

In the lecture, the High Commissioner asks “What is happening to us?” and expresses dismay about the global retreat from human rights. He criticizes a number of world leaders, including presidents of Russia and China. He cites particular alarm at rhetoric from various Western officials and responds to the remarks by the US president before the UN General Assembly. Zeid characterizes the latter speech as “One part chauvinistic nationalisms. One part balance-of-power swordplay and a crumbling adherence to law…” Observing that “we have been here before,” the High Commissioner suggests that limiting international and domestic policy to security and sovereignty, and failing to include human rights considerations, will lead to calamitous results.

The High Commissioner calls for a robust response to the threats facing human rights today: “What would change the trajectory, would be the existence of a world-wide wave of popular support for universal human rights – pushing, prodding, holding their governments to the mark, and shaking-up the slumbering politicians. We must now intensify, greatly, our advocacy and expand our reach in a manner that is without precedent.”

On August 31, 2018, the four-year term in office of Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein will come to an end.  He did not seek reappointment to a second term.  Applications for the position -- the highest Human Rights officer within the UN -- are now closed, and the world awaits the next steps by the UN Secretary General.


July 31, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 30, 2018

We Have Lost Our Place

When former President Jimmy Carter spoke at a gathering at the Carter Center in Atlanta, he declared that the US had lost its place as a champion of human rights.  "We should be the champion of human rights. We're a superpower, not based solely on military power; part of that definition should be a commitment to human rights."

Echoing what many others have thought, Carter turned his attention to the immigration situation.  "We need a comprehensive bill that has bipartisan support. Immigrants need to have a clear picture of what will happen to them when they come here. Clarification of US law is most important."  Few would argue that an immigration law overhaul is needed.  But before we can reach a bipartisan agreement,  Congress must find the allusive and avoided middle-way.

Mr. Carter is hopeful that we can recover our standing in the human rights community.  But in order to do so, the US must demonstrate a long term commitment to human rights.  

"We still have a chance to restore that position, but if we retain our current position of indifference, we only encourage human rights violators. We have abandoned our position as a government."
In the meantime, at least one international group is considering withdrawing its international meeting from the US because of US human rights violations. The International Aids Conference scheduled to be held in San Francisco in 2020 may be moved to a non-US location.  A growing movement is demanding relocation due to hostile Trump policies, including those that would restrict entry for some attendees.


July 30, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Prof. Posner, If You Don't Know the Answer, Take a Pass

On Wednesday, our post linked to a Houston Chronicle article on family separation that (somewhat gratuitously) quoted University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner, saying “It is hard to think of examples where the U.S. government was influenced by the positions of any international human rights bodies.” 

Since seeing that article, we've been trying to think of counterexamples, and it actually hasn't been too hard at all.  Here are a few, big and small, that we came up with right away.  Use the comment section to let us know if you think of more!

-- The Bush Administration's effort (through executive action) to bring states into compliance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Affairs during the Medellin litigation;

-- the federal government's abandonment of torture during the Obama administration;

-- federal officials' compliance with UN suggestions that they consult more widely in preparing UN submissions by (1) holding consultations with grassroots groups and advocates; and (2) reaching out to state governments to gather information on human rights successes and challenges;

-- U.S. Supreme Court's rulings limiting the death penalty nationwide and citing, in addition to other sources, international law. 

These examples were easy to think of.  And in fact, one of Posner's own colleagues at the U. of Chicago, Vera Shikhelman, has written a series of papers on factors that affect national responses to UN Human Rights Council communications.  

Next time the Houston Chronicle calls, perhaps Posner should do as his students do when they aren't prepared and take a pass.



July 29, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, July 26, 2018

New Political Litmus Test for Americans in UN Jobs?

Foreign Policy magazine has obtained a copy of a new questionnaire being used to vet US applicants for UN jobs.  According to the magazine, the questionnaire is being used to vet personnel well below the diplomatic level, including non-political personnel.  Questions include inquiries about participation in social media, support for political candidates, and  other questions that seem to be crafted to test the applicant's political loyalties.

Impactpool, a job search and coaching site reports, for example, that candidates are requested to “provide hyperlinks to any social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) account past/present” with a note ”that it is better not to go through your accounts and delete posts prior to the vetting process as the offending posts are often recoverable by the press in another form.”  Also, the candidates are being asked if they have “given speeches on a controversial issue” or written an “opinion piece that has appeared in a traditional newspaper.”

Impactpool also reports that the United States isn’t the only country screening their UN candidates’ political views: Russia, Cuba and P.R. China are also conducting similar tests of political loyalty.

July 26, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Are We Great Yet?

The U.S. "zero-tolerance" policy of separating families at the border received widespread condemnation at home and abroad.   The Lawfare blog provided a grim overview of global responses here.

The aftermath, however, is even more chilling, as the government tries -- and in many instances, fails -- to reunite the separated families in order to meet a court-imposed deadline. 

Children are experiencing emotional trauma and irreparable developmental damage.  It increasingly appears that some may be permanently orphaned by the government. 

History will not be kind, and neither will the international community.  Eleven UN Rapporteurs have expressed concern about continued failures to reunify families.  Mexico, Colombia, Honduras, Ecuador, and Guatemala have initiated a complaint against the U.S. before the Organization of American States; in the meantime, an OAS resolution condemned the family separation policy.  A complaint is also pending before the UN Human Rights Council.  This recent post at the Oxford Human Rights Hub sums up the legal and ethical issues that are now part of the U.S.'s  international profile.

July 25, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Hunger Strike by ICE Detainees

Families for Freedom announced last week that ICE detainees had begun a hunger strike to protest inhuman conditions.  Conditions include "nearly nonexistent medical care, inedible food, abuse from facility employees, and exorbitant commissary prices." At least 60 detainees in the Dartmouth, MA facility went on strike with Sheriff Thomas Hodgson minimizing the number of strikers and the length of the strike.  Hodgson's office confirmed that they had disciplined the organizer, or as his office called him, the "ringleader" of the strike.  This strike follows one held a year ago at an Oregon facility holding ICE detainees.  Deplorable conditions were the focus of that strike as well.

The Bristol County MA Sheriff defended high commissary prices calling the purchases "luxury items" and defended what are increasingly high telephone charges.  In the meantime, New York City has eliminated telephone charges for domestic calls for incarcerated individuals.

Hodgson is facing several lawsuits including one by incarcerated mentally ill claiming inhumane jail conditions, including lack of mental health treatment and high suicide rates.   


July 24, 2018 in Immigrants, Margaret Drew, Prisons | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 23, 2018

An Unjust Burden

This past May, the Vera Institute released a report on the treatment of black Americans in the criminal justice system.  The report, written by primary author Prof. Elizabeth Hinton of Harvard University, is entitled An Unjust Burden:  The Disparate Treatment of Black Americans in the Criminal Justice System. No one is surprised at the over representation of black Americans in our criminal systems. 

The report "presents an overview of the ways in which America’s history of racism and oppression continues to manifest in the criminal justice system, and a summary of research demonstrating how the system perpetuates the disparate treatment of black people. The evidence presented here helps account for the hugely disproportionate impact of mass incarceration on millions of black people, their families, and their communities." 

The report traces the history of laws targeting black Americans as well as systemic bias that results in the disproportionate arrest of black men, in particular.  While only ten pages long, the report is packed with information that would serve as an excellent introduction to the effect of bias and deliberate discrimination.  A brief bibliography is included.


July 23, 2018 in Criminal Justice, justice systems, Margaret Drew, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Replacing Rikers Island - A Start for Communities to Design Detention Facilities

 If you had an opportunity to design housing for those who have been convicted of  a crime, what would it look like?  Would there be any need for solitary units, or even bars?  An opportunity to eliminate cages?  Spaces for recreation and education?

More than one prior post on this blog has described the horrors of Rikers Island.  

For those of you living in New York, an important meeting will be held in the Bronx as a part of the Close Riker’s Island Campaign. The meeting organizers will challenge attendees to consider what a new detention facility would look like if designed by community members. The announcement reads:

 Please join us to have a discussion about the Close Riker's Campaign and what it means to the Bronx Community. We would like to hear your thoughts and ideas about the creation of a Bronx borough-based jail. The Bronx is the only borough where a new facility will be built while the other detention centers in the various boroughs (except for Staten Island) will be expanded. What is your vision? What do you feel the Bronx community needs? What are your suggestions for bringing more people together to be part of the decision-making process of what affects our communities? What would a detention center look like if its vision was inspired by the community?


 For more information contact Carmen at 718-508-3440 

Other communities are challenged to convene gatherings to discuss better systems of detention and demand humane conditions.

July 22, 2018 in Incarcerated, Margaret Drew, Prisons | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Trump Effect, Children and The Value of Human Rights Education

Jonathan Todres, returned from his Fulbright semester at University College Cork, has a recent article on the effect of Trump rhetoric on children and their education.  Prof. Todres is a leading human rights advocate with a focus on children and he argues for the necessity (if not urgency) of expanding children's human rights education.  The abstract reads:

"Since launching his presidential campaign, Donald Trump's rhetoric has often been divisive as well as demeaning of selected groups. This article examines the impact of Trump's rhetoric on children and their communities and explores the role that human rights education can play in responding to Trump and forging broader support for human rights. The article reviews the research on human rights education and considers how human rights education can be embedded in broader efforts to educate children. Using children's literature as a case study, the article argues for the importance of mainstreaming human rights education and meeting children where they are, in order to foster greater recognition of and respect for the rights of all individuals."

You may read the full article here.

July 19, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

What Denying Asylum On Grounds Of Domestic Violence Means For Survivors

In the Matter of  A-B-  the government disqualified domestic violence claims as a basis of asylum except on narrow grounds.  Those grounds will be near impossible for most asylum applicants to prove.  The opinion demands that "An applicant seeking to establish persecution based on violent conduct of a private actor must show more than the government’s difficulty controlling private behavior. The applicant must show that the government condoned the private actions or demonstrated an inability to protect the victims."  When police refuse to respond to a domestic violence call or appear at a home after abuse happened and refuse to intervene, the applicant will likely be unable to show malintent on the part of the state. 

In the wake of a letter signed by family law professors to Attorney General Sessions seeking revocation of the A-B- decision,  Nermeen Arastu, Janet Calvo and Julie Goldscheid, of CUNY Law School, have written an op-ed in response to Attorney General Sessions' virtual elimination of domestic violence, or any private violence for that matter, as grounds for asylum.   As the authors state "survivors may not ever be able to bring their legitimate claims and will be summarily sent back to the hands of their persecutors, exposing them to life-threatening harm." 

You may read the entire op-ed here





July 18, 2018 in Gender Oppression, Immigrants, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Bi-Partisan Congressional Commission Urged Continued U.S. Engagement with UN Human Rights Council

In June, the co-chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. Congress sent a letter to the Trump Administration asking that it reconsider U.S. withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council.  Once the withdrawal was announced, the co-chairs, Congressmen Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Randy Hultgren (R-IL), issued a press release to express their deep regret over the move.  According to Representative Hultgren, 

“Leading in the area of human rights has been a part of our history and legacy since World War II.  The United States should continue to set an example by using its influence to strengthen a council in need of moral clarity amid confusion. Historically, we've made a positive impact at the U.N., and we should continue to do so by engaging and building positive relations among member nations.”

The Tom Lantos Commission is the only body in the U.S. Congress that focuses its work on human rights. 

Historically, the Lantos Commission focuses on human rights issues outside of the U.S.  This comment on U.S. withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council is a rare intervention into U.S. human rights policy, indicating that there is a deep bi-partisan concern about the U.S. executive's decision.



July 17, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 16, 2018

Iceland Takes A Seat On The Human Rights Council

You may recall that the US withdrew from the UN's Human Rights Council.  The US term would end on December 31, 2019.  Iceland will replace the US on the Council and serve until the end of the US term.  Iceland was the near unanimous vote for the US replacement (France received one vote.) This is the first time Iceland will serve on the Council.  The Council will meet next in September.

Seats are allocated on a regional basis and the council has 47 members.  

The Human Rights Council's website informs that the Council is an "inter-governmental body within the United Nations system responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them.  It has the ability to discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations."




July 16, 2018 in Global Human Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Populism and International Human Rights Institutions

Growing populism and the role of human rights institutions is very much top of mind for many U.S. human rights activists these days.  Professor Laurence Helfer's recent essay "Populism and International Human Rights Institutes: A Survival Guide," recommends that institutions (and by extension, advocates) strategically adopt a survival mode to ensure the survival and continued relevance of international human rights institutions in the long term.  The full essay, published under the auspices of the Danish iCourts project, is available here.  Here is the abstract:


Confronting recalcitrant and even hostile governments is nothing new for international human rights courts, treaty bodies, and other monitoring mechanisms. Yet there is a growing sense that the recent turn to populism in several countries poses a new type of threat that international human rights law (IHRL) institutions are ill equipped to meet. The concerns range in scope and intensity—from criticisms of specific rulings or legal doctrines, to predictions of backlash against particular courts or review bodies, to warnings that major sections of the institutional edifice of IHRL are in danger of collapse.

Part 1 of this essay identifies several facilitating conditions that have, until recently, supported IHRL institutions. Part 2 considers several distinctive challenges that populism poses to those institutions. Part 3 identifies a range of legal and political tools that might be deployed to address those challenges and explores their efficacy and potential risks. Part 4 concludes that IHRL institutions should adopt survival strategies for the age of populism and it preliminarily sketches what those strategies might look like.


July 15, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Upcoming Meeting in the Windy City

Coming up August 2-5 is the annual meeting of the American Bar Association, this year in Chicago.  Highlights of interest to our readers include several sessions on sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement; sessions on the death penalty, including a keynote speech by Bryan Stevenson; and a series of sessions on the rule of law under attack, looking at the role of the judiciary, of local governments, and of people going about their everyday lives.  The ABA offers reasonable student rates and several levels of pricing.  Registration information is available here.    

July 12, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Bullies at Work: The Breastfeeding Resolution

When Ecuador introduced a World Health Assembly resolution that would promote breastfeeding world-wide, the US objected.  While expected to be routinely passed, the resolution was halted by the surprise objection.  When Ecuador resisted, the US responded with threats.  The US threatened to invoke trade sanctions and threatened to withdraw military aid.  What words did the US object to?  The resolution encouraged countries to "protect, promote and support breastfeeding."

The New York Times speculated that US motivation was to protect US baby formula manufacturers, some of whom were reportedly in attendance. Maybe that was part of the motivation.  But for men who disrespect women, any action that focuses on an exclusively female function raises their anger.   For men so inclined, pregnancy often triggers abuse.  Women report being attacked when breastfeeding or when just holding the children.  Interrupting maternal bonding is a common tactic of men who hate women. 

The US would prefer to interrupt maternal child health and bonding globally.  But then the US met a bigger bully.

When Russia stepped in to sponsor the resolution, the US backed down. 

July 11, 2018 in Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh and Transnational Law

All eyes are now on Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump's latest nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Retiring Justice Kennedy was a leader in looking at transnational law in cases ranging from the legality of the juvenile death penalty to sexual orientation and human dignity.  Will Judge Kavanaugh, who clerked for Justice Kennedy in the 1993-94 term, follow his mentor's lead?  As we continue to dig deeper into Judge Kavanaugh's record, here are three preliminary clues:

First, it's worth noting that Kavanaugh can claim some expertise on international and foreign law through his teaching.  At Harvard and Georgetown, his courses focused on separation of powers and constitutional interpretation, but at Yale in 2011, Kavanaugh taught a course titled "National Security and Foreign Relations Law."

Second, that course was apparently a success, since it spurred at least one Yale student to write a substantial article on treaty interpretation in Medellin v. Texas, titled "Treaty Textualism." In the article, the author thanks Judge Kavanaugh saying "the idea came from him; I merely filled in the footnotes."  The article surveys historical data on framers' ideas of treaty interpretation, looking to discern what meaning should be ascribed to the Supremacy Clause.  Among other things, the author ultimately concludes that the dissenters had the best of the originalist argument in Medellin.

Finally, Judge Kavanaugh served as a clerk for Justice Kennedy during the 1993-1994 term, nearly a decade before Justice Kennedy's most prominent opinions citing international legal authorities.  However, a quick review of Judge Kavanaugh's own opinions on the bench revealed several cases in which he was presented with international law issues, most prominently Doe v. Exxon Mobil, 654 F.3d 11 (D.C.Cir. 2011).  In that Alien Tort Statute case, Kavanaugh dissented when the two other judges on the panel voted to allow the federal ATS claims of injured Indonesian villagers to go forward.  The D.C. Court of Appeals decision was ultimately vacated following a later Supreme Court ATS ruling in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Shell which adopted some of the same rationales as Judge Kavanaugh's dissent.    


July 10, 2018 in Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 9, 2018

Human Rights Movie: Yellow Submarine

Fresh from seeing the restored 50th anniversary Yellow Submarine, I thank the Beatles for their prescience. As we struggle to remain optimistic in an era of separating children from parents, environmental deregulation and disregard of all respect for humans and their habitat, viewing Yellow Submarine was reaffirming in incongruent ways.

As one plot summary notes, the peaceful harmony of Pepperland is shattered when the Blue Meanies invade with their army of storm bloopers and others, including the menacing flying glove, in an attempt to stop the music and drain all color and hope from Pepperland.

The film was released in 1969 at a time of domestic and international turmoil. The Viet Nam war was escalating causing political and intergenerational divisiveness. Democracy was compromised. Withholding truth about the causes of the war and the effectiveness of US intervention resulted in the death of thousands of our citizen soldiers. Efforts to silence civil rights activists contributed to ongoing repression of people of color while young African Americans were the fuel to feed the war beast. The nation was struggling to recover from assassinations that deprived the country of essential leadership.

The Beatles recognized the “meanies” who attempt to control populations by removing all that brings happiness and autonomy to life. The analogy to what is happening in the US today is blatant, making the film relevant beyond what most would have been considered in and after 1969.  There are those whose goal is to deprive others of happiness, but in our era, we are plagued with those who also seek to inflict as much pain as possible upon their targets. Merely showing present destructors the path of love is insufficient to stop the current march toward demolition of dignity. But love remains the answer for those at odds with the Meanies and is the critical ingredient to maintaining a sense of community with each other. Love keeps meaning in our lives as a counterbalance to political despair.

One of the film's many fun features was watching the contributions of Nowhere Man. Initially assessed to be a useless academic, Nowhere Man contributes to the defeat of the Meanies, changing his moniker to “Somewhere Man”.


July 9, 2018 in Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Human Rights Ph.D. Scholarship Opportunities

The Australian Human Rights Institute at the University of New South Wales, Sydney invites applications for four PhD Scholarships focusing on human rights, health and gender.  The School's website informs:

"The search is on for four new PhD scholars of exceptional quality to work on research projects aligned with the Australian Human Rights Institute.

The UNSW Scientia PhD Scholarship Scheme is part of UNSW Sydney’s commitment to harness research to solve complex problems and improve the lives of communities in Australia and overseas.

Under the Scientia Scheme, applicants respond to a specific project with an identified supervisory team, and if successful, will receive unique benefits, individualised support and guaranteed funding to reach their personal development goals."

July 8, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 5, 2018

From Selma to Moscow -- A New Book on US Human Rights Activists and Foreign Policy

Hot off the presses from Columbia University Press is a new book of interest to this blog's readership: From Selma to Moscow: How Human Rights Activists Transformed Foreign Policy.  Here's a link for more information, including a podcast.  The publisher's blurb is below:

From Selma to Moscow

How Human Rights Activists Transformed Foreign Policy



Human rights as a concern in U.S. foreign policy and international politics has been well-documented, particularly in studies of the Carter Administration. However, how human rights emerged as an issue in U.S. domestic politics has received less attention, which is what Sarah Snyder’s From Selma to Moscow: How Human Rights Activists Transformed Foreign Policy (Columbia University Press,  2018) studies and illuminates. Snyder’s research draws on both traditional diplomatic source material from the State Department, but also materials from NGOs and the papers of a number of congressmen who were involved in these issues. Using the framework of the “long 1960s,” Snyder lays bare some of the issues that sparked and sustained growing interest in human rights as a global issue, and the role that Americans ought to play in protecting human rights around the globe.

Snyder points to a variety of factors that cultivated U.S. attention to human rights, particularly transnational connections between foreign and domestic actors, as well as the broader context of the 1960s in the United States, particularly the war in Vietnam and the civil rights movement. She draws on five case studies to lay bare these connections: the Soviet Union, Rhodesia, South Korea, Greece, and Chile. Some of the activism in these case studies was sustained by citizen groups and NGOs such as churches, while in other instances academics, officers within the State Department, or members of Congress directed much of the attention. Snyder then concludes by showing how Congress evolved in this period too, as hearings on human rights led to a number of important institutional changes in government.

Snyder concludes by noting that while interest in human rights surged by 1976, attention has in many respects waned since the 1980s. Attention to these issues is not inevitable and it cannot be sustained without continuing participation from different sectors of civil society. Paying close attention to the ways that these interests were cultivated in the 1970s is one way that the activists of the 21st century might try cultivating awareness of the problems confronting the world today.

July 5, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Human Rights Teaching and Research Tip for the Fourth of July!

So, you have a day off and want to get a jump on your fall term obligations.  Actually, we hope you spend the day relaxing with family and friends, but just in case, we have a tip for you!  Edward Elgar Publishers (no relation to the British composer, we think), is growing their Research Handbooks in Human Rights series.  Two Handbooks are already available -- on HR and the Environment, and HR and Humanitarian Law.  More are in the works, and the publisher is soliciting ideas for additional volumes.  A description of the series is below, and here is a link for more information.  As you prepare for the coming fall term, this forward-looking series is a great resource for HR teaching and new research.

Here's the publisher's description: 
 Elgar Research Handbooks are original reference works designed to provide a broad overview of research in a given field while at the same time creating a forum for more challenging, critical examination of complex and often under-explored issues within that field. Chapters by international teams of contributors are specially commissioned by editors who carefully balance breadth and depth. Often widely cited, individual chapters present expert scholarly analysis and offer a vital reference point for advanced research. Taken as a whole they achieve a wide-ranging picture of the state-of-the-art. Making a major scholarly contribution to the field of human rights, the volumes in this series explore topics of current concern from a range of jurisdictions and perspectives, offering a comprehensive analysis of current research. When relevant the Handbooks include interdisciplinary work in order to shed light on the intersection of human rights with other fields. Edited by leading scholars, each volume offers far-reaching explorations of current issues in human rights that are unrivaled in their blend of critical, substantive analysis, and in their synthesis of contemporary research. Each Handbook stands alone as an invaluable source of reference for students, scholars and practicing lawyers. Whether used as an information resource on key topics or as a platform for advanced study, volumes in this series will become definitive scholarly reference works on the law of human rights.

July 4, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (1)