Thursday, August 30, 2018
As we say good-bye to Senator John McCain, we are comforted by his bravery and the lack of self-pity he displayed at the end of his life. Senator McCain left a farewell letter to Americans. He addressed his pride in being American, and his love of country. He also addressed the global rise in tribalism. Below are some quotes from his letter. The full address may be read here.
We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.
But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before. We always do
Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.
Wednesday, August 29, 2018
Last week, AP released this report:
President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, says the United States will cut funding for the office of the U.N. human rights chief, the administration’s latest blow against the United Nations.
Bolton announced the move against the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which would lose one of its largest donors. The United States is the U.N.’s largest single donor, providing about 22 percent of its budget.
In an interview Thursday, Bolton said U.S. officials would calculate how much of the U.S. annual budget goes to the rights office and the Human Rights Council, a 47-nation U.N.-backed assembly of nations, and reduce its outlay by that amount.
Ex-Chilean President Michelle Bachelet is set to replace Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein as the High Commissioner for Human Rights next month.
Tuesday, August 28, 2018
At the ABA annual meeting this month, panelists were asked to opine on what effect the "America First" policies of the current administration are having on human rights advocates. The speakers were part of a panel "International Human Rights: Law and Policy in the Trump Administration".
One panelist, Elisa Massamino of Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights, noted that there is nothing inherently wrong with an "America First" policy, but the underlying concern is President Trump's refusal to accept a rule-based world order. She noted that the administration has stepped out of the Human Rights Council and is discontinuing State Department Human Rights Reports.
Mary Meg McCarthy of the Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center commented on the administrations disregard of due process for immigrants and refugees. She said "What we're seeing is a brutality, a brazenness, a mean-spirited process that seeks to dehumanize noncitizens and persons of color."
Other comments of human rights concerns are worth reading. In addition, the panelists commented on bright spots coming out of the resistance, including lawyers showing up at airports during the travel ban. You may read more here.
Monday, August 27, 2018
Martha Davis and Risa Kaufman have published an Issue Brief with the American Constitution Society. The Issue Brief is entitled "Truth is Truth: U.S. Abortion Law in the Global Context". The Society's website reads:
"With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court, the fate of reproductive rights is once again at the center of national debate. Abortion opponents have been preparing for a time they might be able to revisit many of the key Supreme Court decisions upholding this fundamental right. To support their efforts, they often point to a report that finds that the United States is more permissive than the majority of other countries with regard to abortion access. In a new ACS Issue Brief, Martha F. Davis, Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Experiential Education at Northeastern University School of Law, and Risa E. Kaufman, Director of U.S. Human Rights at the Center for Reproductive Rights and lecturer-in-law at Columbia Law School, explain how the report and its use of a rudimentary global tally is misleading, inaccurate, and ignores both important protections for women’s health provided by many other countries and the international trend towards liberalization, particularly in Europe. In so doing, Davis and Kaufman provide a more complete understanding of comparative abortion law that will better equip policymakers, judges, and the public when reproductive rights are under attack."
The brief may be read here.
Sunday, August 26, 2018
With the passing of John McCain, the Senate loses the last of its long term members who believed in treating everyone with dignity. He believed in including members of both parties in decision making, voting on principle not partisanship. One of his best friends in the Senate was Joseph Lieberman, an independent and former democrat. He and Vice-President Biden were known to spar politically but also maintain a strong friendship. Senator McCain reached across party lines to work on immigration legislation with the late Senator Ted Kennedy. He cast the deciding vote to preserve the Affordable Care Act. Perhaps his own illness and his acknowledged high quality care influenced his vote and empathy for those who can not afford care without assistance. In addition, Senator McCain opposed the transgender military ban and supported other LGBT rights.
There is no question that Senator McCain loved the United States and was despairing of the current climate of divisiveness.
Having suffered in a POW camp for five and a half years, Senator McCain experienced the worst of torture and knew first hand the seriousness of human rights violations.
Not without his flaws, Senator McCain was known for his flash temper. But he was well loved and known also for his humor, literacy and literary references.
Congress has lost its conscious as well its last effective influence of civility. The hope for cooperation and respect now passes to those who will soon be newly elected as those currently in Congress seem unable to overcome the entrenched hostility.
Thursday, August 23, 2018
Florida's Lowell Correctional Institution for Women is infamous for human rights abuses. Recently a convening was held in Florida giving formerly incarcerated women and their families an opportunity to tell Justice Department investigators of the brutalities they experienced at the prison at the hands of the guards. They described rape, assault and drug smuggling by officer as routine.
The investigation into possible constitutional violations began in July . Lowell has the second largest women's population in the country. One family reports that their daughter is verbally and physically attacked by corrections officers. The Miami Herald helped expose the human rights violations in a report Beyond Punishment. The paper followed up reporting on the meeting that occurred with Federal Investigators.
"DOJ representatives said they are focusing on whether the Florida Department of Corrections has ignored, covered up or dismissed widespread complaints of sexual misconduct by officers, administrators and staff." One woman reported being in isolation for 65 days following a report of sexual assault by a corrections officer. This punishment for reporting assault is common in many women's prisons.
Laura Cowell, an attorney with the Justice Department, said that the inquiry was not a criminal one. She said that should violations be found DOJ would work with prison officials to address "deficiencies". Leaving unanswered why the investigation is not criminal and what power will DOJ have in stopping the abuses without the power of arrest. Attorney Cowell tried to assure the audience "that retaliation would not be tolerated by the Department of Justice, pointing out that it is against the law for anyone to impede a federal investigation." So is sexual assault, drug distribution and other horrors going on inside Lowell.
Wednesday, August 22, 2018
Human Rights Watch has just published an extensive report on the human rights at stake in the current debate over Brett Kavanaugh's nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court. The report, available here, examines opinions Kavanaugh issued during his 12 years on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit and his speeches and writings throughout his career. According to Human Rights Watch, "[i]t demonstrates reason to be concerned about his record on a number of issues including abortion rights; healthcare; freedom of expression; due process, especially in the national security context; accountability for police and other government abuse; the need for limits to mass warrantless government surveillance; and net neutrality." HRW adds that Kavanaugh "also appears not to accept the important principle that international human rights law should be seen as relevant when interpreting certain US law. "
Tuesday, August 21, 2018
Watching youth at protests and advocating for the marginalized gives me great hope. My experience is that many young, including law students, are awakened to human rights violations whether existing or encroaching, because of the disregard of dignity experienced in the current political and social climate. While many are empowered to say and do hateful things, many are committed to protecting the marginalized.
Several organizations are devoted to educating youth about human rights. Youth for Human Rights International was formed in 2001 with a mission of educating youth about human rights and specifically the Universal Declaration of human Rights. YHRI uses videos for teaching (which may be watched on their website) as well as curricula and youth activities.
YHRI's website has several resources for human rights educators. A (free) human rights kit is available to educators who teach human rights to youth ages 10 - 17. A separate kit is available for those who teach youth over age 17.
Monday, August 20, 2018
On September 13-14, 2018, in Atlanta, Georgia, the Coca-Cola company will host the Engaging Business Forum Representatives from NGOs, the UN, and business leaders will spend two days discussing issues such as corporate responsibilities to human rights defenders and fair wages in the supply chain.
Here's the description of the Forum from the organizers:
"The Engaging Business Forum series provides a unique opportunity for a candid discussion between business leaders and other experts on the importance of the corporate responsibility to respect human rights and the challenges faced by business in demonstrating respect for human rights in their business operations. At this year’s forum, participants will come away with a deeper understanding of collaboration through partnerships to address business and human rights trends and developments. A variety of cutting-edge issues in this important field will be covered from different viewpoints."
Registration is open and is available here.
Sunday, August 19, 2018
Some women, through the example of their own lives, inspire us to put down our iphones and demand more of ourselves than just tweeting here and there. Arvonne Fraser, who passed away on August 7 at age 92, was just such a person. Early on, she ran her husband's successful political campaigns and headed his staff while he was served as mayor of Minneapolis and later in Congress. All the while, she took individual actions to change the culture, including bringing gender equity to his staff. By the 1970s, she wanted to step out of the limited role of political wife and helpmate. She served as national president of the Women's Equity Action League, which focused on economic equity for women. Fraser also recognized clearly that women's rights are human rights. Under President Carter, she served as director of the Office of Women in Development at the U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. representative to the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
In a 2011 interview reflecting on her career, Fraser bemoaned the obscurity of women's history: "We just have to get more of this history down because I'm a firm believer that progress generates progress . . . [and] the lack of women's history disempowers women."
Though we mourn her passing, Fraser's impact can live on in our own actions and the power of her history to inspire and teach. It's up to us to take up the baton. In announcing a celebration of her life scheduled for August 30 in Minneapolis, Fraser's family wrote, "If you want to honor Arvonne, please don't send flowers or cards. Instead, go out and organize for a cause, donate to and volunteer for candidates, read the news and talk to your family, friends and neighbors and elected officials about important issues."
Thursday, August 16, 2018
The ACLU has published its report on Judge Kavanaugh's record in the area of civil rights and civil liberties. The report addresses human rights issues from pp. 4-9. Based on this detailed analysis, the ACLU summarizes Judge Kavanaugh's record as follows:
Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Challenging a Climate of Hate - As the Federal Government Steps Back, State and Local Governments Must Step In
JoAnn Kamuf Ward, Lecturer in Law, Columbia Law School & Director, Human Rights in the U.S. Project, Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute
This year’s rally drew far fewer participants than last year, meaning fewer messengers of racism and hatred. Opponents of hate, including organizers from around the country, were there in numbers that dwarfed rally attendees, highlighting a vigilant rejection of public demonstrations of hate. This is critical because we know that hateful rhetoric is deeply connected to increased hate violence and racially motivated intimidation.
The violence that took place in Charlottesville last year drew global attention. The UN CERD Committee weighed in, calling on the United States to take action to “address the root causes of the proliferation of such racist manifestations,” and promote understanding, tolerance, and diversity between ethnic groups.” In domestic circles, President Trump was also much maligned for his failure to immediately condemn the violence or to show leadership amidst the racial turmoil. This year, the President again failed to condemn the actions or messages of white supremacists.
One year after Charlottesville, the current administration continues to fan the flames of the hate. Trumps’ rhetoric is infused with racism and discrimination – not surprising, as he has derided African Americans and expressed deep anti-semitism for the entirety of his professional career. His Administration’s policies have put racism, as well as anti-immigrant and anti-muslim sentiment into practice. The travel bans and efforts to separate immigrant children from their families are just two of the most egregious examples.
Less attention has been paid to how the Administration is dismantling programs designed with the express purpose of preventing bias, discrimination, and hate. The Trump budget proposal for 2019 effectively eliminates the DOJ Community Relations Service, which was created by the 1964 Civil Rights Act to do just that. CRS does not prosecute or investigate acts of hate, it is focused on affirmative efforts to build community and tolerance, and combat discrimination. As civil rights groups have noted, the loss of CRS will negatively impact communities most vulnerable to hate crimes and bias. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights criticized the cuts, highlighting how they “reduce the federal role even in serving as a critical backstop against harm to vulnerable Americans.”
Eliminating racial discrimination, preventing acts of hate, bias, and discrimination, and promoting tolerance are GOVERNMENT obligations. These are obligations the United States has formally committed to by ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination in 1994, and which the current administration has chosen to ignore. While the U.S. was due to report on its CERD compliance last year, the Trump Administration has obstructed further scrutiny of its human rights record by ignoring even its basic obligation to produce a report for review by UN experts.
As the federal government flouts its human rights obligations, it is imperative that states and localities step in to respond to the climate of hate, bias, and intimidation unfolding across the United States. Indeed, human rights obligations apply not only to the federal government, but to states and localities as well.
The CERD Committee has offered significant guidance on ways that the United States can make good on its human rights commitments and address the persistence of discriminatory attitudes and outcomes through law and policy reform. The Committee has called on the United States to strengthen and expand existing mechanisms to monitor human rights at the federal, state, and local levels. The CERD has also emphasized the importance of awareness-raising, and the collection of disaggregated data collection in order to generate greater understanding of the impacts of discrimination and generate more effective solutions.
State and local human rights agencies, many of which were initially established in the 1940s to specifically address racial tensions and promote equal opportunity, and whose primary functions are to monitor and enforce compliance with domestic anti-discrimination laws, are uniquely well-placed to heed the guidance from CERD and provide a positive counterweight to federal inaction on bias, discrimination, and hate.
We see this from New York City Human Rights Commission, which launched an #IAmMuslim Campaign. And in Seattle, where the Seattle Office for Civil Rights that developed a city-wide “Bias Hurts” campaign. These initiatives track discrimination, bring communities together to prevent escalation, and foster tolerance.
Across the country, local human rights commissions serve an array of functions that align with human rights norms. They prevent discrimination, enforce civil anti-discrimination law, make policy recommendations, and foster positive community relations. They are also already interlocutors on the global human rights stage, and they have increasingly integrated international human rights standards into their work. Later this month, state and local human rights agencies will meet with the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Tendayi Achiume at their annual conference.
With adequate resources and support, state and local agencies can leverage core human rights principles to challenge the current climate of fear and hate. They can use CERD as guidance in policy work, to conduct community outreach, and to enhance local data collection efforts, building on their strong history of strengthening civil and human rights protections.
The recommendations found here are detailed further in a recent article, Challenging a Climate of Hate and Fostering Inclusion: The Role of U.S. State and Local Human Rights Commissions. The article is part of an entire issue of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review dedicated to innovations and challenges in state and local human rights implementation. The Issue includes pieces on struggles to advances access to sanitation in Alabama; developments in localizing the Sustainable Development Goals in US cities; design challenges in implementing human rights at the city level, and lessons learned from complementary efforts to advance human rights locally in Europe. The issue also features insights from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. As many advocates pivot to state and local advocacy, it’s a timely read.
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Announcing an exciting conference, Sept. 28-29 in Atlanta: Seeking Justice Beyond our Shores: The Case for U.S. Ratification of the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR. Event co-sponsors are the National Judicial Conduct and Disability Law Project, Inc.; The Rod Logal Center for Justice; United Nations Association of Atlanta; and the United Nations Association, Council of Organizations.
The organizers say:
"As part of our Opt IN USA campaign, you are cordially invited to join what we anticipate will be a panel of leading human rights advocates discussing in relation to their respective constituents, the impact and implications, if any, of America having not yet ratified the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR. The conference will also include brief talks collectively: proposing objectively discernible, structural gaps in America’s legal system as they relate to rights protection; recalling the history of interbranch comity in our country; asserting constitutional infirmities in the regulation of speech among U.S. legal professionals; and suggesting if not establishing how all of this impedes U.S. court officers in responding “effectively and consistently to human rights violations and abuses”. Each conference talk will be followed by full panel input through questions and/or comments."
Registration information is available here.
Monday, August 13, 2018
The UN Global Compact will be offering a short webinar on SDGs and corporate reporting -- in English on August 30, and in Spanish on September 6.
Specifically, the webinar will lay out:
- Three practical steps to integrating the SDGs into corporate reporting
- Established disclosures that businesses can use to report on the SDGs
- Ways to align corporate reporting on the SDGs with investors’ information needs
More information, including registration, is available here.
While you're on the Global Compact website, check out the other resources and action items, including this Open Letter to academic institutions demanding that future managers and leaders be educated on business and human rights.
Sunday, August 12, 2018
Last week, the American Psychological Association voted to stand firm against torture and to continue their opposition to military psychologists' work with Guantanamo detainees. Proponents of relaxing the ban argued that ready availability of military psychologists would be beneficial to the detainees who might seek counseling. However, the policy was initially implemented in 2015 when it was revealed the military psychologists had participated in aspects of detainee torture. Now, with a President who has spoken approvingly of waterboarding,a CIA Director who personally oversaw torture during her previous posting at a black hole site, and a U.S. Supreme Court nominee who views torture favorably, the solid majority of the APA felt that it was not the right time to relax the prohibition. Psychologists from independent agencies such as the Red Cross would be ethically permitted to offer counseling services at Guantanamo under the current APA policy, but the US has refused to give those professionals access to the facility.
Juan Méndez, the former United Nations special rapporteur on torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, was among the human rights leaders who spoke out against a change in policy. He said in a statement, “The current military restriction on access to independent psychologists at Guantánamo is itself a violation of international law. For the APA to weaken its ethical standards to accommodate this violation is to acquiesce in the continued violation of the rights of the detainees.”
As recently as December 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture relayed reports that torture was in continued use at Guantanamo.
Thursday, August 9, 2018
Local and state human rights agencies are on the front lines of human rights struggles in the US, and in many instances, they are the government agencies that are speaking out and holding the line against encroaching racism and other human rights violations.
The International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies will hold its annual conference from August 26-30 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The theme for the conference, which brings civil and human rights professionals from the US and Canada, is: “IAOHRA: Advancing the Civil and Human Rights Agenda; the Fierce Urgency of Now.” Registration information is available here.
The agenda for the meeting is posted on the registration site. Plenary speakers include E. Tendayi Achiume, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance; and Catherine Lhamon, Chair, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Breakout sessions address topics such as fair housing, implicit bias, and local human rights initiatives.
Kudos to the conference organizers for connecting the dots between local and the international human rights in this area!
Wednesday, August 8, 2018
Michelle Bachelet, former president of Chile and head of UN Women, has been nominated to be the new UN High Commissioner on Human Rights. Bachelet, who lived in Bethesda, Maryland for two years in her youth, has a long history of work on economic and social rights, including economic inequality, health inequities, and women's rights. She has also been a leader in eliminating torture. Her appointment will require a vote of UN membership.
Tuesday, August 7, 2018
There's still time to consider a Fulbright grant to Sweden!
While the application deadline for most of the Fulbright U.S. Core awards was August 1, 2018, a select number of opportunities remain open for new applications until Wednesday, September 12. The full list of open Core awards can be found in the Catalog of Awards. In the Sweden, the Fulbright program is still accepting applications for the following human rights-focused award:
Fulbright-Lund University Chair in Public International Law
This four- to nine-month award offers affiliation at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and/or Lund University. The chair will teach at the master's level in human rights, international law, international organizations, civil and political rights, humanitarian law, refugee law, minority and indigenous rights and international labor standards. The chair may also teach human rights training courses in Lund on topics such as civil and political rights, good governance and anti-corruption efforts and human rights of women, and supervise master's students in their thesis research and writing. The Chair may also participate in collaborative research and teach at the Faculty of Law at Lund University.
A letter of invitation should not be sought for this award.
Editor's Note (MD): This is a fantastic position at a vibrant institute that combines top-notch academic research with meaningful programmatic human rights work worldwide. Beyond your own research and writing, there are many opportunities to work with staff in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and elsewhere. To top it off, if you have kids to bring along, Sweden is supremely family-friendly. Don't put it off another year! Or if you are going to put it off, at least share this with someone who can take advantage of the opportunity this year!
Monday, August 6, 2018
In what appears to be a universal phenomenom, mothers who raise allegations that the father is abusing her or the children are often not awarded custody and even less so if the mother alleges sexual abuse. The mothers are accused of "alienating the children from the father.
Jenny Birchall and Professor Shazia Choudhry, of Women’s Aid and Queen Mary University London released a report this past May on how women abused by their male partners fare in court. The findings are frighteningly similar to the experiences of US abuse victims and research recently conducted by Joan Meier of George Washington University.
The British researchers said "The research highlights the damaging effects of a toxic combination: a lack of understanding of the dynamics of domestic abuse along with incorrect interpretations of human rights. This combination contributes to what survivors tell us is their most common experience of family courts: an acutely negative and traumatising one."
"A common finding was that survivors in our sample felt that evidence of domestic abuse was not taken seriously by the courts and other professionals involved in the child contact process, and that the dynamics and impact of domestic abuse were not understood. This led to potentially unsafe decisions on child contact being made, and survivors of domestic abuse being placed in dangerous and frightening situations, including cross-examination by their ex-partners in court." The researchers discuss gender bias, stereotyping and allegations of parental alienation.
The authors suggest an investigation into the family courts. "We are therefore calling for an independent statutory inquiry, equipped with the necessary resources to conduct an in-depth examination of the family courts’ handling of domestic abuse." The authors include as part of that review the violation of human rights of the non-abusive family members.
At a later time, we will review the findings of Joan Meier who conducted extensive research into parental alienation allegations in family court and the consequences for the non-abusive parent and her children.
Last week, two Special Rapporteurs -- one from the UN and one from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights -- issued an unusual joint statement condemning President Trump's verbal assaults on the media and urging the administration to stop its efforts to undermine a free press. The two experts, David Kaye and Edison Lanza, are the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression for their respective international bodies.
“These attacks run counter to the country’s obligations to respect press freedom and international human rights law,” the experts said. “We are especially concerned that these attacks increase the risk of journalists being targeted with violence.”
Further, “[w]e stand with the independent media in the United States, a community of journalists and publishers and broadcasters long among the strongest examples of professional journalism worldwide. We especially urge the press to continue, where it does so, its efforts to hold all public officials accountable.”
The experts encouraged all media to act in solidarity against the efforts of President Trump to favour some outlets over others.