Sunday, March 31, 2019

Universal Declaration of Human Rights Turns 70 - A Columbia Celebration

Image1The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is 70 years old.  On April 3 Columbia Law School will honor the anniversary of the signing with a panel discussion and the unveiling of a donated bust of Eleanor Roosevelt.  One of Mrs. Roosevelt's granddaughters Laura Roosevelt will be in attendance and add commentary. 

The panel session will review the implementation of the declaration and look forward to what remains to be done.

The website explains:  Seventy years ago, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Drafted under Chairwoman Eleanor Roosevelt, the UDHR inaugurated the modern international human rights system. This panel discussion explores past accomplishments and future challenges of human rights under the UDHR. The anniversary will also be marked by the unveiling of a bust of Eleanor Roosevelt, gifted to Columbia Law School in recognition of her contribution to human rights. 

The session will be held from 6:30 to 8 in Jerome Green Hal.  Further information may be found here.   

March 31, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Police Violence Against Afro-Descendants in the United States

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recently issued its report on police violence against African Americans in the United States.   Approved in November 2018, the report assesses structural discrimination against African-Americans with a particular focus on "deepseated racial disparities in policing and the criminal justice system".  The IACHR notes that concerns that the long-standing violence against African Americans raises a larger concern with US failure to enforce international human rights norms.  

The report goes beyond assessment of violation of individual civil and human rights. The report includes a history of the race discrimination in the US as well as examining "modern structural discrimination" and over-policing.  

The IACHR press release notes that the report's "conclusions are perhaps most succinctly expressed in a note on the cover art, which reads, “the United States has systematically failed to adopt preventive measures and to train its police forces to perform their duties in an appropriate fashion. This has led to the frequent use of force based on racial bias and prejudice and tends to result in unjustified killings of African Americans.”


March 28, 2019 in Criminal Justice, IACHR, Margaret Drew, Police, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

UN Experts Attack the Role of Private Investment in Pushing Tenants out of Affordable Housing

On Tuesday, UN human rights experts issued a statement condemning the “egregious” business practices of giant private equity and investment firms which are scooping up low income and affordable homes around the world, upgrading them, and substantially raising rents, forcing tenants out of their own homes.  

Recognizing the central role that private investing plays in these developments, Leilani Farha, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, and Surya Deva, Chairperson of the Working Group on business and human rights, wrote to one of the world’s largest investors in residential real estate, the Blackstone Group L.P.  The experts expressed serious concerns that the Blackstone Group's actions are inconsistent with international human rights law with respect to the right to housing and its responsibility to respect human rights under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

At the same time, the experts have been critical of the role that governments have played in permitting these private actors to profit from actions that create displacement and homelessness.  Of particular interest in the U.S., the experts sent a letter to the U.S. government reminding it of its human rights obligations. 

More information is here

March 27, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Women, War and Peace

This week PBS ran a two part story addressing the role of women in peacemaking on a national level.  More segments are to come.

Part I addressed the role of women in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland coming together to be involved in the peace discussions ending the many years of "The Troubles".  Women leaders are interviewed in the documentary and their reflections on their roles brings an important perspectives to events.  Their efforts were minimized by the men in power who dismissed the suggestion that Sinn Fein be brought to the table.  Ultimately though, the women recognized that lasting peace would be impossible without the rebels at the table.  Even the Clinton administration "forgot" to invite the women to the White House when all parties to the talks were brought together.  Hillary Clinton met with the women and thanked them for their efforts.  Thereafter the women received acknowledgment as part of the peace talks.

Part II addresses women's protests and fights for change in Egypt.  Women marched and protested before and during the Arab Spring but it was when the Arab Spring arrived that men were aggressively silencing women.  Of the women arrested for protesting, at least a third were subject to "virginity" tests.  One mob used a woman demonstrator's headscarf to strangle her.  Despite the horrific tactics used to silence Egyptian women, many carried on underground.  

Additional documentaries are part of the series.  These are stories of courageous women.  Excellent models for being brave in challenging times.

Click here for a link to the PBS website on Women, War and Peace.



March 26, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 25, 2019

BHRH 2019 Conference

On April 12th, the Bringing Human Rights Home Network will hold its annual conference.  The event is co-sponsored with the Columbia Human Rights Institute and others.  This year's topic is Securing Fundamental Human Rights & Challenging Criminalization of Poverty.  The event is free for public interest attorneys including academics.  Topics include the criminalization of homelessness as well as leveraging human rights strategies.  The event will be held at Skadden Arps in NYC.

To register, click here.  For a look at the interesting agenda, click here.


March 25, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Compassionate Cities

Cities are increasingly developing productive and potentially powerful coalitions to recognize human rights -- including Human Rights Cities, Cities for CEDAW, Welcoming Cities, and C40 Cities, to name a few.  What can another alliance, Compassionate Cities, add to the mix? 

On the one hand, an emphasis on compassion might seem to undercut the idea of rights, relying as it does on the idea of kindness and selflessness rather than entitlements.  On the other hand, perhaps Compassionate Cities recognize that the human rights revolution is not just a matter of law, but also requires a cultural shift. 

Compassionate Cities are communities that have adopted the Charter for Compassion and are taking steps to implement it locally.  Among other things, the Charter for Compassion concludes that:

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

In addition to existing as a founding document, the "Charter for Compassion" also serves as an umbrella for a network of compassionate communities.  Over 70 local communities worldwide have declared themselves to be Compassionate Cities, including quite a few U.S. cities -- from Syracuse,  New York, to Richardson, Texas to Springfield, Missouri, and Appleton, Wisconsin.   Some task forces also exist at the state level -- for example, California has a Compassionate California Task Force.

Notably, the Charter for Compassion addresses human rights in its writings and explicitly endorses the rights-based SDGs. 

In short, despite different emphases between Human Rights Cities, Compassionate Cities, and so on, there seems to be great potential for bringing these city-based movements together for more strategic sharing and coordinated actions.  


March 24, 2019 in Martha F. Davis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 21, 2019

World Water Day and the Human Right to Water: Knowledge is Power

To mark World Water Day on Friday, March 22, 2019, Northeastern Law School's Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy has released a new publication, The Human Right to Water: Using Freedom of Information Laws to Understand Rising Water Rates. 

The report is designed as a guide to investigating local water policies. Water prices are rising dramatically across the country, often linked to aging infrastructure and extreme weather events.  Low income consumers are suffering, but it is not easy to find out what sort of affordability plans, if any, are offered by local municipalities. Using Freedom of Information laws, concerned individuals can start learning about their local water policies and push for more equitable approaches to price-setting.

International World Water Day is an initiative of the the United Nations and is held annually on March 22 as a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. The theme for World Water Day 2019 is “Leaving no one behind,” which is the central promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: as sustainable development progresses, everyone must benefit. Learn more about World Water day at


March 21, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Distinguish Yourself!: Human Rights and Science Essay Competition

The Association for the Advancement of Science is sponsoring a human rights and science essay competition open to undergraduates and graduate students.  According to the organizers, the goal of the competition is to inspire students to explore connections between human rights and science, engineering, and the health professions.  The submission should be in the form of an analytical or critical paper that raises thought-provoking questions. More information is available here.   Note that the competition closes on April 30.

March 20, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Big Brother Is, In Fact, Watching

by Dina Francesca Haynes, Professor of Law with New England Law School in Boston.  She teaches and practices in the areas of immigration, constitutional and international law.

Image1The US government is tracking people who oppose its unlawful and inhuman practices.  In February of 2019, I filed Communiques with UN Special Rapporteurs, asking for their intervention with the US government.  UN human rights mechanisms are a last resort, utilized when a person’s own government is harming them, and refuses requests for transparency about their abuses of power.  The Commmuniques I filed alleged that the US government is abusing law enforcement and international security databases for the purpose of harassing, threatening and preventing the travel of immigrant rights defenders.  The Communiques alleged 37 separate accounts of the US government stopping, detaining, interrogating, harassing, libeling and searching and copying the electronic devices of immigration lawyers, advocates and journalists.
In March of 2019, outlets broke the news that the US government is, indeed, tracking and keeping lists of immigration activists.  NBCNews published a “list,” allegedly leaked by someone within US Customs and Border Protections, showing photos and information about at least 30 immigration activists, lawyers and journalists.  Other news outlets followed with similar stories.  But these are certainly not the only “lists” being kept by the government, as most of the people in the Communiques were not in the leaked list.  In fact, the same week in March yet another story broke, stating that the US government was tracking, photographing and creating lists of protesters at rallies.  
It should be unfathomable that the US government would be permitted to use databases designed to keep the nation secure and to prevent and thwart international organized crime for the illegitimate purposes of chilling the speech and the activities of people who opposes its unlawful practices.  But this is where we are.  The lawyers listed in the Communiques, who used this international mechanism in order to shed light on these otherwise hidden government abuses of power, had two things in common – they worked to assist immigrants, and they had filed lawsuits against the US government.   One of these attorneys had received multiple security clearances, with more than one federal agency.  The idea that this particular lawyer suddenly posed a risk to US national security by virtue of assisting immigrants or filing lawsuits to defend the constitution is absurd. 
The outrageous abuse of power inherent in these actions should terrify every person interested in upholding the rule of law and preserving the sanctity of our constitutional democracy and its institutions.  But even if that does not bother you, the utter waste of resources should.  If DHS is busy harassing and interrogating us, who is looking for the real threats to national security?

March 19, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 18, 2019

How Farmworkers are Leading a 21st Century Human Rights Revolution

The TEDMED talk given by activists Greg Asbed and Gerard Reyes Chavez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) recently went live and is available here

Take 19 minutes to watch, then check out the CIW's blog with postings from its Fair Food Campaign, currently targeting Wendy's for its refusal to join other fast food industry leaders in requiring its tomato suppliers to meet the stringent human rights standards of the Presidential medal-winning Fair Food Program.

Then, take action on your own campus or community!

March 18, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Connecticut Supreme Court Restores Dignity and Respect To Sandy Hook Parents

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the Sandy Hook parents' lawsuit against gun manufacturers may proceed.  The Court addressed the ability of the parents to sue manufacturers who have been granted essentially blanket immunity for companies that manufacture firearms, including Remington who manufactured the firearm used by Adam Lanza, the young man who used the weapon to kill 20 first graders and others at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.   

While many of the parents' claims were dismissed, their claim that Remington was neglectful in its marketing of the weapon was approved to move forward.  As the New York Times reported "In the lawsuit, the families seized upon the marketing for the AR-15-style Bushmaster used in the 2012 attack, which invoked the violence of combat and used slogans like “Consider your man card reissued.”  Such advertising, the lawsuit alleges, was designed to appeal to troubled men such as the Sandy Hook shooter. Families of other victims are watching this suit.  If successful, gun manufacturers should expect a dramatic increase in lawsuits connecting their marketing to deadly actions taken by other shooters. 

Parents whose children have been murdered through gun violence have some dignity restored.   Having suffered unspeakable horrors, parents of gun-killed children have been cruelly ignored and disrespected through our political and legal systems.  The opinion of the US Supreme Court in the case of The Town of Castlerock v Gonzales while acknowledging the horrific facts, denied any relief to the mother.  While steeped in legal theory, the decision offended common sense that demands that the extreme indignity of losing children through violence be recognized and remedies be provided.    The state played a direct role in the harm that came to the Gonzales girls.  The state may not have been a party to the Sandy Hook killings, but the state was the player who deprived the families of a remedy when it shielded the gun manufacturers liability.  

Only remedy or the offer of one can help restore dignity to the families whose federal legislators refused to alter gun laws that might prevent future slaughters.  The parents - and many in the country - believed that the deaths of 20 first graders would motivate changes in gun laws, but instead, legislative doors were slammed on them.  Now the courts may provide a remedy - and at minimum a forum - for the grieving.  


March 17, 2019 in Guns, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 15, 2019

Happy BD RBG!

Among many human rights markers pegged to March 15 -- including the student climate school strike -- we pause to say Happy Birthday to U.S Human rights hero Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Now a "notorious" figure who spawned both a documentary and a bio-pic, as well as mass-planking event on the steps of the Supreme Court later today, we especially recognize RBG for her groundbreaking judicial opinions that bring human rights home by noting the relevance of human rights and comparative law to U.S. equality jurisprudence.  Happy Birthday Justice Ginsburg! 

March 15, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 14, 2019

California Freezes Use of Death Penalty

The newly elected governor of California suspended use of the death penalty in that state.  By executive action the Governor will look to end the death penalty in its entirety.  Having executed 13 people since the death penalty was approved by voters in 1978, no one has been executed since 2006 while over 900 were sentenced to death.  One judge ruled that forcing prisoners to live on death row for such an extended period is cruel and abusive treatment.  Currently 24 inmates reside on California's death row.

Currently there are 937 people on death row.   The Governor, Gavin Newsome, said that he could not morally allow executions to proceed in the state.  The electrocution equipment is already being dismantled and the Governor is withdrawing the state's lethal objection protocols.

Not all agree with the decision.  Some are preparing a referendum for 2020 while others have quite vocally condemned the move. 




March 14, 2019 in Margaret Drew, Prisons | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Family Cap Faces Repeal in Massachusetts

In 2003, in Sojourner v. New Jersey Dep't of Human Services, the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the "family cap," which denies welfare benefits to children born to mothers on welfare.  New Jersey's policy was part of a nationwide trend in the 1990s, with more than twenty states adopting similar policies.  In 2004, Illinois and Maryland repealed their family cap policies, leaving 19 states still holding on to a family cap law today.

In the New Jersey litigation, advocates filed an amicus brief addressing the human rights issues raised by a policy of denying benefits to desperately needy children.  But the court ignored the argument, asserting that the human rights issues need not be addressed because they were raised only at the appellate stage of the litigation.

The fight against the family cap goes on, however, in Massachusetts.  Last year, advocates came close to obtaining repeal of the policy.   Only a gubernatorial veto stopped the effort.  This year,  prospects look better.  Votes in the legislature this week have put the family cap repeal back on the governor's desk.  Just a few weeks ago, in January 2019,  Governor Baker himself proposed to revisit the issue.  If he again decides to veto because the legislature's proposal doesn't meet his criteria, there appear to be enough votes and enough time to override a veto.  Importantly for low income families, the legislature's proposal would make the missing benefits retroactive to January 2019.

For a generation, low income children have received extra financial punishment simply because of the circumstances of their birth.  It will be a human rights victory if the Massachusetts repeal effort is successful.  Hopefully, it will point the way for other states to repeal this punitive policy.

March 13, 2019 in Economic Justice, Martha F. Davis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

More Information On The Move to Defund The IACHR

Recently we wrote on the administration's consideration of de-funding the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  As reported,  nine senators requested the defunding.  Eight white men and one white woman comprised the group seeking to erase funding from the budget because they are unhappy with the Commission's positions on abortion.  They claim that the Commission's efforts amount to "lobbying" for reproductive rights that is prohibited for those receiving US funds. 

While we have focused on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission of Women is impacted, as well, and identified in the letter.  (Both are under the umbrella of the Organization of American States.)  The Commission on Women has a rich history of investigating and obtaining resolutions that clarify and enhance laws that impair women's rights.  When the Commission was first formed in 1928, it took on the task of addressing laws that interfered with women's statehood.  Some countries removed original citizenship from women when they married a native of another country.  Sometimes the country of the husband's citizenship would not grant citizenship to the foreign-born wife, leaving those married women stateless.  The Commission took on universal suffrage for women and other issues impacting women's liberty.  When the organization became permanent in the 1930s, it was the first international organization devoted to studying the needs of women in the Americas.  In 1994, the Commission presented the first resolution on violence against women, which was passed as the Convention of Belém do Pará.  Violence against women remains one of the Commission's priorities.  The Commission's visibility has been more limited during the past year, experiencing the financial stressors of the IACHR.

Two of the Commission's goals are to

  • Contribute to the development of international and inter-American jurisprudence on women’s human rights and gender equity and equality
  • Foster the formulation and adoption of inter-American instruments for the recognition of women as rights holders and agents of democracy

Since the beginning of the Trump Administration, women's rights and agency have been eroding.  We need the Inter-American Commission on Women more than ever.  As women in the US fight to maintain fundamental freedoms,  we turn to international women's organizations for assistance.  The international community of women may be one of the few effective voices in reminding that world that indeed, women's rights are human rights.

March 12, 2019 in Margaret Drew, Reproductive Rights, Women's Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 11, 2019

Under the Wire: Fellowships at the Inter-American Commission, Deadline March 15

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is advertising five fellowships at its headquarters in Washington, D.C.  Don't delay, though -- the deadline for applying is March 15, 2019.  More information is available here.

March 11, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Human Rights Confusion: Honoring Angela Davis

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth was a civil rights hero.  Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he was one of the early activists in the civil rights movement and shared jail cells with Dr. Martin Luther King.  Rev. Shuttlesworth was widely respected as a civil rights leader in a city and state where activism could have severe consequences.  Indeed Rev. Shuttlesworth was the recipient of many beatings and the target of bombings.  His 2011 funeral brought admirers from across the state of Alabama and the nation.  Representative John Lewis was among the eulogizers and Peter Yarrow, who sang along with Paul and Mary at the 1963 civil rights March on Washington, sang "Blowing in the Wind". 

The Institute, along with the City of Birmingham, has done a good job of owning its past.  The Institute does not shy away from the civil rights history and the city's response.   Among its many exhibits is one replicating the jail cell where Dr. King wrote "Letter from a Birmingham Jail".  The setting provides a powerful place to read the letter, which is part of the exhibit.    Across from the Institute is Kelly Park, where demonstrators were hosed by firemen and attacked by police dogs.  Again, the city does not shy from its history.  Bronze exhibits in the park replicate attacking dogs and firemen with hoses. 

So it was not surprising when the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute announced that Dr. Angela Davis would be the recipient of the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award.

Image1Angela Davis hails from Birmingham.  The civil and human rights leader is remembered for her activism against racist practices during the 1970s.   During that era, she was a member of an African American chapter of the Communist Party and supported the Black Panthers and a target of the FBI.   She spent 18 months in prison on accomplice to murder charges involving the death of a judge, a charge from which she was acquitted. A Ph.D. whose activism has sometimes made her academic life difficult, she teaches at the University of California at Santa Clara where she continues to write and work on human rights issues.  One of her recent works is Freedom is a Constant Struggle:  Ferguson, Palestine and the Foundations of a Movement.  She is known as a respected human rights activist who carried on her activism to ensure fundamental human rights.

Then the Institute rescinded the award, stating that Dr. Davis did not meet the criteria. The Institute had received a letter from the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center asking for reconsideration of the award based upon Dr. Davis'  support of Palestinians.  Jewish Voice for Peace published an open letter to the Institute, signed by over 350 academics, calling on them to cancel the rescission.    

The counter-pressure was intense.  Three Institute board members resigned.  The Mayor joined in criticizing the recission decision and the City Council swiftly passed a resolution supporting Dr. Davis.  The Institute acknowledged receiving criticism from several community groups. In the meantime, community leaders, including clergy and business people, arranged an alternative Birmingham event at which Dr. Davis spoke to an overflowing crowd.  

The Institute re-extended the award to Dr. Davis and published a letter stating that no decision should have been made regarding rescission before a discussion with diverse groups.  Also, it said that it was keeping with its commitment to learning from its mistakes.  Unknown is whether Dr. Davis accepted or will accept the Shuttlesworth Award.  

March 10, 2019 in Global Human Rights, Margaret Drew, Prisons, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 8, 2019

On International Women's Day: Start a Cities for CEDAW Campaign in Your Community

It's International Women's Day and across the United States, dozens of Cities for CEDAW are localizing human rights.  Here's how to link with others and get started in your community!  More background is available here and here.

March 8, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Inter-American Human Rights Moot Court -- March 15 deadline

Preparation for the 2019 Inter-American Human Rights Moot Court -- sponsored by Washington College of Law, American University -- is in full swing, with the team registration deadline set for March 15, 2019.  Registration deadlines for bailiffs, observers, and judges follow over  the next few weeks. 

The timely theme for the upcoming moot court will be The Protection of Migrants under International Human Rights Law, and the hypothetical case is available to registrants on the Moot website.  

A calendar of important Moot dates and registration information is available here

March 7, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Human Rights Chief Cites Both Positives and Negatives in U.S. Record

Speaking to the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday, March 6, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, took special note of the record number of women serving in the U.S. Congress.  She observed, "[t]hey included the first Muslim American Congresswoman, the first Native American Congresswoman, and the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.  I hail all powerful women around the world and the model they present to the next generation.”

In the same speech, Bachelet offered a negative view of U.S. immigration policy, cautioning against new restrictions that simply “push migrants back across the border”, while also expressing concern that “thousands more migrant children have been separated from their families than had been previously reported”.

She observed that “involuntary and precarious” migration was "driven by inequality in the form of poverty, discrimination, oppression, violence, poor governance, climate change - and violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights."  Rather than settle for short-term bandaids to address the issue, Bachelet urged all nations, rich and poor, "to adopt principled and more effective policies, grounded in the full range of human rights." 

March 6, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)