Sunday, May 5, 2019
The U.S. Civil Rights Commission will be holding a briefing in Washington, D.C., on May 9 on sexual harassment in the federal workplace. The briefing agenda is available here. Don't fret if you can't attend in person -- the briefing will be live-streamed: a link is available here. There will also be a public call-in line (listen-only): 1-800-682-9934, conference ID: 912-1312. If you plan to attending in person, the Commission asks that you RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Commission will be preparing a report on this issue, and will accept submission of additional material for consideration; send them to email@example.com no later than June 10, 2019.
Kudos to the Commission for highlighting this issue, and including the voices of those directly affected in their workplaces!
Thursday, May 2, 2019
On Monday, the Trump Administration issued its latest provocative order to restrict entry to the U.S: charging asylum seekers an application fee.
The UN High Commissioner on Refugees reacted on Tuesday, stating succinctly that "[s]eeking asylum is a fundamental human right." and "people shouldn't be charged financially to exercise that right."
While the number of asylum seekers in the US has risen in recent months, it still represents a tiny number relative to the US population. In 2018, approximately 65,000 individuals applied for asylum, with applications ultimately granted in about 40% of the cases.
And of course, charging a fee is really just a way to deny asylum without the paperwork. Refugees and asylum seekers are by definition fleeing violence and persecution, and seldom have access to funds. As one Boston practitioner told NBC news, “I have clients who come to my office who haven’t eaten, many unable to make rent for their families or staying with church members or friends, hoping they’ll stay in their good graces. I have clients who are so deeply traumatized, they are diagnosed with [post-traumatic stress disorder], depression, anxiety and panic attacks, it's hard for them to leave their home, let alone work, because of the trauma and persecution they suffered in their countries.”
One step at a time, but steadily day by day, the current Administration is abandoning any pretense of valuing human rights, either as a legal or moral issue. Charging for asylum is not only morally reprehensible, compounding human suffering, but would also violate US legal obligations under international treaty law. And even more reprehensible is that it is really all about politics -- energizing Trump's "base" in anticipation of the next election.
Whatever Joe Biden is, he is not a feminist. Despite his original co-sponsorship of the Violence Against Women Act and his ongoing 20+ years support of the act, Mr. Biden does not understand what the #MeToo movement is about.
During the 1991 Clarence Thomas hearings, Mr. Biden left Anita Hill isolated and vilified by men analyzing her credibility. At the time, then-Senator Biden had control of whether to abandon the witness or permit other women to testify to the sexual harassment they endured from now Justice Thomas. Mr. Biden chose to stand with the boys. Now he refuses to apologize to Anita Hill. Politically there are advantages to his apologizing. Women of all colors would appreciate the acknowledgment of his role in further entrenching and institutionalizing the stereotype of women as liars. Professor Hill suffered. She was a target of controversy for years. Eventually, she left the University of Oklahoma after being shunned by the University President. The same President was previously a US senator and had voted for Thomas' confirmation. There was also a movement to defund Hill's endowed chair and to revoke her tenure. Biden's actions further entrenched the stereotype that women lie, and that what black women say can be further discounted.
Mr. Biden may believe that supporting the Violence Against Women's Act, originally passed three years following the Thomas hearings, was sufficient penance and that women would forgive him any perceived misogyny. Well, that might have been the case if Biden hadn't refused to apologize to Professor Hill. Not a feminist, and not self-reflective, Biden is refusing to take responsibility for his significant role in postponing for decades the restoration of women's credibility.
Wednesday, May 1, 2019
On Monday, in San Francisco, the annual winners of the Goldman Prize were announced. Known as the "Green Nobel," the Goldman Prize is awarded each year to a select group of environmental activists from disparate regions of the world who have made a profound difference in their communities by defending the environment.
This year's awardee representing the United States is Linda Garcia of Vancouver, who successfully fought the establishment of what would have been North America’s largest oil-by-rail terminal in her neighborhood of Fruit Valley in Vancouver, Washington. Originally touted as a means to bring jobs to the area, in the end, even the Governor of Washington agreed that the trade-offs in terms of environmental degradation and carcinogens were simply too great.
Another Goldman Prize awardee, Alfred Brownell, currently resides in the U.S. while in exile from Liberia. A lawyer by training, Brownell has devoted his life to combating the rampant deforestation and ravaging of indigenous communities by corporations growing commercial oil palm.
Both Garcia in the U.S. and Brownell in Liberia experienced death threats as a result of their campaigns. For Brownell, the threats became so serious that he was forced to flee Liberia with his family. Safety is a real issue for these human rights defenders, and all are aware that the threats are likely to increase as their success increases. In fact, one recent Goldman Prize winner, Berta Caceres, was murdered just a year after winning the prize.
For both Garcia and Brownell, however, their environmental activism is about protecting human rights as much as the natural world -- the right to fair procedures in land acquisition, the right to be consulted about development issues, and the right to live in a clean, natural environment. At a time when so little about our US government invokes inspiration, these individuals demonstrate that a lot is happening under the surface, close to the grassroots where it may be less visible nationally or internationally.
The Goldman Prize does us all a great service by lifting up and honoring these grassroots activists as an inspiration to all.