Wednesday, July 31, 2019
The "pro-life" administration recently announced that it is reemploying the use of the death penalty in federal cases. As Human Rights Watch reported the announcement is a "slap in the face" to those advocating for true reform in a criminal justice system that has proven over and over again to be discriminatory.
The revival ignores not only racial discrimination but the increasing awareness that significant amounts of prisoners are being exonerated. One consequences of the public coverage of exonerations is that public support for the death penalty is declining,
The decision contributes to the international criticism that the US has lost all moral leadership, particularly in when it comes to human rights.
Tuesday, July 30, 2019
The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) today published Democratic candidates' answers to a series of foreign policy questions, probing their positions in advance of the second round of candidate debates.
CFR Question #1: How, if at all, should China’s treatment of the Uighurs and the situation in Hong Kong affect broader U.S. policy toward China?
Says Cory Booker, "Protecting human rights must be a central tenet of our foreign policy . . . "
Kirsten Gillibrand responds, "history has taught us that we never ultimately advance our interests when we ignore human rights abuses . . . "
To see the complete set of candidate answers, click here.
Monday, July 29, 2019
Every day I am haunted by thoughts of children in cages, dirty, hungry and without anyone to hug them.
Tonight we went to hear David Sedaris. One of Sedaris' former students opened for Sedaris by reading a very funny essay of her own. As a teacher, it was nice to see a former professor promoting a student. We were treated to two hours of non-stop laughing. His diary readings along with his first-time tests of new material were hysterically funny. The audience was receptive and appreciative. Serotonin levels raised, I left with a more carefree outlook.
I mentally contrasted my evening with those who are suffering and recalled someone saying that the best thing we can do for the next generation is to be optimistic. About a year ago, Time published a piece by KJ Dell'Antonia How to Raise Optimistic Kids in Pessimistic Times.
The author wrote: "There are excellent reasons for anyone — nations, businesses, schools — to seek out the optimistic. And it’s even truer for parents who wish to see their children succeed both as kids and as adults. Optimists are more resilient. They make better entrepreneurs, experience better health outcomes, live longer and are more satisfied with their relationships. Optimism enables people to continue to strive in the face of difficulty, while pessimism leaves them depressed and resigned to failure — even expecting it."
So yes- not only is it healthy and good mentoring to laugh, indeed it is imperative. Ways to find relief from grief and other distress is probably the most valuable tool we can give our young. Not to ignore serious fault lines in our world, but to show ways to survive with our humanity intact.
Sunday, July 28, 2019
Andrew Bremer has been nominated to be the US Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva. According to a report issued by Human Rights Watch Bremer has been on record on opposing abortion even in the case of sexual assault. This position is contrary international human rights law as well as US current policy. "Of particular concern is Bremberg’s statement at his confirmation hearing that he does not support victims of rape accessing abortion. He expressed his support of the US government’s extraordinary threat at the UN Security Council in April to veto a resolution on gender-based violence in armed conflict because it included a reference to victims’ access to sexual and reproductive health care."
"Authoritative interpretations of international human rights law establish that denying women and girls access to abortion is a form of discrimination and jeopardizes a range of human rights."
Approval of Bowman for the Ambassador postion will further not the work of the US people but the goals of the newly formed Commission on Unalienable Rights.
Thursday, July 25, 2019
Human rights institutions provide critical venues for accountability and redress. Yet, the complex web of procedures, which are often opaque and vary depending on the forum, can serve as barriers to access. As civil society spaces close at the national level, the UN, regional systems, and the ICC play an even more essential role in elevating and protecting the rights of vulnerable populations and human rights defenders.
The forthcoming resource, A Practical Guide to Using International Human Rights and Criminal Law Procedures, seeks to demystify critical aspects of engagement with global and regional human rights mechanisms, distill key advocacy considerations, and ultimately lower the barriers to entry for advocates seeking accountability, so that human rights institutions can achieve their stated missions.
The Guide offers an overview of the advocacy opportunities and possible outcomes across UN mechanisms, the Inter-American and European Human Rights Systems. It includes critical information on the International Criminal Court. For each mechanism, the guide draws from practice to emphasize how to best leverage the unique benefits of each modality to achieve positive impact.
Oriented towards practice, this resource concludes by distilling some of the most effective avenues advance the common aims of (a) norm development and (b) redress for specific human rights violations within regional and global systems.
The book has global reach, and draws from insights gleaned by US academics and advocates. It is by USF Professor Connie de la Vega and Alen Mirza, with contributions from Columbia Law School’s JoAnn Kamuf Ward, as well as former counsel for the ICTY, and practitioners focused on refugee and asylum, as well as migrants and indigenous peoples.
You can pre-order a copy today: https://www.e-elgar.com/shop/a-practical-guide-to-using-international-human-rights-and-criminal-law-procedures. (NB-you are eligible for a discount through 2019- just use the code VEGA35 with your order).
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
Summer half over and you're behind in your summer reading? Whittled away your time -- blog, tweet, watch the news, protest, repeat?
There's still time for you to catch up, and plenty of good reads. Every quarter, the Hong Kong Free Press publishes a rundown of the best Human Rights Books published in the past few months. The current list is here , with several US-related recommendations, including The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Indian America from 1890 to Present, and Solitary.
Tuesday, July 23, 2019
As reported by MSNBC, on Tuesday three letters were sent to Secretary of State Pompeo opposing the establishment of the Commission on Unalienable Rights. MSNBC also devoted a live segment on the letters in which advocates explained that the Commission is designed to deprive or limit rights to women, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals in particular. Human Rights advocacy groups and academics signed onto one of those letters, an effort organized by Human Rights First addressing concerns about the cover of religious liberty to further oppress marginalized groups.
The letter from academics reads in part "In the United States, the story of the past two and a half centuries is in many ways one of the asof-yet unfinished recognition of these rights for African Americans and other minorities, women, LGBTQI people, people with disabilities, children, and other marginalized populations, often via immense struggle against those who would limit rights to a privileged few. Likewise, the story of the international human rights movement is one of the deepened recognition and protective reach of rights based on the painstaking work of social movements, scholars, and diplomats, through
international agreements and law."
Another letter was signed onto by a group of US Senators and one other by Catholic priests.
Monday, July 22, 2019
Northeastern Law School's Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy has issued a new report on water affordability in twelve Massachusetts communities, examining the issue from a human rights perspective.
The report notes rising water costs nationwide, and critiques the limited discounts available in the study communities, which range from Boston and Chelsea to Springfield and Worcester. Overall, none of the study communities offer discounts based on income alone, and all of the study communities limit discounts to owner-occupants.
The report also examines the lack of transparency concerning negotiated payment plans. Customers are typically given little information about what sorts of payment plans might be available, and for their part, water districts do little to ensure that implicit bias does not play a role in the payment negotiations.
The report notes that models for more responsive water affordability programs are available. The report describes Philadelphia's Tiered Assistance Program, an income-based plan to assist water customers. In addition, the report identifies innovative approaches to assisting renters, including the program in Portland, Oregon, that provides additional funds to assist renters facing eviction in paying their water bills.
Finally, the report underscores the racially disparate impact of limiting water discounts to owner-occupants, particularly in Massachusetts where the homeownership race gap is one of the largest in the nation. This concern was also recently highlighted in Water/Color, a comprehensive report published by the NAACP LDF, which provides an in-depth treatment of the racial impacts of rising water costs.
We are all equal in our needs for water -- and access to affordable water is a human right. As climate change and aging infrastructure lead to increased water costs across the country, it is critical to ensure that affordable water remains available to all.
Sunday, July 21, 2019
Writes Hong about the treatment of children at the border, "[i]nstead of the country that helped champion international human rights, we are in the company of Boko Haram, another group that also kidnaps, imprisons and rapes children for political purposes."
She adds: "[U]ntil we have an administration that greets asylum-seekers with the protections promised under our laws instead of calculated cruelty, each and every one of us can take a small daily action to restore the humanity our government policies currently lack."
Small daily actions that Hong identifies include: contributions to groups challenging human rights violations at the border, pressuring employers and other institutions (airlines, universities, etc.) to reject complicity, and speaking out by attending vigils and protests.
Collective action still matters, and Hong argues, we each can play a part.
Thursday, July 18, 2019
There is no doubt that President Trump's tweets targeted at Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley were racist. Our president is a racist. We knew that from the moment Mr. Trump insisted that President Obama was not born in the United States.
The recent controversial tweets had two purposes. The first was to distract the country from the President's sidelining the census question on whether the individual is a US citizen. The second was to create just the controversy we have now in order to revive his base's anti-immigrant fervor. This is the beginning of the re-election campaign. And so far it is going well for the President. The media is full of comments from all sides on whether the President is racist. Misogyny and racism were frequent topics during the last election. Rather than focus on issues, the media distracted us by reporting every outrageous act and statement muttered by candidate Trump. The media gave a significant assist to Mr. Trump's election.
Now we have several distractions because the Democrats took the tweet bait. Rather than focusing on the candidates, issues and proposed plans once again we are focused on the President's hatred. And the targeted Congresswomen are now reduced to being "The Squad" further reducing their credibility.
Speaker Pelosi has attempted to steer Congress away from impeachment talk because she knows that focusing on the President's failings, if not crimes, at this point in time will distract the nation from serious consideration of the candidates. The strategy worked in the last election. The Congresswomen are patriots, no doubt. They speak truth to power and they bring a much-needed perspective to the debate. But the response was neither wise nor helpful. The Congressional resolution spoke enough. The individual voices of the new Congresswomen provided nothing but new fodder for a hateful man looking to create the "other" for his base.
Learning not to react is a valuable political tool.
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
With the whole world to monitor, the UN is not alway quick to respond to developments in the U.S. But the UN High Commission on Refugees took no time at all to condemn the new asylum rules that went into effect in the U.S. on Tuesday, just one day after they were published in the Federal Register.
According to the new rules, any asylum seekers who pass through another country before arriving at the southern border – including children traveling on their own – will not be eligible for asylum if they failed to apply first in their country of transit. They would only be eligible for US asylum if their application was turned down elsewhere. The Wall Street Journal, of all places, reports that the rules have stranded thousands of refugees at the border, some of who have already been waiting many months simply to be interviewed for asylum.
Said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, "we are deeply concerned about this measure. It will put vulnerable families at risk. It will undermine efforts by countries across the region to devise the coherent, collective responses that are needed. This measure is severe and is not the best way forward.”
The ACLU also lost no time in suing to block implementation of the new rules.
But ACLU aside, how many of us here in the US are watching? Over the weekend, the media turned to Trump's latest twittergate -- the question of whether his attacks on four members of Congress were racist. Were Trump's horrific tweets just another one of his well-known efforts to distract and divide?
Linguist George Lakoff has developed a widely-circulated graphic to illustrate this phenomenon. Thankfully, as the twitter story has developed, more and more commentators are moving beyond the tweets themselves and are directly connecting the tweets to the government's racist policies at the border, noting the through-thread of statements and policies that denigrate and harm black and brown people. It's a skill that we all need to develop, lest we fall for these distracting tactics again and again.
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
by Deena R. Hurwitz, J.D., human rights attorney and educator
The creation of a Commission on Unalienable Rights – CUR, as it might be called – is just one more example of the Trump administration’s exceptionalism and utter disregard for the process of law-making, for the nation’s obligations under international law, and for even constitutional law. Shamelessly, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced the CUR is needed to “sort out how we make sure we have a solid definition of human rights upon which to tell all our diplomats around the world.” This it will do by focusing on the “nation’s founding principles, on natural law and natural rights”.
Why did Pompeo choose unalienable, and not the contemporary, commonly used inalienable in referring to rights? While the two are considered synonymous, the Founding Fathers themselves debated the terms (captured with a twist of genteel college rivalry in the film version of 1776 : Adams insisted on un—; Jefferson corrected him with in—). The rough draft of the Declaration of Independence included in—; the final parchment written in Adams’ hand had un—; other versions written in Jefferson’s hand included in—. Not surprisingly, both appear in printed versions. Politicians and other rhetoricians use unalienable, but almost exclusively in quoting or referring to the Declaration of Independence. Otherwise, inalienable is common usage. A clever “ngram” on the website grammarist.com shows unalienable’s use reached its zenith in 1784; overtaken in 1833 by inalienable, which has remained the preferred use to the present day.
What’s more, inalienable is the language of international human rights law.
The choice of unalienable, thus, is consistent with Pompeo’s desire to refocus the rights discourse with the late eighteenth century notions of rights. It is not just that unalienable is anachronistic; its use is intended to call into question the legality of an entire body of international law, painstakingly negotiated by the international community, with the participation of the United States.
Synonyms or not, there is an insidious aspect of Pompeo’s word choice that is characteristic of this administration. In his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell made (in)famous the importance of language and thought in relation to the public’s acceptance of state control. The Orwellian term “doublethink” is not only familiar to us, it characterizes the manner in which the Trump administration governs. Doublethink means “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” Totalitarian regimes manipulate the truth, and make people say things they know to be untrue, until they are complicit in the doublethink and lose track of truth.
The Trump administration has refined the art of doublethink; just consider “alternative facts” or “the media is the enemy of the people”. The media regularly uses the term gaslighting – a manner of applying doublethink by manipulating a person (or a society) into doubting the evidence of their own senses with constant, subtle denials of the truth. How is it that the president of the United States has gotten away with over 10,000 lies or distortions since taking office? Dissembled truth hangs around like a shadow until people forget what was criticized or challenged, and it seems as if the obscurity has always been the truth. That is his objective.
At least Pompeo’s choice of terminology calls attention to his motive and objective: to weaken or disregard the corpus of human rights law negotiated, codified, ratified, elucidated, implemented over decades by the international community. To distract the American people from these concrete legal obligations. Natural law refers to a narrow set of civil and political rights unhinged from the social and economic rights that constitute half the corpus. It is another example of the doctrine of American exceptionalism; that the U.S. need not abide by international treaties and obligations Among its chartered duties, the CUR will guide U.S. diplomats and foreign policy decisions and actions with respect to human rights in international settings. The choice of unalienable resurrects natural law when only white, Anglo-Saxon men with property and/or other wealth had rights. It relegates LGBTQ persons, people of color, non-Christians, immigrants, the poor, women, once again invisible, and worse – it has the capacity and even the intention to render them unpersons.
Language is hardly innocuous. Will middle America recognize the import of unalienable rights? Pompeo expects not; and perhaps he and the CURists don’t care. This is an initiative that has far less to do with rights than to Make America Exceptional Again. As we consider the nefariousness of the initiative, we might note the definition of a cur.
Monday, July 15, 2019
Religious Freedom has had significant victories over the past few years as Supreme Court cases go. But those cases (beginning with Hobby Lobby v. Burwell), have protected religious freedom arguments from a conservative Christian perspective.
Unsuccessful with SCOTUS this term was a religious freedom issue brought by a Muslim prisoner who requested that an imam be present at his execution. Justice Kagan wrote in dissent "'The clearest command of the Establishment Clause is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another." But that is not what happened here. In this case, the 11th Circuit had already stayed the execution in order to hear Mr. Ray's religious freedom argument. But in an unusual measure, SCOTUS removed the case from the 11th Circuit and denied the prisoner's request with, as the dissent says, little briefing and no argument "just so the State can meet its preferred execution date".
The trend to watch in the upcoming term is whether non-Christian religious rights are protected. In addition, those cases that have favored religious freedom have ignored the religious freedom rights of those most impacted by the court's decision. Left unaddressed was whether in protecting the religious rights of the proprietors in Hobby Lobby a religious tyranny was created that oppressed workers who hold quite different religious beliefs?
A case involving competing religious beliefs would be welcome in order to clarify whether non-Christians or atheists will have protection from our highest court.
Sunday, July 14, 2019
According to the SDSN report, the average score for US cities is 48.9%, "which means that most US cities are not quite halfway towards achieving the SDGs."
The report uses 57 indicators to rank city performance on a range of sustainability topics, including early education (SDG 4), clean water (SDG 6), sustainable transit (SDG 11) and incarceration (SDG 16).
Cities are ranked using a scale from 0 to 100, with 100 representing the highest score. No city scored 100, while 101 cities scored a 0 on at least one indicator.
US cities have made the most overall progress on SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) and SDG 15 (life on land). They have made the least progress on SDG 2 (zero hunger) and SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy).
San-Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California Metro Statistical Area (MSA) placed first on the index, with a score of 69.7. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, scored the worst, with a score of 30.3.
Thursday, July 11, 2019
Ever considered whether members of the US Supreme Court should be subject to term limits? A group of legal scholars has considered the issue and, in a recent letter, they urge that life tenure be abolished. The brief letter does not suggest any particular number of years and is open to consideration of other solutions.
"An essential portion of the letter reads: We choose not to endorse any particular plan here, so long as terms are sufficiently long to maintain judicial independence. But we believe that continuing to concentrate power in the hands of a few individuals, who sit for many decades with almost no oversight and little incentive to compromise, is no longer good public policy, if it ever was. A court seen by most Americans as a political actor, whose very legitimacy is routinely questioned, and whose
appointment process has devolved into farce, is in need of fixing."
The hope that term limits or other "fixes" will remove the court from partisan politics.
Wednesday, July 10, 2019
As we reported earlier, the Commission on Unaliable Rights is gearing up to start work. On July 8th Secretary Pompeo, a Christian Evangelical made an announcement that he appointed Prof. Mary Ann Glennon (Harvard Law) as chair. Prof. Glendon is a former ambassador to the Vatican. The makeup of the other commission members reveals that the Commission's focus is religious dominance over all other rights.
Alarms are sounding. Democrats are promoting a bill that would prohibit State Department funds from being used to support the commission. The American Jewish World Service denounced the commission due to its religious nature. One member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee bemoaned that the administration "has taken a wrecking ball to America's global leadership on promoting fundamental rights across the world."
There is good reason to be worried. Mr. Pompeo published an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal on Sunday which does nothing to soothe human rights advocates. The article makes clear that US dominance in defining what rights anyone is entitled to is the goal. A portion o the "Yet after the Cold War ended, many human-rights advocates turned their energy to new categories of rights. These rights often sound noble and just. But when politicians and bureaucrats create new rights, they blur the distinction between unalienable rights and ad hoc rights granted by governments. Unalienable rights are by nature universal. Not everything good, or everything granted by a government, can be a universal right. Loose talk of 'rights'
unmoors us from the principles of liberal democracy."
To accomplish this weeding out of human rights, Commission members will examine the Universal Declaration of Human Rights among other documents to determine what rights are fundamental and, among other questions, who has the power to grant rights. The likely answer is God, who no doubt will be wispering in the ears of commission members.
Mr. Pompeo goes on to say: "Human-rights advocacy has lost its bearings and become more of an industry than a moral compass. And 'rights talk' has become a constant element of our domestic political discourse, without any serious effort to distinguish what rights mean and where they come from." Conclusions will no doubt be drawn that the only rights that exist are those specifically stated in US drafted documents. The very documents that exclude any form of diversity. Anything else will no doubt undermine fundamental US freedoms.
Tuesday, July 9, 2019
Speaking on Monday, July 8, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, trained as a pediatrician, condemned the conditions under which migrants and refugees are being held at the U.S. border. Noting the Administration's efforts to prosecute human rights defenders who seek to provide aid to migrants, Bachelet added that “[t]he provision of lifesaving assistance is a human rights imperative that must be respected at all times and for all people in need. It is inconceivable that those who seek to provide such support would risk facing criminal charges.”
Also on Monday, NPR's All Things Considered broadcast an interview with UN Human Rights Office director Georgette Ganon. Notably, she indicated that the Administration had not allowed UN representatives to visit the border camps, despite repeated requests. In particular, she indicated that the UN Special Rapporteur on Migrants had made 10 requests to the Administration seeking to visit the border, and had received no response. In March, the Special Rapporteur laid out his concerns about the US border policies in detail, in a letter to the United States' UN Ambassador.
As columnist Esther Cepeda put it, these human rights violations are being accomplished in our name with our tax dollars. Further, the Administration's refusal to honor human rights obligations endangers all of us, by setting an inhumanely low bar for treatment of non-nationals.
It is good news that the UN bodies are now using the press to reach the American people directly to raise these issues. And it's telling that the Administration bars access by well-respected UN experts, while allowing controlled visits to the camps by the Administration's ideological "friends."
Monday, July 8, 2019
With mostly bleak news these days, the US Women's Soccer Team gave us something to be proud of when they won the World Cup this past Sunday in France. An amazing group of women athletes have become the new role models for millions of American girls. The team has shown bravery and determination on and off the field. In March, on International Women's Day, members of the team filed suit against US Soccer for gender discrimination.
According to NPR, "The U.S. Women's National Team, or USWNT, has consistently been more successful than the men's team. The U.S. women have won the World Cup three times (now four) and are four-time Olympic champions. The men's team has never won either tournament and failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup."
As one example of the many of unequal pay issues, assuming the men's and women's teams played twenty exhibition games and won them all, the women would earn $99,000 while the men would earn $263,320.00. Gender differences in pay for the team is prevalent in almost every contract term including travel, the number of games required to play, and the type of training fields provided.
The Men's Soccer Team supports the women's lawsuit including an equal allocation of revenue sharing between the men's and women's teams. Thank you, men. A bit late and a lot short. Evidence indicates that the women draw larger audiences and win more games. So perhaps equal allocation is not so much the issue as equal reward incentives.
Sunday, July 7, 2019
Save the date-- the World Human Rights Cities Forum will be held this year from September 30 - October 3, 2019, in Gwangju, Korea. Watch this space for more information on the meeting as it becomes available.
Each year, more U.S. cities and NGOs participate in this annual event. It's a long haul for many in the U.S., but those who have attended have found the Forum to be an important opportunity for networking, learning, and organizing.
More information on the U.S. National Human Rights City Alliance is available here.
Thursday, July 4, 2019
Wanting his playgroup friends, particularly that kid from North Korea, to see that he owns the best toys, this July 4th celebration in the District of Columbia displayed a fair amount of military hardware. The display fell short of the full military parade that the President has wanted since he viewed France's parade in 2017. Actually, according to the New Yorker, the President wanted a military display in his inaugural parade. But this will do. There will be fighter jets flying overhead and a show by the Blue Angels and displays of other military hardware.
According to the group Code Pink, they were granted a permit to display a 20' baby Trump balloon complete with diaper and cell phone. But in a corruption of the principles of American freedom, freedom of speech has been undermined to protect the President's inflated (much more than 20') sense of himself and his power. When the National Park Service issued Code Pink's permit, it prohibited the group from inflating the balloon with helium and permitted cold air inflation only. This defeated one of the group's goals, which was to make the balloon visible in the President's line of sight. The National Park Service's guide to planning mall events limits structures to not higher than 45 feet. Yet-Baby Trump character was grounded. And the permit allowed display not on the National Mall but at 17th Street assuring that the President will not pass by the protest.
The public was kept away from the area closest to where the president spoke. The first 5,000 seats were reserved for Republicans, including donors. The event cost of $2.5 million was taken from the National Park Sevice's budget that was intended for park improvement.
Protests organized in other ways. A group of Vets handed out tee shirts honoring John McCain. And mini Trump balloons were sold. But the likelihood that the President saw either is slim.
There was hope that the President would go off script and make his speech political - then he and his event organizers would be responsible for $2.5 million that this event cost.
This was a faux fourth - chipping away at tradition and democracy, little by little. Until protest becomes risky.