Thursday, February 27, 2020

New Report on Women in Prison

There is a new report on women in prison.  The report was released by the US Commission on Civil Rights.  The below excerpt is taken from the press release.

Among the various topics addressed are gender differences in personal histories as well as types of crimes committed. Importantly the report addresses the significant trauma histories women bring to prison when compared with men and the resulting mental health issues trauma can bring.

"In comparison to men in prison, women in prison are more likely to report having experienced
physical and/or sexual abuse as children and adults. Research and expert testimony suggest that
at least 50 percent of women entering prison report experiencing physical and/or sexual abuse prior
to their incarceration. Other studies suggest that as many as percent of women in prison
experienced traumatic events prior to their incarceration and the most common forms of traumatic
experiences report included interpersonal or sexual violence. In contrast, data reflect that men are
reportedly less likely to have been direct victims of violence. Another important difference
between the reported abuse histories of men and women is the length of time in which they
experience abuse. While the risk of abuse for men declines after childhood, the risk of abuse for
women endures throughout their juvenile and adult lives. For some women and men in prison,
abuse can persist while they are incarcerated either at the hands of fellow inmates or prison staff."


February 27, 2020 in Margaret Drew, Prisons | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

New Book Addresses Human Rights in a Time of Populism (in other words, Our Time)

Forthcoming in  March 2020 from Cambridge University Press, is the new edited volume, Human Rights in a Time of Populism: Challenges and Responses, edited by Gerald Neumann of Harvard Law School.  Here is the publisher's description:

The electoral successes of right-wing populists since 2016 have unsettled world politics. The spread of populism poses dangers for human rights within each country, and also threatens the international system for protecting human rights. Human Rights in a Time of Populism examines causes, consequences, and responses to populism in a global context from a human rights perspective. It combines legal analysis with insights from political science, international relations, and political philosophy. Authors make practical recommendations on how the human rights challenges caused by populism should be confronted. This book, with its global scope, international human rights framing, and inclusion of leading experts, will be of great interest to human rights lawyers, political scientists, international relations scholars, actors in the human rights system, and general readers concerned by recent developments.


The book draws on a two-day conference held at Harvard Law School in 2018.  A description of the proceedings is available here.  During one segment of the 2018 event, law professor Matthew Stephenson noted the paradox that the new populist leaders who have attained power by criticizing corruption seem to maintain their popularity when they themselves are revealed to be corrupt.

He asked, “Why doesn’t this behavior alienate supporters of the populist movement more? One hypothesis is that the rhetoric of corruption wasn’t really what they were appealing to; it was more a code word for ‘Defeat cosmopolitan snobs taking your jobs.’ Another possibility is that even though voters don’t like corruption, they dislike moralists even more. Berlusconi in Italy and Trump in America are seen as living the dream. [Voters] admire the charismatic populist leader, and take attacks on the leader as attacks on them.”


February 26, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Vaccinating Migrants

In an effort to prevent additional deaths of migrants doctors and others have encouraged vaccination of border migrants. But Custom and Border Patrol refused. CPB's refusal to vaccinate migrants rejected advice from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that recommended migrants receive flu vaccinations at the earliest possible time.

According to KTAR News: On Feb. 19, a federal judge in Tucson determined that CBP facilities in southeastern Arizona violate the Constitution because the conditions are “presumptively punitive.” In fiscal year 2019, 12,030 individuals were kept longer than the 72-hour limit in that border sector.

"Noting that the migrants held in those facilities are civil detainees and not convicted criminals, Judge David Bury said conditions “are substantially worse than conditions afforded criminal detainees at the Santa Cruz County jail or other jail facilities, where detainees are medically screened by medical professionals; have a bed with cloth sheets, blankets, and pillows … have clean clothing … showers, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and warm meals.”

The organization One Hundred Angels in cooperation with the Mexican Red Cross, organized a clinic to vaccinate migrants who are waiting to enter the US but who remain on the Mexican side of the border.  Willing migrants received chickenpox, measles and flu vaccinations.  Vaccination of children was a priority since several have died while in US custody. 

February 25, 2020 in Immigrants, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 24, 2020

Webinar on Criminalization on HIV

As we have written before, criminalization of HIV status has been a serious issue for those living with HIV.  Missouri in many ways has been at the frontline of criminalization not only of HIV but of Hep B and Hep C.  This Thursday, the Williams Center will present a webinar on the data of Missouri's enforcement of these criminal laws.  Information from the Williams Center reads:

"On Thursday, Feb. 27th,  1:00 PM - 2:30 PM CT, Brad Sears will summarize the findings of a new report  “THE CRIMINALIZATION OF HIV AND HEPATITIS B AND C IN MISSOURI: AN ANALYSIS OF ENFORCEMENT DATA FROM 1990 TO 2019. ” This study examines enforcement of laws that criminalize exposing others to HIV or hepatitis B or C, using data from the Missouri Department of Corrections. Between 1990 and October of 2019, at least 593 people have been arrested in Missouri for at least one of its HIV/hepatitis crimes, based on statutes that are outdated and medically inaccurate. This includes 318 people who have been convicted for these crimes. Legislation to modernize Missouri’s statutes is likely to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee in March. Please join us and invite others as well. "

February 24, 2020 in Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 23, 2020

California Forum Focuses on Immigration Enforcement Impacts on Children

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, independent commission of the federal government, sponsors advisory committees in every state.  Composed of local representatives, these committees serve as the eyes and ears of the Commission outside of Washington, D.C. 

The California Advisory Committee is hosting an important forum on March 4, in Chula Vista, California: a community forum to hear from members of  the public on immigration enforcement impacting California children.  The Committee will examine the impact of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) enforcement practices on access to public education for California's K-12 students; access to equal protection under the law for individuals based on their perceived national origin; and the extent to which due process is denied to students and their families. 

For those unable to testify in person, the Committee will accept written testimony submitted to by April 3, 2020.  More information about the upcoming forum is available here.

February 23, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Pres. Candidates' Forum Addressed Immigration and Asylum

On Thursday, February 20, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), alongside several partner organizations, hosted a presidential candidate forum in Las Vegas on asylum and immigration to ask candidates tough questions on issues that warrant thoughtful and humane solutions.  A video of the event is available here.  Tom Steyer was the only presidential candidate who attended in person; other candidates sent surrogates to represent their campaigns.

Moderated by BuzzFeed News’ Hamed Aleaziz, the forum was livestreamed for viewers across the world, and viewers could submit questions on immigration policy that they’d like candidates to answer.

The AIUSA forum followed last week’s release of their policy blueprint for key domestic and foreign issues ahead of the 2020 US presidential election. The blueprint tracks issues and makes recommendations on human rights-related issues, ranging from the Russian government’s abusive policing practices targeting the LGBTQ community.


February 20, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Supporting An International Anti-Corruption Court

Last week US Congresswoman Jackie Speier and Congressman Jim McGovern introduced a resolution that would support the creation of an international court to fight corruption. 

According to Human Rights Watch: "The World Economic Forum estimates that 5 percent of the world’s GDP is lost to corruption, and the International Monetary Fund blames it for US$1 trillion in lost tax revenue.  And corruption can rob people of their rights. It can lead to failing healthcare and education systems, lack of access to clean water – all problems that force countless people to leave their homes and countries in pursuit of better lives. It can also corrode government itself, as corrupt officials often shield themselves from accountability by hijacking the judiciary and abusively silencing critics."

An idea originally proposed by Judge Mark Wolf, any attempt to fight corruption on a global level is a first step toward addressing a serious and massive human rights problem. 

February 19, 2020 in Ethnicity, Global Human Rights, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Human Rights Movies

For those planning a human rights film festival, take note of the University of California -Merced recently completed film series.   

The series opened with Ai Weiwei's The Human Flow.  As reported in the Merced CountyTimes:  "The film centers on the current refugee crisis around the world. In the film, millions of men, women, and children are seen fleeing their homelands in search of a better life. The current refugee crisis Weiwei highlights is the biggest displacement the world has seen since World War II. War, famine, persecution, and violence are some of the main influences of migration. The film follows migrant caravans throughout France, Germany, Greece, Afghanistan, Iraq and other neighboring countries. The audience is given insight into the severity of the refugee crisis as most refugees are turned away at the border or left to remain in limbo as governments decide what to do with them. "

The second film of the festival was 500 Years, a documentary focused on the history and resistance of the people of Guatemala. The film is told from the perspective of the indigenous Mayans and details the genocide of the Mayan population that happened at the hands of Guatemalan dictator, Efraín Ríos Montt.

The final film was Adios Amor: The Search for Maria Moreno.  The film is a powerful story of a mother of 12 who was forced to speak out because of her children's hunger.  Maria Moreno was the first US woman to be hired as a union organizer.  Her work predated that of Chavez and Huerta. Newly discovered photographs of Ms. Moreno inspired the film.

These are all worthy films to be included in any human rights film festival.  We look forward to reporting on other festivals as they occur.


February 18, 2020 in Global Human Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 17, 2020

Speak For The Children: The US Erosion of The Rights of The Child

Writing in The Hill, Dree K. Collopy(adjunct professor at American University's Washington College of Law) reminds us of the promises we made to children under the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, adopted by the UN sixty years ago. " Among other rights, children must be given the means for normal development; hungry children must be fed; sick children must be nursed; orphaned children must be sheltered; children must be put in a position to earn a livelihood; children must not be exploited; children must be the first to receive relief in times of distress. Children in need must be helped. "

Collopy notes that thirty years later the UN adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The best interest of the child standard was adopted at that time.  The author notes that despite these commitments today we have the highest rates of displaced children, estimated to be over  35 million.  Noting the US maltreatment of refugee children the author notes "As families and children have fled to the United States in search of safety, they have been denied universally recognized rights, and the U.S. government is erecting every potential barrier to keep them from accessing protection."

To read the full op-ed click here.

February 17, 2020 in Convention of the Rights of Children, Immigration, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Coming Up -- US Universal Periodic Review

This month, February 2020, the United States is scheduled to submit its report to the UN for its third  universal periodic review, set for May 2020.  Civil society submissions were due in October 2019.  The Executive Summary of the US Human Rights Networks' stakeholder report is available here, and a number of other submissions compiled by the UN Association of the US and its allies are available here.  During the review, UN member nations will have an opportunity to comment on and critique US's compliance with a range of human rights standards, including civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights.  Issues of corruption and government transparency will be on the table, as well as commitment to sustainability and the treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers.  This promises to be a fascinating session, and an opportunity to bring a human rights lens (and international pressure) to bear on many current US policies that depart from human rights standards. 

February 16, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 13, 2020

UN Commission on the Status of Women, March 9-20, 2020

Coming up in March is the 64th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.  On the agenda: "the review and appraisal of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcomes of the 23rd special session of the General Assembly. The review will include an assessment of current challenges that affect the implementation of the Platform for Action and the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and its contribution towards the full realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development."

The United States is a member of the Commission, and the State Department will presumably be sending a delegation to the meeting.

At least year's session, the U.S.'s positions were described as "bonkers" by other delegates.  US positions included challenging the use of the word "gender," and restricting references to climate change.  Internal State Department documents obtained by Foreign Policy laid out the US strategy during that meeting to oppose expansions of rights for women and girls.

In prior years, Nikki Haley, then serving as the US Ambassador to the UN, served as the head of the delegation; with the Ambassador post open, last year's delegation was headed by acting deputy representative to the UN, Cherith Norman Chalet.  In July 2019, Ambassador Kelly Craft' was confirmed to the UN ambassador post, and will likely play a significant role during the CSW session.

Information on side events during the CSW session is available here.

February 13, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Job Discrimination Based on African-American Hairstyles: Old Battles and New Solutions

As the law stands, companies are permitted to discriminate against African Americans who wear culturally appropriate hairstyles.  In the 2017 federal case of  EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutionsthe District Court of Southern Alabama sided with the employer who rescinded a job offer to an African American woman, Chastity Jones, who refused to cut off her dreadlocks as a condition of accepting the position.  Despite the fact that dreadlocks are nearly exclusively worn by African Americans, the 11th Circuit refused to overturn the decision.  "CMS interpreted its hairstyle policy—which said that an employee’s “hairstyle should reflect a business/professional image” and that “[n]o excessive hairstyles or unusual colors are acceptable.”   The EEOC argued that race doesn’t have a biological definition and is a social construct, and that race is not defined or limited by immutable characteristics. Instead, the EEOC alleged that race can also encompass “cultural characteristics related to race or ethnicity,” including “grooming practices”; and that even though some non-Black people’s hair texture can lock, “dreadlocks are nonetheless a racial characteristic, just as skin color is a racial characteristic.”  The 11th Circuit disagreed stating "Under our precedent, banning dreadlocks in the workplace under a race-neutral grooming policy—without more—does not constitute intentional race-based discrimination.”  

In response, states and municipalities began banning hairstyle discrimination. Recently Maryland's Montgomery County became the first US county to ban hairstyle discrimination on the local level. 

"In an effort to combat racist policies that prohibit Black people from wearing hairstyles like Afros, cornrows, and braids in schools, companies, and other institutions, city council members passed a bill to expand the definition of race used in their human rights legislation. It will expand the definition of race to include natural hairstyles, like Afros, twists, Bantu knots and protective hairstyles like braids, that people of African descent wear," Montgomery County Council member Will Jawando said.  Expanding the definition of race to include hair is a direct response to the wave of discrimination towards Black people across the US for wearing traditional natural hairstyles in schools and workplaces."

California, New York, and New Jersey as well as the city of Cincinnati,  have enacted the "Crown Act" (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) and many states are considering passage. 

February 12, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Dutch Ruling Curbs Use of Algorithms to Violate Human Rights

U.S. anti-poverty and privacy advocates, take note!  Last week, a Dutch court ordered the government to halt an automated surveillance system because, said the court, it violated the human rights of welfare recipients.  In particular, by collating swaths of data on entire neighborhoods in an effort to identify profiles of potential defrauders, the court said that the algorithm used by the Dutch government, SyRI, contravened the right to a private life guaranteed under European Human Rights Law. 

The human rights dangers posed by the growing digitization of welfare is an issue that UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Philip Alston, explored in-depth in his October 2019 report to the UN General Assembly.  The Special Rapporteur also participated as an amicus in the Dutch case -- his brief is available here.  

Tom Simonite of Wired magazine notes that "While European courts and regulators begin to impose limits on government use of AI and algorithms on citizens, US residents have few protections.  'There’s no federal data protection law equivalent to the GDPR,” says Amos Toh, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch in New York.' Where such laws exist, he says, they often exempt government actions."

February 11, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 10, 2020

US Government Investigates Mississippi Prisons

The Federal government is investigating Mississippi prison conditions.  Parchman and four other facilities are being investigated for their inhume living conditions.  According to NBC News, among the complaints are food containing insects, rodent feces and hair. Lack of running water and showers for weeks as a form of group punishment.  Prison staff would promise steak dinners and DVDs if inmates cleaned up the filth and mold before an outside agency came in to inspect.  The investigation was prompted after a series of violent deaths as well as protests to shut down Parchman.  "Since Dec. 29, at least 15 inmates have died across Mississippi's prisons, with several resulting from gang-related riots, according to officials. At least two of the deaths were suicide-related."

On February 19th, Columbia University School of Law will host a teach-in and fundraiser supporting Mississippi efforts to close the offending prisons and other coalitions looking to reform or abolish prisons.  For more information and to register click here.



February 10, 2020 in Margaret Drew, Prisons | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Impeachment - The Right Thing To Do

The Republican members of the Senate, all but one, displayed their lack of courage in failing to find the President guilty of crimes against the country.  The corruption of the process included a bar on calling witnesses or otherwise ensure fairness.  This was no surprise.  The sham "trial" was noted world-wide. The President remains impeached even if not removed from office.

Despite the predictable senatorial lack of respect for process as well as the partisan vote, the impeachment process was critical for moral and historical reasons.  Memorializing for future generations that there were leaders who oppose political corruption as well as the disintegration of what remains of our democracy, was significant.    Schiff, Pelosi, and Romney are names that now are recorded as voices of the dissent.  When future historians reflect on this era and write about the decline of U.S. culture and political systems, concerned opposition will be noted. 

February 9, 2020 in Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Quotes of the Day

Margaret Mead:  "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Adam Schiff, 2020: “Every single vote, even a single vote, by a single member, can change the course of history.  It is said that a single man or woman of courage makes a majority. Is there one among you who will say, ‘Enough’?”

Mitt Romney, 2020:  "I will only be one name among many, no more, no less, to future generations of Americans who look at the record of this trial. They will note merely that I was among the senators who determined that what the president did was wrong, grievously wrong. We are all footnotes at best in the annals of history, but in the most powerful nation on Earth, the nation conceived in liberty and justice, that distinction is enough for any citizen." 

Marie L. Yovanovitch, 2020:  “[I]t turns out that our institutions need us as much as we need them; they need the American people to protect them or they will be hollowed out over time, unable to serve and protect our country.” 

February 6, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Get Smart: Cities Coalition for Digital Rights

In 2018, the cities of Amsterdam, Barcelona, and New York, came together to create a new coalition focused on both expanding and protecting digital rights.  Two years later, in January 2020, the Coalition announced that 45 cities are now participating, including many U.S. cities.

The Coalition is committed to the following "evolving" principles articulated in the Declaration of the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights:

  • Universal and equal access to the internet, and digital literacy
  • Privacy, data protection and security
  • Transparency, accountability, and non-discrimination of data, content and algorithms
  • Participatory Democracy, diversity and inclusion
  • Open and ethical digital service standards

 Meeting recently in Barcelona, city representatives mapped out modes of information exchange and shared problem-solving as cities move ahead with urban technology implementation.

A number of recent reports and articles address the imperative of pairing technology with human rights perspectives in the implementation of the Smart City.  In light of reports on the abuses of urban technology for surveillance of Muslim minorities and others in China, development of human rights-informed standards of implementation are critical.

In addition toe New York City, U.S. cities involved in the Cities Coalition include Austin, Texas; Chicago; Cary, North Carolina; Kansas City (the Missouri one); Long Beach, California; Los Angeles; Philadelphia; Portland, Oregon; and San Antonio.

February 5, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 3, 2020

UN Hacked

The Vienna and Geneva offices of the United Nations were hacked.  The hack was reported to be a sophisticated one that usually indicates espionage.  Dozens of servers were compromised, including the Human Rights Office.  According to  ABC News, the level of sophistication was so high that a state-level actor is suspected.  The UN claims that no sensitive information was obtained.  

Reports claim that "The hack comes at a time when concerns about computer and mobile phone vulnerabilities, for large organizations such as governments and the U.N. as well as for individuals and businesses" and "there is no indication that data was exfiltrated from Vienna" which is the UN's home to their office on Drugs and Crime.

February 3, 2020 in Martha F. Davis, United Nations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 2, 2020

New Paper Suggests Scholars' Claims re. UDHR's Legal Status in the U.S. are Overblown

Rossana Deplano, a Lecturer at Leicester Law School, has posted a new paper that undertakes an empirical examination of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights' treatment in U.S. courts.  Here is the short abstract for the paper, which was presented at the 2019 Stanford International Junior Faculty Forum:

"This paper contributes to the conceptualization of the customary status of the UDHR by focusing on the use US federal courts have made of it (1949-2018). It provides one of the possible angles of inquiry, but it does not claim completeness. In performing an empirical study, it aims at supplementing, rather than replacing, legal theory on this issue."

The paper takes a rigorous empirical approach to examining the issue, reviewing recent US cases and charting their citations and treatment of the UDHR.  In the end, the paper concludes:

"What the findings suggest is that, in accordance with the principle of separation of powers, it is down to Congress to internalize the UDHR rights in statute, thus empowering the courts to enforce them. In this sense, the UDHR has a moral force and should be considered as ‘a source of obligation’ rather than a source of law in its own right.

In conclusion, it appears that the customary status of the UDHR in US and international law is greatly exaggerated, especially in the writings of scholars. Further research in this field may prove or disprove the findings of this study, thus providing a more comprehensive picture of the
current legal status of the UDHR under domestic and international law. Much remains to be done in advancing the global cause of human rights."

The paper can be downloaded from the Social Science Research Network.

February 2, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (2)