Monday, August 31, 2020
Does anyone really read the Democrat and Republican Party Platforms? This year, the Republican Party apparently decided that it wasn't even worth the time required to update their 2016 document for the 2020 election -- they simply re-adopted it wholesale. Still, Professor Marjorie Hershey argues that they signal who has power within the party, and may accurately predict what to expect in the next four years from the successful candidate.
So where do human rights sit within the two platforms for this year's election? Here's a simple analysis based just on a word search for the terms "human rights."
The Democrat Party Platform uses the term "human rights" twenty-one times. Often, the term appears in reference to foreign policy and efforts through diplomacy or trade deals to promote human rights. Here are some examples:
"We will stand up to the forces of authoritarianism, not aid and abet their rise, and we will speak and act with clarity and purpose on behalf of human rights wherever they are under threat."
"We will negotiate strong and enforceable standards for labor, human rights, and the environment in the core text of our trade deals."
But the Platform also includes some recognition of the need to apply human rights at home. For example:
"Far too often, the law has shielded police officers who stand accused of heinous violations of civil and human rights."
"We will ensure that our immigration policies account for the needs of LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers, and that we use the full slate of human rights promotion and accountability tools to defend the universal rights of LGBTQ+ people.
"Democrats believe that freedom of religion and the right to believe—or not to believe—are fundamental human rights. We will never use protection of that right as a cover for discrimination."
And the Democrat Party Platform also re-situates the United States as a participant within international human rights institutions:
"We will rejoin and reform the WHO, the United Nations Human Rights Council, and the United Nations Population Fund, because in a global public health crisis and a global democratic recession, American leadership is needed more than ever. We will work to modernize international institutions to make sure they are fit for purpose in the 21st century and responsible stewards of both public funds and the world’s trust."
This election year, the Republican Party simply re-adopted its 2016 Platform. Not surprisingly, there are some dated references. However, looking at the Platform's treatment of "human rights" provides a useful comparison with the Democrat's document.
The Republicans' Platform uses the term "human rights" ten times in the document. All of the references occur in connection to foreign policy. Here's a typical example:that presages the recent report of Secretary Pompeo's Commission on Unalienable Rights:
"The United States needs a radical rethinking of our human rights diplomacy. A Republican administration will adopt a 'whole of government' approach to protect fundamental freedoms globally, one where pressing human rights and rule of law issues are integrated at every appropriate level of our bilateral relationships and strategic decision-making."
At the same time, the document heavily criticizes human rights institutions such as the Human Rights Council and the United Nations. Further, unlike the Democrat Platform, the Republican Platform makes no connection between human rights with any domestic issues or policies.
Of course, word search is a crude instrument for analyzing these platforms. It may be that both of the Platforms more fully address human rights using other terms for these concepts. But to the extent that "human rights" has a particular meaning and valence in the world, the numbers and examples discussed here are likely indicative of each party's leanings. At bottom, neither of the platforms include the sort of deep human rights analysis that would be appropriate to the occasion, but the recognition that human rights norms apply domestically, as in the Democrat Platform, is worth noting and hopefully, building on.
Sunday, August 30, 2020
Hurricane Laura did serious damage to several states, primarily west Texas and Louisiana. While the devastation was severe the damage was not as extensive as predicted, future hurricanes may prove to be more deadly. Weather services predict that the number of hurricanes this season may not vary from prior years. The difference will be in their intensity and the level of devastation.
Women suffer more during disasters. Whatever the disaster, war, flood, tornado, or earthquake women are at higher risk for sexual assault within and without of their homes. Lessons from the 2005 Hurricane Katrina revealed horror stories of women being sexually assaulted while in temporary shelters. Women were assaulted consistently and without any police protection, even when police or other security was available. At the same time, proved through several studies, women experience increased domestic violence at home.
With the warning of the likelihood of a devastating hurricane season, this is the time for planning to protect those who will be at risk of sexual assault and other gender violence. Research confirmed this information at least two decades ago. But still we do no disaster planning to protect women during disaster. While we cannot change past victimization of women during disaster, we can plan for protection of women, particularly women of color and transgender women, from the horrors of sexual violence and the resulting trauma for those already traumatized by disaster.
Thursday, August 27, 2020
This blog has been honored to have posted contributions by Gay McDougall. Professor McDougall is a recognized human rights scholar and activist who has served in various positions for the United Nations. She is known for her international advocacy against racial discrimination, including her leadership in the anti-apartheid movement in the U.S.
On Thursday September 3rd, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination will honor Ms. McDougall's work through a scheduled webinar. The announcement states:
"Ms. McDougall has served in several critical roles at the United Nations advancing the rights of minority groups worldwide. She was the first UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues, the Special Rapporteur on the issue of systematic rape and sexual slavery practices in armed conflict for the UN Sub-Commission on Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, and most recently, the Vice Chair of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. In honoring Ms. McDougall, this webinar will also examine how activists, academics, and U.S. civil society can use United Nations mechanisms to hold the United States to account for enduring racial injustices and inequities. As racism and xenophobia continue to blight the lives of millions of people in the US and elsewhere, the demand for innovative and additional United Nations action grows louder. "
To register, please click here.
Wednesday, August 26, 2020
Professor Elvira Dominguez-Redondo has written a new book, published by Oxford University Press, titled In Defense of Politicization of Human Rights: The UN Special Procedures.
The publisher describes the book:
"In Defense of Politicization of Human Rights: The UN Special Procedures constitutes the first comprehensive study of the United Nations Special Procedures, covering their history, methods of work, institutional status, relationship with other politically driven organs, and processes affecting their development. Special Procedures have existed since 1967, nearly as long as United Nations Treaty Bodies, but have received only fragmented analysis, normally focused on a few thematic mandates, until the creation of the Human Rights Council in 2006.
In seeking to debunk commonly held views about the role of politics in human rights at international level, In Defense of Politicization of Human Rights constitutes the first comprehensive study of the United Nations Special Procedures as a system covering their history, methods of work, institutional status, relationship with other politically driven organs, and processes affecting their development. The perspective chosen to analyze the human rights mechanisms most vulnerable to political decisions determining their creation, renewal and operationalization, casts a new light on the extent to which these remain the cornerstone of global accountability in protecting the inherent dignity and worth of individuals as well as groups.
International human rights mechanisms' efficiency is normally linked to the work of independent experts keen to push the boundaries of accountability against recalcitrant States determined to defend their sovereignty. As a corollary, progress in this field is associated to the creation and maintenance of political free spaces. Another common presumption is a belief in a differentiated 'North' versus 'South' approach to the promotion and protection of human rights, that find common ground within the prevalent human rights discourses repeated by governmental and non-governmental actors. Through the lenses of the United Nations Special Procedures, In Defense of Politicization of Human Rights challenges these and other presumptions informing doctrinal studies, policies and strategies to advance international human rights. Because of the Special Procedures' growing salience and impact in the world of international human rights, this book is likely to become required reading for any student or practitioner of international human rights."
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
The Kansas Human Rights Commission on Friday moved to begin accepting employment, housing and public accommodation complaints based on application of Bostock v. Layton County, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that blocked employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity under Title VII.
The commission’s move took into consideration the implications of the Bostock decision affirming a broad definition of “sex” in the context of Title VII, the federal anti-discrimination law administered by the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.
According to the Shawnee Mission Post, Ruth Glover, executive director of the Kansas state commission, informed members of the Kansas Legislature that the commission weighed the court’s decision in Bostock and chose to apply it to the state law, the Kansas Act Against Discrimination. The commissioners additionally determined to consider complaints based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of public accommodation and housing.
Monday, August 24, 2020
The 2020 American Black Film Festival is under way. If you have not participated yet, you have time to see several features over the remaining days of the festival. The festival runs through Sunday and addresses many human and civil rights.
The festival includes short and feature films and discussions by directors, writers,and other diverse story tellers. One of the many interesting films is Son of the South, produced by Spike Lee. Here is a summary:
Directed by Barry Alexander Brown the film is set in the summer of 1961, Son of the South tells the true story of Bob Zellner, grandson of an Alabama Klansman, who went against his family as the civil rights movement began to heat up in the deep South. Living in Montgomery, he witnessed first-hand the heroism of John Lewis, Martin Luther King, Jr and Rosa Parks who said to him when he was wavering, “Something bad is going to happen right in front of you someday and you’re going to have to choose which side you’re on – not choosing is a choice.” This is an honest and inspiring account of what it takes to do the right thing.
A discussion with Barry Alexander Brown will follow the screening.
Sunday, August 23, 2020
Stephen Jensen, Senior Researcher with the Danish Institute for Human Rights, recently published an essay in the South African paper The Daily Maverick, on the 1920 Declaration of the Rights of Negro Peoples of the World. Writes Jensen:
"Drafted and adopted in New York at the first annual convention of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, the Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World laid out many themes that have continued to shape human rights debates up until today. A forgotten document, its story deserves to be brought to light – perhaps more than ever in a year that has brought racial inequalities and the #BlackLivesMatter movement to the forefront of international political debate."
To keep reading, use this link!
Thursday, August 20, 2020
The Trump administration attempted to prevent trans individuals from receiving healthcare. The administration attempted to "to erase protections for transgender patients against discrimination by doctors, hospitals and health insurance companies, dealing a blow to the broader legal reasoning it has used to try to roll back transgender rights across the government." Judge Block of the Federal District Court (Brooklyn) found that the proposed roll back was unconstitutional under the Bostock case.
While the ruling is only a preliminary injunction, Bostock made clear that the definition of sex discrimination includes trans individuals. Hooray!
Wednesday, August 19, 2020
Back in July, the London School of Economics ran this interesting blog analyzing the possibility that as President Joe Biden might re-assert human rights as a central component of US foreign policy. The Democratic National Convention, happening on-line this week, has so far given little evidence to support this. Jimmy Carter did speak to the convention on Tuesday evening, endorsing Biden's candidacy. But the focus was on Biden's character, rather than his policies. Instead, the most notable mention of human rights has come from the progressive voices in the party rather than the candidate or his surrogates.
Here at the Human Rights at Home blog, we'll be listening and hoping for more as the Biden campaign and its policy proposals continue to coalesce.
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
On August 18, the anniversary of the 19th Amendment and women's suffrage, President Trump announced with great fanfare that he would be pardoning feminist activist Susan B. Anthony, who was convicted in 1873 of voting illegally. Humorist Andy Borowitz joked that Anthony pleaded that Trump not pardon her, given the company of other "pardonees" that she would join.
In fact, though, no one could or did consult Anthony about whether she wanted a pardon. After all, she passed away in 1906.
I can't help but think that New York Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul is right, though, when she says that Susan B. Anthony doesn't need and wouldn't want the President's pardon.
Anthony sought to vote in the 1872 presidential election in order to make a point about women's suffrage, knowing that what she was attempting was against a law that she knew was unjust. The fact that she was prosecuted simply further proved her point, and served as a rallying cry for those seeking to expand the vote. As Hochul noted in her statement, Anthony remained in defiance of the discriminatory voting law and refused to pay the fine that was levied against her.
Pardoning her is not a vindication. Instead, the act has the potential to erase her civil disobedience and the government's complicity in enforcing a blatantly discriminatory law. Susan B. Anthony is a complicated figure, more than prepared to leave black women behind in her push for women's suffrage.
There are many things, good and bad, that we should be remembering about Susan B. Anthony and the push for suffrage as we celebrate the 19th amendment. Rewriting that history of struggle through this belated pardon is an act that Anthony would almost certainly reject.
Monday, August 17, 2020
Women's national right to vote is 100 years old. Those women who led and supported the movement to change the law so that women could vote were brave. Katy Cady Stanton,Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Alice Paul and Margaret Fuller are the names most Americans associate with the suffrage movement. Who can name the leading Black women who promoted suffrage?
Only with BLM has the general white populace become aware of Black women's leadership in the suffrage movement. This week brought articles on Black women who not only advanced suffrage but did so effectively. The New York Times this week included information on how black women, including Ida B. Wells, documented the Black suffrage movement through photography. Black suffrage organizers argued that racism and sexism could not be separated. Today's BLM women recognize that intersectionality as the #Say Her Name movement represents.
For a time, Alice Paul was persuaded by racists who felt that Southern women would not support Northern suffrage movement if Black women were permitted to march with White women. The Guardian wrote about this choice in describing an incident documented in PBS' "The Vote". Once again racism was permitted to influence decision making, which only postponed US reckoning with race. While ultimately Alice Paul agreed that Black women would not march separately, her initial opposition and continued failure to give equal status to the Black leaders caused harm.
Some of the many Black suffrage leaders' names to remember: Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell, May Howard Jackson, Harriet Gibbs Marshall, Drs. Amanda Gray and Eva Walsh, Anna Evans Murray, Georgia Simpson, Harriet Shad, Lulie Niles Fisher, Lucretia A. Freeman, Minnie Gaines, Florence Henderson, Nettie Johnson, and Carrie Clifford. #SayTheirNames.
Sunday, August 16, 2020
As the summer draws to a close here in the Northeastern Hemisphere, there's no better time to carve out a few minutes for reflection on history, memory, human rights, and, necessarily these days, COVID-19. The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience makes it easy, with a stellar series of webinars and recorded dialogues geared for our times.
Recordings from the Stronger Together Covid-19 series include sessions on activism, transitional justice, civil liberties, refugees and gender issues. Speakers include representatives from the Coalition's member organizations as well as activists and leaders from around the world.
Upcoming webinars in their Conscience Matters series focus on divisive monuments, and self-care for frontline museum workers now that many facilities have re-opened.
Founded in 1999, the Coalition has over 300 members in 65 countries. U.S. members range from the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial in Boise, Idaho, to the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation in Tulsa, to the Pauli Murray Project at the Duke Human Rights Center. The common thread uniting these sites is "their common commitment to connect past to present, memory to action." In an era of rampant mistrust of everything from the news to one's neighbors, this is critically important work. Kudos to the Coalition for sharing these webinars widely.
Thursday, August 13, 2020
Worried about the integrity of the United States' November presidential election? So are our peer countries the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In June of this year, at the invitation of the State Department, the OSCE sent a preliminary team to determine whether monitoring was warranted. Their conclusion? They recommended sending up to 500 short-term and long-term observers. Recruitment of those observers, who must come from outside the U.S., was completed earlier this month.
The OSCE preliminary report also expressed concern that the U.S. had done little to respond to the group's prior recommendations on election integrity. Notably, non-partisan observers are not allowed for federal elections in a number of states. The OSCE preliminary report expressed particular concern regarding voter intimidation. This November, for the first time in decades, Republican poll-watchers will be allowed on the premises, with the explicit mission of challenging hapless individuals attempting to cast their ballots; the 30-year consent decree that barred this activity because of a record of Republican voter intimidation expired in 2018.
Non -partisan election observers can provide an important check on efforts to undermine democratic elections. But with the complexity of the U.S. system, and the partisan onslaught on voting during a pandemic -- beginning with undercutting the mails themselves -- will the situation prove to be too much for observers to handle? In the end, we must save our own democracy, but human rights activists in the U.S. should do what we can to ensure that the OSCE's election observers are heard as part of that process.
Wednesday, August 12, 2020
Much excitement has greeted Mr. Biden's announcement that his vice-presidential running mate is Senator Kamala Harris.
The selection of a Black, female running mate is a consequence of and a response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Harris is not without her controversy, particularly on issues of mass incarceration and prosecutorial rigidity. During her prosecutorial and Attorney General days she opposed release of incarcerated people proved innocent. Then after their release she opposed awarding the compensation to the exonerees. Law and order was one of her signature policies. Both Biden and Harris will have difficulty distancing themselves from the players who maintained (and in Biden's case built) the carceral state.
That said, Senator Harris brings high energy to the campaign and she brings self-confidence and a commitment to helping the most desperate during the current health crisis. She knows how Congress works and is a good match for the bad boys of Congress. Her inquiries at the Kavanaugh hearings revealed her understanding of issues that impact women. And her parental heritage ensures her understanding of multiple cultures.
How exciting it would be if our first female president is a woman of color. The vice-presidency could set her up well for a presidential run.
No candidate will meet all needs. But as the authors of How Democracies Die reminds us, in order to defeat an autocrat it is only necessary that opposition groups unite behind the alternative candidate. Whatever disagreements anti-autocrats may have with the alternate candidate are unimportant. Unification to defeat the autocrat is imperative to the survival of a democratic state. Everything else can be dealt with later. The 2020 election is our turning point. Post-election we either struggle on as a democracy or we bid farewell to the Republic and acknowledge the solidification of the US as an authoritarian state.
Tuesday, August 11, 2020
In a groundbreaking case, the ACLU of Michigan, the NAACP LDF, and others, in July filed a class action lawsuit seeking to permanently end Detroit's practice of shutting off water to households regardless of need. While shutoffs are suspended to the end of the year by virtue of the Governor's emergency order, they are slated to resume eventually. In addition to injunctive relief, plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages for the injuries that they suffered as a result of past household water shutoffs, some of which extended for years.
Importantly, this suit raises the novel claim that water access is a substantive due process right, particularly during a pandemic when public health is jeopardized by lack of household water. In addition, the suit presents compelling data to establish that discriminatory, racially-based shutoffs violated civil rights laws.
Speaking to the press, the defendants have asserted that the complaint is rendered moot by the temporary restoration of water services during COVID-19. A formal response to the complaint is expected in the coming weeks.
Monday, August 10, 2020
The Violence Against Women's Act was pursued by well-intentioned advocates. Much good has come from the funding that accompanied the act's passage. Funded domestic violence shelters and other services for those experiencing intimate partner abuse has provided options to survivors and their children. From the beginning, however, there were serious flaws in the act. But those were not significant enough for advocates to abandon their advocacy.
Women of color were mostly excluded from the VAWA drafting process. If they had been, they would have raised objections to the stream of funding being primarily to and through the police. Advocates quickly assessed the error of the overwhelming role that law enforcement was assigned under VAWA. The act presumes that the criminal system - law enforcement and prosecutors - is entitled to lead anti intimate partner abuse efforts. How wrong that presumption is.
Had women of color, particularly Native and African American women, been guiding VAWA's development, they would have cautioned about the risks of criminal law involvement. Certainly there are times when victims are safe only when the abusive partner is confined. But many downsides can result from survivors' participation in the criminal system. Survivors complain of not having control over the criminal process. When survivors do not wish to pursue charges, they can be subpoenaed or held in contempt. In one case, the survivor was arrested for contempt for failing to appear at a scheduled hearing. Ultimately the prosecution decided that even with the survivor's testimony they did not have sufficient evidence to prosecute. The survivor ended up with an arrest record for a case the prosecution never pursued.
Further detrimental consequences from the criminal system abound. Cooperation with police can be dangerous to survivors who fear and suffer worse abuse because of their cooperation. Survivors suffering from PTSD or other mental health disorders may not have capacity to testify without suffering further health consequences. Mothers, particularly women of color, may lose custody of their children to the state or to the abuser for "failing to protect" them from an abuser over whom the mother has no control. The arrested abusive partner may not be able to find work, even after an acquittal. With a conviction, employment may be even more difficult to obtain, leaving the the survivor and children financially desperate.
Drastically reducing funding to the criminal system and shifting those funds to civil services can provide what victims decide they need. This could include permanent, safe housing and financial support until survivors can be self-sufficient; mental health resources for survivors and their children. With a shift in funding, survivors could design their own restorative plans for them, their children and even their abusers if they desire.
For critical thinking on the criminal legal system and it's sideways direction in domestic violence cases, I suggest reading Leigh Goodmark's book "decriminalizing Domestic Violence".
Sunday, August 9, 2020
A few weeks ago, many businesses were composing statements of support for the Black Lives Matter protests and issuing calls to combat systemic racism. The Shift project, a non-profit that works with businesses to address human rights, points out that these responses have almost always been framed as voluntary commitments of socially conscious companies. Shift says, "that needs to change."
In fact, argues Shift, "all businesses have an ironclad responsibility to address their connections to these underlying inequalities, as set out in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights." Shift has published a useful briefing note explaining some of the implications of this responsibility. Among other things, Shift asserts that under the Guiding Principles, businesses must be ready to support protesters, and should examine their own products and practices for connections to discrimination.
Thursday, August 6, 2020
In the U.S. we are familiar with the decades of abuse by Dr. Larry Nassar of young female gymnast, other countries are reporting similar abuses of their girls. Professor Dunlap followed Nassar in earlier posts.
Now other countries are recognizing abuses against their young athletes.
"Complaints by at least 20 former Australian gymnasts about physical and mental abuse during their careers has prompted Gymnastics Australia to ask a human rights group to investigate. The gymnasts, including Olympic and Commonwealth Games gold medalists, have recently spoken of a toxic culture within the sport. They also used social media platforms to detail fat-shaming and other forms of abuse." While the identity of the gymnasts was not disclosed, public fat shaming of male athletes has not been observed by this writer. The Australian Human Rights Commission will investigate.
Meanwhile Dutch authorities are investigating similar abuses and in the meantime has suspended the women's training program. British Gymnastics is conducting an investigation into the abuse of their female gymnasts. And Flemish Gymnastics Federation is conducting its own investigation.
The brave women who accused Larry Nassar empowered women and girls around the world to report abuse. Another thank you to those brave women who came forward in Michigan.
Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Now, with frequent handwashing as the first line of defense against COVID-19, the absence of a right to water in the U.S. is manifest in rising human costs. In Indian Country, the regions of the U.S. most likely to lack water infrastructure, COVID-19 is rampant. In urban areas, where overdue water payments have been stayed during COVID emergencies, the bills continue to accumulate and will soon be leading to evictions and foreclosures as emergencies are lifted.
Human rights norms make clear that water shut-offs violate human rights when individuals do not have the ability to pay, yet shut-offs are routinely utilized in many communities around the U.S.
Is there anything to celebrate at this anniversary year? Several bills current pending in Congress take this issue seriously; they propose assistance for local water authorities to enable them to avoid shut-offs, and create new safeguards to ensure that water and sanitation are available to all. Some local governments like Portland, Seattle, and Philadelphia have adopted innovative approaches, from providing water bill assistance to renters to adjusting payments to conform to individual ability to pay.
While positive, these are small steps. Human Rights Watch has produced a video that shows the magnitude of the challenge.
Tuesday, August 4, 2020
In a rare move, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted precautionary measures in favor of migrants detained in the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. The migrants had challenged the conditions of their detention particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The petition was filed by the Seattle University Law School Human Rights Clinic, La Resistencia NW, and Global Rights Advocacy.
The IACHR concluded that: "Having analyzed the submissions of fact and law, the Commission considers that the information shows, prima facie, that the rights to life, personal integrity and health of the migrants being detained at the NWDC face a serious and urgent situation of irreparable harm." Steps mandated include creating effective mechanisms for challenging the detention, particular for those facing medical issues; safety protocols appropriate to the pandemic such as cleaning and social distancing; and reducing the number of detainees at the facility. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants had previously called for similar measures in the Tacoma facility.
In recent years, advocates feared that the IACHR's financial concerns had muted its review of US human rights violations. The U.S. is the largest contributor to the Organization of American States, of which the IACHR is a part, and US budget cuts to the IACHR have been on the table in recent years. This determination helps assuage the fears that financial threats might influence human rights enforcement.
According to Professor Thomas Antkowiak of Seattle, going forward, the IACHR "will regularly monitor the situation at the detention center, and check in with the U.S. Government, to see whether ICE is implementing the recommendations. This will involve regular meetings with high-level officials and us."