Wednesday, June 30, 2021
Please find resources and a synopsis report from a National Strategy Meeting on Realizing the Rights to Food, Health, and Housing in the U.S., hosted by the University of Miami School of Law’s Human Rights Clinic and the Cardozo Law Institute in Holocaust and Human Rights.
The first half of the meeting consisted of short topical panels on the rights to food, health, and housing. Advocates from each of these fields shared strategies, lessons, achievements, and challenges and set the scene for the second half of the meeting, which focused on cross-cutting issues and opportunities for future collaboration. Potential joint initiatives identified included exchanging legal tools and models for transformation, shifting narratives from individual responsibility to structural causes and away from a scarcity mentality, disrupting our current system through direct action and political education, and challenging corporate power and the financialization of basic services. With regards to the last point on the privatization of basic services, the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights just released a compendium, collecting the statements of United Nations (UN) treaty bodies on private actors’ involvement in health care, as a tool for advocates.
The meeting concluded with a panel discussion on the documentary film, PUSH, which investigates the increasing unaffordability of housing in cities around the world. The film features Leilani Farha, the former UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing and Global Director of The Shift, launched with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and United Cities and Local Governments to secure the right to adequate housing.
The Strategy Meeting has already inspired some action. Advocates in West Virginia and Washington, excited by efforts in Maine to enshrine the right to food in the state constitution, introduced their own right to food legislative efforts. To find out more about this growing movement, please see a recent article by Michael Fakhri, current UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food.
Wednesday, March 3, 2021
On Friday February 26, 2021, 23 UN human rights experts issued a very strong statement on policing and systemic racism in the United States. The statement calls out police use of excessive force against protesters, highlighting the Philadelphia Police Department’s violent crackdown on Black Lives Matter protesters last June. The statement is also the first time international human rights experts have echoed the Black Lives Matter Movement and allied groups in calling to shift resources from police departments to social and economic resources to support communities of color.
This is also very significant because the last time the UN addressed the issue there was outrage after the UN Human Rights Council watered down a resolution on police brutality and racism after George Floyd's murder, removing the language condemning the US and calling for an investigation.
This statement would not have been possible but for the incredible advocacy of Professors Rachel Lopez and Lauren Katz Smith and their students at Drexel's Kline School of Law, as well as the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
Tuesday, June 2, 2020
Editors' Note: With welcomed timing, Cardozo introduces Human Rights Teaching Guides.
Cardozo Law Institute in Holocaust and Human Rights (CLIHHR) launched Confronting Structural Violence: Law Teaching Guides to provide open-access teaching resources for professors.
Law faculty in a range of disciplines can download and immediately use any of the 10 open-access Law Teaching Guides, which are grounded in cases many professors already teach and cover topics that are currently making headlines. The Law Teaching Guides, which cover constitutional law, international law, criminal law, corporations, and IP, are a flexible resource professors can easily adapt for introductory survey courses or upper-level seminars. Please feel free to take a look and share with any law faculty who may find the Guides useful.
To download the Guides and for more information about the project, visit: go.yu.edu/cardozo/lawteachingguides
Tuesday, April 16, 2019
Richard Zorza passed away on April 13th. For those of you who did not have the pleasure of knowing him, Richard was an amazing and brilliant thinker and social justice leader whose career was formed around access to justice. A Harvard Law School graduate, Richard, and Joan Zorza each engaged in public interest legal work throughout their careers. Joan became a respected domestic violence researcher and practitioner. Richard spent his early career as a public defender and then began a journey to introduce courts and others to how technology could be used to assist the self-represented and how courts can better manage cases involving the self-represented. One of Richard's most significant contributions was his writing and training on judicial neutrality. Richard explained that judicial neutrality was not achieved by the court's failure to inquire of pro se litigants, Rather, Richard theorized, judicial neutrality is best achieved when judicial inquiry is employed to determine the facts of a matter so that the court may make an informed decision. " As Richard alerted the judicial system " The appearance of judicial neutrality has caused us improperly to equate judicial engagement with judicial non-neutrality, and therefore to resist the forms of judicial engagement that are in fact required to guarantee true neutrality." Richard's contribution to the ethics of "judicial neutrality" and the proper way to achieve neutrality were groundbreaking and continue to influence judicial thought on cases with the self-represented. His article The Disconnect Between the Requirements of Judicial Neutrality and Those of the Appearance of Neutrality when Parties Appear Pro Se: Causes, Solutions, Recommendations, and Implications was published in 2004.
Richard's most recent contribution to self-represented literature is Five New Broad Ideas to Cut Through the Access to Justice-Commercialization-Deregulation Conundrum published in 2016.
The Legal Services Corporation recently honored Richard with a resolution recognizing his contributions to US legal development.
"Richard has devoted his professional life to improving access to justice in America, particularly for those who cannot afford to pay for counsel. He has worked as a public defender, a legal services attorney and a justice technology designer. Richard was the founder of the Self Represented Litigation Network and served as the coordinator of the Network at its inception and later on its executive committee. The Network has played an indispensable role in bringing together courts, bar associations and access to justice organizations in support of innovation in services for the self-represented. The National Conference of Chief Justices and National Conference of State Court Administrators have described Richard “as the foremost ambassador and crusader for the cause of self-represented litigants in the United States” and as a leader whose “service has been marked by exceptional accomplishments which have benefited innumerable litigants and courts throughout the nation.”
Tuesday, January 1, 2019
Like most, I am pleased to say goodbye to 2018. Although after reflecting, I see the many benefits from the year just gone.
While shocked on a near-daily basis at the disrespect spewing from the White House and Congress, this was also a year of mobilization. Demonstrations supported women, refugees, children and families, the environment and other concerns about US policies as well as the survival of the republic. Human rights appear to be in decline within our borders, however the opportunity to discuss human rights law and universal human rights has never had a broader US audience. Many who are stunned by the disrespectful culture had not been familiar with the human rights framework. For many, what had been intuited as inappropriate and inhumane behavior now is understood as a deprivation of human rights.
2018 saw the #MeToo and Times Up movements thrive, bringing results with it. The movement to eliminate confidential settlement agreements, the convictions of Larry Nassar and Bill Cosby, along with the arrest of Harvey Weinstein were shocking only in their novelty. CEOs and other business leaders are being dethroned. Women supporting women made the difference.
Black Lives Matter is widely supported and the focus of public action as well as long overdue examination of the civil and criminal justice systems.
A new and diverse Democratic cohort was elected and will assume their congressional roles.
Much remains to be done. Men and women of color continue to be harmed by police in disproportionate rates, to the extent that few conclusions can be drawn other the targeting and bias toward brown and black people. Women and the sexually different experience higher rates of violence than men. Men experience high rates of gang violence. Children are separated from their parents at borders as well as through our civil and criminal systems that fail to honor the bonding of children with their parents. Congress needs to determine whether it will promote democracy by reining in a cruel president.
2018 was a year of adjustment. For the first time there was widespread discussion whether our democracy will or can survive. Behavior we considered unthinkable in a president shocked us, along with the impact of inhumane policies. Now we know what to expect. Any denial of the fragility of our democracy has been dispelled.
And we survived. We are more settled, more focused. 2019 will bring new strategies and activism. Hope abounds. I for one look forward to the New Year, not only because it marks the end of a difficult 2018, but because we have seen successes in human rights advocacy and more successes are on their way.
Sunday, May 6, 2018
Having just completed my first Inside Out program with our local women's jail, I witnessed first hand the transformation that occurs when those who have been deprived of adequate education begin their journey to learning. A 2013 RAND Corporation study affirmed what most suspected. Education is key to reducing recidivism. "Our meta-analytic findings provide additional support for the premise that receiving correctional education while incarcerated reduces an individual’s risk of recidivating after release." The promotion of Inside-Out programs was one topic discussed recently by Pulitzer Prize winning Prof. James Forman at the AALS Clinical Section Conference. Forman is the author of Locking Up Our Own, which looks at the roots of mass incarceration. Forman advocated for more college education classes in prisons and jails.
Receipt of books by those who are incarcerated is essential for continuation of "inside" self-education. But educational programs are not a priority, particularly for privatized prisons. Everything from phone calls to Skype visits with children are available only to prisoners who pay. Shortsighted is the most generous description I can attach to a recently announced policy that prisoners would no longer be able to receive books directly from distributors, except for one approved by the prison. And those books would come with a 30% mark up.
Family and friends of incarcerated men and women responded, as well as those inside, as well. Coleman federal prison in Sumterville, FL was one that announced the new policy and that facility was the topic of advocacy efforts through national listserves and individual inquiry. Then the policy was rescinded.
To the extent that the policy was a "test", the national grassroots response was sufficient to at least postpone its implementation.
Thursday, February 15, 2018
Adam Foss is an amazing advocate for juveniles. As a Suffolk County (MA) prosecutor, Mr. Foss learned to listen to his young clients and came to understand the reasons why poor, and often brown or black, youths engage in criminal activity. Interrupting the school to prison pipeline is something he recognizes that all of us can do. Addressing the fundamental needs of poor boys and girls, such as education and self-esteem, are key. The difficulty comes in convincing prosecutors to be invested in listening to the juveniles' stories and creating responses that assist them in escaping lives of financial and emotional poverty. Adam Foss' transformative approach to juvenile justice can lead to not only transformation of the juveniles but of the prosecutors, as well.
Mr. Foss' website, prosecutorimpact.com, emphasizes those benefits when prosecutors have a broader vision of how justice is accomplished. Prosecutors need to embrace a paradigm shift from conviction being considered the only "win". According to Mr. Foss, a win includes:
Improved community safety
Repaired harm of the victims
Improved long-term community health
Hold those who commit crimes accountable in ways that increase their chances for success in the community.
The last element gives essential support to the first three.
Here is link to Mr. Foss' Ted Talk.
Sunday, November 5, 2017
by Margaret Drew
This post is part of our Scholarly Voices series. We are exploring how our conditions have changed one year after the Trump election.
The short answer is: we are better lawyers. Past generations of lawyers were challenged to find courage in order to continue fearless advocacy. The McCarthyism of the fifties and the civil rights movement of the sixties and seventies tested lawyers’ commitment to the rule of law. In the past year, lawyers of our generation are being tested in much the same way. The difference is that McCarthyism and the brutality with which civil rights demonstrators were met left no room for moral or legal ambiguity.
The challenges lawyers face today are not as conspicuous as earlier times. Today’s threats to lawyering and to law are happening more quietly. In single instances, lawyers are being threatened by the government. For example, last week US Marine Corp Brigadier General John Baker was placed under house arrest in Guantanamo. As one report noted: “His offense was standing up for the rule of law.”
Baker heads the Guantanamo defense counsel and he disbanded a defense team claiming that the team could not ethically represent the defendant because of government surveillance of attorney-client communications. The judge hearing the trial ordered Baker to reinstate the team, based upon his opinion that Baker had no authority to take the action he did. After Baker refused to do so and refused to testify, he was sentenced to 21 days house arrest. Before a federal court could act on a habeas petition on Baker’s behalf, the Guantanamo judge released Baker. Courage comes in many forms. This time it came from a military lawyer.
Since last November, lawyers and judges have been on the frontlines of protecting due process and other fundamental rights. Lawyers and law students responded en mass to represent those affected by the travel bans. Other lawyers responded to appeals, whether through direct representation or filing amicus briefs. Judges courageously stayed the travel ban and other executive orders. What remains to be seen is what role SCOTUS will play in efforts to preserving constitutional protections.
Surely, there is more to come. But we are ready. An unintended consequence of the election: lawyer mobilization.
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Saturday was Yom Kippur. I am not an observant Jew – grandchild of Russian Jewish immigrants, yes, but raised in a highly assimilated and non-religious New York family. But this time of year coinciding as it does with the turning of leaves and the shortening of days always grounds me in the spiritual underpinnings of the work of Resistance.
My favorite Resistance Rabbi – Michael Adam Latz – described the Day of Atonement this year as a day of “Open broken hearted souls joining together in song and prayer, in tears and in repentance, in the work of forgiveness and the work of breathing a new world into being.” He prayed that the day of reflection “take you soaring to new spiritual heights, your engagement with t'shuvah [repentance] turn your lives in a more holy direction, your forgiveness flow like a mighty stream, your commitment to justice and human dignity consume your waking hours.” https://www.facebook.com/michaeladamlatz.
I first started my blog as a way to keep breathing in the early months of the Trump administration. It helped, as I joined other anxious white women like Rebecca Solnit and Amy Siskind and Jennifer Hofmann who are determined that this not become a normal, if slightly worse, bad Republican administration. We keep track, we monitor, we call out, we center, all in the name of #Resistance – to Trump and all he has ushered in.
But as the months wore on and it looked like we were not going to get a do-over or early impeachment, as the republican leadership seemed determined to stand by their man, I realized I needed to pace myself. And to remind myself of the real work of #Resistance. This isn’t a tennis game, or a brilliant, if not quite believable, spy novel. This is the country that I live in, a country that has been riven by strife and cruelty and selfishness since its founding. Rabbi Latz is not the only spiritual leader to remind us why we do this work. No. It is, after all, “the real work of Christmas”:
“to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.”
And it is the work of my Buddhist chaplain sister, Kim Moore, as she brings her practice to men and women in the cells of San Quentin and Soledad prisons. Over 500 prisoners have participated in an intensive year-long training in mindfulness, emotional intelligence and understanding violence, its roots, and its victim impact. In response to the work Kim and her colleagues are doing, one of the prisoners said, “You are speaking to us as if we were human beings again. No one has come in here and addressed us like that before.”
I will write more about last week’s class on gender and Philando Castile and how as critical lawyers and resisters we have to keep keeping track, monitoring, calling out and centering, in the name of #Resistance. For today, though, it seemed important to remember why we choose every day to put our race, gender, class, privilege goggles on and force ourselves to look through them at the jagged shards of misery all around us. For me, while I am inspired by the words of the Bible and the teachings of Buddhism, I find the comfort and strength to keep at it from the actions and words of our living prophets – of all faiths and traditions. My fellow resisters, I count you among those prophets and thank you for walking this path with me.
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
John Pollock of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel recently informed members that results of a national survey conducted by Lake Research Partners and ASO Communications on access to the civil justice system were available. The research results were reported by Voices for Civil Justice, and included a finding that most responders believe that access to the civil justice system is a right, not a privilege. This finding reflects a significant advance for human rights perception within the US.
Highlights of the findings are:
The full report, Building a Civil Justice System that Delivers Justice for All, may be read here. You may listen to the primary researchers, Celinda Lake and Anat Shenker-Osorio announcing the results here.
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
The animal welfare and animal rights movement in the US has accelerated during the past two decades. But the US is not close to expanding legal rights to animals as has been done elsewhere.
In 2008, the Spanish parliament extended rights to chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and bonobos. This animal measure was not the first for members of the European Union. In 2002, Germany extended rights to animals through its constitution. In 1999, New Zealand passed measures granting protective rights for apes. While some argue that legal rights should not be limited to human-like species, there is no question that these measures are light years ahead of any US initiatives.
Most of the US protections of animals comes from a perspective of correcting cruel human behaviors toward them. Statutes reflect the intention to restrain human actions toward animals, but they do not reflect the perspective that, like humans, animals have inalienable rights. Struggling to preserve the rights that we have, it is unlikely that rights for humans will expand during the next few years. Any movement to recognize, on a formal basis, inherent rights of animals is not likely to be successful in the near future.
In a 2014 essay, William Shultz, former director of the ACLU, acknowledged that he was wrong when he earlier argued that "no rational person would believe that animals could claim the same kinds of rights as humans." He called upon us to examine which creatures should have a claim to rights.
Given the current lack of understanding of human rights on the federal level, animal rights advocates, like human rights advocates, will continue to be most effective on the international and local levels.
At the recent G-20 meeting, for example, the leaders adopted "High Level Principles on Combatting Corruption Related to Illegal Trade in Wildlife and Wildlife Products". While again the principals seek to protect animals from human cruelties, continued recognition of their need for protection may lead to the dialogue on whether protective action is at the same time acknowledging innate legal rights of animals.
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
We note two significant local human rights developments in recent weeks, NEITHER of them from the coasts:
First, on July 5, Dallas County became the first county in Texas, and only the second county in the United States, to declare itself a Human Rights County. According to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, sponsor of the measure, “Human Rights abuses occur in our community, our country and our world every day. We must lead at the local level. We can’t do everything but we can all do something.” Dr. Rick Halperin, director of SMU's human rights program, added “The action taken by the county commissioners will mark a historic turning point in this County’s recognition of Human Dignity and Human Rights for all those who live, work, and visit here. This really puts us on the road to being the global jurisdiction we purport to be.” The resolution came one year after a historic Human Rights Dallas meeting, where local leaders met at SMU to discuss how human rights approaches might improve the welfare of Dallas residents, and how Dallas might take national leadership in expanding human rights,
Second, in May 2017, Athens, Ohio hosted its first ever "Ohio Human Rights Tribunal," addressing the human rights issues raised by fracking. Four judges heard over six hours of testimony from the community. Another tribunal hearing is expected in Ohio later in July. These hearings are held under the auspices of the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal on Fracking, which is gathering testimony to submit to the United Nations.
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
Any exploration of changing human rights advocacy starts with exploring the intentions of the advocate.
Most of my clients have experienced gender violence. Most typically my clients have additional barriers due to color, immigration status, disability and poverty. Their lives are burdened in ways that I can only imagine.
I, on the other hand, live very differently. Being a law school professor is a privileged life. I have the additional freedoms that whiteness brings. While empathy is important, effective advocacy for those unlike ourselves requires more.
I must be careful not to bring any arrogance to my advocacy; particularly where clients may not challenge me for fear of alienating the person who can navigate them through a complex and often hostile system.
So how has my advocacy changed? I am more mindful than ever to reflect on my own motivations. I am more mindful of the consequences of my actions, including my advice to clients. I must consider the newly changed circumstances of my clients' lives. My clients have become even more vulnerable. Immigrants are presumed to be undocumented and even those who are not experience harassment and violence. Risk of deportation has multiplied since January. Gender harassment has increased, as it has for all less powerful social groups. But what is causing much increase in my clients' underlying fear is that harassment and abuse are gaining acceptance as a cultural norm.
Fear in some form has been a near constant in my clients' lives. But the fear was more targeted: fear of reprisal from an estranged intimate partner or fear of being deported should they engage the legal system. While specific fears remain, a more generalized fear has sprouted from the uncertainty that the cultural shift has brought. Increased street harassment is a good example of one source of heightened generalized fear. So I must be mindful not to judge my clients' decisions made in light of these concerns and I must listen even more carefully to their words. Advising clients of what is or is not a reasonable fear has become more difficult. All of our experiences are shifting in the face of this unleashed hostility and incivility.
Mindfulness has never been more important in human rights advocacy.
Monday, July 10, 2017
Editor's Note: This is the second post in our Scholarly Voices symposium on the current state of human rights advocacy.
Sital Kalantry writes 'On Tyrany Lessons from the Twentieth Century"
Many people have read or heard about history scholar Timothy Snyder’s popular book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. Drawing largely from the history of the Nazi regime’s rise to power and brutal genocide campaign, he created a list of twenty concrete actions that can be taken by people living under regimes bordering on authoritarianism. Among other things, he invites readers to seek out the truth (both online and offline), be aware of dangerous language, defend institutions, and not obey the government in advance.
These are all pertinent lessons for us today. Most of his lessons are directed towards people in the “majority” group who would oppose an authoritarian government. For example, his Lesson #12 is that people should “Make eye contact and small talk.” Here Professor Snyder’s point is that during Nazi Germany and when fascism prevailed in Italy, oppressed groups reacted to how their neighbors treated them. Therefore, he advises his readers to “affirm everyone” because you cannot be sure “who feels threatened in the United States.”
Although Professor Snyder offers advice for the group of people who will not be the targets of the authoritarian regime, I would like to offer advice to those who will be. For immigrants, of whom I am one, I think we should “interact and educate.” Many Americans today fear that immigrants are taking away their jobs and committing crimes. Through broad executive action, many immigrants are being deported and foreigners denied entry into the United States. Most people who support the executive’s policies may never have met with or talked to an immigrant. However, many anti-immigration proponents resist deportation when their own community members are involved. Stories abound like the one involving a Trump-voting community that rallied around an undocumented restaurant owner who was threatened with deportation. It is easy to demonize people you do not know, but harder to demonize people you do know. While I would have resisted this burden at another point in my life, I believe today that we have to use every opportunity we can to positively interact and educate others in our communities to help breakdown stereotypes. I live in a diverse and liberal college community surrounded by rural New York. While I do not always follow this principle in my daily life, it is a goal to which I aspire. I think it will help to bridge the voids that divide our country.
Sunday, July 9, 2017
Editors' Note: This week we run a brief symposium on changes in human rights advocacy in the new era. We encourage contributions from additional law professors on this topic. We begin with this contribution from Lauren Bartlett.
Threats to human rights have reached a crisis point in the United States, especially for our most vulnerable communities. Recently, more than thirty “Anti-Sharia” or “Anti-Muslim” marches were held across the U.S., the Trump Administration threatened to withdraw from the U.N. Human Rights Council, and ICE raids continue at an alarming rate.
It is difficult to be strategic while attempting to function in crisis mode. There is too much to digest and react to on a daily basis, both on a professional and personal level. Moreover, many U.S. human rights advocates are central players in advocacy organizations and larger movements concentrating on specific legal issues and agendas. Repeatedly having to face daily emergencies creates immediate demands on advocates’ time and pulls resources away from a human rights focus.
Regardless of, and because of, these pressures, U.S. human rights advocates need to take the time to strategize about where to focus their limited time and resources in the coming months and the year ahead. Some advocates have been theorizing and writing on this topic. Yet there does not seem to be any consensus so far.
Some questions to consider in developing human rights advocacy priorities could be:
- What does effective advocacy for human rights in the U.S. look like in 2017—18?
- Which human rights strategies and methodologies will be most effective in the current environment?
- What should be the priorities in terms of collaboration among lawyers and other advocates?
- Which best practices and lessons learned are most useful in the current environment? Will the lessons learned from 2008-2016 be applicable, or would it be better to go further back and examine lessons learned during the reviews in 2005-2007 with the Bush Administration?
Below are my preliminary thoughts in response to these questions.
Priority should be given to lifting up the voices of those directly affected by human rights violations and continuing to build the human rights movement through education and advocacy campaigns. In addition, it is likely that the most effective human rights advocacy will occur at the local and state level.
The Trump Administration and the U.S. Congress are likely to ignore all recommendations from human rights bodies, and it is not likely that any Federal agency will embrace human rights, as was seen previously. On the other hand, civil society movements may flourish (with community education, leadership, and resources) around Federal rejection of the issues or recommendations. In addition to civil society, some city and state governments are showing a willingness to embrace international obligations and resist the Federal Government’s rejection of international obligations, which is a testament to the terrific groundwork laid by human rights advocates and others in recent years.
In terms of my immediate plans for my own human rights advocacy, physically situated as I am at a small law school in a small town in the heart of the conservative Midwest, I plan to focus on human rights education of law students, colleagues and courts, using the language and principles of human rights when citation to human rights instruments and laws is too off-putting. I will also focus on giving voice to those directly affected, through court cases and other advocacy, as well as building solidarity with individual clients and local community groups.
What are your human rights advocacy priorities for the coming months and why? It would be great to hear from a chorus of others.
Wednesday, June 28, 2017
In February 2016, this blog highlighted an exciting development for Vermont dairy workers: Ben & Jerry’s made a formal agreement to cooperate with dairy workers, led by Migrant Justice, to join a worker driven social responsibility (WSR) program, known as Milk with Dignity. That commitment was made in 2015 – over two years ago. Yet, Milk in Dignity is not yet in place. Migrant Justice and Ben & Jerry’s continue to negotiate the terms, but the process has been slow, and progress is lacking.
The stakes continue to be high for farmworkers in Vermont. Farm hours are long, and sometimes workers get no days off. Many workers are not even afforded eight consecutive hours off at a time. Pay is abysmal. Housing is substandard and injuries are common. Indeed, Migrant Justice was founded in response to the death of dairy worker, José Obeth Santiz Cruz. In 2009, Cruz died in a workplace accident when his clothes got stuck in a machine and strangled him. In response, dairy workers decided to take collective action to prevent similar travesties from occurring in the future, and improve overall farm conditions. One Migrant Justice member recently offered a compelling and personal snapshot of what dairy work can be like, and his motivation to advocate for change:
“My dad taught me how to milk cows. My first time in the barn, I thought I would pass out from the stench. It was scary working among the cows, getting knocked around by huge animals. Because there were no jobs available at the farm where my dad worked, I had to find work at a farm an hour away. At just 17, I was living and working by myself in a small farm on a back road in an unknown country, facing my first Vermont winter. Waking up at 3 a.m. to start my first shift, I’ve never felt so isolated. The farmer had me working 12 to 15 hours a day, with no day off. At the end of my first week, my body aching from over 80 hours of hard labor, I received my first paycheck and couldn’t believe what I saw: $350, or just over $4 per hour. At that time, I had no idea what the minimum wage was, but I knew that it wasn’t fair pay for the work I had done.”
Migrant Justice sees the Milk with Dignity Program as the key means to improve conditions so that dairy workers can live and work with dignity. Key components of the Program, which are calibrated to foster transformative change, are spelled out in a legally binding agreement, and include:
- workers’ central role in designing the program to best protects workers’ human rights, including through a detailed code of conduct for farms;
- continuous and independent monitoring to encourage compliance and ensure that breaches of the code are effectively investigated and addressed, coupled with farmworker education about their rights;
- accountability mechanisms to remedy violations of the code of conduct, with concrete market consequences where farms fail to make improvements;
- economic incentives for farmer participation: Ben & Jerry’s pays a premium to farms in good standing with the Code of Conduct, and this benefits the farm owners and farmworkers.
Over a dozen human rights organizations, including the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Coalition for Immokalee Workers, the, FIDH, and Human Rights Watch, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights have endorsed the key elements of the Milk With Dignity Program, in a recent letter calling on Ben & Jerry’s to join the Milk with Dignity Program and describing how the Milk with Dignity Program implements human rights principles.
Last weekend, on the two year anniversary of Ben & Jerry’s initial agreement to cooperate, Migrant Justice and allies from across the country held a day of action to demand that Ben & Jerry’s make good on its commitment and put the Milk with Dignity Program into practice. More than 100 supporters made a 13 mile trek through Vermont, ending at Ben & Jerry’s Factory, where they delivered the human rights letter.
The March was a success. It drew broad support, received some excellent media coverage, and may be an important catalyst for progress implementing the Milk with Dignity Program. Unfortunately, celebration was cut short by the news that two of the marchers were arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on their way back to the farm where they work. Sadly, this scenario is becoming somewhat routine for Migrant Justice. Just last month two other prominent Migrant Justice members were arrested by ICE and served 10 days in jail before being released.
Routine border patrol stops, and the arrests of Vermont dairy workers put in sharp relief the precarious position of many farmworkers, and the challenges to worker advocacy. Farmworkers lack basic legal protections, and were intentionally excluded from the rights to organize and collectively bargain at the federal and state levels, meaning they have few avenues to vindicate their rights. This has always impeded efforts to improve conditions on farms. In recent months, the obstacles that farmworkers face have increased, with a sharp rise in federal targeting of communities perceived to be immigrant, Latino, and non-English speaking, of which ICE arrests are just one example.
As a colleague and I described in an op-ed : in the current political climate, it is even more important that corporations leverage their power and resources to fulfill their human rights responsibilities. I hope that Ben & Jerry’s is ready to step up - it would create a great model and an incentive for further positive corporate action.
Friday, June 16, 2017
The 2017 International Human Rights Clinicial Conference was hosted by Cornell Law School in Ithaca, N.Y. In April 28 and April 29th of this year. A working group consisting of Sital Kalantry, Elizabeth Brundige, Sandra Babcock, Sarah Knuckey, Jayne Huckerby, and Sarah Paoletti drafted a statement in response to the events we are witnessing in the United States
today. Participants of the conference discussed and revised the statements in small groups. Based on the feedback of the conference participants, the working group revised and finalized the statement. While the statement reflects the position of human rights clinicians and people who operate centers, we have opened it up for signature to anyone who supports the content of the statement.
The statement begins:
"We are law school educators who teach in clinics and operate centers and institutes that work with and on behalf of individuals, organizations, and communities to promote human rights. We believe in the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings. We are deeply concerned that the recent rhetoric and actions of many leaders in the United States government are harming people and damaging decades of effort and progress in promoting respect for human rights."
The statement goes on to list commitments by the signatories to preserve and promote human rights globally as well as within the US.
For example the educators pledge to "promoting the values that inspired the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the rights and obligations set forth in international human rights treaties."
To read the full statement or to sign on, click here.
Monday, June 5, 2017
Much discussion among judges and lawyers these days is devoted to access to justice. The growing divide in the US between those with resources and those without is particularly apparent in access to legal services. Hourly billing at rates of $400.00 and up are unaffordable even for those previously considered middle class. In many cases, Judges report litigants self-representing in up to 80% of cases that involve family law and housing. More and more of those in need of legal services to protect basic human needs are unable to find legal help. Particularly hard pressed are those who do not qualify for help from Legal Services organizations and those who do not have funds for significant retainers.
Addressing the need for affordable legal services is part of the education of human rights lawyers. When viewed through a human rights lens, adjusting ones practice to provide low cost, yet competent representation, permits clients to secure the principles voiced in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The ability to make a living while protecting clients' human rights must be incorporated into legal education. Technology permits lawyers to reduce overhead in many ways, including the ability to work from home and renting a conference room as needed. Technology also broadens the geographical range one can build a client base, now that video conferencing is routine. Technology has made the delivery of services to those of limited means a realistic option. One way to create Human Rights lawyers is to show students and new graduates how to have a practice that will address crucial human rights and sustain them financially. Bill Henderson and others have written extensively on changing the delivery of legal services. His arguments and advice also support human rights lawyering.
Thursday, May 25, 2017
Editors' Note: Guest blogger Prof. Ariel Dulitzsy and graduate fellow Scott Squires describe their successful efforts to request that CERD investigate the impact of the proposed border wall on indigenous people.
In a letter issued May 17, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination asked that the U.S. Government provide information on the Trump administration’s expansion of the border wall and its effects on indigenous peoples living along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Under its early warning and urgent action procedure, CERD requested that the U.S. provide the information to address concerns that the expansion of the wall—as outlined in the Trump Administration’s executive order issued January 25th —will discriminate against indigenous groups living in the border region.
Specifically, the letter asked that the U.S. Government provide information regarding the impact of the executive order on indigenous peoples’ rights to access their land and resources, ways in which the government plans to limit the adverse effects of the wall on those people’s rights, and measures taken by the U.S. Government to ensure the free prior and informed consent of those peoples in decisions affecting them.
CERD submitted the letter after the University of Texas at Austin School of Law’s Human Rights Clinic requested last February that the Committee re-consider the situation of indigenous and poor Latino communities along the US-Mexico border in light of the executive order. The Clinic, Dr. Margo Tamez (Lipan Apache Band of Texas) and the Lipan Apache Women Defense, an Indigenous Peoples’ Organization initially submitted a complaint to CERD in 2013 alleging the discriminatory impacts that wall would have on the Kikapoo, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Lipan Apache communities living along Texas’ border with Mexico. CERD, at that time, was concerned that the border wall has been constructed without the free, prior and informed consent of the affected communities.
The wall’s discriminatory effects on those groups have not been remediated, according to the Committee. And because Trump’s executive order intends to expand the wall along the entirety of the U.S.-Mexico border, CERD is now concerned that the construction of the wall will more broadly “hinder the full enjoyment” of the rights of indigenous peoples living in the border region.
The U.S. Government has until July 17, 2017 to respond to the request.
Monday, May 15, 2017
by JoAnn Kamuf Ward, Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute
In the wake of the U.S. failure to appear at the Inter-American hearings on the U.S. in March, human rights advocates, scholars, and a number of journalists tried to read the tea leaves to determine the significance of this move for U.S. human rights engagement globally and regionally. Of course, the implications of the United States’ direct engagement with human rights institutions (or lack thereof), can’t be viewed in isolation from whether and how U.S. dollars flow towards these institutions, or divorced from how U.S. foreign policy prerogatives impact human rights globally. But U.S. engagement and public positions offer important starting points for advocacy to strengthen human rights protections.
As Louis Henkin aptly noted in 1979, the United States has historically been “more like a flying buttress than a pillar” in the cathedral of human rights. Yet, these days, the U.S. appears to be chipping away at the foundation.
Of course, even when past Administrations articulated human rights as a foundation of U.S. policy, the reality at home and abroad has often significantly deviated from the rhetoric employed. U.S. human rights advocates have been among the chorus of voices consistently urging the United States to prioritize human rights in global engagement and domestic policymaking. Under the Obama Administration, progress was made in strengthening engagement with the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission, premised on the belief that representative democracies, along with “respect for human rights and civil society, and independent judiciaries and the rule of law,” are important foundations for human progress, and principles to which the United States was committed, at home and abroad.
While they have certainly been imperfect and under-realized, past presidential administrations’ commitments to human rights have provided an important grounding for advocacy. These commitments signaled that human rights were priorities to be advanced consistently and progressively over time. Such commitments also provided a starting point to hold the U.S. accountable to the ideals it espoused, and indicated dedication to the institutions that monitor and implement human rights. They offered a common language and opened up spaces for civil society dialogue.
But today, the common ground of human rights has all but disappeared. Even a veneer that human rights matter seems to have fallen away. This should not be surprising given the egregious policies this Administration has rolled out at home. Communities of color have been targeted with particular vehemence, but the safeguards in place to preserve the environment, meet fundamental needs like health and housing, and protect the basic civil rights of all of us are under assault. The Administration’s frontal attacks on human rights domestically, as well as beyond our borders are being tracked here in real time.
In this moment, we must continue to fight against efforts to sideline and ignore human rights. We must ensure that this Administration, the State Department, the White House, federal agencies, and Congress understand their human rights obligations, and we must demand that human rights are put into practice.
In one step in this direction, 50 U.S. human and civil rights organizations and individuals sent a letter to Secretary Tillerson last week, calling on the United States to prioritize U.S. leadership on human rights in its engagement with Inter-American Human Rights System and the OAS. Responding to the U.S. failure to appear at the March hearings, the letter emphasizes that leadership requires constructive U.S. participation in Inter-American proceedings, with the ultimate aim of bringing U.S. policies in line with international and regional human rights commitments. It highlights, as well, the need for ongoing U.S. resources and support for the Inter-American Commission and the OAS.
The upcoming June OAS General Assembly and the forthcoming IACHR periods of sessions are opportunities for the U.S. to demonstrate, and commit to, human rights. The world will be watching.