Sunday, June 25, 2017
The Law and Society Association conference, held this year in Mexico City, was the usual whirlwind of panels, roundtables and plenaries. This year's theme was Walls, Borders and Bridges. Nothing could better illustrate the Walls portion than the fortress-like US Embassy directly across the street from the conference hotel. The Embassy appeared completely impenetrable. At the same time, it boasted a large rainbow Pride flag hanging out of some upper floor windows. Perhaps there is life somewhere within the embassy after all, trying to make a connection with those outside.
The conference plenary sessions focused on populism and constitutionalism, with insightful talks on the US election, Brexit, and the Colombia peace referendum rejected by voters. Human rights -- particularly issues of economic, social and cultural rights -- was a frequent theme of the individual sessions, which also reflected the confounding theme of US human rights exceptionalism. Business and human rights also played a prominent role. In a session on comparative water rights, one speaker noted the relevance of human rights to water litigation in India and South Africa. Another panelist, providing an extensive analysis of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, focused on the growing popular movement in the US for water rights. As she noted "water is power" and power will not shift in the US without pressure from people. Other panels of relevance to the US addressed the continuing impacts of Washington v. Davis on civil rights and death penalty advocacy in the US; the experiences of undocumented immigrants within US borders; the jurisprudence of the InterAmerican system; and low wage workers' rights. You can search the program and download papers here.
There is so much to absorb at an inter-disciplinary, international conference like this. As the title of the conference suggests, the Law and Society Association is very much about building scholarly bridges to support the innovation that can come from such interchange. But with an embassy closed-off to the outside, and government institutions that often refuse to engage with human rights norms, the task of building bridges between the US and others beyond the academy is harder than ever.
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Women’s Human Rights and Migration, has just been published as part of University of Pennsylvania's Human Rights book series. In the book, Prof. Sital Kalantry describes how the U.S. Congress and state legislatures across the country have used stereotypes Indian-Americans and Chinese-Americans to restrict women’s rights to choose. The legislators misuse information about people living in other countries to argue that certain minority groups are aborting female fetuses. Using new national census data and survey data, the book presents evidence that some Asian Americans desire to have balanced families with both girls and boys. Practices like sex-selective abortion and veiling that occur in the country of origin of a migrant but also emerge or are attributed to migrants in their country of destination call into question traditional universal approaches human rights. Kalantry argues for a transnational approach to domestic regulation on migrant women’s practices. Read more about the book here. You can look inside the book and purchase at Amazon.
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
Poetry can convey indignities and dignities in ways that resonate more quickly and poignantly than prose. Poetry by the young can be particularly powerful and evocative.
And much Human Rights poetry focuses on Human Rights at Home.
Youth for Human Rights promotes poetry by young authors through a contest for those under 18. This contest has a December deadline.
Power Poetry has a contest for those who are 25 years or younger, America the Great?!, Poetry Slam. The current theme is 'my country'. Contestants may post directly to the website with a deadline of May 10. One entry titled "The Crayon Box" by Lancer Dave begins:
We were born as numbers, and disguised with names.
Statistics to the system, is God the one to blame. Born where
freedoms are equal, and where equals aren't the same.
Poetry Soup has a collection of Human Rights Poems some famous, some not. One by the late Edward Dorn, Heart of Copper, is particularly relevant from the Human Rights at Home perspective:
The Candidate, answering a question
about El Salvador, generalized
by saying he thought
we should support human rights
everywhere they were being abrogated--
South Korea, South Africa
or South Yemen.
He didn't have
the moral perspicuity
to mention South Dakota.
Perhaps it's too far north.
Thursday, April 20, 2017
Following up on an earlier post this week, the American Bar Association's Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence is sponsoring a writing competition with submissions due on May 19th.
"Law students are invited to submit articles addressing domestic and sexual violence and the law from a national or international perspective. Submissions must further the legal needs of victims of domestic and sexual violence or their children, or advance efforts to address the incidence, causes and effects of intimate partner violence. View our past winners & view the guidelines.
Submissions are now being accepted for the 2017 year. Submissions are due by Friday, May 19, 2017 @ 5:00p.m. EST.
Submit your paper and any inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
by Jeremiah Ho
While admittedly I’m not usually a huge follower of David Brooks’ conservativism at The New York Times, I do agree with his comments about the decline of our social capitalism here in the U.S. as we have become more isolated across ethnic, diverse, and class lines. Specifically, he observes that the source of such isolation is philosophical: “We chose the wrong philosophers,” he said to interviewer Robert Costa. As he elaborated further, Brooks remarked that we chose John Stuart Mill when we should have chosen Martin Buber, we chose Jeremy Bentham over Viktor Frankl, and likewise we chose Descartes over Saint Augustine.
For Brooks, Mill impressed upon us a very individualistic worldview, when Buber offered a more communitarian perspective. Frankl’s idea that people were motivated by a search for meaningful, moral lives have been ignored in the light of Bentham’s pleasure versus pain principles. Consequently, Brooks thinks that our society has become “too economic, too social sciency, and too utilitarian, and not enough moralistic.” Descartes reached for the cognitive and rational when Saint Augustine focused on the emotional. All in all, Brooks said, “And so basically we've turned into shells of ourselves and that's cut down on intimacy, and it's had these devastating social effects. But it's ideas that drive behavior, and I think we have some of the wrong ideas.”
One of these ideas, in my opinion, is about civility in public discourse. Instead of focusing on civility, many of us collectively—left and right—have been sidetracked toward the debate over political correctness as the way to confront or prevent marginalization of diverse viewpoints and visibility of particular issues. Particularly as I see that the civility versus political correctness issue affects the development of human dignity and rights issues, I am starting the first of three posts on civility and authenticity here on this blog.
Besides David Brooks’ interview on Charlie Rose, the other inspiration for this first of three blog posts on civility was Keith Bybee’s book, How Civility Works, which I picked up at the exhibition hall at AALS this past January. Bybee is the Paul E. and the Hon. Joanne F. Alper ’72 Judiciary Studies Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science at Syracuse University. The size of the book (80+ pages) makes it more a pamphlet. Yet, how many times in history have we seen pamphlets wield influence over the distribution of ideas? Through almost a cultural studies lens, Bybee’s book here examines the purported “crisis” (his quotes, not mine) of civility in American discourse by observing what civility means and the history of civility as it relates to public debates in American society.
What ends up very clear in How Civility Works is that civility, as a form of manners and a code of public behavior, can and has possessed a plurality of historical meanings as it has co-existed alongside our rambunctious American contrarianism (Chapter 2). But what Bybee examines further is the tension that civility has on individual liberty—exactly the individuality explored by John Stuart Mill—and its potential threat to inhibit First Amendment free speech. Although civility can inhibit free speech, Bybee argues that civility can also underwrite free speech by facilitating a means of communication that reflects good character and personal decency (Chapter 3). Such a means of communication through civility must embody authenticity, however, or risk a hypocritical exploitation of civility that leads to immoral behavior masked under false politeness; in other words, one’s civility must be real and that “realness” or authenticity is a moral virtue (Chapter 4). Finally, in order to fulfill civil discourse that is authentic but not overwhelming, Bybee suggests that discourse must utilize a balanced version of civility that not only sustains exchange of free ideas and promotes inclusivity but also is cautious of its chilling effects on free speech and reproduction of hierarchies (Chapter 5). Its paradoxes are also its virtues.
In sum, Bybee’s work here is prescient for recognizing how significant and importance functional dialogue is to a liberal society—and I mean “liberal” with a post-Enlightenment capital “L” and not necessarily “liberal” in its American political meaning. In the age of extremist ideas about populism and nationalism (ideas that can lead to marginalization, discrimination, and even violence), civility is sidestepped and reinterpreted as political correctness or seen as an inauthentic means of self-victimization that ought not to be given any credence. What does this have to do with human rights? Just watch and listen to the rhetoric in the Keystone pipeline debate, the tone of misogyny in women’s rights issues, or the political debates regarding transgender individuals and restroom use. The lack of civility is a first step in marginalization and denying the inherent humanity of different people and their views. It is also an assertion of power over another. Reading Bybee’s book is a must in this age of conflict and separatism.
My next post in this series will further address the topic of political correctness as a strawman for getting rid of civility in public discourse.
How Civility Works. By Keith J. ByBee. Stanford University Press. 2016. Pp. 80. $12.99.
Sunday, April 2, 2017
The Columbia Human Rights Law Review is currently seeking submissions for HRLR Online, its new online component.
Monday, March 6, 2017
Prior to January 20th, the Obama administration wisely distributed information to an assortment of government officials related to Russian interference in the 2016 election. Various government players were holders of pieces of information relative to Russian hacking and other election interference. Concerned that intelligence might disappear upon Trump's assumption of office, the administration ensured that a sufficient number of individuals, including key congressional players, had sufficient information to continue the investigation even in the face of denial and opposition.
Russian interference with the election is no longer theoretical. The highest legal officer in the country lied to congress about his relationship and contact with the Russian Ambassador. Attorney General Sessions lost whatever credibility he had when he assumed office. The Attorney General lied under oath and has no claim to remain in office.
Trumps denied any knowledge of Session's meeting with the Russian Ambassador, although his closest advisor, son-in-law Jared Kushner was present at the meeting.
The President knows that should an investigation result, Russian interference with the election will not be the main story. The President's complicity with the interference will be.
Having learned from the "birther" controversy that many voters will believe whatever he says, Trump has resorted once again to the outrageous as a tool to divert attention from Russian election interference and Trump's role in that interference.
Thus the latest: President Obama wire tapped Trump Tower. Nancy Pelosi dubbed the President Deflector-in-Chief.
Monday, February 20, 2017
Hot off the presses is an interesting new book by Dr. Jan Arno Hessebruegge, Human Rights and Personal Self-Defense in International Law (Oxford 2017). If you're in the Philadelphia area, note that Dr. Hessebruegge will be speaking about his new publication at Temple Law School at 12 noon on Tuesday, Feb. 21. More information is available here.
According to the publisher's website:
"While an abundance of literature covers the right of states to defend themselves against external aggression, this is the first book dedicated to the right to personal self-defense in international law. Drawing on his extensive experience as a human rights practitioner and scholar, Dr. Hessbruegge sets out in careful detail the strict requirements that human rights impose on defensive force by law enforcement authorities, especially police killings in self-defense. The book also discusses the exceptional application of the right to personal self-defense in military-led operations, notably to contain violent civilians who do not directly participate in hostilities."
- the Michael Brown case as one instance where compliance with human rights standards on the use of self-defense is doubtful (because the officer in question shot to kill, instead of trying to incapacitate);
- "stand your ground" laws in Florida and other jurisdictions;
- so-called "Make my day" or castle doctrine laws in Colorado, Texas and other jurisdictions that presume the legality of lethal self-defense in cases of unlawful entry into homes or even business premises or motor vehicles;
- questions concerning the burden of proof. In particular, Ohio still places the full burden of proof for self-defense on the defendant, which is irreconcilable with the presumption of innocence; and
- human rights and the pro-gun lobby.
A human rights practitioner and blogger, Dr. Hessebruegge currently works for the New York Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
This summer, the Washburn Law Journal will be publishing a special Issue on the topic of America’s relationship with international law. Renowned International Law Scholar and former Dean of the Yale Law School Harold Hongju Koh will be writing the keynote article addressing international law and the process of treaty formation and compliance under the Trump administration. Several other renowned scholars writing in this area have already agreed to join Prof. Koh in contributing to this Issue.
The Editorial Board of the Washburn Law Journal is inviting other scholars to contribute companion articles for this special Issue.
Washburn Law is honored that Professor Koh will be introducing his keynote article during a lecture at the annual Foulston Siefkin Lecture Series on March 31, 2017. The Editorial Board of the Washburn Law Journal will provide material to selected authors to ensure that articles can, to some extent, be informed by and responsive to Prof. Koh’s thesis.
Interested participants should email an abstract of between 500-750 words by March 15, 2017. Abstracts should indicate whether the piece will be a full article or an essay-length submission, and should be emailed to Claire Hillman at email@example.com. They must include the author’s name, title of the paper, institutional affiliation, and contact information.
Authors already planning to submit articles this submission cycle that fit the topic of this Issue may also submit the article directly to the Claire Hillman, or send an email notifying the Journal that a relevant article has been submitted via ExpressO or Scholastica.
From the abstracts and/or articles submitted, the Editorial Board of the Washburn Law Journal will select 3-5 article-length or essay-length pieces to publish in Issue 3, Vol. 56 (August 2017). Authors will be notified of the acceptance of their submissions and proposals by March 20, 2017. A first draft of the completed article will be due no later than April 31, 2017.
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised to bring back waterboarding. Indeed, he promised to bring back much worse. In apparant disregard of the Convention Against Torture, Trump proclaimed "I would approve more than that. It works."
The G. W. Bush administration has a sordid history with waterboarding and other forms of torture. While the administration sought to distance itself from torture decisions, recent information reveals that Bush was more than aware of the waterboarding use.
According to an earlier report on NPR, the torture report points to a document prepared in September 2006, the same month Bush publicly acknowledged the U.S. was holding detainees in secret prisons. It was intended as a Q&A to help the National Security Council principals deal with fallout of public disclosure. One question asked, "What role did the president play... Was he briefed on the interrogation techniques, and if so when?"
The answer: "President was not of course involved in CIA's day to day operations — including who should be held by CIA and how they should be questioned — these decisions are made or overseen by CIA directors."
In his book Bush, Jean Edward Smith chillingly reports that not only was Bush aware of the use of waterboarding, he directly ordered its first use.
"Senator McCain, a victim of torture during his 5 ½ years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, along with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) led a successful bipartisan landmark anti-torture legislation that reinforces the United States’ ban on the use of torture, including waterboarding and other so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The legislation—which passed in a 78-21 vote in the Senate and was signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2016 Fiscal Year—was an historic victory in the fight to reestablish a durable, bipartisan consensus against torture."
In a late breaking report, the New York Times reveals that Trump today claimed that Retired General Matis convinced Trump that water boarding is ineffective.
We will see if the new administration, as well as Congress, will leave the anti-torture provisions intact.
Thursday, October 27, 2016
Martha Davis has edited a book with Barbara Oomen (University of Utrecht) and Michele Griglio (Nottingham Trent University) Global Urban Justice - The Rise of Human Rights Cities. Released this summer, the book examines the process of becoming a human rights city, imagining human rights cities and exploring the challenges and possibilities among other topics.
Published by Cambridge University Press the book's website says:
"Cities increasingly base their local policies on human rights. Human rights cities promise to forge new alliances between urban actors and international organizations, to enable the 'translation' of the abstract language of human rights to the local level, and to develop new practices designed to bring about global urban justice. This book brings together academics and practitioners at the forefront of human rights cities and the 'right to the city' movement to critically discuss their history and also the potential that human rights cities hold for global urban justice."
The topic will be explored at a December conference, Global Justice Goes Local: The Emergence of the Human Rights Cities. Martha Davis will keynote the event to be held at Northeastern Law School and sponsored by the Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy. More information about the conference may be found here.
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
In June of 2011, the UN Human Rights Council endorsed a set of global standards to articulate and operationalize the tripartite human right based "respect, protect, and remedy" framework to prevent and address human rights violations that result from business operations. These UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (“The Ruggie Principles”) constitute the first comprehensive guidelines that define the state duty to protect against human rights abuses, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, and the right to access effective remedies when human rights abuses do occur.
While the adoption of the Principles was surely a step in the right direction, they were criticized by some human rights advocates, including Human Rights Watch, early on as setting too low a bar for corporations. This criticism raised concerns about three core aspects of the Principles. First, that the standards themselves do not mirror what human rights require in terms of accountability and remedies. Second, because the Principles are voluntary, they lack the requisite carrot and stick to ensure compliance. Third, the rules do little to address the reality that there is often a massive power imbalance between multinational corporations that commit (or turn a blind eye towards) rights violations and the countries in which they operate.
Last week saw the five year anniversary of the Guiding Principles, and happily, they have led to some positive action. There has been an uptick in the number of companies developing publicly available human rights statements. Volvo Group and Caterpillar are among the hundreds of companies that have developed a statement of policy on human rights, in line with Guiding Principle 16. Several companies, including Adidas and Barrick Gold have also set up remedy mechanisms, though their effectiveness is a subject of fierce disagreement between advocates and the companies themselves. And, as we know, corporate human rights abuses continue to wreak havoc in communities around the world, with the tragedies of Rana Plaza in India and the deaths at Marikana mine in South Africa as just two examples.
Of course, no one said progress would be easy. Yet what is laudable is that the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre used the 5 year anniversary to capture both the trends and challenges in implementing the Principles, and to highlight opportunities to make progress moving forward. This effort includes accessible infographics for each pillar of the Guiding Principles: the state duty to protect human rights; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, and the individual’s right to a remedy. Stakeholder reflections on key benefits and challenges are also available on the Centre’s website. The 5th anniversary of the Guiding Principles offers an important moment to reflect on what has been accomplished and what is left to be done. While there is certainly more of the latter than the former, marking progress has served as an opportunity to breathe new life into the focus on improving compliance with human rights in the corporate context.
Indeed, on the eve of the 5th anniversary, a coalition of global businesses announced a new initiative to measure and report on corporate respect for human rights and increase transparency around how the top 500 globally listed companies measure up in terms of “human rights policy, process and performance” through the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark. The ranking system is illustrated here:
The indicators, which are admittedly limited in scope, were rolled out over the past year and shared with an array of stakeholders around the world. The Corporate Human Rights Benchmark as a whole, though, was developed in large part by private sector investment entities and funded by the UK and Dutch governments. So while there was broader stakeholder engagement, the primary drivers are businesses and governments, who have vested interests in the outcomes (to say the least). Indeed, just a bit of cursory research uncovered concerns that the baseline indicators are inconsistent with the international human rights framework, and the focus on companies’ commitments, rather than outcomes fails to capture the true human rights impacts and costs of doing business. Undoubtedly, as the first reviews are completed, further critiques will emerge.
Nevertheless, this new Corporate Human Rights Benchmark can be viewed as a positive step. The metrics are meant to serve as the carrot to incentivize further progress in promoting and protecting human rights. As the Chair of Ben & Jerry’s Board of Directors noted, the Benchmark “should drive a change in corporate behavior. This performance ranking is built on what the companies do rather than their rhetoric. Those who truly support and deliver on high labor, environmental and human rights standards will be recognized and those that do not will have their records exposed to investors, customers, civil society, and home governments. The expectation is that this ranking system will drive a race to the top and a competition to benefit people, the planet, and the bottom line.”
2016 will serve as a pilot year for the Benchmark, and 100 publicly listed companies have been selected for review, based on publicly available data. A large subset of these companies are based in the United States, including extractives, as well as more familiar retail outfits, such as Costco, Target, Coach, the Gap and Under Armour. The full list of companies is available here. It remains to be seen what level of rigor will be applied to the benchmarking process but this is surely something to watch.
Even if it the progress made to implement the UN Guiding Principles since 2011 is imperfect, it is noteworthy. The next five years will offer us a more nuanced understanding of how the commitments made on paper play out in corporate practice. It will also offer new insights into how U.S. companies operationalize human rights and respond to evaluations framed in human rights terms.
(As a notable aside, Ben & Jerry’s has been a target of the Migrant Justice Milk with Dignity Campaign, which is fighting to secure rights for migrant dairy workers, and signed a commitment to work with Migrant Justice last year).
Thursday, March 17, 2016
JoAnn Kamuf Ward introduces this important resource to the human rights advocacy community:
I am pleased to share a new resource created by the Human Rights Institute, Using Thematic Hearings at the Inter-American Human Rights Commission to Advance U.S. Human Rights Accountability, which builds on the experience and insights gathered from an array of Bringing Human Rights Home Lawyers’ Network members who have utilized thematic hearings in domestic advocacy.
Based on the Institute’s interviews, outreach, and research, this resource provides practical insight into the role of thematic hearings within the Inter-American System, and offers recommendations and reflections on how to request, prepare for, and follow up on thematic hearings to maximize their impact. Focusing on the U.S. context, it also distills a number of considerations to inform lawyers’ use of thematic hearings as a tool to advance human rights accountability. To inform future engagement, this resource further includes sample hearing requests and a list of all the U.S.-focused hearings held at the Inter-American Commission since 1997.
U.S. advocates are increasingly turning to the Commission as a forum to address U.S. human rights concerns, and this resource is intended to support these efforts, and to share some of the key lessons learned to date.
I also want to use this opportunity to inform you that the next period of hearings at the Commission will take place in the beginning of April, and there are three hearings focused on the United States. The full schedule of upcoming hearings is available here.
The Institute would like to extend special thanks to all the BHRH Network members that contributed to this publication.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
In Human Rights in Children’s Literature: Imagination and the Narrative of Law, Todres and Higinbotham identify the ways in which human rights discourse appears in children’s literature, and how children’s books thus teach children about their rights and the right of others. The authors conclude that children’s literature is an “important cultural transmitter” of human rights concepts to children. Todres, a law professor at Georgia State University School of Law (and a co-editor of this Blog), and Higinbotham, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology, base their conclusions, in part, on a study they conducted with school aged children. In the study, they found that kids readily identify and grasp human rights messages contained in the books they read.
The book is prompted by Article 42 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which contains the obligation to make children’s rights “widely known,” as well as social science research indicating that human rights education has a positive impact on learning, civic engagement, and social behavior.
Throughout the book, the authors explore numerous examples of the ways in which both classic and more recent children’s books convey core concepts contained in the CRC. Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! and Yertle the Turtle are examined for the important lessons they impart about dignity, the universality of rights, and children’s right to participation. The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, illustrates the ways in which children’s literature can transmit and teach key human rights principles of best interests of the child and non-discrimination. The book contains counter examples, as well, including Cinderella and Curious George.
Interdisciplinary in its approach, Human Rights in Children’s Literature weaves together children’s rights law, children’s literature, human rights theory, human rights education and research, and literary theory. Chapters within the book are organized around the core rights and principles contained in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, including participation rights, non-discrimination, right to family and identity, children’s civil and political rights, the best interests of the child, and the right to life, survival, and development, among others.
For those working to bring human rights home, the book offers important and unique insights on the role that children’s literature can play in shaping a culture of human rights, near and far.