Wednesday, March 10, 2021

For Hope for Human Rights, Look to Implementation

By Christian De Vos

The last decade has seen the rise of illiberal democracies and multiple withdrawals from international human rights treaties, leading some to declare the “endtimes” of human rights. Skeptics claim that the failures of states to comply with international legal obligations or to prosecute serious crimes are evidence of a movement—and an idea—in decline.

There is good reason to worry. Just over ten years ago, the Open Society Justice Initiative published the first report to comprehensively examine the degree to which states actually comply with the decisions of international and regional human rights courts. As a co-author of that report, I found the results sobering. The study concluded that an “implementation crisis” afflicted human rights systems—and consequently, too often left people that those courts were intended to protect without sufficient safeguards.

To that point, the limited power of human rights institutions to ensure compliance with their decisions is often raised as an area of particular weakness for the system at large. Given the world’s sobering realities, how effectively can courts and committees police governments who violate international and regional human rights law? But there is good reason to disagree with those who have sounded the death knell for human rights. Ten years on, a closer look reveals that there are many examples of systems—and states—working as they should to implement human rights decisions.

For instance, let’s look to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), where remedies for human rights violations can take the form of financial compensation, retrials, orders to investigate, or other structural reforms. Today, there are fewer decisions imposed by the ECtHR that states have not complied with than there were ten years ago, despite an equally robust docket of cases. An improved rate of compliance from governments has likewise resulted in a significant decrease in the number of decisions needing closer follow-up—what the Committee of Ministers (CoM), the Council of Europe’s political body, calls “enhanced” review.

Council of Europe member states are also implementing ECtHR judgments more swiftly. While the number of ECtHR cases closed in under two years or less has doubled since 2011, the number of judgments that states have not complied with after five years (or more) has declined. There has also been an increase in the number of action plans and reports submitted by states in response to judgments and greater, more frequent monitoring thanks to robust engagement rom NGOs. Over the last decade, for instance, the CoM has reviewed nearly twice the number of cases that it used to.

Elsewhere, in the Americas, approximately half (68) of the 135 judgments that have been monitored by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights since 2010 have been “declared fulfilled.” This is a vast improvement from 2009, when the rate of implemented judgements stood at only 10 percent. Meanwhile, in Africa, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights has taken encouraging steps to develop a new compliance monitoring framework for both the court and the African Union. The African Commission (ACHPR) has also instituted procedural rules that strengthen the role of national human rights commissions in compliance monitoring, something they did not previously do. It can also now refer instances of non-compliance to the Court and other relevant African Union organs, giving the ACHPR new enforcement teeth.

There have been strides made at the national level as well, as states have increasingly focused on developing domestic structures and/or better coordination to facilitate their human rights reporting and implementation obligations. Many have created or strengthened National Mechanisms for Reporting and Follow-up to coordinate their responses to—and dialogues with—the UN and other regional bodies.

This progress in the implementation of human rights decisions owes much to the substantial growth of civil society engagement in this field over the past decade. As findings from a recently completed multi-year research project called the Human Rights Law Implementation Project (HRLIP) suggest, litigators and advocates are increasingly incorporating implementation into their planning and litigation processes. The HRLIP also concluded, based on hundreds of interviews with state officials, judges, court personnel, lawyers, and advocates, that “implementation is most certainly occurring” and that “for a number of cases there has been more implementation than may be visible or at first appeared.” State authorities, victims, and the broad range of stakeholders at the national and international level who were interviewed by the project indicated that they still consider international justice to be a worthwhile endeavor, and one in which they are prepared to invest. This momentum has been further evidenced by the creation of new organizations like the European Implementation Network, which work to build a broader, more robust network for implementation advocacy.

This good news is highlighted in a new capstone series with contributions from scholars and practitioners, “Implementing Human Rights Decisions: Reflections, Successes and New Directions.” Launching today, the series showcases findings from HRLIP’s research as well as examples drawn from the Justice Initiative’s work with partners to implement human rights decisions in countries like Cote d’Ivoire, Kazakhstan, and Hungary. While there are no easy victories to be found, together, these stories demonstrate the value of tenacious, sustained advocacy on behalf of human rights decisions. They also remind us that implementation is not a linear process, but dynamic and iterative.

To be sure, an implementation crisis still endures; enormous challenges remain. But as we look ahead, it’s critical to recognize the progress that has been made.

Editor's note: This post first appeared on Open Society Foundation's Voices on February 17, 2021, and is cross-posted here with permission from the author.

March 10, 2021 in Global Human Rights, Lauren Bartlett | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

23 UN Human Rights Experts Issue Statement on Policing and Systemic Racism in the US

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. 

March 3, 2021 in Advocacy, Community Advocacy, Discrimination, Global Human Rights, Lauren Bartlett, United Nations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

US Rejoins the UN Human Rights Council

By Co-Editor, Prof. Margaret Drew

The US has returned to the  UN Human Rights Council.   US participation was withdrawn during the Trump administration and the Biden administration quickly reversed.  The US should expect matters to be different.  Until elections for the Council come around, the US will have observer status.  Since the US last participated in the council, US human rights violations are even more exposed.  #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, and Times Up contributed to worldwide criticism of the US from a human rights perspective.  

The US will best approach their participation with a sense of humility, acknowledging US abuses while working to prevent future abuses in the US and the broader international community.  No doubt the other nations will expect a less judgmental approach to Council business and some will relish in the US being called out on its human rights abuses.  Indeed China will soon release a report on US Human Rights Abuses. 

Another change in the council is the predominance of China and other nations known for human rights abuses.  China's influence accounts for the lack of a UN resolution condemning arrests and other mistreatment of Hong Kong protesters.   When those countries that are the most willing to use brutality and the least willing to acknowledge mistreatment of its people control Human Rights decision-making, one has to examine whether the Council has lost its authority and leadership in the world of global human rights advocacy. One writer proposes how the US might break China's deadlock on the council and possibly bring back credibility to the UN Human Rights Council.


March 2, 2021 in Global Human Rights, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 5, 2020

Law Professors Sue President Trump

The Open Society Justice Initiative sued the Trump Administration over its Executive Order that sanctions the International Criminal Court.  The order, described as "draconian" sanctions and criminal liability for those who support the ICC and for their highest officials.  The plaintiffs are four law professors: Diane Marie Amann, University of Georgia School of Law; Gabor Rona, Cardozo School of Law; Milena Sterio, Cleveland Marshall school of Law; and Margaret deGuzman, Temple University Beasley School of Law.

The executive order denies the UCC's jurisdiction over the US actions that happen outside of the United States.

"I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, find that the situation with respect to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and its illegitimate assertions of jurisdiction over personnel of the United States and certain of its allies, including the ICC Prosecutor’s investigation into actions allegedly committed by United States military, intelligence, and other personnel in or relating to Afghanistan, threatens to subject current and former United States Government and allied officials to harassment, abuse, and possible arrest." 

Foley Hoag represents the Plaintiffs who request that the order be enjoined while the court considers its constitutionality. 

October 5, 2020 in Global Human Rights, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Join in the Conversation with Special Rapporteurs

On October 19, 2020 at 8 to 10 AM eastern time, you will have an opportunity to discuss human rights difficulties stemming from the privatization of what once were public services.   The discussion will touch on such concerns as water, health, and housing and the dialogue will be will be held with five current and former Special Rapporteurs.  The formal announcement includes the following: 

This event is co-organised by ActionAidThe East African Centre for Human Rights (EACHRights), the European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad), the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR), the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER)Oxfam, the Society for International Development (SID)Public Services International (PSI), and the Translational Institute (TNI).

The Special Rapporteurs:

  • Philip Alston, former UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights 
  • Koumbou Boly Barry, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education   
  • Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, and former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food
  • Leilani Farha, former UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context
  • Léo Heller, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation 

The event will be moderated by Magdalena Sepúlveda, former UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, and Executive Director of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

This online seminar will be held on Zoom, and be available in French and Spanish.

Click on this link to register: REGISTER TO THE EVENT

After decades of deregulation and privatisation policies around the world, private actors are playing an increasing role in many sectors, from education and health, to water, food and housing.  However, concerns that privatised systems are gravely threatening the realisation of human rights are rising. 

In recent years, dozens of human rights experts and bodies have rung the alarm bell, including four UN Special Rapporteurs who have written reports on the topic. The issue is becoming all the more critical in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, high and rising inequalities, and the ecological emergency. More than ever, the current trends towards privatisation and the dismantling of public services are proving to be untenable. The time has come to review human rights concerns across sectors and discuss alternatives to the dominant discourses.

This event will be the first-ever to bring together a range of current and former UN Special Rapporteurs and explore how human rights can help build a joint analysis of privatisation and bring support to resilient, rights-aligned, gender-inclusive public services and innovative approaches to realise the common good in a changing world.


Find out more on






October 1, 2020 in Global Human Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

George Floyd's Human Rights

Editors' Note:  Prof. Jeff Baker sends this post from Pepperdine's Caruso Law School, reflecting on Mr. Floyd's human rights.

Image1The murder of George Floyd is a moral outrage that violated his human rights. Like countless Black people before him, a state agent summarily and brutally executed Mr. Floyd with no legal justification, due process, or expectation of accountability. The police officer, knowing he was on camera, acted with supreme confidence that he had the power to kill a Black man in the street. 

Americans often discuss human rights abuses as events that happen elsewhere. We are apt to discuss civil rights at home, even while we’re quick to critique other nations’ human rights abuses. This may be due to convictions about sovereignty, suspicions about international organizations, or an assumed moral superiority, but I suspect we do not look to human rights principles because we have made sure our international human rights obligations are rarely legally operable. That is, the U.S. has not consented to meaningful enforcement of international human rights laws. We have chosen to trust ourselves and to reject accountability outside our vaunted sovereignty.

Human rights arise from ineffable conscience that transcends positive law, but human rights laws codify some of those ideals in operable language. The U.S. has signed and ratified a few conventions that create international human rights law, so by ratifying them, the conventions become part of the constitutional, supreme law of the land. Notwithstanding weak enforcement mechanisms, they are law, so the U.S. must reckon with its obligations.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights founds modern iterations of human rights on a bedrock: “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Every convention enumerating human rights builds on this precept, including the Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified by the U.S. in 1994.

Under the Convention, torture means “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person . . . punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official. . . “

The state obligation is “to take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture.” “Each State Party shall ensure that education and information regarding the prohibition against torture are fully included in the training of law enforcement personnel . . .  who may be involved in the custody, interrogation or treatment of any individual subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment.”

These rights are non-derogable, and “[s]tates parties are obligated to eliminate any legal or other obstacles that impede the eradication of torture and ill-treatment; and to take positive effective measures to ensure that such conduct and any recurrences thereof are effectively prevented. . . .”

Did the Minneapolis Police violate the Convention? Have our governments done enough to eradicate torture and ill-treatment by public officials?

For nearly nine minutes after being restrained in handcuffs, a uniformed police officer ground George Floyd into the asphalt, even as Mr. Floyd begged for his life, gasped for air, called out for his mother, and stopped breathing and moving. The State of Minnesota charged the police officer with murder and the attending officers with related crimes, but, by these officers’ actions, the State very likely violated human rights law against ill-treatment. Per the Convention:

States bear international responsibility for the acts and omissions of their officials. . .  acting on behalf of the State, in conjunction with the State, under its direction or control, or otherwise under colour of law. Accordingly, each State party should prohibit, prevent and redress torture and ill-treatment in all contexts of custody or control. . . .

These abuses are common in our history, certainly no mystery to Black people. As social media and smart phones force all of us to bear witness, again and anew, they shock our collective conscience because these murders by state actors are affronts to indispensable human dignity. They always have been, but now we cannot look away, diminish or evade our collective burden to confront and eliminate them.

The state obligation is the people’s obligation. Because formal enforcement of international human rights laws is so weak, the bulwarks for human dignity are our democracy, politics, and the conscience of our people. Our governments must protect human rights. If we remain a self-governing republic, then we all bear a profound obligation to vote, speak, and govern to defend the inherent dignity of every person.   

June 16, 2020 in Global Human Rights, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Reflecting on our Role as a University of Minnesota Human-Rights Community

Editors' Note:  In our continuing symposium we hear from Minnesota through a Human Rights framework.

By guest blogger Amanda Lyons  

Executive Director at the Human Rights Center, University of Minnesota Law School


In Minnesota we find ourselves grieving and challenged by yet another horrific act of racialized state violence. In the fallout, our “Minnesota Paradox” has been dramatically exposed to the world. The voice and clarity of racial-justice advocates in our community, and the incredible groundswell of support, compels us to take greater action to live up to our human-rights identity and ideals.

Out of a desire to speak out with a shared voice, the University of Minnesota Human Rights Lab published a brief statement to condemn the killing of George Floyd, to denounce the pervasive racial inequalities in our community, and to call for a rights-based response at all levels. We sought signatures from our community of 80+ human-rights faculty across campus, and the statement swiftly received over 4,000 endorsements system-wide.

In response, an alumnus shared that as a member of the Black American Law Student Association (BALSA) in the early 1980s he had worked with Prof. David Weissbrodt to research and report on the racist killings of black people by the police in the U.S. They made two submission to the U.N. Subcommission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities (in 1982 and 1983) and elicited a formal response from the U.S. government.

At first I was moved by this pioneering “human rights at home” work as a testament to the University of Minnesota’s long legacy of inspiring and preparing students to engage with international human rights to advance individual rights and social justice. But it is devastating to acknowledge that nearly 40 years later, our 2020 Black Law Students Association has to lead on the same issue.

Despite the intractability of these injustices, it does seem that in this unique moment and confluence of events, the movements have created an opening for real change. Amidst the grief and turmoil here in Minneapolis, we are seeing the uprising, outpouring, and activism lead to unprecedented institutional steps:

The day after George Floyd was killed University of Minnesota student body president, Jael Kerandi, demanded that the University cut ties with the MPD and called for a response by University leadership within 24 hours. The next day University President Joan Gabel shocked many by announcing the University was taking immediate steps to change its relationship with the MPD and would no longer contract for additional law enforcement support. Many welcomed the announcement as a sign of bold leadership and a building block for real change.

Since then, prominent Minneapolis cultural institutions have also pledged to cut ties with the MPD, including the Minnesota Orchestra, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Walker Art Museum, and beloved First Avenue, which said it will “instead work with local organizations who represent our community, and who will protect and affirm Black and Brown lives.”

These steps reflect and contribute to the growing support for reallocating funding away from policing and into services and models designed to respect and promote human rights, address root causes, and take on systemic disparities. The recent statement led by UN Special Rapporteur on Racism, Prof. Tendayi Achiume lays out the strong human-rights underpinnings for this call, as do our friends at the Minneapolis-based Advocates for Human Rights.

Despite our history of racialized police violence here in Minnesota, including the killing of Philando Castile, there has never been such a resounding demand for change. Until just a few weeks (or even days) ago, calls to radically alter our relationship with the police and policing were unimaginable for most.

We see the importance to act as a University human-rights community in support of these historic efforts to advance racial and social justice in our state and country. We are committed to advocating human-rights values in our own institution and to pushing on questions of legacy and building names, diversity and equity, and the role for the University in advancing human rights in our state. In the face of a toxic national climate of violence and bigotry, the vision, energy, anger, and leadership of our students (like many before them) compels us to see the chance of real change where we thought impossible.

June 14, 2020 in Ethnicity, Global Human Rights, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 6, 2020

The Right To Freedom of Movement And The Covid 19 Pandemic

By guest contributor  Jim Nickel, Professor of Law Emeritus, University of Miami School of Law

Reducing and regulating human movement is one of the most important ways of reducing COVID-19 transmission and thereby limiting the spread of infection, illness, and death. Distancing requires people to stay a safe distance from each other whenever they are in public. Shutdowns close places where people might want to go—cafes, stores, offices, sports events, playgrounds, etc. Lock-downs and quarantines block non-essential movement outside of the home. Closing the borders of countries, provinces, counties, cities, and neighborhoods blocks entry to and sometimes even exit from closed regions.

Freedom of movement is greatly limited by these measures. And freedom of movement is generally taken to be a human right. It is found in major human rights treaties and in the best national bills of rights. Even if these limitations on movement are not violations of this right because they are necessary to slow the pandemic, they are at least in tension with it.

Why is freedom of movement so valuable that we treat it as a human right?  One answer is that free movement is very valuable to the exercise of other freedoms including religion, assembly, association, communication, and voting. Block freedom of movement and many actions covered by these other freedoms are thereby blocked.

Another answer is that movement is valuable as a means to or a constitutive part of many of the other things we find valuable. Lock-downs and shutdowns limit our abilities to do ordinary things such as exercising, visiting the homes of friends, getting food, and sightseeing. Many of these things can still be done by electronic media—thank goodness—but the electronic versions lack the dimensions of physically being and doing together.

Movement is a physical thing, of people starting and stopping the movement of their bodies through space. When movement is done by great numbers of people it often has big consequences. It can create a traffic jam whose result is that many thousands of people are seriously delayed. And thousands moving by various means of transportation to a big protest rally can have the consequences that many others cannot get to school or work. Further, we’re now sadly aware that the movement of just a few individuals can introduce  infectious diseases to new places. These bad consequences of some human movements help explain why freedom of movement, even when recognized as a right, is very heavily limited by exceptions, qualifications to accommodate other norms and values, and emergency clauses. 

Perhaps the biggest legal limitations on freedom of movement are imposed by property rights, rights to privacy, and the crime of trespass. Without specific permission people, are forbidden to enter the homes, buildings, and land of others, factories owned by corporations, government facilities, and the territories of foreign countries.

Formulations of the right to freedom of movement in international human rights treaties tend to be highly qualified. For example, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (United Nations, 1966) devotes Article 12 to freedom of movement. It says that “Everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence,” “be free to leave any country, including his own,” and not “be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.” The Article qualifies a limited right to freedom of movement by listing a variety of considerations that can sometimes override it, including public health.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many NGOs and newspaper editorials have warned that excessive restrictions on free movement are being used by a number of governments to expand their power, limit other freedoms (as discussed above), postpone elections, and exclude immigrants and asylum seekers. Human rights require that restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms during emergencies be necessary, proportional (that is, not go beyond what is necessary), and non-discriminatory. If followed, these strictures would help limit governmental abuses of the right to freedom of movement.

What counts as discriminatory during ordinary times may not guide us fully, however, during this pandemic. For example, is it discriminatory in hiring to prefer workers who have already recovered from the virus and thus (we hope) have immunity to it? Or was it discriminatory for Rhode Island to target New Yorkers when it tried to prevent the entrance of people from more heavily infected areas? (Because of protests against this policy, Rhode Island is now excluding all non-residents wanting to enter and stay.)

During this pandemic individuals, politicians, and judges who care about liberty and human rights should pay serious critical attention to the nature and duration of restrictions on freedom of movement. “Strict scrutiny”—as the constitutional phrase goes—is in order.

April 6, 2020 in Global Human Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 30, 2020

Pandemic journal: Human rights and the COVID19 pandemic

by Jim Nickel, Professor of Law Emeritus, University of Miami School of Law, guest contributor

How should we understand the relations between human rights and the severe measures taken in many countries to combat the COVID19 pandemic?  This question is complicated because on all accounts human rights are plural: there are quite a few of them and they are formulated in lists.  Further, even when we focus on a particular right--such as freedom of movement--the boundaries and priority of the right are far from clear.

The table below identifies some areas where there is tension or worse between human rights and current measures to combat the COVID19 pandemic.  All of the rights mentioned are ones that are found in international human rights treaties and in the best national bills of rights.  No claim is made that this list is comprehensive.

A person’s right to…                          

Versus current measures in many countries…

Freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and freedom of political participation

Prohibiting assemblies of more than some small number of people and door-to-door canvassing

Freedom of communication

Prohibiting spreading unfounded and dangerous rumors about the epidemic

The right to a fair and speedy trial

Suspending prosecutions, habeas, and trials

The right to privacy

Public officials following up contacts in ways that severely violate privacy—for example by publishing the names of possibly infected people

Freedom of movement—liberty to travel locally, nationally, and internationally

Mandatory quarantines

Prohibitions of travel—lockdowns Prohibitions of travel from heavily infected areas, including returning to one’s home from such an area

The right to vote

Postponement of elections

The right to safe working conditions; the right against forced labor; the right to fair wages

Compulsory, dangerous. and possibly uncompensated work by health workers, morticians, cooks, janitors, and drivers

The right to property

Mandated temporary appropriation of hotels or empty university dorms to use as hospitals or quarantine dormitories; similar appropriations for disposing of the bodies of victims such as vehicles, heavy equipment, refrigerated trucks, and cremation facilities.

Denial of access to owners of second homes

Leaders of countries imposing these restrictions as necessary to combat the pandemic—and I don’t doubt that many of them are necessary—haven’t expressed much worry that these measures violate or are in tension with human rights.  And I know of no country in Europe that has notified the European Court of Human Rights that it is suspending or limiting human rights. There are a number of reasons.  The biggest is that these emergency measures are put forward as necessary but temporary suspensions of rights in limited areas.  Another is that these measures are mostly permissible under provisions that international human rights treaties contain. Those familiar with international human rights law know that many of the measures in the right column would be permissible in emergencies because relevant treaties contain explicit emergency exceptions to some rights (as with the right against forced labor), because there are qualifications to several of the fundamental freedoms permitting them to be balanced against public health, and because many treaties explicitly allow for derogation (that is, suspension) of most human rights during national emergencies. [See Nickel, “Two Models of Normative Frameworks for Human Rights during Emergencies” in Evan J. Criddle, ed., Human Rights in Emergencies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016): 56-80.] A third reason is that the influence of human rights norms has declined in many countries during the last two decades.

As far as I can tell, media coverage of these issues has mostly focused on the pandemic as an excuse for expanded authoritarianism.  Countries with pre-existing authoritarian tendencies are the immediate focus: China, Hungary, Cambodia, Russia, Azerbaijan, and Israel were mentioned in a recent Wall Street Journal article. A Dutch politician was quoted as saying, “These people never let a good crisis be wasted.”  Also expressed is the concern that even in countries without strong authoritarian tendencies previous levels of liberty and democracy will not be reestablished after the pandemic ends.

Courts tend to be of limited use as protections of human rights during pandemics and other severe emergencies. Courts are often not able to function because of lockdowns and restrictions on travel; judges frequently show great deference to public health officials and doctors; and litigation is usually too slow to deal with a current crisis.  Expedited measures and judicial injunctions may, however, be available in some cases.

Human rights commissions could conceivably act quickly by issuing precautionary orders against excessive restrictions to combat the pandemic.  If the government of Bolivia, for example, were to shut down all political activity in the country, including areas with very few COVID cases, might the InterAmerican Commission issue a precautionary order?  I have not heard of any such activity by human rights commissions.

Not addressed in this blog is whether countries had duties under human rights to prepare adequately for severe emergencies of various types and failed to meet those duties in regard to infectious diseases.


March 30, 2020 in Global Human Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Supporting An International Anti-Corruption Court

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Human Rights Movies

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Gravity and the Commission on Unalienable Rights

by Prof. Rachel Lopez, Guest Blogger, contributes to the discussion on the Commission for Unalienable Rights  
Image1Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has launched a controversial human rights commission to address what he believes is the corruption of human rights discourse. He charged this Commission on Unalienable Rights with proposing “reforms of human rights discourse where it has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights.”

His reference to natural rights harkens back to a time when legal scholars believed that God, not government, imbued humans with rights. He blames the human rights movement for blurring the line between those rights that are “unalienable,” or God-given, and those that are man-made.  In line with the Trump administration’s general nostalgia for a time when religious, predominately Christian, values took precedence, Pompeo hopes that the commission will return primacy to God-given rights, thereby making human rights great again.

Pompeo and the members of the commission have all linked God-given rights to gravity, a key concept in international law. Like Pompeo, the new chairwoman of the commission, Harvard Professor Mary Ann Glendon, believes that only a handful of “unalienable rights” should be prioritized. She counts “prohibitions of torture, enslavement, degrading punishment, of retroactive penal measures, and of other grave violations of human dignity,” as worthy of heightened protection, but also the “freedom of religion and conscience.”

Her inclusion of religious freedom derives from her belief that so-called conscience rights, defined as the right not to be forced to do something contrary to deeply held beliefs, are particularly under threat due to the rise of secularism. She and two other commissioners share the belief that requiring health insurance companies to cover contraceptives is “a grave violation of religious freedom.”

As the very mandate of Pompeo’s commission demonstrates, one of the greatest ironies and dangers of “God-given” rights is that they are defined by governments. And governments do not always agree. In the “good old days” of natural rights, the nations with the most military might imposed their version of what was good and just through violence. This approach to international relations ushered in decades of wars and brutality in the name of God.

In the aftermath of two devastating world wars, modern international law was born. This brand of international law is decidedly more concrete and collective. Instead of acting unilaterally, nation states increasingly work together to identify and punish gross violations of the law of nations. Rights and duties have also been spelled out in treaties and judicial decisions. The current international legal order is certainly not perfect, but it has resulted in a more peaceful world.

Instituting a national commission that will unilaterally define a narrow set of God-given rights in line with the United States’ founding principles risks undercutting these recent advances. The commission cannot redefine fundamental human rights in a vacuum. Should the commission wish to use gravity to anchor its work, it must draw from the existing law of gravity. To some extent, gravity has suffered from some of the same ambiguity as God-given rights, which leaves it subject to manipulation. 

However, as international law matures, what amounts to a grave violation has become clearer — and a set of common factors that decision-makers typically weigh when determining whether a violation is grave. 

Courts and other international bodies have provided fairly specific guidance: Violations are grave when they are universally condemned, done deliberately and either acutely harm a limited number of people or are so widespread and systematic that the cumulative harm is severe. For example, the extrajudicial killing of journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi is a grave violation of international law, but so is the pillage of villages in South Sudan.

Likewise, these bodies have found that violations that injure vulnerable populations like children, involve an abuse of authority, particularly by state actors, or occur over an extended period of time are likely grave. For instance, the United Nations has passed a resolution identifying six grave violations affecting children and established a special unit to monitor these violations. These factors should serve as guideposts and, in some instances, constraints on the commission. 

If the commission simply makes human rights up as it goes along, without grounding its work in international law, it will propagate the “loose talk” of human rights that Pompeo detests. Pompeo is right about one thing: Making human rights great requires more.

Editors' Note: This piece was first published in The Hill.

December 12, 2019 in Global Human Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Nominated US Ambassador to Geneva Denies Women's Rights

Andrew Bremer has been nominated to be the US Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva.  According to a report issued by Human Rights Watch Bremer has been on record on opposing abortion even in the case of sexual assault.  This position is contrary international human rights law as well as US current policy.  "Of particular concern is Bremberg’s statement at his confirmation hearing that he does not support victims of rape accessing abortion. He expressed his support of the US government’s extraordinary threat at the UN Security Council in April to veto a resolution on gender-based violence in armed conflict because it included a reference to victims’ access to sexual and reproductive health care."

"Authoritative interpretations of international human rights law establish that denying women and girls access to abortion is a form of discrimination and jeopardizes a range of human rights."

Approval of Bowman for the Ambassador postion will further not the work of the US people but the goals of the newly formed Commission on Unalienable Rights.

July 28, 2019 in Global Human Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Commission on Unalienable Rights Begins Its Frightening Work

As we reported earlier, the Commission on Unaliable Rights is gearing up to start work.  On July 8th Secretary Pompeo, a Christian Evangelical made an announcement that he appointed Prof. Mary Ann Glennon (Harvard Law) as chair.  Prof. Glendon is a former ambassador to the Vatican.  The makeup of the other commission members reveals that the Commission's focus is religious dominance over all other rights.  

Alarms are sounding.  Democrats are promoting a bill that would prohibit State Department funds from being used to support the commission.  The American Jewish World Service denounced the commission due to its religious nature.  One member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee bemoaned that the administration "has taken a wrecking ball to America's global leadership on promoting fundamental rights across the world."

There is good reason to be worried.  Mr. Pompeo published an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal on Sunday which does nothing to soothe human rights advocates.   The article makes clear that US dominance in defining what rights anyone is entitled to is the goal. A portion o the "Yet after the Cold War ended, many human-rights advocates turned their energy to new categories of rights. These rights often sound noble and just. But when politicians and bureaucrats create new rights, they blur the distinction between unalienable rights and ad hoc rights granted by governments. Unalienable rights are by nature universal. Not everything good, or everything granted by a government, can be a universal right. Loose talk of 'rights'
unmoors us from the principles of liberal democracy."

To accomplish this weeding out of human rights, Commission members will examine the Universal Declaration of Human Rights among other documents to determine what rights are fundamental and, among other questions, who has the power to grant rights.  The likely answer is God, who no doubt will be wispering in the ears of commission members.

Mr. Pompeo goes on to say: "Human-rights advocacy has lost its bearings and become more of an industry than a moral compass. And 'rights talk' has become a constant element of our domestic political discourse, without any serious effort to distinguish what rights mean and where they come from."  Conclusions will no doubt be drawn that the only rights that exist are those specifically stated in US drafted documents.   The very documents that exclude any form of diversity.   Anything else will no doubt undermine fundamental US freedoms.




July 10, 2019 in Global Human Rights, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 17, 2019

Mimicking Human Rights

The proposed Commission on Unalienable Rights has released its draft charter.   As described in an earlier post,  the State Department is forming a new commission to review human rights principles to make certain that those principals are not in conflict with US-defined "natural law ".  The intention of the founders will be given priority attention in defining human rights.  The charter reinforces that the mission is to "recover that which is enduring for the maintenance and of free and open societies. 

In a frightening disclosure, the draft charter states that commission members will be called "Rapporteurs."  Clever.  Scary but clever.  Part of the unstated plan is to replace the credibility of UN Rappateurs with the voice of commission members.  For many who will be introduced to the word, their only association with "rapporteur" will be the voice of the new commission.  A goal of the commission can only be not to simply redefine human rights but to eliminate the credibility of those charged with monitoring human rights as we have known them since the close of World War II.  

June 17, 2019 in Global Human Rights, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Human Rights Confusion: Honoring Angela Davis

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth was a civil rights hero.  Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he was one of the early activists in the civil rights movement and shared jail cells with Dr. Martin Luther King.  Rev. Shuttlesworth was widely respected as a civil rights leader in a city and state where activism could have severe consequences.  Indeed Rev. Shuttlesworth was the recipient of many beatings and the target of bombings.  His 2011 funeral brought admirers from across the state of Alabama and the nation.  Representative John Lewis was among the eulogizers and Peter Yarrow, who sang along with Paul and Mary at the 1963 civil rights March on Washington, sang "Blowing in the Wind". 

The Institute, along with the City of Birmingham, has done a good job of owning its past.  The Institute does not shy away from the civil rights history and the city's response.   Among its many exhibits is one replicating the jail cell where Dr. King wrote "Letter from a Birmingham Jail".  The setting provides a powerful place to read the letter, which is part of the exhibit.    Across from the Institute is Kelly Park, where demonstrators were hosed by firemen and attacked by police dogs.  Again, the city does not shy from its history.  Bronze exhibits in the park replicate attacking dogs and firemen with hoses. 

So it was not surprising when the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute announced that Dr. Angela Davis would be the recipient of the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award.

Image1Angela Davis hails from Birmingham.  The civil and human rights leader is remembered for her activism against racist practices during the 1970s.   During that era, she was a member of an African American chapter of the Communist Party and supported the Black Panthers and a target of the FBI.   She spent 18 months in prison on accomplice to murder charges involving the death of a judge, a charge from which she was acquitted. A Ph.D. whose activism has sometimes made her academic life difficult, she teaches at the University of California at Santa Clara where she continues to write and work on human rights issues.  One of her recent works is Freedom is a Constant Struggle:  Ferguson, Palestine and the Foundations of a Movement.  She is known as a respected human rights activist who carried on her activism to ensure fundamental human rights.

Then the Institute rescinded the award, stating that Dr. Davis did not meet the criteria. The Institute had received a letter from the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center asking for reconsideration of the award based upon Dr. Davis'  support of Palestinians.  Jewish Voice for Peace published an open letter to the Institute, signed by over 350 academics, calling on them to cancel the rescission.    

The counter-pressure was intense.  Three Institute board members resigned.  The Mayor joined in criticizing the recission decision and the City Council swiftly passed a resolution supporting Dr. Davis.  The Institute acknowledged receiving criticism from several community groups. In the meantime, community leaders, including clergy and business people, arranged an alternative Birmingham event at which Dr. Davis spoke to an overflowing crowd.  

The Institute re-extended the award to Dr. Davis and published a letter stating that no decision should have been made regarding rescission before a discussion with diverse groups.  Also, it said that it was keeping with its commitment to learning from its mistakes.  Unknown is whether Dr. Davis accepted or will accept the Shuttlesworth Award.  

March 10, 2019 in Global Human Rights, Margaret Drew, Prisons, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Breathing Hope Into International Human Rights Jurisdiction

Human Rights activists cheered last week when in Jam v. International Finance Corporation, the US Supreme Court held that the International Finance Corporation (IFC) is subject to suit in the United States.  The court found US jurisdiction under the International Organizations Immunities Act of 1945.  International organizations have been found to have comparable jurisdictional immunity from suit in the US as foreign governments.  While immunity is broad, it is not without limitations.  Under the International Sovereign Immunity Act of 1976, one of the exceptions is when a government - or in this case an international organization - engages in commercial activities.  "[A] foreign government may be subject to suit under one of several statutory exceptions. Most pertinent here, a foreign government may be subject to suit in connection with its commercial activity that has a sufficient nexus with the United States."   As noted in the opinion,  part of IFC's charter provides: Whereas the World Bank primarily provides loans and grants to developing countries for public-sector projects, the IFC finances private-sector development projects that cannot otherwise attract capital on reasonable terms." In that regard, the IFC supplements the work of the World Back Organization.

In Jam the IFC, headquartered in D.C. financed a coal-powered plant in India.  The loan was made to Coastal Gujarat Power Ltd.  The company is alleged to not have complied with social and environmental expectations for the project and IFO was alleged to have inadequately supervised the project.   Local farmers and fishers complained of environmental pollution that has negatively changed the area air,  water, and land.  The IFO successfully argued immunity in the DC District Court.  The SCOTUS ruling returns the case to the lower court for the matter to proceed.  The opinion was 7-1 with Justice Bryer dissenting, largely noting that the majority's decision defines commercial activities too broadly and contrary to the act's intent. Justice Kavanaugh recused himself.  

Human Rights activists cheered, led by EarthRights International and Stanford Law School's Supreme Court Litigation Clinic represented the Plaintiffs.   Earthlink has at least one other case in the pipeline against IFC, including the case, Juana Doe et al v. IFC, involving  "IFC projects that have been linked to murders, torture, and other violence by paramilitary groups and death squads in Honduras. EarthRights International represents the plaintiffs, whose identities are kept anonymous to protect them from retaliation."

Before Human Rights advocates begin drafting pleadings, it is worth considering other barriers to Jam and similar litigation. There are other jurisdictional requirements that Plaintiffs may not be able to overcome.  As the court noted "[E]ven if an international development bank’s lending activity does qualify as commercial, that does not
mean the organization is automatically subject to suit."    Plaintiffs must prove sufficient nexus to the United States and "In short, restrictive immunity hardly means unlimited exposure to suit for international organizations."

Nexus to the United States and tying harm suffered to the commercial activity will be the challenges for human rights advocates to overcome in Jam and other suits.  Following the progress of Jam will be instructive.    But for the moment, having experienced limitations in Jesner and Kiobel, Human Rights advocates should savor this victory in an era where Human Rights successes are harder to come by.



March 3, 2019 in Global Human Rights, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 7, 2019

US Moves Further Away From Human Rights Cooperation

In an earlier blog post, we discussed the worries of human rights advocates, one of which was a concern that the US was no longer cooperating with international human rights reports. In a move that signals the US moving in that direction, the Guardian reported that the US has stopped responding to special rapporteur complaints of human rights violations within our borders.  

Reportedly the US stopped responding to complaints last May.  13 inquiries have gone unanswered.  The prior administration invited 16 Special Rapporteurs to visit the US.  The current administration has invited none. The US responded badly to the June report filed by Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on  Extreme Poverty criticizing the US failure to address poverty within its borders.  Then UN Ambassador Nikki Haley fired back that the report was biased and time would be better spent investigating other countries.  UN rapporteurs are unable to submit reports to the UN Human Rights Council without an official visit. 

Without US cooperation concerns such as treatment of border migrants are unlikely to be investigated and reported by the UN.  Unofficial visits can happen, of course, but resulting reports will not have official sanction of the UN Human Rights Council.  Perhaps one remedy is for the Council to create another tier of reporting, one that would accommodate investigations that have not been invited by the country whose conditions are being investigated.  Unofficial reporting of investigated conditions could be published, which would greatly assist local US advocates in dealing with municipalities to find remedies for inhumane conditions.



January 7, 2019 in Global Human Rights, Margaret Drew, United Nations, Universal Periodic Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

News On The Human Right To Transportation

Luxembourg has made public transportation free.   The change was made for environmental reasons.

Luxembourg has the highest per capita rate of vehicles per resident than any other European Union city. In many ways, Luxembourg is a work destination city with commuters coming from France, Belgium and Germany.  The city population increases fivefold on workdays with few commuters ride sharing. 

The policy of free public transportation is designed to reduce vehicle congestion and reduce emissions.  Luxembourg is smaller than the state of Rhode Island, but the change will be a good start for reducing air pollution.  Germany will test free public transportation in some cities.  There is little data on emissions reduction for cities that provide free public transportation.  The addition of German cities and Luxembourg will support research in how free public transportation supports human rights improvement.

Convincing US cities to provide free public transportation may be a bit more difficult.  But economics should be convincing.  Major US cities have failing infrastructures. The cost of yearly repair is significant.   They suffer the same Luxembourg problem. Commuter traffic creates jams that can triple travel time and pollution that creates health problems. 

Cities that wish to offer free transportation must be prepared to make an initial substantial investment in the systems.  Anticipating increased ridership means increasing public vehicles as well as more frequent runs.  Some immediate savings is accomplished through a reduction in staff needed to selling tickets and those who maintain related machines.  For forward thinking cities, the reduced road maintenance costs and health costs related to pollution will reward budget planners who consider long term benefits.

There is a larger human rights issue at stake.  Cities that charge for public transportation due so with set fees.  Removing that financial barrier opens educational, work and health opportunities for those who might not be able to afford frequent trips on public trains or buses.  Transportation as a human right previously has been a topic of this blog.  Luxembourg's immediate need is to reduce commuter cars, but no matter what the motivation, free transportation expands the exercise of fundamental human rights. 





January 2, 2019 in Global Human Rights, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

What's to Celebrate?

Human Rights Day, December 10, 2018, was marked by statements issued by President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.  Always symbolic, these annual proclamations seem even more meaningless than usual when the U.S. has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accords, has withdrawn from the UN Human Rights Council, has used cruel family separation policies to deter asylum seekers, and is defending the use of tear gas against a motley group of refugees including women and children. 

Both President Trump and Secretary Pompeo link human rights to economics, suggesting that the primary reason to observe human rights is because it will contribute to economic stability.  Further, both of these statements equate human rights with civil and political rights, bounded by the terms of the U.S. Bill of Rights. 

Compare these statements to the aspirational statement issued by the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, in which he praises the courage of human rights defenders worldwide, and observes that "At home, we are working hard to build a country where all Canadians are free and safe to be themselves, and can go as far as their dreams will take them. We continue to take concrete measures to fight racism and discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. We will keep taking meaningful actions to advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, and continue to work hard to put an end to human trafficking."

The contrast between these approaches is clear.  Even in commemorating Human Rights Day, the U.S. Administration is taking every opportunity to try to minimize the breadth and scope of human rights.  During Human Rights Day and Week and beyond, we must resist this attempt to revise and rewrite human rights norms, and to celebrate the vibrant U.S. human rights movement that continues to speak truth to power at every turn.

December 11, 2018 in Global Human Rights, Martha F. Davis | Permalink | Comments (0)