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 (0)

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)

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The UN Warns of Human Rights Impact of the Digital Welfare State

Technology has its own biases.

US scholars are raising concerns regarding lack of cultural competency and other biases that are built into technological tools used to obtain information from those seeking to access public benefits.  These concerns were recently reiterated by the UN Rapporteur for Extreme Policy who raised concerns about the UK's move to digitize the delivery of public services.  

Philip Alston warned that   "A major issue with the development of new technologies is lack of transparency.  Evidence shows that the human rights of the poorest and most vulnerable are especially at risk in such contexts."

Digital tools used in the US as well as the UK do not account for those whose primary language is not English.  Sherley Cruz, who studies the lack of cultural competency in most digital tools, notes that the tools do not account for those who have limited or no experience with digital tools  let alone those who are illiterate or who do not understand any complexity in the wording used by the tool.  And there is no transparency in how the tools are configured or how responses are assessed.  Prof. Cruz' article is forthcoming in the University of Tennessee Law Review.

The Special Rapporteur's full statement may be viewed here.


November 20, 2018 in Global Human Rights, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

What Worries Human Rights Advocates Most?

At the ABA annual meeting this month, panelists were asked to opine on what effect the "America First" policies of the current administration are having on human rights advocates.  The speakers were part of a panel "International Human Rights: Law and Policy in the Trump Administration". 

One panelist, Elisa Massamino of Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights, noted that there is nothing inherently wrong with an "America First" policy, but the underlying concern is President Trump's refusal to accept a rule-based world order.  She noted that the administration has stepped out of the Human Rights Council and is discontinuing State Department Human Rights Reports. 

Mary Meg McCarthy of the Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center commented on the administrations disregard of due process for immigrants and refugees.  She said "What we're seeing is a brutality, a brazenness, a mean-spirited process that seeks to dehumanize noncitizens and persons of color."

Other comments of human rights concerns are worth reading.  In addition, the panelists commented on  bright spots coming out of the resistance, including lawyers showing up at airports during the travel ban.  You may read more here.

August 28, 2018 in Global Human Rights, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Youth For Human Rights

Watching youth at protests and advocating for the marginalized gives me great hope.  My experience is that many young, including law students, are awakened to human rights violations whether existing or encroaching, because of the disregard of dignity experienced in the current political and social climate.  While many are empowered to say and do hateful things, many are committed to protecting the marginalized.

Several organizations are devoted to educating youth about human rights.  Youth for Human Rights International was formed in 2001 with a mission of educating youth about human rights and specifically the Universal Declaration of human Rights.  YHRI uses videos for teaching (which may be watched on their website) as well as curricula and youth activities.

YHRI's website has several resources for human rights educators.  A (free) human rights kit is available to educators who teach human rights to youth ages 10 - 17.  A separate kit is available for those who teach youth over age 17.



August 21, 2018 in Global Human Rights, Juveniles, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 16, 2018

Iceland Takes A Seat On The Human Rights Council

You may recall that the US withdrew from the UN's Human Rights Council.  The US term would end on December 31, 2019.  Iceland will replace the US on the Council and serve until the end of the US term.  Iceland was the near unanimous vote for the US replacement (France received one vote.) This is the first time Iceland will serve on the Council.  The Council will meet next in September.

Seats are allocated on a regional basis and the council has 47 members.  

The Human Rights Council's website informs that the Council is an "inter-governmental body within the United Nations system responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them.  It has the ability to discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations."




July 16, 2018 in Global Human Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 15, 2018

Not Fake News: The Administration Is Rejecting All Human Rights

What has become frighteningly clear is that the Administration is moving quickly to deny that human rights are of any consequence.  That human rights exist and human rights law has any influence is soon to be fake news.

In addition to the horrendous ripping of children and mothers at the US border, two recent actions support the administration's disregard of human rights.  Earlier this week, Attorney General Sessions announced that victims of gang violence and domestic violence will no longer be eligible for asylum.  In his announcement, Mr. Sessions stated that asylum was never intended to protect from these forms of violence.  Yet the risk of death by those trying to escape results from the home state's refusal to protect its citizens from gang and domestic violence. This is a state, not private matter.  Of course those most affected by this violence are women, LGBTQ individuals and children, who are particularly vulnerable targets of the President. 

Now it appears that the US will withdraw from the UN's human rights council.  The conceit used is US complaints that the council has passed too many resolutions condemning Israel for human rights violations.  Whether that is accurate is irrelevant to the decision.  The underlying indicators reveal that the President has wanted nothing to do with the HR Council since early in his tenure.  The Administration has heard enough about human rights. Any discussion is over.



June 15, 2018 in Global Human Rights, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Long Arc of Human Rights: A Case for Optimism Part I

Editors' note: Prof. Carrie Bettinger-Lopez writes this essay discussing optimism in the a difficult human rights era.  Below is part one of a three part series.

By Carrie-Bettinger-Lopez

Image1Does fighting for human rights actually make a difference? Scholars, policymakers, lawyers, and activists have asked that question ever since the contemporary human rights movement emerged after World War II. At any given moment, headlines supply plenty of reasons for skepticism. Today, the news is full of reports of Rohingya refugees fleeing a campaign of murder, rape, and dispossession in Myanmar; drug users dealing with brutal, state-sponsored vigilantism in the Philippines; and immigrants and minorities facing the wrath of extreme right-wing and populist movements in European countries and the United States. It is easy to succumb to a sense of despair about the laws and institutions designed to protect human rights.

In 1968, the legal scholar Louis Henkin wrote that “almost all nations observe almost all principles of international law and almost all of their obligations almost all of the time.” Subsequent empirical studies, primarily in the fields of international trade and international environmental law, have confirmed Henkin’s qualified optimism. But in the field of international human rights, empirical studies have sometimes led to more pessimistic conclusions. In a 2002 article in The Yale Law Journal, for instance, the legal scholar Oona Hathaway concluded that “although the practices of countries that have ratified human rights treaties are generally better than those of countries that have not, noncompliance with treaty obligations appears common.”

Hathaway and others who have analyzed international human rights regimes have generally focused on the efficacy of specific laws, institutions, or methodologies: for example, the number of human rights treaties that a given country has ratified, the existence of domestic legislation that reflects international norms, or the presence of national human rights institutions. But few have stepped back and considered the overall impact of the broader international human rights movement. In her new book, Evidence for Hope, the political scientist Kathryn Sikkink fills that gap—and the news, she reports, is better than one might fear. Drawing on decades of research into transnational civil society networks and international institutions, Sikkink counters skeptics from the left and the right who have argued that the persistence of grave human rights violations throughout the world is evidence that the international movement has failed and should be abandoned altogether. On the contrary, she concludes, the struggle for human rights has indeed made a difference: “Overall there is less violence and fewer human rights violations in the world than there were in the past.”

Sikkink contends that skeptics have relied on the wrong metrics to measure progress and have failed to see shifts in the human rights movement that have made it more durable. She is even relatively bullish about the prospects for continued progress in the Trump era. In this way, she distinguishes herself from the many activists and scholars who fear that the populist nationalism that helped put Donald Trump in the White House could reverse hard-fought human rights gains of the past few decades, both in the United States and abroad.

The essay continues tomorrow.

This essay first appeared in Foreign Affairs

April 17, 2018 in Books and articles, Carrie Bettinger Lopez, Global Human Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The UN High Commissioner for HR Responds

President Trump's disturbing remarks about certain countries has prompted both outrage and response worldwide as well as within the human rights
communities.  The  UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called the remarks both shocking and shameful.  The Commissioner, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, noted that there is no Image1 way avoid labeling the remarks "racist".  "You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as 's***holes', whose entire populations are not white and therefore are not welcome", remark that people from Norway would be welcome and not reach the conclusion that the president is racist. 

Overlooking the fact that it is hard to imagine why Norwegians would want to emigrate to the US under President Trump, the President's remarks come closer to the truth of the current state of affairs in the US than any prior remark.  The President may have been able to hide behind terrorism and Homeland Security warnings in his earlier comments around refugees from war engaged, middle eastern countries.  But there is no terrorism threat to the US from Haiti or the other targeted countries.  The  difference is skin color.  And that is the underbelly of the vile backlash  the US is currently experiencing. 

The UN High Commissioner distilled the impact of President Trump's comments to the core danger.  "This isn't just a story about vulgar language, it's about opening the door to humanity's worst side."

January 21, 2018 in Global Human Rights, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Before 5:00 am


Jonathan Todres

The shuttle to Logan airport picked me up at 4:40 am. I had given a presentation the day before and was returning home early in time to teach my afternoon class. If you haven’t been on the road before 5:00 am, I recommend it for only one reason:  it provides a valuable reminder of how many people work really hard. In the darkness of that hour, while most people are sleeping and most businesses are closed, you'll come across overnight desk clerks at hotels, shuttle drivers, 24-hour gas station attendants, long distance truck drivers, and others working through the night.  It has been a long time since I worked all night, but I recall the toll it takes.  And for some people, that night shift is one of two jobs they’ll work that day. I suppose, in this bizarro world of today’s politics, I expected to acknowledge that it is possible the hotel desk clerk was in fact an undercover millionaire who just liked working nights. However, contrary to what some politics pundits might suggest, the exception--if it exists--does not disprove the rule. Most people do not prefer to spend their nights working and away from their families. What came to me during the hour-long ride to the airport is the importance of human rights: the right to a fair wage, decent working conditions, health care, and more.  Most of us working in human rights understandably focus our energy on individuals or communities confronting urgent and often severe violations of human rights. But being on the road before 5:00 am is a reminder that human rights remains relevant to all individuals, in all walks of life. 



October 18, 2017 in Global Human Rights, Jonathan Todres | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Irish Year Book of International Law Seeks Submissions

This information was first posted on IntLaw Grrls

The Irish Yearbook of International Law is now accepting submissions for the next Volume (Volume XIII (2018)). Edited by Professor Siobhán Mullaly (incoming at NUI Galway) and Professor Fiona de Londras (University of Birmingham) — members of IntLawGrrls — and published by Hart Publishing, the Yearbook is internationally peer reviewed and publishes longer and shorter articles on all areas of international law.

The Irish Yearbook of International Law is committed to the publication of articles of general interest in international law as well as articles that have a particular connection to, or relevance for, Ireland. Articles are usually 10,000 to 12,000 words in length, although longer pieces will be considered. The Yearbook also publishes a small number of shorter articles and notes, which should not exceed 6,000 words.

Authors are asked to conform to the Hart Publishing house style. Submissions, comprising a brief 100-word abstract, article and confirmation of exclusive submission, should be sent to both Siobhán Mullally ( and Fiona de Londras( by October 31 2017. Initial inquiries can be directed to either or both Editors.

If you wish to review a title in the Yearbook’s book review section, please contact the book reviews editor Dr. Dug Cubie, (University College Cork.)

August 8, 2017 in Global Human Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Implementing the Human Rights Vision

In prior posts, Martha Davis announced that Mountain View (CA) city council passed a resolution designating the municipality as a human rights city. Prof. Francisco Rivera, informed us of concerns and frustrations that arose during the city council debate and the important work that his students did in educating council members on the human rights framework.

In late May, Mountain View mayor, Ken Rosenberg, discussed the challenge of implementing the vision of a human rights city. In an op-ed opinion, Rosenberg announced that Mountain View would be home to an institute whose goal is to create 100 human rights cities all over the world “based on learning and integrating human rights into every aspect of our daily lives”. Beautifully said.

Mayor Rosenberg credited the work of The People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning for educating him and others to the human rights way of life.  Mayor Rosenberg also acknowledges that The People's Movement has the expertise to implement the vision of the new institute. 

You may read the complete op-ed here.

July 6, 2017 in Global Human Rights, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Yogyakarta Principles and HIV Human Rights Advocacy

The Yogyakarta Principles for eliminating sexual identity and gender discrimination were written in 2006.  In 2010, an Activists Guide to the principles was published. The target audience for the guide is LBGTQ activists, with a secondary audience being academics and others interested in human rights implementation.  The principles themselves are directed toward the state, and in particular those creating and implementing policy.

Recently a global conference was held in Bangkok to discuss updating the principles by addressing any existing gaps.

Stephen Leonelli of the Men Who Have Sex with Men Global Forum, seeks to bring more awareness of HIV to the principles. At present, there are only two references to HIV contained in the principles.  Leonelli, who was a representative at the Bangkok meeting,  has written a critique of the principles from the perspective of what changes might be made in order to appropriately address HIV/AIDS. 

One of Leonelli's goals is to bring awareness to the collateral consequences of having HIV.  Often acknowledged are the public health concerns HIV raises.  But less appreciated are the impacts of criminalization, discrimination, violence and stigma.  To read more on Leonelli's suggestions for advancing HIV awareness through the Yogyakarta Principles, click here.

The revisions are scheduled to be completed this fall.

May 23, 2017 in Discrimination, Global Human Rights, Health | Permalink | Comments (0)