Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A National Bill of Rights for Children

by Jonathan Todres    Image1

Approximately one-quarter of the U.S. population is restricted from voting in elections, entering freely into contracts, and exercising control over important decisions about their own health. These denials would offend the sensibilities of almost anyone if the population in question were adults, but because they are children, little objection is voiced.

Of course, children are different. The developmental nature of childhood necessitates a more nuanced understanding of children’s rights, balancing protection and care with emerging autonomy. Thus, the liberal rights tradition built on the autonomous individual is at times an awkward fit for children’s rights, especially in the case of young children. However, the fact that children’s rights are different does not mean they are non-existent. Rights are inherent. And too many children in the U.S. experience poverty, homelessness, maltreatment, and exploitation. These rights violations demand a response.

While the United States famously continues to be the only country in the world that has not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, a home-grown effort is underway: a push for a national children’s bill of rights. Last Fall, Representatives Karen Bass (D-CA), Judy Chu (D-CA) and Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) a House Resolution calling for passage of a Children’s Bill of Rights. The Children’s Bill of Rights, which First Focus—a bipartisan organization that advocates on behalf of children and families—has championed, would establish that every child in the U.S. is entitled to measures that ensure their physical, social, and emotional well-being. It also would establish that children are entitled to an education that would enable them to reach their fullest potential and be prepared as adults to contribute to their families and communities.

The Children’s Bill of Rights would cement our commitment to ensure that children have what all (or nearly all) parents would wish for their children anyway: protection from harm, a relationship with caring parents, access to a safe, quality learning environment, and appropriate health care when needed. It deserves everyone’s support.

So with the New Year, perhaps our collective resolution should be to guarantee that no child is left behind—not in the political slogan-sense of the word, but rather undertaking a genuine commitment to reach every child and secure his or her rights. A national Children’s Bill of Rights would be a good start.


January 5, 2016 in Children, Jonathan Todres | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Making Universal Children’s Day Meaningful

  by Jonathan Todres 

November 20th is Universal Children's Day. The U.N. established Universal Children's Day in 1954 to create a day of “activity devoted to the promotion of the ideals and objectives of the [U.N.] Charter and the welfare of children of the world.” Worthwhile goals, but as there are now more than 125 international observance days, it is fair to ask whether Universal Children’s Day makes a difference.

Universal Children’s Day presents an opportunity to reflect on both progress made and work still to be done. Since the adoption of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child—the most comprehensive treaty on children’s rights and well-being—on November 20, 1989, significant progress has been made on behalf of tens of millions of children around the world. Yet much more work remains. The data on infant and child mortality rates reflects this: globally, the number of deaths of children under five declined from 12.7 million in 1990 to less than 6 million in 2015. That’s vital progress, as many children now realize their most precious right—to life and survival. Yet more than five million young children still die each year, largely due to preventable causes.

But Universal Children’s Day can be much more than a day to raise awareness. It can be a day of action, a launching point for initiatives that accelerate progress on children’s rights and wellbeing. What might that look like? I have three suggestions.

First, if you are President of the United States, send the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to the Senate for its advice and consent. The CRC is the most widely accepted human rights treaty in history. There are 196 parties to the treaty; the U.S. is the only country that hasn’t ratified it. The CRC has helped foster progress on law, policy, and programs aimed at improving children’s well-being and securing children’s rights. The U.S. signed the treaty in 1995, but it has taken no action since then (ratification is necessary to make a treaty legally binding).

Under U.S. law, treaty ratification requires to the advice and consent of two-thirds of the Senate. Speculation about the level of support in the Senate is understandable, especially after the Senate failed in 2012 to achieve two-thirds support for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (it fell five votes short). But such questions are also premature. The future of the CRC in the United States lies entirely in President Obama’s hands, because the Administration hasn’t even sent the CRC to the Senate for its consideration. On Universal Children’s Day, the President can move the CRC forward by sending it to the Senate.

Second, if you are the CEO of a company, figure out how your company’s expertise or skill set can advance the rights and well-being of children. When the United Arab Emirates faced a problem with trafficking of young boys to serve as camel jockeys (the boys, many as young as five or six years old, were confined in unsanitary conditions, underfed, and often suffered serious injuries in races), it was a Swiss company that helped provide part of the solution. It invented a robot jockey, eliminating the demand for trafficked boys. Of course, technological advances can’t solve everything. Many young boys in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sudan and Yemen who might have been trafficked to the UAE remain vulnerable to other harms. But the point is not that the private sector has to do everything. Rather, it’s that innovative solutions are needed, and the private sector can make a difference. UNICEF has been building innovative partnerships to improve health, education, and social protection. Companies across all sectors can support this and other similar work. So Universal Children’s Day is an ideal day for CEOs to figure out how their company’s skillset can advance child well-being.

Third, if you are the head of a household, talk about human rights with your children. Rights are inherent. That means children, like adults, possess them. They are not left to governments to decide whether to grant them to individuals at age eighteen. Parents and caregivers are trustees of those rights as children grow and develop. The CRC recognizes the critical role of parents and families in nineteen provisions of the treaty. Children confront rights issues early – in both their day-to-day lives and in the imaginative spaces created for children, such as their favorite books. Though children, especially young ones, might not talk about rights issues using human rights language, they understand rights issues. Parents and other caregivers can play a critical role in guiding and supporting children as they explore questions about their own rights and their responsibilities to respect the rights of others. Universal Children’s Day offers a wonderful opportunity to start to engage children in a dialogue about rights and to explore ways to make their communities more child rights supportive.

In short, whatever role you play in your family, community, or country, you can use your unique position, knowledge, or skills to advance the rights and well-being of children. By doing so, Universal Children’s Day can be the start of a more supportive approach to children’s rights and child well-being.


















November 19, 2015 in Children, Convention of the Rights of Children, Jonathan Todres | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Reporting Process: An Underappreciated Human Rights Asset

Jonathan Todres     


The U.S. government recently announced a consultation with civil society on November 12 in conjunction with its next periodic report under the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The U.S. ratified the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography and the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict in 2002 and is preparing to submit its third report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.  This is an important, if often undervalued, opportunity to advance the rights and well-being of children in the United States.

I have been privileged to participate in both prior reviews of the United States under the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, including presenting testimony to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child during its session with NGOs in advance of its meeting with the government.  Those experiences show that the reporting process offers three significant opportunities for human rights advocates. First, the Committee takes seriously the views of NGOs. Often the questions, or List of Issues, that the Committee poses to a government reflects gaps highlighted by NGOs in their alternative reports or in their testimony to the Committee.  Second, many of the Concluding Observations and recommendations for the government come from NGO input.  Finally, the post-review process offers a critical opportunity to use the recommendations in advocacy at home.  In prior reviews under the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, ECPAT-USA has coordinated the lead alternative report (full disclosure: I serve as child rights advisor to ECPAT-USA).  Following both prior reviews, NGOs organized briefing sessions in various cities in the United States.  After 2008 review of the United States, several NGO representatives (including ECPAT-USA representatives and me) spoke at congressional briefings in the Senate and House of Representatives. Subsequent advocacy spurred the introduction of a bill that became the PROTECT Our Children Act of 2008.  The law addressed some of the recommendations that emerged out of the reporting process (that process is described in more detail here).  While that law isn’t perfect, it shows the potential that exists in the reporting process – the process can be successfully leveraged to advance human rights.

ECPAT-USA will again be coordinating the lead alternative report under the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children. And again, there is an opportunity to further advance law and policy aimed at securing children’s rights and well-being.

Simply put, the reporting process is a built-in monitoring and evaluation mechanism for human rights. While the substantive provisions of human rights law are essential and provide the basis for our work, the procedural benefits of human rights treaties – notably the reporting process – should not be overlooked.




November 3, 2015 in Children, Convention of the Rights of Children, Jonathan Todres, Universal Periodic Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 2, 2015

It’s Official – The U.S. is Alone on Avoiding Children’s Rights

Jonathan Todres

On October 1st, Somalia officially ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Now every country in the world has ratified the CRC … except the United States. The United States had as much influence on the text of the CRC as any country – during the drafting of the treaty, the United States submitted proposals and revisions on 38 of the 40 substantive provisions of the treaty.  Rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion are included in the CRC because the U.S. government insisted on it. A review of all treaty provisions reveals that the CRC and U.S. law are largely compatible. Yet the United States remains the only country that resists the idea of accepting obligations to ensure the rights and well-being of every child subject to its jurisdiction.


Since the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities failed to achieve a two-thirds vote in the Senate in December 2012, the prospects of U.S. ratification of any human rights treaty haven’t seemed great.  But progress on the CRC is entirely in the hands of the Obama Administration. The treaty has yet to be forwarded by the President to the Senate.

 It’s time. While people might debate the negative consequences of reservations, understandings, and declarations (RUDs), the availability of RUDs negates any argument that issue X or issue Y is a barrier to ratification.  The Obama Administration has an opportunity to move the CRC forward, and in doing so not only join the rest of the world but also show U.S. parents and children that the government cares about the rights and well-being of children.

October 2, 2015 in Children, Jonathan Todres, Juveniles | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Human Trafficking, Survivors, and Social Science Research

 by Jonathan Todres

 Human trafficking is a gross violation of human rights. We know that victims and survivors experience physical, psychological, and emotional harm.  Yet on August 18, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned a trafficker’s conviction for “possession and use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence,” when the crime in question was sex trafficking (U.S. vs. German de Jesus Ventura).

 The relevant statutory language defines a “crime of violence” as “an offense that is a felony and—(A) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, or (B) that by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.” 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3).  The Fourth Circuit concluded that sex trafficking does not meet the requirements of section (A) because it can be committed “nonviolently—i.e., through fraudulent means.”  As to section (B), the court stated first that “the relevant inquiry is whether there is a substantial risk that the defendant will use physical force against the victim in completing the crime” (as opposed to any other individual, say a purchaser of sex). And then the court concludes – in a footnote – that “we are not persuaded that the ordinary case of sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion involves a substantial risk that the defendant will use physical force as a means to commit the offense.” The Fourth Circuit doesn’t cite to any research in support of this conclusion. In fact, research suggests that the great majority of trafficking victims suffer physical injuries (On health consequences, see, for example, C. Zimmerman et al.; Todres).

This opinion is reminiscent of the Ninth Circuit’s opinion in U.S v. Castaneda (239 F.3d 978 (9th Cir. 2001)). In that case, three Filipina women who were lured to Saipan under false pretenses found themselves in a foreign country with little or no money and the legality of their presence in country tied to their place of employment. The women were forced by their employer to provide sex to men in a night club. Yet the Ninth Circuit questioned whether these women were coerced, noting “there wasn’t a gun put to their head,” and that they weren’t forced to line up for selection by male customers but only “instructed” to do so.

 In these and other cases, courts fail to understand the experience of trafficking victims and other survivors of human rights violations. That Ventura will be left with a 30-year sentence, even after his Section 924(c) conviction is vacated isn’t a satisfactory answer. Why are courts failing to see the experience of victims of human rights violations for what it is? There may be a host of reasons, from deficiencies in the evidence presented to implicit bias.  Whatever the reason, social science offers a potential answer: it can provide evidence-based research that can demonstrate the likelihood of physical violence by traffickers, or the impact of trauma might have on a victim’s decisions whether or not a gun is put to her head.

Many cases have benefitted from such evidence, dating back to the experiments of Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark in Brown v. Board of Education, and even earlier. Human rights advocates, and the populations they represent, would be well served by forging more partnerships with social science to ensure future courts cannot ignore the true experience of those who suffer human rights violations.


September 9, 2015 in Jonathan Todres, Trafficking | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Dark Side of Summer Vacation

Jonathan Todres

For most U.S. children, summer is a time of fun, a break from school.  While play is important for physical, cognitive, and emotional development, summer does have its downside: summer learning loss. Research consistently finds that during the course of the summer, students of all ages forget some of what they learned and regress.  Evidence suggests that summer learning loss equates to at least one month of instruction assessed by grade level equivalents. Student knowledge declines more in mathematics than reading, perhaps attributable in part to the greater emphasis on summer reading lists in some areas.  Equally important, the summer learning loss exacerbates the achievement gap: “The meta-analysis revealed that all students, regardless of the resources in their home, lost roughly equal amounts of math skills over summer. However, substantial economic differences were found for reading. On some measures, middle-class children showed gains in reading achievement over summer, but disadvantaged children showed losses. Reading comprehension scores of both income groups declined, but the scores of disadvantaged students declined more.” (see Harris Cooper).

This is not a call for year-round schooling. Rather the summer learning loss and achievement gap are important reminders of the many challenges we face in the human rights arena.  Making human rights meaningful requires attention to subtle factors that have significant effects. Children have the right to education, which includes a mandate on the state to make primary education “compulsory and available free to all” and secondary education “available and accessible to every child” (CRC, article 28).  In developing countries, waiving school fees makes education accessible for a huge number of children, yet more hidden costs – books, uniforms, transportation, etc. – can leave the most marginalized children still without consistent access to education. Similarly, here in the U.S., free public education might provide access during the academic year, but that education is made less meaningful if disadvantaged children are falling further behind their peers each summer.  From a human rights perspective, this means that technical compliance with human rights treaty language might not capture all that is essential to children seeking to realize their education rights or other rights.

The nondiscrimination clause of human rights treaties is particularly relevant in this context. It imposes an obligation on states to ensure that all children have equal access to education and other opportunities. As human rights researchers and advocates, our job is to uncover the multitude of barriers—big and small—to the full realization of rights, especially for vulnerable populations, and to ensure that government responses to human rights treaty obligations go beyond technical compliance to secure the full rights of every individual.


August 4, 2015 in Education, Jonathan Todres, Juveniles | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Wedding Cakes and Community Building

Yesterday's post addressed several resistance actions taken by individuals and groups who disagree with the outcome of Obergefell v. Hodges.  Today's post considers some strategy considerations in proceeding with future litigation.

Obergefell has its limitation for sure, as Jeremiah Ho wrote here.  While in deciding Obergefell, the court relied on both due process/fundamental rights and equal protection grounds, the Court stopped short of  finding sexual orientation as a quasi-suspect or suspect class.  That leaves us to ponder the future of equality litigation, particularly that addressing the suspect class issue.

As an initial matter, governmental gender orientation discrimination must be resisted as it arises.  The consequences of systemic discriminatory policies are significant and far reaching. Clerks who resist issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples deserve an immediate response.  Enforcement in government policy arenas is a priority so that the reality of marriage equality can be achieved. 

Resistance by governmental entities is best dispatched promptly.  Today's announcement that the Department of Defense will seek a plan whereby transgender soldiers can serve openly signals a relatively quick denouement for federal restrictions based on gender identity.

The Colorado wedding cake case has heightened significance following Obergefell.  As noted yesterday, if decisions are based on state constitutional grounds, success for the plaintiffs may be within reach.  However, for those who argue that gender identification must be designated a suspect classification under the federal constitution, careful thought is needed as to who will be the named respondents in future lawsuits.  For several reasons, governments and large corporations may be the best targets of future gender identity and sexual orientation litigation.   Individuals and small businesses may find themselves in a favorable position post-Hobby Lobby.

Secondly, if those who are not cisgendered want to assist in creating community acceptance for all gender identities, providing some litigation breathing space might be the best approach to countering resistance from individual community providers, such as wedding service vendors.

Justice Roberts' suggestion that plaintiffs would be better off waiting for their neighbors to accept change is naïve and idealistic.   Read Jonathan Todres' analysis here.  But we can provide an opportunity for marriage equality to find solid ground in communities without threats of lawsuits.  A no-litigation pause can help.  The fact is that change has already occurred.  Obergefell saw to that.  Giving our neighbors an opportunity to incorporate that change without the threat of litigation might be the best approach for community acceptance and changing social (and ultimately legal) norms.  Whatever resistance remained in Massachusetts following the Goodridge decision dissolved in short order when businesses realized that a new source of income had been created. 

How long should the pause be? No one has that answer.  But we will soon.  Each individual will be able to assess how acceptance is created, or not, in his or her own community.  There are other suitable strategic lawsuits to be considered in advancing gender acceptance and elevating gender identity to suspect class status.

In the meantime, family law attorneys and wedding planners can rejoice in having been handed a new revenue stream. 







July 14, 2015 in Equality, Gender, Jeremiah Ho, Jonathan Todres, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Obergefell: The Dissent’s View on Access to Justice


by Jonathan Todres


Last week, human rights advocates around the country – and indeed around the globe – celebrated the majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges.  In the coming days, weeks, and years, scrutiny of every passage of the Supreme Court’s opinion will continue.

 One short passage in Chief Justice Roberts’ dissent should not be overlooked, as its implications for access to justice are potentially far-reaching.  Near the end of his dissent, the Chief Justice wrote:

“[H]owever heartened the proponents of same-sex marriage might be on this day, it is worth ac­knowledging what they have lost, and lost forever: the opportunity to win the true acceptance that comes from persuading their fellow citizens of the justice of their cause.”

Setting aside the fact that the Chief Justice offers no empirical evidence to support this claim that true acceptance is won only by pursuing change through the legislature, the statement is an ominous warning to others who suffer discrimination: pursue justice through the courts and you won’t be truly accepted. Ever.

Taken to its logical conclusion, it appears Chief Justice Roberts would take the view that African-Americans should not have pursued Brown v. Board of Education and other challenges to discriminatory treatment, but instead should have tried to win the hearts and minds of whites through state legislative initiatives. Likewise, women should not have challenged discrimination in the workplace or elsewhere but should have awaited “true acceptance.”

The courts by their very nature exist to protect individuals who are subjected to discrimination and other rights violations and are unable to avail themselves of legislative solutions because they are not part of the majority.  Maybe it was a moment of hyperbole as the Chief Justice tried to assert the issue was one for the legislature. Still it’s worrisome when the Chief Justice of the highest court in the land espouses the view that it is a mistake to challenge discrimination through the courts.




July 1, 2015 in Equality, Jonathan Todres | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 4, 2015

AALS Looks at Human Rights and Families


by Jonathan Todres, Incoming Chair of the AALS Section on International Human Rights

Human rights law and practice often focuses on the individual. Yet individuals are situated within families and communities. Reflecting the importance of considering the impact of human rights challenges on families, the AALS Section on International Human Rights announces the following:



Section on International Human Rights

New Voices Program

2016 AALS Annual Meeting

January 6-10, 2016

New York, NY


 The AALS Section on International Human Rights is pleased to announce a call for papers for its program, “Human Rights and Families,” at the 2016 AALS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.  The program will take place during the Annual Meeting, which is scheduled for January 6-10, 2016 (schedule TBA).  We anticipate selecting three or four speakers from this call for papers to present their work during our Section’s program.


For our 2016 program, we are interested in papers that explore the human rights experiences of families.  Families confront a breadth of issues with human rights implications. This topic could include, but is not limited to, refugee and internally-displaced populations, children’s rights, women’s rights, labor rights, migration issues, relationships among treaty bodies that are relevant to different family members, health and education rights, food insecurity, and many others. We welcome papers that explore these and other relevant issues in all parts of the world (including the United States).



Deadline and Submission: The deadline to submit a paper is September 1, 2015.  Please email submissions in Word or PDF format to the Program Committee c/o Jonathan Todres ([email protected]).  In selecting proposals, priority will be given to new voices in international human rights (i.e., individuals who have not previously presented a paper at AALS on the topic of international human rights). 


Format:  There is no formal requirement as to the form or length of proposals. Preference will be given to proposals that are substantially complete and to well-supported scholarly papers that offer novel scholarly insights on topics covered by the panel. A paper may have already been accepted for publication as long as it will not be published prior to the Annual Meeting. The Section does not have plans to publish the papers, so individual presenters are free to seek their own publishing opportunities.


Eligibility:  Per AALS rules, only full-time faculty members of AALS member law schools are eligible to submit a paper to a Section’s call for papers. Faculty at fee-paid law schools, foreign, visiting and adjunct faculty members, graduate students, fellows and non-law school faculty are not eligible to submit. Call for Paper participants will be responsible for paying their annual meeting registration fee and travel expenses.


The Program is co-sponsored by the AALS Section on Children and the Law and the Section on Family and Juvenile Law.

May 4, 2015 in Jonathan Todres | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Budgeting and Human Rights: Continuing the Conversation

by Jonathan Todres 

 In her recent column on the importance of participation in budgeting, JoAnn Kamuf Ward writes, “Many lawyers are not numbers people, but we ought to be.” A critical reason for human rights lawyers to pay more attention to numbers is the nature of economic, social, and cultural rights: under human rights law, they are tied to the state’s obligation to use the maximum of its available resources. 

 Determining whether a government is meeting its obligation to use “maximum of its available resources” (ICESCR article 2) necessarily requires a review of state budget expenditures.  For example, if the gross domestic product of a state obligated to ensure education rights is increasing each year, but the education budget is not, or if a country's defense spending increases by a significantly greater percentage than its education budget, the state might not be using the maximum of its available resources to achieve progressive realization of these rights and thus would be failing to comply with international human rights law. 

 Budget analysis can help monitor states' practices, ensuring that they do not use the resource qualifying language of economic, social and cultural rights as an excuse not to secure these rights for individuals subject to their jurisdiction. Budget analysis can also suggest areas in which there may be discrimination in the provision of services (of note, the prohibition on discrimination is not qualified by available resources). Additionally, it can highlight areas where government has failed to spend allocated funds.  Fundar, working with international partners, produced some of the early research on budget analysis, assessing the Mexican Government's budget and identifying a number of issues regarding whether Mexico is meeting its international obligation to protect the health of its population using its maximum available resources. It offers a model for determining what a national or local government is required to do to secure economic and social rights for its population (see also IBP for additional resources on budget analysis).

 Budget analysis has limitations. It will not necessarily reveal whether resources are used effectively or efficiently.  That said, it can provide a starting point for determining whether a country is using its maximum available resources. Combining budget analysis with the content of specific provisions, such as health or education rights, can enable human rights scholars and advocates to assess, with greater precision, states' compliance with human rights law.

April 2, 2015 in Economic Justice, Economics, Education, Equality, JoAnn Kamuf Ward, Jonathan Todres | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Acknowledging Progress on Human Rights

by Jonathan Todres

A friend, who is in Lithuania to teach an international litigation course, recently shared photos of his visit to the Ninth Fort in Kaunas.  The Ninth Fort was the site of Nazi executions of Jews and others.  His photos reminded me of my visit to the Ninth Fort in 2004, when I was a visiting professor at Vytautus Magnus University School of Law. I taught a course on human rights law, and more than 100 students were enrolled.  In addition to being professionally enriching, it was a profound experience personally:  There I was teaching human rights and listening to students talk openly about their human rights concerns in the very place where just two generations earlier many of my relatives had perished during one of the worst human rights atrocities in history -- the Holocaust.

 The students interest in and engagement with human rights was a reminder that there is progress. Often, as human rights advocates, we focus on all of the trouble spots. That’s both understandable and important to do. There are too many places where human rights violations persist and they demand our attention.  While much work remains, it is worth reminding ourselves that in the 67 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there has been great progress.  Millions of lives have been saved, previously silenced groups now are allowed to participate in their countries’ governance, and tens of millions of marginalized individuals have secured access to the basic necessities of life (health care, education, housing, etc.). 

 Recognizing progress is important to sustaining our effort.  When we pause to reflect, we also should recognize and honor the many brave individuals (both famous and largely unknown) who sacrificed greatly to improve human rights for all, around the globe and here in the U.S. 

 This coming weekend (March 5-9), Selma hosts a 50th anniversary commemoration of Bloody Sunday, the Selma-to-Montgomery March, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  From the courts (Shelby County v. Holder) to the curbside (Ferguson and many other locales since), we see threats to a breadth of basic human rights.  Significant challenges remain and require a sustained commitment to address, but we should not allow the work-to-be-done to completely overshadow the important achievements to date and the courageous individuals responsible for the progress we now enjoy. 

March 4, 2015 in Advocacy, Jonathan Todres, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Why Preventing Human Trafficking Sounds a Lot like Human Rights Advocacy

Jonathan Todres

Human trafficking is a hot topic on Capitol Hill.  In January, the House passed 12 human trafficking bills.  While it’s impossible to provide in-depth analysis of every bill in this brief essay, this wave of legislation merits significant attention because it signals a shift in approach to this grave violation of human rights.

The current U.S. response to human trafficking started with the adoption of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000.  Since then, the TVPA has since been reauthorized four times, other federal legislation has been passed, and all 50 states have adopted anti-trafficking legislation.  For much of this time, criminal law centered measures have predominated.  This is understandable in many respects, as human trafficking is a serious crime, and criminal law responses have the added benefit of building on an existing criminal justice system. In more recent years, legislation has also focused on services for trafficking survivors. 

 This year’s wave of legislation reflects a growing understanding both that a comprehensive multi-sector response is necessary and that we need to prevent these harms from occurring and not only pursue perpetrators and assist victims after the harm has occurred. Several bills reflect this shift.

 H.R. 350 – the Human Trafficking Prevention, Intervention, and Recovery Act of 2015 – would mandate evidence-based research on prevention strategies with a view to identifying best practices.  Other bills seek to move response efforts in the direction of earlier intervention by focusing attention on the role of the child welfare system and health care professionals (a full list of the bills is below).

Many of these bills touch upon issues that are at the core of human rights advocacy, including health care, housing, education, and social services. Given the current political climate, it’s not surprising that they have not been presented as human rights responses to human trafficking.  Yet it’s worth noting that the broader approach evidenced in the 12 bills passed by a Republican-led House of Representatives echo what human rights advocates have said for many years:  rights—including the right to live free from exploitation—are interdependent; and reducing vulnerability to harms such as human trafficking requires a comprehensive approach that recognizes both the rights of all and all rights of every individual.

This is not to say, of course, that human rights advocates would embrace every provision of all 12 bills. I have my own concerns about certain proposed steps and about what is left out of some bills. But that debate is for another column. As a starting point, this series of bills should prompt advocates on all points of the political spectrum to realize that preventing exploitation of vulnerable individuals requires a comprehensive approach that addresses the root causes of these harms, something human rights has long called for.


  1. H.R. 181 –      Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015, as amended (Sponsored      by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) & Carolyn Maloney (D-NY))
  2. H.R. 159 –      Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act of 2015, as      amended (Sponsored by Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) & Gwen Moore      (D-WI))
  3. H.R. 469 –      Strengthening Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act of      2015 (Sponsored by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA))
  4. H.R. 350 –      Human Trafficking Prevention, Intervention, and Recovery Act of      2015 (Sponsored by Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) & Doris Matsui (D-CA))
  5. H.R. 468 –      Enhancing Services for Runaway and Homeless Victims for Youth Trafficking      Act of 2015 (Sponsored by Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV))
  6. H.R. 246 –      To improve the response to victims of child sex trafficking (Sponsored      by Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH))
  7. H.R. 398 –      Trafficking Awareness Training for Health Care Act of 2015 (Sponsored      by Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) & Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL))
  8. H.R. 460 –      Human Trafficking Detection Act of 2015 (Sponsored by Rep. Mark      Walker (R-NC))
  9. H.R. 285 –      Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act of 2015 (Sponsored by      Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO))
  10. H.R. 514 –      Human Trafficking Prioritization Act (Sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ))
  11. H.R. 515 –      International Megan’s Law to Prevent Demand for Child Sex      Trafficking (Sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ))
  12. H.R. 357 –      Human Trafficking Prevention Act (Sponsored by Rep. Sean Patrick      Maloney (D-NY))


February 3, 2015 in Jonathan Todres, Trafficking | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, January 2, 2015

Travel Destinations for Human Rights

by Jonathan Todres

 As people return to work after the year-end holidays, thoughts often quickly turn to planning the next trip.  Whether you are vacationing with family or traveling for work in 2015, here are a few options to imbue your next trip with the spirit of human rights:

Atlanta, GACenter for Civil and Human Rights. Opened in 2014, it explores both civil rights history and current human rights issues.  Another excellent option while in Atlanta is the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site.

Greensboro, NCInternational Civil Rights Center and Museum. This year marks the 55th anniversary of the Greensboro sit-in campaign, a critical step in the Civil Rights Movement. The Museum honors that history and the struggle for equal rights.

Los Angeles, CAThe Museum of Tolerance.  Part of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, it explores the Holocaust’s historical and contemporary meanings. For example, a current exhibition (Para Todos Los Niños - Fighting Segregation in California) portrays the history of segregation in California that targeted all non-White citizens, in housing, employment, and education.

Memphis, TN: The National Civil Rights Museum.  Located at the former Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, it explores a breadth of themes, from early resistance to slavery dating back to the 17th century, through the Civil Rights Movement, to present day human rights issues. It underwent a major renovation in 2013 and 2014.

 St. Louis, MOThe Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis, walking distance from the Arch, is the site of the Dred Scot case that ultimately resulted in one of the U.S. Supreme Court’s most notorious decisions. The Old Courthouse now houses a fascinating exhibit on Dred Scot, the individual and the case.

Selma, ALThe Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee. 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” the march from Selma to Montgomery, as well as the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.  This year’s events will take place March 5-9, 2015, and include a re-enactment of the crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sunday, March 8.  Selma is also home to the National Voting Rights Museum & Institute.

Seneca Falls, NYWomen's Rights National Historical Park. The site of the first Women’s Rights Convention, held July 19-20, 1848, the center tells that story and the story of the movement for women’s rights.

Washington, DC: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  The Museum provides an extraordinary look at the horrors and experiences of the Holocaust. Special exhibitions include an exploration of the Holocaust through a child’s experience and an examination of recent genocides since the Holocaust. Admission is free.

OnlinePasos' Virtual Museum.  The Pasos Peace Museum has an online virtual museum that promotes peace and justice. So even if you have no travel scheduled for 2015, there are virtual exhibits to view here (and at the websites of many of the other places listed in this article).

Of course, this list is not exhaustive. There are dozens of other options—big and small—in other cities and towns in the United States, and readers are welcome to add their favorites to this list.  The places listed above and others like them provide an opportunity for all of us to enrich our travels and to support entities that promote human rights for all.


January 2, 2015 in Jonathan Todres | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Human Rights and Justice for Juveniles

Jonathan Todres writes about the the harsh impact of "Direct File" statutes and the continuing challenges of bringing the U.S. into line with international human rights law on treatment of juveniles.

By Jonathan Todres

In the past decade, hard work by advocates for children have resulted in three significant Supreme Court decisions on juvenile justice.  In 2005, in Roper v. Simmons, the Supreme Court declared the death penalty to be “cruel and unusual” punishment as applied to juvenile offenders and thus unconstitutional.  Advocates then focused on sentences of life without possibility of parole (LWOP).  And in 2010, in Graham v. Florida, the Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional to sentence juvenile offenders to life without parole for non-homicide defenses. Finally, in 2012, in Miller v Alabama, the Supreme Court extended its Graham ruling holding that all sentences of life without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders are unconstitutional.   These Supreme Court decisions bring US law in line with international human rights law (notably the Convention on the Rights of the Child, or CRC) on two key juvenile justice issues.

 However, as a new report reminds us, juvenile offenders still confront harsh treatment in many other ways in the criminal justice system. In Branded for Life: Florida’s Prosecution of Children as Adults under its "Direct File" Statute, Human Rights Watch reports that:

 Florida transfers more children out of the juvenile system and into adult court than any other state. In the last five years alone, more than 12,000 juvenile crime suspects in Florida were transferred to the adult court system…. [D]ata show that more than 60 percent of the juveniles Florida transferred to adult court during this period were charged with nonviolent felonies. Only 2.7 percent were prosecuted for murder.….The new data show that nearly 98 percent of the juveniles in adult court in Florida end up there pursuant to the state’s “direct file” statute, which gives prosecutors unfettered discretion to move a wide range of juvenile cases to adult court (including any 16- and 17-year-old accused of a felony), with no involvement by a judge whatsoever.

 Direct file statutes are just one means of diverting children into the adult system, an approach that is inconsistent with core principles of human rights law.  Article 37 of the CRC mandates that: imprisonment of a child shall be used “for the shortest appropriate period of time” and that “[e]very child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age.”

 Punishment for criminal actions is appropriate, but much more work remains to ensure that all state law treats each juvenile offender in a manner respects human dignity and is consistent with the age and maturity of that child.

 As the late Nelson Mandela once said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” He did not say we are judged by how we treat only well-behaved children. It’s how we treat all children. Despite progress on significant juvenile justice issues in recent years, the latest evidence on direct file statutes reminds us that there is much more work to be done.

April 24, 2014 in Children, Jonathan Todres | Permalink | Comments (0)