Thursday, June 14, 2018
In A Human Rights Code of Conduct: Ambitious Moral Aspiration For a Public Interest Law Office of Law Clinic, Prof. Lauren Bartlett addresses the development of lawyer ethics with a focus on the development of a human rights ethical code. The development of human rights ethics codes for our clinics is an important concept and one that opens all sorts of opportunities to engage students in developing the code, but also the professional tenor and goals, of the clinic.
The Introduction to this intriguing topic reads:
Incivility and unethical behavior in the legal profession have long been topics of concern in the United States. In recent years, many state and local bar associations, as well as the American Bar Association (“ABA”), have taken steps to address incivility, including adopting professional rules, amending lawyers’ oaths of office, and more. Yet current events continue to test limits of tolerance for incivility and unethical behavior. What is more, too many lawyers are unhappy and unhealthy in the legal profession, which has been tied to ethics and integrity. In these difficult times for the legal profession, moral aspiration, or the hope or ambition for high ethical integrity, is incredibly important.
Lawyers seek moral aspiration from a variety of sources, including other lawyers, religion, and cultural norms. They also seek the rules, standards, and guidance applicable to lawyers in the United States This Article offers an alternative source for moral aspiration for lawyering—human rights—and suggests establishing a human rights dignified, respectful, and safe space, and to hold colleagues, students, and others, to high ethical standards. The idea of a human rights code of conduct for a law office or law clinic builds on recent scholarship applying human rights principles to lawyering. In addition, this idea follows the recent proliferation of corporations choosing to adopt social justice and human rights related codes of conduct.
A human rights code of conduct provides practical, consistent, and significant ways to apply human rights principles to lawyering. Modeled loosely after professionalism codes or civility codes across the United States, a human rights code of conduct draws on human rights principles and provides ambitious moral aspiration for attorneys and law students. A human rights code of conduct provides practical guidance for navigating difficult ethical dilemmas, without necessitating additional regulation. A human rights code of conduct also promotes attorney and law student happiness and helps the reputation of the legal profession as a whole.
The full article may be accessed here.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
This summer, the Washburn Law Journal will be publishing a special Issue on the topic of America’s relationship with international law. Renowned International Law Scholar and former Dean of the Yale Law School Harold Hongju Koh will be writing the keynote article addressing international law and the process of treaty formation and compliance under the Trump administration. Several other renowned scholars writing in this area have already agreed to join Prof. Koh in contributing to this Issue.
The Editorial Board of the Washburn Law Journal is inviting other scholars to contribute companion articles for this special Issue.
Washburn Law is honored that Professor Koh will be introducing his keynote article during a lecture at the annual Foulston Siefkin Lecture Series on March 31, 2017. The Editorial Board of the Washburn Law Journal will provide material to selected authors to ensure that articles can, to some extent, be informed by and responsive to Prof. Koh’s thesis.
Interested participants should email an abstract of between 500-750 words by March 15, 2017. Abstracts should indicate whether the piece will be a full article or an essay-length submission, and should be emailed to Claire Hillman at email@example.com. They must include the author’s name, title of the paper, institutional affiliation, and contact information.
Authors already planning to submit articles this submission cycle that fit the topic of this Issue may also submit the article directly to the Claire Hillman, or send an email notifying the Journal that a relevant article has been submitted via ExpressO or Scholastica.
From the abstracts and/or articles submitted, the Editorial Board of the Washburn Law Journal will select 3-5 article-length or essay-length pieces to publish in Issue 3, Vol. 56 (August 2017). Authors will be notified of the acceptance of their submissions and proposals by March 20, 2017. A first draft of the completed article will be due no later than April 31, 2017.
Sunday, May 15, 2016
Last month the Human Rights Brief, a student-run publication of the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law, launched a new, very user-friendly website at hrbrief.org. The Brief is a fantastic resource on human rights cases and news from around the world and I hope you check it out. The new website is searchable by region and/or human right (children’s rights, women’s rights, environmental rights etc.), and it is updated almost constantly by the 50+ students that work for the Brief. The student writers also cover each of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hearings in March and October each year and write up descriptions of the hearings (in both English and Spanish), and provide photos and live streaming of the hearings as well. As both a former staff writer (many moons ago) and former supervisor of the students who make this resource as dynamic and useful as it is, I am very proud to share the new website with you and I encourage you to share this human rights research tool with your students.
Sunday, March 13, 2016
The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal, based in Rome, has scheduled a Session on the human rights impacts of hydraulic fracking and other unconventional fossil fuel extraction processes. Two hearings will take place in March 2017, one in the U.S. and one in the U.K. A group of U.S. and British environmental and human rights organizations have joined together to organize and plan the session. The organizers have developed quite a bit of evidence and have connections in the U.S. and the U.K. with communities impacted by fracking. At this point the organizers are seeking the following: 1) help building their U.S. legal arguments and developing the legal case regarding human rights violations (maybe from a law clinic or clinics); 2) human rights attorneys to serve as “prosecutors” at the hearings in March 2017; 3) groups interested in organizing mini-tribunals or mini-hearing here in the U.S. leading up to the Session (we are considering organizing one of these in Ohio); and 4) authors for a series of articles related to the human rights impacts of fracking. If you are interested helping with any of the above or have any questions, please contact me and I will put you in touch with one of the organizers.
Sunday, February 14, 2016
Editors' Note: Last year on Valentine’s Day Lauren E. Bartlett wrote a blog post here examining the human rights love. Her terrific student, Desirae Bedford, has agreed to share some of her thoughts on love and religion, in loose reaction to Lauren Bartlett’s post from last year. Desirae Bedford describes a struggle between devotion to the Christian faith and support for the expansion of human rights that is all too common across the U.S. Desirae Bedford is from Cincinnati, Ohio, and went to Wilmington College in Wilmington, Ohio. She is President of the Black Law Students Association at Ohio Northern University Pettit College of Law and she will be graduating in May 2016. Ms. Bedford can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ms. Bedford writes:
Love is in the air and for the first time in U.S. history, nationwide same-sex marriage will be celebrated over Valentine’s Day. For decades same-sex marriage was illegal in the United States, with the exception of some states. With the disproportionality of the gay marriage laws, what one person could celebrate in New York another could not in Ohio. In the infamous case Obergefell v. Hodges the U.S. Supreme Court leveled the field in a 5-4 decision, which ruled that same-sex marriage was guaranteed under the due process and equal protection clauses in the 14th Amendment. The United States became the 21st country to legalize same-sex marriage. With over 190 countries recognized by the United Nations, the LGBTQI community is not even halfway close to same-sex marriage recognition worldwide. In some countries before same-sex marriage can be discussed, talks of basic LGBTQI human rights have to happen first. In countries like Ghana homosexual acts are punishable by imprisonment.
There are other countries that find homosexuality so repulsive that such acts are punishable by death—Yemen for instance. For many of these countries, it is their religious beliefs that influence their thoughts on love, relationships and moral responsibility. In this battle of universal love, it’s a fight between religious moralities and human rights. Bishop Gyamfi of Sunyani, a Catholic bishop in Ghana, spoke openly about the need for Ghanaian’s to rebuke European cultural and its heavy influence on the Ghanaian families. He described these influences as both direct and indirect attacks on the family structures. He urges families to restore the family God had intended.
For many people they are their religion and their faith, and devotion to their faith is a reflection of who they are. In the United States we guarantee everyone the right to believe in and practice their faith according to what they see best fit for themselves. We call this freedom of religion, but when does the support of one human right make another subordinate? Though same-sex marriage is recognized in the United States, the conflict of Christianity and human rights is one that is still apparent in the United States and around the world.
There are two types of Christian believers. There are those who believe that they are their faith and because so they must make decisions according to how God would want them to represent him, even if that means depriving someone else of happiness. Then there are those who believe that they can represent God without having to project their own belief onto someone else. Therefore, on issues such as abortion and gay marriage, they do not vote according to their own belief, but with the thought that other people should be allowed to make their own decisions. People who vote or make decisions with this latter ideology struggle with the notion of doing God’s work. By allowing everyone the freedom of choice, are they sacrificing salvation?
Followers of the Christian faith believe in the notion that God wants people to choose Him, and do not want people forced to believe in Him. With our ability to reason and use logic, God wants people to use their rationale to believe and develop a relationship with him without force. With this thinking, are those that would vote to allow people to make their own decision, and to believe according to their own faith, correct?
If you choose to be a believer and decide not to vote on matters based on your beliefs does that mean that you are not choosing to entirely follow God, and does the opposite mean that those who vote entirely on their faith are the true followers? This is circular reasoning, but is one that explicitly describes the reason why so many people struggle with allowing LGBTQI rights in their country. In order for LGBTQI rights to be openly supported, navigating through these questions of faith and religion have to first be accomplished if LGBTQI rights are going to be accepted without animosity or hostility.
Thursday, January 14, 2016
“Poetry has a lot to offer a world in crisis — and, in particular, in environmental crisis. For centuries, poets have given voice to our collective trauma: naming injustices, reclaiming stolen language, and offering us courage to imagine a more just world. In a world such as ours, poetry is an act of cultural resilience.” – Melissa Tuckey, “Introduction on Ecojustice Poetry”, Poetry Magazine, January 2016.
I want to gently urge you all to read the January 2016 issue of Poetry Magazine, which is dedicated to ecojustice poetry. The human right to a healthy environment feels clear, alive, and magical when you are in the midst of reading these poems and prose. Sitting in what seems to be the middle of this grey, frigid, winter landscape, finally arrived, I need inspiration to put on the several layers of clothes required to walk outside, let alone inspiration to seek environmental justice for all. While I have never thought of myself as a lover of poetry; it’s growing on me. I appreciate the celebration of language, the oddity of content and structure, the imagery, and the freedom of poetry. Also, I’m learning not to dwell on logic when reading poetry, which seems to be a good lesson for reading emails from my law students as well.
If you don’t know where to start or don’t have time to savor each and every poem, start with From “summer, somewhere” by Danez Smith, which more obviously than others touches directly on race, environment and justice. Maybe then read Crossing a City Highway by Yusef Komunyakaa to see the urban landscape come to life with its subtle references to severe environmental degradation. And don’t miss Water Devil by Jamaal May, who makes me feel like I can reach out and grab the things he is describing.
Thursday, October 15, 2015
Last week I attended the University of Dayton’s Social Practice of Human Rights conference, mentioned here earlier this summer. It was a great chance for me to immerse myself in human rights during a too busy first semester of teaching. I heard human rights presentations from political scientists, communications and psychology researchers, human rights advocates and more. There were many interesting and timely discussions, including panels about human rights-based approaches to human rights funding (this links to video of the panel presentation) and the new sustainable development goals (again, this links to a video of the panel presentation). However, for me some of the most interesting presentations were about ongoing empirical studies on how to frame a human rights violation to best effectuate action, both at the individual and state level, which I describe briefly below. A link to the full conference program, with links to paper abstracts and videos, is available here.
How many times a semester are you asked about the best approaches for promoting human rights and framing violations of human rights here in the U.S. to bring the necessary attention to achieve real change? In response, up until now, I have usually suggested readings about campaigns that have succeeded, such as the fight for gay marriage and the fair food labor campaign headed by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, as well as readings about human rights framing and messaging. Yet, there is a growing number of political and other scientists working on compiling evidence regarding this topic and I had the pleasure of hearing from a few of them last week. For example, a team of researchers from the College of Wooster presented in Dayton on their experiments designed to test the efficacy of gendered human rights campaigns. The group concluded that the strategic manipulation of gender images and stereotypes to increase consensus and action on human rights issues was ineffective. This same team from the College of Wooster has also recently studied three types of messaging campaigns used by human rights organizations—informational (to increase awareness), personal (narratives on the plight of an individual or group of individuals), and motivational (creating feelings of agency and efficacy). Between the three types of messaging campaigns, the group concluded that “personal narratives are the most consistently successful, increasing individuals’ sense of knowledge on the issue and their emotional reaction to the issue, leading them to reject the practice and participate in a campaign to demand its cessation.”
Another team from the University of Maryland presented on their research and experiments testing the effects of four prominent human rights justifications—religion, international human rights law, human suffering, and human dignity—on human rights attitudes and commitments to participate in human rights advocacy. The Maryland team concluded that “the quest for some justification for human rights with universal appeal may be misguided,” explaining that their research indicates that different arguments appeal to different types of people. This same team has compared the effects of textual narratives and visual imagery on human rights attitudes and commitments to participate in human rights advocacy, concluding that “imagery depicting human rights abuse does not have a greater impact on individual human rights attitudes and willingness to act than narratives alone.”
There were of course questions raised about the research methodology, the data itself (including the fact that the Maryland team found that religious framing of human rights abuses led to decreased commitments from religious people), and more, but I definitely plan to keep my eye on these teams of researchers and the growing set of evidence-based research on the topic of framing human rights.
Monday, September 14, 2015
Welcome Dayton, Welcoming America: Cities and Counties in the U.S. Welcome Refugees and Other Immigrants
This summer I moved from Washington, D.C., to Ohio where I have taken a new position as Director of Law Clinics and Assistant Professor of Law at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio. I have never lived in such a conservative area and bringing human rights home has taken on new meaning and presented new challenges for me here (for example, instead of facing home
schoolers at Senate hearings, I now face homeschoolers every time I walk out of my house and often in my house). And yet, there are incredible human rights movements and opportunities, right here, on the North Coast.
With news of anti-immigrant rhetoric flowing from the mouths presidential candidates and the refugee crisis in Europe (including right here) drowning out pretty much everything else this week, I latched on to a couple of news items on refugees and other immigrants that are relevant to human rights and my new home.
The first was from earlier this week when the Pope urged every parish in Europe to take in one refugee family. The second was a statement released by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants urging Europeans to start focusing on, among other things, “investing in integration measures – especially through supporting the action of cities – and developing a strong public discourse on diversity and mobility as cornerstones for contemporary European societies.”
It hit me that Dayton, Ohio, is way ahead in welcoming refugees and other immigrants. As are Columbus, Akron, and Cincinnati, Ohio. So are Detroit and East Lansing, Michigan. These cities are among a long list of municipalities working to actively welcome refugees and other immigrants to help grow their economies and reverse population declines. In fact, cities and counties from 33 states across the U.S. during the week of September 12-20, 2015, will be celebrating contributions made by immigrants in their communities and trying to spur local policies on inclusion. For example, Welcome Dayton, is holding a variety of events including a citizenship clinic. Welcoming America, an umbrella network for the municipalities and groups working on local immigrant-friendly initiatives, has a list of events being held across the U.S.
While I recognize that welcoming immigrants at the local level is very different than the consequential step of the federal government taking action to welcome refugees from Syria and Eritrea, I see this as a very important human rights action at the local level and something that should be replicated widely. In my mind, this is part of the “Trickle Up” effect that Risa Kaufman has written about on this blog before.
As it is important to always walk the walk to bring the human rights home to the most local level, at home and personally, I hope you will get involved in some of the Welcoming America events near you. If you want to take a big step to #welcomerefugees to your home, there are a couple of organizations that are taking applications for foster families willing to host unaccompanied refugee or other immigrant youth.
By the way, it can be pretty lovely here in Ohio. Here’s a photo from my drive to work:
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Last week, Juan E. Méndez, U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, released an important thematic report on children deprived of their liberty. The Special Rapporteur concludes in his report that children deprived of their liberty are at a heightened risk of torture and ill-treatment due to their unique vulnerability and needs. He finds that healthy development in children can be derailed by excessive or prolonged activation of stress response systems in the body, with damaging long-term effects on learning, behavior and health. Moreover, the report finds that detention of children is inextricably linked—in fact if not in law—with the ill-treatment of children, due to the particularly vulnerable situation in which they have been placed, exposing them to numerous types and situations of risk. The report also provides an overview of the international legal framework and standards protecting children deprived of their liberty from being subjected to torture and other ill-treatment.
Some of the Special Rapporteur’s key recommendations and conclusions in his report on children deprived of liberty include:
• Detention of children should be used only for the shortest possible period of time, only if it is in the best interest of the child, and limited to exceptional cases.
• States should adopt alternatives to detention for children whenever possible.
• Minimum age of criminal responsibility should be no lower than 12 years old.
• No life sentences without parole for children (and even lengthy sentences can be grossly disproportionate and amount to ill-treatment).
• No use of restraints for children deprived of their liberty under any circumstance.
• No solitary confinement for children deprived of their liberty.
• No death penalty for children deprived of their liberty.
• No corporal punishment for children deprived of their liberty.
• No immigration detention (detention of children based on migration status is never in the best interests of child, is grossly disproportionate, and constitutes ill-treatment).
• Special attention should be paid to children deprived of their liberty in health- and social-care institutions, including in private settings.
For U.S. juvenile justice and immigration advocates, these may seem like almost revolutionary recommendations—no immigration detention, no criminal responsibility for children 12 years old and lower, no restraints. The report also points out that the “United States of America is the only State in the world that still sentences children to life imprisonment without the opportunity for parole for the crime of homicide.” Yet, many of the conclusions in the report have already been covered by other international bodies and special rapporteurs. This is the first time these recommendations have been put forth in the anti-torture context, however, which makes this report distinctive and important. Unfortunately, the U.S. has so far ignored the Special Rapporteur’s report and recommendations, as was highlighted by the ACLU.
The Special Rapporteur on Torture’s team at the Anti-Torture Initiative (ATI) has released a brief video on the report, and initiated a #StopChildTorture social media campaign, including a Thunderclap (join the #StopChildTorture campaign here). The Special Rapporteur also continues to actively work with colleagues and States to figure out the best ways to support implementation of his conclusions and recommendations. His team welcomes suggestions and you can get in touch with the new ATI Assistant Project Director Andra Nicolescu at email@example.com.
Friday, February 13, 2015
Today, on this day of love, valentines, sweets, flowers, and hearts (and do not forget the executions), let’s pause and examine the human rights of love. Is there a human right to love? What’s love got to do, got to do with it – the “it” being human rights?
On the face of it, love actually has very little to do with human rights. In fact, there is only one specific reference to love in any of the core international human rights treaties. The preamble to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) recognizes that “the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding.” This same phrase can also be found in the preamble to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.
Yet, just last week, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, recently spoke about the need for love and kindness in a human rights response to major atrocities like the holocaust. Navi Pillay, the former High Commissioner, spoke out about LGBTI rights in a loving relationship, and the late Robert F. Drinan, S.J., said that “human rights is another word, if you will, for love” (25 Ohio N.U.L. Rev. 321, 328).
So, let’s dig a little deeper, beyond the face of human rights treaties, and see what we can find related to love. First, there is a very clear human right to family and a right to protection from interference with family life. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), CRC, International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families (ICRMW), American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), and African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights all recognize the family as the natural and fundamental group unit of society. In addition, all but the African Charter recognize the duty of the State to protect the family unit from unlawful interference in the context of the right to privacy. The Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) both provide protections for the family from discrimination. In addition, there are clear international standards that require families be detained together, and family visits to prisoners, when it is in the best interest of the children.
The right to marriage, at least between men and women, is also clear. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides for the right to marriage: “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.” The ICCPR, IESCR, ICRMW, ACHR, CERD, CEDAW, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and the European Convention on Human Rights also include the right to marry. We may be getting closer to the crystallization of the right to marriage for all at the international level, including same-sex marriages, but we are not there yet. On today of all days, that is heart breaking in too many ways to count.
Moreover, human rights law helps to respect, protect, and fulfill other rights that set you up for love. There are all sorts of different types of love. Yes, there is familial love and romantic love, but also love of pets, love of work, love of god, love of books and movies, love of food, love of peace, compassionate love, and more. Some of these types of love are protected under human rights law, such as the right to religion and the right to education and information. For example, the right to food, the right to adequate housing, the right to health, the right to education, and the right to assembly are all interdependent and interconnected with a right to love. If you do not have food, shelter, or your health, it sure makes it difficult to go about getting some good lovin’.
In the end, it seems that love is a central part of human rights and human rights protect love. So, why is love so absent in human rights Law? Perhaps the right to love is too ethereal or emotional for the law. Perhaps there is no right to be loved, but a right to love. Perhaps love is earned and deserved, and should not be recognized as a matter of right. Louis Henkin defined human rights as “claims asserted and recognized ‘as of right,’ not claims upon love, or grace, or charity: one does not have to earn or deserve them” (The Rights of Man Today, 1978).
Today, let’s agree that we may have taken our right to love for granted, but remember that in the end love conquers all.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
As human rights advocates in the U.S., we have a tremendous opportunity this week. We have the opportunity to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. and the human rights in the U.S. movement as a whole. Many of us have a whole day off with our families to celebrate human rights. This is a truly incredible opportunity when you think about it. There are no other federal holidays that come anywhere close to celebrating human rights. Given this opportunity, how will you celebrate the human rights in the U.S. movement this week?
It is possible that you are helping to plan one of the numerous events and solidarity actions in your area. You may also be attending a conference or teach-in to commemorate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights movement, and national resistance to injustice. You could also be volunteering with one of the thousands of service projects that are being organized as part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Day of Service.
There are multiple ways you could also personally celebrate the human rights movement in the U.S. and try to internalize the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr. You could watch the “I have a dream” speech in its entirety. You could listen to these civil rights protest songs or these songs inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. You could go see “Selma” and read Gay McDougal’s review posted earlier this week. You could also follow along as 103-year-old civil rights matriarch Boynton Robinson watches “Selma”. You could also involve your kids in these activities and talk to them about what inspired you to be a human rights advocate here in the U.S. and why you continue to do the work that you do.
One of my favorite human rights advocates, Hadar Harris, has established an annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day tradition here in Washington, D.C., that I absolutely love. She and her sons watch the "I have a dream" speech, then they go visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial. From there, they walk to the Lincoln Memorial and have birthday cupcakes on the star on the steps which marks the place from where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the “I have a dream” speech.
If you have any annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Day traditions or additional ideas for celebration, please share in the comments section.
Thursday, May 15, 2014
Co-editor Lauren Bartlett writes with an update on the Local Human Rights Lawyering Project and a plea for pro bono assistance on a unique human rights housing project this summer.
For the past few years I have directed the Local Human Rights Lawyering Project at the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law. The Project aims to normalize human rights at the local level by providing legal aid attorneys and other public interest advocates in the U.S. with tools, resources, and technical assistance to integrate human rights into their everyday work. The Project began with two Project Partners, Maryland Legal Aid and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, and later expanded to work with legal aid organizations and other public interest advocates across the U.S. The Project now has a Handbook that has been used by over 1,000 U.S. attorneys and a listserv that is part of the Bringing Human Rights Home Lawyers’ Network. After much training, advice and assistance, legal aid attorneys have begun comfortably using human rights arguments in local courts and before local policy makers. Others have used human rights in community education and for the first time ever, legal aid attorneys have brought complaints to the U.N. and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
As part of the Local Human Rights Lawyering Project, Maryland Legal Aid has developed a housing rights project to systematically study and document rent court practices across the state with an interesting human rights angle. Poor tenants facing eviction in rent court in Maryland have long faced egregious problems regarding equal recognition before the law. Too many tenants with a proper defense go unheard and face immediate homelessness, leading to costlier outcomes for both the tenants and the State of Maryland. Maryland Legal Aid has developed a survey tool to collect and analyze almost 1400 randomly selected rent court cases from 2012. A report will then be compiled using the human rights framework and human rights arguments, to be presented to the Maryland judiciary later this year. Their hope is that the data, along with strong human rights arguments to reframe and clarify this as a right to housing issue, will push the judiciary to make much needed changes in rent court systems and processes. Maryland is lucky to have judges like Catherine Serrette, who actively support the use of human rights arguments in Maryland.
Law student volunteers and interns, as well as the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic, have been involved with this project already. This summer Maryland Legal Aid is seeking additional assistance with this human rights project. Interested law students and lawyers willing to volunteer at least 20 hours+, especially before July 2014, can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 895-4556.
Friday, March 14, 2014
Co-Editor Lauren Bartlett discusses the growing US movement to expand the right to counsel beyond felony cases and limited civil areas. The movement, often referred to as Civil Gideon demands expansion of the legal counsel in compliance with the International Covenent on Civil and Political Rights. In part the Covenant demands that "all persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals." (Art. 14) The right to civil counsel is a growing movement of advocacy and literature that recognizes the need for counsel in order to meaningfully secure basic human needs.
Expanding the Right to Counsel in the U.S.
Last year, institutions across the U.S. celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963) with events, reports, and more. After the excitement over the anniversary of this groundbreaking right to counsel decision died down, what became clear, as it has after past anniversaries, is that there remains a right to counsel crisis in the U.S. The right to counsel is not being fulfilled for many low-income people, not only in the criminal justice system, but also in civil cases and immigration proceedings in the U.S. Today, public defenders offices across the U.S. cannot keep up with demand and individuals are not getting the defense they need, which exacerbates our mass incarceration problem. Although the right to counsel for juveniles charged with serious crimes was established soon after Gideon, many youth are not able to exercise the right or are pressured to waive the right. At other times counsel is appointed so late in the process that the right becomes meaningless.
Tens of thousands of immigrant children may face deportation proceedings in the coming year, there is no right to counsel for immigrants in detention (but see Franco-Gonzales v. Holder). Moreover, there has been a growing movement towards a civil right to counsel, or Civil Gideon, with growing evidence that providing counsel to low-income families in civil cases, such as housing and child custody cases, provides extraordinarily better outcomes for the low-income individuals involved and saves courts a good deal of time, frustration, and money. Many possible solutions to this crisis have been proposed, and a couple of local jurisdictions have taken it upon themselves to try out new ideas. Yet, individually and structurally, barriers to the right to counsel crisis persist.
In an effort to charge the conversation and use international pressure to push the movement forward, U.S. advocates have begun using the human rights framework to advocate for the expansion of the right to counsel in both the misdemeanor criminal and civil contexts. Human rights law provides for more expansive protections for access to justice. For example, human rights law has been cited as requiring the right to counsel to apply for certain cases for civil litigants, individuals detained at police stations, and immigrants in detention. Although much of human rights law is not directly enforceable in U.S. courts, advocates can make policy and comparative law arguments using human rights that can be quite persuasive to some judges and policymakers.
As Risa Kaufman mentioned in her post earlier this week, this is the year of U.S. human rights reviews at the U.N. and access to justice is key to the discussion. Here at home, U.S. advocates have the chance to directly engage with the U.S. government on how access to justice can help promote the implementation of United States human rights obligations and commitments. On April 1, 2014, the Local Human Rights Lawyering Project at the Center for Human Right and Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law will host a Civil Society Consultation with the U.S. Government on Access to Justice. This is the first-ever consultation with the U.S. government focusing on access to justice in the human rights context. The consultation will allow U.S. advocates, as well as persons directly affected, to directly address U.S. government officials both regarding the upcoming Universal Periodic Review and the review by the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. By the time the sixtieth anniversary of Gideon rolls around, we hope to move leaps and bounds closer to fulfilling our human right of access to justice for all. This consultation provides a unique platform to launch us towards that goal. Please join us in D.C., or at least tune into the live webcast of the consultation. All are welcome.