Monday, May 11, 2020
Since the 2016 election the human US rights advocates have turned to the federal courts for help. The courts have not always ruled in favor of human rights advocate, but there were many victories. Advocates often gave thanks for an independent judiciary. The judiciary has been the only branch of government that has operated within their original design as an independent branch of government.
The Justice Department's attempt to unwind the convictions of Michael Flynn has a broader purpose than adjusting Mr. Flynn's conviction status. Attorney General Barr is testing the process to determine if the dismissal mechanism is a successful tool in undermining judicial authority.
In his exploration for a presidential campaign, President Trump tested how much he could control voters' mind by creating the "birther" movement. What he learned was that through the most implausible of tools he could create a base of supporters. This is DOJ's birther moment within the legal system. How much will DOJ be able to manipulate the judicial branch through established legal mechanisms.
DOJ's motion to dismiss the Flynn prosecution is a prototype. And a clever one. A presidential pardon would accomplish the same result but in an election year this route is a safer route. In addition, this route tests the court in determining if the method is one that can be replicated. Judge Sullivan has been brought into a critical process. Agreed upon motions are frequently allowed without intensive scrutiny. But this motion is not like others. Whichever way Judge Sullivan decides, the ruling will be historic.
Wednesday, May 6, 2020
In February two Georgia white men attempted to abduct a black jogger. When the jogger resisted he was shot and killed. The prosecutor felt there was insufficient evidence to take the case to the grand jury.
This week a black security guard at a Family Dollar store in Flint, MI was shot in the of the back of the head for requesting that a customer wear a mask or not be served.
The largest and most aggressive protest against sheltering regulations was in Michigan, a state with a female governor in a state where the city with highest cluster of CORONA 19 is Detroit, a primarily African American city.
Today President Trump called on citizens to become warriors. The LA Times reported:
"In recent days, he’s begun describing citizens as “warriors” in the battle against the pandemic and suggested some of those fighters might have to die if that will help boost the economy. "
About six months before his death, I had the privilege of hearing Congressman Cummings speak. An audience member asked what scares him most. Mr. Cummings said that after listening to witnesses at the Michael Cohen hearings, what scared him most is what Trump means when he said that he would not go quietly.
Assault rifles remain the weapon of choice. Gun sales are on the rise and the President is losing popularity.
The signal has been given.
Sunday, May 3, 2020
Despite advocacy asking states to release incarcerated individuals early, the US has released relatively few people in comparison with other countries. Prisons and jails are not safe for the incarcerated or for staff. Only a few days ago Governor Cuomo announced that pregnant women women would be released. But the group of women to be released is narrow. Only women with convictions for non-violent crimes will be released and only then if their remaining sentence is under six months.
Release wouldn't be as critical if jails and prisons were otherwise safe spaces. But those inside report horrid conditions. There is not effective or even enhanced sanitation. Women who are suspected of having symptoms are often isolated in deplorable conditions. At one prison, women were moved to a prion wing that had been closed in years. The cells are filthy with walls filled with mold. Others report a shortage of food, and and disinfecting supplies. No efforts are made at physical differences.
Human Rights Watch issued a report. While it is NY specific, the report is worth a read. The frightening conditions described are prevalent in most jails and prisons across the country.
Tuesday, April 28, 2020
Ian M. Kysel, Visiting Assistant Clinical Progessor of Law, Cornell Law School sends along this post:
In the hopes that it may be useful in your work, I wanted to share new work on human mobility and human rights in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic: Principles of protection for migrants, refugees, and other displaced persons (which I realize many of you have signed). The final document was endorsed by more than 800 academics around the world. You can find the 14 Principles here and accompanying press release here.
These Principles were developed in the past couple of weeks under the auspices of the Program on Forced Migration, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University; the Migration and Human Rights Program, Cornell Law School; and the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility, The New School. The document’s drafters included: T. Alexander Aleinikoff, Chaloka Beyani, Iain Byrne, Francois Crépeau, Joanne Csete, Guy S. Goodwin-Gill, Walter Kälin, Ian M. Kysel, Jane McAdam, Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, Anna Shea, Leah Zamore and Monette Zard (significant credit goes to Alex and Monette and their teams!).
We hope that it is useful in your work and also that you might share the principles widely, with law and policymakers, civil society colleagues and academics and on social media platforms as you see appropriate. By visiting this Google Drive Folder, you'll find some social media templates you can use to share with your networks, along with a folder of images for that purpose. We're also posting from the social media channels listed, if you'd like to retweet, quote-tweet, comment, or share.
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Many are recommending gratitude practices as a survival tool during our current isolation. As one teacher says, it is difficult to be sad if you are grateful. One of the benefits of isolation is time to reflect. This can be a time of spiritual growth if we choose to reflect on ourselves and the current state of our world. Mental health providers support the use of gratitude to enhance well-being. One study resulted in surprising findings. After ten weeks of gratitude reflections, participants reported better mental health but also that they engaged in more physical exercise.
Practicing gratitude is humbling. As I write this I recognize my place of privilege. As of now, my employment is not threatened and I have a pleasant place to spend my time along with pleasant company. I do spend a part of each day looking for various ways I can support those who need immediate help. Perhaps that is part of my gratitude and meditation practices.
Optimism is a side benefit of gratitude. Those of us who have resources owe it to ourselves and others to remain optimistic. Advocates need to maintain optimism to carry on their work for those whose lives and human rights are at extreme risk now. So sleep (much), drink (water) and be grateful!
Monday, April 20, 2020
A recent post discussed how states have used the COVID 19 emergency to restrict abortion accessibility claiming that abortions are "non-essential" medical services. Now the 5th Circuit has upheld the abortion restrictions issued by Texas that limit medical procedures to essential services only. While abortion was not directly mentioned, the state's attorney general interpreted the order to include abortions. While federal district courts twice stayed the order as applied to abortions but today the Court of Appeals overruled the District Court and reinstated the ban in its entirety.
The Court reached far back into legal history in order to rationalize its decision. The Court cited 1905 Supreme Court decision Jacobson v Massachusetts which upheld a mandatory vaccination law during a smallpox outbreak. The case offered little in the way of analogy. The orders are vastly different and the Texas ban does not rationalize how the abortion restrictions will assist in containing the COVID-19 threat. While medication abortions are permitted along with those that would be time-barred during the duration of the ban, the orders discount not only women's autonomy but the psychological and physical harm that women will suffer by delayed procedures.
Friday, April 17, 2020
Good strategists know when to seize an opportunity. Texas began the trend by declaring abortion elective surgery permissible only if the mother's physical health is at risk. Seizing hospitals' cancellations of elective surgery opened a pathway for anti-choice politicians to create circumstances that all but eliminate the possibility for most women to obtain an abortion.
Other states followed. Arkansas and Tennessee among them. Appellate Courts have met challenges to the restrictions in various ways and Planned Parenthood has requested a hearing with the US Supreme Court. No response has been heard from the court.
Alaska has joined the ban-abortion contingent by declaring abortions non essential unless the life or health of the mother is endangered. Women in Alaska exemplify the hardship that bans create, particularly in states comprised mostly of a rural population. Abuse survivors, particularly, Alaskan Natives often experience their abuse without help. Adverse weather conditions, remote locations, poverty and few local resources leave survivors in desperate conditions at the hands of their abusers. The same conditions already inhibit rural Alaskan women from obtaining abortions. Imposing additional burdens on Alaskan women effectively eliminates their choice. Travel to another state for the procedure is unaffordable and risky for women in abusive relationships. Even those in non-abusive circumstances will be restricted by distance and expense.
The imposed restrictions already have removed choice. To argue otherwise is a fallacy. COVID19 related unemployment adds an additional stressor that influences women to choose termination of a pregnancy. The related loss of healthcare and other benefits makes looming or worsening poverty a real possibility for many women. Imposing the ban at a time when women and families are facing the most serious loss of income and the highest unemployment that the country has experienced is particularly cruel. Ideology and empathy are not compatible.
Tuesday, April 14, 2020
The Department of Justice began investigating the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in 2018. The Justice Department report was released this week. The primary finding was of rampant sexual abuse of incarcerated women by correctional officers and other staff. Since the investigation began DOJ reports:
In May 2018, an Edna Mahan correction officer was found guilty of five counts of sexually abusing prisoners. According to the sentencing judge, the “pervasive culture” at Edna Mahan allowed this correction officer to abuse his “position of authority to indulge in [his] own sexual stimulation.”
In July 2018, another Edna Mahan correction officer pled guilty to three counts of official misconduct after he admitted sexually abusing three separate prisoners.
In January 2019, another correction officer pled guilty to official misconduct charges after admitting that he repeatedly sexually abused two Edna Mahan prisoners over a period of several years. In sentencing him, the New Jersey court concluded that the officer had “sexually assaulted a vulnerable population.”
Others have been indicted.
As reported by the NY Times, “Sexual abuse should not be a part of any prisoner’s punishment,” Eric S. Dreiband, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement accompanying the report, the result of an investigation by the division and the U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey. “Women prisoners at Edna Mahan are at substantial risk of sexual abuse by staff because systemic deficiencies discourage prisoners from reporting sexual abuse and allow sexual abuse to occur undetected and undeterred.”
Incarcerated women have complained for decades of the sexual and other abuse they are subjected to while confined. Edna Mahan's women were no different. The women endured years of abuse, which included being forced to have sex with other women while staff observed. The report went on to say that “Our society requires prisoners to give up their liberty, but that surrender does not encompass the basic right to be free from severe unwanted sexual contact.” The question has to be asked - why did it take years of reporting for any significant investigation to be done? Other incarcerated women report similar abuses at a wide number of facilities but life is often more difficult for them if they report the abuse. The women of Edna Mahan were courageous in their reporting but not after years of being threatened into silence.
Most incarcerated women lost their liberty for non-violent crimes. Most incarcerated women were abused during their pre-incarceration years. These women do need prison. They need services. Whether the needed help is for substance abuse, mental health, education or reunification with children, prisons to not provided supportive environments that will assist women to have healthy lives. The abolition of prisons for women and girls is a national movement, led by the National Council of Incarcerated Women and Girls.
Those interested in joining the abolitionist movement will readily find local organizations leading the efforts locally. Prisons for women have a sordid history of physical and sexual abuse of women and failure to provide services even at the level male provided to incarcerated men. Time indeed is up on the incarcerated of women and girls.
Wednesday, April 8, 2020
Many articles have surfaced reporting the increase in domestic violence since the beginning of self-quarantine imposed by many countries during the pandemic. Survivors of gender violence have enforced psychological, if not physical, boundaries, dependent upon the whims of the abusive partner. Targets of intimate partner abuse are accustomed to being tracked by their abusers. Constant texting, following, and other surveillance are part of an abused partner's daily routine.
Now many survivors are trapped with their abusers. Because of lockdowns, self-quarantines and other measures designed to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus, many families experiencing abuse are now forced to be with the abuser 24 hours a day. Other additional stressors are unemployment, being with children 24 hours a day, and increased substance abuse. Calls to domestic violence hotlines have increased significantly.
The United Nations asked that countries make the safety of domestic violence survivors a priority and and few have made special accommodations part their response to the pandemic. But how? No country has made anti-domestic violence a priority beyond basic and inadequate resources and certainly have not made significant inroads into changing the cultural acceptance of abuse. Some countries have converted women's shelters into health facilities. Some shelters have introduced measures barring new victims for fear of further spreading the virus. Few replacement shelters have become available during the interim.
Chickens are coming home to roost. Governments have not been aggressive in addressing the root causes of abuse or in providing adequate remedies for those who have experienced intimate partner violence. Advocates are often only able to provide temporary relief to the abused. Legal systems may provide limited relief but are not the answer to a long term solution. The tools needed to provide independence such as sufficient financial support, housing, and education are and always have been in short supply for survivors.
Few tools are available to help under these circumstances. Police can conduct wellness checks. Neighbors can report disturbances. But those measures are stopgap, as well, unless backed up by long term remedies addressed in part above. After years of education and advocacy addressing intimate partner abuse, the current reality is evidence that we have come no closer to eradicating violence from our culture than when we started. How will this inform advocates' next steps?
Thursday, April 2, 2020
March 31st was transgender visibility day. With the national focus on COVID-19, we see and hear less news about the ongoing personal and legislative attacks on sexual minorities. An earlier post addressed the restriction of human rights during the epidemic and the danger that the restricted rights will not be restored. This is also a time when harmful actions unrelated to COVID-19 are being attempted while the disease diverts our attention.
Idaho is an example of enacting insidious anti-transgender laws. As trans people prepared to celebrate Visibility Day, Indiana Governor Brad Little signed anti-transgender legislation into law. One bill prohibits transgender women and girls from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity. The second bill forbids transgender and non-binary people from changing the gender markers on their birth certificates.
Even if the laws are found to be unconstitutional, they achieve the underlying purpose of raising anti-trans hostility. Similar bills are introduced in other states. So long as anti-transgender publicity has momentum, discrimination and violence against trans and non-binary people will escalate.
While our mobility may be determined by COVID-19, our advocacy should not be.
Thursday, March 26, 2020
The skies over Wuhan have dramatically reduced air pollution. Maps show a significant reduction in nitrogen dioxide since factories closed and transportation restricted. NASA maps from January 1 and February 25, 2020 show a 30% drop in NO2, which is created through the use of fossil fuels. "According to NASA scientists, the reduction in NO2 pollution was first apparent near Wuhan, but eventually spread across the country."
“This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event,” said Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Liu recalls seeing a drop in NO2 over several countries during the economic recession that began in 2008, but the decrease was gradual. Scientists also observed a significant reduction around Beijing during the 2008 Olympics, but the effect was mostly localized around that city, and pollution levels rose again once the Olympics ended.
Italy is experiencing similar environmental improvements. Satellite photographs show a decrease in air pollution. Industrialized northern Italy, in particular, was plagued with serious pollution since well prior to the Coronavirus explosion. For decades, cruise ships have long polluted the bay leading to the canals. And boat traffic in the canals is vastly down.
These environmental improvements may be temporary. Indications are Venice canals have reduced sharply pollution levels. Now residents report that for the first time in decades they can see fish swimming in the canals. However, there is no evidence that governments will change their environmental habits or tie any stimulus packages to environmental improvements. Indeed, some of the biggest polluters, the airlines, may be recipients of large influxes of federal funds. To date, no government has tied stimulus funds to changeover to alternative energy systems.
The earth is offering us a chance to repair environmental harms. Is anyone listening?
Wednesday, March 18, 2020
Coping in this new environment can be challenging. Maintaining our own mental health is crucial so that we can support our students in their education and their adjustments. Technology certainly will help immensely, keeping us in touch real time with others can provide emotional support. FaceTime and other technologies help keep relationships going.
For spiritual support and maintaining calm consider participating in Mindful Mondays which are offered at 3 pm eastern time. Brought to you by the Mindfulness in Law Society Mindful Mondays are for people in the legal profession. If you have thirty minutes, you might want to join in a twenty minute practice with 5 minutes for discussion at the beginning an end. Group meditation is powerful, whether in person or via the web. Maintaining community while experiencing isolation is a powerful way to protect our physical and emotional health.
Various practices are offered throughout the week as MILS also partners with the Mindfulness Center at Brown University School of Public Health to offer the weekly Tuesday Pause (15 minutes) and Wednesday Mindfulness Program (45 minutes, including some discussion). Check it out!
Sunday, March 15, 2020
Did Senator Chuck Schumer think he was speaking for women when he threatened two Supreme Court Justices? At a rally organized by the Center for Reproductive Rights and held on the Courthouse steps, Senator Schumer remarked "I want to tell you, Gorsuch, I want to tell you, Kavanaugh. You have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price! You won't know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions." All while the abortion case of June Medical Services LLC. v. Russo was being argued to the Court. Did Mr. Schumer think that he represented women's sentiments? Male righteousness and bravado are exactly what is not needed in the fight to save reproductive rights.
Why are men speaking for women anyway? If men want to help women, they need to show up without speaking up. What would help is a million silent men marching behind women supporting their demands to save abortion rights and protesting gender violence. Let women lead.
Tuesday, March 3, 2020
A UN expert has warned that the excessive use of solitary confinement in US prisons is tantamount to torture. The warning was issued after a review of the Connecticut prison system. "For years, my mandate has raised concerns about the worldwide overuse of solitary confinement which is subject to widespread arbitrariness." These words came from Nils Melzer, UN Rapporteur on torture. Mr. Melzer went on to say that the Connecticut Department of Corrections "has appeared to routinely repress inmates through prolonged or indefinite isolation, excessive use of in-cell restraints and needlessly intrusive strip searches."
These dehumanising conditions of detention, sometimes euphemistically referred to as "segregation," "secure housing," the "hole" or "lockdown," are routinely used by US correctional facilities, particularly against inmates designated as "high risk" due to previous gang affiliations, behaviour abnormalities or mental conditions.
"These practices trigger and exacerbate psychological suffering, in particular in inmates who may have experienced previous trauma or have mental health conditions or psychosocial disabilities," Melzer noted.
"The severe and often irreparable psychological and physical consequences of solitary confinement and social exclusion are well documented and can range from progressively severe forms of anxiety, stress, and depression to cognitive impairment and suicidal tendencies.
"This deliberate infliction of severe mental pain or suffering may well amount to psychological torture," the Special Rapporteur said.
Inflicting solitary confinement on those with mental or physical disabilities is prohibited under international law. Even if permitted by domestic law, prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement cannot be regarded as a "lawful sanction" under the Mandela Rules which guides the appropriate treatment of prisoners.
The full UN statement may be read here.
Sunday, March 1, 2020
On Friday the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals entered a nationwide ban on the Trump Administration's practice of forcibly returning migrants to Mexico to await their asylum hearings under the administration's Migrant Protection Policies. According to the UC Hastings Center for Gender and Refugee Center, the Center along with the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Southern Poverty filed suit against the policy in 2019 and won a preliminary injunction. "In the months since (the suit was filed) nearly 60,000 asylum seekers have been left stranded in Mexico, where they have faced grave human rights abuses. Human Rights First documented over 1,000 public reports of murder, torture, rape, kidnapping, and other violent attacks against asylum seekers and migrants returned under MPP, a figure that represents only the tip of the iceberg."
“Although the ruling cannot repair the profound pain and suffering that MPP has caused over this last year, we are hopeful the United States can once again stand as a safe haven for the persecuted.”
The full opinion may be read here.
Thursday, February 27, 2020
There is a new report on women in prison. The report was released by the US Commission on Civil Rights. The below excerpt is taken from the press release.
Among the various topics addressed are gender differences in personal histories as well as types of crimes committed. Importantly the report addresses the significant trauma histories women bring to prison when compared with men and the resulting mental health issues trauma can bring.
"In comparison to men in prison, women in prison are more likely to report having experienced
physical and/or sexual abuse as children and adults. Research and expert testimony suggest that
at least 50 percent of women entering prison report experiencing physical and/or sexual abuse prior
to their incarceration. Other studies suggest that as many as percent of women in prison
experienced traumatic events prior to their incarceration and the most common forms of traumatic
experiences report included interpersonal or sexual violence. In contrast, data reflect that men are
reportedly less likely to have been direct victims of violence. Another important difference
between the reported abuse histories of men and women is the length of time in which they
experience abuse. While the risk of abuse for men declines after childhood, the risk of abuse for
women endures throughout their juvenile and adult lives. For some women and men in prison,
abuse can persist while they are incarcerated either at the hands of fellow inmates or prison staff."
Tuesday, February 25, 2020
In an effort to prevent additional deaths of migrants doctors and others have encouraged vaccination of border migrants. But Custom and Border Patrol refused. CPB's refusal to vaccinate migrants rejected advice from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that recommended migrants receive flu vaccinations at the earliest possible time.
According to KTAR News: On Feb. 19, a federal judge in Tucson determined that CBP facilities in southeastern Arizona violate the Constitution because the conditions are “presumptively punitive.” In fiscal year 2019, 12,030 individuals were kept longer than the 72-hour limit in that border sector.
"Noting that the migrants held in those facilities are civil detainees and not convicted criminals, Judge David Bury said conditions “are substantially worse than conditions afforded criminal detainees at the Santa Cruz County jail or other jail facilities, where detainees are medically screened by medical professionals; have a bed with cloth sheets, blankets, and pillows … have clean clothing … showers, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and warm meals.”
The organization One Hundred Angels in cooperation with the Mexican Red Cross, organized a clinic to vaccinate migrants who are waiting to enter the US but who remain on the Mexican side of the border. Willing migrants received chickenpox, measles and flu vaccinations. Vaccination of children was a priority since several have died while in US custody.
Monday, February 24, 2020
As we have written before, criminalization of HIV status has been a serious issue for those living with HIV. Missouri in many ways has been at the frontline of criminalization not only of HIV but of Hep B and Hep C. This Thursday, the Williams Center will present a webinar on the data of Missouri's enforcement of these criminal laws. Information from the Williams Center reads:
"On Thursday, Feb. 27th, 1:00 PM - 2:30 PM CT, Brad Sears will summarize the findings of a new report “THE This study examines enforcement of laws that criminalize exposing others to HIV or hepatitis B or C, using data from the Missouri Department of Corrections. Between 1990 and October of 2019, at least 593 people have been arrested in Missouri for at least one of its HIV/hepatitis crimes, based on statutes that are outdated and medically inaccurate. This includes 318 people who have been convicted for these crimes. Legislation to modernize Missouri’s statutes is likely to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee in March. Please join us and invite others as well. "
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Last week US Congresswoman Jackie Speier and Congressman Jim McGovern introduced a resolution that would support the creation of an international court to fight corruption.
According to Human Rights Watch: "The World Economic Forum estimates that 5 percent of the world’s GDP is lost to corruption, and the International Monetary Fund blames it for US$1 trillion in lost tax revenue. And corruption can rob people of their rights. It can lead to failing healthcare and education systems, lack of access to clean water – all problems that force countless people to leave their homes and countries in pursuit of better lives. It can also corrode government itself, as corrupt officials often shield themselves from accountability by hijacking the judiciary and abusively silencing critics."
An idea originally proposed by Judge Mark Wolf, any attempt to fight corruption on a global level is a first step toward addressing a serious and massive human rights problem.
Monday, February 17, 2020
Writing in The Hill, Dree K. Collopy(adjunct professor at American University's Washington College of Law) reminds us of the promises we made to children under the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, adopted by the UN sixty years ago. " Among other rights, children must be given the means for normal development; hungry children must be fed; sick children must be nursed; orphaned children must be sheltered; children must be put in a position to earn a livelihood; children must not be exploited; children must be the first to receive relief in times of distress. Children in need must be helped. "
Collopy notes that thirty years later the UN adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The best interest of the child standard was adopted at that time. The author notes that despite these commitments today we have the highest rates of displaced children, estimated to be over 35 million. Noting the US maltreatment of refugee children the author notes "As families and children have fled to the United States in search of safety, they have been denied universally recognized rights, and the U.S. government is erecting every potential barrier to keep them from accessing protection."
To read the full op-ed click here.