Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Breastfeeding Rights in the U.S.

In 2015, UN experts stated that breastfeeding is a "human rights issue for babies and mothers and should be protected and promoted for the benefit of both."

How does the U.S. stack up?

In 2020, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and IBFAN reported that the U.S. was among the minority of WHO-member countries in the world that had not taken any steps to bring national law into line with the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk substitutes.

Perhaps a more prevalent issue in the U.S. is the stigma attached to breastfeeding, and whether women are allowed to breastfeed in workplaces or in public places as they handle their daily lives with their infants alongside.  Find out how your state is doing in this regard by consulting this new survey compiled by the always useful National Conference of State Legislatures.

July 8, 2020 in Gender, Gender Oppression, Martha F. Davis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 3, 2020

UN Hacked

The Vienna and Geneva offices of the United Nations were hacked.  The hack was reported to be a sophisticated one that usually indicates espionage.  Dozens of servers were compromised, including the Human Rights Office.  According to  ABC News, the level of sophistication was so high that a state-level actor is suspected.  The UN claims that no sensitive information was obtained.  

Reports claim that "The hack comes at a time when concerns about computer and mobile phone vulnerabilities, for large organizations such as governments and the U.N. as well as for individuals and businesses" and "there is no indication that data was exfiltrated from Vienna" which is the UN's home to their office on Drugs and Crime.

February 3, 2020 in Martha F. Davis, United Nations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Beyond War Crimes

Last week, President Trump repeatedly threatened to commit war crimes by targeting Iran's cultural sites for destruction until, after the Department of Defense refused to go along, he backed off, at least for now.  These threatened war crimes would also violate US human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.  The U.S. is one of four countries that have signed but not ratified this Covenant, which has been ratified by 170 countries worldwide.

Article 15 of the ICESCR explicitly addresses culture, providing that parties to the Convention "recognize the right of everyone . . . to take part in cultural life."  Parties to the Covenant further agree that "the steps to be taken  . . . to achieve full realization of this right shall include those necessary for the conservation, the development, and the diffusion of science and culture." 

While the United States is not a party to the Convention, as a signatory it is obligated under international law to refrain from defeating the object and purpose of the treaty.  Clearly, intentional destruction by the U.S. of Iran's cultural sites would defeat the treaty's purpose with regard to cultural conservation and preservation. 

After last week's course reversal, it seems that President Trump is not ready to overtly commit international war crimes.  But surely, we deserve a President who is also serious about not violating international human rights just to distract from his domestic political troubles.

January 15, 2020 in Martha F. Davis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 6, 2020

A Human Right many in the US take for granted . . .

An unusual monument to human rights sits in a corner of the Boston Public Garden in downtown Boston. 

The 40-foot-tall Ether Monument,installed in 1868, is the oldest monument in the garden.  It commemorates the first use of ether as an anesthetic, a pivotal moment in medical history.  A few blocks away from the monument, across the Boston Common and downhill toward the Boston harbor, the first public demonstration of ether anesthesia was conducted in the Ether Dome at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1846.   Boston dentist William Thomas Green Morton administered the ether, and doctor John Collins Warren then removed a tumor from an unconscious patient. 

The Ether Monument depicts this breakthrough through the imagery of two connected figures: the Good Samaritan, holding in his arms an injured stranger he met on the road.

This past human rights day, December 2019, the World Federation of Societies of Anaesthesiologists invited its members to submit essays considering the question:  Is anesthesia a human right?

The doctors who responded linked anesthesia not only to the human right to health but also to human dignity.

One doctor working in India wrote: "If healthcare is a human right does that mean anesthesia for surgery is also a human right?"  She concluded that "[a]ll of us have the right to life, liberty, and security but we also have the right to safe surgery which is only possible with the provision of safe anesthesia."  Another physician, practicing in Burkina Faso, observed that "[a]naesthesia makes it possible to eliminate pain, respect the patient’s dignity and facilitate adequate care."

In the U.S. today, many of us are accustomed to living with little or no pain, and if we do experience pain, we expect it to be addressed.  Pain-relieving substances of all kinds are readily available, and medical personnel are often eager to help patients by offering prescriptions.  Too much pain relief can be a bad thing if it's not needed, or if it has addictive qualities.  But the Ether Monument reminds us how debilitating pain can be, what a momentous event it was when the pain-relieving properties of ether were successfully tested, and how lucky those of us with adequate health care are to have access to the human right to pain relief.

January 6, 2020 in Health, Martha F. Davis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

There's Still Time . . .

Summer half over and you're behind in your summer reading?  Whittled away your time -- blog, tweet, watch the news, protest, repeat? 

There's still time for you to catch up, and plenty of good reads.  Every quarter, the Hong Kong Free Press publishes a rundown of the best Human Rights Books published in the past few months.  The current list is here , with several US-related recommendations, including The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Indian America from 1890 to Present, and Solitary.


July 24, 2019 in Books and articles, Martha F. Davis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

New Data Confirms: The U.S. is Falling Behind in Protecting a Range of Human Rights

A new report from the ambitious Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI) shows just how far behind the U.S. is internationally among its peers in protecting human rights.  According to HRMI data, many people in the U.S. lack civil and political rights, and many people are not safe from arbitrary arrests or extrajudicial killings.  The U.S. also falls significantly short in ensuring economic and social rights commensurate with the nation's resources.

The HRMI is hosted by Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, a non-profit research institute based in New Zealand, ranked in the top ten economic think-tanks worldwide.

The recently-released report was prepared in close collaboration with a number of academic organisations, and a range of NGOs working worldwide to advance human rights. 

The initial 2019 data set

  • Annual data on five economic and social rights for 120 to 180 countries (depending on the right) from 2006 to 2016.
  • Data on seven civil and political rights for 19 countries for the two years 2017 and 2018.

HRMI will be building out this work with more data in the coming months and years.

July 2, 2019 in Martha F. Davis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Pittsburgh Mayor Honored for Role in CEDAW City

Last month, the NGO Committee on the Status of Women/New York awarded the Cities for CEDAW Global Leadership Award to Mayor William Peduto of Pittsburgh, PA. 

The Committee explained that Mayor Peduto "was chosen for this award due to his work to implement sustaining policies which eliminate all forms of discrimination against women at the local level."

The press release for the announcement provides some additional background on the component parts that worked together to achieve this change for Pittsburgh:

"To make the global local in Pittsburgh, NGOs: WILPF/Pittsburgh and the Zonta Club of Pittsburgh, along with women advocate groups New Voices Pittsburgh and the Women’s Law Project, formed the Pittsburgh for CEDAW Coalition. They worked closely with their sponsor, Councilperson Natalia Rudiak, and with the full support of Mayor Peduto, the City Council passed unanimously the CEDAW ordinance in 2016. The Ordinance seeks to improve the lives of all women and girls in Pittsburgh by, for example, reducing and eliminating violence against women and girls, promoting more equitable economic development, increasing quality education opportunities and the delivery of all City services. It recognizes discrimination in these areas also affects the health and well-being of women and girls and seeks ways to improve or complement the work that is already being done by groups such as the Pittsburgh Public Safety Department. The Gender Equity Commission began meeting in 2018 and currently has 14 volunteers who are local feminist leaders. Executive Director Anupama Jain describes their goals of “dismantling gender inequalities in our city” and reiterates the CEDAW motto that, “when women succeed, our communities thrive.'"

April 4, 2019 in CEDAW, Martha F. Davis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Compassionate Cities

Cities are increasingly developing productive and potentially powerful coalitions to recognize human rights -- including Human Rights Cities, Cities for CEDAW, Welcoming Cities, and C40 Cities, to name a few.  What can another alliance, Compassionate Cities, add to the mix? 

On the one hand, an emphasis on compassion might seem to undercut the idea of rights, relying as it does on the idea of kindness and selflessness rather than entitlements.  On the other hand, perhaps Compassionate Cities recognize that the human rights revolution is not just a matter of law, but also requires a cultural shift. 

Compassionate Cities are communities that have adopted the Charter for Compassion and are taking steps to implement it locally.  Among other things, the Charter for Compassion concludes that:

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

In addition to existing as a founding document, the "Charter for Compassion" also serves as an umbrella for a network of compassionate communities.  Over 70 local communities worldwide have declared themselves to be Compassionate Cities, including quite a few U.S. cities -- from Syracuse,  New York, to Richardson, Texas to Springfield, Missouri, and Appleton, Wisconsin.   Some task forces also exist at the state level -- for example, California has a Compassionate California Task Force.

Notably, the Charter for Compassion addresses human rights in its writings and explicitly endorses the rights-based SDGs. 

In short, despite different emphases between Human Rights Cities, Compassionate Cities, and so on, there seems to be great potential for bringing these city-based movements together for more strategic sharing and coordinated actions.  


March 24, 2019 in Martha F. Davis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Family Cap Faces Repeal in Massachusetts

In 2003, in Sojourner v. New Jersey Dep't of Human Services, the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the "family cap," which denies welfare benefits to children born to mothers on welfare.  New Jersey's policy was part of a nationwide trend in the 1990s, with more than twenty states adopting similar policies.  In 2004, Illinois and Maryland repealed their family cap policies, leaving 19 states still holding on to a family cap law today.

In the New Jersey litigation, advocates filed an amicus brief addressing the human rights issues raised by a policy of denying benefits to desperately needy children.  But the court ignored the argument, asserting that the human rights issues need not be addressed because they were raised only at the appellate stage of the litigation.

The fight against the family cap goes on, however, in Massachusetts.  Last year, advocates came close to obtaining repeal of the policy.   Only a gubernatorial veto stopped the effort.  This year,  prospects look better.  Votes in the legislature this week have put the family cap repeal back on the governor's desk.  Just a few weeks ago, in January 2019,  Governor Baker himself proposed to revisit the issue.  If he again decides to veto because the legislature's proposal doesn't meet his criteria, there appear to be enough votes and enough time to override a veto.  Importantly for low income families, the legislature's proposal would make the missing benefits retroactive to January 2019.

For a generation, low income children have received extra financial punishment simply because of the circumstances of their birth.  It will be a human rights victory if the Massachusetts repeal effort is successful.  Hopefully, it will point the way for other states to repeal this punitive policy.

March 13, 2019 in Economic Justice, Martha F. Davis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 21, 2019

Water Affordability Crisis Continues in Baltimore

On January 9, the Baltimore City Board of Estimates approved a 30% hike in water rates to be implemented over a three year period.  Food &  Water Watch decried the move, noting that "[a] typical Baltimore household will see their water and sewer bill, excluding stormwater fees, increase from $982 for this fiscal year to $1,284 by fiscal year 2022."  Stormwater fees are generally substantial, sometimes as much as the water fees, so would add considerable cost to this package.

This rate hike adds additional urgency to the water affordability proposal recently submitted to the City Council by the Council President.  The pending law would create a new water affordability plan that would establish income-based billing and cap water fees at 3% of household income, the generally-accepted level internationally.   City Council President Young recently explained and defended the proposed Water Accountability and Equity Act in an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun.

As water rates continue to rise across the country, water districts must take these issues seriously and develop creative solutions to ensure that acceptable levels of water for drinking and sanitation are available to all.  With the pending Water Accountability and Equity Act, the Baltimore City Council has the opportunity to protect this fundamental human right of Baltimore residents and to serve as a model for other cities that are confronting their own water affordability crises. 


January 21, 2019 in Martha F. Davis, Water | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Human Rights Defender Ordered Deported

On December 5, Alejandra Pablos, an activist for Latina reproductive rights, testified before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights at a hearing on the treatment of human rights defenders at the U.S. border.  Pablos has been repeatedly targeted by ICE for her outspoken protests.  As she told the Commission regarding her most recent arrest and detention:

“I was leading chants, I wasn’t even the leader of that demonstration. Nonetheless, I was singled out and detained by DHS police and was the only one arrested. When I asked the officer why, he told me: ‘You were the loudest and he knew arresting me would end the protest.’ It was clear that I was targeted. I was released, but the incident was flagged to ICE, and I was taken into custody at my next check in. I spent more than 43 days inside those cold walls, even though the charges were dropped.”

One week after her IACHR testimony, on December 12, 2018, a federal immigration judge denied Pablos' application for political asylum,  stripped her of her green card and ordered her deported.   Pablos, now 33, has lived in the U.S. since her infancy.  A green card holder, Pablos was not an undocumented immigrant.  Her offenses were a decade ago, when she was picked up for a series of DUI and drug related crimes.  Pablos served two years in a detention center and says that her life has turned around.  But on December 12, the federal judge asserted that she has not reformed, and ordered that she leave for Mexico.  Pablos has thirty days to appeal, and is also seeking a pardon from the Governor of Arizona.  

Pablos has vowed to keep fighting.  An interview with the activist after the December 12 order is available here.  More information on the pardon effort directed to the Arizona Governor is available here.

December 23, 2018 in Martha F. Davis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

What's to Celebrate?

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 27, 2018

Truth is Truth

Martha Davis and Risa Kaufman have published an Issue Brief with the American Constitution Society.  The Issue Brief is entitled "Truth is Truth:  U.S. Abortion Law in the Global Context". The Society's website reads:

"With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court, the fate of reproductive rights is once again at the center of national debate. Abortion opponents have been preparing for a time they might be able to revisit many of the key Supreme Court decisions upholding this fundamental right. To support their efforts, they often point to a report that finds that the United States is more permissive than the majority of other countries with regard to abortion access. In a new ACS Issue Brief, Martha F. Davis, Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Experiential Education at Northeastern University School of Law, and Risa E. Kaufman, Director of U.S. Human Rights at the Center for Reproductive Rights and lecturer-in-law at Columbia Law School, explain how the report and its use of a rudimentary global tally is misleading, inaccurate, and ignores both important protections for women’s health provided by many other countries and the international trend towards liberalization, particularly in Europe. In so doing, Davis and Kaufman provide a more complete understanding of comparative abortion law that will better equip policymakers, judges, and the public when reproductive rights are under attack."

The brief may be read here.




August 27, 2018 in Martha F. Davis, Reproductive Rights, Risa Kaufman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Yes, One Government Agency Speaks up for Families at the Border

The U.S. Civil Rights Commission has had some ups and downs over the years.  Appointees are political, but with six-year terms, their appointments extend beyond the next election.  At times, the result has been a stalemated group, unable to speak out effectively on the civil rights challenges facing the nation. 

Today, the basic composition of the Commission hasn't changed -- it's still a bi-partisan group of eight appointees.  But perhaps because of the extreme positions promoted by this administration, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission has found its voice and is energetically taking action to hold the line on civil rights.

On June 15, the Commission, acting by majority vote of six commissioners, sent a letter to the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security strongly condemning the Trump Administration's policy of separating children and families at the U.S. border. 

Recent reports have focused on voting rights, inequity in education funding, and workplace discrimination based  on sexual orientation.  Currently, the agency is investigating discrimination in government enforcement decisions.  After a period of neglect, the Commission has re-invigorated its state advisory structure, expanding its local eyes and ears, and reach, across the country.  

As the Human Rights at Home blog, we can't help but wish that the Commission would do more to frame its work through human rights norms, particularly since it is the closest thing that the U.S. has to a national human rights institution.  Without making any commitments on that score, Commission Chair Catherine Lhamon has encouraged NGO submissions to the Commission, such as comments on their proposed reports, that illuminate human rights concerns.  Further, the Commission has acknowledged the human rights implications of the administration's family separation policy; its recent letter specifically noted the UN disapproval of the policy.

In short, within its sphere of domestic human rights, the Commission is stepping up just when Americans most need a voice within the government that reiterates longstanding American values that seem to have been forgotten by other policymakers.     

June 19, 2018 in Civil Rights, Martha F. Davis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 18, 2018

Boston Judge Criticizes ICE Practices in Human Rights Terms

As reported earlier, Federal Judge Mark Wolf of Boston is presiding over an ACLU challenge to recent ICE tactics of summarily arresting and detaining undocumented immigrants who appear at federal offices for scheduled appointments to regularize their immigration status.  At issue in the case is whether ICE violated its own procedures, and the constitution, in initiating such detentions.

In a 62-page ruling requiring ICE to release two named plaintiffs from detention pending an immigration hearing, Judge Wolf began by noting that "This country was born with a declaration of universal human rights."  Judge Wolf reiterated the Declaration's proclamation that "'all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,' and that 'among these' is 'Liberty.' " And Judge Wolf opined that these fundamental  protections are codified in the U.S. Constitution's 5th Amendment.

Judge Wolf did not reach the question of whether arrests of immigrants at marriage interviews is legal in general.  But commenting on the extraordinary facts of the case, Judge Wolf observed:

    "The United States has historically been distinguished by its dedication to treating lawfully and fairly all among us, including aliens who are in the   country illegally. However, as Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis observed, in each generation we "must labor to possess that which [we] have inherited." Paul Freund, "Mr. Justice Brandeis," in On Law and Justice at 119 (1968). These cases are a reminder that Justice Brandeis was right." 

June 18, 2018 in Immigrants, Immigration, Martha F. Davis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Separating Children and Parents at the Border: The Human Impacts of American Exceptionalism

On June 5, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human  Rights released a statement condemning the U.S. policy of separating children from their families at the U.S. border.   According to the UN spokesperson,  "The use of immigration detention and family separation as a deterrent runs counter to human rights standards and principles. The child’s best interest should always come first, including over migration management objectives or other administrative concerns.  It is therefore of great concern that in the US migration control appears to have been prioritised over the effective care and protection of migrant children."  The UN statement also noted that the U.S. is the only country "in the world" that is not a party to the UN Children's Rights Convention, and urged the U.S. to ratify the Convention.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, quickly responded to the statement, arguing (1) that it was hypocritical for the UN to criticize the US when other members also engage in human rights abuses, and (2) that the US, as a sovereign nation, can act with impunity when it is protecting its borders.  Both of these arguments are flawed, failing to take into account the totality of actions of the UN and ignoring the ways in which international law has been incorporated domestically.  In short, the administration's position, articulated by Haley, takes exceptionalism to new heights and, in the process, sends the message that no one's human rights are safe here.

First, the idea that the UN has hypocritically singled out the US for human rights criticism is absurd.  In the same press statement that critiqued the US child separation policy, the High Commissioner addressed human rights violations in Egypt and Ethiopia.  The day before, the High Commissioner examined human rights abuses in China.  A day later, Bangladesh was the topic.  The many mechanisms of the UN ensure that all countries are exposed to constructive criticism (as well as, when warranted, praise) through the Universal Periodic Review process, and by review of treaty monitoring bodies or Special Procedures.  The assertion that the U.S. can never be criticized on human rights grounds because of the amount of foreign aid and financial support that it provides sounds a bit like some other positions taken by this Administration, i.e., if you're rich enough, you don't have to play by the rules.

Second, Haley's assertion that U.S. sovereignty excuses human rights violations is also misplaced.  The human rights at issue here are so basic and fundamental that they transcend particular documents -- and in fact, have even been accepted by several U.S. courts as customary international law.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a product of Eleanor Roosevelt's leadership, states clearly that the "[t]he family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State."  Further under Article 14 of the UDHR, "Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution."  Certainly, an assertion of sovereignty doesn't excuse human rights abuses against children without some showing of absolute necessity and imminent harm.  There is nothing like that here.  Instead, the Administration has approached the impacts on children almost casually, as John Kelly noted that the separated children might eventually be placed in foster care "or whatever."  In fact, the impacts on vulnerable children separated from their parents are long-lasting and profoundly negative.  How far would the Administration go to protect U.S. sovereignty under the circumstances we have here?  Would the Administration assert that it's acceptable to shoot the "trespassing" children of immigrants and asylees seeking entry at the border, in order to deter the migrating adults and to protect U.S. sovereignty?

Given Haley's defense of the Administration's policy of separating children from their families, we must all ask, has human rights lost all meaning to the U.S. government?   

June 6, 2018 in Children, Martha F. Davis, Migrants | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Cities for CEDAW, Coming Soon to Your Town!

When the Cities for CEDAW campaign was launched at the UN Commission of the Status of Women meeting in 2013, it aimed to enlist 100 cities within a year.  That ambitious effort fell short, but the Cities for CEDAW effort has kept up the momentum in the subsequent years, with consistent gains across the country 

Maybe Chicago -- which has not yet joined the other major cities on the roster like Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco -- will be next.  On April 27, at 6 p.m., the UN Association of Chicago will sponsor a panel discussion on Cities for CEDAW, and why the movement is important.  More information on the event is here.  If you live or work in Chicago, try to attend.  And if you have friends in Chicago, let them know. 

But if you're not in Chicago, don't mourn.  Think about how to connect with interested folks in your own town or city.  UNA Women is actively promoting the Cities for CEDAW campaign nationwide, and they have chapters in many cities across the country.   

If you want to know more about the campaign, a new article by Dr. Malliga Och of Idaho State University, in the March issue of the International Feminist Journal of Politics, examines the movementHere's the Abstract for the article "The Local Diffusion of International Norms: Understanding the Cities for CEDAW Campaign":

While the international human rights norm literature has revolved mainly around the diffusion and implementation of human rights at the national and global level, less is known how international human rights norms are adopted on the local level. To fill this gap, this article will focus on the Cities for Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) campaign which encourages cities in the United States to adopt ordinances incorporating principles set forth by UN CEDAW. This article will analyze how the Cities for CEDAW campaign frames international gender norms to make them relevant in local contexts. Drawing on original interviews with Cities for CEDAW activists, this article will further our understanding how local human rights activists can utilize international human rights treaties to integrate human rights norms on the local level.


April 11, 2018 in CEDAW, Martha F. Davis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Intercultural Cities

by Martha F. Davis, Professor, Northeastern University School of Law

InterCultural Cities (ICC), a programme of the Council of Europe, is not widely known in the U.S., but that may change.  Arriving at the ICC meeting in Lisbon earlier this week, I believed that I was the only American.  Soon, however, I met a diversity consultant based in Minneapolis who is working with several Minnesota cities to come on board, and an activist from Washington, D.C., who has been pushing the idea in the District.  To date, no U.S. city has joined the group.

This is the ICC’s tenth year.  It is a membership organization, with member cities large and small paying annual dues.  Upon joining, a city conducts an audit to determine their baseline for dealing with cultural diversity.  A team of experts visits to assess the city, with periodic reports and visits following thereafter to evaluate the local government’s progress in achieving its goals.  Throughout, the ICC provides expert guidance and a supportive presence to those within the city who are devoted to issues of diversity and inclusion.

The meeting I attended focused on local approaches to dealing with refugees and migrants, building on the idea that intercultural initiatives speed the inclusion of new arrivals into existing communities and deter radicalization that might otherwise come with isolation.  A recurring theme was the tension between national and local governments, with nations making decisions about borders and resource allocation that undercut local agendas for growth, innovation and cultural exchange that rely on new arrivals.

Interestingly, US city activism in the Trump era was repeatedly cited as a model.  “American cities seem well organized,” one speaker noted, citing the sanctuary city movement.  And under the right circumstances, attendees observed, they’re not afraid to assert power, as we’ve recently in the local response to climate change.

Still, the overall tenor of the meeting was sobering.  The rise in populism is worldwide, and cities alone – however strong – will not be able to save progressive values if the populist movement grows.  The Council of Europe and UN representatives, the mayors and vice mayors, and the NGOs and academics were looking for something more for their toolboxes -- a technique for spreading democratic values and human rights norms while providing language and vocational training, housing assistance and meeting other basic needs. 


November 30, 2017 in Martha F. Davis | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Growing Local Commitments to Human Rights

We note two significant local human rights developments in recent weeks, NEITHER of them from the coasts:

First, on July 5, Dallas County became the first county in Texas, and only the second county in the United States, to declare itself a Human Rights County. According to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, sponsor of the measure, “Human Rights abuses occur in our community, our country and our world every day. We must lead at the local level. We can’t do everything but we can all do something.”  Dr. Rick Halperin, director of SMU's human rights program, added “The action taken by the county commissioners will mark a historic turning point in this County’s recognition of Human Dignity and Human Rights for all those who live, work, and visit here. This really puts us on the road to being the global jurisdiction we purport to be.”  The resolution came one year after a historic Human Rights Dallas meeting, where local leaders met at SMU to discuss how human rights approaches might improve the welfare of Dallas residents, and how Dallas might take national leadership in expanding human rights,

Second, in May 2017, Athens, Ohio hosted its first ever "Ohio Human Rights Tribunal," addressing the human rights issues raised by fracking.  Four judges heard over six hours of testimony from the community.  Another tribunal hearing is expected in Ohio later in July.  These hearings are held under the auspices of the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal on Fracking, which is gathering testimony to submit to the United Nations. 

July 12, 2017 in Advocacy, Martha F. Davis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sessions v. Morales-Santana: Two Cheers for Equality

On Monday, June 12, the Supreme Court released its opinion in Sessions v. Morales-Santana, an equal protection challenge to sex-based distinctions in citizenship law -- specifically, differential requirements regarding physical presence in the US of the citizen parents seeking to transmit citizenship to an out of wedlock, foreign born child.   The 6-2 opinion by Justice Ginsburg striking down the sex-based distinctions runs through the full litany of the Court's sex discrimination cases, most of which the Justice had a hand in one way or another -- from Reed v. Reed, where she argued as amicus, to U.S. v. Virginia, which she wrote as a justice.  Justices Thomas and Alito dissented, arguing that the Court should not have reached the merits.

Importantly for US human rights activists, the opinion took human rights law seriously.  For example, the government had argued that sex-based distinctions in US citizenship law were needed in order to avoid statelessness for some mothers.  The opinion rejects that rationale, citing at length the campaign of the UN High Commissioner on Refugees to address sex-discrimination in nationality laws as a component of its campaign against statelessness:

     "In 2014, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) undertook a ten-year project to eliminate statelessness by 2024.  Cogni­zant that discrimination against either mothers or fathers in citizenship and nationality laws is a major cause of statelessness, the Commissioner has made a key compo­nent of its project the elimination of gender discrimination in such laws. " (citations omitted)
According to the Court, "[i]n this light, we cannot countenance risk of statelessness as a reason to uphold, rather than strike out, differential treatment of unmarried women and men with regard to transmission of citizenship to their children."  In addition, the Court cited the amicus brief filed by Equality Now and Human Rights Watch, et al., which provided comparative analysis of other nations' treatment of these issues.  It's significant that this was an opinion joined by Chief Justice Roberts, who has been more circumspect than the other justices in the majority in his support for comparative analyses.
Still, it was hard to celebrate this victory on the equal protection claim when  the remedial portion of the ruling denied any relief to the individual litigant -- and indeed, stripped future mothers of a benefit.  Instead of expanding benefits for men, as the Court noted was the "customary" relief in such cases, the Court chose to constrict future relief by holding mothers to the higher physical presence standard that currently applies to men. Now, rather than requiring one year of physical presence for citizen mothers in this situation, five or ten years, depending on the date of the birth, will be required.  It's an ominous result for future equal protection litigation and Morales-Santana goes home empty-handed, despite his clear victory on the equal protection claims.
Editors' Note:  This posting is part of a Scholarly Voices symposium on this case.  Nancy Dowd's analysis of Morales-Santana and fatherhood is here.  For Deborah Brake's insightful analysis of the remedial issue in the case, look here and here.  Rachel Rosenbloom's expert analysis from an immigration perspective is here.


June 12, 2017 in Immigration, Martha F. Davis | Permalink | Comments (0)