Wednesday, November 15, 2023

New Article: A Global View of U.S. Backsliding on Democracy and Reproductive Rights

Martha F. Davis and Risa Kaufman, A Global View of U.S. Backsliding on Democracy and Reproductive Rights, ACS Blogs, Expert Forum (Nov. 13, 2023). Excerpt below.

This month, the United Nations Human Rights Committee concluded its review of the United States’ human rights record. Nine years had passed since the Committee’s last review of the U.S. With many urgent issues to address – including gun violence, excessive use of force by law enforcement, climate change, and Guantanamo – the Committee trained particular focus on the state of reproductive rights and democracy in the United States. The Committee’s alarm over the flood of restrictions on reproductive and bodily autonomy, alongside its deep concern over attacks on the right to vote, points to the deep connections between reproductive rights and democracy. Americans have a front row view of these connections in the wake of the Supreme Court majority’s decision in Dobbs to eliminate federal constitutional protections for abortion and leave the issue up to the political branches and the states. The global perspective offered by the UN review is a reminder, however, that regression on reproductive rights reinforces and supports erosion of democracy. These are mutually reinforcing trends. And the UN review underscores the urgency of safeguarding both.

November 15, 2023 in Advocacy, ICCPR, Martha F. Davis, Reproductive Rights, Risa Kaufman, United Nations, Women's Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 21, 2022

New Article: (G)local Intersectionality

Martha F. Davis, (G)local Intersectionality, 79 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 1021 (2022). Abstract below.

Intersectionality theory has been slow to take root as a legal norm at the national level, even as scholars embrace it as a potent analytical tool. Yet, in recent years, intersectionality has entered law and policy practices through an unexpected portal: namely, local governments’ adoption of international norms. A growing number of local governments around the world explicitly incorporate intersectionality into their law and practice as part of implementing international antidiscrimination norms from human rights instruments like the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

This “relocalization” phenomenon—which brings intersectionality back to its roots in domestic law—is visible in many parts of the world. In Europe, cities in Spain proactively integrate intersectional approaches into their local human rights regimes. Outside of Europe, Montréal applies an intersectional analysis under its Charter of Rights and Responsibilities, a local governance document grounded in the values of fundamental human rights and dignity. Human rights cities like Gwangju, Korea, embrace intersectionality as a programmatic imperative. In the United States, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and Cincinnati, among others, incorporated intersectional approaches to nondiscrimination in the wake of adopting local CEDAWs.

The relocalization process is not always straightforward. Challenges include the difficulties of reconciling local intersectional approaches with national laws that may not recognize intersectionality, and developing indicators tailored to local experiences. On the other hand, local adoption of intersectionality opens up robust possibilities for participation in communities’ legal and political processes, which many local governments emphasize.

November 21, 2022 in Books and articles, CEDAW, CERD, Martha F. Davis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Reflections on the U.S. CERD Review, 2022

By Martha F. Davis

039e1f4e-0d56-46d1-8a13-b332b13259a7Traveling to Geneva, Switzerland, is beyond imagination for many American citizens.  Yet for those who were able to be last week during the UN’s periodic review of U.S. compliance with its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racism (CERD), Geneva was a place for imagining an America where human rights and racial justice are firmly enshrined and respected.

Almost seventy civil society representatives – not just advocates, but many who are directly affected by human rights violations – came from all corners of the U.S.:  from Alaska to Wyoming, from Arizona to Louisiana, from Albany to Chicago.  The U.S. government sent a sizeable delegation numbering over twenty, that included appointees at the Ambassador and Assistant Secretary levels as well as many Deputy Assistant Secretaries from an alphabet soup of agencies (DOI, HHS, DHS, DOE, DOL, State, to name a few).  As in recent years, the U.S. delegation also included local government representatives, this time the Mayor of Atlanta and representatives of the California Attorney General’s office.

A lot has happened in the eight years since the last U.S. CERD review in 2014, and it was a diminished United States that appeared before the CERD Committee.  News reports of the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago hung in the air, a reminder of the lasting damage done by the prior Administration.  That damage is not only domestic but also international.  Several members of U.S. civil society were in the room when representatives of the Benin government, also being reviewed under CERD last week, responded to Committee queries about their government by noting that at least they had not had an attempted coup! 

Yet Geneva served its purpose of bringing U.S. civil society and government to neutral ground to air serious concerns, under the moderating guidance of CERD Committee experts from such far-flung places as South Africa, Mauritania, Qatar, and Germany.  The American expert on the Committee, Gay McDougall, was present for the exchanges, but recused from the Committee’s deliberations.

The most remarkable exchange occurred outside of the UN hearing rooms, at an event at the U.S. Mission.  What the government delegation had planned as an orderly, Question-and-Answer session with pre-submitted questions, instead turned into a frank and emotional exchange between those most affected by human rights violations – indigenous peoples denied their autonomy and dignity, those experiencing the legacy of slavery and the reality of ongoing racism – and the government representatives, many of whom identified with these same communities.   For those in the room, it seemed like a watershed moment of speaking truth to power.

At the CERD Committee’s review the next day, some of that spirit carried forward, but for the most part, the review returned to business as usual.  The Committee asked pointed questions about issues such as reparations, indigenous rights, abortion, and human rights abuses at the border, and the U.S. delegation slow-talked through their pre-prepared answers.  

Of course, the U.S.’s complicated federal system sometimes ties the hands of the Executive.  On abortion, for example, the Biden administration defended the fundamental right in court, and has made efforts to use what federal power is available to maintain abortion access in some form.  The current Supreme Court majority has shown little interest in human rights law, and the states that have banned abortion since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision feel no compunction about defying human rights norms.  And in retrospect, members of civil society could have done more to protect the federal right while it was standing.  Yet in the CERD forum, it is the Biden Administration – not the Courts, Congress, the states, or civil society -- that must respond to Committee criticism about the U.S. backsliding.

While the Administration’s hands are tied in some areas, there was hope that the CERD review could be the occasion for a special announcement or a new initiative, such as a National Plan of Action on racial justice.  Instead, the Administration often responded to CERD Committee questions with anecdotes of cases that showed positive outcomes for individuals, but did not address system-wide issues that plague areas such as education, labor, health, immigration, indigenous rights, and so on.

In the end, then, Geneva is a place for imagining, a place where civil society and government representatives are all far from home and off-balance, and are perhaps therefore able to hear more completely and speak more openly. Those moments of clarity are valuable.  But what ultimately matters is what happens when everyone involved returns to face the realities at home.  Will the CERD review serve as an organizing tool, or a basis for following up with government representatives, including the mayor of Atlanta and the California Attorney General?  Will the U.S. Government’s listening lead to action?  If the impact of the CERD review remains in Geneva, it will have been a wasted effort on all sides.              

August 16, 2022 in CERD, Martha F. Davis, United Nations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

What Else is “Egregiously Wrong”?

By Martha F. Davis, University Distinguished Professor, Northeastern University School of Law, co-director, Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy


Reading Justice Alito’s opinion in Dobbs v. JWHO, I was struck by the reference to Geduldig v. Aiello (1974).  In dismissing the possibility of an equal protection challenge to abortion restrictions, the Dobbs majority opined that no heightened equal protection review would be available to scrutinize abortion policies because Aiello and its progeny made clear that pregnancy discrimination was not a type of sex discrimination.  Aiello concerned California’s failure to include pregnancy as a compensable disability in its unemployment insurance program.  In contrast, the law compensated men for disabilities caused by ailments and procedures that affected men alone: for example, vasectomies, circumcision, and prostatectomies.  Here is a key passage from that case:

"While it is true that only women can become pregnant, it does not follow that every legislative classification concerning pregnancy is a sex-based classification like those considered in Reed, and Frontiero. . . . Absent a showing that distinctions involving pregnancy are mere pretexts designed to effect an invidious discrimination against the members of one sex or the other, lawmakers are constitutionally free to include or exclude pregnancy from the coverage of legislation such as this on any reasonable basis, just as with respect to any other physical condition."

We now recognize a broader range of people who may experience pregnancy, but Aiello’s ruling still stands for the proposition that the disparate impact of abortion restrictions on women does not matter, absent proof of invidious discriminatory intent.

Just how difficult it is to prove the requisite intent was made clear in the case of Bray v. Alexandria Women’s Health Clinic (1993).  There, the claim made was that the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, which engaged in massive and often violent clinic blockades, acted with invidious discriminatory intent in violation of the Ku Klux Klan Act, 42 U.S.C. s. 1985(3).  John Roberts (yes, that John Roberts) appeared on behalf of the U.S. government to argue in support of Operation Rescue.  Justice Scalia’s opinion for the Court rejected the idea that the violent protests directed against people seeking abortions could be connected to sex discrimination.  Wrote Scalia:

"Some activities may be such an irrational object of disfavor that, if they are targeted, and if they also happen to be engaged in exclusively or predominantly by a particular class of people, an intent to disfavor that class can readily be presumed. A tax on wearing yarmulkes is a tax on Jews. But opposition to voluntary abortion cannot possibly be considered such an irrational surrogate for opposition to (or paternalism towards) women."

The Bray case dealt with a private conspiracy that aimed to, but realistically could not, shut off all possibility of obtaining an abortion.  But a law like that recently enacted in Oklahoma, that completely bans the choice to have an abortion, goes beyond mere opposition.  Isn’t it tantamount to a ban on yarmulkes?  Isn’t it impossible to disentangle any “good faith” motive – credited by Justice Scalia -- from the means employed in Oklahoma and other states, which deny women decision making authority over their own bodies?  Isn’t this the very definition of paternalism?

In 2012, Justice Ginsberg raised the alarm over the Aiello decision in her dissent in Coleman v. Maryland Court of Appeals.  The case involved the Family and Medical Leave Act, specifically whether in enacting the law, Congress was addressing a pattern of state constitutional violations that would support Congress’s abrogation of state sovereign immunity with respect to the FMLA’s self-care provision.  The majority said no, that because both men and women took medical leave, Congress was not responding to evidence of sex discrimination by the states.

 Justice Ginsburg, however, recognized the unique risks of discrimination faced by pregnant employees.  According to Justice Ginsburg, "‘childbearing is not only a biological function unique to women. It is also inextricably intertwined with employers’ stereotypical views about women’s commitment to work and their value as employees.’ Because pregnancy discrimination is inevitably sex discrimination, and because discrimination against women is tightly interwoven with society’s beliefs about pregnancy and motherhood, I would hold that Aiello was egregiously wrong to declare that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is not discrimination on the basis of sex."

In recent years, we have seen other Supreme Court dissents gradually transform into majority opinions.  Importantly, Aiello has been almost uniformly rejected by state courts when they consider whether the disparate impact of pregnancy discrimination on women constituted sex discrimination.  The Aiello opinion has been repeatedly criticized by scholars.  The approach has been rejected internationally.  It has been substantively cited by the U.S. Supreme Court only a few times.  It is, to invoke Justice Alito’s Dobbs language, “exceedingly weak.”  As long as precedents are on the chopping block, perhaps Aiello should be the next to fall.

June 28, 2022 in Martha F. Davis, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 25, 2021

The SDGs, Voluntary National Reviews and Human Rights

Davis-martha-800x800-1-1024x1024By Martha Davis, Northeastern University School of Law

The U.S. has yet to prepare a Voluntary National Review as part of the international push to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  However, three U.S. cities -- New York, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh -- have taken up the challenge by preparing their own Voluntary Local Reviews (VLRs).  Orlando has promised to issue its VLR in the near future, and other U.S. cities may be coming on line over time.  These U.S. cities are not alone.  Around the world, dozens of cities have prepared their own VLRs, often in dialogue with their corresponding national governments’ reports.

Preparing a VLR is a significant undertaking, and these cities are to be particularly commended for filling a void left by U.S. inaction.  As these cities have recognized, the SDGs cannot possibly be met without participation at every level of government, a fact that was stressed repeatedly at the recent UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development that reviewed several national SDG reports.

Still, there is more that U.S. human rights advocates and cities themselves can do to ensure that the VLR processes lead to the transformation needed to reach sustainability.

In a new report, Northeastern Law School’s Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy (PHRGE) examines these three U.S. cities’ treatment of SDG #6, on access to water and sanitation.  Because the SDGs are intended to incorporate human rights, the report uses a human rights lens to analyze the VLRs’ treatment of water and sanitation, both of which have the status of independent human rights. 

As an initial matter, some of the VLRs fail to even acknowledge the human rights underpinnings of SDG #6, an omission that will ultimately undercut the effectiveness of these local initiatives.  Without a fixed place for human rights considerations, it may be all to easy to pursue laudable end goals without taking proper account the human impacts. 

Further, the VLRs vary widely in the level of community engagement that they pursued as the cities identified goals and implementation strategies. Again, the human rights principles that inform the SDGs demand significant outreach and opportunities for input at every stage.  As cities update their VLRs in the future, they will have the chance to improve this aspect of their process. 

This small study demonstrated that there is an important role for human rights advocates to play in developing city-level VLRs.  As SDG implementation goes forward, we urge human rights advocates to recognize the opportunities presented by the VLR process and to work with local governments to ensure that the pursuit of sustainability includes consideration of local human rights.

July 25, 2021 in Martha F. Davis | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, May 2, 2021

New Report Evaluating Boston's Responses to DV and Housing Crisis During COVID-19

Northeastern Law School's Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy (PHRGE) and Domestic Violence Institute have just released a new report that uses human rights standards to evaluate Boston's responses to DV and housing during COVID-19.

From Martha F. Davis, Co-Director of PHRGE, and Co-Editor of this blog:

Boston is a Human Rights City, and we used work of the Special Rapporteurs on Housing and Violence Against Women to inform an evaluation of Boston policies.  It's not all bad, but Boston definitely falls short in developing innovative and can improve its efforts to establish effective ways for women to report abuse,  to maintain disaggregated data that could help with targeted programs, and to involve those most effected in policymaking.  There's much to be gained by adopting a human rights-based approach to these issues as well as drawing from comparative examples.

We hope that this will spur some new thinking and action in Boston, and also serve as a model for similar evaluations in other human rights cities around the country.


May 2, 2021 in Domestic Violence, Martha F. Davis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Event: Northeastern Law's Roundtable program honoring the life and work of Mariah McGill

By Martha F. Davis

On World Health Day, April 7, from 12:10 – 1:30 pm., Northeastern Law School’s Program on Human Rights and the Global Economic (PHRGE) and the Center for Health Law and Policy will host a special Roundtable program honoring the life and work of Mariah McGill, NUSL '09.  Mariah, who had served as PHRGE’s Assistant Director, was fatally struck by a car on October 26, 2020. At the time of the accident, Mariah was a regional coordinator at Building Bright Futures in Williston, VT, and a senior fellow of PHRGE.

Mariah was passionate supporter of the human right to health, as reflected in her writings and activism. On April 7, Roundtable speakers will present their work and discuss the connection to Mariah's research and efforts. In this way, the event will build on Mariah's legacy and commitment to health equity and human rights.

Speakers include Professor Martha Davis (NUSL), Professor Gillian MacNaughton (UMass Boston), Esther Kamau (UMass Boston), and Dr. Anja Rudiger (Partners for Dignity and Rights).   More information and program registration is available here

March 30, 2021 in Martha F. Davis | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)