Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Human Rights City Strategies for Protecting People's Rights and Dignity

The May 11th date for the U.S. Government UPR review has been postponed by the pandemic, and it is now scheduled for November 9th.  Likewise, the Gwangju World Human Rights Cities Forum, scheduled for May 17-20 in Korea, has been postponed to October.  

Happily, the UPR Cities Project has stepped in to fill the void.  Throughout the summer, the Project will be organizing monthly webinars to help local groups build capacities to use global human rights to amplify local work to protect people's rights and dignity.  First on the schedule:  

  • Monday May 11: 4:00-5:15PM Eastern/ 1:00-2:15PM Pacific: Protecting People & Advancing Dignity Economies—Human Rights City Strategies
The May 11th date for the U.S. Government UPR review has been postponed by the pandemic, but in its place the UPR Cities Project is organizing a virtual gathering to help community advocates learn how to use the UPR review process to advocate for their communities.  Speakers will report on the world’s first national cities stakeholder report to the UN. Organizers from New Orleans, Washington DC, and Pittsburgh will show how the UPR can help local organizing. And speakers will address the Southern Mayors’ Human Rights Agenda and how it can help define the kind of post-COVID-19 city everyone needs.  Participants will learn about using the UPR process to organize locally and bring global pressure on national and local officials through the UPR Cities Project.
More information about how to participate in the webinar is available here.

May 5, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 4, 2020

Artificial Intelligence and the UDHR

Science fiction fans will be familiar with Isaac Asimov's three laws of robotics, designed to keep Artificial Intelligence actors from harming humans (think of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey): 

  • A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm
  • A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws

But as AI has become more sophisticated, and the ethical challenges expand beyond harm to humans, scientists are looking elsewhere for ethical guides for AI.  One suggestion is that AI be designed to conform to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  In fact, Utopia Analytics, based in Finland, has published an ethical AI manifesto based on the UDHR. 

On the other side, UDHR cynics believe that the UDHR simply doesn't provide an adequate framework for resolving complex conflicts between human rights.  They offer more nuanced ethical analyses as an alternative that can resolve these conflicts.  But on the downside, these more nuanced analyses do not have the same universal buy-in that is enjoyed by the UDHR.  Further, ethical standards such as fairness are arguably more vague than the human rights principles that embody those concepts, and that have enjoyed years of application and interpretation.

At the very least, the UDHR and other human rights agreements can provide a starting point for the development of AI ethics.  As stated by Mark Latonero of Data & Society: "In order for AI to benefit the common good, at the very least its design and deployment should avoid harms to fundamental human values. International human rights provide a robust and global formulation of those values."  Where it goes from there remains subject to lively debate.



May 4, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 3, 2020

US Does Little To Protect Incarcerated People From COVID

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.



May 3, 2020 in Incarcerated, Margaret Drew, Prisons | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Worth(y) Reading

The latest issue of the American Bar Association's Human Rights magazine has hit the stands, focusing on the theme of immigration from all angles.  Articles address immigration in the Trump era, gender issues in asylum law, efforts to undermine judicial independence in immigration courts, justice at the border, DACA, and many more topics.  Congresswoman Judy Chu is the issue's Human Rights Hero, as sponsor of the No Ban Act fighting the Muslim Ban.  Check it out!

April 30, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

What Countries Care Most About Human Rights?

Perhaps it's a case of rankings overkill, but US News and World Report now ranks the Best Countries, in addition to the Best Colleges and pretty much anything else they can think to rank.  One of the components of this US News ranking is a Citizenship sub-ranking, which includes grades for caring about human rights, caring about the environment, providing gender equality, being seen as progressive, being seen as offering religious freedom, respecting property rights, being trustworthy and having well-distributed political power.

So how did countries rank in terms of Caring about Human Rights?  You won't be surprised to learn that the top 5 were the Netherlands, Sweden, Canada, Denmark, and Finland.   The U.S. ranked 18th.  The United Arab Emirates finished last among the 73 countries assessed for being seen to care about human rights.

Universities spend lots of money and time trying to inch up in the US News rankings.  Is it conceivable that the U.S. would embark on a campaign to raise its US News Human Rights Ranking?  What would it take?

April 29, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Human Mobility In The Time of COVID

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.

April 28, 2020 in Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 27, 2020

U.S. COVID-19 Responses Must Prioritize Sanitation for Rural Communities

In the U.S., Black, Latinx, and indigenous communities that have historically lacked access to sanitation will be hardest hit by COVID-19, and will have the most difficult time recovering.

By Bamisope Adeyanju & Aroosa Khokher, Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic, New York

The COVID-19 pandemic makes it clearer than ever that access to water and sanitation is vital for public health. To protect against the virus, and prevent its spread, everyone must have access to these basic rights, regardless of race or socioeconomic status.

The World Health Organization recently warned that a lack of safe water and failing sanitation systems allow coronavirus and other diseases to fester and spread. Containment of the virus requires handwashing and sanitary disposal of fecal matter. For this, affordable access to water is essential.

This is bad news for the United States. Across the country, more than 1.5 million people lack the water and sanitation systems necessary for preventative steps, such as handwashing, and are exposed to feces on a regular basis. Wastewater infrastructure is failing, inadequate, and in some cases, non-existent — earning the U.S. a D+ grade in 2017. The municipal infrastructure meant to service the majority of homes is crumbling. One in five households are responsible for their own on-site sewage systems. These are costly to install and maintain, and prone to failure. Those who cannot afford on-site systems often resort to “straight-piping,” constructing makeshift pipes that direct waste from homes into yards. The burden of securing sanitation falls heavily on residents who often lack the means to afford the systems or repairs they need. Residents of Centreville, Illinois, Lowndes County, Alabama, and Riverside County, California — all majority-Black and Latinx — have seen raw sewage back up into their households and yards. Residents of the Alaskan Native community of Kivalina have no septic system, instead emptying their waste into pots multiple times per day. These communities are the rule, not the exception; we see the same conditions nationwide in Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, and the Navajo Nation, among others.  

Recent news has highlighted that rural communities that lack access to water and sanitation are especially susceptible to COVID-19. A study from the Journal of the American Medical Association released in March found live specimens of the COVID virus in feces. Water shutoffs in response to late payments — which disproportionately impact communities of color — further contribute to the spread of coronavirus. Measures to stop the virus must reflect a deeper understanding of how we got here.

Rural communities that lack access to adequate and affordable sanitation faced health risks long before COVID-19 reached the United States. In Martin County, Kentucky, inadequate sanitation is tied to high rates of disease and bacteria. Data from Lowndes County reveals that exposure to raw sewage correlates to tropical diseases like hookworm, thought to have been eradicated in the U.S. Exposure is also linked to reproductive and developmental harm, acute infections, and diarrhea. Individuals living in constant proximity to the parasites and bacteria in human waste are more likely to develop dementia, diabetes, and cancer in the long run.

Without a federal framework that protects and prioritizes the rights to water and sanitation for all, the drastic disparities that put lives and health at risk will continue. Failure to take action now will amplify the impact of COVID-19 and resign communities to poor health outcomes as a matter of policy.

 While the situation is dire, positive momentum illustrates that change is possible. Already, 90 U.S. cities and states have suspended water shutoffs during the coronavirus pandemic. This is welcome, but it is not enough. The federal government must incentivize all states and localities receiving federal funds to end water shutoffs, and eliminate any fees for ongoing service. It is also essential to ensure that those denied water and sanitation before COVID-19 can enjoy these basic human rights. Funding to improve municipal and on-site systems should be increased, and actually accessible to small communities and households. Broader solutions must account for those that are homeless or housing-insecure, for whom water and sanitation are constantly out of reach. California has already recognized the human right to water in state law. A number of cities have also developed water affordability schemes.  States and cities should follow these examples and continue to pave the way towards durable solutions. 

Bamisope Adeyanju and Aroosa Khokher work to advance racial justice & economic and social rights in the United States as members of the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic, under the supervision of JoAnn Kamuf Ward, director of the Human Rights in the U.S. Project at the Law School’s Human Rights Institute. The Clinic co-authored the 2019 report, Flushed and Forgotten: Sanitation and Wastewater in Rural Communities in the U.S.


April 27, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals: Minimum Education is a Federal Constitutional Right

In a landmark ruling issued last week, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held, in a 2-1 decision, that the federal constitution mandates that public schools provide a basic minimum level of education as a matter of substantive due process.  The case, Gary B. v. Whitmer,  arose from a student-led challenge to grossly inadequate education in the Detroit public schools.  The federal district court dismissed the complaint on a motion to dismiss, concluding that there was no fundamental right to education.  On appeal, the Sixth Circuit court opined: 

"Plaintiffs contend that access to literary, as opposed to other educational achievements, is a gateway milestone, one that unlocks the basic exercise of
other fundamental rights, including the possibility of political participation. While the Supreme Court has repeatedly discussed this issue, it has never decided it, and the question of whether such a right exists remains open today. After employing the reasoning of these Supreme Court cases and applying the Court’s substantive due process framework, we recognize that the Constitution provides a fundamental right to a basic minimum education.  Access to a foundational level of literacy—provided through public education—has an extensive historical legacy and is so central to our political and social system as to be “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.”  In short, without the literacy provided by a basic minimum education, it is impossible to participate in our democracy." (citations omitted).

In reaching this conclusion, the Court of Appeals brought U.S. practice closer to the values espoused in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (signed bit not ratified by the U.S.), which provides in Article 13 that:

"The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to education. They agree that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, and shall strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms." 

There may be further consideration of the case before the Sixth Circuit, should the court decide to review the decision en banc.  Ultimately, the case may end up in the Supreme Court.  The attorney arguing the case for the students, Carter Phillips, is a veteran of the Supreme Court bar, suggesting that the litigants expect the case to end up in the high court.


April 26, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 23, 2020

UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Seeks Input

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Dubravka Šimonović, in her thematic report to be presented to the UN General Assembly in September 2020 will address States’ responsibility to criminalize and prosecute rape as a grave and systematic human rights violation and gender based violence against women, in line with international human rights standards.  Submissions are due by May 20, 2020.

The Special Rapporteur indicates that the aim of the report is to collect as much information as possible on the criminalization and prosecution of rape, and to thereby support and encourage a process of harmonization of national criminal laws and systems and practice with international standards on rape and sexual violence in both peacetime and during conflicts.

In her report, the Special Rapporteur intends to provide recommendations to States and other stakeholders on key international human rights standards that should be integrated in national criminal justice responses in order to harmonize them with accepted international standards; to provide access to justice and support for victims of rape; to break the cycle of impunity; and to prosecute perpetrators, ensuring that they are not protected by hidden domestic norms that are still part of criminal law or criminal procedure.

The Special Rapporteur has developed a questionnaire to elicit relevant data from States, human rights bodies, and civil society.  More information, including the questionnaire, is available here.

April 23, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Gratitude in The Time of COVID-19

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!

April 22, 2020 in Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Who We've Lost to COVID-19

The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) reports on the COVID-19 related death of Jerry Givens, who performed 62 executions during his time as a Virginia Corrections Officer, but later became an outspoken critic of the death penalty.

According to Michael Stone, executive director of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Givens "was one of the very few executioners who was willing to speak publicly about his experience, and how that experience changed him over time so that he became a passionate critic and opponent of the death penalty.” 

More background on Givens' journey to anti-death penalty advocate is here.

According to the DPIC news release, just weeks before his death, Givens sent a message to DPIC:  “With this Coronavirus that has taken control over our Country,” he wrote, “executions should be the last thing on the list. Let us join together and pray that things will get better.”

In fact, news reports indicate that some states are refusing to turn over sedatives, painkillers and other drugs that could help COVID-19 patients, instead preferring to save those drugs for the day when executions resume and the drugs can be used to kill rather than to heal.  

April 21, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 20, 2020

In The Name of COVID-19 - More on Reproductive Rights

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. 


April 20, 2020 in Gender Oppression, Margaret Drew, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Poverty, COVID-19, and Human Rights

The UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Philip Alston, has called on the U.S. government to recognize and address the economic disparities that exacerbate the impacts of the pandemic in the U.S.  Said the Special Rapporteur in a statement issued on April 16, “The United States should provide immediate relief, such as rental assistance and suspensions of debt collection and evictions, as well as long-term solutions to protect rights and combat insecurity, such as a green stimulus, a living wage and cancellation of student debt. This is a moment to re-evaluate failing health, housing and social support systems that have made this crisis especially painful for the less well-off.” 

Alston conducted a formal visit to the U.S. in 2017, and at that time issued a hard-hitting report on economic inequality in the U.S., emphasizing the ways in which it undercuts American democracy, and the civil and political rights that the nation claims to embrace.  As the Special Rapporteur pointed out in his earlier report, "The United States is one of the world’s richest, most powerful and technologically innovative countries; but neither its wealth nor its power nor its technology is being harnessed to address the situation in which 40 million people continue to live in poverty."

As Alston notes, the current crisis presents an opportunity to change that pattern if we can muster the political will.  

April 19, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 17, 2020

Reproductive Rights and COVID19

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. 

April 17, 2020 in Margaret Drew, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Racial Justice, Restoration and Inclusion

Registration is now open for the 2020 BHRH Lawyers' Network Annual Human Rights in the US Symposium/CLE.  This year's program,  Racial Justice, Restoration and Inclusion: Human Rights Principles and Local Practice, will take place on May 1st. 

 Participants are eligible for 3 New York CLE credits for this live virtual program.  A detailed agenda is here.  You can register here (click the "register" button at the bottom of the page).

The event is co-sponsored by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute, the CUNY International Human Rights & Gender Justice Clinic, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the New York City Commission on Human Rights, the Northeastern Law School Program on Human Rights & the Global Economy, Social Justice Initiatives (SJI),  the US Human Rights Network, and the Columbia Law School Human Rights Law Review  

The event is open to all, and free for attorneys and persons who are serving in public interest organizations (including government, academic, and non- and not-for profit organizations) or those experiencing financial hardship.  However, space is limited, so please register to save your spot. 



April 16, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Freedom of Association in the Time of the Coronavirus

by Professors Kimberley Brownlee (Warwick) and James Nickel (U. Miami), guest contributors

Because of the risk of illness and death from COVID-19, we are now enduring a long season of social constriction. In many places, we have moved from the comparatively mild practice of social distancing, where we keep others at a safe distance, to the more extreme situation of living in a lockdown and shutdown. In this lockdown, we are legally required to stay at home except for a few departures to obtain essential goods and services. And, under the shutdown, most businesses, schools, restaurants, sports events, and recreational facilities are closed. These sorts of restrictions are ones which most of us have never known on a small scale, let alone on a global scale.

These measures limiting our contact with other people seem to violate our freedom of association, which is freedom to choose whether to associate with other people at all and, when we do choose to associate, to choose which particular people to have as our associates. Freedom of association is an enumerated human right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 20) declares that: (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and (2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Attempts to ‘flatten the curve’ and slow the spread of the virus have limited not only whom we can be with, but also what we can do together. Current restrictions on our freedom of movement, for example, profoundly limit our associative activities. We cannot attend a parent’s funeral, visit sick or aged relatives, go out for dinner with a group, or even congregate in a park for a picnic or a protest against our government’s response to the virus. Restrictions on our freedom of movement render assembly difficult if not impossible. And, banning assemblies of large groups severely limits our freedoms to associate for expressive and political purposes.

Lockdowns can heighten our feelings of loneliness and disconnection. Isolation – even voluntary self-isolation – is often painful to us because we are a deeply social species. Isolation is also risky, as older people who live alone know all too well. Prolonged social isolation can trigger loneliness which, when chronic and acute, is correlated with health risks like increased blood pressure, reduced immunity, self-harm, alcoholism, and suicidal thoughts.

With all that said, reasonable limits on our freedoms of association and movement during the pandemic are necessary and permissible. The European Convention on Human Rights, for example, includes a right to freedom of association but with qualifications that allow it to be balanced against a variety of other values including the protection of health. The right to freedom of movement has similar qualifications. To be permissible, however, limitations during emergencies must be necessary, proportional, and non-discriminatory.

Morally we have duties to reach out to lonely and isolated people who have a great need for social connections while also having a low supply of associates and little capacity to do much about it. We have social-assistive duties in ordinary times too, but we have them even more

pressingly now during this pandemic, because isolated people’s ways to alleviate their own suffering are fewer and their needs greater.

During this period of lockdowns and shutdowns, our ability to visit lonely people physically is greatly restricted, but reaching out to them through other means remains possible. Furthermore, those of us who are at home, but not working from home may have greater free time to engage in outreach. Staying connected with others in a variety of ways gives us valuable activities that can supplement – or replace – the couch-surfing we tend to do when we are at loose ends. Our own isolation can make us more receptive to unsolicited bids for connection. In all of these ways, we can be useful to each other. Supporting other people is one of the primary ways we can find meaning and value in our lives.

Undeniably, motivations matter morally and legally. But, our best motivations display a double harmony in which we support others and ourselves simultaneously. It would be perverse to see all of our efforts to support other people as cloaked egoism. Feeling pleasure and self-worth in supporting others is a legitimate companion effect of supporting others for their own sake. When people give us a chance to be useful to them, they benefit us: social connections are highly reciprocal. And, one way to show that we’re not just ‘using’ the people we reach out to is to stay connected with them once this crisis passes.

April 15, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

At Last. DOJ Finds NJ Women's Prison Violates Constitutional Rights

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.  

April 14, 2020 in Gender Violence, Margaret Drew, Prisons | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 13, 2020

The Centrality of Economic and Social Rights is Crystal Clear, Yet the State Department Expresses Skepticism

Frequent contributing editor JoAnn Kamuf Ward has just posted this piece on the Just Security blog, analyzing what COVID-19 should teach us about the importance of economic and social rights.  The current U.S. administration has repeatedly expressed skepticism about such basic rights, labeling them "ad hoc."  Yet, as Kamuf Ward writes,

"In countries around the world, we see how failure to ensure access to water and sanitation makes already marginalized populations even more vulnerable to risk of illness. In the U.S., the lack of access to adequate and affordable water and sanitation, which results from neglect and exclusion, disproportionately impacts black, Latinx, and indigenous communities. These communities now must weather the worst of the pandemic

The disparities so clearly before us today cannot be addressed in the absence of laws and policies calibrated to protect economic and social rights. Despite this reality, which is firmly grounded in international human rights law, the Trump administration continues its efforts to downplay the significance of economic and social rights and evade responsibility to protect them. The public face of this effort is the Unalienable Rights Commission, launched in July of 2019 by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo." 

Many supporters of economic and social rights are organizing to ensure that the Commission hears their views during its deliberations.  Submissions to the Commission should be sent as soon as possible to commission@state.gov. 

A number of submissions have already been filed, including from the Columbia Human Rights Institute highlighting human rights to water and sanitation.   

April 13, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 12, 2020

New Report on H2A Temporary Visa Program

UPenn Law Professor Sarah Paoletti sends along this post.

At a time when we’re all particularly worried about the health and safety of our loved ones, first responders, and vulnerable communities across the United States (and across the globe), I want to bring your attention to a report just released by Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (CDM) on the H-2A program, Ripe for Reform: Abuses of Agricultural Workers in the H-2A Visa Program, highlighting the ways in which the current H2A temporary worker program fails to ensure the basic human rights of another group of first responders at risk – the individuals who work to put food on our table. Based on 100 in-depth interviews with H-2A farmworkers, Ripe for Reform is a survey-based report on the conditions faced by migrant workers in the H-2A temporary agricultural program. In addition to finding stark violations of workers’ rights, the report documents how the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the existing systemic inequities in the program, stranding workers in Mexico and endangering them on the job. You can read the report here. 

Here are a few startling findings from the interviews with respondents: 

  • 100% experienced at least one serious legal violation of their rights, and 94% experienced three or more.
  • 86% said that women were either not hired or were offered less favorable pay or less desirable jobs than men
  • 45% experienced overcrowded and/or unsanitary housing conditions.
  • 35% did not have necessary safety equipment to do the job
  • 43% were not paid the wages they were promised

Please join CDM in amplifying these conditions faced by migrant workers and calling for necessary protections by sharing content from our social media toolkit. Make sure to tag CDM!

April 12, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Testing COVID Meds On Prisoners

While many state and federal prisons still resist the release of low-risk incarcerated people,including elderly and seriously ill, the Bureau of Prison just purchased $60,000 worth of hydroxychloroquine, the coronavirus treatment promoted by President Trump for an off label use.  The drug has not been approved by the FDA for treating the virus nor have any clinical trials been done. A limited amount has been authorized for treating coronavirus patients.

Yahoo News reported that "The nation's top infectious-disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House's coronavirus task force, has repeatedly warned that there is not enough evidence that the drug is effective, and that existing studies only provide "anecdotal evidence" and have been too small to prove the drug works."  The BOP gives the predictable reasons for the purchase. The BOP indicated that the drugs are intended to treat COVID-19 patients, although no word was given as to whether correctional officers will receive the treatment.  8 incarcerated individuals have died in federal prisons with at least 185 having tested positive.

The President has been promoting the drug for treatment and prophylactic purposes, without any clinical proof of effectiveness.  By all appearances the incarcerated will be the experiments for an unauthorized trial.  No reliable data is likely to come from the "experiment", just as no reliable data came from many other times the incarcerated's human rights have been violated in this country when their unwilling, and often unknowing, bodies were used for medical and psychological experiments. The President is determined to be a hero of the crisis and illegal and unethical use of the unapproved medication is how he will claim that status.  

Others caught in federal systems are likely to be subjected to the same experimentation as it is reported that the Veterans Administration purchased over $200,000 worth of the drug in the last couple of days.  Chilling.


April 9, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)