Sunday, November 1, 2020

Spiritual Essentialism: The Way Ahead

Turmoil is coming no matter the election's outcome.  A Biden victory does not equate with a return to calm.  We remain a divided nation and before the nation can move toward healing, there is trouble to pass through. The president is likely to declare victory before results are announced, and we have been forewarned that he will not leave easily. Many citizens, including many in government,  do not believe in democracy. The angry Americans are not going silent. But the rest of us must.

This is the time to return to our spiritual cores. Calm, centering, and self-reflection will serve us. Our defenses against fear must be sharp. Experts tell us that the most effective path to the coming turbulence is non-violent demonstration. Sustaining non-violence demands a strong spiritual core.  That is our essentialism for the coming times.

November 1, 2020 in Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Apply Yourself!

Applications are open for UN Special Procedures to be appointed at the 46th session of the Human Rights Council in Feb.-March 2021. Of special interest to our readers is the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which is seeking a member from North America. The deadline for submitting an application is November 27.  The current North American member is Kristen Carpenter, of University of Colorado School of Law.

October 29, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Colloquium on InterAmerican Human Rights Systems Begins on Thursday

For those interested in the Colloquium on InterAmerican  Human Rights Systems begins Thursday morning.  The program extends for two days and is free.  All discussions will be interpretted into both Spanish and English.

For more information and to register click here.


October 28, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Mashpee Nine

Image1As reported in Indian Country Today, author  Paula Peters documented  a brutal attack on nine Mashpee Wampanoag men.  The book is titled Mashpee Nine: A Book of Cultural Justice and is a companion to the documentary Mashpee Nine: The Beat Goes On.

The book documents a 1976 brutal tactical police attack on Wampanoag drummers that came at a time that the American Indian Movement had become a nationally recognized movement and as Native people sought the recognition and civil rights that alluded them (and still does) despite the Civil Rights Movement on the 1960s. The arrests and ensuing trial are significant in the history of Northeast tribes.  As Ms. Peters explains, the young men who were arrested are now elders and their story was in danger of being lost. 

While the Mashpee Wampanoags  have succeeded in obtaining tribal recognition, they continue  under assault from the Trump administration.  The ongoing white colonial oppression makes the history recorded in Mashpee Nine essential to understanding the white efforts to remove any power from the tribe.   Ms. Peters, who is Mashpee Wampanoag, informs on the history of Native people in the Northeast, particularly on Cape Cod. The tribe has ancient roots going back over 10,000 years.  Their history since white contact was one of the first to experience the aggression, forced Christianization, and other white attempts at reducing tribal numbers and influence.  The book presents an essential part of our histories.  

October 27, 2020 in Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 26, 2020

"The Squad" Demands UN Investigation of Border Abuses

On Friday, October 23, Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) and Ilhan Omar (MN-05) (also knowns as "The Squad") sent a letter to United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the United Nations Human Rights Council, and 14 UN Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council calling for an independent investigation into the recent, ongoing, and credible allegations of egregious human rights abuses committed by the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), its components, and its private contractors on the southern U.S. border.   

Joined by several other members of the House of Representatives as well as fifty-three domestic human rights organizations, the letter describes a litany of abuses, from family separation to indefinite detention to unncessary hysterectomies. 

No response has been reported as yet.  Still, these Representatives deserve praise for taking human rights seriously, and asking for a full and independent review rather than clinging to the tattered rags of so-called "American exceptionalism".  Unfortunately, if and when international human rights bodies try to take action, the current Administration may be unresponsive to international monitoring efforts.  Indeed, it has been several years since Special Procedures were admitted for an official visit. It's one of many things that we hope will change after the election. Meanwhile, calling out these incidents as human rights violations, as the Squad has done, is a step in the right direction.

The text of the letters is available here.


October 26, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Justice Barrett

If it has not happened yet as you read this, in a matter of hours Judge Amy C. Barrett will be approved to be Justice Barrett.  She fashions herself after Justice Scalia, for whom she clerked.  But Judge Barrett has neither the sophistication nor the humor that made Justice Scalia respected by his peers.  While there is no question that Justice Barrett will be welcomed by the other Supreme Court Justices, the future will tell if she will garner respect from Justices, Supreme Court scholars and advocates.

Replacing Justice Ginsburg with Justice Barrett is comparable to replacing Justice Marshall with Justice Thomas.  Ideologies of the deceased and replacement justices could not be further apart and likely would have offended both Justices Marshall and Ginsberg.  While Justice Barrett may view herself in Justice Scalia's jurisprudential lineage, she is at best a distant cousin.  Justice Barrett is most akin to Justice Thomas.  Her jurisprudence stems from her personal belief system and she is dogmatic in its application.  One hopes that she will be open to influence by her peers and open to debate; but her history does not portend acceptance to debate that might lead to alternative views.  Her views on abortion and other reproductive rights  are well known and have been incorporated into her rigid judicial judicial rationales.   Advocates of LGBTQ+ rights should worry, as well.  Justice Barrett will be the third justice to question whether marriage equality is grounded in constitutional rights. She gave paid speeches for an organization that advocates for criminalization of sex other than that between cisgendered heterosexual people. She served as trustee for a Christian school that declined to enroll children of same-sex parents and whose hiring practices discriminated against gay and lesbian teachers.

Whatever talents Justice Barrett might bring to the court,  an unbiased mind may not be among them.






October 25, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Eighteen States Deny Access to International Election Observers in Advance of Presidential Election

International election observers from the OSCE issued their preliminary report on October 22.  It is sobering reading, noting concerns about the peaceful transition of power based on the incumbent's statements as well as de facto and de jure disenfranchisement of many voters.  The report also notes that eighteen states disallow, as a matter of law, international election observers.  Those states are:  Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Minnesota, New Jersey, Texas, North Carolina, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

This seems to be an instance of state-level exceptionalism. Given the importance of ensuring a fair election, state advocates may want to mobilize in favor of more open policies before the next election. OSCE election observers can provide insights and expertise for improving voting procedures, and their presence can assist in establishing accountability for fair elections.

Why would 18 states deny these officials access as a matter of law? What are these states hoping to hide from the world? 

October 25, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 22, 2020

COVID-19 and the Right to Housing

Earlier this week, the new UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Balakrishnan Rajagopal, presented his first report to the General Assembly, titled COVID-19 and the Right to Housing: Impacts and the Way Forward.  The presentation, and comments by a number of country representatives, can be heard on UNTV, starting at 45:00.

Many of the Special Rapporteur's observations in his report relate directly to the United States.  For example, he notes:

"In the United States, a major concern has been the break-up of encampments by local governments contrary to official advice issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March 2020. Several municipalities, including New York City, Miami, Denver and Philadelphia – unlike others such as Reno, Oakland or Chico – have cleared encampments of homeless persons without providing adequate alternative accommodation or have conducted sweeps of homeless persons sheltering in subways or public places. Given that most homeless shelters in the United States are overcrowded, the policy of breaking up encampments makes little sense in terms of protecting people from COVID-19. While encampments for homeless persons are not in compliance with the requirement under international human rights law to provide safe and adequate housing to those who lack it, clearing them during the pandemic without providing alternatives and secure housing is a gross violation of the right to adequate housing, which infringes upon human dignity."

On this point, the Special Rapporteur recommends that States should, 

"House people experiencing homelessness in hotels, motels, second homes, dormitories and/or vehicles for the duration of the crisis and make plans
to move people to permanent housing rather than back on to the streets. Homelessness should be tackled through a sharp increase in the appropriation of funding for temporary housing and for the purchase or expropriation of empty or vacant property for permanent housing."

This is just one small piece of an aggressive proposal to address housing in the context of COVID-19.

The conversation will continue on October 30, at 9:30 EST, with a panel discussion including the Special Rapporteur and an international panel of academics, and activists.  More information and registration for the event is here.

October 22, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Dismantling Critical Race Theory

By now most are familiar with the Trump Administration Memorandum ordering the dismantling of all trainings intended to assist in eliminating racial bias.  The administration was clear that the order is intended to dismantle any trainings that emanate from critical race theory.   As one reporter noted “Trump has attacked diversity training, critical race theory, the 1619 project, and anything that reckons with America’s racist past.”

Hoping you have your sense of irony available, the memorandum says in part “These types of 'trainings' not only run counter to the fundamental beliefs for which our Nation has stood since its inception, but they also engender division and resentment within the Federal workforce…The President has directed me [Russell Voight of OMB to ensure that Federal agencies cease and desist from using taxpayer dollars to fund these divisive, un-American propaganda training sessions.”  The memo appears to have been influenced by the work of the Commission on Unalienable Rights. 

The sentiments are not surprising.  What is concerning – in addition to the elimination of training – is the memorandum’s written perverted reasoning of why the trainings are harmful.  The memorandum is a frightening authoritarian document denying the existence of white supremacy.  Reportedly government employees have been told that the training topics are not to be discussed in the workplace.  The instruction is the most concerning part of this change.  The instruction is a preview of what speech will be banned more broadly should this administration continue.     

October 20, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 19, 2020

Human Rights is on the Ballot

In his new book about President Jimmy Carter -- titled His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, A Life -- Jonathan Alter gives Carter his due as a President who, for all of his weaknesses, embraced international human rights not only in foreign policy but in setting domestic standards as well.  Alter's discussion of Carter's human rights legacy is set out in an excerpt recently published in Foreign Affairs.  Alter writes, President Carter made human rights "a permanent feature of global political discourse."

President Trump, of course, has threatened that legacy, pulling out of one international body after another - the Paris Accord, the Human Rights Council, the WHO -- undermining the work of others, and ignoring human rights violations occurring in plain sight.

Alter's book tells the story of Vice President Walter Mondale's toast after Carter's failed re-election bid: “We told the truth. We obeyed the law. We kept the peace.” These might have been modest accomplishments, but we can see now how important it is when a President adheres to basic tenets of human decency.

Now's the time.  Make a plan to vote.  And then vote!

October 19, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Architecture of Modern Authoritarianism at Home and Abroad

Join the University of Chicago's Pozen Family Center for Human Rights on Tuesday, October 20, for the annual Kirschner Lecture, titled From D.C. to Damascus: The Architecture of Modern Authoritarianism.  The event is free and virtual, but registration is required. 

The event description asks:

Why does authoritarianism persist? How does it become rooted in the social, political, and legal fabrics of a state as well as in the imagination, emotions, and memories of civil society—and how can we disrupt it and turn the tide? From the use (and possible abuse) of executive orders by the current U.S. administration to the Assad regime’s devastatingly effective disinformation campaigns in Syria, we are witnessing a worrying rise in authoritarianism both at home and abroad.  This conversation will center on the work of scholars Lisa Wedeen (Authoritarian Apprehensions: Ideology, Judgment, and Mourning in Syria) and Tom Ginsburg (How to Save a Constitutional Democracy), both of whom will be speaking, and whose writings and research seek to understand the challenges posed by authoritarian regimes around the world. 

October 18, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 16, 2020

Speaking from Experience: Personal Reflections on Vice President Biden's Long-term Committment to Addressing Violence Against Women

Professor Carrie Bettinger Lopez has an excellent piece in today's Miami Herald, drawing on her first-hand experiences working with Vice President Biden to combat violence against women.  She concludes that:

"October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Ending violence against women is a goal that everyone, regardless of politics, should be able to embrace. In our diverse Florida communities, we have every stripe of difference and every stripe of politics. The country needs so much healing now. Let’s not forget that other pandemic that has been smoldering under the radar for far too long. And let’s make the right choice on Nov. 3."

October 16, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 15, 2020

We're Being Watched!

As it has in past national elections, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has detailed election observers to monitor the US election.  Observers arrived in the U.S. on September 28 to begin their work, starting in Washington, D.C.  The 44 delegates -- 14 experts and 30 long-term observers -- are led by Ambassador Urszula Gacek (Poland).  COVID-19 has unfortunately reduced the numbers of observers and the duration of their monitoring, but the mission is proceeding despite this limitations.  More information about the OSCE monitoring plan for the US is here.

The Carter Center is also poised to monitor a U.S. election for the first time this fall.  The Center made the decision after the party conventions in August, citing a "backsliding" of American democracy that started a decade ago and has accelerated during the Trump administration."  More information on the Carter Center's efforts are here.

October 15, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Holding the U.S. Accountable for Housing, Homelessness, and Human Rights During COVID-19 

With eviction moratoria expiring every day all around the country despite rising COVID-19 cases, it is clearer than ever that housing is healthcare, and both are human rights. 

On November 9, the U.S. government will face the United Nations Human Rights Council for its every-four-year Universal Periodic Review on compliance with its human rights obligations. This presents an opportunity for advocates -- to push for attention to housing as a human right, to raise the need to divest from law enforcement and invest in housing, and to call out the federal, state, and local governments for abuses and failures to uphold the right to housing.

Want to learn more?  Join the National Homelessness Law Center, on Wednesday, October 21st, to hear from a panel of advocates working collectively with hundreds of other civil and human rights organizations about how they are using the process and how you may be able to use it in your community.

More information and registration is available here.


October 14, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The Case for Felon Voting Rights

Prof. Margaret Drew introduces UMass Law Student Abigaelle A. Ngamboma

Image1In Raysor v. DeSantis, a federal trial court in Florida struck down a state law that required persons formerly incarcerated for felonies to pay all court fees and costs before voting. This was cause for celebration until the state appealed the decision and the US. Court of Appeals for the 11th circuit ordered a stay to the trial court ruling until the appeals proceed. The appeal was met with protest and citizens urged the Supreme Court to uphold the trial court’s ruling, especially in lieu of an upcoming presidential election. The Supreme Court denied the citizens outcry, upholding the stay. This means that at this time, Floridians with a felony record cannot vote until they have paid their court costs, fines, fees, or any restitution.

Allowing persons formerly incarcerated for felonies to vote will increase the population of citizens who can participate in the democratic system. This is especially relevant because research shows that the close margin 2000 presidential election could have been altered had voting rights been extended to the disenfranchised in Florida.

There are various arguments against the constitutionality of disenfranchising those with felony records, such as the violation of the 15th amendment’s protection against voter denial on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude, and that of the 24th amendment’s protection against the need to pay a poll tax or other tax before voting in any primary election. While opponents argue that requirement to pay of fees is a part of the punishment, the financial hurdle limits the right to vote to the wealthy.

For example, felonies in Florida are classified in five different categories, and the court weighs various factors in determining which crimes are violent and nonviolent, such as the examining the nature of the offender’s primary offense, and if there was a victim who suffered injury. Instead of requiring the payment of fees before voting, the right to vote should be automatically restored upon the release of persons with nonviolent felony records, and those convicted with violent felonies should receive the right to vote after a statutorily set time. The statutory set time will serve as a grace period to examine improvement in the offender's character and reintegration in society.

The right to vote is one of the most fundamental rights that is granted to citizens of the United States. Although it is not inscribed in the U.S. constitution, it remains an expression of the freedom of choice and an opportunity to participate in the much-lauded democratic process. For the nonincarcerated persons with felony records in the U.S., the barriers and laws that are enacted to keep them from the voting ballots affect not only social dynamics, but political policies as well. Many States have shifted from permanent disenfranchisement to a more liberal stance, such as granting automatic approval upon release with certain condition and applying for a certificate of eligibility. Nevertheless, the U.S. is not a trailblazer in this area compared to other democratic countries, like Denmark, Canada, and Spain, where people charged with felonies can vote in prison. As of now, the U.S. only has two states that allow persons with felony records to automatically vote upon release, with no conditions attached. To this day, the concept of punishing individuals for their past illegal conduct is so ingrained in the criminal justice system that the concept follows individuals even when they have served their time and interferes with their ability to re-enter society as participating citizens.

The ultimate goal is not to encourage a lax stance on crime nor belittle the harm caused by the criminal conduct. It is about protecting the practice of a fundamental right from depending on the payment of a burdening fee and to not extend punishment to the point of permanent incapacitation.

October 13, 2020 in Voting | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, October 12, 2020

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Influence on Young People

Prof. Margaret Drew brings us this post by UMass Law student Sarah Pierson

Image1I don’t remember the first time I heard Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s name. By the time I was born, she had already spent four years on the Supreme Court and was well-established as a pioneer for gender equality. I remember hearing her name on the evening news when I was a child as my parents made dinner, and slowly beginning to understand her importance on the court. Years later when I was in high school, my aunt gifted me a t-shirt with Justice Ginsburg’s portrait and the words “The Notorious R.B.G” splashed across the front. To this day, it’s one of my favorite shirts and continues to remind me why I think Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a rockstar.

It’s difficult for me to articulate just how much Justice Ginsburg’s feminist jurisprudence means to me. Without her tireless and extensive work on gender and LGBTQ+ issues, many of my colleagues and I might not have the opportunity to study the law. My experiences as a young woman would be so incredibly limited and different if not for her unwavering courage to stand up for equality among the various and colorful sexes and sexualities represented across the country.

In her United States v. Virginia opinion, Justice Ginsburg boldly explained why the Virginia Military Institute’s male-only admissions policy was unconstitutional. While Virginia offered to create a separate and parallel program for women, Justice Ginsburg’s opinion points out that the two programs are far from equal. Women enrolled in the proposed program would not have access to equal opportunities when compared to the men’s program. In her opinion she wrote, “There is no reason to believe that the admission of women capable of all the activities required of VMI cadets would destroy the Institute rather than enhance its capacity to serve the ‘more perfect Union.’” Opinions such as this caught the attention of the young people that were most affected by it. Younger generations began to see her for more than her seat on the Court. They started to recognize her embodiment of the American dream, the powerful philosophy that states that no matter who you are or where you come from, you can aspire to greatness because that is your right.

To say that Justice Ginsburg was a rockstar among young people during her term on the Supreme Court is an understatement. In the eyes of many, mine included, she was an inspiration both in law and in life. Her work on the Supreme Court reflects strength, willpower, and a fierce determination to fight against the equally determined patriarchal society that constantly attempted to hold her back. I find it empowering that a tiny, Jewish woman from Brooklyn who experienced setback after setback could earn her place on the nation’s highest court and use that as a platform to stand and say “I dissent” for the world to hear.

It’s hard to fathom that the words “I dissent” can hold as much power as Justice Ginsburg gave them. Her dissents are fervent and are characterized by a boldness that, for centuries, women and minority groups have been discouraged from showing. Dissents such as those criticizing the Court’s opinions in the Gonzalez v. Carhart and Masterpiece Cake Shop cases serve as an example for future generations to continue her legacy of confronting barriers to true equality. Nearly all of her dissents echo the overarching theme of her career: that all citizens are entitled to equal protection under the laws of the United States. Whether that equality stems from a woman’s right to easily access an abortion, to a gay couple’s right to purchase a wedding cake regardless of their sexual identity, Justice Ginsburg fought for the individual freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution.

Before her passing, I proudly wore my “Notorious RBG” shirt anywhere I could. Every time I put it on, I felt powerful. It reminded me that I could control my own destiny and that I wasn’t limited because of how others compared me to men. This wasn’t a power that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or anyone else gave to me. It was a power that I felt entitled to because Justice Ginsburg believed I had a right to forge my own path in life. I know that I am not alone in feeling an immense gratitude for her feminist jurisprudence. Without it, I might not be a law student today. What truly made RBG “notorious” was her passion and warmth that so many young people aspire to have combined with her heartfelt belief that everyone has the right to forge their own path in life. I find comfort in the fact that her legacy will continue on for generations to come, and that her teachings, writings, and opinions will undoubtedly continue to inspire a new generation of notorious individuals.

October 12, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Bringing Mental Health To The Fore

By Co-Editor Professor Jonathan Todres

Image1October 10th marked World Mental Health Day. Although international days typically do not get much coverage in the United States, World Mental Health Day deserves attention this year due to the significant impact of COVID-19.

In the United States, the epicenter of the pandemic, COVID-19 related job losses, looming evictions, school closures, social isolation, and related issues have spurred stress, anxiety, depression, and other adverse mental health consequences.

The mental and behavioral health consequences have been particularly significant for single-parent families and families with young children. More broadly, evidence suggests that the pandemic is causing an increase in the number of children with mental health issues and worsening children’s existing mental health issues. In addition, COVID-19 related school closings have disrupted children’s access to mental health services. As reported in JAMA Pediatrics, “[A]mong adolescents who received any mental health services during 2012 to 2015, 35% received their mental health services exclusively from school settings.”

The short- and long-term mental health consequences of the pandemic are profound. Although the CARES Act included some funding for mental health services, the second round of stimulus is bogged down in political fighting while children and families continue to suffer. The delays in meeting children’s mental health needs could alter children’s life trajectories.

The occasion of World Mental Health Day highlights three critical shortcomings in the United States. First, we continue to overlook children. Instead of focusing on the safe reopening of schools—and children’s educational, social, and emotional wellbeing—many states have prioritized reopening bars and restaurants. Second, mental health continues to be largely ignored, which tragically is not a new problem in the US. And third, the failure of the U.S. government to embrace children's rights, and human rights mandates more broadly, leaves children and families at a disadvantage—having to rely on charity instead of being able to realize their inherent rights.

Progress on these issues ultimately will require a mindset shift and a recognition that children, mental health, and rights genuinely matter. That’s admittedly a long-term project, when most are focused on the election and events in the near term. But perhaps World Mental Health Day can help start (or rekindle) a dialogue on these underlying issues that are essential to improving the wellbeing of all individuals in the United States.

October 11, 2020 in Jonathan Todres | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States

Earlier this week, the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government published its new nonpartisan, evidence-based report, Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States.  The report includes 80 recommendations for federal, state and local policymakers laid out with the goal of building a more equal liberty for Americans today and in the future.  A video of the launch, which included remarks by Martha Minow, Albert Mora, Mathias Risse, and others, is available here.

The Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities Project is directed by John ShattuckCarr Center Senior Fellow and former US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.  Professor Michael Meltsner, who participated in developing the report, said that "the process was particularly demanding and thoughtful with a great deal of outreach. John Shattuck put together a broad network of researchers and commentators; he solicited feedback from diversity of sources and made adjustments on the basis of what he learned."

This blueprint for protecting and expanding citizens’ rights proposes policy changes to strengthen democratic processes; safeguard equal protection, equal opportunity, and due process of law; and better protect freedoms of speech, media, religion and privacy.  The Carr Center will continue to publish fifteen research reports in the coming months that expand upon specific rights domains in greater detail, including voting rights, money in politics, civic education, racial equality, women’s rights, and other areas of research.

October 8, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Honoring a Human Rights and Environmental Justice Warrior

by JoAnn Kamuf Ward, Columbia Law School, contributing editor

 Passionate. Pragmatic. Collaborative. Boundary Pushing. Tireless. These are some of the words that come to mind when I think of Catherine Coleman Flowers.  Yesterday, Catherine was named a 2020 MacArthur Fellow (often called a “genius” grant) - a well-deserved honor that we are thrilled to celebrate on the Human Rights at Home Blog.  

 I was privileged to meet Catherine in 2017, when she agreed to speak at a convening on using human rights standards and strategies to advance water and sanitation in the United States.  That was the same year that the American Society of Civil Engineers graded the United States a D+ for its failing and inadequate wastewater infrastructure.

 By 2017, Catherine was already working to elevate conversations on the human rights to water and sanitation, including by leveraging hearings at the Inter-American Commission, as part of the National Right to Water Coalition.  Catherine saw the human rights framework as a powerful tool to highlight and address the reality that in rural areas across the United States, communities were being systematically denied basic services, impacting mental and physical health and well-being. Misplaced penalties such as fines, or in some cases arrests, had long perpetuated a cycle of criminalization and poverty.  And the communities most in need were consistently unable to access the limited government funds available for sanitation and wastewater.  The persistent lack of adequate and affordable sanitation in rural communities result from past and present disinvestment, neglect, and in some cases, overt discrimination.  At the same time, climate change was devastating communities that lack sufficient and resilient infrastructure, including Lowndes County, Alabama, where Catherine’s work originated.  

 While Lowndes County is emblematic of the sanitation crisis, surfacing the national scope of the problem, and crafting solutions that prioritize the experience of the most impacted communities have been part of the ongoing effort to shape sustainable solutions, grounded in human rights principles.  To increase attention to the problem, and inform solutions, Catherine has engaged with Congress, worked with UN Special Rapporteurs, and raised sanitation and wastewater during the UPR process.  

 Catherine has taken an interdisciplinary and approach to her work on sanitation.  A partnership with Dr. Peter J. Hotez unearthed the connections between sewage and hookworm in Lowndes County, and led to a 2017 co-authored peer-reviewed study.  

 I have been personally privileged to work with Catherine to document the scope and breadth of the sanitation problem in the United States, and to connect this work to ongoing struggles for racial justice and basic rights in the United States, building on initial scholarship by Catherine and another long-standing collaborator and water and sanitation expert, Inga Winkler.  This scholarship complements ongoing advocacy to improve protection of economic and social rights in the United States, challenge discriminatory enforcement of wastewater violations, and fight for climate justice.  Serving on the Biden Sanders Unity Taskforce on Climate Change in 2020 is just one of the ways that Catherine’s knowledge and experience is shaping sustainable solutions today.  The MacArthur Fellowship recognizes Catherine’s innovative approach and her dedication, and will undoubtedly contribute to a broader rethinking of wastewater challenges in the context of human rights and environmental justice.

 More on Catherine from the MacArthur Foundation is here:


October 7, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Building on RBG's Human Rights Legacy

Ruth Bader Ginsburg began her academic career as a comparativist, writing about Sweden's Civil Procedure laws. In her work for the ACLU and later her judicial career, she continued to draw on comparative and international law as an inspiration for moving women's human rights forward in the U.S.  You can read all about it in this new blog for the American Constitution Society, written by HRAH Blog contributing editor Risa Kaufman and co-editor Martha Davis

October 6, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)