Slamming the door on refugees won’t make us more secure

Syrian Refugees Enes Reyhan via Flickr

The following opinion editorial written by The Advocates for Human Rights’ executive director Robin Phillips was published in the November 20 Star Tribune. Ms. Phillips’s o-ed responded to the Star Tribune’s editorial, “Carefully extend help for Syrian refugees,” November 18.

While the Star Tribune Editorial Board’s recent support for a pause in U.S. refugee processing may appear to be reasonable (“Carefully extend help for Syrian refugees,” Nov. 18) — especially when compared to the hateful rhetoric permeating the current political conversation — the position is based on faulty assumptions. The U.S. refugee system is well-equipped to ensure our safety without compromising our most deeply held American values.

First, the Editorial Board’s position assumes that the European citizens who masterminded recent acts of terror were somehow connected to the flow of refugees. In the search for a promise of security following this tragedy, some have made the leap that the threat lies in the refugees who are trying to escape the same violence that unfolded on the streets of Paris and Beirut. More than 50 percent of Syria’s entire population has been displaced from their homes by bombardment and civil war. Seventy-six percent of these refugees are women and children. Imagine 2 million children who have lost everything.

Second, the board’s position assumes that Europe’s abject failure to process refugees and its reliance on Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon to indefinitely house millions of people with dwindling international support can in any way be equated to the U.S. refugee processing system. Syrian refugees numbering more than 5 million have crowded into countries neighboring their homeland. Faced with a desperate future in limbo, thousands of refugees risk their lives in a perilous journey by boat in search of a stable future in Europe. Already this year, more than 2,500 refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean.

By contrast, the U.S. handpicks those allowed to resettle through the refugee resettlement system. Less than one half of one percent of the global refugee population — no more than 85,000 people out of nearly 20 million refugees — was allowed to resettle in fiscal year 2016.

Third, the board’s view rests on an unsupported notion that the current refugee system somehow is inadequate. Refugees entering the U.S. undergo the most rigorous security screening process of anyone who comes to the this country. They go through multiple layers of security checks involving the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of Defense, intelligence agencies and individual interviews. Refugees cannot enter the U.S. until they are cleared through this daunting process, which typically takes two years.

We understand the fear in the U.S. and in other countries. It is a harrowing time. But our impulse to slam the door in response to this violence will do nothing to make us more secure. Our only hope is in focused actions that address the reasons millions have fled their homelands.

The security of our country and its residents is paramount. Indeed, the U.S. has a duty to ensure the safety and security of those within its borders. But a knee-jerk abandonment of our commitment to refugee protection is not in line with our country’s history and values. No one should exploit horrific events that cause pain and fear to advance political agendas.

We do not want to close our nation off from the very groups of people who are best positioned to help identify those who mean to do us harm. Programs that profile based on ethnicity represent false solutions to real problems.

The U.S. has built a strong, multilayered process to ensure the security of its citizens and we should continue to invest in it, while acting on our responsibility to help address the refugee crisis. Accepting Syrian refugees is not an either/or situation. In the U.S., we can continue to welcome refugees while ensuring our own security. We must do both. Standing with the victims of the attacks in Paris, Beirut and elsewhere, and standing with the refugees, means standing for fundamental human rights.

By: Robin Phillips, Executive Director, The Advocates for Human Rights
Credit for Syrian refugee photo: Enes Reyhan via Flickr)


Minneapolis Must Do Better

black hands holding US flag RGB

The United States committed itself – and all of us – to the elimination of racial discrimination and to taking effective measures to review national and local policies and amend, rescind or nullify any laws which have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination. We made this commitment not simply to end discrimination but to prevent and combat racist doctrines and practices.

The United States ratified the International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1994. Since then, the need to end discrimination and to combat racism wherever it exists and however violently or passively it manifests has continued.

Minneapolis now has the chance to live up to this commitment. It has the opportunity to make good on the promise we made more than 20 years ago to end all forms of racial discrimination with its response to the racist attacks against Black Lives Matter demonstrators outside the Minneapolis Police 4th Precinct late Monday night and to the police shooting of Jamar Clark which led to the demonstration.


Here’s what to understand about refugee law & policy

Syrian Refugees Enes Reyhan via Flickr.jpg

I’ve been working as an attorney, primarily in immigration for 12 years. The overwhelming majority of the cases I handled have been asylum cases. I’ve taught a law school clinical practicum for eight years. I’ve spoken and trained attorneys and non-attorneys about asylum law and immigration, nationally and locally. I know the law and I know the process well.

Asylum, for those who aren’t familiar, is based on the same legal definition as “refugee.” The difference is just in where someone is located when they apply for protection from harm.

Here’s what you should understand about refugee law and policy. It will help you better evaluate the statements being made by many others, and it will hopefully help you form a more informed opinion.

First, what does it even mean to be a refugee? Under U.S. law (8 USC 1101(a)(42)), we use this definition (I’m going to paraphrase a little for ease of reading): Someone who is outside of their country of nationality, and who is unable or unwilling to return or get protection from their own government because of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.

A refugee must be outside his or her country of origin and outside the United States to seek “refugee” status. They go through an application process, which involves in-person interviews and extensive background checks. This includes full fingerprints, INTERPOL checks, name checks, and cross-referencing a lot of government databases. The United States must approve them before they can set foot in this country. The approval process, before someone can be admitted to the United States, routinely takes between 12-24 months, and sometimes longer.

There is no “right” to refugee status. Individuals can be denied for any reason. Common reasons for denial are not meeting the legal definition of refugee or having inconsistencies in the person’s story.

Refugees must meet eligibility guidelines to enter the United States. These include not being “inadmissible.” There are a lot of reasons you can be deemed inadmissible. For a little “light” reading, check out 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(3). It explains all of the “Security and Related Grounds” of inadmissibility. Having spent years appearing in Immigration Court and working with and against the good people at Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement – trust me, they are not erring on the side of admitting people who might be a danger.

The “material support” provision excludes not just people who’ve associated with “known” terrorist groups. It excludes anyone who we have “reasonable ground to believe” is likely to engage in terrorism or terrorist-type activities. This section of law is incredibly broad and permissive in favor of the government to exclude potential refugees and immigrants. Terrorist groups can include any group of “two or more individuals.” The list of activities that can get you barred is long. Really, just go read the statute if you aren’t sure.

The number of refugee admissions statutorily allowed by congress is pretty small – for FY 2015 that number was capped at 70,000 as it has been for years. It’s only recently that we’ve even come close to filling that capacity. Often we’re below it.

We cannot predict the future. Someone may, after being admitted as a refugee, do something terrible. So might someone who is a U.S. citizen, as we have witnessed many times. Emily Good

By: Emily Good, an attorney  working as the Legal Projects Manager for Minnesota Legal Services State Support. She was formerly a staff attorney and director for The Advocates for Human Rights Refugee & Immigrant Program.

Credit for Syrian refugees’ photo:
Enes Reyhan via Flickr


If you have questions about how the legal immigration system works, post them below. We’ll do our best to answer or ask someone who might know.


Scott Pelley: “Life is asking, ‘What’s the meaning of you?'”

Scott Pelley, anchoring the CBS Evening News for a third-straight night in Paris following Friday’s deadly Islamic terror attacks, concluded Wednesday’s broadcast with an emotional commentary. We share it here with you:
“This week, parents looked at the questions on the faces of their children and did their best to make sense of the senseless. How to explain? What is the meaning of life if life is lost so easily to those who hate? In Paris, we recognized each and every face. We know them. We met in Oklahoma City, in New York and Washington after 9/11, and after the last mass shooting. Familiar in every time and every place, children serene because they don’t understand, parents in anguish because they can’t understand. Today a Parisian, Antoine Leiris, found his answer. His wife, who he called the love of his life, was killed Friday, leaving him to write a letter to the terrorists for himself and his 17-month-old son. “You will not have my hatred,” he told the killers. “This little boy will insult you by being happy and free.” The letter reminded us of Viktor Frankl, the psychiatrist who endured Auschwitz-Birkenau. The love of his life was lost in the death camps. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing,” Frankl wrote, “the last of the human freedoms to choose one’s attitude,” or, as Antoine Leiris put it today, “we are two, my son and I, but we are stronger than all the armies of the world.” The search for an explanation leaves us with silence until we search inside. In these times, don’t ask the meaning of life. Life is asking, what’s the meaning of you?”

Supporting the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program



November 17, 2015

Dear Senator/Representative:

As refugee and immigration law experts, humanitarian aid organizations, faith, labor and civil and human rights groups, we write to express our support for the U.S. refugee resettlement program. The world is witnessing the largest refugee crisis since World War II. More than 4 million Syrians have fled from their home country fleeing conflict and violence, and 6.5 million are displaced internally.

At a time when the world needs humanitarian leadership, some are now calling for the suspension of the U.S. refugee resettlement program or the imposition of restrictions on funding for Syrians and other groups of refugees. We oppose these proposals and believe they would jeopardize the United States’ moral leadership in the world.

Syrian refugees are fleeing exactly the kind of terror that unfolded on the streets of Paris. They have suffered violence just like this for almost five years. Most have lost loved ones to persecution and violence, in addition to having had their country, their community, and everything they own brutally taken from them.

Refugees are the most thoroughly vetted group of people who come to the United States. Security screenings are rigorous and involve the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of Defense and multiple intelligence agencies. Department of Homeland Security officials interview each refugee to determine whether they meet the refugee definition and whether they are admissible to the United States. Refugees undergo a series of biometric and investigatory background checks, including collection and analysis of personal data, fingerprints, photographs, and other background information, all of which is checked against government databases. The entire process typically takes more than two years and often much more before the refugee would arrive in the U.S. In addition the Administration is already taking steps, with its existing authority, to increase the capacity of its security and screening procedures for refugees. There is no need for Congress to impose additional restrictions or security measures.

The United States decides which refugees to resettle. Because so few refugees in the world are resettled, the U.S. often chooses the most vulnerable, including refugees who cannot remain safely where they are and families with children who cannot receive the medical care they need to survive.

To turn our back on refugees would be to betray our nation’s core values. It would send a demoralizing and dangerous message to the world that the United States makes judgments about people based on the country they come from and their religion. This feeds into extremist propaganda and makes us all less safe. We call upon Congress to demonstrate leadership by speaking out against the scapegoating of any group during this time of crisis and to ensure that our nation’s humanitarian efforts are robust.

The United States is a welcoming country with a diverse society and our resettlement program must continue to reflect this.

We can welcome refugees while ensuring our own security. Refugees have enriched communities across our country and have been part of the American fabric for generations. Historically our nation has responded to every major war or conflict and has resettled refugees from Africa, South East Asia, Eastern Europe as well as the Middle-East. Closing the door to refugees would be disastrous for not only the refugees themselves, but their family members in the United States who are waiting for them to arrive, and our reputation in the world.

The Advocates for Human Rights
Alliance for Citizenship
American Civil Liberties Union
American Immigration Lawyers Association
American Jewish Committee (AJC)
American Refugee Committee
America’s Voice Education Fund
Anti-Defamation League
Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)
Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC
Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence.
Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies
Center for Applied Linguistics
Center for Gender & Refugee Studies
Center for New Community
Center for Victims of Torture
Centro de los Derechos de Inmigrante, Inc.
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Refugee & Immigration Ministries
Church World Service
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Concern Worldwide (US) Inc.
Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Council on American-Islamic Relations
The Episcopal Church
Ethiopian Community Development Council, Inc.
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Farmworker Justice
Franciscan Action Network
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Habonim Dror North America
Human Rights First
International Catholic Migration Commission
International Refugee Assistance Project
International Rescue Committee
Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, National Advocacy Office
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Jewish Labor Committee
Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Mercy-USA for Aid and Development
Mi Familia Vota
Muslim Public Affairs Council
NAFSA: Association of International Educators
National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA)
National Council of Jewish Women
National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC)
National Immigration Forum
National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates
ORAM – Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration
Oxfam America
Peace Action West
Presbyterian Church USA
Refugees International
Save the Children
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)
STAND: The Student-Led Movement to End Mass Atrocities
SustainUS: U.S. Youth for Justice
Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS)
Syria Relief Development
Tahirih Justice Center
T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
Union for Reform Judaism
Unitarian Universalist Association
United to End Genocide
United Farm Workers
United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
UURISE – Unitarian Universalist Refugee and Immigrant Services and Education, Inc.
Win Without War
Women’s Refugee Commission
Workmen’s Circle
World Relief


Overworked and underfunded immigration court system can’t do the job

Gavel - Law concept

Almost half a million immigration cases wait to be heard in immigration courts. The number of pending cases has doubled in six years and keeps growing. Overburdened judges handle about 1,400 cases each year, far more than any other administrative judges. In each case a person, a family, a mother or father or sister or brother, waits for a day in court. 

A report from Syracuse University describes the length of the wait for a hearing.

“[T]he average wait time for an individual in the Immigration Court’s pending cases list has also reached an all-time high of 635 calendar days. But this average wait time only measures how long these individuals have already been waiting, not how much longer they will have to wait before their cases are resolved.

“The severity of the rapidly growing crisis was revealed last January, when the court issued thousands of letters notifying individuals that their cases would be delayed for nearly five years more — until November 29, 2019.”

In Minnesota, the report said, the average wait time was 638 days, with 1,092 more days until the probable hearing date.

A Los Angeles Times op/ed identified the problem: too few judges. Everybody who knows anything about the system knows more judges are needed. But Congress refuses to budget for them.

“There is a solution: Money. Estimates range from needing 100 to 225 additional judges to clear the current cases and keep up with the anticipated future caseload. So how does that happen? Congress budgets for it. Except it refuses to.

“This is where Congress’ cynical approach to immigration enters the spotlight. The Republicans in Congress bray about Obama’s immigration policies and decry the high numbers of folks here in the country without permission. But they refuse to look at the solution that they control: properly budgeting the court system that determines who has a legally recognized right to stay, and who is eligible for deportation.”

Judges are not the only people needed to make the immigration courts work. More than 85 percent of immigration cases need interpreters, but the Department of Justice is trying to slash the pay for interpreters, and that will mean more trouble for the already over-burdened courts.

Tony Rosado is a professional interpreter. He says he does not work in immigration courts because even the old rates were unconscionably low. But now, Rosado reports in his blog:

“For several weeks I have been contacted by many of our interpreter friends and colleagues. They have talked to me in person, over the phone, by text, by email, and through social media. The message was the same: interpreting services at the immigration courts of the United States are under siege.  They explained how the contractor who will provide interpreting services at all U.S. immigration courthouses had contacted them to offer unprecedented low fees and horrifying working conditions to those who wanted to continue to interpret in these settings.”

BuzzFeed sums up the problem: without enough interpreters, immigration courts can’t function and immigrants can’t get a fair hearing. The extensive BuzzFeed article offers an example of the crucial role played by interpreters:

“Lichter recalled a time when a woman was testifying about the six men who gang raped her. The woman recounted how one of the men standing behind her said, ‘Vamos a hacerla picadillo,’ which translates roughly to ‘Let’s beat her to a pulp.’ The interpreter got it wrong, Lichter said, by rendering a literal translation of the Spanish word picadillo as ‘ground beef.’

“The difference may seem subtle, Lichter said, but it can be crucial in determining whether, from the judge’s perspective, an asylum seeker’s story appears to come truly from the heart or falls flat because it doesn’t make sense.”

Lawyers also play an essential role, representing people in hugely complex immigration proceedings. Every day, immigration judges decide cases that are literally a matter of life and death. Many of the cases now pending in immigration courts involve children who have fled violence in Honduras and El Salvador over the past several years.

According to PBS NewsHour, 19,000 immigrants under 21 have filed requests to stay in the United States this year, and 62 percent are not represented by lawyers. Immigration cases, especially refugee cases, are incredibly complex. The ACLU has filed a class action lawsuit saying that these children need to be represented by lawyers as they seek asylum here. PBS reports:

“Seventy-three percent of immigrants under 21 with lawyers are allowed to stay in the U.S. That’s five times higher than the 15 percent of children without lawyers who are allowed to stay.”

When someone is represented by a lawyer, their case gets more careful consideration. That takes longer, increasing the average length of immigration court cases from 16 months for people who are not represented by lawyers to 30 months for those who are.

Judges, lawyers, interpreters — they are all essential to immigration courts. Without adequate funding, the entire system fails.

Read more:

By: Guest blogger Mary Turck from her blog, “News Day.”


First person executed this year in the U.S.: a Vietnam Veteran

Vietnam Vet RGBAn op-ed published in USA Today written by three retired generals calls attention to the plight of veterans on death row. The generals call for systemic review of the status of these veterans and urge decision-makers in capital cases to seriously consider the mental health effects of service-related PTSD in determining whether to pursue or to impose the death penalty against military veterans.

Brigadiers General (Ret.) James P. Cullen, David R. Irvine, and Stephen N. Xenakis write that “[c]ountless veterans have endured violence and trauma that few others can fully imagine” but defense attorneys in capital cases “are often not adequately prepared to investigate and present” this evidence and prosecutors and judges often treat it dismissively. They say that, “at a minimum, when a judge or jury is weighing a person’s life or death, they should have full knowledge and understanding of that person’s life history. Veterans with PTSD — and, in fact, all those with serious mental illness at the time of their crime — deserve a complete investigation and presentation of their mental state by the best experts in the field.”

“Vets suffering from PTSD need our help

“The first person executed in the United States this year, Andrew Brannan, was a Vietnam veteran who had been granted 100% disability because of his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other problems stemming from his military service. Approximately 300 other veterans remain on death row and face execution. As retired Army general officers, lawyers and a psychiatrist, these facts concern us greatly, and they should disturb many other Americans, as well.

“On Veterans Day, we honor those who bravely served their country and offer our helping hand to assist those who have returned from war with wounds and physical disabilities. Countless veterans have endured violence and trauma that few others can fully imagine. They deserve our thanks. But some are left behind.

“Our hospitals and therapists have performed wonders in assisting wounded veterans who lost limbs. A prosthetic is not the same as the original, but with the courage of service-members, combined with an understanding and supportive community, we are making progress. We wish the same could be said for our veterans who come back with deep brain and mental wounds. Their requests for understanding and compassion are too often dismissed.

“A new report from the Death Penalty Information Center is a wake-up call for an issue that few have focused on. Even as the use of capital punishment is declining, veterans suffering with PTSD and other service-related problems languish on death rows across the country.

“Brannan was executed in Georgia this year for one irrational act of violence that occurred 17 years ago. He killed a police officer who had stopped him for speeding. That is a terrible crime, but as the Veterans Administration had determined, Brannan was mentally disabled with deep scars from his combat in Vietnam.

“James Davis is also a Vietnam veteran with PTSD. He belatedly received his Purple Heart medal on death row in North Carolina, thanks to the work of a fellow veteran and therapist and a pastor, Jim Johnson, who visited Davis. When Johnson pinned the medal on him, Davis saluted proudly, before retreating back into the darkness of his mental problems. He could still be executed today for the murders he committed in 1995, and he has all but given up his appeals.

“John Thuesen is on death row in Texas — a veteran of the Iraq conflict. His PTSD was not properly diagnosed or treated, and his lawyers did not do enough to explain his condition to the jury that convicted him of murdering his ex-girlfriend. Texas executes far more people than any other state in the country, so there is a real concern that his current appeal could be denied.

“PTSD is not as obvious as a missing limb, but it can be deeply debilitating. The trauma from combat can simmer under the surface for years, then erupt in violence, often against family members. It can be triggered by anything that jars a memory of a time when a person was under violent attack, demanding immediate and forceful reaction. Years later, the previous danger is no longer present, but the memory may set off a similar reaction, with deadly consequences. PTSD can be treated, but in one study only about half of the veterans who needed treatment received it.

“In a criminal sentencing hearing, PTSD should be a strong mitigating factor. It’s not an excuse or a demand for acquittal. However, the very symptoms that define PTSD can be frightening to a jury if not carefully explained by a mental health expert familiar with the illness. Defense attorneys are often not adequately prepared to investigate and present this kind of evidence; prosecutors or judges might dismiss it because others with similar combat experiences did not murder anyone. Perhaps some of the blame should be more broadly shared because we sometimes choose to look away when a veteran’s scars are not the kind that we know how to cope with.

“We are not arguing here about the morality or the utility of the death penalty. But at a minimum, when a judge or jury is weighing a person’s life or death, they should have full knowledge and understanding of that person’s life history. Veterans with PTSD — and, in fact, all those with serious mental illness at the time of their crime — deserve a complete investigation and presentation of their mental state by the best experts in the field.

“Decision-makers — jurors, judges and governors — should be informed that such information is a valid reason to spare a defendant from capital punishment. There are alternatives, such as life in prison without parole.

“We should begin by determining the exact scope of this problem: Who are the veterans on death row? How could their military experience have affected their commission of a crime? How well were their disabilities investigated and presented in court? And what should be done when the system fails them?

“Veterans facing the death penalty deserve this assistance.”

This op-ed published today, November 11, 2015, in USA Today was written by Brig. Gen. (Ret.) James P. Cullen, USA, is a former judge for the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals. Brig. Gen. (Ret.) David R. Irvine, USA, is a former Deputy Commander of the 96th U.S. Army Reserve Command. Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Stephen N. Xenakis, USA, M.D. is an adjunct clinical professor at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences.


Trick or Treat? The True Cost of Chocolate

child labor

Daniel Rosenthal/laif/Redux Image source


While my son is getting ready to head out tonight to harvest Halloween candy, excited by the chance to lug a pillowcase full of chocolate bars around the neighborhood,I’ve been thinking about the children who harvest the cocoa that goes into the chocolate in his bag.

Because while he finds an evening of hauling candy a treat, I know that for the millions of kids his age working in the cocoa industry it’s anything but fun.

Research funded by the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that more than 2 million children are performing hazardous work in the cocoa industry in the West African countries of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, which account for about 58% of the world’s cocoa production.

The cocoa industry in these countries relies heavily on work performed by children, some as young as 5 years old, including WFCL (shorthand for the “worst forms of child labor” as defined by international law).

The work is dangerous, and it’s especially hard on children’s bodies.

“Working on cocoa farms can be hazardous, particularly for children, whose physical, mental, and psychological capacities are still developing. Children working in cocoa may work long hours, carry heavy loads, and use dangerous tools. Children may also be involved in spraying cocoa trees with pesticides or burning fields to clear them.”

A Tulane University report, commissioned as part of the accountability framework for the 2001 Harkin-Engel Protocol that was meant to end abuses in the industry, lays out the issue:

“Fifteen years ago, the West African cocoa sector came under increased scrutiny after media reports revealed incidences of child trafficking and other labor abuses in cocoa farming. On September 19, 2001, representatives of the international cocoa/chocolate industry signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol. Signing this agreement as witnesses were U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and U.S. Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY), the Government of Côte d’Ivoire, the ILO, and representatives of civil society. Based on ILO Convention 182, the Protocol’s principal goal was “to eliminate the worst forms of child labor (WCFL) in the cocoa sectors of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.”

Remarkably, child labor in the cocoa industry has continued to proliferate despite the signing of the Harkin-Engel Protocol in 2001. In 2008, DOL estimated that 1.75 million children were working in West African cocoa production. By 2013-14, that number had risen to 2.26 million children, including 2.03 million children found to be performing hazardous work in cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.

The Tulane University study of the sector released in July 2015 found the following:

  • Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s leading cocoa producer, experienced large growth in cocoa production from 2008-09 to 2013-14.
  • Total output rose by over half a million tons, or over 40%.
  • The population of children 5-17 years living in agricultural households in Côte d’Ivoire’s cocoa-growing regions grew by about 180,000, or 5%.
  • The numbers of children working in cocoa production, doing child labor in cocoa production, and doing hazardous work in cocoa production grew by 59%, 48%, and 46% respectively.

What’s driving the growth?

In short, it’s us and our demand for cheap chocolate. The problem, of course, is that it’s not easy to harvest cocoa. It’s heavy, dangerous, delicate work. Fields must be cleared, planted, and tended. When the cocoa pods are ready, they must be harvested by hand, split open, and the seeds removed for drying. It’s time-consuming, labor-intensive work.

That kind of labor should come at a significant cost. But as with so many commodities, the prices are kept low by squeezing labor out of workers who are largely invisible to consumers through a complicated supply chain structure. Consumer-facing companies are driven by the competing demands of delivering rock bottom prices and sky-high profits. Those with massive buying power – like Mars, Hershey’s, and Nestlė – are able to bid down the prices of commodities like cocoa with their suppliers, who make up for low prices by paying less – or sometimes nothing at all – for the work.

Supply chain dynamics are of growing concern in the anti-trafficking movement. The seriousness of the global supply chain’s impact on workers was highlighted in the State Department’s 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report, and 2010 legislation in California, the Transparency in Supply Chains Act, now requires certain companies to report their specific actions to eradicate slavery and human trafficking in their supply chains.

We see the effect of this kind of price pressure on wages here in the United States. Retail cleaners in Minnesota, for example, have been squeezed by the low contracts bid by stores which result in wages as low as $4 per hour. Workers organized by CTUL have set a November 10 strike deadline for contracted cleaners. Farmworkers in Florida’s tomato fields, facing the same structural barrier to fair earnings, used pressure on major retailers to increase the per/pound rate for tomatoes by $.01, resulting in a substantial step toward a fair wage.

But the kids harvesting cocoa don’t have that option. Sometimes sold for the equivalent of $30, sometimes kidnapped, they don’t have the power to stage a boycott.

That’s why earlier this fall a lawsuit alleging the use of the worst forms of child labor in the production of Nestlé, Hershey’s, and Mars chocolate products was filed by consumers in California. It’s not the first time that the companies have faced litigation over their labor practices, but this class action is the latest effort to pressure the chocolate industry to fix a problem it has known about for more than a decade.

Forced labor yields approximately $50 billion in profits annually according to estimates by the International Labour Organization. Included are profits derived from what are considered the worst forms of child labor, or WFCL, such as that used in the cocoa industry.

There are bright spots: While the number of children in West Africa’s cocoa production increased in the past five years, Ghana actually managed to reduce, albeit slightly, its numbers during that period.

So what will I do this Halloween? I’m not entirely sure. But I know I’ll start with a conversation.  To end this problem of child labor in the cocoa industry, more consumers need to know about the true cost of the chocolate they are buying.

By Michele Garnett MacKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ Director of Advocacy

More Resources to Learn about Child Labor in the Cocoa Industry:

The Dark Side of Chocolate – 2010 documentary by Miki Mistrati & U. Roberto Romano. In 2012, they produced a follow-up film called Shady Chocolate. The Shady Chocolate website includes an interactive cacao map and information how to write letters to the industry via the International Cacao Initiative.

Slave Free Chocolate has a list of ethical chocolate companiesFood Empowerment Project’s Chocolate List is also available as a free smartphone app.


October Raised this Teen’s Awareness of Domestic Violence

DV photo

I have to admit it — until a few weeks ago, I didn’t know that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  I also have to admit that until a few years ago, I didn’t understand much about the issue of domestic violence.  Then my mother went with volunteer and staff attorneys from The Advocates for Human Rights on a fact-finding mission to Mongolia to assess whether Mongolia was implementing its domestic violence laws.

When my mother got back from her trip, she told me it was estimated that one in three Mongolian women are victims of domestic violence. She also told me that while there were some laws to protect women and to give them access and protection in the courts, women weren’t often aware of the laws. Even when women did know, the laws weren’t often enforced.

Since my mother’s trip, I’ve learned more about domestic violence. I learned that what has been happening in Mongolia is not unique, and according to statistics cited by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women and one in four men have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes.

Domestic violence isn’t just an issue that impacts adults. It has a large effect on children and teenagers, too. Every year, millions of children witness domestic violence in their homes, making them victims, too. I can only imagine how afraid and helpless I might feel if I lived in a home where there was domestic violence.

Sometimes, teenagers are direct victims of domestic violence, such as in cases of teen dating violence. As the Center for Disease Control noted, “Unhealthy relationships can start early and last a lifetime.” I imagine that many teens who are in these types of relationships are afraid or embarrassed to report the violence, or think that type of behavior is actually acceptable.

It’s often said that what you don’t know won’t hurt you. I disagree. Domestic Violence Awareness Month has made me think about all the kids my age who are negatively affected by domestic violence. I now realize that young people need to help raise awareness that there must be zero tolerance of domestic violence. I know that we can’t end domestic violence tomorrow. But we can make a start by helping victims talk about the abuse they suffer and empowering them to seek help.

By youth blogger Jenna Schulman, a ninth grade student in Washington, D.C. 


Serious Concerns About Lack of Access to Counsel for Asylum Seekers

Child from HondurasU.S. Senator Al Franken has called on Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to ensure access to counsel for asylum seekers held in family detention centers. Joined by 18 Senate colleagues, Sen. Franken raises serious concerns regarding reports that U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) is interfering with the ability of asylum-seeking mothers and children to access legal representation. Recently, individual volunteer attorneys, who had travelled to the privately-owned prison in Dilley, Texas where approximately 2000 Central American refugee women and children are detained,were barred from entering to provide  pro bono representation.

Access to counsel can be the difference between life and death for asylum seekers in the United States. Asylum seekers who have lawyers are more than three times as likely to be granted asylum as those who do not.  Having an attorney is “the single most important factor” affecting the outcome of the case. Yet individuals in immigration detention face the biggest challenge in obtaining legal representation.  The American Bar Association estimates that a whopping 84% of immigration detainees nationwide were unrepresented in their removal proceedings.

At the international level, The Advocates for Human Rights drew attention to the appalling lack of access to counsel for asylum seekers during the UN reviews for U.S. compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, and the Convention Against Torture.  Most recently, The Advocates raised the continuing failure of the U.S. to recognize asylum seekers from Central America’s northern triangle in its statement to the UN Human Rights Council during a September 28 interactive dialogue on the impact of the world drug problem on the enjoyment of human rights:

As an NGO that provides free legal services to asylum seekers in the United States, we would particularly like to draw attention to an issue that we see on a daily basis: the impact that violent transnational criminal gangs in Central America, fueled by profits from the trade in illegal drugs, have on the lives Central Americans, forcing thousands of women and children to flee and seek safety in the U.S.

Transnational gangs extort, threaten, and forcibly recruit people living in strategic drug trafficking corridors. States in the region are ill-equipped to deal with crimes by these gangs, leaving victims unprotected from serious harm, including torture, disappearance, sexual violence, and murder. And the violence continues to grow, as gangs seek to solidify their control over valuable drug trafficking routes.

For example, gang members threatened to kill one of our clients, who I’ll call “Teresa”, after her family could no longer afford to pay protection money for the family business. Armed gang members abducted her, threw her into a truck, and took her to the leader’s house, where he beat and raped her. Left with no choice but to flee, she sought asylum in the U.S.

Yet the U.S. violates the fundamental rights of asylum seekers like Teresa by failing to recognize victims of transnational criminal gangs as refugees, even when such gangs operate as quasi-state actors that routinely torture, rape, and kill those who resist support or recruitment.

Asylum seekers face other violations, including arbitrary detention and prosecution for illegal entry. Mothers and their children are detained in difficult conditions pending preliminary credible fear determinations in two privately-owned prisons where attorneys have been denied access to clients and even summarily barred from the facilities.

The Advocates for Human Rights calls upon:

  • the Human Rights Council to include this issue in the discussion about the impact of the world drug problem on human rights;

  • the United Nations member States to ensure that their national drug policies consider the impact on the human rights of affected individuals and their countries; and

  • the U.S. to end family immigration detention and expedited removal procedures and to treat all asylum seekers in accordance with international standards.

See The Advocates’ volunteer Dr. Bill Lohman deliver the oral statement to the Human Rights Council:

In July, The Advocates launched a bilingual National Asylum Help Line to connect families released from U.S. immigration detention centers like the one in Dilley with free legal services. Migrants are encouraged to call the Help Line at 612-746-4674 to receive basic legal screening, information about the legal process, and referrals to agencies in areas in which they live.

By Michele Garnett MacKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ Director of Advocacy, and Deputy Director Jennifer Prestholdt


End the inhumane detention of refugee women and children

Child from HondurasDuring National Week of Action, open your eyes to U.S. horrors

As families across Minnesota prepare for the delights and frights of Halloween, a separate, hidden, and chilling reality exists in Texas, where more than 2,000 immigrant mothers and children are in for-profit detention facilities because they dared to flee to America to escape the horrific gang and domestic violence plaguing Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

The children in these facilities aren’t deciding whether they want to be Sofia the First or Captain America for Halloween. They are wondering whether they will be in jail for another week or forever.

This does not need to be their reality for much longer. In a class action lawsuit filed earlier this year, California Federal Court Judge Dolly Gee ordered family detention to end. This lawsuit was filed and succeeded because U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had failed to provide basic human necessities, such as adequate food, drinking water, medical care, and appropriate facilities to immigrant children in detention.

Judge Gee’s order states that: 1) children can no longer be held in unlicensed facilities and must be given access to adequate food, drinking water, and proper medical care, and importantly, 2) since ICE has been holding immigrant children in sub-standard conditions since June 2014, all immigrant children―with their mothers―must be released from detention and the lock-up facilities must be shut down by October 23, 2015.

It is shocking that the simple proposition that innocent children do not belong in jail has resulted in such a pitched battle in federal court, but it has. Furthermore, there are signs that the government has the appetite for further litigation, as the Department of Homeland Security has stated that it intends to appeal Judge Gee’s decision.

This week is National Week of Action to #EndFamilyDetention, designed to call attention to the human rights abuses the U.S. government is inflicting upon children and their mothers. Events like the one held yesterday at the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis—grown from grass roots efforts of local attorneys and advocates―are being held in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Seattle, San Antonio, and throughout the country.

Local immigration attorneys have visited these family detention facilities to provide desperately needed legal representation to mothers and their children who are young and scared. Most of the mothers have experienced sexual violence, extortion, and death threats. They have seen their family members murdered before their eyes. A significant number of the children have the same sad history. About 90 percent of the families have been found to have a credible fear of returning to their country, the first step in qualifying for asylum in the United States.

The Advocates for Human Rights, a non-profit based in Minneapolis, has launched the National Asylum Help Line to connect Central American families released from detention and seeking asylum with free immigration legal services near them so they can have a fair day in court and a chance to live in safety.

Asylum seekers should be treated like human beings when they come to our country, and until recently, they often were. Before June 2014, these mothers and children most likely would have been identified and then immediately released to family in the United States. They would have received a court date to appear in immigration court to present their case for asylum. Many would have hired an immigration attorney or found a nonprofit organization to represent them in their cases. Orderly, painless, inexpensive.

By contrast, we now have a system that increases the pain all around. Mothers and children are detained indefinitely in a remote location where legal access is barely available and family visitation virtually impossible. Families are jailed in for-profit detention facilities that value profits over providing a basic level of care to children. And all of this costs taxpayers millions upon millions of dollars.

It is beyond inhumane, beyond ridiculous. It is an outrage.

As immigration attorneys, we believe and know that refugees, including the youngest and most vulnerable, have the right to seek asylum, a right that is protected under international law as well as United States laws. But how do we treat these refugees in America, the land of the free? We jail them.

To those who would argue that these women and children are breaking the law by “entering illegally,” it is important to understand that these individuals are presenting themselves to border patrol and claiming a fear of return—as they have the legal right to do―because they are afraid they will be killed if they go home. This most basic of human rights ensures that those who flee persecution have a chance to be heard before being deported to torture or death. By violating our internal and international obligations to process the cases of these asylum seekers in a humane and orderly fashion, we are the ones who are the true lawbreakers.

We hope that as more Americans understand the horrors these refugee mothers and children escaped, as more Americans learn that these vulnerable families are being held in deplorable conditions in for-profit jails run by the Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, as more Americans find out how expensive it is to perpetuate this ill-conceived system of misery, they will agree with Judge Gee, and hopefully, family immigration detention will end.

By: Twin Cities’ immigration attorneys Kara Lynum and Michelle Rivero, and The Advocates for Human Rights.

Note: This blog post was published in the Star Tribune‘s editorial section on October 22, 2015.


We Cheered for the Women of Morocco

Moroccan Woman's Eyes

Article highlights

  • The Advocates for Human Rights and its Moroccan partner, Mobilizing for Rights Associates, attended the review of Morocco in Geneva by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
  • MRA, other Moroccan NGOs, and The Advocates partnered on a report  submitted to the Committee on the treatment of women in Morocco.
  • The submission shined light on the widespread violence against women, need for domestic violence legislation, lack of access to housing, healthcare and other support for victims of domestic violence, sexual harassment, early marriage of girls, and polygamy.
  • Particularly given what we’ve learned about biology since Henry VIII, it was astonishing to hear from Morocco’s representative examples justifying polygamy.
  • The Committee adopted many of the recommendations made by the Advocates’ and MRA’s joint report, including abolishing polygamy in Morocco.

“I have a question about polygamy. If a man may
have more than one wife, why doesn’t Morocco
allow women to have two husbands?”

Ms. Heisoon Shin, one of the three women who serve as independent experts on the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, asked the Moroccan delegation this question. Sitting in the audience, our group of staff and volunteers from The Advocates for Human Rights, as well as colleagues from our Moroccan partner organization Mobilizing for Rights Associates (“MRA”), could hardly keep from cheering out loud. Yet, the government’s response, articulated by Employment Minister Abdeslam Seddiki had us smacking our foreheads and sinking in our chairs.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the Committee) monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the countries who are bound by the Covenant. By ratifying, those countries have agreed, among other things, to undertake to ensure that women have equal rights to the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. They have also agreed to regularly report on how they are complying with the Covenant, including at an in-person review at the UN in Geneva.

Morocco was up for review during our recent advocacy trip to the UN in Geneva. In collaboration with MRA and an alliance of Moroccan NGOs, The Advocates prepared a report on issues relating to the economic, social, and cultural rights of women in Morocco that it submitted to the Committee. The submission discusses widespread violence against women, the need for domestic violence legislation, lack of access to housing, healthcare and other support for victims of domestic violence, sexual harassment, early marriage of girls, and polygamy.

During the last review of Morocco in 2006, the Committee stated that “certain traditions, customs and cultural practices in Morocco continue to prevent women from fully exercising their rights under the Covenant.” In particular, the Committee noted that polygamy, which violates women’s dignity and constitutes discrimination against women, continues to be practiced in Morocco.

Morocco allows a man to take an additional wife if he proves to a judge that he has  “exceptional and objective justification” and “sufficient resources.” According to the government of Morocco, polygamy “occurs only in exceptional cases” and it is declining. However, as The Advocates and MRA explained in their report to the Committee, the 2004 Family Code continues to allow polygamy when a husband’s petition to take another wife is approved by a judge. The approval rate of petitions for authorization to take another wife is high and increasing; 43.41% of petitions for polygamy authorizations were granted in 2010, up from 40.36% in 2009.[1] Additionally, marriage registration procedures originally designed to protect women in verbal marriages are being used to circumvent polygamy restrictions.

Minister Seddiki addressed Ms. Shin’s question. In a conciliatory tone, he explained his view that:

[I]t would be reasonable for a man to take an additional wife, if for example his current wife was unable to bear children. In the case of a farmer who needed sons to work with him but whose wife failed to give birth to boys, he said, taking an additional wife would be perfectly understandable.

Particularly given what we’ve learned about biology since Henry VIII, it was astonishing to hear these examples as justification for polygamy.

Stephanie Willman, a founding partner of MRA later told Morocco World News that she was “shocked” by the Minister’s statement that it is “normal for men to want to take another wife.”  She added, “It’s normal for people to want things, but one can’t always have everything he or she wants. That’s why there are laws – to make sure that one person’s wants don’t violate the human rights of others – in this case, of women’s human rights to be treated with dignity as equal human beings.”

Sometimes people say, “Well, it’s cultural” and suggest that it may be inappropriate to “impose our values” on others. Mr. Waleed Sadi, chairperson of the CESCR had the perfect answer to this. In closing the session on Morocco he said:

Many people from all over the world spent countless hours thinking, talking, debating and considering economic, social, cultural rights and human rights. They arrived at consensus and developed the standards set forth in the Covenant. Cultural norms must conform to those standards, not the other way around.

Once again, I for one felt like cheering.


In its recent Concluding Observations, the Committee adopted many of the recommendations made by the Advocates’ and MRA’s joint report, including abolishing polygamy in Morocco. The Committee urged the government of Morocco to conduct awareness campaigns to eliminate gender stereotypes and promote women’s rights; to accelerate the adoption of the bill on sexual harassment, especially in the workplace but also on sexual harassment in all its forms and in all places, including instituting penalties consistent with the seriousness of the offense.

The Committee also recommended that Morocco take steps to ensure that victims can file complaints without fear of reprisals and have access to redress and adequate compensation; adopt a comprehensive law on violence against women in accordance with international standards; and ensure its application to eliminate all forms of violence against women, including marital rape.

The Committee further recommended that Morocco take steps to investigate and prosecute offenders and allow victims of domestic violence access to effective remedies and immediate protection measures, including by establishing a sufficient number of shelters.

Finally, the Committee recommended abolishing the criminalization of illicit sexual relations; amending the law to set the minimum age for marriage at 18 and repealing Article 20 of the Family Code, which allows judges to authorize underage marriage.

By Julie Shelton, attorney and Chicago-based volunteer who The Advocates for Human Rights honored with its Volunteer Award in 2014. Ms. Shelton traveled in September to the United Nations in Geneva with The Advocates and other volunteers.

[1] Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc (ADFM), Rapport des ONG de défense des droits des femmes au Maroc au titre du 2e Examen Périodique Universel (EPU) (November 2011).


Good Question

Child from HondurasWill the United States step up and be a moral leader for the refugees fleeing Central America?

Sonia Nazario, author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and The Advocates’ 2015 Human Rights Award recipient, asks this question in her news report on how the United States, according to Nazario, “has outsourced a refugee problem to Mexico that is similar to the refugee crisis now roiling Europe” (The New York Times, October 10, 2015). The outsourcing includes “payments” of tens of millions of dollars from the United States to Mexico to stop Central American migrants from reaching the United States/Mexico border to claim asylum.

Nazario writes:

The crackdown has forced migrants to travel in ways that are harder, take longer, are more isolated and have fewer support mechanisms. New measures have made riding on top of freight trains north, a preferred method for anyone who cannot afford a $10,000 smuggler fee, incredibly difficult. In Tierra Blanca, Veracruz and elsewhere, tall concrete walls topped with concertina wire have been constructed to thwart migrants. In Apizaco, the Lechería train station outside Mexico City and elsewhere, chest-high concrete pillars, or rocks, have been installed on both sides of the tracks so migrants cannot run alongside moving trains and board them.

Read “The Refugees at Our Door,” by Sonia Nazario.

For those Central American families who make it into the United States, The Advocates for Human Rights provides free legal services to help them seek asylum. For migrants who are not located in the Midwest, The Advocates helps them, too, with its Asylum Helpline that connects families released from U.S. immigration detention centers across the nation with free legal services. Migrants are encouraged to call the Helpline at 612-746-4674 to receive basic legal screening, information about the legal process, and referrals to agencies in areas in which they live.


The Death Penalty Doesn’t Stop Drug Crimes

World Day 2015

On September 28, 2015, the UN Human Rights Council hosted a three-hour panel discussion on “The Impact of the World Drug Problem on Human Rights.” One of the panelists was Mr. Aldo Lale of the UN Office on Drug Control. The Advocates for Human Rights and several of its partner organizations prepared the following oral statement for the discussion, highlighting that tomorrow, October 10, is World Day Against the Death Penalty. The theme for World Day 2015 is the use of the death penalty for drug-related offenses.

This statement is made by The Advocates for Human Rights, Harm Reduction International, the Paris Bar, FIACAT, and the International Drug Policy Consortium, all members of the World Coalition against the Death Penalty.

Between 1980 and 2000, many countries added the death penalty as a punishment for drug-related offenses. This period coincides with the drafting, adoption and ratification of the Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

Only a handful of the 33 countries that impose the death penalty for drug crimes actually execute drug offenders. But in those countries, drug crimes often result in the bulk of capital sentences and executions.

On October 10, the international community celebrates the 13th World Day against the Death Penalty, this year highlighting the human rights violations involved with imposing the death penalty for drug crimes.

International human rights standards recognize that the death penalty must be limited to the most serious crimes—intentional killings.

Further, the World Drug Report recently confirmed that after 30 years, countries that sentence people to death and execute them for drug crimes have not seen reductions in drug consumption or trafficking.

UN assistance in the form of international funds contributes to the arrest, prosecution, and subsequent sentencing to death of drug suspects. Since 2008 we have called on the UNODC to take responsibility for its role in these human rights violations.

In 2012, a UNODC Position Paper stated: “If, following requests for guarantees and high-level political intervention, executions for drug-related offences continue, UNODC may have no choice but to employ a temporary freeze or withdrawal of support.”

However, UNODC continues to fund law enforcement-focused counter-narcotics activities in a number of countries which aggressively apply the death penalty for drug offences. Earlier this year it was finalizing a new five year funding settlement in a country that has executed at least 394 drug offenders in 2015. This funding continues despite a recent report from the UNODC’s own Independent Evaluation Unit finding that that country has taken “no action . . . yet in line with UNODC guidance.”

Mr. Aldo Lale, how has UNODC applied these guidelines, and has it ever frozen or withdrawn support in countries that still conduct widespread executions for drug crimes?

We urge donors to freeze all financial support pending an investigation into how funds have been spent and until clear risk assessments and accountability mechanisms are put in place.

We welcome the panel’s views on how best to ensure accountability of the UN and donors for ensuring that human rights are respected in drug enforcement.

Thank you.

By: Amy Bergquist, International Justice Program staff attorney with The Advocates for Human Rights and its representative on the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty’s Steering Committee.

Learn more about World Day Against the Death Penalty and how you can get involved.

Learn more about The Advocates’ work on the death penalty around the world.


Pledges & Punts at the UN: The U.S. Government Responds to UPR Recommendations


Today marks the formal end of the U.S. government’s second Universal Periodic Review of its human rights record at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. But on many important issues, it’s really just the beginning of many years of work to implement the United States’ human rights obligations.

During the interactive dialogue part of the UPR in May 2015, the U.S. government received 343 recommendations from countries around the world. Today the government formally responded to each of them, stating whether it accepted, accepted in part, or noted (diplomatic UN-speak for “rejected”) each one. At the Human Rights Council in Geneva this morning, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scott Busby acknowledged that the United States hasn’t “been perfect in our efforts, and we still have many challenges.”

The Advocates for Human Rights has been engaging in advocacy throughout the UPR process, lobbying on the death penalty, immigration detention, and the rights of non-citizens. We submitted stakeholder reports on those issues back in September 2014, and we traveled to Geneva in March to lobby delegates to the Human Rights Council to encourage them to raise our issues in the interactive dialogue.

Those lobbying efforts were successful. For example, 45 countries presented recommendations to the United States on the death penalty, and 23 offered recommendations on the rights of non-citizens. The Advocates lobbied nearly every country that made recommendations on those issues.

Here are some highlights from those 343 recommendations, and the U.S. government’s responses:

Death penalty

Transparency on lethal injection drugs

Some of the U.S. government’s responses were discouraging. Knowing that the government was not likely commit to abolishing the death penalty, The Advocates lobbied France and many other countries to highlight the issue of state laws and practices that keep secret the identity and sources of drugs used in lethal injections. Transparency regarding the types of drugs used and the sources of those drugs is increasingly important in light of the Supreme Court’s June 2015 decision in Glossip v. Gross, which places additional evidentiary burdens on individuals seeking to challenge the proposed method of their execution as a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

During the interactive dialogue in May, France took up our issue, recommending that the U.S. government “[c]ommit to full transparency on the combination of medicines used during executions by injection.” Today, however, the U.S. government formally “noted” that recommendation, providing no explanation other than its position that the death penalty comports with our country’s human rights obligations.


In explaining the government’s decision to reject calls from 37 countries around the world to abolish–or at least consider a moratorium on–the death penalty, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Busby told the Human Rights Council:

I’d also note that we received numerous recommendations–including from Ecuador, Austria, Lithuania, Congo, Nepal, and many others–concerning our administration of capital punishment. Domestic civil society also raised capital punishment as an issue of concern. While we did not support the majority of the recommendations on this topic, we respect those who made them. Our continuing differences in this are a matter of policy, and not what the rules of international human rights law currently require.

Racial bias and wrongful convictions

The U.S. government made some important pledges concerning the death penalty today. For example, we lobbied Angola and Poland about racial bias in the administration of the death penalty and about wrongful convictions. The government accepted these recommendations:

  • Angola: Identify the root causes of ethnic disparities concerning especially those sentenced to capital punishment in order to find ways [to] eliminate ethnic discrimination in the criminal justice system.
  • France: Identify the factors of racial disparity in the use of the death penalty and develop strategies to end possible discriminatory practices.
  • Poland: Strengthen safeguards against wrongful sentencing to death and subsequent wrongful execution by ensuring, inter alia, effective legal representation for defendants in death penalty cases, including at the post-conviction stage.

We also lobbied on the issue of compensation for victims of wrongful convictions. The U.S. government accepted, in part, a recommendation from Belgium to “[t]ake measures in follow-up to the recommendations of the Human Rights Committee to the US in 2014 with regards to capital punishment such as measures to avoid racial bias, to avoid wrongful sentencing to death and to provide adequate compensation if wrongful sentencing happens.” In its formal response, the government stated that it “support[s] consideration of these recommendations, noting that we may not agree with all of them.”

Immigrant detention

The U.S. government made several pledges on the detention of migrants, accepting a recommendation from Brazil to “[c]onsider alternatives to the detention of migrants, particularly children.” The government accepted, in part, a recommendation from Sweden to “[h]alt the detention of immigrant families and children, seek alternatives to detention and end the use of detention for reason of deterrence.” In its response, the government punted on the controversial use of immigrant detention to deter future migrants, but added that it is “working to shorten detention families may face while their immigration proceedings are resolved.”

One issue we lobbied on was the lack of due process in immigration removal proceedings. Honduras was particularly receptive to these issues, recommending that the United States “[e]nsure due process for all immigrants in immigration proceedings, using the principle of the best interest, especially in the case of families and unaccompanied children.”

Honduras is one of the main countries of origin for the unaccompanied children and families coming to the United States to seek asylum, so it was rewarding to see that government’s interest in the plight of its nationals.

In responding to Honduras’ recommendation, however, the U.S. government glossed over its international human rights obligation to ensure due process, instead asserting that “[n]oncitizens in the U.S. facing removal receive significant procedural protections.”

On the issue of the rights of children in immigration proceedings, the government ignored the fact that unaccompanied children have no right to a government-provided attorney, offering merely that “[t]he best interest of a child is one factor in determinations by immigration judges. [The Department of Health and Human Services] provides care and placement for children who enter the U.S. without an adult guardian, considering the best interests of the child in all placement decisions.”

Rights of migrants

Our lobbying and advocacy on the rights of migrants highlighted many of the findings in The Advocates’ groundbreaking report, Moving from Exclusion to Belonging: Immigrant Rights in Minnesota Today. One of the issues we highlighted was discrimination against and profiling of non-citizens. Iran, Mexico, and Nicaragua called for an end to discrimination and violence against migrants and non-citizens, among other targeted groups. In partially accepting these recommendations, however, the U.S. government glossed over migrants, describing efforts “to counter intolerance, violence, and discrimination against members of all minority groups, including African-Americans, Muslims, Arabs, and indigenous persons.”

Another issue we highlighted is excessive use of force by officials on our country’s southern border. Mexico called on the United States to “[i]nvestigate cases of deaths of migrants by customs and border patrols, particularly those where there have been indications of an excessive use of force, and ensure accountability and adequate reparation to the families of the victims.” The government accepted the recommendation in part, adding that it “cannot support parts of this recommendation concerning reparations.”

The U.S. government expressed its support for recommendations to “[r]eview in depth migration policy” (Congo), to “[f]urther improve the rights of immigrants” (Senegal), to give “special attention . . . to protecting migrant workers from exploitative working conditions, specifically in the agricultural sector” (Portugal), and to “[e]nsure the rights of migrant workers, especially in the sector of agriculture where the use of child laborers is a common practice” (Holy See).

But in responding to Algeria’s call to “[t]ake necessary measures to combat discriminatory practices against . . . migrant workers in the labor market,” the U.S. government ignored the obstacles immigrant workers face in combating discrimination. As we explained in our stakeholder report,

“immigrants who experience discrimination often do not complain, either because they are unaware of their rights under the law, because it is easier to leave the employer than to pursue a complaint, or, for undocumented workers, because fear of deportation keeps them silent.”

The U.S. government, in responding to Algeria’s recommendation, ignored these complexities, stating simply that “U.S. federal labor and employment laws generally apply to all workers, regardless of immigration status.”

What’s next?

The U.S. government may be breathing a sigh of relief that the UPR is finally over, but The Advocates and other members of civil society know that today is just the beginning. Now we begin the process of working with the government to implement the recommendations the government accepted. And we haven’t lost hope for those “noted” recommendations–surprisingly, research shows that governments often implement, at least in part, UPR recommendations that they formally reject.

To learn more about the Universal Periodic Review process, read the chapter on Advocacy at the United Nations in The Advocates for Human Rights’ 2015 toolkit, Human Rights Tools for a Changing World: A Step-by-step Guide to Human Rights Fact-Finding, Documentation, and Advocacy.

By Amy Bergquist, staff attorney for the International Justice Program of The Advocates for Human Rights.


‪#‎HRC30‬: “Our lives are connected to one another.”

Zeod Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Zeod Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein at the opening of the
Human Rights Council session in Geneva, 14 September 2015

Mr President,


It was the way he lay: asleep, terminal, so profoundly sad – as if by lying in supplication before the waves that killed him he was asking for a replay, with a different outcome this time; and his socks and little shoes told us he was ready to try life again. But his cheek on the soft sand whispered otherwise, it made us choke.  Shamed and disgraced, the world wept before the body of this little boy.

These speeches, these sessions, these protests by so many of us here for a world more humane and more dignifying of the rights of all humans, all humans – what good are they, when this happens?  Not just once, not just to this tiny boy, Aylan Al Kurdi, but to so many across the world: the horror they experience, relayed daily to us through the news media shreds our hopes for some mercy, some relief.

Mr President,

After a year as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights I, together with many of my colleagues at the office, feel exhausted and angry.

Exhausted, because the system is barely able to cope given the resources available to it, while human misery accelerates.  From poverty of annihilating proportions in the many conflict-ridden areas where peace remains elusive, to the denial of the civil and political rights of peoples trapped between the pincers of ruthless extremists and governments fighting them; hatred; bigotry; racism – it all seems too overwhelming.

And angry, because it seems that little that we say will change this. To take one utterly shameful example, despite the horrific human rights violations in Syria that have been investigated, enumerated, discussed, we must continue to deplore the international community’s failure to act. Unless we change dramatically in how we think and behave as international actors – Member States, inter-governmental organizations and non-governmental organizations alike – all of us, in the human rights community, will be inconsequential in the face of such mounting violations.

And yet the selflessness of the finest UN staff members – like those from OHCHR whom I met in Bangui last week, working in the most difficult, dangerous, environments to record and report on human rights violations; and the stunning courage of human rights defenders throughout the world; the loneliness and pain of refugees and other rights-holding migrants: the hundreds of millions who suffer from hunger, discrimination, torture – they prevent us from conceding defeat.

We are mindful, also, that some countries in the Middle East – Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey – and in Europe – Germany and Sweden – show commendable humanity and leadership when it comes to hosting refugees and migrants needing protection. And there are millions of ordinary people who in opening their individual homes to refugees and other migrants have also demonstrated remarkable generosity, and a kindness that should be repeated elsewhere. The outpouring of human conscience that surged up following the publication of the photograph of Aylan, gave evidence for a counter-narrative to the mean-spiritedness of some decision-makers who have been whipping up the baser instincts of their populations.

And so I implore decision-makers in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific – as well as Europe – to take swift action to establish effective and principled migration governance. States have a sovereign right to secure their borders, and to determine conditions of entry and stay in their territories. But they also have an obligation to respect international human rights law, refugee law and humanitarian law.

I welcome the President of the EU Commission’s proposal last week to relocate a further 120,000 people in member states, and his statement that this is “a matter of humanity and dignity”. In Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Sweden and even  – despite the long-standing xenophobia of tabloids and some politicians – the United Kingdom, ordinary people have volunteered, not only assistance, but also political support for the rights of migrants and refugees. I urge European States to build on this surge of human feeling by putting in place an architecture of migration governance that is far more comprehensive, thoughtful, principled and effective. We need expanded channels of regular migration and resettlement – two measures which would prevent deaths and cut smuggling. Detention, particularly of children, and all forms of ill-treatment should cease, at borders and elsewhere.

I concur that there is no one swift solution to the terror, the trauma, the deprivation and neglect that drive so many millions of people to leave all that they have, and all they have ever known. To restore human rights in their homelands will take long and focused work. And yes, it is true the people most responsible for their migration are those leaders who have failed to uphold human rights, and robbed their people of hope.

But what we need from you, the distinguished members of the Human Rights Council, is a pledge to connect what you say here to material action on all fronts. The recommendations of the UPR and other human rights mechanisms must be implemented; the standing invitations to Special Procedures broadened; reports to mechanisms and treaty bodies must be accurate and timely; double standards must be banished, and hypocrisy, recognized.

We need your support to assist your countries, as well as others. We need you to accept scrutiny or criticism, and not to withdraw your voluntary contributions because we speak out. Ultimately it is you who exercise sovereign authority and bear that responsibility toward your own people. It is you who should be answerable to them – to respect and not fear them; to serve and not enslave them; to dignify, and not discredit them. My Office will be there to help where and when we can, upon request, and to comment when we receive information that raises concern. But in this, we are not infringing on the sovereign rights of any country.

Sovereignty cannot be damaged by carefully evaluated commentary. The search for truth can do many things, but it does not weaken, violate or assault.  But sovereignty is indeed threatened when tyranny in one country flings millions of people into flight and turmoil, and fuels the savagery of extremists who respect no laws or borders. Sovereignty is jeopardised when epidemics, unleashed by abject living conditions and failures to ensure health-care, endanger lives everywhere. When leaders responsible for crimes against humanity go unpunished and a culture of impunity feeds future cycles of violent instability across whole regions. When massive floods and endless droughts, kicked up by climate change, modify every parameter of people’s livelihoods regardless of State frontiers. When criminal networks, including human traffickers, are able to operate across countries freely. When corruption and cronyism eat away at the rule of law, the sense of community, the possibility of sustainable development and the legitimacy of government authority. These are factors which truly do endanger the sovereignty of States.

Upholding human rights is intrinsic to the obligations of sovereignty, and constitutes the fundamental basis for a healthy State. The voice of human rights is raised in support of your governance – to assist in building societies that are resilient, peaceful and prosperous.

Instability is expensive. Conflict is expensive. Offering a space for the voices of civil society to air grievances, and work towards solutions is free.

When ordinary people can share ideas to overcome common problems, the result is better, more healthy, more secure and more sustainable States. It is not treachery to identify gaps, and spotlight ugly truths that hold a country back from being more just and more inclusive. When States limit public freedoms and the independent voices of civic activity, they deny themselves the benefits of public engagement, and undermine national security, national prosperity and our collective progress.Civil society – enabled by the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly – is a valuable partner, not a threat.

Yet for several years, I and my predecessor have enumerated at this Council States that have taken extremely serious steps to restrict or persecute the voices of civil society. While I will continue to list them, I am devastated to have to report that there are now too many countries on that list for me to name them here today. This is a grim indictment of our record in protecting that foundation of good governance, the State’s service to its people, and it bodes ill for the future of your societies.

Overly restrictive legislation is enacted to limit the exercise of public freedoms and work by civil society organisations. In many situations, the voices of minority communities are suppressed and their activists and advocates are crushed. Women human rights defenders are targeted for specific attacks, often grounded in harmful and out-dated stereotypes of women’s so-called “place”. Measures are taken to sharply restrict the democratic space online, including blocking of websites and mass surveillance. Several States seem almost to be engaged in a war on information, in which legitimate critics and journalists are targeted for violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, and even murder – particularly those who investigate human rights violations, corruption and malfeasance by officials.

I am, for example, concerned about the detention and interrogation in recent months of more than 100 lawyers in China, in connection with their professional activities, and by the adoption of new laws with far-reaching implications for NGOs. I am also dismayed by the stigmatisation of foreign-funded NGOs in the Russian Federation, where the 2012 law has resulted in marginalising and discrediting organisations that contribute to the public good. I hope that the newly established expert group, consisting of Government officials, parliamentarians and civil society representatives will come up with solutions to this issue. Similar restrictive laws have been adopted in Central Asia, contravening the people’s right to participate in, and criticise, decisions.

Some Member States have sought to prevent civil society actors from working with UN human rights mechanisms, including this Council. Session after session, they attempt to bar from accreditation – based on spurious allegations of terrorist or criminal activity – groups that strive to expose problems and propose remedies. Reprisals have targeted some activists who have participated in Council-related activities, undermining the legitimacy and credibility of the international human rights institutions.

I call for your contributions to my forthcoming report to the Council on good examples in the civil society space. The construction of rule of law institutions that promote governance that is participatory, accountable and transparent. Regulatory frameworks which protect and support the right of grassroots organisations to raise their voices. Positive political and public environments which recognize the value of civic contribution, the free flow of information, and space at the decision-making table. These are the tools that build public confidence and stability in the long term.

The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development constitutes universal recognition that the challenges faced by any one of us may swiftly become crises faced by all. It grasps that these challenges cannot effectively be met by tinkering around the edges of economic, social and political governance, but require a fundamental shift in the dominant development model in all countries. The new Agenda offers real hope for stability, prosperity and conflict prevention. It points to development that is sustainable, equitable for all, environmentally sound, and grounded in human rights. Its promises must be implemented. I have high hopes for the Summit which will convene in New York in a few days, and I note that we may wish to consider how this Council, notably through the UPR, can best contribute to the implementation of this transformative agenda.

In December, the international community will gather for the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, an issue so vast and threatening to peace, prosperity, social justice and indeed life itself that it demands we seek solutions together, or face irreparable damage to humanity. Climate change is a threat multiplier, a force that intensifies the likelihood of poverty and deprivation of all kinds; conflict; and the precarious migration of people.

Mr President,

In the Central African Republic, which I visited two weeks ago, the most severe human rights violations have declined significantly since last year. But in several areas armed groups have set themselves up as de facto local authorities, and they continue to operate with almost total impunity. While a few alleged perpetrators have been charged with crimes, for the most part these have been minor figures. The most notorious leaders, with much blood on their hands, remain at liberty. The Government and the UN must do more to support the fight against impunity and to protect people from ongoing threats.It is critical to redress the national justice system and to swiftly set up the Special Criminal Court. Impunity is not the price of political stability; it is a strong driver of conflict.

I am also profoundly concerned about the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of serious human rights violations in Sudan, particularly in Darfur, the Blue Nile and South Kordofan. I urge the international community’s support and assistance to the International Criminal Court. The people of Sudan deserve justice and redress no less than those of other countries.

There has also been near-absolute impunity for violations committed in South Sudan. UNMISS has reported further shocking atrocities in the course of an upsurge in fighting that began in April. I welcome the recent peace agreement and trust that there will be rigorous implementation of its provisions on transitional justice and accountability – including the proposed hybrid court to try serious crimes including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

I remain deeply troubled by allegations of human rights violations in Somalia, by all parties. Violations of freedom of expression, forced evictions of displaced people in Mogadishu, and numerous reported cases of sexual violence also remain major concerns. It is vital to strengthen rule of law institutions to fight against impunity for human rights violations. I urge the Federal Government of Somalia to put human rights at the centre of the political and stabilization agenda, as a pre-condition for real peace.

In Mali, I regret to note that the people’s hope for peace following signature of the Peace and Reconciliation Accord has been tarnished by violation of the ceasefire, and related human rights violations. Further efforts are needed to compel all parties to comply with the Accord, and to ensure protection of the human rights of all Malians.

I continue to be concerned about the situation in Eritrea, where the Commission of Inquiry’s findings suggest that crimes against humanity may have been committed. My Office undertook an assessment mission to Eritrea earlier this year, and we hope that a second mission before the end of the year can find areas where we can cooperate with the authorities to strengthen national protection systems and implement the recommendations of the human rights mechanisms.

As this Council is aware, there have been some 100 deaths and over 600 arrests in the current crisis in Burundi, with over 180,000 people fleeing to neighbouring countries. The democratic space in Burundi has been largely erased, and the consequences for the nation and the Great Lakes region could be disastrous.

I welcome the important agreement between Iran and its international partners on nuclear issues, which promises to engage Iran more closely with the international community and alleviate some of the consequences of sanctions.  I urge Iran to make commensurate progress in human rights. Accelerated use of the death penalty, concerns about the right to a fair trial, and the continued detention of journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders remain a major cause for concern.

In Myanmar, the promise of democratic transition in November’s general election is being undermined by the detention and convictions of student activists, farmers, unionists and human rights defenders – people who are using their newfound rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly to protest against injustice and participate in the political sphere. I also strongly deplore the disenfranchisement of the majority of Rohingya due to a number of administrative and legal decisions in 2014 and 2015. Dozens of current Members of Parliament from the Muslim community and other minority groups – including prominent Rohingya MPs – have been refused permission to run as candidates because it is claimed that they or their parents are not citizens.

In the Maldives, the rule of law continues to be manipulated for political ends. I was initially encouraged by the Government’s decision, in July, to move former President Nasheed to house arrest, for health reasons and to appeal his conviction after a flawed trial. But the decision to return him to prison last month, and pursuit of a further criminal investigation against his family, are serious setbacks.  Given the deeply tainted nature of this case, I urge the Government to release him, and to review several hundred pending criminal cases against opposition supporters in relation to protests in recent months.

In Malaysia, the Government has increasingly sought to restrict public debate and protest around issues of governance and corruption. This effort has included amendments to the 1948 Sedition Act, to further broaden the activities categorized as offenses and introduce harsher penalties, and the arrest of individuals for tweeting criticism of corruption by officials or the policies of the Government or malfeasance by officials. It is unfortunate that such a confident and dynamic country should feel the need to intimidate critical voices.

The Australian government has recently decided to resettle more refugees from Syria. Yet the Government continues to restrict independent monitoring of detention centres for asylum seekers arriving by boat. Their access to medical care, independent legal counselling and journalists has also been curtailed. One consequence is that the public is misinformed about the situation in immigration centres.

I have also been concerned with the recent violence in the Terai region of Nepal, which has led to the death and injury of protestors and security personnel, as well as reported attacks against human rights defenders and journalists. I urge all political leaders to work together to address differences over the proposed constitution peacefully, and to ensure that the security forces uphold human rights at all times.

I am disturbed by the recent collective deportation of more than one thousand Colombians from Venezuela. My Office has been informed that this involved human rights violations, including lack of due process, destruction of property and separation of children from their families. The deportees may include large numbers of people in need of international protection. This deportation has generated such fear that thousands more have spontaneously fled. I urge the authorities to take immediate measures to guarantee family reunification and to prevent further abuse of Colombians.

My Office also continues to follow up the Dominican Republic‘s deportations of people of Haitian descent. I continue to urge the authorities to ensure that those with a valid claim to remain are allowed to do so, and that any deportation is carried out in line with international human rights standards.

Immigration has also been the object of shameless political grand-standing in the United States. I also remain very concerned about persistent discrimination against African-Americans. Repeated acts of violence have  highlighted racial biases in law enforcement, criminal justice and other areas. I encourage the US, and indeed all States, to take advantage of the programme of activities of the International Decade for People of African Descent to strengthen efforts to combat racial discrimination in the justice system, housing, employment, education, health and political participation.

The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine reported last week that almost 8,000 people have been killed since the start of the conflict in April last year. I am alarmed by the shelling of residential areas on both sides of the contact line, with only partial withdrawal of heavy weapons from the area as foreseen in the Minsk Agreements. Civilians living near the contact line endure extreme hardship, including limited access to food and water. At the same time, I welcome the recent adoption of a national human rights strategy, and the on-going development of a national human rights action plan by Ukraine. ASG Simonovic will be further updating this Council on 29 September, under item 10.

In the Republic of Moldova, I urge immediate responses, grounded in human rights, to address people’s grievances regarding grave mismanagement of public funds, lack of transparency, and failures of information, participation and accountability. If not addressed properly, these concerns could lead to greater polarization of society, the deterioration of human rights, and dangerous political and economic instability.

I remain concerned about the continued social exclusion and forced evictions of Roma in several countries, including Bulgaria and France.

In Guatemala, massive demonstrations protesting corruption by officials recently resulted in the resignation and subsequent arrests of the Vice-President and the President. Elections which took place a week ago were largely peaceful, with a high turnout of voters and strong demands for an urgent and comprehensive reform of the State. My Office stands ready to assist reforms, which I hope will be carried out in the very near future.

Anti-corruption protests have been taking place in Honduras since May. I welcome the President’s call for “unconditional dialogue” with protesters and plans to crack down on graft in politics and in the judiciary.

In Ecuador, recent demonstrations have sparked excessive use of force by police and possibly arbitrary detentions. I remind the Government that the people have a right to the freedoms of peaceful assembly and of expression.

One year ago, 43 students disappeared in Mexico, and were likely murdered by criminal gangs connected to corrupt officials. I welcome the Mexican Government’s decision to seek the assistance of the Inter-American Commission, through its Interdisciplinary Group of Experts. Their report has provided authorities with important recommendations that I trust will be comprehensively followed-up, in order to refocus the investigation, scrutinise the responsibility of authorities at all levels, and establish the truth.

Long-standing disputes over indigenous land continue to cause suffering and loss of life in Brazil. I note in particular the killing of a leader of the Guarani-Kaiowa people last month, and I urge the authorities to not only investigate this death, but also to take far-reaching action to halt further evictions and properly demarcate all land.

The situation in Iraq remains of serious concern. Although government and associated military forces have reclaimed some territory from ISIL, the group still retains control of a large area. More than three million Iraqis have been displaced from their homes since June 2014, with heavy loss of civilian life. Large numbers of women and children remain enslaved by ISIL, which also continues to violently abuse minorities and critics in areas under its control, and to perpetrate terrorist attacks in other areas of the country. In areas reclaimed from ISIL, civilians are subject to armed militias, which perpetrate killings, kidnappings and destruction of property. You will be further updated on Iraq later in this session.

The situation on the ground in Yemen continues to be a cause for serious concern. My Office has found that over 2,000 civilians have been killed and more than 4,000 wounded. The humanitarian crisis continues to deepen, with estimates that as many as 21 million Yemenis – 80% of the population – are in need of humanitarian assistance. Credible allegations of human rights violations by all parties to the conflict should be thoroughly examined by an independent and comprehensive body. In this regard I welcome the announcement by the Yemeni authorities to set up an investigative body to examine all these allegations, and I strongly urge revival of the talks between the exiled government and the Houthis.

All of us are aware of the deepening nightmare that is Syria. Violating the prohibition of use of chemical weapons; the prohibition of torture; every norm intended to protect civilians; and, more broadly, every principle of human rights, such relentless, long-lasting and vicious violence bites deeply into the sense of community that underpins peace and well-being in our world. The international community – and specifically the Security Council – has great power and influence over this terrible conflict, and it must now urgently find the consensus to act. I also urge in the strongest possible terms an immediate end to the devastating obstruction of humanitarian aid to the people of Syria and of Yemen. There should be far greater concern for the protection of civilians, as laid down by international humanitarian law.

In Libya, we continue to see indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian objects through the use of imprecise weaponry in densely-populated areas; destruction of homes; summary executions and arbitrary detention; and torture and other ill-treatment, in some cases leading to death. Impunity is near-absolute, and migrants, refugees, women human rights defenders, the internally displaced and religious minorities are intensely vulnerable to violations. The Assistant Secretary General will further update you on our concerns in the course of this session.

I am profoundly dismayed by the persistence of serious human rights concerns in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. A permanent and just resolution must be found to this long-standing conflict and occupation, in line with international norms. I note the spike in killings of Palestinians in incidents involving Israeli security forces in the West Bank over the past two months, which raise concern of excessive use of force, and the murderous arson of a Palestinian home in the West Bank village of Duma – sadly not the only act of violence against Palestinian homes in recent months. I am also concerned by an increasingly restrictive atmosphere in Israel, including for those who are critical of Israeli occupation policies and practices, and by legislation that enables financial penalisation of those who advocate for boycotts of Israeli settlements.

My Office has recently conducted missions to Morocco, to Western Sahara, and to the Saharan refugee camps near Tindouf, in Algeria, to gather greater understanding of the human rights situation and challenges in that region, and explore ways for cooperation to ensure effective human rights protection for all. Respect for the rights of the Saharan population remains essential to achieving resolution of this long-standing dispute.

Mr President,

Six years ago, we were confronted with serious violations and loss of civilian life in the last months of Sri Lanka‘s long civil war. This Council has been deeply engaged with the need for accountability, as a necessary step towards reconciliation in that country. On Wednesday I will release the report of the comprehensive investigation that OHCHR was mandated to conduct in March 2014, including my recommendations. Its findings are of the most serious nature. I welcome the vision shown by President Sirisena since his election in January 2015, and the commitments made by the new Government under his leadership. But this Council owes it to Sri Lankans – and to its own credibility – to ensure an accountability process that produces results, decisively moves beyond the failures of the past, and brings the deep institutional changes needed to guarantee non-recurrence.

In the course of my mission to the Central African Republic earlier this month, new allegations came to light regarding the sexual exploitation of a minor by a member of the Sangaris force. Although this was not a UN peacekeeping operation, I strongly believe that the time has come for Member States to take decisive action regarding investigation and courts-martial of peacekeepers involved in such abuses – in line with the recommendations that I made ten years ago, as adviser to the Secretary-General on this topic, and recommendations made by the High Level Panel on Peace Operations.

In June I travelled to Seoul to open OHCHR’s new office. As mandated by this Council, it will be a hub for monitoring, reporting and engagement on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Ilook forward to updating Council members later in the session. Allow me to note also that at the request of this Council, I intend to send a mission to South Sudan in October.

Later in this session, we will update you on human rights developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya and Ukraine, and on violations and atrocities committed by Boko Haram. My office will present reports on human rights in Yemen, technical assistance to Iraq, and the work of the Office in Cambodia.

Additionally, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention will be presenting the ‘UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Remedies and Procedures on the Right of Anyone Deprived of their Liberty by Arrest or Detention to Bring Proceedings before Court.’ This new protection tool, which was developed at the request of this Council through extensive global consultation, compiles and complements the existing norms of international law, standards and jurisprudence. I congratulate the Working Group on this essential contribution to the protection of any person against arbitrary detention, including secret detention, prolonged incommunicado detention, enforced disappearances, and torture.

Far too few of us are aware of the specific human rights violations faced by millions of intersex people. Because their bodies don’t comply with typical definitions of male or female, intersex children and adults are frequently subjected to forced sterilization and other unnecessary and irreversible surgery, and suffer discrimination in schools, workplaces and other settings. We plan an expert meeting to identify steps that States and others can take to end these abuses.


On 13 July I gave Member States a comprehensive briefing on the OHCHR Change Initiative. I emphasized that our planned regional hubs will position the Office to work more closely with Member States, ensuring real universality and facilitating greater support for this Council’s recommendations. The hubs will better balance our work geographically, and they will require no rise in our regular budget resources. In fact, decentralising resources will result in savings that will be reinvested, to strengthenthe support we are able to provide.

It is in this context that I appeal to Member States to endorse OHCHR’s regular budget proposal for 2016-2017, amounting to $198.7 million. I believe that this budget request should be considered minimal, in regard to the breadth and depth of the work we do, and it reflects a very significant effort to make the Office more efficient and more cost-effective. We count on your Governments to assist, and in the coming weeks I will follow up with many of you in this regard.

Mr President,

A cadence of anniversaries, beginning a year ago with the end of World War 1 and tolling through the past months, with the liberation of Auschwitz and the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, calls us to revisit the lessons that led to the founding of our institution. Those lessons cannot die with the generation that lived through those wars. They teach us, not only pity and horror for such atrocious suffering and broken lives; not only admiration for extraordinary individual courage and resilience; but wisdom, the difficult lessons of statesmanship.

In recent months, I have also given deep thought to the acts of genocide in Rwanda and Srebrenica. I have been privileged to share a conversation with three elderly South Korean victims of wartime sexual slavery who deserve the dignity of real acknowledgment of what they were forced to endure. And like so many, I have been moved to profound sorrow by the plight of the little boy on the beach, who represents in his life and death the injustices suffered by so many others.

Our lives are connected to one another. Actions and decisions in one country affect many other States; they shake the lives of many people, no less important and no less human than you and I. When the fundamental principles of human rights are not protected, the centre of our institution no longer holds. It is they that promote development that is sustainable; peace that is secure; and lives of dignity.

Thank you.

Note: The Advocates for Human Rights’ delegation, comprised of volunteers and staff, will be in Geneva to participate in the 30th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. There, the delegation will put pressure on countries to effectively respond to gender-based violence and to end the death penalty. The delegation will also advocate on issues related to diaspora.

Learn more about The Advocates for Human Rights’ work at the United Nations and other human rights mechanisms, and read The Advocates for Human Rights’ submissions that hold governments around the world accountable for human rights violations and abuses.


Acknowledging the Truth

The Hunting Ground - flyer.indd
Recently, I went to a showing of a new documentary called, “The Hunting Ground.” The purpose of the film is to raise awareness of what is described as an epidemic of sexual assault of men and women on college campuses.

According to the documentary, one in five female college students and one in 33 male students is sexually assaulted on campuses each year. The majority of the college students interviewed for the documentary were women. They discussed how their universities responded to their sexual assault allegations by often ignoring or dismissing their complaints, or treating them like the guilty parties.

I was, first, surprised by the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses. I was even more surprised by the response, or lack thereof, by many university administrators. Because the women were courageous to come forward with such serious complaints, it was hard for me to understand how some universities could sit still and not fully investigate their allegations.

Hopefully, this film creates a significant positive change with respect to the culture on college campuses. In my dream world, “The Hunting Ground” would be mandatory for all freshmen going into college, as well as college administrators, to watch — just as viewing drug and alcohol prevention videos is mandatory in many colleges.

I hope by the time I get to college, universities will have made progress in creating a space where it is safe for everyone to live and learn. Part of solving a problem is acknowledging its existence, and in my opinion, that is exactly what the “Hunting Ground” is achieving.

By youth blogger, Jenna Schulman, a ninth grade student at Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C.

“The Hunting Ground” is being screened Monday, September 21, at 6:30 p.m., at the Merriam Park Library, 1831 Marshall Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota. A post-film discussion will be led by Donna Dunn, member of The Advocates’ Women’s Advisory Committee. The film is being presented as part of the Women’s Human Rights Film Series, made possible through a partnership between The Advocates for Human Rights and The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library. Check here for the list of films being presented now through November.


Voices from Silence: Personal Accounts of the Long-term Impact of 9/11 #NeverForget

candle from morgue fileLate in the afternoon of September 13, 2001, a Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights (now, The Advocates for Human Rights) staff attorney was meeting in our office with two of our pro bono clients, a Christian couple fleeing religious persecution in Egypt. Although it had been rescheduled from the afternoon of September 11, this meeting to prepare their application for asylum was routine for our organization, which provides legal representation to hundreds of asylum seekers each year. During the meeting, however, two uniformed Minneapolis police officers obtained access to the locked offices of Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights and, without warning, entered the room where our clients were meeting with their attorney. Th police apologized for interrupting the meeting, but sated that they were obligated to investigate a report that a “Middle Eastern” man had entered the building, which was located next to the Federal Building in downtown Minneapolis. After they departed, we could see the fear in our client’s eyes as he asked,

“Am I not supposed to walk on the street anymore?”

We knew then that the impact of September 11 on our clients―and on our friends, colleagues, and ourselves―would go far beyond the loss and grief that we all felt when the World Trade Center fell.

We could not then have imagined, however, what the long-term government and community response to the terrorist attacks would be, nor the lasting impact of this response on Minnesotans from refugee, immigrant, and religious minority communities. The fear in the general public created by the United States government’s “War on Terror” has had a dramatic effect on the daily lives of many Minnesotans. We have received many reports from the public, as well as from staff and volunteers of The Advocates, of discriminatory behavior targeted at people based on their race or perceived religious affiliations.

For example, The Advocates’ staff attorney, a Sikh man, was denied access to a client at the Washington County jail in Stillwater, Minnesota. He was told that he must remove his turban or he would be denied entry to the facility. He told the official that such a rule denied his client a right to counsel and denied him a right to practice his religion. He produced his attorney license to no avail. The official told him that his entry was a safety concern but sought out the supervisor’s input. The supervisor indicated that he could meet with the client but that he could not be given a private meeting room an attorney-client meeting. Instead, he had to meet with his client in a monitored room communicating via telephone.

In September 2001, we could not have envisioned the extent to which the new laws and policies would silence refugee, immigrant, and religious minorities. In the aftermath of September 11, several individuals requested that The Advocates address the negative impact of the governmental and societal responses on entire groups of innocent people in our community. One man, a Muslim naturalized U.S. citizen, implored The Advocates staff to take action:

“[I]t is not safe for us to speak out; you must speak out for us now.”

The Advocates’ report, Voices from Silence: Personal Accounts of the Long-term Impact of 9/11 (2007), was an attempt to give voice to these concerns. It was not meant to be a comprehensive or a scientific study. It was meant to illustrate the impact that widespread discriminatory private acitons, as well as public laws and policies that have overturned longstanding, fundamental legal protections, have had on real people and their families. In some cases, it is difficult to discern whether a specific situation was caused by the reaction to the September 11 terrorist attacks or by persistent racism that existed long before 2001. Our experience in preparing the report suggests that it is likely a combination of both.

We at The Advocates for Human Rights continue to work toward our vision of a country in which every person not only has the right to express his or her point of view, but every person also feels safe in doing so. We hope that by listening to these voices and by seeking out the voices of others, we are increasing the likelihood that future discussions a bout national security, civil liberties, and immigration will include recognition of the inherent human rights and dignity of all people.

Read Voices from Silence: Personal Accounts of the Long-term Impact of 9/11.

By: Robin Phillips, Executive Director, The Advocates for Human Rights

This blog post is a reprint of the Voices from Silence foreward. Voices from Silence was published in February 2007.

No Matter Their Country, All Refugees Need Attention and Help

FeaturedNo Matter Their Country, All Refugees Need Attention and Help
Aylan & Galip Kurdi

The photo of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach is an image we should never forget. Instead of romping on the resort beach, Aylan―in his red shirt and dark pants—lies lifeless, his face buried in the sand.

Aylan; his brother, Galip; his mother, Rehan; and his father, Abdullah, had fled the violence in Syria, crossing the Aegean Sea to Greece, and with plans to eventually make their way to Germany or Canada. But high waves flipped the 15-foot rubber raft they were in, pitching them into the sea. The little boys and their mother, and at least nine others, drowned. Only Abdullah survived.

The Kurdi family was on that boat because they were desperate. Eleven of their relatives had been slaughtered at the hands of the Islamic State [ISIS] in the Kurdish-Syrian city of Kobane in June.

There are more refugees in the world trying to escape unimaginable violence than at any other time since the world began keeping records of such desperate journeys. The international community has failed to address the crises. Countries’ policies that exacerbate and intensify the suffering of refugees compound the grief.

Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees are fleeing or are stranded. They are crammed into rubber boats, trucks, and cargo holds, and arriving in Europe en masse. Thousands are trekking across Hungary to Austria, evoking images of people fleeing the Nazis in World War II. Parents cling to their children for dear life. But many drown in the water or suffocate in a truck in the middle of the night, reaching out for a hand to pull them to safety.

While Hungary, Germany, Austria, and other European nations have gathered recent attention, fingers must also point to the United States’ refugee policies. The United States has not risen to its ability to take in Syrian refugees (about 1,500 since the start of the Syria’s civil war in 2011).

Also consider the United States’ shameful treatment of refugees from Central America. While these refugees occupied headlines a year ago, our attention to their plight has largely shifted elsewhere. Despite less attention and fewer media stories, they still need help. Thousands of children and families continue to arrive at the United States-Mexico border, fleeing horrendous violence in Central America. Many remain locked up in United States detention centers.

In the United States, Central American refugees are met by a ruthless immigration system that jails them, denies their due process rights, mistreats the vulnerable, and fails to abide by international human rights standards. Reports describe children being held in “The Freezer”— rooms deliberately kept cold to make children and mothers suffer. People, including children, are denied basic medical treatment. Children are administered adult doses of vaccinations (and without proper consent), causing sickness. Children as young as five appear in court alone, forced to “represent” themselves in complex, English-speaking legal proceedings. They are met by judges showing little mercy and prosecutors labeling them as national security risks.

After the horrors of WWII, the international community recognized that refugees require protection. The world understood that there are people who have no other option but to flee their homelands, and that international and United States law must protect them. This is not how the United States and other countries are acting and responding today. Instead, they behave and respond in blunt, inhumane, and unforgiving ways; they treat refugees as criminals and terrorists, and even worse.

Domestic politics confuse and conflate the crises. National leaders’ xenophobic and racist rhetoric fuels the fire. As refugees reach countries that have enormous resources, a troubling trend is exposed when people are not treated with dignity, humanity, and compassion. Each year, countries move closer to policies condemned in the past. As refugee flows expand, the United States and European countries are systematically denying refugees of their rights, violating human rights law, and the promises they had made and the treaties they signed.

You and I must hold our respective governments accountable. We must confront the consequences of the world’s collective failure to help migrants escaping violence in search hope and safety. We must pressure our governments to turn toward, not away from, refugees.

If you live in the United States, urge President Obama and U.S. Congress (House of Representatives and U.S. Senate) to increase the annual refugee admissions goal from the 2015 number of 70,000 to 200,000 for 2016.

The Advocates for Human Rights represents Syrian and Central American asylum seekers in legal proceedings and ensures that their right to asylum is protected. If you are an attorney or can interpret, please consider volunteering with The Advocates and support these refugees.

The words of Adnan Hassan, cousin of Abdullah and Rehan Kurdi, condemning the world for turning its back on Syrian refugees, can speak for all refugees, no matter the country they flee:

“Do we deserve to have our children picked up from beach shores because their parents panicked and wanted to save their children, save them from terrorism, from kidnappings, from being slaughtered?” Hassan asked in an interview with reporter Jack Moore (International Business Times, September 4.) “How long will they let our children either be killed by terrorists or drown trying to escape?”

By: Deepinder Mayell, director of The Advocates for Human Rights’ Refugee and Immigrant Program.

You & I Can Give a Child a Bright Future

FeaturedYou & I Can Give a Child a Bright Future
Thomas Dickstein
Thomas Dickstein with students at The Advocates’ Nepal School in 2011.

A week away from the start of my final year of high school, I am ready. My pencils are sharpened, ready to attack the loose-leaf paper in the three-ring binders waiting in my backpack. My textbooks are in the mail, I’m all signed up for the school bus, and I’m excited about receiving my school laptop. And yes, I’ve started my college applications.

All over the world, there are kids my age and younger who aren’t preparing for school. Instead, they get ready each morning (or night) for work. Sometimes it’s in a factory, sometimes it’s in a field, and sometimes it’s elsewhere—a brick yard, perhaps? Are they paid? Maybe. Are they fed? Possibly. Is it dangerous and back-breaking labor? Usually. Do they receive an education? Probably not. What about their futures? Dismal.

There are many such children in the Kathmandu Valley. But in one community, things are different. Three-hundred fifty kids wake up each morning, pack their backpacks, and head to school. Six days a week, they sit down and learn. They take classes in all the subjects one would expect in a typical school. In addition to Nepali, they also learn English, preparing them for international business in the future.They even get to join clubs and explore their passions with extracurricular activities.

The school they attend, the Sankhu-Palubari Community School (SPCS), was established by The Advocates for Human Rights in 1999. Today, its students earn top scores on Nepali standardized tests, and its graduates are moving on to secondary education and universities, obtaining top jobs, and returning “home” as teachers, argonomists, and other professionals eager to improve the community’s quality of life. Some even dream about making a difference abroad.

Without The Advocates’ school, this would not be possible. You see, Nepali public schools have fees for textbooks, uniforms, school supplies, and meals. The students at SPCS are from families that struggle to put food on the table, even without paying school fees. To solve that, the Advocates eliminated cost from the equation. It doesn’t cost a cent to attend SPCS. All school supplies, textbooks, uniforms, and lunches are paid for by the school.

That’s what makes SPCS great.

Just over half the students at SPCS are female, and they’re mostly surpassing the boys in class rank and test scores. Currently, more than 50 percent of SPCS students are girls, a huge gain in the percentage in place when the school first opened. SPCS supports girl students so that they stay in school, and the school has made remarkable strides towards gender parity in a country where education of girls is often not valued equally with education of boys. Impressed? If not, consider the fact that female literacy in Nepal lags behind that of males by a staggering 33 percent, according to the International Labor Organization.

I’ve seen the school with my own eyes. It’s not a four-story metal-and-glass, state-of-the-art facility like my high school. It’s a house about the size of my family’s, nestled between two farm fields, with brick factories dotting the surrounding hillsides. Inside the school, magic happens. Students are eager and engaged, and teachers are committed. For the students, SPCS is their ticket out of a life of factory, brick yard, or field labor. The education they receive brings unlimited opportunity to their lives. In the 21st Century, the sky is no longer the limit. And it certainly isn’t the limit for graduates of the Sankhu Palubari Community School.

I encourage you to learn more about the school. It truly is a magical place. By clicking here, you can watch a video I produced about the school, read more about it, and even donate to help support the school. Did I mention that just $250 covers an entire year of costs for one student? That includes textbooks, uniforms, school supplies, and a daily meal. Yeah, click that link now. Here it is again in case you don’t want to scroll back up to it.

By: Thomas Dickstein, high school senior and a volunteer with The Advocates for Human Rights, who gives his time and talents to support the Sankhu-Palubari Community School. 


Mayor’s Vatican Meeting Brings Minnesota’s Vision for Combatting Human Trafficking to World Stage

Puppet RGBWhen Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges meets with the Vatican, she has the opportunity to highlight a position that Minnesota law reflects and to which our community has committed: the prostitution of another person is human trafficking.

When it comes to defining human trafficking, Minnesota law looks at the behavior of the trafficker: did that person “receive, recruit, entice, harbor, provide, or obtain by any means an individual to aid in the prostitution of an individual”? If yes, it’s trafficking. Minnesota does not define human trafficking by the conduct of the victim. This unique approach helps to hold traffickers accountable regardless of the “consent” of the victim.

Minnesota’s anti-trafficking policy reflects the understanding that targeting buyers and traffickers is good public policy. Because make no mistake, trafficking operates in a marketplace driven by demand, as research published last year by Dr. Lauren Martin and Dr. Alexandra Pierce, put into disturbing focus. The Minnesota approach avoids the trap inherent in attempts to rationalize a distinction between prostitution and trafficking, a position which rests on a tempting but ultimately untrue assumption of equal bargaining power between the woman and the person who buys her for the hour.

NPR reporter Sylvia Poggioli’s report is a somewhat disturbing example of how the issue plays out. In the report, Poggioli talks about a new Rome ordinance that creates permitted zones for prostitution in a previously unregulated city. The report identifies first the paradox that while “aiding and abetting prostitution” is illegal (possibly under anti-trafficking laws), exchange of sex for money is legal and that the city’s response to the growing nuisance of open prostitution is to create tolerance zones and fine sex buyers who purchase outside one of the zones.

Poggioli goes on: “The great majority of prostitutes in Italy are foreigners. Many are undocumented women from Nigeria, victims of human traffickers and women from European Union countries such as Romania and Bulgaria.” It’s no surprise that Poggioli can’t distinguish between prostitution and trafficking, because they are part and parcel of the same exploitation. This inadvertent insight hits the nail on the head: prostitution isn’t about the sex and it’s not about work; it’s about power, degradation, and violence.

The Vatican meeting comes at a moment when the debate over legalization of prostitution is in full swing. Amnesty International is poised to adopt a policy on sex work that recommends legalization of sex buying and selling.

To some extent the recommendation reflects the legitimate concern that criminalization of prostituted persons, especially in LGBTI communities worldwide, is too often used as an excuse to target people on account of sexual orientation, political opinion, ethnicity or other factors. While legalization may take away one avenue for this persecution, it avoids tackling the root causes of why people are on the street in the first place.

Arguments for legalization of sex buying avoid an even bigger elephant in the room: that of men’s responsibility for commercial sexual exploitation. Poggioli falls for the tired attempt to blame men’s sex buying on Italian women’s “liberation.” Amnesty International essentially blames criminalization of sex buying for the human rights violations experienced by people sold for sex. Both leave intact and unexamined demand for ready access to paid sex when, where, and how men want it.

Minnesota, meanwhile, is on a different path, one that is consistent with our understanding of the fundamentally violent and exploitative nature of prostitution that is reflected in our existing laws. Given our roots, perhaps it’s no surprise that Minnesota is considering an approach which has come to be known as the Nordic Model. Led by Minnesota representative John Lesch, a bill to repeal the penalties for selling sex while retaining penalties against sex buyers and traffickers strikes the right balance.

We know that a community commitment to what the U.S. State Department calls the 3Ps of protecting victims, prosecution those responsible for the trafficking, and preventing trafficking in the first place is fundamental to fighting human trafficking.

One of the keys to the success of Minnesota’s approach to sexually exploited youth has been the creation of the No Wrong Door model, which resulted from a multi-disciplinary stakeholder engagement process which reinforced a collective understanding of what trafficking is and evidence-based practices to help victims rebuild their lives. The process was included in the 2011 Safe Harbor legislation to ensure that Minnesota did not simply “decriminalize” trafficked youth but made a good faith effort to actually meet their needs so they did not need to return to selling sex for lack of other options while retaining criminal accountability for those who buy and sex other people for sex.

Minnesota’s anti-trafficking policy is on the right track and with this visit to the Vatican, it’s set to take the world stage.

By: Michele Garnett McKenzie, Director of Advocacy, The Advocates for Human Rights


The Injustice of Silence

Ayona Riley
Ayona Riley

I graduated from Marquette University in the spring of 2014. As a political science major, I did not have an exact “dream job” pinned down. The only aspect of my post-graduation plans that I had pinned down, was that I knew I wanted to help people. Naturally, throughout my senior year of college I applied to various post-graduate service opportunities. I chose to serve with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC), because it was the only program I applied to that emphasized the connectedness of faith and social justice. I wanted to put my faith in action. Through the JVC, I was placed with The Advocates for Human Rights to serve as a full-time program assistant for the Refugee & Immigrant Program and the Research, Education, and Advocacy Program. Aside from serving full-time with The Advocates, I live in intentional community with four other Jesuit Volunteers (JVs).

I applied to JVC knowing that there would not be many people of color, and I thought I would be okay with that. However, when I arrived at the baggage claim area in the Indianapolis airport, seeing that I was indeed a pinch of pepper in a sea full of salt, I thought: “Why did I do this? Why did I intentionally place myself in an environment where I would be the only African American, or one of few?” At that moment, I realized just how difficult my year of service would be. An additional reality was that my year of service in JVC corresponded with a time in U.S. history when a civil rights movement (although, I would like to think of it as a human rights movement) was being revived within the Black community. As a result, I spent most of my time this year analyzing and re-analyzing similar experiences I had as an African American in JVC and within society.

The #BlackLivesMatter and #SayHerName protests have forced me to reach a deeper level of consciousness about my blackness, because the racial injustices that have gained national attention over the course of this year have reminded me just how actively blackness is policed, persecuted, and ostracized within society. As a result, I felt a need to preserve and protect my blackness from ignorance, and that process began by being intentional about following cases of racial injustice, not only in the United States, but abroad as well. I sat and watched the videos of the several African Americans who were killed by law enforcement officers this past year. I made myself watch, in its entirety, a video of a 14-year-old-girl being manhandled in her swimsuit by an officer, and thinking “that could have been me…that could have been my sister.” I watched the video of Israeli police officers beating an Ethiopian-Israeli soldier. I sat and read countless articles by Whites and Blacks across the political spectrum on these issues. Through these experiences, I have reaffirmed that I am not a fan of Fox News. I like The Washington Post, Time Magazine is bold, and “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart is the gold standard. I have come to love the less mainstream news sources, like AfricaIsACountry, Jezebel, and MadameNoire. Throughout this year, I have fallen in love with my blackness and feel even more connected to what Paul Gilroy, Professor of American and English Literature at King’s College London, describes as the Black Atlantic; however, throughout this year, I also needed a place to express my feelings.

Unfortunately, I did not find solace within the JVC community to discuss issues of racial injustice, in part because I have never felt 100 percent comfortable. I come from a background where the threshold for trust and comfortability could never be met in a year of knowing someone. Additionally, many times – although not every time – when I expressed outrage over incidents that displayed racial injustice, I would be met with blank stares and silence – as if fellow JVs were afraid to delve deeper into these issues or lacked the language to thoroughly discuss these issues. Or, perhaps JVs were listening, but they did not hear me.

Listening but not hearing is common. As a child, my mother would talk and I would show little interest, because I was eager to go outside and play. My mother would say: “Ayona, do you hear me?” and I would reply with, “Yes, mama, I’m listening.” Her follow-up question would always be, “But do you HEAR me?” Fellow JVs often use the phrase “I have to unpack this” as a response to discussions about racism. Unfortunately, I have come to equate that phrase with “I cannot or do not want to offer up an opinion on this topic.” Either way, it is privilege: to be able to hear, but not listen, and to have the option to disengage on issues of racial injustice. Therefore, I mentioned these issues less frequently during my year of service. Instead, I would spend hours texting and talking on the phone with my friends or tweeting incessantly about what it means to be Black in America.

JVC attracts White 20-somethings who are social justice-oriented, or at least have a desire to be. In essence, JVs should be the pinnacle of young White allies, liberals, moderates, or any other word used to describe White Americans who support social justice. From experience, however, topics centering on race have not merited much thought-provoking conversations amongst this group. If you are outspoken on gender and economic inequality, yet remain mute on systemic and institutionalized racism, you are not an ally. You are the problem. It is not the duty of African Americans to spark or carry discussions about racial injustice. As an ally, these are issues you should already know about and have a desire to discuss.

Being an ally means standing with, not for, African Americans. It means knowing when to speak up and against racial injustice, because “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”[1] It means being conscious of micro-aggressions – notably, constantly correcting African Americans’ speech or statements, or outright dismissing our thoughts and opinions. It means being okay with African Americans having valid points on issues. It means understanding the methods we choose for redressing grievances; which means you have to be okay with African Americans being right on occasion. Being an ally means being intentional about hearing African Americans when we speak. Unlike you, when race comes into play, African Americans do not have the privilege of listening but not hearing. For an African American, listening but not hearing a White person could result in being labeled incompetent, reinforcing stereotypes, or being shot multiple times by a White police officer who has been raised in a society where blackness is deemed dangerous.

While the “quotable” portions of MLK’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” are often used by society, I will end this entry with a portion of the letter that is often ignored:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill-will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection…Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all of the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.[2]

As activists, allies, and supporters for social justice in the 21st Century, this quote is saying: Racial injustice requires your attention. Post your outrage of racial injustice on Facebook and other social media sites. Speak up against racial injustice. Protest, boycott, die-in, and do these things proudly. Most importantly, be intentional about engaging in conversations about race, even if it is unsettling for you.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”[3]

[1] Archbishop Desmond Tutu

[2] Dr.Martin Luther King Jr. Letter From Birmingham Jail. Birmingham, Alabama. 16 April 1963. Retrieved from: http://okra.stanford.edu/transcription/document_images/undecided/630416-019.pdf on 23 June 2015.

[3] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Loving Your Enemies. Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama. 17 November 1957.

By: Ayona Riley, program assistant with The Advocates for Human Rights.

There Are No Sanctuary Cities in the United States

FeaturedThere Are No Sanctuary Cities in the United States

I’m from Saint Paul, so I ought to know. Saint Paul was, famously, a sanctuary city. In the 1930s the city allowed organized crime to operate freely without threat of arrest so long as they promised not to commit any crimes in the city.

Nonetheless, two U.S. senators have introduced amendments to a pending education funding bill that would block funding to “sanctuary cities.” Their move comes in the wake of the tragic killing of a San Francisco woman by a previously deported man who had been released from police custody.

Today, the term “sanctuary city” often is used by anti-immigrant political candidates to conjure up images of U.S. citizen criminals languishing behind bars while noncitizens walk free simply because they are aliens. This is ridiculous. There is no city in this country where a person who is arrested and charged with a crime or who is subject to a lawfully issued warrant for their arrest would be released onto the street simply because they are not a U.S. citizen.

What fear-mongering detractors call “sanctuary cities” are more accurately termed separation policies. In Minnesota, these policies were developed by police departments – not by city councils or mayors – to carefully balance two important policing priorities: cooperating with federal immigration authorities while ensuring that everyone living in our communities turns to the police if they are victims of crime. They seek to assure victims that if they report a crime to the police, they will not be interrogated about civil immigration status violations if they have not themselves committed a crime. These policies help ensure that criminals who prey upon immigrants are brought to justice.

Although these policies are accused of creating “sanctuary cities,” nothing is farther from the truth. Nothing stops police officers from arresting immigrants who are suspected of committing crimes.

  • Separation ordinances place no restriction on a law enforcement officer’s authority to arrest people who are suspected of committing crimes.
  • They place no restriction on an officer’s authority to ask for identification and arrest people who fail to establish their identity.
  • They place no restriction on an officer’s authority to investigate immigration-related crimes.
  • They place no restriction on an officer’s authority to ask about and record country of birth.
  • They specifically authorize local cooperation with federal immigration officials on joint criminal investigations.

Fear of deportation too often prevents immigrants from seeking protection from law enforcement and impedes an effective government response to victims of crime. The U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services notes that criminals are known to target immigrants because their reluctance to report crimes is well-known. Our research at The Advocates for Human Rights shows that human traffickers prey upon the vulnerabilities of their victims, including fear of deportation and that fear of deportation has a powerful silencing effect on immigrant victims of domestic violence. It is the obligation of the State to ensure that these crime victims can seek police protection, regardless of whether these victims are lawfully in the United States.

Separation ordinances help cities carefully balance the need to cooperate with federal immigration officials against the need to ensure that everyone has meaningful access to security of the person, due process, and equal protection before the law.

It is true that sometimes noncitizens who are accused of crimes don’t face a trial or sentence in the United States. But it’s ICE’s own practices – not community policing policies – which are to blame. Informal ICE detainer requests – at issue in the San Francisco case – have sometimes meant that people facing criminal charges are turned over to ICE before they go to trial, depriving local communities of the opportunity to try, convict and sentence individuals in the rush to keep deportation numbers high.

For years ICE has sent “detainer requests” to local law enforcement asking them to hold onto people who would otherwise be released for an additional 48 hours instead of seeking an arrest warrant. Why? Well, it’s certainly easier to send a fax to a jail than present a case in front of a judge.

But the detainer request is not just easier than a warrant. These requests amount to fishing expeditions where ICE gets time to interrogate without counsel foreign-born people in police custody to determine whether there is probable cause that the individual is deportable.

ICE is so used to circumventing the constitution that, when they actually already have a basis for a warrant – which they certainly did in San Francisco – they don’t bother.

Why have local communities begun to question ICE’s unconstitutional detention requests? First, this practice created an incentive to arrest people who look or sound “foreign” without probable cause on any crime, knowing that the individual would be turned over to ICE before any constitutional violation came to light. This is no accident: ICE’s early sales pitch to local law enforcement touted that ICE could “make people disappear” even when local cops lacked evidence of criminal activity.

This bad practice was exacerbated by the implementation of the Secure Communities program, which began pushing our detainer requests on a much larger scale. While awaiting pickup by ICE, local communities were expected to house detainees and to assume liability both for any injury that happened while the person was in custody and for unlawful imprisonment if that person was in fact a US citizen. In 2014, a federal court in Oregon held that these informal requests did not pass constitutional muster and violated the 4th Amendment.

As Hector Villagra, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said in a recent op-ed, “we should not shred the Constitution in the face of tragedy.”

By: Michele Garnett MacKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ director of advocacy.


Oromo Protests One Year On: Looking Back; Looking Forward

Minnesota Oromos and allies rally at the Minnesota State Capitol on May 9
Minnesota Oromos and allies rally at the Minnesota State Capitol on May 9, 2014

Oromos and others in the Ethiopian diaspora are on the edge of their seats. Not only are general elections in Ethiopia scheduled for Sunday, but today the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is reviewing Ethiopia’s human rights record.

Ethiopia under review at the UN

Today, May 22nd, the United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child is reviewing Ethiopia’s human rights record in light of its commitments under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This treaty describes the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of children. Ethiopia became a party to the Convention in 1991. Ethiopia has undergone three previous reviews with the Committee, and tomorrow’s session will consolidate the country’s fourth and fifth periodic reviews. The Committee’s review has a number of objectives. The Committee will review Ethiopia’s progress on the Committee’s previous recommendations, assess the current state of Ethiopia’s commitments, and–we hope–address some relevant issues civil society organizations like The Advocates for Human Rights and the the International Oromo Youth Association (IOYA) raised in a report to the Committee in July 2014.

Amy Bergquist and IOYA President Amane Badhasso prepare for the closed-door session with the Committee on the Rights of the Child
Amy Bergquist and IOYA President Amane Badhasso prepare for the closed-door session with the Committee on the Rights of the Child

The Advocates and IOYA met with Committee members in Geneva last September to assist them in preparing their list of issues to focus on during tomorrow’s review. The report describes numerous violations of children’s rights in Ethiopia, and it also focuses on ethnic discrimination faced by the Oromo people–the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. It emphasizes legal provisions that hinder civil society organizations from being able to carry out effective child rights work in Ethiopia. The report also outlines various government violations affecting children, including violations of civil rights and freedoms, family environment, basic health and welfare, and education. The Advocates’ report especially emphasizes the violations carried out by the Ethiopian government against minors in relation to last year’s Oromo student protests. Read on for some initial coverage of how the Committee has been using this report during today’s review.

What happens at the Committee’s review?

The Committee’s review takes place over two sessions. The first session starts with representatives of the Ethiopian Government presenting a brief overview on the current state of Ethiopia’s commitments under the Convention on the Rights of the Child–typically a brief summary of the State’s report to the Committee and a response to the Committee’s list of specific issues to which Ethiopia was previously asked to reply. Then there is a first round of questions and responses from the government delegation. During the second session, government representatives will have a chance to answer additional questions from the Committee, responding with more detail to address the Committee’s concerns.

The review takes place in Geneva, Switzerland with the first session from 10am–1pm, and the second from 3pm–6pm. The sessions are broadcast on the UN’s live treaty body webcast, and will later be archived and available online.

Quick recap

This morning, the Committee raised concerns about the government’s response to the Oromo student protests in 2014. The Ethiopian delegation’s response was as predictable as it was disappointing. The Ethiopian government said the students were not peaceful but rather were “promoting a terrorist agenda.” The Committee members expressed displeasure with the government’s classification of children as “terrorists,” prompting the Ethiopian Ambassador to the UN Office in Geneva to assert to the Committee that the students were probably “convinced by a totally unacceptable ideology.” The ambassador reserved judgment on whether the rights of students had been violated, but conceded that the delegation had heard the Committee’s concerns.

The Committee raised many other issues highlighted in our report, including sexual assault of students by teachers, FGM, discrimination against children with disabilities, and child domestic workers. For more details about today’s review, follow tweets at @alb68.

In just a few weeks, the Committee will issue its Concluding Observations and Recommendations from today’s review.

Concerns surrounding Ethiopia’s general elections

Ethiopia will also hold its parliamentary elections on Sunday, May 24th. According to Ethiopia’s Fana Broadcasting Corporate, about 36.8 million people have voting cards, and the nation has set up 45,000 polling stations across the country.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, who is running for re-election, has never run for the post of prime minister before. He took over leadership of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) after the death of the former Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi. The EPRDF, the current ruling party, has won four consecutive elections in Ethiopia, winning the 2010 elections with 99.6% of the vote. Several opposition groups fear this election will have the same result.

Oromo groups, in particular, have been campaigning against the EPRDF, but according to an Al Jazeera report, this campaigning has prompted the government to place an even stronger grip on its citizens, increasing repression of their basic political liberties. Since 2010, the government has shut down the majority of independent media sources in Ethiopia, and so the Ethiopian media itself does not provide much coverage of election issues. Many sources that provide information to media and human rights groups are often targeted by the Ethiopian government, and many diaspora websites are blocked. At the same time, citizens fear the consequences of voting for an opposition party, worried that it will lead to even more repression.

Looking back on the past year

With all that’s taking place in Ethiopia over the next few days, it’s an important time to look back and reflect on what’s happened and the advocacy The Advocates has been engaging in with the diaspora over the past year:

(1) Oromo student protests

Oromo students protesting in Burayu. Image courtesy of Gadaa.com. http://gadaa.com/oduu/25775/2014/05/02/breaking-news-oromoprotests-buraayyuu-oromiyaa/
Oromo students protesting in Burayu. Image courtesy of Gadaa.com. http://gadaa.com/oduu/25775/2014/05/02/breaking-news-oromoprotests-buraayyuu-oromiyaa/

We’re now one year on from the Oromo student protests, highlighted by a blog series at The Advocates Post last year. Human rights organizations and Oromo diaspora groups, while outraged by the events in Ethiopia, have been unable to intervene directly due to the government’s strict limitations on independent human rights work within the country. Instead, the Oromo diaspora began awareness-raising movements here in Minnesota and around the world, using the #OromoProtests hashtag, and inviting others to join the movement. The Oromo diaspora organized several programs and made use of various tactics from The Advocates’ Paving Pathways appendix on “Using Popular Social Media Platforms for Effective Human Rights Advocacy.”

 (2) Ethiopia’s turn in the Universal Periodic Review

The Ethiopian Government's delegation to the Universal Periodic Review on May 6, 2014, chaired by State Minister of Foreign Affairs Berhane Gebre-Christos
The Ethiopian Government’s delegation to the Universal Periodic Review on May 6, 2014, chaired by State Minister of Foreign Affairs Berhane Gebre-Christos

At the time of the protests, Ethiopia was up for review as part of the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The Advocates, along with members of the Oromo diaspora in Minnesota, prepared a stakeholder report for Ethiopia’s review. We lobbied the Geneva missions of several foreign governments, urging them to raise issues surrounding discrimination targeting Oromos and the student protests to Ethiopia’s government.

In September, the UN Human Rights Council formally adopted the outcome of the UPR of Ethiopia. As we reported at the time, there were some fireworks as civil society organizations challenged the Ethiopian government’s repressive policies.

At the adoption of the UPR outcome, the Ethiopian government made several commitments to improve its human rights record, including accepting a recommendation from the United Kingdom to “[t]ake concrete steps to ensure the 2015 national elections are more representative and participative than those in 2010, especially around freedom of assembly and encouraging debate among political parties.” Initial reports suggest that the Ethiopian government has not honored its word. But people in the diaspora can work with people on the ground in Ethiopia to document these ongoing human rights violations and to prepare reports to use in future advocacy.

(4) Meeting with the Committee on the Rights of the Child

Amane Badhasso and Sinke Wesho in front of Palais Wilson in Geneva
Amane Badhasso and Sinke Wesho in front of Palais des Nations in Geneva

In September 2014, The Advocates and IOYA traveled to Geneva to meet with the Committee on the Rights of the Child as it prepared its list of issues that would guide its review of Ethiopia’s human rights record. We also had the opportunity to meet with the staff of some of the UN special procedures to discuss other opportunities for raising human rights concerns at the United Nations.

(5) The African Human Rights Commission reviews Ethiopia’s human rights record

African Commission on Human and People's RightsAlso in September 2014, The Advocates and IOYA submitted a lengthy alternative report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, responding to the Ethiopian Government’s report. The in-person review, originally scheduled for October, was delayed due to the Ebola crisis. But the review finally happened just last month, and the African Commission’s concluding observations on Ethiopia’s human rights record should be published in the next few months.

(6) More to come

The Advocates has a few other projects in the works with diaspora communities from Ethiopia. We’ll keep you posted as those efforts progress.

Hope for the upcoming days

As we’ve said before, making progress on human rights is like a marathon, not a sprint. Ethiopia is a case in point. But neither The Advocates nor the diaspora will turn its back on the Ethiopian government’s human rights violations. We’ll continue to monitor the situation in the country and pursue strategies to pressure the government to honor its human rights commitments. Our toolkit, Paving Pathways for Justice and Accountability: Human Rights Tools for Diaspora Communities, is over 400 pages long, and there are still a lot of strategies that need to be developed and still a lot of work that remains to be done in the fight for human rights in Ethiopia.

Are you, or do you know, a member of a diaspora community? What can you do to be an advocate for human rights from afar?

By Amy Bergquist, staff attorney for the International Justice Program of The Advocates for Human Rights.

Read more about diaspora engagement and human rights in Ethiopia:

Advocating for the Rights of Children in Ethiopia

Building Momentum in Geneva with the Oromo Diaspora

UN Special Procedures Urged to Visit Ethiopia to Investigate Crackdown on Oromo Protests

Oromo Diaspora Mobilizes to Shine Spotlight on Student Protests in Ethiopia

Ethiopian Government Faces Grilling at UN

“Little Oromia” Unites to Advocate for Justice and Human Rights in Ethiopia

Diaspora Speaks for Deliberately Silenced Oromos; Ethiopian Government Responds to UN Review

Ambo Protests: A Personal Account (reposted from Jen & Josh in Ethiopia: A Chronicle of Our Peace Corps Experience)

Ambo Protests: Spying the Spy? (reposted from Jen & Josh in Ethiopia: A Chronicle of Our Peace Corps Experience)

Ambo Protests: Going Back (reposted from Jen & Josh in Ethiopia: A Chronicle of Our Peace Corps Experience)

The Torture and Brutal Murder of Alsan Hassen by Ethiopian Police Will Shock Your Conscience (by Amane Badhasso at Opride)

#OromoProtests in Perspective (by Ayantu Tibeso at Twin Cities Daily Planet)


“All our SPCS family r safe…”

SPCS students enjoying recess.  March 2015. (Credit:  Jennifer Prestholdt)
Students at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School enjoying recess in March, 2015. (Credit: Jennifer Prestholdt)

“All our SPCS family r safe …”

This was the message I received from Anoop Poudel, headmaster at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School (SPCS), on Monday night. We had been desperately trying to reach Anoop and others connected with SPCS since the 7.8 earthquake devastated Nepal on Saturday, April 25.  Our concern grew as the death toll mounted and the strong aftershocks continued in the Kathmandu Valley. What a relief to learn that the teachers and 340 students at the school, as well as their families, are safe!

The Sankhu-Palubari Community School in the rural Kathmandu Valley, March 2015. (Credit: David Kistle)
The Sankhu-Palubari Community School in the rural Kathmandu Valley, March 2015. (Credit: David Kistle)

In my role as The Advocates for Human Rights’ deputy director, I coordinate The Advocates’ Nepal School Project. I was in Nepal just a few weeks ago with a team of volunteers to conduct our annual monitoring visit. The Advocates has been partnering with the Sankhu-Palubari community since 1999 to provide education as an alternative to child labor for low-income children in the area who would otherwise be working in brick yards or in the fields.

The Sankhu-Palubari Community School provides free, high quality education to children in grades pre-K through 10. Many of the students walk a long way to get to school – some as long as two hours each way.

The students’ standardized test scores are among the highest in Nepal, a highly competitive honor. And the school was awarded Nepal’s prestigious National Education Service Felicitation Award in 2014. Graduates are now studying at universities, preparing to become doctors, social workers, teachers, and agronomists; many plan to return to their village to improve the community’s quality of life. Their contributions will be even more important now, in the aftermath of this devastating earthquake.

Some students walk - up to 2 hours each way - to Sankhu-Palubari Community School to access their right to education.  (Credit: Laura Sandall)
Some students walk – up to 2 hours each way – to Sankhu-Palubari Community School to access their right to education. (Credit: Laura Sandall)

The school is especially important for girls, who make up 52 percent of the student body. When SPCS began, girls often left school at an early age to marry or work. Now, they are staying and graduating because families have experienced the benefits of education. (You can read the inspiring story of SPCS’ first female graduate in Kanchi’s Story.)

First grade student at SPCS (Credit: Jennifer Prestholdt)
First grade student at SPCS (Credit: Jennifer Prestholdt)

The new school year had just started at SPCS, but school was not in session when the earthquake hit. Students in Nepal attend school six days a week; Saturday is the only day when there is no school. Many people believe that, had it been a school day, the numbers of dead and injured in Kathmandu and throughout the Kathmandu Valley could have been much higher.

Even with that one tiny bright spot in a terrible national tragedy, UNICEF estimates that nearly one million children in Nepal were severely affected by the earthquake. Most of our students, who come from extremely poor agricultural families, are included in that number. Anoop sent me several more texts after the first, describing heavy damage in the area of the eastern Kathmandu Valley where the school is located. Media sources and other Nepali contacts also confirm extensive destruction in the Sankhu area. While we don’t have a lot of information yet, Anoop reported that he believes that more than 90 percent of the students and teachers have lost their homes in the earthquake. They are living outside in temporary shelters because of continuing aftershocks.  Word about the school building’s fate is yet to be received.  The first relief teams are reportedly scheduled to arrive in the area on Wednesday.

Primary students at SPCS (Credit: Jennifer Prestholdt)
Primary students at SPCS (Credit: Jennifer Prestholdt)

Our hearts go out to everyone in our SPCS family, as well as to the millions of other Nepalis affected by the “Black Saturday” earthquake.  At The Advocates, we believe that support for basic human needs such as water, food, and medical assistance in Nepal is the most urgent need at this point in time. We encourage people to give to reputable international humanitarian assistance organizations involved in the earthquake relief effort (you can find more information in the links below). In the long term, Nepal will need sustainable rebuilding and development programs.

Because education is essential to reducing poverty and inequality, the best way that The Advocates can support the rebuilding of Nepal is to is to ensure that the education of the students at our school continues with the least amount of interruption possible. We remain focused on that goal.

To find people in Nepal:

Use the Restoring Family Links tool on the ICRC website to search for a family member or friend in the area hit by the earthquake.

Use Google Person Finder if you are looking for, or have information about, someone in the affected area.

Use Facebook Safety Check to connect with you friends in the area and mark them as safe if you know that they’re ok.

Articles about how to contribute to the earthquake relief effort in Nepal: 

How to Help The Relief Effort in Nepal

Nepal Earthquake: How To Donate

How To Help Nepal: 7 Vetted Charities Doing Relief Work Following the Earthquake

Don’t Rush to Nepal. Read This First. 

Photo of pre-K students at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School (Credit: David Parker)
Photo of pre-K students at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School (Credit: David Parker)

Deputy Director Jennifer Prestholdt interviewing a student.Jennifer Prestholdt is the Deputy Director and International Justice Program Director at The Advocates for Human Rights.  

In March 2015, she made her sixth trip to the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in Nepal.


Leading by Example? The International Impact of Marriage Equality Ruling

LGBT_world*This post, written by Amy Bergquist, a staff attorney with The Advocates for Human Rights, is part of American Constitution Society’s blog’s symposium on the consolidated marriage equality cases before the Supreme Court.

A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court recognizing a right to marriage equality would make headlines around the world, but the implications for the rights of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) in other countries may be complex.

The Advocates for Human Rights collaborates with partner organizations advocating for LGBTI rights in African countries like Cameroon and Tanzania, where the governments not only criminalize consensual sexual conduct between people of the same sex, but also condone or even participate in discrimination and violence targeting LGBTI people.  We know from our partners that government officials, religious leaders, celebrities and the media fuel anti-LGBTI animus by arguing that, in African culture, “homosexuality . . . is considered universally as a manifestation of moral decadence that should be fought.”

Many countries have laws on the books prohibiting sexual conduct between people of the same sex, but Cameroonian authorities aggressively enforce their country’s law; courts convict people simply for acting or dressing in a gender-non-conforming manner.  Vigilante groups in Cameroon organize patrols to round up suspected violators and hand them over to the police.  Violence and discrimination targeting LGBTI people are widespread.

The complexity of advocacy for LGBTI rights in the international context arises out of the false characterization, in some parts of the world, of LGBTI rights as a “western invention.”  In collaboration with our partners in Cameroon, we submitted a report to Africa’s leading human rights body, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, debunking this myth.  In Cameroon, as in many other African countries, criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct is a legacy of the colonial era.  In our report, we quote Dr. Sylvia Tamale, law professor and former dean of the law faculty of Makere University in Kampala, who explains: “There is a long history of diverse African peoples engaging in same-sex relations. . . . Ironically, it is the dominant Judeo-Christian and Arabic religions that most African anti-homosexuality proponents rely on, that are foreign imports.”  Indeed, as I’ve argued at The Advocates Post, anti-gay extremists from the United States and Europe attempt to export their animus to Africa and the former Soviet Union.

A decision on marriage equality by the highest court in the United States could spur countries to adopt sweeping reactionary legislation similar to two laws adopted last year: Nigeria’s “Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act,” which not only imposes criminal penalties of up to 14 years imprisonment for entering into a same-sex marriage, but also criminalizes participation in “gay clubs, societies and organisations” and public displays of affection by same-sex couples; and Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, which increased that country’s criminal penalties for crimes such as “aggravated homosexuality,” imposed a penalty of life imprisonment for any person “purport[ing] to contract a marriage with another person of the same sex,” and imposed a punishment of up to seven years imprisonment for any person or institution conducting a same-sex marriage.  (Uganda’s law was later struck down on a procedural technicality.)  Our partners in Tanzania are already reporting that their parliament is considering a law similar to Uganda’s.

When the U.S. Supreme Court rules on marriage equality, some foreign courts will, without a doubt, cite the opinion ― or the dissent ― as they address challenges to laws prohibiting marriage equality.  (Courts in countries with common-law traditions, including Fiji, Hong Kong and India, have cited Lawrence v. Texas in assessing domestic laws prohibiting same-sex sexual conduct.)

In the international context, however, marriage equality is not the end of the road but just one component of a complex set of efforts to ensure equal rights for LGBTI persons throughout the world.  In 2006, for example, South Africa became the fifth country in the world to recognize a right to marriage equality.  Yet nine years on, anti-LGBTI violence in South Africa is still common.  Photojournalist Clare Carter recently documented the practice of “corrective rape” ― oftentimes with the collusion of the victim’s family ― intended to “cure” lesbians and transgender men.  The South African government has only recently stepped up efforts to respond to widespread violence targeting LGBTI people.  To achieve lasting change, advocates for LGBTI rights around the world need to develop strategies that take into account the local context.  The Advocates recently published a toolkit of resources to help.

The African Commission, in an official concluding statement about Cameroon’s human rights record, recently urged Cameroonian authorities to “[t]ake appropriate measures to ensure the safety and physical integrity of all persons irrespective of their sexual orientation and maintain an atmosphere of tolerance towards sexual minorities in the country.”  For our partners, these words offer more promise for advancing LGBTI rights in Africa than any ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court ever could.


Migration Not Border Security Problem; People Like Us Face Perilous Choices


The capsize of a ship overloaded with migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean has galvanized attention on what The New York Times characterizes as a surge in refugees from throughout the Middle East and North Africa. With, as The Times reports, “about 17 times as many refugee deaths in the Mediterranean Sea from January to April compared to the same period last year,” the human tragedy unfolding is shocking, particularly to those of us who have never faced such a perilous choice.

But while calls for a naval blockade continue to be heard, a more nuanced take on Fortress Europe and the obligation to consider human dignity have surfaced. Pope Francis, who last year urged European leaders not to allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery, reminded those gathered for his weekly address that the migrants whose boat had foundered are men and women like us, our brothers seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war.

Even European leaders who according to NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli have long been “pressed by anti-immigrant parties… are now facing a backlash for having neglected the humanitarian disaster taking place in the waters of the Mediterranean.” Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi struck a new note when he said: “We are asking not to be left alone. Our political priority is not just a security issue. We want to ensure the dignity of human beings and block human traffickers. The new slave traders of the 21st century must not believe that Europe considers this one of the least important issues on its agenda.”

The recognition that migration is more than a border security issue is one the United States needs to take seriously.

Several weeks ago NPR’s Steve Inskeep had a rather horrifying exchange with Simon Henshaw, the U.S. State Department deputy secretary charged with explaining how the United States’ is fulfilling its international refugee protection obligations despite its multifaceted deterrence strategy through a recently-opened process for Honduran children whose parents are permanent residents to enter the U.S. more quickly than the normal visa backlog allows:

INSKEEP: Does it bother you, though, that there may be a young person who asks
for help and then has to go away from a U.S. consulate and go back into the neighbor-
hood where their lives have been threatened?

HENSHAW: Yes, it does. But what really bothers me is the thought that that child
might take a risky journey through Mexico and come to the United States. So what
I want to do is make sure that our program addresses their situation as fast as possible.”

Yes, Mr. Henshaw, La Bestia is dangerous. But even more dangerous is abandoning the fundamental right to non-refoulement – to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution.

Last December NPR’s Robert Siegal summed up the Obama Administration’s official word: “if you, a child in Central America, try to come up North, you’ll be put in detention; you’ll be sent back; you’ll be flown back home.”

In a report released this month, Detention Watch Network traced the role of deterrence strategies in U.S. immigration policy, noting that the Obama administration’s “recent reliance on the deterrence justification to rationalize the long-term detention of asylum-seeking families marks a new level of aggressive and inappropriate use.”

The human rights violations endured by asylum-seeking families are numerous. Included in the (very long) list of violations flagged by The Advocates for Human Rights and Detention Watch Network in a joint submission to the UN last year was the growing use of detention to deter asylum seekers from seeking protection in direct contravention of international obligations.[1] We pointed to Central American mothers and children seeking asylum being subject to arbitrary detention in a stated effort by the United States to deter asylum seekers from coming to the United States.[2]

Detention and deportation to deter people from seeking asylum from persecution (in direct contravention of this fundamental human right) is not the only tactic being used by the United States. The Los Angeles Times reports that “under U.S. pressure, Mexico for the first time in many years has launched a wide crackdown on the migrants. More than 60,000 have been deported this year, as many as half in recent months, the government says.” Also on the deterrence menu: increased train speeds.

While the United States’ deterrence strategies violate international law by abrogating the right to seek asylum, the European Union’s shift toward targeting the traffickers is little better. As commentator Kenan Malik writes, replacing the border security narrative with a narrative of criminality is not the answer:

The traffickers are certainly odious figures, recklessly placing migrants in peril.
But what pushes migrants into the hands of traffickers are the European Union’s
own policies. The bloc’s approach to immigration has been to treat it as a matter
not of human need, but of criminality. It has developed a three-pronged strategy
of militarizing border controls, criminalizing migration and outsourcing controls.”

What, then, is the answer? Perhaps an immigration policy that includes the words “ensure human dignity” is a start.

By Michele Garnett McKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ director of advocacy.


“The Advocates for Human Rights, You Have The Floor…”

The location is Geneva, Switzerland, on the floor of the United Nations Human Rights Council in the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room at the Palais des Nations. I have pushed the large button on the microphone unit in front of me. The red disc around my microphone has begun to glow, signifying a live mic. If I dared to look up, I would no doubt see myself on one of the two big screens at the front of the room – staring down, wide-eyed, at the printed page before me.  In front of me are delegates from all of the nearly 200 UN member states, seated in alphabetical order with the current Human Rights Council members seated in the inner half-circle at the front. The black on white-lettered placard at my seat reads “Orateur ONG” (French for “Non-Governmental Organization Speaker”). I have practiced delivering The Advocates for Human Rights’ oral statement; the familiar text on the printed page clutched in my hands steadies me.

I am delivering The Advocates’ oral statement on the implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA), adopted in 1993. The VDPA, one of the alphabet soup of conventions and declarations relevant in the field of international human rights, contains strong language regarding women’s rights and domestic violence, and The Advocates for Human Rights is using this debate at the Human Rights Council regarding ongoing implementation of the VDPA to point out that there is still much work to be done.

I greet the Council leadership, and begin:

“Domestic violence violates a woman’s right to life, liberty and security, equal protection, and freedom from torture and discrimination. Strong laws are essential for women’s full and equal participation in all aspects of life, and for governments to meet their human rights obligations, they must have effective legislation and practices that promote victim safety and offender accountability.”

This about sums it up for me, and seems a pretty succinct statement of what drew me to the Advocates in the first place: The idea that legal reform needs to lead societal change. In other words, real social change can only happen when the law is on the side of the victim, not the abuser.

We were in Geneva, ten volunteers led by The Advocates’ staff, to continue this important work, and hopefully move the needle, at least a little bit, on issues ranging from domestic violence in places as far flung as Honduras and Mongolia, to the death penalty and the rights of migrants in the United States. We were joined by partners from other international NGOs in this important task. Overall, The Advocates submitted ten stakeholder reports on human rights issues in eight different countries as part of this cycle of the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, and participated in other proceedings such the Human Rights Committee (a UN treaty-monitoring body) review of Croatia’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. (You can read more about that review here.)  

I had two minutes for my statement. Members of the Human Rights Council (forty-seven countries sit on the Council at any given time) are allotted three minutes per topic; non-members and NGOs get two. In practice, I had been wrapping up with about three seconds to spare at what I considered an appropriate speaking pace. The consequences of going over time seemed to vary from being gaveled out of order, to having your mic cut, to receiving a tap on the shoulder from the gentleman in the earpiece standing behind you. I had no desire to find out which of these would be applied to me.

My internal mantra is “cool, calm and collected” as I speak about the issue of victims of domestic abuse being forced to prosecute their abusers on their own in private legal proceedings, and then the problem of “dual arrests,” where abuser and victim are arrested together. As I finish running through a list of actions member countries could take to combat these problems and thank the Council, I finally look up: The clock on the screen shows seven seconds remaining before resetting to zero. Although my voice has remained calm, I notice that I am still maintaining a death grip on the microphone button. I release it and my red microphone light fades to black.

I am honored to have been among the group of dedicated lawyers and human rights activists traveling with The Advocates to Geneva, and even more so to have had this opportunity to address a full session of the Human Rights Council. The Advocates has built itself as an organization that utilizes its volunteers to full capacity, but this experience has been life-changing for me, as well. Thanks to The Advocates and to my wonderful, engaging and talented traveling companions!

By Steven Clay, attorney and volunteer with The Advocates for Human Rights.  Mr. Clay traveled in March to the United Nations in Geneva with The Advocates and other volunteers.

Read the full text of The Advocates for Human Rights’ oral statement, delivered by Mr. Clay, below:

Please check against delivery

Speaker: Mr. Steven CLAY

Item 8 (General Debate)

March 23, 2015

 Mr. President/Madam Vice President:

The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action stressed “the importance of working towards the elimination of violence against women in public and private life.” Domestic violence violates a woman’s right to life, liberty and security, equal protection, and freedom from torture and discrimination. Strong laws are essential for women’s full and equal participation in all aspects of life, and for governments to meet their human rights obligations, they must have effective legislation and practices that promote victim safety and offender accountability.

This means ensuring that domestic violence is criminalized and prosecuted by the government. Some governments, however, do not treat domestic violence as a public crime. Laws too often force the victim to privately prosecute the domestic violence she has suffered –meaning she must either hire a lawyer, or else prosecute and navigate the criminal justice system by herself. By treating domestic violence as a private crime, states fail to hold offenders accountable.

Another major problem is dual arrests, in which victims are arrested alongside their abusers. Dual arrests happen for several reasons. First, some laws classify psychological violence equal to physical violence. Authorities treat insults and name calling as domestic violence. They arrest both parties even if the victim only quarreled while the offender physically beat her. Second, authorities do not identify the primary aggressor or self-defense injuries; they will arrest a woman who has defended herself from violence. But we know that when a victim is arrested when she calls for help, she will never call the police for help again.

So, how can member states remedy these kinds of problems facing women?

First, The Advocates for Human Rights calls on member states to promote good legal reform. Good laws are the foundation of victim protection and offender accountability.

Second, ensure authorities receive trainings conducted in consultation with NGOs that best know victims’ needs.

Third, promote continual monitoring of how these laws are working in practice so legislation can be amended and responses customized to address these issues.

Finally, ensure adequate funding and support for victims, including shelters, hotlines, legal aid, and other services.

Taking measures such as these are critical steps to help fulfill implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. Thank you.


Is It Just a Piece of Paper that Makes Someone an American?

Jose Antonio Vargas

Jose Antonio Vargas painted a stark picture of what it means to live life as an undocumented immigrant when he spoke to a packed crowd at Tuesday’s “Out of the Shadows Immigration Symposium.”

“One of the biggest ironies about being undocumented in this country is knowing that your life is limited by a piece of paper — all the while knowing that your life is way more than a piece of paper,” said Vargas, who at age 12 was smuggled into the United States from the Philippines.

“Are pieces of papers what make someone an American?” he asked.

Learn about the center opened in the heart of the Minneapolis Latino community to help people who are undocumented.

Read about Vargas’s visit in MinnPost.


Out of the Mouths of The Advocates

When Human Rights expert Margo Waterval questioned the delegation from Croatia, I recognized her words; they came directly from The Advocates for Human Rights’ “one-pager.” Astonished, I turned around to look at Rosalyn Park, director of The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program; she knew those words, too. The look on her face probably mirrored mine. Simply put, we were thrilled.

Rosalyn and I, along with The Advocates’ Croatian partner, Valentina Andrasek, and other volunteers of The Advocates, were attending the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s review of Croatia in Geneva, Switzerland. The responsibility of the Committee, which is comprised of independent experts on human rights, is to monitor the compliance of State parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee examines reports and listens to statements by the State, as well as non-governmental organizations. At the end, the Committee addresses its concerns and makes recommendations to the State party in the form of “Concluding Observations.”

Starting in 2010, The Advocates has studied Croatia’s domestic violence laws in action. Together with its partner on the ground, Autonomous Women’s House Zagreb (AZKZ in Croatian), The Advocates’ lawyers have interviewed police officers, prosecutors, judges, counselors, and shelter staff about how the laws have worked in practice. In 2012, The Advocates published the comprehensive report, Implementation of Croatia’s Domestic Violence Legislation. Based on this report and updates from AZKZ, The Advocates and AZKZ submitted a parallel report on domestic violence to the Committee in advance of Croatia’s March 2015 review. The “one-pager” Professor Waterval quoted in her question to the delegation summarized this parallel report.

In its reviews of State parties, the Committee provides for input by non-governmental organizations, such as The Advocates and AZKZ. Valentina Andrasek, the director of AZKZ, made a presentation to the Committee summarizing our parallel report. We also participated in a forum for NGOs and Committee members. It was at that forum where we met Professor Waterval and gave her a copy of our “one-pager.”

Professor Waterval’s question to the Croatian delegation began with our words. “Research shows that men are the perpetrators of violence 95 percent of the time. Yet in Croatia, police arrest and charge women in 43.2 percent of the cases,” she said. She continued, using our words, and asked the Croatian delegation to respond and explain these “dual arrests.”

Over its two-day review of Croatia, the Committee considered many issues in addition to domestic violence. The Croatian delegation responded, but said little about domestic violence. The chairman of the Committee took notice. He said, in summary, “We all know domestic violence is about power and control, and I would like to hear Croatia’s answers to the questions that were asked about why police arrest the victims along with their abusers.”

Again, Rosalyn and I exchanged looks. Here before our eyes was evidence again that The Advocates and AZKZ, working together, helped focus the Committee on protecting victims of domestic violence in Croatia. The Committee recently issued its Concluding Observations based on its review of Croatia, and much of it reflects The Advocates’ advocacy and recommendations on domestic violence:

“While commending the State party for criminalizing domestic violence in its Criminal Code, the Committee notes with concern the inconsistent application of penalties due to the fact that domestic violence can also be defined as a misdemeanour. The Committee is concerned at reports of lack of investigation and prosecutions as well as lenient sentences imposed on perpetrators. In particular, the Committee is concerned at recurrent reports of dual arrests and convictions of both the perpetrator and the victim of domestic violence. The Committee is also concerned about the low number of women benefiting from the free legal aid system, the low number of protective measures issued and the lack of follow-up to protection orders, rendering them largely ineffective. Furthermore, the Committee is concerned about the lack of a sufficient number of shelters for victims of domestic violence. The Committee regrets the absence of statistical data on acts of domestic violence (arts. 3 and 7).

“The State party should:

“(a) Adopt a comprehensive approach to preventing and addressing violence against women in all its forms and manifestations;

“(b) Intensify its awareness-raising measures among the police, judiciary, prosecutors, community representatives, women and men on the magnitude of domestic violence and its detrimental impact on the lives of victims;

“(c) Ensure that cases of domestic violence are thoroughly investigated by the police, perpetrators are prosecuted, and if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions, and victims are adequately compensated;

“(d) Eliminate the practice of dual arrests and convictions of both the perpetrator and the victim of domestic violence;

“(e) Ensure the issuance of effective protective orders to ensure the safety of victims and that measures are in place to follow-up on protection orders;

“(f) Ensure the availability of a sufficient number of shelters with adequate resources; and

“(g) Collect data on incidences of domestic violence against women and, based on such data, continue to develop sustainable strategies to combat this human rights violation.”

(The full Concluding Observations document may be found here.)

By Julie Shelton, attorney and long-term volunteer who The Advocates for Human Rights honored with its Volunteer Award in 2014. Ms. Shelton traveled in March to the United Nations in Geneva with The Advocates and other volunteers.

You can learn more about how to conduct advocacy at the United Nations in The Advocates’ new manual Human Rights Tools for a Changing World: A step-by-step guide to human rights fact-finding, documentation, and advocacy. Follow the link here for Chapter 9: Advocacy at the United Nations.


African Commission Urges Cameroon to End LGBTI Discrimination

An asylum seeker from Uganda covers his head with a paper bag in order to protect his identity. (Photo: Jessica Rinaldi, Reuters)
An asylum seeker from Uganda covers his head with a paper bag in order to protect his identity. (Photo: Jessica Rinaldi, Reuters)

Last month, Cameroonian human rights defender Alice Nkom traveled to London with a plea: “I need everyone because right now, I am a little isolated. It’s on occasions like this that we must show we are one, united, universal in this fight.” Nkom, who is in her 70s and was the first woman admitted to the Cameroonian bar, is one of only two lawyers in Cameroon who represents people who are charged with violating the country’s law criminalizing same-sex conduct.

The Advocates for Human Rights has been working with Nkom and other human rights defenders to advance the rights of LGBTI persons in Cameroon.  And, in part because of this collaborative advocacy, Africa’s leading human rights body has joined the fight against LGBTI discrimination in Cameroon.

The Advocates and Cameroonian partners report on LGBTI discrimination in Cameroon

Jennifer and Alice NkomIn 2013, after meeting with Nkom in Douala, The Advocates for Human Rights partnered with Nkom’s organizations, the Association for the Defence of Homosexuals (ADEFHO) and the Network of Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa (REDHAC), along with the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS), to submit a 45-page report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights for its periodic review of Cameroon’s human rights record. The report details violations of rights on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in Cameroon, demonstrating how the Government of Cameroon is violating its obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

African Commission responds, urging Cameroon to protect and promote tolerance of sexual minorities

African Commission on Human and People's RightsThe African Commission on Human and People’s Rights recently published its concluding observations from its review of Cameroon. The concluding observations draw on our report, making several references to persecution of sexual minorities. The African Commission identifies several areas of concern:

“The judicial harassment, offences against life and other violations of rights of human rights defenders, in particular the rights of defenders working in the area of sexual orientation;” and

“The discrimination, stigma and violation of the right to life and physical and mental integrity of individuals based on their sexual orientation.”

The African Commission urges Cameroonian authorities to “Take appropriate measures to ensure the safety and physical integrity of all persons irrespective of their sexual orientation and maintain an atmosphere of tolerance towards sexual minorities in the country.”

LGBTI Cameroonians and their advocates continue to face pervasive violence and discrimination

As the African Commission’s concerns suggest, people in Cameroon face pervasive violence and discrimination based on actual and perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Discrimination extends to human rights defenders like Nkom, who work on their behalf. Nkom describes conditions as “an anti-homosexual apartheid.”

Eric Ohena LembembeAs we highlighted in our report, in 2013 CAMFAIDS founder Eric Ohena Lembembe was discovered brutally murdered in his own apartment. Authorities have conducted a lackluster investigation into the circumstances of his death, and investigators have even attempted to intimidate his friends and family.

After Ohena Lembembe’s murder, threats against other human rights defenders escalated, with some anonymous messages simply saying, “You’re next.” “It has become more difficult; I must die, and I will,” observed Nkom. “Because many died for us to be free today—free to be a woman, to be a black woman, to do what I do. So we must continue.”

In 2014, Roger Jean-Claude Mdede died in his home village under troubling circumstances. Mbede had notoriously been convicted in 2011 for sending a man a text message saying “I’ve fallen in love with you.” Nkom and Michel Togué, the other Cameroonian lawyer who takes on these cases, secured Mbede’s release.

But Mbede faced serious health problems. And the notoriety of Mbede’s case meant escalating persecution; he was physically assaulted by four unknown men near the university where he studied. Local and international efforts to get Mbede out of Cameroon failed. Mbede returned to his village in ill health, and some people close to him say that his family thought he was cursed and held him in the village against his will until he died.

Nkom takes case to Cameroon’s Supreme Court

Nkom is taking Mbede’s case to the Supreme Court of Cameroon, challenging the constitutionality of the country’s prohibition on same-sex relations. The Constitution of Cameroon includes and incorporates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaims that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” The constitution further states that “duly approved and ratified treaties and international agreements,” including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, shall “override national laws.”

When we first met with Nkom back in 2013, we discussed ways that The Advocates and its volunteers could collaborate on Mbede’s case and in placing pressure on Cameroonian authorities to respect the rights of LGBTI people. Our report to the African Commission was one such strategy. The African Commission’s call for Cameroonian authorities to take action to end persecution and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a positive sign of change.  Now the the Supreme Court of Cameroon must pay careful attention to the African Commission’s words when it hears Mbede’s case.  At The Advocates for Human Rights, we will be watching closely.

Because, in the words of Alice Nkom, “[W]e are one, united, universal in this fight.”

Read more about the global movement for LGBTI rights:

African Commission to Consider Violence Perpetrated Because of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity

“Look at the details of Eric Ohena Lembembe’s life and you will understand why he died.”

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back for LGBTI Rights in Africa

Recent Anti-LGBTI Laws Violate Human Rights

Out in the Cold: LGBT Visibility at Olympics Key to Ending Homophobia

Russia’s “Gay Propaganda” Law: How U.S. Extremists are Fueling the Fight Against LGBTI Rights

Locking the Iron Closet: Russia’s Propaganda Law Isolates Vulnerable LGBTI Youth

The Wild East: Vigilante Violence against LGBTI Russians

Moving Forward: Four Steps and Six Strategies for Promoting LGBTI Rights Around the World

 Watch the short documentary Hate Unleashed, which follows Alice Nkom as she seeks to challenge the prosecutions, and provide some care and support to those who have been incarcerated.

Amy Bergquist is a staff attorney with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.


Volunteer Relishes First-hand Experience Working at U.N.

A volunteer for human rights, or more accurately for The Advocates for Human Rights with whom I first became acquainted in the late 90’s when I joined The Advocates to conduct domestic violence training for NGOs from Moldova, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Armenia. Soon after, I teamed with The Advocates’ staff and an Armenian NGO to undertake careful fact-finding with the goal of assessing the status of the rights of Armenian women to be free from intimate violence. The recommendations from the report which resulted were used to increase services for survivors and to hold more offenders accountable in Yerevan and other communities in Armenia.

Today, more than 15 years later, I am sitting with a number of The Advocates’ staff and volunteers in the Serpentine Lounge in Building E, otherwise known as the home of the Human Rights Council in the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland. The Serpentine Lounge is two floors below the formal major chamber where delegates from around the world sit in an orderly fashion, each taking their turn to deliver two-minute statements or sound bites to comment and vote on proposed resolutions on issues like food, sustainability, or listen to reports from special experts or rapporteurs on the status of a state’s record on various aspects of human rights as defined by a myriad of declarations and conventions.

In contrast, the Serpentine Lounge is a hub of activity against a mellow Geneva landscape. Delegates are in earnest conversations with each other and NGOs to learn from each other and no doubt try to persuade one other. Of the many opportunities I have had here over the week “working,” the Serpentine Lounge has been one of the most energizing.

Every four and one-half years, 16 countries are scheduled to appear for their Universal Periodic Review by the Human Rights Council. Given The Advocates’ special consultative status with the United Nations, we have the ability to meet with delegates who will be submitting comments on the status of the countries up for review this May. Building on the tremendous work already completed by The Advocates, my colleagues and I are meeting with delegates from literally every part of the world. I have met with delegates from countries as diverse as Finland and Paraguay who are interested in how effectively countries to be reviewed, such as Mongolia and Croatia, are with eradicating gender-based violence. We share our findings with the delegates, and in the instance of Croatia, our Croatian colleague, Valentina Andrasek, is here to offer her NGO’s first-hand experience helping battered women. The delegates are both surprised and discouraged to learn the way in which the Croatian criminal law is being implemented. In Croatia, more than 40 percent of domestic violence cases in which arrests are made result in dual arrests, with both the victim and the offender being arrested.

Not only do we share our recommendations and hand the delegates fact-filled one-pagers, we get the chance to learn about the values and politics of countries we may never visit. My mind has been going the proverbial mile-a-minute; I have learned so much about the complexities of the UN world—an alphabet soup of shorthand—where work really gets done. I have found my co-travelers as fascinating as the delegates with whom we have met. And as one of the few non-Minnesotans in The Advocates’ delegation, I have throughly enjoyed the Midwestern grace and calm that has infused our time together.

Thank you, The Advocates for Human Rights, NGO extraordinaire.

By: Joan Kuriansky, an attorney who has been involved in women’s rights throughout her career, has experience running local and national organizations that address a range of issues, including women’s economic empowerment and violence against women. Ms. Kuriansky recently traveled to the United Nations in Geneva with The Advocates for Human Rights and other volunteers.


In Memoriam: Sharon Rice Vaughn

Sharon Rice Vaughan Photo: Lisa Miller, U of M
Sharon Rice Vaughan
Photo: Lisa Miller, U of M

Dear Friends,

What a great privilege to have known Sharon Rice Vaughan. She was an amazing teacher, and one of the greatest examples of a servant leader I have ever met. Sharon was the first expert to consult with us at The Advocates for Human Rights when, more than 20 years ago, we started our Women’s Program. I remember listening to her story and thinking how amazing it would be for her to share that story with women around the world.

Sharon was part of our delegation to the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China in 1995. I witnessed how easily she connected with women from every corner of the globe and how her story touched them in profound ways. The following year she traveled with us to Tirana, Albania, and shared her story again with women from nine countries in the Balkans. Sharon mesmerized the entire room with her story of how the seeds of the first shelter were planted by welcoming battered women into her own home in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and how she and other amazing women built the first shelter. She inspired these women who were in the earliest stages of organizing after the fall of communism; through her example, she showed them that with passion, commitment, and creativity, they too could start a movement.

I am grateful for the ways Sharon changed my life, and I am inspired by the ways she changed the world.


Robin Phillips, Executive Director
The Advocates for Human Rights

Sharon Rice Vaughan was a national pioneer in providing safe havens to abused women. Her life ended this week, as a result of a car accident in Cuba. Learn more about Ms. Rice Vaughn.


Driver’s Licenses for All

MN with Road
The Minnesota legislature is set to consider a proposal that would decouple immigration status from driver’s license eligibility. This important proposal restores Minnesota law to its pre-2003 state and returns the driver’s license to its original purpose of ensuring that drivers on Minnesota roads have demonstrated that they know how to drive.

The bills, HF 97 (Hamilton) and HF 98 (Clark) in the House and SF 224 (Champion), each would allow Minnesota to accept a valid, unexpired passport and certified birth certificate as an acceptable form of proof of identity. The bills would also repeal the Minnesota rules that require driver’s license applicants to submit proof of current authorized legal presence in the United States.

In 2003 Minnesota amended its regulations to require that applicants for driver’s licenses must present proof of residency and “demonstrate proof of either lawful short-term admission to the United States, permanent United States resident status, indefinite authorized presence status, or United States citizenship.” Minn. Rules. 7410.0410, subpart 1.

The Advocates for Human Rights opposed the 2003 rules change, noting that they were likely to “result in discriminatory and potentially unconstitutional practices, will decrease public safety, and will fail to advance the purpose of the rule.” We cited concerns about the erosion of immigrant community trust in police and decreased willingness to cooperate with police in the investigation of crime. We also noted that the rules may lead to unconstitutional actions, including unconstitutional stops, arrests, and detention incident to traffic stops made solely on the basis of perceived immigration status.

Those concerns were born out in the findings of The Advocates’ 2014 report Moving from Exclusion to Belonging: Immigrant Rights in Minnesota Today, where immigrant crime victims reported that fear of deportation stands in the way of calling the police. Advocates reported incidents of law enforcement routinely running license plates of Latino drivers, jailing people for failure to have a driver’s license, and calling federal immigration officials during the course of traffic stops.

In 2003, we also raised the concern that “due to extensive delays in application processing, many immigrants and lawful nonimmigrants will be unable to present documentation of their status” despite being lawfully present.

The Advocates represents asylum seekers – people who have fled their countries out of fear of persecution, torture, and death. Asylum seekers may struggle through years of bureaucratic delays before their applications are approved. They are lawfully present in this country under federal law and international treaty, but the only proof of their authorized stay acceptable under Minnesota Rule 7410.0410 is the work permit issued to asylum seekers in one-year increments. Asylum seekers are issued Minnesota driver’s licenses marked with the words STATUS CHECK and the expiration date of their work permit. Unfortunately, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency which issues employment authorization documents, is plagued by bureaucratic backlogs which often result in delays of weeks or even months in work permit renewals. In these situations, even though the asylum seeker remains lawfully present in the United States, their driver’s license is cancelled and, when the new work permit finally arrives, the asylum seeker must pay a renewal fee for a new license to be issued. They cannot drive while they wait for their immigration paperwork.

Asylum seekers in our community have endured persecution in their home countries and trauma in flight to safety. Minnesota law should ensure that, when they arrive in our state seeking to rebuild their lives in safety, they are met with welcome and given access to the tools they need to move forward. Returning Minnesota’s driver’s license law to its pre-2003 status is the right thing to do.

By: Michele Garnett McKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ director of advocacy.


No change, no hope, says Texas judge — but he doesn’t have the final word on immigration

Peace for ImmigrantsOn February 17, Texas federal district court judge Andrew Hanen issued a preliminary injunction to stop immigration changes. That’s an order saying the government may not proceed with expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Legal Permanent Residents (DAPA). The order is one of the very early steps in the lawsuit against the federal government by 26 states. These states want to overturn President Obama’s executive orders on immigration.

DACA: The order does not affect people who already have DACA status. It does affect immigrants older than 30 who could qualify for DACA under the expanded program. They were supposed to be able to apply for protection from deportation and work permits beginning today, February 18. Vox says that is about 290,000 people. Immigrants who are under 30 and qualify for DACA because they came to the United States as children and meet the various other DACA criteria can still apply. The court ruling affects expanded DACA, but not original DACA.

DAPA? DACA? What’s this? 

Original DACA is the program, established by Obama’s executive action in 2012, which gives temporary protection from deportation and work permits to many young people who were brought to this country as children before 2010 and who were 15-31 years old on June 15, 2012. More info hereExpanded DACA, announced by the Obama in November 2014, lifts the age limits for application, though the person still needs to meet the “brought here as a child” definition.

DAPA would give protection from deportation and work permits to parents of U.S. citizens who are present in the U.S. and have lived here continuously since January 1, 2010. More info here.

DAPA: The DAPA program would grant temporary status to undocumented parents of U.S. citizen and green card holders. The judge’s order puts DAPA on hold for now. That means no protection from deportation and work permits for an estimated 3.7 million people — for now.

For more immigration news, check out my Immigration News newsletter, and subscribe to receive it monthly.

What next? The Obama administration will appeal the preliminary injunction and is fighting the underlying lawsuit.

Vox is becoming my favorite news site. Its explanations are accurate and written in easy-to-understand language. So I recommend Dara Lind’s article, A federal judge just put the brakes on Obama’s immigration actions, and also Vox’s card stack explaining Obama’s immigration orders.

Beyond the legal battles, Lind also notes the threat to success posed by all of the court fights and propaganda:

“When the administration created the first deferred-action program in 2012, for young unauthorized immigrants, they discovered the success of the program relied on people signing up — and on the ground, organizers learned that finding eligible immigrants and getting them to apply was the hardest part. Now, community groups are trying to educate a much larger, more diffuse immigrant population about the new deferred-action programs, and persuade them that it’s safe to apply. But news and misinformation about the lawsuit is spreading confusion and fear among the very people these groups are trying to reach.

“Organizers are worried about a ‘chilling effect’: by the time applications do open for deferred action, immigrants will have been intimidated out of applying, because they won’t believe the program is safe or permanent.”

The American Immigration Council also has good coverage of the ongoing battle, reminding readers that the preliminary injunction leaves part of Obama’s November 2014 orders in place. That part is the order establishing immigration enforcement priorities.

“This memo establishes a department-wide set of priorities that focus on the removal of individuals who pose threats to “national security, public safety, and border security.” It went into effect on January 5, 2015. Virtually every person who is eligible for expanded DACA and DAPA will not qualify as an enforcement priority and will be a strong candidate for the favorable exercise of prosecutorial discretion, should they come into contact with immigration enforcement officers.”

For an in-depth look at what DACA and DAPA mean, take a look at Geoffrey Heeren’s article, “The Status of Nonstatus,” in the American University Law Review. From the abstract:

“The Obama Administration’s ‘Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals’ (DACA) and ‘Deferred Action for Parental Accountability’ (DAPA) programs are the most recent and largest categories of nonstatus, but there are many others: parole, administrative closure, supervision, Deferred Enforced Departure, and Stays of Removal. What these categories have in common is that they are discretionary, unreviewable, weakly described by positive law, and officially temporary, although persons often live for years or even lifetimes in the purgatory of nonstatus. They occupy a paradoxical middle ground between legality and illegality, loosely tethered to this country by humanitarian concern or prosecutorial discretion. Those with nonstatus have fewer rights and remedies than those with immigration status. At the same time, they must register, disclose biographic data, be fingerprinted, and regularly update their address. Yet nonstatus is not just a government surveillance program; it is the only way for many persons to claim some measure of dignity and legitimacy from a society that places a strong stigma on unauthorized migrants.”

Millions of immigrants languish in this “nonstatus” purgatory for years on end. It’s long past time for Congress to act responsibly to create a path to legal permanent residence and eventual citizenship.


Federal Court Enjoins Detention of Central American Mothers and Children

Child from HondurasA federal court has enjoined the Department of Homeland Security from detaining Central American mothers and children for the purpose of deterring future immigration. While the order in the case of RILR v. Johnson, released February 20, 2015, was somewhat overshadowed by an order from a different federal judge (whose ruling on February 16 put the administration’s plans for deferred action on hold), the opinion in RILR signals one of the most significant challenges to federal immigration detention policy, which has been largely unfettered by either legal or budgetary constraints.

The order by Judge James Boasberg, U.S. District Judge for the District of Columbia, also granted provisional class certification to Central American mothers and children who have been or will be detained in ICE family detention facilities while seeking asylum. Read more about the case at the ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project, which is lead counsel for the case. You can hear a great 3-minute discussion of the opinion by Melissa Crow, legal director of the American Immigration Council.

Detention-as-deterrence is an affront to human rights. It violates longstanding standards against arbitrary detention by failing to afford the detained mothers and children an individual custody determination and by depriving liberty as a result of the exercise of the right to seek asylum from persecution. It is contrary to the guidance of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which allows for detention of asylum seekers only as a last resort. And it flies in the face of our obligations under international refugee law by deterring refugees from seeking asylum at all.

Judge Boasberg’s opinion bears close reading. One by one, the judge dismantles the stack of assumptions upon which the government has built its precarious justification for imprisoning families who have fled to this country seeking asylum.

At the outset the judge makes clear that the government’s decision to imprison arriving asylum seeker families rests not on any threat to public safety or risk of flight posed by the individual mothers and their children. Instead, U.S. immigration authorities’ decision to detain arriving families “reflects a desire to deter” the flight of others.

That the government is detaining families in order to deter asylum seekers from seeking protection has been of grave concern to The Advocates for Human Rights, as we pointed out in a statement made to the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year:

…[T]he Administration’s … decision to continue the detention of families fleeing to the United States in search of asylum is of grave concern. Just days before the announcement of administrative relief for undocumented Americans, the Administration reiterated its commitment to the imprisonment of families seeking asylum by confirming it plans to open the massive Dilley, Texas family detention center before the end of the year. This action not only violates the obligation to protect the family, but raises serious concerns about the rights to freedom from arbitrary detention and due process of law. The Administration’s detention of families, deliberately designed to deter asylum seekers from seeking protection, also violates our obligations under the Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees.

In his opinion, Judge Boasberg looks the Constitution directly in the face, so to speak, and finds that family detention designed to deter future migration gives the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause a black eye.

Quoting Zadvydas v. Davis, the Supreme Court’s 2001 case that put an end to indefinite detention of immigrants, Judge Boasberg notes that the Court has repeatedly recognized that “[f]reedom from imprisonment – from government custody, detention, or other forms of physical restraint – lies at the heart of the liberty that Clause protects.” He reminds us that “in keeping with this fundamental precept, the Zadvydas Court explained that “government detention violates [the Due Process Clause] unless the detention is ordered in a criminal proceeding with adequate procedural protections, or, in certain special and narrow nonpunitive circumstances, where a special justification, such as harm-threatening mental illness, outweighs the individual’s constitutionally protected interest in avoiding physical restraint.” 533 U.S. at 690.

Immigration detention is civil detention, or as the judge puts it, “non-punitive in nature.” As a result, it bears few of the procedural safeguards of the criminal detention system (and many indicia that it violates international standards against arbitrary detention). There is no right to an attorney, no independent review of the decision to detain. At the same time, for those confined within the walls of the hundreds of county jails, ICE detention centers, and private prisons that hold upwards of 34,000 immigrants every day, it is without doubt a deprivation of liberty.

The Advocates submitted a laundry list of human rights violations attendant with U.S. immigration detention policies to the UN’s Human Rights Council, which will review the U.S. human rights record later this year.

Finding the detention of mothers and children to be civil, the judge poses the relevant question: “whether the Government’s justification for detention is sufficiently “special” to outweigh Plaintiffs’ protected liberty interest.” There are times, the judge notes, when the reason for detention has been sufficient justification; for instance preventing flight or protecting the community from individuals found to be especially dangerous.

But in this case, where the government seeks to use its detention authority to deter mass migration, it misses the mark. Relying the Supreme Court’s decision in Kansas v. Crane, 534 U.S. 407 (2002) the judge reminds us that when it comes to civil detention such general deterrence justifications are impermissible.

In a particularly piercing analysis, Judge Boasberg puts paid to the oft-repeated “they don’t have rights” myth relied upon by the government:

In an attempt to evade this rigorous inquiry, [the Government] note[s] that the present class is comprised of noncitizens, whose entry into this country was unlawful. It follows, they say, that “Plaintiffs have extremely limited, if any, due process rights regarding [their] custody determinations.”… The Government is mistaken.

While it is true that “certain constitutional protections are unavailable to aliens outside of our geographic border,” the Supreme Court has made clear that “once an alien enters the country, the legal circumstance changes, for the Due Process Clause applies to all ‘persons’ within the United States, including aliens, whether their presence here is lawful, unlawful, temporary, or permanent.” Zadvydas, 533 U.S. at 693 [further citations omitted]….It is clear, then, that they are entitled to the protection of the Due Process Clause, especially when it comes to their liberty.

The court finally deals with what has too often been a trump card when it comes to limiting the human rights of immigrants: [cue ominous music] national security.

The judge first notes that the government has “essentially conceded that the recent surge in detention during a period of mass migration is not mere happenstance, but instead reflects a desire to deter such migration. Indeed, they state that ICE officials are required to follow the binding precedent contained in Matter of D-J-, 23 I. & N. Dec. 572 (2003)…”

Matter of D-J-, issued by Attorney General John Ashcroft in April 2003, upheld the categorical detention of all Haitians attempting to seek asylum by boat. Relying on the same specious arguments that underpin the Government’s decision to imprison Central American families, the Attorney General found that mass migration was, in and of itself, a national security threat because it “heavily taxed Coast Guard capacity and capabilities.” Matter of D-J-, 23 I. & N. Dec. 572, 578.

At the time the Attorney General issued Matter of D-J-, I despaired of the blind eye turned to individual liberty – not to mention the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution. It’s taken over a decade to see a court not shy away from the dread specter of “national security” and instead presses for evidence that the purported national security risk is, in fact, well-founded:

Even assuming that general deterrence could, under certain circumstances, constitute a permissible justification for such detention, the Court finds the Government’s interest here particularly insubstantial. It seeks to deter future mass immigration; but to what end? It claims that such Central American immigration implicates “national security interests,” (citing D-J-) but when pressed to elaborate, the principal thrust of its explanation is economic in nature. It argues, in essence, that such migrations force ICE to “divert resources from other important security concerns” and “relocate” their employees. The Government has not, however, proffered any evidence that this reallocation of resources would leave the agency somehow short-staffed or weakened. Defendants have not conjured up the specter of an influx’s overwhelming the country’s borders or wreaking havoc in southwestern cities. The simple fact that increased immigration takes up government resources cannot necessarily make its deterrence a matter of national security, with all the attendant deference such characterization entails. (Opinion at 35-36).

Rightly, when it comes to depriving persons of their fundamental right to liberty, the judge demands more of the Government: “when its chosen vehicle [to deter mass migration] demands significant deprivation of liberty, it cannot be justified by mere lip service.”

By: Michele Garnett McKenzie, The Advocates’ director of Advocacy 


“I Know Why a Caged Bird Sings”

The quilt created by Gail Irish, and inspired by resilience and strength of others.
Created by Gail Irish, the quilt’s inspiration was the resilience and strength of others.

Each year, the quilt club I belong to sets a theme for the quilts we create for our annual exhibit at Glad Creations, Inc., a Minneapolis quilt shop. “Stripes” was the subject for our Winter 2014 projects.

At about that time, Cece McDonald, a transgender African-American woman who used deadly force to protect herself during a brutal transphobic and racist assault in Minneapolis, was released from prison after serving 19 months of a 41-month sentence. When she took a plea to avoid potential murder convictions and possibly 80 years in prison, she was freed. Through her story, I learned about the disproportionate numbers of transgender people of color in prison, not to mention the prison population’s disproportionate numbers in general of people of color.

Then, when the world lost Maya Angelou, I was reminded once again how her poem “I Know Why a Caged Bird Sings” uses the image of a caged bird as a metaphor to tell the story of Angelou’s struggle to escape oppression of racism and sexism.

In my volunteer work at The Advocates for Human Rights, I meet refugees seeking asylum in the United States because they fear persecution and death if they return to their home countries. Many of them spent time in prisons under deplorable conditions in their countries of origin.

In my work teaching English to adult immigrants and refugees, students have told me stories about unlawful detention, torture, isolation, long separation from loved ones, and many other hardships.

What stands out for me through all of this is the resilience and strength that allow these individuals to fight for survival and dignity.

With my students, the refugees with whom I work, McDonald, and Angelou as inspirations, I imagined bars on windows for the quilt theme of “stripes.” I chose a traditional pattern called Attic Windows, and used a striped fabric for the windows. While all of the windows have bars, the sun is shining brightly.

Some of us are in cages of our own making. Others are in cages that result from the many inequities in our society. My hope is for greater compassion and a greater understanding of the issues and realities that put people behind bars, and more humane treatment of those who remain there.

By: Gail Irish, a volunteer with The Advocates for Human Rights


The Answer to Preventing Atrocities: Human Rights Education

Zeod Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

If you ever wonder what you can do about human rights violations taking place in your community or around the world, I challenge you – on this World Day of Social Justice – to read the powerful message of Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, spoken recently at Washington, D.C.’s Holocaust Memorial Museum:

“…I wake up every morning and, along with brilliant staff – some of the world’s best human rights lawyers and activists – I scan the news and am revolted by what I read. I am sure you all feel the same. Everyday, we are outraged by one piece of news after another! In fact, we must fast be reaching a state of permanent disgust.

“…[Y]ears of tyranny, inequalities, fear and bad governance are what contribute to the expansion of extremist ideas and violence. Few of these crises have erupted without warning. They have built up over years – and sometimes decades – of human rights grievances: deficient or corrupt governance and judicial institutions; discrimination and exclusion; drastic inequalities; exploitation and the denial of economic and social rights; and repression of civil society and public freedoms. Specific kinds of human rights violations, including sexual violence, speech that incites violence, and patterns of discrimination against minorities, can provide early warning of the escalation of crisis into atrocity.

“With so much movement across our screens and newspapers, we believe we are now somehow cart-wheeling into a future more uncertain and unpredictable than ever before. We are also bombarded by so many individual pieces of news, and commentary, our thoughts become equally scattered and devoid of any clear understanding of what it all means…

“And so it would be easy for us to give way to a sense of complete hopelessness. But we cannot succumb to that way of thinking. Surely we now know, from bitter experience, that human rights are the only meaningful rampart against barbarity.

“…Since we cannot afford sinking into a state of paralysing shock, our task becomes the need to strengthen our ethics, our clarity and openness of thought, and our moral courage.

“To do this I can only suggest that we must turn to a new and deeper form of education. Education that goes beyond reading, writing and arithmetic to include skills and values that can equip people to act with responsibility and care. (Emphasis added.)

“…Before every child on this planet turns 9, I believe he or she should acquire a foundational understanding of human rights, and that these concepts should grow in depth and scope as he or she develops. The underlying values of the curriculum would be virtually identical in every school, deriving from the Universal – and universally accepted – Declaration of Human Rights. In this way, from Catholic parochial schools to the most secular public institutions, and indeed Islamic madrassahs, children could learn – even in kindergarten – and experience the fundamental human rights values of equality, justice and respect.

“My children, and yours, and children everywhere, need to learn what bigotry and chauvinism are, and the terrible wrongs they can produce. They need to learn that blind obedience can be exploited by authority figures for wicked ends. They should also learn that they are not exceptional because of where they were born, how they look, what passport they carry, or the social class, caste or creed of their parents; they should learn that no-one is intrinsically superior to her or his fellow human beings.

“Every child should be able to grasp that the wonderful diversity of individuals and cultures is a source of tremendous enrichment. They should learn to recognise their own biases, and correct them. Children can learn to redirect their own aggressive impulses and use non-violent means to resolve disputes. They can learn to be inspired by the courage of the pacifiers and by those who assist, not those who destroy. They can be guided by human rights education to make informed choices in life, to approach situations with critical and independent thought, and to empathise with other points of view.

“Children are fully able to grasp the implications of human rights. And they are able, too, to understand the power that human rights principles bestow on them. Every child can help to shape her or his universe: this is the lesson of that physically tiny and yet symbolically immensely powerful young woman, Malala, who has enriched the moral heritage of humanity.

“We do not have to accept the world as it is; indeed, we must not. We do not have to give in to the dark allure of hatred and violence: indeed, it is vital that we find the energy to resist it. These lessons are surely as fundamental to life on Earth as advanced calculus.”[1]

Parents, teachers, administrators, students, curriculum specialists, policymakers, and anyone reading this who appreciates the power of education as a means of preventing human rights violations, you can make a difference. The root causes of abuses ranging from discrimination to interpersonal violence to mass atrocities can and must be addressed through human rights education.

Here is what you can do:

  • Learn more about human rights education by going to org/uploads/hre_edition.pdf.
  • Contact your community school and ask how they are giving students at every grade level the knowledge, skills, and values of human rights. Offer free curricular resources available at org/for_educators.
  • Read the UN Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training and share it with your local school, through social media, and in conversation.
  • Become part of a national movement by joining Human Rights Educators USA by going to net. (If outside in the U.S., look for a similar group in your area.)

What we teach our children today has radical implications for the future of our communities and world. Human rights education is the obligation of governments and the moral imperative of individuals. We either equip children with the knowledge, skills, and values to uphold human rights – or we don’t. And we live with the repercussions either way.

By: Sarah Herder, The Advocates for Human Rights’ director of Education.

[1] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Feb. 5, 2015. “Can Atrocities Be Prevented? Living in the Shadow of the Holocaust, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein at the Holocaust Memorial Museum.” http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15548&LangID=E#sthash.QRxCwKej.dpuf.

Death Penalty: Volunteers Assist Global Partners with UN Advocacy

FeaturedDeath Penalty: Volunteers Assist Global Partners with UN Advocacy


Illustration of Iran’s method of execution by stoning. A country’s method of execution for capital offenses can be raised in Universal Periodic Review submissions, particularly if it is a cruel and inhuman, practice such as stoning. Photo credit: Amnesty International UK

While the use of death penalty is decreasing worldwide, 22 countries carried out executions and 57 imposed death sentences in 2012.

Execution methods range from lethal injection to the firing squad, but hanging remains the most common method. Some countries, including Iran, continue to use stoning, a practice based on Iranian interpretation of sharia, as an execution method for non-violent crimes such as adultery.

As someone who is from a Muslim country, I was shocked to learn that stoning exists in Iran’s penal code and is carried out in public. I became aware of the severity of the death penalty in Iran and the United States during The Advocates for Human Rights’ January 22 training on death penalty advocacy for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Led by Jennifer Prestholdt, Rosalyn Park, and Amy Bergquist, the training addressed civil society’s role in advocating against the death penalty by participating in the UPR process. The training also surveyed a long list of death penalty issues in countries around the world, including:

  • capital punishment for non-violent and other less serious crimes;
  • imposition of the death penalty on child offenders and people with mental disabilities and mental disorders;
  • mandatory imposition of the death penalty for certain crimes;
  • limitations on the right to appeal a conviction in capital cases;
  • use of torture to extract confessions and in the process of imposing the death sentence;
  • death row conditions; and
  • wrongful convictions.

The Universal Periodic Review
The Universal Periodic Review is the UN Human Rights Council’s “peer review” mechanism for monitoring human rights around the world. The UPR is a periodic review of human rights in all UN member states. During the “interactive dialogue” of the UPR, UN member states can make recommendations to the state under review. NGOs and other groups can submit “stakeholder reports” and then later lobby to try to influence those recommendations:


UPR 4 year cycle
The training presented best practices for writing stakeholder reports and working with partner organizations in bringing their issues to the United Nations for the UPR. The presenters emphasized the importance of ensuring that information in stakeholder reports is accurate and useful. They also highlighted the importance of proposing powerful, effective recommendations.

The Advocates regularly submits UPR stakeholder reports to address human rights issues. Recently, while assisting with a report on the death penalty for the UPR of Lebanon, I discovered that executions in Lebanon are commonly linked to poverty. The spillovers from the Syrian civil war and the so-called Islamic State make Lebanon politically unstable; the resulting humanitarian crisis may increase the likelihood of Lebanon imposing death sentences for crimes arising out of poverty.

People from around the world joined the training
In advance of the training, the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty notified its members that they could participate remotely through a live weblink and dial-in line. Representatives from an impressive list of NGOs — including Kisarawe Paralegals Organization (Tanzania), MRU Youth Parliament (Sierra Leone), ECPM (France), Lifespark (Switzerland), Lawyers Without Borders (Nigeria), Rescue Alternatives (Liberia), Coalition Mauritanienne contre la peine de mort (Mauritania), ACAT (Liberia), and Droits et Paix (Cameroon) — registered to attend the training remotely.

An alliance of more than 150 NGOs, bar associations, local authorities, and unions, the World Coalition’s works to strengthen the international dimension of the fight against the death penalty. The Advocates serves on the organization’s steering committee, and partners with World Coalition members based in countries that retain the death penalty to collaboratively advocate at the United Nations.

If you missed the training or want to see it again, you may access the video here:

Powerpoint: UN Advocacy UPR Death Penalty FINAL

You can access the handouts from the training by clicking on the following items:

To learn more about advocacy at the United Nations, read Chapter 9 of The Advocates’ groundbreaking publication, Human Rights Tools for a Changing World: A Step-by-step Guide to Human Rights Fact-finding, Documentation, and Advocacy.

By: Guest blogger Asil Abuassba, an intern with The Advocates’ for Human Rights’ International Justice Program. Abuassba, from Palestine, is a senior at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.


Human Rights Tools for a Changing World

Change the World front coverThe Advocates for Human Rights’ Executive Director Robin Phillips is in London today speaking about The Advocates’ human rights monitoring work at the International Bar Association’s colloquium on “Rule of Law Fact-Finding by NGOs: Monitoring Standards and Maximising Impact”.

This international convening to explore the standards and impact of non-governmental organization (NGO) fact-finding on human rights violations is also an appropriate setting to introduce The Advocates’ latest publication:

        Human Rights Tools for a Changing World:  A Step-by-Step Guide to Human Rights Fact-finding, Documentation and Advocacy 

Human rights advocacy takes many forms, and human rights activists can be found in every corner of the world.  Human Rights Tools for a Changing World was created with the express purpose of providing advocates of all backgrounds and experiences a full range of tools and resources to promote human rights in a changing world.

This manual provides practical, step-by-step guidance for individuals and community groups who want to use human rights monitoring, documentation, and advocacy in their work to change policy and improve human rights conditions throughout the world. From framing an issue in terms of internationally recognized human rights standards to submitting a detailed complaint to an international human rights body, advocates can use this manual to plan and implement their work. The manual is designed to aid advocates undertaking a variety of activities—from the relatively simple to the more complex. With background information, key questions to consider, case examples, and practitioner’s tips, this manual provides tools to combat human rights abuses and change social institutions and structures to promote the full realization of human rights.

The practice-oriented sections help advocates to do the following:

  • Monitor: identify ongoing human rights abuses and collect the information advocates need about these issues;
  • Document: analyze, present that information, and make recommendations within the framework of international human rights standards;
  • Advocate: choose and implement a strategy to bring the lived reality closer to the ideals proclaimed by international human rights treaties, including through advocacy at international and regional human rights mechanisms;
  • Address Impunity and Accountability: identify strategies and legal mechanisms i for holding perpetrators and governments accountable for human rights violations; and
  • Build Capacity to Improve Human Rights: develop a better understanding of the international human rights system, identify strategies for applying a human rights framework, and develop competence in setting up and effectively running an organization in safety and security.

The Advocates for Human Rights  is uniquely qualified to present the human rights tools in this manual. Human Rights Tools for a Changing World is grounded in the The Advocates’ daily work in human rights fact-finding, documentation and advocacy.  For more than 30 years, The Advocates has adapted traditional human rights methodologies to conduct innovative research and generate human rights reports and educational trainings designed to bring laws, policies, and practice into compliance with international human rights standards. The Advocates has monitored human rights conditions and produced more than 75 reports documenting human rights practices in dozens of countries around the world on a wide range of human rights issues.

The contents of this manual were also shaped by the requests for assistance and guidance that The Advocates routinely receives from human rights defenders and others seeking to change human rights conditions in their communities throughout the world. Partnership on projects identified and led by local organizations is a powerful means to effectively implement human rights work in the field. At The Advocates, we view our constituencies as partners and form enduring working relationships with organizations and community groups in the U.S. and around the world.

The Advocates’ participatory model of working with in-country civil society organizations to document human rights abuses and coordinate advocacy for change has also demonstrated to us the critical importance of having access to a wide range of human rights tools.  Flexibility is key; there is no “one size fits all” human rights methodology.  Activists need a full menu of strategies and resources so they can choose the ones that will work best in each specific context. With the right tools, real human rights improvements are eminently possible.

We hope that that Human Rights Tools for a Changing World will benefit and be used by human rights defenders and civil society organizations throughout the world. Because every person matters.

Download your free copy at:  TheAdvocatesForHumanRights.org/Change

Individual chapters and appendices can also be downloaded individually.

By:  Jennifer Prestholdt, Deputy Director and Director of  the International Justice Program at The Advocates for Human Rights


More slaves today than at any other time in history

Flower in barbed wire fence

There are more slaves today than at any point in history. They labor in fields and factories, under brutal “owners” who threaten violence if they try to escape. They work on construction sites or in homes for families, virtually imprisoned. They are forced to work on the streets as child beggars, fight in wars as child soldiers, and toil on farms, in traveling sales crews, and in restaurants and hotels. Some are forced to work in brothels and strip clubs, or for escort and massage services. They are often held far from their homes, with no money, no connections, and no way to ask for help. They fear the consequences if they fail to earn their daily quota.[1]

Slavery is illegal in every country in the modern world. Nonetheless, there are about 35.8 million victims worldwide,[3] with 70 percent of them female and nearly one-third children.[2]

The problem is so severe it warranted a presidential proclamation, declaring January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Today this modern-day form of slavery, also known as human trafficking, is one of the largest and fastest growing criminal industries in the world.[4] Human trafficking refers to the sale of adults and children into both commercial sexual servitude and forced or bonded labor, and involves the recruiting, harboring, receipt, or transportation of persons for some exploitative purpose.[5]

Human trafficking happens every where, in every part of the world. The United States formally abolished slavery 150 years ago with the passing of the 13th. Regardless, cases involving sexual exploitation and bonded or forced labor are prevalent, with estimates as high as 50,000 people being enslaved.[6] Cases of human trafficking have been reported in all fifty states. The United States is also a source and transit country for human trafficking, and is considered one of the top destination points for victims of child trafficking and exploitation,[7] and U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are trafficked within the country. Cases of human trafficking have been reported in all 50 states.

The Advocates for Human Rights plays a major role in fighting sex trafficking. The Advocates worked to draft and help pass Minnesota’s 2013 Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Act. The law, in effect in Minnesota beginning August 1, 2014, drastically changes the way in which Minnesota views prostitution and responds to sexually exploited youth. Using delinquency proceedings to punish prostituted children has ended in Minnesota, and a new victim-centered response to meet with needs is being established.

The Advocates also worked to draft and help pass the law’s precursor, the 2011 Safe Harbor Act. Not satisfied that the 2011 law had left out 16- and 17-year-olds, The Advocates zeroed in on expanding the law’s protections to all children under 18, and drafted the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force‘s 2013 legislative agenda, leading to the 2013 law expanding protections.

The Advocates also participated in creating a victim-centered response — referred to as the “No Wrong Door Model” — and published a report on the process, entitled Safe Harbor: Fulfilling Minnesota’s Promise to Protect Sexually Exploited Youth.

The Advocates is now focused on developing educational resources for community, social service providers, and teachers. It is pinpointing best practices for identifying victims and preventing this abuse, as well as cataloging referrals and resources available under the law. In addition, The Advocates is providing public education on trafficking, and is working throughout Minnesota in collaboration with the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, the Minnesota entity charged with training law enforcement agencies and prosecutors on the law’s new approach to trafficking.

Setting the stage for Minnesota’s paradigm shift was The Advocates 2008 report, Sex Trafficking Needs Assessment for the State of Minnesota, which included recommendations for responding to sex trafficking. Paramount was the human rights principle that people who are trafficked should be identified as victims, not criminals. The report emphasized that trafficking victims require specialized services, not detention and prosecution.

“Our ultimate goal is to bring the sale of people to an end; it must cease to be normal, acceptable, or profitable,” said Beatriz Menanteau, a staff attorney with The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program.

By: The Advocates for Human Rights’ Emily Farell and Susan L. Banovetz

[1] Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, 2009, http://www.womenfound.org/people-not-property-zero-tolerance-for-trafficking/

[2] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2014 Global Trafficking in Persons Report, http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/glotip/GLOTIP14_ExSum_english.pdf.

[3] Walk Free Foundation, 2014 Global Slavery Index, http://www.globalslaveryindex.org/.

[4] UNHCR. Conference puts focus on human trafficking, fastest growing criminal industry. Oct. 11, 2010. http://www.unhcr.org/4cb315c96.html.

[5] The Advocates for Human Rights, “Sex Trafficking Needs Assessment for the State of Minnesota,” http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/uploads/report_final.10.13.08.pdf.

[6] Clawson, Heather J., Nicole Dutch, Amy Solomon, and Lisa Goldblatt Grace, “Human Trafficking Into and Within the United States: A Review of the Literature,” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2009. http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/07/humantrafficking/litrev/.

[7] UNICEF USA, Child Trafficking, http://www.unicefusa.org/mission/protect/trafficking.


Je Suis Charlie & The Right To Freedom of Expression

Image from the Charlie Hebdo website

By Jennifer Prestholdt

This week in Paris, 12 people were killed in a brutal attack on the office of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. Among those who lost their lives were two policemen and Charlie Hebdo staff, including editor Stephane Charbonnier and three other well-known cartoonists. 

In the aftermath of the attack, thousands of people around the world have responded with large demonstrations and candlelight vigils. “Je Suis Charlie” has become a worldwide campaign to mourn those who died and to show support for freedom of speech and opinion everywhere. “Je Suis Charlie” has become a global rallying cry for freedom of expression.

The Advocates for Human Rights stands with those who mourn the loss of all who died, and honor the courageous Charlie Hebdo staff who were killed simply because they were exercising their universal human rights. There is no possible justification for these attacks. Those who planned and committed these crimes should be brought to justice through a fair trial. The French government should also take steps to ensure that all aspects of its response to the attack protects human rights, including protecting Muslims in France from reprisals.

This was not the first attack on Charlie Hebdo. The office had been firebombed in 2011 after running cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammad. Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier had received death threats in the past and was living under police protection (his police guard was one of those killed).  The cartoonists who died during the attack, like many political cartoonists around the world, knew that to practice their art was to risk their lives.

In 2012, The Advocates for Human Rights posted a photo essay on an exhibit called “Cartooning for Peace” which highlighted the work of cartoonists around the world who risk great danger in order to voice their opinions and protect freedom of expression.  I am reposting that essay below. In the aftermath of the attacks, “Cartooning for Peace” has begun to publish cartoons in Le Monde which pay homage to those killed in the attacks. You can explore those cartoons here. 

The Charlie Hebdo has posted these two images on their website along with a statement that because freedom of expression is universal right, the next edition of the publication will be published on Wednesday, January 14.

Image from the Charlie Hebdo website

(originally posted on August 5, 2012)

Cartoon by Kianoush

by Jennifer Prestholdt

In May, I was in Geneva to participate in the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review of Morocco and India. I went for a run one day along Quai Wilson on Lake Geneva and discovered an exhibition of political cartoons. The exhibition was sponsored by Cartooning for Peace/Dessins pour la paix, an initiative conceived of by French political cartoonist Plantu and launched at the United Nations in 2006. The goal of Cartooning for Peace is to promote better understanding and mutual respect between people of different faiths and cultures. Cartooning for Peace also works to promote freedom of expression and to protect the rights of cartoonists.

Cartooning for Peace and the City of Geneva created the new International Prize for Editorial Cartoons to honor cartoonists for their talent, outstanding contribution and commitment to the values of tolerance, freedom and peace. On May 3, 2012  – the World Day of Press Freedom – the prize was awarded for the first time to four Iranian political cartoonists.

Cartoon by Mana Neyestani
Cartoon by Mana Neyestani

The exhibition Dessins Pour La Paix  2012 displayed the work of the award-winning Iranian artists Mana Neyestani, Kianoush,  Firoozeh Mozaffari and Hassan Karimzade.

In addition, the exhibition included dozens of political cartoons by cartoonists around the world on the themes of freedom of expression, the Arab spring and the rights of women.

The exhibition in Geneva ran from May 3 to June 3, 2012. The full catalogue of the cartons featured in the exhibit is now available online.

Take a stroll with me along Quai Wilson and witness the power of the cartooning for peace!




Photo credits to Amy Bergquist, staff attorney with The Advocates for Human Rights’ International Justice Program.


“As a white person, we have to listen”


Grammy-winning rapper Macklemore’s levelheaded comments about race in an interview on New York City’s Hot 97 caught my attention. Consider this snippet:

“If there’s anything positive that has come out of their [Eric Garner and Michael Brown] deaths—if there’s anything positive—I believe it has brought attention to injustices that have been plaguing America since the jump. Racial profiling. Corrupt judicial system. Police brutality. These are things that now have attention. Now people are talking about these things. Which is great. People are mobilizing. I’ve been inspired by the mobilization.

“For me, as a white dude—as a white rapper—I’m like, how do I participate in this conversation? How do I participate? How do I get involved on a level where I’m not co-opting the movement or I’m not making it about me, but also realizing the platform I have and the reach that I have, and doing it in an authentic and genuine way. Racism is uncomfortable to talk about. White people, we can just turn off the TV when we’re sick of talking about racism. We can be like, ‘Oops, I’m done.’ It does not work that way for everybody, but that’s what we can do. White ‘liberal’ people want to be nice. We don’t want to mess up. We don’t want to be racists. We want to be like, ‘We’re post-racial and we have a black president and we don’t need to talk about white privilege. It’s all good, right?’ It’s not the case. I was talking to somebody the other day, and they said to me, ‘Silence is an action.’ It is my privilege that I can be silent about this issue. And I’m tired of being silent about it. I’ve been silent for a long time about it. Because I didn’t want to mess up. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing. I didn’t want to offend anybody.

“But it is so imperative right now that we have this race conversation in America. If we’re going to progress. If we’re going to move past this. If we’re going to work together—truly work together—we have to get past that awkward stage of the race conversation, step up and just have it. I don’t where that starts, other than just speaking about it. You just have to start talking about it.

“As a white person, we have to listen. We need to listen, direct the attention to people of color on the ground mobilizing, listen to those people, and take some direction on how we can actually make this conversation happen.”

By: Susan L. Banovetz, The Advocates for Human Rights’ communication director

Donate now . . . because every person matters.


2014’s Lesson: Take Action. Lives Depend on It.

Painted hand for WordPressDecember has been a terrible month for human rights—from the U.S. Senate’s report confirming the use of torture, to the slaughter of Pakastani school children, to two grand jury decisions not to indict police officers for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Overall, 2014 has been an extremely troubling year. Some human rights abuses garnered a lot of attention; many did not, taking place under the radar of the media and public conversation. Let’s consider a few examples, and let them serve as a call to action.

  1. Boko Haram militants kidnapped 276 girls from a school in Chibok, Nigeria one night in mid-April. This travesty garnered wide media attention and support from around the world, with celebrities carrying “Bring Back Our Girls” placards and rallies demanding the girls’ return. Unfortunately, 219 girls are reported to remain in captivity. Boko Haram continued its reign of terror, and is responsible for other atrocities throughout Somalia and Nigeria during 2014, including kidnappings, mass recruitment of child soldiers, and bombings of churches and public squares. Just this month news reports surfaced that Boko Haram kidnapped at least 185 women and children and killed 32 people in northeast Nigeria.
  2. Central American refugees―mostly children (and many by themselves)―are seeking asylum, after journeying across one of the world’s most dangerous migrant routes to escape horrific violence in their home countries. The crisis was brought to light and much of the nation was shocked when, in June, images of children being held by US authorities surfaced, showing children crowded in makeshift prisons, and crammed into rooms and sleeping on concrete floors. Instead of treating them as refugees and in accordance with internationally-recognized human rights standards, the U.S. has treated these children as national security threats, warehousing them in razor-wired prisons, detaining them in horrendous conditions, and subjecting them to expedited proceedings to deport them at warp speed and back to the life-threatening dangers they fled.
  3. The terrorist organization ISIL has committed gruesome acts of violence that have alarmed the world community, including murdering political opposition members in mass, enslaving and brutalizing women and girls, and forcing young boys into its ranks. An August attack by ISIL in the Sinjar region caused thousands of Shiites and Yazidis to flee; in October, ISIL abducted 5,000-7,000 Yazidi women and children and sold them into slavery, reported the UN.
  4. Grand jury decisions not to indict police officers for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner highlighted racial profiling, police brutality, and failures of the justice system throughout the country, including a police officer shooting 12-year-old Tamir Rice to death in Cleveland, Ohio.
  5. The Ethiopian government attacked a student protest in the nation’s Oromia region in April, killing as many as 47 students, as some reports indicate. The Ethiopian government has persecuted and targeted the Oromo people for years, subjecting Oromo to abduction, mass incarceration, and extreme levels of torture, including electric shock and repeated rapes.
  6. Nearly 200,000 people have been killed and millions more took flight because of violence in Syria―the world’s largest refugee crisis resulting from a civil war that has raged in the region following popular uprising during the Arab Spring in 2011. To date, UNHCR estimates that more than 2.5 million refugees have fled the disaster, surpassing the refugee crises in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, and Central America.
  7. Countries took huge steps backward for rights of LGBTI communities, enacting draconian laws which punish homosexuality with prison terms, torture, and death. Members of LGBTI communities in some countries are hunted down by vigilantes and are beaten or killed. In 2014, Uganda enacted one of the most notorious laws—its “Kill the Gays” law—punishing homosexuality with life in prison. The Ugandan Constitutional Court struck down law. Unfortunately, because the court ruled on procedural grounds rather than on the merits, the court’s decision does not bar parliament from adopting an identical law in the future. And homosexuality remains a criminal act in Uganda, as it was before the new law was signed.
  8. The U.S.’s use of drone strikes are a significant setback to international law, setting new precedents for use of force by nations around the world. As of November 2014, attempts to kill 41 people resulted in snuffing out the lives of an estimated 1,147 individuals, reports The Guardian. The U.S. has, to date, used drones to execute without trial some 4,700 people— including civilians and children—in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, all countries against whom the U.S. has not declared war, the organization Reprieve reports.
  9. An Egyptian court sentenced 529 people to death in a mass trial in March. The next month, a court sentenced another 680 to death in a proceeding that lasted only a few minutes. These mass executions, issued by a military government than came to power in a July 2013 coup, represent some of the largest ordered executions in the last century. Activists who supported efforts to oust former President Hosni Mubarak continue to be rounded up and targeted by the military, aiming to crush political opposition and to roll back achievements made during the Arab Spring. And in November, an Egyptian court dismissed conspiracy to kill charges against Mubarak, and he was cleared of corruption charges; he will likely be freed in a few months.
  10. Women and girls have suffered immeasurably where they should be safest, in their homes. Women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, motor accidents, war and malaria, according to the World Bank. On average, at least one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused by an intimate partner in the course of her lifetime. One high profile domestic violence incident this year involved NFL player Ray Rice beating his then-fiance into unconsciousness and flattening her to the floor of an elevator. As a result of the attack, Rice was suspended for two games. When TMZ posted the video of the attack for the world to see, the NFL suspended Rice indefinitely and the Baltimore Ravens pressured his victim to apologize. Ultimately, the NFL reversed its decision to suspend Rice indefinitely in late November.
  11. Harmful cultural practices violate women. Many governments “address” human rights violations—even the most cringe-worthy, stomach-churning―against women and girls by punishing the victims. Or—as in the case of women from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala seeking refuge in other countries—governments turn their heads to the violence, empowering the perpetrators and further victimizing and subjugating the women. These abuses include acid attacks, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, honor killings, bride burning, and gang rapes. Consider the death of Farzana Iqbal, 25, in May in Pakistan; her family stoned her to death outside a courthouse in Pakistan because she sought to marry without consent from her family a man she loved. Consider Hanna Lalango, 16, who died a month after she entered a public mini-bus in Ethiopia and was gang-raped by strangers for five days―a case similar to one in India two years ago, but one that did not garner the same level of attention and outrage. As an added note, Lalango’s father said he would not have made the case public if his daughter had lived because the shame would have shadowed her for the rest of her life.
  12. The U.S. Senate “torture report” released on December 9 graphically details the CIA’s use of abuse, including keeping a prisoner awake for 180 hours with his hands shackled over his head, threatening to sexually assault and cut the throat of a detainee’s mother, penetrating a detainee’s anus for “rectal feeding,” and tying a prisoner to a floor until he froze to death.
  13. Taliban militants stormed a school in Peshwar, Pakistan and killed more than 130 students in a terrorist attack on December 16 to retaliate against the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai, the young girl who caught the world’s attention for being shot for going to school. Responding to the Peshwar slaughter, Malala stated, “I, along with millions of others around the world, mourn these children, my brothers and sisters—but we will never be defeated.”
  14. Forty-three students traveling to a protest in Mexico were rounded up and “disappeared” in September. The mayor of Iguala, Mexico in concert with local gangs ordered the capture and murder of these students, reports indicate. Federal police may also have complicity in the crime. The act has garnered widespread attention in Mexico, with people questioning the legitimacy of federal and state Mexican authorities, who for years has been corrupted by the influence of narco-traffickers and gangs.
  15. More than 2,000 Gazans were killed when Israel launched a military operation in the Gaza strip in July to stop rocket attacks that followed an Israeli crackdown on Hamas in retaliation for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. The disproportionate level of force used by the Israeli military resulted in large number of civilian deaths. Of the 2,192 Gazans killed, about 1523 civilians (including 519 children), 66 Israeli soldiers, five Israeli civilians (including a child), and one Thai civilian were killed, reports indicate. At the end of the conflict, 110,000 people were internally displaced and 108,000 were made homeless, according to Amnesty International.

What can we do in the face of these human rights violations and the countless others that go unnoticed? Pay attention. Look behind the headlines. Make our voices heard by public officials, leaders, and the world community. Volunteer for projects that address the issues most important to us. Support organizations such as The Advocates for Human Rights which take on the larger systemic issues that allow human rights abuses to continue. We are not helpless. In 2015, we can, by working together, move closer to our vision of a world in which all people live with dignity, freedom, justice, equality, and peace . . . because every person matters.

By: The Advocates for Human Rights’ Deepinder Mayell, Robin Phillips, Jennifer Prestholdt, and Susan Banovetz

Donate now. Because every person matters.


“He could take her away from us”

Woman cryingI watched someone close to me become a victim of the horrific cycle of domestic violence. Her name is Kavita.

“My fiancé took out his anger on me,” she said. “I was told I was worthless and stupid. Sometimes, it was very subtle—he would withhold his affection from me, or he would completely ignore me like I was not even there. The worst was when he would slam me against a wall, hit me, or hold me down until I was unconscious. It was horrible to listen to him laughing as he tortured me.

“He was controlling. There were rules for everything. I was not allowed to do my homework on the couch because it was brand new and he worried that I would get ink on it. Whenever he was gone, I would sneak and do my homework on the couch. (Perhaps I was trying to get some power back.) One day, I dropped my pen on it and left a small mark. I looked at the clock; it was 1 p.m., and I knew he wouldn’t be home until 6 p.m. or later. I quickly got out soap and water, and I was able to get the stain out. I was so relieved.

“Not five minutes later, I heard a key in the front door. He was home—early. I panicked, and I sat on the spot so he wouldn’t see it. He walked into the door, and the first thing he said to me was, ‘What the hell did you do?’ How did he know? I got up and tried to laugh it off, telling him that it was an accident, and that I had succeeded at getting the stain out and was just waiting for the sofa to dry. He acted like it was okay, and I was happy. Five minutes later, he grabbed the back of my ponytail and pulled me to the ground.

“We began our relationship in Minnesota, while we both were in school. Soon after, he left for Washington, D.C. and medical school with the U.S. Navy. After many conversations, he persuaded me to leave college and my family and friends and move to D.C. to be with him. I was used to living in the Midwest, and D.C. was a whole new life for me. I became isolated. I now think that this was part of his plan.

“Money wasn’t an issue for my fiancé; the Navy paid him well while he was in school and he had other resources. But, soon after moving to D.C., I learned that in a different and harmful way, money was indeed an issue for him—he used it to leverage power and control. He controlled all of our finances, and he controlled what I purchased. I was only allowed to buy expensive clothes. Even though we had the money, he made me work full-time at a cake shop and part-time at a high-end clothing store in order to get a discount to subsidize the extravagant purchases. I never saw the money I earned because he made me give it to him. One day at the grocery store, he held up the line and told me that I had to pay for the groceries, or we would starve the next two weeks. I was so embarrassed and humiliated. I charged the groceries on my credit card. Eventually, I maxed out my credit card because he would make me pay for everything.

“Even though I’m extremely close to my parents, it took me a long time to confide in them—they were miles away in Minnesota—that something was wrong. Even though they sensed something was wrong, I was frightened to say anything. When I finally did, my mom would get mad at me for not leaving my fiancé. My dad told my mom that if they didn’t support the relationship, they may lose me forever. ‘She’s planning a wedding with him, and she’s already in D.C. He could take her away from us,’ my dad cautioned my mom.

“I needed to hear that I was loved, even though I had left everything to be with my fiancé. My dad reminded me how much he loved me, and told me that what I had with my fiancé was not a loving relationship. My dad told me that I deserved respect, and that when a man hits a woman that is not respect or love. The level of support my dad gave me helped me leave my fiancé.

“I know now that there were many aspects of abuse in that relationship. It was all about power and control. And my response was a common one. ‘I love him, and there are times he is very loving toward me,’ I would tell myself and my parents. I hoped—I believed—he would change. ‘Why would he really want to hurt me, someone he loves?’ I would ask myself. I downplayed his behavior and the abuse, telling myself that it was not that bad and that it could be much worse. I thought I deserved it every time I was hit. I believed I was dependent—financially and otherwise—on him. And I was afraid to leave. I feared what would happen to me or my family if I tried to leave. I know now that when leaving the abuser, it is the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship.

“I know now that my parents, especially my dad, were wise and did the right thing. They didn’t blame me, and they were there for me. I can only imagine how frantic and sick they must have been, living so far away from me and worrying about me, wondering if they would get a call about me being in a hospital—or worse. They helped me develop a plan to leave, and they helped me put it into action. They didn’t keep what was happening to me private. They spoke up. When I was ready, they told close family and friends, creating a circle of support for me.

“I know now that one in four women and one in seven men aged 18 and older in the United States have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. I know that this is an epidemic that affects every single person.

“I know that many people don’t have the network of support I had. That’s why it’s important for communities to respond to help victims realize they can survive on their own. The best thing you can do for your community is help educate them that they should not tolerate attitudes that contribute to a mindset that someone should be entitled to exercise power and control over another person. Come together to create a network that victims can turn to when they are leaving the abusive relationship. Just like a neighborhood watch, these folks can help a victim leave the relationship. Go to your local shelter and local police to discuss options on helping the victim report the incidents of abuse. Remember, strength is in numbers.

“Each of us needs to speak up and take action because, now or in the future, it could be someone close to you—your daughter, your son, your sister, your brother, your best friend, or even you.

“I watched someone close to me become a victim, and that person was me.”

By: Lindsay Kavita Dreyer, a staff member with the Advocates for Human Rights.


End the Imprisonment of Children & Mothers

Stock Photo woman behind fenceYesterday, The Advocates for Human Rights and more than 120 national and regional organizations wrote to President Obama opposing this week’s opening of the Dilley, Texas family detention center. 

While Congress and the Administration prepare for a joyful holiday season, many children will spend this holiday season in jail instead of with relatives here in the U.S. who are willing to care for them and for their mothers.

These families are not a border security problem. They are among the most vulnerable immigrants, seeking safety and the opportunity to tell their story to a judge. They should not be the centerpiece of a continued “surge” of border enforcement strength. The Advocates and others take issue with the Administration’s message that locking up mothers and children at the border is justified to deter others from attempting a journey that may be necessary to save their lives.

Join us in fighting for the safety of these mothers and children, as well as for ending their incarceration. Contact President Obama and members of U.S. Congress who represent you.

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

We, the undersigned civil rights and civil liberties, human rights, faith, immigration, labor, criminal justice, legal, children’s rights, and domestic violence advocacy organizations, oppose the opening of the new family detention facility in Dilley, Texas. While Congress and the Administration prepare for a joyful holiday season, many children will be spending this holiday season in jail instead of with relatives here in the U.S. who are already willing to care for them and for their mothers. The Dilley facility will be the largest immigration detention facility in the country, with a planned 2,400 beds to incarcerate children and their mothers who are fleeing extreme violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala and rush them through the deportation process without due process.

The regional refugee crisis in Central America demands a humanitarian response by the United States, not a show of force. These mothers have faced unimaginable suffering and danger and have come to the U.S. seeking protection, often with close relatives in the U.S. who are willing and able to provide for them. They are not evading law enforcement; they are seeking out Border Patrol officers.

These families are not a border security problem. They are among the most vulnerable immigrants, seeking safety and the opportunity to tell their story to a judge. They should not be the centerpiece of a continued “surge” of border enforcement strength.
The evidence is undeniable that many of these families qualify for protection under U.S. law. Extremely high percentages of these detained women and their children have been granted asylum by immigration judges or been found to have a credible fear of persecution by asylum officers. We take issue with the Administration’s message that locking up mothers and children at the border is justified to deter others from attempting a journey that may be necessary to save their lives. This rhetoric belies our nation’s legal obligation to protect asylum seekers and is inhumane. These children and mothers are not tools for a border messaging campaign.

As the Dilley facility opens, immigration attorneys volunteering from across the country to provide free representation to families isolated in detention centers at Artesia, New Mexico and Karnes, Texas are making a tremendous difference in the lives of these families and the outcomes of their cases. We all know the importance of legal counsel to immigrants who are trying to express their fears and navigate our complex immigration system. But the massive outpouring of pro bono efforts that have resulted in so many asylum victories for families in Artesia, New Mexico and Karnes, Texas is neither sustainable nor easily replicable, especially for a facility the size of Dilley. We fear that many of the women and children detained in Dilley will go without representation. Without counsel, women are less likely to be found having a credible fear of persecution—the first step to seeking asylum. Credible fear grant rates will fall. And children and mothers who need protection will be returned to danger.

The closure of Artesia as Dilley opens is a clear bait-and-switch. Many families currently detained at Artesia will be transferred to Karnes or to Dilley, not released. As relieved as we are that families will no longer be held at Artesia – a facility in the middle of the desert where repeated violations of human rights and due process occurred – the opening of Dilley signals a ramp up, not a reduction, in family detention.

Detention makes it extremely difficult for traumatized asylum seekers and other vulnerable immigrants to ask for and receive the protections of our laws and the services they need. A detained family may only have a matter of days to seek help before being summarily deported without the opportunity to see a judge. Moreover, your Administration has made it uniquely difficult for these mothers and children to obtain a fair and reasonable release on bond – even when they have absolutely no criminal history and pose no public safety threat, even when they are facing severe medical and psychological difficulties in detention. Furthermore, no satisfactory explanation has been provided as to why proven alternatives to detention (ATDs) are not being considered in those cases where a family cannot otherwise be released, since it would save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and accomplish the goal of compliance with removal proceedings. ATDs would also increase access to counsel and therapeutic services for those who experienced trauma.

Detaining mothers and children and rushing them through to deportation is wrong. The public scandal and lawsuit that ended family detention at the T. Don Hutto facility in 2009 demonstrated that detention is a wholly inappropriate place for children and their mothers. But by the middle of next year, your Administration will be detaining nearly 4,000 mothers and children, a forty-fold increase in the use of detention on immigrant families.

With your Executive Actions, you have pledged to protect families. But Dilley will force many families back directly into harm’s way. We urge you to reverse course on family detention and close Dilley.


American Civil Liberties Union
American Immigration Council
American Immigration Lawyers Association
Americans for Immigrant Justice
Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence
Asian Americans Advancing Justice
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance
ASISTA Immigration Assistance
Center for Community Change
Center for Gender & Refugee Studies
Center for Human Rights & International Justice, Boston College
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Refugee & Immigration Ministries
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Detention Watch Network
Disciples Home Missions
Disciples Home Missions Family and Children’s Ministries
First Focus
Franciscan Action Network
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Futures Without Violence
Grassroots Leadership
Human Rights First
Jesuit Conference
Justice Strategies
Kids in Need of Defense
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Leadership Team of the Felician Sisters of North America
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
NAFSA: Association of International Educators
National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association
National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council of La Raza (NCLR)
National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON)
National Immigrant Justice Center
National Immigration Forum
National Immigration Law Center
National Latin@ Network: Casa de Esperanza
National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
New Sanctuary Coalition
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Salvadoran American National Network
Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)
Southern Border Communities Coalition
Stone Grzegorek & Gonzalez LLP
Tahirih Justice Center
United We Dream
We Belong Together
Wheaton Franciscans
Women’s Refugee Commission
Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights at the University of Chicago

American Jewish Committee
Disciples Home Missions
Disciples Justice Action Network
Disciples Women
Human Rights Watch
Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity
Physicians for Human Rights
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother
The Advocates for Human Rights
The Episcopal Church
US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE)
Asian Law Alliance
Bill of Rights Defense Committee-Tacoma
Border Action Network
Causa Oregon
Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA)
Collaborative Center for Justice
Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto
Conversations With Friends (MN)
Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project
Florida Immigrant Coalition
Franciscans for Justice
Gibbs Houston Pauw
Human Rights Initiative of North Texas
Humane Borders
Illinois Coalition for Immigrant & Refugee Rights
Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota
Immigrant Law Group PC
Immigrant Rights Clinic
Immigration Center for Women and Children
Immigration Clinic, University of North Carolina School of Law
Immigration Task Force, Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Inter-faith Coalition on Immigration (MN)
Kentucky Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Kentucky Immigration Reform Committee
Kino Border Initiative
Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center
Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice
Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA)
Michigan United
Mountain View Dreamers
New Mexico Immigrant Law Center
New Sanctuary Coalition of NY
North Carolina Justice Center
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project
Palabra Santa Barbara
Pangea Legal Services
People Acting in Community Together
Proyecto Azteca
Redwood Justice Fund
Safe Passage Project
Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network (SIREN)
Stop The Checkpoints
Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition
The Queer Detainee Empowerment Project
University of California Davis School of Law Immigration Clinic
University of Texas School of Law Civil Rights Clinic
University of Texas School of Law Immigration Clinic
VACOLAO – Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations
Walker Gates Vela PLLC
Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence


14-year-old Exonerated after Execution

george-Junius-Stinney-JrWhen he was executed 70 years ago in South Carolina, 14-year-old George Stinney Jr. was so small he had to sit on a stack of books on the electric chair to reach the electrodes. Yesterday, Judge Carmen Mullins vacated the decision that had meant death for the child. Civil rights advocates have spent years trying to get the case reopened, arguing that George’s confession had been coerced. They finally succeeded.

While seven decades have passed since George was executed, his case illustrates human rights abuses inherent in the death penalty that continue today.

Police contended at the time that George, who was black, had confessed to the crime of murdering two young white girls, 11-year-old Betty June Binnicker and 7-year-old Mary Emma Thames. The supposed confession came after hours of harsh interrogation, without either of his parents or an attorney present. Reports claim police officers offered the young boy ice cream if he confessed to the murders. His “confession” was said to be verbal, and there is no written record of a confession.

“False confessions are a very real, contributing factor to innocents being sentenced to death,” said Rosalyn Park, The Advocates for Human Rights’ research director. “One study shows that false confessions constitute nearly 10 percent of the causes behind wrongful convictions.” Park represents The Advocates on the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty’s steering committee, and she chairs the working group for World Day Against the Death Penalty.

George’s court-appointed white attorney, who at the time was preparing a run for the South Carolina state house, mounted no defense during a trial that lasted less than three hours. Moreover, there was no physical evidence linking George to the murder and no record on paper of his confession for the jury to consider. The courtroom was packed with 1,500 people, all white. Blacks were not allowed.

His family did not have a chance to provide the child’s alibi or present evidence in defense of their loved one because they had been run out of town. George’s father was not allowed to speak to or see his son before the trial.

It took only 10 minutes for the all-white jury to convict him. Two months later, George was electrocuted.

George’s case is representative of the racial bias pervasive throughout the capital punishment system today. “If the victim is white, a defendant is more likely to be sentenced to death than if the victim is black” said Park. “The race of the defendant also increases the likelihood of a death sentence, and black persons are disproportionately overrepresented on death row in comparison to the general population.”

George’s case also indicates how the United States is behind international norms, said Parks. Although international law has long prohibited the execution of a juvenile offender, executing juvenile offenders was only abolished in the United States in 2005 with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The Advocates for Human Rights has submitted a shadow report to the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee on the death penalty in the United States. Let’s hope that the next time the United States’ human rights record is reviewed by the United Nations, the death penalty will have been abolished in the United States, allowing the country to hold its head high.

Learn more:

By: Susan L. Banovetz, communication director for The Advocates for Human Rights


Egypt Waiting for U.S. Citizen Mohamed Soltan to Die

Mohamed Soltan“Mohamed died, and came back to life,” said a nurse earlier this month while attending to the care of U.S. citizen and Ohio State University graduate Mohamed Soltan, who has been on a hunger strike for 324 days (as of December 17) in an Egyptian prison. Mohamed’s hunger strike is in protest to his illegal detention related to his arrest in August 2013 by Egyptian authorities on what is described as politically-motivated charges.

While the nurse was measuring Mohamed’s blood sugar—which was about 30 at that time—Soltan lost consciousness following a seizure. Everyone in his cell screamed, declaring him dead. They panicked and started to rub sweets on his lips to raise his blood sugar level in hopes of raising his sugar levels and preventing him from choking his tongue. He remained unconscious for another 20 minutes. When he regained consciousness he was rushed to the urgent care facility. Soltan did not remember anything, including names of immediate family members. He reported experiencing cold chills and hot flashes.

Mohamed was later transferred to Qasr Al Aini Hospital. When they measured his blood sugar, it was around 23. They hooked him to an IV, injecting calcium, glucose, and magnesium into his fragile body. Based on the tests, they concluded that those deficiencies had caused the seizure.

Mohamed was left alone in urgent care. When he woke up, he asked to see his father and was denied. He was accompanied by a guard around the clock instead. Mohamed demanded once again to see his father, when the request was denied again he became really angry and experienced what could only amount to a nervous breakdown. He started beating his head on the door’s metal bars. The incident was immediately reported to the officer in charge, but Mohamed received no sympathy. His request to be accompanied by his father in what is sure to have felt like his last moments on this earth was denied despite the proximity of the cell his father is held in to his (15 meters)

The family is deeply saddened by the news of Mohamed’s deteriorating health and emotional state. “It is especially heartbreaking to learn of the psychological torture he and his dad experience in being denied the comfort of each other’s company in a situation this dire and bleak,” Mohamed’s family said. “It appears the current regime is determined to see Mohamed dead. We pray that Allah SWT ends the oppression Mohamed and others are suffering.”

The end is nearing
This week, Mohamed has been transferred to the ICU in Asr AlAiny hospital due to the complete deterioration of his health. Mohamed refusing medication and check-ups as as a form of strike due to inhumane treatment and the transfer of his father to Aqrab Prison. “Mohamed continues to face emotional pressure from the Egyptian authority as they have isolated him from the outside world by not allowing people to see or speak to him,” the family said.

By the family of Mohamed Soltan

More about Mohamed Soltan
Mohamed Soltan, U.S. citizen and an Ohio State University graduate, took part in the Rabaa Square Protests after the military coup in Egypt toppled the democratically-elected government. Although Soltan is not a Muslim Brotherhood member, his desire to help and his ability to speak both English and Arabic fluently, led him to becoming the media spokesman dealing with international reporters. He was a sympathizer of the cause that promoted democracy, freedom, and social justice for Egypt. He strongly believed in nonviolence.

He was a first-hand witness when the army took down Rabaa square. On August 14, he was shot in the arm by an army sniper. His efforts were not deterred, as he continued to participate in pro-democracy protests. On August 25, police forces arrested Soltan, along with three other Egyptian youth.  It is reported that he is facing charges on bizarre, fabricated counts, and awaits the day that he is fully absolved and reunited with his family and friends.

At the onset of his detention, Soltan was moved from prison to prison to ensure that his whereabouts would remain unknown. Once his family was finally able to connect with him, Soltan informed them of the intense brutality he was facing on a day to day basis while in prison. “The brutality with which I have been treated has been mind boggling,” he said. “During the day, soldiers and police would get in two straight lines, and we would have to run in between them as they beat us with rocks and sticks. They roused anger amongst the officers by falsely proclaiming that we had killed police officers. The officers stripped off our pants and shirts as they beat us with clubs. They put us in jail cells with what must have been 60 other inmates, and it was terribly hot and water was not made available to us. I saw an inmate suffer a heart attack right before my eyes and not receive proper medical attention. The surgical wound on my arm was open and oozing, and not one of the guards seemed to care because I was labeled a political prisoner.”

After months of illegal detention, Soltan finally stood before a judge in January 2014. No evidence was presented and no argument was made, the judge simply ordered him to be held for another 45 days. In protest, Soltan entered into a hunger strike immediately following the hearing on January 26, 2014 with no plans to end it before he is released for lack of evidence against him. Throughout the year, Egyptian authorities have ignored him, with hearings scheduled and postponed throughout his detention.


Pharmacists’ Participation in Executions

Preparing-an-injection1695The Advocates for Human Rights’ Rosalyn Park, the organization’s director of research and acting director of its Women’s Human Rights Program, testified yesterday, December 10, 2014 (coincidentally International Human Rights Day) to the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy regarding pharmacist participation in executions.

“My name is Rosalyn Park, and I’m the Research Director at The Advocates for Human Rights. Thank you for your time today. The Advocates is deeply concerned about the issue of lethal injection in the United States and we have recently submitted a report to the UN Committee against Torture on the matter. I’ve brought copies of our report to share with you.

“I want to begin by saying that this matter on the table today is NOT about abolishing the death penalty. It’s NOT about opposing it. The Advocates is here today because the issue of lethal injection drugs brings front and center the issue of professional standards in and the nature of the pharmacy profession.

“Let me tell you why we are here having this discussion. The nature of the landscape has changed greatly in recent years, and it has put the Pharmacists’ Code of Ethics into a face-off with the execution methods used in the United States today. Here’s why execution by lethal injection is so problematic:

  • Policies adopted by foreign governments have blocked U.S. states’ ability to procure the drugs needed to administer lethal injections. For example, the EU issued the Torture Goods Regulation, which imposes export controls on 8 barbiturates, including 2 drugs that were traditionally used in executions.
  • Private corporations have also followed suit and stopped selling to customers drugs that could be used for executions in the United States.
  • In turn, as these legitimate sources of drugs have dried up, states have begun to turn to unregulated and non-transparent sourcing for lethal injection drugs:
  • They are obtaining these drugs or their ingredients from dubious sources that are outside of federal oversight and regulation. In one case in Arizona, the state executed Jeffrey Landrigan with drugs bought from a pharmaceutical company operating in the back of a London driving school. There is a clear disregard for where these drugs came from and what their quality is.
  • Given this situation, several states have adopted secrecy laws to conceal the identity of drug suppliers and the identities of the execution team. Yet, when we look at MN’s code of ethics, paragraph F defines as unprofessional conduct a refusal to consult with patrons or patients, attempting to circumvent the consulting requirements, or discouraging the patient from receiving consultation concerning contents, therapeutic values, uses, and prices of legend or nonlegend drugs, chemicals, or poisons. Our state’s ethics rules contravene the very actions that U.S. states are taking to keep the sources of their drugs a secret.

“We have seen the spate of botched executions in the news. I want to recount to you the July 23 execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood III by Arizona, which used midazolam and hydromorphone. In our report, we note how Wood ‘gulped like a fish on land’ and convulsed. During these convulsions, Wood made ‘a snoring, sucking sound, similar to when a swimming pool filter starts taking in air… it was death by apnea that went on for an hour-and-a-half.’ The reporter witnessing the execution noted, ‘I made a pencil stroke on a pad of paper each time his mouth opened, and ticked off more than 640, which was not all of them, because the doctor came in at least 4 times and blocked my view.’

This is tantamount to torture, and pharmacists should in no way be put into that position to make, sell, or otherwise provide drugs for purposes of such an execution. I remind you that Paragraph K of the ethics rules states it is unprofessional to engage in any pharmacy practice which constitutes a danger to the health, welfare, or safety of a patient or the public, including but not limited to, practicing in a manner which substantially departs from the standard of care ordinarily exercised by a pharmacist and which harms or could harm a patient.

“But Minnesota can lead the way. Minnesota had the highest per capita signers onto a petition sent to the American Pharmacists Association and state boards asking for a prohibition against participating in executions. And now, it can be the first state pharmacy board to do so and become a national leader with this step.

“In conclusion, The Advocates respectfully asks that you issue a statement that participation in executions is antithetical to the pharmacy profession in this state. Thank you.”

Torture Done in Our Name

FeaturedTorture Done in Our Name

Guantanamo Bayhttps://maryturck.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/screen-shot-2014-12-09-at-10-09-34-pm.png?w=700

The long-secret “torture report” from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is out. Sort of. The full report, still classified, is 6700 pages of “comprehensive and excruciating detail.” What we got on December 9 was a mere 525 pages of Findings and Conclusions and Executive Summary. Even with lots of names and details neatly blacked out, this gut-twisting account shines an unforgiving light on evil done in our name.

Senator Dianne Feinstein’s fight for full investigation and now for release of the report makes her a hero in the causes of human rights and democracy. In the foreword to the report, she writes:

“[It] is my personal conclusion that, under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured. I also believe that the conditions of confinement and the use of authorized and unauthorized interrogation and conditioning techniques were cruel, inhuman, and degrading. I believe the evidence of this is overwhelming and incontrovertible.”

Four questions seem key in understanding the report:

  • What was the CIA torture program?
  • Did torture work to get information?
  • What do the torture and the cover-up reveal about the CIA?
  • What does the report reveal about the United States?

Get the full text of the report here: www.intelligence.senate.gov/study2014/sscistudy1.pdf

 What was the CIA torture program?

The torture conducted by the CIA from 2001 to 2009 took place at several sites, and involved 119 detainees. The extent and nature of the torture was much worse than previously known. Some examples:

  • Detainees subjected to “rectal rehydration” or feeding, including stuffing a prisoner’s rectum with hummus;
  • Placing detainees in ice water “baths;”
  • Threatening harm to children of detainees; threatening the rape or murder of detainees’ mothers;
  • Keeping detainees naked and shackled with their arms over their heads for extended periods of time;
  • Punching, slapping and waterboarding detainees.

One detainee died from suspected hypothermia, after being chained to a concrete floor, nude from the waist down.

Frequently, torture preceded questioning. The policy seemed to be to torture prisoners first, to create fear, and then to question them.

Did torture work to get information?

No. It did not. The committee investigated each instance in which the CIA claimed that it got useful information through torture. Not a single instance proved to be true. The CIA outright lied. Torture produced no useful information at all. As Senator Feinstein wrote in the introduction:

“As the Study describes, prior to the attacks of September 2001, the CIA itself determined from its own experience with coercive interrogations, that such techniques “do not produce intelligence,” “will probably result in false answers,” and had historically proven to be ineffective. Yet these conclusions were ignored.”

What does the torture and the cover-up reveal about the CIA?

As an organization, the CIA is untrustworthy and corrupt. And that’s the kindest thing you can say. The CIA denied specific requests for information from the FBI, blocked the State Department from getting information “crucial to foreign policy decision-making and diplomatic activities,” and provided inaccurate information to executive branch

In addition, the CIA looks downright incompetent.

They tortured two people who were actually CIA sources. After the two had spent 24 hours “shackled in the standing sleep deprivation position,” CIA headquarters confirmed that they were informants wo had been trying to contact the CIA to give information.

The CIA hired two psychologists to set up the interrogation/torture program. According to the report,

“Neither psychologist had any experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of al-Qa’ida, a background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise.”

They also employed interrogators who had records of abuse, including sexual abuse.

The committee found that,

“there are no indications in CIA records that the CIA conducted significant research to identify effective interrogation practices, such as conferring with experienced U.S. military or law enforcement interrogators, or with the intelligence, military, or law enforcement services of other countries with experience in counterterrorism and the interrogation of terrorist suspects.”

This incompetence and deceit is the subject of several of the committee’s findings, including:

#16: The CIA failed to adequately evaluate the effectiveness of its enhanced interrogation techniques.

#17: The CIA rarely reprimanded or held personnel accountable for serious and significant violations, inappropriate activities, and systemic and individual management failures.

#18: The CIA marginalized and ignored numerous internal critiques, criticisms, and objections concerning the operation and management of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program.

What does it say about the United States?

We have betrayed and abandoned the principles of justice and respect for human rights, which we claim to respect and honor as the foundations of the nation. Senator Dianne Feinstein:

“[P]ressure, fear, and expectation of further terrorist plots do not justify, temper, or excuse improper actions taken by individuals or organizations in the name of national security. The major lesson of this report is that regardless of the pressures and the need to act, the Intelligence Community’s actions must always reflect who we are as a nation, and adhere to our laws and standards. It is precisely at these times of national crisis that our government must be guided by the lessons of our history and subject decisions to internal and external review.”

What questions remain?

We may never know all of the CIA’s actions, because the agency kept incomplete records and destroyed some of its records before the investigation.

Given the CIA’s dishonesty and outright lies, as revealed in the committee’s investigation, can we believe that torture has ended? Can we believe that the so-called “black sites” have been closed?

Going forward, what kind of safeguards can be put in place to ensure that the rule of law applies to the CIA and other clandestine government agencies?

By guest blogger Mary Turck, a freelance writer and editor, and an adjunct faculty member at Macalester College and Metropolitan State University, teaching occasional journalism and writing courses. She edited the TC Daily Planet, an online daily news publication, from January 2007 to July 2014, and before that, edited the Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG. In earlier years, she worked as a freelance writer and editor, practiced law in Chicago and Minnesota, taught in elementary schools, colleges and prisons, and worked as a community organizer. She is also the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues. She currently lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  Be sure to visit Turck’s blog, News Day.