Stopping Domestic Violence in Croatia: Progress and Challenges

by Rosalyn Park

Today, I am in Croatia for the official launch of our new report, Implementation of Croatia’s Domestic Violence Legislation. The report is the result of extensive fact-finding in Croatia to assess how its laws are working to protect domestic violence victims and hold offenders accountable. The Advocates for Human Rights traveled to Croatia in October 2010 and February 2011 to interview NGOs, representatives of government agencies, victims, police, judges, social workers, doctors, and prosecutors. Based on these interviews and extensive research, we drew conclusions and made recommendations which we present in the report.

We’ll be releasing this report with a week-long series of events in Croatia. We’ll be presenting the report to Parliament, ombudspersons, police, judges, shelter workers, Centers for Social Welfare, and NGOs. I am excited about this release trip when all our hard work comes to fruition, and we get to use the report to help our partners make change in Croatia. But, I’m also nervous about it–we could face significant backlash from the very people to whom we’ll be presenting the report.

We are objective in our report, but not afraid to criticize the government for failing to live up to certain human rights obligations. And the report makes some very candid observations about the law, the government agencies, and the frontline responders. Our research uncovered many troubling practices that we didn’t hesitate to point out in our report. For example, judges in Croatia often use a harmful practice called “facing” to assess the credibility of the parties. When judges are unsure of who is telling the truth, they’ll force the parties to face each other, a few meters apart, look each other in the eye, and recount their version of what happened. Judges claim that they can read the parties’ facial and body expressions to decide who is lying. For a victim of domestic violence to confront her abuser in this way is traumatizing and harmful; moreover, it most likely won’t promote candid or truthful testimony.

We’re hoping our report can change practices like this. So, while we expect that some people will be upset when they read criticisms of how they implement laws on domestic violence, we hope to convince them that this report can be a tool they can use to improve their practices. Our recommendations set out clear ways that the Croatian government and systems actors can strengthen their response to domestic violence to better protect victims and promote offender accountability. The report’s release in Croatia will be our opportunity to begin convincing them to act on our recommendations; we hope our advocacy work will help launch the next phase of this project–pushing those recommendations forward so that more Croatian women can live free from the terror and torture of domestic violence.

Rosalyn Park is the Research Director of The Advocates for Human Rights.

NEPAL: Visiting The Sankhu-Palubari Community School

Some students walk – up to 2 hours each way – to Sankhu-Palubari Community School to access their right to education.

By Jennifer Prestholdt

A team of staff and volunteers from The Advocates for Human Rights is in Nepal visiting the Sankhu-Palubari Community School (SPCS) in the rural Kathmandu Valley.  The Advocates has supported the school since it was founded in 1999 to prevent child labor, encourage gender parity in education, and improve the lives and well-being of the most disadvantaged children in the area.

In the United States, where education is both compulsory and free, we often forget that the right to education is not meaningfully available in many parts of the world – especially for girls.  The UN estimates that there were more than 67 million primary school-age and 73 million lower secondary school-age children out of school worldwide in 2009.  In addition, an estimated 793 million adults lack basic literacy skills. The majority of them are women.

Most of the students’ families work in agriculture.  They are farmers with little or no money to spare on school fees, uniforms and supplies.   Frequently, the adults in the family are illiterate. Many of them are from marginalized groups such as the Tamang. An indigenous group with their own culture and language, the Tamang students must learn Nepali as well as English when they come to school.  A pre-K program was added in 2011 to provide pre-literacy eduction to better prepare the students for school. This week, The Advocates’ team is conducting a site visit which includes interviewing students in grades 5 through 10 about their experiences at the school and their plans for the future.

We’ve been inspired to hear from so many of the girls about their commitment to getting a good education. Since the school’s founding in 1999, the teachers have conducted outreach to parents and worked hard to encourage female students to attend and stay in school in spite of societal pressure to get married, work in the fields or enter domestic work.

Their efforts have definitely paid off.  While girls worldwide generally are less likely to access, remain in, or achieve in school, 52% of the students in K-8th grades at the school this year are girls. And a girl is at the top of the class in nearly every single grade at SPCS.

Students had so much to tell us about their hopes and dreams for the future.  Some wanted to be doctors and nurses. Some wanted to be teachers. Some even wanted to be professional football (soccer) players!

The Sankhu-Palubari Community School may be a small school in a remote valley, but it is a place where the human right to education is alive and well, providing a better future for these children.  The impact that these students have on their community, their country and – hopefully, the world – will be thrilling to watch.

Volunteer Aviva Breen interviewing a student.
Deputy Director Jennifer Prestholdt interviewing a student.
Laura Sandall used her recent Americorps experience to teach a health class for the 7th and 8th grade students.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

PHOTO CREDITS:  Robin Phillips, Jennifer Prestholdt and Laura Sandall
Jennifer Prestholdt is the Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights

Pencils, check, Paper, check, . . . Human Rights Education?

by Sarah Herder

The other evening, after searching for last year’s school binders and packing my kids’ backpacks with everything from Clorox wipes to globe-shaped pencil sharpeners, I thought about the millions of students who are returning to freshly painted hallways and overcrowded classrooms this fall. I had to wonder: Are they ready?

Not just ready with supplies, but ready with skills. By this, I mean, are they prepared to handle conflict? Are they ready to treat themselves and others with respect? Have  our children achieved the fundamental proficiencies to be responsible members of their school communities? Are they ready to protect and promote their own human rights, and those of others?

We rightly put a good deal of emphasis on what we traditionally think of as academic skills, such as writing a five-paragraph essay and using the scientific method. Indeed, every good teacher is simultaneously combining content with skills that will help students in the next phase of their learning. When students used to ask me why they had to learn to FOIL (the standard method of multiplying two binomials) in algebra, for example, I didn’t tell them that solving such problems would be a baseline requirement for any job. Instead, I explained that learning the process helped to develop their analytical skills and could be used as a building block for more difficult math. (They still complained, but markedly less.)

Similarly, we must explicitly teach empathy, taking and sharing responsibility, conflict resolution, and critical thinking. Such skills are something I spend a lot of time thinking about, as they are one of the pillars of Human Rights Education (HRE). By definition, HRE helps individuals develop the knowledge, skills, and values to fully exercise and protect the human rights of themselves and others; fulfill their responsibilities in the context of universal principles; and achieve justice and peace in their communities and the world.

No small order, I know. There are, however, concrete skills that comprise this approach, and research shows us that HRE leads to higher student achievement, lower incidents of negative student behaviors (such as bullying), and higher rates of teacher satisfaction. In the long term, these skills contribute to an individual’s ability to hold a job, maintain healthy relationships, understand social issues and current domestic and international affairs, and most importantly, claim their rights and stand up for others.

A good model for  incorporating such  skills can be found in The Advocates’ newest edition of Energy of a Nation, our curriculum on immigration. Examples abound: kids learn how to constructively discuss politically charged or sensitive issues and the importance of giving such an issue proper historical and international context. They also learn to look for root causes and long-term solutions and seek out credible sources. In essence, the curriculum requires them to peel away rhetoric in search of real answers and teaches them what human rights are and how to apply these international standards to the experiences of individual lives.

The skills we espouse as part of Human Rights Education have a place in nearly any classroom. In order to help teachers with this, The Advocates provides professional development trainings and a library of free resources, including curricula, lesson plans, newsletters, links to related material for both teachers and students. It is, however, also up to parents, caregivers, child care providers, and the community as a whole. If we understand that we are preparing not only young minds, but truly young people, it is clear that the skills they need to be successful requires the best of who we are in order to prepare – and keep preparing – them year after year.

So, whether at school or at home, here are a few quick tips on building skills at every age in the development of rights respecting individuals:

Pre-K and early elementary kids:

1) Ask “How would you feel if . . . ?”

2) Have them identify the emotions of themselves and others.

3) Read them fiction.

Middle level kids:

1) Build their self-esteem.

2) Connect school learning to big picture questions about life and community.

3) Role-play positive actions in difficult social situations.

High school kids:

1) Give them rights, and hold them accountable for related responsibilities.

2) Encourage them to ask “why?” when they see social injustice.

3) Offer international news sources and challenge them to think of themselves as a local and a global citizen.

Maybe jot these tips down on your student’s back-to-school list this year and share them with teachers. It is our shared community and democracy, and the skills your kids will develop from human rights education are certainly as important as differentiating between a gerund and participle – and that, coming from a grammar nerd like me, is saying something!

Sarah Herder is the Education Director at The Advocates for Human Rights

Featured photo by the noggin_nogged’s photostream