“. . . I Can See the Sun Shining Again”

Flower in barbed wire fenceWith the dawn of a new year just days away, Sarah Brenes, a staff attorney with The Advocates for Human Rights, received an inspiring message from a refugee client. It warms the heart, and we want to share it with you.

“Hi Miss SARAH,

“Now we are just a few days left for starting a new year, a new year that with your help, your support and your care for me, I will get in with happiness. Through what you have done for me, you’ve showed me that I can see the sun shining again. I will not be thankful enough to you and The Advocates of Human Rights for what you have done for me, and what you have done for many others like me, and also what you will be doing in the future to save our lives, to remove us from the darkness.

“Thank you Sarah. Thanks to the Advocates of Human Rights.

“May God bless you all and continue to give you strength and power to save lives. May this year be a successful year for all of you and all your projects.

“Be blessed.

“From Danielle, one of those whom you saved their lives.

“Please Miss Sarah , forward it to the everyone at The Advocates. Thank you.”

By: A client of The Advocates for Human Rights’ Refugee and Immigrant Program.

Recent Anti-LGBTI Laws Violate Human Rights

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)

Anti-LGBTI laws passed last week by the governments of Nigeria and Uganda threaten the lives and human rights of people living, working, and visiting those countries. Not only are the lives of LGBTI persons at stake, but their friends, family, teachers, colleagues, health practitioners, and human rights defenders could face fines or imprisonment for failure to report homosexual conduct to authorities.

The Nigerian Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill goes beyond banning same-sex marriage; it criminalizes LGTBI people by jailing them for public displays of affection, and it calls for imprisonment of any same-sex marriage wedding attendees. The bill also bans all LGBTI organizations, and threatens anyone advocating for LGBTI rights with jail time.

The Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which originally imposed a death sentence on LGBTI persons in some cases, calls for life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The recent passage of these anti-LGBTI laws reflects a broad trend across the world, including the countries of Russia, India, Cameroon, Liberia, Burundi, and South Sudan, where LGBTI persons and human rights defenders who work on their behalf increasingly face discrimination, violence, criminal prosecution, and persecution, including death.

All human beings are inherently entitled to dignity and equal enjoyment of their universally recognized human rights and freedoms; therefore, governments that pass laws that discriminate on the basis of actual and perceived sexual orientation and gender identity fail to uphold their human rights obligations with respect to sexual minorities and human rights defenders who serve and support people who are LGBTI.

The Advocates for Human Rights urges President Goodluck Jonathan to veto the Nigerian Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill. The bill currently awaits either a signature or veto. You can urge President Jonathan to veto the bill and uphold human rights by signing a petition here.

The Advocates for Human Rights also urges President Yoweri Museveni to veto the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill. In order for the bill to become law, President Museveni must sign it within 30 days. You can urge President Museveni to veto the bill and uphold human rights by signing a petition here.

By: Ashley Monk, The Advocates’ development and communications assistant

The Ultimate Betrayal

Woman in the Military Image for Sexual Assault in the Military StoryPresident Barack Obama presented an ultimatum to the U.S. military today, warning that within a year it must take measures to better prevent and respond to sexual assault in its ranks. If not, the president will push for tough reforms.

“So long as our women and men in uniform face the insider threat of sexual assault, we have an urgent obligation to do more to support victims and hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes, as appropriate under the military justice system,” President Obama was quoted as saying, according to a December 20 NPR report.

The President’s statement came hours after the Senate passed a bill that would crack down on the sexual assault crimes in the military, part of the $632.8 billion U.S. Defense spending bill the Senate passed Thursday and sent to the president’s desk. The bill included about 30 provisions related to sexual assault in the military. However, an amendment to remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command was not included in the final bill.

“The chain of command provides violent offenders an opportunity to manipulate the system and avoid accountability for sexual assault,” said Cheryl Thomas, The Advocates’ director of its Women’s Human Rights Program and an expert who works around the world to reform laws, processes, and practices to eradicate violence against women. “Truly, there’s no transparency with this system, and the military essentially colludes with sexual predators. Offenders are empowered by the system, and impunity for their crimes prevails. It’s similar to a batterer’s use of unfettered power and control to intimidate and silence victims that our legal system has struggled with for decades in domestic violence cases.”

Violence against women in the military replicates many of the dynamics of the abuse taking place in the civilian world, according to Thomas. “Advocates have worked for decades to put an end to violence against women,” she said. “The military would do well to learn from these struggles.”

The Advocates for Human Rights recently added a comprehensive section to its website, StopViolenceAgainstWomen.org, about sexual violence in the military. The section can be found here. The website is a stand out, receiving 20,000-30,000 visits each month from people around the world. Also, the just-published issue of The Human Rights Observer, The Advocates’ newsletter, features the article, “Sexual Violence in the Military: Brutal Betrayal.” Read this and other articles by clicking here.

By: Susan L. Banovetz, The Advocates’ director of communication

Support The Advocates and Ten Thousand Villages by shopping on December 12

Fair-trade retailer Ten Thousand Villages and The Advocates are joining together for an event that will support both organizations’ exciting, worldwide work. Between 5-8 p.m. on Thursday, December 12, 20% of all sales at the Ten Thousand Villages store in St. Paul (867 Grand Avenue) will be donated to The Advocates.

Human rights activists and holiday shoppers alike will have no shortage of reasons to stop by. Ten Thousand Villages has a 60-year legacy of connecting artisans around the world who make beautiful and unique crafts (such as jewelry, dishes and home decor) with customers who wish to make ethical purchases. In many of the countries where Ten Thousand Villages works to foster fair and consistent wages for economically marginalized people, The Advocates works to promote and protect human rights.

In Nepal, Ten Thousand Villages buys crafts from Mahaguthi, a collective of more than 1,000 Nepali artisans, most of whom are women living in remote, mountainous areas; The Advocates provides a free education for over 340 girls and boys at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School outside Kathmandu.

In Mexico, Ten Thousand Villages buys from Union Progresista Artesanal, which enables artisans working from their homes in rural areas to support their families and be protected by a health care and disability fund; The Advocates assists people fleeing gang persecution by advocating for human rights-centered immigration reform in the U.S. and helping low-income immigrants seeking asylum.

In India, Ten Thousand Villages partners with the Palam Rural Centre, which gives employment opportunities to people marginalized by the caste system; The Advocates promotes the rights of women and minority groups through research and advocacy, including reports to the U.N.

The Advocates’ staff looks forward to greeting you (and your friends, family and co-workers) at the Ten Thousand Villages store on December 12 with friendly faces and complimentary refreshments.
What: Ten Thousand Villages will donate 20% of its sales to The Advocates
Where: 867 Grand Avenue, St. Paul
When: 5-8 p.m. on Thursday, December 12
Why: To shop for others or for yourself, to enjoy refreshments and meet other members of our generous community, and to support of the work of two great organizations helping people around the world.

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By: Stephanie Jones, development & communications intern for The Advocates for Human Rights

Fast for Families: “It’s Time for Congress to Act”

Michele Garnett McKenzie
Michele Garnett McKenzie

A group of men and women are fasting on the National Mall to bring attention to the dire need to reform our immigration laws. Since November 12, they have fasted as an act of prayer for the families torn apart daily by deportations and our broken immigration system.

They are calling on Congress to do the right thing and bring immigration legislation – legislation supported by over 63% of Americans – to a vote.

Today I’m joining the fasters in a symbolic demonstration of solidarity by fasting alongside them.

I’m called to join this action because every day America’s immigration laws violate our human rights obligations and our most deeply held values: that the family is valuable and deserving of protection and that the family should be free from arbitrary or unlawful interference by the state.

Article 16 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and Article 23 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights both secure the international human right to family unity, providing that “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.” Article 17 of the ICCPR provides that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence . . . .”

But the United States’ immigration laws fail to protect – or even consider – the family in thousands of deportation cases every year.

Earlier this fall the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held hearings about the impact of U.S. immigration laws on human rights. In our brief to the Commission, The Advocates for Human Rights made the case that mandatory deportation laws enacted in 1996 violate our human rights obligations by failing to provide due consideration to the deported person’s family. These mandatory deportation laws strip judges of the discretion to consider the individual circumstances of the person being deported or the impact the deportation may have on their family. These laws indiscriminately separate parents and children without any consideration of how that impacts the family.

The numbers are staggering. As Ju Hong, the man who interrupted President Obama during his immigration speech in San Francisco, points out in his open letter to the president, nearly 205,000 parents of U.S. citizens have been deported in the last two years. This is indeed, as Hong points out, a human rights issue.

Our detention policies do just as much violence to the family. Enacted alongside the 1996 deportation laws, mandatory detention laws prohibit immigration officers from considering family unity or any other factors in many custody decisions.

And once detained, parents are unable to participate in family court or child protection hearings.In some cases immigration detention itself forms the basis of child protection claims, resulting in placement of children in foster care and even termination of parental rights as a result of the parents’ immigration detention or deportation. As the mother of a nine-year-old, my blood ran cold when I read the introduction to a report by the Women’s Refugee Commission:

“Joanna is an attorney who regularly visits men and women in immigration detention to assess conditions and immigration relief options. Maria is one of the women she visited. When Joanna sat with Maria to begin her interview, Maria handed her a document and asked her to tell her what it said. The document was written in
English, which Maria did not speak. When Joanna took a closer look she realized that the document was a letter from a family court informing Maria that her parental rights had been terminated while she was in immigration detention. Maria had not even been aware that a termination process had been initiated.”

That report was issued in 2010. At the time, an estimated 5.5 million U.S. citizen children were living with at least one undocumented parent.

Since then, so many more families have been torn apart by U.S. immigration laws enacted without regard to our human rights obligations. Families like the one I met at the November Faith Action outside the Ramsey County Jail, in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Mom and daughter – a nine-year-old like my son – had waved goodbye to their husband and father as the bus pulled out of the Bloomington immigration office earlier that week.

I’m fasting today because it is long past time for our immigration laws to reflect the human rights that should protect every single one of us.

It is time for Congress to act.

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