Amy Bergquist, staff attorney with The Advocates for Human Rights, is in Geneva this week for the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s review of the United States’ human rights record.
She is part of a delegation coordinated by the U.S. Human Rights Network, a network of organizations and individuals working to build and strengthen a people-centered human rights movement in the United States.
The following post, which originally appeared on the ACLU Blog of Rights, is just one of the blog entries that network members plan to write about the U.S. review.
Sixteen-year old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez was walking near the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico to meet his brother for a late-night snack when he was fatally shot by U.S. Border Patrol agents. An autopsy later showed the body of the teenager had been riddled with 10 bullets that had entered his back and head. Mexican officials also said it seemed there were two agents who shot at least 14 times. More than a year later, the U.S. government has yet to issue a public explanation of what happened, or to release stationary video footage, except to allege that he was part of a group throwing rocks at Border Patrol agents who were up on a hill, behind the 60-foot tall border fence.
This week, the ACLU of New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights is joining an ACLU delegation and participating as a civil society member in a review of the U.S. record on human rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in Geneva, Switzerland.
A chief concern presented to the U.N. Human Rights Committee has been the rash of lethal use-of-force incidents at the border, including the death of Elena Rodriguez. Since January 2010, at least 28 civilians have died following an encounter with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel; 27 = died as the result of use of force. These deaths include numerous cases of individuals being shot in the back, across international borders, and in response to alleged rock throwing. One-third of the deaths are of U.S. citizens and one-third of minors, including three boys aged 15, 16 and 17, who were fatally shot while standing on the Mexican side of the border.
CBP’s fundamental lack of oversight, accountability and transparency has created a culture of impunity for agents who violate agency policy or their domestic and international legal obligations. In addition, Border Patrol rejected some core changes to its use-of-force policies recommended by national law-enforcement experts at the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), including how to respond to rock and vehicular assaults, and has refused to release those recommendations publicly.
In addition to providing testimony at informal and formal briefings, we hand-delivered the Human Rights Committee a letter signed by more than 75 border-wide and national organizations and individuals that demanded, among other key items, that CBP’s use-of-force policy and practice fall in line with the highest professional law enforcement standards and comply with international human rights standards on law enforcement conduct, with particular emphasis on improving accountability and increasing transparency with the general public and directly impacted families and individuals.
It is our hope that international pressures will result in closure for the family of Elena Rodriguez and that improved use-of-force policies and training will prevent further unnecessary deaths.
Human rights advocacy takes many forms, and human rights activists can be found in every corner of the world. Tremendous advancements in technology and communication have allowed activists to form strong international networks and to share emerging information about human rights abuses almost as soon as they happen. These advancements have fundamentally changed the way human rights organizations work, including how they engage in human rights advocacy with broader communities beyond a country’s borders.
Yet the unique role diaspora communities can play in improving human rights around the world has largely been overlooked in the human rights field. It’s time for that to change.
Diaspora: The Migration Policy Institute defines the term “diaspora” as “emigrants and their descendants who live outside the country of their birth or ancestry . . . yet still maintain . . . ties to their countries of origin.”
Members of diaspora communities play an increasingly important global role and can be a bridge between individuals, governments, and international legal and political mechanisms. Diaspora communities are a critical link in changing social institutions and structures to hold governments accountable. Many migrants – refugees and asylum seekers in particular – leave their homes because of human rights abuses. Many were political and human rights activists in their home countries and they bring their experiences with them. In some countries with repressive governments, security concerns mean that diasporans must take the lead in speaking out. From their new home base, they can bring change in their countries of origin.
Members of diaspora communities agree. Chanravy Proeung, a member of the Cambodian diaspora and Co-Director of the Providence Youth Student Movement, said:
“We have the privilege to see those countries from a different perspective. We need to have the people who are the most marginalized and affected by issues at the forefront of creating change not only here in the United States, but having influence in their countries of origin, too.”
For more than 30 years, The Advocates for Human Rights has witnessed the powerful role that diaspora civil society organizations play in documenting human rights abuses, influencing policy, and advocating on behalf of victims of human rights violations in their countries of origin.
As a legal service provider, The Advocates is often the first connection that asylum seekers have to their new community in the United States. Because of this special relationship, diasporans from dozens of countries have requested assistance from The Advocates in documenting human rights violations “back home.” With diaspora communities, The Advocates has conducted groundbreaking work, such as the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission Diaspora Project,ensuring that public hearing testimony and the statements of 1,200 Liberians living outside of Liberia were included in the formal history of the conflict.
The report, Human Rights in Ethiopia: Through the Eyes of the Oromo Diaspora, proved the significance of involving individuals who have left a country in work to hold governments accountable and affect human rights in their home countries. The Advocates has also collaborated with the Indian American Muslim Council on advocacy on issues concerning religious minorities at the both the U.S. Congress and the United Nations, demonstrating that diaspora voices can have an impact on human rights in India.
This manual, available for download at no cost, provides a full menu strategies and resources designed to empower diaspora communities to be more effective advocates for human rights in their countries of origin.
With practical tools and step-by-step guidance shaped by input from multiple diaspora communities, Paving Pathways can be used to help individuals and organizations to:
monitor and document human rights abuses;
advocate for change in their country of origin and country of residence, as well as at international and regional human rights mechanisms;
address impunity and hold governments accountable using national and international law; and
build their capacity to improve human rights conditions.
While the tools and resources presented in this manual were specifically created for use by diaspora communities, this manual can also benefit and be used by human rights defenders and civil society organizations throughout the world.
The international community needs to do more to recognize the unique contributions that diaspora communities can make to building respect for human rights around the world. Rather than treating diasporans solely as economic sources of remittances, investment, and philanthropy, countries of origin and countries of residence should facilitate engagement in long-term social change. With this new resource, The Advocates is taking an important step in supporting diaspora communities in their efforts to improve human rights around the world.
Amy Bergquist, staff attorney with The Advocates for Human Rights, is in Geneva this week for the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s review of the United States’ human rights record. She is part of a delegation coordinated by the U.S. Human Rights Network, a network of organizations and individuals working to build and strengthen a people-centered human rights movement in the United States.
After more than a year of preparation over the phone, email, and even in webinars, Bergquist and her delegation colleagues got together Sunday to finally meet face to face. “Wow what a crowd!” Bergquist said. “More than 60 of us crammed into a hotel conference room (and the adjoining hallway) for a 3-hour meeting to finalize our preparations. The room was full of energy and excitement!”
Group members spent the evening polishing 2-minute working group statements, which were delivered in a formal briefing to the Human Rights Committee on Monday. And they plotted out their additional informal briefings with the committee and side events that target a broader audience in Geneva. They have an action plan for blogging, live-tweeting, and doing other social media outreach, too.
The following post, which originally appeared on the ACLU Blog of Rights, is just one of the blog post series that network members plan to write about the U.S. review.
The review is a rare spotlight on human rights issues inside the United States, one of the few occasions where our government is forced to speak the language of human rights – rather than its usual constitutional and civil rights rhetoric – and explain its own violations. It is also attracting worldwide attention—so much so that the committee had to reserve a bigger hall to accommodate the sizable U.S. government delegation and more than 70 human rights advocates and observers who will be in attendance at the six-hour session. The entire U.S. ICCPR review will be broadcast live on UN TV and take place on March 13 and 14.
The review will shine an international spotlight on significant human rights issues in the United States: the rights of indigenous peoples, the death penalty, solitary confinement, voting rights, migrant and women’s rights, NSA surveillance and targeted killings.
The ICCPR protects basic human rights, such as freedom from torture and abuse, freedom from discrimination, the right to life and effective remedy, the right to privacy and freedom of expression, and many more. Since ratifying the treaty in 1992, the U.S. has been bound to uphold these fundamental protections and must undergo periodic reviews. The last time the United States appeared before this committee was in July 2006, when the Bush administration denied participation in numerous acts of torture while operating a web of secret CIA detentions abroad.
The ACLU submitted a shadow report to the committee highlighting examples of accountability gaps between U.S. human rights obligations and current law, policy, and practice. Although the U.S. human rights record has shown marked improvement since its last review by the committee in 2006, most notably in the areas of LGBT rights and enforcement of civil rights by the Department of Justice, U.S. laws and policies remain out of step with international human rights law in many areas. In addition, the ACLU provided an update to the issues covered in our September submission to the committee, which addresses serious rights violations that have emerged in recent months. The report covers:
More than ever, the U.S. is facing an uphill battle to prove its bona fides on human rights issues. The United States is not only seen as a hypocrite, resisting demands to practice at home what it preaches abroad, it is now increasingly seen as a violator of human rights that is setting a dangerous precedent for other governments to justify and legitimize their own rights’ violations.
And I also know that in this time of change, the United States of America will have to lead. It may seem sometimes that America is being held to a different standard. And I’ll admit the readiness of some to assume the worst motives by our government can be frustrating. No one expects China to have an open debate about their surveillance programs, or Russia to take privacy concerns of citizens in other places into account. But let’s remember: We are held to a different standard precisely because we have been at the forefront of defending personal privacy and human dignity.
The ICCPR review process presents the administration with an opportunity to put President Obama’s words into action, not only in the context of privacy rights, but all other rights guaranteed by the ICCPR. This review will be the last in his term as president and will, in part, determine his human rights legacy. We look forward to briefing the committee members and observing the U.S. government review later this week, and hope that the concerns and recommendations raised by the ACLU and other groups will be meaningfully addressed by the U.S. government. The world will be watching.
In conjunction with the session, The Advocates held “Monitoring Implementation of Domestic Violence Laws Around the World,” a workshop about violence against women and girls on Monday. Alongside The Advocates’ partners, the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation’s Genoveva Tisheva and Vital Voices’s Cindy Dyer, the panel focused on how violence against the female gender is presenting significant barriers to achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goals for women and girls.
• partnering with NGOs,
• conducting interviews of major stakeholders,
• analyzing the interviews to reach conclusions and make recommendations
• releasing reports to maximize impact.
Considered by the UN as the “go-to” resource on information about violence against women and girls, The Advocates has monitored published reports on the implementation of domestic violence legislation and published reports in countries throughout the world, including in Mongolia, Croatia, Moldova, and Bulgaria. Applying international human rights standards, the reports have been instrumental in protecting victims and holding perpetrators accountable.
For advocacy and legal reform tools, and to learn more about violence against women, visit The Advocates’ StopVAW website at: www.StopVAW.org.
By: Ashley Monk, The Advocates’ development & communications assistant
The Advocates for Human Rights has a booth at the Minnesota State Fair every year. We have a wheel that fairgoers spin to take a shot at answering a question on a human rights topic. Last year, one question was a real stumper: “When will the United Nations next review the human rights record of the United States?” “Never” was the common response. The correct answer? Now. This week, a 32-person delegation of U.S. officials will appear before the UN’s Human Rights Committee in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss human rights here at home.
I’m in Geneva this week as part of a delegation coordinated by the U.S. Human Rights Network, a network of organizations and individuals working to build and strengthen a people-centered human rights movement in the United States. After more than a year of preparation over the phone, email, and even in webinars, we all got together Sunday to finally meet face to face. And wow what a crowd! More than 60 of us crammed into a hotel conference room (and the adjoining hallway) for a 3-hour meeting to finalize our preparations. The room was full of energy and excitement!
It’s crunch time for our network. We spent the evening polishing 2-minute working group statements, which we will deliver in a formal briefing to the Human Rights Committee Monday around noon. And we plotted out our additional informal briefings with the committee and side events targeting a broader audience here in Geneva. We have an action plan for blogging, live-tweeting, and doing other social media outreach, too. This post is just one of the first in a series that network members will be posting this week.
With the help of some teachers and their students, I’ll field some questions students have about how the international human rights system works. Here are the questions they’ve sent me, and my answers.
Switzerland? Isn’t the UN in New York?
The United Nations’ headquarters is in New York City. That’s where the Security Council and General Assembly meet. But the UN has three regional offices: Vienna, Austria; Geneva, Switzerland; and Nairobi, Kenya. The Geneva office is the largest of the three, and it hosts most of the UN’s human rights work.
Does the United States have to do what the UN says?
Kind of. The UN’s human rights bodies don’t have a police force to send to the United States to enforce human rights laws. Instead, these UN bodies ask our government questions and then publish “Concluding Observations.” It’s a politely worded report that describes “Positive aspects” and then presents “Principal subjects of concern and recommendations.” For example, one of these bodies in 2006 recommended that the United States “ensure the right of residents of the District of Columbia to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives, in particular with regard to the House of Representatives.”
Why do these UN bodies get to tell the United States what to do?
Because the United States agreed to let them! Most international human rights law is based on treaties, which are kind of like contracts. If a government signs and ratifies a treaty, it agrees to follow the treaty. It’s just like if you sign a lease, you agree to pay your rent on time and follow the other terms of your lease. And human rights treaties typically say that any country that ratifies the treaty has to report to the UN from time to time to show that the country is following the treaty. The UN calls a country that has ratified a treaty a “State party” to the treaty.
Every 4-5 years, each State party has to file a written report with the relevant committee. The report is supposed to show how the State party is following the treaty. It’s kind of like a “self-evaluation.” As you might expect, these self-evaluations sometimes ignore or gloss over human rights problems. So the committee identifies some issues and questions it is concerned about, and the State party then files written responses to those issues and questions. Then, a delegation from the State party’s government travels to Geneva to go head-to-head with the committee. The committee experts ask questions for six hours, or even longer. And then a few weeks later, the committee issues “Concluding Observations.” The State party is then supposed to implement the committee’s recommendations, and report back again in 4-5 years on how things are going.
Do State parties actually do what the Committee says?
Sometimes. The committees really have to rely on the power of persuasion. In some cases, the State party just says it can’t do what the committee recommends. For example, even if the U.S. Federal Government wanted to follow that 2006 recommendation and give residents of the District of Columbia a voting member of the House of Representatives, it’s not clear that it could do so under Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution. In other cases, a State party may disagree with the Committee’s interpretation of the treaty’s obligations–just like you might disagree with your landlord about some language in your lease. But in many cases, the State party makes a genuine effort to implement the committee’s recommendations.
Can regular people participate, or is it just between the government and the UN?
There are many ways that ordinary people can get involved in human rights at the UN. In fact, “civil society” plays a critical role. If a State party files a sugar-coated report, civil society groups can flag important issues for the committee. Civil society groups can also write their own independent reports to share their own views and experiences about the human rights situation on the ground. And civil society groups meet with committee members before they meet with the government delegation in Geneva. The Advocates for Human Rights has “special consultative status” with the United Nations, which means that staff members like me can get UN grounds passes to attend sessions in person.
Speaking of Geneva, what’s going on there this week?
This is the time human rights nerds like me have been waiting for!
First up, on Monday civil society organizations and leaders of tribal governments have a “formal briefing” at the Palais Wilson with all of the members of the Human Rights Committee. We’ll talk with them about our concerns, they’ll share what they’re most interested in and any questions they have. The purpose of this meeting is to make sure the Committee experts are ready to grill the U.S. Government delegation with six hours of tough questions later this week.
Next, on Tuesday morning we’ll have a longer informal briefing with the committee where tribal leaders can have more opportunity to dialogue with the Committee. We’ll also give the Committee answers to any questions they raised on Monday, and some people who have been personally affected by human rights violations will be there to testify.
On Wednesday afternoon, we’re all invited to the U.S. Embassy to the United Nations in Geneva for a “civil society consultation.”
On Thursday, the action moves up the road to the Palais des Nations. The Committee has a quick “informal briefing” with civil society groups, and then from 3-6 pm, it starts asking the U.S. Government Delegation questions. You can watch a live webcast of the questioning, or check out the video archives later.
On Friday, from 10-1, the questioning continues. If the Committee doesn’t have time to cover everything it wants to discuss, it may take a break and then ask the United States to come back for a few more hours after lunch.
Then we all go home and wait for about two weeks for the Committee to publish its Concluding Observations.
Why are you there?
The Advocates is part of civil society, and we submitted three independent reports to the Human Rights Committee. The first is about the detention of non-citizens, the second is about the death penalty, and the third is about domestic violence and “Stand Your Ground” laws. So I’m in Geneva to meet with the Committee and raise awareness about the issues we covered in our reports. I’ll answer any questions Committee members have, and I’ll encourage the U.S. Government delegation to accept and implement any recommendations the Committee makes that relate to our reports.
Could you recommend reading materials, videos, or other learning tools that will expose my students to human rights issues all over the world?
I’ll be in Geneva all week, and members of the U.S. Human Rights network will be livetweeting and updating with new blog posts as soon as we can. If you have questions or want us to talk about certain things, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope to hear from you!
This post is one of the first in a series of posts by U.S. civil society groups in Geneva this week for the UN Human Rights Committee’s review of the United States.