Ferguson: “Let’s Make a Difference”

ferguson_021_081414The freedom to enjoy human rights without discrimination is one of the most fundamental principles of human rights law. Every human being is equal in dignity and worth and has the right not to be discriminated against. Racism, which limits peoples’ access to rights based on their identity, attacks the very concept of human rights.

However, as evidenced by the shooting of Michael Brown and the subsequent violent policing of protestors and the ultimate failure to indict Darren Wilson, racism in the United States is a prevalent problem. The events also bring to light additional human rights issues concerning the right to life, the use of lethal force by law enforcement, freedom from cruel or degrading treatment or punishment by government authorities, and the right to freedom of expression and assembly.

These are not isolated incidents. Rather they are the ramifications of a systemic racial bias among law enforcement officials, and they evidence a lack of proper implementation of rules and regulations governing the use of force and the inadequacy of training of law enforcement officials.

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) is the international human rights treaty that comprehensively addresses the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination and supports positive actions to promote racial justice and equality. The United States ratified CERD in 1994. As a party to the treaty, the United States is obligated to condemn racial discrimination and pursue a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms.

This includes safeguarding human rights in the political, economic, social, cultural, and other fields of public life so that human rights are ensured to everyone without racial discrimination.

Clearly, the United States has a long way to go in fulfilling its obligations to CERD, and issues of racial profiling and police brutality are, unfortunately, only one of the many issues faced by people of color in this country. As one CERD committee member recently stated, “Racial and ethnic discrimination remains a serious and persistent problem in all areas of life from de facto school segregation, access to health care and housing.”

These problems did not develop in a vacuum; they result from our nation’s history of racism, slavery, and white supremacy.  Even two generations after the end of legal discrimination, systematic oppression continues to marginalize people of color. Vast racial disparities still exist in wealth and income, education, employment, poverty, incarceration rates, and health.

Racism is part of the legacy of the United States, but it does not need to be a permanent state of affairs. It can be examined, analyzed, and dismantled, both individually and as a society.  As the family of Michael Brown has  stated, “We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen. Let’s not just make noise, let’s make a difference.”

By: Emily Farell, program associate with The Advocates for Human Rights

Further resources:
Human Rights Education Newsletter: Racial Discrimination in the United States

Amnesty International Report: On The Streets Of America: Human Rights Abuses In Ferguson

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

CERD Shadow Reports

US Report to CERD

Inequality and Racism Resources

Transcript of President Obama’s Address to the Nation on Immigration


Remarks of President Barack Obama
Address to the Nation on Immigration
The White House
November 20, 2014

“My fellow Americans, tonight, I’d like to talk with you about immigration.

“For more than 200 years, our tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world has given us a tremendous advantage over other nations. It’s kept us youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial. It has shaped our character as a people with limitless possibilities – people not trapped by our past, but able to remake ourselves as we choose.

“But today, our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it.

“Families who enter our country the right way and play by the rules watch others flout the rules. Business owners who offer their workers good wages and benefits see the competition exploit undocumented immigrants by paying them far less. All of us take offense to anyone who reaps the rewards of living in America without taking on the responsibilities of living in America. And undocumented immigrants who desperately want to embrace those responsibilities see little option but to remain in the shadows, or risk their families being torn apart.

“It’s been this way for decades. And for decades, we haven’t done much about it.

“When I took office, I committed to fixing this broken immigration system. And I began by doing what I could to secure our borders. Today, we have more agents and technology deployed to secure our southern border than at any time in our history. And over the past six years, illegal border crossings have been cut by more than half. Although this summer, there was a brief spike in unaccompanied children being apprehended at our border, the number of such children is now actually lower than it’s been in nearly two years. Overall, the number of people trying to cross our border illegally is at its lowest level since the 1970s. Those are the facts.

“Meanwhile, I worked with Congress on a comprehensive fix, and last year, 68 Democrats, Republicans, and Independents came together to pass a bipartisan bill in the Senate. It wasn’t perfect. It was a compromise, but it reflected common sense.  It would have doubled the number of border patrol agents, while giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship if they paid a fine, started paying their taxes, and went to the back of the line. And independent experts said that it would help grow our economy and shrink our deficits.

“Had the House of Representatives allowed that kind of a bill a simple yes-or-no vote, it would have passed with support from both parties, and today it would be the law. But for a year and a half now, Republican leaders in the House have refused to allow that simple vote.

“Now, I continue to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of common sense law. But until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as President – the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican Presidents before me – that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just.

“Tonight, I am announcing those actions.

“First, we’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over.

“Second, I will make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed.

“Third, we’ll take steps to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in our country.

“I want to say more about this third issue, because it generates the most passion and controversy. Even as we are a nation of immigrants, we are also a nation of laws. Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and I believe that they must be held accountable – especially those who may be dangerous. That’s why, over the past six years, deportations of criminals are up 80 percent. And that’s why we’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mother who’s working hard to provide for her kids. We’ll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day.

“But even as we focus on deporting criminals, the fact is, millions of immigrants – in every state, of every race and nationality – will still live here illegally. And let’s be honest – tracking down, rounding up, and deporting millions of people isn’t realistic.  Anyone who suggests otherwise isn’t being straight with you. It’s also not who we are as Americans. After all, most of these immigrants have been here a long time. They work hard, often in tough, low-paying jobs. They support their families. They worship at our churches. Many of their kids are American-born or spent most of their lives here, and their hopes, dreams, and patriotism are just like ours.

“As my predecessor, President Bush, once put it: “They are a part of American life.”

“Now here’s the thing: we expect people who live in this country to play by the rules. We expect that those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded. So we’re going to offer the following deal: If you’ve been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes – you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.

“That’s what this deal is. Now let’s be clear about what it isn’t. This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently. It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive – only Congress can do that. All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you.

“I know some of the critics of this action call it amnesty. Well, it’s not. Amnesty is the immigration system we have today – millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time.

“That’s the real amnesty – leaving this broken system the way it is. Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character. What I’m describing is accountability – a commonsense, middle ground approach: If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. If you’re a criminal, you’ll be deported. If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up.

“The actions I’m taking are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican President and every single Democratic President for the past half century. And to those Members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill. I want to work with both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution. And the day I sign that bill into law, the actions I take will no longer be necessary. Meanwhile, don’t let a disagreement over a single issue be a dealbreaker on every issue. That’s not how our democracy works, and Congress certainly shouldn’t shut down our government again just because we disagree on this. Americans are tired of gridlock. What our country needs from us right now is a common purpose – a higher purpose.

“Most Americans support the types of reforms I’ve talked about tonight. But I understand the disagreements held by many of you at home. Millions of us, myself included, go back generations in this country, with ancestors who put in the painstaking work to become citizens. So we don’t like the notion that anyone might get a free pass to American citizenship. I know that some worry immigration will change the very fabric of who we are, or take our jobs, or stick it to middle-class families at a time when they already feel like they’ve gotten the raw end of the deal for over a decade. I hear these concerns. But that’s not what these steps would do. Our history and the facts show that immigrants are a net plus for our economy and our society. And I believe it’s important that all of us have this debate without impugning each other’s character.

“Because for all the back-and-forth of Washington, we have to remember that this debate is about something bigger. It’s about who we are as a country, and who we want to be for future generations.

“Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law? Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility, and give their kids a better future?

“Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms? Or are we a nation that values families, and works to keep them together?

“Are we a nation that educates the world’s best and brightest in our universities, only to send them home to create businesses in countries that compete against us? Or are we a nation that encourages them to stay and create jobs, businesses, and industries right here in America?

“That’s what this debate is all about. We need more than politics as usual when it comes to immigration; we need reasoned, thoughtful, compassionate debate that focuses on our hopes, not our fears.

“I know the politics of this issue are tough. But let me tell you why I have come to feel so strongly about it. Over the past few years, I have seen the determination of immigrant fathers who worked two or three jobs, without taking a dime from the government, and at risk at any moment of losing it all, just to build a better life for their kids. I’ve seen the heartbreak and anxiety of children whose mothers might be taken away from them just because they didn’t have the right papers. I’ve seen the courage of students who, except for the circumstances of their birth, are as American as Malia or Sasha; students who bravely come out as undocumented in hopes they could make a difference in a country they love. These people – our neighbors, our classmates, our friends – they did not come here in search of a free ride or an easy life. They came to work, and study, and serve in our military, and above all, contribute to America’s success.

“Tomorrow, I’ll travel to Las Vegas and meet with some of these students, including a young woman named Astrid Silva.  Astrid was brought to America when she was four years old. Her only possessions were a cross, her doll, and the frilly dress she had on. When she started school, she didn’t speak any English. She caught up to the other kids by reading newspapers and watching PBS, and became a good student. Her father worked in landscaping. Her mother cleaned other people’s homes. They wouldn’t let Astrid apply to a technology magnet school for fear the paperwork would out her as an undocumented immigrant – so she applied behind their back and got in. Still, she mostly lived in the shadows – until her grandmother, who visited every year from Mexico, passed away, and she couldn’t travel to the funeral without risk of being found out and deported. It was around that time she decided to begin advocating for herself and others like her, and today, Astrid Silva is a college student working on her third degree.

“Are we a nation that kicks out a striving, hopeful immigrant like Astrid – or are we a nation that finds a way to welcome her in?

“Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger – we were strangers once, too.

“My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal – that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will.

“That’s the country our parents and grandparents and generations before them built for us. That’s the tradition we must uphold. That’s the legacy we must leave for those who are yet to come.

“Thank you, God bless you, and God bless this country we love.”

Don’t Put Mothers and Their Children in Prison

Today’sDon't put kids in prison Twitter feed is abuzz with the news that the White House intends to announce administrative action for some of the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented Americans. While the contours of the relief remain unclear, President Obama’s action undoubtedly moves the immigration reform debate to a new place and promises to make real – at least in a limited way for the very near future – the right to family unity guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights at articles 17 and 23.

But as the administration moves to keep families together with one hand, the other hand is doubling down on the detention of families fleeing to the United States in search of asylum.

The United States is required to uphold the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, but earlier this year the Obama administration began using immigration detention to deter asylum seekers in a misguided and draconian approach to people fleeing persecution. Although President Obama has framed the arrival of asylum seekers from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala as a humanitarian crisis, the approach taken by the administration has been anything but humanitarian.

But just days before the planned 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.

“The Administration is playing more games with the lives of women and children fleeing violence. This time it’s a shell game moving people from one jail to another without regard for their well-being or human rights,” said Crystal Williams of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

There’s a dire need for the president to take administrative action on immigration. The first step should be ending the detention of families in the United States.

In a call for action, The Advocates for Human Rights, along with a host of other organizations, signed the following letter to President Obama, urging him to address the detention and expedited deportation of children and their mothers fleeing violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

November 18, 2014

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, are gravely concerned about your administration’s massive expansion of detention for young children and their mothers who are fleeing extreme violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Though many of these children and their mothers qualify for asylum protection under U.S. law, they are being deported so rapidly as to deny them a fair opportunity to seek protection.

As you consider taking executive action to reform the immigration system, we urge you to address the fundamental problems with the detention and expedited deportation of these children and their mothers. Indeed, executive action can wait no longer. Delay has only meant more broken families, more workers stuck in the shadows, and more businesses that are stymied by the broken system. We urge you to act immediately to do what is within your legal authority to fix the immigration system and take bold and inclusive action to make our enforcement system more humane.

We applaud your goal of protecting immigrant families whose lives are interwoven into the fabric of American communities. For that same reason, we call upon you to stop detaining these vulnerable children and mothers who are fleeing violence in Central America and hoping to join with relatives already living in the United States. In 2009, abuse and mistreatment at a Texas facility compelled Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stop using the facility to detain families. Detention profoundly impacts the emotional and physical well-being of children. It inflicts unspeakable pain on mothers to watch their children suffer in detention. It forces them to give up hope. Most of the mothers currently in detention have relatives or sponsors in the United States willing to take them in and support them. They do not have to be–and should not be–in detention.

The evidence is undeniable that many of these children and their mothers, who have been raped, kidnapped, beaten or shot to near death, are refugees who 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. Domestic violence in these Central American countries has reached crisis proportions. A U.N. Special Rapporteur reported in July that violence against women in Honduras is “widespread and systematic” and that 95 percent of violent crimes against women go unpunished by the police or other law enforcement. In most cases however, the U.S. government continues to rush these children and families through an expedited process, and has deported many back into the hands of their abusers and the very danger from which they fled. They deserve better treatment by the United States.

We urge you to stop the dramatic expansion of family detention, including the building of an enormous new facility in Dilley, TX. Instead, we recommend you greatly expand the use of alternatives to detention, bonds and other methods that are far less costly for American taxpayers and are highly effective in ensuring court appearances. Moreover, the removal process must be made more fair and guarantee that families fleeing violence have meaningful access to asylum, including access to legal counsel.

We look forward to the reforms you will implement on immigration and ask that you properly address the needs of these families. Please contact Greg Chen, Director of Advocacy at American Immigration Lawyers Association, gchen@aila.org, 202/507-7615, with any questions or followup.


National Organizations
African American Ministers In Action
Alliance for a Just Society
America’s Voice Education Fund
American Civil Liberties Union
American Immigration Council
American Immigration Lawyers Association
Asian Americans Advancing Justice
Asian Law Alliance
Asian Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence
ASISTA Immigration Assistance
Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities
Center for Community Change
Central American Resource Center (CARECEN-DC)
Church of the Brethren, Office of Public Witness
Church World Service
Coalition on Human Needs
Detention Watch Network
Farmworker Justice
First Focus
Futures Without Violence
Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
Hispanic Federation
Immigration Center for Women and Children
International Rescue Committee (IRC)
Jesuit Conference of the United States
Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)
LatinoJustice PRLDEF
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities (NALACC)
National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA)
National Council of LA Raza (NCLR)
National Immigrant Justice Center
National Immigration Law Center
National Immigration Project
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
National Network to End Domestic Violence
Pax Christi USA
Refugee and Immigration Ministries, Disciples Home Missions (Christian Church, Disciples of Christ)
Salvadoran American National Network (SANN)
Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network (SIREN)
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)
Tahirih Justice Center
United We Dream
Washington Office on Latin America
Women’s Refugee Commission
State and Local Organizations
Advocates for Human Rights (Minnesota)
Alianzas de Phoenixville (Pennsylvania)
Alliance San Diego (California)
American Gateways (Texas)
Americans for Immigrant Justice (Florida)
Annunciation House, Inc. (Texas)
Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles (California)
Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition (Washington, D.C.)
CASA de Maryland
CASA de Virginia
Causa Oregon
Central American Resource Center-D.C. (Washington, D.C.)
Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota
Church Council of Greater Seattle (Washington)
Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) (California)
Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition
Comite de Derechos Humanos Forks (Washington)
Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto (California)
Community to Community Development (Washington)
Community to Community, Bellingham (Washington)
Conversations With Friends (Minnesota)
Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services, Inc. (Texas)
Employee Rights Center-San Diego (California)
Equality New Mexico
The Family Partnership (Minnesota)
Farmworker Association of Florida, Inc
Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project (Arizona)
Florida Immigrant Coalition
Friends of Broward Detainees (Florida)
Good Shepherd United Church of Christ (Arizona)
Grassroots Leadership (Texas)
Greater Hartford Legal Aid (Connecticut)
Green Valley / Sahuaritas Samaritans (Arizona)
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society-Pennsylvania
Hispanic American Law Student Association, Florida Coastal School of Law
Human Rights Initiative of North Texas
Human Rights Law Society, Florida Coastal School of Law
Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Immigrant and Human Rights Clinic, Florida Coastal School of Law
Immigrant Defense Project (New York)
Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota
Interfaith Center for Worker Justice-San Diego (California)
Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice-San Diego (California)
La Raza Centro Legal (California)
Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center (Texas)
Las Cruces Friends, Quakers, Peace and Social Concerns Committee (New Mexico)
Latino Advocacy (Washington)
League of Women Voters of Greater Las Cruces (New Mexico)
Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (California)
Make The Road New York
Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA)
Migrant Power Movement (Pennsylvania)
The Minneapolis Foundation (Minnesota)
Nationalities Service Center (Pennsylvania)
New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice
New York Immigration Coalition
North Carolina Justice Center
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project
OneAmerica (Washington)
Palm Beach County Coalition for Immigrant Rights (PBCCIR) (Florida)
Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center (PIRC)
Philadelphia chapter of Japanese American Citizens League (Pennsylvania)
Pittsburgh Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) (Pennsylvania)
Political Asylum Immigration Representation Project (Massachusetts)
Promise Arizona
Public Counsel (California)
Reformed Church of Highland Park (New Jersey)
Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) (Texas)
Refugio del Rio Grande (Texas)
Sanctuary for Families (New York)
The Second Step (Massachusetts)
Sisters of Mercy (Nebraska)
Sisters of Mercy, Mid-Atlantic Community Leadership Team
Southern Poverty Law Center
Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition
Texas Appleseed
UC Davis Immigration Law Clinic (California)
UC Hastings Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (CGRS)-San Francisco (California)
Unitarian Universalist Pennsylvania Legislative Advocacy Network (UUPLAN)
Voces de la Frontera (Wisconsin)
Waco Immigration Alliance (Texas)
Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Women’s Foundation of Minnesota
Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights at the University of Chicago (Illinois)

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

Déjà Vu All Over Again

ThisWoman crying morning I opened my e-mail to a string of comments relating to an ad in City Pages, our local Voice Media Group publication.


“Sickening and repulsive.”


Of course, I had to see for myself what was prompting this reaction.

The item in question was an ad for local strip club Déjà Vu. Featuring a woman dressed, so to speak, in a mock-Native American outfit complete with a feather headdress, it hawks its upcoming “Titsgiving” celebration. (For those of you playing at home, last year’s ad featured a buckskin-clad woman). With the offer of a free giant hot dog buffet, the ad leaves little doubt as to what patrons can enjoy the night before Thanksgiving.

The discussion was kicked off by Dr. Sandi Pierce, who asked the question, “and we wonder why Native women experience the highest rates of rape and sexual exploitation?” It’s no surprise that Sandi, who prepared the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center’s 2009 report on sexual exploitation of Native women and girls, Shattered Hearts: The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of American Indian Women and Girls in Minnesota, asked this question. Her research, along with that of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition and Prostitution Research & Education’s 2011 report, Garden of Truth, shines a sobering light on the gross human rights abuses suffered by Native women and girls here in our community.

This victimization doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s a tragic outcome of what Garden of Truth identifies as “longstanding efforts by the United States government to extinguish and/or assimilate Native people.” In what was to become the political entity today known as “Minnesota,” the federal government used a combination of forced migration and forced assimilation to decimate the Dakota, Anishinabe, and Ho Chunk peoples and allow the United States to justify laying claim to the land and resources of the region.

The efforts to extinguish and assimilate are not ancient history. Boarding schools, which forced more than 100,000 Native children from their homes in an attempt to assimilate them into white culture, were rife with sexual abuse. Begun in the 1870s and continuing into the middle of the 20th century, boarding school attendance was mandatory. The federal relocation era, lasting from the 1940s to the 1970s, attempted to assimilate Indian people by encouraging the move to urban areas. “Stranded in a culturally unfamiliar environment, often without extended family and friends, Native people were vulnerable to exploitation which included prostitution,” write the authors of Garden of Truth.

The Déjà Vu ad obviously raises myriad troubling questions about the intersection of racism and sexism. Following last week’s protest against the Washington football team’s appearance in Minneapolis, which drew thousands, will we see outrage against Déjà Vu? Given what activist Cordelia Anderson describes as a “toxic sexual environment” that bombards us with hyper-sexualized images and normalizes pornography, it seems unlikely.

The ad also raises questions about how Minneapolis, which has long taken a hands-off approach to the “sexually oriented businesses” clustered downtown, ought to regulate this industry. And about how City Pages and weeklies cut ties with the lucrative online classifieds section Backpage.com, the leading online destination for prostitution ads, but continues to fill ad space from these businesses.

The good news: You will no longer find the ad online. By mid-afternoon, City Pages had deleted the ad from its online edition, responding to calls from outraged activists.  A lesson learned, just a few calls make a difference. If you see something, say something. But the event is going as planned at Déjà Vu. Pick up the phone and give them a call.

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

Advocating for the Rights of Children in Ethiopia

Amane and Sinke 2

During the week of September 22, the International Oromo Youth Association’s (IOYA) president, vice president, and I were in Geneva—invited there to meet with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the treaty body that oversees implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. IOYA worked diligently to raise funds from the Oromo diaspora to support our trip. The week was a good illustration of many of the ways diaspora groups can use the United Nations to advocate for human rights in their countries of origin and ancestry–the focus of Chapter 9 of our diaspora toolkit, Paving Pathways for Justice and Accountability: Human Rights Tools for Diaspora Communities.

The treaty-body review process is cyclical, like the Universal Periodic Review. It typically starts with the government’s report on its compliance with the treaty. You can read the Ethiopian Government’s report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child here. Next, civil society groups like The Advocates for Human Rights and IOYA can submit their own alternative reports (also called “parallel” or “shadow” reports), responding to the government’s report and identifying issues that need further attention. Read our report to the Committee here.

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 next step in the process is for the Committee to publish a “list of issues” to guide the rest of the review. The Committee on the Rights of the Child invites some civil society organizations to meet with Committee members in person for a confidential briefing before it finalizes the list of issues. We met with the Committee on September 26 and had a productive dialogue about their issues of concern and ours. But because the closed-door session is confidential, I won’t go into details of what we discussed.

Two weeks later, the Committee published its list of issues for its upcoming review of Ethiopia. The Committee included many—but not all—of the issues we raised in our report. Based on the list of issues, we know the Committee is concerned about issues such as “discrimination and stigma faced by girls, children with disabilities, and children of ethnic minorities”; sexual abuse of children, including children with disabilities; FGM; support for children with disabilities, including children who live and/or work in the streets; “relocation of a significant number of indigenous families, belonging, inter alia, to the Anuak, Nuer or Oromo, under the ‘villagization’ programme, . . . to areas unsuitable for agricultural use, where they lack access to education and basic necessities”; child domestic workers; abuse and violence against children; and sexual violence perpetrated by teachers against students.

The next step in the process is for the Ethiopian Government to submit a written response to the list of issues. The Committee requested a response by March 15, 2015, but oftentimes the responses come much later.

Now that we know the issues the Committee is concerned about, we have the opportunity to submit a new report if we have any additional information that might be relevant. And after the Ethiopian Government submits its written response, we can submit our own alternative report to highlight any inaccuracies or omissions in the government’s report.

Next, the Ethiopian Government will send a delegation to Geneva for an “examination” by the Committee. The examination will take place during the Committee’s session running from May 18 to June 5, 2015. The examination isn’t limited to the topics covered in the list of issues, so it’s possible the Committee will voice its concern then about the government’s violent crackdown on student protests. Then, after the session, the Committee will publish its Concluding Observations and Recommendations for the Ethiopian Government. You can read the Concluding Observations from Ethiopia’s last review, in 2006, at this link.

To learn more about the UN treaty body review process, read pages 224-233 of Paving Pathways.

IOYA Meets with UN Special Procedures Staff

IOYA President Amane Badhasso meeting with the staff of one of the special procedures mandate-holders
IOYA President Amane Badhasso meets with the staff of one of the special procedures mandate-holders

We didn’t travel all that way just for one meeting. Rather, we decided to make the most of our time by following up on a letter we sent to some of the UN Special Procedures in June, encouraging them to visit Ethiopia to investigate the government crackdown on the Oromo protests. We met with staff of several special procedures, discussing the possibility of a country visit and also talking about what role the Oromo diaspora could play in assisting people who might want to submit individual communications to the special procedures. To learn more about how to engage with the UN Special Procedures, read pages 211-222 of Paving Pathways.

IOYA and The Advocates Host a Side Event
While the Human Rights Council is in session, NGOs with consultative status, like The Advocates for Human Rights, can apply for space at the United Nations to host a “side event.” To learn more about applying for consultative status with the United Nations, read pages 310-312 of Paving Pathways.

IOYA representatives present at the side event
IOYA Vice President, Sinke Wesho (right) presents at the side event

The Advocates and IOYA hosted a side event called “Diaspora Engagement on Human Rights: Ethiopia as a Case Study.” I introduced the audience to our Paving Pathways toolkit, and then I turned the floor over to my IOYA colleagues. IOYA’s President, Amane Badhasso, spoke about the ways in which the Oromo diaspora used social media to engage in advocacy surrounding the Oromo protests. To learn more about how you can conduct an effective human rights advocacy campaign, including a campaign using social media, read Chapter 7 , as well as Appendix C and D, of Paving Pathways.

IOYA’s Vice President, Sinke Wesho, talked about the issue of human trafficking from Ethiopia and the efforts of the diaspora to assist victims and document the problem. To learn how you can get involved in monitoring and documenting human rights violations, read Chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6 of Paving Pathways.

IOYA had invited members of the Oromo diaspora in the Geneva area to attend, but a mix-up by security at the entrance gate meant that most of them were not allowed into the building. Nonetheless, the event was well-attended. Even Ephrem Bouzayhue Hidug, Minister Counsellor of the Permanent Mission of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia to the UN Office at Geneva attended, perhaps to monitor whether people were criticizing Ethiopia. He listened politely and when we opened the session up for questions and comments, he praised the IOYA representatives for their advocacy. But then he went on to suggest that the criticisms of the Ethiopian government were unfounded. After the event, people came up to congratulate the IOYA representatives and take photos. When the cameras began to flash, Mr. Hidug angrily lashed out at the people taking photos, insisting that he did not authorize anyone to take his photo: “This is Switzerland, so if someone says you cannot take their photograph, you must not do so!” From my perspective, though, nobody was interested in taking his photograph.

The Advocates Delivers Statements During Human Rights Council Debates, Prompts Ethiopia to Exercise Right of Reply
NGOs with consultative status can also take the floor and make statements during certain periods of the Human Rights Council’s debates. While we were in Geneva, I delivered two statements.

Amy Bergquist delivers a statement on access to justice for Africans in the diaspora at the 27th Session of the Human Rights Council
Amy Bergquist delivers a statement on access to justice for Africans in the diaspora at the 27th Session of the Human Rights Council

The first was during a general debate about racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related forms of intolerance following an interactive dialogue on access to justice with the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. I spoke about the importance of access to justice for Africans living in the diaspora, particularly for human rights violations that occurred in their country of origin. You can read my statement here, and watch me deliver it here. (Scroll down to Chapter 21 of the video.)

The second statement was during a general debate on technical assistance and capacity-building. I spoke about the importance of providing technical assistance and capacity-building to diaspora communities that want to improve human rights and accountability in their countries of origin and ancestry. I pointed to Ethiopia as a particularly relevant example, noting that the 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation had stifled civil society work on human rights within Ethiopia. In such circumstances, I observed, it is particularly important to build the capacity of diaspora organizations to promote human rights in their country of origin. You can watch me deliver the second statement here. (Scroll down to Chapter 52 of the video.)

Ephrem Bouzayhue Hidug, Miniester Counsellor of the Permanent Mission of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia to the UN Office at Geneva, exercising Ethiopia's right of reply in response to The Advocates' statement to the Human Rights Council
Ephrem Bouzayhue Hidug, Minister Counsellor of the Permanent Mission of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia to the UN Office at Geneva, exercising Ethiopia’s right of reply in response to The Advocates’ statement to the Human Rights Council

During these debates, countries may exercise a “right of reply” to respond to a statement made by another country or by an NGO. Mr. Ephrem Hidug, who had attended our side event earlier that day, felt compelled to respond to our statement. This time, though, he couldn’t stop the cameras from rolling.

He denied that the Charities and Societies Proclamation has had a negative effect on civil society organizations in Ethiopia, asserting that Ethiopia has thousands of organizations active on “advocacy, development, humanitarian, and other things.” Notably, he did not state that they work on human rights issues. You can listen to his full statement here at Chapter 69.

All Work and No Play . . . .

Switzerland's Oromos enjoying their 2014 Irreechaa celebration in Lausanne
Switzerland’s Oromos enjoying their 2014 Irreechaa celebration in Lausanne

As it turned out, at the end of our busy week in Geneva, Switzerland’s Oromo community had organized a celebration of Irreechaa, a harvest festival sometimes referred to as the “Oromo Thanksgiving.” The IOYA representatives and I traveled to Lausanne, a lovely town on the shore of Lake Geneva, and enjoyed a wonderful day soaking in Oromo culture, music, and food. Oromos had come from all over Switzerland–some had driven from more than 2 hours away–to join in the celebration. We were overwhelmed by their hospitality and their eagerness to hear what we had accomplished during our brief visit.

Advice for Diaspora Advocates Around the World: It’s a Long-Term Commitment

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

After our busy week in Geneva, I asked IOYA President Amane Badhasso to reflect on what she’d done and lessons learned. I encouraged her to share advice that she would give to other diaspora organizations–both Oromo groups and other diaspora communities–that want to promote human rights in their country of origin or ancestry. Here are her recommendations:

The promotion of human rights is a long-term commitment, and those who want to implement/promote human rights in their country of origin should understand the issues within their country of origin and tell stories from the perspective of those on the ground. In addition, it is important for those in the diaspora to utilize all tools available to lobby their country of residence and assure that the international community is aware of various abuses in the country of origin. It is also crucial to educate the public and use resources available to collaborate with groups that deal with human rights advocacy so that a practical outcome could come out of advocacy.

During our week in Geneva, we learned about many ways the Oromo diaspora can engage in advocacy at the United Nations. IOYA can’t take on all of these strategies on its own; there are many opportunities for other diaspora groups to get involved. But our advocacy with the Committee on the Rights of the Child was an important step in raising visibility about human rights violations against the Oromo people in Ethiopia.

Are you a member of a diaspora community? What ways can you engage with the United Nations to promote human rights in your country of origin or ancestry?

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

More posts about human rights 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)

Building Momentum in Geneva with the Oromo Diaspora

H.E. Mr. Minelik Alemu Getahun, Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary and Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the United Nations Office in Geneva
H.E. Mr. Minelik Alemu Getahun (left), Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary and Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the United Nations Office in Geneva

This fall was a busy time for advocacy at the United Nations on human rights in Ethiopia. It was also a great time to see The Advocates for Human Rights’ new toolkit, Paving Pathways for Justice and Accountability: Human Rights Tools for Diaspora Communities, in action.

Universal Periodic Review Concludes with Some Fireworks
In a one-hour session on September 19, the UN Human Rights Council adopted the outcome of its second Universal Periodic Review of Ethiopia. You can watch the video of the session here.

I’ve blogged about the UPR of Ethiopia before, and the adoption of the outcome is the last step in the process. The adoption of the outcome is also the only opportunity civil society organizations have to speak during the UPR process.

The Advocates for Human Rights is based in Minnesota, not Geneva, so we don’t generally get a chance to address the Human Rights Council during the UPR process. But I often watch the live webcasts, and this time I got up early to livetweet.

Ms Renate Bloem from Civicus World Alliance for Citizenship Participation addresses the Human Rights Council
Ms Renate Bloem from Civicus World Alliance for Citizenship Participation addresses the Human Rights Council

Several non-governmental organizations took the floor and raised concerns about the human rights situation on the ground in Ethiopia. Civicus World Alliance for Citizenship Participation, for example, expressed concern about Ethiopia’s refusal to accept recommendations to remove draconian restrictions on free expression. Renate Bloem (left), speaking for Civicus, added:

While relying on international funding to supplement 50-60 percent of its national budget, the government has simultaneously criminalized most foreign funding for human rights groups in the country. These restrictions have precipitated the near complete cessation of independent human rights monitoring in the country. It is therefore deeply alarming that Ethiopia has explicitly refused to implement recommendations put forward by nearly 15 governments during its UPR examination to create an enabling environment for civil society.

The Ethiopian Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Minelik Alemu Getahun (top), lashed out at the NGOs that commented, particularly Civicus:

I regret the language used by some of the NGO representatives and particularly the call for action some of them made against Ethiopia in the Council for alleged isolated acts. Some of the language used in the allegations, particularly the remarks by CIVICUS on our budget is outrageous and incorrect. I can assure the Council that Ethiopia relies on its peoples and their resources, which is not unusual supplemented by international support.

The Human Rights Council then adopted the outcome of the second UPR of Ethiopia. The recommendations Ethiopia accepted are contained in the Report of the Working Group and an addendum, available here. Some of the more promising recommendations that Ethiopia accepted in September are:

  • Implement fully its 1995 Constitution, including the freedoms of association, expression and assembly for independent political parties, ethnic and religious groups and non-government organisations (Australia).
  • Take 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 (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland).
  • Consider implementing the pertinent recommendations from the Independent Expert on Minorities, with a view to guaranteeing equal treatment of all ethnic groups in the country (Cape Verde).
  • Monitor the implementation of the anti-terrorism law in order to identify any act of repression which affects freedom of association and expression and possible cases of arbitrary detention. In addition, develop activities necessary to eliminate any excesses by the authorities in its application (Mexico).

Now it’s up to people on the ground in Ethiopia, as well as people outside of Ethiopia like the Oromo diaspora, to lobby the Ethiopian Government to implement the recommendations it accepted and to monitor whether the government is keeping its word.

The next UPR cycle for Ethiopia will begin in about 4 years, when NGOs will have a chance to submit new stakeholder reports demonstrating whether Ethiopia has implemented the recommendations it accepted,  pointing out any developments on the ground since the last review, and advocating for new recommendations that will improve human rights in Ethiopia. Learn more about how you can get involved in the UPR process of Ethiopia (or any other country) on pages 200-210 of Paving Pathways.

Opportunities Ahead for Voices to be Heard
African Commission on Human and People's RightsThere’s much more to be done in the effort to build respect for human rights in Ethiopia. In addition to the next steps mentioned above, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights will be reviewing Ethiopia’s human rights record in its December 2014 session. In September, the Advocates and the International Oromo Youth Association submitted a lengthy alternative report to the African Commission, responding to the Ethiopian Government’s report. The African Commission will conduct an examination of the Ethiopian Government and then will issue Concluding Observations and Recommendations. You can read the African Commission’s Concluding Observations from its first review of Ethiopia, in 2010, here. To learn more about advocacy with the African Commission, read pages 268-280 of Paving Pathways.

On Wednesday, November 19, Amane Badhasso and I will have a talk with the Amnesty International chapter of the University of Minnesota Law School. The students are eager to learn more about human rights in Ethiopia, and they want to participate in a collective activity to show their support. There’s been a lot of attention lately to a report Amnesty just released on human rights violations against the Oromo people.

Organizations like The Advocates for Human Rights and Amnesty will be ineffective if they work on their own. The Oromo diaspora, as well as other diaspora communities from Ethiopia, have a critical role to play in leading the way to promoting human rights, justice, and accountability in Ethiopia. The Advocates for Human Rights hopes that Paving Pathways will lay the groundwork for many more fruitful collaborations.

Are you a member of a diaspora community? Do you know people who are living in the diaspora? What steps can the diasporans you know take to improve human rights and accountability in their countries of origin or ancestry? How could Paving Pathways and The Advocates for Human Rights assist them?

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

More posts about the crisis in Ethiopia:

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)