As I reflect on 2015, I’m surprised at the optimism I feel.
After all, things aren’t exactly great out there: at least 979 people have been shot dead by police in the United States this year; 1 in 3 women worldwide still experience physical or sexual violence; and an estimated 60 million men, women, and children have been forcibly displaced from their homes by violence or persecution.
So why am I hopeful? Here’s my list, in no particular order
No. 1: Women are safer
Violence against women remains a global human rights crisis, but The Advocates for Human Rights is making a difference. We are changing legal systems around the world. In 2015 new laws to protect women in Croatia and Mongolia went into effect which hold perpetrators of domestic violence accountable and which help ensure that women enjoy their fundamental right to safety and security of the person. In Minnesota, new services for child victims of trafficking have been implemented and thousands of community leaders, service providers, law enforcement professionals and others have been trained on how to access Minnesota’s new Safe Harbor protections.
No. 2: Asylum seekers are protected
2015 witnessed the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. With 60 million people displaced from their homes due to conflict, 20 million fleeing their homelands in fear of persecution, and more than 2 million asylum seekers worldwide, the news has been filled with the stories of courage and despair, welcome and hatred. The Advocates for Human Rights has stepped in to meet the needs of asylum seekers in the United States. Hundreds of volunteers stepped forward this year to represent asylum seekers from around the world and to help the hundreds of unaccompanied children and mothers with children fleeing violence in Central America who, as a top priority for deportation, have their own docket at the immigration court. And with the help of a dedicated group of volunteers, The Advocates launched the National Asylum Help Line to connect women being released from the family detention centers in Texas and Pennsylvania with legal help in their new communities.
No. 3: Human rights defenders around the world have access to important tools
Launched in 2015, The Advocates’ Human Rights Tools for a Changing World: A Step-By-Step Guide to Human Rights Fact-Finding, Documentation, and Advocacy provides human rights defenders with the information and technical assistance they need to bring human rights violations to light, hold perpetrators accountable, and create lasting systematic change. In 2015, The Advocates has worked with diaspora communities to bring attention to abuses in their countries of origin, with LGBTI activists to advocate for protections within their countries as well as with regional and international human rights mechanisms at the UN and African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, and with colleagues at the Detention Watch Network to ensure human rights violations against migrants in the United States do not go unchallenged.
No. 4: The use of the death penalty is diminishing around the world
2015 saw the lowest number of executions in the United States – down 33% over 2014 and the lowest number since the early 1970s according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Five countries – Mongolia, Fiji, Suriname, Madagascar, and the Republic of Congo – abolished the death penalty this year. Through partnerships with abolitionist activists and leadership in the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, The Advocates continues to challenge the death penalty worldwide.
No. 5: Children are learning, not working
Just weeks after The Advocates’ staff returned from visiting the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in Nepal, the region was struck by a devastating earthquake. Families and teachers lost their homes, students lost their books and uniforms. The SPCS community came together and by the end of May the kids had returned to school. Today they remain in school and free from child labor.
If you need to see joy in action just watch a few minutes of dancing kids from the SPCS.
No. 6: Human rights defenders are active here at home
From the immigration attorneys who travelled to the family detention centers in Texas to help thousands of imprisoned asylum seeking moms and their kids have access to counsel to counsel, to workers like The Advocates’ 2016 Special Recognition award recipient CTUL documenting human rights abuses in the workplace, to the countless #BlackLivesMatter activists demanding accountability for violations of the fundamental right to safety and security, the human rights movement in the United States is getting stronger and more vibrant. Together, as advocates for human rights, we can make a difference and create a world in which all can live with dignity, freedom, equality, justice and peace.
And really, it’s that last one that gives me the most hope. Because of you – the many advocates for human rights who volunteer, donate, and act to build a better world – we know that we can meet what 2016 holds in store.
By: Michele Garnett McKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ Deputy Director and Director of Advocacy & Research