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Holding Abusive Employers Accountable

The Advocates is celebrating a victory at the state legislature this year! We are part of a coalition fighting to protect workers’ rights that helped pass a new law criminalizing wage theft.

Labor trafficking is closely linked to labor exploitation such as wage theft or dangerous working conditions. In certain industries, exploitative businesses routinely refuse to pay workers what they are legally owed, avoiding liability through subcontracting, misclassifying employees, and threatening retaliation if anyone complains. Traffickers take advantage of this environment of impunity, coupling exploitation with coercion and control that keeps their victims trapped, unable to stop working.

Press conference introducting wage theft bill 2

A key component of a system to prevent and identify labor trafficking is a robust response to labor exploitation, eliminating the environment where traffickers can operate undetected. As The Advocates discovered in our report Asking the Right Questions, our system for responding to labor exploitation was not doing enough to combat abusive employers.

The Wage Theft Coalition was formed to end this environment of impunity and this spring worked with Representative Tim Mahoney to craft legislation that corrects some of the shortfalls of current laws. Many hearings and negotiations later, the bill passed and Minnesota now has one of the strongest wage theft laws in the country.

Hearing on wage theft bill

Some highlights of the new law:

  • Wage theft can now be criminally prosecuted like all other theft. If an employer steals from an employee, they can face up to 20 years in prison. Even small amounts, like a withheld last paycheck, can trigger jail time and fines.
  • Retaliation against employees for making a complaint is specifically prohibited and subject to fines of up to $3000 per act.
  • The Department of Labor has expanded investigatory powers and the clear legal authority to collect all wages owed, not just minimum wage or overtime.
  • Workers must be provided notices when hired that list all the details of their pay including any deductions, as well as more detailed earnings statements with each paycheck.
  • Workers have a substantive rights to the payment of all wages and commissions on a regular pay day.Press conference introducting wage theft bill

Senior Researcher Madeline Lohman testifies before the MN Senate Jobs Committee on the link between labor trafficking and wage theft. She called for strengthening the current bill, SF 1816. Here are some key things she presented to the Committee:

Enhanced criminal and civil penalties for wage theft can help deter traffickers. I welcome Senator Pratt’s creation of a gross misdemeanor for wage theft, but would encourage the creation of felony wage theft provisions to allow prosecutors to match the gravity of the crime. Labor traffickers steal tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars from their victims. In no other context is a theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars a gross misdemeanor and not a felony; it should not be one in the workplace.

Labor trafficking is a serious crime that inflicts lasting harm on its victims, undermines legitimate business, and imposes costs on all of us. We have an opportunity today to strengthen Minnesota’s response to this egregious human rights abuse. Please continue to strengthen the penalties against employers that commit wage theft so that traffickers can no longer operate with impunity.

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Senior Researcher Madeline Lohman testifying before the MN Senate Jobs Committee

Learn more about the new law here.

Thank you to everyone who supported these efforts and we look forward to continuing to improve Minnesota’s protections for workers and response to labor trafficking and exploitation!

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Take Advantage of Volunteer Opportunities with The Advocates This Week

volunteerFor more than five years, we have seen children and families fleeing for their lives seeking safety in the United States. They face increasing challenges to receiving due process and navigating the asylum system. Yet many have found their way to Minnesota, with hopes of finding legal services, language access, and a welcoming community. By engaging pro bono attorneys and other volunteers, The Advocates for Human Rights is the largest provider of free legal services to low-income asylum seekers in the Upper Midwest. You can get directly involved in supporting asylum seekers in Minnesota.If you have legal or language skills, you can volunteer by taking a pro bono case, assisting with interpreting and translating, or by staffing the National Asylum Helpline.
60787894_10157094501063815_5749581936431464448_n (1).pngOur annual interpreter training is tonight from 5-7 pm. Info and registration are available on our website: http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/annual_interpreter_training.html
A general volunteer information session is on Wednesday, June 26: http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/volunteer_orientation_4.html Attorneys can register
Attorneys can register to receive more information about providing pro bono services: ttp://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/asylumattorneys
If you are a community member interested in welcoming asylum seekers to our communities, consider attending the next Asylum Support Network meeting on Thursday, June 27 from 12:00 PM to 1:30 PM (CDT) at the North Regional Library (1315 Lowry Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55411). The topic will be Asylum Seeker Sponsorship. Katharine Gordon, as the Pro Bono Coordinator for Al Otro Lado, works with people who are in immigration detention throughout the country and who might have a better chance of being released on their own recognizance if they had a sponsor and network of community support. While Al Otro Lado has worked mostly with people who are detainees, sometimes sponsorship situations fall through once a person is released, and at that time folks may look to a wide variety of alternate sponsors throughout the country. Katharine has facilitated such sponsorships here in the Twin Cities. Come join us and learn what the different levels of sponsorship are and how you can be involved in extending hospitality and support to newly arrived asylum seekers.

2019 Human Rights Awards Dinner Volunteer Awards Recipients

Featured2019 Human Rights Awards Dinner Volunteer Awards Recipients

The 2019 Human Rights Awards Dinner took place on Thursday, June 20 in order that we might celebrate the work of our organization and the contributions of the volunteers who make this work possible.

We all have a role in achieving respect for human rights around the world. For all of our work we rely on the expertise and commitment of volunteers. They represent asylum seekers and ensure laws and policies reflect human rights principles. They research and write reports and provide interpretation and translation services. They testify and submit statements to the United Nations and other international bodies. They facilitate trainings and serve as court observers. They welcome visitors and clients and assist with office work.

Volunteers are integral to our success. They expand our impact and build the global human rights movement. Thank you for helping us thank them. Please see below for more information on this years’ amazing volunteers!

Pat Brenna

Pat Brenna’s creativity in using her skills to support human rights is an inspiration. Pat is a business development consultant as well as a benefit fundraising auctioneer. For the last 11 years, Pat has designed and led the fundraising efforts at the Human Rights Awards Dinner, helping The Advocates raise essential funds to support our work. As human rights activist and actor Mike Farrell remarked about her work at the 2012 Awards Dinner, Pat is relentless. Before Pat brought her expertise to The Advocates, our awards dinners brought together hundreds of people for a fun evening with amazing award winners. There was no opportunity at the event itself for the assembled friends to financially support The Advocates’ work. Pat helped The Advocates see the fundraising opportunity and over the years the Fund-the-Need presentation has become a favorite part of the evening. Pat is currently business development director at Brainier Solutions, a developer of learning management systems for businesses and nonprofits.


Charles Weed

Whenever anyone seeks out information about The Advocates for Human Rights, they see Charles Weed’s tremendous contribution to our work. Charles is our website guru. He designed The Advocates’ first website in the 1990s and has maintained it pro bono for over 20 years. Charles lends his expertise to The Advocates on nights and weekends, through weekly maintenance, regular updates, and a couple of complete overhauls (including one in progress now). Charles is a software designer for Urban Planet Software in St. Paul. The Advocates is grateful to Urban Planet as well; they help keep our website up to date by sharing newly developed modules and tools when they become available through their work. Charles, for his part, approaches his work for The Advocates with patience and grace. Over these many years, he has helped us balance what we think we need with what we really do need, and has worked tirelessly with staff and interns to keep the site working reliably.


Judy Corradi

Judy Corradi has been a volunteer with The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program for many years. She first started volunteering in the office and helping with a variety of research projects. In 2018 Judy traveled to Geneva, Switzerland as a member of our UN advocacy team. She jumped in right away and helped make contacts with delegates to the Human Rights Council and then organized meetings with them. Judy joined The Advocates at the UN again in 2019. She helped to prepare and present statements to the UN Human Rights Council about the death penalty and the status of human rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She also testified at the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women about challenges
facing women in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Judy’s remarkable research, writing, and presentations positively impact human rights around the world. We are very grateful that she shares her skills with us. Judy is a retired financial industry professional, having spent 38 years in the commercial insurance sector. She is also involved with a number of other local organizations, including Women’s March Minnesota, Everytown for Gun Safety, and the Minnesota DFL. In her free time, she serves as an ESL tutor with Language Central.


Alena Levina

Alena Levina has served as a volunteer with The Advocates for several years, translating and interpreting between Russian and English. Originally from Belarus, Alena has used her native Russian language skills to facilitate the extensive work of The Advocates in countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. The Women’s Program provides analysis and commentary on laws addressing violence against women. Alena has translated those laws from Russian into English, and then translated back into Russian the advice and documentation from The Advocates. Alena’s awareness of the subtleties and nuances of the Russian language helps ensure the effectiveness of The Advocates’ work. Alena’s work isn’t limited to translation. She also served as an interpreter when our International Justice Program hosted a Russian-speaking group of LGBTI activists. Alena ensured that the group felt welcome during its visit to Minnesota. The Advocates is deeply grateful for Alena’s unique contributions to human rights work. Alena, in turn, is “honored” by this work. “It takes my breath away. The more I work with The Advocates, the more I realize that when we all come together, that’s when change happens. That’s why I do this.”


Dr. Charlayne Meyers and Steve Woldum

Long-time friends and neighbors Char Myers and Steve Woldum volunteer together on Mondays in The Advocates’ development office. They hand-address event invitations, write notes, and make calls to thank donors. They also file the many papers that flow through the office, and generally do whatever is needed. And they do it all with so much positive energy that we often receive thank you calls for their thank you calls. One donor was so appreciative of receiving a call that wasn’t a request for money that he made an additional donation! The behind the-scenes support they provide to the organization is invaluable. Char is a long-time educator with the Minneapolis Public Schools and Hamline University.
She enjoys the conversations she has with donors; she gets to hear their appreciation for the work of The Advocates, an appreciation she shares. Char loves alphabetizing and baking pies, including and donates a “perfect pie crust lesson” to The Advocates’ silent auction. She and her husband, former Board chair Sam Myers, have dedicated their time and energy to The Advocates for Human Rights over many years. Steve comes by his telephone skills from experience; he worked in sales for many years. He is a passionate advocate for women’s rights and ending human trafficking, and is proud of the work of The Advocates. When he’s not volunteering, Steve is outdoors, likely sailing or canoeing in and around the lakes of his hometown of Minneapolis.


Zonta Club of Minneapolis

Zonta envisions a world in which every woman is able to achieve her full potential. In such a world, every woman has access to education, health care, and legal and economic resources. In such a world, no woman lives in fear of violence. With more than 29,000 members in 63 countries, Zonta International advances the status of women around the world. Members volunteer their time and talents to participate in service projects, advocate for women’s access to civil and economic opportunities, and raise funds to support scholarships and other programs.
In 2016, the Zonta Club of Minneapolis selected The Advocates as its beneficiary for the following two years. Members learned about the challenges women refugees in Minnesota face. The Zontians selected and purchased large bags and filled them with much-needed winter accessories, towels, and other supplies. They also included information about Minnesota, the Twin Cities, and available resources. The assembled bags were then distributed to refugee and immigrant women receiving legal services from The Advocates. The Advocates is grateful to the Zonta Club for its partnership and support.


Somali 92 Team

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On December 7, 2017, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attempted to deport 92 men and women to Somalia. The plane departed Louisiana for Somalia, but was grounded in Senegal, where it remained on the runway for 23 hours before returning to Miami. For almost two days, the men and women sat bound and shackled in an ICE-chartered airplane. People aboard the flight reported truly horrifying conditions. Even more alarming, ICE planned to deport them before any investigation into the mistreatment could be made.
The Advocates joined colleagues at the University of Minnesota Law School’s Binger Center for New Americans, the University of Miami School of Law’s Immigration Clinic, Legal Services of Broward County, Americans for Immigrant Justice, and the ACLU in seeking an injunction. When a federal judge in Miami ordered ICE to stop the deportations, provide medical care, and provide an opportunity to reopen the underlying deportation cases, the need for large-scale pro bono mobilization was clear. Working with colleagues at Americans for Immigrant Justice in Miami, The Advocates recruited pro bono attorneys from around the United States to file motions to reopen. Pro bono attorneys fought throughout 2018, and continue to fight, to reopen cases and win protection from deportation forthe people who had been aboard the flight. The Advocates recognizes and is grateful for these extraordinary volunteers.

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Domestic Violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Bringing the Issue to the UN

UPR cycle
Illustration of the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Process from The Advocates’ resource Human Rights Tools for a Changing World: A Step-by-step Guide to Human Rights Fact-finding, Documentation, and Advocacy

The UN Human Rights Council provides opportunities for non-governmental organizations to pursue human rights advocacy at the UN level through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a process for reviewing the human rights records of States. Before the start of a particular country’s review, non-governmental organizations can submit a “stakeholder report” to the Council about the overall human rights situation or focusing on a specific issue in the country, relying on desk research and firsthand information.

Reporting on domestic violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina

As an International Justice intern with The Advocates for Human Rights, I had the opportunity to work on the organization’s UPR stakeholder report about domestic violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In my research, I focused on understanding victims’ experiences with key institutions that provide support for victims of domestic violence, such as centers for social work, courts, police, and safe houses. I found out that victims lack access to resources due to insufficient funding, poor multi-sectoral collaboration, and inadequate responses from some of the key actors mentioned above.

Based on this research, I assisted with compiling a report that The Advocates and our local partner Ženski Centar Trebinje submitted to the Human Right Council in March 2019 for the UPR of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which will take place in November 2019. Apart from shedding light on the issues that victims of domestic violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina face, our report put forth recommendations for the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina to improve its responses to domestic violence. You may find the report here.

A meaningful way to get involved with issues in my home country

Being from Bosnia and Herzegovina, I really appreciated the opportunity to get involved with this report. As much as I am grateful for my education in the United States, I wish that I could get physically involved with social movements and activism in my home country. While I was working on this report, my city held a protest because the Center for Social Work did not adequately respond to a domestic violence case perpetrated by a father against his daughters. Their mother issued a plea via Facebook, sharing how unsupported she felt by the institutions whose sole responsibility was to protect her daughters. Hearing her story made it even more important to engage with the issue of domestic violence.

Although I was not able to protest, I could at least voice her concerns in our report. By translating her story and bringing it to a space devoted to human rights, I made it possible for the relevant international actors to hear her story. To me, The Advocates’ work implies carrying messages from the local actors to international institutions, bridging the physical distance between the two, overcoming language barriers if there are any, and navigating the bureaucratic nature of international institutions.

Looking forward

While I cannot guarantee that delivering her message will have an impact on the case, nor that this report will eliminate domestic violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina overnight, I recognize that advocacy at the UN, as a well-established mechanism, is a useful first step. It serves as a platform to raise awareness about issues and put pressure on government officials to implement the suggested solutions. Based on the recommendations from the 2014 UPR cycle Bosnia and Herzegovina established free legal aid clinics, but yet has to implement many more recommendations.

As part of the UPR process, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s government delegation and UN member countries will engage in an interactive dialogue this November. Often, countries raise questions and suggest solutions based on stakeholder reports. I hope that they will voice the concerns that we included in the report and make a formal expectation for the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina to implement our recommendations, as important steps toward the elimination of domestic violence.

By Ana Gvozdić, a rising junior at Macalester College studying Political Science and Environmental Studies.  She was a spring 2019 intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.

To learn more about advocacy, check out The Advocates’ manual Human Rights Tools for a Changing World: A Step-by-step Guide to Human Rights Fact-finding, Documentation, and Advocacy”, and especially Chapter 9, which focuses on Advocacy at the United Nations.

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Eritrea and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: A Step-By-Step Guide to United Nations Advocacy

Eritrea
The Government delegation from Eritrea at the 125th Session of the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva, Switzerland on 12 Mar 2019 [photo credit: UN Web TV]

Eritrea, a Sub-Saharan African country nestled between Sudan and Ethiopia with roughly the same size and population of Minnesota, is the center of alarming human rights abuses. Despite ratifying its Constitution in 1997, the government has not implemented that framework and instead retains a one-party dictatorship. The president, Isaias Afwerki, and his security apparatus have disregarded civil liberties and basic human rights, arbitrarily detaining people, holding detainees without due process and in inhuman conditions, mandating national service, and applying systematic torture both in prisons and national service facilities. Members of non-authorized religions face persecution.

In the face of grave human rights abuses, civil society has a powerful weapon: The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). A State Party to the treaty since 2002, Eritrea is bound to its reporting and accountability measures. As an NGO with special consultative status with the United Nations, The Advocates for Human Rights works with U.N. mechanisms to hold States accountable for wrong-doing. And at the 125th Session of the Human Rights Committee, The Advocates did just that.

Introduction to the ICCPR Review Process

The first three steps in the ICCPR review process take place before the parties meet in Geneva. First, the State Party submits its report to the Committee. Eritrea failed to submit its report to the Committee, so it was more important than usual for civil society stakeholder reports to give a full picture of human rights in the country. Second, the Committee prepares a list of issues and questions for the State Party to consider. Third, members of civil society—referred to as “stakeholders”—compile reports of the country’s progress and failures in improving the state of civil and political rights since the previous review. Compiling information from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the U.S. Department of State, recent U.N. investigations, and interviews with clients seeking asylum from Eritrea, The Advocates made sure that the Committee knew what the Eritrean Government was doing.

The primary accounts provided by our clients are some of the most important aspects of any report we submit to the United Nations. First, staff and interns in our Refugee and Immigrant Program interview asylum clients, detailing their experiences with human rights violations in their country of origin. When that country comes up for review at the U.N. Human Rights Committee, our International Justice Program staff and interns identify patterns in the client files that help describe the human rights situation. These unique experiences inform a more complete understanding of the State Party under review. We include that information in our report after receiving explicit permission from the clients in question. These client interviews confirm and illustrate the information that secondary reports provide about the State Party’s human rights practices.

Recommendations and Constructive Dialogue

In response to the bleak state of civil and political rights in Eritrea, The Advocates also suggested recommendations for the Committee to present to the State Party in order to improve its human rights practices. The Advocates makes several recommendations, such as to allow international observers to monitor the condition of Eritrean detention centers, to narrow the scope of the death penalty in the Penal Code, and to eliminate the registration process that creates “non-authorized” religions.

After receiving reports from civil society and the State Party, the Committee engages in a constructive dialogue with the State Party. During the dialogue, Committee members recognize the progress the State Party has made and recommend improvements and reforms for the State Party to adopt.

To watch the full constructive dialogue between the Human Rights Committee and the Government of Eritrea, click here.

During the review of the State Party, NGOs such as The Advocates can take several actions to promote their reports and recommendations. They can make oral interventions before the examination, participate in informal briefings with Committee members, and circulate shorter versions of their reports—one pagers—that highlight the most important points.

Concluding Observations

After State Party and stakeholders have had their say, the Committee compiles and releases its Concluding Observations on next steps that the State Party should take to improve its human rights practices. In the case of Eritrea, the Committee’s report adopted many of The Advocates’ conclusions and recommendations for:

  • holding human rights abusers accountable;
  • ending arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and the use of torture;
  • improving detention conditions;
  • ending severe—sometimes lethal—restrictions on freedom of movement;
  • improving conditions in national service, shortening the length of national service, creating alternatives for conscientious objectors, and ending the placement of minors in national service; and
  • guaranteeing freedom of religion.

With the report of the Human Rights Committee in hand, it is once again the duty of civil society to hold the government accountable and pressure Eritrean leaders to implement these recommendations. In the meantime, The Advocates will continue to offer asylum assistance to Eritreans fleeing the ongoing human rights violations.

To read our full report on Eritrea, click here.

To learn more about advocacy at the United Nations, read Chapter 9 of The Advocates’ groundbreaking publication, Human Rights Tools for a Changing World: A Step-by-step Guide to Human Rights Fact-finding, Documentation, and Advocacy.

To support our mission of advancing global human rights, consider volunteering with The Advocates.

Watch our volunteer, Olivia Leyba, testify at the U.N. Human Rights Council about Eritrea’s human rights practices.

 

By Benjamin Allard, International Justice Program intern and 2019 graduate of the University of Minnesota, where he majored in Political Science and Asian Languages & Literature. 

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Advocates for Indigenous and Minority Rights

Samone with Marcia Kran HRComm member
Samone Khouangsathiene from the Tai Studies Center briefed the UN Human Rights Committee on indigenous rights in Vietnam

The Advocates for Human Rights recently sent a delegation to the United Nations Office at Geneva. In addition to staff and volunteers, our delegation included representatives of partner organizations advocating for indigenous and minority rights.  The Advocates  partnered with The Tai Studies Center to draw attention to the discrimination and violence experienced by the Tai indigenous people in Vietnam.  With diaspora-based United Oromo Voices, The Advocates submitted a report on ethnic minorities in Ethiopia for consideration as part of Ethiopia’s Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council.

While in Geneva, our delegation participated in the discussion around the Special Rapporteur on Minority Rights’ report to the UN Human Rights Council. The agenda for this meeting was focused on the Special Rapporteur’s country visits this past year to Botswana and Slovenia, and the issues minorities face there. The Advocates highlighted for the Special Rapporteur and the Council members that minorities face similar issues in Vietnam and Ethiopia.  As a non-governmental organization with Special Consultative status, The Advocates can participate in interactive dialogues by making oral statements at the Human Rights Council. These two-minute statements are our opportunity to share our concerns with the Council, and they are recorded and published afterward on the UN website. Nagessa Dube from United Oromo Voices made the oral statement on behalf of The Advocates for Human Rights.

As an intern, I helped draft the oral statement on minority rights. Through the drafting process, I had the opportunity to learn more about the obstacles and harassment encountered by indigenous and ethnic minorities within these countries. Although these human rights issues are ongoing and The Advocates continues to receive reports of abuses from our clients, they are often forgotten by global media attention.

Here’s what we must continue to pay attention to:

In Vietnam, the government refuses to acknowledge the Tai people’s indigenous status and right to self-determination. Along with other local indigenous groups, they face barriers to land management and the state denies them adequate compensation for the resulting damage to their livelihoods. They struggle against cycles of poverty, discrimination from the majority community, and limited access to public services, electricity, and water. The Vietnamese government continues to confiscate land from indigenous groups; the Tai and other groups’ lands in Highlands’ villages have been confiscated without full compensation for state economic development projects. The government arbitrarily detains and disappears members of indigenous groups, and suppresses protesters by using national security provisions to claim that potential ties of indigenous groups to organizations abroad promote so-called “separatist aims.”

In Ethiopia, the state has continually subjected members of the minority Ogaden and Oromo communities to the arbitrary confiscation of land and ethnic persecution since the beginning of Ethiopian rule over the Somali region in 1948. In November 2015, large scale protests began in Oromia in opposition to the Addis Ababa Master Plan, which intended to forcibly displace the minority Oromos from their homes in favor of expansion of the territory of the capital city. Various Advocates clients interviewed reported that many Oromo people were injured and killed during the 2015 Irreechaa protests after security forces fired into crowds. Many of those who survived the massacre were taken into government custody. The Government of Ethiopia continues to subject minority populations to violence and arbitrary arrests.

Partners presenting at side event at UN in Geneva

I was excited to watch the delegation present our concerns to the Special Rapporteur in Geneva over the UN WebTV from my Minneapolis desk. It was rewarding to know that for those two minutes, our advocacy held the attention of the Special Rapporteur and the entire Human Rights Council. Afterward, the delegation facilitated a side event for both Vietnam and Ethiopia minority rights. The side event allowed both representatives more time to educate and advocate for the issues that minorities in these countries face.  Furthermore, it allowed representatives of many minority groups to build solidarity, highlighting the similarities of indigenous minority struggles all across the world.

I talked to The Advocates’ partners who participated in the delegation about their experiences advocating for indigenous and minority rights at the United Nations.

Samone Khouangsathiene with The Tai Studies Center reflected that “regardless of which country or which indigenous group we are from, we all have similar human rights violations occurring.  Indigenous people are being marginalized and even decimated by ruling governments around the world.” However, by the end of the event she left with a sense of hope:

Through my attendance I put Tai Dam concerns front and center not only to the Human Rights Committee but to the Vietnamese delegation.  This “face to face” showed the delegation that the Tai Dam backed by the UN holds the government accountable.  The Tai Dam are no longer voiceless.

Nagessa Dube from United Oromo Voices had a similar perspective. He appreciated the opportunity to develop connections and build relationships with different advocates and organizations in attendance. He hopes that the outcome of his time in Geneva will encourage the government of Ethiopia to listen to the recommendations of The Advocates by halting human rights violations against indigenous communities and committing to reparations for past damages.

By Alison Brady, Macalester College Class of 2019 and spring 2019 intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program. 

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Egypt: The Fight to End Their Excused Executions

During my time as an International Justice Program intern at The Advocates for Human Rights, I have used my Lebanese background and Arabic language skills to dig deep into the lesser-known human rights violations occurring in the Middle East. More specifically, I have focused my research on Egypt and its increased use of the death penalty. Despite the United Nations interventions and the reports produced by international journalists on the issue, the violations have continued on, placing Egypt as the sixth highest nation for total number of people executed.

“Every Tuesday is execution day in Egypt, a trend established late last year [2018] with 23 killed since the end of December,” said ABC News correspondent Farid Farid.

2019 has been a big year for executions in Egypt. 15 people were executed in February alone. According to the Death Penalty Worldwide Organization, at least 22 people were executed in 2015, at least 44 in 2016, at least 35 in 2017, and 12 in 2018. All of these executions have been administered through hanging, for reasons including: terrorism, premeditated murder, crimes committed abroad that are harmful to state security, abduction of a female, threatening any member of Parliament, etc. The Egyptian Penal Code stipulates that the death penalty must be carried out in the presence of a prison guard, a public prosecutor, an official from the Ministry of Interior, the prison director general and doctor, as well as an additional doctor ordered by the Public Prosecution.

On February 20, 2019, the day I started researching this topic, 9 individuals were executed in Egypt for their involvement with the 2015 killing of Egypt’s General Prosecutor, Hisham Barakat. On February 13, 2019, 3 individuals were hanged for killing a police officer in 2013, and an additional 3 individuals were hanged on February 7, 2019 for their connection with the murder of an Egyptian judge’s son in 2017.  Prior to being executed, the individuals are held in detention centers under harsh conditions. The large number of arrests and the increased use of pretrial detention have resulted in extreme overcrowding, less access to resources, and a rising number of deaths in prisons.

“According to domestic and international nongovernmental NGO observers, prison cells were overcrowded, and prisoners lacked adequate access to medical care, proper sanitation and ventilation, food, and potable water,” stated in the US State Department Human Rights Report.

 As of 2014, there are 57 detention centers in Egypt. There is no limit on prison sentence length, which can also factor into the over-crowdedness of the facilities. There have been cases where prisoners detained for politically motivated charges have been held in solitary confinement for several years – which in and of itself is torture. Amnesty International has documented 36 cases of prisoners held in prolonged solitary confinements in Egypt since 2013.  Due to the extreme amounts of torture, 9 detainees have died while in custody, according to Human Rights Watch.

Despite Egypt’s support for the death penalty, they do have their restrictions on the conditions for when and how it can take place. According to the Penal Code, executions may not be administered on official holidays, including religious holidays of the convict’s faith. Although this has not been followed through entirely, the convict’s family is only allowed to visit them the day before they are executed. In addition, the Egyptian government is responsible to pay the expenses for the burial, unless the family has other wishes, and the burial must not have a ceremony.

After reading countless of stories about executions in Egypt and various countries, I am more aware and driven to continue to spread awareness on this issue. More than 160 countries have abolished the death penalty or refuse to practice it, but the fight to end it worldwide is not done yet. Whether it is administered for cultural, religious, or traditional reasons, the death penalty is a human rights violation that should not be tolerated.

 “The death penalty has no place in the 21st century,” stated on the United nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner website.

Egypt’s use of the death penalty doesn’t seem to have an end date in the near future unless the international community proceeds with the fight for its abolishment. The Advocates for Human Rights continues to work at putting a stop to this human rights violation through their international advocacy as a steering committee member of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, as a chair of the World Day Against the Death penalty, and through their submissions to the United Nations human rights bodies. Regardless of if it’s China, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, or any of the other countries that continue to practice such torturous methods, the death penalty should not be administered and should cease to exist worldwide.

Celine Ammash is a rising University of Minnesota senior majoring in Global Studies.  She was a spring 2019 intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program through the University’s Human Rights Internship class.