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Recognizing human rights leaders who are changing the world for good

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The Advocates for Human Rights will present nine awards to human rights leaders at the Human Rights Awards Dinner on June 15, 2017 at the Marriott City Center in Minneapolis. The Human Rights Awards Dinner is an annual event that honors those who dedicate time, energy, and passion to advance The Advocates’ mission of changing the world for good by implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law.

 

Mark Hetfield will deliver the keynote address and receive the 2017 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award. Minnesota House of Representatives Member Ilhan Omar will be honored with a Special Recognition Award; The Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport Rapid Response Team  will also receive the Special Recognition Award. Genoveva Tisheva will receive the first-ever Human Rights Defender Award.  In addition, Karam Law, Sarah Vander Zanden, Gerry Tyrrell, David Seng Chor, and Yorn Yan will each receive the Volunteer Awards.

Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award – Mark Hetfield

Mark Hetfield Head Shot RGBMark Hetfield is a globally recognized leader in refugee rights. He is the president and CEO of HIAS. Founded in 1881, HIAS is the world’s oldest organization dedicated to refugees. Under Hetfield’s guidance and leadership, HIAS has expanded from an organization focused on Jewish immigrants to one that assists refugees worldwide, no matter whom or where they are. HIAS stands for a world in which refugees find welcome, safety, and freedom. HIAS both protects and resettles refugees, all the while ensuring they are treated with the dignity they deserve. Guided by Jewish ethics and history, HIAS rescues people whose lives are in danger for being who they are. Hetfield has stated, “HIAS doesn’t help people because they are Jewish but because we are Jewish.”

Hetfield’s 27-year career has been largely spent in five different roles within HIAS. Between his roles at HIAS, he served as senior advisor on refugee issues at the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, where he directed a congressionally-authorized study on asylum seekers in expedited removal.  This study, published in 2005, is the most comprehensive study on expedited removal to date and is still widely used today. Hetfield and his team were recognized for their work with the Arthur C. Helton Award for the Advancement of Human Rights, presented by the American Immigration Lawyers Association. He graduated cum laude with a juris doctor degree from Georgetown University, from which he also holds a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service.

Special Recognition Award – Ilhan Omar

Ilhan OmarIlhan Omar Head Shot RGB made national headlines when she was elected in 2016 as the Minnesota State Representative for District 60B, becoming the first Somali-American lawmaker in the United States.  She successfully campaigned on a platform with strong human rights themes, including: access to quality affordable education; criminal justice reform; a higher minimum wage; empowering women in politics; and promoting environmental sustainability.

Born in Somalia, Omar and her family fled the country’s civil war when she was eight. The family spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya before coming to the United States in 1995.  Omar spoke no English at first, but learned quickly.  She was inspired to enter public service after translating for her grandfather at a community political meeting at the age of 14.  After graduating from North Dakota State University, Omar has worked tirelessly for her community and the greater public good.  In addition to representing District 60B, Omar is the Director of Policy Initiatives for Women Organizing Women, a nonprofit network dedicated to empowering all women, with an emphasis on first– and second-generation immigrants, to become engaged citizens and community leaders.

Special Recognition Award – MSP Airport Rapid Response Team

When President Donald Trump signed his executive order banning people from seven msp rapid responsemajority-Muslim countries from entering the United States, thousands of attorneys around the United States turned out to protect those being denied entry. Here in Minnesota, attorney Regina Jefferies signed up to help with the International Refugee Assistance Project on Friday afternoon and by Sunday morning had messages from more than 150 lawyers willing to go to the airport. Among them were immigration attorney Kara Lynum and Robins Kaplan’s Summra Sharriff, and attorneys Melissa Staudinger, Alisha Tecli, Hayley Steptoe, Shannon Doty, Nichole Buehler, Tara Murphy, and Kevin Riach, who would become the spontaneous project’s team leads.

The team organized everything from attorneys providing direct assistance on the ground at MSP, a habeas team ready to file for anyone detained under the ban, to volunteer training and communications, and liaison with the Metropolitan Airport Commission. Within two weeks, the project grew to more than 300 attorneys and countless community members volunteering to do everything from language interpretation to bringing food to volunteers. Volunteers met every international flight to Minnesota for 6 weeks. Their work not only provided onsite help to anxious family members waiting for their loved ones to arrive. It sent an important message to federal officials that the people of this country will not sit idly by in the face of discrimination and intolerance. Their work embodies The Advocates’ mission to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law.

 Human Rights Defender Award –  Genoveva Tisheva

Genoveva TishevaGenoveva Tisheva  will be presented with The Advocates’ inaugural Human Rights Defender Award. Tisheva is the executive director of the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation (BGRF),  a nongovernmental organization that promotes social equality and women’s human rights in Bulgaria through research, education, and advocacy programs.

Tisheva has been a leader in the international human rights movement for over twenty years. A pioneer in Bulgarian gender rights research, she has conducted research on privatization, women’s socio-economic rights, violence against women, the impact of privatization of goods and services on women, and trafficking of Romani women and children.  Tisheva has been instrumental in pushing Bulgaria to the forefront as a leader for the region on law reform related to violence against women.

The relationship between The Advocates and Tisheva extends back to 1994. At the time, Tisheva was the president of the Bulgarian Women Lawyers Association and had begun the work to secure legal reform that would protect women victims of violence and hold perpetrators accountable. The Advocates had just recently published its first report on women’s human rights titled “Lifting the Last Curtain, a Report on Domestic Violence in Romania.” Tisheva approached The Advocates about conducting fact-finding and documenting domestic violence as a human rights violation in Bulgaria. The resulting report, “Domestic Violence in Bulgaria” published in 1996, served as a blueprint for action.

For her work on behalf of women and for social rights, Tisheva was nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize as part of the Project “1000 Women for Nobel Peace Prize.” Tisheva holds a M.A. in Law from Bulgaria’s Sofia University and is a specialist in international human rights law and international comparative law.

Information and tickets to the Human Rights Awards Dinner are available here.

 

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The Sanctuary Movement Case, 1985

After 19 years of practicing corporate litigation with prominent law firms in New York City and Minneapolis, I was a tabula rasa in what turned out to be important topics for me. I had no knowledge of, or interest in, international human rights law in general or refugee and asylum law in particular. Nor did I have any knowledge of, or interest in, Latin America in general or El Salvador in particular. At the same time I was struggling with the question of how to integrate my newly re-acquired Christian faith with my professional life.

In 1985 all of this started to change.

My senior partner at Faegre & Benson asked me to provide legal counsel to the firm’s client, the American Lutheran Church. The problem: how should the ALC respond to the news that the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service had sent undercover agents into worship services and Bible study meetings at Lutheran and Presbyterian churches in Arizona that were involved in the Sanctuary Movement?

As I soon discovered, that Movement was a loose association of Christian congregations that declared themselves sanctuaries or safe spaces for Salvadorans and Guatemalans fleeing their civil wars in the 1980s. The news about the “spies in the churches” was revealed by the U.S. Government in its prosecution of some of the Movement’s leaders for harboring and transporting illegal aliens, some of whom were later convicted of these charges.[1]

In the meantime, the ALC and my own church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), decided to join together to sue the U.S. Government over the “spies in the churches.” Eventually the U.S. District Court in Phoenix agreed with the churches that the First Amendment’s “freedom of religion” clause[2] provided protection against certain government investigations.

The court said that the churches “in the free exercise of their constitutionally protected religious activities, are protected against governmental intrusion in the absence of a good faith purpose for the subject investigation. The government is constitutionally precluded from unbridled and inappropriate covert activity which has as its purpose or objective the abridgment of the first amendment freedoms of those involved. Additionally, the participants involved in such investigations must adhere scrupulously to the scope and extent of the invitation to participate that may have been extended or offered to them.”[3]

I should add that the courtroom work in this case was done by two lawyers at the Phoenix firm of Lewis and Roca–Peter Baird[4] and Janet Napolitano.[5]

This case marked a turning point in my legal career as will be evident in my subsequent posts Becoming a Pro Bono Asylum Lawyer  and My Pilgrimage to El Salvador, April 1989.

By Duane W. Krohnke, a retired lawyer, adjunct law professor, and volunteer with The Advocates for Human Rights.

[1] One of the founders of the Sanctuary Movement was Rev. John Fife of Tucson’s Southside Presbyterian Church. He was one of those convicted in 1986 in the criminal case. Six years later he was elected the national leader (Moderator) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)..(Wikipedia, John Fife, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Fife.)

[2] “Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise [of religion].” (U.S. Const., Amend. I.)

[3] Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) v. U.S., 752 F. Supp. 1505, 1516 (D. Ariz. 1990), on remand from, 870 F.2d 518 (9th Cir. 1989).

[4] Peter Baird, http://www.lrlaw.com/files/Uploads/Documents/Baird%20Bio.pdf; Phoenix veteran attorney Peter Baird dies, Phoenix Bus. J.(Aug. 31, 2009), http://www.bizjournals.com/phoenix/stories/2009/08/31/daily19.html.

[5] Napolitano now, of course, is the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. (Wikipedia, Janet Napolitano, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janet_Napolitano.)

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Cruelty as Policy: Part Two

Child or woman's hand in jailWhat and who are behind the current wave of anti-immigrant feeling, including the cruel policy of “self-deportation” that is the subject of this two part series of articles?

It is important to acknowledge that fear of The Other is a near-universal human condition, and its causes and effects should not be oversimplified. It is also important to acknowledge the existence of elite interest groups which are currently working hard to exploit our fear of The Other and use it to advance their own agenda, an agenda aimed at keeping America a white and Christian nation.

The author of this, the second of two articles reflecting on the cruelty behind the currently ascendant hard-line anti-immigration movement, was raised in Minnesota during the fifties and sixties. Our state was then almost entirely lily white and raised in the Christian tradition. In the author’s high school class of more than 700, there were only two black students and, to the author’s knowledge, two Jewish students. Such an upbringing creates, in nearly every mind, assumptions that become part of an individual’s basic personality: a Minnesotan is automatically thought of as a white person of Christian heritage. People who don’t qualify on one or both counts may be fine folks in their way, but they are different from our concept of a Minnesotan. Carrying such assumptions in one’s mind doesn’t by itself make a person hateful or evil, but it can have consequences on a person’s beliefs and actions that might not be recognized. The assumptions brand our fellow human beings as The Other.

Recognizing that this non-diverse state of affairs once existed in many parts of the country, and still exists in many rural areas and small towns, may help explain the current rise of anti-immigrant sentiment, a recurring wave that has swept the United States several times in its history and has always been regretted afterward. Census data tells us that if current trends continue, the U.S. population will, for the first time, be “majority minority” by 2044. To some people, consciously or unconsciously, this means The Other is taking over, and that can be frightening.

There are elites who seek to whip up such fear, and organize and manage it for their own purposes. In particular, there is a cadre of organizations that are dedicated to a hard-line anti-immigration policy and that promote the cruel concept of “self-deportation” discussed in the previous article in this series. These organizations seek to display the appearance of broad-based support, but in fact were founded by or descended from the efforts of one man, John Tanton, and have been funded primarily by a small number of wealthy donors. (See Intelligence Report, “JOHN TANTON IS THE MASTERMIND BEHIND THE ORGANIZED ANTI-IMMIGRATION MOVEMENT,” Southern Poverty Law Center; Jason DeParle, “The Anti-Immigration Crusader,New York Times; and “Funders of the Anti-Immigrant Movement,” Anti-Defamation League.)

They include the Federation for American Immigration Reform (“FAIR”); the Immigration Reform Law Institute (“IRLI”); the Center for Immigration Studies (“CIS”); Numbers USA; ProEnglish; U.S.English; the Social Contract Press and, the funding organization, U.S. Inc. Representatives of these organizations frequently lobby legislators, publish “think pieces,” do grass roots organizing on anti-immigrant themes, appear in the media and promulgate agendas for anti-immigrant actions by governments and private actors.

The man initially behind these groups, John Tanton, is a retired Michigan ophthalmologist who was president of Zero Population Growth from 1975 to 1977. (See johntanton.org, a pro-Tanton website that describes him as a “Pro-immigrant spokesperson for population stabilization and immigration reduction.”)  His passions moved from global overpopulation to immigration and he founded FAIR in 1979. He was a fan of a 1973 novel by Frenchman Jean Raspail called The Camp of the Saints, an overtly racist fantasy in which hordes of sub-human non-whites overwhelm Europe and North America because liberal pansies in the affected governments lack the will to stop them.  Tanton’s Social Contract Press arranged for the re-publication of this novel in the United States in 1995, with money from Mellon heiress Cordelia Scaife May, who also funded a previous U.S. appearance of the novel. Tanton himself was quoted in the New York Times as having written to a friend, “For European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.” 

It is a promising time for the hard-line anti-immigrant elites.  A former executive director of FAIR, Julie Kirchner, is now an advisor to the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection. Jon Feere, a former CIS policy analyst, now works for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  Steve Bannon, strategy advisor to the President, has repeatedly referred to The Camp of the Saints in describing his thoughts on immigration policy.  Their thinking permeates actions and attitudes displayed by the current administration.

In such times, it is more critical than ever that human rights defenders such as The Advocates ceaselessly fight to implement national and international laws protecting refugees, and promote the application of a human rights framework to immigration policy.

To minimize the extent to which fear of The Other exists in this country, and in all the world, would be a mistake. But it would also be a mistake to ignore the wealthy elites who use that fear to support an agenda to keep America white.

Another Minnesotan, a Jew raised in a white Christian town in the northern part of the state, wrote a song after the assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. It was called “Only A Pawn in their Game.” Bob Dylan caused some controversy with the song, which seemed to mitigate the fault of Evers’ murderer, but Dylan’s point was that the racism of poor whites was being manipulated by elites with an agenda of their own. As is often the case with Dylan, the lyrics sound with considerable force today.

He’s taught in his school

From the start by the rule

That the laws are with him

To protect his white skin

To keep up his hate

So he never thinks straight

‘Bout the shape that he’s in

But it ain’t him to blame

He’s only a pawn in their game

Bob Dylan, “Only a Pawn in their Game”

 

By James O’Neal, volunteer attorney and Vice Chair of The Advocates for Human Rights’ Board of Directors.

Read the first article Cruelty as Policy: Part One here.

 

 

 

Nine Things Everyone Needs To Know About International LGBTI Rights

FeaturedNine Things Everyone Needs To Know About International LGBTI Rights

 

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May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT). Created in 2004 to raise awareness about the violence and discrimination experienced by LGBTI people internationally, it has become a worldwide celebration of sexual and gender diversities. The date of May 17 was chosen specifically to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision in 1990 to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

This year, IDAHOT’s theme focuses on families. This focus includes both the role of families in the well-being of their LGBTI members, as well as respect for the rights of LGBTI families (rainbow families).  Given the proximity in dates and values of the  International Family Equality Day (IFED) in early May, this year IFED and IDAHOT were combined for joint recognition and celebration.

In honor of IDAHOT 2017, we put together a list of nine basic things that everyone needs to know about international LGBTI rights.

1.

Internationally, the acronyms LGBT and LGBTI

(standing for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and

intersex”) are the most commonly used terms.

While many understand the meaning of the terms lesbian, gay and bisexual, some may be unfamiliar with the other terms. As defined by the United Nations’ Free & Equal Campaign, transgender (sometimes shortened to “trans”) is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of identities — including transsexual people, cross-dressers, people who identify as third gender, and others whose appearance and characteristics are perceived as gender atypical. Some transgender people seek surgery or take hormones to bring their body into alignment with their gender identity; others do not. An intersex person is born with sexual anatomy, reproductive organs, and/or chromosome patterns that do not fit the typical definition of male or female. An intersex person may identify as male or female or as neither. Intersex status is not about sexual orientation or gender identity: intersex people experience the same range of sexual orientations and gender identities (SOGI) as non-intersex people.

It is worth noting that other terms are also used when talking about LGBTI rights. In many countries, the term MSM (“men who have sex with men”) is also used, particularly in the public health context of the fight against HIV/AIDS. MSM is also used in recognition of the fact that some men engaged in same-sex relations may not identify as gay or bisexual. Different cultures also have their own terms to describe people who form same-sex relationships and those who exhibit non-binary gender identities (such as hijra, meti, lala, skesana, motsoalle, mithli, kuchu, kawein, muxé, fa’afafine, fakaleiti, hamjensgara and Two-Spirit).

2.

SOGI stands for “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.”

As the UN states, sexual orientation refers to a person’s physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction towards other people. Sexual orientation is not related to gender identity. Gender identity reflects a deeply felt and experienced sense of one’s own gender. For transgender people, there is an inconsistency between their sense of their own gender and the sex they were assigned at birth.

3.

Private, consensual same-sex conduct

is a crime in at least 76 countries.

Because of these discriminatory laws, millions of LGBTI persons around the world face the risk of arrest, prosecution and imprisonment every day. And in as many as 10 countries, same-sex acts can be punished with the death penalty.

Laws that criminalize private, consensual sexual relationships between adults violate the rights to privacy and to freedom from discrimination under international law. In addition to violating these basic rights, criminalization legitimizes prejudice in society at large and exposes people to hate crimes, police abuse, torture and family violence. The Advocates’ partner organization LGBT Voice Tanzania has reported that because Tanzania criminalizes homosexual conduct, police officers harass, abuse, and demean LGBTI people with impunity, and often disregard complaints brought by LGBTI persons about harassment from others. Police routinely use violence and coercion against the LGBTI community, including torture, blackmail, corrective rape, detention without charge, and arbitrary charges. Many are forced to bribe officers to get out of jail for these arbitrary charges.

Further, criminalization hampers efforts to halt the spread of HIV by deterring LGBT people from coming forward for testing and treatment for fear of revealing criminal activity.

4.

LGBTI people and rights are not a Western export.

LGBTI people exist everywhere — in all countries, among all ethnic groups, at all socioeconomic levels, and in all communities. Further, global archeological and anthropological evidence — from prehistoric rock paintings in South Africa and Egypt to ancient Indian medical texts and early Ottoman literature — show that LGBTI people have always been a part of our communities. In fact in many parts of the world, it was Western colonial powers that imposed the criminal laws that punish same-sex conduct.

Click on the interactive map below that shows how colonization spread homophobic legislation to many parts of the world.

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5.

Some countries are passing “gay propaganda” laws

and other discriminatory laws that limit the rights

to free speech, freedom of association, and assembly.

In 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law Federal Law 135, banning propaganda to minors about “non-traditional sexual relations.” Article 3(2)(b) of Federal Law 135 imposes administrative fines and, in the case of non-citizens, deportation, for:

Propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors, including

distribution of information that intends minors to adopt non-traditional

sexual orientations, that makes non-traditional sexual relations attractive,

that presents distorted conceptions of the social equivalence of traditional

and non-traditional sexual relations, or that imposes information about non-traditional sexual relations that evokes interest in these relations.

The vague language describing the prohibited conduct and the steep fines that escalate for individuals who distribute their “propaganda” on the internet are designed to chill speech and stifle any efforts to provide support to LGBTI youth in Russia.

Nearly identical proposals have been introduced throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with proposals currently are under discussion in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Lithuania and Indonesia.

6.

LGBTI persons around the world

experience widespread violence.

While official data on international homophobic and transphobic violence is difficult to obtain, the information that is available shows a clear pattern of widespread, brutal violence, often committed with impunity. Human rights violations experienced by LGBTI persons can include violent attacks, ranging from aggressive verbal abuse and psychological bullying to physical assault, beatings, torture, kidnapping and targeted killings. Sexual abuse and violence is also common, sometimes at the hands of the police. While violence can be perpetrated by individuals or groups and takes place in both public and private spaces, a common characteristic of many anti-LGBT hate crimes is their brutality. The torture and murder of Cameroonian activist Eric Ohena Lembembe in July 2013 is just one example, but one that hits close to home for The Advocates for Human Rights. Shortly before he was murdered, we partnered with Eric and his organization CAMFAIDS to write a report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people in Cameroon.

7.

LGBTI persons around the world experience

discriminatory treatment every day, in workplaces,

schools, family homes, and health care settings.

In Tanzania, for example, LGBTI youth are expelled from school simply because of actual or suspected sexual orientation or gender identity. Most of these youth are also rejected by their families and are left to fend for themselves. Anti-LGBTI discrimination in the health sector includes denial of service, verbal harassment and abuse, and violations of confidentiality, all justified by the criminalization of same-sex conduct. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported in 2015 that national laws in most countries do not provide adequate protection from employment-related discrimination on grounds of SOGI, allowing employers to fire or refuse to hire or promote people simply because they are perceived as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Map 2 for blog

Discrimination has a tremendous personal cost for those who experience it. Rates of poverty, homelessness, depression and suicide are far higher among LGBT people than in the general population. But the UN Free and Equal Campaign  argues that we all pay a price: a study of 39 countries showed that the marginalization of the LGBT community was causing a substantial loss of potential economic output. “Every LGBT child thrown out of home and forced to miss out on education is a loss for society. Every LGBT worker denied their rights is a lost opportunity to build a fairer and more productive economy.”

8.

International law protects LGBTI rights.

The right to equality and non-discrimination are core human rights principles included in the United Nations Charter, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and all multilateral human rights treaties. The equality and non-discrimination guarantee provided by international human rights law applies to ALL people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity or “other status.”

According to the United Nations, governments have core legal obligations to protect the human rights of LGBT people, including obligations to:

Protect individuals from homophobic and transphobic violence and prevent torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Countries should enact hate crime laws that discourage violence against individuals based on sexual orientation, and set up effective systems for reporting hate motivated acts of violence, including effectively investigating, and prosecuting perpetrators, bringing those responsible to justice. They should provide training to law enforcement officers and monitor places of detention, and provide a system for victims to seek remedies. Additionally, asylum laws and policies should recognize that persecution based on sexual orientation may be a valid basis for an asylum claim.

Repeal laws criminalizing homosexuality including all legislation that criminalizes private sexual conduct between consenting adults. Ensure that individuals are not arrested or detained on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity and are not subjected to any degrading physical examinations intended to determine their sexual orientation.

Prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Enact legislation that prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Provide education and training to prevent discrimination and stigmatization of LGBT and intersex people.

Safeguard freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly for all LGBT people and ensure that any restrictions on these rights – even where such restrictions purport to serve a legitimate purpose and are reasonable and proportionate in scope – are not discriminatory on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Promote a culture of equality and diversity that encompasses respect for the rights of LGBT people.

9.

You can take action to support LGBTI rights in

your community and around the world.

May 17 is the single most important annual date for global LGBTI mobilization and awareness raising. Research has shown that 17% of all annual discussions on Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia are generated around the IDAHOT. Those discussions are happening in almost every country in the world. Please share this article and others that raise awareness about LGBTI rights on social media.

Learn more about The Advocates for Human Rights’ work on LGBTI rights here. Read Staff attorney Amy Bergquist’s article about our strategies in “Moving Forward: Four Steps and Six Strategies For Promoting LGBTI Rights Around the World.”

By: Jennifer Prestholdt, The Advocates for Human Rights’ deputy director, and director of its International Justice Program. 

Learn more about #IDAHOT and ways to take action here.

We all need to keep keeping fighting for the rights of LGBTI persons, wherever they are in the world! In 2016, the UN Free & Equal Campaign released this inspiring video “Why We Fight” of courageous LGBTI activists and allies around the world and the rights that they are fighting for.

More posts by The Advocates for Human Rights on international  LGBTI rights:

Anti-LGBTI Discrimination Harms Efforts to Fight HIV/AIDS

African Commission Urges Cameroon to End LGBTI Discrimination

Leading By Example: The International Impact of Marriage Equality Ruling

African Commission to Consider Violence Perpetrated Because of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity

“Look at the details of Eric Ohena Lembembe’s life and you will understand why he died.”

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back for LGBTI Rights in Africa

Recent Anti-LGBTI Laws Violate Human Rights

Out in the Cold: LGBT Visibility at Olympics Key to Ending Homophobia

Russia’s “Gay Propaganda” Law: How U.S. Extremists are Fueling the Fight Against LGBTI Rights

Locking the Iron Closet: Russia’s Propaganda Law Isolates Vulnerable LGBTI Youth

The Wild East: Vigilante Violence against LGBTI Russians

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“During Apartheid, we were not white enough to enjoy our full human rights, and now, we are not black enough.”

South African laws and practices have discriminated against the minority Coloured community, especially their economic, social and cultural rights with respect to employment and housing, as well as the right to freedom of expression. The Advocates for Human Rights, along with our partner organization Camissa Movement for Equality, went to the United Nations Human Rights Council to raise our concerns in advance of South Africa’s Universal Periodic Review on May 10, 2017.

South African human rights defender Jerome Lottering presented this oral statement on behalf of The Advocates for Human Rights and Camissa Movement for Equality at the United Nations Human Rights Council on 22 March 2017.

Mr. [Vice] President

The Advocates for Human Rights, in collaboration with Camissa Movement, would like to thank the Council for its attention to mainstreaming human rights into public policies and to monitoring their implementation. As noted in the High Commissioner’s report, “leaving no one behind should be a key principle in the design and implementation of national policies.”

South Africa’s laws are designed to promote the human rights of the black population through affirmative action. In practice, however, these laws exclude the coloured people of South Africa. Coloured people are a distinct ethnic group of mixed race individuals. The legislation only refers to “black” people as a group. This allows stakeholders to only apply laws to black persons, thus excluding the coloured population from the very laws intended to help them. These laws and other policies are curtailing the human rights of coloured people to education, employment, and housing.

During Apartheid, we were not white enough to enjoy our full human rights, and now, we are not black enough. Even though laws are designed to affirmatively promote the rights of black people, they discriminate against the coloured people in practice. South Africa needs tools to monitor the implementation of laws, including a data tracking system with separate indicators for black, white, and coloured populations. We urge South Africa to monitor the implementation of its laws to avoid unintended consequences and safeguard the human rights of all persons, including the Coloured people of South Africa.

Thank you.

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of South Africa will take place on Wednesday, May 10, from 14:30-18:00 in Geneva, Switzerland.  The UPR session will be webcast live at this link: http://webtv.un.org/live-now/watch/30th-regular-session-of-the-human-rights-council/4473498400001.  )Later that day it will be posted in the archives of UN WebTV: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/) The Advocates will be livetweeting the recommendations made to South Africa on Twitter @The_Advocates.

The Advocates for Human Rights, along with partner organization Camissa Movement for Equality and Mondé World Films, submitted a UPR stakeholder report to the UN Human Rights Council in 2016 that addresses South Africa’s failure to protect the rights of minority group members. South African laws and practices have discriminated against the Coloured community, especially their economic, social and cultural rights with respect to employment and housing, as well as the right to freedom of expression.  The report makes recommendations that steps be taken to reduce and/or eliminate such discriminatory treatment of Coloured people in South Africa. Such steps include reform in the use of “target” percentages in employment plans, investigation into discrimination in subsidized housing application, and equal access to state media.

Read more about discrimination against the Coloured people of South Africa in the joint submission of The Advocates for Human Rights, Camissa Movement for Equality and Mondé World Films to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

 

 

 

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Uncovering hidden obstacles to the rights of persons with disabilities in Iran

IMG_3551The Advocates for Human Rights offers volunteers a remarkable and rewarding breadth of opportunities to effect change around the world. As an example, I recently had a chance to advocate for the rights of Iranians with disabilities when I traveled to Geneva, Switzerland with The Advocates to lobby the United Nations Human Rights Council on a variety of human rights issues.

A Persian Proverb says “A blind person who sees is better than a seeing person who is blind”:  Uncovering hidden obstacles to the rights of persons with disabilities in Iran.

Iran Under Review by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was considering the  initial report submitted by Iran since its adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008. In its report, and its opening remarks to the Committee, Iran painted a rosy picture of its progress in removing obstacles and providing greater equality and support for persons with disabilities.

Even without digging beneath the surface, though, the language of those documents displayed a continuing view that persons with disabilities are lesser beings. The State reported as an accomplishment, for example, that premarital genetic testing is required for all couples in Iran “in order to prevent the birth of children with disabilities.”

It is difficult to assess thoroughly the status of human rights in Iran because of the lack of independent civil society or non-governmental organizations (NGOs, like The Advocates) working on the ground there. Instead, Iran has what are called “GONGOs,” for “government-organized non-governmental organizations.” GONGOs often purport to act as watchdogs, but in reality they are mechanisms of the State. Members of our group were actively pursued and questioned by an Iranian GONGO whose representatives were very interested in finding out what we planned to tell the CRPD.

 Persons with Disabilities and the Death Penalty 

Despite the difficulties, The Advocates were able to identify and report on several specific areas of concern.  They presented to the CRPD a shadow report that addressed issues related to the justice system. Iran provides no procedural safeguards in its death penalty process for individuals with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities. Those familiar with U.S. death penalty law know that there is a significant body of case law addressing the execution of defendants with such disabilities, including a number of Supreme Court decisions. The Advocates urged the CRPD to recommend that Iran suspend its death penalty for people with these disabilities, and take steps to ensure proper safeguards in future cases. While opposing the death penalty in all instances, The Advocates sought a recommendation that the law not provide lesser punishments for crimes against victims with disabilities.

Private Briefings and Public Hearings

I attended an interesting private briefing, during which The Advocates’ Amy Bergquist provided members of the CRPD with details on Iran’s use of amputation as a punishment for certain crimes, such as theft.  Examples were given of the amputation of fingers, hands or feet, and the use of chemical blinding.  The defendant may not have any disabilities when the sentence is given, but is left afterward with a disability imposed by the government. Since defendants are often poor and lack education, this likely leaves them with little ability to find work.  The stigma associated with this visible disability and its well-understood origin put the individual at a severe disadvantage for life.

I was also able to attend public hearings at which Iran’s delegation responded to a list of issues and concerns raised by the CRPD. Some of the questions touched on issues discussed at our earlier private briefing. Most of the answers were vague and circular, providing little in the way of actual facts and data, despite specific requests for these, or evidence of progress.  There was a great deal of talk about meetings, trainings, brochures and pamphlets, and more meetings, but seemingly little in the way of concrete results. Some CRPD members pointedly remarked on the lack of answers.

Outcomes and Lessons Learned

The outcomes of the process, the CRPD’s “concluding observations”  were published in April. I was pleased to see that the CRPD included concerns and recommendations on issues that had been raised by The Advocates, as well as on LGBT rights.  The CRPD’s stated concerns included “the enforcement of mutilation as a form of criminal sentence, and the stigmatization against persons who have impairment as a consequence of such punishment,” as raised in our private briefing.

The CRPD also noted that “persons with disabilities, particularly persons with psychosocial and/or intellectual disabilities may be at risk of facing a greater risk of death penalty due to lack of procedural accommodations, in criminal proceedings,” as addressed in The Advocates’ shadow report.

The CRPD also expressed concern about “discrimination against persons perceived to have a disability, including on the grounds of gender identity and sexual orientation, being forced to undergo medical treatment.”

One of the lessons of this work has been the need for and value of patience. UN treaty bodies like the CRPD can’t simply order a country to change its conduct. The language of international diplomacy sometimes seems, to a newcomer like me, less strong than it ought to be. But participants in the process understand expressions of “concern” to indicate that the requirements of the convention are, in the CRPD’s opinion, not being upheld. Accompanying recommendations for resolving these concerns will be the subject of thorough review in the future, and Iran will be required to account for its implementation of, or failure to implement them.

International scrutiny, and international pressure, can change the course of a country’s conduct as the flow of water erodes rock and changes a river’s course. The change is incremental, but real and lasting.

By Lisa Borden, Birmingham-based Pro Bono Shareholder at Baker Donelson where her own pro bono legal work focuses on representation of indigent death row inmates in post-conviction proceedings.  Ms. Borden volunteers with The Advocates for Human Rights’ International Justice Program and traveled to the United Nations in Geneva with The Advocates’ team in March 2017 and March 2015.

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Hate groups, incidents proliferating in U.S., The Advocates tells UN Human Rights Council

The increase in hate groups in the United States and the rise in incidents targeting migrants, refugees, and other groups were the focus of an oral statement made to the United Nations Human Rights Council by The Advocates for Human Rights.  The Advocates for Human Rights’ Deputy Director Jennifer Prestholdt delivered the following oral statement on March 17, 2017 during the Human Rights Council’s debate on racial profiling and incitement to hatred, including in the context of migration.

Mr. President:

The Advocates for Human Rights is deeply concerned about the rise in incidents targeting migrants, refugees, and racial, ethnic, and religious minorities in the United States, as well as the proliferation of hate groups.  Of greatest concern, however, is that some who have actively supported racist and xenophobic positions have assumed powerful leadership and advisory roles in the executive branch, lending an air of legitimacy to those views.

Recent changes to immigration policy raise serious concerns about racial and national origin profiling by the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE “deports by attrition” by making undocumented migrants fearful of remaining in the U.S. Indeed, ICE arrests have increased sharply and we have received numerous reports of people being taken into custody outside courtrooms, in vehicles, and at their homes.

Local law enforcement has turned over thousands to ICE following traffic stops or other encounters. To facilitate removal, ICE routinely interrogates these migrants without counsel, intimidating them into agreeing to be deported without a hearing. An estimated 75% of deportees waive all legal rights, including claims to asylum, protection under CAT, and claims based on family unity.

These policies erode trust between immigrants and law enforcement, a trust many communities have worked to build in the interest of public safety.  Yet the administration’s January 25 executive order on domestic immigration enforcement would bar federal funding to jurisdictions that adopt community policing policies.

The Advocates for Human Rights is deeply concerned about the profiling and religious discrimination inherent in the administration’s most recent attempt to ban entry of people from 6 majority-Muslim countries and to halt the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. People who are or are perceived to be Muslim report facing additional scrutiny upon entry into the U.S. and their family members living abroad face an uncertain future.

The Advocates for Human Rights encourages the Human Rights Council to keep this issue at the forefront of its agenda.  Further, we call on all Member States, including the United States, to honor non-refoulement obligations and ensure that national immigration policies, as well as law enforcement practices, do not discriminate based on race, national origin or other status.

Thank you.