Our Work: Eradicating Violence Against Women

Our Work: Eradicating Violence Against Women

Kofi Annan said this when he was secretary-general of the United Nations:

Violence against women is perhaps the most shameful human rights violation. And, it is perhaps the most pervasive. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth. As long as it continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development and peace.

Think about that: the most pervasive violation of human rights.

The Advocates for Human Rights, through our Women’s Human Rights Program—and indeed through all of our programs—has a proud history of standing up for women and fighting against gender discrimination and violence. We are fighting at every level.

In the immediate term, we help make women safe by bringing their asylum claims to get them away from their abusers and away from the governments that refuse to protect them.

We also help at the level of changing bad laws. In North Africa, we helped bring about the repeal of laws in Morocco and Tunisia that had allowed rapists to escape prosecution if they married their victims. We also were instrumental in getting Mongolia to make domestic violence a crime for the first time in its history, and in getting Croatia to recriminalize domestic violence after the government had actually taken it out of the criminal code.

Finally, we know that laws are of little use if they aren’t enforced, so we help at the level of monitoring and education. Here in Minnesota, we educated law enforcement and licensing personnel about sex trafficking, leading to a whole new focus on prosecuting the traffickers rather than the victims of trafficking. Because of this work, more than 20 different Minneapolis businesses that were fronts for sex trafficking were identified and closed.

But we all know how much more must be done. Beating and torture of domestic partners is still too often, in too many places, thought of as a family matter, and governments won’t intervene. Vladimir Putin’s Russia has decriminalized domestic violence just as Croatia did, and is also targeting and successfully shutting down human rights organizations there by claiming they are spies.

Then, of course, there is our own country, which has proclaimed by attorney general fiat that even horrendous domestic violence without government recourse should not be grounds for asylum, arresting and jailing, with “zero tolerance,” adult refugees and their children who present at our borders with a legal claim to asylum—people whose only “crime” was to flee beatings or rape or torture and seek a better life in America.

We have to help all women who suffer violence and abuse, but we cannot do our work without your help. Our budget is tiny compared to the impact we’ve had. That’s because our model is to bring the extraordinary resources of our community, including many of the best and the brightest activists and lawyers, to achieve far more than our small size and budget suggest that we could. The only thing that limits us is having the resources to train, coordinate and support even more of this amazing talent.

Many of us see the horrific things on the news and ask ourselves, “What can I do?” Here are two things you can do right now. First, call your Congressional representative to express your outrage over what our country is doing at the border.

Second, go to www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org and make a financial donation to the Advocates. Now is the time to step up, pull out your checkbook or credit card, give a little more than you thought you would, respond to the call. Speaking personally, I know from direct experience and observation, there is no better place for my family to focus our financial giving than this shining Minnesota beacon of hope called The Advocates for Human Rights.

If you look at the news and ask yourself “What can I do?” that’s what you can do and you can do it now.

By James A. O’Neal, Chair, Board of Directors, the Advocates for Human Rights

This post paraphrases remarks given by Mr. O’Neal at the Human Rights Awards Dinner on June 21, 2018.

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The Government is Dragging Us Back Decades in the Protection of Women’s Human Rights

FeaturedThe Government is Dragging Us Back Decades in the Protection of Women’s Human Rights

In my 25 years as a human rights advocate, I have learned that it is very difficult to be female in many parts of the world.  In spite of this reality, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is dragging us back decades in the protection of women’s human rights. His recent rejection of the decision in the Matter of A-B shows a callous disregard for the lived experiences of women.

In many countries, girls are aborted or killed as infants solely because they are female. Some die during traditional rituals such as female genital mutilation. Other girls are married off as children, trafficked for sex, or sold as domestic servants. As adults, women face violence in their homes, the streets, or at the hands of their governments. Some women are prohibited from doing certain kinds of work by archaic labor laws developed based on stereotypes and prejudices about women. Others endure harassment and demeaning work conditions just to make a living.

It took the United Nations more than 45 years to acknowledge women’s rights as human rights and violence against women as a human rights violation. It long ago acknowledged that governments are accountable for the human rights they commit as well as those they systematically fail to prevent. Kofi Annan identified violence against women as the most widespread human rights abuse in the world. Governments around the world have slowly been adopting laws to address violence, but we see enormous difficulties in properly implementing laws to provide adequate protections.

This new recognition that legal protections should reflect the experiences of women was slowly being reflected in refugee and asylum law in the United States. Over the past two decades we have seen the definition of social group, an identified group who should be protected from persecution, extended to victims of domestic violence when their government cannot or will not protect them. These life-saving developments recognized that previous interpretations of the l aw ignored these human rights abuses against women.  Domestic violence is not a family matter, it is a global epidemic and the stakes could not be higher.

Another thing I learned is that governments around the world are failing women. I have heard countless stories over the years about women calling the police or presenting themselves to prosecutors seeking protection from abusive spouses. They are taunted, ignored, and turned away. We have seen some improvement in laws and practices, but they have not stemmed the tide of abuse and women are still being injured and killed at alarming rates.  In some cases, women are ignored because their husbands are police officers, military or high ranking government officials. In other cases, the women are just not believed.

I remember one particularly compelling interview when I first started doing this work. A beautiful young woman in prison in Albania told me about the violence and abuse she experienced at the hands of her husband. He bruised her, broke her bones and made her bleed until she fainted. She tried over and over again to get help from the police and the prosecutors and was routinely turned away and told it was a family matter. After a particularly brutal beating that left her unconscious, she woke to the sight of her husband preparing to sexually assault their daughter. She leapt to her daughter’s defense, attacking her husband. He died as a result of the injuries. She was prosecuted and sentenced to prison for the man’s death. This woman, repeatedly failed by her own government, would not be provided asylum by our government today if Jeff Sessions has his way. It is up to all of us to make sure he doesn’t.

Robin Phillips is the executive director of The Advocates for Human Rights. She is an attorney and has written extensively about human rights, including trafficking in women, employment discrimination, sexual harassment, and domestic violence.

People are breaking U.S. immigration law at the border, but it’s not asylum seekers – it’s the U.S. government.

FeaturedPeople are breaking U.S. immigration law at the border, but it’s not asylum seekers – it’s the U.S. government.

The effects of the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy have been immediate and tragic. Just two months after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero-tolerance” policy for people arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border and a month after he made clear this would mean parents arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border would be prosecuted for illegal entry and their children taken away, story after story of separated families have appeared. Mr. Sessions also made clear that this zero-tolerance policy applies even to those seeking asylum.

So it’s no surprise that reports of U.S. border guards refusing to allow asylum seekers to make their claims continue to emerge.

People seeking asylum are following the law, not breaking it.

Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution. This is the law – both under international law and federal statute. Recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and spelled out in the 1951 Refugee Convention , the United States made good on its commitment to the this principle in 1980 when the Refugee Act was signed into law.

This right ensures that people fleeing persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group have a chance to make their claim before being returned to death, torture, imprisonment, or other human rights violations.

The moral and human cost of ignoring this fundamental human right is high. Witness the voyage of the St. Louis in 1939, when U.S. immigration law’s restrictive immigration quotas resulted in the return of 532 passengers to continental Europe, 254 of whom died during the Holocaust.

U.S. border officials violate the law when they turn back asylum seekers without a hearing.

In the aftermath of World War II, the world community recognized that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom.[1] That principle, known to refugee policy wonks as “non-refoulement,” is now a rule of customary international law.[2]

Refusing to allow people to make their asylum claims, as U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials reportedly did this week in El Paso, violates U.S. law and violates U.S. treaty obligations. These complaints are not new or isolated: last summer, for example, the American Immigration Council challenged CBP’s unlawful practice of turning away asylum seekers arriving in California. The case remains pending.

The administration’s efforts to prosecute of asylum seekers who appear at ports-of-entry and separate them from their children also violate international law. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani rebuked the U.S. in a June 5 statement:

“The current policy in the United States of separating ‘extremely young children’ from their asylum-seeker or migrant parents along the country’s southern border ‘always constitutes a child rights violation.’” [3]

A federal judge agrees that the administration’s practice may violate the U.S. Constitution. In a ruling earlier this week, the judge denied the government’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the ACLU challenging the practice.

While the administration claims it wants immigrants to “follow the law,” it seems blind to the fact that people who appear at ports-of-entry and claim asylum In addition to The Refugee Convention also prohibits the U.S. from imposing penalties on asylum seekers on account of their illegal entry or presence.[4] In order to deter asylum seekers from coming to the United States.

We need zero tolerance for human rights violations, not for people seeking asylum.

We need zero tolerance for public policy based on hate, racism, and xenophobia. While the administration’s new policies are ripping families apart and denying people their fundamental right to seek asylum, the policies have not slowed the arrival of people seeking protection. More than 50,000 people were arrested crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in May, the third month in a row with more than 50,000 arrests. A report by the Vera Institute of Justice released this week found no evidence that criminal prosecutions led to a decline in apprehensions along the Southwest border.

This is hardly surprising. People fleeing for their lives don’t consult presidential Twitter feeds or check Justice Department press releases. Like good parents everywhere, they go where they hope their children will be able to grow up in safety, protected by the rule of law and the principles of human rights.

[1] 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Article 33(1).

[2] Customary international law is

[3] While the United States stands alone among the world’s nations as the only country not to have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, international law is clear that the family is entitled to respect and protection. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, article 16(3), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, article 23(1), and American Convention on Human Rights, 1969, article 17(1) each state that ‘The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State’.  European Social Charter, 1961, article 16, ‘With a view to ensuring the necessary conditions for the full development of the family, which is a fundamental unit of society, the Contracting Parties undertake to promote the economic, legal and social protection of family life ….’ African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 1981, article 18(1) ‘The family shall be the natural unit and basis of society.  It shall be protected by the State which shall take care of its physical and moral health.’

[4] 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Article 31 (1).

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What’s it like to be an Advocate for Human Rights? An interview with Courtnie Gore

Courtnie Gore

Courtnie Gore is an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow with The Advocates’ Refugee and Immigrant Program. Equal Justice Works is an organization that funds internships and programs for lots of different causes. The focus of Courtnie’s fellowship is immigration.

What are some of the benefits of working as a legal fellow?

The guidance – The learning curve is heavy in any practice. One beautiful thing about a fellowship is that you’re still somewhat of a student while still being a legal professional. You get training and you get to work with others in the community. Not to say you can make careless mistakes, but you can make procedural hiccups, and you can have a coach to guide you through that process.

What are the requirements of your fellowship?

Within my fellowship I have to represent a minimum of 30 children. Right now I have 34, and I think I have one more coming in next week. I started in September 2016. My fellowship is for a year, and it was extended through March 2018. For the fellowship you need 1700 hours of work in the year. The hours aren’t hard to meet if you’re engaged.  The number of clients was at first intimidating.  20 percent of the fellowship can be dedicated to training; 80 percent has to be hands-on work. Within the fellowship, you are afforded the opportunity to attend numerous conferences and training sessions. Immigration is kind of an enigma because one day you walk into the office and federal procedures have completely changed. With the conferences, you get a firsthand playbook of what is soon to come.  Panel members and experts at conferences will say “Here’s what you should work on because I work on the Hill and this bill is in the works..”. I do have the opportunity to reach out to the other Equal Justice Works fellows for networking, but I have so much support here at The Advocates because I don’t really have to reach out much.

Tell us about your job. What are the core component and responsibilities?

I represent unaccompanied minors seeking asylum here in the United States. I represent children who have come here without their parents/guardians.   I represent these children because they have experienced such terrible persecution that they cannot return to their home countries. These children are forgoing the opportunity to see their families, friends, or their countries of origin in applying for asylum.  That is how grave their persecution is. I advocate for them in court and also help them with their asylum applications. I gather corroborating evidence – stories from other family members, country condition reports, documents of identification, to support their stories.  I also assist them with their asylum interview. I get to litigate, practice, and of course use my legal writing and research skills to draft legal briefs and other documentation. I get to be a resource for them outside of their legal needs. These children to the U.S. come without financial and emotional stability. Thank God for the resources of The Advocates. I’ve been able to make referrals for dentists, doctors, therapists, school, ESL classes, and so many other things. I also serve as a resource for pro bono attorneys who take on these cases because most of our pro bono attorneys are not immigration attorneys. They’re just wonderful people who want to do something more. So I’m always in touch with pro bono attorneys. I also help clients who have other claims. Sometimes clients will come in with an asylum claim, but we’ll discover that they also have a U-visa claim, or a T-visa claim.

So I keep my clients informed about their rights, I connect pro bono attorneys, and I also help to conduct trainings and outreach Throughout Minnesota and the Dakotas.

Describe your typical day/ week at work.

I don’t have an answer for that. I come in and fill up my water bottle – that is the most consistent thing about a day at The Advocates. I love not having the same thing to do every day. I will make a schedule for myself, and all of that will be tossed out of the window. There will be a walk-in person and they have a filing deadline next week, or a need that is urgent. I really have to flexible and detailed to make sure that these needs are met.  My typical day, depends on the need.

It’s all a matter of prioritizing. I do like to make sure that whatever a client needs – they have.  However, it’s important to assess your capabilities and your time.  Most of our clients’ needs are urgent and real, so it’s very important to prioritize. Checking in with my supervisor helps me to best allot my time and resources.

What kinds of problems do you face on a day-to-day basis?

There’s just not enough time in the day. I think this is true of any organization that serves a public interest need

What do you like least about working at The Advocates?

That there aren’t enough hours in a day.

What do you like most about working in this field?

The kids. Oh my gosh. I attribute this to my height, but every time I meet with a client, they’re taller than they were at the previous meeting. Just seeing their progression, and how happy they are gives me such joy. They’re great people. All children deserve health and happiness, and they deserve a chance at life.

How old are your clients?

My youngest client is 6. My oldest is 17.

What is it like to work for this particular organization? How would you describe the culture at The Advocates?

I appreciate how much autonomy I have to do my work. No one micromanages you. Supervisors will check in, but you’re given a lot of freedom and chances to mold what ever it is you need to do to provide the best representation to your client.

It’s a welcoming environment. I have never been afraid to ask a question – and that’s not common in the legal field.  Even though I’m a fellow, I feel like I am part of the team. We are all working together for the common good. There is no ego. Working with the Refugee & Immigrant Program has been amazing.

Why did you decide to work in this field and how did you get started? Tell us about your career path that led you to this job.

I always knew I wanted to do something in the legal field. When I was 14, I went with my church, Mt. Gilead Full Gospel International Ministries, to Uganda. At the time there was this huge civil war. I was charged with children’s’ ministry.  So many children had been orphaned because of the war. So I was teaching, providing them with resources, and food. This was my first international trip. And after left I knew I wanted to change the world for the better. I didn’t know in what capacity at that time.  Immigration is the current avenue I’m pursuing in order to change the world for the better.

What experience best prepared you for this job?

Missionary work, without a doubt best prepared me for this position. I will say that one of my mentors, Pastor Julian Dangerfield, took me aside one day when we were in Uganda. I was a teenager who had a bit of an attitude that day because things weren’t necessarily going the way I planned.  He gave me some of the most important advice I’ve ever received: “Go with the flow and take the low road.” That moment for me was vital in my growth, both as a person and as professional. It’s not about you – you are serving people that have a need that is greater than you’ll ever imagine. It is not about being seen as the hero. You have to let go of your ego.

What do you wish you had known starting out in this field? What would you do differently if you were to do it again?

I wish I would have known how new government changes were going to impact the field of immigration, and the impact has been fear. I’ve had clients not show up to court because they think it’s better to have a low profile. We have one client whose mother is eligible for three claims of relief, but she doesn’t feel as though she should pursue them. I wish I would have prepared myself to answer some of those questions and to address those fears. But it’s a good time to be in this position, if you are passionate about the law and serving others.

Tell us about your career path.

My first internship ever was with the Catholic Charities – it was a summer internship and I was helping refugees get bus passes and furniture for their new apartments. This was my first introduction to refugee and immigration work.

In law school I started with a clerkship for the Honorable Margaret M. Marrinan. This experience was incredible. I learned that I wanted to be a litigator and I that wanted to be in court. My second-year summer of law school, I wanted to try international corporate law, so I worked for a firm in Africa. I loved the international work and being in Africa, but I still felt guilty. I was serving a country, but I still didn’t feel like I was helping the most vulnerable populations.

So I ended up coming back and working as a legal consultant with Mano a Mano, a non-profit, non-governmental organization, and then interned for the NAACP.  There was, and still is, a huge issue with police brutality, so I collaborated with the President of the St. Paul chapter for students to know their rights. We created these programs to help them understand the constitution.

After law school I started working in business immigration I loved learning about business immigration, but still needed to do a little more to feel fulfilled.  In that role, I saw this opportunity with the Advocates, and I jumped on it.

Would you recommend a law and/or a graduate in specific areas?

I think a law degree is helpful, but if you don’t have one that doesn’t mean you can’t help.  There are people who assist and advocate for clients in many other ways.  If you have time, resources, or a skill, please get involved because the need is indeed great.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in getting involved?

Just do it.

If you feel like it, jump in and help. You are needed.

Read Courtnie Gore’s reflections and the tips she has learned in her first year of working with clients who are unaccompanied minors in Preparing a Minor for an Asylum Interview: Five Challenges.

 

 

 

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How The Advocates brings the stories of women and children fleeing violence to the international stage

UN HRC room
The Human Rights Council chambers in Geneva, Switzerland. UN Photo/Elma Okic. Source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=56915#.WjhEE7T83_Q

Since 2014, a growing number of women and children fleeing gender-based violence in Guatemala have requested legal assistance from The Advocates in applying for asylum in the United States. Using information from interviews with these clients, The Advocates documented violence against women in Guatemala and submitted a stakeholder report to the United Nations Human Rights Council for consideration during Guatemala’s third-cycle Universal Periodic Review, which took place on November 8, 2017.

Violence against women remains a serious problem in Guatemala, especially as the country continues to struggle to implement protective measures and programs. In the first ten months of 2015, the public ministry reported receiving 11,449 reports of sexual or physical aggression against women. In the first seven months of 2015, there were 29,128 complaints of domestic violence against women and 501 violent deaths of women.

Due to lack of protection and high rates of impunity, many women choose to leave the country rather than face potential reprisals and stigma. Domestic violence is also a significant push factor for unaccompanied child migrants.

The Advocates is able to help these women and children in two important ways: providing legal assistance in their asylum cases and using their experiences to advocate at the United Nations for law and policy changes in their home country of Guatemala.

There are several steps involved in bringing these individual stories to an international stage.

First, The Advocates drafted a report documenting violence against women in Guatemala, based on research on country conditions and client interviews. The Advocates submitted this stakeholder report to the Human Rights Council for consideration during Guatemala’s Universal Periodic Review. After the report was complete, I drafted a two-page summary that outlined the key information and suggested recommendations. I then reviewed countries that made recommendations to Guatemala during its second UPR in 2012, and selected 27 countries to lobby based on their past support for eliminating gender-based violence. I emailed these countries, thanking them for their interest in women’s issues and updating them on the status of past recommendations they made to Guatemala. I sent them the full report on Guatemala as well as the summary document.

The purpose of lobbying other countries is twofold— to alert the country to the dire situation in Guatemala and to provide suggested recommendations based on our report. The country under review must acknowledge the recommendations, which can serve as a rebuke for missteps as well as a blueprint for areas to improve.

For example, Guatemala received and accepted recommendations during its second-cycle UPR in 2012 to strengthen the 2008 Law Against Femicide. In order to implement these recommendations, the government established several agencies and institutions to give effect to the law, and created lower level courts. Yet weak implementation of these tools meant there was little reduction in levels of violence against women. In addition, there is no law against sexual harassment, despite its ubiquity. The partial implementation of these 2012 recommendations speaks to the importance of creating targeted recommendations, the success of which can be measured on a defined timeline.

Guatemala photo 2 Guatemala delegation
The delegation from Guatemala, led by H.E. Mr Jorge Luis Borrayo Reyes, President of the Presidential Coordinating Commission of Guatemala, delivers an introductory statement during the November 8th, 2017 UPR of Guatemala. Source: http://webtv.un.org/search/guatemala-review-28th-session-of-universal-periodic-review/5639386301001/?term=&lan=english&cat=UPR%2028th&sort=date&page=3#

After the UN published the recommendations made during the November 8th UPR, I reviewed them to determine the success of our lobbying efforts. Of the 27 countries we contacted, seven of them made recommendations, five of which Guatemala accepted. Interestingly, the number of VAW-specific recommendations made to Guatemala remained fairly constant from 2012 (30 recommendations) to 2017 (31), but the makeup of the countries making the recommendations changed. In 2017, 77% of the VAW recommendations were made by countries that did not make a VAW recommendation in 2012. This shift suggests that a wider group of countries is taking note of the situation in Guatemala and willing to use their platform at the UN to advocate for women. It also suggests we should expand our lobbying efforts to target additional countries.

I was pleased to see the following recommendation from Spain, a country we targeted with our lobbying:

“Allocate sufficient resources to specialized courts and tribunals with jurisdiction over femicide and other forms of violence against women as well as move towards the full implementation of the Law against Femicide and Other Forms of Violence against Women.”

 

Guatemala photo 3 Spain gives rec
Mr. Emilio Pin, the representative to the UN Human Rights Council from Spain, delivers Spain’s recommendations to Guatemala during the November 8th UPR. Source: http://webtv.un.org/search/guatemala-review-28th-session-of-universal-periodic-review/5639386301001/?term=&lan=english&cat=UPR%2028th&sort=date&page=3#

This recommendation indicates that Spain acknowledges steps Guatemala has taken (specialized tribunals, partial implementation of the Law against Femicide) and points out a key gap in the implementation of these efforts: lack of government resources.

It’s incredibly powerful to see this recommendation and other calls to action that grew out of The Advocates’ client testimonies.

Guatemala accepted 28 of the 31 VAW-specific recommendations and will have five years before its next review to work on implementing them. I hope, the country will continue to build on past work and use the recommendations made during this review to effect meaningful change.

By Laura Dahl, a 2017 graduate of the University of Minnesota with a degree in Global Studies and Neuroscience. She is a Fall 2017 intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.

This post is the second in a series on The Advocates’ international advocacy.  The series highlights The Advocates work with partners to bring human rights issues in multiple countries to the attention of the United Nations Human Rights Council through the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. Additional post in the series include:

The Advocates’ lobbying against the death penalty packs a big punch at the Universal Periodic Review of Japan

Sri Lanka’s Evolving Stance on the Death Penalty

Ukraine delays decision on Universal Periodic Review recommendations on domestic violence

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Burundi: The Human Rights Crisis You May Not Have Heard Of

Protesters carry a Burundi flag during a protest against President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to run for a third term in Bujumbura
Demonstrators carry a Burundian flag during a protest in Bujumbura, Burundi. Photo: Reuters/G. Tomasevic

As an International Justice Program intern with The Advocates for Human Rights, I have encountered many examples of human rights abuses throughout the world. Yet, while the recent drama of domestic politics continues to dominate the attention of American citizens, these international human rights violations go largely unreported and unaccounted for in U.S. media. The ongoing human rights crisis gripping the state of Burundi presents one such example as members of civil society continue to face politically-based violence at the hands of the ruling party.

April 2015 marked the start of a political and human rights crisis in Burundi that has claimed hundreds of lives. Violence flared following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a controversial third term and subsequent, political protests. Police and security forces responded by exercising excessive force and shooting demonstrators indiscriminately.

After a failed coup d’état by military officers in May 2015, the Government intensified its repression of political dissent by suspending most of the country’s independent radio stations. In addition, journalists and human rights defenders face violence and increasing restrictions on their rights to freedom of expression and association. Recently adopted legislation further limits the ability of non-governmental organizations to operate and for civil society to participate in public life. By mid-2015, most of Burundi’s opposition party leaders, independent journalists and civil society activists had fled the country after receiving repeated threats.

The human rights crisis that gripped Burundi in 2015 deepened in 2016 as government forces targeted perceived political opponents with increased brutality. The Burundian National Defense Forces (BNDF) and the Burundian National Intelligence Service (SNR)—often in collaboration with members of the ruling party’s youth league, known as Imbonerakure—committed numerous killings, disappearances, abductions, torture, rape, and arbitrary arrests against the perceived opponents of the ruling party.

For perpetrators of these crimes associated with the ruling party, there is almost total impunity. The ruling party continues to interfere with Burundi’s weak justice system and therefore these human rights abuses are rarely punished. The government’s suspected political opponents have been arrested and held for prolonged periods unlawfully. Ultimately, an average of more than one thousand people fleeing the violence escaped to nearby Tanzania per day in 2016 to join the 250,000 already spread across Eastern Africa.

The Advocates’ Refugee and Immigrant Program provides legal representation to individuals seeking asylum.  The Advocates has received direct information about suppression of political opinion in Burundi from survivors fleeing human rights abuses in the country to seek asylum in the United States. Our clients share stories of being accused, often arbitrarily, of supporting anti-government protests. They report police and Imbonerakure members searching their homes, looting their businesses, and arresting, beating and interrogating them and their family members. While each client’s case is different, their experiences confirm that the legal system and policies in Burundi are failing to provide individuals with adequate protection from politically-based violence.

In July, The Advocates for Human Rights submitted a stakeholder’s report to the Universal Periodic Review, identifying specific measures that the Burundian Government should enact to address political suppression in the country.

First, Burundi should combat impunity by systematically and promptly carrying out investigations of criminal activity committed by government affiliates and ensure appropriate compensation for such crimes. In the previous UPR, the Government of Burundi accepted recommendations to continue efforts toward combatting impunity including the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. While the Commission was established in 2016, serious concerns exist regarding the Commission’s ability to fulfill its mandate with the expanded use of temporary immunities which have de facto become permanent amnesty schemes. Burundi should then establish an independent mechanism for investigating complaints of torture or ill-treatment at the hands of members of police or security forces to ensure accountability for perpetrators of human rights violations.

Second, the Government should take the necessary steps to ensure that legal systems and policies are in full compliance with Burundi’s international obligations with respect to freedom of expression. During its last UPR, Burundi rejected 15 recommendations related to freedom of expression and association, as well as protections for human rights defenders. Burundi must afford journalists and human rights defenders the freedom to carry out their work independently and without fear of persecution or intimidation.

Overall, Burundi is failing to meet its international obligations to investigate and prosecute political-based violence perpetrated on behalf of the ruling party. Security forces, intelligence services, and Imbonerakure members are repeatedly identified as responsible for extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, abductions, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and ill-treatment, and sexual violence. The Burundian Government must act to combat impunity and protect civil society members from such human rights violations.

With the ongoing human rights crisis gripping the state of Burundi, members of civil society continue to face politically-based violence at the hands of the ruling party. Unfortunately, these human rights violations continue to go largely unreported and unaccounted for in U.S. media. Although American domestic politics seem to dominate the current political discourse, we all need to remain vigilant and afford these international, human rights violations the attention they deserve.

By April Will, a second-year J.D. student (class of 2019) at the University of Minnesota Law School. She is a 2017 summer intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.  

 The Advocates’ stakeholder submission to the UN Human Rights Council for Burundi’s Universal Periodic Review includes direct information about human rights violations from survivors who have fled Burundi to seek asylum in the United States.  Read the full report here.

Related post:  Giving our asylum clients from Burundi a voice at the United Nations

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Supreme Court orders reargument in indefinite detention case

Child or woman's hand in jailLast week, the Supreme Court ordered reargument in Jennings v. Rodriguez.  The case challenges whether detention for indefinite periods of time without review defies the constitution.  

This year, there could be up to 500,000 people detained in federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers, jails, and private prisonsWhile some are detained a few weeks, others may be held for months or even years while they challenge their removal before the immigration courts and on appeal.   

 

The initial challenge to indefinite detention, Rodriguez, et al. v. Robbins, et al., was filed in 2007 at the federal district courtAlejandro Rodriguez, who had been detained for 3 years awaiting his deportation without a bond hearing, challenged the government’s authority to detain him indefinitely. The Ninth Circuit upheld the lower court’s order requiring the detainees to receive bond hearings after six months of detention and every six months following to address their detainment while pending their deportation proceedings.  

Throughout the Ninth Circuit, Rodriguez hearings have been provided regularly, resulting in the release of people from detention while they pursue their claims to remain in the United States. Following the Court’s order, people detained outside the Ninth Circuit will continue to face indefinite detention until the Court rules next year.

The Advocates for Human Rights recognizes the fundamental human rights of the rights of asylum, due process, fair deportation procedures, freedom from arbitrary detention, family unity, as well as other rights as an approach to immigration.

By Michele Garnett McKenzie, Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights