Today, October 10, is the World Day Against the Death Penalty. I am thinking back to a conference I attended in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, just a few weeks ago, on strategies for abolishing the death penalty. The conference, in partnership with Together Against the Death Penalty (ECPM), included two full days of presentations, discussions, and exhibitions. ECPM invited me to lead workshops on the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review and on conducting fact-finding to document conditions on death row in the DRC.
I found one part of the conference to be particularly powerful. As part of ECPM’s “Draw Me the Abolition” project, students around the world submitted illustrations of their conceptions of the death penalty. Four Congolese finalists were awarded diplomas at the conference and we were able to see all of the winning artwork on display. Their illustrations serve as a powerful testament to the harsh realities of the death penalty.
Below are some of the Congolese finalists and their extraordinary artwork, along with other winning posters. The illustrations, rife with pain, are indicative of the injustice of the death penalty.
Which posters do you find most compelling? Share this blog post to spread the word
Attend the upcoming screening of The Penalty at the Twin Cities Film Fest (Wednesday, Oct. 25, 7:20 pm) and stay for the post-film discussion, including The Advocates’ Executive Director Robin Phillips
Follow The Advocates for Human Rights and The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty on social media
Share why you oppose the death penalty on social media, using the hashtag #NoDeathPenalty
Organize an event in your community
Write to a prisoner on death row
Call on the federal government to impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty
If you live in a state that still has the death penalty, call on your elected officials to end the death penalty and call on prosecutors to stop seeking the death penalty
By Amy Bergquist, The Advocates’ International Justice Program staff attorney.
This is the third in the “Welcome Home” blog series featuring articles about groups that represent diaspora communities in Minnesota. Read additional posts here.
Minnesota is home to not only the largest Oromo community in the United States, but also the largest population of Oromo people outside of Ethiopia. The Oromo people have arrived in Minnesota over the past 30 years as a direct result of political persecution and other human rights abuses in Ethiopia. Across the diaspora, Oromos continue to actively engage with the politics of their country of origin and encourage the governments of their adopted countries, including the United States, to apply pressure on Ethiopia to improve its human rights record.
One such organization is the Peace and Justice Committee of Our Redeemer Oromo Evangelical Church in Minneapolis, founded in part by Oromo diaspora member Samuel Berhanu. Samuel and others in his organization are dedicated to introducing Minnesotans to the Oromo people and educating them about the human rights violations Oromos experience at the hands of the Ethiopian government.
History of Persecution by the Ethiopian Government
Western States have largely overlooked the plight of the Oromo, instead supporting the Ethiopian government, which is dominated by one ethnic minority group. Since 1991, the United States has identified Ethiopia as an ally in the Horn of Africa and an ally in the war on terror. Samuel explains that, with the largely Muslim populations in neighboring Somalia and Sudan, the United States considers Ethiopia a stabilizing force within the region. Western leaders then use this designation to justify the financial and military support afforded to the Ethiopian government. Ethiopia remains one of Africa’s largest recipient of foreign aid from the United States, despite the human rights abuses the Ethiopian government perpetrates.
Mobilizing to Build Bridges
Samuel and other members of the diaspora are working toward changing the United States’ approach to the human rights violations occurring in Ethiopia. The Peace and Justice Committee originally formed as part of the congregation of Our Redeemer Oromo Evangelical Church with the goal of influencing the Ethiopian government by appealing to the Western governments. The Peace and Justice Committee has helped build the capacity of the Oromo community to set priorities and engage in advocacy about human rights in Ethiopia.
The Committee worked with The Advocates’ International Justice Program staff attorney Amy Bergquist to organize a two-hour workshop attended by over 50 members of the congregation, as well as other concerned Oromos. At the workshop, participants identified priority issues and explored the different stakeholders who have the power to improve the human rights situation on the ground in Ethiopia. They then mapped out the people and organizations that influence those stakeholders to help Oromos in the diaspora better target their advocacy efforts.
Since then, the organization has expanded its reach to include non-Christian and non-diaspora members through a new organization called United Oromo Voice. Like the Peace and Justice Committee, United Oromo Voice is devoted to fighting against the injustices and human rights violations committed by the Ethiopian government. Samuel hopes that United Oromo Voice will encourage Minnesotans to engage with the Committee’s advocacy work.
Facing the challenges ahead
One of the obstacles facing the Peace and Justice Committee is successfully bringing together differing political opinions within the Oromo community. While the diaspora community largely seeks to end the human rights violations in Ethiopia, members disagree on the proper means of achieving that end. Some Oromos seek to work with the Ethiopian government, while others believe that succession is the only solution. Samuel makes a distinction between the role of the diaspora and the role of Oromos who remain in Ethiopia, explaining that at the end of the day, it is up to the people currently in Ethiopia to decide which approach is best. Samuel believes that their role as Oromos in the diaspora should be to provide a voice for Oromos remaining in Ethiopia, appealing to the West to exert pressure internationally.
Like other diaspora community organizations, the biggest obstacle is that members are trying to juggle work, family life, and the importance of the cause. Samuel does not seem to mind the burden, explaining that,
“God brought me here not to just live my own selfish life . . . I have to think of those who can’t make a voice for themselves.”
Our Redeemer Peace and Justice Committee of Our Redeemer Oromo Evangelical Church and United Oromo Voice
Volunteer Opportunities: The Peace and Justice Committee along with United Oromo Voice are currently seeking volunteers to assist with their projects and advocacy work. United Oromo Voice needs short-term and long-term volunteers to help with projects including community outreach, diplomacy, advocacy, media, and writing letters to government officials. If you would like to get involved, contact Samuel Berhanu at email@example.com.
Learn More: To learn more about human rights violations against the Oromo people in Ethiopia, read:
On July 13, Education Secretary Betsy Devos began her first steps in re-evaluating the Obama-era policies regarding sexual assault and consent on college campuses by engaging in a series of “listening sessions” for various groups impacted by Title IX and sexual assaults on campus. At issue is the so-called “Dear Colleague” letter issued in 2011 by the Obama Administration which urged institutions to better investigate and adjudicate cases of campus sexual assault. The 19-page letter set standards for universities to follow when investigating and adjudicating sexual assault charges, including using a “preponderance of the evidence” standard (rather than a “clear and convincing evidence” standard). Secretary Devos says she is now looking into whether these police are too tough and whether they deprive students who are accused of their civil rights – noting that “a system without due process ultimately serves no one in the end.”
While Secretary Devos was having her meetings inside the Department of Education, I stood on the steps of the building attending a “Survivor Speakout.” The goal of the Speakout was to highlight the reasons why Title IX’s protections are imperative in ensuring that every student can access an education that is safe and equal. Survivors, loved ones, and advocates alike stood together sharing stories about how their educations have been affected by gender-based violence. I watched as both men and women, young and old, stood together holding signs which read “ ____ needs Title IX because ____”.
I had two takeaways from the Survivor Speakout. First, Secretary Devos and others must listen to the story of survivors. We cannot go back to the days – which were not so long ago – when student complaints of sexual assaults on campus were dismissed or ignored. We cannot go back to the days when people were scared to come forward. The group Know Your IX is promoting a hashtag on Twitter – hashtag DearBetsy – asking people to post their stories about sexual assault. Before making her determination, I hope that Secretary Devos and others listen to more victims stories.
Second, Secretary Devos and her staff including Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Candice Jackson are doing victims a great disservice when they spread a narrative that many or most of assault allegations on campus are false. In an interview with the New York Times, a week before, in remarking that the investigative process on college campuses has not always been fairly balanced between the accuser and the accused, Ms. Jackson observed that “90 percent” of the accusations fall into the category of “‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.” Ms. Jackson subsequently apologized for those remarks calling them “flippant” and noting that “they poorly characterized the conversations I’ve had with countless groups of advocates.”
Nonetheless, in having this debate, people have to be careful about normalizing a notion that most accusations are false or only the result of a drunken evening. Following Ms. Jackson’s statement, the National Women’s Law Center, joined by over 50 organizations, replied with data Ms. Jackson and Secretary Devos should hear: “ In 2016, the US Department of Justice conducted a climate survey on several campuses to find that an average of 24% of transgender and gender non-conforming students, 23% of female students, and 6% of male students are sexually victimized on campus. This study replicated the findings of federal research conducted in 2007 and 2000. Additionally, a meta- analysis has shown false reports are extremely rare, constituting only 2-8% of complaints.”
Secretary Devos has not revealed her plans — but suggested that she may take action in the near future. She said: “We need to do this right, we need to protect all students and we need to do it quickly.” The current process may not be perfect. However, I hope in making her revisions Secretary Devos remembers the victims. On the steps of the Department of Education during the “Suvivor Speakout” I heard a lot of women with stories to tell. I hope she hears them too – as all students deserve to have a safe and equal access to education.
By The Advocates for Human Rights’ youth blogger Jenna Schulman. Jenna is a high school student in Washington, D.C.
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 reportto 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.
The Advocates for Human Rights has Special Consultative status with the United Nations, allowing us to bring matters of concern to the attention of the UN human rights mechanisms. Volunteer Veronica Clark presented The Advocates for Human Rights’ statement on racism in the United States at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland on March 20, 2017.
Mr. Vice President:
The Advocates for Human Rights is deeply concerned about the rise in hate crimes and incidents of bias targeting racial, ethnic, and religious minorities in the United State. Hate crimes are recognized and prosecuted in the U.S.under federal and state laws. Yet 5,850 criminal incidents and 6,885 related bias offenses were reported in 2015. Fifty-nine percent of victims were targeted because of a race/ethnicity/ancestry bias.
Further, policies and practices at the federal, state, and local levels continue to disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minorities. Racial and national origin bias pervades the U.S. criminal justice system, including widespread use of racial profiling and stark racial disparities in arrests, convictions, and sentencing.
The Advocates for Human Rights encourages Member States, including the U.S., to take concrete action to:
Adopt at local, state and national levels comprehensive legislation prohibiting racial profiling;
Collect and publish statistics about police stops, searches, and abuse, to monitor trends regarding racial profiling and treatment of minorities by law enforcement;
Establish independent oversight bodies within police agencies, with real authority to conduct impartial investigations of all complaints of human rights violations;
Provide adequate resources to train law enforcement officials;
Assess the disproportionate impact of mandatory minimum sentences on racial and ethnic minorities; and
Create a national commission to examine police tactics nationwide, including the use of excessive force, militarization of local police forces and policing of protests.
After being recruited for a high-paying job in the United States, Hanh left her impoverished community in Vietnam, departing on her quest for the American Dream. Hanh paid a large fee to travel from Vietnam to Minnesota under the assumption that her employer had made all the necessary immigration arrangements. However, this person who had promised Hanh a new life was a labor trafficker who threatened harm to Hanh and her family if she did not submit to servitude. Living in fear of violence and watching her debt swell, Hanh was not only imprisoned by her circumstance but also by her inability to communicate and seek help. Eventually, law enforcement learned of her situation and successfully convicted her trafficker of forced labor, freeing seven others like her in the process.
These stories of labor trafficking are not isolated—in fact, The Advocates has heard reports of more than thirty-six labor trafficking victims in Minnesota. Still, there have only been a handful of criminal convictions under federal law and only two under the Minnesota labor trafficking statute. This disparity suggests that the enforcement of criminal labor and trafficking laws is inadequate and offenders are not being held accountable for their crimes. The Advocates for Human Rights recently published a report, “Asking the Right Questions: A Human Rights Approach to Ending Trafficking and Exploitation in the Workplace,” that examines how labor trafficking and exploitation continue to exist in Minnesota.
In this report, The Advocates assesses the possible barriers to prosecution despite the available legal framework. First, The Advocates found that the requirement that victims cooperate in a case in order to receive benefits such as immigration status, originally intended to strengthen prosecution efforts, has instead hampered enforcement. By providing a benefit to a witness, the government risks undermining the witness’ credibility in a criminal case. Secondly, Minnesota’s state criminal labor trafficking law is largely underutilized. Though the state’s broadened definition of a “trafficker” and a “beneficiary” could increase a victim’s access to justice, its lack of use leaves the possibility untested.
The enforcement of labor laws is another vital component to protect victims of labor trafficking. Unfortunately, both federal and state labor laws contain major exemptions that allow abusive employers, including traffickers, to exploit their workers. This is precisely what happened to Jorge. When recruited to come to Minnesota to work in roofing, Jorge trusted his recruiter to help him find jobs and to negotiate his wages since he did not speak English and lacked legal immigration status. This subcontractor, who had Jorge sign over every paycheck, gave Jorge cash back—but only after robbing him of most of the money he had worked for. Based on the Advocates’ research, there are multiple factors which create an environment within which this kind of abuse has become far too common.
First, exemptions to wage and hour laws in agriculture and domestic service remove a level of government oversight which creates trafficking opportunities. In Jorge’s case, his trafficker stole most of his paycheck, but because the cash he gave Jorge met the minimum wage, Jorge could not press charges under wage and hour legislation. Further, he could not make a claim against the larger company that built the homes he worked on because workers must prove the contracting relationship is illegitimate in order to hold the contracting company liable. Accountability is often impossible in the complex web of subcontractors and independent contractors. This, coupled with confusing standards between different federal agencies and state policies, leaves workers ill-equipped to advocate for themselves. Moreover, the lack of coordination on labor exploitation hampers the complaint process. After being referred from one agency to the next, Jorge was forced to cut his losses, find a new job, and sacrifice his pursuit of justice.
This report by The Advocates for Human Rights has highlighted a number of crucial areas of improvement in enforcing criminal labor trafficking and labor exploitation laws. There is a need for training and resources for our law enforcement, community organizations, and other agencies to effectively identify and help protect victims of labor trafficking and exploitation. The following are priority recommendations to help bolster Minnesota’s efforts to improve its fight against trafficking:
· Policy makers need to provide resources for training law enforcement and prosecutors on Minnesota’s labor trafficking laws, including investigative techniques and protections for victims.
· Policy makers need to examine how to provide an accessible system that makes sure workers can recover lost wages in a timely manner and at little to no cost, especially with smaller claims.
By Hannah Mangen , a student at The University of Minnesota in Saint Paul (class of 2018) with a major in Global Studies and Communication. She currently works as a research intern with The Advocates’ human trafficking team.
This post is the fourth in a series on labor trafficking. Additional post in the series include:
Keeping victims safe should be of utmost priority when tackling labor exploitation and trafficking cases. However, our current system lacks some of the fundamental tools to do just that. Those that survive exploitation and trafficking need assistance in addressing their short term and long term needs. Not only must their trauma be addressed but also the aspects of their lives that left them vulnerable to the trafficking or exploitation in the first place.
Survivors of labor trafficking have endured significant abuse. Their trafficker has complete control over their lives. The trafficker arbitrarily decides when or even if victims get paid and how much. They provide inadequate housing and seize control of any identification documents leaving victims afraid to call for help in fear of arrest or deportation. An employer having so much control over their lives deprives victims of their autonomy and sense of self. This, coupled with physical, sexual, and mental abuse, results in a long road to recovery for those that manage to escape. They need assistance in rebuilding their lives. International standards for trafficking victim protection and assistance take all of this into consideration.
Unfortunately, protection standards within the U.S are not nearly as comprehensive as international standards. There are federal and state laws offering protection from deportation, work authorization, federal public assistance, and case management assistance. However, they are hard to obtain and put an undue burden on the victim. Undermining the victim protection that they claim to provide, the laws require the cooperation of victims in criminal investigations against traffickers in order for them to receive assistance. Foreign nationals and U.S. citizens face additional challenges and neither is fully protected.
U.S. trafficking law benefits focus largely on foreign national victims. Domestic victims are often left with little resources to address their vulnerability and protect them from future trafficking. For instance, people that are barred from public assistance for any reason are unable to qualify for the benefits that so many victims require. This makes them easy targets for abusive employers and makes recovery even more difficult. Our current system offers no waiver ensuring that all U.S. citizen victims of trafficking can get assistance.
Foreign national victims may have designated protections but face challenges in accessing them. Victims must first meet an administrative definition of “trafficked” to be certified as “a victim of severe form of human trafficking. “ Once this criterion is met victims must then follow a multi-stage process to receive full benefits and protection. Federal law, in opposition to international law, requires adult victims to participate with the investigation and prosecution of the crime to receive certification and receive protections. One of the most important forms of protection for foreign national victims is protection from deportation. There are three different ways for victims to avoid deportation yet all three require that victims participate in the investigation of their trafficker. Only after they have agreed to this can they file for protection from deportation. Only children or victims with severe trauma are exempt.
In addition to linking protection with investigation cooperation, there are other shortcomings in our system. A lack of funding has left service providers without capacity to help all trafficking victims. Victims especially need a safe place to stay, but there is a general lack of housing, especially for male victims. If victims cannot find a safe place to stay in the midst of escaping their abusive employer they often find themselves with no other option than to return.
Victims of labor exploitation do not even have access to the limited protections available to victims of labor trafficking. Being recognized as a labor exploitation victim provides no financial supports, no access to benefits, and no protection from deportation, no matter how much the victim may need those things to rebuild their lives and help bring an abusive employer to justice.
The Advocates makes several recommendations in “Asking the Right Questions” to help ensure that victims of labor trafficking and exploitation receive the assistance they require.
· Policy makers should develop a statewide network so all victims of human trafficking, regardless of gender, age, or nationality, have access to services, including both existing services and new funding.
· Policy makers should amend federal law to remove the requirement that victims cooperate with law enforcement to receive services and protection from deportation.
· Policy makers should create a state law to ensure all victims of human trafficking under Minnesota law receive access to services and assistance.
· Policy makers should create a state law to ensure all victims of human trafficking under Minnesota law receive access to services and assistance.
· Policy makers should amend federal law to ensure that domestic trafficking victims who may be otherwise ineligible for public benefits can receive certification, case management, cash assistance, and other help currently available to foreign national victims.
By Halimat Alawode, a 2017 graduate of St. Catherine University in Saint Paul, Minnesota with a major in Women and International Development. During the fall of 2016, she was a research intern with The Advocates’ human trafficking team.
This post is the third in a series on labor trafficking. Additional post in the series include: