Members of The Advocates’ staff recently returned from Bulgaria, where we finished training 16 lawyers at the first session of our Legal Training Academy on Women’s Human Rights (LTA). Through this two-year project, we are building the capacity of lawyers to use international and regional human rights mechanisms to defend women’s human rights after all domestic remedies have failed. Being able to effectively access these options is crucial. For lawyers in some countries, which may not have adequate public prosecution laws concerning domestic violence or even basic protections for victims, the option of being able to leverage another remedy is powerful. Once a lawyer has exhausted the options available to them in their country, it is not the end of the road for the victim/survivor. Instead, they can still pursue effective, top-down recourse through the UN, European Court of Human Rights, and the Council of Europe. This two-year training academy teaches these lawyers how to most effectively bring these cases.
The lawyers hail from nine countries in the Former Soviet Union—Russia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan, to name a few. Often, these human rights defenders are operating under laws that oppress or hinder civil society. For example, some of these countries impose onerous NGO registration requirements, while others use “foreign agent” laws to brand NGOs as spies and subject to heavy surveillance and conditions. Yet, each of these lawyers brought energy, commitment, enthusiasm, as well as drive to learn and connect with each other.
In this first of three training sessions, we spent the first day hearing from the participants about the issues they face in their country. They described issues such as the severe lack of shelters, legal aid, and resources for women victims and survivors, the abuse of women in prison, and the use of village elders to decide cases of violence against women rather than formal court systems.
For example, one participant described the harmful practice and effects of polygamy in her country: “How do you register second and third wives? As a second or third wife, if my husband comes and beats me, and I’m not married, I cannot get a restraining order.”
Throughout the week, we discussed various forms of violence against women, including sexual violence, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and trafficking. We also addressed human rights for LGBTI and persons living with HIV.
In the next two sessions, taking place in spring and fall of 2018, we will build the skills of these lawyers to leverage the UN and European mechanisms. Importantly, we are building not only a cadre of trained women’s human rights defenders, but a network of peers who will continue to share best practices and strategies, support each other’s efforts transnationally, and celebrate successes. Already, we have begun to see the impact after our first training. At the conclusion of the session, one participant said,
“With your help, I have started to believe that we can change our situation to the best. Thank you all very much.”
2017 was a year that has been as challenging as any in my more than two decades working in the human rights movement.The Advocates was founded on the principle that we all play a part in making human rights real and this principle is more relevant today than ever. It is news to no one concerned about human rights that the systemic affronts to dignity, freedom, and justice for all have been deep and widespread. It would be difficult to overstate the impact of the 2016 election on our work and the dramatic increase in the demands that came in its wake.
But, for every assault on human rights that we witnessed in the past year, we redoubled our efforts to advocate, educate, and litigate in the service of justice and human dignity.
For every attack on our values, hundreds of our volunteers came forward. We have developed new initiatives to respond to these challenges:
the new court observer and pro bono bond project created in response to the Administration’s travel ban and increased punitive immigration policies;
a collaboration with our partners to train more than 100 attorneys on the legal implications of sanctuary work so that they can assist faith communities considering that option;
contributions to the nationwide efforts to end human trafficking by lending a human rights perspective, and more.
The fact is, there is great opportunity in the midst of the many challenges that face the human rights community.Even as we have watched appalling attacks on human rights, we have also witnessed hundreds of thousands of people all over the world come off the sidelines, many for the first time, and say “Enough!”
Our movement has the power to inspire, to galvanize people, because it is grounded in basic human rights principles. As stated in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world is the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family. Our job as advocates is to insist that public policy uphold human dignity and fundamental human rights principles. These rights include: the right to security, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom from discrimination—rights that belong to each of us simply by virtue of being a member of the human family.
As we move into 2018, The Advocates will continue to build the human rights movement locally and globally with persistence and determination. Together we can make a difference. From saving the life of an individual asylum seeker who has come for protection from persecution to adopting new laws and policies to protect the rights of human trafficking victims to ensuring that legal systems in the United States and around the world work to eliminate violence against women.
We appreciate all the many ways you have helped us work toward our vision of a world where all people live with dignity, freedom, justice, equality and peace.We know what to do. Please work with us to have an even greater impact in 2018, by making a donation, volunteering your time, and every day, advocating for human rights for all.
By Robin Phillips, Executive Director of The Advocates for Human Rights.
The Advocates for Human Rights serves on the Steering Committee of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. In that capacity, The Advocates often collaborates with the World Coalition to engage in advocacy at the United Nations when a UN body reviews the human rights record of a country that retains the death penalty.
One recent example is Sri Lanka. The Advocates, in collaboration with The World Coalition, submitted a stakeholder report about the death penalty in Sri Lanka for consideration during the country’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council.
Sri Lanka acknowledges itself as a de facto abolitionist state and carried out its last execution in 1976. Yet Sri Lankan courts continue to sentence defendants to death and the country’s constitution still authorizes the use of the death penalty. According to Amnesty International, in 2016 Sri Lankan courts sentenced at least 79 people to death and an estimated 1,000 prisoners were under sentence of death.
During Sri Lanka’s second UPR in 2012, six countries made recommendations that called on Sri Lanka to abolish the death penalty or consider a formal moratorium. Sri Lanka rejected all six recommendations. Since then, President Sirisena and his government have made positive public statements suggesting they are working toward abolishing the death penalty. In a speech given at the 30th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in September 2015, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka reinforced that the Sri Lankan Government was committed to maintaining the moratorium on the death penalty, with a view to its ultimate abolition. In December 2016, Sri Lanka voted with 116 Member States of the United Nations to support a universal moratorium on the death penalty.
The public statements made by Sri Lanka were reinforced by the country’s increased openness to UPR recommendations. During its latest UPR on November 15th, 2017, Sri Lanka accepted three of thirteen recommendations made on the death penalty.
In 2012, Sri Lanka rejected three recommendations that urged considering abolition of the death penalty: “Consider the definite abolishment of the death penalty in its internal legislation” (Argentina and Ecuador) and “Seriously consider the possibility to abolish capital punishment” (Italy). In 2017, Sri Lanka accepted two remarkably similar recommendations: “Consider to abolish the death penalty” (Italy) and “Consider abolishing the death penalty” (Timor-Leste). Sri Lanka’s willingness to accept such recommendations may indicate changing government attitudes toward the practice.
Sri Lanka pays particular attention to the specific wording of recommendations. Sri Lanka’s new-found willingness to accept death penalty recommendations extends only to accepting recommendations that don’t bind them to any decision — all three accepted recommendations begin with some form of the word “consider.” For example:
Sri Lanka accepted, “Consider ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aimed at abolishing the death penalty” (Uruguay) but rejected “Ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty” (Montenegro, Spain).
Similarly, Sri Lanka accepted “Consider abolishing the death penalty” (Timor-Leste) but rejected “Abolish the death penalty” (Australia). Sri Lanka rejected seven comparable recommendations, even those that recommended “taking steps” towards abolition.
To be sure, a recommendation to “consider” abolition of the death penalty is not as strong as a recommendation to abolish the death penalty. The fact that some governments made weaker recommendations and some made stronger recommendations nevertheless gives us some insights into Sri Lanka’s evolving position on the death penalty. And we expect the Sri Lankan government to take concrete steps between now and its next UPR in 2022 to explore how abolition could be incorporated into the Penal Code and Constitution or to conduct public awareness surveys on the popularity of the practice. Perhaps by the time Sri Lanka is up for its fourth-cycle UPR, the country will have had enough opportunity for careful consideration to be able to definitely abolish the death penalty.
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 third 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:
For the past year, The Advocates for Human Rights has been a core member of the UN Gender Network. Convened by the University of Reading and Durham University, the UN Gender Network is a unique project to foster dialogue and an understanding of gender equality policies within the United Nations. We seek to investigate how it impacts UN leadership on the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 5 on Gender Equality, and other policies. To do so, the UN Gender Network has brought together civil society, academics, UN former and current staff and government representatives over the course of three workshops to discuss these issues. A fourth workshop will take place in 2018 to launch the network’s policy recommendations to the United Nations.
When I talk about the UN Gender Network, people are often surprised to learn of the need to scrutinize the UN on its own gender equality policies. But after all, if the UN is going to lead on women’s human rights, it is important that it lead by example. The UN does not have one single gender equality policy applicable to each of its multiple bodies. Instead, the development and implementation of such policies are left to the discretion of individual bodies. The result: UN entities have very disparate policies or, in some cases, no policies at all. A 2016 UN Women report found that only 89% of UN bodies have a policy on sexual harassment, assault, and exploitation. Only 70% of UN bodies have a policy on discrimination, and just 67% have policies on anti-retaliation.
To examine this further, we engaged the pro bono services of Dechert, Fredrikson & Byron, Faegre Baker Daniels, and Stinson Leonard Street to map out the gender equality policies across all of the different UN bodies. Volunteers examined the spectrum of gender equality policies, including recruitment and appointment, facilitative policies, career advancement, harassment/discrimination, and separation policies. Initial findings reveal that while some UN bodies have strong, comprehensive gender equality policies, others are in many areas lacking or, where they do exist, tend to be more aspirational than effective. In other cases, good policies are in place but are not readily utilized by staff, indicating a need for ongoing monitoring. At its third workshop at Durham University this November, the UN Gender Network reviewed the draft recommendations it will make to the UN to advance gender equality priorities.
In September, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a system-wide strategy to address gender parity within the UN this fall, signaling a commitment to the issue and to achieve parity by 2028 across all levels at the UN. The strategy marks a first step toward addressing gender equality issues within the UN, but it will take ongoing commitment and multidisciplinary engagement to push through effective reforms. To join the UN Gender Network or learn more, please visit https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/united-nations-gender-network/.
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.
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.”
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:
Japan is one out of the fifty eight countries (including the United States) where the death penalty is still legal and actively carried out. In Japan, crimes punishable by execution include murder, terrorism, arson, and treason. Based on reports from the Japan Innocence & Death Penalty Information Center, 106 people have been executed since 1993, and as of November 2017, 126 people are currently on death row.
Hanging is the main method of execution in Japan, and is carried out in an isolated penal institution. The Japanese Government severely restricts people on death row from having contact with the outside world. Within the detention center, the communication of people on death row is strictly limited; only lawyers and close relatives are allowed to visit death row inmates. Furthermore, people sentenced to death are informed of their impending execution only on the morning of the execution. The Japanese government insists that such last-minute notification inflicts less psychological pain on people sentenced to death.
After learning of the death penalty policies and practices in Japan, we wanted to see how advocacy against the death penalty from various sources (civil society, states, stakeholders, etc.) could make a tangible impact. These issues regarding Japan’s death penalty and prison conditions have prompted criticism from domestic and international human rights organizations. A systematic mechanism for the organizations to raise these concerns is the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process at the United Nations’ Human Rights Council.
The Universal Periodic Review: What is it?
Every four and a half years, countries are required to undergo a Universal Periodic Review by the Human Rights Council. All UN member states – 193 countries in total – are required to participate in the UPR process, whereby they are subjected to review by the United Nations and are given the opportunity to report their progress on human rights issues and to receive and respond to recommendations from other countries.
The UPR process is structured in a way that allows for feedback from the state under review, as well as from on-the-ground non-governmental organizations (NGOs). NGOs and National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) can submit stakeholder reports with firsthand accounts of the government’s failure to respect human rights. These stakeholder reports ensure that the Human Rights Council gets an accurate, well-rounded picture of the human rights situation in the state under review before the UPR’s “interactive dialogue.”
The Advocates’ UPR lobbying pays off
The Advocates for Human Rights works with other stakeholders to research and submit reports for consideration in the UPR process. Once the reports are submitted, The Advocates continues its efforts by contacting delegations of other UN member countries and lobbying them to make recommendations to the country under review. This lobbying can be done in person or via email. Oftentimes, these recommendations pertain to a single issue. The Advocates’ lobbying process for the November 2017 UPR of Japan provides a window into this type of UPR advocacy.
In preparation for the 28th Session of the Universal Periodic Review, The Advocates submitted a stakeholder report in conjunction with The Center for Prisoners’ Rights in Japan and The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. (Readers can access the full report on The Advocates’ website.) After submitting the stakeholder report, The Advocates reached out to several country representatives to raise its concerns on the issue of the death penalty in Japan.
The Advocates sent emails lobbying against the death penalty in Japan to 26 countries. Of the 26 countries contacted, 21 countries made recommendations at Japan’s UPR dialogue (the other five were not present at Japan’s UPR). Twenty of these countries made recommendations in line with The Advocates’ lobbying. These recommendation included the following:
Immediately impose an official moratorium on the use of the death penalty (Australia, Belgium, Finland, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland)
Ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which aims at abolishing the death penalty (Argentina, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, Uruguay)
Amend the Act on Penal Detention Facilities and Treatment of Inmates to ensure detention conditions meet international standards (Netherlands)
Open up a public debate and take concrete steps toward ending the death penalty (Belgium, France, Mexico, Norway, Rwanda, UK)
Beyond these twenty states, other representatives also made recommendations about the death penalty, echoing one or more of The Advocates’ recommendations. In total, 42 out of the 105 country representatives – a whopping 40% – participating in Japan’s UPR addressed the death penalty, demonstrating the strong international pressure for change in the country’s legal system.
In a closing statement at the UPR session, Mr. Yoshifumi Okamura and other representatives from the Japanese Government responded to the recommendations offered by other UN member countries. The Japanese delegates asserted the use of the death penalty in Japan is “unavoidable” and an immediate moratorium on the death penalty would be “inhumane” to the prisoners currently on death row, because such an act would arouse their hopes for abolition of the death penalty. The delegation rejected recommendations to convert death sentences to life imprisonment, asserting that a life sentence is a “very harsh punishment” and expressing great concern that the “character of the inmate will be destroyed due to prolonged confinement.”
Perhaps the most puzzling response from the Japanese Government was on the issue of notifying death row inmates of their execution on the morning on the execution. Government representatives asserted that an “inmate’s mental and psychological stability could be undermined and pain could be inflicted upon [them] if [they] were to inform about execution before the day of the execution.” As The Advocates’ noted in its report, the daily stress of not knowing the date of an impending execution certainly does even more to undermine the inmate’s mental and psychological stability.
After viewing the entire UPR session, we see that Japan is making strides in many areas of its human rights practices and policies. But progress in some areas does not erase the injustice of the continued practice of the death penalty and poor detention conditions. At the adoption of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group report, Mr. Yoshifumi Okamura stated: “There is no end to the promotion and protection of human rights.” The death penalty violates the most fundamental human right: the right to one’s own life. We hope Japan and the fifty seven other countries that actively the death penalty soon realize that this right is fundamental and act accordingly.
By Emma Lind and Xuemeng Yao.
Emma Lind is a 2017 graduate of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota with degrees in International Human Rights and Psychology. She is a 2017 fall intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.
Xuemeng Yao is a junior at Macalester College with a major in Sociology. She is a 2017 fall intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.
This post is the first 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:
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.