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2017: A Year of Strength for Women

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As we look back on The Advocates’ women’s human rights work in 2017 and the movement to hold accountable perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault, the word that comes to mind is strength In the last year, we strengthened the capacity of women’s rights defenders, made life-saving recommendations for reforms, and strategized how the UN can become even better in achieving gender equality.

We continued to identify gaps in governments’ responses to violence against women so we can tell them how to make women’s lives safer. Last year, we released reports on domestic violence in Montenegro and Serbia, where they become tools to bring sweeping changes.

Because of our reports, laws become better: domestic violence is criminalized, victims’ protections strengthened, and shelters funded.

 

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We also began building a multi-country cadre of women’s human rights defenders to use international mechanisms. By teaching 16 Russian-speaking lawyers how to leverage these remedies, we build their capacity to safeguard women’s rights against sexual harassment, trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual assault. This work is powerful and life-saving for the women in many countries with few realistic options for safety.  One lawyer told us,

With your help, I have started to believe that we can change our situation to the best.”

 

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And, of course, we have continued our advocacy before the UN, holding countries to the highest standards of women’s rights, while expanding our lens to focus on the UN itself. After all, if the UN is going to lead on women’s human rights, it must lead by example. In the face of ongoing investigations of sexual harassment by senior UN figures, such scrutiny is long overdue.

As a core member of the UN Gender Network, we are reviewing the UN’s gender equality policies and will make recommendations for reform at a UN roundtable next month.

We will continue to build on our momentum through 2018. I hope you will join us at three exciting events:

Please join us in 2018 as we celebrate women’s human rights, and thank you for your support to make the world a better, safer place for women.

By: Rosalyn Park, director of the Women’s Human Rights Program at The Advocates for Human Rights.

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Ukraine delays decision on Universal Periodic Review recommendations on domestic violence

 

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The delegation from Ukraine, led by H.E. Mr. Sergiy Petukhov, Deputy Minister of Justice of Ukraine for the European Integration, speaks during Ukraine’s Universal Periodic Review on November 15, 2017. Source: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/human-rights-council/universal-periodic-review/28th-upr/watch/ukraine-review-28th-session-of-universal-periodic-review/5647215634001#

For the 3rd cycle Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Ukraine, The Advocates for Human Rights submitted a stakeholder report in collaboration with Center “Women’s Perspectives,” a non-governmental agency based in Lviv, Ukraine. The report focused on the prevalence of domestic violence in Ukraine.

Domestic violence is a pervasive problem in Ukraine. In 2016, the Ministry of Social Policy recorded 96,143 complaints of domestic violence, and data indicate that the number of complaints has been on the rise by 10% per year. The legal system fails to adequately protect women, a problem exacerbated by ongoing political conflict.  Ukraine has not yet created a specific crime of domestic violence, nor has it specifically defined gender-based violence in its laws. A package of laws to address violence against women passed a first hearing in Parliament in 2016, but was sent back to a working group over concerns the draft laws were harmful to traditional family values. Members of Parliament have asked the working group to remove references to “gender” and “sexual orientation” and to allow religious groups to sit on the Working Group. Ukraine has yet to ratify the Istanbul Convention on violence against women. Victim services remain insufficient and underfunded.

During the UPR in early November 2017, 70 countries made 190 recommendations to Ukraine, 29 of which were related to domestic violence or violence against women. This marks a significant increase from the four domestic violence-related recommendations made in 2012, a sign that more countries are taking note of conditions in Ukraine.

After the review, the country can either accept or reject the recommendations, and can choose to provide an additional response if it wishes to explain its decision. The UPR process also gives the state under review the option to delay its response to some or all of the recommendations. Ukraine has decided to defer decision on all of its recommendations and will have until March 2018 (the 37th session of the Human Rights Council) to submit an addendum with its responses to the recommendations.

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 fourth 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

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

Sri Lanka’s Evolving Stance on the Death Penalty

 

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Building the Capacity of Russian-Speaking Lawyers to Protect Women’s Human Rights 

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Our Legal Training Academy fellows from Georgia, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan working together on a UN treaty body exercise.

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.”  

By: Rosalyn Park, director of the Women’s Human Rights Program at The Advocates for Human Rights.

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Stand with The Advocates in 2018

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!”

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United Nations, Photo No. 1292 (Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt of the United States holding a Universal Declaration of Human Rights poster in English, November 1949.)

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. 

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Sri Lanka’s Evolving Stance on the Death Penalty

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The delegation from Sri Lanka, led by H.E. Mr. Harsha De Silva, Deputy Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs of Sri Lanka, at the November 15th, 2017 UPR of Sri Lanka. Source: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/human-rights-council/universal-periodic-review/watch/sri-lanka-review-28th-session-of-universal-periodic-review/5648383899001#

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.
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Mr. Aurélio Barros, representative from Timor-Leste, delivers his country’s recommendations to Sri Lanka during the November 15th UPR. Source: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/human-rights-council/universal-periodic-review/watch/sri-lanka-review-28th-session-of-universal-periodic-review/5648383899001#

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:

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

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

Ukraine delays decision on Universal Periodic Review recommendations on domestic violence

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UN Gender Network: Understanding How Gender Impacts the UN’s Activities and Leadership

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 Members of the UN Gender Network include civil society, academics, UN former and current staff and government representatives.  Women’s Program Director Rosalyn Park (center row) represents The Advocates for Human Rights in the UN Gender Network.

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 DechertFredrikson & ByronFaegre 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/.

 By: Rosalyn Park, director of the Women’s Human Rights Program at The Advocates for Human Rights.

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

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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.

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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.”

 

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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