The Answer to Preventing Atrocities: Human Rights Education

Zeod Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

If you ever wonder what you can do about human rights violations taking place in your community or around the world, I challenge you – on this World Day of Social Justice – to read the powerful message of Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, spoken recently at Washington, D.C.’s Holocaust Memorial Museum:

“…I wake up every morning and, along with brilliant staff – some of the world’s best human rights lawyers and activists – I scan the news and am revolted by what I read. I am sure you all feel the same. Everyday, we are outraged by one piece of news after another! In fact, we must fast be reaching a state of permanent disgust.

“…[Y]ears of tyranny, inequalities, fear and bad governance are what contribute to the expansion of extremist ideas and violence. Few of these crises have erupted without warning. They have built up over years – and sometimes decades – of human rights grievances: deficient or corrupt governance and judicial institutions; discrimination and exclusion; drastic inequalities; exploitation and the denial of economic and social rights; and repression of civil society and public freedoms. Specific kinds of human rights violations, including sexual violence, speech that incites violence, and patterns of discrimination against minorities, can provide early warning of the escalation of crisis into atrocity.

“With so much movement across our screens and newspapers, we believe we are now somehow cart-wheeling into a future more uncertain and unpredictable than ever before. We are also bombarded by so many individual pieces of news, and commentary, our thoughts become equally scattered and devoid of any clear understanding of what it all means…

“And so it would be easy for us to give way to a sense of complete hopelessness. But we cannot succumb to that way of thinking. Surely we now know, from bitter experience, that human rights are the only meaningful rampart against barbarity.

“…Since we cannot afford sinking into a state of paralysing shock, our task becomes the need to strengthen our ethics, our clarity and openness of thought, and our moral courage.

“To do this I can only suggest that we must turn to a new and deeper form of education. Education that goes beyond reading, writing and arithmetic to include skills and values that can equip people to act with responsibility and care. (Emphasis added.)

“…Before every child on this planet turns 9, I believe he or she should acquire a foundational understanding of human rights, and that these concepts should grow in depth and scope as he or she develops. The underlying values of the curriculum would be virtually identical in every school, deriving from the Universal – and universally accepted – Declaration of Human Rights. In this way, from Catholic parochial schools to the most secular public institutions, and indeed Islamic madrassahs, children could learn – even in kindergarten – and experience the fundamental human rights values of equality, justice and respect.

“My children, and yours, and children everywhere, need to learn what bigotry and chauvinism are, and the terrible wrongs they can produce. They need to learn that blind obedience can be exploited by authority figures for wicked ends. They should also learn that they are not exceptional because of where they were born, how they look, what passport they carry, or the social class, caste or creed of their parents; they should learn that no-one is intrinsically superior to her or his fellow human beings.

“Every child should be able to grasp that the wonderful diversity of individuals and cultures is a source of tremendous enrichment. They should learn to recognise their own biases, and correct them. Children can learn to redirect their own aggressive impulses and use non-violent means to resolve disputes. They can learn to be inspired by the courage of the pacifiers and by those who assist, not those who destroy. They can be guided by human rights education to make informed choices in life, to approach situations with critical and independent thought, and to empathise with other points of view.

“Children are fully able to grasp the implications of human rights. And they are able, too, to understand the power that human rights principles bestow on them. Every child can help to shape her or his universe: this is the lesson of that physically tiny and yet symbolically immensely powerful young woman, Malala, who has enriched the moral heritage of humanity.

“We do not have to accept the world as it is; indeed, we must not. We do not have to give in to the dark allure of hatred and violence: indeed, it is vital that we find the energy to resist it. These lessons are surely as fundamental to life on Earth as advanced calculus.”[1]

Parents, teachers, administrators, students, curriculum specialists, policymakers, and anyone reading this who appreciates the power of education as a means of preventing human rights violations, you can make a difference. The root causes of abuses ranging from discrimination to interpersonal violence to mass atrocities can and must be addressed through human rights education.

Here is what you can do:

  • Learn more about human rights education by going to org/uploads/hre_edition.pdf.
  • Contact your community school and ask how they are giving students at every grade level the knowledge, skills, and values of human rights. Offer free curricular resources available at org/for_educators.
  • Read the UN Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training and share it with your local school, through social media, and in conversation.
  • Become part of a national movement by joining Human Rights Educators USA by going to net. (If outside in the U.S., look for a similar group in your area.)

What we teach our children today has radical implications for the future of our communities and world. Human rights education is the obligation of governments and the moral imperative of individuals. We either equip children with the knowledge, skills, and values to uphold human rights – or we don’t. And we live with the repercussions either way.

By: Sarah Herder, The Advocates for Human Rights’ director of Education.

[1] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Feb. 5, 2015. “Can Atrocities Be Prevented? Living in the Shadow of the Holocaust, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein at the Holocaust Memorial Museum.” http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15548&LangID=E#sthash.QRxCwKej.dpuf.

More slaves today than at any other time in history

Flower in barbed wire fence

There are more slaves today than at any point in history. They labor in fields and factories, under brutal “owners” who threaten violence if they try to escape. They work on construction sites or in homes for families, virtually imprisoned. They are forced to work on the streets as child beggars, fight in wars as child soldiers, and toil on farms, in traveling sales crews, and in restaurants and hotels. Some are forced to work in brothels and strip clubs, or for escort and massage services. They are often held far from their homes, with no money, no connections, and no way to ask for help. They fear the consequences if they fail to earn their daily quota.[1]

Slavery is illegal in every country in the modern world. Nonetheless, there are about 35.8 million victims worldwide,[3] with 70 percent of them female and nearly one-third children.[2]

The problem is so severe it warranted a presidential proclamation, declaring January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Today this modern-day form of slavery, also known as human trafficking, is one of the largest and fastest growing criminal industries in the world.[4] Human trafficking refers to the sale of adults and children into both commercial sexual servitude and forced or bonded labor, and involves the recruiting, harboring, receipt, or transportation of persons for some exploitative purpose.[5]

Human trafficking happens every where, in every part of the world. The United States formally abolished slavery 150 years ago with the passing of the 13th. Regardless, cases involving sexual exploitation and bonded or forced labor are prevalent, with estimates as high as 50,000 people being enslaved.[6] Cases of human trafficking have been reported in all fifty states. The United States is also a source and transit country for human trafficking, and is considered one of the top destination points for victims of child trafficking and exploitation,[7] and U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are trafficked within the country. Cases of human trafficking have been reported in all 50 states.

The Advocates for Human Rights plays a major role in fighting sex trafficking. The Advocates worked to draft and help pass Minnesota’s 2013 Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Act. The law, in effect in Minnesota beginning August 1, 2014, drastically changes the way in which Minnesota views prostitution and responds to sexually exploited youth. Using delinquency proceedings to punish prostituted children has ended in Minnesota, and a new victim-centered response to meet with needs is being established.

The Advocates also worked to draft and help pass the law’s precursor, the 2011 Safe Harbor Act. Not satisfied that the 2011 law had left out 16- and 17-year-olds, The Advocates zeroed in on expanding the law’s protections to all children under 18, and drafted the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force‘s 2013 legislative agenda, leading to the 2013 law expanding protections.

The Advocates also participated in creating a victim-centered response — referred to as the “No Wrong Door Model” — and published a report on the process, entitled Safe Harbor: Fulfilling Minnesota’s Promise to Protect Sexually Exploited Youth.

The Advocates is now focused on developing educational resources for community, social service providers, and teachers. It is pinpointing best practices for identifying victims and preventing this abuse, as well as cataloging referrals and resources available under the law. In addition, The Advocates is providing public education on trafficking, and is working throughout Minnesota in collaboration with the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, the Minnesota entity charged with training law enforcement agencies and prosecutors on the law’s new approach to trafficking.

Setting the stage for Minnesota’s paradigm shift was The Advocates 2008 report, Sex Trafficking Needs Assessment for the State of Minnesota, which included recommendations for responding to sex trafficking. Paramount was the human rights principle that people who are trafficked should be identified as victims, not criminals. The report emphasized that trafficking victims require specialized services, not detention and prosecution.

“Our ultimate goal is to bring the sale of people to an end; it must cease to be normal, acceptable, or profitable,” said Beatriz Menanteau, a staff attorney with The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program.

By: The Advocates for Human Rights’ Emily Farell and Susan L. Banovetz


[1] Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, 2009, http://www.womenfound.org/people-not-property-zero-tolerance-for-trafficking/

[2] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2014 Global Trafficking in Persons Report, http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/glotip/GLOTIP14_ExSum_english.pdf.

[3] Walk Free Foundation, 2014 Global Slavery Index, http://www.globalslaveryindex.org/.

[4] UNHCR. Conference puts focus on human trafficking, fastest growing criminal industry. Oct. 11, 2010. http://www.unhcr.org/4cb315c96.html.

[5] The Advocates for Human Rights, “Sex Trafficking Needs Assessment for the State of Minnesota,” http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/uploads/report_final.10.13.08.pdf.

[6] Clawson, Heather J., Nicole Dutch, Amy Solomon, and Lisa Goldblatt Grace, “Human Trafficking Into and Within the United States: A Review of the Literature,” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2009. http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/07/humantrafficking/litrev/.

[7] UNICEF USA, Child Trafficking, http://www.unicefusa.org/mission/protect/trafficking.

Je Suis Charlie & The Right To Freedom of Expression

jesuischarlie
Image from the Charlie Hebdo website

By Jennifer Prestholdt

This week in Paris, 12 people were killed in a brutal attack on the office of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. Among those who lost their lives were two policemen and Charlie Hebdo staff, including editor Stephane Charbonnier and three other well-known cartoonists. 

In the aftermath of the attack, thousands of people around the world have responded with large demonstrations and candlelight vigils. “Je Suis Charlie” has become a worldwide campaign to mourn those who died and to show support for freedom of speech and opinion everywhere. “Je Suis Charlie” has become a global rallying cry for freedom of expression.

The Advocates for Human Rights stands with those who mourn the loss of all who died, and honor the courageous Charlie Hebdo staff who were killed simply because they were exercising their universal human rights. There is no possible justification for these attacks. Those who planned and committed these crimes should be brought to justice through a fair trial. The French government should also take steps to ensure that all aspects of its response to the attack protects human rights, including protecting Muslims in France from reprisals.

This was not the first attack on Charlie Hebdo. The office had been firebombed in 2011 after running cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammad. Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier had received death threats in the past and was living under police protection (his police guard was one of those killed).  The cartoonists who died during the attack, like many political cartoonists around the world, knew that to practice their art was to risk their lives.

In 2012, The Advocates for Human Rights posted a photo essay on an exhibit called “Cartooning for Peace” which highlighted the work of cartoonists around the world who risk great danger in order to voice their opinions and protect freedom of expression.  I am reposting that essay below. In the aftermath of the attacks, “Cartooning for Peace” has begun to publish cartoons in Le Monde which pay homage to those killed in the attacks. You can explore those cartoons here. 

The Charlie Hebdo has posted these two images on their website along with a statement that because freedom of expression is universal right, the next edition of the publication will be published on Wednesday, January 14.

crayon
Image from the Charlie Hebdo website

 CARTOONING FOR PEACE
(originally posted on August 5, 2012)

Cartoon by Kianoush

by Jennifer Prestholdt

In May, I was in Geneva to participate in the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review of Morocco and India. I went for a run one day along Quai Wilson on Lake Geneva and discovered an exhibition of political cartoons. The exhibition was sponsored by Cartooning for Peace/Dessins pour la paix, an initiative conceived of by French political cartoonist Plantu and launched at the United Nations in 2006. The goal of Cartooning for Peace is to promote better understanding and mutual respect between people of different faiths and cultures. Cartooning for Peace also works to promote freedom of expression and to protect the rights of cartoonists.

Cartooning for Peace and the City of Geneva created the new International Prize for Editorial Cartoons to honor cartoonists for their talent, outstanding contribution and commitment to the values of tolerance, freedom and peace. On May 3, 2012  – the World Day of Press Freedom – the prize was awarded for the first time to four Iranian political cartoonists.

Cartoon by Mana Neyestani
Cartoon by Mana Neyestani

The exhibition Dessins Pour La Paix  2012 displayed the work of the award-winning Iranian artists Mana Neyestani, Kianoush,  Firoozeh Mozaffari and Hassan Karimzade.

In addition, the exhibition included dozens of political cartoons by cartoonists around the world on the themes of freedom of expression, the Arab spring and the rights of women.

The exhibition in Geneva ran from May 3 to June 3, 2012. The full catalogue of the cartons featured in the exhibit is now available online.

Take a stroll with me along Quai Wilson and witness the power of the cartooning for peace!

ARAB SPRING 

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

AND THE WOMEN?

Photo credits to Amy Bergquist, staff attorney with The Advocates for Human Rights’ International Justice Program.

Never Give Up: #Ferguson and the Morning After

Never Give Up: #Ferguson and the Morning After

ferguson_021_081414What can any one person do in the face of #Ferguson and grief over a child’s death and despair over a country’s continuing racism and failure? What can any white person say, in the face of so much white failure, white racism, white guilt?

“Never give up. No matter what is going on, never give up. Develop the heart … be compassionate, work for peace, in your heart and in the world. … Never give up.” These words from the Dalai Lama XIV, passed on by poet and elder Louis Alemayehu on this day after #Ferguson’s failure to indict a police officer, point a way to go forward.

I can’t do much, but I can do that much. So can you.

Learning and teaching
The day after is a time to keep on learning and teaching. Too many people, especially white people, do not know our history and do not know basic facts about our present, especially about the continuing existence and effects of institutional racism.

For our history, read James Baldwin’s personal and political story, A Report from Occupied Territory, published in The Nation in 1966. Sadly, the stories of police abuse and brutality toward young black men in Harlem in his day are not only history and not only Harlem, but the present day reality across the United States.

For more about this present, review the stories of Henry Davis or Levar Jones or Henry Walsh or the FBI data showing that cops kill black people at a higher rate than white people. Or read Ta-Nehisi Coates on The Secret Lives of Inner-City Black Males and some of the hundreds of analyses of racial disparities and discrimination in hiring, in housing, in the criminal justice system.

Michael Brown’s story is all over the news, and yet it’s possible to miss essentials in the tsunami of explanation and accusation. Vox has a whole set of short articles explaining 11 things you should know about the Michael Brown shooting. If you are familiar with legal procedure and grand juries in particular, Mark Sumner poses important questions that the “professional reporters” missed in the brief Q&A with St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch. The Nation has a more basic explanation of how the criminal justice system works and why it’s impossible to indict a cop, as well as the “sick joke of self-regulation” by police internal investigations.

Speaking out: Silence gives consent
Today and tomorrow and the day after are the days to post these stories on your Facebook feeds and talk about them at your Thanksgiving tables. Back in August, Janee Woods wrote 12 things white people can do now because Ferguson. The basic message still holds: everybody, not just the activists, needs to speak up. When family members and friends and people who just don’t know any better continue to believe and repeat ignorant or racist tropes, it’s time to speak. Silence gives consent.

Let America be America Again
Way back in the day, African-American poet Langston Hughes wrote about patriotism, demanding that America become “the dream that dreamers dreamed.” In his words:

America never was America to me,

And yet I swear this oath —

America will be!

We can and we must continue to march, speak, write, protest, argue and demand that America become

The land that never has been yet —

And yet must be — the land where every man is free.


By guest blogger Mary Turck, a freelance writer and editor, and an adjunct faculty member at Macalester College and Metropolitan State University, teaching occasional journalism and writing courses. She edited the TC Daily Planet, an online daily news publication, from January 2007 to July 2014, and before that, edited the Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG. In earlier years, she worked as a freelance writer and editor, practiced law in Chicago and Minnesota, taught in elementary schools, colleges and prisons, and worked as a community organizer. She is also the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues. She currently lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  Be sure to visit Turck’s blog, News Day.

New Sanctury Movement Challenges Consciences

Stock Photo woman behind fenceBeatriz Ramirez and her two young children moved into Chicago’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission in September. Rosa Robles Loreto has lived in Tucson’s Southside Presbyterian Church since August. In Philadelphia, the Indonesian Mennonite Philadelphia Praise Center and the Jewish Tikkun Olam Havurah stand ready to welcome immigrants seeking sanctuary. They are part of a new sanctuary movement, with religious groups from Maine to California committing to shelter immigrants in danger of deportation. Besides offering sanctuary to immigrants, they challenge the country’s leaders to change harsh and punitive immigration laws.

Sanctuary has no legal standing in the United States, though its historic roots run back through English law, Christian and Jewish religious practice, and Greek and Roman traditions. Those laws and traditions promise safety from retribution or punishment to accused criminals who take refuge in a church or designated place of sanctuary. Today’s sanctuary movement offers refuge to undocumented immigrants in danger of deportation by the U.S. government.

The first person living in sanctuary in Southside Presbyterian Church was granted a stay of deportation. Now the focus is on Rosa Robles Loreto and the church’s website describes her plight:

“Rosa Robles Loreto has two beautiful boys, a loving husband, and has lived in Tucson since 1999. She is an active member of the community, volunteers at her church, her sons’ school, and their baseball teams. But she was ordered to be deported after a minor traffic violation. Like millions of other undocumented immigrants in the United States, Rosa’s case is considered low-priority for ICE—she has no criminal history, is a caretaker for minors and has long-standing community ties. But she was in detention for 53 days and fought her immigration case through the courts to no avail.  Now, Rosa lives with an order of deportation hanging over her head and is not safe to move freely in her home community of Tucson.”

The Huffington Post recently described Robles Loreto’s daily routine:

“Robles Loreto’s two young sons stay with her on weekends. During the week, she wakes up around 5 a.m. to prepare her husband’s lunch, goes back to sleep, and awakes again by 7:30 a.m. She helps clean the church. Southside officials make sure there is someone at the church at all hours to ensure Robles Loreto is safe.”

Immigration agents have the authority to invade churches and take away the families, but generally avoid making arrests in churches and schools. Instead, the immigrants wait, hoping for a stay of deportation in some cases, for a grant of asylum in others.

Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson is a veteran sanctuary church, having led the 1980s sanctuary movement, which sheltered refugees from Central American wars. The Migration Policy Institute describes the earlier movement:

“The defense of the Salvadorans and Guatemalans marked a new use of international human rights norms by U.S. activists. Citing the Nuremberg principles of personal accountability developed in the post-World War II Nazi tribunals, religious activists claimed a legal precedent to justify their violation of U.S. laws against alien smuggling. Other activists claimed that their actions were justified by the religious and moral principles of the 19th-century U.S. abolitionist movement, referring to their activities as a new ‘Underground Railroad.'”

More than 150 congregations sponsored Salvadoran or Guatemalan refugees during the 1980s, with hundreds more supporting the movement.

In Minnesota, St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church in Wayzata resolved that it would “actively resist the immoral and illegal policy of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service by declaring this church… to be a ‘sanctuary’ for refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala.” The church sheltered Salvadoran Rene Hurtado for six weeks, and continued to support him through legal battles that lasted for 25 years.

Today’s sanctuary movement has a broader scope, including not only refugees but also people who have lived in U.S. communities for years and have never had access to any path to legalization. With deportations reaching another record high in 2013, and with no progress toward immigration reform, the new sanctuary movement offers a tiny sliver of space to some of the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live in fear in the United States. More importantly, the growth of the new sanctuary movement could awaken the consciences of millions of Americans to demand comprehensive immigration reform and a path to legalization for people who are part of the fabric of our communities.

By guest blogger Mary Turck, a freelance writer and editor, and an adjunct faculty member at Macalester College and Metropolitan State University, teaching occasional journalism and writing courses. She edited the TC Daily Planet, an online daily news publication, from January 2007 to July 2014, and before that, edited the Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG. In earlier years, she worked as a freelance writer and editor, practiced law in Chicago and Minnesota, taught in elementary schools, colleges and prisons, and worked as a community organizer. She is also the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues. She currently lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  Be sure to visit Turck’s blog, News Day.

Safety in Everyday Realities

Safety in Everyday Realities

It’s a bright and shiny day in Minnesota, with the temperature working its way into the 70s for the first time in months. It’s a bright and shiny day, too, because Governor Mark Dayton will sign the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act at a ceremony on the State Capitol steps at four o’clock this afternoon.

The bullying prevention bill arrived on Governor Dayton’s desk this morning, after vigorous debate in the Minnesota House and Senate and thanks to the more than 100 groups that rallied to support the bill.

“We talk about this [bill] being about anti-bullying, and it is. It’s also about positioning Minnesota as a leader in the next generation of education reform,” said Rep. Jim Davnie, the bill’s chief sponsor in the Minnesota House, as reported this morning by the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

After the Governor signs the bill, its political moment will be over. But, this is when the act’s language will meet its real challenges: daily routines and everyday realities. Boisterous and chaotic hallways, lunchrooms, and playgrounds, where small actions can go undetected; quiet locker rooms after most of the kids have gone home; corners of classrooms as teachers help other students; and the lightening-fast expanse of social media, where dozens of kids in any given school are about to post a comment or photo.

We all know that there is work to be done in order to ensure safety in these commonplace interactions and to help students do what is difficult even for adults— to show others respect and to speak up when someone is the target of injustice.

I have worked with many teachers over the years who wanted to learn more about human rights education in order to provide the knowledge, skills, and values that empower young people to stand up, empathize with others, make good decisions, and ultimately create safe spaces and positive environments. They know that such instruction needs to be explicit.

So, too, do our laws. Administrators, teachers, and students need clear guidance and protection. Fortunately, the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act will help meet this need.

Every child has the right to security of person and to an education. It will soon be time to dig in and do the work that is called for in this bill. I believe that Minnesotans are up to the challenge, and I hope that soon more students will feel safer and more secure as they go about their day.

***

For resources on bullying and other issues affecting students and schools, please see The Advocates’ website dedicated to human rights education, DiscoverHumanRights.org, which includes newsletters on bullying and social emotional learning.

To read how this bill stands to help immigrant and refugee students, turn to The Advocates’ recently released groundbreaking report, “Moving from Exclusion to Belonging: Immigrant Rights in Minnesota Today” that explores the concept of “welcome” in our communities.