Do Consular Notification Rights Matter? In Capital Cases, They Can Mean The Difference Between Life And Death.

A young black man, born in Germany, moved with his family to the United States as a small child, settling in rural Alabama. Let’s call him T. Although T struggled in school from the very start, and in developing the necessary skills to manage his life on a day-to-day basis, he received virtually no help – no medical, psychological, or real educational interventions to identify or develop skills to cope with what would only much later be found to be very significant disabilities. Predictably, T fell behind, left school, and drifted unsuccessfully through a series of menial jobs. When he was arrested and charged with having participated, with several other people, in a robbery murder, he was unable to explain how he had been manipulated by people who knew how to use his gullibility. He did not understand what had happened, and the State of Alabama didn’t care. It charged T with capital murder and sought the death penalty.  

The US death penalty system erects many barriers that impede the ability of people accused of capital crimes to adequately defend themselves. When the defendant is a foreign national, an additional barrier – one that violates international law – frequently arises. Under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, a treaty to which the US is a party, a person who is arrested or imprisoned must be notified “without delay” of his right to communicate with the consulate of his home country, and that if he so requests, his home consulate must be notified of his circumstances, also “without delay.”  

In dozens of US death penalty cases, this provision has been violated. In fact, the Death Penalty Information Center was able to identify only two cases of fully compliance with consular notification rights out of more than reported 130 cases it reviewed. The International Court of Justice, created by the United Nations to hear disputes between countries regarding their treaty obligations, has repeatedly held the US responsible for these failures. In cases such as the LaGrand case (Germany v. US) and the Avena case (Mexico v. US), among others, the ICJ found that foreign nationals were convicted and sentenced to death with no notification of their right to consular communication, and their home countries’ consular officials only learned of their plight years later, when it was far too late for any assistance provided to be effective.  

The right to have one’s consulate notified, and to receive consular assistance, is far more than a mere formality. Many foreign consulates take an active approach to death penalty cases involving nationals from their countries, and if given timely notice will take steps to ensure that their nationals receive adequate representation from the very outset of the case. This involvement can be critical in US state jurisdictions where authorities often violate indigent defendants’ right to effective counsel.  

During my many years of private practice in Alabama, I worked on many post-conviction death penalty cases in which the most glaring problem was woefully ineffective representation provided by appointed counsel for an indigent defendant. While in some cases the appointed counsel were simply unqualified or incompetent, a huge factor in every case was the severe lack of adequate compensation and resources provided to appointed counsel by the State of Alabama. To be handled properly, a death penalty case involves many hundreds of hours of work, a tremendous amount of research, multiple pretrial motions on a wide range of issues, and access to qualified experts to address matters such as intellectual disability, mitigation evidence, and so on.  

My own personal experience in T’s case in Alabama demonstrates how early consular intervention can make a life-saving difference in a death penalty case. T was very poor. His appointed counsel, unlike many others I had encountered, were both quite competent and diligent, but they suffered from the same lack of resources as all others. In addition, they faced a hostile trial judge who was trying to rush the case to trial, and who made bad rulings on important issues from the outset. Fortunately, T’s mother was a savvy person who notified the German consulate very early about her son’s case. Consular officials reached out to an international organization that works on death penalty issues. That organization, in turn, contacted me and asked that I get involved in the case along with its staff attorney, who was not in Alabama.  

Over a period of several months, my law firm and I provided pro bono support to the appointed trial team. We researched and drafted numerous pretrial motions, as well as successful mandamus petitions to overturn the trial judge’s earlier rulings. We assisted the trial team in identifying, seeking funds for, and hiring the experts needed to address T’s suspected intellectual disability, and ultimately filed a motion to exclude the death penalty in his case because of that disability. I’m happy to say that motion was also successful, and the trial court had little choice but to order that the death penalty be excluded. I have nothing but admiration for the hard work of the appointed lawyers in T’s case, but it is fair to say that this result would not have been achieved if the German consulate had not arranged for the additional pro bono assistance T received. The meager resources the appointed lawyers were provided, and the trial court’s efforts to rush them to trial before the intellectual disability case could be properly developed, would have prevented it from happening.  

Want to learn more about the vital importance of access to effective and adequately resourced counsel, as well as other important issues surrounding the death penalty? Check out the resources listed below, participate in World Day Against The Death Penalty, and join The Advocates and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty for an informative one-hour panel discussion featuring three long-time US death penalty litigators.  

By Lisa Borden, staff attorney for the International Justice Program at The Advocates for Human Rights. Before joining The Advocates earlier this year, Lisa practiced law in Alabama and worked on civil rights litigation including numerous death penalty cases. Lisa was also a frequent pro bono volunteer for The Advocates while in private practice.

The Advocates for Human Rights is a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. The Advocates represents more than 1000 asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and immigrants in detention through a network of hundreds of pro bono legal professionals.


Indonesia, the Interahamwe and… ICE: Why Forced Sterilization in Immigration Detention is a Bellwether for Large-Scale Human Rights Abuses

The United States conducts human rights programs and judges other countries’ record of human rights, is part of the world community which consistently condemns crimes against humanity, and has entered wars and supported international missions under the auspices of stopping and preventing such atrocities.  And yet, whistleblower allegations indicate that the United States Government is using forced sterilizations in ICE immigration detention facilities. This, combined with the pattern of practice by ICE and the Trump Administration, raises not only human rights concerns for the individuals subjected to these harms, but questions of the mass human rights catastrophe created by immigration detention and the Administration’s xenophobic approach. 

The complaint alleges improper access to medical care, insufficient protections against COVID-19 and a pattern of practice of forced sterilizations.  The number of women forced to undergo hysterectomies and the reasons given for such is what worried the whistleblower.  She noted, “I’ve had several inmates tell me that they’ve been to see the doctor and they’ve had hysterectomies and they don’t know why they went or why they’re going.”  

Forced sterilization is outlawed as a crime against humanity, war crime, and crime of genocide in international law.  Measures that are intended to prevent births within a group are also prohibited as a crime of genocide under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which the U.S. agreed to uphold and prosecute violations of. Several treaties, including the Convention against Torture (CAT) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the US has ratified and is legally bound to uphold, prohibit the practices alleged to be carried out in ICE detention. The Committee Against Torture has  stated that women are particularly at risk in contexts of “deprivation of liberty [and] medical treatment, particularly involving reproductive decisions. . . .”

Other treaties protect women against sex-based discrimination so they can “decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children.” (CEDAW, Art. 16(1)(e)). International law safeguards other related rights, including the right to security of person and protection against arbitrary interference with one’s privacy and family. More broadly, the right to protection of the family by both society and the state is widely recognized (UDHR, Art. 16(3)).

These legal standards have been built in response to the lessons learned by witnessing the abuse of women’s bodies as a tactic of war and oppression. For example, reading about forced sterilizations by ICE should conjure images of the eugenics-driven program in Nazi Germany, which also used forced sterilizations in furtherance of its ethnic cleansing campaign.  These allegations have particularly shocked me as I have witnessed the interplay of violence against women in the context of genocide and serious crimes against humanity. 

I worked in Timor-Leste and on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) after focusing on human rights law and post-conflict recovery in my undergraduate and law school studies.  I have also worked as an immigration lawyer in the U.S. and on human rights programs with the United States government.  The coercive reproductive tactics used by ICE are familiar to me—not directly from my work in immigration, but from my experience in Timor-Leste and with the ICTR.  At the ICTR, I read witness statements and prepared summaries for the judges that spoke about coercive reproductive tactics used by the Interahamwe militia.  This was the first international tribunal to issue a conviction for rape as a means of perpetrating genocide and as a weapon of war, but it was not the first instance of such violations and, clearly, is not the last.  In my work on the island nation of Timor-Leste, I worked with strong Timorese women who explained how the Indonesian military used coercive reproductive tactics and sexual assault during a 30-year occupation, which saw more than 30% of the population murdered and untold numbers, especially women, subjected to other harms.  There, I also listened to Timorese women talk of the rape and sexual assaults perpetrated by Japanese soldiers during WW2.  Time has not healed these scars. 

While we read stories and see movies most often about the bloody murders committed as part of genocidal and tyrannical campaigns, the scars born by women’s bodies and minds are particularly salient.  Sexual violence, including forced sterilization, is a unique kind of evil that subjugates women as weapons of war and oppression.  It turns one of the most basic elements of womanhood—bodies—into a tool to erase one’s race, ethnic group, or nationality.  Reading that forced sterilizations have been carried out against detained women by agents of the government to whom I pay taxes— and for whom I have actually worked on human rights programs in a country that bears the traumas of such tactics— is beyond sickening. 

Yet, the whistleblower complaint comes in the context of other oppressive and xenophobic immigration policies used by the Trump Administration. In 2018, for example, the ACLU brought a successful lawsuit against the Administration for its attempts to force unwanted pregnancies amongst detained immigrant women and girls. Reports of sexual assault and abuse by ICE and CBP officers are also common.  The Administration has proposed and implemented policies restricting asylum protections for vulnerable women. It has never ended its shocking family separation scheme. And, the Administration continues to detain migrants and conduct apprehension operations at the border and within the United States—including right here in Minnesota— despite numerous condemnations about the risks of COVID-19 in facilities. These tactics reflect a general distain for the lives and humanity of people in immigration custody, and migrant women in particular.

Adding to the hypocrisy and shock of these actions is the fact that forced sterilization, if perpetrated in the woman’s home country, would provide a basis for the same Department of Homeland Security which houses ICE to grant asylum in the United States.  U.S. immigration law provides: “a person who has been forced to . . . undergo involuntary sterilization . . . shall be deemed to have been persecuted on account of political opinion.”  There is something distinctly disturbing about the very government that grants refugee protections on the basis of forced sterilization using such tactics against the same populations designed to be protected.  And, given the larger context of xenophobia, white nationalism and racism running through anti-immigrant policies, such actions by ICE raise concerns of a wider scheme that, left unchecked, will become akin to the ethnic cleansing we have condemned and sworn to prevent. 

Not only is this a departure from our standing as a leader against human atrocities, it is a regression to dark periods in the U.S. itself.  The United States has a long history of using such tactics to perpetrate xenophobic schemes against vulnerable populations. 

Without decisive action to investigate, prevent and punish these actions, we risk not only violating human rights but sliding down the path of ethnic cleansing that we have so urgently condemned. Abuse of human bodies, and particularly of women, is a bellwether for oppressive regimes. The Advocates for Human Rights calls on the Administration to immediately cease these tactics and investigate and punish these actors, for Congress to investigate and hold those responsible to account for these crimes against humanity, and for all of us to demand better. 

By Lindsey Greising, Staff Attorney, Research, Education and Advocacy at The Advocates For Human Rights

Police Use of Force Laws: Minnesota Falls Short


Today, a Minnesota court will hear several significant motions in the cases against Derek Chavin and the three other former Minneapolis police officers charged in the killing of George Floyd. Among the matters Judge Peter Cahill will consider in the September 11 hearing are the state’s motion for a joint trial of all defendants and the defendants’ motions to change venue from Hennepin County. Motions to dismiss charges also have been filed and remain pending. The court’s ruling on these matters will have a significant impact on how the cases proceed.

The four defendants face charges of murder and manslaughter, but the charges appear to sidestep the fact that they were committed by armed state actors. Few U.S. states have criminal statutes that specifically address the use of excessive force or other violations of law by police officers. Like Minnesota, most states use generally-applicable statutes to prosecute police misconduct, such as statutes prohibiting criminal homicide or assault.     

Attempting to fit the square peg of human rights violations by armed state actors into the round hole of general criminal statutory schemes can be challenging. Violence between civilians is qualitatively different from that experienced by civilians at the hands of the state.

International standards on police use of force address this disconnect, yet no major U.S. city follows international standards regarding police use of force.. These standards call for armed state actors to follow basic principles:

  1. In any use of force, the police and other law enforcement officials must respect the principles of necessity and proportionality.
  2. Each use of force must be justified and justifiable.
  3. Rules governing the use of force, including weapons that may lawfully be used, should be set out in national legislation and other administrative provisions.
  4. Medical assistance shall be provided to any person, including a criminal suspect, who has been injured during action by any law enforcement official.
  5. The police and other law enforcement officials shall be held accountable for their use of force.
  6. Operations shall be planned to minimize the risk of death or injury.

International standards on police use of force derive from core treaty obligations which recognize the right to life, security of the person, equal protection, and non-discrimination. International handbooks[1] and codes of conduct for law enforcement officials flesh out international legal standards. Core international treaties and documents address police misconduct, including the Universal Declaration Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, and the Convention against Torture (CAT). 

In particular, the excessive use of force by police is specifically prohibited by two major international treaties to which the United States is party: the ICCPR and the CAT.  While U.S. reservations to the treaties mean they require specific enacting legislation to create civil or criminal liability for the state actor, the rights enshrined by these treaties are no less real.

The international standards seek to counter the risks of human rights violations which attend the deployment of armed state actors. Police—who are trained to use authorized and reasonable force against civilians when they deem it necessary—must be held accountable for human rights violations when they abuse that power.

Like many U.S. states, Minnesota fails to meet these international standards regarding police use of force. The resultant accountability gap has contributed to growing impunity for extrajudicial killings and for sub-lethal human rights violations.

Earlier this year, the University of Chicago Law School International Human Rights Clinic published Deadly Discretion: The Failure of Police Use of Force Policies to Meet Fundamental International Human Rights Laws and Standards. The report scored the United States’ 20 largest cities on their compliance with international law. The authors employed four key measures in their assessment: legality, necessity, proportionality, and accountability. Its findings are sobering and help to explain the escalating demands for fundamental changes in policing.

“No city satisfied the requirement of legality because no state has a human rights compliant state law. The failure to enact legislative standards on police use of force undermines the rule of law, frustrates accountability for misuse of state power, and weakens police department policies.”

What makes for compliant state law?

  1. LEGALITY | Use of force policies must sit within a human rights compliant federal and state legislative framework that properly balances security needs with individual human rights.
  2. NECESSITY | All law and policies on police use of force must comply with the necessity requirement and only allow for force when “absolutely necessary” to save the life or prevent serious bodily harm of an officer or civilian as a “last resort” to other alternatives.
  3. PROPORTIONALITY | In addition to being necessary, the use of force must always be proportionate to the threat the officer confronts and weighed against the fundamental human rights of the individual, including the rights to life and security of person.
  4. ACCOUNTABILITY | Accountability requires an independent, external review of each use of lethal force by the police as well as departmental transparency of use of force policies and practices.

While legislation passed in Minnesota in July 2020 took a step toward bridging the accountability gap, much work remains. At the top of the list: enacting legal limits on police use of force that comply with international human rights and standards of necessity, proportionality and accountability and protect and enable individual human rights.

Learn more:

Retired attorney Duane Krohnke walks through the September 11 hearing agenda here.

You can find a detailed analysis of the law on police use of force worldwide maintained by the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria.

[1] See, for example, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s Handbook on Police Accountability, Oversight and Integrity (New York, 2011) and United Nations Convention Against Corruption (New York, 2004).

Criminal Charges Reflect, Reinforce Power Imbalance Between Law Enforcement and Communities


The chest camera footage of former Minneapolis police officers Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane—two of the men involved in killing George Floyd—has been made available online. The opening minutes of video illuminate a casual brutality and violence by the police. Lane approaches the car from behind, banging on the window with his Maglite. He clearly startles Mr. Floyd, shouting at him to show his hands. Within 15 seconds, Lane draws his gun on a man suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. Anyone would have panicked. Despite Lane repeatedly yelling at him to “show his fucking hands,” Mr. Floyd stays polite, looking down, calling Lane “sir” or “Mr. Officer.” Mr. Floyd is distraught. He tells Lane that he has been shot before. He begs him not to shoot. He tells him that his mother has just died. He tells them he’s just had COVID. As the minutes unfold the officers continue to escalate the man’s panicked state until Derek Chauvin pins him to the ground.

While Minnesota prosecutors have filed criminal charges against the officers, the charges available to prosecutors have raised questions.

For some abolitionists, the filing of any criminal charges—including against the officers involved in Floyd’s killing—perpetuates a fundamentally tainted system. International human rights law recognizes that victims of human rights violations have a right to a remedy and that accountability is an important tool to prevent future harms. Neither consideration necessitates nor is limited to criminal prosecution and punishment (check out our earlier blog here).

But others have questioned why Chauvin doesn’t face first-degree murder charges.

What charges do the former officers face?

Following the transfer of prosecution to Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was charged with second-degree and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter, for the death of George Floyd. The three officers with Chauvin at the time of Floyd’s killing, Lane, Kueng, and Tou Thao, each have been charged with aiding and abetting second- degree murder and manslaughter.

Derek Chauvin faces three separate charges, each with different elements:

  • Second-degree unintentional murder requires that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death and Chauvin was committing or attempting to commit a felony offense (in this case, assault) at the time. The maximum sentence is 40 years in prison, with a recommended sentence of 10-15 years.
  • Third-degree murder requires Chauvin to commit an act that was “eminently dangerous to others… without regard for human life,” and the act caused Floyd’s death. The maximum sentence for third-degree murder is 25 years in prison and the recommended sentence is 10-15.
  • Manslaughter requires showing Floyd died because Chauvin deliberately committed an act that has an unreasonable risk of death. The maximum sentence for manslaughter is 10 years in prison and/or payment of a fine up to $20,000. The recommended sentence for manslaughter is 4 years in prison.

Aiding and abetting charges require that the other officers intentionally aided, advised, counseled, or conspired with Chauvin to commit the acts that caused Floyd’s death. This charge does not require Chauvin be convicted for either murder or manslaughter. A conviction for aiding and abetting carries the same penalties as for the crimes of murder or manslaughter faced by Chauvin.  

Why not first-degree murder?

Although prosecutors have announced their intent to seek stiff sentences, The officers involved in the killing of George Floyd have not been charged with first-degree murder. Under Minnesota law, first-degree murder charges can be brought only when there is evidence of an intentional killing after premeditation, or that the killing took place in the course of specifically enumerated situations. Amongst those situations, Minnesota statute 609.185 defines first degree murder as intentionally causing the death of a peace officer, prosecuting attorney, judge, or a guard employed at a Minnesota state or local correctional facility while the person is engaged in the performance of official duties.

Minnesota is not out of step with other states. A 2016 survey by the Anti-Defamation League shows that all 50 states provide harsher penalties when a law enforcement officer is the victim. For example, in Michigan, obstructing a police officer, even if no injury results, is a felony punishable by up to two years in prison, while an officer’s assault upon a civilian would result in a maximum penalty of 93 days. If a civilian injures a police officer with a firearm in Pennsylvania, they face a sentence of up to 40 years–similar to the sentence Chauvin faces for second-degree murder in Minnesota.

The United States is not alone. Canada’s Criminal Code provides an automatic upgrade to first-degree murder where the victim is a police officer. In Chile, an “attack against authority” may be separately charged with a penalty that includes imprisonment and a substantial fine. The United Kingdom and Albania provide mandatory statutory sentencing of at least 30 years for individuals who murder police officers. In Armenia and Norway, violence against an officer is a separate offense with its own prison sentence. Some countries have taken a different approach. Germany rejects the idea that police officers require more protection than civilians, recognizing that the police have unique training, legal authority, and special equipment. Similarly, Spain and Liechtenstein do not enhance penalties for murder when the victim is a police officer. South Africa rejected a proposal to provide harsher sentencing for violence against police officers after multiple police killings occurred. 

The rationale for aggravated charges or enhanced penalties for crimes against police typically involves deterrence. Proponents of deterrence argue that, when the state asks an individual to put themselves in harm’s way, the state should take measures to prevent them from being injured or killed. But it also involves the idea of retribution, suggesting that police officers are either more valuable or more vulnerable that civilians.

Different standards: who needs protection from whom?

Meanwhile, there are no corresponding enhanced penalties or elevated charges for crimes committed by police. This asymmetrical approach, which treats crimes against police more severely than crimes by police, reinforces the power imbalance between the police and the policed. While many jurisdictions have statutes that criminalize abuse of official authority, if a police officer assaults or kills someone, they face the same charges as anyone else. Law enforcement officials may also benefit from specific defenses and from qualified immunity, which protects them from claims of civil rights violations. (The Supreme Court decided earlier this summer to let an expansive interpretation of this judicial doctrine stand. For a deeper dive into how qualified immunity has undermined accountability for crimes by police read our June 15 blog).

Police officers undoubtedly take on additional—often significant—personal risk in the course of their duties. But they also assume an elevated duty of public trust as people who are armed, trained to use sub-lethal and deadly force, and vested with authority to pursue, arrest, and detain people. Many international human rights standards exist precisely to limit abuses of this power by armed state actors.

International policing standards recognize that when police violate this public trust, both the directly harmed individual and society suffer. But a recent study by the University of Chicago Law School’s Global Human Rights Clinic found that police forces in the United States’ 20 largest cities fail to meet basic international standards regarding use of force.

One important place to begin is eliminating laws which perpetuate the imbalances and racial disparities that allow extrajudicial killings to occur. Differential treatment where police officers are the victims weakens accountability.[1] Policies that enhance punishment for crimes committed against law enforcement officers, while failing to hold law enforcement officers responsible for crimes committed by them ensures the continued power imbalance between citizens and police officers. This power imbalance is exacerbated by the resources, training, and power police officers wield. Calls for police reform recognize that an important step is balancing these power dynamics by utilizing resources and funding for prevention and alternative forms of policing. And, States have recognized these issues in some areas, such as providing specific penalties and charges for sexual conduct by police officers or correction officers. States must also reflect the enhanced duty of care police officers owe to citizens by virtue of these dynamics.

And while criminal charges may be important steps towards justice, they fail to address the deep layers of harm which extrajudicial killings inflict on the targeted communities. Limiting criminal accountability to the four individuals involved sidesteps the systemic betrayal which occurs when power given to armed state actors tasked with keeping the “community” safe is used for repression and violence.

[1] See, also, MN Stat.609.2231: subd. 1: physical assault of a police officer is 4th degree assault (a gross misdemeanor, raising the penalty from 90 days for other assaults to 365 days); an assault inflicting demonstrable (observable) bodily harm or throwing bodily fluids is a 3-year felony (would be a misdemeanor upon a civilian).


Navigating a New Normal in Relationship Building

Samantha Nelson, summer Development Intern at The Advocates For Human Rights and senior at University of Michigan, Class of 2021

Before joining The Advocates as an intern, I had only a vague idea how nonprofits operate and knew little about the meaning of and working in development. Eight weeks later, and I can confidently say that my knowledge of the inner workings of the nonprofit world has grown ten-fold. 

At the core of development is building long-lasting relationships. The common thread through all the projects that I tackled over the past few months has been sustaining connections. For example, I worked on an intern engagement campaign that showcases the valuable role of young people in human rights advocacy. The project consisted of asking current interns from all different programs to describe the experiences that brought them to The Advocates. I also wanted to know why they felt compelled to be involved in human rights. Aside from helping me learn more about my fellow interns, the project also taught me how to be a more effective communicator, a critical skill in development. When I drafted intern emails, I had to be mindful of the language I used, the tone I took, and the clarity of my request. Reflecting on my communication with the interns now, I realize that the goal of the campaign wasn’t just to extract information from each individual, but to form relationships, to really get to know each intern with intentionality and genuine interest. 

Strengthening relationships was also at the core of another project. I wrote handwritten cards to longtime friends and partners of The Advocates and learned that seemingly small tokens like birthday cards demonstrate a commitment of time and energy and, by extension, symbolize a commitment to the supporters of The Advocates themselves. Investing time is crucial to constructing long-lasting relationships, which, as I’ve come to learn, is something that development prioritizes in all of its interactions.  

Deep-rooted relationships are the key to running a sustainable nonprofit because it’s these relationships that we can depend on during difficult times. And these are difficult times indeed. In the midst of a global public health and racial crisis, this may well be one of the most trying years that many of us have ever faced. These crises have created tangible obstacles to establishing connections and maintaining relationships. With our external partners, we face new challenges of planning engaging virtual events, accommodating different preferences, and preserving a spirit of positivity and hope. Internally, we lose the small moments of office coffee chats, intern lunches, and the flow of the workday. At the center of one of the most formidable moments in history, we’ve all been forced to take pause and wonder where there is room for relationship-building in this unfamiliar reality. 

Countless uncertainties and barriers lie ahead for us all. Daunting as the future may feel, there is always room for relationship-building. As I reflect back on my internship at The Advocates, I realize that relationship-building, though undeniably difficult, is not only still possible, but also essential. While there were no talks over coffee or lunch breaks with coworkers, there were brown bag lunches, weekly virtual chats with cohorts of interns and various program directors, and mentorship zoom calls. And although the workday couldn’t fit the conventional nine to five structure, there were still weekly staff meetings with updates on the progress of respective programs and stories of both challenges and triumphs. Even without in-person interaction, I realize that I was able to build relationships: during weekly meetings with my supervisors, while collaborating on projects with my coworker Chloé, and through check-in Zoom “coffee chats” with my internship mentor. Though I hadn’t expected to form bonds over zoom calls and WhatsApp messages this summer, I’m grateful for these virtual moments and the knowledge I’ve gained from the people with whom I spent them.   

In times of crisis and inconsistency, we all need connection and relationships to ground us. Though the next year will present hurdles to overcome, development’s role will be more vital than ever before because what the world needs now is connection. Development is the glue of the nonprofit. It keeps all of us– staff, donors, interns, and friends– engaged and united under the common goal of creating a more equal and just society.  

When I think back to the handwritten thank you letters, my mind always wanders to the same line, ‘You are changing the world for good.’ These words encapsulate the essence of The Advocates’ goal to not only create a more inclusive and just world, but to inspire others to do the same. I like to think that development’s role is to connect us to one another and guide us all toward that shared goal, a goal that, whether in person or through a computer screen, I know we’ll keep fighting for. 

By Samantha Nelson, Development Intern at The Advocates For Human Rights and a senior at the University of Michigan.

The Advocates for Human Rights is a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. The Advocates represents more than 1000 asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and immigrants in detention through a network of hundreds of pro bono legal professionals.

Peaceful Protests Met With Excessive Force in Belarus

Recent days in Belarus has seen egregious violence, police brutality, suppression of freedom of assembly and expression, and threats to a fair and free election process for president. The President of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko, has been the leader of Belarus for 26 years. In 1991, Belarus gained independence from the Soviet Union. On August 9th, 2020, presidential elections were once again held. The two leading candidates were President Lukashenko and Ms. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Ms. Tikhanovskaya ran in place of her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky. Early voting ran from August 4th until August 8th. According to activist groups, beginning on July 22nd, the Central Elections Commission limited the number of observers at the voting stations, stating this was necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The result was only 11.5% of the trained monitors had access to the voting stations and only for a limited amount of time.

When the election results came in, the Central Elections Committee declared President Lukashenko won re-election with more than 80% of the votes. Ms. Tikhanovskaya refused to recognize the results, stating that her data from the voting stations indicated she had actually received around 70-90% of the votes. Activists stated that other organizations, including “Platform ‘Holas’”, reported similar findings and that voters had published photos of final voting reports from a number of voting stations all of Belarus with the unfalsified results.

After the results were announced on August 9th, citizens gathered in the streets of Minsk and other cities in Belarus to peacefully protest. During that first day, more than 3,000 were arrested. Their peaceful, unarmed protest was met by excessive force by the Belarusian police. This force included tear gas, flash-bang grenades, water cannons, rubber bullets, and beatings. Similar events took place on the second evening, with more than 2,000 people detained.

Before the third evening of protests began on August 11th, activists reported police began to make “preventive” arrests of those who seemed suspicious. That evening, there was a crackdown on journalists, with police beating journalists and breaking their equipment. Eventually protestors began to throw bricks at the police; the police chased protestors and brutally detain them.  Children and other bystanders were included in the arrests. Cars were damaged by the police and drivers were beaten and arrested. Overall, activists reported 6,000 people are said to have been arrested during those three days, although the independent mass media source Nasha Niva believes this number to be underestimated. Around 50 of those arrested were journalists. Amnesty International and other local groups have reported protestors have described “being tortured or subjected to other ill-treatment in detention centres, including being stripped naked, beaten, and threatened with rape.”.

 President Lukashenko continues to refuse a recount, instead accusing opposition of attempting a coup. Neighboring states refuse to recognize the re-election of President Lukashenko and calling for free elections. Since August 12, 2020, there continue to be peaceful protests and strikes in Minsk and other cities. Strikes include employees at a state-run factor, a demographic that has historically supported the president. Internationally, President Putin has pledged Russian assistance to President Lukashenko should Belarus be invaded and has warned both President Macron of France and German Chancellor Angela Merkel against interfering. EU leaders called an emergency summit, after which they stated “they would not recognize the results of the recent Belarus election and would shortly impose sanctions on those who were involved in electoral fraud and the repression of protests.”, with details  to bedeveloped. The leaders released a joint statement supporting those on the streets in Belarus, being cautious to avoid stating they do not recognize the authority of President Lukashenko. Finally, they offered to assist the government and the opposition mediation. In addition, it was announced that 53 million Euros will be re-directed from the state of Belarus to non-governmental organizations, victim assistance and COVID relief.

While talks continue, President Lukashenko has once again ordered police back on the streets, stating ‘There should no longer be any disorder in Minsk of any kind.”. After several days of peaceful protests and an absence of law enforcement, police vans are in the streets, and officers have been stationed outside factories. With this increased presence of law enforcement, the use of excessive police force against peaceful protestors must be condemned. “Her Team” has released a report that details several other violations and abuses, including illegal detentions, inhuman treatment and torture, internet shutdowns, and harassment and threats against women political opposition leaders. 

By Elizabeth Montgomery, Staff Attorney, Women’s Human Rights Program at The Advocates For Human Rights.

The Advocates for Human Rights is a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. The Advocates represents more than 1000 asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and immigrants in detention through a network of hundreds of pro bono legal professionals.