Why Pompeo’s Commission on Unalienable Rights Is Wrong

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently unveiled the draft report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights (Commission). During the event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia (“a place intentionally chosen”, even if it is currently closed to the public), Secretary Pompeo gave a speech entitled “Unalienable Rights and the Securing of Freedom”.   

“And it’s important – it’s important for every American, for every American diplomat, to recognize how our founders understood unalienable rights.  As you’ll see when you get a chance to read this report, the report emphasizes foremost among these rights are property rights and religious liberty.”   – Secretary Pompeo, July 16, 2020 

https://www.state.gov/unalienable-rights-and-the-securing-of-freedom/

When reading the draft report, it is important to remember that the Commission is a political body created by Secretary Pompeo to perform a very specific, political function: to create an official U.S. State Department document that reflects his own view of human rights, narrowing the definition to undermine fundamental principles of international human rights law and backtrack on U.S. foreign policy objectives that provide protections for historically marginalized groups, including women, racial and ethnic minorities, and the LGBTQI community (human rights which Secretary Pompeo has called “ad hoc” rights). 

As an organization committed to implementing international human rights standards, The Advocates for Human Rights is deeply concerned about the mandate and work to date of the Commission, as well as the potential harm that the Commission’s report may have on the United States’ fulfillment of its international human rights obligations.  When the Commission was created in July 2019, we joined with other U.S. human rights leaders in sending Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a  public letter letter expressing concern about the many legal, moral, and philosophical problems with the Commission, its mandate, and its makeup, and calling for the Commission to be immediately disbanded. Our concerns deepened as we observed the work of the Commission over the past year. In April 2020, we submitted comments directly to the Commission as it prepared its “advice and recommendations concerning international human rights matters” to Secretary Pompeo, in keeping with its mandate.  

Now that the Commission has released its draft report and recommendations, we are alarmed that the report would narrow the scope of U.S. obligations under international human rights law and justify a ranking of rights that prioritize some rights, such as the right to freedom of religion, over others. We remain strongly concerned that the Commission’s draft report seeks to reinterpret the international human rights framework established over the past 70 years and limit widely recognized international human rights – particularly the rights of women, girls, and LGBTQI persons.  We are alarmed that the Commission suggests “other criteria” in its draft report to determine “whether and when a new claim of human right warrants support in U.S. foreign policy”. 

“In short, human rights are now misunderstood by many, manipulated by some, rejected by the world’s worst violators, and subject to ominous new threats.”  – Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights 

https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Draft-Report-of-the-Commission-on-Unalienable-Rights.pdf

The international human rights law framework already adequately defines the scope, content, and obligations of States to respect and promote human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the nine core human rights treaties, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), codify widely recognized and accepted international human rights principles. These treaties are the product of decades of multilateral negotiations and represent an international consensus regarding the scope of human rights that bind the States that have opted into to ratifying them. In ratifying the ICCPR, as well as the treaties such as the Convention Against Torture and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the United States has agreed to be bound by these multilateral human rights treaties.  

As the UDHR and subsequent binding human rights treaties make clear, human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated. In other words, all human rights are equal in importance. Although the international human rights framework does recognize a distinction between derogable and non-derogable rights, it does not establish a hierarchy that allows for the exercise of some rights in ways that violate others. A prioritization of one right – freedom of religion or belief – over the enjoyment of other human rights would constitute a violation of the United States’ binding obligations under international human rights law.   

As an organization with United Nations ECOSOC Special Consultative Status, The Advocates regularly participates in international advocacy at the UN human rights mechanisms.  The Advocates also partners with human rights defenders and civil society organizations throughout the world. Many of our partners are currently experiencing threats, including threats of physical harm, due to a backlash against human rights. We are concerned that the Commission’s work sends a signal to the international community that the U.S. government views the international human rights framework as malleable and open to unilateral re-interpretation. The Commission’s willingness to question the basic foundations of the human rights framework risks emboldening populist and authoritarian regimes to further restrict human rights and justify repressive policies. Further, it is in the U.S. government’s national interest to make the promotion and protection of human rights a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy. Redefining and restricting human rights would limit the United States’ impact on the protection of human rights around the world. 

We do agree with the Commission’s Concluding Observation that, “A crucial way in which the United States promotes human rights abroad is by serving as an example of a rights-respecting society…” Unlike the work of the Commission thus far, however, a good faith review of the role of human rights in U.S. government policy would necessarily focus on how the U.S. could both improve its human rights record at home and promote greater protections for all human rights worldwide. Such a review would begin by reaffirming the U.S. government’s commitment to the international human rights framework as developed over the past 70 years and would recommend appropriate changes to Trump administration policy based on that framework. Along with others in the U.S. human rights movement, we have expressed our collective desire to refocus this administration on solving some of the human rights violations it has fueled through its reactionary policies on issues ranging from immigration, asylum, freedom of religion, systemic racism, and myriad due process and rule of law issues.  

The Commission was instructed last year to provide Secretary of State Pompeo with “advice on human rights grounded in our nation’s founding principles and the principles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”  We are better than we were when the UDHR was drafted, shortly after the end of World War II when there were no institutions to challenge the human rights violations perpetrated by State and non-State actors. Human rights are not merely documents. They reflect the core values of our own Constitution and the decades of jurisprudence strengthening anti-discrimination laws that have sought to ensure that these core values can be enjoyed by all. 

By Jennifer Prestholdt, Deputy Director and International Justice Program Director at The Advocates for Human Rights  

Take Action!  The release of the draft report on July 16 began a two-week public comment period.  The Commission welcomes all submissions.  Please route them by July 29 to commission@state.gov and/or Designated Federal Officer Duncan Walker, who may be reached at walkerdh3@state.gov

Veronica Clark: Honoring Our 2020 Volunteer Award Winners

Veronica Clark, The Advocates For Human Rights Volunteer Award Recipient

Veronica Clark, owner of the Minneapolis-based boutique D.NOLO, is the 2020 recipient of The Advocates for Human Rights Women’s Program Volunteer Award. Clark has been an active volunteer with The Advocates since 2015, advocating on behalf of both racial and gender equality. This month, as Clark was in the midst of re-opening her boutique that had closed in the wake of pandemic, she took time out to virtually correspond with me about her work with The Advocates. I left our conversations inspired by her resilience, hard work, and ability to balance her different roles in the community.

Clark first encountered The Advocates while working on a documentary in Geneva. Since then, she has gone on several trips advocating for human rights. In 2017, Clark travelled with The Advocates to lobby at the United Nations in Geneva. While there, she delivered an oral statement to the Human Rights Council raising awareness on issues of race in the United States – particularly with respect to the crisis of the killing of Black men in the U.S. In addition, Clark traveled to Malta for the WAVE (Women Against Violence Europe) annual meeting where she forged new relationships with women human rights defenders from around the world helping to ensure the protection of women’s rights in their respective countries.

In addition to her work at various human rights conferences, Clark also volunteers a substantial part of her time fact finding for The Advocates. She helps them to collect information that will guide their future recommendations and policy changes. She has researched international threats to women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and the safety of human rights defenders. As director of The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program Rosalyn Park noted, “[f]or each of these projects, Veronica brings tremendous talent to the table: from her keen observation skills where she consistently spots the subtle yet crucial details, to her ability to make everyone she meets feel instantly at ease, to her worldview and multicultural understanding of racial and gender inequality issues.”

When I asked Clark what her favorite part about working with The Advocates was, she responded, “feeling like I have a small part in positive change.” Veronica, you have had more than just a small impact on international and local human rights matters and your commitment to justice is unparalleled. It is with great pleasure that The Advocates’ Women’s Rights Program honors you this year with a 2020 Volunteer Award.

By Jenna Schulman, University of Pennsylvania sophomore and active volunteer for 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.

Justice for George Floyd: UN Human Rights Council Shines Spotlight on Systemic Racism and Police Brutality

The March session of the UN Human Rights Council was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But on Monday morning, that session resumed in Geneva with a dramatic opening. The President of the Human Rights Council gave the floor to Dieudonné W. Désiré Sougouri, Permanent Representative of Burkina Faso to the Council and coordinator of the body’s African Group:

Dieudonné W. Désiré Sougouri, Permanent Representative of Burkina Faso

“The tragic events of 25 May 2020 in Minneapolis in the US which led to the death of George Floyd led to protests throughout the world against injustice and police brutality that persons of African descent face on a daily basis in many regions of the world. The death of George Floyd unfortunately is not an isolated incident. Many other cases of persons of African descent having faced the same fate because of their origin and police violence exist. After the widespread indignation over this situation, it would be inconceivable that the Human Rights Council not deal with these questions which are very relevant in accordance with this mandate. This is why the African Group calls upon the Human Rights Council to organize an urgent debate on current violations of human rights that are based on racism, systemic racism, police brutality against persons of African descent, and violence against peaceful demonstrations, to call for an end to be put to these injustices.”  

Without objection, the Human Rights Council President then scheduled an unprecedented urgent debate for Wednesday, June 17: 

It was all over in less than 3 minutes, but it reflected countless hours of worldwide advocacy. The Advocates joined forces with over 600 organizations in 60 countries, in an effort endorsed by family members of George Floyd, Philando Castile, Jordan Davis, Breonna Taylor, and Michael Brown, to push the Council to dedicate a special session to racial justice in the United States 

What to expect? 

Tomorrow at 3:00 pm Geneva time (8:00 am Minneapolis time), the Council President will gavel open an urgent debate on “current racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality against people of African descent and violence against peaceful protests.” You can join me to watch the session livefollow The Advocates on Twitter for livetweetsor catch it later on the UN Web TV archivesThe debate may continue Thursday morning at 10:00 am Geneva time (3:00 am Minneapolis time). 

Like any debate at the Human Rights Council, you can expect a lot of polite formalities. The Council is a political body, with diplomats representing the interests of their own governments in the context of human rights. But you can also expect that every speaker will have watched the devastating and infuriating video of the police killing of George Floyd. Many of these high-level diplomats will say his name, as well as the names of other Black people who have been killed at the hands of law enforcement in the United States. It is possible that the Council will invite a member of Mr. Floyd’s family to address the body via video link.  

Monday’s strong words from Burkina Faso, calling for “an end to be put to these injustices,” may be a sign of what’s to come. It’s hard to gauge whether the debate will include any defense of the impunity that law enforcement officials in the United States usually enjoy. Since the United States resigned its seat on the Council in 2018, it has not attended Council sessions, but it is possible a U.S. delegate will attend the urgent debate and offer up some defense 

Accountability and impunity will be words to listen for. A core component of human rights is that when the government commits a human rights violation, the responsible parties must be held accountable. With qualified immunity as an entrenched judicial doctrine serving as a barrier to accountability, our system falls short.  

As the Council wraps up its March session, resolutions will be top of mind. Burkina Faso has prepared a resolution for the Council to consider later this week. It calls for:

An independent international commission of inquiry, to be appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council to establish facts and circumstances related to the systemic racism, alleged violations of International Human Rights Law and abuses against Africans and of People of African Descent in the United States of America and other parts of the world recently affected,  by law enforcement agencies, especially those incidents that resulted in the deaths of Africans and of People of African Descent; with a view to bringing perpetrators to justice

Ordinarily, resolutions are weeks in the making, but because of the urgent debate, the Council will have the opportunity to move relatively quickly to take action—if it has the political will. We’ll be able to follow debate and voting on the resolution later this week and next Monday. 

If the resolution passes, this commission of inquiry would conduct an investigation and provide a series of reports to the Council at its sessions in September, March 2021, and June 2021. The Council would then have the opportunity to take additional steps based on the commission’s final report. Those steps could include renewing the commission’s mandate or taking other steps to ensure accountability for human rights violations committed against people of African descent in the United States. 

Our efforts 

As soon as the Council announced the urgent debate, we sprang into action. The critical actors in this debate will be the 47 members of the Human Rights Council, who will be able to vote on resolutions later this week, and again in early July. But all UN Member States, as well as observers such as the European Union, the Holy See, and the State of Palestine will also be able to take the floor during the debate.  

We identified UN Member States that are particularly vocal on issues of racism, racial discrimination, and minority rights, like Honduras and Sierra Leone, adding 20 countries to the original 47.  

After years of lobbying delegates to the Human Rights Council for the Universal Periodic Review, we have a great set of contacts for most of the delegations in Geneva. So we reached out to familiar names, letting them know about the written statement we submitted to the Council last week on systemic racism in the United States.  

We had heard that U.S. officials have been working behind the scenes to try to make sure that the United States wasn’t singled out in Wednesday’s urgent debate. So we wrote to delegates to ask them to ensure that the debate would indeed shine a spotlight on the United States. More important, we asked them to commit to measures that would hold the United States accountable for these ongoing and systemic human rights violations. We urged them to support a resolution to mandate the creation of an independent, international accountability mechanism to document and investigate extrajudicial killings of unarmed Black people.  

Other UN bodies speak out 

Photo credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Professor E. Tendayi Achiume, UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, along with the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, is making a similar request that the Council establish an international commission of inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement in the United States 

Last Friday, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination invoked its early warning and urgent action mechanism, called on the United States “to increase the oversight of police misconduct, and to ensure that each allegation of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials . . . is promptly and effectively investigated irrespective of race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin and that the alleged perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions.” The Committee also emphasized that “systemic and structural discrimination permeates State institutions and disproportionately promotes racial disparities against African Americans, notably in the enjoyment of the rights to equal treatment before tribunals, [and] security of person and protection by the State against violence or bodily harm.” 

Next steps 

With decades of experience collaborating with partners around the world on UN advocacy, we know that sharp criticism from the United Nations is no quick fix. Efforts to dismantle systemic racism and end impunity require both external pressure from bodies like the Council and as well as grass roots mobilization from activists on the ground. Together, we can leverage that pressure from all directions to create a system that respects human rights.  

Click here to learn more about how to advocate for human rights at the United Nations. 

Amy Bergquist is a Senior Staff Attorney with The Advocates’ International Justice Program. 

Supreme Court Lets Stand Qualified Immunity, Growing Impunity

Federal civil rights charges were meant to hold police accountable for violence, but decades of “qualified immunity” cases have eroded this power. The Supreme Court’s decision to deny certiorari in Baxter v. Bracey and not take a new look at the “qualified immunity” doctrine in its fall term leaves in place an increasingly weakened right to a remedy for human rights violations.    

In the 1871 Civil Rights Act, known as the Ku Klux Klan Act, Congress created a right for individuals to sue public officials who violate legal rights as part of its effort to quell racist violence against newly freed African Americans. Codified in 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the provision allows individuals to file a civil lawsuit for civil rights violations like police brutality, an illegal search, or an unlawful arrest.

United States Supreme Court

Section 1983 provides an additional and alternative civil route to protect civil rights and hold violators accountable, beyond any criminal charges. In Section 1983, Congress used specific language to make clear that “every” state official who causes a “deprivation of any rights” guaranteed by the Constitution and laws “shall be liable to the party injured.”  This crucial civil remedy steps in where the criminal justice system fails to provide justice and accountability—either because the state refuses to bring charges, there is no indictment, juries fail to convict, or because a criminal remedy may not provide the avenue needed to make a victim whole, such as damages for pain and suffering. The lower evidentiary standard in civil versus criminal matters, moreover, may be crucial for remedies—a lesson we all learned from the OJ Simpson case.    

Yet, this fundamental right to a remedy has been narrowed over the years through a series of court decisions that created an exception referred to as “qualified immunity.” 

What is “qualified immunity”?

Qualified immunity is a judicial doctrine that allows public officials to be held accountable only insofar as they violate rights that are “clearly established” by existing court decisions.  Under the Court’s current interpretation of qualified immunity, an individual will fail at a Section 1983 claim for remedies unless they can prove that the officer violated their rights through the same specific conduct previously addressed by a court in narrow circumstances—even where the officer knowingly violates someone’s constitutional rights.

The Supreme Court originally upheld application of Section 1983, as in Monroe v. Pape.  However, in 1967, the Supreme Court created “qualified immunity” as an exception for public officials who had acted in “good faith” and believed that their conduct was authorized by law. Fifteen years later, in Harlow v. Fitzgerald, the Court drastically expanded the defense, doing away with the “good faith” element and providing immunity from liability unless the victim can show that his or her right was “clearly established” through a previously decided case that involves the same “specific context” and “particular conduct.” In 2001, Saucier v. Katz created a two-part test to determine whether or not to grant qualified immunity to an officer.  This involves: 1) whether an officer used excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment and 2) whether the officer should have known that their actions constituted excessive force based on clearly established court precedent. And, in 2009, the Court further expanded this in Pearson v. Callahan, when it ruled that lower courts can make a finding on part two of the test without addressing part one. 

Pearson, combined with a judicial principle of avoiding questions of constitutional interpretation when possible, means that courts have increasingly been side-stepping the important issue of whether particular conduct in fact violates the Fourth Amendment. And because Pearson gives courts the go-ahead to dodge this issue, they are shirking their role in setting out new “clearly established” law to guide officers’ conduct in the future.

How does the “qualified immunity” doctrine impact human rights?

The overbroad qualified immunity doctrine has led to growing impunity for human rights violations. Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights recognizes the fundamental importance of the right to a remedy for human rights violations. But the Court’s qualified immunity doctrine undermines Congress’s intent to provide a for victims of brutality or harassment by law enforcement.

The data bear out what communities of color have lived. A Reuters team found that from 2005 to 2008, appeals courts granted qualified immunity in 44 percent of cases, but from 2016-2019, that number had jumped to 57 percent.

The prohibitive costs of litigation exacerbate the situation. Although lawyers can recover fees and costs if the case prevails, few attorneys or clients can afford to front the costs when the chances of success are low. And, because the qualified immunity formulation places the onus on the victim to show that a previously recognized right has been violated, courts may dismiss cases by simply finding no sufficiently similar case law—without ever considering the alleged misconduct.  As fewer courts review the constitutional violations in Section 1983 cases, there are decreasingly few new permutations of misconduct found.

The Supreme Court’s qualified immunity doctrine has radically undermined Congress’s intent, in the aftermath of the Civil War, to hold government actors accountable for human rights violations against Black people. Judges across ideological lines have recognized the problem. Both liberal and conservative justices in recent years have criticized the Supreme Court’s qualified immunity case law.  Justice Sotomayor has said qualified immunity’s “one-sided approach” is “an absolute shield for law enforcement officers,” while Justice Thomas has criticized it for having no legal basis.

With its decision to not hear Baxter v. Bracey, Congress must eliminate the doctrine and restore cornerstone of accountability.

Want to learn more? Check out an excellent audio breakdown of the issue at the front end of this Pod Save the People episode.

By Lindsey Greising, staff attorney at The Advocates for Human Rights.

Sarah Musgrave: Honoring our 2020 Volunteer Award Winners

Sarah Musgrave, Volunteer Award Recipient, honored at The Advocates’ Human Rights Awards Dinner 2020

Sarah Musgrave is one of the five recipients of The Advocates for Human Rights Volunteer Awards. She is an active member in the Minneapolis community and committed to her volunteer work. Musgrave helps set the welcoming and supportive tone for The Advocates’ Minneapolis office.  As a volunteer receptionist, Musgrave is the first face clients see when walking through the door and she welcomes each person with open arms – making them feel noticed and comfortable. This past month, I had the opportunity to interview Musgrave about her volunteer work with The Advocates and learn about the impact that she has had within the world of human rights.

Musgrave has worked with The Advocates for eight years, volunteering in several capacities including as an assistant at The Advocates’ tent at the Minnesota State Fair, as a helper with mailings, and, most recently, as a part-time receptionist a few times a week. Musgrave began volunteering with The Advocates eight years ago after going to one of their film series that they hosted in a local library in Minneapolis. At the end of the film, Musgrave put her name on a sign-up sheet and found herself a part of a loving and supportive community that she has “great respect for.”

As an assistant working at The Advocates’ booth at the State Fair, Musgrave recalls an impactful moment with a visitor:  “I was once at the State Fair and someone with a Trump t-shirt was walking by the booth and I stopped him and asked him if he wanted to take a spin [referring to the Advocates’ spinning wheel in the booth that poses participants with questions] and he did and he answered a question and then I gave him a pin. And then I just saw him walking away with a “I love human rights” pin and …. You know it made me think about human rights. I had no idea where that [pin] was going to go.”

As a receptionist, Musgrave works a couple times a week welcoming people into the office, answering and transferring phone calls, and maintaining the United Nations Deadline Database. The database includes the dates that special rapporteurs examining poverty and violence against women will visit certain countries, as well as specific dates that committees meet at the United Nations. When I asked Musgrave what she liked most about working with The Advocates, she described to me the warmth that she feels working at the front desk: “Working at the front desk and just seeing people going through the asylum process and then they get it … just the joy they have of being able to work through it and have people working with them is just neat. These are people who don’t really have a whole lot of support and then to have people working behind them, totally on their behalf, to get them in the country and the appreciation they have for it…” Since Minnesota’s stay-at-home orders were put in place due to COVID-19, Musgrave has continued her receptionist work from home – updating the database and transferring calls.

When asked what motivates her to continue her volunteer work, Musgrave responded, “I really believe in the cause … everyone should have the opportunity to progress.” She was sure to mention the hopeful atmosphere that exists within the organization: “Everyone is just so positive. It is just a really positive place to be.”  She began to talk about how much she respects and admires the organization and the way they are able to bring volunteers in from all walks of life. “They are very welcoming! Everyone has different talents and they are willing to work with you to find something that benefits both parties.” For Musgrave, she feels as though she has benefited from volunteering in a number of ways, including being able to have the “great opportunity to explore things within the human rights community.” I asked her what keeps her volunteering with The Advocates and she quickly answered by saying, “I just really enjoy doing it… I don’t know why I would give up something I enjoy doing… people thank me for doing this, but I really enjoy doing this – it’s not like I am sacrificing a whole lot…”

In addition to working with The Advocates, Musgrave is an advocate for the environment and works closely with the Sierra Club and other climate change related organizations. In her free time, she enjoys biking in nature and exploring her surroundings. While Musgrave expresses deep gratitude for the work of The Advocates, it is important to note that The Advocates expresses a similar gratitude for her presence and impact on the organization. Thank you, Sarah, for all of the work that you do. Your positiveness is infectious and your passion for volunteering is inspiring. It is with great pleasure that The Advocates presents to you a 2020 Volunteer Award.

By Jenna Schulman, University of Pennsylvania sophomore and active volunteer for 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.

Amano Dube: Honoring Our 2020 Volunteer Award Recipients

Amano Dube, The Advocates For Human Rights Volunteer Award Recipient

Amano Dube, a leader in the Minneapolis community, is one of five recipients receiving The Advocates for Human Rights Volunteer Award. Dube is the Director of Public Sector Programs at Pillsbury United Communities’ Brian Coyle Center, a social service center that supports the local immigrant community. Prior to working at the Center, Dube was the Executive Director of the Oromo Community of Minnesota, a nonprofit dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of the Oromo in Minnesota. For the last five years, Dube has volunteered with The Advocates, connecting immigrants and refugees who are seeking asylum with volunteer attorneys and helping to interpret asylees’ testimonies. This past month, I had the opportunity to speak with Dube about his work with The Advocates and to learn about the impact he has made in his community.

Dube, an asylee from the Oromo community in Ethiopia, came to the United States in 1994:

“Knowing how I came to this country, what kind of help I got – by the way, when I came to this country, I did not have a language program interpreting for me – [ motivated me to help others] … I have seen so many clients who come to this country with nothing in terms of education and they fully rely on somebody who is bilingual and who speaks their language and understands English.”

Dube has worked for over twenty years with community organizations connecting refugees and immigrants to assistance, including to asylum help. “I stepped up to bridge that gap and there are people that rely on me as a person who knows them and knows the atrocities in their country.”

Dube learned about The Advocates while working at the Oromo Community of Minnesota trying to connect members of the community with necessary resources. During this process, Dube discovered The Advocates and the work that they do in helping asylees. As a volunteer with The Advocates, Dube connects those that come to him for asylum help with The Advocates’ services. “From the day they come to me, I first call The Advocates for Human Rights. I connect that client with staff there so that they can schedule interviews and appointments… and then my role during this time is basically helping with language interpretation and document interpretation sometimes.” 

When I asked Dube to describe an impactful moment that he had while volunteering with The Advocates, he took a moment to think and then began to tell me about the experiences of a young Oromo adult with medical complications from Ethiopia who sought asylum. “I received a call from the Mayo Clinic about somebody who came to the country because of a traumatic injury, who was also a victim of political prosecution. He had a disease that partially paralyzed his body.” The man was sick, could not speak English, did not know the country, and could no longer afford treatment. Dube called the man to see what he could do to help. The next day, Dube drove an hour and a half to visit the young man at the Mayo Clinic. “I saw him in the hospital, and he said ‘get me out of here. Do whatever you can do for me.’ He was really desperate to meet someone who could understand him and comfort him.” Dube then remembered the work of The Advocates and believed that this young Oromo man was the type of person that could benefit from their help in the asylum process. “So, I decided to bring him to my home and give him a bedroom. My wife and I decided that if God can help him and the American system can help him, then we will do our part by helping to feed him and dress him.” Two days later, Dube called The Advocates and explained the situation and they scheduled an interview for the man. “I drove him to The Advocates’ office. They interviewed him, they took his case, asylum was filed, and he was connected to the Center for Victims of Torture which got him insurance – which he needed for treatment. He then got the asylum and got the most needed treatment.” Dube went silent for a moment. He continued, “now he has gone back to college, majored in micro information systems and accounting, he got married, and he is a husband now living right here close to us.” Dube paused again and then added “and that, I would say, is the most memorable part of the work that The Advocates do. They completely turn around the life of people.”

After clients seek asylum, Dube’s work does not end. Through his work at the Brian Coyle Center, he helps asylees to obtain housing, find jobs, and receive health care. “All of this we do behind the scenes,” he told me: “We live in the community we know what they need … We take this as our responsibility. I am not doing this for The Advocates, I am not doing this for recognition … I do it because it is my role as an Oromo to help another Oromo or Ethiopian. Because I know the language, I am better positioned to help them and to connect them with systems including The Advocates.”

Thank you, Amano. You are a kind, hardworking, and passionate advocate. You lead by example and your work inspires others to become better advocates for social change. It is with great honor that The Advocates for Human Rights presents to you a 2020 Volunteer Award.

By Jenna Schulman, University of Pennsylvania sophomore and active volunteer for 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.