This is the second in the “Welcome Home” blog series featuring articles about groups that represent diaspora communities in Minnesota. Additional articles can be found here.
Minnesotans celebrated the Cambodian New Year in April at a day-long event in Mendota Heights featuring live music, drums, traditional dances, and Cambodian cuisine.
But those festivities bracketed a more solemn activity, an annual “Day of Remembrance” to honor victims of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. This year, the ceremony paid tribute to survivors who worked with the Advocates for Human Rights to provide information about human-rights abuses for submission to a war crimes tribunal, the Extraordinary Chambers of the Court of Cambodia (ECCC).
Each received a Certificate of Recognition for telling their stories, a process that allowed them to put their experiences on the record.
Many Cambodians keep their memories bottled up, which is not healthy, says Yorn Yan, executive director of the United Cambodian Association of Minnesota (UCAM), which worked with the Advocates on the project. So he tells them: “Number one, you document your own story, then you feel better.” Second, “Then your document will stay with you forever and your children, your grandchildren will see it, it’s not a fake story. That’s a benefit for society in general.”
Yorn Yan’s father was among an estimated 1.7 million to 2.2 million Cambodians killed by the Khmer Rouge during their 1975-1979 reign. He fled to Thailand after the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in 1978 and eventually made his way to Minnesota, along with three brothers, two sisters, and their mother.
UCAM, which sponsored the New Year’s event at its offices, is a nonprofit that aims to promote opportunity for the state’s Cambodian community, which numbers about 10,000. UCAM was created in 1993 from the merger of two existing Cambodian organizations. Yorn Yan has been executive director since 2005, taking the reins after it suffered a crisis. He has a master’s degree in nonprofit management and administration, is author of the book New Americans, New Promise: A Guide to the Refugee Journey in America, and board president of the National American Cambodian Organization.
UCAM has nine employees but gets support from 300 volunteers, including a number of medical and mental-health professionals, and serves about 1,500 clients a year. Funding comes from the Greater Twin Cities United Way and the Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging.
It gets half of its revenue from fees for services provided by its Adult Day Care program, which offers health, social, and other services to Cambodian elders. Many of them are in poor health from the strains of living through civil war, the Khmer Rouge, and life in refugee camps. They have high rates of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, mental health problems, and other chronic diseases that lead to strokes and heart attacks.
The Khmer Rouge era began just 42 years ago, Yorn Yan says, so many people age 50 or above continue to suffer trauma. “The starvation, the killing, the loss of loved ones, all of those bring poor health,” he says.
UCAM’s other programs are Elder Independent Living, Youth Development, Health Education, and Immigration. Under a five-year strategic plan it adopted in 2015, the organization is working to transition from one whose primary function was refugee resettlement to one that works to strengthen health, social, education, and economic opportunities for Cambodians and other refugee groups in Minnesota. One of its goals: develop new programs to help second- and third-generation Minnesota Cambodians understand their cultural values and traditions while still providing services for the elders.
When asked about main challenges, Yorn Yan says UCAM is trying to “do more with less” since the demand for services remains strong but federal and state funding has shrunk over the years.
The Advocates’ work with the Cambodian community began in 1990 when the organization helped conduct a mock trial at the Minnesota State Capitol of the Khmer Rouge leadership for the crime of genocide. The mock trial led to the Khmer Oral History Project, during which The Advocates’ volunteers interviewed 15 members of the Cambodian refugee community on videotape about their experiences during the years of the genocide, their experiences in refugee camps, and their emigration to the United States. Those interviews took place in 1992 and are available online at the Minnesota History Center. This year, the Center for Justice and Accountability asked The Advocates to interview participants in the Khmer Oral History Project and submit their information to the ECCC. The Advocates also worked with UCAM to identify Khmer Rouge survivors interested in sharing their information with the ECCC.
Twenty-two members of the Cambodian diaspora in Minnesota, including many who had participated in the mock trial and oral history project, provided detailed information about the crimes they experienced between 1975 and 1979 for the ECCC’s investigation. The interviews were conducted by James O’Neal, vice chair of The Advocates; Jennifer Prestholdt, deputy director; and Amy Bergquist, International Justice Program staff attorney. They were aided by volunteer translator David Chor.
David Chor and Yorn Yan of UCAM will be recognized for their contributions to documenting the stories of survivors of the Khmer Rouge in Minnesota’s Cambodian community with volunteer awards at The Advocates’ Human Rights Awards Dinner on June 15, 2017.
UNITED CAMBODIAN ASSOCIATION OF MINNESOTA Website: http://ucamn.org/ Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Volunteer opportunities: The group welcomes volunteers, especially with legal or medical credentials. Contact Yorn Yan at YornYan @comcast.net.
By Suzanne Perry, volunteer with The Advocates for Human Rights. This is the second in the “Welcome Home” blog series featuring articles about groups that represent diaspora communities in Minnesota. The first article highlighted the contributions of the Karen Organization of Minnesota.
Nushin Sarkarati from the Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA) was invited by The Advocates for Human Rights to present a Continuing Legal Education seminar on recent developments in litigation in U.S. courts to hold perpetrators accountable for human rights abuses around the world. Ms. Sarkarati is a CJA staff attorney whose practice focuses on Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) litigation in federal court.
The ATS is a U.S. federal law first adopted in 1789 that gives the federal courts jurisdiction to hear lawsuits filed by non-U.S. citizens for torts committed in violation of international law. Today, the ATS gives survivors of egregious human rights abuses, wherever committed, the right to bring civil lawsuits against the perpetrators in the United States. Examples of the kinds of conduct covered by the ATS include torture, extrajudicial killing, forced disappearance, war crimes and crimes against humanity, genocide, slavery, prolonged arbitrary detention and state-sponsored sexual violence.
Under the 1991 TVPA, survivors who have no available local remedies in the country where the human rights abuses happened can file a civil lawsuit in the U.S. for damages against someone who, “under actual or apparent authority, or color of law, of any foreign nation” subjected an individual to torture or to extrajudicial killing in another country. The TVPA has a 10-year statute of limitations but equitable tolling may be available depending on the facts of the case.
Ms. Sarkarati gave an overview of the history and caselaw, from the landmark ATS case Filártiga v. Peña-Irala (2d Cir 1980) to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petrol (US 2013) which limits the ATS to claims that “touch and concern the territory of the United States with sufficient force.” She also discussed both the legal and practical challenges involved in litigating these cases.
While ATS and TVPA litigation in U.S. courts does not result in jail time for the perpetrators of serious human rights violations, there are other important reasons for using civil litigation as an accountability mechanism including:
Redress for victims;
Ending impunity by exposing human rights abusers;
Denying safe haven to perpetrators in the U.S.;
Documenting history and deterring future abuses;
Developing human rights precedent in domestic courts; and
While my son is getting ready to head out tonight to harvest Halloween candy, excited by the chance to lug a pillowcase full of chocolate bars around the neighborhood,I’ve been thinking about the children who harvest the cocoa that goes into the chocolate in his bag.
Because while he finds an evening of hauling candy a treat, I know that for the millions of kids his age working in the cocoa industry it’s anything but fun.
The cocoa industry in these countries relies heavily on work performed by children, some as young as 5 years old, including WFCL (shorthand for the “worst forms of child labor” as defined by international law).
The work is dangerous, and it’s especially hard on children’s bodies.
A Tulane University report, commissioned as part of the accountability framework for the 2001 Harkin-Engel Protocol that was meant to end abuses in the industry, lays out the issue:
“Fifteen years ago, the West African cocoa sector came under increased scrutiny after media reports revealed incidences of child trafficking and other labor abuses in cocoa farming. On September 19, 2001, representatives of the international cocoa/chocolate industry signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol. Signing this agreement as witnesses were U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and U.S. Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY), the Government of Côte d’Ivoire, the ILO, and representatives of civil society. Based on ILO Convention 182, the Protocol’s principal goal was “to eliminate the worst forms of child labor (WCFL) in the cocoa sectors of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.”
Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s leading cocoa producer, experienced large growth in cocoa production from 2008-09 to 2013-14.
Total output rose by over half a million tons, or over 40%.
The population of children 5-17 years living in agricultural households in Côte d’Ivoire’s cocoa-growing regions grew by about 180,000, or 5%.
The numbers of children working in cocoa production, doing child labor in cocoa production, and doing hazardous work in cocoa production grew by 59%, 48%, and 46% respectively.
What’s driving the growth?
In short, it’s us and our demand for cheap chocolate. The problem, of course, is that it’s not easy to harvest cocoa. It’s heavy, dangerous, delicate work. Fields must be cleared, planted, and tended. When the cocoa pods are ready, they must be harvested by hand, split open, and the seeds removed for drying. It’s time-consuming, labor-intensive work.
That kind of labor should come at a significant cost. But as with so many commodities, the prices are kept low by squeezing labor out of workers who are largely invisible to consumers through a complicated supply chain structure. Consumer-facing companies are driven by the competing demands of delivering rock bottom prices and sky-high profits. Those with massive buying power – like Mars, Hershey’s, and Nestlė – are able to bid down the prices of commodities like cocoa with their suppliers, who make up for low prices by paying less – or sometimes nothing at all – for the work.
We see the effect of this kind of price pressure on wages here in the United States. Retail cleaners in Minnesota, for example, have been squeezed by the low contracts bid by stores which result in wages as low as $4 per hour. Workers organized by CTUL have set a November 10 strike deadline for contracted cleaners. Farmworkers in Florida’s tomato fields, facing the same structural barrier to fair earnings, used pressure on major retailers to increase the per/pound rate for tomatoes by $.01, resulting in a substantial step toward a fair wage.
But the kids harvesting cocoa don’t have that option. Sometimes sold for the equivalent of $30, sometimes kidnapped, they don’t have the power to stage a boycott.
Forced labor yields approximately $50 billion in profits annually according to estimates by the International Labour Organization. Included are profits derived from what are considered the worst forms of child labor, or WFCL, such as that used in the cocoa industry.
There are bright spots: While the number of children in West Africa’s cocoa production increased in the past five years, Ghana actually managed to reduce, albeit slightly, its numbers during that period.
So what will I do this Halloween? I’m not entirely sure. But I know I’ll start with a conversation. To end this problem of child labor in the cocoa industry, more consumers need to know about the true cost of the chocolate they are buying.
U.S. Senator Al Franken has called on Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to ensure access to counsel for asylum seekers held in family detention centers. Joined by 18 Senate colleagues, Sen. Franken raises serious concerns regarding reports that U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) is interfering with the ability of asylum-seeking mothers and children to access legal representation. Recently, individual volunteer attorneys, who had travelled to the privately-owned prison in Dilley, Texas where approximately 2000 Central American refugee women and children are detained,were barred from entering to provide pro bono representation.
At the international level, The Advocates for Human Rights drew attention to the appalling lack of access to counsel for asylum seekers during the UN reviews for U.S. compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, and the Convention Against Torture. Most recently, The Advocates raised the continuing failure of the U.S. to recognize asylum seekers from Central America’s northern triangle in its statement to the UN Human Rights Council during a September 28 interactive dialogue on the impact of the world drug problem on the enjoyment of human rights:
As an NGO that provides free legal services to asylum seekers in the United States, we would particularly like to draw attention to an issue that we see on a daily basis: the impact that violent transnational criminal gangs in Central America, fueled by profits from the trade in illegal drugs, have on the lives Central Americans, forcing thousands of women and children to flee and seek safety in the U.S.
Transnational gangs extort, threaten, and forcibly recruit people living in strategic drug trafficking corridors. States in the region are ill-equipped to deal with crimes by these gangs, leaving victims unprotected from serious harm, including torture, disappearance, sexual violence, and murder. And the violence continues to grow, as gangs seek to solidify their control over valuable drug trafficking routes.
For example, gang members threatened to kill one of our clients, who I’ll call “Teresa”, after her family could no longer afford to pay protection money for the family business. Armed gang members abducted her, threw her into a truck, and took her to the leader’s house, where he beat and raped her. Left with no choice but to flee, she sought asylum in the U.S.
Yet the U.S. violates the fundamental rights of asylum seekers like Teresa by failing to recognize victims of transnational criminal gangs as refugees, even when such gangs operate as quasi-state actors that routinely torture, rape, and kill those who resist support or recruitment.
Asylum seekers face other violations, including arbitrary detention and prosecution for illegal entry. Mothers and their children are detained in difficult conditions pending preliminary credible fear determinations in two privately-owned prisons where attorneys have been denied access to clients and even summarily barred from the facilities.
The Advocates for Human Rights calls upon:
the Human Rights Council to include this issue in the discussion about the impact of the world drug problem on human rights;
the United Nations member States to ensure that their national drug policies consider the impact on the human rights of affected individuals and their countries; and
the U.S. to end family immigration detention and expedited removal procedures and to treat all asylum seekers in accordance with international standards.
See The Advocates’ volunteer Dr. Bill Lohman deliver the oral statement to the Human Rights Council:
In July, The Advocates launched a bilingual National Asylum Help Line to connect families released from U.S. immigration detention centers like the one in Dilley with free legal services. Migrants are encouraged to call the Help Line at 612-746-4674 to receive basic legal screening, information about the legal process, and referrals to agencies in areas in which they live.
This international convening to explore the standards and impact of non-governmental organization (NGO) fact-finding on human rights violations is also an appropriate setting to introduce The Advocates’ latest publication:
Human rights advocacy takes many forms, and human rights activists can be found in every corner of the world. Human Rights Tools for a Changing World was created with the express purpose of providing advocates of all backgrounds and experiences a full range of tools and resources to promote human rights in a changing world.
This manual provides practical, step-by-step guidance for individuals and community groups who want to use human rights monitoring, documentation, and advocacy in their work to change policy and improve human rights conditions throughout the world. From framing an issue in terms of internationally recognized human rights standards to submitting a detailed complaint to an international human rights body, advocates can use this manual to plan and implement their work. The manual is designed to aid advocates undertaking a variety of activities—from the relatively simple to the more complex. With background information, key questions to consider, case examples, and practitioner’s tips, this manual provides tools to combat human rights abuses and change social institutions and structures to promote the full realization of human rights.
The practice-oriented sections help advocates to do the following:
Monitor: identify ongoing human rights abuses and collect the information advocates need about these issues;
Document: analyze, present that information, and make recommendations within the framework of international human rights standards;
Advocate: choose and implement a strategy to bring the lived reality closer to the ideals proclaimed by international human rights treaties, including through advocacy at international and regional human rights mechanisms;
Address Impunity and Accountability: identify strategies and legal mechanisms i for holding perpetrators and governments accountable for human rights violations; and
Build Capacity to Improve Human Rights: develop a better understanding of the international human rights system, identify strategies for applying a human rights framework, and develop competence in setting up and effectively running an organization in safety and security.
The Advocates for Human Rights is uniquely qualified to present the human rights tools in this manual. Human Rights Tools for a Changing World is grounded in the The Advocates’ daily work in human rights fact-finding, documentation and advocacy. For more than 30 years, The Advocates has adapted traditional human rights methodologies to conduct innovative research and generate human rights reports and educational trainings designed to bring laws, policies, and practice into compliance with international human rights standards. The Advocates has monitored human rights conditions and produced more than 75 reports documenting human rights practices in dozens of countries around the world on a wide range of human rights issues.
The contents of this manual were also shaped by the requests for assistance and guidance that The Advocates routinely receives from human rights defenders and others seeking to change human rights conditions in their communities throughout the world. Partnership on projects identified and led by local organizations is a powerful means to effectively implement human rights work in the field. At The Advocates, we view our constituencies as partners and form enduring working relationships with organizations and community groups in the U.S. and around the world.
The Advocates’ participatory model of working with in-country civil society organizations to document human rights abuses and coordinate advocacy for change has also demonstrated to us the critical importance of having access to a wide range of human rights tools.Flexibility is key; there is no “one size fits all” human rights methodology. Activists need a full menu of strategies and resources so they can choose the ones that will work best in each specific context. With the right tools, real human rights improvements are eminently possible.
Last Sunday afternoon, a steady stream of people poured into the Oromo Community of Minnesota’s meeting hall in St. Paul. They gathered for a forum to discuss how the Oromo people living outside Ethiopia–the Oromo diaspora–could show solidarity with Oromo students in Ethiopia, whose peaceful protests over the past two weeks have been met with gunfire and loss of life.
Minnesota’s Oromo diaspora movement embraces diversity, is united by a common cause
The people who had gathered represented great diversity, but were also united by a common cause. As best I understood at the time (I had not yet enlisted Kinini Jegeno, the young man sitting next to me, to interpret), the gathering began with three different religious leaders–a Muslim, a Seventh Day Adventist, and another Christian–leading prayers for the people who had been killed and injured. (As I noted in my first blog post in this series, the Oromo people are split almost equally between the Muslim and Christian faiths.)
One speaker asked all of the women in the audience to raise their hands, noting that they were well-represented and should make their voices heard. And one of my former students remarked that many Oromo youths were also actively engaged in the forum, and were not deferring to their elders as is often the case in such gatherings.
Global Oromo diaspora looks to Minnesota’s “Little Oromia” to take the lead
The stakes were high. Jaafar Ali, a journalist in the Oromo diaspora who lives in Norway, reminded the audience that the Oromo diaspora calls Minnesota “Little Oromia” because it is home to the largest Oromo population outside of Ethiopia. Ali emphasized that Oromos around the world were hoping Minnesota could lay the groundwork for a successful response.
Community adopts a grassroots approach
Although the President of the Oromo Community of Minnesota, Mathias T. Gudina, convened the meeting, he made it clear that he was there to facilitate, not to lead or tell the group what to do. He encouraged members of the community to come forward and share their ideas for showing solidarity with the protesters and responding to the mass arrests, restrictions on free expression and assembly, and federal security forces’ use of lethal force.
Each speaker had up to 2 minutes to take the microphone and offer suggestions. Several dozen people took the floor, and many called for the Oromo community to set aside differences and work together toward their common goals. The audience sat in rapt attention, eagerly hearing each suggestion, and sometimes breaking out in applause or cheers of support.
Oromos unite to advocate for victims, justice
After nearly three hours of comments, the organizers took a brief recess and then reported back with a list of all the ideas that members of the community had offered. By consensus, they arrived at several concrete action steps.
Nearly every action step could be supported by resources in The Advocates for Human Rights’ diaspora toolkit, Paving Pathways for Justice & Accountability: Human Rights Tools for Diaspora Communities. That’s no coincidence. We developed the toolkit in response to decades of requests from diaspora communities about how they can be more effective advocates for human rights in their countries of origin or ancestry. In considering advocacy strategies, diaspora communities may want to consult the first part of Chapter 7: Advocacy, which discusses the importance of defining advocacy goals, the steps to developing an advocacy strategy, leadership and organization, framing messages, mobilization, and measuring progress.
Here are some of the action steps the group selected, along with some relevant resources from Paving Pathways that might be of assistance as the Oromo diaspora works on implementing its plans:
1. Hold a rally on Friday, May 9, at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, starting at 9:00 am
The group discussed whether to shift the rally to Thursday to accommodate religious observances, but instead they decided that the rally would begin on Friday and continue on throughout the weekend, so people of all faiths could participate. Indeed, most Oromo diaspora groups around the world are staging rallies on Friday, including groups in 11 U.S. cities (Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Portland, St. Paul, San Francisco, and Washington, DC), 6 Canadian cities (Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Saskatoon, Vancouver, and Winnipeg), and 10 other countries: Australia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, and Yemen.
The Oromo diaspora in Egypt elected to hold its rally on Wednesday, generating some initial media interest. And in conjunction with the UN’s Universal Periodic Review of Ethiopia’s human rights record, on Tuesday Oromos in the Washington, DC area rallied in front of the Ethiopian Embassy:
Paving Pathways’ advocacy chapter includes a section on public advocacy that explains the role of rallies and other actions designed to raise public awareness about human rights issues.
Amane Bedaso, President of the International-Oromo Youth-Association, posted a photo on facebook (top) to announce her plans to participate in the hunger strike May 9-12. Photos on social media sites like facebook, twitter, and instagram can help generate awareness about a hunger strike or similar campaign. See Appendix C of Paving Pathways for best practices on using social media for effective human rights advocacy.
3. Raise funds for medical and burial expenses for victims and their families
Remittances from diasporans to the Global South amounted to over $400 billion in 2012, with $656 million flowing into Ethiopia in 2013. Many remittances assist friends and family members with living expenses, school fees, and business start-up costs. But in times of tragedy, remittances can help victims of human rights violations regain their health or mourn their dead.
Diaspora organizations that gather funds and send them to individuals or groups in their countries of origin should be mindful of the relevant laws, both in the country where the diaspora group is based and in the country where the funds are sent. For example, the Oromo Community of Minnesota, as a registered 501(c)(3) organization, can offer donors certain tax benefits.
Chapter 11 of Paving Pathways, on capacity-building, includes information about forming a non-profit, financial management, fundraising, and complying with the law. Ethiopia’s Charities and Societies Proclamation–roundly criticized during Tuesday’s UN review and described on page 309 of Chapter 11–subjects Ethiopian organizations to harsh sanctions if they work on certain human rights issues and receive more than 10% of their funding from outside the country. So diaspora groups should be careful to avoid triggering those sanctions when they provide funding to groups inside Ethiopia.
4. Engage in advocacy with elected officials
The Oromo community members at the forum agreed that they needed to engage in advocacy targeting their federal lawmakers in the United States, particularly because the US government provides substantial funding to the government of Ethiopia. The Advocacy chapter of Paving Pathways includes a section on how diaspora groups can conduct advocacy targeting the government of the country where they live. Those strategies include: writing to elected officials; meeting with officials or their staff; legislative advocacy; and holding a congressional briefing to educate lawmakers and legislative staff about an issue of concern.
5. Work on bringing the perpetrators to justice
Chapter 8 of Paving Pathways explores strategies for promoting accountability for human rights violations. The most accessible accountability mechanism is often in the country where the human rights violations occurred. But as Botswana pointed out at the UN review on Tuesday, Ethiopia does not have an independent judicial system. And as Finland and Montenegro noted, Ethiopia lacks effective, independent complaint mechanisms for individuals to raise allegations of mistreatment by security, military, and law enforcement authorities.
Chapter 8 describes alternative accountability mechanisms that may be available outside the country where the violations occur, including criminal prosecutions and civil litigation under the laws of other countries, travel restrictions, and international criminal tribunals.
6. Establish a crisis response team
One thoughtful young Oromo woman, an alumna of South High, encouraged the group to establish a worldwide crisis response team that would be in place to respond to urgent situations such as the recent violence and arrests in Oromia. She noted that if a team were in place, it could be deployed more quickly to implement effective strategies to address breaking events.
Human rights defenders like the students and other protesters in Oromia often face threats, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and violence from security forces. Appendix Q is a toolkit of resources for human rights defenders on the ground. It includes information about emergency grants, advocacy tools, intergovernmental emergency response mechanisms, regional networks of human rights defenders, and international non-governmental organizations that assist human rights defenders who are in need. Part D of Chapter 11, on capacity-building, goes into more depth on safety and security issues, and explains how to use emergency response procedures at the United Nations and at regional mechanisms like the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to protect human rights defenders and enlist help when serious human rights violations are happening or imminent.
7. Create committees on media outreach, finance, and legal advocacy
It’s important for people involved in an advocacy campaign to collaborate, share expertise, and organize their work so the campaign does not rest on the shoulders of just a few people. Chapter 7 of Paving Pathways includes a section on media advocacy, and Chapter 11 covers financial matters. Chapters 8, 9, and 10 explore avenues for legal advocacy in the context of accountability, advocacy with the United Nations, and advocacy with regional human rights mechanisms. A legal advocacy team might also lead the important work of conducting systematic remote monitoring of human rights violations, and of documenting them in a report–topics covered in Chapters 5 and 6 of Paving Pathways.
8. Write a press release
As many governments recognized at the UN on Tuesday, journalists in Ethiopia are not allowed to operate freely, and many have been jailed for their work. Diasporans from closed societies like Ethiopia can help get the facts out by acting as liasons between their personal contacts in their country of origin and the media in the country where they live. In addition to a section on media advocacy, Paving Pathways includes a sample press release.
Little Oromia is united and ready to show the world the strength of its ideas, enthusiasm, and passion as it moves forward. We at The Advocates for Human Rights hope Paving Pathways will serve as a helpful resource as the Oromo diaspora comes together to advocate for justice, accountability, and human rights in Ethiopia.
This post is the third in a four-part series about human rights in Ethiopia. Part 1 describes the important role the Oromo diaspora is playing in remotely monitoring recent human rights developments in Ethiopia. Part 2 highlights the May 6 Universal Periodic Review of Ethiopia at the United Nations. Part 4 tells the stories of Oromos in the diaspora who have spoken with friends and family members on the ground in Oromia about events over the past three weeks, and recaps the Ethiopian Government’s response to the UN review.
Human rights advocacy takes many forms, and human rights activists can be found in every corner of the world. Tremendous advancements in technology and communication have allowed activists to form strong international networks and to share emerging information about human rights abuses almost as soon as they happen. These advancements have fundamentally changed the way human rights organizations work, including how they engage in human rights advocacy with broader communities beyond a country’s borders.
Yet the unique role diaspora communities can play in improving human rights around the world has largely been overlooked in the human rights field. It’s time for that to change.
Diaspora: The Migration Policy Institute defines the term “diaspora” as “emigrants and their descendants who live outside the country of their birth or ancestry . . . yet still maintain . . . ties to their countries of origin.”
Members of diaspora communities play an increasingly important global role and can be a bridge between individuals, governments, and international legal and political mechanisms. Diaspora communities are a critical link in changing social institutions and structures to hold governments accountable. Many migrants – refugees and asylum seekers in particular – leave their homes because of human rights abuses. Many were political and human rights activists in their home countries and they bring their experiences with them. In some countries with repressive governments, security concerns mean that diasporans must take the lead in speaking out. From their new home base, they can bring change in their countries of origin.
Members of diaspora communities agree. Chanravy Proeung, a member of the Cambodian diaspora and Co-Director of the Providence Youth Student Movement, said:
“We have the privilege to see those countries from a different perspective. We need to have the people who are the most marginalized and affected by issues at the forefront of creating change not only here in the United States, but having influence in their countries of origin, too.”
For more than 30 years, The Advocates for Human Rights has witnessed the powerful role that diaspora civil society organizations play in documenting human rights abuses, influencing policy, and advocating on behalf of victims of human rights violations in their countries of origin.
As a legal service provider, The Advocates is often the first connection that asylum seekers have to their new community in the United States. Because of this special relationship, diasporans from dozens of countries have requested assistance from The Advocates in documenting human rights violations “back home.” With diaspora communities, The Advocates has conducted groundbreaking work, such as the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission Diaspora Project,ensuring that public hearing testimony and the statements of 1,200 Liberians living outside of Liberia were included in the formal history of the conflict.
The report, Human Rights in Ethiopia: Through the Eyes of the Oromo Diaspora, proved the significance of involving individuals who have left a country in work to hold governments accountable and affect human rights in their home countries. The Advocates has also collaborated with the Indian American Muslim Council on advocacy on issues concerning religious minorities at the both the U.S. Congress and the United Nations, demonstrating that diaspora voices can have an impact on human rights in India.
This manual, available for download at no cost, provides a full menu strategies and resources designed to empower diaspora communities to be more effective advocates for human rights in their countries of origin.
With practical tools and step-by-step guidance shaped by input from multiple diaspora communities, Paving Pathways can be used to help individuals and organizations to:
monitor and document human rights abuses;
advocate for change in their country of origin and country of residence, as well as at international and regional human rights mechanisms;
address impunity and hold governments accountable using national and international law; and
build their capacity to improve human rights conditions.
While the tools and resources presented in this manual were specifically created for use by diaspora communities, this manual can also benefit and be used by human rights defenders and civil society organizations throughout the world.
The international community needs to do more to recognize the unique contributions that diaspora communities can make to building respect for human rights around the world. Rather than treating diasporans solely as economic sources of remittances, investment, and philanthropy, countries of origin and countries of residence should facilitate engagement in long-term social change. With this new resource, The Advocates is taking an important step in supporting diaspora communities in their efforts to improve human rights around the world.