The Answer to Preventing Atrocities: Human Rights Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is what you can do:

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

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

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

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

2014’s Lesson: Take Action. Lives Depend on It.

Painted hand for WordPressDecember has been a terrible month for human rights—from the U.S. Senate’s report confirming the use of torture, to the slaughter of Pakastani school children, to two grand jury decisions not to indict police officers for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Overall, 2014 has been an extremely troubling year. Some human rights abuses garnered a lot of attention; many did not, taking place under the radar of the media and public conversation. Let’s consider a few examples, and let them serve as a call to action.

  1. Boko Haram militants kidnapped 276 girls from a school in Chibok, Nigeria one night in mid-April. This travesty garnered wide media attention and support from around the world, with celebrities carrying “Bring Back Our Girls” placards and rallies demanding the girls’ return. Unfortunately, 219 girls are reported to remain in captivity. Boko Haram continued its reign of terror, and is responsible for other atrocities throughout Somalia and Nigeria during 2014, including kidnappings, mass recruitment of child soldiers, and bombings of churches and public squares. Just this month news reports surfaced that Boko Haram kidnapped at least 185 women and children and killed 32 people in northeast Nigeria.
  2. Central American refugees―mostly children (and many by themselves)―are seeking asylum, after journeying across one of the world’s most dangerous migrant routes to escape horrific violence in their home countries. The crisis was brought to light and much of the nation was shocked when, in June, images of children being held by US authorities surfaced, showing children crowded in makeshift prisons, and crammed into rooms and sleeping on concrete floors. Instead of treating them as refugees and in accordance with internationally-recognized human rights standards, the U.S. has treated these children as national security threats, warehousing them in razor-wired prisons, detaining them in horrendous conditions, and subjecting them to expedited proceedings to deport them at warp speed and back to the life-threatening dangers they fled.
  3. The terrorist organization ISIL has committed gruesome acts of violence that have alarmed the world community, including murdering political opposition members in mass, enslaving and brutalizing women and girls, and forcing young boys into its ranks. An August attack by ISIL in the Sinjar region caused thousands of Shiites and Yazidis to flee; in October, ISIL abducted 5,000-7,000 Yazidi women and children and sold them into slavery, reported the UN.
  4. Grand jury decisions not to indict police officers for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner highlighted racial profiling, police brutality, and failures of the justice system throughout the country, including a police officer shooting 12-year-old Tamir Rice to death in Cleveland, Ohio.
  5. The Ethiopian government attacked a student protest in the nation’s Oromia region in April, killing as many as 47 students, as some reports indicate. The Ethiopian government has persecuted and targeted the Oromo people for years, subjecting Oromo to abduction, mass incarceration, and extreme levels of torture, including electric shock and repeated rapes.
  6. Nearly 200,000 people have been killed and millions more took flight because of violence in Syria―the world’s largest refugee crisis resulting from a civil war that has raged in the region following popular uprising during the Arab Spring in 2011. To date, UNHCR estimates that more than 2.5 million refugees have fled the disaster, surpassing the refugee crises in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, and Central America.
  7. Countries took huge steps backward for rights of LGBTI communities, enacting draconian laws which punish homosexuality with prison terms, torture, and death. Members of LGBTI communities in some countries are hunted down by vigilantes and are beaten or killed. In 2014, Uganda enacted one of the most notorious laws—its “Kill the Gays” law—punishing homosexuality with life in prison. The Ugandan Constitutional Court struck down law. Unfortunately, because the court ruled on procedural grounds rather than on the merits, the court’s decision does not bar parliament from adopting an identical law in the future. And homosexuality remains a criminal act in Uganda, as it was before the new law was signed.
  8. The U.S.’s use of drone strikes are a significant setback to international law, setting new precedents for use of force by nations around the world. As of November 2014, attempts to kill 41 people resulted in snuffing out the lives of an estimated 1,147 individuals, reports The Guardian. The U.S. has, to date, used drones to execute without trial some 4,700 people— including civilians and children—in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, all countries against whom the U.S. has not declared war, the organization Reprieve reports.
  9. An Egyptian court sentenced 529 people to death in a mass trial in March. The next month, a court sentenced another 680 to death in a proceeding that lasted only a few minutes. These mass executions, issued by a military government than came to power in a July 2013 coup, represent some of the largest ordered executions in the last century. Activists who supported efforts to oust former President Hosni Mubarak continue to be rounded up and targeted by the military, aiming to crush political opposition and to roll back achievements made during the Arab Spring. And in November, an Egyptian court dismissed conspiracy to kill charges against Mubarak, and he was cleared of corruption charges; he will likely be freed in a few months.
  10. Women and girls have suffered immeasurably where they should be safest, in their homes. Women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, motor accidents, war and malaria, according to the World Bank. On average, at least one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused by an intimate partner in the course of her lifetime. One high profile domestic violence incident this year involved NFL player Ray Rice beating his then-fiance into unconsciousness and flattening her to the floor of an elevator. As a result of the attack, Rice was suspended for two games. When TMZ posted the video of the attack for the world to see, the NFL suspended Rice indefinitely and the Baltimore Ravens pressured his victim to apologize. Ultimately, the NFL reversed its decision to suspend Rice indefinitely in late November.
  11. Harmful cultural practices violate women. Many governments “address” human rights violations—even the most cringe-worthy, stomach-churning―against women and girls by punishing the victims. Or—as in the case of women from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala seeking refuge in other countries—governments turn their heads to the violence, empowering the perpetrators and further victimizing and subjugating the women. These abuses include acid attacks, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, honor killings, bride burning, and gang rapes. Consider the death of Farzana Iqbal, 25, in May in Pakistan; her family stoned her to death outside a courthouse in Pakistan because she sought to marry without consent from her family a man she loved. Consider Hanna Lalango, 16, who died a month after she entered a public mini-bus in Ethiopia and was gang-raped by strangers for five days―a case similar to one in India two years ago, but one that did not garner the same level of attention and outrage. As an added note, Lalango’s father said he would not have made the case public if his daughter had lived because the shame would have shadowed her for the rest of her life.
  12. The U.S. Senate “torture report” released on December 9 graphically details the CIA’s use of abuse, including keeping a prisoner awake for 180 hours with his hands shackled over his head, threatening to sexually assault and cut the throat of a detainee’s mother, penetrating a detainee’s anus for “rectal feeding,” and tying a prisoner to a floor until he froze to death.
  13. Taliban militants stormed a school in Peshwar, Pakistan and killed more than 130 students in a terrorist attack on December 16 to retaliate against the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai, the young girl who caught the world’s attention for being shot for going to school. Responding to the Peshwar slaughter, Malala stated, “I, along with millions of others around the world, mourn these children, my brothers and sisters—but we will never be defeated.”
  14. Forty-three students traveling to a protest in Mexico were rounded up and “disappeared” in September. The mayor of Iguala, Mexico in concert with local gangs ordered the capture and murder of these students, reports indicate. Federal police may also have complicity in the crime. The act has garnered widespread attention in Mexico, with people questioning the legitimacy of federal and state Mexican authorities, who for years has been corrupted by the influence of narco-traffickers and gangs.
  15. More than 2,000 Gazans were killed when Israel launched a military operation in the Gaza strip in July to stop rocket attacks that followed an Israeli crackdown on Hamas in retaliation for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. The disproportionate level of force used by the Israeli military resulted in large number of civilian deaths. Of the 2,192 Gazans killed, about 1523 civilians (including 519 children), 66 Israeli soldiers, five Israeli civilians (including a child), and one Thai civilian were killed, reports indicate. At the end of the conflict, 110,000 people were internally displaced and 108,000 were made homeless, according to Amnesty International.

What can we do in the face of these human rights violations and the countless others that go unnoticed? Pay attention. Look behind the headlines. Make our voices heard by public officials, leaders, and the world community. Volunteer for projects that address the issues most important to us. Support organizations such as The Advocates for Human Rights which take on the larger systemic issues that allow human rights abuses to continue. We are not helpless. In 2015, we can, by working together, move closer to our vision of a world in which all people live with dignity, freedom, justice, equality, and peace . . . because every person matters.

By: The Advocates for Human Rights’ Deepinder Mayell, Robin Phillips, Jennifer Prestholdt, and Susan Banovetz

Donate now. Because every person matters.

Live from Geneva! It’s Crunch Time for the UN’s Examination of the U.S. Human Rights Record

Live from Geneva! It’s Crunch Time for the UN’s Examination of the U.S. Human Rights Record

Photo1276

The Advocates for Human Rights has a booth at the Minnesota State Fair every year. We have a wheel that fairgoers spin to take a shot at answering a question on a human rights topic. Last year, one question was a real stumper: “When will the United Nations next review the human rights record of the United States?” “Never” was the common response. The correct answer? Now. This week, a 32-person delegation of U.S. officials will appear before the UN’s Human Rights Committee in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss human rights here at home.

I’m in Geneva this week as part of a delegation coordinated by the U.S. Human Rights Network, a network of organizations and individuals working to build and strengthen a people-centered human rights movement in the United States. After more than a year of preparation over the phone, email, and even in webinars, we all got together Sunday to finally meet face to face. And wow what a crowd! More than 60 of us crammed into a hotel conference room (and the adjoining hallway) for a 3-hour meeting to finalize our preparations. The room was full of energy and excitement!

US civil society groups and tribal nation leaders preparing Sunday evening for the Human Rights Committee's review of the United States
US civil society groups and tribal nation leaders preparing Sunday evening for the Human Rights Committee’s review of the United States (Photo credit: Jamil Dakwar, ACLU)

It’s crunch time for our network. We spent the evening polishing 2-minute working group statements, which we will deliver in a formal briefing to the Human Rights Committee Monday around noon. And we plotted out our additional informal briefings with the committee and side events targeting a broader audience here in Geneva. We have an action plan for blogging, live-tweeting, and doing other social media outreach, too. This post is just one of the first in a series that network members will be posting this week.

UN badge 002
My UN badge

With the help of some teachers and their students, I’ll field some questions students have about how the international human rights system works. Here are the questions they’ve sent me, and my answers.

Switzerland? Isn’t the UN in New York?

The United Nations’ headquarters is in New York City. That’s where the Security Council and General Assembly meet. But the UN has three regional offices: Vienna, Austria; Geneva, Switzerland; and Nairobi, Kenya. The Geneva office is the largest of the three, and it hosts most of the UN’s human rights work.

Does the United States have to do what the UN says?

Kind of. The UN’s human rights bodies don’t have a police force to send to the United States to enforce human rights laws. Instead, these UN bodies ask our government questions and then publish “Concluding Observations.” It’s a politely worded report that describes “Positive aspects” and then presents “Principal subjects of concern and recommendations.” For example, one of these bodies in 2006 recommended that the United States “ensure the right of residents of the District of Columbia to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives, in particular with regard to the House of Representatives.”

Why do these UN bodies get to tell the United States what to do?

Because the United States agreed to let them! Most international human rights law is based on treaties, which are kind of like contracts. If a government signs and ratifies a treaty, it agrees to follow the treaty. It’s just like if you sign a lease, you agree to pay your rent on time and follow the other terms of your lease. And human rights treaties typically say that any country that ratifies the treaty has to report to the UN from time to time to show that the country is following the treaty. The UN calls a country that has ratified a treaty a “State party” to the treaty.

What exactly are these “UN bodies”?

There is a committee for each human rights treaty . For example, the UN’s Committee Against Torture oversees the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The UN’s Human Rights Committee is responsible for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Each committee is made up of independent experts from around the world.

How does it all work?

Every 4-5 years, each State party has to file a written report with the relevant committee. The report is supposed to show how the State party is following the treaty. It’s kind of like a “self-evaluation.” As you might expect, these self-evaluations sometimes ignore or gloss over human rights problems. So the committee identifies some issues and questions it is concerned about, and the State party then files written responses to those issues and questions. Then, a delegation from the State party’s government travels to Geneva to go head-to-head with the committee. The committee experts ask questions for six hours, or even longer. And then a few weeks later, the committee issues “Concluding Observations.” The State party is then supposed to implement the committee’s recommendations, and report back again in 4-5 years on how things are going.

Do State parties actually do what the Committee says?

Sometimes. The committees really have to rely on the power of persuasion. In some cases, the State party just says it can’t do what the committee recommends. For example, even if the U.S. Federal Government wanted to follow that 2006 recommendation and give residents of the District of Columbia a voting member of the House of Representatives, it’s not clear that it could do so under Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution. In other cases, a State party may disagree with the Committee’s interpretation of the treaty’s obligations–just like you might disagree with your landlord about some language in your lease. But in many cases, the State party makes a genuine effort to implement the committee’s recommendations.

Can regular people participate, or is it just between the government and the UN?

Efia Nwangaza of the Malcolm X Center for Self Determination, at the Sunday planning meeting
Efia Nwangaza of the Malcolm X Center for Self Determination, at the Sunday planning meeting

There are many ways that ordinary people can get involved in human rights at the UN. In fact, “civil society” plays a critical role. If a State party files a sugar-coated report, civil society groups can flag important issues for the committee. Civil society groups can also write their own independent reports to share their own views and experiences about the human rights situation on the ground. And civil society groups meet with committee members before they meet with the government delegation in Geneva. The Advocates for Human Rights has “special consultative status” with the United Nations, which means that staff members like me can get UN grounds passes to attend sessions in person.

Speaking of Geneva, what’s going on there this week?

Palais Wilson
Palais Wilson

This is the time human rights nerds like me have been waiting for!

  • First up, on Monday civil society organizations and leaders of tribal governments have a “formal briefing” at the Palais Wilson with all of the members of the Human Rights Committee. We’ll talk with them about our concerns, they’ll share what they’re most interested in and any questions they have. The purpose of this meeting is to make sure the Committee experts are ready to grill the U.S. Government delegation with six hours of tough questions later this week.
  • Next, on Tuesday morning we’ll have a longer informal briefing with the committee where tribal leaders can have more opportunity to dialogue with the Committee. We’ll also give the Committee answers to any questions they raised on Monday, and some people who have been personally affected by human rights violations will be there to testify.
  • On Wednesday afternoon, we’re all invited to the U.S. Embassy to the United Nations in Geneva for a “civil society consultation.”

    Palais des Nations
    Palais des Nations
  • On Thursday, the action moves up the road to the Palais des Nations. The Committee has a quick “informal briefing” with civil society groups, and then from 3-6 pm, it starts asking the U.S. Government Delegation questions. You can watch a live webcast of the questioning, or check out the video archives later.
  • On Friday, from 10-1, the questioning continues. If the Committee doesn’t have time to cover everything it wants to discuss, it may take a break and then ask the United States to come back for a few more hours after lunch.
  • Then we all go home and wait for about two weeks for the Committee to publish its Concluding Observations.

Why are you there?

The Advocates is part of civil society, and we submitted three independent reports to the Human Rights Committee. The first is about the detention of non-citizens, the second is about the death penalty, and the third is about domestic violence and “Stand Your Ground” laws. So I’m in Geneva to meet with the Committee and raise awareness about the issues we covered in our reports. I’ll answer any questions Committee members have, and I’ll encourage the U.S. Government delegation to accept and implement any recommendations the Committee makes that relate to our reports.

Could you recommend reading materials, videos, or other learning tools that will expose my students to human rights issues all over the world?

Sure! First, be sure to take a look at all of The Advocates’ great human rights education resources for teachers and students. There are some good videos on the UN Human Rights Youtube channel, including, relevant to my time in Geneva, What is a Human Rights Treaty Body? and What is a Human Right? The UN also maintains information on a long list of human rights issues. The UN also offers live and archived webcasts of its proceedings, including sessions of treaty bodies like the Human Rights Committee. The UN also publishes training and education materials.

How can we learn more?

I’ll be in Geneva all week, and members of the U.S. Human Rights network will be livetweeting and updating with new blog posts as soon as we can. If you have questions or want us to talk about certain things, please send me an email at abergquist@advrights.org. We hope to hear from you!

This post is one of the first in a series of posts by U.S. civil society groups in Geneva this week for the UN Human Rights Committee’s review of the United States.

More posts in this series:

Lives on the Line: Will Supreme Court Hold U.S. Accountable for Death Penalty? (The Advocates Post)

Access to Justice and the Bringing Human Rights Back Home Challenge (Human Rights At Home Blog)

Decades Later, No Justice for Kent State Killings (ACLU)

U.S. Human Rights Record Undergoes International Scrutiny (ACLU)

By: Amy Bergquist, staff attorney with the International Justice Program at The Advocates for Human Rights

Dennis McGuire’s Execution: A Real-Life — or Real-Death — Example of Cruel and Inhuman Punishment

Dennis McGuire’s Execution: A Real-Life — or Real-Death — Example of Cruel and Inhuman Punishment

Death Penalty Image for CCOhio officials put Dennis McGuire to death this week using a new two-drug combination that had never been tested. Ohio’s experiment with the new two-drug injection is a real-life — or real-death — example of what can go wrong when states are allowed to execute people using untested and dubious execution methods.

In arguments prior to the execution, McGuire’s attorneys warned that the drug combination could cause a state of terror for him because their client would experience “air hunger” in his struggle to breathe. Witnesses to the execution report that McGuire made loud snorting noises and gasped and struggled for air for about 20 minutes until he died.

“Shortly after the warden buttoned his jacket to signal the start of the execution, my dad began gasping and struggling to breathe,” McGuire’s daughter, Amber McGuire, is reported to have said. “I watched his stomach heave. I watched him try to sit up against the straps on the gurney. I watched him repeatedly clench his fist. It appeared to me he was fighting for his life but suffocating.”

The majority of the 32 death penalty states in the U.S. and the U.S. federal government use lethal injection as the primary means to execute prisoners. Contrary to what was administered to McGuire, these governments have traditionally used a three-drug combination to put people to death. But now, governments are resorting to new combinations because the drugs needed for the three-drug injection are difficult to obtain. The drugs’ sources are drying up, caused by foreign government regulations, European Union restrictions placed on the supply, and drug corporations’ positions.

As these drugs have become increasingly harder to obtain, states have begun using other drugs to administer a lethal dose. In turn, pharmaceutical companies have refused to supply these drugs for execution purposes in the U.S.

States are turning to questionable sources—including compounding pharmacies selling drugs that are not FDA-approved—to get the drugs they need to execute people. Obtaining execution drugs that are outside of federal regulation increases the risk of tampering and reduced drug efficacy; this increases the probability of cruel or inhuman treatment or punishment during an execution, a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.

Moreover, several states passed secrecy laws to conceal the identities of their drug suppliers, thus allowing states to withhold critical information from detainees and their families who seek assurances about the drugs’ quality and effectiveness.

Lethal injection has come under constitutional challenge in a number of states for its potential to cause cruel and unusual punishment. Most notably, Kentucky’s three-drug combination came under fire in 2008, when the U.S. Supreme Court held that its lethal injection method does not qualify as cruel and unusual punishment.

Since the Kentucky ruling, U.S. states have faced new challenges in lethal injection because of the clamp down on the drug supply. Lethal injection in the U.S. has now turned into a cat-and-mouse game, with states attempting to procure execution drugs from an international community determined to keep the drugs out of the states’ possession, leading states to turn to untested and uncharted drug protocols as alternatives.

Regardless of whether a three-drug injection or, in the case of McGuire, a two-drug injection is used, there is much concern that these injections cause cruel and inhuman punishment.

McGuire’s gruesome death is a visible, gruesome testimonial that lethal injection is on the path toward cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

“No one should die the way my dad did, no matter the circumstances,” said McGuire’s daughter, according to reports.

Hours after the execution, Terry Collins, who served as the Director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections from 2006 to 2010 and oversaw 33 executions, said that the suffocation execution of McGuire shines the spotlight on the unworkable nature of the problems in the death house. “The experiment has failed and that is plainly obvious,” he said.

The Advocates for Human Rights has submitted a shadow report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, detailing how the death penalty in the U.S. violates basic human rights, including the right to be free from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. In its update to the United Nations for the U.S.’s upcoming review in March, The Advocates will include information about McGuire’s execution. It is important that the Human Rights Committee is apprised of this alarming development by which a state is willing to expose a human being to such agony and terror in the interests of executing them.

By: Attorney Rosalyn Park, The Advocates for Human Rights’ director of research, represents The Advocates on the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty steering committee. She chairs the Working Group for World Day Against the Death Penalty and is active on several other working groups. Before beginning work with The Advocates, Rosalyn interned with Anti-Slavery International in London as an Upper Midwest International Human Rights Fellow.

Connecting Nationally

flickr--friendscentralschool
flickr–friendscentralschool

By Sarah Herder

I was sitting on a plane headed to Boston in fall 2011 when I pulled out a slim packet I was to read in advance of the conference I was attending – “Building a Human Rights Education Strategy for U.S. Schools,” co-sponsored by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Human Rights Education Associates (HREA), the National Education Association, and the University of San Francisco’s School of Education.

Flipping through the pages as the airplane soared over America’s heartland, I knew why I’d made representing The Advocates at this conference a priority.

As I read, I realized that much of the educational policy work that we had been doing was also being done by individuals around the country. Individuals who would be at the conference and wanted to connect. I quickly devoured the pages. It was validating and exciting that they had come to many of the same conclusions about priorities and strategies for moving Human Rights Education forward in the United States.

At the conference, I found interesting, thoughtful people and engaging dialogue. I found that I had a lot to say.

“Our children are growing up in a world where globalization is changing reality in ways we don’t even understand yet. We can’t afford to have this be political. Kids have to start learning it.”

Everyone else had a lot to say, too.

“Only 8% of the public has heard of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but it’s U.S. history! Eleanor Roosevelt was the key player in drafting and passing it.”

“Have you seen Mississippi’s standards? They’re great – some of the most progressive in the country.”

“We work with schools on bullying. It’s an intensive, schoolwide process if you want to do it right.”

“’Free and online’ is how lessons ought to be shared.”

“We are thrilled to report that they are close to passing the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training.”

The environment seemed ripe, and the energy remarkable. We voted to establish a network.

HRE USA logo-med res

Somehow, 16 months later, I now have the privilege of serving as the co-chair of this amazing collective of talented, dedicated individuals. Known as Human Rights Educators USA (HRE USA), the group defines itself as “a national network of individuals and agencies supporting Human Rights Education in formal and non-formal educational settings in the United States.”

HRE USA facilitates mutual collaboration and support to maximize members’ efforts to:

  • integrate HRE into formal and non-formal educational settings, such as schools, universities, and organizations that work with youth;
  • advocate for the inclusion of HRE in national and state education policies, standards, curricula, and pedagogy;
  • provide pre-service and in-service teacher training programs and HRE resources;
  • contribute to global research and scholarship on HRE; and
  • empower educators and learners.

As a testament to the demand it was meeting, HRE USA now has more than 200 members, including Pre-K to university-level teachers and students, administrators and policymakers, nonprofit organizations, unions, and other individuals committed “to promote human dignity, justice, and peace by cultivating an expansive, vibrant base of support for Human Rights Education (HRE) in the United States.”

The network’s values framework requires its members to operate with basic human rights principles. And we do. I have honestly gone to colleagues after conference calls and commented that the efficiency, intelligence, and kindness with which the group conducts itself continues to inspire and impress me.

In addition to my administrative role, I am also active in the Policy/Advocacy Working Group, which focuses on strategies to promote HRE-related policies and practices at all levels. This is one of several such groups that were created to allow the different strands of interest to continue simultaneously. Other working groups center around the themes of After-school/Community-based Programs, Higher Education, K-12, Online Resources, and Pre-School/Early Childhood.

The network is open for membership, and we welcome anyone who shares its mission and values. Interested individuals can simply go to our website, hreusa.net, and click on “Join Us.”

Once you are a member, you can join a working group, access our resources, develop or highlight your own initiative, and vote on leadership. Most importantly, you will find the exceptional community that I did in fall 2011 – one that will allow you to connect with others around the United States in a growing movement to promote Human Rights Education.

Sarah Herder is the Education Director at The Advocates for Human Rights. 

New Year’s Reflections

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By Robin Phillips

I love December.  I love it because it brings some of my favorite things – snow and holidays and celebrations with family.  But I also love the quiet time at the end of December that allows for reflection about the past year.  This time of reflection gives me hope for renewal and inspiration in the coming year. I am using this time to reflect on the human rights successes of 2012 and to gear up for the challenges of 2013.

On the national level, we celebrate moving our country one step closer to achieving universal access to health care. With the Supreme Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of the health care law commonly referred to as “Obamacare,” we can collectively move forward with the plan to expand health care coverage to more people.

And, what a year we’ve had in Minnesota. We are still celebrating the success of the amazing grassroots efforts to defeat two proposed amendments to Minnesota’s constitution. The first was a measure to permanently enshrine discrimination into the Constitution by restricting marriage to heterosexual couples. The second proposed amendment was a cynical attempt to restrict voting disguised as a measure to protect the integrity of the voting process. An amazing group of organizations, companies and individuals came together to defeat these amendments, rejecting discrimination and protecting the fundamental right to vote for all citizens in Minnesota.

We are celebrating other program successes at The Advocates for Human Rights. We published the third edition of our Energy of a Nation curriculum, a comprehensive curriculum designed to educate students about the realities of immigration in the United States and dispel the common myths. This fall, we also published two reports about the implementation of the domestic violence laws in Croatia and Moldova. We trained the legal professionals who implement these laws in several countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and we provided commentary to proposed laws in nearly a dozen other countries. We continue to work with Diaspora communities to bring their human rights concerns to the United Nations and the governments in their home countries. We also work to ensure that Minnesota communities are welcoming to our newest Americans through our One Voice Minnesota Project.

While there is much to celebrate from 2012, we face many challenges going forward. For example, we must hold the United States government accountable for the human rights violations resulting from extra-judicial executions through drone attacks. These attacks violate international law and erode the basic due process protections of the United States Constitution. We must also challenge indefinite detention, with a demand that the most glaring example, Guantanamo, be closed or at a minimum, those held be charged and given the opportunity to present a defense. Prisoners there have now been held for more than ten years without the benefit of even the most basic civil rights protections provided in international law.

It appears that we will have the opportunity to address comprehensive immigration reform in the coming year. We must insist that any fix to the broken immigration system be anchored in human rights and respect the inherent dignity of all individuals living in this country. In addition, we must fight against every attempt to discriminate against human beings in this country based on their immigration status. Attempts to fix due process problems with indefinite detention by limiting the extension of due process protection only to United States citizens or permanent residents violates the spirit if not the letter of the United States Constitution. These same distinctions are being made in the health care, education and access to food and housing. Law and policy related to these fundamental human rights should also acknowledge the shared humanity of all people living in the United States.

We must also continue to work for the elimination of violence against women and girls in the United States and around the world. The recent news of the death of the young medical student who was raped on a bus in India and the shooting of Malala, the young Pakistani girl who spoke out about her right to education, underscore the urgency of this issue. We have made great strides in increasing legal protections and training legal system personnel, but we must work to pass appropriate laws, monitor the implementation of these laws, and fix or improve the laws when they are not working properly.

We are inspired by past successes to meet the human rights challenges in the coming year. At The Advocates for Human Rights, we re-commit to our vision of a world in which all people live with dignity, freedom, justice, equality and peace. In this spirit, we wish you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Robin Phillips is the Executive Director of The Advocates for Human Rights

Pencils, check, Paper, check, . . . Human Rights Education?

Pencils, check, Paper, check, . . . Human Rights Education?

by Sarah Herder

The other evening, after searching for last year’s school binders and packing my kids’ backpacks with everything from Clorox wipes to globe-shaped pencil sharpeners, I thought about the millions of students who are returning to freshly painted hallways and overcrowded classrooms this fall. I had to wonder: Are they ready?

Not just ready with supplies, but ready with skills. By this, I mean, are they prepared to handle conflict? Are they ready to treat themselves and others with respect? Have  our children achieved the fundamental proficiencies to be responsible members of their school communities? Are they ready to protect and promote their own human rights, and those of others?

We rightly put a good deal of emphasis on what we traditionally think of as academic skills, such as writing a five-paragraph essay and using the scientific method. Indeed, every good teacher is simultaneously combining content with skills that will help students in the next phase of their learning. When students used to ask me why they had to learn to FOIL (the standard method of multiplying two binomials) in algebra, for example, I didn’t tell them that solving such problems would be a baseline requirement for any job. Instead, I explained that learning the process helped to develop their analytical skills and could be used as a building block for more difficult math. (They still complained, but markedly less.)

Similarly, we must explicitly teach empathy, taking and sharing responsibility, conflict resolution, and critical thinking. Such skills are something I spend a lot of time thinking about, as they are one of the pillars of Human Rights Education (HRE). By definition, HRE helps individuals develop the knowledge, skills, and values to fully exercise and protect the human rights of themselves and others; fulfill their responsibilities in the context of universal principles; and achieve justice and peace in their communities and the world.

No small order, I know. There are, however, concrete skills that comprise this approach, and research shows us that HRE leads to higher student achievement, lower incidents of negative student behaviors (such as bullying), and higher rates of teacher satisfaction. In the long term, these skills contribute to an individual’s ability to hold a job, maintain healthy relationships, understand social issues and current domestic and international affairs, and most importantly, claim their rights and stand up for others.

A good model for  incorporating such  skills can be found in The Advocates’ newest edition of Energy of a Nation, our curriculum on immigration. Examples abound: kids learn how to constructively discuss politically charged or sensitive issues and the importance of giving such an issue proper historical and international context. They also learn to look for root causes and long-term solutions and seek out credible sources. In essence, the curriculum requires them to peel away rhetoric in search of real answers and teaches them what human rights are and how to apply these international standards to the experiences of individual lives.

The skills we espouse as part of Human Rights Education have a place in nearly any classroom. In order to help teachers with this, The Advocates provides professional development trainings and a library of free resources, including curricula, lesson plans, newsletters, links to related material for both teachers and students. It is, however, also up to parents, caregivers, child care providers, and the community as a whole. If we understand that we are preparing not only young minds, but truly young people, it is clear that the skills they need to be successful requires the best of who we are in order to prepare – and keep preparing – them year after year.

So, whether at school or at home, here are a few quick tips on building skills at every age in the development of rights respecting individuals:

Pre-K and early elementary kids:

1) Ask “How would you feel if . . . ?”

2) Have them identify the emotions of themselves and others.

3) Read them fiction.

Middle level kids:

1) Build their self-esteem.

2) Connect school learning to big picture questions about life and community.

3) Role-play positive actions in difficult social situations.

High school kids:

1) Give them rights, and hold them accountable for related responsibilities.

2) Encourage them to ask “why?” when they see social injustice.

3) Offer international news sources and challenge them to think of themselves as a local and a global citizen.

Maybe jot these tips down on your student’s back-to-school list this year and share them with teachers. It is our shared community and democracy, and the skills your kids will develop from human rights education are certainly as important as differentiating between a gerund and participle – and that, coming from a grammar nerd like me, is saying something!

Sarah Herder is the Education Director at The Advocates for Human Rights

Featured photo by the noggin_nogged’s photostream