The Advocates for Human Rights works locally and globally to fight injustice, restore peace, save lives and build the human rights movement.
Big news out of Hennepin County, Minnesota’s most populous county: Sheriff Rich Stanek and County Attorney Mike Freeman announced that Hennepin County will no longer honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) requests to detain people.
Hennepin County joins Ramsey County, its next-door neighbor, which instituted a similar policy in May.
ICE makes a detainer request when it identifies an individual in local custody it believes is in the United States without authorization, and asks the local law enforcement agency to hold the person until ICE can take the person into custody. These requests are not mandatory, and enforcing them can lead to violations of detained individuals’ constitutional rights. In many cases, individuals being detained and deported have no criminal record or have been arrested for minor crimes. Despite a probability that some arrests are unconstitutional, immigrants are transferred to ICE before any criminal proceedings are held; as a result, there are no reviews of the constitutionality of the initial arrests.
The Advocates for Human Rights recently released its groundbreaking report Moving from Exclusion to Belonging: Immigrant Rights in Minnesota, based on two years of interviews and fact-finding. Immigrants and advocates across Minnesota told of people detained and deported because of detainer requests. “One family, they were stopped for no reason,” reported one legal service provider. “Dad and son were referred to ICE. Local police made the stop, but there was never even a ticket.”
One advocate shared a police report involving a client who local police pulled over for not using a turn signal. The police report described how, when the driver failed to produce a valid Minnesota driver’s license and was unable to communicate in English, the officer called federal immigration officials. “I advised [them] of the situation… [and] the federal immigration officer advised me that [the driver] is illegal and he wants her held for deportation,” the police report stated. The police report lists charges of no proof of insurance, no driver’s license, and illegal entry.
Another person shared the story of an acquaintance stopped for expired license tabs while driving home from work. “He was picked up, taken to the county jail, and deported two weeks later,” this person said.
In a similar incident, a public defender described a situation in which a Latino individual who, after parking his car, was walking toward a restaurant when a patrol officer stopped him in his tracks and asked him for identification. The officer made no allegations of any violation of motor vehicle operation or suspicion of any criminal activity. When the individual failed to produce a valid Minnesota driver’s license, the officer arrested him, booked him into the county jail, and turned him over to ICE.
There is also the report of an individual who parked on the wrong side of the street to jump-start a friend’s car. The police stopped and asked him for identification. When he presented a Mexican matricula consular, he was arrested. He was booked into jail, interviewed by ICE under the Criminal Alien Program, and placed in deportation proceedings. The individual had no criminal history and no criminal charges were brought against him.
A legal service provider recounted the time a van leaving a work place was followed by a county sheriff. The law enforcement official pulled the van over and asked everyone inside for identification. While there allegedly was an arrest warrant for the driver, all of the passengers were turned over to ICE for questioning and placed in removal proceedings.
The Advocates welcomes the actions of Hennepin County and Ramsey County to join movement of ending cooperation with ICE in this regard. Other communities―in Minnesota and across the United States – are strongly encouraged to follow suit.
This account of events that took place in early May in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was originally posted on the blog Jen & Josh in Ethiopia: A Chronicle of Our Peace Corps Experience. As the authors note in their first post in their series about the Oromo student protests, they are no longer Peace Corps Volunteers. In their first post in the series, Ambo Protests: A Personal Account, Jen and Josh describe in gripping detail what they saw and heard from April 25 to May 1: Students and others in the town of Ambo began to protest against the Ethiopian government’s “master plan” to expand the territory of Addis Ababa and annex lands belonging to the state of Oromia. Federal police hunted down Jen and Josh’s two young neighbors, who were university students, and shot and killed them in their own home, far away from the student protests. Jen and Josh decided to flee, witnessing hundreds of demonstrators packed into the prison at the Ambo police compound, many showing signs of having been beaten. With the intervention of the U.S. Embassy, the Ambo police authorities allowed Jen and Josh to leave. This post takes up their story from there.
After the protests and violence in Ambo, we fled to the capital city of Addis Ababa and stayed at a little hotel called Yilma. Immediately, we started telling everyone about what happened in Ambo. We called and texted our friends, we talked to anyone at the hotel that would listen, and we posted things on Facebook. If we tell everyone about the protesters in Ambo being imprisoned and killed, surely it will stop, we reasoned.
The next day, two strange men – one tall with dark skin, the other short with lighter skin – struck up a conversation with us in the hotel restaurant.
“We’re from Minnesota, here to visit our family in Wollega,” they said.
“Oh, we’re from St. Paul!” we replied, excited.
“Oh, we’re from St. Paul, too!” they said, pulling out a fake-looking Minnesota driver’s license.
The address said Worthington, not St. Paul.
“How long have you lived in St. Paul?’ we asked.
“Yes.” the tall man said, nervously.
“I mean…how long have you lived in St. Paul?” we said, slower.
“Just 2 weeks.”
“And you’re already back in Ethiopia. And you just drove through Ambo, past all the protests and the police, to visit your family in Wollega?” we asked, thinking about the single paved road that heads west through Ambo.
“Yes.” he replied.
“You must be very brave,” we said, thinking about how the road was closed due to the violence.
“Why?” he asked, baiting us with a stoic face.
We froze, afraid to speak further. At that moment, after 20 months in Ethiopia, we finally understood why so many people in Oromia are afraid of spies. When we first arrived in Ambo, people thought WE were C.I.A. spies, which we found amusing…spies who couldn’t even speak the language? If we had beenspies, we certainly weren’t very good at our job. But now, the tables were turned.
The two men began following us around the hotel area, sitting next to us whenever possible, walking slowly past our table, then returning slowly past our table – sometimes up to 10 times per hour. A different man followed us to a restaurant about a mile from the hotel, then sat at the closest table to ours, rudely joining a young couple’s romantic dinner.
For the next three days, we stopped telling people about the protests and the imprisonments and the killings in Ambo. We were afraid that the two men would be listening. We were afraid that someone was monitoring our communications on the government-controlled cell phone service and the government-controlled internet. Were we just paranoid? Were we really being monitored? Maybe we had just integrated too much, to the point where we had become Oromo, afraid of government spies and afraid of speaking out and being put in jail. While being ferenji (foreigners) gave us some level of protection, thoughts of the Swedish journalists thrown into an Ethiopian jail in 2011 lingered in the backs of our minds. The journalists “were only doing their jobs, and human rights group Amnesty International said the journalists had been prosecuted for doing legitimate work.” Did we seem just as suspicious to the government as those Swedish journalists? We didn’t want to find out.
Peace Corps gave all the volunteers strict instructions NOT to blog or post on Facebook about the protests or killings across Oromia. It is just too dangerous to say anything about the Ethiopian government, they pointed out.
That’s when we decided to leave Ethiopia. For us, staying in Ambo, not ruffling any feathers, was not an option. How could we go back and pretend that our neighbors, students, and and fellow residents didn’t die or didn’t end up in prison?
Robin Phillips’ oral testimony, “The Plight of Religious Minorities in India”:
For more than 30 years, The Advocates for Human Rights has worked with diaspora communities—people living outside their country of origin or ancestry who retain ties to and interest in that country. Some come to the United States seeking asylum after facing religious persecution. Others come as professionals or students, or to join family members. And some are second- or third-generation immigrants. They are part of our communities, they are your constituents, and their voices should help inform our policies toward their countries of origin and ancestry.
Indian diaspora sounds alarm about religious freedom in India
The Indian diaspora groups with whom we work have consistently expressed concern about religious freedom in India. We share their concerns, including: communal violence; impunity for the instigators of such violence and those in government who may be complicit; anti-conversion laws; vague anti-terrorism laws that facilitate profiling and persecution of Muslims; police and armed forces practices such as encounter killings and torture targeting Muslims; and a culture of impunity for such practices. These practices violate international human rights standards.
Consistent with the concerns we hear, the Pew Research Center recently ranked India as a country with “very high social hostilities involving religion” and “high” government restrictions on religion.
Indian diasporans around the world have been sounding the alarm as elections approach. In the first eight months of 2013, there were 451 incidents of communal violence, up from 410 in all of 2012. The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief cautions that “political exploitation of communal distinctions” presents “a real risk that [large scale] communal violence might happen again.”
Multifaceted impunity fuels communal violence
Impunity fuels communal violence. This impunity is multifaceted: officials do not hold private parties accountable for communal violence; courts do not hold government officials accountable for sanctioning or encouraging that violence; political parties rally behind political leaders who are implicated in communal violence; obstruction of justice and witness intimidation are commonplace in court procedures; immunity laws shield security forces from accountability; and officials accept torture and extrajudicial killings as the norm.
Some examples raised by Indian diasporans highlight these points. Cases brought against officials alleged to be complicit in the 2002 Gujarat violence have been dismissed for lack of evidence after witnesses were intimidated and prosecutors and judges effectively stood in as defense counsel. UN human rights bodies have described the proceedings as “flawed from the outset,” reflecting concerns of religious bias and high levels of corruption. Whistleblowers in Gujarat law enforcement have faced threats and arrests.
Wounds of past communal violence still fresh, especially for women
The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women visited India last May. She observed that communal violence in India “is frequently explained away by implying that equal aggression was noted on both sides.” By characterizing this violence as “riots,” the government “den[ies] the lack of security for religious . . . minorities, . . . disregarding their right to equal citizenship.” “This issue is of particular concern to many,” the Special Rapporteur noted at the end of her visit last May, “as the wounds of the past are still fresh for women who were beaten, stripped naked, burnt, raped [or] killed because of their religious identity, in the Gujarat massacre of 2002.”
In some communal attacks, police reportedly arrest victims and protect the attackers. And the government has been negligent in its duties to victims displaced by communal violence who are afraid to return home. These internally displaced persons continue to languish in subhuman conditions in isolated settlements.
Human rights defenders and Muslims face harassment, threats, arbitrary arrest
Human rights defenders reportserious problems with increased police harassment and arbitrary arrest and detention of Muslims based on false charges of terrorism. Religious minorities have been targeted under an anti-terrorism law that expands the definition of “terrorism”; authorizes warrantless search, seizure, and arrest; and allows detention without charge for up to 180 days.
Indian police confident of impunity for torturing people
While in custody, many suspects are also subject to torture and ill-treatment. The independent Ravi Chander Commission reported that Muslim men were held without charge for several weeks at illegal detention centers and tortured to extract forced confessions of terrorism offenses. In my own personal discussions with Indian police officers, they have been alarmingly candid about their use of torture as a legitimate interrogation technique, signifying a complete disregard for international standards and confidence of impunity for these human rights violations. Not surprisingly, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture’s request for permission to visit India has been pending for more than 20 years.
Attorneys for religious minorities face threats, violence
“Encounter killings” have become state policy in India
In addition, “encounter killings,” or killings that occur during staged clashes between security forces and alleged armed suspects are becoming increasingly common. The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions reported last year that encounter killings “have become virtually a part of unofficial State policy.”
U.S. must ensure India adequately protects rights of religious minorities
As the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief observed after a 2008 visit to India, “impunity emboldens forces of intolerance.” There is a serious possibility of increased violence against religious minorities in India in connection with the upcoming elections. India cannot abrogate its obligation to protect the human rights of its citizens in the name of national security. The United States and India stand as democratic and pluralistic nations. As such, we must hold each other accountable to the highest standards of human rights protection. We encourage the United States to take strong bilateral and multilateral action to ensure that the rights of religious minorities in India are adequately protected and that India complies with all of its international human rights obligations.
Robin Phillips’ testimony begins at approximately :59:15 in the video of the hearing:
Video excerpting questions about the administration of the death penalty in the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Committee, as well as the responses from the United States delegation.
We were particularly excited when the U.S. State Department announced the delegation, because it included Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood. This is the first time a U.S. delegation for a treaty-body review has included representatives from state and local governments. They are an important piece of the accountability puzzle because many of our country’s human rights obligations need to be implemented at the state and local level.
Mississippi retains the death penalty, and Attorney General Hood had just asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to schedule two back-to-back executions for March 26 and 27–for Charles Ray Crawford and Michelle Byrom. We knew that two lives were on the line.
Committee highlights key death penalty issues
The Committee’s examination of the United States on March 13-14 and its Concluding Observations mirror some of the issues we raised in our shadow reports. They devote much attention to the death penalty, including the associated issues of exonoree compensation, racial disparities, and sourcing of drugs used for executions.
While welcoming the overall decline in the number of executions and the increasing number of states that have abolished the death penalty, the Committee shares The Advocates’ concerns about its continued use. The Committee is concerned by the high number of people wrongly sentenced to death, despite existing safeguards, and it is concerned about the racial disparities in the death penalty’s imposition—disparities that disproportionately affect African Americans and that are exacerbated by the rule that discrimination has to be proven case-by-case.
As I discuss below, just this week there have been some developments on the issue of wrongful convictions.
Committee urges federal and state governments to ensure fair compensation for people who are wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death
The Committee also notes, as we observed in our shadow report, that 16 states retaining the death penalty do not provide compensation for people who are wrongfully convicted; other states provide insufficient compensation or impose barriers to obtaining it. Consider Glenn Ford. Wrongfully convicted in Louisiana, Ford spent almost 30 years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. As Committee expert Professor Walter Kaelin noted during the review, he was exonerated and released just days before the Committee’s review. He would have been about 34 years old when he entered death row, and was 64 when he was released. Louisiana’s compensation law allows him to collect only a maximum $330,000 for the three decades he spent on death row for a crime he didn’t commit.
The Committee also notes with concern reports that states administer untested, unregulated drugs to execute prisoners, and that state authorities withhold information about the drugs from those to be executed. There have been some late-breaking developments around the country on these drug-sourcing issues.
Committee hits hard on Mississippi’s sourcing of lethal drugs
We were really fortunate that Mississippi Attorney General Hood was part of the U.S. delegation in Geneva. I was there on the ground, so my colleagues at The Advocates and I were able to quickly collect facts about the upcoming executions of Crawford and Byrom that Hood had requested and fed hard-hitting questions about Mississippi’s lethal injection policies directly to the Committee experts.
Mississippi was just one week away from executing Crawford and Byrom with drugs from a compounding pharmacy. As our shadow report explains, compounding pharmacies are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and Mississippi’s drugs had likely expired. These kinds of drugs carry a high risk of causing excruciating pain; one of the more recent executions to use compounded drugs resulted in the prisoner crying out during his execution, “I feel my whole body burning.”
Drug-sourcing has become a problem for states seeking to execute inmates, because many European drug manufacturers have stopped selling drugs like pentobarbital to the United States, fearing they will be used in executions. States are therefore scrambling to come up with alternative ways to concoct their execution drugs.
It was instructive that an official from a state government was part of the U.S. delegation—a first—because state governments conduct the overwhelming majority of executions. And the Committee experts repeatedly pressed Attorney General Hood on the sources of Mississippi’s lethal drugs.
You can see the questioning in the 17-minute video at the top of this post, which excerpts the relevant questions on the death penalty from the Committee and responses from the U.S. delegation.
Due Process revived: Michelle Byrom granted new trial; Charles Ray Crawford’s appeal to proceed
Seemingly oblivious to his own role in nearly executing someone the court determined was entitled to a new trial, and to the extraordinary nature of the court’s decision, Hood responded, “Our citizens can once again take comfort in the fact that we have a legal system that works for all parties involved.” And rather than accepting the court’s decision, a motion from Hood’s office complained that “[e]ach and every claim that Byrom presented to this Court had been addressed on the merits either by this Court or the federal courts on habeas corpus review,” and asked for the court to explain its decision.
But some clever detective work by Byrom and Crawford’s legal team uncovered the source–a compounding pharmacy called Brister Brothers in Grenada, Mississippi. Judging from Brister Brother’s facebook page, the outfit specializes in “herbal dietary supplements,” including a “specially formulated men’s tonic” called “Man Up.”
Brister Brothers co-owner Ward Brister says the company is a “third-party supplier” and did not compound the pentobarbital. According to an NBC report, “Byrom’s legal team presumes Brister purchased the raw ingredients for the drug and that the state intends to have it compounded for the executions.”
The lawsuit alleges that the State of Mississippi will secretly compound the drugs at an unknown time and place, by people with unknown training and credentials. The danger, a lawyer for Byrom and Crawford explains, is that “[i]f the state’s pentobarbital is contaminated or sub-potent, prisoners will be conscious when the second and third drugs are administered, and they will experience a torturous death by suffocation and cardiac arrest.”
Committee issues strong recommendations on lethal drug sourcing
In its Concluding Observations released last week, the UN Human Rights Committee urges the United States to
“ensure that lethal drugs for executions originate from legal, regulated sources, and are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and that information on the origin and composition of such drugs is made available to individuals scheduled for execution.”
If the Supreme Court grants cert. in the Louisiana case, it will be the first body of the U.S. government to take action consistent with the UN Human Rights Committee’s recommendations issued last week, upholding our country’s human rights treaty obligations. It would be a great start to the long process of working on implementation of the Committee’s recommendations.
Committee issues further recommendations on the death penalty
The Committee also recommends that the United States consider establishing a moratorium on the death penalty at the federal level, and, on the 25th anniversary of the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, consider acceding to the Protocol.
In summary, the Committee recommends that in addition to establishing a moratorium, acceding to the Protocol, and ensuring that legal drugs come from transparent, regulated sources, the United States:
1. take measures to effectively ensure that the death penalty is not imposed as a result of racial bias;
2. strengthen safeguards against wrongful sentencing to death and subsequent wrongful execution by ensuring inter alia effective legal representation for defendants in death penalty cases, including at the post-conviction stage;
3. ensure that retentionist states provide adequate compensation for the wrongfully convicted; and
4. engage with retentionist states with a view to achieving a nationwide moratorium.
Amy Bergquist, staff attorney with The Advocates for Human Rights, is in Geneva this week for the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s review of the United States’ human rights record.
She is 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.
The following post, which originally appeared on the ACLU Blog of Rights, is just one of the blog entries that network members plan to write about the U.S. review.
Sixteen-year old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez was walking near the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico to meet his brother for a late-night snack when he was fatally shot by U.S. Border Patrol agents. An autopsy later showed the body of the teenager had been riddled with 10 bullets that had entered his back and head. Mexican officials also said it seemed there were two agents who shot at least 14 times. More than a year later, the U.S. government has yet to issue a public explanation of what happened, or to release stationary video footage, except to allege that he was part of a group throwing rocks at Border Patrol agents who were up on a hill, behind the 60-foot tall border fence.
This week, the ACLU of New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights is joining an ACLU delegation and participating as a civil society member in a review of the U.S. record on human rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in Geneva, Switzerland.
A chief concern presented to the U.N. Human Rights Committee has been the rash of lethal use-of-force incidents at the border, including the death of Elena Rodriguez. Since January 2010, at least 28 civilians have died following an encounter with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel; 27 = died as the result of use of force. These deaths include numerous cases of individuals being shot in the back, across international borders, and in response to alleged rock throwing. One-third of the deaths are of U.S. citizens and one-third of minors, including three boys aged 15, 16 and 17, who were fatally shot while standing on the Mexican side of the border.
CBP’s fundamental lack of oversight, accountability and transparency has created a culture of impunity for agents who violate agency policy or their domestic and international legal obligations. In addition, Border Patrol rejected some core changes to its use-of-force policies recommended by national law-enforcement experts at the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), including how to respond to rock and vehicular assaults, and has refused to release those recommendations publicly.
In addition to providing testimony at informal and formal briefings, we hand-delivered the Human Rights Committee a letter signed by more than 75 border-wide and national organizations and individuals that demanded, among other key items, that CBP’s use-of-force policy and practice fall in line with the highest professional law enforcement standards and comply with international human rights standards on law enforcement conduct, with particular emphasis on improving accountability and increasing transparency with the general public and directly impacted families and individuals.
It is our hope that international pressures will result in closure for the family of Elena Rodriguez and that improved use-of-force policies and training will prevent further unnecessary deaths.
At one point, Damon Thibodeaux, on death row for a crime he didn’t commit, wanted to be executed instead of live in solitary confinement.
“I did not want to live like an animal in a cage for years on end, only to lose my case and then have the state kill me anyway,” Thibodeaux told the U.S Senate Judiciary Committee during its hearing on the practice of long-term solitary confinement. “I thought it would be better to end my life as soon as I could and avoid the agony of life in solitary.”
Eating rotten vegetables, enduring 100+ degree temperatures in the summer, and being put on display like an animal during prison tours was part of his life on death row, he told the committee.
“I saw men lose their minds, and some screamed at all hours of the night,” he recalled in the written portion of his testimony.
Thibodeaux lived for almost 15 years locked in an 8 by 10 cell 23 hours a day and in near-isolation at the notorious Louisiana State Penitentiary. Released in 2012, he was the 300th person nationwide and the 18th on death row to be exonerated by DNA evidence. His legal team included attorneys from the Minnesota law firm of Fredrikson & Byron, a firm that volunteers with The Advocates for Human Rights.
The Advocates 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 an effective remedy for those exonerated from death row. The shadow report was prepared for the United Nations’ review of the U.S.’s human rights record in March.