Happy Human Rights Day! Read my most recent piece published on The Advocates Post.
My latest opinion piece, published on The Advocates Post.
My work takes me often to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. When I was last at the Human Rights Council in March, there was one moment when I was especially proud to be American. I was proud to be American when the U.S. took the floor to speak up on behalf of freedom of expression and association in Cambodia, where the government is cracking down on political opposition in advance of July elections.
Just last week, we participated in a Department of State briefing on the U.S. priorities for the July Council session. The U.S. was planning to speak out strongly on civil & political rights again. Protection of women’s rights is also a focus of this session, something the U.S. has taken a lead role on in recent years. The U.S. was planning to make specific resolutions again on countries that the Council discusses regularly, including Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, and Belarus. We were working closely with several European countries on thematic priorities such as civil society space and business and human rights.
Only 47 Member States, elected by the General Assembly, can vote BUT every Member State has a voice at the Human Rights Council. It is a diplomatic and democratic institution, albeit on a global scale – and with only diplomatic (soft) power. Although better than its predecessor (where I also worked), there is no question that the Human Rights Council has flaws. But, to quote Winston Churchill, “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise”.
The Human Rights Council was created to be the main international political forum to discuss and make recommendations related to human rights situations. Before the Council came into being in 2006, civil society groups and some governments lobbied hard to restrict membership on the Council to States with strong human rights records. Those efforts failed so currently the Human Rights Council membership criteria is minimal. The 47 Members States are elected directly and individually by secret ballot by the majority of the members of the General Assembly. The membership is based on equitable geographical distribution, and seats distributed as follows among regional groups: Group of African States (13); Group of Asia-Pacific States (13); Group of Eastern European States (6); Group of Latin American and Caribbean States (8); and Group of Western European and other States (7). Short of changing the criteria (which could be done democratically if there was enough political will), there is room for diplomatic pressure at both the regional and international levels to ensure that the States with better human rights records are put forward for election in their regional groups.
The real value of the Human Rights Council is engagement. Every country’s human rights record is reviewed by their peers during their regular Universal Periodic Review. Every country receives both criticism and commendation. In my time at the Council, I have honestly been surprised by how often this public, international peer pressure is effective in getting countries to take action to improve human rights conditions.
My thoughts on representing asylum seekers fleeing domestic violence and reaction to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent ruling that victims of domestic violence and other persecution by private actors “generally” do not qualify for asylum. Originally published on The Advocates’ Post.
I’ve worked with refugees and asylum seekers since 1991. I can’t even tell you how many I have had the privilege to represent, yet I believe that I have only encountered two cases of fraud in more than 20 years. I have never encountered even a single client with any links to terrorism. The refugees and asylum seekers who I have met have been fleeing for their lives – sometimes, in fact, from terrorists.
The Executive Order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” signed on January 27, 2017 not only overreaches executive branch powers (under the plenary power doctrine, immigration policy is shared between the legislative and executive) but aspects of the order are both unconstitutional and violate our international legal obligations under the Refugee Convention (which we ratified in 1980). This at a time when there are more forcibly displaced persons (65+ million) than ever before in human history.
Here are some of the reasons why this Executive Order is bad policy that should not be enforced:
- Suspension of U.S. Refugee Admissions Programs (USRAP).
- The order suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days. Why? Even after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, refugee admissions were suspended for less than 3 months. Refugees are perhaps the most thoroughly vetted individuals who enter the U.S. Refugee processing often takes up to 36 months and includes background checks, biometrics, medical screenings, and interviews with several federal agencies. I’ve met many people stuck in limbo in refugee camps, waiting to be cleared to join immediate family members in the U.S. The refugees impacted by this aspect of the order includes many children – the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 51% of refugees are under the age of 18.
- Under the order, exceptions can be made on a case-by-case basis for national interest, if the person does not pose a risk, and the person is a religious minority facing religious persecution OR diplomats OR if the person is already in transit and denying admission would cause a hardship. It does not appear that clear instructions regarding implementation were conveyed to the Border & Customs Protection people who actually had to enforce the order this weekend, leading to chaos and lawsuits.
- The order reduces the number of refugee admissions by more than half, to 50,000. The refugee admission number is set each year by the President, in consultation with Congress. Historically, the number of admissions has fluctuated in response to the human rights crises in the world that produce refugee emergencies. Frankly, the U.S had dropped pretty low in our history in refugee resettlement due to the overall lower number of refugees worldwide prior to the Syrian conflict. President Obama does not deserve accolades for many aspects of his immigration policy regarding refugees, particularly in regard to family detention and the “rocket docket” for Central American women and children fleeing violence. But last year he finally did authorize an increase in the number of refugees the U.S would accept in response to the worldwide refugee crisis. The goal this fiscal year was to admit 110,000 refugees. The government’s fiscal year began on October 1, so we have already admitted 29.895 as of January 20, 2017. Under this new executive order, we will admit only about 20,000 additional refugees before the end of the fiscal year on September 30. That means that 60,000 refugees who have already been vetted will remain in vulnerable situations.
- Once resumed, the U.S. will prioritize the religious persecution claims of minority religious groups. Purportedly, this is to prioritize the claims of persecution on account of Christian minorities but the fact is that Muslims are also a persecuted minority in countries such as India. What does this mean for them?
- The order suspending USRAP for 120 days also directs Department of Homeland Security to determine how state and local jurisdictions can have greater involvement in determining placement resettlement in their district. This aspect of the order has not received a lot of media coverage yet, but it would allow states and cities unprecedented authority to say that they will not resettle any Muslim refugees. Bills have already been introduced in states such as North Dakota and South Dakota to ban all resettlement unless approved by the state legislatures.
- Ban on Syrian refugees. The order halts the processing and admission of all Syrian refugees. Indefinitely. Syria is one of the worst human rights crises on the planet. Over the past few years, millions of people have fled from both the forces of President Bashar al-Assad (supported by Russian airstrikes) and ISIS. It is worth noting that the U.S. finally stepped up last year and accepted 10,000 refugees – but that number is far, far less than most Western countries. To date, the majority of refugees resettled from Syria to the U.S. have been women and children.
- And then there’s the ban on entry of nationals of Muslim-Majority countries.
- Both non-immigrants (tourist, student, etc.) and immigrants (including legal permanent residents – although Priebus later said that, actually we didn’t mean THEM and a “waiver” process was subsequently added) from seven countries (some friends, some foe) – Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen – are banned from entry for at least 90 days. The order also notes that other countries and immigration benefits may be added to the banned list later. Courts have already temporarily blocked the implementation of part of this order, the concern being the First Amendment Establishment Clause (which prohibits the government from preferring or disfavoring a religion) and the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection clause.
- But part of the order also calls for the exclusion of individuals who “would place violent ideologies over American law” or “who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including ‘honor’ killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different for their own..” That is incredibly vague and potentially discriminatory. But the truth is that there has been enhanced screening for everyone coming from countries with high levels of terrorism since 9/11. We’re already doing the highest level of vetting that can be done. I can’t help but think that you and me and the American public are being played here – to the great loss of everyone from these 7 countries.
- In-Person interviews for most nonimmigrant visas. The order suspends the Visa Interview Waiver Program (VIWP), which was primarily used by people who had been vetted already, were considered a low-security risk and were on renewable employment-based visas. The requirement for in-person interviews for nonimmigrant visa applications will create huge backlogs at embassies and consulates and slow down the process for anyone applying for a visa (including family members of legal immigrants, asylees and refugees). Many of our asylum clients come to the U.S. on visitor or student visas and this processing backlog will thus prevent people like them from escaping persecution in their countries and leave them in vulnerable and insecure situations.
- Screening of all for Immigration benefits. While screening standards are already in place for identifying fraud etc., agencies are now directed to create a process to evaluate the person’s “likelihood of becoming a positively contributing member of society” and “ability to make contributions to the national interest”. These are entirely new and subjective standards so it is not clear how anyone could even implement them. More importantly, they are NOT statutory requirements for any immigration benefit (except a national interest visa). This is policy by fiat, going beyond Congressional authority. And did I mention the backlog we already have for processing any immigration matter?
- Biometric Entry-Exit. The order directs agencies to complete the implementation of the biometric entry-exit system that Congress mandated in 1996. The Department of Homeland Security implemented biometric entry in 2006 but the exit system has proved logistically challenging. Congress appropriated up to $1 billion in the FY2016 budget for implementing the biometric exit program but the Department of Homeland Security has noted that a comprehensive entry-exit system at all ports of entry will require additional resources.
I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions but I do have one longstanding New Year’s tradition: every January 1, I re-read Woody Guthrie’s “New Years Rulin’s”. Written on January 1, 1943 when the American folk singer-songwriter was 31 years old, the Rulin’s also include doodles by Guthrie. The wise list of Rulin’s include everything from basic hygiene (“Wash teeth if any”) to global affairs (“Help win war – beat fascism”).
Even though they were written 74 years ago, the Rulin’s still have surprising relevance. Every year, there are a couple of Rulin’s that stand out for me. This year, my favorites are number 19 (“Keep Hoping Machine Running”) and 33 (“Wake Up and Fight”).
Here are Woody Guthrie’s 33 New Years Rulin’s:
1. Work more and better
2. Work by a schedule
3. Wash teeth if any
5. Take bath
6. Eat good — fruit — vegetables — milk
7. Drink very scant if any
8. Write a song a day
9. Wear clean clothes — look good
10. Shine shoes
11. Change socks
12. Change bed cloths often
13. Read lots good books
14. Listen to radio a lot
15. Learn people better
16. Keep rancho clean
17. Dont get lonesome
18. Stay glad
19. Keep hoping machine running
20. Dream good
21. Bank all extra money
22. Save dough
23. Have company but dont waste time
24. Send Mary and kids money
25. Play and sing good
26. Dance better
27. Help win war — beat fascism
28. Love mama
29. Love papa
30. Love Pete
31. Love everybody
32. Make up your mind
33. Wake up and fight
You can learn more about Woody Guthrie’s life and music at woodyguthrie.org.
Happy New Year! Don’t forget to keep your hoping machine running in 2017!
Each year on December 10, people all around the world celebrate Human Rights Day.
The date was chosen to honor the United Nations General Assembly‘s adoption on 10 December 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the first global statement of international human rights principles.
This year’s Human Rights Day theme is Stand up for someone’s rights today! With the #StandUp4HumanRights campaign, the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is encouraging everyone, wherever they are in the world, to take action to address human rights abuses and intolerance. According to the OHCHR website:
Wherever we are, we can make a real difference. In the street, in school, at work, in public transport; in the voting booth, on social media, at home and on the sports field.
Wherever there is discrimination, we can step forward to help safeguard someone’s right to live free from fear and abuse. We can raise our voices for decent values. We can join others to publicly lobby for better leadership, better laws and greater respect for human dignity.
The time for this is now. “We the peoples” can take a stand for rights. Let us know what you’re doing, and we will gather your stories, and amplify your voice. Local actions can add up to a global movement. And together, we can take a stand for more humanity.
It starts with each of us.
Below are some ideas for simple yet meaningful ways that families can celebrate Human Rights Day by learning about the rights and responsibilities that we all share as human beings.For more ideas, check out my past Human Rights Day posts:
1.Take the pledge to #StandUp4HumanRights! Share your photo with the hashtag on Twitter, Instagram or YouTube and you can be on the campaigns Wall of Human Rights Champions. You can also read about ways to Take Action by supporting human rights in everyday life and calling on leaders to uphold human rights.
2. Learn more about the history of Human Rights Day by watching this short film about Human Rights Day 2016, detailing the United Nations’ relationship with Human Rights efforts and calling people to action.
3. Foster children’s empathy and compassion through reading. A Mighty Girl has a wonderful list of empathy-building books for kids of all ages in the”Kindness & Compassion” section of their website at http://amgrl.co/1JIHLCr For example, two books that give children a visual way to think about kindness and compassion are “Have You Filled a Bucket Today: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids” for ages 4 to 8 (http://www.amightygirl.com/have-you-filled-a-bucket-today) and its sequel “Growing Up With A Bucket Full Of Happiness” for ages 9 to 12 (http://www.amightygirl.com/growing-up-with-a-bucket-full-of…)
4. Learn more about the experience of refugees. TED-Ed has great 5 minute overview What Does It Mean to Be a Refugee that is appropriate for teens and adults, as well as additional educational materials. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees also shares some of the personal stories of refugees. They make for inspiring reading! Check out the story of a teacher who had to flee Syria and is now empowering refugee children in Malaysia.
5. Play games to learn about human rights. There are several sources for online games that teach about human rights: Games For Change has numerous online games, including one about the Syrian refugees. E-games: Human Rights and ConnectToLearn also have links to online games about human rights and intercultural learning.
I hope you and your families have a great Human Rights Day 2015! If you have other ideas for human rights activities, please share them with us!
“Where do I start? It goes from worse to intolerable, including treating you, a convicted sex offender, with kid gloves; inflaming the excuse-the-rapist/blame-the-victim mentality; refusing accountability and making excuses; and favoring violent perpetrators lucky enough to have the “right” skin color, privilege, and athletic skills.
Unfortunately, in our work to make the world a better, safer place for women, we at The Advocates for Human Rights all too often experience the travesties and miscarriages of justice such as those rife in the your case.”
Originally published on World Moms Blog.
My daughter, who recently turned 11, will be graduating from fifth grade in a few weeks. After the summer break, she will continue on to middle school. But for 34 million girls in our world today, the completion of primary school likely marked the end of formal education. It may even have meant that it was time for her to be married.
When I visited the classroom in the Peruvian highlands that is pictured above, I noticed that slightly more than half of the students were girls. I remarked on this fact to the human rights activist who was giving us the tour of this Quechua-speaking indigenous community. He smiled sadly and said, “Yes, but this is fifth grade. In sixth grade, children go to a lower secondary school that is farther away. Most of the girls won’t go. It takes too long to walk there and they are needed to help at home, so the parents won’t let them go. Besides, most of them will be married soon.”
Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children. More than 1 in 3 – or some 250 million – were married before the age of 15. Every year, 15 million girls are married before the age of 18. That averages out to about 28 girls a minute.
Here are a few basic facts that everyone needs to know about child marriage.
1. Child marriage, also called “child, early and forced marriage”, is a formal marriage or informal union before the age 18. Child marriage also affect boys, but the number of girls who enter into child marriage is disproportionately higher.
2. Child marriage occurs in many countries throughout the world and is practiced by members of many religions. UNICEF reports that rates of child marriage are highest in South Asia, where nearly half of all girls marry before age 18; about one in six were married or in union before age 15. This is followed by West and Central Africa, then Eastern and Southern Africa, where 42 per cent and 33 per cent, respectively, of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married in childhood.
3. Child marriage is rooted in gender inequality. Child marriage is a harmful traditional practice in which a girl child is valued less than a boy by her family and community. Child marriage is also happens because of patriarchal values, including the desire to control female sexuality and reproduction. According to UNICEF,
Marrying girls under 18 years old is rooted in gender discrimination, encouraging premature and continuous child bearing and giving preference to boys’ education. Child marriage is also a strategy for economic survival as families marry off their daughters at an early age to reduce their economic burden.
4. Girls from poor families are almost twice as likely to marry young as girls from families with more economic security. Not only are girls from poor families more likely to become child brides, but they’re also more likely to remain poor. Yet, in the context of poverty, families may be acting in what they believe is the best interest of their child by marrying their daughter off at a young age.
5. Girls who marry before they turn 18 are less likely to remain in school. Conversely, girls who stay in school are less likely to marry and have children early and more likely to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. Educating adolescent girls has been a critical factor in increasing the age of marriage in a number of developing countries, including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand.
6. Girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence. The International Center for Research on Women reports that child brides often show signs symptomatic of sexual abuse and post-traumatic stress such as feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and severe depression.
7. Child marriage results in girls having babies before they are physically or emotionally ready, often with serious health consequences. According to the World Health Organization, complications related to pregnancy and childbirth are the second highest cause of death for girls between the ages of 15 and 19 around the world. Girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their twenties. The infants of young teenage girls are more likely to be stillborn or die in the first month of life. And in developing countries, 90% of adolescent pregnancies are among married girls
8. Girls who marry before 18 often face a higher risk of contracting HIV because they often marry an older man with more sexual experience.
9. Child marriage rates increase in the context of conflict and natural disasters. Save The Children has documented that the proportion of registered marriages where the bride was under 18 in the Syrian refugee community in Jordan rose from 12% in 2011 (roughly the same as the figure in pre-war Syria) more than doubled to 25% by 2013.6 The number of Syrian boys registered as married in 2011 and 2012 in Jordan is far lower, suggesting that girls are being married off to older men. Floods increased child marriage in Bangladesh and there is concern that the 2015 earthquakes have increased child marriage in Nepal.
10. Despite laws against it, the practice of child marriage remains widespread. Child marriage is technically illegal in many countries that have changed their laws to comply with the international standard of 18 as the age of marriage for both boys and girls. Social norms can be more challenging to change. In Ethiopia, for example, the legal age of marriage is 18, but nearly one in five girls are married before they turn 15.
11. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals include a greater commitment to ending child marriage. Goal 5 committed to “achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls”. Part of that commitment was a pledge to “eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriages”.
12. Ending child marriage requires work across all sectors and at multiple levels. Evidenced collected by the ICRW shows that it requires: 1) Empowering girls with information, skills and support networks; 2) Educating and mobilizing parents and community members; 3) Enhancing the accessibility and quality of formal schooling for girls; 4) Offering economic support and incentives for girls and their families; and 5) Fostering an enabling legal and policy framework.
For more information, resources, and ways to take action, see: