U.S. Withdrawal From The Human Rights Council Is A Retreat From U.S. Leadership On Human Rights

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.

To say that the United States is losing our values as a global leader in democracy and human rights is an understatement. What has made us a great country is the fundamental belief that everyone is equal. That is the most basic human rights principle on the planet. Regardless of race, religion, nationality, or any other categorizing factor – every single person is equal in rights and responsibilities.
Withdrawing from the Human Rights Council is ultimately only a symbolic move. The U.S.’s second term will expire soon and we would have to go off the Council before running for a geographic seat again. By withdrawing, the U.S. reverts to observer status, like the nearly 150 other UN Member States (and a handful of observers like the Holy See) who are not members of the Human Rights Council. What the Trump administration did today was abdicate the right to vote on Council resolutions. The U.S. will still be able to participate in Council debates – and I sincerely hope that, as a matter of foreign policy, we do. Alternatively, the U.S. could choose not to participate in the Council’s interactive dialogues at all, leaving our seat in the Council’s chamber empty and a silencing an historically strong voice for human rights.*
As a country, however, today we took another step back from 70 years of leadership in human rights.
*June 20 Update – The U.S. will no longer participate in debates and discussions of the July Human Rights Council session or future sessions.
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“Go Home & Work It Out With Your Husband”: Why Sessions’ Ruling On Asylum Is So Devastating for Women Fleeing Domestic Violence

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.

The Advocates Post

Woman covering face with handSome years ago, before the United States recognized that domestic violence was grounds for asylum, I represented a woman who was seeking asylum due to years of brutal violence inflicted upon her by her husband and the failure of her government to protect her.

“Ann” was a successful business person from East Africa who had experienced sexual, physical, psychological and emotional violence so extreme that she went to the police for help. Their response?

“Sorry, but this is a family matter – not a police matter. You have children. Go home and work it out with your husband. It will be better for all of you.”

So she went home. Her husband beat her until she passed out from the pain and blood loss as punishment for going to the police.

Because her business was so successful, she had the chance to expand the business to a neighboring country. She took…

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Nine Things Everyone Needs To Know About International LGBTI Rights

The Advocates Post

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May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT). Created in 2004 to raise awareness about the violence and discrimination experienced by LGBTI people internationally, it has become a worldwide celebration of sexual and gender diversities. The date of May 17 was chosen specifically to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision in 1990 to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

This year, IDAHOT’s theme focuses on families. This focus includes both the role of families in the well-being of their LGBTI members, as well as respect for the rights of LGBTI families (rainbow families).  Given the proximity in dates and values of the  International Family Equality Day (IFED) in early May, this year IFED and IDAHOT were combined for joint recognition and celebration.

In honor of IDAHOT 2017, we put together a list of nine basic things that everyone needs to know about international LGBTI rights.

1.

Internationally, the…

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How Trump’s Executive Order Harms Refugees

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.
The Executive Order signed on Friday, January 27, 2017 violates our Constitution, as well as our international obligations under the Refugee Convention to ensure that 1) refugees not returned to a place where they will be persecuted (non-refoulement), 2) there is an individualized determination of persecution on account of one of the 5 grounds (race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion – NOT just religion); and 3) refugees are not discriminated against.
This Executive Order is public policy based on myth instead of doing what is best for our country and our security. Every Department of Homeland Security professional that I have ever met has said that the problem is lack of resources rather than the need for new laws or regulations. Every refugee I know is a true American patriot, one who tears up when saluting the flag or appear at jury duty because they know – better than me – the true price of freedom.
Educate yourself (reading this post is a good start).  Call your Congressional, state and local representatives.  Volunteer to help refugees and asylum seekers in your hometown.  Remember that Einstein was a refugee – and so were the Pilgrims.  Providing a safe haven for those who are forced to flee persecution is a core American value.  This Executive Order will not make us safer but it will erode our moral standing as leader of the free world.

Woody Guthrie’s New Years Rulin’s

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Copyright Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc.

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
4. Shave
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!

Activities for Human Rights Day 2016

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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:

10 Things to Do With Your Kids on Human Rights Day (2011)

10 More Things to Do With Your Kids on Human Rights Day (2012)

Human Rights Activities To Do With Your Kids (2013)

Human Rights Activities For You & Your Kids (2014)

Activities for Human Rights Day 2016

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!

“20 minutes of action” for you means a lifetime of hell for her

“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.”

The Advocates Post

Brock Turner 2 Brock Turner, convicted sex offender

Brock Allen Turner: Your father deemed your sexual assault of an unconscious young woman behind a dumpster on the Stanford University campus as your “20 minutes of action.” For her, that 20 minutes is a lifetime of hell.

What you did on that January night in 2015 is sickening and horrific. So is what has happened since. You, your father, your attorney, the judge presiding over your case, and others prove once again that the rape culture in the United States is “alive and well,” with sexual violence and assault normalized and victims blamed for being attacked.

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