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.
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International Women’s Day 2016

InternationalWomensDay-landscape

Originally published on World Moms Blog

GRAPH_18_WomensDay-CS5
Source: Metro

Today – Tuesday, March 8 – people all over the world will be celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD).  IWD events across the globe include marches, rallies, sporting events, art expositions, and festivals with live musical and dance performances. IWD is a national holiday in more than two dozen countries; in some countries, only the women get the day off from work.  If you use Google, you might even notice that the Google Doodle honors the occasion.

But what is International Women’s Day really all about? 

The idea for a collective global day  that celebrates women’s solidarity emerged in the early 20th century and was closely linked to women’s involvement in the labor, voting rights and peace movements in North America and Europe.  March 8 has been the global date for IWD since 1913.   The United Nations officially proclaimed March 8 as International Women’s Day during 1975, the UN’s International Women’s Year.  According to UN Women, 

Increasingly, International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.

This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is gender parity. The United Nations observance on March 8 is focused on building momentum for the global roadmap for implementation by 2030 of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially goal number five -Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls- and number 4 –Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning. t their implementation by 2030.

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The UN’s IWD theme  “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality” will also focus on new commitments under UN Women’s Step It Up initiative, which asks governments to make national commitments that will close the gender equality gap – from laws and policies to national action plans and adequate investment. So far, 91 governments have made specific national commitments. You can read them here.

Women and girls make up more than half the world’s population and they are often more deeply impacted than men and boys by poverty, climate change, food insecurity, lack of healthcare, and global economic crises. Their contributions and leadership are central to finding solutions to these global problems. Yet women lag far behind their male counterparts in many areas of economic engagement.  

In 2014, the World Economic Forum predicted that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. But only one year later in 2015, they estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn’t close entirely until 2133.

For IWD 2016, a group of international corporations have launched the Pledging For Parity! campaign.   According to the website www.internationalwomensday.com:

Everyone – men and women – can pledge to take a concrete step to help achieve gender parity more quickly – whether to help women and girls achieve their ambitions, call for gender-balanced leadership, respect and value difference, develop more inclusive and flexible cultures or root out workplace bias. Each of us can be a leader within our own spheres of influence and commit to take pragmatic action to accelerate gender parity.

Meet Sophie Walker: A World Mom Who is Taking Action on Gender Parity

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The Women’s Equality Party launch their first policy document. Leader Sophie Walker addresses attendees.  Photo credit Fiona Hanson 2015©.

Sophie Walker was working as a journalist and a diversity campaigner when, last March, a friend asked if she would be interested in helping to set up a new political party. In the run-up to Britain’s 2015 General Election, many voters were frustrated by what they saw as a lack of inclusion and understanding from the other political parties when it came to equal rights and opportunities for women. A group of them came together, spread the word to more, who spread the word across the country – and The Women’s Equality Party was born. Sophie was elected as leader by the new party’s steering committee in July and the party now has 70 local branches across England, Wales and Scotland, and 45,000 members and registered supporters. The Women’s Equality Party (WE) is a non-partisan political party that welcomes members from right across the political spectrum to campaign for equal representation, equal pay, an end to violence against women, equal education, equal parenting and equal representation in the media. Sophie is now standing as WE’s candidate for London Mayor.

“I want to make London the first gender-equal city in the world, where the 4 million women who live here can do the jobs they want to do and walk the streets in safety. London needs a Mayor with some imagination!” – Sophie Walker

Ways That You Can Take Action on International Women’s Day 2016

  • Join the conversation for International Women’s Day, #IWD2016! Main hashtags: #IWD2016 (#DíadelaMujer, #Journéedelafemme); #Planet5050;  (And check out the automatic emoji on Twitter when tweeting with the hashtag #IWD2016!)
  • Change your Facebook and Twitter cover image with the banners available from UN Women in English, Spanish and French (under “General”) here.
  • Bring your IWD event to a global audience. If you organize or participate in a local International Women’s Day event, share your images and messages on the UN Women  Facebook Event page.
  • Join the campaign and make a #PledgeforParity.
  • Read ONE’s new report Poverty Is Sexist and sign the letter  calling for global gender equality.
  • Check out UN Women’s multimedia resources to learn more.  See the Interactive Timeline: Women’s Footprint in History  as well as the Photo Essay: A day in the life of women.

 

“All our SPCS family r safe”

SPCS students enjoying recess.  March 2015. (Credit:  Jennifer Prestholdt)
Students at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School enjoying recess in March, 2015. (Credit: Jennifer Prestholdt)

Originally published on The Advocates’ Post.

“All our SPCS family r safe …”

This was the message I received from Anoop Poudel, headmaster at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School (SPCS), on Monday night. We had been desperately trying to reach Anoop and others connected with SPCS since the 7.8 earthquake devastated Nepal on Saturday, April 25.  Our concern grew as the death toll mounted and the strong aftershocks continued in the Kathmandu Valley. What a relief to learn that the teachers and 340 students at the school, as well as their families, are safe!

The Sankhu-Palubari Community School in the rural Kathmandu Valley, March 2015. (Credit: David Kistle)
The Sankhu-Palubari Community School in the rural Kathmandu Valley, March 2015. (Credit: David Kistle)

In my role as The Advocates for Human Rights’ deputy director, I coordinate The Advocates’ Nepal School Project. I was in Nepal just a few weeks ago with a team of volunteers to conduct our annual monitoring visit. The Advocates has been partnering with the Sankhu-Palubari community since 1999 to provide education as an alternative to child labor for low-income children in the area who would otherwise be working in brick yards or in the fields.

The Sankhu-Palubari Community School provides free, high quality education to children in grades pre-K through 10. Many of the students walk a long way to get to school – some as long as two hours each way.

The students’ standardized test scores are among the highest in Nepal, a highly competitive honor. And the school was awarded Nepal’s prestigious National Education Service Felicitation Award in 2014. Graduates are now studying at universities, preparing to become doctors, social workers, teachers, and agronomists; many plan to return to their village to improve the community’s quality of life. Their contributions will be even more important now, in the aftermath of this devastating earthquake.

Some students walk - up to 2 hours each way - to Sankhu-Palubari Community School to access their right to education.  (Credit: Laura Sandall)
Some students walk – up to 2 hours each way – to Sankhu-Palubari Community School to access their right to education. (Credit: Laura Sandall)

The school is especially important for girls, who make up 52 percent of the student body. When SPCS began, girls often left school at an early age to marry or work. Now, they are staying and graduating because families have experienced the benefits of education. (You can read the inspiring story of SPCS’ first female graduate in Kanchi’s Story.)

First grade student at SPCS (Credit: Jennifer Prestholdt)
First grade student at SPCS (Credit: Jennifer Prestholdt)

The new school year had just started at SPCS, but school was not in session when the earthquake hit. Students in Nepal attend school six days a week; Saturday is the only day when there is no school. Many people believe that, had it been a school day, the numbers of dead and injured in Kathmandu and throughout the Kathmandu Valley could have been much higher.

Even with that one tiny bright spot in a terrible national tragedy, UNICEF estimates that nearly 1.8 million children in Nepal were severely affected by the earthquake. Most of our students, who come from extremely poor agricultural families, are included in that number. Anoop sent me several more texts after the first, describing heavy damage in the area of the eastern Kathmandu Valley where the school is located. Media sources and other Nepali contacts also confirm extensive destruction in the Sankhu area. While we don’t have a lot of information yet, Anoop reported that he believes that more than 90 percent of the students and teachers have lost their homes in the earthquake. They are living outside in temporary shelters because of continuing aftershocks.  Word about the school building’s fate is yet to be received.  The first relief teams are reportedly scheduled to arrive in the area on Wednesday.

Primary students at SPCS (Credit: Jennifer Prestholdt)
Primary students at SPCS (Credit: Jennifer Prestholdt)

Our hearts go out to everyone in our SPCS family, as well as to the millions of other Nepalis affected by the “Black Saturday” earthquake.  At The Advocates, we believe that support for basic human needs such as water, food, and medical assistance in Nepal is the most urgent need at this point in time. We encourage people to give to reputable international humanitarian assistance organizations involved in the earthquake relief effort (you can find more information in the links below). In the long term, Nepal will need sustainable rebuilding and development programs.

Because education is essential to reducing poverty and inequality, the best way that The Advocates can support the rebuilding of Nepal is to is to ensure that the education of the students at our school continues with the least amount of interruption possible. We remain focused on that goal.

To find people in Nepal:

Use the Restoring Family Links tool on the ICRC website to search for a family member or friend in the area hit by the earthquake.

Use Google Person Finder if you are looking for, or have information about, someone in the affected area.

Use Facebook Safety Check to connect with you friends in the area and mark them as safe if you know that they’re ok.

Articles about how to contribute to the earthquake relief effort in Nepal: 

How to Help The Relief Effort in Nepal

Nepal Earthquake: How To Donate

How To Help Nepal: 7 Vetted Charities Doing Relief Work Following the Earthquake

Don’t Rush to Nepal. Read This First. 

Photo of pre-K students at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School (Credit: David Parker)
Photo of pre-K students at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School (Credit: David Parker)

Deputy Director Jennifer Prestholdt interviewing a student.Jennifer Prestholdt is the Deputy Director and International Justice Program Director at The Advocates for Human Rights.  In March 2015, she made her sixth trip to the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in Nepal.

News You May Have Missed (15-21 February 2015)

Photo from Muslim Public Affairs Council's Facebook page
Photo from Muslim Public Affairs Council’s Facebook page

A weekly roundup of the human rights news items that I’m following that I think deserve a little more attention.

More than 1000 Muslims formed a human shield around a synagogue in Oslo, NORWAY on February 21  in response to an attack on a synagogue in Denmark last weekend.  Chanting “No to anti-Semitism, no to Islamophobia,” an estimated 1200-1400 Norwegian Muslims formed a “ring of peace” around the synagogue, offering symbolic protection for the city’s Jewish community.  See video coverage on the NRK website here.  One of the speakers in the video is 17-year-old Hajrah Asrhad, one of the event’s organizers.

Children began returning to classrooms in LIBERIA this week after seven months of closure due to the Ebola epidemic.  Education is key to development and improving human rights, so the schools are being reopened but UNICEF and its partners are putting in place safety measures to minimize the potential risk of transmission of the virus.  Safety measures, including taking children’s temperatures when they arrive to school and making them wash their hands before entering the classroom, have been successfully used in GUINEA, where more than 1.3 million children have returned to school since January. Nearly all of Guinea’s more than 12,000 schools are now open, and school attendance is at 85 per cent of pre-Ebola attendance, according to data collected by the Ministry of Education and UNICEF.  Following Guinea’s experience, UNICEF has worked closely with the Liberian government and local communities to develop similar safety protocols. Teachers have been trained to implement and monitor the safety measures, soap and other hygiene materials have been distributed.  

Beginning last summer, UNICEF collaborated with Liberian musicians to conduct mass mobilization campaigns on Ebola prevention nationwide.  In case you missed it, here is one example from August 2014:

The International Labour Organization (ILO) spotlighted recent progress in the fight against child labour in KOSOVO, where children as young as 10 are forced to work on garbage dumps or in the fields harvesting grapes and onions, risking their health.   Since March 2013, members of the Kosovo Chamber of Commerce are obliged to observe the ILO’s four fundamental labour principles, including the elimination of child labour.  So far, 40 members of the Chamber of Commerce have adopted codes of conduct on combating child labour in their supply chains and communities. In addition, occupational safety and health issues will be mainstreamed into the compulsory education (grades 8-9) and upper secondary school curricula.

Turkish men aren’t known for wearing skirts. But they are turning out in large numbers in Istanbul later to protest about violence against women in TURKEY.

Men in mini skirts campaign
Men in mini skirts campaign

They’re joining others outraged by the murder of 20-year-old Ozgecan Aslan who was abducted on 11 February and killed for apparently trying to prevent a bus driver from raping her.

In the UNITED STATES, a federal jury has awarded $14 million in compensatory and punitive damages to five Indian guest workers who were defrauded and exploited in a labor trafficking scheme engineered by Gulf Coast marine services company Signal, an immigration lawyer and an Indian labor recruiter who lured hundreds of workers to a MISSISSIPPI shipyard with false promises of permanent U.S. residency. The trial was the first in a series of cases spearheaded by the Southern Poverty Law Center that together comprise one of the largest labor trafficking cases in U.S. history. 

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Signal used the U.S. government’s H-2B guest worker program to import nearly 500 men from India to work as welders, pipefitters and in other positions to repair damaged oil rigs and related facilities. Under the guest worker program, workers are not allowed to change jobs if they are abused but face the loss of their investment if they are fired or quit.

The plaintiffs in this case are Jacob Joseph Kadakkarappally, Hemant Khuttan, Padaveettiyl, Sulekha and Palanyandi Thangamani.  Each paid the labor recruiters and a lawyer between $10,000 and $20,000 or more in recruitment fees and other costs after recruiters promised good jobs, green cards and permanent U.S. residency for them and their families. Most sold property or plunged their families deeply into debt to pay the fees.

When the men arrived at Signal shipyards in Pascagoula, MISSISSIPPI, they discovered that they wouldn’t receive the green cards or permanent residency that had been promised. Signal also forced them each to pay $1,050 a month to live in isolated, guarded labor camps where as many as 24 men shared a space the size of a double-wide trailer. None of Signal’s non-Indian workers were required to live in the company housing.  An economist who reviewed Signal’s records estimated the company saved more than $8 million in labor costs by hiring the Indian workers at below-market wages.

Pro bono legal representation was provided in this case by Southern Poverty Law Center, Crowell & Moring, LLP, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Sahn Ward Coschignano & Baker, and the Louisiana Justice Institute.

An estimated 93 million children (1 in 20 up to age 14) worldwide live with a moderate or severe disability. #Draw Disability is a new global campaign launched by the United Nations Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI), in partnership with the Global Observatory for Inclusion (GLOBI) and theUnited Nations Global Education First Initiative Youth Advocacy Group (GEFI-YAG).

The campaign has two main objectives: 1) To encourage dialogue and raise awareness on disability and related issues among teachers and learners within educational environments. 2) To create a global art project focused on disability. Schools from all over the planet are encouraged to get involved in the project. Teachers can use the #DrawDisability guidelines to promote critical reflections and awareness on disability within the classroom (guidelines are available in Spanish, French and English).  Children with and without disabilities are encouraged to #DrawDisability. Drawings can portray their understanding and feelings towards disability and related issues, such as accessibility, inclusion and discrimination.

All drawings received will be uploaded and displayed on a website and shared on social networks using the hashtag #DrawDisability. Early submissions by April 1, 2015 are highly encouraged as selected drawings will be showcased at the World Education Forum in May 2015 in Incheon, SOUTH KOREA, and the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (COSP-CRPD) in June 2015 New York, USA. The final deadline for all submissions will be July 15, 2015. Check out submission information here.  

News You May Have Missed (8-14 February 2015)

A weekly roundup of the human rights news items that I’m following that I think deserve some more attention.

Image: http://treechangedolls.tumblr.com/
Image: http://treechangedolls.tumblr.com/
SONIA SINGH, a mom in TASMANIA, has been buying Bratz dolls at secondhand shops and giving them “makeunders” with beautiful results.  She calls them “Tree Change Dolls because “These lil fashion dolls have opted for a “tree change”, swapping high-maintenance glitz ‘n’ glamour for down-to-earth style.” Sonia finds dolls at secondhand stores (“tip shops”, repaints their faces, restyles their hair, and gives them new feet. Her mum makes them new clothes.  You can see her creations on her website Tree Change Dolls.  Tree Change Dolls went viral this week and her new etsy shop was sold out immediately. Watch the video of Sonia describing her process here.

NEPAL could become the first Asian country to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples if the government accepts the recommendations of a committee that studied the issue. Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled in December 2007 that the country’s new government must provide legal protections to LGBT Nepalese citizens and amend laws that discriminated against them. In 2008, the same court ordered the creation committee to study the possibility of same-sex marriage in the Asian country.  It may be a while before Nepal’s government is able to take action (they have been trying to adopt a new constitution for more than six years) but most see this as a promising step and credit it to the advocacy efforts of the Blue Diamond Society organization.

Former military chiefs and politicians implicated in the deaths of thousands through Operation Condor will finally face justice in ITALY. After decades of impunity, those responsible for the wave of political violence that swept Latin America under the dictatorships of 1970s and 1980s will be tried in court this week in Rome, Italy. Thirty-three people have been formally charged for their links to the operation, which left 50,000 people dead, 30,000 disappeared, and 400,000 jailed. Among those killed were 23 Italian citizens, which is why Italy’s justice system is now ruling on the case, opened in 1999.

 

A gathering to promote the rights of girls and education for all in Barrod village of Rajasthan’s Alwar district. Photo: UN Women/Gaganjit Singh ChandokA gathering to promote the rights of girls and education for all in Barrod village of Rajasthan’s Alwar district. Photo: UN Women/Gaganjit Singh Chandok

A new UNITED Nations human rights report analyzing the problem of attacks against girls trying to access education found that schools in at least 70 different countries were attacked in between 2009 and 2014, with many attacks specifically targeting girls, parents and teachers advocating for gender equality in education. “The educational rights of girls and women are often targeted due to the fact that they represent a challenge to existing gender and age-based systems of oppression.”

 MENG LIM took the bench as superior court judge for the Tallapoosa judicial circuit, becoming the first Asian American elected as superior court judge in GEORGIA, UNITED STATES.  Lim escaped atrocities in his homeland of CAMBODIA as a child and overcame challenges of being refugee in rural Georgia to become a successful lawyer and judge.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) celebrated WORLD RADIO DAY  on February 13 to highlight the main role this media plays in the whole American hemisphere as a vehicle for freedom of expression and information, and as a source of information for the peoples and the communities.

In the UNITED STATES, February is Black History Month.  While I believe that Black History IS American History, this annual observance of the contributions of African-Americans to our nation always provides an opportunity for me to learn more about people and events in our past.  Here are some of the things I have learned so far this month:

On June 30, 1974, ALBERTA WILLIAMS KING was was shot and killed while she was playing the organ at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.  She was the mother of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., so the story of her assassination has been overshadowed by her son’s legacy.  Read more about Alberta Williams King here.

ELLA FITZGERALD, one of our nation’s greatest jazz icons, was confined as an orphaned teenager for more than a year in a reformatory called the New York State Training School for Girls.  She and the other girls were treated harshly; “she had been held in the basement of one of the cottages once and all but tortured”.  While there was an excellent music program and choir at the institution, Ella Fitzgerald was not allowed to sing in it – the choir was all white.  Read more about this chapter of Ella Fitzgerald’s life here and here.

 

Image from: http://mic.com/articles/109642/historic-poc-is-the-powerful-illustration-of-black-history-month-everyone-needs-to-see
Image from: http://mic.com/articles/109642/historic-poc-is-the-powerful-illustration-of-black-history-month-everyone-needs-to-see

MIKKI KENDALL started  a new crowdsourced project to prove that people of color are part of history.  She created the hashtag #HistoricPOC and turned to social media.  “I encouraged fellow users to post pictures of people of color (POC) throughout history. Whether they posted family photos or links to famous images, I wanted there to be an easily accessible visual historic record.”  People began posting family photos, photos of  heroes, photos of events – the resulting tapestry of personal narratives is both beautiful and inspirational.  #HistoricPOC shows the interconnected reality of our history that everyone needs to see.  I hope it endures well beyond this February!   Read more about #HistoricPOC here and here.

 

News You May Have Missed (17-23 January)

A student at the Hamar Jajab School in Mogadishu holds a peace-themed comic book for children produced by UNSOM during the commemoration of Somalia’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 20 January 2015. UN Photo/Ilyas Ahmed
A student at the Hamar Jajab School in Mogadishu holds a peace-themed comic book for children produced by UNSOM during the commemoration of Somalia’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 20 January 2015. UN Photo/Ilyas Ahmed

There was some good news about human rights around the world this week.  

SOMALIA has become the 195th state party to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). A ceremony was held to mark the ratification at a local school in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.  In agreeing to be bound by the treaty, the government of Somalia is obligating itself to take steps to improve the lives of its youngest citizens.   The CRC is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in existence.  Once Somalia’s ratification is officially deposited with the UN, the United States and South Sudan will be the only countries in the world that have not yet ratified the CRC.  (The US has signed but not ratified the CRC and South Sudan – the world’s newest country, established in 2011 – has taken no action on the CRC yet.  If you are wondering why the US hasn’t ratified the CRC, you can read more here.)

In SAUDI ARABIA, the public flogging of blogger Raif Badawi has been postponed for a second consecutive week.  As I previously reported, Raif Badawi, founder of Free Saudi Liberals blog, was brought to a public square in Jeddahon on January 9 and flogged 50 times before hundreds of spectators – the first of 20 weeks of punishment with 50 lashes.  Protests and vigils have been held in public places and outside Saudi embassies across the world, keeping up the momentum after a medical committee said last week that he should not undergo a second round of 50 lashes on health grounds.  There is widespread belief that the postponements are not based solely on medical assessments, but also reflect increasing pressure on the Saudi government from the international community.  

In GUATEMALA,  a former police chief has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for his role in the 1980 deadly raid on the Spanish embassy in Guatemala City. A group of indigenous rights activists had occupied the embassy to draw attention to government repression during Guatemala’s civil war. (According to United Nations estimates, almost a quarter of a million people, mostly indigenous and rural, were killed or forcibly disappeared during the 36-year-long conflict.) Thirty-seven people burned to death in a fire triggered by the police when they stormed the embassy; Vicente Menchu, the father of indigenous rights activist and Noble Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, was one of those killed in the fire.  Pedro Garcia Arredondo was found guilty this week of ordering officers to keep anyone from leaving the building as it burned. Indigenous rights activists and relatives of the victims, who have been waiting more than 3 decades for justice, celebrated a sentencing.

Indigenous activists and relatives of the victims welcomed the sentence. Photo (c) REUTERS
Indigenous activists and relatives of the victims welcomed the sentence. Photo (c) REUTERS

U.N. peacekeepers in the CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC have arrested Rodrigue Ngaibona, (known as Andilo), a senior leader of the anti-balaka militia, wanted for crimes including murder, rebellion, rape and looting.  In 2013,  the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian CAR.  Their brief rule spawned a backlash from the Christian and animist anti-balaka militia.  The U.N. has documented that the anti-balaka used ethnic cleansing in their attacks on the Muslim minority, and reported that “Andilo is currently the most enigmatic, feared and powerful military commander of the anti-balaka.”  Andilo could potentially be tried at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which is investigating the violence in Central African Republic.

One piece of negative human rights news that has not received much mainstream media attention:  BAHRAIN sentenced Nabeel Rajab, one of the highest-profile democracy campaigners in the Arab world, to six months in jail on Tuesday over remarks critical of the government.  The founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Rajab took a leading role in Shi’ite-led demonstrations in Bahrain in 2011 that demanded reforms in the Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab Kingdom.  

I noted a couple of items of good news on LGBT rights this week:

  1. In CHILE, the House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions.  The bill passed by a wide margin with 86-23 vote with two abstentions. The Chilean Senate last October advanced the measure, known by the Spanish acronym AVP that roughly translates into “life partner agreement” in English. –President Michelle Bachelet has said she will sign the civil unions bill into law.
  2. In the UNITED STATES, President Obama made history by using the terms “lesbian”, “transgender” and “bisexual” for the first time in a State of the Union address. President Obama was the second US president to use the word “gay” (somewhat generically) in the 2010 State of the Union address; President Clinton was the first.

Finally, I read an inspiring story this week about teens in BANGLADESH called “Golden Girls” who are volunteering their time to ensure that Bangladeshi women have access to maternal health care.  Bangladesh has been working to reduce maternal mortality by training government female health workers as highly skilled birth attendants, but only 27 percent of pregnant women have access to these birth attendants. To fill the gap, the Community Health Foundation, a nonprofit based in Dhaka, educates nearly 300 girls in grades 9 to 12 about pregnancy and childbirth and then links them to pregnant women in their community through the government birth attendants.  

The Golden Girl Project volunteers help increase awareness among pregnant women and facilitate access to skilled birth attendants, bringing down maternal mortality risks.  Their efforts are proving critical in a country where 7,000 women die of pregnancy-related causes every year. For example, when a woman in her village went into labor in the middle of the night her panicked family turned to 14-year-old Khatun, a grade 10 student who lived nearby and was able to arrange for the community’s skilled birth attendant to come in time, saving the lives of the mother and newborn. In addition to their training in reproductive and sexual health, the Golden Girls themselves also commit to completing high school and campaigning to end early marriage and delaying motherhood. Volunteers’ parents consent to the training and affirm their daughters will not be married before graduation. This contributes to reducing dropouts as well as early marriage. You can read more about the Golden Girls here

I’ll close with a powerful advertisement from AUSTRALIA called “The Invisible Discriminator” which reminds us that subtle or ‘casual’ racism can be just as harmful as more overt forms. #StopThinkRespect encourages everyone in Australia to check their behaviour.

Human Rights News You May Have Missed (10 – 16 January)

 Participants march towards Mnazi Mmoja grounds during Tanzania Albino Day celebrations in Dar es Salaam.  Photo Credit: Voice of America
Participants march towards Mnazi Mmoja grounds during Tanzania Albino Day celebrations in Dar es Salaam. Photo Credit: Voice of America

A roundup of some of the human rights news stories (both good and bad) that I am following this week.

TANZANIA declared a ban on witchcraft in an effort to halt deadly attacks on albinos. The move follows mounting pressure on the government to protect albinos, who lack pigment in their skin and hair, and whose body parts are used by witch doctors in so-called magic potions thought to bring power and wealth.  The U.N. human rights agency says more than 70 people with albinism have been killed for body parts in Tanzania since 2000. Minister for Home Affairs Mathias Chikawe said on January 13 that the government has formed a task force that will investigate killings and review court cases for accused attackers, some of whom have gone free. Ernest Kimayo, chairman of the Tanzania Albino Society, welcomed the government’s actions, saying it will improve life for his community.

Also in TANZANIA, some 800 school girls returned home on Monday, January 12 after escaping female genital mutilation (FGM) by spending three months hiding in safe houses.  FGM is traditionally carried out on girls between October and December. Run by charities and church organisations, the shelters offer protection (including police protection at some) to ensure the girls remain safe. FGM was outlawed in Tanzania in 1998 and carries a punishment of up to 15 years in prison, but is still regularly carried out, especially in northern and central regions of Tanzania.http://allafrica.com/stories/201501050530.html

CANADA:  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a report on the disappearances and murders of indigenous women in British Columbia, finding it part of a “broader pattern” of violence and discrimination against aboriginal women   Aboriginal women are significantly over-represented as victims of homicide in Canada; The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has reported that about 1,200 aboriginal women and girls were murdered or went missing in Canada between 1980 and 2012.) The IACHR called on the Canadian government to institute a national inquiry into the issue and to develop a coordinated national response that addresses the root causes of the violence, including Canada’s history of colonization, inequality and economic and social marginalization.)

 fierce winter storm swept through the Middle East this week bringing icy temperatures, high winds and heavy snow. In Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, more than 400,000 refugees have been enduring freezing conditions since snow levels not seen in many years arrived. Photo ©UNHCR/A.McConnell. Retrieved from UNHCR.org.
A fierce winter storm swept through the Middle East this week bringing icy temperatures, high winds and heavy snow. In Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, more than 400,000 refugees have been enduring freezing conditions since snow levels not seen in many years arrived. Photo ©UNHCR/A.McConnell. Retrieved from UNHCR.org.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees issued its Mid-Year Trends 2014 report on global formed displacement in first six months of 2014.  Armed conflicts displaced an estimated 5.5 million people, with 1.4 million of those fleeing to other countries, says a report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Syrians have become the largest group of displaced people within UNHCR’s mandate, overtaking Afghans who held that position for three decades. 

NIGERIA:  International coverage of the tremendous human rights tragedy in Baga, Nigeria has finally picked up, but there has been less coverage of Boko Haram’s use of children as suicide bombers. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has expressed concern about what it called “escalating violence against children in northern Nigeria.”  The statement came after two explosions ripped through a market in northeastern Nigeria Sunday killing at least five people, including the two bombers. Twenty-one others were wounded.   The attacks were said to be carried out by two young girls. Sunday’s explosions came after a bomb strapped to a girl exploded in Maiduguri killing at least 19 people.  “We are seeing a new trend of using girls and women, and now of children, as suicide bombers. This is something that is new to this conflict. So, this trend is very worrying to us because this is something that is very difficult to find [a] solution to.”

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC:  A spokesman for the Ugandan army announced that on January 14 Lord’s Resistance Army rebel commander Dominic Ongwen was handed over to Ugandan troops that are part of an African Union force in the Central African Republic.  He will be flown to The Hague to stand trial at the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.   He was indicted by the ICC almost a decade ago, but only surrendered  last week and was taken into the custody of US special forces.   One issue that is sure to come up during the ICC trial: Ongwen is the only one among the five LRA indictees who was abducted as a child and forcibly conscripted into the LRA.

TAJIKISTAN:  Prominent human rights lawyer Shukhrat Kudratov was sentenced on January 13, 2015, to nine years in prison following what Human Rights Watch describes as a “politically motivated trial” that struck a blow to freedom of expression and the independence of the legal profession in Tajikistan.  A court in Dushanbe found Kudratov, who is also deputy head of the opposition Social Democratic party, guilty on criminal charges of fraud and bribery. Kudratov is known for taking on politically sensitive cases, including representing victims of police torture and those accused of “religious extremism.”

EGYPT:  The acquittal in Egypt on January 12, 2015, of 26 men accused of “practicing debauchery” is a rare success in protecting the rights to privacy and nondiscrimination against LGBTI persons. The men were arrested at a hammam or bathhouse in Cairo on December 7, 2014.  Government prosecutors have appealed the decision, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a nongovernmental group, reported, but authorities released all 26 men. It is the first time since 2011 that a trial court is known to have handed down a total acquittal in a “debauchery” case. Rights activists say 2014 was the worst year in a decade for Egypt’s gay community, with at least 150 men arrested or put on trial.    Because there are no laws criminalizing homosexuality in Egypt, a decades’ old law criminalizing prostitution is often used in penalizing the gay community. The trial opened unusually quickly – only two weeks after the raid on the bathhouse — amidst biased media coverage that “convicted the defendants before they even set foot in court”.

Jorge Sánchez, son of the missing journalist Moisés Sánchez Cerezo demands his father’s release outside the municipal building of Medellín de Bravo, Veracruz, Mexico. Photograph: IMG Veracruz/Demotix/Corbis.  Retrieved from TheGuardian.com
Jorge Sánchez, son of the missing journalist Moisés Sánchez Cerezo demands his father’s release outside the municipal building of Medellín de Bravo, Veracruz, Mexico. Photograph: IMG Veracruz/Demotix/Corbis. Retrieved from TheGuardian.com

MEXICO: State prosecutors have detained the town of Medellín de Bravo’s entire police force following the disappearance of journalist Moisés Sánchez Cerezo in Mexico’s southern state of Veracruz.    A group of nine armed men took Sánchez from his home earlier this month along with his computer, camera and telephones.  Sánchez publishes a local weekly La Union where he wrote about local government corruption and violent deaths, as well as publishing citizen complaints. Some of his journalism was aimed at Medellín de Bravo’s mayor, Omar Cruz.   Thirty-six members of the  police department were brought in to give statements in the investigation. 

In other news related to Mexico‘s serious problem with local corruption and disappearances and extrajudicial killing, the Mexican attorney general’s office this week obtained arrest warrants for kidnapping against the former mayor José Luis Abarca and 44 others implicated in the case of 43 students who went missing in September 2014 after being attacked by municipal police allegedly working with a local drug cartel.

GERMANY:  Dresden police have launched a murder investigation into the death of Eritrean refugee Khaled Idris Bahray.  On Tuesday morning, Bahray was found stabbed to death in an inner courtyard at the housing complex where he lived.  According to his flatmates, he had left the flat late the night before to go out to a shop but never returned.  Dresden has been making headlines recently for its anti-immigrant rallies, which, on the night of Bahray’s death, attracted a record number of 25,000 supporters. Tensions in the city have been high in the 12 weeks since the rallies began, with a reported increase in racist attacks. While the motive for Bahray’s killing and the identity of his killer remain unknown, a Swastiska was found daubed on the 2nd floor flat where Bahray lived with 7 other Eritrean refugees just three days before he was killed. It was accompanied by the threat, “We’ll get you all”.

CAMBODIA: Self-exiled Cambodian-American dissident Serey Ratha was sentenced in absentia yesterday at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to seven years’ imprisonment and fined 25 million riel ($6,250) under the charges of treason, obstructing electoral procedures in 2013 and inciting to overthrow Cambodia’s government related to a Facebook post prior to the 2013 election. Three other men (Serey Bunlong, Sen Someng and Oum Phirum) were each sentenced to six years in prison and fined 5 million riel ($1,230) for treason and obstructing electoral procedures after they reportedly distributed T-shirts with slogans admonishing citizens to abstain from voting in the last national election.

Finally, some brilliant teenagers in the UNITED STATES inspired me this week with their spoken word poem Somewhere In America. 

That’s it for this week.  Please feel free to add other human rights news in the comments.

As always, feedback on this new weekly feature is appreciated!