The Minnesota Protocol: Creating Guidelines for Effective Investigations

Originally published on The Advocates PostMP Infographic Dashes Featured News

Back in the 1980s, a small group of Minnesota lawyers was concerned about the lack of accountability for the 1983 political assassination of Benigno Aquino in the Philippines and many other suspected unlawful deaths happening in the world. Effective investigation is key to establishing responsibility and holding perpetrators accountable, but no international standards existed at the time that required governments to initiate or carry out investigations of suspected unlawful deaths.

The need for international standards and guidelines for death investigations
Clearly, there was a need for international standards regarding death investigations, as well as practical guidelines for how those investigations should be done.  In 1983, as its very first project, The Advocates for Human Rights (then known as the Minnesota Lawyers International Human Rights Committee) took action by engaging local and international experts in law and forensic science. The project’s researchers and authors―almost all volunteers―included David Weissbrodt, Sam Heins, Barbara Frey, Don Fraser, Tom Johnson, Lindsey Thomas, Garry Peterson, Jim Roth, Bob Sands, Sonia Rosen and Marie Bibus and many others.  They worked on successive drafts for several years.

In 1987, at the Spring Hill Conference Center in Wayzata, the final details of what would come to be the Minnesota Protocol were hammered out.  There were two parts: 1) international legal standards detailing the duty of governments to prevent, investigate and initiate legal proceedings after a suspicious and unlawful death; and 2) guidelines for how to conduct effective investigations, as well as model protocols for conducting autopsies and for disinterment and analysis of skeletal remains.

In 1989, the standards were incorporated into the UN Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, which was adopted by the UN Economic and Social Council and endorsed by the UN General Assembly. The UN formally adopted the guidelines in 1991 as the United Nations Manual on the Effective Prevention and  Investigation  of  Extra-Legal, Arbitrary, and Summary Executions.  For the first time, the world had a set of international standards and guidelines for effective investigation.

Despite its official UN title, however, the UN Manuel has been commonly referred to as the Minnesota Protocol.

UN-mandated Principles & Manual are key to investigations
Together, the Principles and the Manual are the key UN-mandated texts that have provided guidance for 25 years on the international duty to investigate violations of the right to life and best practices for conducting autopsies and forensic analysis of suspicious deaths in custody.

The Minnesota Protocol has been used in myriad investigative contexts in almost every region of the world. When Tom Johnson led a team of Gray Plant Mooty attorney volunteers to research the Minnesota Protocol’s impact, they found that it has been cited as the yardstick for conducting investigations by international human rights bodies, regional bodies such as the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, as well as national courts in India, Australia, and other countries.

Perhaps more important, however, is how the Minnesota Protocol has been used in practice. The Minnesota Protocol has guided investigations throughout the world, including in Rwanda, Bosnia, and East Timor.  St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Ruben Rosario described in his May 15, 2013 article how using the Minnesota Protocol has led to accountability for human rights violations in Guatemala and other places in the world.

I can also tell you about the Minnesota Protocol’s impact from my personal, in-the-field experience. In Peru, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission told me proudly that they were using the Minnesota Protocol in their work exhuming mass graves.  Family members and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) bring this document to the police. I’ve been told by colleagues that the Minnesota Protocol is the most effective tool they have to remind their government of the duty to conduct an effective investigation when there is a suspected unlawful death. Forensic experts  have told me that they bring copies of the model autopsy protocol with them when conducting investigations in the field, writing their notes in it.

MP Infographic Website

Much has changed in the world since the 1980s
It goes without saying that forensic science, DNA analysis, and other technologies have advanced greatly since the original Minnesota Protocol was drafted. International law has also advanced. Now, there are clear, internationally-accepted principles as to what constitutes the legal duty to investigate―investigations must be prompt, thorough, effective, transparent, independent and impartial. The rights of victims are now acknowledged in international law, including the rights of families to know what happened to their loved ones and to reparation and other remedies. Society as a whole has a right to know the truth about what really happened in order to prevent those human rights abuses from happening again.

For years there has been discussion at the UN about updating the Minnesota Protocol for the 21st century. Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, began in 2015 to make it a reality, inviting The Advocates to be a part of the revision process. Along with University of Minnesota professor Barbara Frey―one of the original drafters of the Minnesota Protocol―and other human rights law experts, I serve on the Legal Investigations Working Group. There is also a Forensics Working Group and a larger Advisory Panel, which includes several of the original authors. As it was in the 1980s, the work involves extensive contributions by international experts in law, forensics, and crime scene investigation.

Plans for the new version call for including the Minnesota Protocol in the official title.

By: Jennifer Prestholdt is deputy director of The Advocates of Human Rights and  director of it International Justice Program.

Serious Concerns About Lack of Access to Counsel for Asylum Seekers

Child from Honduras

U.S. Senator Al Franken has called on Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to ensure access to counsel for asylum seekers held in family detention centers. Joined by 18 Senate colleagues, Sen. Franken raises serious concerns regarding reports that U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) is interfering with the ability of asylum-seeking mothers and children to access legal representation. Recently, individual volunteer attorneys, who had travelled to the privately-owned prison in Dilley, Texas where approximately 2000 Central American refugee women and children are detained,were barred from entering to provide  pro bono representation.

Access to counsel can be the difference between life and death for asylum seekers in the United States. Asylum seekers who have lawyers are more than three times as likely to be granted asylum as those who do not.  Having an attorney is “the single most important factor” affecting the outcome of the case. Yet individuals in immigration detention face the biggest challenge in obtaining legal representation.  The American Bar Association estimates that a whopping 84% of immigration detainees nationwide were unrepresented in their removal proceedings.

At the international level, The Advocates for Human Rights drew attention to the appalling lack of access to counsel for asylum seekers during the UN reviews for U.S. compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, and the Convention Against Torture.  Most recently, The Advocates raised the continuing failure of the U.S. to recognize asylum seekers from Central America’s northern triangle in its statement to the UN Human Rights Council during a September 28 interactive dialogue on the impact of the world drug problem on the enjoyment of human rights:

As an NGO that provides free legal services to asylum seekers in the United States, we would particularly like to draw attention to an issue that we see on a daily basis: the impact that violent transnational criminal gangs in Central America, fueled by profits from the trade in illegal drugs, have on the lives Central Americans, forcing thousands of women and children to flee and seek safety in the U.S.

Transnational gangs extort, threaten, and forcibly recruit people living in strategic drug trafficking corridors. States in the region are ill-equipped to deal with crimes by these gangs, leaving victims unprotected from serious harm, including torture, disappearance, sexual violence, and murder. And the violence continues to grow, as gangs seek to solidify their control over valuable drug trafficking routes.

For example, gang members threatened to kill one of our clients, who I’ll call “Teresa”, after her family could no longer afford to pay protection money for the family business. Armed gang members abducted her, threw her into a truck, and took her to the leader’s house, where he beat and raped her. Left with no choice but to flee, she sought asylum in the U.S.

Yet the U.S. violates the fundamental rights of asylum seekers like Teresa by failing to recognize victims of transnational criminal gangs as refugees, even when such gangs operate as quasi-state actors that routinely torture, rape, and kill those who resist support or recruitment.

Asylum seekers face other violations, including arbitrary detention and prosecution for illegal entry. Mothers and their children are detained in difficult conditions pending preliminary credible fear determinations in two privately-owned prisons where attorneys have been denied access to clients and even summarily barred from the facilities.

The Advocates for Human Rights calls upon:

  • the Human Rights Council to include this issue in the discussion about the impact of the world drug problem on human rights;

  • the United Nations member States to ensure that their national drug policies consider the impact on the human rights of affected individuals and their countries; and

  • the U.S. to end family immigration detention and expedited removal procedures and to treat all asylum seekers in accordance with international standards.

See The Advocates’ volunteer Dr. Bill Lohman deliver the oral statement to the Human Rights Council:

In July, The Advocates launched a bilingual National Asylum Help Line to connect families released from U.S. immigration detention centers like the one in Dilley with free legal services. Migrants are encouraged to call the Help Line at 612-746-4674 to receive basic legal screening, information about the legal process, and referrals to agencies in areas in which they live.

By Michele Garnett MacKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ Director of Advocacy, and Deputy Director Jennifer Prestholdt

Originally published at theadvocatespost.org on October 29, 2015.

News You May Have Missed (24 -31 January)

For Kahl Wallis and other Indigenous Australians, January 26 is not AUSTRALIA Day – they call it “Survival Day”.  “It’s definitely an important day for us. A day of survival, of remaining culturally strong and passing down our stories,” says Wallis. “It’s a day to remember our people and the struggle – the continuing struggle.”  Kahl and his band the Medics, a Brisbane alt-rock band, released a new track this week on Survival Day called Wake Up (available for free download on SoundCloud).  When asked about the songs first two lines – “you are not dissolvable / you cannot be erased”  – Wallis told The Guardian, “What I’m trying to say in that intro is that we will never lose our culture and spirit. We might be in the cities, we might be far away from home, but we will still maintain our culture and identity and fight for our freedom.

Child soldiers at a release ceremony in Pibor Country, South Sudan. Photograph: Marieantoinetta Peru/Unicef

In one of the largest demobilizations of child soldiers ever, United Nations officials said on January 27 that they had secured the release of 3,000 child soldiers in SOUTH SUDAN.  The first 280 children, ages 11 to 17, were released from the ranks of the South Sudan Democratic Army (SSDA) Cobra Faction, turning in their weapons and fatigues on Tuesday in the village of Gumuruk. The rest of the children will disarm over the next several weeks. Many of the children, who are members of the Murle ethnic group, have never been to school as they have been fighting for years for a rebel militia. Unicef is now trying to reunite the children with their families, and will then introduce them to education and training programs.

Google apologized and implemented a fix to take out anti-gay slurs from its translation tool. Translating from English into Spanish, French or Portuguese, the web version of Google Translate results included insults.  More than 50,000 people signed a petition with All Out. leading to Google’s quick response and apology.  If you see any Google Translate issues still popping up, email the AllOut team at info@allout.org

For the first time ever in the UNITED STATES, there will be an ad that draws attention to domestic violence aired during the National Football League’s Super Bowl.   The ad was released this week ahead of Super Bowl Sunday.

In the ad, which is reportedly based on a real-life story, a woman calls 911 but pretends to order a pizza so that her abuser is not aware of what she is doing.  It ends with the words: “When it’s hard to talk, it’s up to us to listen.”  It was created by the advertising firm Grey New York for the NFL and No More, a coalition of groups dedicated to fighting domestic violence and sexual assault.  The NFL donated Super Bowl airtime for the PSA and paid its production costs.  Earlier this week, Sports Illustrated decided to run a domestic violence PSA of its own, after initially deciding against it. The 15-second video portrays an uniformed football player tackling an unprotected woman.

The Church of ENGLAND consecrated its first female bishop in a ceremony on January 26. The Right Reverend Libby Lane, 48, was made Bishop of Stockport in front of more than 1,000 people. After decades of argument over women’s ordination, the Church formally adopted legislation last November to allow women to become bishops.

In EL SALVADOR, a woman known “Guadalupe” was granted pardon by El Salvador’s Parliamentary Assembly after being imprisoned for suffering a miscarriage. In 2007 “Guadalupe” received a 30 year jail sentence after authorities wrongly suspected she had terminated her pregnancy. She was only 18 years old at the time. Amnesty International called the pardon a “triumph of justice” that “gives hope to the other 15 women languishing in jail on similar charges.

The Senate of the  DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO  voted to eliminate a measure in an electoral law that critics say would have prolonged the president’s time in power.  The lower house voted last week to require a census before next year’s presidential election, raising concerns that it was merely a ploy to delay that vote and keep President Joseph Kabila in power.  Kabila has been in office since 2001 and term limits prevent him from running again.  The vote in the lower house prompted large demonstrations against the measure and led to the Senate’s action. A parliamentary committee must now reconcile the bills from the two houses of Parliament before a final version can be voted on.

I’ll end with two more beautiful, inspirational advertisements.  The first is for the South African telecom company MTN and I saw it for the first time this week.

The second is from a campaign that came out last June, so wasn’t new to me. But I totally teared up watching it tonight during the Super Bowl with my daughter sitting next to me and my husband yelling “That is AWESOME!”

Human Rights Tools for a Changing World

Change the World front cover

Originally published on The Advocates Post

The Advocates for Human Rights’ Executive Director Robin Phillips is in London today speaking about The Advocates’ human rights monitoring work at the International Bar Association’s colloquium on “Rule of Law Fact-Finding by NGOs: Monitoring Standards and Maximising Impact”.

This international convening to explore the standards and impact of non-governmental organization (NGO) fact-finding on human rights violations is also an appropriate setting to introduce The Advocates’ latest publication:

        Human Rights Tools for a Changing World:  A Step-by-Step Guide to Human Rights Fact-finding, Documentation and Advocacy 

Human rights advocacy takes many forms, and human rights activists can be found in every corner of the world.  Human Rights Tools for a Changing World was created with the express purpose of providing advocates of all backgrounds and experiences a full range of tools and resources to promote human rights in a changing world.

This manual provides practical, step-by-step guidance for individuals and community groups who want to use human rights monitoring, documentation, and advocacy in their work to change policy and improve human rights conditions throughout the world. From framing an issue in terms of internationally recognized human rights standards to submitting a detailed complaint to an international human rights body, advocates can use this manual to plan and implement their work. The manual is designed to aid advocates undertaking a variety of activities—from the relatively simple to the more complex. With background information, key questions to consider, case examples, and practitioner’s tips, this manual provides tools to combat human rights abuses and change social institutions and structures to promote the full realization of human rights.

The practice-oriented sections help advocates to do the following:

  • Monitor: identify ongoing human rights abuses and collect the information advocates need about these issues;
  • Document: analyze, present that information, and make recommendations within the framework of international human rights standards;
  • Advocate: choose and implement a strategy to bring the lived reality closer to the ideals proclaimed by international human rights treaties, including through advocacy at international and regional human rights mechanisms;
  • Address Impunity and Accountability: identify strategies and legal mechanisms i for holding perpetrators and governments accountable for human rights violations; and
  • Build Capacity to Improve Human Rights: develop a better understanding of the international human rights system, identify strategies for applying a human rights framework, and develop competence in setting up and effectively running an organization in safety and security.

The Advocates for Human Rights  is uniquely qualified to present the human rights tools in this manual. Human Rights Tools for a Changing World is grounded in the The Advocates’ daily work in human rights fact-finding, documentation and advocacy.  For more than 30 years, The Advocates has adapted traditional human rights methodologies to conduct innovative research and generate human rights reports and educational trainings designed to bring laws, policies, and practice into compliance with international human rights standards. The Advocates has monitored human rights conditions and produced more than 75 reports documenting human rights practices in dozens of countries around the world on a wide range of human rights issues.

The contents of this manual were also shaped by the requests for assistance and guidance that The Advocates routinely receives from human rights defenders and others seeking to change human rights conditions in their communities throughout the world. Partnership on projects identified and led by local organizations is a powerful means to effectively implement human rights work in the field. At The Advocates, we view our constituencies as partners and form enduring working relationships with organizations and community groups in the U.S. and around the world.

The Advocates’ participatory model of working with in-country civil society organizations to document human rights abuses and coordinate advocacy for change has also demonstrated to us the critical importance of having access to a wide range of human rights tools.  Flexibility is key; there is no “one size fits all” human rights methodology.  Activists need a full menu of strategies and resources so they can choose the ones that will work best in each specific context. With the right tools, real human rights improvements are eminently possible.

We hope that that Human Rights Tools for a Changing World will benefit and be used by human rights defenders and civil society organizations throughout the world. Because every person matters.

Download your free copy at:  TheAdvocatesForHumanRights.org/Change

Individual chapters and appendices can also be downloaded individually.

By:  Jennifer Prestholdt, Deputy Director and Director of  the International Justice Program at The Advocates for Human Rights

Injustice Anywhere Is A Threat To Justice Everywhere

justice

As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said,

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

 

Use your voice.

Say it loud.

speak

 

This post is a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge:  Letters.  Click here to read more entries.

For another post that is not new but meets the same challenge, see Weekly Photo Challenge: The Sign Says. 

 

 

Paving Pathways for Justice & Accountability: New Tools for Diaspora Communities

House party_HighRes-2

This post originally appeared on The Advocates Post.

Human rights advocacy takes many forms, and human rights activists can be found in every corner of the world.  Tremendous advancements in technology and communication have allowed activists to form strong international networks and to share emerging information about human rights abuses almost as soon as they happen.  These advancements have fundamentally changed the way human rights organizations work, including how they engage in human rights advocacy with broader communities beyond a country’s borders.

Yet the unique role diaspora communities can play in improving human rights around the world has largely been overlooked in the human rights field. It’s time for that to change.  

Diaspora: The Migration Policy Institute defines the term “diaspora” as “emigrants and their descendants who live outside the country of their birth or ancestry . . . yet still maintain . . . ties to their countries of origin.”

Members of diaspora communities play an increasingly important global role and can be a bridge between individuals, governments, and international legal and political mechanisms.  Diaspora communities are a critical link in changing social institutions and structures to hold governments accountable.   Many migrants – refugees and asylum seekers in particular – leave their homes because of human rights abuses.  Many were political and human rights activists in their home countries and they bring their experiences with them.  In some countries with repressive governments, security concerns mean that diasporans must take the lead in speaking out.  From their new home base, they can bring change in their countries of origin.

Members of diaspora communities agree.  Chanravy Proeung, a member of the Cambodian diaspora and Co-Director of the Providence Youth Student Movement, said:

“We have the privilege to see those countries from a different perspective. We need to have the people who are the most marginalized and affected by issues at the forefront of creating change not only here in the United States, but having influence in their countries of origin, too.”

For more than 30 years, The Advocates for Human Rights has witnessed the powerful role that diaspora civil society organizations play in documenting human rights abuses, influencing policy, and advocating on behalf of victims of human rights violations in their countries of origin.

As a legal service provider, The Advocates is often the first connection that asylum seekers have to their new community in the United States.  Because of this special relationship, diasporans from dozens of countries have requested assistance from The Advocates in documenting human rights violations “back home.”  With diaspora communities, The Advocates has conducted groundbreaking work, such as the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission Diaspora Project, ensuring that public hearing testimony and the statements of 1,200 Liberians living outside of Liberia were included in the formal history of the conflict.

The report,  Human Rights in Ethiopia: Through the Eyes of the Oromo Diasporaproved the significance of involving individuals who have left a country in work to hold governments accountable and affect human rights in their home countries.  The Advocates has also collaborated with the Indian American Muslim Council on advocacy on issues concerning religious minorities at the both the U.S. Congress and the United Nations, demonstrating that diaspora voices can have an impact on human rights in India.

The Advocates recently completed a two-year project to identify needs and create tools to help tap the underexplored resources of diaspora involvement in human rights.  The result is a groundbreaking resource called Paving Pathways for Justice & Accountability: Human Rights Tools for Diaspora Communities.

diaspora-cover-final

This manual, available for download at no cost, provides a full menu strategies and resources designed to empower diaspora communities to be more effective advocates for human rights in their countries of origin.

With practical tools and step-by-step guidance shaped by input from multiple diaspora communities, Paving Pathways can be used to help individuals and organizations to:

  • monitor and document human rights abuses;
  • advocate for change in their country of origin and country of residence, as well as at international and regional human rights mechanisms;
  • address impunity and hold governments accountable using national and international law; and
  • build their capacity to improve human rights conditions.

While the tools and resources presented in this manual were specifically created for use by diaspora communities, this manual can also benefit and be used by human rights defenders and civil society organizations throughout the world.

The international community needs to do more to recognize the unique contributions that diaspora communities can make to building respect for human rights around the world.  Rather than treating diasporans solely as economic sources of remittances,  investment, and philanthropy, countries of origin and countries of residence should  facilitate engagement in long-term social change.  With this new resource, The Advocates is taking an important step in supporting diaspora communities in their efforts to improve human rights around the world.

Download your free copy at: TheAdvocatesForHumanRights.org/pathways  

Individual chapters can also be downloaded for free.

Don’t know where to start?Quick Reference Guide cropped

Use our Quick Reference Guide!

 

[1] International Organization for Migration and Migration Policy Institute, Developing a Roadmap for Engaging Diasporas in Development (Washington DC and Geneva: IOM and MPI, 2012), 15. Also available online at http://www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/thediasporahandbook.pdf.

By:  Jennifer Prestholdt, Deputy Director and Director of  the International Justice Program at The Advocates for Human Rights

 

The Lessons of 22 July

My daughter in Norway in August 2010.
For many in Norway, the terrorist attacks on July 22, 2011 represent the loss of innocence.

On the morning of July 22 last year, I read the breaking news of a car bomb attack in Oslo, Norway.  I clicked on the link to the NRK live coverage, forgetting that my three children rise and swarm, like mosquitoes from tall grass at dusk, at the slightest potentiality of a video.

“WHAT IS HAPPENING?” yelled my then-9-year-old son.

“It looks like a car bomb exploded in downtown Oslo.”

Gasps all around. We had been in downtown Oslo less than a year before.   We had been in that part of town and I think we may even have walked down the street where the explosion damaged several government buildings.

Damage to government building on July 22, 2011

Image Source

“WAS ANYONE WE KNOW HURT?” screamed my then 6-year old daughter.

“I don’t know yet,” I replied.  “Let me listen to what they are saying about it.”

I was trying to remain calm; I was struggling with a decision. As a parent, you have to make a choice about what horrific events you introduce to your children.  And you have to decide – often on the spot – how to talk to them about tragedy and violence.  You have to find the words to explain the evil that exists in the world while you simultaneously reassure them that,  for the most part, they are safe.  Obviously, this is not easy and there is no manual.  But it is part of your job as a parent to help them make sense of life as a human on this planet.

“IT’S LIKE NORWAY’S 9/11!” blurted out my then-nearly-12-year-old son.

Presciently, in hindsight.  It was that statement that decided me, that hardened my resolve.  You see, like everyone else, I have a story to tell about 9/11.  That’s a story for another day, but, suffice it to say, it committed me to engaging my children in a year-long discussion about the tragic events of July 22, 2011.

The Norwegian media were cautiously talking about how preliminary evidence indicated a terrorist attack.   So we had a fruitful discussion (or at least what passes for a “fruitful discussion” when your kids are 6, 9 and 11) about 9/11 and the impact of those events on America. My children do not remember our country before 9/11.  It was good to talk to them about the need for security, as well as the need to balance security with the protection of individual rights, including discrimination based on race and religion.  They were engaged.  They asked questions.  Then, with the  request to be kept informed of the emerging news of the Oslo bombing, they went on their way to do whatever it is that 6, 9 and 11 year old boys and girls do on a bright summer day.

But as the day went on, the news from Norway got dramatically worse.  Eight people were killed and nearly two-thirds of the 300+ people in the government buildings were injured (and had it not been 3:30 pm on a Friday in the holiday month of July, there would certainly have been many more casualties).  But the car bomb in Oslo was merely a distraction.  Less than two hours later, right-wing extremist Anders Behring Brevik, dressed as a police officer in a fake uniform that he bought on the Internet, took the ferry to the island of Utøya in nearby Buskerud.  There he killed 69 people – mostly under the age of 18 – at an summer camp for politically active young people in the AUF (Arbeidernes Ungdomsfylking), which is affiliated with Norway’s Arbeiderparti (Labor Party).

AUF describes itself as “Norway’s largest political party youth organization and champion for a more just world (“AUF er Norges største partipolitiske ungdomsorganisasjon og kjemper for en mer rettferdig verden”).  Anders Behring Breivik carried out the massacre in cold blood, coming back to shoot again those who were lying injured, shooting kids in the water as they tried to swim to safety.  He later claimed that he was trying to save Norway from Muslims world by attacking Social Democrats, Norwegian immigration policies and the concept of multi-culturalism.

This photo of participants at the AUF summer camp on Utøya was taken July 21, 2011, the day before the massacre.

Image source: AUF

It was one thing to talk to my kids about car bombs and 9/11.  It was something else entirely to talk to them about Utøya. I  didn’t tell my kids right away about the massacre.  I waited a few hours, sifting through the emerging stories of horror until the basic narrative was clear.  When I did tell them, what they most wanted to know was:

“WHY?”

I said something about hatred, but there was really nothing I could say by way of explanation.  Far too many  lost their lives on July 22, 2011. And Anders Behring Breivik’s hateful, violent acts stole not just the future of scores of young people, but also the innocence of a peaceful nation.  Just as we demarcate contemporary US history as pre- and post-9/11, so for Norway is tjueandre juli (22 July).

Luckily for me as a parent, stories began quickly emerging about what happened on Utøya. Amazing stories of luck and bravery. Young people not much older than my own children who showed great presence of mind in an unthinkable situation.  Leadership and sacrifice.  These are stories – and there are many – that deserve more space than I have to give here.  But we followed these stories in the days and months following 22 July.  They gave us hope. They showed us that ordinary people – most of them still kids – could do extraordinary things.

There is much in our interactions with the world that we cannot control. We can control, however, how we act; how we REact to events and actions by others.  This is a lesson I strive to teach my children.  I don’t always provide a good role model, but Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg certainly did. I’ve been reading the speeches of Jens Stoltenberg this summer.  From the beginning, he encouraged Norwegians not to give way to fear and hate and prejudice. He urged Norwegians to react to the attacks of 22 July by being MORE welcoming to the outsider, to the foreigner. Invite him in for cake and coffee, the Prime Minister suggested.  Invite her to take a walk. Get to know one another.

When local elections were held in September 2011, fear was not used as a campaign tactic in Norway.  I showed my kids the AUF campaign materials which said, “This summer, our democracy was attacked.  The terrorist chose cowardice and ruthless violence over argument and political debate.  Our answer is not more violence, but more democracy.”

“Our answer is MORE democracy – Vote Now!”

Image Source

I’ve heard people say that Norway’s response to July 22 was simplistic.  Idealistic. Naive. Maybe it wouldn’t work in other countries.  But if you doubt that words matter, let me tell you what happened after the trial of Anders Behring Breivik began on April 16, 2012.  Breivik had testified that a particular song, Barn av regnbuen (Children of the Rainbow) by well-loved Norwegian folk singer  Lillebjørn Nilsen, with its concept of living together in a multicultural Norway, was brainwashing children into supporting immigrants.  This is a song that Mr. Breivik, apparently, detests.

So, shortly thereafter, in a chilly spring rain in a square near the courthouse in Oslo, a crowd of more than 40,000 people joined Mr. Nilsen in singing Barn av regnbuen.  Many more were singing the song at the same time in smaller communities around the country. Norwegians throughout the country sang it as a form of protest against hatred. They sang it so loud that it could be heard in the courtroom.

Once again, I clicked on a link to a video from Oslo.  Together, my children and I watched this video.

Folksinger Lillebjørn Nilsen and a crowd of 40,000 sing Barn av regnbuen (Children of the Rainbow) at the trial of Anders Behring Breivik in Oslo (Source: NRK)

This is a song that I learned many years ago.  It is actually a Pete Seeger song called My Rainbow Race, translated into Norwegian by Lillebjørn Nilsen.   I did a rough translation of the lyrics of Barn av regnbuen in a blog post in April. The song’s title comes from the verse:

Sammen skal vi leve
hver søster og hver bror.
Små barn av regnbuen
og en frodig jord.

Together we will live
every sister and every brother.
Small children of the rainbow
and a flourishing world.

One night last week, I heard my now-10-year-old son singing in his bed.  He was singing Barna av regnbuen.  He sang the whole song, the refrain and every last verse.  And then he sang it again.

There will be many tributes on July 22, 2012.  Remembrances and roses to honor the innocents who lost their lives one year ago, the survivors who will never be the same again.  Add to them this tribute,  from a kid in a bunkbed half a world away.  A kid who, hopefully, has learned something from the tragedy of 22 July.

India’s Politics Without Principles

Raj Ghat,  Mahatma Ghandi Memorial

New Delhi, India

Note:  This essay was originally published on The Advocates Post.

Last year, on my first trip to India, I visited Raj Ghat in New Delhi.   Raj Ghat (or Rajghat) is the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial and, as Gandhi has long been one of my human rights heroes, I was glad to have this opportunity to pay my respects to the man whose lessons of non-violence and human rights have had such an impact on our world.  Gandhi is known of the “Father of the Nation” because of his pivotal role in India’s independence movement.  But how far has Gandhi’s beloved India come in fulfilling his vision for humanity?  From Raj Ghat, I went to directly a meeting with Indian human rights activists. They told us that, while important reforms have been made recently to protect the human rights of its 1.21 billion citizens, India still has a long way to go to adequately protect the rights of its religious minorities.

Gandhi was cremated at Raj Ghat on the Yamuna River on January 31, 1948, the day after he was assassinated. Raj Ghat is  a solemn space, a large, walled enclosure purposefully left open to the air and the white-hot sun of central India. It is set within an even larger park, with flagstone paths and shade trees – grandeur and greenery that surprised me in a city as crowded as Delhi.  Yet Raj Ghat itself is true to the simple life that Gandhi himself chose.  As you walk around the upper level, on a path bordered by flowers and creeping vines, you can see the square platform in the center that marks the site of Gandhi’s cremation. The black marble is so smooth that it reflects and extends the eternal flame that burns at one end of the monument, like a torch lighting the way forward in the dark of night.  The red soil of his dear homeland surrounds the marble samadhi, as in life Gandhi rejected the green lawns of the English colonialists, choosing instead to leave the grounds of his residences in their natural state.

To enter Raj Ghat, you must remove your shoes.  This is a sign of respect, one that I honor, but I admit to never having pictured myself meeting my idol in sock feet.  It was in sock feet, however, that, in the cool shade of the thick stone walls, I walked the perimeter of the memorial.  On the walls of the memorial are quotes from Gandhi, inscribed in the many languages of the Indian people as well as other world languages. Raj Ghat is a contemplative place; in concert with this, visitors are encouraged to circle the memorial three times.  My first time around, near the marble platform,  I stopped short.  Before me, inscribed in black on the red sandstone wall, were words of deep truth.  Gandhi was a prolific writer who first published his “Seven Social Sins” in 1926 in Young India, one of several newspapers he edited.

Seven Social Sins

Quoted by Mahatma Gandhi in “Young India”, 1925

Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins – complicated concepts remarkably expressed with a few simple words – remain apt nearly 100 years later.  They are:

POLITICS WITHOUT PRINCIPLES

WEALTH WITHOUT WORK

PLEASURE WITHOUT CONSCIENCE

KNOWLEDGE WITHOUT CHARACTER

COMMERCE WITHOUT MORALITY

SCIENCE WITHOUT HUMANITY

WORSHIP WITHOUT SACRIFICE

Mahatma Gandhi’s words have stayed with me.  Unlike the numerous foreign dignitaries who visit Raj Ghat, I did not receive a khadi scroll imprinted with the Seven Social Sins.  But they are written in my heart as distinctly as they are carved on the sandstone wall of Raj Ghat. Certainly, the words were fresh in my mind later that afternoon at a meeting with Indian human rights activists. Over cups of masala tea, these human rights defenders told us about the alarming rise in discrimination and violence against religious minorities – particularly Muslims and Christians – in various states across India, including Gujarat, Orissa and Karnataka. While discrimination and violence against Muslims has long been a problem in India (including communal attacks targeting Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 that killed nearly 2000 and displaced as many as 140,000), these courageous human rights activists have documented the increasingly systematic discrimination and violence in the name of counter-terrorism since a series of bombings in 2007 and 2008.  One group, Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD), published a report in 2011 containing the testimony of scores of Indian Muslims at a People’s Tribunal on the Atrocities Committed Against Muslims in the Name of Fighting Terrorism.  As they described their experiences, as well as the impunity enjoyed by security forces and non-state actors that targeted religious minorities in the name of counter-terrorism, I thought again of Gandhi.   Allowing human rights abuses to be committed against a broad category of in the name of fight against terrorism is indeed practicing “Politics Without Principles”.

Later in 2011, and partly as a result of what we learned at this meeting, The Advocates for Human Rights made a submission to the Human Rights Council for the 2012 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of India.  Our submission, made jointly with the Indian American Muslim Council in the US and the Jamia Teacher Solidarity Association (along with input from other Indian human rights organizations) in India, addresses India’s failure to comply with its international human rights obligations to protect members of minority groups. Major human rights challenges in India today include extrajudicial executions committed by security personnel as well as non-state actors, arbitrary and unlawful detentions, torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of terrorism suspects in police custody, and harassment of human rights defenders (including lawyers who defend Muslims accused of terrorist acts), whistleblowers and journalists.

Additionally, our submission highlights the failure of the Indian government to adequately investigate and effectively prosecute perpetrators of these human rights violations against members of minority groups.  The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief reported in 2009 that the Indian government’s failure to adequately investigate and prosecute individuals and government officials involved in human rights violations exacerbates tension between India’s political and religious groups.  Discrimination against religious minorities extends to all facets of life, including access to education, employment and housing.  Religious minorities also face violence and discrimination due to state level “Freedom of Religion Acts”, which fail to clearly define an “improper conversion” – a lack of clarity which gives the authorities the power to accept or reject the legitimacy of a conversion.

Under the UPR, the human rights record of every member of the UN is reviewed once every four and one-half years.  Indiawas one of the first countries to be reviewed in 2008 following the creation of this new human rights mechanism. I was in Geneva on May 24 for the Second Universal Periodic Review of India. The Indian government sent a large, 20 member  delegation, headed by the Attorney General and including representatives from several ministries, and clearly viewed the UPR process as both serious and important.  The Human Rights Council is a human rights mechanisms designed to be an interactive dialogue between governments.  I was gratified to see Human Rights Council delegates from 20 countries address the issues raised in our submission, including the recommendation from the United States to “Ensure that laws are fully and consistently enforced to provide adequate protections for members of religious minorities…”

The Human Rights Council made 169 recommendations toIndia, but the government chose not to adopt them at the June 2012 session. Instead, they government promised to respond “in due time” but no later than September 2012.


India’s large and religiously diverse population makes it one of the most pluralistic societies in the world. The Indian Constitution provides all citizens with the “right to equality before the law,” the right to “the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth”, and the “right to freedom of speech and expression”. Further, it specifies that “no person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds for such arrest” and that every person arrested be presented to the nearest magistrate within 24 hours of the arrest.

India has made great progress in setting up a domestic legal framework to protect human rights and must be commended for that. India must now end the practice of  “Politics Without Principles” and implement and effectively enforce these laws in a manner that protects the rights of members of its religious minority communities.

Statue of Gandhi at the United Nations

Geneva, Switzerland

Cutting The Head Off The Snake

Charles G. Taylor with NPFL fighters during attack on Monrovia in 1990

(Image Source) 

The Special Court for Sierra Leone  today sentenced former Liberian President Charles G. Taylor to 50 years in prison for his role in the Sierra Leonean conflict in the 1990s.   Mr. Taylor helped fuel bloody conflicts between 1989 and 2003, not only in Liberia and Sierra Leone, but also throughout the sub-region of West Africa.  For thousands – if not millions – of West Africans, May 30 will now mark the anniversary of accountability.

Eight years ago, in May 2004, I was in Sierra Leone to monitor the efforts that were being made to bring justice and reconciliation to that shattered country.  In August of the previous year,  Charles Taylor had resigned as President and exited Liberia for temporary asylum in Nigeria, the result of a deal brokered to end Liberia’s brutal civil war.  His infamous last words as he boarded the plane were, “God willing, I will be back.” Almost everyone I talked to in Sierra Leone expressed fear of a return to chaos and war in the region if Mr. Taylor did not stand trial.  As one person explained,

“We have a saying in West Africa.  If you cut off the head of the snake, it is then only a rope.  That’s why Taylor must go.”

Mr. Taylor was indicted on seventeen counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), a United Nations-sponsored “hybrid” war crimes tribunal based on international and Sierra Leonean law that had strong support (including $20 million appropriated by Congress) from the United States.  The charges against Mr. Taylor included aiding and abetting the most serious of human rights abuses:  killings, torture, mutilation, rape and other forms of sexual violence, sexual slavery, conscription of children, abduction and forced labor perpetuated by Sierra Leonean rebel forces that Mr. Taylor actively supported.  Not to mention the part about fueling the conflict by trading arms for diamonds.

Special Court for Sierra Leone

Under construction in Freetown, Sierra Leone in May 2004

Yet, even after trials began at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor remained in Nigeria, immune from justice.  Even worse, he appeared to continue to meddle with affairs in Liberia.  Impunity for Mr. Taylor was an affront to the thousands of victims and their families.  Fortunately, international pressure finally resulted in Mr. Taylor being taken into custody and brought to the SCSL for trial in 2006.  Due to concerns about security and the potential destabilizing impact of holding the trial in West Africa, Mr. Taylor’s trial was moved to The Netherlands to a chamber borrowed from the International Criminal Court.  (Mr. Taylor complained bitterly about the food he was served.)

I interviewed Sierra Leonean staff members of the SCSL in The Netherlands about the Taylor case in 2008.  Their estimates at the time about the length of the trial proved far too optimistic. The trial, which included testimony from more than 100 witnesses in addition to the defendant (who testified during 81 trial days), took twice as long as planned.

When I traveled to Liberia in February 2008, I asked people about what they thought about the Taylor trial.  Many Liberians did not seem to understand that Mr. Taylor was being tried for crimes committed in Sierra Leone, not Liberia.  When I pointed out the distinction, most seemed not to care.  In general, the Liberians I talked to just seemed relieved that he was behind bars – and that those bars were controlled by the international community.  When I mentioned the analogy to cutting the head off a snake, I was uniformly met with wise nods of agreement.

The verdict of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in late April of this year marked a historic moment in international justice – the first conviction of a serving head of state on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.    The sentence today of 50 years (which was consistent with the previous sentences of Sierra Leonean commanders tried by the SCSL) essentially means that Mr. Taylor will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Holding Charles Taylor accountable for the war crimes that he aided and abetted in Sierra Leone is important, but we must never forget the remaining impunity for the war crimes that he is responsible for in Liberia.  Liberian civilians were subjected to massive human rights abuses, exercised with direct command responsibility by Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and, after his election in 1997, the Liberian security forces and paramilitary Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU) .  Of a pre-war Liberian population of 3 million, an estimated 250,000 were killed and 1.5 million displaced, with tens of thousands of refugees forced to flee West Africa for safety in the United States.

I spent three years working with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia, taking statements in the United States, United Kingdom and Buduburam Refugee Settlement in Ghana.  The statement giver’s account of violence below is representative of the scope of the human rights abuses and level of brutality suffered by many Liberians:

At the initial stages of the war, I moved to Ninth Street in Sinkor, Monrovia…  The children were outside cleaning the yard. Suddenly they ran inside and said that they saw armed men coming. Moments later, Taylor’s men busted  in. One of them said, “This is the dog I’m looking for.” He told us to come outside. Myself, my ten children, and my wife obeyed.

The NPFL [commander] knew me…He had run against me in an election… before the war. He said to me, “You cheated me during the election, but now I am in power. I will teach you a lesson you will never forget.” He told his NPFL boys to take my eldest daughter into the house. She was 11
thirteen years old. They dragged her inside and dragged me in after her. [The commander] raped my daughter in front of me. My father (my daughter’s grandfather) was still in the house. He rushed at the NPFL men, trying to stop the rape. One of the men – I don’t know his name – shot and killed my [father] right there.
[The commander] then brought me and my daughter back outside. He said, “I’m going to show you what I came here for.” He beat the children with the butt of his gun. He made two of my sons, who were seventeen and twenty, drink dirty water with the urine of one of the NPFL men in it. When the twenty year old refused, he shot him in the foot. [The commander] stabbed my other son, who was eighteen, in the elbow with his bayonet.

He then began to beat my wife. He told her to lay on her back and stare at the sun. [The commander] said, “You will eat your husband’s heart very soon.” He took the daughter who had been raped. [The commander] held her and said, “I want you to know how you all will die.” He ordered one of his men to cut off my daughter’s head. She was beheaded in front of our eyes.

They dragged me over to lay beside her body. [The commander] said, “You will be the next one.” Then I heard heavy shooting. ECOMOG was coming. The NPFL scattered.  Before [the commander] left, he made a remark. He said, “Anywhere in
Liberia I meet you or your family, I will kill you.”

Will it make a difference that the international community has now “cut off the head of the snake”? I do, in fact, think it will.  Our international justice system is still in its infancy.  As of yet, it is neither swift nor strong; neither peremptory nor comprehensive.  But with the sentencing of Charles Taylor, not only can West Africans be confident in the knowledge that one individual who wrought destruction will not do so again, but we can all have hope that one day, as a matter of practice, all perpetrators of gross human rights abuses and war crimes will be held accountable.

Today at the United Nations Human Rights Council

A Day at the United Nations Human Rights Council

Today I am at the Human Rights Council in Geneva for the Universal Periodic Review of Morocco. (Photos are not allowed, but I snuck this one with my iPhone.) Along with colleagues from The Advocates for Human Rights and Global Rights, we have been lobbying the Human Rights Council delegates on the issues of violence against women and the death penalty/conditions of detention in Morocco.

Countries from Botswana to Bangladesh have raised the issue of women’s rights, with particularly, strong pressure coming from Belgium, Estonia, Spain, Switzerland, and Thailand to pass a comprehensive law to protect women from violence. In response to criticism of Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code (which I wrote about previously in Amina Filali and Violence Against Women), which essentially allows a man to escape prosecution for rape of a minor if he marries her, the Justice Minister noted that this law was “traditional” but currently “under study.” Shortly after he made that statement, the Netherlands and Norway made strong recommendations to revise the penal code and pass a new law to protect women from violence and ensure equality.

Argentina, Austria, France, Italy and Spain are among those countries who have called on Morocco to abolish the death penalty and commute all death sentences to life. Hungary even declared they would be “happy to share” their own recent experience in abolishing the death penalty.

The Universal Periodic Review is a new human rights mechanism, the result of recent UN reform. Morocco was one of the first countries reviewed in 2008, and is now one of the first countries to return for a second UPR review. Today I see the Moroccan government standing up before its peers -the governments of other nations – and answering questions on what they are doing to protect human rights for all in their country. It is encouraging to see the governments taking the process seriously.  At the end of the day, there was palpable relief on the face of the Minister of Justice and the other members of the delegation. Whether or not the UPR is a human rights mechanism that works in the long run, I think that the accountability I am seeing today is both good and necessary.