Thursday, December 16, 2010
The Declaration affirms universal standards for the survival, dignity, and well-being of all Indigenous Peoples and thus provides a global framework for indigenous issues. Since the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration in 2007, more than 140 countries have endorsed it -- including New Zealand, Canada, and Australia, who voted against the Declaration with the U.S. then. Since 2007, those countries had changed their positions. Finally, after consultation with tribal leaders and human rights organizations, the U.S. has also officially changed its position and acknowledged the rights of Indigenous Peoples worldwide.
You can read President Obama's statement at the White House Tribal Nations Conference here. One quote in particular stands out:
"What matters far more than words - what matters far more than any resolution or declaration - are actions to match those words. ... That's the standard I expect my administration to be held to."
Friday, December 10, 2010
Human Rights USA is part of a coalition calling on President Obama to issue a strong, comprehensive Executive Order that will result in meaningful progress on domestic human rights. This Executive Order presents President Obama with an important opportunity to uphold core American values of equality and justice for all by building a much-needed human rights infrastructure here at home by integrating the U.S.'s human rights commitments into all of the agencies of the government. Click here to take action!
Friday, November 12, 2010
British human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson was quoted in the British press this week as saying Bush's admission could leave him open to arrest and possible prosecution if he visits countries that have ratified the UN torture convention.
That includes a good chunk of the globe.
"George W Bush has confessed to ordering waterboarding, which in the view of almost all experts clearly passes the severe pain threshold in the definition of torture in international law," Robertson said. "[H]e is an ex-head of state so he is not entitled to immunity from arrest and trial."
Robertson added: "So his retirement travel plans may well be circumscribed, although he never ventured abroad before he became President, and no doubt made the statements in his book having been advised of this potential consequence."
Thursday, November 11, 2010
"Mr. Méndez has dedicated his long legal career to the defence of human rights and has a distinguished record of advocacy. As a result of his work representing political prisoners, he was subjected to torture, while under an eighteen month long administrative detention, by the Argentinean military dictatorship. During this time, Amnesty International adopted him as a “Prisoner of Conscience.” In 1977, he was expelled from Argentina and moved to the United States, where he worked in different capacities, including as legal counsel for Human Rights Watch."
Now, he will serve as the United Nation's resident expert on torture worldwide. In that role, he will conduct investigations, report to the UN's human rights structures, and make recommendations. He also says that he hopes to have an impact "beyond law." In a press release, Mr. Méndez stressed,
“we need to do battle in the realm of ideas and political discourse, to counter an attitude of relativism about torture, as something that happens to ‘others’ whose faces we don’t see and whose names we can’t pronounce.”
Congratulations on this new post -- another milestone an admirable career promoting human rights.
For more information, click here.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
How can he get it so wrong? Waterboarding is torture, which is illegal and immoral under all circumstances. Period.
Statements like these also put U.S. national security at risk. As the Executive Director of the Center for Victims of Torture says, "This cavalier attitude by the President who authorized torture in violation of U.S. and international law not only damages our nation’s credibility throughout the world, but also discourages global cooperation to combat
terrorism. It was only last week the U.S. was reminded that to protect our country from terrorists, and to collect vital information, we need the trust of individuals and governments worldwide. The bombs shipped on airplanes bound for the U.S. were stopped because of the cooperation of foreign intelligence services. The U.S. stands the best chance of becoming the ally of more people around the world—people who can join us in the fight against terrorism—by rejecting torture. This effort is severely hampered when our leaders makes such careless and rash remarks without realizing the harmful impact on America’s security."
If you need evidence to back up this statement, just look to the many questions U.S. allies posed during last week's UPR about closing Guantanamo and ending torture. These questions came from concerns that other democracies share about how the U.S. has undermined global efforts to end torture, and how the facts revealed about U.S. use of torture has been used to drum up antagonism toward the U.S. and other western democracies.
Former President Bush's statement shows exactly why an independent non-partisan commission tasked with examining and reporting publicly on torture and cruel treatment of prisoners is needed, and why that investigation ought to look at command responsibility, not just the lower ranking officers who carried out torture.
Human Rights USA's clients who have survived torture at the hands of foreign government officials look to the U.S. to be a positive force for ending torture worldwide. They demand, and deserve, accountability to ensure that the U.S. never again sinks to these tactics.
Monday, November 8, 2010
CANADA: "Canada encourages the United States to continue its efforts to realize universal human rights by: (a) ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; (b) becoming a Party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; (c) acceding to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and (d) ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We would appreciate any further detailed updates on the consideration of these issues and steps to bring domestic legislation in line with U.S. international obligations. Canada is pleased by the active re-engagement in the Human Rights Council by the United States and looks forward to working together in the promotion and protection of human rights internationally."
IRELAND: "... We recommend that the US halt all transfers of detainees to third countries unless there are adequate safeguards to ensure that they will be treated in accordance with international law requirements.... We strongly recommend that the United States proceed with the closure of Guantanamo at the earliest date and bring to trial promptly in accordance with the applicable rules of international law the detainees held there or release them.... Ireland asks whether the United States intends to proceed to the introduction of a nationwide moratorium on the death penalty..."
ITALY: "Recommends the adoption of a moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view to abolishing capital punishment.... Will the US consider to accede or ratify the following human rights and other instruments: the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court."
AUSTRALIA: "Abolish the death penalty.... comprehensively address discrimination against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity... become a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities."
ISRAEL: "We welcome the candid and professional engagement of the United States in this exercise and their constructive review of their human rights record.... We welcome the intense efforts by the United States to undertake all necessary measures to ensure fair and equal treatment for all persons, without regard to sex, race, religion, color, creed, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, and encourage further steps in this regard.... asking the delegation to further elaborate on the U.S. experience in human rights education."
And on it goes... Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Finland, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, New Zealand, all welcomed US participation in the UPR process and made similar comments and recommendations.
The full report will be published tomorrow and the US will go back to the Human Rights Council in 2011 to declare which recommendations the government accepts and which it does not. One hopes that the recommendations from other democracies will be taken seriously.
Friday, November 5, 2010
And here is how you can participate in the town hall today
Instructions: Visit https://statedept.connectsolutions.com/humanrights on Friday, November 5 at 10:30 am EDT (14:30 GMT/15:30 Geneva). “Enter as a visitor” by simply typing in your name and selecting “Enter Room”.
To submit your questions in advance, simply post your question below, or in the chat room at https://statedept.connectsolutions.com/humanrights.
Almost every country asked the United States to work toward ending the death penalty, since we are one of the few that still use it.
Almost every country asked the United States to join the core human rights treaties and declarations that protect women's rights, children's rights, the rights of persons with disabilities, rights of workers, economic, social, and cultural rights, and indigenous rights.
Almost every country noted the need to address discrimination throughout American society, the need to hold government officials who commit human rights abuses accountable, and the problem of racial profiling.
It was clear from the discussions that the world wants the U.S. to return to its role as a human rights leader. Now the challenge is to make that real.
Later today the U.S. Department of State is hosting a "town hall" meeting with NGOs here in Geneva. It will be live broadcast from the Department's website starting at 10:30 Eastern time. From what I've been told, the webcast viewers can submit questions too.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Here's my response:
It doesn't make much difference at all. Human rights transcend partisanship. It takes broad bi-partisan support to ratify a human rights treaty: 67 senators have to vote yea. And there is bi-partisan support for human rights. Maybe not 2/3 of the Senate... but still.
And anyway, most of Human Rights USA's work is in the courts. So the changing makeup of the Congress has little direct impact on the cases we are litigating.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
The top story on the TV news here in Geneva is the U.S. election results. So maybe it shouldn't surprise us that there has been a strong response to the educational sessions that American advocacy groups have organized at the UN this week. On Tuesday, the Center for Reproductive Rights hosted a panel called "Heightened Obstacles, Heightened Obligations: Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Care for Marginalized Populations in the U.S." Presenters included Cynthia Soohoo of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Cristina Finch from Amnesty International USA, RJ Thompson of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, and Renee Chelian of Northland Family Planning. These speakers talked about the significant and unnecessary challenges to accessing health care that are a reality for many people because of their race, gender, income, geography, and other factors, and made recommendations on steps the U.S. government should take to address these concerns - and save lives.
The next event highlighted the human rights dimensions of the housing crisis in the U.S. Eric Tars from the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty outlined specific problems where implementing internationally recognized human rights principles would improve access to shelter. Tyler Chase screened a new documentary about forced evictions in the U.S., documenting first hand how devastating that is.
You can watch these events and others on the US Human Rights Network's YouTube channel.
More UN members are posting their advance questions for the UPR. You can read them here.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Universal = every member of the UN goes through this process
Periodic = every four years
Review = the UN considers the government’s compliance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Charter, which together cover the full range of international human rights, and makes recommendations for improvements.
I’m here in person because the UPR is a chance to educate other countries on the human rights situation in the US, so that this isn’t just about politics, but about real people who are falling through the gaps in the protections available in the US and in our global policies. Also, being part of the process can help improve it.
There are critical human rights issues to discuss. The U.S. has not ratified several key treaties that the rest of the world considers no-brainers: the Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), just to name the most obvious ones. Even the treaties we have adopted haven’t been fully incorporated into U.S. laws. That makes Human Rights USA’s work a lot harder. When survivors of human rights abuses ask us to represent them in court, we often have to tell them those rights are just on paper -- there isn’t a way to assert their rights under the treaties in a U.S. court.
Lots of other advocates from the U.S. are here too -- many (like me) with coordination and support from the US Human Rights Network. We have organized a series of educational events on all kinds of issues: discrimination, migrant workers, housing rights, political repression, corporate accountability, labor rights… some of them are blogging too, like Eric Tars from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, whose video blogs you can watch here. As I have more links, I’ll share them.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Human Rights USA Program Director Lynsay Gott provided pro bono mentoring to Ms. Marton as she represented Rovena in her petition. We sat down with Lynsay to ask her a few questions:
Q. What sets this case apart?
LG: Well, it was kind of two cases in one. Rovena had a valid asylum claim that was never presented, but in order to present it she had to get back before an Immigration Judge (IJ), despite being attached as a derivative to her husband's case. It's not always easy to convince the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) to send a case back to the IJ, but the fact is, Rovena was traumatized, unfamiliar with U.S. law, and understandably reliant on her family's immigration attorney during the first go-round. When Rovena testified at the original hearing, neither the attorney nor the judge questioned her about her own experiences. But now, with the remand followed by the grant of asylum, the immigration courts not only recognized that sexual violence can be persecution, they have recognized that asylum seekers have a due process right to present claims on their own behalf.
Q. What were the crucial moves towards securing Rovena's asylum?
LG: Finding a good pro bono attorney was certainly the first step! Miriam went above and beyond on this case. As I said, this was a two part case, and that meant convincing the BIA that Rovena had a right to a hearing of her own, and then convincing the IJ that she was eligible for asylum. Miriam put together excellent arguments on both counts. Well researched, cogent arguments are always crucial in tough asylum cases. Another crucial step in every case is to find a good expert witness. Winning this case required convincing the judge that Rovena's persecution truly could have occurred on account of her political opinion or social group membership, and that she was still likely to face harm if returned to Albania. Sexual assault and other violence against women occur all over the world and it can be difficult to convince a court that a specific woman's experience, or potential future experiences, would fit the requirements of asylum eligibility. We found expert witnesses who could testify extensively to the kind of harmful treatment a woman like Rovena could face in Albania, why that harm occurs, and how it fits the framework of asylum eligibility.
Q. What does this decision mean for Rovena and her family?
LG: Rovena now has asylum status, which will allow her to live and work lawfully in the United States without the constant fear of being returned to Albania, where her family's persecutors could find her again. Her husband and son, whose case was denied by the BIA, may be able to get their case reopened, and receive derivative asylum status as family members.
Q. What does this decision mean for future asylum seekers?
LG: While neither of the decisions (BIA or Immigration Judge) were precedent-setting, they do prove that asylum seekers can successfully fight for their due process rights. When Rovena's husband first filed his asylum claim and added her as a derivative, his original attorney should have tried to find out whether Rovena had been directly persecuted as well. But more importantly, the Immigration Judge in the first hearing also had a duty to establish whether the derivative applicants might have had claims of their own before denying the entire case. Rovena has a statutory right to present her own claims and evidence, and with the help of her pro bono attorney, she was able to get the immigration courts to respect that right.
*Rovena is a pseudonym
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
According to the working group's report, "due partially to the legacy of slavery, racism and discrimination, African Americans have had economic, social and educational disadvantages, as well as challenges to the enjoyment of basic human rights." The report noted that these challenges continue today in the forms of unequal access to quality education, electoral disenfranchisement and discrimination in the justice and legal systems.
One way to move forward toward full human rights protections recommended by the working group is to reform the existing U.S. Commission on Civil Rights into a civil and human rights commission that oversees compliance with human rights treaty obligations. Another is an Executive Order on Human Rights that would integrate the United States' human rights obligations into federal agency policies. Click here to take action!
Thursday, September 23, 2010
On Sunday, September 26th from 11am to 5pm, Molecule Salon in Washington, DC is generously donating 50% of proceeds from ALL services to Project 1595; our newest effort to provide representation and reparation for all victims of human trafficking. For your support, you will receive 10% off your service, and students get an additional 10% off an already reduced rate!
Get glam and do good!
1800 M Street NW
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 822- 1588 (Walk-ins welcome)
We look forward to seeing you Sunday!
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Get your hair cut and help end human trafficking at the same time! For information on this special event and how you can join us, check out the flyer at http://project1595.org/molecule.pdf.
Many thanks to Molecule Salon for their enthusiastic support for Project 1595!
Monday, August 23, 2010
The self-reflection throughout the report, which documents genuine successes in advancing human rights, is to be applauded. At the same time, the report correctly identifies several areas where we, as a nation, still fall short of achieving our goals of equality, fairness, and dignity for all people.
However, the few concessions regarding the gaps between international human rights goals and US domestic policies do not go quite far enough. In sections addressing economic and social rights, for example, the report describes social services available for the most vulnerable among us – housing, health care, education, employment, food – as generosity desired by the public and thus duly enacted by elected officials. Such goodwill is an admirable American characteristic, to be sure, but it should not be confused with a rights-based framework.
As the famous saying goes, every right has a remedy. That is not the case when our government helps our fellow human beings meet their basic needs out of benevolence, rather than recognizing their right to live and work with dignity. A rights-based approach would ensure that these programs always exist, that they are designed to support everyone’s needs equally, and that they include the means for correcting inequities. The recent debate over extending unemployment benefits shows how the current system allows something as basic as one’s own home to become politicized. Can we really leave such fundamental human needs as food and shelter to political whims? President Roosevelt said one of the cornerstones of American security is Freedom from Want. The US should affirm that now by ratifying the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and protecting those rights in US law.
Remedies, enforcement, and accountability are important components of the international human rights system. Rather than turning those actions over to an international body, each nation is responsible for providing human rights protections within its own legal system. But the US still needs to take some important steps to fully implement the human rights values we share with the world. For example, the report cites the human rights treaties the US has ratified, but does not note that in most cases, the rights expressed in those treaties cannot be enforced by US courts without additional legislation. Thus many US citizens who have suffered harmful, discriminatory impacts of government-funded programs, for example, have no way to set things right if they cannot prove the government specifically intended that harm. Proof of intent is not needed under international human rights standards for discrimination; the focus is, and should be, on the damage done to the individual. Just to cite one example, residents of communities of color disproportionately impacted by preventable toxic pollution have taken their case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights after US courts denied them a remedy.
Along the same lines, paragraph 86 of the US report reads, “It takes vigilant action to prevent [torture] and to hold those who commit acts of official cruelty accountable for their wrongful acts.” Exactly where and when will those who committed and ordered torture be held accountable? The report does not answer that obvious question, nor does it resolve the ongoing concerns about trials by military commissions.
In issues like national security and immigration, where the federal government has primary responsibility, it also has the obligation to enact policies that protect human rights and provide accountability and redress for victims. But as a federal system, human rights implementation must also happen at the state and local levels. This fact becomes most obvious in the report's sections on criminal justice, particularly the description of the US death penalty. These gaps in implementation at the state and local level prevent the US from solving many human rights problems and putting our values of equality into practice. The report says little about how the federal or state governments intend to create an effective national human rights program.
In the report, the US Government says it wants to lead the world to a better future, and that it intends to provide friends and foes alike with a model of what that future looks like. To get there, the US urgently needs a national system that fully integrates our human rights obligations into federal legislation and policies and fosters involvement at the state and local levels. This system should include an implementation body such as an executive branch Interagency Working Group to serve as a focal point to ensure coordination of all federal departments and agencies. It would also need an independent, non-partisan monitoring body such as a US Commission on Civil and Human Rights, as well as effective coordination with state and local state officials, including civil and human rights agencies. (For more details about these recommendations, see the report on treaty ratification and implementation submitted to the UN earlier this year, which Human Rights USA helped write, and the Human Rights at Home Campaign, of which Human Rights USA is a member.)
“Human rights are universal, but their experience is local,” as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said, reiterating Eleanor Roosevelt. This truth is the reason for Human Rights USA’s work, including our continuing efforts to support the UPR process and make sure concerns like these reach the UN and the highest levels of the US Government. With appreciation for the progress this report represents and the accomplishments cited within it, significant work is still needed to make human rights real for everyone in the US.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Kate Voigt is a third year at Boston College Law School. She plans to do public interest work in the immigration and human rights fields after she graduates in the Spring.
What brought you to Human Rights USA?
I head great things about their work from a friend at Boston College who had interned here. I was excited to work on litigation that dealt directly with human rights issues.
What have you learned here?
A ton! It’s been so informative to see how much work goes through the kinds of cases Human Rights USA handles. My work here has sharpened my research skills and given me great background in the different ways to advocate on behalf of trafficking victims. My time here has definitely reaffirmed my desire to do public interest work after law school.
Have you had any particularly touching experience while working with Human Rights USA?
I was able to meet Anthony Chai in June after having worked on a few projects related to his case. It was encouraging to see how the short report I wrote on his situation made it easier for him to advocate on his behalf.
Friday, August 13, 2010
When her family found out that the teacher had been sending Sofia letters, and that rumors had spread in their village that Sofia and the teacher were dating, her father and grandfather told her she must go live with the teacher to keep from bringing shame to the family. Though Sofia did not want to live with this man, she knew that no one in her village, including the police, would defy her family's wishes and help her. By moving in with the teacher, she was considered his wife in rural Guatemalan custom.
Once Sofia was in his home, the teacher raped her repeatedly, refused to let her see her friends and family or continue going to school, and verbally abused her whenever she was "disobedient." Sofia was required to perform domestic labor for the teacher and his parents and work in the family business. She endured this sexual and domestic slavery for two years before finally finding an opportunity to escape. Her family in Guatemala had already refused to help her escape the teacher's abuse, so she fled to the U.S. to be free from the forced marriage.
Sofia received assistance and social services from the Door, an organization dedicated to helping young people in New York, and attorneys at the Door contacted Human Rights USA. Human Rights USA filed an asylum application on behalf of Sofia in June 2008, arguing that the forced marriage, sexual and domestic slavery she had endured and would likely face again if returned to Guatemala qualified her for asylum protection. On August 13, 2010 the Immigration Judge agreed, granting asylum to the 18 year old.
Sofia will now be able to remain in New York where she has been attending high school for two years. She hopes to become a teacher or social worker one day and help other young people make better lives for themselves.
Sofia's successful case is a ray of hope for other women who have fled forced marriages or other forms of human trafficking and have no hope of protection in their native countries. By granting asylum to Sofia and others like her, the U.S. reaffirms its commitment to protect refugees and survivors of trafficking and to uphold the rights to consensual marriage, freedom from persecution and torture, and freedom from gender-based abuse enshrined in treaties and domestic laws.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Nationwide, United States of America: You now have a chance to speak at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Through the Testify! Project you can submit 30 second to 2 minute video testimony on human rights concerns in your community. Selected submissions will be played for UN officials during preparation for the first ever UN review of the US Government's entire human rights record, called the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
WHAT: The Testify! Project documents human rights concerns and violations in the United States using short videos and 1 page written testimonies. These videos and testimonies are
an important way to explain to the US Government and representatives from the rest
of the world whether the US is complying with its human rights obligations and how
it can improve.
Submissions should tell a story about an injustice occurring in your area and
suggest a solution to the US government. Submissions can focus on virtually any
social justice issue, including but not limited to: labor rights; women's rights;
immigrant rights; access to necessities like food, housing, education, health care;
discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, disability or identity;
environmental (in)justice; racial profiling; censorship; and any other rights
mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or other key human rights
WHERE: This online contest is on www.testifyproject.com. Videos can be uploaded directly to the YouTube Group.
WHEN: A compilation of submitted videos will play in Geneva, Switzerland at the UN
in September and again right before the U.S. government is reviewed as part of the
UPR on November 5th, 2010. Finalist videos will be shown in their entirety. Each
deadline will have one winner, receiving the following prizes:
1) To qualify to join a US Human Rights Network delegation to Geneva to present
your story to UN delegates in-person, submit your video on or before August 20th
at 11:59 pm.
2) To qualify for a new Flip Camera, to continue your video activism, submit
your video by October 8th at 11:59 PM EST.
WHY: For the very first time, the United States faces a review of its entire human
rights by other countries as part of the UPR. This new review process, developed in
2006, reviews every country in the world by the same standards. The United States
government will have to answer questions from other countries about how well the US
follows the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Charter, and
international human rights treaties.
To be sure that the questions asked and recommendations made reflect what is
happening here in the United States, we need you to tell your story. Individuals and
non-profit organizations from the U.S. will share your stories at an event at the UN
in Geneva this September to influence the questions that are part of the November
review. Testify! Project submissions will show these delegates what violations we
are facing in the United States.
Kate Greenberg is a third year law student at Temple University in Philadelphia, who plans on pursuing a career in public interest law, specifically LGBT rights.
Why Human Rights USA?
I was looking for jobs where I could work on issues in regards to gender and sexuality, human rights, or a combination of the two. I was impressed with Human Rights USA’s work with trafficking.
What has Human Rights USA done for you?
Working here has reinforced my desire to go into public interest law. My research, especially about domestic violence, constantly reminds me that there are a lot of inherent problems in the legal system that bar peoples’ access to justice.
Working on trafficking cases allowed me to gain a lot of hands on experience. I have seen the forming of trial strategy and the nuts and bolts of the writing and editing process, and I have learned about various international instruments that the U.S. has been integrating into domestic practice. I have also gained an appreciation for the nonprofit world and an understanding of how a nonprofit works.
How has Human Rights USA benefited from your help?
Well, I kept everyone well caffeinated.
But seriously, I hope that I will contribute to an eventual victory in the important case I have been working on.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Thursday, July 15, 2010
The court's decision reads: "After thorough review, we conclude that all of Emmanuel’s convictions are constitutional. The United States validly adopted the CAT [Convention Against Torture] pursuant to the President’s Article II treaty-making authority, and it was well within Congress’s power under the Necessary and Proper Clause to criminalize both torture, as defined by the Torture Act, and conspiracy to commit torture. Furthermore, we hold that both the Torture Act and the firearm statute apply to extraterritorial conduct, and that their application in this case was proper. Finally, we conclude that Emmanuel’s trial and the resulting convictions were not rendered fundamentally unfair by any evidentiary or other procedural errors, and that his sentence is without error. Accordingly, we affirm Emmanuel’s convictions and sentence in all respects."
The full decision is available here: http://www.ca11.uscourts.gov/opinions/ops/200910461.pdf
Friday, July 9, 2010
Sofia’s new husband forced her to perform labor and continuously raped her. He refused to let her see her family, or to even finish middle school. After two years of enduring his abuse, Sofia managed to escape to freedom in the United States. The escape was not easy. At 15, Sofia wandered through the desert for 5 hours until she was found by Customs and Border Patrol.
Yet, Sofia was one of the lucky ones. Because of her young age, Sofia was released to the custody of her grandmother in the United States, rather than kept in detention while the Immigration Judge decided whether to grant Sofia asylum or deport her to Guatemala. Currently, while Sofia is attending school and working towards a better future, Human Rights USA is arguing before the immigration court to grant her asylum and protect her from the rape, abuse, and forced marriage that she faces in Guatemala.
If Sofia is given asylum, hope will be renewed for thousands of women that face forced marriage and abuse. As we work with her on her case, we hope that she will be able to become the nurse she plans to be and become an icon of hope for so many others.
Sofia’s case is still pending. Click here to stay updated on her story. Click here to donate now and help Sofia and many others attain freedom from forced marriage.
*These names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individual
Model Naomi Campbell, Actress Mia Farrow, and Campbell’s former agent Carole White have been subpoenaed to appear in the U.N. backed trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor for war crimes. If proven, the allegations that Taylor gave Campbell rough-cut diamonds at Nelson Mandela’s reception in 1997 would provide an extraordinary piece of evidence against him. However, Taylor denies ever giving the rebels weapons in exchange for their diamonds and claims that he never owned rough diamonds.
The former President of Liberia is charged with many human rights abuses including murder, torture, mutilation, rape, sexual slavery, use of child soldiers, and the backing of rebels in Sierra Leone’s long civil war. All totaled, Charles Taylor stands accused of victimizing an estimated half a million people.
Farrow has provided the prosecutors with a written statement asserting that Campbell told her about the gift, and White allegedly witnessed the action. According to the “Daily Mail,” White herself said, “there were six small diamonds… I saw them. I had them in my hand.” Campbell denies ever receiving the diamonds. Until the summons was issued, she has refused to testify to protect her safety, and even violently erupted at an ABC News camera when asked about the diamonds.
Now that Campbell’s lawyer has accepted the subpoena, the three women will be expected to appear at the trial in The Hague, Netherlands.
Human Rights USA has a special interest in this celebrity connection to international justice, given our past work to hold Taylor’s son, “Chuckie Taylor,” accountable for human rights abuses he committed when his father was President of Liberia. As the leader of the Anti-Terrorist Unit, Taylor, Jr. committed horrific crimes against those who opposed his father’s regime. Many human rights groups have documented the extensive human rights abuses the ATU committed: torture, abduction, rape, recruiting child soldiers, beating people to death, and burning people alive. When Taylor, Jr. flew to the United States to escape responsibility for his crimes abroad, the U.S. government arrested him and eventually indicted him for the crime of torture – the first such prosecution in the U.S.. With the help of Human Rights USA, Taylor, Jr. was sentenced to 97 years in prison. Our clients, who were victims of his torture, subsequently filed a civil suit and were awarded $22.4 million in damages.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
International Day in Support of Victims of Torture - Nothing can justify torture and ill-treatment under any circumstances
Washington, DC – Geneva, 26 June 2010. On the occasion of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and its member organisation in the United States, Human Rights USA, jointly call on the Government of the United States of America to show its commitment to abolish torture and other forms of ill-treatment by implementing effectively the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT).
OMCT and Human Rights USA welcome the Obama Administration’s stated desire to bring U.S. policies in line with international human rights norms and, to that end, the decision last year to release previously confidential documentation of torture ordered during interrogations. We also applaud the decisions to release some detainees from Guantánamo Bay to third countries, transfer one terrorism suspect to New York to stand trial in federal court rather than by military tribunal, and order the closure of CIA secret prisons.
However, the administration continues to enforce policies that, as President Obama recognized during his presidential campaign, do not respect human rights. These include detention of suspects at the Guantánamo Bay facility, extraordinary rendition policies, and use of coerced testimony in military tribunals. The U.S. Government has yet to hold accountable government officials who ordered or provided the legal justifications for torture. In addition, the Obama Administration has thwarted efforts by survivors of torture like Maher Arar and Khaled El-Masri to access the courts in order to assert their rights, seek remedies, and secure accountability.
On this day dedicated to victims of torture and other ill-treatment, OMCT and Human Rights USA urge the United States Government to launch prompt, effective, independent and impartial investigations into the alleged torture and ill-treatment as well as other human rights violations that took place during the previous administration. The result of such investigations must not only be made public, but criminal prosecutions must moreover be brought against the suspected perpetrators of ill-treatment. If they are found guilty, a penalty proportionate to their crimes should be imposed.
Furthermore, the victims must be granted adequate redress for their suffering, including rehabilitation for physical and psychological impacts of the abuses, as required by the Convention against Torture. The U.S. Government should cease its practice of improperly invoking the “state secrets doctrine,” so that victims will be afforded fair and effective access to independent and impartial courts of law as well as ensured access to all relevant information concerning the reasons for their arrests and detention in order to allow them to effectively challenge the abuses committed and seek adequate redress, including compensation and rehabilitation. The U.S. Government also should avoid seeking “qualified immunity” for Government officials as a means of avoiding liability for torture and other human rights abuses that are already universally prohibited as a matter of law and therefore cannot be considered “official acts” entitled to immunity.
Lastly, the U.S. Government should issue formal apologies to each individual victim of these abuses. By assuming responsibility for these grave abuses of fundamental human rights, the Obama administration would send a strong message to the world that the United States of America takes its duty to protect human rights, including the absolute prohibition against torture, seriously.
Monday, June 7, 2010
According to a Department of Justice press release, the victim, "a widowed mother of six children, including a chronically ill child, was recruited in Nigeria with promises that her children would be cared for in exchange for her work in the United States. Upon arrival in the United States, the defendants confiscated the victim’s passport and never returned it. For more than eight years, the victim cared for the defendants’ children day and night, and cooked and cleaned with no days off. The defendants did not allow the victim out unsupervised; prohibited her from speaking with her children on the phone unsupervised; and forbid her to make friends or converse with the defendants’ friends. According to evidence at trial, the victim also testified that Emmanuel Nnaji also sexually assaulted her. Although the victim was promised that her family would be cared for, her family received a total of about $300 over the eight years. When the victim asked to return to Nigeria, the defendants refused. The victim was ultimately rescued with the assistance of a Catholic priest."We at Human Rights USA wish these cases were unusual -- but sadly, they are not. So it is encouraging to see the Department of Justice aggressively prosecuting these crimes. We agree with Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division: "The involuntary servitude and mistreatment that this victim endured is intolerable in a nation founded on freedom and individual rights."
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
If you would like to hear their first-hand accounts and learn more about trafficking from the eyes of the victim, follow this link (http://www.un.org/webcast/
For even more information, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has provided the following literature:
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
As we reported earlier, Human Rights USA welcomed an important victory for our clients in the $22.4 million civil judgment against Charles Taylor Jr., also known as “Chuckie” Taylor, for abuses they suffered at the hands of his forces in Liberia. Recently, there have also been some important developments in the U.S. government’s criminal case against Taylor Jr.
In 2008, Taylor Jr. was convicted of numerous crimes, including torture, conspiracy to commit torture, using a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, and conspiracy to use a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. His conviction was a watershed ruling in that it was the first conviction under the U.S. Torture Act (18 U.S.C. § 2340). Human Rights USA lent our international law and litigation expertise to the case, appearing as amicus curiae in the criminal trial. After receiving a sentence of 97 years in prison, Taylor Jr. filed an appeal and on May 10, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit heard oral arguments.
Taylor Jr.’s defense attorney argued that the Torture Act is unconstitutional in that it exceeds Congress’ authority by adopting a broader definition of torture than is articulated in the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT). However, Judge Marcus questioned this assertion, citing the CAT provision that recognizes that implementing legislation might be broader. The prosecution argued that the language of the U.S. Torture Act was permissible because it bore a “reasonable relationship” to CAT.
Secondly, Taylor Jr.’s defense team argued that the conspiracy charges against him also exceed the limits of CAT, stating that the conspiracy provisions of the Torture Act are not present in the CAT. However, the prosecution asserted that the relevant provisions of the Torture Act are permissible because CAT obligates member states to assure that acts “which constitute complicity or participation in torture” are punishable under the state’s criminal law.
Lastly, Taylor Jr.’s defense attorney argued that the U.S. statute used to determine sentencing for using a firearm while committing a crime of violence does not apply extraterritorially, meaning it would not apply to Taylor Jr.’s crimes, which he committed in Liberia. The prosecution countered that the statute states it encompasses any crime which “may be prosecuted in the United States” as opposed to “committed in the United States,” which would indicate a more restrictive scope.
Defense counsel for Taylor Jr. also argued in briefs that the trial was fundamentally unfair and that the 97-year sentence was a result of a misapplication of murder and kidnapping sentencing guidelines. However, due to time constraints, oral arguments on these two matters were not heard.
At Human Rights USA we will continue to follow the developments in this groundbreaking case while we work to ensure that our clients are able to collect the civil damages they were awarded to address past and ongoing medical expenses, psychological harms, lost wages, destroyed property, other damages inflicted by Taylor Jr. and his forces.
Thanks to Michael Campagna and Susana Martinez, students at the University of Miami School of Law, for contributing to this summary.
Friday, May 21, 2010
No Safe Haven: Florida Grand Jury Indicts Former Guatemalan Special Forces Soldier for Lying About His Involvement in 1982 Massacre
MIAMI - A former Guatemalan special forces soldier was indicted today by a federal grand jury in Palm Beach County, Fla., for lying on his naturalization application about his participation in a 1982 massacre at a Guatemalan village known as Dos Erres as a result of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) efforts and commitment to deny human rights abusers and war criminals safe haven in the United States.
The one-count indictment charges Gilberto Jordan, 54, of Delray Beach, Fla., with unlawful procurement of U.S. citizenship. If convicted, Jordan faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and revocation of his U.S. citizenship. His arraignment is scheduled for May 26.
Monday, May 10, 2010
In 2006, Thai officials also contacted the company who hosted http://www.manusaya.com, the website where comments about the Thai king were traced to Chai’s business computer. It is believed that Chai’s IP address was provided by the web hosting company without his knowledge. In response, the U.S.-based hosting company shut down the website.
“We are concerned about the widespread impact of Thailand’s lese majeste laws, including the direct implications for nationals of other countries, especially at a time of political tension through out the country.” the organizations said. “Chai’s case seems to show that American authorities do not object to foreign officials interrogating US citizens on American soil . Even more scandalous, Thai officials can require American firms to comply with Thai laws even when operating in the US . This is contradictory to US law and protection of national business. We are urging the Department of Justice to take action regarding this case”, Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights USA declared.
Anthony Chai told Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights USA: ”According to one of the officials who came to interrogate me, he said he wanted to finish his report and to secure documents, booklets relating to the Thai monarchy. Fearing that I might not be able to go back to Thailand, I did cooperate with him, the Thai prosecutor and a palace representative fully. They were a party of three. I answered whatever he needed for his police report and gave him some literature and booklets regarding the Thai monarchy that my assistant and I had received in the mail during the past years. I was shocked to learn that Thai authorities have decided to file a lese majeste charge against me.”
The Fourth Amendment of the American Constitution states: “The right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Read more about the situation of freedom of speech and Thai lese-majeste law : http://en.rsf.org/thailand.html and http://en.rsf.org/surveillance-thailand,36673.html.
Reporters Without Borders is an international press freedom organization that defends the right to inform and to be informed. World Organization for Human Rights USA (“Human Rights USA”) is an American non-governmental organization working through impact litigation to ensure that U.S. laws are consistent with universal human rights standards.
Friday, April 30, 2010
As of today, according to a recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, Iranian officials have not been able to gather enough evidence to bring them to court, let alone agree on charges against them. The Iranian government has allowed only three consular visits from Swiss diplomats, and has given the hikers one opportunity to speak with their families over the phone. Despite repeated pleas, their mothers still do not have Iranian visas to visit their children. And time may be running out. Recent reports on the hikers’ conditions have shown rapid mental and physical deterioration; they are also allegedly planning a hunger strike.
The three hikers have received disproportionate punishment for their inadvertent actions. According to the hikers’ Iranian lawyer, Massoud Shafie, who has not been allowed to visit his clients, illegal border crossing carries the punishment of monetary fines, not imprisonment. The Iranian government’s denial of basic due process rights and alleged physical and psychological maltreatment of the hikers cannot be justified by the broader political stalemate between Iran and the U.S.; it is unfortunate that these young Americans are being used as pawns in a conflict beyond their control.
At the same time, we note that Iran’s gross human rights violations highlight yet another reason for the United States to demonstrate its own adherence to universal human rights standards. Protecting human rights at home is not just an ideal; it is in our own best interest. Being a human rights leader in the world helps prevent Americans from being targeted in this way, and gives the United States the moral leverage to garner international support needed to bring them home.
Human Rights USA supports the families of Shane, Joshua and Sarah and strongly urges the Iranian government to respect their human rights.
To sign a petition to be delievered to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Mission to the United Nations, or to write a letter, please visit freethehikers.org.
Prepared by HR USA Intern Alex Burchfield.
Monday, April 26, 2010
To answer, let’s take a step back and look at human rights in general. Human Rights are defined as the basic rights and freedoms to which all human beings are entitled. A nation is obliged to recognize the human rights of its citizens and ensure their protection. Though the right to health has been recognized in international treaties and declarations, nations (often referred to in international documents as “States”) there is debate about just what this right entails and how far a government’s responsibility for its citizens’ health extends. It is generally accepted that the right to health has two components: the right to health care and a right to health conditions.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which the majority of States in the world have signed, declares a universal right to, at a minimum, “adequate” health care. Article 25 of the UDHR states that “[e]veryone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care...” The UDHR is not binding as treaty law on States, but is part of international customary law and the rights contained within are legal standards for States to follow.
Similarly, the constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO), the public health arm of the United Nations, states “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) is arguably the most important instrument relating to the right to health and is binding on signatory States. In Article 12, the Covenant states that the parties to the Covenant “recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical health.” The CESCR has interpreted the right to health as “an inclusive right extending not only to timely and appropriate health care, but also to the underlying determinants of health.” The States that sign the CESCR pledge to take steps to the maximum that they can to achieve the rights outlined in the Covenant, including ensuring the right to physical health. The United States has not signed the CESCR, but 160 countries, a large majority of countries in the world, are parties to the treaty and are committed to working towards progressive realization of this right.
In reviewing the language of these documents, one might wonder what “highest attainable” means, especially given the disparities in resources around the world. As Amnesty International has explained, the right to health -
“should not be seen as a right to be healthy. The state cannot be expected to provide people with protection against every possible cause of ill health or disability. Nor should the right to health be seen as a limitless right to receive medical care for any and every illness or disability that may be contracted. Instead, the right to health should be understood as a right to the enjoyment of a variety of facilities and conditions which the state is responsible for providing as being necessary for the attainment and maintenance of good health.”
So what exactly does this mean for governments?
There are generally recognized “components of the right to health care” that most advocates would agree apply to governments including: universal and equitable access, adequate health care infrastructure that is available in all geographic areas, respect for citizens’ dignity, and care that is medically appropriate and of good quality.
Some States have gone further than these general guidelines in recognizing the right to health care in their Constitutions and outlining the responsibilities of their government in protecting this right. In South Africa, for example, the right to health care is part of the nation’s Bill of Rights. Duties of the South African government include disseminating appropriate health information, refraining from denying or limiting access to health care services to anyone, and supporting people in making informed choices about their health. The new Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (EU) states “everyone has the right of access to preventative health care.” The EU is to ensure “a high level of human health protection… in the definition and implementation of all Union policies.” Most industrialized nations have adopted a national health care plan ensuring access to health care for all citizens.
What about poorer countries?
Some may argue that States, especially poorer ones, will likely not have the money to dedicate to achieving such broad health care provisions for all their citizens. However, even if this is the case, a lack of available resources is never a valid excuse for a government not protecting fundamental rights, including the rights to health and healthcare. Consideration of the different status of States’ economies and societies is reflected in the concept of “progressive realization.” Furthermore, the Office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner has stated “the phrase must be read in light of the overall objective… of the Covenant which is to establish clear obligations for States parties in respect of the full realization of the rights in question.” The obligation to realize the right to health is not in any way eliminated as a result of resource constraints.
What about the United States?
While a candidate for office, President Obama stated that health care is a right and not a privilege. This position is consistent with the United States’ history of state-provided health care, a right for which both Presidents Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt advocated. Supporters of the new health care legislation state that it aims to provide more affordable, better quality healthcare to all Americans. These goals would address the universal and equitable access component of the right to health care. Many aspects of the law will not be in place until 2014, and it remains to be seen whether the law will adequately fulfill Americans’ right to health care.
 The National Health Law Program’s Right to Health Care, available at www.nesri.org/fact_sheets.../Right%20to%20Health%20Care.pdf
Prepared by International Justice Project Intern Kacey Mordecai.