How About We Celebrate Human Rights Every Day?
By Anna Crosby, ACLU Human Rights Program
Henry Hill was 16 when he was charged for his involvement in a shooting that took place in a Michigan park. He is now 48 and has spent two-thirds of his life in a prison cell. Although in recent years the Supreme Court has struck down some laws that allow children to be committed to die in prison, the United States remains the last country in the world where children can still be sentenced to serve life without the possibility of parole. While the U.S. has historically provided global leadership on some human rights issues, Henry Hill serves as a grave reminder that we’re still out of step with rest of the world on many of the most fundamental human rights protections.
Sixty-three years ago today, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed December 10 International Human Rights Day. It celebrates the birthday of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the foundational document expressing our collective will to advance human rights and “strive by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance.”
This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the principal outcome of the landmark international conference on human rights which took place in Vienna in 1993.
The United States’ track record in some of what the UDHR calls the most basic of rights—the right to life, right to vote, freedom from torture, and economic rights, among others—is greatly in need of improvement. We often don’t practice what we preach. Just last week, at the annual summit hosted by Human Rights First, National Security Advisor Susan Rice publicly criticized the Iranian government for not allowing the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights to visit the country. The U.S., however, lacks credible leverage to change this policy when it continues to deny U.N. human rights experts unimpeded access to the prison at Guantánamo Bay.
In commemoration of this year’s Human Rights Day, we’re releasing a new fact sheet that provides a critical snapshot of 12 human rights issues the United States is failing to adequately address, including some astounding statistics on persons deprived of their liberty. In 2012, the number of people held in immigration detention reached 410,000 people, an increase of more than 400 percent since 1996. Fueled by over-incarceration policies and discrimination, the incarceration rate in the United States is still the highest in the world. Other issues addressed in our fact sheet include:
- Women’s Rights
- Criminal Justice (more specifically, capital punishment, life without parole for children)
- Voting Rights
- LGBT Rights
- Rights of Persons with Disabilities
- Socioeconomic Rights
- Racial Profiling
- Children’s Rights
- Accountability for Torture
As our fact sheet explains:
Without doubt the U.S. continues to provide global leadership on some human rights issues. For example, the current administration provided vigorous leadership in fighting for LGBT equality, combating trafficking, and championing religious freedom and peaceful assembly rights. But while some U.S. laws and policies have been comparatively advanced in protecting civil rights and civil liberties, the U.S. has fallen behind in protecting the universal human rights recognized by the UDHR. Our government has only partially and selectively embraced these rights, ignoring international obligations and widening the gap between the United States’ sixty-five-year-old promise and its own current practice.
As we celebrate Human Rights Day, we cannot forget urgent and ongoing domestic human rights violations, like mass incarceration and juvenile life without parole. For people like Henry Hill, who has spent half of the UDHR‘s history behind bars, paying our respects to human rights once a year won’t get him home.
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Human Rights Report Card Gives U.S. Poor Grades on Housing
December 10, 2013, Washington D.C. – The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty released its 2013 Human Right to Housing Report Card today, marked globally as human rights day, reviewing U.S. compliance with the human right to housing in the context of American homelessness over the past year. The report card found that while there were areas of improvement, much more needs to be done.
“In 2010, the federal government released a plan to end and prevent homelessness,” said Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director of the Law Center, “ensuring affordable housing to very low-income people is essential to ending and preventing homelessness, and many of the poor grades we assigned in this year’s report card reflect the failure to prioritize and fund such housing.”
There were encouraging policy developments this year, most notably the Violence-Against Women Act 2013 reauthorization, which significantly expanded housing rights for survivors of domestic violence. Additionally, a federal court mandate upheld the order forcing government compliance with Title V of the McKinney-Vento Act requiring government agencies to make vacant properties available to homeless service agencies.
In another significant development, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness began holding its member agencies accountable to their human rights obligations, following up on a report it issued with the U.S. department of Justice last year on the criminalization of homelessness and in response to inquiries from the United Nations this year.
“The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness deserves credit for beginning to hold its member agencies accountable to human rights standards following a question from the UN Human Rights Committee about the criminalization of homelessness in the U.S.,” said Eric Tars, Director of Human Rights & Children’s Rights Programs at the Law Center, “But we have yet to see actions being implemented, and our human rights obligations to our most vulnerable citizens remain compromised.”
In order to improve its grades next year, the Law Center recommends that funds be increased to at least $1 billion per year for federal homelessness prevention programs and $1 billion be devoted to the National Housing Trust Fund. The report also recommends that the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act become permanent, the right to counsel be assured for all housing cases, and federal agencies develop funding incentives for communities to stop the criminalization of homelessness.
The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty is a leader in the movement to prevent and end homelessness. To achieve its goal, the Law Center uses three main strategies: policy advocacy, public education, and impact litigation.
Human Rights Essay Award Competition: Persons with Disabilities and International Human Rights Law
Deadline: February 1, 2014
This annual competition sponsored by the Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law seeks to stimulate the production of scholarly work in international human rights law.
The 2014 topic is Persons with Disabilities and International Human Rights Law. Participants have the flexibility to choose any subject related to the assigned topic. The best articles may be published in the American University International Law Review.
The Academy will grant two Awards, one for the best article in English and one for the best article in Spanish. The Award in each case will consist of:
- a scholarship to the Academy’s Program of Advanced Studies
- travel expenses to and from Washington D.C.
- housing at the university dorms
- a per diem for living expenses
For detailed guidelines about the award please click here.
Deadline Extended! RSVP By December 17, 5pm ! San Francisco Public Service Employer Visit
2014 SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC SERVICE CITY VISIT: JANUARY 17, 2014
The Center for Public Service Law has planned our third annual San Francisco Public Interest Law City Visit for Friday, January 17, 2014. On that day we will visit 4 public interest/public service agencies – two in Oakland and two in San Francisco. This year we will visit a variety of organizations including the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, the US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS), the California Department of Justice (Attorney General’s Office) and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Over the past two years 13 UW Law students have taken this trip and visited different public service and public interest sites, receiving excellent exposure to public service law in San Francisco.
Who may attend? UW law students.
Why attend? If you are interested in seeking summer positions in the San Francisco Bay Area or if you think you might practice public interest law in the Bay Area after graduating then this is a great opportunity to get a sense of the lay of the land. At each place we visit, the organization will give us a brief presentation and then lawyers on staff will answer our questions. Meeting the public interest lawyers in these offices will help you to begin building relationships — which is vital to “breaking in” to a new community. None of the employers we visit can guarantee our jobs for students, but students have created important connections and at least one secured an externship. Two other organizations we have visited have welcomed collaborative projects with students or hosted Equal Justice Works fellowship applications, based on us establishing relationships with them through the city visits.
What are the expenses? You must pay for your own airfare and lodging. On Friday we will provide lunch and public transportation fees. Participants will be eligible for up to $150 reimbursement of documented travel expenses.
How to RSVP: contact Dean Storms at email@example.com if you are interested in attending or if you have additional questions. Please do so by December 17 5pm as we will want to confirm a minimum number of participants in order to go forward with the trip.