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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Evaluating Human Rights Diplomacy: Maybe You Should Keep Your Friends Closer After All

hicks.jpgPeggy Hicks, Global Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch, visited campus on October 26 to discuss her evaluation of the human rights policy of emerging democracies. The political transformation of India, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey, and Indonesia (IBSATI) into emergent democracies gave many people hope for a new era of human rights diplomacy at the United Nations: South Africa, a country recovering from apartheid and the land of Nelson Mandela, India, home to Gandhi and the world's largest democracy, and Brazil, a nation fundamentally marked by its history of military dictatorship.

Hicks noted that this optimism was quickly dismantled. IBSATI states offered extremely muddled human rights foreign policy, with great inconsistency and large gaps between rhetoric and action, much like the human rights foreign policy of the Global North. In order to more precisely measure the diplomatic efforts of IBSATI regarding human rights at the United Nations, Hicks suggested three different yardsticks: General Assembly voting records, Human Rights Council voting records, and a more detailed investigation into reactions to the Syria case.
Using data compiled by Ted Piccone of the Brookings Institute, Hicks argued that in the General Assembly, Brazil and Turkey voted in favor of greater human rights protection most of the time, though they by no means voted perfectly. South Africa's voting record was not quite as good, and the voting records of India and Indonesia were dreadful. A similar pattern emerges in the Human Rights Council voting records, though Turkey has not yet been on the Council, and India's record is better. Assessments of Security Council votes are less informative due to the emphasis on consensus and the threat of veto.
The case study of Syria points to further unwillingness to engage prominently in human rights diplomacy. The fallout from international involvement in Libya prompted this decision. Though it had voted in favor of international intervention in Libya, the character of this intervention had disenchanted South Africa. Brazil and India also favored non-interventionism in Syria. Diplomats from India, South Africa, and Brazil visited the Syrian government in August of 2011, but they did not leave the capital, and the Indian diplomats, however inadvertently, even helped to spread misinformation. Hicks hypothesized that the lack of support for Security Council action by Brazil, South Africa, and India emboldened Russia and China.
Overall, it seems that Brazil is most willing to engage on thematic issues rather than country-specific ones. South Africa appears inconsistent and obviously political with regard to country-specific issues, especially in the continent of Africa, though it has been willing to push forward thematic measures dealing with racism and poverty. India has been equally resistant to human rights involvement on country-specific and thematic issues. Indonesia has frequently verbalized a commitment to human rights, but this has not transitioned into positive action. Hicks pointed to Turkey's European Union aspirations as part of the reason for its apparent respect for human rights and favorable votes on both country-specific and thematic issues.
Hicks put forth several possible reasons for these shortcomings dealing with the human rights foreign policy of emerging democracies. To some extent, resources play a role. While the United States and Western European countries have devoted much time and money to the creation of strong foreign services, these emerging democracies have not yet done the same. That means diplomats from the IBSATI states must rely more often on the word of foreign nationals or secondhand information. Then there is an element of self-interest and a strong sense of regionalism. Rather than turning to the United Nations, the IBSATI countries often feel more comfortable appealing to regional bodies or mechanisms. The colonial, apartheid, and authoritarian experiences of these countries might also help to explain the reluctance to engage in human rights diplomacy, according to some. However, Hicks pointed out that this history could reasonably lead to either interventionist or noninterventionist positions.
The most convincing explanation for the gap between human rights rhetoric and action in the emerging democracies is the North-South divide. Hicks noted that there is a methodological difference between the North, which generally prefers public condemnation, sanctions, and military action, and the South, which generally favors constructive engagement, cooperation, and quiet diplomacy. The South tends to distrust the intentions behind interventionism. The true strength of the North-South divide becomes apparent in discussions about Israel and Palestine, where the South selectively abandons its aversion to public action and the North clings to selective application of diplomatic measures.
Concerning the road ahead, Hicks proposed three avenues of engagement. First, she promoted the role of civil society organizations. These organizations have significant room to operate both inside and outside of the United Nations system. They can help to press both the North and South for consistency regarding human rights diplomatic practices. Hicks also held up the possibility of utilizing smaller states to draw attention to human rights concerns in the United Nations. Many smaller states, like the Maldives and Costa Rica, have proven willing to break with regional consensus and push forward on human rights issues. Finally, Hicks argued for the potential to find common ground between the North and South on specific issues, highlighting the cases of Sri Lanka, which India was willing to get involved in due to its large Tamil population, and LGBT rights, which both Brazil and South Africa have supported.
Though the initial optimism for better global human rights policy in the United Nations system following the rise of India, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey, and Indonesia as democratic states was dashed, Hicks ultimately identified many existing sites for future improvement.
Human Rights Program Student Advisory Board member Yon-Soo (Lauren) Kim offered the following reaction to the presentation:
"From her [Hicks'] lecture, I came to think more about countries in Global South in terms of their human rights foreign policies, realizing that I had been focused too much on what Global North is doing to protect human rights around the world. Thus, I could sympathize with her opinions of looking for more connection between Global South and Global North and giving smaller states more attention and more equal chances for their voices to be matter more on human rights foreign policies. In addition, I could think more about the reasons behind the IBSA countries' attitude and action about the foreign policies. I understand now more about why they tend to be inactive toward intervention, relating to their experience under the colonial period. As a whole, her lecture helped me to "get out of my comfort zone," and think more from perspective of Global South on human rights foreign policies issues."
Written by Whitney Taylor.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Truth about Trafficking: It's Not Just about Sexual Exploitation

Ending "trafficking" is perhaps the most well-known, well-resourced, well-loved social cause of the 21st century that doesn't require its proponents' agreement on what it even is they wish to end. Continue reading...

Friday, October 19, 2012

Human Rights Experts Discuss Possible Remedies to Racial and Ethnic Inequality

conference.jpgPart of the 2012 4th World Conference on Remedies to Racial and Ethnic Inequality, the "Human Rights as Civil Rights" panel featured Dean of the Humphrey School Eric Schwartz, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment Juan Mendez, Human Rights Program Director Barb Frey, and the Honorable Judge LaJune Lange. The focus of this panel was to propose and discuss possible remedies to racial and ethnic inequality put forth by human rights treaties, institutions, and practices. The international human rights network might offer solutions that could be implemented on the domestic level.

Panel moderator Eric Schwartz provided a basic sketch of the international human rights system, including a description of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which entered into force in 1969, though the United States did not ratify until 1994.
Special Rapporteur Mendez advised that prevention requires both looking backward and looking forward. Impunity, he cautioned, renders future action in opposition to violence impotent. In other words, a solid foundation of accountability is necessary for prevention of human rights violations, including racial and ethnic inequality. While certain levels of discrimination might be written off, it is important to remember than genocide is the extreme end of a continuum of discrimination, and movement along the continuum occurs more quickly than we like to believe. Mendez also discussed the role of transitional justice in reckoning with legacies of inequality and injustice. Transitional justice mechanisms "oblige states to the truth." Not only do these mechanisms get the truth out, but they also break cycles of blame, foster the individuation of guilt, and work toward group reconciliation, according to Mendez.
Professor Frey first critiqued the title of the panel, suggesting that the distinction between human rights and civil rights is a false one and actually undermines the realization of rights generally. She then proposed the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination as a site in which remedies for discrimination could be sought. The Committee utilizing creative methodologies, including states reports, thematic debates, early warning procedures, and general recommendations, to delve into worldwide issues related to discrimination. That said, the Committee is only as effective as activists make it. To bridge the gap between international and domestic politics, domestic activists must take part in Committee proceedings and start to use Committee language in domestic settings. The Western Shoshone peoples have found the Committee to be a useful forum for voicing their concerns about US domestic policy regarding land rights. In this case, the Western Shoshone people have found calling upon international human rights bodies, such as the Committee, to be more effective practices than going through domestic channels alone.
Judge Lange highlighted the problematic historical dimension of racial discrimination and remedy discourse in the United States. We tend to have a selective memory about historical figures and issues. Abraham Lincoln suggested that free African American men practice voluntary self-deportation as a remedy to the racial discrimination. Additionally, Lange pointed to the segregation of US troops during World War Two, including the particularly striking example that white troops would be fed first, then POWs, then the black troops. Lange then pointed to a local historical exemplar, Hubert Humphrey. Humphrey worked tirelessly to ensure that principles of nondiscrimination would be included in the 1948 Democratic platform. Ultimately, Lange pointed to the fact that we can look to these historical figures, if we consider their stories in whole rather than in convenient part, and "take a page from their books on how to get the job done."
The panelists set forth a variety of possible courses of action to undertake to start to remedy racial and ethnic inequality, seeking guidance from the international system as well as from historical success stories.
Written by Whitney Taylor.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sylvia Tamale Proposes an "Ubuntu" Framework for the Realization of Human Rights

tamale.jpgIn her Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change Distinguished Lecture Sylvia Tamale, notable human rights activist and University of Minnesota alum, suggested a framework through which human rights and, more specifically, gay rights can be achieved throughout the continent of Africa. Rather than using contested rights discourse or other politically charged language, activists and theorists ought to employ the concept of "ubuntu."

In an appeal to culture without making a relativistic argument, Tamale noted that this widely accepted concept could provide a solid base for the realization of universal human rights in Sub-Saharan Africa. Ubuntu, roughly translated, means "humaneness." It refers to basic human dignity, respect, and community. Ubuntu derives from the Bantu language family, and thus is understood widely across Africa. Tamale noted that the concept is something most Africans grow up with, and it is internalized so that it becomes something almost intuitive.
In the case of gay rights in Uganda, the interjection of ideas seen as "western," like human rights, often have adverse effects. Additionally, politicians and others opposed to gay rights often allege that homosexuality is a western export. Tamale referenced numerous historical examples to show that it is not homosexuality but homophobia that was foreign to African thought. That type of argument, Tamale said, holds more sway in classrooms in academic buildings than out in the community. Outside of academia appeals to cultural norms, like ubuntu, will be more effective.
Written by Whitney Taylor.

Historicizing Human Rights: Devin Pendas on the Origins of Human Rights

pendas.jpgHistorian Devin Pendas visited the U of M on October 10 to discuss the origins of human rights with students and faculty. Although historiography can also provide insight into other human rights questions, Pendas noted, his current research delves into the three main origins hypotheses. Other disciplines, when investigating human rights both conceptually and practically, tend to give primacy to what, why, and how questions rather than when.

Human rights as a concept, as a specifically universal concept, presents a problem for history--in fact it often denies historical placement, for to be universal, it cannot be temporally placed. If a natural product of being a human being, then as long as there has been human beings, there must have been human rights. The notion that human rights have a historical placement raises important philosophical questions about universality. The precise point in which to locate human rights historically is also profoundly difficult.
Often, attempts to identify human rights as universal across time employ one of two modes of thought. The first is a teleological approach with a view that the present at end point in history, that it is the product of progress. The second approach is Hegelian in nature, seeing human rights as something that is coming to be what it always was, innate potential coming into being over time.
The more recent historiography is less sweeping in scope. Instead of trying to justify earlier and earlier starting points, this literature envisions an "invention" of human rights or the "coming into being" of human rights. The three most common theories mark the origins of human rights in the late 18th century, the mid-1940s, and the 1970s.
Briefly, the late 18th century argument places human rights as the result of Enlightenment thought. In Inventing Human Rights, Lynn Hunt further develops this view. Pendas noted that for human rights to be human rights conceptually, they must be seen as natural, equal, and universal. Enlightenment thought and the rights claims made using it did make appeals to the natural status of these rights and appealed to notions of equality, but they did not include a sense of universalism, argued Pendas. The 1940s argument sees human rights as primarily an American policy. Elizabeth Borgwardt argues for this view in A New Deal for the World. Pendas pointed out that rights discourse in the 1940s was full of dissenting, non-American voices. The 1970s argument, which regards the flourishing of international human rights mechanism as signaling the birth of human rights, is put forth most strongly by Samuel Moyn in The Last Utopia. Pendas believes that the decade of the 70s is too late to be the origins of human rights.
Pendas did argue that there was a significant broadening of human rights in the 1970s due to the global demise of Fordism. This economic rupture and the rise of activist networks, as well as the undercurrents of prior rights discourses in places like Eastern Europe, necessitated an expansion of human rights. Human rights have become a classic form of international politics in a post Fordist world. Jut like post-modernism, human rights seeks to appropriately respond to a changing world. The integration of human rights history and world or regional history is the next step in identifying the origins of human rights.
Devin Pendas is Associated Professor of History at Boston College and the author of The Frankfurt-Auschwitz Trial, 1963-1965.
Written by Whitney Taylor.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Human Rights and Terrorism Speaker Series: Joshua Dratel on Classified Information

dratel.jpgJoshua Dratel, a federal criminal defense lawyer in private practice and an advisor to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers on the representation of high-value detainees, discussed United States procedures regarding the classification of information with Professor Sikkink's Human Rights and Democracy class on October 1. Dratel represented Guantanamo detainee David Hicks in front of a military commission.

Policymakers initially drafted the Classified Information Procedure Act (CIPA) to prevent the misuse of information in espionage cases. Would-be defendants would use a technique known as "gray-mailing," in which they would threaten to use classified information in their defense, thus making the information public. Because the federal government did not want the information to be made public, the would-be defendants escaped the potential for trial.
The so-called "State Secret Doctrine," as originated in Reynolds v. United States, allows information to be kept out of the courtroom if releasing the information could threaten national security. However, the classified documents in the Reynolds case were declassified years after the case, and the information had nothing to do with national security interests. While the State Secret Doctrine can be used correctly, it also can be abused.
The executive order that created the category of classified information clearly described in what instances information could be classified. Culpability and potential for embarrassment are not valid reasons to keep information classified. Without transparency, which of course stands directly opposed to classified information, there is no way to know if the State Secret Doctrine or other classification standards are being implemented properly.
The principles delineated in CIPA aim to protect the security of government information while also respecting the rights of defendants. The federal government is allowed to substitute a revised version of classified documents. The substitute documents theoretically include any exculpatory evidence without revealing any classified information. A judge reviews the documents to ensure that as much information as possible is released. This review provides some oversight, but ultimately the government does decide what information to include in the substitute documents.
This process handcuffs the defense in some ways. The defense team, unlike the government prosecution, does not know full nature of information. Moreover, a substitute document will never have the same impact in a courtroom that a witness testimony has.
According to Dratel, the principle issue in question when considering secrecy and international human rights law is torture. Certain procedures were developed to reduce the possibility for accountability for those rationalizing, approving, and committing torture.
The changes made in the United States legal and penal systems following 9/11 have damaged foreign government confidence in US procedures. Dratel cited examples from the United Kingdom and Germany to prove this point. The UK is currently holding six terrorism suspects, but refuses to extradite these individuals to the US until there is more transparency in proceedings and the possibility of trial by a military tribunal is eliminated. The German government is said to have information that would supplement certain terrorism cases in the US. However, officials refuse to surrender that information until the death penalty is lifted as a potential punishment in those cases.
Dratel reminded the audience that the misuse of classification of information adversely affects "not just the rights of defendants but also the rights of the public in a democracy."
Written by Whitney Taylor.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Private Detention and the Immigration Industrial Complex

doty.jpgThe Minnesota International Relations Colloquium invited U of M alumni Roxanne Doty to present on her new research regarding the detention of immigrants on September 24th. Doty and her colleague Elizabeth Wheatley are in the process of investigating what they call the "immigration industrial complex." Immigrants currently constitute the fastest growing population in federal custody.

Doty is an assistant professor at the Arizona State University and has focused this research project on Arizona communities, especially Eloy and Florence. The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is the largest employer in Eloy. Florence is also home to several prisons.
The prison industrial complex refers to the dramatic increase in incarceration as the private sector exerted more and more influence over prisons, from owning and operating them to political lobbying. This shift from public to private responsibility for and control over the prison system has raised a number of concerns, including overcrowding and the criminalization of difference. Doty and Wheatley believe that a similar trend might be appearing with regard to immigrant detention.
At this time, 17% of all immigrant detainees are held in privately owned facilities, but over 50% are held in privately run facilities owned by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or other government agencies. Under the Obama administration, the sheer number of deportations has increased and the criminalization of immigration has also become more robust.
There are three types of detention facilities that immigrants are commonly held in: contract, service processing, and inter-government service agreement. Contract facilities are owned and operated privately. Service processing facilities are owned by ICE, but most are operated privately. Inter-government service agreement facilities are centers that are owned by cities or counties. ICE contracts with these local governments. Oftentimes, though, the local governments then subcontract with the CCA or other private corporation. Private prison companies also lobby heavily. CCA alone spends over $1.8 million per year on lobbying.
One argument frequently put forth in favor of the expansion of prisons is that such expansion is said to increase job opportunities. The criminalization of immigrants, though, actually has a negative impact on local economies. Local economies are often heavily dependent on the labor of undocumented immigrants.
The blurring of the distinction between public and private is of particular interest to Doty. Channels of power and accountability are more readily apparent in the case of publicly run prisons. It is possible that privately run prisons could be efficient, more transparent, and better serve local communities, but the opposite is also possible. However, without further empirical study, we won't know with any certainty.
Whether or not the changes we have witnessed in immigrant detention recently correspond to an immigrant industrial complex, these changes do have significant implications for the current political environment and are very real concerns for those communities that depend on immigrant workers.
Written by Whitney Taylor.

Prisoners' Letters Offer a Window Into Lives Spent Alone in Tiny Cells

The handwritten letters arrived by the dozens, from men who described in flawed but poignant language what it was like to lose their minds. "I feel like I am developing some kind of skitsophrinia behaviors," one man wrote. "I hear voices echoing as I try to fall asleep."Continue reading...