The Children’s Peace Prize Winner: An Inspirational Reminder

This week, sixteen-year-old Mohamad Al Jounde from Syria was awarded the International Children's Peace Prize for his work ensuring the rights of Syrian refugee children. When he was 12 years old, Al Jounde, a Syrian refugee himself, decided that he was going to establish a school for children in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley refugee camp. He convinced family members and other volunteers to help build the school and to teach various classes. After only a few years, the school now provides education to 200 children.

Al Jounde’s inspirational work matters so much because Syrian refugee children have suffered both tremendous disruption in their lives and countless violations of their human rights. His work also matters because education has a multiplier effect; as Katarina Tomaševski, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, wrote: “Education operates as a multiplier, enhancing the enjoyment of all individual rights and freedoms where the right to education is effectively guaranteed, while depriving people of the enjoyment of many rights and freedoms where the right to education is denied or violated.”

Al Jounde’s work is also a poignant reminder: Not only do children’s rights matter, so do children’s voices. Children are powerful allies in the movement to secure human rights for all.  Mohamad Al Jounde’s advocacy on behalf of refugees. Malala Yousafzai’s bravery in standing up to the Taliban. The thousands of courageous children who marched in the Birmingham Children’s Crusade in 1963 to challenge racial discrimination in the United States. And countless other young people who have worked to fulfill the ideal that human rights belong to all.  The youth of yesterday and today offer innumerable models of courage.

We should celebrate Mohamad Al Jounde’s work. And, as we do, we should remind ourselves of the transformative capabilities of young people and ensure that their voices and ideas are heard.

 

This blog was first published on the Human Rights at Home blog.

NEW PUBLICATION: Adolescents’ Right to Participate: Opportunities and Challenges for Health Care Professionals

 

Adolescents’ Right to Participate: Opportunities and Challenges for Health Care Professionals

Jonathan Todres & Angela Diaz

 

Abstract

BACKGROUND: Health care professionals and patients are partners in health care delivery, and this partnership is critical in the treatment of adolescents. International children’s rights law establishes that all children have a right to participate in decisions that affect their lives. Fulfillment of that right is as critical in health care settings as any other area of children’s lives.

OBJECTIVES: In this article we examine the right to participate under international children’s rights law, its relevance to health care settings, and how health care professionals can foster adolescents’ participation to fulfill children’s rights and improve health care outcomes.

FINDINGS: The Convention on the Rights of the Child establishes a legal mandate—where ratified— that adolescents have the right to express their views in health care settings and that such views must be given due consideration. In many health care settings, adolescents are not adequately consulted or have limited opportunities to express their views. A review of research finds that both processes and outcomes can improve when youth participation is cultivated.

CONCLUSIONS: Health care providers and organizations have numerous opportunities to cultivate adolescent’s participation rights and in doing so improve health care delivery and outcomes. Health care providers and organizations should further develop structures and processes to ensure opportunities for children and adolescents to be heard on matters relevant to their health care and health status. Creating opportunities for adolescents to realize their right to participate means engaging youth at every stage in the process, beginning with the design of such opportunities. It also means addressing all aspects of health care, from the built environment to patient-provider communication to follow-up services, so that the entire process fosters an environment conductive to meaningful participation by adolescents

Click here for the full article.

Santa’s Sustainability

I’m worried about Santa Claus. While physicists have speculated—amusingly but rather Scrooge-like— about his existence, my concern is whether Santa and his entire operation are sustainable. A few observations:

1.       Health. “Without your health, you have nothing” or so every relative older me has told me at least once.  Santa appears to face two issues. First, by all accounts, he’s obese. That puts him at heightened risk for a range of chronic diseases. We know poor diets and sedentary lifestyles are the primary causes of obesity (I don't know Santa’s family history, so I have no idea if he is genetically predisposed to obesity). The North Pole seems to offer limited fruits and vegetables. And the cold probably seriously limits outdoor activity. Next he’s often pictured smoking a pipe. Santa, it’s 2017. Everyone knows smoking is terrible for your health. Quit. For the kids (or for the elves who work for you and are exposed to second hand smoke). Finally, Santa seems quite old. He exerts a lot of energy in one night, up and down chimneys, carrying presents. How long can he keep this up?

2.       Safety.  Everyone understandably is worried about terrorism these days. Is Santa a potential target, given his high profile? Maybe, but I’m more concerned about road (air) safety. No one knows his precise flight plan. And his sleigh does not appear to have a seatbelt or airbags. This seems to be an easy issue to fix.

3.       His business model. There are potentially serious issues with Santa’s business model. He never charges for presents. That’s mighty generous, but where is his revenue stream? How does he stay in business? Perhaps he’s cutting production costs. How? Are the elves paid minimum wage? Is Santa complying with other labor regulations? With growing attention to corporate social responsibility, it’s inevitable that someone will ask about Santa’s supply chains. He needs to get out front of this story and ensure his supply chains are free of trafficked, forced, or child labor. Related to this, the way he works his reindeer might attract the attention of animal rights groups. He probably should address this too.

4.       Finally, climate change. The polar cap is melting. I don’t know how close the melting is to Santa’s workshop, but he needs a contingency plan. Relocating closer to the equator (though not too close to a coastline) might help, while also enabling him to eat better and exercise more. It’s potentially a win/win situation.

Anticipating the impact of climate change, addressing any potential human rights issues in his supply chains, and getting healthier would position Santa to achieve long-term sustainability. That would make a lot of kids happy.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child: A Platform for Improving Children’s Lives

 

Every child in the world ‘should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding’ and be raised ‘in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity’.  This bold vision, announced by the United Nations almost 30 years ago, was not merely aspirational – it was part of the foundation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Adopted in 1989, the Convention, or CRC, was the first comprehensive human rights treaty on children.

The CRC establishes a framework for ensuring the rights and well-being of all children. It covers both civil and political rights (such as freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment) and economic, social, and cultural rights (such as the right to education). It also includes rights unique to children (such as the right to know and be cared for by one’s parents).

A transformative human rights treaty

While the scope of the treaty is impressive, what makes the CRC potentially transformative is that it establishes a legal mandate. This means governments must respect and ensure the rights of every child,  and conversely, children—and their parents or other caregivers acting on their behalf—can use the CRC to insist that governments do not violate their rights.

Since the advent of the CRC we have witnessed dramatic progress on many issues affecting children. Globally, under-five child mortality has declined by more than half, from approximately 12.7 million children annually to fewer than six million. School enrolment has increased, and child labour has dropped.

Although these are reasons to celebrate, a lot of work remains. Far too many young children die each year from malnutrition and other preventable causes. Universal primary education, while closer to reality, has yet to be realised. And progress on child labour has slowed.  What’s more, the global numbers mask disparities across and within countries. In some areas – especially armed conflicts – children continue to suffer multiple rights violations. Governments must do more to fulfil the CRC’s mandate.

Children flourish when their rights are respected

Successful implementation of the CRC requires greater emphasis on the treaty’s core provisions: The best interests of the child must inform all actions concerning children (Article 3), and the rights in the treaty must be assured to all children without discrimination of any kind (Article 2). Every provision of the CRC is relevant to ensuring each child can develop to his or her full potential. That said, two CRC ideas are particularly noteworthy:

  • Article 12 establishes that children have the right to express their views “in all matters affecting the child” and to have their views be given “due weight” in accordance with their age and maturity. This means that youth have the right to participate in decisions that affect their lives. Equally important, youth participation improves outcomes. Children and adolescents can offer insights that are critical to the success of policies and programmes for children. Policy makers and other adults must include children more to ensure their input.
  • The CRC says that the family is ‘the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children’. Nineteen provisions of the CRC recognise the vital role of parents and the family in the lives of children. Supporting children’s rights means advancing policies and programmes that support families and address systemic issues that make it difficult for children and their families to realise their rights.

Honouring children’s rights

Recognising children’s agency and inherent dignity while supporting families honours children’s rights in a way that is responsive to children’s development

Given the CRC places the primary legal obligation on the state, it’s fair to ask how each of us can support children’s rights. Eleanor Roosevelt once stated that universal human rights begin ‘in small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world... Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.’

Each of us can support and strengthen children’s rights by beginning close to home. We can engage children in a dialogue about rights (their own and the rights of others). We can advocate for children’s rights.  And, most important of all, we can listen to and ensure that all children are heard on matters that affect their lives.

 

This essay was first published on the Amnesty International UK website.

Share My Lesson profile

I'm honored to have been profiled on the Share My Lesson website for my work on human rights in children's literature. 

See below for an excerpt and link to the full profile:

We are certain that being English language arts teachers has helped illuminate how much a kindred spirit Jonathan Todres has become to us. However, being a teacher is not a requirement when considering the importance of his work and all of the possible applications in and out of any content-area classroom. Read on to find out how literature and the imagination have grown central to Todres’ work with children’s rights and beyond.... To continue reading, click here.

We are certain that being English language arts teachers has helped illuminate how much a kindred spirit Jonathan Todres has become to us. However, being a teacher is not a requirement when considering the importance of his work and all of the possible applications in and out of any content-area classroom. Read on to find out how literature and the imagination have grown central to Todres’ work with children’s rights and beyond....

To continue reading, click here.

Before 5:00 a.m.

The shuttle to Logan airport picked me up at 4:40 am. I had given a presentation the day before and was returning home early in time to teach my afternoon class. If you haven’t been on the road before 5:00 am, I recommend it for only one reason:  it provides a valuable reminder of how many people work really hard. In the darkness of that hour, while most people are sleeping and most businesses are closed, you'll come across overnight desk clerks at hotels, shuttle drivers, 24-hour gas station attendants, long distance truck drivers, and others working through the night.  It has been a long time since I worked all night, but I recall the toll it takes.  And for some people, that night shift is one of two jobs they’ll work that day. I suppose, in this bizarro world of today’s politics, I expected to acknowledge that it is possible the hotel desk clerk was in fact an undercover millionaire who just liked working nights. However, contrary to what some politics pundits might suggest, the exception--if it exists--does not disprove the rule. Most people do not prefer to spend their nights working and away from their families. What came to me during the hour-long ride to the airport is the importance of human rights: the right to a fair wage, decent working conditions, health care, and more.  Most of us working in human rights understandably focus our energy on individuals or communities confronting urgent and often severe violations of human rights. But being on the road before 5:00 am is a reminder that human rights remains relevant to all individuals, in all walks of life. 

 

First published at Human Rights at Home blog.

 

 

The Other Side of Othering

In politics and popular culture, we’ve always had villains, devalued enemies, and others who purportedly stand for everything we are not.  They enable us to see ourselves as the heroes of our own stories. This cast of characters has been called many things over the years—scapegoats, savages, evildoers, and worse. Social scientists use the term “otherness” to describe this process, its functions, and its impact.  Othering is front and center in U.S. politics today.  

The Trump Administration, through both words and actions, has advanced a worldview in which selected people are devalued based on their religion, race, sex, sexual orientation, and national origin. Critiques of this othering rightly focus on the harm that accrues from suggesting certain individuals are lesser human beings or even less than human. But there is another side to othering that is similarly dangerous. Othering operates not only to advance the idea of a lesser Other, but also to perpetuate the idea of the virtuous Self (or dominant group).

Trump offers an extreme, though not unique, version of both sides of this phenomenon. His words suggest that anyone is who not a White, Christian, straight man is Other.  And he understands himself as without flaw. 

The problem with this myopic view is not only that it inflicts harm on targeted groups, but it also negates any possibility that we might become something better. After all, if we are the best in the world, why would we need to change?  The answer is perhaps most easily – and least threateningly – revealed by looking at the sports world. The best athletes achieve and sustain greatness by constantly engaging in self-critique, identifying weaknesses, and addressing shortcomings.  So should we, as a society.

Thus far, the dominant response to the horror and tragedy of Charlottesville has failed to do so meaningfully. Many U.S. politicians and commentators have objected to Trump’s comments, responding “this is not who we are.”  Although they were right to repudiate Trump’s remarks, resting on “this is not who we are” actually risks further entrenching otherness constructs; it rejects white supremacists as not us, so we can preserve the idea that we are heroes in this story.  

To be clear, distancing oneself from white supremacists is not the moral equivalent of marching with KKK members and neo Nazis, despite certain statements about blame belonging to “many sides.” But failing to acknowledge the historical and structural elements of U.S. society that led to white supremacists marching on Charlottesville perpetuates the idea that our broader society is without fault.

Racism, sexism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hatred persist in the United States.  This is not the result of merely a few deviant actors. Until there is broad recognition of this fact and critical engagement of the complex structural and historical issues that give life to bigotry in this country, condemnation of white supremacist rallies or Trump, while necessary, will fail bring about meaningful change.

 

First published at: Human Rights at Home blog.

 

CRC Committee Releases Recommendations on U.S. Response to Child Trafficking

Last month, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child met with a U.S. government delegation as part of its formal review of the United States under two of the optional protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The United States ratified the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography and the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict in 2002, and this represented a combined third and fourth review of the U.S. government practices. The Committee has now released its Concluding Observations  with respect to the U.S. efforts under the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children.

While acknowledging a number of important legislative developments in the United States since the last review – such as the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA) and the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act – the Committee also addressed a number of critical shortcomings. What is notable (and troubling) is that many of the Committee’s recommendations highlighted issues in the U.S. response that the Committee previously addressed in 2008 and 2013. These findings should be a reminder to policy makers and anti-trafficking advocates that although significant efforts are underway, the U.S. response still has a long way to go.

Highlights of the Committee recommendations are below:

1.       Insufficient data collection and evidence-based research. The Committee reiterated concerns over the “lack of progress on establishing an effective national data collection system on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography” and the “insufficient research and evidence-based policy and programme analysis centred on children and the root causes of the crimes affecting them.” Simply put, without good evidence, it’s highly unlikely that the U.S. can develop a truly effective response.

2.       Lack of evaluation of training programs. The Committee praised the U.S. government’s report that it provides training on trafficking and other issues covered by the Optional Protocol “to all persons and institutions that come into contact with children” (NGOs working on these issues will be surprised by this claim by the U.S. government). However, the Committee notes the importance of evaluating the effectiveness and impact of that training. Evaluation of laws, policies, and programs continues to be insufficient, leaving it unclear whether the U.S. is doing something or doing something effective.

3.       Unbalanced efforts in addressing sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The Committee restated its finding that across many areas the U.S. government’s emphasis on sex trafficking persists. There still are higher legal burdens for establishing trafficking of children for forced labor than for sexual exploitation, and research remains “overwhelmingly focused on trafficking for sexual exploitation” with relatively little on labor trafficking. All children deserve protection from exploitation.

4.        Lack of primary prevention focus and efforts. The Committee again noted that the U.S. response typically takes place after some harm has occurred and urged the U.S. government to focus also on primary and secondary prevention. Prevention must be the ultimate goal, and general awareness campaigns are not sufficient. The U.S. government must address the root causes of vulnerability and of the demand for goods and services provided by exploited children, if we are to make meaningful progress in preventing harm to children.

5.       Finally, the Committee also acknowledged the recent surge in the number of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children, and it urged the U.S. government to take concerted efforts to ensure the protection of these children.

The entire Concluding Observations are worth a close reading. Addressing the above recommendations and other recommendations in the Concluding Observations will take significant effort and resources to address. However, they offer a roadmap to preventing harm to children and ensuring the rights of all children. Both of those aims seem worth the effort and resources.

 

Children's Rights World Cafe -- Symposium

I was delighted to participated in a children's rights symposium at Ryerson University in Toronto on June 15-16, 2017. The symposium brought together a dynamic, diverse group of scholars and professionals who focus on children's rights, higher rights education, and related issues. 

The symposium was organized by the Ryerson School of Early Childhood Studies

Visual art representation of some of the dialogue at the symposium

Visual art representation of some of the dialogue at the symposium

Is America Holding Out on Protecting Children's Rights?

by Amy Rothschild

The Atlantic, May 2, 2017

 

Excerpt:

Recently, I asked my 4-, 5-, and 6-year-old students what they thought all children need in order to grow up healthy and strong. They responded readily: Lots and lot of water. Fruits and vegetables. Love. Schools. Homes. Parents. A life. Stuff to play with. A 5-year-old went a step further: “Legos.” A 6-year-old snapped back. “Legos? You don’t need them, but you would want them.”

The list my students generated around our meeting rug is remarkably similar to the list of rights named in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, one of the world’s most widely ratified treaties. The convention enshrines children’s right to an education, to health care, to expression—and, yes, to play. It recognizes families as the fundamental unit of society, and says that families should be provided necessary protection and assistance to fulfill responsibilities to their children. United States delegates played an active role in drafting the convention in the late 1980s. Since then, all United Nations member states have ratified it, with one exception: the United States.

To continue reading, see the full article at The Atlantic.

 

Costa Rica (Day 5 to end): Human Rights, Indigenous Populations, and More

One final post on the Global Perspectives on Children and the Law class trip to Costa Rica. Days 5 onward included many highlights, as we continued to explore various human rights issues affecting children and adolescents. Particular focus was given to migration and education issues. Highlights included:

  • A trip to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, where students got a behind-the-scenes look at the Court and its work (and its innovative ideas when it comes to remedies);
  • A visit to Tecnológico de Costa Rica, a university with a wonderful program aimed at increasing access to higher education for indigenous students in Costa Rica (the program, its director, and its students were all amazing; we learned so much and left truly inspired);
  • Fascinating lectures from UPEACE faculty Olivia Sylvester (whose work focuses on cultural rights that arise in the context of food and food procurement among indigenous populations) and Miriam Estrada-Castillo (who wealth of experience provided unique insights into human rights law and the Costa Rican experience);
  • A session with an immigration attorney (who provided critical insights on Costa Rican law and the practice of immigration law); and
  • One final relaxing day exploring beyond San Jose.

We are grateful to all of the individuals and institutions who gave their time to our program, including especially our partners at the University for Peace Centre for Executive Education.

 

Reflections:

I never considered before today how the conventional environmental conservation worldview could have negative human rights implications on a population. Today's lecture demonstrated to me the power of understanding another's perspective, and reminded me of what UPeace first taught us in the introductory lecture on day one -- social innovation is creative. Creativity may manifest in the design considered, but also in the process of reaching the design. Creative process many times will require the humility to consider another perspective, or even to change our own. Fittingly, I read today a quote by Rigoberta Menchu Tum displayed on a wall at UPeace, "This world is not going to change unless we are ready to change ourselves." – Chae Mims (JD candidate, GSU Law).

"Global Perspectives on Children and the Law was both eye-opening and captivating. The program had us fully entrenched in all aspects of the cultural and societal issues affecting the rights and well-being of children. The agenda, including various speakers and field-visits, fully encompassed the entire children's rights framework, from children themselves in their home and school environments, to the largest NGO's working in the region and around the world, to the Costa Rican Government itself. We were able to interact with the issues, learn about the practices and programs in place, and innovate new methods to improve and expand child services. I can't express enough how much the group members added to the educational experience. Everyone was big-hearted, forward-thinking, and committed to leaving behind a world better than they found it. Such a group would not have come together had we not noticed those same characteristics in Professor Todres from the start." -- Diego Zorilla (JD candidate, GSU Law)

"On a personal note, seeing how engaged the students were and how they both challenged and supported each other was truly gratifying. Their commitment to the program and longterm to using their legal training to make the world a better place inspires me both in my teaching and in my own work. It was a privilege being part of this program."  -- Jonathan Todres (program director)

 

Visit to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Visit to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Pura vida.

Pura vida.

Meeting with students at TEC.

Meeting with students at TEC.

Costa Rica (Days 3 & 4): Local, National, and International Responses

Days 3 and 4:  During the past two days, our group had the opportunity to examine children’s rights issues and responses at the local, national, and international level.  At the grassroots level, we spent each morning in a different local community learning about the lives, challenges, and hopes of people in two largely immigrant squatter communities.  We are grateful to the communities and to the two organizations we visited – Boy with a Ball and the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation. The site visits also gave us opportunities to think about both how design thinking would apply in practice and how the law and lawyers might be able to support marginalized communities and help foster positive outcomes for children and their families.

We also met with a lawyer at PANI (the national child welfare agency) and representatives from the International Organization for Migration and UNICEF and learned about the role that national and international agencies play in addressing and securing children’s rights.

“Visiting the two squatter communities and hearing from organizers who work within these communities has helped me to reflect on what true success is, in law school and life. As law students, we are conditioned to focus on our grades, awards, rankings, and titles – as they are what matter in life and what truly define our success. This experience puts the pressures of law school and life in perspective and reminds me to measure my success not by my accomplishments but in the amount of lives I can touch.” – Jobena Hill (JD candidate GSU Law)

“It is important to understand why children and adolescents fall through the cracks. When you understand that, you can do meaningful work.” – Gordon Jonathan Lewis, Country Director, UNICEF Costa Rica

Our heartfelt thanks to the communities and organizations we visited. It is an understatement to say we learned so much. For more information about the communities and organizations and their work, see below.

Boy with a Ball

Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation.

PANI

IOM Regional Office for Central and North America and the Caribbean

UNICEF Costa Rica

 

Visit to PANI, with our PANI sponges (part of a public awareness campaign ... because kids absorb everything)

Visit to PANI, with our PANI sponges (part of a public awareness campaign ... because kids absorb everything)

A view from the edge of one of the communities we visited

A view from the edge of one of the communities we visited

Our group with the UNICEF team

Our group with the UNICEF team

Costa Rica (Day 2): Social innovation, Human Rights, and Migration

Day 2:  We spent today at the University for Peace, a United Nations-mandated university and our partner institution for this program, learning about social innovation and how it can be applied to humanitarian challenges that are the focus of human rights law.  Lindsay Fendt, a journalist who has covered migration issues here in Costa Rica and elsewhere in the region, provided great insights into migration issues here in Costa Rica.  And students applied design thinking to migration issues in the region.  Additional insights today come from Jarvarus Gresham and Albert Einstein:

“[Social innovation and design thinking] have allowed us to take a different approach to handling challenging legal issues. This course has already introduced perspectives that will not only help us approach legal issues differently but will assist in the development of solutions with an eye for innovation and efficiency in systems in which we aspire to work.” – Jarvarus Gresham (JD candidate, GSU Law)

“The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires creative imagination and marks real advances in science.” – Albert Einstein (full disclosure: he’s not on our program; well, maybe in spirit)

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Defining Social Innovation: “A social innovation is a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than current solutions. The value created accrues primarily to society rather than to private individuals.” – From Stanford Business School

Example from the law world: Redesigning Housing Court – From NULawLab and partners.

More information on the UPEACE Centre for Executive Education’s social innovation programs is available here.

Day at UPEACE

Day at UPEACE

Design thinking, Migration, and Human Rights

Design thinking, Migration, and Human Rights

Costa Rica: Day 1 (Coffee Production, etc.)

On Day 1 (the so-called "rest day"):

- A great visit to a coffee plantation with a behind-the-scenes tour. Fascinating to learn about everything from the science and economics of coffee production to migrant labor issues to the different varieties of coffee.  And, of course, some great samples. Thanks to our guide, Jose, and Espíritu Santo Coffee Tour.

- In the afternoon, we had a fantastic walking tour of San Jose (Thanks, Jeff). 

Next up:  Day 2 (Monday) -- Social innovation and children's rights. 

 

Visit to a coffee plantation and a scenic view en route.

Visit to a coffee plantation and a scenic view en route.

Downtown San Jose, by the courts.

Downtown San Jose, by the courts.

Map of Human Rights Litigation against Corporations

The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre have partnered with Liberty Asia  to develop a legal case map of all human rights litigation against corporations. This valuable resource is available here and enables readers to search by topic, company, and legislation relied upon.  The project covers a broad range of cases including labor rights violations, human trafficking, climate change and environmental degradation, crimes against humanity, child labor and more.  It’s worth a look for anything interested in these issues or human rights litigation generally.

 

First posted on the Human Rights at Home blog.

 

 

 

The Long Game: Tolerance and Respect for One Another

In 2017, the United States of America turned its back on refugees. History will judge us poorly, but that’s no consolation for the children, women, and men fleeing war zones today, thinking America represents safety and freedom. So while the Statue of Liberty boldly declares, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” the U.S. government has abandoned that ideal.  In 2017!  But this essay is not about Pres. Trump’s executive order, or the extraordinary responses by so many lawyers and other citizens who stood up for the rights of refugees and Muslims. It’s about the more deeply-rooted beliefs that allow such an executive order to come to fruition in the first place.

The executive order reflects a particular world view, an understanding of the world built on a tiered othering. Demonizing an entire people based on their country of origin or religion is only possible when we refuse to recognize their humanity.  From the slave trade to World War II portrayals of the enemy to human trafficking narratives, racialized, spatial, gendered, and class-based forms of othering have enabled laws and acts that violate the rights of certain individuals.   

I lived in New York City at the time of 9/11. I vividly remember the horrors of that day and its aftermath. I will never forget the smells, the missing person signs all over my neighborhood in the days that followed, the burnt office paper scattered on my block.  But what I also remember is one of the most extraordinary expressions of humanity: Muslims, Jews, Christians, and others coming together for a candle light vigil in my neighborhood a few days later.  I recall hearing about attacks on Muslims in parts of the country nowhere near the terrorist attacks. And I don’t recall a single such incident in New York City. Because we were neighbors, we saw the humanity in each other. The terrorists were just that. Everyone else in the neighborhood was a neighbor, a New Yorker, an American.

It’s hard to think about the long game when there are so many pressing crises that threaten the rights, and even survival, of millions of people right now. At some point, however, we must develop a meaningful response to these underlying attitudes.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights  asserts that education “shall be directed …to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms…[and] shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups.”  Education is critical. And we need to be innovative in our approach; it cannot be limited to formal classroom settings.

Literature and other art forms offer important spaces through which viewers can appreciate and understand the humanity of others.  Explaining his approach to writing children’s books, Walter Dean Myers stated that when he wrote about poor inner-city children, he wanted “to make them human in the eyes of readers and, especially, in their own eyes. I need to make them feel as if they are part of America’s dream, that all the rhetoric is meant for them, and that they are wanted in this country.”

As Walter Dean Myers highlights, othering occurs not just with people in distant lands, but also with marginalized populations in cities and towns across this country.

My father used to say “America is the second best country in the world. There is no number 1, yet.” In other words, greatness is achievable only by acknowledging our own flaws and working to address them. The problem with othering is not only that it results in devaluing the Other, it also fosters characterizations of the Self as virtuous and without fault.

When we turn our back on others, be they refugees or children living in poverty in the United States, we are anything but virtuous.

Action is urgently needed to avoid repeating the awful choices of prior generations that we now condemn. But we also must build a sustainable movement that teaches tolerance and respect for one another, so that we can end the cycle of human rights abuses.

 

Note: The views expressed here are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of any institution or organization that I work for or have an affiliation with.

First published on the Human Rights at Home blog.

ICYMI: Movies and Myths about Human Trafficking

Movies and myths about human trafficking

Jonathan Todres, Georgia State University

Hollywood loves a good bad guy.

From ruthless mobsters to drug kingpins to serial killers, evil characters are often plucked from real-world events. As human trafficking has garnered more attention, it was inevitable that the issue would hit the big screen. Traffickers, after all, are your quintessential villains. They enslave and exploit human beings for profit.

Today, a growing number of films portray a hero taking down a human trafficking ring.

The Taken series, in which Liam Neeson plays an ex-CIA operative with “a very particular set of skills,” is arguably the best-known example. In the first installment, Neeson has 96 hours to rescue his daughter from an Albanian sex-trafficking ring in Paris that abducts young girls, drugs them and sells them to Middle Eastern sheikhs. He succeeds, of course, in supporting-cast-obliterating fashion.

In Human Trafficking, an earlier made-for-television movie, Mira Sorvino plays a New York City police officer who goes undercover to take down a Russian trafficking ring.

And in The Whistleblower, which is based on a true story, Rachel Weisz plays an American working as a UN peacekeeper in postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina who uncovers a trafficking operation.

These movies have helped raise awareness of human trafficking. But there’s one problem. As my research shows, Taken, The Whistleblower and Human Trafficking propagate and reinforce several critical misunderstandings about trafficking.

Movie myths

Rachel Weisz in The Whistleblower. 20th Century Fox

All three films portray only sex trafficking of young women and girls. The movies depict Americans as heroes, and “others” – Albanians, Arabs, Russians – as villains. The Whistleblower offers a more nuanced picture with both an American hero and some Americans involved in the exploitation. Finally, in true Hollywood fashion, rescue represents the end of the story.

A viewer might leave these movies unaware that there is more than trafficking for sex, that labor trafficking also exists and that it occurs in numerous industries, from agriculture and manufacturing to restaurants and hair salons. Viewers might not know that men, women, boys, girls and transgendered individuals are all targets of human trafficking.

Viewers might also be misled into thinking that the problem is a foreign one, leaving them unaware of the role Americans play in human trafficking. In fact, some traffickers are American, and the U.S. drives demand for inexpensive goods like clothes and electronics, some of which is made possible by the work of exploited individuals.

Finally, moviegoers might have no idea that rescue is really only the beginning of an even more challenging process – assisting and supporting survivors in their recovery and reintegration into their communities.

Too much dramatic license

Why does this matter? This is Hollywood, after all. We know that James Bond does not represent the reality of life as a spy, despite the more battered, world-weary spin Daniel Craig has given him recently. But most of us don’t engage in espionage after a spy movie ends.

Human trafficking is different. As President Obama highlighted in a recent presidential proclamation declaring January national slavery and human trafficking prevention month, every sector of society can play a role in combating this problem.

The president echoed what many scholars and advocates like myself have emphasized: a comprehensive, multisector response is needed to prevent human trafficking.

This effort requires that people know not just that human trafficking exists, but exactly what it is.

As with other violent crime, only a fraction of the population has any personal experience with human trafficking. Few individuals have talked with a survivor about his or her experiences, and not many have read the existing research on human trafficking. Most of the public garners much of what they know about human trafficking from media portrayals of the issue. This includes some individuals now working on anti-trafficking initiatives. I’ve listened to scholars and advocates at conferences praise these movies without mentioning their inaccuracies. It seems even the savviest among us believe more from the media than we discard.

Impact on responses

Maggie Grace in Taken. 20th Century Fox

If popular portrayals of human trafficking shape what advocates and the general population understand about the issue, then they will also shape what people advocate for. And federal and state law and policy on human trafficking reflect many of the same distortions found in films on human trafficking.

Beginning with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000 and continuing with dozens of laws adopted at the federal and state level since then, the law on human trafficking has centered primarily on criminal law, reflecting the “rescue” narrative. Such law enforcement is necessary but not sufficient. Other critical components – prevention and services for survivors – have received much less in the way of resources.

The depiction of young women and girls trafficked for sex as the quintessential victims has shaped law enforcement efforts, leading to a prioritization of combating sex trafficking of women and girls over labor trafficking or the plight of exploited men, boys and transgendered individuals.

When media portrayals show only sex trafficking of women and girls, the risk is that labor trafficking and other vulnerable and exploited individuals do not receive the attention they need. In fact, research by the International Labor Organization and other organizations suggests that the number of labor trafficking victims may well exceed the number of sex trafficking victims.

In addition, current anti-trafficking law and advocacy continues to pay too little attention to the root causes of this exploitation. The lack of emphasis on prevention reflects the popular notions that “rescue” is what is needed. It also indicates an unwillingness to acknowledge that mainstream U.S. culture and consumerism contribute to the demand for the goods and services provided by exploited individuals. In contrast to Hollywood portrayals, the reality is that the food we eat and the clothes we wear may well be produced by trafficked labor.

What we can do

Of course, Hollywood is not going to stop making action movies. But we can do a better job of calling attention to the disconnect between cinematic portrayals of human trafficking and the reality of the problem. The desire to keep celebrities engaged in particular social issues is understandable given the attention they can bring to an issue, but it should not mean remaining silent in the face of inaccurate or unbalanced portrayals.

Ultimately, it is critical that policymakers and advocates have access to and rely on evidence-based research and survivor perspectives on human trafficking so that they can develop responses that are likely to make a difference.

Jonathan Todres, Professor of Law, Georgia State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why Human Rights Matter to Anti-Trafficking Efforts

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.  Despite the tireless efforts of many, as President Obama statedin his recent Presidential Proclamation, “the injustice of modern slavery and human trafficking still tears at our social fabric.” This month provides an opportunity to both raise awareness about the problem and galvanize support for action that can reduce the prevalence of human trafficking.

There is a growing body of law at the international, national, and state levels addressing human trafficking specifically.  Although those represent important developments, there has been limited progress on the root causes of human trafficking. That’s where human rights come in. Human trafficking thrives because there is demand for the good and services produced by exploited individuals and because there are millions of vulnerable adults and children.

The foundational principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” – is a direct challenge to the devaluation of human lives that is embedded in the demand side of human trafficking. Human rights education  fosters tolerance and reduces disregard for others’ rights.  And, when realized, human rights – including the rights to birth registration, health care, education, and housing; labor rights; and the principle of nondiscrimination, to name a few – can reduce the vulnerability of marginalized populations so that they are not pushed into human trafficking settings.

The challenges we face today as human rights advocates are seemingly endless. It’s often difficult simply drawing sufficient attention to rights violations. Human trafficking is one area where everyone from policymakers to parents wants action.  Demonstrating the value of human rights to human trafficking can help advance anti-trafficking efforts and serve as a model for applying human rights approaches to other pressing issues.

 

First published at Home Rights at Home blog.