Former Humphrey Fellow Suaad Allami speaks with the UN Security Council

Suaad Allami was a 2009-10 Humphrey Fellow from Iraq. She received the Woman of Courage Award from Hillary Clinton and last year she received the Vital Voices Global Award.

Suaad made a statement to the UN Security Council today at 9 am. You can see the link below to webstream it.

http://webtv.un.org/search/suaad-allami-ngo-working-group-on-women-and-peace-and-security-security-council-7289th-meeting/3862688324001?term=suaad+allami

Human Rights Fellowship Stories: Timothy Culver II – Human Rights Research with UMN Law School Professor Christopher Roberts

The International Bill of Human Rights (IBHR) has a history as rich, complex, and vital as the documents that it comprises. The IBHR consists of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, each of which has its own illustrative origin story. While many publications have considered the nuances and resulting impact of these documents themselves, few have focused on the multitude of diverse individuals, organizations, and other formative input factors that determined their scope and scale.

With the support of the my Fellowship, I assisted Professor Christopher N.J. Roberts with his preparation of The Contentious History of the International Bill of Human Rights (the book, forthcoming on Cambridge University Press in late 2014, will be a part of the Cambridge Studies in Law and Society series). In addition to editing and source checking of various manuscripts, I performed additional research tasks, with most requiring that I dive into and synthesize the multitude texts and reports that chronicle the origin stories of the three documents that make up the IBHR.

These stories, often concerning just a few individuals and often minimally documented at the times they occurred, illuminate not only the details of the rights articulated in the IBHR, but also the rights that didn’t quite make the cut. These stories, shaped by the actors they concern, suggest a candid and demanding view of the IBHR. Professor Roberts’ book is motivated by and further encourages this unique and multidisciplinary approach to the origin and nature of human rights.

My own involvement with this effort allowed me to cover a vast research area while also requiring that I took the time to plunge into particularly crucial historical details. This approach guaranteed that I enjoyed a fascinating and invaluably educational experience while providing substantive input on a key addition to the body of human rights literature. I am certain that this opportunity will continue to benefit my own studies and work in the future, by virtue of both the practical skills and the unique perspective that this assistantship required that I take.

While there are a number of summer positions that encourage students to further develop the skills introduced in first year of law school, my particular placement meant that I was able to learn about and actively engage with the history and lessons drawn from a broad spectrum of human rights matters. I could not be more appreciative of this opportunity to work with Professor Roberts and the support of the Human Rights Center that allowed me to do so.

The views expressed in this article represent those of the author and not necessarily those of the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center.  As a forum for dialogue and education, and an acknowledgment of the contentious nature of human rights issues, some views expressed on this blog may not necessarily be those of the Human Rights Center as an institution.

Boarding School Tribunal, Oneida, Wisconsin – Day 2

The second day of the Boarding School Tribunal was an emotional one. Boarding school survivors and the children of survivors testified about their and their families’ experiences of extreme abuse at the hands of school officials, aculturation, and inter-generational trauma. Survivors spoke of the loss of language and traditions, the breaking apart of families, and the lasting personal impacts of boarding school experiences.

The Human Rights Center staff and 2014-15 Humphrey Fellows Athar Waheed (Pakistan), Aneeta Aahooja (Pakistan), Fasoha (Maldives), Abalo Assih (Togo), and Shiran Gooneratne (Sri Lanka) feel extraordinarily honored to participate in this tribunal.

You can read a re-cap of the second day of testimony and watch a livestream of the proceedings via Censored News.

Boarding School Tribunal

International Fulbright Humphrey Fellows in Law and Human Rights, Athar Waheed (Pakistan), Faso (Maldives), Aneeta Aahooja (Pakistan), Abalo Assih (Togo), and Shiran Gooneratne (Sri Lanka) traveled today to Green Bay, Wisconsin for the Boarding School Tribunal, an effort to begin addressing the harm done to native peoples through the boarding school system instituted in the US in the late 1800s.
A short documentary on boarding schools can be viewed at:http://livestre.am/1xWD

Human Rights Fellowship Stories: Minne Bosma – South Asian Institute of Advanced Legal and Human Rights Studies

Over the last two months, I have been working at South Asian Institute of Advanced Legal and Human Rights Studies (SAILS) in Dhaka, Bangladesh. So far the fellowship has been an interesting and valuable experience. It has allowed me to have the unique experience of living in a less developed state, but more important, to contribute to the improvement of human rights in Bangladesh.

Former Hubert Humphrey Fellow Dr. Uttam Kumar Das has brought the idea of the establishment of a Human Rights Law Clinic (HRLC) back from the University of Minnesota Law School to Bangladesh, after completion of his fellowship. SAILS currently has the only HRLC in the whole country, and consists of volunteers from all law schools in Dhaka. In this context, I have developed and taught lectures, and led learning session for the volunteers of the clinic. For example on: European Human Rights Law, International Humanitarian Law, LGBT rights etc. The main purpose of these sessions is to encourage the volunteers to become human rights activists themselves, and to strengthen their practical skills in this regard. The learning experience was clearly not a one-way thing, as all the questions, comments, and discussions sharpened my mind and thoughts on human rights issues as well. I have also worked on an assessment for a new governance project called “Legal Empowerment of the Poor” from BRAC, which will be implemented by SAILS in the near future. Legal empowerment is relatively new phenomenon in the development sector. In Bangladesh, BRAC has legal aids clinic that legally empowers women on their family rights. However, this program does not reach other vulnerable persons in Bangladesh. The new program will be complementary to the existing legal aid programs, and will for example also focus on poor entrepreneurs, children or poor city dwellers.

Besides my work for SAILS, I have met incredible people in Bangladesh. It’s amazing and also confronting to see the happiness of people with so less opportunities and material belongings and to reflect that on our own “rich and developed” lives. Dhaka is a bit dirty compared to our standards, but the city is so vibrant and there is a positive abundance of young people who want to work and change the world they live in. I made many Bangladeshi friends, tasted local foods, enjoyed religious and cultural festivals, have seen the beautiful countryside, and met more hospital and friendly Bangladeshis. I am certain I will miss Bangladesh when I take off in within two months.

I am very grateful for the financial support the Human Rights Fellowship provided me. The fellowship strengthened my wish to work professionally in the field of human rights or development in the near future. I have seen with my own eyes how small changes can make big impacts on the lives of underprivileged people. I hope my work here contributed to (small) changes as well and will lead to big impacts for the people involved.

The views expressed in this article represent those of the author and not necessarily those of the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center.  As a forum for dialogue and education, and an acknowledgment of the contentious nature of human rights issues, some views expressed on this blog may not necessarily be those of the Human Rights Center as an institution.

Human Rights Fellowship Stories: Danielle Meinhardt – Sierra Club Environmental Law Program

The photo shows five Sierra Club Environmental Law Program legal interns—including me—enjoying a backpacking trip at Point Reyes National Seashore just north of San Francisco, California. The trail skirts precipitous cliffs over the Pacific, passes lakes and marshes, and allows one to see wildlife up close while getting away from paved roads and traffic. For anyone familiar with the Sierra Club, this photo illustrates what many perceive as the core of the organization’s work: protecting wild and scenic places for the enjoyment of all. In fact, that does form the historic core of Sierra Club advocacy. John Muir founded the Club in 1892 with the mission to explore, enjoy, and protect the natural character of Western mountain regions. In 1962 the Sierra Club helped establish Point Reyes as a national seashore, which is why I was able to enjoy public access to it over 50 years later.

Protecting wild places continues to be part of the Sierra Club’s mission. But since its founding, its work has expanded to reach issues that affect people’s everyday lives in more direct, palpable ways. The Club cooperated with others to strengthen the Clean Air Act in the late 1970s and protect it from dilution in the 1980s. Provisions of the Clean Air Act restrict emissions of toxic air pollutants that degrade urban air quality and harm human health. In the 1980s, the Sierra Club supported Congress in strengthening the Clean Water Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (also referred to as “Superfund”). Among other things, the Clean Water Act is intended to improve water quality and ensure that wetlands—which perform invaluable services in the hydrologic cycle—are protected. Congress created the Superfund to address releases of hazardous substances and clean up abandoned hazardous waste sites.

As a complement to its work fighting for healthy air and clean water, the Sierra Club is now actively working to halt carbon pollution and ensure a secure climate future. Rising sea levels, extreme weather events, harm to agriculture and fisheries, and displacement of people are all consequences associated with climate disruption. Avoiding these harms has become central to the Sierra Club’s work. The organization targets fossil fuels (and their associated greenhouse gas emissions) to keep them in the ground, while supporting a full transition to a clean energy economy. The Club seeks to “create a clean energy revolution where all people have access to sustainable energy, including local solar, energy storage, and sustainably sited large-scale renewable energy projects.”1 Clear water, air, and energy are an interwoven set of goods to which everyone should have access.

As a Sierra Club Environmental Law Program legal intern, I had the privilege of working on projects that touched on all of these issues. Some of my work involved threats to human health in local communities, while other projects involved regulations that facilitate harmful fossil fuel use at regional and continental scales. And some work involved threats to the fundamental building blocks of ecosystems that in turn support human livelihoods. It was exciting to work on matters in active litigation, and it was gratifying to know that Environmental Law Program attorneys needed and appreciated my assistance. There is so much to be done in this field, with far too few resources. The experience confirmed and deepened my commitment to public interest environmental work. I am thankful that the Human Rights Fellowship Program and its supporters made my experience possible.

1:  http://content.sierraclub.org/coal/solutions

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The views expressed in this article represent those of the author and not necessarily those of the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center.  As a forum for dialogue and education, and an acknowledgment of the contentious nature of human rights issues, some views expressed on this blog may not necessarily be those of the Human Rights Center as an institution.

Human Rights Fellowship Stories: Leah Tabbert – Gender Justice

When I started work at Gender Justice, a non-profit law firm dedicated to combating gender discrimination, I came in as the organization was riding a policy advocacy high. The Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) had just passed in the legislature, and Governor Dayton had signed it into law on Mother’s Day, May 11, 2014.

Ever since the House indicated its intent to pass an economic justice package for women in the year 2014, Gender Justice was at the forefront of a coalition of women’s organizations working to make a change that could make Minnesota a leader in economic equality. The coalition synthesized decades of research and a mountain of ideas into a package of laws that aimed to broaden economic protection, and economic opportunity, for all women. Some of the provisions of WESA include:

• Raising the minimum wage to $9.50/hour by 2016

• Requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations (such as periods of sitting,

• Requiring employers to allow nursing mothers to take breaks to express milk

• Rewarding employers who recruit, prepare, place, and retain women in non-traditional limits to heavy lifting, food and water) for pregnant employees occupations and apprenticeships, especially low income and older women

• Requiring large state contractors to attest that its male and female workers receive equal

• Protecting an employee’s right to share his or her wage information with co-workers

• Expanding protections for employees with caregiver obligations

• Permitting employees to use accrued sick leave for safety leave associated with sexual pay for equal work assault, domestic violence, or stalking

WESA was a tremendous success, passing by a generous margin after a vigorous fight in committees. But after the Mother’s Day photo op on the steps of the Capitol, there was plenty of work yet to be done. Gender Justice wanted to be a part of the implementation of WESA as well.

A law is only as successful as its implementation, so policy advocacy cannot end when the bill becomes law. Gender Justice made itself a resource for the community, and especially for employers, who were responsible for bringing the protections of WESA to their employees. And by observing the implementation process, Gender Justice learned more about the way the legislature shapes real lives, making it a better advocacy organization in the process.

As a part of my work at Gender Justice, I fielded questions from employers striving to correctly incorporate WESA into their policies and practices. Employers asked questions like, “I have only nine Minnesota employees, am I subject to any WESA provisions?” and “How does leave under the Minnesota Parental Leave Act interact with leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act?” Using the resources provided by state offices like the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, I helped usher these employers towards effective application of the new laws. I began to see WESA as a long-term cooperation of government agencies, employers, and advocacy groups, rather than a discrete event that occurred on Mother’s Day of this year. And I have Gender Justice to thank for a deeper understanding of the legislative process and what follows it.

For more about the WESA campaign, visit http://www.mnwesa.org

For more about Gender Justice, visit http://www.genderjustice.us

The views expressed in this article represent those of the author and not necessarily those of the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center.  As a forum for dialogue and education, and an acknowledgment of the contentious nature of human rights issues, some views expressed on this blog may not necessarily be those of the Human Rights Center as an institution.