Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week’s Rights Readings highlights focus on our partners the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the effect of climate change in Alaska.


In Downtown Crossing, a picket line of fifth-graders, Cristela Guerra, The Boston Globe, December 12, 2016.

Earlier this week, fifth-graders from the Boston Workmen’s Circle Center for Jewish Culture and Social Justice in Brookline, Mass. proved that you’re never too young to protest. Chanting, “Hold the burgers, hold the shakes. A penny more is all it takes!” these students showed solidarity with UUSC partners, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). “I believe in justice for everyone,” 11-year-old Jasper Milstein said.

Wendy’s is the last of the major U.S. fast food chains to refuse to join the Fair Food Program. This program improves pay and working conditions for farmworkers in the tomato fields. It also supports partnerships between businesses, growers, and farmworkers to ensure that the people who supply their produce are treated with dignity and respect. CIW has organized a boycott of the restaurant that is over 75,000 strong. Join them here!


A Wrenching Choice for Alaska Towns in the Path of Climate Change, Erica Goode, The New York Times, November 29, 2016.

Shaktoolik, a village of 250 people in Alaska, is facing an imminent threat from increased flooding and erosion, due to climate change. The state is warming about twice as fast as the rest of the United States, and many indigenous communities are increasingly vulnerable to rising seas.

The United States has identified at least 31 Alaskan towns and cities at risk of destruction.

The choice these communities face is between a costly, decades-long relocation and the risk of staying and losing everything. As the effects of climate change continue, the situation is likely to only worsen.

Global Women’s Call for Climate Justice

UUSC staff supporting women's global call to climate action

From Oct 28 to Nov 6, UUSC is joining our allies and grassroots partners in the Global Women’s Call for Climate Justice: Ten Days of Action campaign. The campaign is a lead up to the UNFCCC COP 22 annual meeting held in Marrakech, Morocco.

The Global Women’s Call for Climate Justice seeks to amplify the experiences of women and children, who are the most vulnerable amongst us, in addressing the injustices caused by environmental injustices and climate change. It also seeks to elevate the various ways that women around the world are taking action to implement sustainable solutions to adapt to and mitigate the effects of these problems. 

We are encouraged by the voices and the actions that women around the world are taking to address this catastrophe. Women are stepping up and showing us and the rest of the world what works.  

Women experience multiple challenges in part due to the various roles they play – they are mothers, wives, daughters, farmers, caregivers, etc., not to mention the inherent attributes that they experience from just being a woman such as giving birth, nursing their children, and menstruating every month. These various layers that women play need to be taken into consideration when we’re thinking about long term climate actions – whether its adaptation or mitigation or whether it involves financing or politics. Planning our strategies from a women’s rights perspective ensures that we are advancing gender equity, which then produces a number of outcomes that are just and sustainable. A classic example of this is happening right now in many parts of Africa, where rural women farmers are fighting for their rights to access land. Accessing land gives them the security to be able to take care of their families, to farm their lands using agroecological methods that reduce emissions, and to protect them and their children from being exploited and displaced. 

UUSC is proud to be a part of this initiative, and we stand with our allies in demanding that our global leaders advance climate justice and gender justice at COP 22 and beyond.  

COP 22: Pushing global leaders to walk the talk!

cop22-logoCOP 22: Marrakech 2016

Two days into COP 22 and Marrakech, Morocco is swarming with various stakeholders from around the globe. This COP (Conference of the Parties), dubbed by many as the “African COP,” due to its location and the strong presence of the African diaspora, is focused on accelerating implementation of the Paris Agreement, which was ratified by 100 Parties, including the United States. The Paris Agreement, which went into effect November 4, 2016, is about the post-2020 timeframe. It’s about countries committing to do the best they can to reduce their emissions and to work toward keeping global temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees celsius.

In 1994 the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) entered into force with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. The COP is the governing body of the Convention and meets annually.

The Paris Agreement: One step in the right direction

The world broke out in celebration when the Paris Agreement was adopted last April, and we can still feel the momentum here in Marrakech. What has been exciting so far, is the expected outcome that COP 22 will produce a roadmap for how things will proceed, such as how the Green Climate Fund will achieve its mandate of reaching $100 billion by 2020, or how states will report their emissions and reductions, etc. However, whether COP 22 will actually produce something tangible, just, equitable, and sustainable is the concern of many civil society organizations, including UUSC.

The focus here so far has been on the Paris Agreement and its implementation. But what does this mean for pre-existing commitments such as the Kyoto Protocol and its Doha Amendment? Doha, which was adopted by Parties to the Kyoto Protocol in Qatar in 2012, was meant to provide a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol—a legally binding emissions reduction treaty necessary for global climate action in the years leading up to 2020. However, Doha is still not in effect. If Parties are serious about Paris, they have to implement Doha.

Meena Raman and Salote Soqo in Marrakech, Morocco for COP 22.

Meena Raman, of the civil society organization, Friends of the Earth Malaysia, thinks that this might be a loophole that will allow developed countries to escape their existing commitments. She gave European Union as an example: “The E.U., which has not ratified Doha is racing like a Japanese speed train to ratify Paris. Have they forgotten about their commitment to Doha?” Which leaves us to wonder—where is the United States in all this? While the United States did ratify Paris, the state has no obligation to the Doha Amendment because it did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol (sigh).

Civil society organizations have to tell our leaders that the UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol, and Paris Agreements cannot simply be subjects for coffee room discussions. Initiatives, pledges, and plans are not enough to deal with the catastrophic issues affecting Mother Earth and our communities. UUSC and the rest of the UUA delegates are joining our allies from all around the globe here in Marrakech to remind our global leaders to act out their commitments. An accelerated action on Paris Agreement requires the implementation of the Doha Amendment to Kyoto Protocol.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss.

1. “Antonio Guterres, former Portugal prime minster, next United Nations secretary general” Pamela Falk, CBS News, October 5, 2016

There’s promising news in the election of Antonio Guterres as the next U.N. secretary general. He has ten years of experience as the international organization’s high commissioner on refugees, serving from 2005 through December 2015. Electing a new secretary general who has led what Falk’s article describes as “the U.N. agency perhaps most in the hot seat” may signal the world body’s strong commitment to the world’s refugee crises at a time when it is most needed.

Guterres has other credentials human rights activists might find encouraging as well. While he taught physics at the University of Lisbon, he began his political career by working with poor people in the city’s slums. When Portuguese dictator Antonio Salazar resigned in 1968, Guterres said he became a “revolutionary,” and joined the country’s Socialist Party in 1974. That year, when Marcelo Caetano, Salazar’s successor, was overthrown, Guterres began his career in government, eventually becoming prime minister in 1995.

Guterres was elected U.N. secretary general after months of straw poll voting, emerging as the winner among 10 final candidates. He ranks ending the current conflict in Syria as one of his highest priorities. “I do believe that now is the height of common interest to put an end to this war, and it’s my hope that building bridges, convening goodwill, bringing people together, is something that will help to produce a positive result.”

There is still time to add your support for refugees from Syria and other countries seeking refuge here in the United States by writing your own senators and representative to urge them to defy hate speech, fully fund programs to admit refugees as authorized for FY 2017, and ensure that the United States will join Secretary-elect Guterres by standing up for human rights.

2. “Nepal Must Go Beyond ‘Raising Awareness’ to Tackle Root Causes of Gender Inequality,” World Politics Review, October 5, 2016

The editors of this publication make the excellent point that the best way to create real change for marginalized people is to empower them to lead efforts to solve their own problems. Observing that women in Nepal are still held back by traditions that limit their ability to free themselves from male-dominated family structures, prevent them from working for themselves as independent citizens, and fail to end child marriage, quotes from their interview with Claire Naylor, founder of the organization Women LEAD, are in harmony with the work being done by women in UUSC’s partner organizations in the country.

On women’s rights in general:

“Until women hold key positions of influence and decision-making authority across all sectors of Nepal, the status of women will continue to be an issue that is analyzed rather than actualized.” And, on child marriage: “So, how can the international community support girl-led change? It can put its money where its mouth is by believing in them enough to invest in their ideas, and then getting out of the way.”

Click here to read about the women’s groups in Nepal receiving UUSC support to design and manage their own recovery programs in the wake of last year’s earthquake.

3. “Paris climate agreement to take effect Nov. 4,” Michel Astor, Washington Post, October 5, 2016

No matter the outcome of the U.S. presidential election on November 8, there will be at least some good news early next month. In what President Barack Obama calls, “a turning point for our planet,” the Paris agreement crossed a critical milestone toward passage and will take effect on November 4.

The Paris agreement is aimed at slowing the rise in global temperatures by requiring governments to commit to reducing emissions. The agreement’s specific goal is to limit this rise in global temperature to below two degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Participating countries are required to submit plans for doing their part toward reaching this goal, although their commitments are non-binding. However, these countries are required to report on their emissions and progress toward the agreement’s goals, and to update their plans every five years to continue making progress toward their stated goals.

Observers noted the relatively short time between informal approval and the agreement taking effect, possibly resulting from a desire to complete the process before the terms of U.N. Secretary General Ban Kee Moon and U.S. President Obama – both major supporters of the Paris agreement – come to an end early in 2017.

UUSC has a long tradition of understanding the relationship of natural disasters and climate justice with human rights. In the Philippines, we began working with local partners after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the nation in 2013 and stayed there, supporting the Trauma Resource Institute’s work to build long-term resiliency among affected people. Read about these efforts here. Through our continued partnerships in the country, we continue to monitor recent threats to human rights resulting from the brutal policies of President Rodrigo Duterte.

A similar sequence of UUSC humanitarian aid followed by support for human rights advocacy can be found in our work in Haiti. After helping marginalized children affected by the 2010 earthquake, our local partners launched new efforts aimed at stateless children deported there from the Dominican Republic. This week, a new environmental crisis threatens many more in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Click here to learn how you can help.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss.

1. “Refugees share personal stories with members of Congress” Samantha-Jo Roth, KCRG-TV9, Cedar Rapids, IA, September 29, 2016

A group of refugees from all 50 states met with members of Congress in Washington, D.C., this week, sharing their stories in an effort to change opinions and encourage Congress to support increased refugee resettlement in the United States. They represent the Refugee Congress, an organization supported by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, Church World Service, the Refugee Council USA, and other nonprofits and NGOs.

Roth’s video and print coverage of the event includes stories from individual refugees such as Kalisa Ndikumwimana and Fidel Nshombo of the Congo, who now live in North Dakota and Idaho, respectively. Using his personal story to advocate for continued admission of refugees and asylum-seekers into the United States, Fidel says, “We cannot stop something to fix it. We fix it as we go, because that’s how you learn, and that’s what I want the senator to do.”

You can add your voice to those of Fidel, Kalisa, and others by writing your own senators and representative to urge them to defy hate speech, fully fund programs to admit refugees as authorized for FY 2017, and ensure that the United States makes us proud by standing up for human rights.

2. “New Report: Poor Americans of Color Drink Filthy Water and Breathe Poisonous Air All the Damn Time,” Julian Lurie, Mother Jones Magazine, September 29, 2016

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a government watchdog group, issued a report detailing multiple failures by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enforce its own anti-discrimination policies in communities of color from Richmond, California to Flint, Michigan, and Uniontown, Alabama. These anti-discrimination policies are based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents the spending of federal dollars from being used in a discriminatory fashion.

“EPA does not take action when faced with environmental justice concerns until forced to do so,” the report reads. “When they do act, they make easy choices and outsource any environmental justice responsibilities onto others.”

Lurie’s reporting shows that while the EPA has received 300 discrimination complaints since 1993, it has “never made a formal finding of discrimination and has never denied or withdrawn financial assistance from a recipient in its entire history.”

The report documents a case in which toxic coal ash was removed from a spill in a predominantly white community in Tennessee and dumped in a landfill less than a mile away from Uniontown, Alabama, a town that is 90% black. Uniontown residents soon reported breathing problems, rashes, nausea, nosebleeds, and other symptoms. They filed a complaint with the EPA three years ago, and have not received a response despite regulations requiring action within six months.

UUSC has been advocating for the human right to clean and affordable drinking water and sanitation for years, including publication of its 2016 research report, “The Invisible Crisis: Water Unaffordability in the United States,” and other efforts to advocate for the human right to water. Watch for additional UUSC research and advocacy efforts regarding the human right to water in the coming months.

3. “Myanmar Refugees, Including Muslim Rohingya, Outpace Syrian Arrivals in US,” VOA News, September 20, 2016

The startling news that more refugees are admitted to the United States from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, than from Syria is both an indictment of U.S. policies on refugees from the Middle East and an eye-opening insight into the suffering of the Rohingya people at the hands of their government.

The VOA News article reports that from October 2015 through September 15, 2016, 11,902 Myanmar nationals were resettled in the United States, compared with 11,598 from Syria. It also notes that the Rohingya are persecuted because they are viewed as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite the fact that many have lived in Myanmar for generations. Ironically, ncreased freedom of speech since the end of military rule in 2011 has permitted the expression of long-held anti-Muslim sentiment.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the current State Counsellor of Myanmar, is widely respected for her stance in favor of human rights, for which she was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. However, 125,000 Rohingya residents are currently detained in internal camps in Myanmar, and there are continued reports of demolitions of their mosques, residences, and other buildings.

UUSC has worked in Myanmar on behalf of human rights since providing humanitarian relief in the wake of Cyclone Nargis in 2002, and again following the earthquake of 2011. Since that time, UUSC has supported longer-term efforts with several peace-oriented projects after the country’s transition to civilian rule. More recently, UUSC has been working with partners focused on promoting religious harmony and cultural tolerance. Relief efforts aimed at the Rohingya people in 2015 included health education and child nutrition programs along with mental health care, language training, and advocacy for women’s empowerment.

UUSC partners in Myanmar have identified the need for additional national and international awareness of Rohingya issues, and engagement of international NGOs concerning stateless Rohingya people. A delegation of UUSC staff and volunteers plans to visit Myanmar in the coming months to assess the situation first-hand.


Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss.

1.“Why Are You Keeping Me Here?” Unaccompanied Children Detained in Greece, Kelly Lynn Lunde, Human Rights Watch, September 8, 2016

UUSC has long been active in advocating for the rights of women and children from Central America who are held in family detention centers in the United States. Kelly Lynn Lunde’s research report reminds us that the problem of children in detention is not limited to our country.

The over 3,300 unaccompanied asylum-seeking and migrant children arriving in Greece since January are routinely detained, and many are held for months at a time in protective custody.

In addition to being held for longer than the state-mandated limit of 25 to 45 days, these children are housed in filthy, sometimes rat-infested cells. When there isn’t enough room to keep them segregated from other inmates, children are put in the same cells as adults.

Similar to the actions of UUSC and other members of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition’s Diapers in Detention campaign protesting the abusive treatment of children in U.S. detention centers, Human Rights Watch (HRW) calls for the Greek government to provide suitable alternatives to detention for these children, and also demands that European Union member states do all they can to relocate asylum-seeking children out of Greece.

Read the latest news about UUSC’s continuing actions against refugee family detention in the United States here, and the work of UUSC volunteers and partner organizations in Greece here. A list of ways you can get involved in UUSC’s efforts to advance refugee rights worldwide is posted on our website, along with UUSC’s current action demanding that President Obama immediately release the mothers and children held at Berks Detention Center in Leesport, Pennsyvlania.

2. “Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous approach to law enforcement must end,” Editorial, The Los Angeles Times, September 7, 2016

It’s only been two months since Rodrigo Duterte was sworn in as president, but since that time over 2,400 alleged drug dealers and users have been killed – “more than half of them by vigilantes,” as the L.A. Times reports. International public opinion against Duterte’s brutal violations of human rights are intensifying, and this editorial notes how, in addition to the trauma inflicted on Philippine citizens, there are implications for the strategic relationship between the United States and this important ally nation. The Philippines have joined in efforts to resist Chinese adventurism in the South China Sea, winning a complaint against China filed with an international arbitration court at the Hague. But Duterte’s murderous policies make it difficult for the United States to ally itself with a political leader that former Filipino President Benigno Aquino III once described as a “dictator in waiting.”

The L.A. Times calls for President Obama and his successor to withhold financial support for the Philippine National Police, who are used to support Duterte’s war on drugs. The editorial’s final sentence is one UUSC members and supporters will find familiar in calls for U.S. pressure to reverse abusive official policies of other allied nations: “U.S. tax dollars shouldn’t support law enforcement officials engaged in profound violations of human rights.”

UUSC has worked with partner organizations in the Philippines since Typhoon Haiyan struck the island nation in 2013. Read UUSC’s statement of solidarity with the people of the Philippines and the on-the-ground actions of our partner organizations in today’s human rights crisis here.

3. “Water is Life: Lawrence Visits Standing Rock,” The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, MSNBC, September 6, 2016

This video by MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell covers the story of Native American efforts to block construction of a crude oil pipeline in South Dakota, from a number of unexpected angles.

The story begins with Alice Brown Otter, a 12-year-old activist who ran 1,519 miles from Standing Rock, South Dakota, to Washington, D.C., to protest against the Dakota Access pipeline. The story takes a disturbing shift to images of attack dogs used against Sioux protesters. O’Brien reminds views of how dogs were used in similar ways against 1960s civil rights activists in the South.

Most significantly, O’Brien’s piece contrasts the way average Americans and the Sioux think about water. For us, water is an important element of the earth and the human body, but ultimately it is just a commodity. For the Sioux, water is sacred. They believe we are water, that water is life.

O’Brien’s closing statement celebrates the wisdom and spirit of a young woman-to-be: “We can only hope that 12-year-old Alice brown Otter doesn’t have to spend the rest of her life trying to teach us what she already knows. ‘Mni wiconi. Water is life.’”

Read about UUSC’s research and policy work on the human right to water in Defending the Human Right to Water: A Decade of Support for Global Water Justice, by Amber Moulton, and The Invisible Crisis: Water Unaffordability in the United States, by Dr. Patricia Jones and Amber Moulton, here. This fall, watch this site for additional research studies about water and other climate justice issues.