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.

Service Learning 101: Experiences that should last beyond a personal statement

Early September has a “back to school” feel, even for those whose school days are far behind us. We can remember the combination of excitement and anxiety as we began a new chapter of our lives, moving up a grade, shifting schools, and anticipating new people and challenges.

For high school students, especially those in their last two years, anxiety can dominate this season. They’ll be choosing course work, sports commitments, and extracurriculars, many with at least a bit of preoccupation about how it will all look on their college applications. They know the competition is fierce, especially for the more elite institutions. The pressure to make themselves stand out can be intense.

This competition sometimes leads teens to seek out service learning opportunities –- but when the motive is an application over the substantive experience or personal growth, there will likely be little true service or real learning involved. As Frank Bruni wrote in a recent New York Times editorial, this kind of travel “turns developing-world hardship into a prose-ready opportunity for growth, empathy into an extracurricular activity.”

Grow Racial Justice
Participants in Grow Racial Justice came together for five-days at the Center for Ethical Living & Social Justice Renewal in New Orleans. A collaborative effort of UUCSJ, the Thrive Program for Young Adults of Color, and Standing on the Side of Love, this gathering equipped young adults (18-34) with skills, tools, a sense of community, and the opportunity for spiritual practice and reflection to deepen their commitment to racial justice activism.

The UU College of Social Justice views our service learning journeys through a different lens. We believe that the best “service” we can ever give to other, in particular oppressed, communities is our commitment to the long work of justice in our own home communities. A short-term immersion is often a truly transforming experience, especially for young people just beginning to explore the world around them. It can be well worth the journey, but only when it brings us into genuine relationship with our host community, prepared to hear sometimes uncomfortable truths.

Activate Boston: Climate Justice participants learned about grassroots organizing to oppose the spread of fossil fuel infrastructure and joined a People Over Pipelines march.

Immersion trips help us understand our place in the tangled matrix of privilege and power, and so engage in more sustained and effective efforts for change.

Stepping out of our comfort zones can help us understand the deep interconnections between oppressed communities (whether in the developing world or here in the U.S.) and our own experiences. Immersion trips help us understand our place in the tangled matrix of privilege and power, and so engage in more sustained and effective efforts for change. The College of Social Justice is committed to offering these transformative kinds of service learning journeys because they put everything else into a new perspective, and wake us up to all of the ways we can make a difference. And a extra bonus for high school students—these impacts last much longer than their stress about writing the perfect college application essay!

Visit UUCSJ’s website to learn more about how to sign up for a short-term immersion or volunteer trip.

UUSC Stands in Solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe


The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has been locked in a legal battle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from impacting it’s cultural, water, and natural resources. The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is a 1,168-mile long crude oil pipeline that will transport nearly 570,000 barrels of oil each day from North Dakota to Illinois. The Army Corps of Engineers green-lighted several sections of the process without fully satisfying the National Historic Preservation Act, various environmental statutes, and its trust responsibility to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

This is another chapter in the long history of the federal government granting the construction of potentially hazardous projects near or through tribal lands, waters, and cultural places without including the tribe. The current proposed pipeline route crosses under Lake Oahe, just a half mile up from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

While the Tribe is waiting for a federal court decision on a preliminary injunction to stop the pipeline construction, the pipeline company is waiting for the Army Corps of Engineers to grant an easement to drill under Lake Oahe. The Army Corps of Engineers, the White House, and Congress must halt the easement because the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s waters and sacred places must be protected.

What you can do

  1. Call your local Congressional Representative or Senator and 
  2. Email the Chief of Staff and the Assistant Secretary of the Army Corp of Engineers:  

Denis McDonough, Chief of Staff to the President
(202) 456-3182

Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of Army Corp of Engineers

Suggested Email Language

I am writing to you today to voice my opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. I support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other communities in their fight against this dangerous and destructive pipeline. 

Oil pipelines break, spill and leak—it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of where and when. But the Army Corps never took a hard look at the impacts of an oil spill on the Tribe, as the law requires.  Yet a route close to Bismarck was deemed not viable due to the proximity to Bismarck, and the fact that the route crossed through or in close proximity to several wellhead source water protection areas, including areas that contribute water to municipal water supply wells. 

So now, the pipeline would run through land that is sacred to the Tribe. The law requires that sacred places be protected in consultation with the Tribe, but the Corps has not complied with that requirement, either.  

Please don’t rush the Dakota Access Pipeline—the Corps must carefully consider all of the impacts to the Tribe before issuing any approvals.  Do not allow the Army Corps to grant Dakota Access an easement – the Tribe’s sacred lands and resources must be protected. 

UUSC’s Solidarity Support Letter

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W.
Washington, D.C.  20500

Mr. Denis McDonough
The White House
Chief of Staff to the President
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W.

Ms. Jo-Ellen Darcy
Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works)
108 Army Pentagon
Washington, DC  20310

Dear President Obama,

Dear Mr. McDonough and Assistant Secretary Darcy,

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) submits this letter to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline. We stand in solidarity and support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other communities in their fight against this dangerous and destructive pipeline.

Oil pipelines break, spill and leak—it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of where and when.  In fact, a route close to Bismarck was deemed not viable due to its proximity to Bismarck, and the fact that the route crossed through or in close proximity to several wellhead source water protection areas, including areas that contribute water to municipal water supply wells.  Yet despite these real consequences, the Army Corps of Engineers (“Army Corps”) never took a hard look at the impacts of an oil spill on the Tribe, as the law requires.  No explanation has been provided as to why the health of, and protection of water resources on which, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal members depend are any less significant or vital as those of the City of Bismarck.

Instead, now the pipeline is set to run through land that is sacred to the Tribe.  Federal law requires that sacred places be protected in consultation with the Tribe, but the Corps has

not complied with that requirement, either.   We ask that the Administration take a step back and slow down its consideration of the Dakota Access Pipeline—the Corps must carefully consider all of the impacts to the Tribe before issuing any approvals.  The Dakota Access pipeline does not have the easement from the Corps of Engineers to cross Lake Oahe. As the trustee to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and all tribes, do not grant the final easement until further review of the project is guaranteed.

Your Administration has a responsibility to protect all Indian nations’ water resources and must take action now to ensure the Standing Rock Sioux Tribes rights are recognized and resources are safeguarded for future generations.


Salote Soqo
Senior Program Leader Environmental Justice & Climate Action

UUSC Responds to Unprecedented Flooding in Louisiana

UUSC is currently working with local partner organizations in Louisiana to provide assistance to affected low-income populations who have lost their homes, jobs, and livelihoods as a result of the devastating flood that ravaged the state earlier this month.

Our work will be consistent with the support we provided to survivors of the flash floods that struck West Virginia in June of this year. There, we worked with Legal Aid of West Virginia to assist marginalized populations (low-income families, individuals, homeless populations, children, and people living with disabilities) to understand their rights to access FEMA and other government assistance; offer consumer protection education; provide counseling services to help homeowners process insurance claims and avoid price-gouging and other contractor scams; and to assist renters in advocating for their rights with landlords. A second grant was made to the UUC Clean Water Fund program to provide immediate humanitarian aid to local groups serving the most marginalized communities.

Support planned for marginalized residents in Louisiana will also be based on UUSC’s emerging US-South Climate Justice Initiative, which addresses the racial and ethnic disparities of environmental injustices and climate change.

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. Body Count Rises as Philippine President Wages War on Drugs, Jason Gutierrez, New York Times, August 2, 2016

In the first month of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, 420 people have been killed in his campaign that has authorized the police and military to kill drug suspects. Of these, 266 have been killed by police, and 154 by “unidentified vigilantes.” Citing the voluntary surrender to authorities by almost 115,000 drug addicts or dealers, President Duterte promised to continue the program “until the last drug lord, the last financier, and the last pusher have surrendered or been put behind bars or below ground…”

Human rights groups have countered with reports that many of those killed were not drug dealers but simply poor Filipinos, shot by people said to be either “unidentified gunmen” or “government-sanctioned death squads.”

President Duterte’s program is currently popular in the Philippines, although recent cases of drug-related incidents in Manila drew wide attention. The Philippine Daily Inquirer ran a photo of the widow of one of these men cradling her husband’s body under the headline, “Thou Shall Not Kill.”

Officially, in addition to the Catholic Church, the International Drug Policy Consortium, a network of nongovernmental organizations, demanded that the United Nations “end the atrocities currently taking place in the Philippines,” and to agree that “extrajudicial killings ‘do not constitute acceptable drug control measures.”

Michael Kourabas, UUSC Associate Director for Program and Partner Support, reports, “Our consultant in the Philippines recently convened our partners there to discuss the implications of the Duterte regime on civil society and what human rights groups can and should do.”

Read more about UUSC work in the Philippines prior to this tragic turn of events as we continue to monitor the situation.

2. The Financial Form That Cornered the Market on Jails, Arun Gupta, The Nation, August 1, 2016

One of the more recent intrusions of for-profit service businesses in the nation’s prison system involves the practice of returning cash to prisoners upon their release in the form of pre-paid cash cards, which are subject to fees including a $5.95 monthly service fee, up to $4.95 for a cash advance (as high as $18.75 for international transactions), $1.00 to check the card’s balance, and $0.95 each time a card is declined for any reason.

The result is that many prisoners lose much of the cash they had on hand when they were arrested to fees charged by these “financial services” businesses. For cards issued for $20, these fees can easily consume more than half of the face value.

The situation is worse for immigrants. Some are deported to countries where they cannot use the cards; others are issued cards and re-arrested on old charges or held in detention for other reasons, and their debit cards “sit in the property room” in jails while their owners await release, losing $5.95 or more per month until their balance is $0.

UUSC partner No More Deaths, a refugee advocacy group in Arizona, issued a report entitled “Shakedown” that documented the ways money and belongings are seized from deportees. Their volunteers assist migrants in recovering funds from these cards, “even crossing the border to cash out cards in order to recoup funds.” Even with this help, refugees holding these cards still lost about 1/3 of their value to fees. There is now a pending class-action suit filed in U.S. District Court against Numi, the self-described “leader in stored value card solutions for the criminal justice and corrections industry.”

Read more about UUSC’s work on behalf of Central American refugees subjected to these and other abuses of their human rights while held behind bars in the increasingly for-profit U.S. correctional system, and our action to stop the raids on families seeking asylum.

3. Good Crop, Bad Crop, Gabriel Thompson, Slate.com, August 2, 2016

Wage theft is one of the worst human rights abuses in the U.S. agricultural industry. Recent studies show that 6 in 10 farmworkers in Oxnard and Santa Paula Counties in California reported personal experience with wage theft; a similar study in Oregon showed that 9 of 10 farmworkers in that state were paid less than minimum wage. Abuses typically include employers requiring workers to report for work before scheduled shifts, not paying for “paid” breaks, denying overtime, and under-reporting hours worked. For piece-rate harvesters, employers regularly undercount boxes.

There are laws against these practices, and up to 70% of all agricultural companies but farmworkers rarely bring charges against their employers because they fear retaliation.

One of the most powerful laws on the books that protects agricultural workers from these violations is the “hot goods provision” of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which was passed during the Franklin Roosevelt Administration in 1937. It empowers the Department of Labor to act quickly to prevent companies from shipping products made “in violation of wage and child labor laws.” President Roosevelt declared that these products were in fact “contraband” and “ought not be allowed to pollute the channels of interstate trade.”

Since then, the hot goods provision has been used against clothing manufacturers and discount retailers with great success.

Despite its power, hot goods has been rarely used in agriculture because big agribusinesses have been successful in filing legal action against the Department of Labor causing the agency to back off; they have also received support from conservative think tanks claiming hot goods is “over-regulation.”

As a result, farmworkers have resorted to new, creative solutions to fight wage theft, but Thompson notes that perhaps the best law on the books is one the Department of Labor has chosen not to use.

Read more about UUSC’s ongoing work to combat wage theft and other employer violations in agribusiness, including poultry industry workers and restaurant employees.

4. Black Lives Matter is Joining the Fight Against Deportations – and it Could be a Game Changer, Jorge Rivas, Fusion, August 2, 2016

This article tells the story of Black Lives Matter’s 10-point platform that includes a call to end all forms of deportation, including “an end to immigration raids, a halt to deportations and assurances that all immigrants have access to an attorney before going to an immigration judge.” Speaking for the organization, Carl Lipscombe, a member of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), noted, “When you think about deportations and immigrants in detention it’s really under the banner of mass criminalization. The issues impacting immigrants are the exact same issues that impact black people in the United States.”

The organization noted that, in addition to the potential for a bridge between Black Lives Matter and the immigration rights movement, it’s important to note the number of black people affected by U.S. immigration policies. “A rising share of the U.S black population is foreign-born, and they’re disproportionately impacted by many of the same issues facing Latino immigrants. Black immigrants are nearly three times more likely to be detained and deported as a result of an alleged criminal offense.”

While there is opportunity for collaboration between Black Lives Matter and immigration rights groups, Lipscombe notes that there is a need to combat racism within some elements of the immigration rights movement, and to look at immigration issues in terms of how they “disproportionately affect people of color, rather than as an atomized issue divided along lines of nationality.”

Recent UUSC work related to connections between racial justice and broad human rights issues include The Invisible Crisis: Water Unaffordability in the United States, the work of several of the UUSC’s first class of Justice Building Innovators, and Building Bridges: The Refugee Support and Advocacy Toolkit.

Advocacy Report Back

In the past few months, thousands and thousands of UUSC supporters have taken action in support of social justice and human rights. Thank you! Whether you’ve shown up at a rally, signed a petition, or taken a moment to read one of our recent reports—your partnership in this work is making a difference.

Here’s an update on some of our activities and how you can get involved in challenging injustice and advancing human rights. Make sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all the latest news!

Economic Justice

IW #BoycottWendys in Columbus, OhioIn late June, over 50 protestors took to the streets of Columbus, Ohio in support of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ boycott of Wendy’s for failing to sign the Fair Food Program.

Wendy’s is the only U.S. fast food chain that has refused to join the Fair Food Program. Signing onto this program would require them to pay just one penny per pound more for the tomatoes they buy, and ensure things like better healthcare and working conditions for their workers. Nearly 9,000 UUSC supporters have signed a petition to Wendy’s leadership demanding the company join McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Taco Bell, and Chipotle in committing to fair treatment and improved wages for farmworkers. These petitions were delivered directly to Wendy’s headquarters in Dublin, Ohio!

In May, the #GoodFoodNow coalition delivered over 130,000 petitions to Olive Gardens in seven cities asking for fair wages for workers, local and organic food options, and improved animal welfare.

Darden, the company that owns Olive Garden, has already agreed to one of the coalition’s demands, but we’re continuing to increase the pressure. More than 2,000 UUSC supporters have sent messages directly to Darden’s management, asking Olive Garden to prioritize these changes.

Rights at Risk

detention center in Karnes, Texas
The detention center in Karnes, Texas, where families have endured and continue to endure jail-like conditions.

On Wednesday, June 1, a Texas district judge issued a temporary injunction preventing the state from issuing a child care license to a for-profit immigration detention center in Dilley, Texas, while a case against granting that license is being heard. Meanwhile, as news of the inhumane conditions in these centers spreads, private prison management companies are struggling to find partners to collaborate in the opening of new family detention facilities. In June, the county commissioners in both Jim Wells and Dimmit Counties unanimously rejected proposals to locate for-profit family detention centers in their jurisdiction. We’re excited that the tide seems to be turning toward justice for asylum-seeking families and will continue to follow these developments closely.

UUSC has long been a vocal advocate for the tens of thousands of refugees who are coming to the United States after fleeing violence in Central America. As part of a coalition led by Grassroots Leadership and RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services), we are working to stop the routine detention of asylum-seeking mothers and children. Our coalition also stands against the documented abuses of traumatized family members at the hands of U.S. Border Patrol officials, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the staff of private, for-profit detention centers.

And we’re also driving forward changes in policy toward these refugees. Thousands of UUSC activists have supported this work by calling on Congress to pass the act to ensure refugee children are fairly represented before deportation hearings – and thanks to your actions, nearly 50 more senators and representatives have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.

On Mother’s Day, hundreds of UUSC supporters co-signed a Mother’s Day card to Michelle Obama and other White House moms, asking them to visit one of the immigrant detention centers and meet with the mothers there. UUSC worked with a group of formerly detained immigrants to deliver these cards, with flowers, to White House staff.

Environmental Justice

Last month, we released a  research report, The Invisible Crisis: Water Unaffordability in the United States, which sheds new light on the breadth of the country’s water crisis; pinpoints the sources of unequal access to clean, affordable water; and reveals the harsh reality people face when they can’t afford basic water and sanitation services.

In April, more than 3,000 UUSC supporters sent messages to the EPA, calling on them to include water affordability in the national climate adaptation plan. And staff member Hannah Hafter delivered them in a meeting with EPA Senior Policy Advisor Jeff Peterson.

And in February, UUSC, the National Coalition on Legislation for Affordable Water (NCLAWater), and other groups went to Capitol Hill to raise public awareness and press for federal legislation to make water and sanitation services affordable for all; to stop mass water shutoffs; to win new protections for vulnerable populations at risk of losing their access to clean, affordable water; and to end criminalization of individuals who cannot pay their water bills.

How You Can Take Action

  • #BoycottWendys and join an action in your area with our partners at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
  • Looking for ways to #WelcomeRefugees? Join the UUSC Refugee Rapid Response Network to connect with others who are protecting the rights of the world’s refugees. As a member of this new network, you’ll receive special alerts on how you can take action in your community to benefit individual refugees and counter anti-immigrant bigotry.
  • Learn more about how you can take action to address the world’s refugee crisis via our Refugee Support and Advocacy Toolkit.
  • Donate to support UUSC’s work as we advance justice at home and worldwide. All donations above $125 will be matched, dollar-for-dollar!

We’re amazed by the things we can achieve when we come together and speak out for justice. Thank you for your support and dedication – every time you stand up for human rights!