The Nepal Earthquake: Two Years Later

On April 25, 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, with a massive 7.3 magnitude aftershock devastated parts of Nepal. Nearly 9,000 people died, and more than 25,000 others were injured. 900,000 homes were destroyed. While the earthquake has faded from the news and even the memories of many outside of Nepal, UUSC continues to work with grassroots partners that are empowering survivors and protecting their rights as they rebuild their homes and lives. Today, on the two year anniversary of that devastating earthquake, we honor two of these organizations and share information about their work.

Women for Human Rights, single women group

Established in 1994, Women for Human Rights, single women group (WHR) is an NGO actively working for the rights of widows and single women in Nepal. Single women are deeply stigmatized because they are considered symbols of ill-omen and the cause of the death of their husbands. Patriarchal laws and policies that discriminate against them only further aggravate their suffering.

To combat this discrimination, WHR is dedicated to organizing widows across Nepal and at the regional and international levels. WHR aims for an equitable society where widows are respected and can live in dignity with sufficient social, cultural, economic, legal, and political rights. WHR has organized over 100,000 single women in 1,550 village development committees and municipalities in 73 districts across Nepal, mobilizing them as key agents of change in their respective communities.

UUSC has provided two grants to WHR as part of our Nepal Earthquake response. The earthquake left many widows fending for themselves and facing a multitude of problems. For example, in addition to the stigmatization they already faced, women who lacked documents were unable to claim their late husband’s property as their own or faced difficulties getting rebuilding grants because their marriage was unregistered.

Nepali woman holding book

Advocacy is a major strength of WHR’s work and they are directly involved in calling for changes to the country code in order to suspend laws that result in discriminatory policies against single women. WHR conducts trainings and facilitates workshops, organizing not only single women to advocate for the rights, but for all women to hold stakeholders accountable to guarantee rights for all Nepalis, regardless of their gender or marital status.

Empower Generation

Infographic with light bulb, Empower Generation logo, and map of NepalEmpower Generation (EG) began in 2012 with the launch of a women-led clean energy business in Nepal. As one of the poorest countries in the world, more than half of the country’s people live without access to reliable power. As EG explains on their website, “energy poverty affects women and children the most, exposing them to poisonous fumes from combustion of fuels such as firewood or kerosene. Millions of women and children die each year from respiratory problems associated with breathing smoke.”

To address this problem, EG aims to empower women already serving as household energy managers to become entrepreneurs. They develop market-based approaches to increase the adoption of clean energy technology in remote areas, improving health, saving carbon and money, and laying the foundation for greener economic development. EG’s distribution network now includes 13 women-led businesses, covering 11 districts and employments dozens of women. To date, EG’s network has distributed over 42,000 solar lights, saving impoverished Nepali families over $1.5 million in household energy expenses and displacing over 6,000 tons of CO2 by replacing kerosene and candles.

With a grant from the UUSC, EG has trained and supported 30 Dalit women in the earthquake affected Gorkha region to become solar sales agents and identify one woman in the group to manage these agents as a solar entrepreneur. The objective of the project was to provide long-lasting income generation and self-sufficiency to marginalized women affected by the earthquake. By providing solar power and light to their energy-poor communities, women earned income and respect. Trainings in sales, marketing, and business basics solidified their positions as community leaders while increasing their skills as communicators and financial managers. Learn more about EG’s work in their guest blog, Two Friends, One Mission: Access to Clean Technology in Gorkha.

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, we are highlighting the ways that the Trump administration’s policies are affecting an already vulnerable immigrant population.

Jeff Sessions Prepares DOJ For Crackdown On Unauthorized Border-Crossers, Elise Foley, Huffington Post, April 11, 2017

With the ultimate goal of detention, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is preparing harsher policies for undocumented immigrants with non-violent criminal offenses. Despite these non-violent offenses, such as illegal re-entry and document fraud, Sessions evoked dangerous and harmful imagery, using words such as “war zones, beheadings, depravity and violence, drug cartels, killing innocent citizens” to describe these non-violent offenders these policies are aimed at, criminalizing undocumented immigrants and painting them in a dangerous light.

Some of the policies cover prosecution for those harboring or transporting immigrants, felony prosecution for re-entry and multiple misdemeanors, and tighter border controls. There was no mention of how these policy rollouts would be funded or what other resources this would take.

Read more about criminalization and the harmful effects it has on minority communities here.

How Police Entanglement with Immigration Enforcement Puts LGBTQ Lives at Risk, Sharita Gruberg, Center for American Progress, April 12, 2017

LGBTQ immigrants are especially vulnerable to the new administration’s executive orders on immigration enforcement. The LGBTQ community already interacts with local law enforcement due to discrimination, profiling, and higher rates of violence and intimate partner violence. The executive orders have called for deportation of undocumented immigrants, many that are seeking asylum here because their lives are in danger. “LGBTQ people face widespread persecution in much of the world, with 76 countries criminalizing people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.” Deportation in these cases can result in death.

Mixing local law enforcement and immigration enforcement increases the danger that LGBTQ people face. LGBTQ immigrants will be less likely to come forward in instances of violence, discrimination, and domestic violence for fear of deportation. Their lives are more at risk both here in the United States because they are less likely to come forward and their lives are also threatened for fear of deportation.

Read a blog post about a UUSC staff member’s experience meeting an LGBTQ asylum-seeker in detention here.

Trump Plan Would Curtail Protections for Detained Immigrants, Caitlin Dickerson, The New York Times, April 13, 2017

“A decision to simultaneously abandon detention standards could have disastrous consequences for the health and safety of these individuals.”

The Trump administration is cutting back on already low standards and protections for immigrants being held in detention centers. For over 15 years, basic standards, such as regular suicide checks, ensuring translation is provided, and adequate medical care, have always been met. However, even these basic services are now at risk under the new administration. A regulatory office that oversees these protections and standards is being closed.

The Office of Detention Planning and Policy, which created policies to prevent sexual assault and protect pregnant detainees will also be shut down. A report released by a Homeland Security inspector just last month, cited health and safety concerns and even found that violent and non-violent offenders were sharing spaces.

UUSC partner, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), filed a complaint calling for a federal investigation into reports of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment in immigration detention facilities. Read more here.

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 we are following the launch of “Beyond the Moment: Uniting Movements from April 4 to May Day.

 April 4, 2017 marks both the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “Beyond Vietnam” speech and his assassination one year later. Beyond the Moment is a campaign organized by a coalition of more than 50 grassroots organizations called “The Majority,” which includes Fight for $15, NAACP, Mijente, Black Youth Project, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and many others. BTM honors the 50th anniversary of King historic speech by bringing diverse movements together in an intersectional struggle for economic, racial, and transnational justice—all leading up to mass mobilizations less than a month later on “May Day” or International Workers Day, May 1.

When Martin Luther King Came Out Against Vietnam, New York Times, April 4, 2017

“I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”

Tuesday marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s landmark speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” in which he first spoke publicly against the war in Vietnam. In this article, David J. Garrow provides an in-depth look at the circumstances surrounding the speech, including the Times’ own condemnation.

While King’s conscience had been tormented for years by the U.S. actions in Southeast Asia, he was under great pressure to remain silent. Some civil rights activists worried that the speech would alienate the Johnson administration (which it did). Even liberal allies and publications that had been sympathetic to civil rights blanched at Dr. King’s powerful denunciation of imperialism and militarism.

King knew that his speech would invite controversy, but he delivered it anyway, recognizing that his role in speaking truth to power, even – or perhaps especially – when that truth is difficult to hear. As King is quoted in this article, “[By speaking out,] I was politically unwise but morally wise.”

Fifty years later, when the U.S. is currently trying to ban refugees from Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, and other countries where its own policies have fueled conflicts and led to civilian casualties that drive forced displacement, Dr. King’s decision to “break silence” – like his message that injustice at home is inseparable from injustice abroad – could scarcely be more relevant.

MLK’s Revolutionary Speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” Turned 50. Here’s How It’s Relevant to Our Current Crazy, Colorlines, April 4, 2017

One of the criticisms leveled against King following the speech was that, supposedly, a civil rights leader had no business commenting on international events. What did the struggle for Black equality in the United States have to do with the war in Vietnam? From the pulpit of the Riverside Church in Manhattan, however, Dr. King affirmed – in words of heartbreaking poignancy – that the freedom struggle in the United States, in fact, had everything to do with the struggle against war, exploitation, and imperialism overseas. King warned against the deadly union of the “giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism,” and declared that the only solution was a “genuine revolution of values” that would oppose all three. His belief in the interdependence of all justice struggles foreshadows the concept of intersectionality.

“King knew that the war and the Civil Rights Movement were part of a common struggle against imperialism, colonization, and capitalism.”

The radicalism of this message has often been obscured by anodyne popular depictions of King as a peacemaker and bridge-builder. Here, Colorlines’ Editorial Director Akiba Solomon interviews Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, a visiting scholar at the Martin Luther King Papers at Stanford University and a key figure in the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Rev. Sekou aims to recover the image of King as someone who was also fiercely committed to struggles for economic justice, transnational freedom, and racial liberation. As he says in this interview, “there are three pillars of the radical gospel of Martin Luther King Jr. that we should not allow holiday remembrances to Whitewash: democratic socialism, transnational anti-imperialism, and Black prophetic Christianity.”

Meet the New Social Change Coalition: ‘The Majority’, The Nation, March 31, 2017

In this article, Collier Meyerson provides an introduction to and overview of Beyond the Moment, an exciting new, intersectional campaign launched by a broad coalition of grassroots organizations to respond to a “minority whose values are rooted in white supremacy, division, and hatred.”

The organizations making up The Majority, the coalition behind Beyond the Moment run the gamut of progressive movements from the fight for fair wages to the struggle to protect indigenous land to resisting deportation and the criminalization of communities of color. “It’s also part of a long-term strategy to build a world where people can live in dignity and where we can situate people at the margins to have power,” said Patrisse Cullors, one of the three founders of BLM. Just as Dr. King’s vision of the beloved community carried him from the civil rights struggle in the Jim Crow South and the Poor People’s Campaign, to solidarity actions with the sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis, The Majority emphasizes that all struggles for justice are interlinked.

The “Beyond the Moment” approach is an intentional change from more siloed, “issue-oriented” advocacy campaigns of the past. It is grounded in the belief that our diverse movements for justice and equality will either stand or fall together, and that protection or sanctuary for one community means little until all of us can live with dignity and freedom. As Mijente organizer Marisa Franco states, “We can’t say, ‘hey don’t let ICE on your campus’ and not call out over-policing of people of color on college campuses. We can’t celebrate local police who might consider not working with ICE but who over-police and won’t make those same proclamations for other communities of color.”

Other articles highlighting “Beyond the Moment” we recommend:

Criminalization: Legalized Discrimination

Last month, I was privileged to attend the “Defend, Defy, Expand” conference in Philadelphia, organized by Mijente, BYP 100, the Undocublack Network, DRUM, and others, where we met leaders from Muslim, South Asian, Black, immigrant, Latinx, and trans communities, who are taking unprecedented action to build new alliances across multiple movements with the goal of advancing and expanding the concept of sanctuary. This means making our shared communities safer for all of us, in particular for those who are most at risk. At the heart of the expanded sanctuary concept is the need to end criminalization, a shared threat that extends across communities.

What is criminalization?

Simply put, “criminalization” refers to the stereotyping and treatment of whole communities as “criminal” or “terrorist,” rather than responding to the actions people take as individuals. The experience of being “criminalized” is something that at-risk communities – trans, undocumented, Muslim, and Black – have in common. For communities who directly encounter the immigration enforcement, criminal justice, and national security systems every day, the reality of this problem, and the need to combat it, are readily apparent.

How communities are criminalized

The Movement for Black Lives has brought national attention to the way in which Black neighborhoods are over-policed and subjected to unfair and invasive law enforcement tactics like “stop and frisk,” which violate constitutional rights and fuel mass incarceration. Similarly, Muslim people have faced racial profiling and invasive surveillance through various programs, including a notorious post-9/11 New York City Police Department program that infiltrated Muslim houses of worship with a network of informants and which was ultimately halted by court order because it violated civil rights protections.

Undocumented immigrants meanwhile are being increasingly threatened with federal criminal charges for “illegal entry,” “illegal reentry,” and other crimes that are related solely to immigration status, and which already make up a majority of federal criminal prosecutions nationwide. The current administration has even started threatening to lock up immigrant parents on “human trafficking” charges if they hire a coyote, or smuggler, to bring their children to the United States—even though this is often the only way for asylum-seekers and others to reach safety, since criminal networks control most of the border crossings.

Grassroots organizations like the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project describe the way in which transgender and gender non-conforming people are often profiled and harassed by police on the false assumption that they are sex workers. Stereotypes and prejudices about trans people as “dangerous” has likewise been central in recent attempts to roll back trans civil rights through various state “bathroom bills.” One recent ad campaign, funded by an anti-LGBTQI hate group in Texas, depicts trans people as sex offenders who will use gender inclusive bathroom policies to attack women and girls.

Trans people also face exceptionally high rates of housing and employment discrimination, which forces many into poverty and homelessness and leads, in turn, to what advocates describe as “crimes of survival.” These are offenses like loitering or public urination that while technically criminal offenses, are almost impossible to avoid for people who are denied a decent place to live and a chance for lawful employment.

Persecuting at-risk communities

The cruelest irony of criminalization is that it treats as dangerous the very people who are often most at risk. Black Muslim immigrants, including the large Somali refugee community in the United States, endure stigmatization as potential “terrorists” and “criminals” due to intersection of their multiple identities. Yet, they are themselves at grave risk of suffering terrorism and violence in the form of hate crimes for precisely this reason. Earlier this year, a group of white supremacists plotted to bomb an apartment complex because its residents were Somali immigrants. Fortunately, the plot was foiled before it could be carried out, but it is a terrifying reminder of the potential for violence set off by government policies that stereotype and stigmatize whole communities.

Politicians and lobbyists have long exploited the rhetoric of criminalization, often because there are powerful interests with a stake in maintaining systems of mass incarceration, detention, and deportation. For example, criminalization benefits the private prison industry; airlines that contract to carry out deportation flights; and international telecom companies that rely on the cheap labor of English-speaking deportees to work in call centers. The Trump administration has carried this discourse to a fever pitch, demanding a national “stop-and-frisk” policy on the campaign trail and creating an office to monitor crimes committed by “illegal immigrants,” as if offenses are somehow worse when committed by undocumented people than when they are done by citizens.

Why should we resist and take action against criminalization?

Criminalization is a threat to our values as people of conscience. We resist the criminalization and stigmatization of whole communities because we believe that every individual has worth and dignity as an individual. This means that we all have the right to be judged on the merits of our actions, not on the basis of stereotypes about our identities. Not only is this a minimal requirement of fairness, it is also crucial to the right to due process.

For those of us, like myself, who grew up in privileged settings where federal agents and law enforcement were not a daily feature of life, the concept of “criminalization” is not always intuitive. Meeting community leaders who are on the front lines of the struggle for dignity and sanctuary, has shown me why it is so important to gain a clearer understanding of this term and resist efforts to legalize discrimination. Confronting criminalization and ending it is key to creating communities that will be genuine sanctuaries for all.

A Win for Rights, But the Struggle Goes On

 

These rulings, like those that blocked the first order, come as a great relief to refugees, immigrants, Muslim Americans, and everyone who cares about our country’s values of individual rights and equal treatment.

Two key rulings by federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland last week have temporarily halted the implementation of the President’s second attempt at a “travel ban”—widely referred to as the Muslim Ban 2.0. These rulings, like those that blocked the first order, come as a great relief to refugees, immigrants, Muslim Americans, and everyone who cares about our country’s values of individual rights and equal treatment.

Under these rulings, refugees in the United States will be able to reunite with their family members without fear of being denied a visa purely because of their nationality, people who have applied for third-country refugee processing in Costa Rica will no longer be stranded in limbo, and some refugee children in Central America who have already spent months or longer waiting in deadly conditions will again board flights to safety.

Too close for comfort

As crucial as these rulings were, however, they should never have been the only thing standing between people and the loss of their rights. The first ruling came down only a few hours before the ban was set to go into effect. Refugees, visa applicants, and nationals of six Muslim-majority countries were left staring down a precipice of possible family separation and years of processing delays up until the last minute. This was far too close a call.

Neither ruling offers permanent relief from these fears. They are both temporary restraining orders and could be lifted on appeal. The administration has already made clear its intent to fight the rulings, and Trump has suggested that he may return to the, even more discriminatory, version of the first order.

Moreover, the ban, even if permanently blocked, has already had a chilling effect on the lives and prospects of refugees. Since January, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has stopped conducting new interviews with child refugees applying for the Central American Minors program (CAM), even though the executive orders were supposedly on hold. Asylum-seekers from Africa and the Middle East have been fleeing the United States for Canada in significant numbers, enduring a frigid and dangerous journey on their way, because of the U.S. government’s undisguised hostility to their rights. And none of these court rulings will affect the administration’s other executive orders and implementation guidelines that continue to target immigrants and asylum-seekers.

What did the courts decide?

In many ways, the refugee ban has been foiled so far because of the President’s own rhetoric. The courts did not have to look hard for evidence of discriminatory intent for the actions of this administration. In fact, they relied on the President’s campaign statements that he would seek “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” and that “Islam hates us.” Both cited Trump’s comments in interviews that he only stopped referring to a Muslim ban in public because “[p]eople were so upset when I used the word Muslim” that he decided to “talk […] territory instead of Muslim.” Further, administration officials have been quoted stating that the second executive order was meant to accomplish the same purpose as the first, even as the first was under a nationwide injunction because of its discriminatory purpose.

The second version of the order claims it does not discriminate. Instead, it offers a “national security” rationale for the ban (one that did not appear anywhere in the text of the first version), and which administration officials were not able to supply when asked for it at trial. These are strong indicators that the national security argument was a mere pretext. In fact, Maryland District Court Judge Theodore Chuang found that national security was “not the primary purpose for the travel ban.”

The administration claimed that people who come from six conflict-ravaged nations—Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen—pose a greater terror risk than others. (They make no mention of the role the United States itself has recently played in conflicts in more than one of these countries.) The administration’s argument is not only belied by a recent DHS report which found that country of origin has little determination on whether someone is likely to commit violence. It is also a betrayal of our national promise, violating one of our most important social values: that people should not be judged based on where they come from, but rather as individuals with worth and dignity.

One order down – an entire political agenda to go

The executive orders are so extreme that they may not survive the legal challenges ahead. However, the courts on their own will not be able to forestall every piece of a larger xenophobic agenda. There are signs, for instance, that the administration could still suspend the refugee program even if the rest of the executive order is not allowed to stand. The Maryland court, for one, while blocking portions of the executive order, did not extend its ruling to cover the refugee program. This choice is difficult to understand, given that the assault on the program was motivated by the same anti-Muslim bias (nearly half of refugees currently entering the United States are Muslim, and the vast majority coming from the same Muslim-majority countries targeted in the order).

UUSC will remain vigilant in the months ahead and pick up the work of resistance wherever other remedies are insufficient. Our organization was born out of the struggles of refugees and victims of persecution during World War II and we will continue to speak out against the politics of hate and all efforts to unwind the moral consensus that has emerged since those years. UUSC is in solidarity with all marginalized communities as we struggle for greater recognition of human rights.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading includes a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week’s catch up on the recent rulings on Trump’s travel bans, human rights violations in Burma (Myanmar), and immigration in the United States.

Two Federal Judges Rule Against Trump’s Latest Travel Ban, Alexander Burns, The New York Times, March 15, 2017

 “This is a great day for democracy, religious and human rights. I am very pleased that the processing of my mother-in-law’s paperwork will not stop now but more importantly that this Muslim ban will not separate families and loved ones just because they happen to be from the six countries.” -Mr. Elshikh

Two federal judges, from Hawaii and Maryland, blocked the Trump Administration’s revised travel ban earlier this week. This is the second setback since Trump issued the new executive order banning travel from certain Muslim-majority countries. The first block was from a federal court in Seattle. The federal judges both argued that the travel ban was discriminatory and based on religion, making it unconstitutional. In addition, the lawsuits mention that the executive order harms the operations of various organizations, schools, and hospitals overseas.

Learn more about the effects these executive orders are having on immigrant families in our blog, DHS Memos Threaten Immigrants’ Rights, Families, and Safety.

Myanmar must ‘allow Rohingya to leave camps’, Al Jazeera, March 16, 2017

Former U.N. Secretary, General Kofi Annan, was appointed to lead a commission by Burma’s (Myanmar) current de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi to investigate tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in the country. The commission released a report stating that Burma must close internally displaced persons (IDP) camps that have been housing and trapping thousands of Rohingya, Burma’s Muslim minority, for the past five years. The Rohingya are not recognized citizens and are denied basic rights, including healthcare, education, and often, humanitarian aid. The report also recommends that the U.N. to run an independent investigation into the ongoing violence and persecution of that has been taking place over decades.

Today, UUSC President and CEO Tom Andrews, along with other human rights leaders, gave testimony on the humanitarian situation in Burma. Click here to watch the hearing and join our call for a Commission of Inquiry at uusc.org/truthforrohingya.

Donald Trump’s Crackdown On Undocumented Immigrants Is Silencing Exploited Workers, Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post, March 8, 2017

The Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants may have opposite consequences than intended. Christopher Williams, a lawyer who works closely with undocumented immigrants states, “I honestly think it’s creating an incentive to hire more undocumented workers, because now they’re even more vulnerable to being exploited.”

In light of the recent raids, some workers are even denying back pay, afraid of providing their home addresses for fear of deportation. The increase in raids and deportations are creating unsafe working environments to an already vulnerable population.