Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! In honor of World Refugee Day on  June 20, this week’s wrap-up includes articles about how technology is helping to address the crisis, climate refugees in Somalia, and education access for refugee children.

The current humanitarian crisis is the largest since World War II. UUSC is dedicated to fighting for the human rights of refugees. Learn more about our partner organizations working in Croatia to provide humanitarian aid for and protect the rights of refugees.

Refugee hackathons and 3D printing: apps for the world’s displaced people, Tazeen Dhunna Ahmad, The Guardian, June 20, 2017

Although humanitarian aid provides refugees access to the essentials, like food, clothing, and shelter, refugees also need access to opportunities to improve their situation. This is where technology comes in and has helped “to transform conditions and empower more than 22 million refugees worldwide.”

The majority of refugees have mobile phones, which has made travel and global communication easier. However, it’s tech initiatives, like the ones Ahmad highlights in this article, that are really helping to create education and employment opportunities for refugees. Ahmad shares the story of, Admir Masic, a former refugee who is now an associate professor at MIT, who recently launched a global hub, Refugee ACTion Hub (ReACT), to provide refugees with education. 3Dmena, another tech partnership, is providing refugees with access to prosthetic limbs, “custom-built and cheaper” due to advances in 3D printing technology.

Hackathons and other tech-centric competitions provide refugees with an innovative platform to solve the problems their communities face and to find job opportunities – from solving water leakages on camps to employing refugees to take on a backlogged recycling system.

It’s rare to find stories about refugees that aren’t grim. Technology and the opportunities it brings for human creativity and collaboration can change the conversation.

Amid Drought, Somali Pastoralists Watch Their ‘Sources of Life’ Perish, Samuel Hall Research Team & Ashley Hamer, News Deeply, June 20, 2017

The number of climate refugees is growing, and is set to grow at a higher rate as the impacts of global warming accelerate. Despite this, efforts to address climate forced displacement have been lacking and even avoided, meaning climate refugees “remain on the fringes of humanitarian support.”

Due to drought in the Horn of Africa, over 739,000 people have been forced to leave Somalia since November. Most are pastoralists who have watched their livestock die of starvation and dehydration and who have no other means of livelihood. Climate forced displacement can have, and already has had, a global ripple effect of economic disparity and violence, namely because of the damage that displacement does to families and communities. Addressing the needs of climate refugees will not only save hundreds of thousands of lives now, but can curb the more widespread conflicts that will likely come in the future.

UUSC has highlighted climate refugees as a marginalized group who are not receiving the help they need, even within the sphere of humanitarian aid providers. This is why our Environmental Justice portfolio is focusing its resources on communities at high risk of climate forced displacement.

What we owe refugee children, Elias Bou Saab, Gulf Times, June 22, 2017

Fifty-one percent of the world’s refugees are children, and without access to education, there are concerns that this group will be a “lost generation” growing up without the skills needed to rebuild their communities or to thrive. Saab, former Lebanese education minister, points out the benefits education access has for children: “Education is also a vital instrument for combating violent extremism, which can capture the minds of young people with no hope for the future. And school attendance is essential for children’s welfare, because it gives them access to basic healthcare services and protects them from the horrors of child labour and prostitution.”

World leaders have recognized the need to educate refugee children, but efforts on the part of host countries to provide education haven’t been enough. Education access has been delayed by poor organization, violence, and strained resources. Saab signifies how important it is that governments and organizations meet their monetary pledges – which many have not – but also calls on them to step up their funding for programs that make remote and online education possible. No child should grow up without an education. Visit the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to learn more.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! This week’s wrap-up includes select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss: Iraqi Christians facing deportation, the growing religious left movement, and the Standing Rock Sioux’s continued fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

ICE arrested dozens of Iraqi Christians in Detroit, Gabriela Del Valle, The Outline, June 12, 2017

Forty Iraqi Christians were rounded up in Detroit, Michigan on Sunday, June 11 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and are now being held in a detention center in Ohio. ICE raids and deportations are nothing new, especially under the Trump administration, but this case stands out because of how blatantly it is driven by political and economic negotiations between the United States and Iraq. It appears that Iraq was removed from Trump’s travel ban list – a ban that has been ruled illegal multiple times in court – after agreeing to accept deportees from the United States.

Many of the Iraqi Christians now facing deportation feel betrayed by Trump and his administration (and rightly so). Christians are a heavily persecuted minority in Iraq, and as Del Valle reports, “the House of Representatives unanimously voted in favor of a resolution declaring that ISIS’s persecution of religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, including Christians, constitutes genocide.” Many of the detained immigrants came to the United States to escape violence; to send them back to Iraq is knowingly putting them in mortal danger.

Read our statement condemning these deportations for their abject callousness.

Religious Liberals Sat Out of Politics for 40 Years. Now They Want in the Game, Laurie Goodstein, The New York Times, June 10, 2017

The Rev. William J. Barber II, organizer of the “Moral Mondays” protests in North Carolina, in April at Riverside Church in Manhattan, where he preached on building a national movement.

Over the past 40 years, the Christian conservatives have been the dominant religious presence in the U.S. political sphere. That’s finally starting to change. In response to Trump’s election, religious progressives are getting involved in grassroots movements across the country, “hungry to break the right’s grip on setting the nation’s moral agenda.”

As Goodstein points out, the religious left hasn’t been heavily involved in politics since protesting the Vietnam War. Now, the religious left is a much more diverse group – represented by many religions, by women, by people of color, by members of the LGBTQI community – and they want to turn the religious-political conversation back towards “fundamental biblical imperatives — caring for the poor, welcoming strangers and protecting the earth — and maybe even change some minds about what it means to be a believer.”

However, one of their biggest obstacles to really creating a political movement is other liberals. The standing policy of the Democratic Party is to distance itself from religion, whereas the Republican party has tied itself with Christian conservatism, which has generated them an important voter base in the past few decades.

In the wake of Trump’s election, one thing is certain: U.S. politics are changing. Goodstein’s article is an important look at the intersection between religion and politics.

UUSC has joined with the UUA for Love Resists, a joint campaign aimed at activating people of faith and conscience to resist the harm inflicted by criminalization by creating safer, more just, welcoming, and sustainable communities. Join us!

The Standing Rock Sioux Claim ‘Victory and Vindication’ in Court, Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic, June 14, 2017

On Wednesday, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe won their first court victory, but it wasn’t all they deserve. The court ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ initial study of the Dakota Access Pipeline’s (DAPL) environmental impact was not extensive enough and ordered for a new one to be conducted. However, the DAPL will still remain active in the meantime and perhaps even after the new study is complete.

It is unclear yet whether true justice will come to Standing Rock, but as Meyer states, “the ruling may establish some important precedents, particularly around environmental justice and treaty rights.” Although months of protests may not change the outcome of DAPL and its threat to Standing Rock drinking water, it may change the outcome of future cases.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! This week’s wrap-up includes select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss: Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the troubling relationship between immigration and private prisons, and Pride 2017.

Bucking Trump, These Cities, States and Companies Commit to Paris Accord, Hiroko Tabuchi & Henry Fountain, The New York Times, June 1, 2017

Thursday was a big blow to the global environmental movement and U.S. foreign relations. By officially declaring his intent to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, Trump has turned his back on the 195 countries – nearly the entire world—who agreed to the work together to mitigate the effects of climate change. This decision, as well as his dangerous “America First” rhetoric, highlight a short-sightedness when it comes to our shared future. UUSC condemned Trump’s decision within hours of the White House announcement.

While Trump’s decision was disappointing, it wasn’t unexpected, and already environmental advocates are mobilizing. As Todd Stern wrote in the Atlantic before the decision, “The Trump administration is about to throw down the gauntlet. If it does, we’ll need to take up the challenge.”

We are heartened to see just that. The New York Times reports that already, a group of representatives from over 200 cities, states, and companies is working on a proposal to pledge their commitment to the Paris Agreement.

In the first few months of Trump’s presidency, local and state governments and grassroots organizations have stepped up to protect human rights where the federal government refuses. It appears that environmental policy will be no different. UUSC will continue to find partnerships and ally with groups and individuals that work for environmental justice.

The Immigrant Crackdown Is a Cash Cow for Private Prisons, Samuel Gilbert, VICE, May 31, 2017

Under Trump’s immigration policy, new and expanded detention centers mean more money in the pockets of private prison owners. Gilbert’s article puts the spotlight on “the close relationship between the federal agency tasked with detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants and the private prison industry that helps house those detained immigrants.”

This “relationship” is yet another way that government policy is muddled with corporate interests. Privately-owned facilities hold the majority immigrant detainees. Many of these companies will be signing new contracts this year. Larger private prison companies will often hire Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to forge connections in the federal government and gain future contract opportunities. Bethany Carson from UUSC partner Grassroots Leadership, explains the situation, “They take the expertise they have working for the ICE and use that to lobby for even greater increases in their share of this system of mass detention.’”

Although the companies claim they do not lobby to change immigration policy and only use current rules to their benefit, they are nevertheless in the business of criminalization. Furthermore, studies show that poor treatment of detainees and corruption occur at much higher rates in private facilities. In 2015, UUSC issued a research report which found that half of the parents and children surveyed in detention centers reported clinically significant levels of symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress, and were not receiving any treatment or therapy.  Possibly more troubling, Mother Jones reported today that three immigrants have died at a private detention center in California.

In United States and abroad, a worrisome time for LGBT activists, David Crary, The Associated Press, June 1, 2017.

June 1 marked the beginning of LGBTQI Pride Month. This year, many organizers are foregoing the celebratory parades and rallies that have become typical in recent years and instead, organizing protests and solidarity marches. This has already drawn some criticism – even from more conservative LGBTQI advocates in the United States, who argue that the Trump administration has not done anything to infringe on current LGBTQ laws, for example, marriage equality. However, in a break from presidential tradition, Trump has yet to acknowledge Pride Month.

The fight for LGBTQ rights is by no means over. Same-sex marriage is only legal in 22 countries, and over 70 countries enforce laws that criminalize the LGBTQ community. As Crary points out, “most U.S. states still lack statewide laws banning discrimination against LGBT people, and majority Republicans in Congress show no interest in passing a Democratic-backed bill that would provide nationwide non-discrimination protections.” Further, the Trump administration recently revoked federal guidelines advising public school districts to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice. And multiple Trump appointees, as well as Vice President Pence are viewed as extreme opponents to LGTBQI equality.

UUSC is, as always, dedicated to protecting the rights of LGBTQI people across the world. We will be honoring Pride Month this year by highlighting events, stories, and news from the LGBTQI community on our blog and socials. Join in the conversation with #Pride2017!

Decision to Withdraw from Paris Agreement a “Step Backward”

Despite an enormous outpouring of public support from within the United States and abroad, today the Trump administration announced its decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. This action is reckless and irresponsible, but we are not deterred. Together with our partners, UUSC will continue to seek every opportunity to advocate for policies that combat the effects of climate change.

The decision is unsurprising, as Trump made repeated promises to do so during his presidential campaign last fall. However, we are deeply concerned that the United States has chosen to take a path out of line with the goals the entire world agreed to work towards together just two years ago. There are only two countries that did not support the landmark climate deal: Syria, which is in the midst of a devastating civil war and Nicaragua, which thought the Agreement too weak.

Leaving the Paris Agreement is a dangerous step backward and a grave injustice to the rest of the world, particularly to smaller countries in the Global South. The United States has an obligation to protect those that have made vulnerable by their carbon emissions. The Agreement was one way we, as a global community, sought both to assign responsibility where it is due and find solutions to issues that affect us all.

Today’s executive order reaffirms concerns that leadership on issues important to so many across the globe—climate change, economic justice, and human rights overall—can no longer come from the White House. In this moment, it is important to remember that there are individuals, groups, and communities dedicated to resisting policies that roll back our protections and continually working to create a better future in the face of harmful policies.

Our community partners in the South Pacific and Alaska are working to build protections in place to adapt to climate change and to safely relocate with dignity to protect their lives and their families from the harrowing impacts of sea level rise, coastal erosion, melting glaciers and natural disasters. Abandoning our responsibility by withdrawing from the Paris Agreement now is an added insult, as even that Agreement came too late for the many vulnerable communities already living with the realities of climate change.

UUSC will continue to work with and support these groups, finding and capitalizing on opportunities to effect positive change and build a sustainable future wherever possible.

 

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! This week’s wrap-up includes select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss: intersections between environmental justice and racial justice, the human story behind our current immigration policy, and Trump’s disappointing praise of Philippine President Duterte.

 

True Climate Justice Puts Communities of Color First, Audrea Lim, The Nation, May 22, 2017

Climate justice is insufficient if it doesn’t address racial injustice. When we look at the environmental problems caused by human activity, people of color are adversely affected at a much higher rate across the board. As Lim reports, “African Americans are exposed to 38 percent more polluted air than whites, and are 75 percent more likely to live in chemical-factory ‘fence-line zones’ than the U.S. average (Latinos are 60 percent more likely)” and “Heat-related deaths occur at a 150–200 percent higher rate among African Americans than among whites.”

How does this happen? When it comes to environmental health, decades of institutionalized racism have begotten economic disparities that put people of color at geographic disadvantages – a problem which will only become worse as the effects of climate change accelerate. This is precisely why UUSC sees environmental justice as a human rights issue.

The environmental movement has been around for decades, but the environmental justice movement is only now starting to take root in the form of intersectional protests at Standing Rock, support for community-owned renewable energy sources, and fairer environmental legislation.

This week, Salote Soqo, senior program leader for environmental justice & climate action, spoke at the Second Informal Thematic Session for Global Compact on Migration. Soqo made an explicit call for member states to recognize “that the experts of this approach are the communities that are most affected by these issues and who inherently hold the power to meaningfully address these problems with dignity.”

Deported to El Salvador, Trapped Between the Gangs and Trump, Danielle Marie Mackey, Pedro Armando Aparicio, and Leighton Akio Woodhouse, The Intercept, May 21, 2017

Jose Escobar lived in the United States for 17 years, ever since he and his mother immigrated from El Salvador to Texas to escape gang violence. He has a wife and children and was well-respected in Houston where he worked his way up from the bottom to running both a painting and a construction business. Now, the only way he can see his family is through the cameras that his wife had installed in their home while he lives in his aunt’s house in El Salvador, unable to leave the house alone for fear of violence, unable to return to Texas because of Trump’s backward immigration policy.

Escobar, who was permitted to stay in the United States by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents when he was a teenager, was deported in March when he went to his annual ICE checkup appointment – he was deported even though he did everything he was supposed to. Mackey, Aparicio, and Woodhouse share this heart-wrenching story of one individual, among the thousands who are being deported without criminal records under Trump’s immigration policy. It is important to remember that these are people, and while each has their own story, they face the same systemic injustice.

UUSC continues to call for expanded sanctuary policies that will make our communities safer for all. While typical sanctuary city policies have focused on protections for undocumented immigrants, expanded sanctuary policies recognize that the current administration is jointly threatening the rights of a wide range of communities. Learn more about how we are working to create a safer, more just, welcoming, and sustainable world at loveresists.org.

Trump Praises Duterte for Philippine Drug Crackdown in Call Transcript, David E. Sanger and Maggie Haberman, The New York Times, May 23, 2017

On Tuesday, the transcript of President Trump’s April 29 call to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was leaked. According to transcripts obtained by the New York Times, Trump praised Duterte for doing “an unbelievable job on the drug problem” – essentially congratulating him on the “unbelievable job” of killing thousands of people without due process and incarcerating tens of thousands in less than a year.

Trump’s remarks break from the State Department’s condemnation of Duterte’s actions as a violation of human rights. The transcript also shows that Trump mentioned the location of two United States nuclear submarines in talks about North Korea, another instance in which Trump seems to have revealed pertinent information to foreign officials.

Our previous statement on President Duterte’s “drug war” bears repeating: Our partners in the Philippines, “some of whom are risking their lives to empower and protect their communities, deserve better than an American president who fawns over authoritarianism and condones state-sanctioned murder.”

UUSC Recommendations for the Global Compact on Migration

On Tuesday, May 23, Salote Soqo, senior program leader for environmental justice & climate action, spoke as a respondent at the Second Informal Thematic Session for Global Compact on Migration at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Speakers at the event identified the many causes of forced migration and improvements for global migration policy, which will be incorporated into the Global Compact on Migration, the first intergovernmentally negotiated UN agreement to cover all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner. 

Read Soqo’s full remarks on climate refugees and climate-forced displacement below.

Thank You, Your Excellency.

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, through our work with some of the most vulnerable communities around the world, and particularly in the South Pacific and in Alaska, recognizes that climate-induced environmental degradation is an obvious driver for human mobility.

In the interest of time, I would like to emphasize four main points based on our experience thus far:

Firstly, it is important for us to acknowledge that the root causes of climate-induced displacement are not climate change per se, but global economic and power inequality. Industrialized countries therefore have an obligation to protect those that are made vulnerable by their carbon emissions. We must assign responsibility to where it is due.

Secondly, there have been previous remarks made by member states to center the global compact on a human-rights centered approach. We concur with this concept and reiterate the recognition that the experts of this approach are the communities that are most affected by these issues and who inherently hold the power to meaningfully address these problems with dignity—these are Indigenous People, women, children, the elderly and people living with disabilities, and farmers and fishermen whose subsistence and livelihood depend on their natural environments, and those living in remote areas of the world. Their active participation must be mandatory in state responses, their rights must be respected, and means to incentivize and implement community-based climate initiatives must be enabled through this compact. And more to the point of internally displaced populations, states must recognize that they have the obligation to protect their residents within their borders, and this compact should enforce their existing obligations.

Thirdly, building protections in place to protect communities where they are must always remain the priority, and if relocation is a necessity, which is particularly the case for small island developing states where displacement is inevitable for some islands, it must be planned proactively. It is thus important that this global compact work in tandem with the instruments of the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the accompanying institutions to enforce adaptation, disaster risk reduction, emergency humanitarian aid, and mandatory mitigation measures, particularly through the extension/renewal of the Doha Agreement, to compliment aspects that are not addressed by these instruments in order for this compact to be of value-add, and to avoid repetition.

Lastly, the compact must recognize that climate change is a multiplier of risks, as stated throughout this session. In some situations, this leads to conflict and violence, which often leads to forced migration. Thus, there is increasing recognition amongst states that climate change is a national security issue, and indeed it is, but it is important that, and in the spirit of unity and moral conscience, that the compact avoids language or measures that further dehumanizes or commodifies climate-forced displaced populations and must intentionally combat xenophobia and other forms of religious, cultural, and social discrimination against migrants.