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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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

Background

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
dmcos@who.eop.gov
(202) 456-3182

Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of Army Corp of Engineers
joellen.darcy@us.army.mil
(703)697-8986

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.
dmcos@who.eop.gov 

Ms. Jo-Ellen Darcy
Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works)
108 Army Pentagon
Washington, DC  20310
joellen.darcy@us.army.mil

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.

Sincerely,

Salote Soqo
Senior Program Leader Environmental Justice & Climate Action