Strength for the Fight Ahead

January 20 marks the one-year anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration. For human rights advocates, the past 365 days have been marked by daily efforts to resist actions from our nation’s highest office that propagate racism, hate, fear, ignorance, and greed. Right now, we are fighting for a clean Dream Act even as dysfunction in Washington holds up these efforts.

However, reflecting on the past year, and the work of our partners and staff in action, gives us hope—this work tells a story that is much more about courage and perseverance than one of despair.

Our shared vision of a world free from oppression provides fuel in the fight to advance human rights. Working together, with our partners and allies, we have activated strategies that confront unjust power structures and challenge oppressive policies.

Here are just a few moments from the past year that motivate us for the work that lies ahead.

This year, sustained by the passion of our community and supporters, we will continue to focus on strategies for protecting families fleeing violence in Central America, fighting for an end to ethnic cleansing in Burma, and responding to the front lines of climate change and ready to respond to natural disasters.

Celebrating International Migrants Day with a Call to our Philanthropic Allies

In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly designated December 18 as International Migrants Day. This day recognizes that international migration is a growing phenomenon in our world and calls us to reaffirm and uphold the human rights of migrants and refugees.

In early December, UUSC Senior Program Leader for Environmental Justice and Climate Action, Salote Soqo, participated in a stock-taking meeting for the Global Compact for Migration – an international mechanism for advancing a more unified approach to the needs of migrants. “The meeting was extraordinary,” Soqo says, “in the sense that in a time of rising nationalism and xenophobia, there was great convergence amongst delegates around centering the global compact on the protection of the rights of all migrants.” The meeting sent a strong signal that the Global Compact — and the international community’s collective actions on migration — must be centered on human rights.

David Boseto, of UUSC Partner Ecological Solutions, and boat driver Muku in Wagina, Solomon Islands

This International Migrants Day, celebrate with UUSC as we issue a new resource, Community-Led, Human-Rights Based Solutions to Climate-Forced Displacement: A Guide for Funders. UUSC is calling more funders to engage directly on the issue of climate-forced displacement and to incorporate human rights-based approaches to amplify the voices, advocacy, and solutions of frontline communities.

Climate change is advancing rapidly and placing people’s human rights at risk. According to Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and Norwegian Refugee Council’s Global Report on Internal Displacement: GRID 2017, in 2016, 24.2 million people were newly internally displaced by natural disasters. It is likely that 200 million people will be displaced by climate change by 2050.

“Climate impacts exacerbate existing inequities in society.”

Climate-forced displacement is having severe impacts on human rights. Climate impacts exacerbate existing inequities in society. A majority of disaster-related displacements occur in low- and lower-middle income countries and disproportionately affect small island developing states, according to the Global Report on Internal Displacement. The spectrum we have developed outlines human rights at risk and key concerns for frontline communities, from the tipping point at which communities decide they must consider radical adaptation measures, through migration or resettlement.

→    The right to self-determination must be at the core of relocation planning.

“Frontline communities have the most appropriate solutions to these challenges.”

While frontline communities have the most appropriate solutions to these challenges, these communities receive the smallest share of funding and are sidelined by state and international decision makers. Trends in financing favor climate change mitigation over other approaches. No reliable mechanisms exist for community organizations to access international funds directly. Indigenous communities face additional hurdles accessing funds from national governments — and it is even more difficult for unrecognized tribes.

Our guide offers concrete steps funders can take to advance community-led, human rights-based solutions to climate-forced displacement by:

  • Assessing how climate-forced displacement relates to a current strategy or portfolio
  • Effectively partnering with grassroots communities working on issues along the climate-forced displacement spectrum
  • Advancing a human rights-based approach to climate-forced displacement
  • Acting as a bridge and network builder to amplify the voice and impact of grassroots communities

Paris Agreement: Be a citizen supporter

The United Nation’s climate negotiations are underway here at the Conference of the Parties (“COP23”) in Bonn, Germany. As the global community drafts roadmaps for achieving goals set in the Paris Climate Change Agreement, I’m again inspired by our shared responsibility to advance the rights of those whose livelihoods are being destroyed by the impacts of climate change.  

Sign the “I Am Still In” pledge to tell countries committed to the Paris Agreement that you support climate action.

With Tuesday’s announcement that Syria has decided to sign the Paris agreement, the United States is now the only country in the world not supporting it. This decision affects the air we breathe and the water we drink. It threatens the health and welfare of millions and it harms our ecosystems, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable people on our planet.

Emboldened by the spirit of global collaboration and collective power, I am emailing to ask you to please join UUSC and our partners in letting the world know that we are committed to addressing climate change now.

Tell the countries committed to the Paris Agreement that you’re still in to take climate action: Sign the “I Am Still In” pledge.

From the frontlines of UN climate talks

It’s begun! The world has gathered for critical climate talks and to evaluate the implementation of agreements to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to climate change. UUSC and our partners are on the frontlines of this year’s Conference of the Parties (“COP23”) in Bonn, Germany. We’ll be sharing updates and opportunities to advocate for the rights of marginalized populations who are disproportionality at risk of losing their homes – and entire ways of life – due to our warming planet.

In true Pacific spirit, Fiji opened COP23 with a traditional ceremony, showcasing perhaps one of the most important Pacific traits that is at risk due to climate change. This traditional and cultural loss resonates with indigenous cultures worldwide.

Here are just two of the many startling details heard during one of the conference’s first panels, Disappearing Islands:

  • Two islands in the Solomon Islands have completely vanished and six more are experiencing coastal erosion.
  • The significance of #3. We are currently on a dangerous track to a 3 degree warming, which will result in a 3-meter rise in the Pacific sea level. We only have 3 years to reduce emissions to address pre-2020 emission targets.

UUSC and our partner are working with three communities in the Solomon Islands. One of those villages, Nuatabu, was swept away by a tidal wave in 2012. To this day, people are still living in despair in tents and makeshift shelters and have not received any government assistance. UUSC is helping Nuatabu and other villages with resources and advocacy for national and international action. 

There are many outstanding organizations working to confront these climate change threats, yet few groups focus specifically on the resulting human rights crises: the families forced to evacuate their homes, the villagers whose fresh water wells are rendered useless, the farmers who live in constant fear of losing their communities’ crops. Through our Environmental Justice and Climate Action Program, UUSC and our partners are developing community-led and human-rights based responses to climate forced displacement.

For instance, Chevak Native Village, home to 1,200 Cup’ik villagers in Alaska, is one in a multitude of affected communities where we are working for urgent action. Minimal government assistance has left villagers to cope alone with weather-related changes and erosion caused by increasing temperatures and thawing permafrost. But like other villages in Alaska, this community does not have the resources to deal with the barrage of ongoing climate issues.

I am honored by the opportunity to participate in COP23 and stand alongside our partners in advocating for climate justice. And, I am inviting you to join me in shining a light on how climate change is disproportionately affecting the most marginalized populations, multiplying their risks, widening inequalities and threatening their basic human rights and dignities.

We are providing updates from COP23 on our blog, Facebook and Twitter feeds. Please follow us and help spread the word that the global community has a responsibility to act TODAY to protect the needs of all, not just the most powerful.

One of the atrocities of climate change is that the people who are least responsible for this looming catastrophe will suffer — are already suffering — its worst consequences. They urgently need someone to stand with them. I’m hoping that will be you.

We Denounce the Suppression of Climate Science

Yesterday’s New York Times article about the leaked special section of the draft National Climate Assessment provides further scientific evidence of what our partners in the Pacific and Alaska already know and are experiencing. Global warming has melted glaciers, shrunk sea ice, and thawed permafrost in Alaska and in the greater Arctic region. Global warming has increased ocean temperatures and caused rising sea levels in the Pacific. These are not only findings from the draft report but the actual lived experiences of our partners, some of whom are already facing the real threat of losing their land and their homes.

These communities, like many others both here in the United States and around the world, do not need their experiences to be qualified by this scientific report, nor do we need this report to affirm our values and commitment to environmental justice. Our shared humanity demands this.

However, we do need facts – unbiased, unsolicited, bipartisan evidence – upon which we can create the policies that we need to protect our planet and to respond to the growing risks of climate change to ourselves and our communities, both here and afar. Moreover, we need public servants who respect the integrity and dedication of the scientists who collect this data and who are committed to enacting legislation based on their findings.

Through this article, these scientists have publicly expressed their fear that government will suppress this report. We share their concerns and believe that this administration’s continued disregard of science is unjustified and dangerous. UUSC and our partners are in solidarity with these scientists and we will be watching closely to see that the Climate Science Special Report is released later this fall.

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: Highlights from the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia; updates on family detention; and the latest on climate-forced displacement. 

‘A miracle happened’: 300 rally for LGBT rights in St. Petersburg, Colin Stewart, Erasing 76 Crimes, May 18, 2017

May 17 marked the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (#IDAHOT or #IDAHOBIT). People all across the world celebrated by  wearing colorful clothes that signify the colors of the rainbow, going to rallies, and being vocal online about their support for and solidarity with the LGBTQI community

There were even celebrations in countries with extremely anti-LGBTQI laws. Colin Stewart shares one story about a rally in Russia, where law enforcement stops pro-LGBTQ protests and detains participants. But this year 300 took to the streets in St. Petersburg, and due to their persistence and some fortuitous timing, received police protection. Organizers of the protest shared their thoughts, “Our strategy is ‘constant dripping wears away a stone,’ and today a little chip of that stone fell off.” This is a marked change from the typical response to LGBTQI rallies and protests in Russia and is a testament to how community organizing and persistence can yield surprisingly happy results.

Immigrants in Detention Centers Are Often Hundreds of Miles From Legal Help, Patrick G. Lee, ProPublica, May 16, 2017

It’s almost impossible for immigrants to win their case to stay in the United States if they don’t have an attorney, no matter how strong their case. There are multiple system-level obstacles that immigrants face as they seek U.S. citizenship, and those barriers can be insurmountable if they are being held in detention centers.

In this article, Patrick Lee provides background and context to the reality of this situation. Because detained immigrants lack the right to an appointed attorney, they must either pay for a lawyer or find one who will take on their case pro bono. However, many lawyers won’t take these cases and many who do lack the necessary time and resources to take on more than a handful of clients from the thousands of immigrants currently in detention centers. On top of this, detention center locations often make lawyers geographically inaccessible, something which Amy Fischer, policy director of UUSC partner RAICES, calls a purposeful move by the federal government to inhibit immigrants’ access to legal resources.

Under President Trump, ICE is ramping up its immigration control policies – arresting more immigrants and making plans for more detention centers. UUSC and its partners, like RAICES, are working hard to ensure that immigrants have the necessary legal resources and protections to plead their case and build their lives in the United States.

Mulling the possibility of a “managed retreat” from climate change, Rachel Waldholz, Alaska Public Media, April 28, 2017

Media coverage and aid are much easier to come by for communities displaced when a natural disaster hits. But refugees who are forced to leave their homes due to the slow onset of climate change are often overlooked, even though rising sea levels, erosion, and other consequences of global warming are expected to disrupt thousands of communities over the course of the next several decades.

The choice to relocate is one that must be made by individual communities, but even but even they make that decision, there is often no financial support from local and national governments or NGOs, who have been slow to recognize the severity of climate-forced displacement. Robin Bronen, executive director of the Alaska Institute for Justice (AIJ), argues that the lack of funding is different from political will, which she feels does in fact exist. “There’s this urgent need to protect populations from climate change, but we don’t have the laws in place to facilitate it,” Bronen said. “[That] means that government agencies don’t have mandates or funding to make it possible to actually implement what everybody agrees is the best long-term adaptation strategy.”

UUSC partners with AIJ and other organizations working on climate-forced displacement across the globe to support their efforts to help communities facing destruction at the hands of rising sea levels and prepare themselves for relocation.