Apply Now! International Human Rights Conference in Storrs

International Human Rights Leadership Conference Announcement – Call for Applications 2013:

The UNESCO Chair & Institute of Comparative Human Rights at the University of Connecticut invites applications for the ninth annual International Leadership Training Programme: A Global Intergenerational Forum, to be held August 9 – 18, 2013 in Storrs, Connecticut. Applications must be received by March 8, 2013.

The Forum seeks to empower young leaders by involving them in finding solutions to emerging human rights problems, and nurturing individuals to be effective leaders in the field of human rights. To this end, the Forum will:
· Introduce participants to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
· Build a network of solidarity among human rights leaders
· Expand the knowledge relevant to human rights practice
· Provide tools and a platform for open debates
· Provide programmes, activities and processes necessary for human rights leadership
· Promote the sharing of experiences and understanding
· Showcase speakers on such topics as: health and human rights, education, the environment, the plight of child soldiers, the use of media, fundraising, conflict resolution and transformation; litigation and advocacy
· Emerging human rights issues

The UNESCO Chair will provide all conference participants with dormitory housing, meals, ground transportation in Connecticut, resource materials and a certificate of participation. Participants will be responsible for providing their own airfare to Connecticut upon acceptance.

Young people between the ages of 18-30, with community service experience, and with demonstrated ability to work on solutions to human rights problems, should apply. Relevant issues include, but are not limited to, human trafficking, the plight of children, refugees, hunger, HIV/AIDs, gender discrimination, racism, classism, the environment and peace education.

Conference will be held in English only. Fluency in English is required. Applicants will be selected based on the strength of their application essay, demonstrated commitment to human rights (practical/hands-on experience), potential impact on the individual and their potential contribution to the Forum, regional and gender representation.

Programme details and application material can be accessed by linking to http://www.unescochair.uconn.edu/upspecialevents.htm

Africa Notes: Gay Rights and the Alien Tort Statute

Do African politicians have a reason to support gay rights?
A recent conversation with some colleagues and the discovery of a post about “Gay Relief” on Ramblings of a Procastinator in Accra got me thinking again about the politics of homosexuality in Africa. In the blog post, Abena Serwaa writes:

Contrary to what most people believe, African leaders love gay people. In recent times, the African politician has come to realise that no single issue can galvanize and unite the citizenry across the usual divides than calls for gay rights.

As she mentions, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s call for African leaders to respect gay rights has not had its intended effects. Ghana’s President had this to say:

Ghanaian society frowns on homosexuality, if the people’s interest is that we do not legalize homosexuality, I don’t see how any responsible leader can decide to go against the wishes of his people.

And recent Nobel Prize Winner Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf also vowed to veto any bill legalizing homosexuality. Her Press Secretary said this:

Liberians should hold this government by her word. This President will not sign into law anything called same sex marriage. This government opposes gay rights. In fact, government will not compromise its religious belief for any (foreign) aid. We have listened to the vast majority of our people who have spoken on this issue and kicked against it, so this government has the will of the people and believes in the dreams and aspirations of the people and I can assure you that President Sirleaf will not sign that bill.

Of course, Africa is not the only part of the world that struggles to accept gay rights as Brian Whitaker notes, there is an “ongoing battle for gay rights in the Arab world.” And how can we expect this to happen any easier there than it does here in the US? Jimmy Carter, one of our most famous human rights campaigners, has just now come around to supporting gay civil marriages. And I think everyone knows how Santorum has felt about gay rights for some time.

The question becomes: what will it take to incentivize politicians in Africa (and elsewhere) to promote gay rights? No, I don’t yet have the answer.

Can Americans be sued for pursuing anti-gay agendas in Africa?
Indeed, just recently a Ugandan gay rights group, Sexual Minorities Uganda, has filed suit against American evangelist Scott Lively using the Alien Tort Statute (ATS; a statute I have written about here). As reported by the New York Times:

The lawsuit maintains that beginning in 2002, Mr. Lively conspired with religious and political leaders in Uganda to whip up anti-gay hysteria with warnings that gay people would sodomize African children and corrupt their culture.

The Supreme Court is currently hearing a different ATS case which may impact whether other cases such as this get heard. But this could be an interesting way to hold our own extremists accountable.

International Women’s Day

While I “celebrate” International Women’s Day with a lunch and a talk by that famous defender of women’s rights, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, I thought it might be worth taking a moment to think about the broader picture. (Time: “Justice Scalia Mouths Off On Sex Discrimination“)

What does this day mean in the developing world? Duncan Green has a nice post on “what to celebrate, what to condemn“, rounding up much of what the blogosphere has been saying. I think, in short, that we have “come a long way” but there is clearly a long ways to go in ensuring women have equal rights and opportunities. And, of course, we may want to extend this category of rights to other forms of gender discrimination. We can think of the developments and trends at both the global and local levels.

At a global level, there has been the development of treaty law. In my International Law class we cover the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and I have them read Beth Simmons’ interpretation of that convention’s impacts (Mobilizing for Human Rights). She shows that these conventions have had their greatest impacts on countries that are neither strong democracies (who do much of this anyway) nor completely autocratic. The very act of ratification for that large group of countries in the middle enables activists and others in their organization and their ability to place demands on their own governments. In Japan, for instance, she shows it changed the political opportunity structure surrounding government employment practices (they began hiring more women). Last year, Nauru, became the most recent state to ratify CEDAW. (We have not.)

I had a brief view of developments in efforts to improve the opportunities for girls in the late 1990s. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I was lucky enough to be a part of a team that helped start a Peace Corps Ghana Gender and Development program and set-up a national girl’s education confence. (Jennifer Miller was really the leader in this, bringing her ideas from a similar program in Niger. Heather Moran rounded out the team.)

The spread of norms and the UN vote to make access to water a human right

A friend from my Peace Corps days posted on Facebook the UN press release that the General Assembly has adopted a resolution “Recognizing Access to Clean Water, Sanitation as Human Right, By Recorded Vote of 122 in Favour, None Against, 41 Abstentions.”

This isn’t exactly getting major press coverage. And, indeed, just because the UN General Assembly calls something a human right doesn’t automatically make it so, though it can be important in the development of such a norm. Some, however, have argued that it already is a human right. Since we need water to live, and since a right to life is enshrined in the UN Declaration on Human Rights, then perhaps there is already consensus on this? (See the post by Jennifer Vettel at Columbia’s Earth Institute). But 41 nations did choose to abstain, including (please note with appropriate shock) famed human rights-leading Canada. Of course, the US also abstained. As did, apparently, some developing countries who were concerned about incurring greater legal obligations for providing water to their citizens then they could possibly fulfill (see the Huffington Post on this).

So what is the significance of this General Assembly vote? At this point, it seems to me unclear that much will change if change requires politically costly choices. As Iman Kurdi suggests in his post on ArabNews.com, it is unlikely that Israel or Turkey will change or reverse their dam-building, which has infuriated neighbors in the past. So I would expect others interested in building dams (Ethiopia, for instance) are probably proceeding without giving such human rights concerns a second thought. Possibly the biggest impact will be to act as a fundraiser for the UN’s various water and sanitation-related initiatives. As the International Law Observer reports, there is a clear non-binding appeal to states and international organizations to commit resources.

While the impact of the resolution is therefore limited. It does help bring needed publicity and international attention to an important problem. One of my students here at Wesleyan University, Oluwayimika Taiwo-Peters, is tackling this head-on in her home-country of Nigeria this summer. She is visiting local schools as part of a health education program she created, and installing a rainwater catchment system at a local school. Her activities remind me of my old Peace Corps days as a water and sanitation volunteer in Northern Ghana! But the bottom-line is that for many people in Africa — and close to a billion people worldwide — reliable access to safe water and sanitation is an important obstacle to development and happiness. So I will hold out the hope that this norm continues to grow.

And since we are talking about norms, this isn’t a bad place to mention Schrad’s recent book on The Political Power of Bad Ideas, which The Duck of Minerva reviews. The excellent point of the book is to explore how not just good ideas (we need clean water) but also bad ideas (prohibition counts as one of these, in his view) can be spread via advocacy networks. I haven’t read this yet, but Charli Carpenter’s post makes me want to!

News and Comment: last weekend of March roundup

Spanish Court Weighs Inquiry on Torture for 6 Bush-Era Officials from the NY Times.  Judge Baltasar Garzon is at it again. He was the Spanish judge who ordered the arrrest of former Chilean dictator Pinochet. He also has looked into the activities of Basque separatists and the executions of the Franco era.  This time, due to the fact that some Spanish citizens or residents were detained at Gauntanamo, Spain can claim some jurisdiction.  It will be interesting to see how far this goes.

Staying in Touch Internationally, on the Cheap from the NY Times. Includes some great ideas for using cell phones while traveling internationally.  One option it mentions is Google Voice, which has taken over from Grand Central (a service I signed up for early on but never followed through on).  This could really make things easy for those of us who travel abroad.

The African Export-Import Bank talks up the potential benefits of South-South trade. But Botswana’s Minister of Finance and Development Planning complains about how Africa is “marginalised and patronised” during the current financial crisis.

Finally, Zimbabwe retains its pariah status as the US continues sanctions. It may not help that Mugabe remains n power and continues to act friendly towards exiled former Ethiopian dictator Mengistu.