Tag Archive | "Human Rights"

Applying an Unratified Treaty in U.S. Domestic Courts: A New Paradigm?

Photo Credit: Kelly Roberts

Photo Credit: Kelly Roberts

Judicial Implications of Treaty Ratification

On December 4, 2012, the United States Senate failed to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).[1] The vote was 61 to 38, lacking just five votes to pass the two-thirds threshold for ratification.[2] The ratification failed despite unanimous support from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, bipartisan backing, and widespread support from veterans advocacy groups and over 800 disability rights organizations.[3] While the CRPD drafters used the Americans with Disabilities Act[4] as their foundational principles, the primary arguments against ratification focused on the possible effect of an international convention on U.S. laws.[5] Senator Mike Lee of Utah argued:

“First of all, whenever we ratify a treaty it becomes the law of the land under article VI of the U.S. Constitution. Secondly, whenever a body of law, whether embodied in U.N. convention or otherwise, becomes part of the corpus of customary international law, that often makes its way into U.S. judicial opinions. Is it direct? No. Does it directly undo any statute? No. But that doesn’t mean it has no effect. If it had no effect we would not be here debating it today. It is the type of effect we worry about.”[6]

In response, Senator John Kerry discounted Lee’s concern, emphasizing the lack of an enforcement mechanism for the convention.[7] Senator Kerry cited Supreme Court precedent stating that nonexecuting treaties do not “create obligations enforceable in Federal courts.” [8] He went on to emphasize the CRPD’s inability to create “recourse in American courts.”[9]

While the two senators were speaking at cross-purposes, they both were correct in their assessment of the convention’s limitations and potential impact. Senator Kerry’s response referenced the inability to obtain civil relief for complaints based on broad, nonexecuting international law.[10] But even the precedent in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain Senator Kerry cited includes a lengthy concurring opinion penned by Justice Scalia questioning whether the Court’s decision sufficiently restricted the “discretionary power in the Federal Judiciary to create causes of action for the enforcement of international-law-based norms.”[11] After all, Justice Scalia argued, the lower courts had used their discretion to apply international law in the present suit, whose decision the Court had just reversed.[12] What was to prevent nonexecuting treaties from influencing courts to create common law the legislature never intended?[13]

International Human Rights Law and Local Courts

In fact, less than four weeks after ratification of the CRPD failed, a New York County Judge went even further than Justice Scalia had envisioned. In an order to terminate letters of guardianship, the Surrogate’s Court of New York’s decision cited extensively to the “persuasive weight” of the unratified CRPD in order to enforce a new model of guardianship: supported decision-making.[14] In the Matter of Dameris L., Judge Kristin Booth Glen argued, “This case presents the opportunity to reconcile an outmoded, constitutionally suspect statute … with the requirements of substantive due process and the internationally recognized human rights of persons with intellectual disabilities.”[15] The opinion addressed none of the political concerns raised by senators during the debate, such as expansion of abortion rights or the curtailment of homeschooling.[16] Instead, the opinion focused on the convention’s language expanding a person with disability’s “right to recognition everywhere as persons before the law,” and the legal implication of restrictive guardianship orders, which limit an individual’s ability to “enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life.”[17] Article 12 of the CRPD expressly requires state parties to safeguard against unnecessary curtailment of an individual’s right to act on their own legal behalf.[18] This includes the right to make decisions regarding one’s own life.[19] The CRPD also requires state parties to “take appropriate measures to provide access by persons with disabilities to the support they may require in exercising their legal capacity.”[20] The CRPD asserts that supported decision-making should take the place of substituted decision-making found in traditional guardianship orders, and it challenges the presumption that persons with mental disabilities lack the capacity to access their due process rights.

Through this lens of international human rights law, the Surrogate’s Court opinion called for an expansion of the least restrictive environment standard found in both state and federal statutes.[21] The opinion referenced a New York statute that encoded the “least restrictive form of intervention” for persons with mental disabilities, and New York State constitutional protections upholding due process as requiring “adherence to the principle of the least restrictive alternative.”[22] The court reasoned that state statutory regulations “must be read to include the requirement that guardianship is the least restrictive alternative to achieve the State’s goal of protecting a person with intellectual disabilities from harm connected to those disabilities.”[23] From these state statutory and common law understandings of how New York has approached due process for persons with disabilities in other legal environments, the court then applied the concept of least restrictive environment to guardianships and supported decision-making. Noting the extensive network of family and friends currently supporting Dameris, the court terminated the letters of guardianship granted to the petitioner’s mother and husband, instead recognizing them “as persons assisting and supporting her autonomy, not superseding it.”[24]

Since the Surrogate’s Court ruling on December 31, 2012, three other opinions in New York County courts have cited both to the CRPD in their own termination of excessive guardianship orders.[25] None of these decisions have yet been challenged or brought before the higher courts to rule on their constitutionality. For now, the common law of New York appears to be applying an international understanding of due process rights to American persons with disabilities, granting them access to legal autonomy through supported decision-making plans.

Enacting Legislation

The senate hearings and debates over ratification of the CRPD did not address lack of access to due process rights by persons with disabilities in America. The unchallenged assumption was that the United States already afforded persons with disabilities all the legal rights they could accrue. In a letter submitting the treaty to the Senate for consideration, President Barack Obama asserted that Americans with disabilities already enjoy every right proposed in the treaty.[26] Only one document pertaining to the CRPD even mentioned guardianship in passing.[27] In 2014, President Obama resubmitted the treaty for advice and consent, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee again passed the measure out of committee and onto the full Senate.[28] The treaty was never brought to the Senate floor for debate. Throughout the debate over ratification, senators raised broad concerns over sovereignty, federalism and constitutional supremacy.[29] In counter, supporters asserted that ratification would give the United States a forum to expand broad rights already granted to U.S. citizens.[30] Left unquestioned by both sides of the debate, however, was the possibility that United States citizens themselves might benefit from principles established in the CRPD.

States, however, may decide to enact aspects of the CRPD on their own. One state legislator in North Carolina, Representative Jean Farmer-Butterfield, has brought forward a bill citing the CRPD in favor of supported decision-making.[31] Like the judicial opinion in the Matter of Dameris L., such a move in one state seems a small, tangential step towards ratification. Whether by statute or common law, however, these international human rights standards established in the CRPD are slowly finding their way to into state law, despite the Senate’s failure to ratify the convention. Perhaps if enough legislators and courts cite to the CRPD in their expansion of due process rights for persons with disabilities, opposition to the treaty will subside. Regardless, this expansion of due process ought to pique our curiosity about what other areas of American jurisprudence might be enhanced through the lens of international law.

 

Melody Joy Fields is a 1L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a staff editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

[1] 158 Cong. Rec. S7365, 7379; United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities art. 12, Dec. 13, 2006, 2515 U.N.T.S. 44910, hereinafter CRPD.

[2] Id.

[3] 160 Cong. Rec. S6278, see statement by Senator Tom Harkin: “Over 800 disability, civil rights, and faith groups, 20 top veterans organizations, and I mentioned the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable–all support this.”

[4] Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C.§§ 12101–12213 (1990).

[5] See 158 Cong. Rec. S7369

[6] 158 Cong. Rec. S7369.

[7] Id.

[8] 158 Cong. Rec. S7369, quoting from Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 U.S. 692, 735 (2004).

[9] 158 Cong. Rec. S7372.

[10] See Sosa, 542 U.S. at 738.

[11] Sosa, 542 U.S. at 739.

[12] Sosa, 542 U.S. at 747-49.

[13] Id.

[14] Matter of Dameris L., 956 N.Y.S.2d 848, 855; CRPD art. 12, 2515 U.N.T.S. 44910 at 78.

[15] Matter of Dameris L. at 849.

[16] 158 Cong. Rec. S7369; 160 Cong. Rec. S4677.

[17] CRPD art. 12, 2515 U.N.T.S. 44910 at 78.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] See Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. § 1401 (2010).

[22] Matter of Dameris L. at 854, quoting the New York Mental Hygiene Law § 81.01; Matter of Kesselbrenner v. Anonymous, 305 NE2d 903 (1973); and Matter of Andrea B., 405 NYS2d 977 (1978).

[23] See IDEA, 20 U.S.C. § 1401 (2010); Matter of Dameris L. at 854.

[24] Matter of Dameris L. at 856.

[25] Matter of Leon, 43 N.Y.S.3d 769 (2016); Matter of Zhuo, 42 N.Y.S.3d 350 (2016); Matter of Michelle M., 41 N.Y.S.3d 719 (2016).

[26] Letter of Transmittal, 2007 U.S.T. LEXIS 179, 1.

[27] Luisa Blanchfield & Cynthia Brown, The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Issues in the U.S. Ratification Debate 10 (Congressional Research Service, January 21, 2015).

[28] Id. at 1.

[29] 158 Cong. Rec. S7372; 160 Cong. Rec. S4677; 160 Cong. Rec. S6278.

[30] 158 Cong. Rec. S7372; 160 Cong. Rec. S4677; 160 Cong. Rec. S6278.

[31] 2017 Bill Text NC H.B. 713.

 

Posted in 1TVFA Posts, 2Featured Articles, DJILP Staff, Melody FieldsComments (0)

Politics over Peace: Waving Goodbye To UNESCO…Again

Photo Source: Christophe Petit Tesson—EPA/REX/Shutterstock

On October 12, 2017, the United States announced that it would withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (“UNESCO”) effective December 21, 2018.[1] The United States cited anti-Israel bias at UNESCO as a reason for the decision, similar to President Reagan’s decision to exit UNESCO in late 1983.[2] The recent decision proves a trend with United States involvement with UNESCO – that it views its purpose as purely political, serving its strategic vision of liberalizing trade and spreading Western thought. However, the view within the membership that UNESCO is a political tool may not be unique to the United States.[3] 

The first and original strategic vision when the United States and thirty-six other nations created UNESCO as a human rights organization promoting education, science and cultural causes in November 1945, was the effort to “de-nazify” Europe and write history books.[4] Second, UNESCO was used to combat Communism during the Cold War, but anti-western criticism led to the first withdrawal of the United States. One reason was because UNESCO was advocating a “new information order” as a means of countering the power of the Western media.[5]

Once the Cold War ended, the U.S. did not rejoin UNESCO until the need came about in the post-9/11 era.[6] President Bush stated that the “…organization has been reformed and America will participate fully in its mission to advance human rights, tolerance, and learning.”[7] On the point of the Reagan-era concerns, Bush also cited “dramatic reform of UNESCO’s management structure, and a new dedication to freedom of the press.”[8]

In 2011, President Obama drastically cut funding for UNESCO as reprisal for the acceptance of Palestine as a member.[9] These cuts directly resulted in our current debt to the organization surpassing $500 million – yet another reason for President Trump’s decision.[10] In 2016, Israel recalled its ambassador to UNESCO in protest after Arab nations secured support for a resolution denouncing Israel’s policies regarding religious sites in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.[11] This July, UNESCO declared the old city in Hebron a Palestinian World Heritage Site, contrary to Israel’s claim to all of Jerusalem, but consistent with Palestinians’ claims for a two-state solution.[12]

From a pure policy perspective, the United States may need to reconsider its exit from UNESCO because the best way to foster a stronger voting block is to work from within. Coupled with the increasing need for science and education to combat social media propaganda, the United States has compelling reasons to remain an active member. A contribution of roughly $500 million to UNESCO is very little for its $3.8 trillion annual expenditures.[13] The Denver Journal of Internal Law and Policy will continue to monitor the hyper-politicization of UNESCO.

 

Alex Mancero is a 2L JD candidate at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a staff editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

[1] The United States Withdraws From UNESCO, U.S. Department of State, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2017/10/274748.htm (last visited Oct 26, 2017).

[2] Olivia B. Waxman, The U.S. Has Left UNESCO Before. Here’s Why Time, http://time.com/4980034/unesco-trump-us-leaving-history/ (last visited Oct 27, 2017).

[3] Israel recalls UNESCO ambassador in protest at Jerusalem resolutions, Reuters, October 26, 2016, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-palestinians-unesco/israel-recalls-unesco-ambassador-in-protest-at-jerusalem-resolutions-idUSKCN12Q2HM (last visited Oct 27, 2017) (declaring UNESCO as hostile to Israelis because Arab members and their supporters frequently condemn Israel).

[4] Id.

[5] United States’ Return to UNESCO, 97 Am. J. Int’l L. 977, 978 (2003).

[6] Susan Tifft, Waving Goodbye to UNESCO, Time, http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,952288,00.html (last visited Oct 31, 2017).

[7] Address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, 38 Weekly Comp. Pres. Doc. 1529 (Sept. 16, 2002).

[8] United States’ Return to UNESCO, supra note 4, at 978.

[9] U.S. to Pull Out of UNESCO, Again, Foreign Policy, https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/10/11/u-s-to-pull-out-of-unesco-again/ (last visited Oct 27, 2017).

[10] Id.

[11] Israel recalls UNESCO ambassador in protest at Jerusalem resolutions, supra note 3.

[12][12] Id.

[13] Federal Spending: Where Does the Money Go National Priorities Project, National Priorities Project, https://www.nationalpriorities.org/budget-basics/federal-budget-101/spending/ (last visited Oct 31, 2017).

Posted in 1TVFA Posts, 2Featured Articles, Alex Mancero, DJILP StaffComments (0)

Gaps in International Law Surrounding Human Trafficking and Natural Disasters

Photo Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Most of the modern world has concerned itself with both the atrocity of human trafficking and the devastation of natural disasters. These events leave human pain and suffering in their wake at outstanding levels. A large international effort to create transnational standards of law has been constructed to mitigate and respond to these catastrophes, however, there is a shocking gap in understanding the connection and correlation between the two. Though international law has made commendable strides toward globally cooperative solutions in the respective areas of human trafficking and natural disasters, little legal action has been crafted to reduce the overlap between these two. Scholars have scratched the surface of this issue, beginning to acknowledge vulnerability natural disasters create that contributes to increased human trafficking, but international law must be further developed to match this ever-increasing cross-section of human suffering.

Human trafficking is a 150-billion-dollar industry that reaches every corner of the world and impacts every country.[1] Generally, human traffickers prey on the most vulnerable and desperate, specifically targeting defenseless young women and children.[2] Characterized by three elements; act, means, and purpose, the ability to execute the act of human trafficking is influenced by a series of factors at the individual, state, trafficker, and international level.[3] The individual factors generally relate to the lack of economic or social opportunities that lead people in poverty to trust traffickers for job opportunities.[4] In contrast, the remaining deal with the opportunity for trafficking at the trafficker, state, and international levels.[5] Natural disasters exacerbate the following factors at every level: victim’s unawareness of potential risk, inadequate social safety nets, inadequate law enforcement, low risk of getting caught, border regulations, and lack of international coordination.[6] Natural disasters further marginalize and perpetuate the vulnerability of the most at-risk people groups. Economic damage caused by natural disasters will lead more people to take risks for better economic opportunity that lead to being trafficked, but the most detrimental impact of natural disasters occurs due to the crumbling infrastructure. Personal interviews with anti-human trafficking workers on the ground of natural disasters, such as the Nepal earthquake, describe how traffickers purposefully enter disaster zones, impersonate relief workers, and lure an outstanding number of vulnerable people to a lifetime of slavery. One worker commented on this phenomenon to a popular news outlet saying, “this is the time when the brokers go in the name of relief to kidnap or lure women.”[7] Human traffickers capitalize on the lack of coordination, government infrastructure, and general communication to pose as relief workers, from well-known organizations, in order to lure victims and sell them as slaves.

Children separated from their families due to natural disasters are especially at risk to the lure of predators. Special Rapporteur, Najat Maalla M’jid, stated at the United Nations Human Rights Council, “children’s vulnerability is significantly increased when they are separated from their families, unaccompanied, orphaned or displaced following humanitarian crisis.”[8] M’jid went further to say in her report that the United Nations has found, “some people exploit the chaotic environment that follows a natural disaster to engage in criminal activities, such as selling children for the purpose of illegal adoption, forced labor or sexual exploitation.”[9] The chaos of a natural disaster presents more opportunity to lure and fraud vulnerable survivors than the impoverished economic state alone. Again, though poverty and a lack of economic opportunities is a major factor for human trafficking, the disorder and lack of communication caused by natural disasters creates far more opportunity for traffickers to build up their supply of free labor.

Substantial international law has been created in the United Nations to prevent human trafficking, and many countries have created corresponding domestic law. There has also been an overwhelming effort for nations to develop a cooperative relief effort after natural disasters. Though these efforts are noble, they are incomplete. Neither problem will be solved until the prevalence of the other is recognized. In its most basic form, international law surrounding human trafficking is based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).[10] This document establishes the most basic freedoms and rights of human beings, regardless of race, nationality, gender, political preference, or any other self-identifying category.[11] Though it doesn’t mention human trafficking, article four specifically mentions that slavery in all forms shall be eliminated across all nations.[12] Shortly after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created, the UN created a resolution, the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, that specifically called for the end of human trafficking.[13] The entire document focuses on calling nations, “to punish any person who, to gratify the passions of another: (1) [p]rocures, entices or leads away, for purposes of prostitution, another person, even with the consent of that person; (2) [e]xploits the prostitution of another person, even with the consent of that person.”[14] Two decades later, the UN ratified another international standard, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which promoted the rights of all individuals throughout the world.[15] This document affirms the international communities’ desire that “the slave-trade in all their forms shall be eliminated.”[16] From the early stages of the United Nations, the international community decided that slavery and human trafficking are offenses that cannot be tolerated in any form. The twentieth century spurred the battle against trafficking and set the standard of freedom deserved by every citizen of the world, which the remaining international law attempts to achieve.

At the turn of the century, the United Nations ratified the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking In Persons, Especially Women And Children, supplementing The United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, which called every nation to criminalize human trafficking, protect human trafficking victims, and coordinate to prevent future cases of human trafficking.[17] A few years later, a supplemental resolution was created, The United Nations Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea, and Air, to further outline the measures by which countries are called to stop the actual smuggling of people into their borders.[18] The final major piece of international law is the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, which again further criminalizes the sale of children and calls for nations to work together to stop the expansion of child slavery.[19]

Though these laws are great efforts by the international community, they come with many gaps when trying to actually solve the devastating problems. On a general note, these laws contain gaps in enforceability by deferring each state to create their own law based on the guidelines of the resolution.[20] These international laws act as a high standard, encouraging countries to try their best to meet it.[21] This inevitable nature of international law undoubtedly creates space for traffickers to operate. However, the greater failure of these laws is the lack of awareness natural disasters, and other crisis, play in the operations of human trafficking. All the stated laws call nations to work together to prevent the spread of trafficking, outlining the important factors of trafficking to be weary of, and yet, not a single one mentions how natural disasters play into the expansion of human supply. It would be like an exterminator, trying to rid a house of a termite infection, not attempting to address the termite nest, but rather killing termites as he sees them. This is clearly an inefficient solution, and will only perpetuate the cost and toll on the homeowners. If the international community wants to truly address the issue of modern slavery, at bare minimum, they must consider one of the greatest sources of supply of vulnerable people. Until the international community sets a standard of law for each nation to base their domestic policies on which addresses the connection between natural disasters and human trafficking, modern slavery will never end.

In a similar manner, the international effort to mitigate the suffering from natural disasters will never truly be effective, until the coordinated effort acknowledges the prevalence of human trafficking in disaster zones. The international community has, in recent years, dramatically increased its effort to help nations recover from unpredictable natural disasters. Wealthy nations provide aid and support to developing states in an effort to stabilize their societies and lessen the suffering of their citizens. Furthermore, the United Nations has held many conventions which are aimed at understanding the damage caused by past disasters and looking to create more effective future disaster responses. The UN started addressing the issue of international disaster relief in the late twentieth century with the International Decade for Disaster Risk Reduction as more nations began to coordinate disaster relief.[22] This resolution places natural disaster response as a central issue for the UN to address.[23] In an effort to create effective relief, the UN created several initiatives, such as the Office of Disaster Risk Reduction, The YokoHama Strategy, and several World Conferences on Disaster Reduction that produced documents such as Hyogo Framework and the Sendai Framework.[24] Furthermore, outside of the United Nations, the International Federation of Red Cross Societies has attempted to address the lack of binding international law or plan of action for disaster response. They created the International Disaster Response Laws, which were ratified and adopted by thirty-eight nations.[25] The Sendai Framework was established to replace the Hyogo Framework and will remain the most pervasive international standard in response to disasters until 2030.[26] It aims to “guide the multi-hazard management of disaster risk” as a transnational cooperative effort to mitigate the damages of high mortality, economic loss, personal suffering, spread of disaster zone, and international cost.[27] The International Federation of Red Cross Societies has attempted to supplement the UN framework, by providing more specific guidance for best practices in disaster relief in order to prevent the most suffering possible.

Though these actions are admirable, and it is important to continue the effort towards more effective disaster response, not a single document produced by the UN or Red Cross considers the impact of human trafficking on the victims of the disaster. If the goal of the international community is to prevent the suffering of innocent humans after a natural disaster, they must take into consideration the vulnerability to slavery these innocent humans will face. Modern slavery affects every category of suffering the UN Sendai Framework seeks to stop. High mortality, economic loss, personal suffering, spread of the suffering of disaster, and international cost are all consistently effected by human trafficking.[28] If the international community really wants to address these issues in preparation for response to natural disasters, they must take into consideration how vulnerability, chaos, and crisis create huge opportunities for traffickers to easily perpetrate horrendous acts of slavery. International law and efforts in response to natural disasters will be incomplete and ineffective in achieving their own outlined goals until action is taken to include an understanding of the connection between human trafficking and natural disasters.

The international community is exerting a remarkable effort to prevent human trafficking and to respond to the suffering of natural disasters, and yet both of these endeavors will continually be insufficient until the community fully understands the connection between the two. Furthermore, an analysis of the overlap must be included in international law, acting as a guideline for countries to create their own domestic policies that reflect the need to combat human trafficking and respond to natural disasters while acknowledging the other. An effective understanding of the connection between these inevitable atrocities of life is crucial to developing productive and successful policies. There is no doubt the international community desires to uphold basic human rights and prevent unneeded suffering caused by human trafficking and natural disasters, however, currently, its actions to achieve these goals are incredibly insufficient.

Mallory Miller is a Staff Editor with the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy, and a 1L at the Sturm College of Law.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Human Trafficking by the Numbers, Hum. Rts. First (Jan. 7, 2017), http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/human-trafficking-numbers.

[2] Human Trafficking, U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/what-is-human-trafficking.html (last visited Sept. 2, 2017).

[3] U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, supra note 2.

[4] Manuel Brülisauer, Hum. Trafficking in Post-Earthquake Nepal (2015), https://www.ethz.ch/content/dam/ethz/special-interest/gess/nadel-dam/documents/mas/mas-essays/MAS%20Cycle%202014%20-%202016/Essay_Manuela%20Bruelisauer.pdf.

[5] Manuel Brülisauer, supra note 4.

[6] Manuel Brülisauer, supra note 4.

[7] Jason Burke, Nepal Quake Survivors Face Threat from Human Traffickers Supplying Sex Trade, The Guardian, (May 5, 2015, 9:00 AM), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/05/nepal-quake-survivors-face-threat-from-human-traffickers-supplying-sex-trade.

[8] David Singh, Child Traffickers Thrive on Disasters, U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, (Mar. 26, 2012), https://www.unisdr.org/archive/25934.

[9] Singh, supra note 8.

[10] Lindsey King, International Law and Human Trafficking, Topical Res. Dig.: Hum. Rts. & Hum. Trafficking, https://www.du.edu/korbel/hrhw/researchdigest/trafficking/InternationalLaw.pdf (last visited Sept. 2, 2017).

[11] G.A. Res. 217 (III) A, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Dec. 10, 1948).

[12] G.A. Res. 217 (III), A, supra note 9.

[13] King, supra note 10.

[14] G.A. Res. 317 (IV), Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (Dec. 2, 1949).

[15] King, supra note 10.

[16] G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Dec. 16, 1966).

[17] G.A. Res. 55/25, Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (Dec. 25, 2003).

[18] G.A. Res. 55/25, The United Nations Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea, and Air (Jan. 28, 2004).

[19] G.A. Res. A/RES/54/263, Optional Protocol to The Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (May 25, 2000).

[20] Lindsey King, International Law and Human Trafficking, Topical Res. Dig.: Hum. Rts. & Hum. Trafficking, https://www.du.edu/korbel/hrhw/researchdigest/trafficking/InternationalLaw.pdf (last visited Sept. 2, 2017).

[21] King, supra note 16.

[22] United Nations Office of Disaster Risk Reduction, International Decade for Disaster Risk Reduction (1999), http://www.unisdr.org/files/31468_programmeforumproceedings.pdf.

[23] International Decade for Disaster Risk Reduction, supra note 18.

[24] Arielle Tozier de la Poterie & Marie-Ange Baudoin, From Yokohama to Sendai: Approaches to Participation in International Disaster Risk Reduction Framework, 6 Int’l J. Disaster Risk Sci. 128 (2015).

[25] U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Chart of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, U.N. Office for Risk Reduction, http://www.unisdr.org/files/44983_sendaiframeworksimplifiedchart.pdf.

[26] G.A. Res. 69/283, Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, (June 3, 2015).

[27] G.A. Res. 60/283, supra note 18

[28] Louise Shelley, Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective, (2010).

Posted in 1TVFA Posts, 2Featured Articles, DJILP Staff, Mallory MillerComments (0)

Understanding the Syrian Refugee Crisis and How Refugees Receive Asylum in the United States: Part 3

Photo Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski

This third installment focusing on Syrian refugees will address what a refugee goes through when he or she finally makes it to the United States and what we, especially those of us in Colorado, can do to help.

Once a refugee has passed the security clearance screening, they then fly to one of five designated airports in the United States. Border Protection checks their documents and conducts additional security checks. Then, the refugee is assigned to a refugee relocation services program. In Colorado, the Colorado Department of Human Services oversees the refugee relocation programs conducted by the Lutheran Family Services and the African Community Center.

These two programs help refugees find a place to live, work, and study. They also help them learn English, find medical care, and provide lawyers who can help with their legal questions. In 2013, the last year for which statistics have been released, 1,708 refugees arrived in Colorado. They live in several towns and cities throughout the state, but mostly along the front-range, with the majority living in Denver. In 2016, nearly 50 Syrian refugees arrived in Colorado. Again, it bears repeating, in order for a refugee from Syria to enter the United States, that person must go through 18-24 months of extreme vetting. That vetting determines if the person poses any potential risks to the country. If a risk is discovered, they are not allowed in.

Once a refugee is settled and integrated into a community, that refugee creates an economic benefit to the community. A recent study showed that for every $120-$126 of aid given to a refugee in Rwanda, that same refugee created an annual real income benefit of $205-$253 to the community. Utica, New York, a town that once saw dwindling numbers of residents and sustained economic decline, has now seen a turnaround because it has welcomed so many refugees.

Economist Jeffrey Sachs points out that while there are some negative consequences to hosting refugees in a community (they pay fewer taxes and generally rely on social services until they can become established), they also add economic benefits by bringing added skills to the workforce and earning less than what they could contribute to society as a whole.

Other cities, like Cleveland, have seen massive economic benefits in welcoming refugees. The city initially invested $4.8 million in resettling refugees. The economic benefit to the community resulted in $48 million, a 1000% return on investment. This is partly because refugees are often entrepreneurs who disproportionally create jobs and stimulate demands for new products and services in their local communities.

Having established that Syrian refugees are extremely vetted, are moving to Colorado, and, if they are like other refugees, will create an economic benefit to the community, the question then becomes, how can we help them? Both Lutheran Family Services and the African Community Center need volunteers that will meet refugees at airports and then drive them to their new homes. They need volunteers who can furnish their apartments, teach them English, and act as a local guide to help them become acquainted with their new homes.

 

David Coats is a staff editor on the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.

Posted in 1TVFA Posts, 2Featured Articles, David Coats, DJILP StaffComments (0)

Understanding the Syrian Refugee Crisis and How Refugees Receive Asylum in the United States: Part 2

Image Credit: UNHCR

The first part of this three-part series explained what the causes of the Syrian Refugee Crisis are and where the crisis stands now. The second portion of this series will explore the process a Syrian refugee must go through to receive asylum in the United States. This is important information for all of us to know because of the confusion, lack of information, and fear associated with allowing refugees from this war-torn area into our countries. The intent of this article is to give a clear and unbiased overview of what a Syrian refugee must go through to receive asylum in the United States. This information could also be informative when discussing how, if, and why we should welcome refugees into our communities.

How do they apply?

All refugees apply for asylum through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). The UNHCR is an international organization under the United Nations that protects and assists refugees. Under UNHCR guidelines, an applicant may qualify for resettlement in another country if: (1) a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion can be demonstrated; (2) the applicant is outside of his or her country of nationality; and (3) the applicant is unable or unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country. If such a person does qualify for asylum under the UNHCR’s standards, then that person will be referred to a third country for resettlement.

If that third country is the United States, the refugee must apply with the federal Resettlement Support Center and go through a rigorous 18-24 month screening process. During the rigorous screening process, officials investigate refugees to ensure the refugee’s story is legitimate and that the refugee will not pose a threat to the health or safety of the United States. The screening involves the participation of the U.S. State Department, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Defense Department, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the FBI. These agencies double-check the refugee’s personal biographical statement and use biometric information to ensure the person’s story and identity are legitimate. Moreover, these agencies check for connections to known bad actors, outstanding warrants, and other information related to whether the person is a potential security risk. Refugees are also interviewed by DHS agents and medically tested for communicable diseases. In sum, seeking asylum is the most difficult and stringent way for a person to enter the United States.

What is different about the process for Syrian refugees?

For Syrian refugees the process goes one step further by requiring them to go through the Syrian Enhanced Review process where the refugee applicant’s file is further scrutinized for accuracy and veracity. The U.S. government added this extra step especially for Syrian refugees “due to the circumstances in Syria.” These circumstances obviously include the war, but also the fact that ISIS operatives are fighting in Syria. As many have observed, the biggest fear in allowing Syrian refugees into the country is the fear that an ISIS operative might pose as a refugee and sneak through the system and commit an act of terrorism in the United States. To prevent that possibility, the U.S. government created the Syrian Enhanced Review. Today, Syrian refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States. If there is any doubt about the veracity of an applicant’s story, the applicant will not be admitted.

What next?

For the first several years of the Syrian Civil War the United States accepted a very small number of refugees. Up until last year, the United States received approximately 2,200 Syrian refugees while over 1 million fled to Lebanon. Last year, President Obama promised to increase the number of refugees to 10,000 by the end of the fiscal year (September 2016). That goal was reached in August 2016.

The United States is in a difficult situation. In a post 9/11 society, where fears of domestic and international terrorism abound, we must weigh the concern for safety with our duty to welcome and care for refugees. Indeed, welcoming refugees is a large part of the legacy of the United States. Given the dire circumstances and the difficulty in passing the test compared to the likelihood of a terrorist sneaking through, one must wonder if the screening process is too stringent? The high standards do screen out threats to public safety while nearly guaranteeing that any Syrian refugee that makes its way to the United States is not a threat. When Syrian refugees do pass the high standards set before them, what happens to them next and how can we be a part of it? That question will be answered in the next and final post, addressing what a refugee goes through when he or she finally makes it to the United States and what we, especially those of us in Colorado, can do to help.

 

David Coats is a staff editor on the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.

Posted in 1TVFA Posts, 2Featured Articles, David Coats, DJILP StaffComments (0)

Understanding the Syrian Refugee Crisis and How Refugees Receive Asylum in the United States: Part 1

Photo Credit: EPA

The Syrian Refugee Crisis is not only a problem for residents in Europe and the Middle East; it is a problem for all members of the global community. The Syrian Refugee Crisis has become an issue in Europe and the Middle East because the war has created a massive influx of refugees who need food, shelter, and medical help. The crisis is a problem for the broader global community because all people have a duty to take care of each other, while also ensuring the health and safety of our communities. What are we to do when some nation-states/countries want to welcome a refugee and others are fearful the refugee might be a wolf in sheep’s clothing? This three-part series will explain the cause of the Refugee Crisis, the current stance on the situation, the process for Syrian Refugees seeking asylum in the United States, and finally, what we can do to welcome refugees while also ensuring our local health and safety.

What is causing it?

As with any crisis, there are several contributing factors to the Syrian Refugee Crisis. First and foremost is the civil war that has been raging on in the country since 2011. In the past five years, 11 million Syrians (roughly half of the Syrian population) have been killed or displaced because of the civil war. Currently, there are 4.8 million Syrian refugees in the world. While most of those fleeing the country have sought sanctuary in Lebanon, others have fled to neighboring countries like Jordan or Turkey. Other contributing factors to the crisis include Germany’s promise to accept asylum seekers, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s conscription of practically all men under 30, and the underfunded international effort to address the situation.

What is the current status?

Currently, the EU has taken steps to quell the Refugee Crisis by making a relocation deal with Turkey. The EU and Turkey reached an agreement where Turkey will take many of the refugees in Europe and secure its western border in return for $7 billion from the EU. The EU started a pilot program where it will give Syrian refugees pre-paid Visa debit cards worth $30 a month. The hope for this program is that it will help fuel the local economy and meet some of the needs of refugees both in and outside of established refugee camps. It remains to be seen if and how this pilot program will be successful.

Where are the refugees going?

The vast majority of Syrian refugees remain in the Middle East. They are in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt, while roughly 10 percent have fled to Europe and far fewer have made their way to the United States and Canada. For those in the Middle-East, many live in refugee camps with worsening conditions, but many others live discreetly in urban centers, working odd jobs and trying desperately to make ends meet. With no end in sight for the Syrian civil war, the refugee crisis will only get worse before it gets better. The temporary solutions the surrounding communities pieced together to address the emergency influx are becoming unbearable permanent situations. The global community must find a solution addressing both the symptoms and the causes of the refugee crisis.

Whether living in a camp or in a city, many Syrian refugees are applying for asylum in Europe and North America. However, only a select few are chosen to resettle in the United States. How are they chosen, what screening processes do they go through and what happens to them when they arrive in the U.S.? These questions will be explored in the next two articles.

 

David Coats is a staff editor on the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.

Posted in 1TVFA Posts, 2Featured Articles, David Coats, DJILP StaffComments (0)

Time to Rethink the Continuing State of Emergency in Turkey

Photo Credit: Daily Sabah

Photo Credit: Daily Sabah

After a failed military coup in Turkey on July 15, 2016, the Turkish government decided to declare a state of emergency to take required measures in the fight against the putschists, and return to normalcy as soon as possible. Considering the extension of the state of emergency to six months, and all measures taken in this period, this post brings up the controversial question of the legality of the continuing state of emergency and continuing accusations across the country.

 

Background and the Growing Process

On July 15, 2016, a group in Turkey’s armed forces attempted a military coup to seize control of the government. On July 21, 2016, after the coup failed, Turkish government declared a state of emergency for a period of ninety days pursuant to Article 120 of the Turkish Constitution of 1982, which provides:

“In the event of serious indications of widespread acts of violence aimed at the destruction of the free democratic order established by the Constitution or of fundamental rights and freedoms, or serious deterioration of public order because of acts of violence, the Council of Ministers, meeting under the chairpersonship of the President of the Republic, after consultation with the National Security Council, may declare a state of emergency in one or more regions or throughout the country for a period not exceeding six months”.

Following the failed coup, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan clarified that, “the state of emergency had been declared in Turkey … for a duration of [three] months with an aim to totally and swiftly eliminate the FETÖ/PDY (Gulenist Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure) terrorist organization, which attempted a coup, and all of its elements”. On October 19, 2016, Turkey’s parliament ratified a planned extension of the state of emergency for three additional months to crack down on everyone suspected to be followers of the putschists. On January 19 2017, the state of emergency was extended second time, and most recently extended a third time scheduled to end on July 19, 2017. According to Article 121 of the Constitution 1982:

“The [Grand National] Assembly [of Turkey] may alter the duration of the state of emergency, may extend the period for a maximum of four months each time at the request of the Council of Ministers, or may lift the state of emergency”.

With an emphasis on the necessity of a determinative and quick reaction to any acts of violence aimed at threatening or abolishing democracy in states, the contentious counter-measures taken by Turkish authorities after the failed coup require a discussion in the context of human rights considerations.

 

Assessing under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

After the failed military coup, the government started to arrest, imprison, and fire anyone connected with the putschists. However, detentions and firing of thousands of journalists and academics as a massive political purge under the state of emergency gave a different dimension to the government’s unbounded counter-measures.

Nonetheless, it’s incontrovertible that all enforcements of slander laws to members of opposing groups and critics, attacks on the independence of the judiciary, using media and other state resources in favor of the government, and censoring the internet websites, are employed as policies against putschists to return normalcy to the country cannot be conceded as justifications for fighting against putschists contrary to the international human rights considerations.

Relevantly, on September 23, 2003, Turkey ratified the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as an attempt to ensure the protection of civil and political rights. With regard to the state of emergency, the ICCPR reads in Article 4(1):

“In time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation and the existence of which is officially proclaimed, the States Parties to the present Covenant may take measures derogating from their obligations under the present Covenant to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, provided that such measures are not inconsistent with their other obligations under international law and do not involve discrimination solely on the ground of race, colour, sex, language, religion or social origin”.

Clearly, a state of emergency is an extraordinary situation in which human rights and freedoms could be suspended temporarily. During the state of emergency, governments have the right to detain and hold suspects without charge. Nonetheless, there are some other fundamental rights and freedoms stated in Article 4(2) of the ICCPR which could not be suspended under any conditions including the right to freedom of thought, freedom from arbitrarily being deprived of liberties, and freedom from torture and inhuman treatment or punishment. From this point of view, holding a large population of the Turkish society, including pro-Kurdish and main opposition Republican People’s Party members of parliament, academics, journalists, and ordinary citizens just because of opposing and criticizing the government’s policies –especially, its quest for constitutional amendments that will be voted on in the referendum on April 2017 on switching to a presidential system– and also infringing media freedom in the country could be considered as violation of Article 4(2) of the ICCPR and that could not be justified under any condition even if done as counter-coup measures. Furthermore, using the failed coup attempt as a cover-up to eliminate and a crackdown on any government opponents and critics regardless of the scope and objective of the coup leaders is a violation of freedom of expression and thought which cannot be derogated under any distressed situations such as the state of emergency. During the continuing state of emergency in Turkey, dismissing about 7,316 academics by the first half of January 2017 from their professions who criticized the government’s national policies or signed peace declaration criticizing curfews declared in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish Southeastern districts in 2015 cannot be justified under any circumstances. In this sense, the mentioned counter-measures taken by the Turkish government against the society is clearly refusing the rule of law and fundamental rules of the ICCPR on a large scale.

 

Accusations Through the Broad Definition of Terrorism

According to the European Court of Human Rights, more than 5,000 cases were filed by Turkish nationals against Turkey relating to the post-coup purge. In the wake of the failed military coup in Turkey, the government launched a purge against alleged supporters of the coup leader Fethullah Gulen, including military officers, academics, and journalists.

As stated by Jonathan Cooper in his manual prepared for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), “[A]n overly broad definition of terrorism can be used [only] to shut down non-violent dissent and undermine democratic society”. There is a similar tendency in Turkey. The counter-measures taken by Turkish authorities in the fight against putschists coup leaders, connected alleged suspects through a broad definition of terrorism.

The overly-broad definition of terrorism, and measures taken to fight against it, are very dangerous because it will impact a large layer of the society, especially ethnic and religious minority groups, peaceful critics, and opponents, by sabotaging their fundamental human rights and liberties, including the right to freedom of expression. Although the Turkish President has said that the main objective of the state of emergency is the total elimination of the “Gulenist Terrorist Organization” and its elements that attempted a military coup. thousands of Turkish scholars were arrested during the state of emergency on a charge related to supporting the terrorist organization, including statements that do not clearly provoke or incite any act of violence. Relevantly, interpretation and application of laws by sabotaging non-derogable fundamental human rights including freedom of expression, freedom of thought, and freedom from being arbitrarily deprived of liberties are all the steps taken to broaden the scope of terrorism.

To be clear, Turkish authorities do not consciously separate terrorist actions from general criticism, or political and ethnic dissents in the country. Therefore all measures were taken under the state of emergency, and within the limits of the international obligations have prepared the grounds to suppress the right to freedom of thought and expression in violation of the rule of law. In simple words, in order to prevent legitimate exercise of the fundamental and non-suspendable human rights, Turkish authorities criminalize not only the acts that are properly accepted as terrorist actions in nature, but also any lawful statements, criticism, demonstrations, meetings, and any other attitudes that do not fall within the scope of terrorism under any circumstances.

It is very clear that Turkish authorities, by defining “criticizing the government’s policies” and “clarification of the opposing views” as terrorist actions have moved away from the main objective of the continuing state of emergency in Turkey. By contrast, all of these attitudes of Turkish authorities towards a large number of the society, mainly academics and journalists, are the significant steps in the direction of restricting democracy and freedom of expression and thought.

 

Saeed Bagheri is a faculty member at Akdeniz University in Turkey with a Ph. D in Public law and a Master’s of Human Rights Law.

Posted in 1TVFA Posts, 2Featured Articles, 4Guest & Faculty Articles, Saeed BagheriComments (0)

The European Refugee Crisis: Unaccompanied Refugee and Migrant Children

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

The refugee and migrant influx into Europe continues. Since January 2015 approximately 1.2 million people have journeyed across the Mediterranean in an attempt to reach Europe. The majority arrive in Europe by sea, while almost 34,900 refugees and migrants arrived by land. These individuals are fleeing economic and social breakdown such as conflict, violence, and poverty, with the largest numbers leaving Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

The crisis has had a substantial impact on children. UNICEF’s advocacy brief on the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe describes this crisis as a “children’s crisis.” By the end of December 2015, 1 in 3 refugees and migrants in Europe were children. And, based on arrivals in Europe since January 1, 2016, 27% were children.

Especially vulnerable are unaccompanied children. Children are among the most at risk of refugees and migrants – at risk of trafficking, exploitation, abuse, death, rape, and detention, among others. Unaccompanied children are those under the age of 18 years old and travelling alone. In 2015, approximately 25% of child asylum claims were made by unaccompanied and separated minors. However, it is difficult to gather accurate numbers of unaccompanied children because either they are not registering at borders or the country does not allow for their identification in formal registration procedures.

So, what is global community’s responsibility in addressing the issue of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children? According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the protection of unaccompanied children is a state obligation. One response to the problem of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children arriving in Europe was that of the United Kingdom, which passed the Immigration Act 2016, Section 67. The Act specifies that the “Secretary of State must… make arrangements to relocate to the United Kingdom and support a specified number of unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe.” It further specifies that the number of children to be resettled will be determined by the government in consultation with local authorities. The Act does not specify a fixed number on arrivals in order to assess the local governments capacity and ability to help. The purpose is to resettle unaccompanied refugee children who have fled conflict in the Middle East and whom it is in their best interest to be transferred to the UK.

Although there are real considerations as to capacity and ability of countries to help unaccompanied refugee children, a greater effort should be made by the global community in collaboration with one another and individually to assist this especially vulnerable population as well as the refugee and migrant population as a whole.

Hannah Mitchell is a 2L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a staff editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

Posted in 1TVFA Posts, 2Featured Articles, DJILP Staff, Hannah MitchellComments (0)

ICC Convicts Former President Bemba for Atrocities in Central Africa

Photo Credit: Witness.org

Photo Credit: Witness.org

On Monday March 21, 2016 the International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted former Congolese vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the 2002-2003 situation in the Central African Republic (CAR). Bemba was convicted by the ICC of two counts of crimes against humanity, for murder and rape, and three counts of war crimes, for murder, rape and pillaging. Most importantly though, this is the first trial at the ICC to focus on the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, and the first time a defendant has been convicted for command responsibility for failing to take action to stop crimes he knows are being committed by his troops. More than 5000 victims participated in the hearings, the highest number in ICC history.

In 2002 Bemba was commander-in-chief of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) when then president of the CAR, Ange-Felix Patasse, requested his assistance in putting down a coup waged by a group of soldiers loyal to former CAR president Kolingba. In coordination with Colonel Qaddafi of Lybia, Bemba sent 1,500 MLC troops to the CAR, who were accused of committing more than 1,000 rapes, in addition to widespread murder and pillaging.

Article 7 of the Rome Statute, which provides for the establishment and administration of the ICC, defines crimes against humanity as “acts when committed as a part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.” Article 7(g) identifies “rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity” as acts which may be invoked to constitute the actus reas of a crime against humanity. Article 8 defines war crimes as grave breaches of the Geneva Convention, including acts against persons or property, when committed as part of a plan or policy or as a part of a large-scale commission of such crimes. Under this definition, the over 1,000 rapes committed by the MLC troops, rises to the level required by the statute in a non-international conflict, and the actus reas of rape is expressly included in 8(2)(e)(vi). 8(2)(f) does limit the situations in which rape or sexual violence can be considered ample actus reas to convict of war crimes to those where there is a protracted armed conflict, hence why this application has never previously been appropriate. In this case, however, the widespread use of rape as a weapon was in evidence from the over 5,000 victim participants.

Commentators have been especially impressed with prosecutors use of Article 28(a) of the Rome statute which allows for a military commander to be held criminally responsible for crimes committed by forced under their control when the military commander knew or should have know that the forcer were committing those crimes, and when that commander failed to take all ‘necessary and reasonable measures within his or her power’ to prevent the commission or to submit the matter to authorities for investigation. Under this Article, the ICC tribunal convicted Bemba as a result of acts committed by his troops which he did not personally commit. This precedent has been heralded by a host of human rights organizations including Amnesty International who said that this verdict, and the principles it espouses, represent a “historic moment in the battle for justice for victims of violence in CAR and around the World.”

This verdict has assured justice for thousands of victims of sexual violence perpetrated as a weapon of war, and the ICC, a beleaguered institution, can now proudly claim to hold commanders responsible for the actions of their troops. However, this investigation began nearly ten years ago, the trial took four years, and the verdict came almost two years after close of arguments. The ICC handles cases which are complex and sensitive, often taking a long time to go through evidence and allow for victim participation. Critics of the court cite its long lag-times, exorbitant costs, and lack of international participation as reasons why it has been a failure at bringing perpetrators, especially those outside of Africa, to justice. Hopefully those critics concerns are at least partially dissuaded by the conviction of Jean-Pierre Bemba, because this verdict is more than just another conviction of a despised African war-lord. By convicting Bebma of rape as a result of command responsibility under Article 28, it is a huge step forward towards strengthening the enforcement of the principles that lay at the foundation of the ICC.

Posted in 1TVFA Posts, 2Featured Articles, DJILP Staff, Jeremy GoldsteinComments (0)

The Hidden Cost of Shrimp: Forced Labor in Thailand’s Fishing Industry

1 Photo
A Thai fishing boat along Koh Samet, an island in the country’s eastern seaboard. Source: Mongabay, Lies, Deceit And Abduction Staff Thailand’s Fishing Industry. Photographer: Philippe Gabriel.

Imagine a pirate boat, surrounded by miles of unending water. Exhausted, scared people trapped aboard that floating prison, forced to work up to twenty-four hours nonstop for little or often no pay. They are living in inhumane conditions only on rice, parts of fish that no one else would touch, and unclean, unhealthy water. They are held in a cages, regularly beaten, forced to take methamphetamines to keep them working long hours, and sometimes killed for working not fast enough or for trying to escape. These execution-style killings are done in a variety of horrifying ways including electrocuting or tying the slave “by his limbs to the bows of four vessels, so that the ocean waves [will] tear the worker’s body apart.” Having no glimpse of hope to be ever free, they are desperate because even risky escapes are rarely successful: corrupt law enforcement officials often return fleeing slaves back to the ships for a fee. Imagine the dark and chilling refrigeration area on this pirate ship where caught fish are stored along with the corpses of killed slaves. Now imagine a shrimp farm in Thailand, where the farmers raise shrimp feeding them slave-caught fish that pirate ship supplied. Once the shrimp grow, they are exported to food manufacturers and retailers around the world, including the United States’ major food chain distributors such as Santa Monica Seafood, Stavis Seafoods, Thai Union and end up in supermarkets such as Costco, Wal-Mart, Kroger, Safeway, and Albertsons. Did you buy shrimp lately? The price for that “plate of seafood” on your table costs more than the dollar value you paid for it. The price is horror, the desperation of forced laborers, the tears of their mothers and children. As Hlaing Min, a runaway slave, one of a few who have successfully fled from a pirate boat, expressed: when Americans are eating seafood, “they should remember” the slaves, the slaves whose bones could easily form a mountain – “an island, it’s that many” – of bones of forced laborers that are under the sea.

It is not a fictional horror story. It is a reality, the reality of modern-form slavery in Thailand. Thailand, one of the world’s major seafood exporters and a key seafood supplier of United States, is remarkable in its forced labor practices. Human rights abuses in the Thai fishing sector are not a new phenomenon; deeply embedded in a commercial global supply chain, these abuses did not receive required attention up until recently. Unsurprisingly, Thailand is the only country in the world that voted against a U.N. international treaty intended to stop forced labor. Thailand’s current fishery laws, including the Fisheries Act, B.E. 2490 (1947); the Act Governing the Right to Fish in Thai Waters, B.E. 2482 (1939); and the Thai Vessel Act, B.E. 2481 (1938) are all woefully outdated.

Despite the Thai government’s numerous assurances to the international community to clean up its fishing industry from human rights abuses and its boosted legislative efforts in regards to protection of workers employed within the fishing industry (including Thai Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, B.E. 2551 (2008); Labor Protection Act, B.E. 2541 (1998); the Recruitment and Job-Seekers Protection Act, B.E. 2528 (1985); the establishment of more strict labor regulations on fishing vessels; the requirement of national registry for illegal migrant workers; and the establishment of shelter facilities for victims of human trafficking), uninterrupted exploitation of forced laborers is still present in the fishing sector. “The reality is [that] the Thai government’s high-sounding rhetoric to stop human trafficking and clean up the fishing fleets still largely stops at the water’s edge,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division explained.

3 Photo

Former slaves on Thai-run ships wait processing after being rescued. Source: Mongabay. Photo courtesy of the Labour Rights Promotion Network.

Corruption that remains among government and law enforcement officials creates an environment of impunity, especially around human rights abuses of migrant laborers, discouraging the rare surviving victims from pursuing charges against their abusers. Due to virtually inexistent legal protection for undocumented workers and fear of arrest or deportation, most migrant fishers choose to be abused rather than seek out protection from the Thai authorities. Making human rights abuse even worse, there is a history of political and cultural conflict between Thailand and its neighboring countries and, as a result, people in Thailand have little or no concern for the lives of migrants; some of them even “see the abuse as justified.” The exploitation of laborers in the Thailand fishing industry already is “one of the worst examples of human rights abuse in the world today.” Yet the International Labor Organization stressed in its 2015 Report that countless cases of human trafficking and forced labor that were already uncovered are only “the tip of the iceberg in terms of the real prevalence of such abuses” in Thailand.

Abusive practices of overfishing have ravaged the marine ecosystems of Thailand, depleting fish stocks, and pushing fishing boats to move farther offshore, traveling as far as Eastern Indonesia and East Africa in search of a profitable fish catch. They often stay at sea for months or even years at a time. Not many Thai residents want to take these low-paid, dangerous jobs as fishermen; legal labor migration is limited through Thailand’s government policies, and it is not even economically viable for fishing companies to use a paid workforce. Yet Thailand seafood exports generate near $7 billion in annual earnings and to meet this demand a network of human traffickers and brokers has emerged. These brokers regularly recruit men and sometimes even children from poor neighboring countries, coercing, tricking and often drugging and kidnapping people to work in the fishing-related industry. When forced laborers become unable to work, die, or escape from sea slavery, the brokers can easily replace them with new recruits. Each slave, who is bought and sold like an animal, costs around $1,000, in some cases even less than $400 and is often subjected to forms of debt bondage, told to work off the “debt.”

As the U.S. State Department noted in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP), there are approximately three to four million migrant laborers in Thailand, most of them from Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, India, China, and Uzbekistan. According to the Environmental Justice Foundation, more than ninety percent of people working in Thai fishing industry are migrant workers. Yet the total population of fishermen is unknown because most migrants do not go through a registration system. In its 2014 report, the U.S. Bureau of International Labor Affairs has reported that shrimp in Thailand is produced by both child and forced labor. TIP puts Thailand at Tier 3, the lowest level of its report, meaning that Thailand does not comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards and is not making substantial efforts to comply.

Even though U.S. companies have become increasingly aware of slavery and human trafficking in the Thailand supply chain, as of 2015, United States shrimp demand has increased its production in Thailand by twenty percent from the last year, expecting to import at least 250,000 metric tons of shrimp. Though the United States has a large domestic shrimp industry in the Gulf of Mexico, U.S. shrimp are more expensive than the shrimp from Thailand. Thus, driven by the goal of keeping their prices for shrimp low and so to obtain more profits, U.S. retailers import shrimp. In fact, ninety four percent of the shrimp consumed in U.S. is imported farmed shrimp.

Some advocates of ending human rights abuses suggest that retailers should simply boycott suppliers who engage in slavery practices. Yet corporations have pointed out that this would not solve the problem because less-ethical buyers would line up to take their place or pointed to a lack of alternative sustainable seafood. Furthermore, because of the complicated nature of the global seafood chain, the use of trafficked labor is easily hidden in the process. As Huw Thomas, head of seafood procurement at Wm Morrison Supermarkets explains, tracking the source of seafood products is very difficult because the seafood industry is incredibly complicated and it may sometimes require tracing more than ten steps that separate the corporation, which bought the farmed seafood products, from the origins of fishmeal that go into the shrimp. Still some human rights organizations have already simplified that tracking for corporations: “[i]f you buy prawns or shrimp from Thailand, you will be buying the produce of slave labour,” Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, explains.

Only a few resources and programs currently exist that help to identify links in the seafood supply chain where slavery occurs. Humanity United (HU), a San Francisco-based foundation, recently designed a campaign to combat slavery and human trafficking. The campaign includes four aspects: (1) focusing on targeting a single industry in a single country (HU chose Thailand fishing industry as a target); (2) chartering a coordinated strategy by cultivating a network of partners (HU encourages its partners to engage in work and not just simply sign checks to the organization); (3) interacting with the corporate business interests (HU confronts human rights abuses and helps companies to improve labor conditions of Thai workers); and (4) monitoring and confirming whether labor conditions in the seafood industry are actually improving (HU plans to pursue certification platforms and incorporate its assessments of work conditions into the certification process).

4 Photo

On Costco shelves as of August 18, 2015. Source: Case3:15-cv-03783.

Everyone in Thailand and every corporation doing business with Thailand is keenly aware of slavery and human trafficking issues in the seafood industry supply chain. Indeed, all leading retailers “have factored these issues into their social responsibility approaches.” For example, in 2014, several corporations, including Costco and Tesco, announced publicly that they do not tolerate human trafficking and slavery and promised to scrutinize their supply chains, avoiding suppliers that engage in human rights abuses. Yet, violating its own public statements and its Supply Chain Disclosure, Costco continued to sell slavery-tainted shrimp to consumers until fall of 2015. Frozen shrimp and shrimp in wonton soup that Costco was selling were supplied to Costco by Thailand company Charoen Pokphand Foods Public Company Limited (Charoen Pokphand Foods) or C.P. Food Products, Inc. (C.P. Foods). Those Thailand-based companies, as Guardian reported in June, 2014 after its six-month investigation, bought processed fish from suppliers that operated or, in turn, bought from pirate fishing vessels manned with slaves; C.P. Foods fed that processed fish to the shrimp it farmed prior to selling it to Costco. Furthermore, in 2014, Bob Miller, C.P. Foods’ UK managing director, already admitted that the company knew “there’s issues with regard to the [raw] material that comes in [to port].” However, Costco’s corporate practice of dealing with bad actors remained intact.

While activists alone cannot eradicate human rights abuses in the seafood industry, when the local Thai authorities fail to rein them in and U.S. corporations remain passive in cleaning up or monitoring their supply chains, U.S. consumers, who are unwilling to support slave labor practices, can help. On August 19, 2015, Monica Sud, one of Costco’s customers, commenced a California consumers’ class action against Costco and its Thai shrimp suppliers. Sud filed three claims for relief. The first claim is against Costco, Charoen Pokphand Foods, and C.P. Foods for unlawful business acts and practices. In regards to Costco, the lawsuit alleges that Costco for several years knowingly sold shrimp from Thai suppliers that farmed those shrimp on fish obtained from slave laborers and Costco was aware that the shrimp were directly derived from a supply chain that depended upon human trafficking and slavery. The second claim is against Costco for misleading and deceptive advertising practices, such as despite Costco’s knowledge of human rights abuses in its supply chain, Costco did not advise its customers that its farmed shrimp was tainted by the use of forced labor. The third claim is against Costco for violation of the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, seeking an injunction to bar Costco from selling forced labor produced products, requiring Costco to disclose products in its supply chain that have been tainted by slave labor, and alleging that Costco’s use of forced labor is inconsistent with its California Transparency in Supply Chains Act disclosure. The lawsuit also seeks to compensate shrimp products’ purchasers. The complaint does not allege Costco’s corporate liability for complicity in human rights violations, yet it does so against C.P. Foods, stating that the corporation is directly complicit in the use of forced labor practices and has profited from those practices.

After the commencement of Sud lawsuit, Richard Galanti, a spokesman for Costco, responded that Costco is doing all it can “to address the issues that have surfaced,” working with the Thai retailers, the fishing industry, and the Thai government. Acknowledging the existence of slave labor in Thailand’s fishing industry, Galanti noted that unsatisfied customers “can return [Costco]’s item for a full refund.” As of November 15, 2015, Costco removed all seafood products made in Thailand from its Colorado stores and its website. Anne Marie Murphy of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP, one of the attorneys representing Sud, stated that the lawsuit pursues goals of corporate reform and publicity; it is aimed to raise consumers’ awareness as to the issue of slavery; and hopefully will influence U.S. corporations’ practices, bringing long needed “change through the marketplace.”

Sud is the first consumer class action alleging inadequate disclosures and it set an example, started a new wave of class action litigation against other corporate defendants that have similar issues with forced labor produced products. Class actions already have been filed against Hershey, Iams, Mars, and Nestle. It is also expected that the attorney general, who has authority to enforce the California’s Transparency in Supply Chains Act, will begin filing civil suits against corporations, forcing them to fix their disclosures in compliance with the Act. Furthermore, keeping up with this movement, the Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act of 2015 was recently introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. The new law will require large corporations nationwide to report any measures they have taken to identify and address human rights abuses within their supply chains.

While according to Satasap Viriyanantawani, general manager for the Thai business of Siam Canadian Foods, shrimp buyers in United States can even dictate the price they want to pay to suppliers, giant purchasers, such as Costco, can challenge the system of human rights abuses, forcing change by dictating terms to its suppliers and ensuring the products they buy are not derived from or otherwise created through the use of slavery or human trafficking. However, instead of using its market power to stop slavery in its supply chain, Costco had facilitated it, fueling the cycle of human trafficking and slavery through its purchases of tainted shrimp. If Costco, a corporation with total revenues of $116,199,000 for 2015, does not have the resources to monitor and control its suppliers, then who does?

Eliminating human trafficking and slavery from the global seafood supply chain is not an easy task. Yet it is well possible if everyone – including international and national communities, the private sector, and consumers – gets involved and presses for change. As a long-term solution for making a real impact, getting corporations to change their policies and combatting slavery in their supply chains, the international community should create an enforcement mechanism of one model standard to monitor, audit, and certify the integrity of global supply chains. All information regarding each individual country should be required to be shared with the international community. Given the fact that U.S. corporations have “dominant market share” in the world, the corporations should use their position to influence and pressure their suppliers to join an “accountability revolution,” meaning to uphold standards of the international community, enforcing norm-conforming conduct, performing audits of their supply chains, and preventing the cycle of human trafficking and forced labor. It is in the best interest of everyone in the international and national communities to ensure that the price for a “plate of seafood” is the monetary amount and not its current real cost of the desperation and horror of people who were lured into a life of slavery until they meet their watery grave.

Ilona Starchak is a 3L law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and the Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy and the Denver Criminal Law Review.

Posted in 1TVFA Posts, 2Featured Articles, DJILP Staff, Ilona StarchakComments (0)

University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Posts by Date

November 2017
M T W T F S S
« Oct    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
27282930  
Resources