Sunday, January 20, 2013

Bulldozing the right to housing in Rio de Janeiro

by Jess Polebaum
Morro da Providência - Flickr/CatComm

As Rio de Janeiro prepares for the international sporting events it will host in 2014 and 2016, the city’s most vulnerable citizens face an abiding uncertainty: will their homes survive the city’s development plans?

Evictions across the city

Two major projects have the potential to leave a large wake of evictions in their path. A multi-focal, multi-million dollar development program initiated in 2009 and intended to renew the city’s derelict commercial port threatens to raze a portion of Morro da Providência, one of Brazil’s most historic favelas. A second effort involves the construction of a network of highways that will connect various points in the West Zone of the city, where the Olympic Village will be located and many of the Olympic events will take place. Rio On Watch, a journalistic project of Catalytic Communities, reports that more than 8,000 individuals have been evicted from their homes since preparations for the Olympics began in 2009, with up to 10,000 more evictions expected.

The city’s government denies wrongdoing and highlights the compensation and/or alternative housing it provides to evicted residents, as well as the city’s official reasoning for the evictions—namely that the homes slotted for removal are structurally unsafe. Both local and international groups, however, have protested and observed recurring patterns of abuse in the eviction process, including lack of adequate notice of eviction, unreasonable compensation, violent intimidation, and autocratic justification for the orders of removal.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Indigenous Issues Need to be Addressed in Keystone XL Pipeline Expansion

by Cindy Woods

Keystone XL Pipeline Protest, Washington DC- Creative Commons: Emma Cassidy, 2011
TransCanada’s multi-billion dollar Keystone XL oil pipeline has been shrouded in controversy since its proposal in 2008. The XL Pipeline, formed as an extension to the existing Keystone Pipeline system, is set to deliver tar sands oil—a variety of crude described as the “world’s dirtiest, most toxic, and most difficult-to-clean-up-when-it-spills”—from British Columbia to the Gulf Coast of Texas. In the process, it will traverse the Sand Hills of Nebraska and the regionally crucial Ogallala Aquifer that lies beneath. However, the Department of State has yet to grant TransCanada a permit to begin construction in the United States. 

When pressured by Congress last January to decide on the pending permit request, President Obama rejected the application, citing insufficient time to assess the full impact of the project. With environmental concerns abundant, the Department of State is primarily focused on protecting the quality of the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides approximately 82 percent of drinking water for the region’s 2.3 million population.
In March, President Obama authorized the construction of the southern half of the XL, which stretches from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast. While this portion of the XL pipeline may not cross an environmentally fragile and integral U.S. water source, it does traverse fragile and culturally important indigenous lands. These interests should be given equal consideration with environmental concerns given in particular a growing body of international legal norms recognizing indigenous peoples’ rights to consent to development on their sovereign lands.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Rwanda in the DRC: Finding the Appropriate Human Rights Response

M23 rebels pass police officers as they withdraw from the city of Goma 
by Laura Notess

In late November, the rebel group M23 successfully captured Goma, a city of a million people in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The global community, trying to explain the improbable rise of such a small rebel group, looked to Rwanda, who has allegedly supported the M23 rebels. While Rwanda has been accused of supporting the group for some time, the Goma take-over, as well as Rwanda’s recent election to a UN Security Council seat, has intensified international pressure on the Rwandan government. The exact nature of the relationship between Rwanda and M23 is not entirely clear. Nonetheless, it has generated a great deal of controversy and condemnation from the international human rights community, primarily due to M23’s use of child soldiers, violence against and rape of civilians, and arbitrary executions. Discerning the extent of Rwanda’s involvement in these actions, and finding the appropriate response, are important questions for a human rights community that has long struggled to increase protection of human rights in the eastern DRC.

The Political Backdrop
Following the end of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, primarily Hutu refugees fled into the neighboring DRC, which had long been home to (among others) those of Tutsi ancestry. Several years of conflict followed, which saw a number of shifting alliances, the disintegration and formation of various rebel factions, and the military involvement of most of the regional nations. The so-called “Africa’s Great War” involved six nations, as Rwandan-backed Tutsi rebels fought for control of the Eastern DRC. A peace accord was signed in 2002, and Rwandan and Ugandan troops withdrew from the DRC, but unrest has continued as various militias and rebel groups continue to operate in the Kivu provinces.

M23, or as they’ve recently begun calling themselves, the Congolese Revolutionary Army, started last spring as a mutiny by Tutsi rebels who had been integrated into the Congolese army under previous peace talks. Their rapid growth, and successful takeover of Goma, has forced a political response from the Congolese government. M23 has currently withdrawn from Goma in exchange for peace talks, and recently agreed to a ceasefire as the peace talks begin. It remains to be seen whether this ceasefire will be honored, as up until the announcement reports of M23 recruiting child soldiers, performing  executions, and committing rape had continued.

The present controversy centers around Rwandan support for M23, which primarily appears to be in the form of financial backing and weapons. More recently, a UN report accused Rwandan defense minister, General James Kabarebe, of directly overseeing M23 forces. There is also strong evidence of Rwanda recruiting soldiers for M23, compiled most comprehensively in a September report from Human Rights Watch.

Finding the Appropriate Human Rights Lens
Human rights groups have been tracking Rwanda’s actions in the DRC for some time, with mixed success. The complicated nature of the conflict, and Rwanda’s on-again off-again relationship with various rebel groups, makes tracing human rights abuses difficult in a region where violence has become the norm.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

As Haiti’s IDP Camps Slowly Disappear, Do Human Rights Obligations Follow?

by Justin Simeone

A Sexual Violence Awareness Advertisement in Port-au-Prince (Justin Simeone)
In recent weeks, “Superstorm” Sandy has reminded many Americans of the devastating impact of natural disasters on ordinary life.   Prior to reaching the United States, the storm first storm first ripped through Haiti—leaving more than fifty dead and many more homeless.

This process of devastation and reconstruction has become all too common to Haitians over the past three years.  Since a massive 7.0 magnitude earthquake in January 2010, the small nation has slowly faded from the international headlines.  Yet, at the time Sandy made landfall in Haiti, there were still more than 370,000 individuals still living in provisional camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in and around Port-au-Prince.

The challenges that these IDPs face today are similar those that immediately followed the earthquake. Shelters are still precarious.  Adequate food, water, and sanitation remain difficult to obtain. Security patrols continue with limited frequency.  And perhaps most disturbing, reports of rape and other forms of sexual violence are still pervasive.

“After the earthquake, the situation was inhumane and degrading,” remarks Malya Villard-Appolon, a rape survivor and co-founder of KOFAVIV. “There was no security.  There was no food; there was no work. … Two years after the earthquake, it is still the same.  The people are still under the tent; they don’t have electricity; they are getting raped.”

A Human Right to Protection from Sexual Violence

This observation is disturbing given that many international and regional conventions directly or indirectly prohibit sexual violence—particularly against women and girls.  For instance, even though there is no explicit prohibition under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the CEDAW Committee has recognized that articles 2, 5, 11, 12, and 16 require states to protect women from such violence.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Legacy of the ICTY

by Igor Petrovich

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established on May 25, 1993 at the height of the Bosnian War. While the ICTY is scheduled to formally finish its work two years from now (on December 31, 2014), the vast majority of the work has already been completed with only the trials of Radovan Karadžić, Ratko Mladić, and Goran Hadžić still left to conclude. Over the past 20 years, the ICTY has indicted 161 people. It is generally seen as one of the pioneering forces in international criminal law and can serve as a blueprint for the international community in order to prosecute future human rights violations.

Several years ago, one of the biggest criticisms of the ICTY was been the slow pace of proceedings. It will take twenty years for the Tribunal to conclude its work and it took over a decade for a number of convictions to occur. However, some of this criticism is no longer warranted now that Karadžić and Mladić have been arrested and are currently on trial in the Hague.

Friday, January 4, 2013

It's Complicated: Russia, the U.S., and the Magnitsky Act

Sergei Magnitsky’s grave
Source: Wikimedia Commons
By Joanna Wasik, Georgetown Law '12, Guest Blogger 

The Magnitsky Act is a decisive step forward in the U.S.’s promotion of human rights and the rule of law abroad. Before it can be heralded as a triumph, however, we must recognize the complicated context of how the Act was enacted, how it will be implemented, and its short term and long-term effects. A closer inspection reveals a delicate interplay of domestic politics, international trade, and political maneuvering in international affairs that must be weighed when assessing the Act’s utility.

The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 (“Magnitsky Act”)() was signed into law in 2012 as part of a larger bill, the Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations law or PNTR. The PNTR normalized trade relations with the Russian Federation and abolished the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which had restricted trade with Russia and other former communist countries since 1974. Pursuant to Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization in August 2012, U.S. legislators were eager to let U.S. companies take advantage of reduced trade barriers with the economic powerhouse. As reported by the New York Times, some estimate that the Russia PNTR could double the amount of U.S. exports to Russia over the next 5 years.

This same law, which offers an open hand of normalization of trade relations, also contains a slap for those who violate human rights in Russia. The Magnitsky Act allows the United States to deny visas to Russian officials who are deemed human rights abusers, and to freeze their U.S. assets. As detailed by Freedom House, the provision is named for Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in prison in 2009 after exposing multimillion-dollar fraud by Russian officials. No one has been charged or held accountable for his death in Russia, though the beatings and denial of medical care by jailers and the Russian Department of Interior officials were responsible for his death. In addition to the death of Magnitsky, Human Rights First details many other cases of individuals in Russia whose human rights have been violated with impunity. Freedom House has hailed the Magnitsky Act as a victory for human rights and accountability, calling for such provisions to be applied to U.S. relations with other countries and for European states to pass similar legislation.  

Before it can be heralded as a triumph, however, the background and implications of the Magnitsky Act need to be explored.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals: A Risky Step Forward for Youth Immigrant Rights

by Adina Appelbaum
Twitter: @abappelbaum

On July 15, 2012, the Obama Administration announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, a program that has the potential to help as many as 1.76 million young immigrants avoid deportation and obtain work authorization for two years.  To qualify for the program, individuals must be under the age of 31; have arrived in the U.S. before turning 16 and resided in the country for at least five years; be enrolled in or have graduated from high school (or have a GED or be a veteran); and have no felonies or significant misdemeanors, among other requirements.

Undocumented students line up at Navy Pier to apply for deferred action.
Source: John H. White, Chicago Sun-Times

DACA represents a step in the right direction for child and young adult immigrant rights. In the short-term, applicants granted deferred action may be free from deportation, obtain crucial employment authorization and a Social Security number, have an incentive to stay in school, and be able to “come out” from living in the shadows of lacking proper legal documentation.

On the other hand, the significant uncertainty of DACA as a discretionary presidential action, which makes no permanent legal change in a person’s immigration status, means there is a substantial chance it could do more harm than good. The risks are even greater for unaccompanied children. The precarious nature of DACA is arguably not in line with the intentions of Articles II and III of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to prohibit discrimination and promote the best interests of the child. DACA’s weaknesses thus represent an opportunity to illuminate why a more comprehensive immigration reform is needed.