Archive for the ‘human rights’ Category

Refugees and Asylees in the United States

September 26, 2012 Comments off

Refugees and Asylees in the United States

Source: Migration Policy Institute

For many people in repressive, autocratic, or conflict-embroiled nations, migration is a means of survival. Refugees and asylees seek protection in another country — whether neighboring or distant, familiar or foreign — in order to escape persecution based on their beliefs, personal attributes, or membership in a certain group.

The United States grants humanitarian protection on a limited basis to refugees and asylees from diverse countries throughout the world (see Definitions box) This Spotlight examines the data on persons admitted to the United States as refugees and those granted asylum in 2011. It also provides the number of refugees and asylees who received lawful permanent resident (LPR) status in 2011.

The data come from the 2011 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, the 2011 Annual Flow Report on Refugees and Asylees, and the 2011 Annual Flow Report on US Legal Permanent Residents, published by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS).

International Religious Freedom Report for 2011

July 30, 2012 Comments off

International Religious Freedom Report for 2011

Source: U.S. Department of State

To think, believe, or doubt. To speak or pray; to gather or stand apart. Such are the movements of the mind and heart, infinitives that take us beyond the finite. Freedom of religion, like all freedoms of thought and expression, are inherent. Our beliefs help define who we are and serve as a foundation for what we contribute to our societies. However, as the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report documents, too many people live under governments that abuse or restrict freedom of religion. People awaken, work, suffer, celebrate, raise children, and mourn unable to follow the dictates of their faith or conscience. Yet, under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, governments have committed to respect freedom of religion. As President Barack Obama said, they ought to "bear witness and speak out" when violations of religious freedom occur.

With these reports, we bear witness and speak out. We speak against authoritarian governments that repressed forms of expression, including religious freedom. Governments restricted religious freedom in a variety of ways, including registration laws that favored state-sanctioned groups, blasphemy laws, and treatment of religious groups as security threats. The report focuses special attention on key trends such as the impact of political and demographic transitions on religious minorities, who tended to suffer the most in 2011; the effects of conflict on religious freedom; and the rising tide of anti-Semitism. Impacted groups, to name just a few, included Baha’is and Sufis in Iran; Christians in Egypt; Ahmadis in Indonesia and Pakistan; Muslims in a range of countries, including in Europe; Tibetan Buddhists, Christians, and Uighur Muslims in China; and Jews in many parts of the world.

Global Commission on HIV and the Law: HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights and Health

July 30, 2012 Comments off

Global Commission on HIV and the Law: HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights and Health (PDF)
Source: United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS
From press release (PDF):

Punitive laws and human rights abuses are costing lives, wasting money and stifling the global AIDS response, according to a report by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, an independent body of global leaders and experts. The Commission report, “HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights and Health,” finds evidence that governments in every region of the world have wasted the potential of legal systems in the fight against HIV. The report also concludes that laws based on evidence and human rights strengthen the global AIDS response – these laws exist and must be brought to scale urgently.

Bad laws should not be allowed to stand in the way of effective HIV responses,” said Helen Clark, United Nations Development Programme Administrator. “In the 2011 Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS, Member States committed to reviewing laws and policies which impede effective HIV responses. One of the key contributions of the Commission’s work has been to stimulate review processes and change in a number of countries.”

The Global Commission on HIV and the Law—comprising former heads of state and leading legal, human rights and HIV experts—based its report on extensive research and first-hand accounts from more than 1,000 people in 140 countries. The Commission, supported by the United Nations Development Programme on behalf of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, found that punitive laws and discriminatory practices in many countries undermine progress against HIV.

For example, laws and legally condoned customs that fail to protect women and girls from violence deepen gender inequalities and increase their vulnerability to HIV. Some intellectual property laws and policies are not consistent with international human rights law and impede access to lifesaving treatment and prevention. Laws that criminalise and dehumanise populations at highest risk of HIV— including men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender people and injecting drug users—drive people underground, away from essential health services and heighten their risk of HIV. Laws that criminalise HIV transmission, exposure or non-disclosure of HIV status discourage people from getting tested and treated.

Independent high-level commission finds that an epidemic of bad laws and human rights abuses is stifling the global AIDS response

July 27, 2012 Comments off

Independent high-level commission finds that an epidemic of bad laws and human rights abuses is stifling the global AIDS response

Source:  Global Commission on HIV and the Law
Punitive laws and human rights abuses are costing lives, wasting money and stifling the global AIDS response, according to a report by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, an independent body of global leaders and experts. The Commission report, “HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights and Health,” finds evidence that governments in every region of the world have wasted the potential of legal systems in the fight against HIV. The report also concludes that laws based on evidence and human rights strengthen the global AIDS response – these laws exist and must be brought to scale urgently.
The Global Commission on HIV and the Law—comprising former heads of state and leading legal, human rights and HIV experts—based its report on extensive research and first-hand accounts from more than 1,000 people in 140 countries. The Commission, supported by the United Nations Development Programme on behalf of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, found that punitive laws and discriminatory practices in many countries undermine progress against HIV.
For example, laws and legally condoned customs that fail to protect women and girls from violence deepen gender inequalities and increase their vulnerability to HIV. Some intellectual property laws and policies are not consistent with international human rights law and impede access to lifesaving treatment and prevention. Laws that criminalise and dehumanise populations at highest risk of HIV—including men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender people and injecting drug users—drive people underground, away from essential health services and heighten their risk of HIV. Laws that criminalise HIV transmission, exposure or non-disclosure of HIV status discourage people from getting tested and treated. 

New From the GAO

July 26, 2012 Comments off

New GAO Reports and Testimonies

Source: Government Accountability Office

+ Reports

1. Thrift Savings Plan: Adding a Socially Responsible Index Fund Presents Challenges. GAO-12-664, June 26.
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2. Chief Acquisition Officers: Appointments Generally Conform to Legislative Requirements, but Agencies Need to Clearly Define Roles and Responsibilities. GAO-12-792, July 26.
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3. IMF: Planning for Use of Gold Sales Profits Under Way, but No Decision Made for Using a Portion of the Profits. GAO-12-766R, July 26.

4. Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle: DOD Is Addressing Knowledge Gaps in Its New Acquisition Strategy. GAO-12-822, July 26.
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5. Veterans Paralympics Program: Improved Reporting Needed to Ensure Grant Accountability. GAO-12-703, July 26.
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6. Electronic Health Records: Number and Characteristics of Providers Awarded Medicare Incentive Payments for 2011. GAO-12-778R, July 26.

7. Food Safety: FDA’s Food Advisory and Recall Process Needs Strengthening. GAO-12-589, July 26.
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8. Refugee Resettlement: Greater Consultation with Community Stakeholders Could Strengthen Program. GAO-12-729, July 25.
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9. Management Report: Improvements Are Needed to Strengthen the American Battle Monuments Commission’s Internal Controls and Accounting Procedures. GAO-12-830R, July 26.

+ Testimonies

1. Critical Infrastructure Protection: DHS Is Taking Action to Better Manage Its Chemical Security Program, but It Is Too Early to Assess Results, by Stephen L. Caldwell, director, homeland security and justice, before the Subcommittee on Homeland Security, House Committee on Appropriations. GAO-12-515T, July 26.
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2. Combating Nuclear Smuggling: DHS has Developed Plans for Its Global Nuclear Detection Architecture, but Challenges Remain in Deploying Equipment, by David C. Maurer, director, homeland security and justice, and Gene Aloise, director, natural resources and environment, before the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies, House Committee on Homeland Security. GAO-12-941T, July 26.

3. DOD Civilian Workforce: Observations on DOD’s Efforts to Plan for Civilian Workforce Requirements, by Brenda S. Farrell, director, defense capabilities and management, before the Subcommittee on Readiness, House Committee on Armed Services. GAO-12-962T, July 26.
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Shackling of pregnant women and girls in correctional systems

July 21, 2012 Comments off

Shackling of pregnant women and girls in correctional systems (PDF)
Source: National Council on Crime and Delinquency

Contrary to official records and statistics, a large number of girls involved in the justice system have been pregnant. In a study of girls in Florida, according to case review data, 8% reported pregnancy in their lifetime. However, when girls were interviewed, 24% reported they had been pregnant (Acoca & Dedel, 1998). Other studies corroborate these findings and demonstrate that of the almost 30% of girls who reported lifetime pregnancy, 16% had been pregnant while incarcerated. Teen pregnancy presents a number of challenges, which increase exponentially for females who are incarcerated. One of the most archaic and dangerous practices includes the shackling of pregnant girls and women. Though outlawed in several states, there exists no legislation to prohibit the use of physical restraints on pregnant women even when in the third trimester in the State of Florida. Twenty-nine percent of girls reported that they had been shackled at the ankles and wrists while pregnant (Acoca, 2004). This practice should be banned for all females who are in custody.

The Millennium Development Goals Report 2012

July 9, 2012 Comments off

The Millennium Development Goals Report 2012 (PDF)
Source: United Nations

This year’s report on progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) highlights several milestones. The target of reducing extreme poverty by half has been reached five years ahead of the 2015 deadline, as has the target of halving the proportion of people who lack dependable access to improved sources of drinking water. Conditions for more than 200 million people living in slums have been ameliorated—double the 2020 target. Primary school enrolment of girls equalled that of boys, and we have seen accelerating progress in reducing child and maternal mortality

These results represent a tremendous reduction in human suffering and are a clear validation of the approach embodied in the MDGs. But, they are not a reason to relax. Projections indicate that in 2015 more than 600 million people worldwide will still be using unimproved water sources, almost one billion will be living on an income of less than $1.25 per day, mothers will continue to die needlessly in childbirth, and children will suffer and die from preventable diseases. Hunger remains a global challenge, and ensuring that all children are able to complete primary education remains a fundamental, but unfulfilled, target that has an impact on all the other Goals. Lack of safe sanitation is hampering progress in health and nutrition, biodiversity loss continues apace, and greenhouse gas emissions continue to pose a major threat to people and ecosystems.

The goal of gender equality also remains unfulfilled, again with broad negative consequences, given that achieving the MDGs depends so much on women’s empowerment and equal access by women to education, work, health care and decision-making. We must also recognize the unevenness of progress within countries and regions, and the severe inequalities that exist among populations, especially between rural and urban areas.

Achieving the MDGs by 2015 is challenging but possible. Much depends on the fulfilment of MDG-8—the global partnership for development. The current economic crises besetting much of the developed world must not be allowed to decelerate or reverse the progress that has been made. Let us build on the successes we have achieved so far, and let us not relent until all the MDGs have been attained.

Libya: Rule of Law or Rule of Militias?

July 9, 2012 Comments off

Libya: Rule of Law or Rule of Militias?
Source: Amnesty International

Two sisters aged 27 and 32 were stopped by a militia at a checkpoint in February 2012 and forced at gunpoint to a nearby farm. One was suspended from a door for hours, had boiling water poured over her head, and was beaten and stabbed while being accused of supporting the former government of Colonel Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi. The other was also suspended and beaten. The husband of one of them, who was detained at the same time, has disappeared.

This family is among the mounting toll of victims of an increasingly lawless Libya, where the transitional authorities have been unable or unwilling to rein in the hundreds of militias formed during and after the 2011 conflict that ended the rule of Colonel Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi. The militias are now threatening the very future of Libya and casting a shadow over landmark national elections scheduled for July 7, 2012. They are killing people, making arbitrary arrests, torturing detainees and forcibly displacing and terrorizing entire communities, often solely for reasons of revenge. They are also recklessly using machineguns, mortars and other weaponry during tribal and territorial battles, killing and maiming bystanders. They act above the law, committing their crimes without fear of punishment.

Identifying Challenges to Improve the Investigation and Prosecution of State and Local Human Trafficking Cases

June 27, 2012 Comments off

Identifying Challenges to Improve the Investigation and Prosecution of State and Local Human Trafficking Cases (PDF)
Source: National Criminal Justice Reference Service

The federal government has taken a number of steps to facilitate state and local responses to the problem of human trafficking. The DOJ publicly tasked the over 17,000 municipal, county and state law enforcement agencies responsible for carrying out routine policing functions of local communities to “be the eyes and ears for recognizing, uncovering and responding to circumstances that may appear to be a routine street crime, but may ultimately turn out to be a human trafficking case” (U.S. Department of Justice, 2004: 5). To support the antitrafficking efforts of this large and diverse pool of local law enforcement agencies, the federal government devoted significant resources to support local law enforcement responses to human trafficking through the funding of multi-agency task forces and police training.

Additionally, in 2004 the DOJ developed the Model State Anti-Trafficking Criminal Statute, which was widely disseminated as the first model state law. The DOJ model legislation covered both “labor,” which absent coercion or force would normally be lawful employment, and “services,” which include unlawful activities such as prostitution. The DOJ model law also criminalized conditions where children are induced into prostitution without the necessity of proving force, fraud or coercion, a departure from most existing state prostitution statutes (Farrell, 2007). However, the model statute included minimal victim service provisions and was confusing for states to implement because it categorized commercial sex acts as “services. These deficiencies prompted human trafficking advocacy groups to develop and publicize alternative model legislation templates (Polaris Project, 2004, 2006, 2010; Freedom Network/Global Rights, 2005), key provisions of which have been adopted by numerous state legislatures.

In the eleven years following the passage of the TVPA, forty-nine states have passed state legislation criminalizing human trafficking and some states have mandated more comprehensive mechanism such as police training, victim services and data collection to improve local identification of victims and response to the crime (Polaris Project, 2011; Center for Women Policy 2011). State anti-trafficking laws differ widely in both the definition of what actions constitute a human trafficking crime and the focus of the state response to the problem. While a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of various legal mechanisms in state legislation is beyond the scope of this study (see Richard 2004; Farrell 2007; Tangaho, 2008; Center for Women Policy Studies, 2011, Polaris Project, 2011 for assessments of state human trafficking legislation), Appendix A provides a breakdown of state anti-trafficking laws and their specific provisions.

See also: National Overview of Prostitution and Sex Trafficking Demand Reduction Efforts, Final Report (PDF)

Global Trends Report: 800,000 new refugees in 2011, highest this century

June 20, 2012 Comments off

Global Trends Report: 800,000 new refugees in 2011, highest this century

Source: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

A report released today by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees shows 2011 to have been a record year for forced displacement across borders, with more people becoming refugees than at any time since 2000.

UNHCR’s "Global Trends 2011" report details for the first time the extent of forced displacement from a string of major humanitarian crises that began in late 2010 in Côte d’Ivoire, and was quickly followed by others in Libya, Somalia, Sudan and elsewhere. In all, 4.3 million people were newly displaced, with a full 800,000 of these fleeing their countries and becoming refugees.

Worldwide, 42.5 million people ended 2011 either as refugees (15.2 million), internally displaced (26.4 million) or in the process of seeking asylum (895,000). Despite the high number of new refugees, the overall figure was lower than the 2010 total of 43.7 million people, due mainly to the offsetting effect of large numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs) returning home: 3.2 million, the highest rate of returns of IDPs in more than a decade. Among refugees, and notwithstanding an increase in voluntary repatriation over 2010 levels, 2011 was the third lowest year for returns (532,000) in a decade.

Viewed on a 10-year basis, the report shows several worrying trends: One is that forced displacement is affecting larger numbers of people globally, with the annual level exceeding 42 million people for each of the last five years. Another is that a person who becomes a refugee is likely to remain as one for many years – often stuck in a camp or living precariously in an urban location. Of the 10.4 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate, almost three quarters (7.1 million) have been in exile for at least five years awaiting a solution.

+ Full Report (PDF)

Trafficking in Persons Report 2012

June 19, 2012 Comments off

Trafficking in Persons Report 2012
Source: U.S. Department of State
From press release:

On Tuesday, June 19 at 4:00 p.m., Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will unveil the 2012 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report during a ceremony at the U.S. Department of State. As required by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), the TIP Report assesses governments around the world on their efforts to combat modern slavery. The 12th annual TIP Report includes narratives of 186 countries and territories. At the rollout event, Secretary Clinton will also honor the 2012 TIP Heroes, men and women whose personal efforts have made an extraordinary difference in the global fight against modern slavery. The event will be attended by members of the diplomatic corps, nongovernmental and international organization representatives, and anti-trafficking activists, including actress Jada Pinkett-Smith.

Refugees and Asylees: 2011

June 7, 2012 Comments off

Refugees and Asylees: 2011 (PDF)
Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security

A total of 56,384 persons were admitted to the United States as refugees during 2011 (see Figure 1). The leading countries of nationality for refugees were Burma, Bhutan, and Iraq. During 2011, 24,988 individuals were granted asylum, including 13,484 who were granted asylum affirmatively by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and 11,504 who we re granted asylum defensively by the Department of Justice (see Figure 2). The leading countries of nationality for persons granted either affirmative or defensive asylum were China, Venezuela, and Ethiopia. In addition to these affirmative and defensive asylees, 9,550 individuals were approved for derivative asylum status while located abroad and were issued travel documents to enter the United States. The leading countries of nationality for the recipients of follow-to-join travel documents were China, Nepal, and Haiti.

CRS — The Lord’s Resistance Army: The U.S. Response

June 5, 2012 Comments off

The Lord’s Resistance Army: The U.S. Response (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via University of North Texas Digital Library)

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kony, is a small, dispersed armed group in central Africa that originated 24 years ago in Uganda. Its infliction of widespread human suffering and its potential threat to regional stability have drawn significant congressional attention. Campaigns by U.S.-based advocacy groups, using social media and other methods, have also spurred policymakers’ interest. Despite its Ugandan origins, the LRA currently operates in remote regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan. When the LRA was based in northern Uganda, the United States provided humanitarian relief and other aid for the war-torn region. As the LRA has moved across central Africa, the United States has taken on a more expansive role in countering its impact. Since 2008, the United States has supported regional operations led by the Ugandan military to capture or kill LRA commanders. The United States has also extended humanitarian aid, pursued regional diplomacy, and pushed for “early-warning” systems and multilateral programs to demobilize and reintegrate ex-LRA combatants. Growing U.S. involvement may also be viewed in the context of Uganda’s role as a key regional security partner. The LRA is on the State Department’s “Terrorist Exclusion List,” and Kony is a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist.”

In May 2010, Congress enacted the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act (P.L. 111-172), which required the Obama Administration to submit to Congress a “strategy” to “guide future United States support … for viable multilateral efforts to mitigate and eliminate the threat to civilians and regional stability” posed by the LRA. The Administration’s policy response, submitted in November 2010, emphasizes the protection of civilians, the “removal” of top LRA commanders, the promotion of LRA desertions, and the provision of humanitarian relief. On October 14, 2011, the President reported to Congress, “consistent with the War Powers Resolution,” that he had authorized the deployment of approximately 100 U.S. military personnel to serve as advisors to “regional forces that are working toward the removal of Joseph Kony from the battlefield.” The Administration has portrayed this decision as consistent with congressional intent as expressed in P.L. 111-172 and subsequent consultations.

The U.S. approach to the LRA raises a number of policy issues, some of which could have implications far beyond central Africa. A key question, for some, is whether the response is commensurate with the level of threat the LRA poses to U.S. interests, and whether the deployment of U.S. military personnel could lead to unintended consequences. More broadly, decisions on this issue could potentially be viewed as a precedent for U.S. responses to similar situations in the future. Other issues for Congress include the timing and rationale for U.S. action; the role and likely duration of U.S. deployments in the region; the benchmarks for success and/or withdrawal of U.S. forces; funding levels for counter-LRA activities and for potential future humanitarian aid and related commitments; and the relative priority of counter-LRA activities compared to other foreign policy and budgetary goals. Other possible policy challenges include regional militaries’ capacity and will to conduct U.S.-supported operations, and these militaries’ relative level of respect for human rights. Congressional oversight may also focus on the appropriateness of the Administration’s LRA policy approach, as outlined in November 2010; the status of its implementation; interagency coordination; and the role of other donors. Related draft legislation includes H.R. 4077, H.R. 895, H.Res. 465, H.Res. 583, S.Res. 402, and S.Res. 412. Provisions relevant to U.S. counter-LRA efforts are also included in P.L. 112-74 (Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012) and P.L. 112-81 (National Defense Authorization Act of 2012).

New From the GAO

May 31, 2012 Comments off

New GAO ReportsSource: Government Accountability Office

1. DOD Strategic Communication: Integrating Foreign Audience Perceptions into Policy Making, Plans, and Operations. GAO-12-612R, May 24.

2. Inspectors General: HUD Office of Inspector General Resources and Results. GAO-12-618, May 31.
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3. Managing for Results: GAO’s Work Related to the Interim Crosscutting Priority Goals under the GPRA Modernization Act. GAO-12-620R, May 31.

4. Mental Health and Substance Use: Treatment Exclusions in Employers’ Health Insurance Coverage. GAO-12-761R, May 31.

5. Human Rights: State Department Followed an Extensive Process to Prepare Annual Country Reports. GAO-12-561R, May 31.

6. Force Structure: Army and Marine Corps Efforts to Review Nonstandard Equipment for Future Usefulness. GAO-12-532R, May 31.

7. Observations on the Coast Guard’s and the Department of Homeland Security’s Fleet Studies. GAO-12-751R, May 31.

8. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief: Agencies Can Enhance Evaluation Quality, Planning, and Dissemination. GAO-12-673, May 31.
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CRS — Burma’s Political Prisoners and U.S. Sanctions

May 29, 2012 Comments off

Burma’s Political Prisoners and U.S. Sanctions
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Open CRS)

The installation of the Union Government in 2011 and the undertaking of initial reforms have raised the prospects for the resumption of a democratically elected civilian government in Burma after five decades of military rule. The release of Burma’s political prisoners has a central role in U.S. policy and Burma’s political future. Many of the U.S. sanctions on Burma were implemented after Burma’s ruling military junta suppressed protests and detained many political prisoners. In addition, the removal of most of the existing U.S. sanctions requires the release of all political prisoners in Burma. Similarly, hopes for a democratic government in Burma–as well as national reconciliation–would depend on the release of prisoners associated with the country’s ethnic groups. Several ethnic-based political parties have stated they will not participate in parliamentary elections until their members are released from custody. Also, prospects for stable ceasefires and lasting peace with various ethnic-based militias will probably require the release of their members currently in detention. Estimates of how many political prisoners are being detained in Burma vary greatly. In November 2011, President Thein Sein stated that there are no political prisoners in Burma because everyone in detention had committed a crime.

2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

May 28, 2012 Comments off

2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
Source: U.S. Department of State

On May 24, 2012, the Secretary submitted the 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (Human Rights Reports) to the United States Congress. The Human Rights Reports provide the facts underlying U.S. efforts to promote respect for human rights worldwide. They inform U.S. government policymaking and serve as a reference for other governments, international institutions, non-governmental organizations, scholars, interested citizens, and journalists. The Human Rights Reports assess each country’s situation against universal human rights standards, during each calendar year, and each report stands on its own. Countries are not compared to each other or placed in any order other than alphabetically by region. This year, the Department modernized both the format of the reports and the online user interface.

Human Rights Around the World in 2011: Key Trends

The reports record the state of human rights throughout the world in 2011. It was a year of significant change in the Middle East and North Africa as citizens stood up and demanded universal rights, dignity, greater economic opportunity, and increased political participation. Those demonstrations sent aftershocks rumbling around the world.

In Tunisia, citizens participated in transparent and credible elections for a Constituent Assembly. That Assembly elected a former political prisoner as the country’s interim prime minister. In Burma, the government took important steps toward political reform and released more than 200 of its political prisoners. And, in Colombia, the government continued to strive to improve justice in human rights cases.

Unfortunately, 2011 witnessed negative developments as well. A number of countries became less free as a result of flawed elections; restrictions on the universal rights to freedom of expression, assembly, or association, including on the Internet; moves to censor or intimidate the media; or attempts to control or curtail the activities of nongovernmental groups. Other disturbing trends include an increase in anti-Semitism, and continued persecution of other religious minorities, including Ahmadis, Baha’is, Tibetan Buddhists, Christians, Jews, and others. In many countries there was an increase in abuse, discrimination, and violence against members of racial and ethnic minorities; people with disabilities; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

CRS — The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement: Background and Issues

May 8, 2012 Comments off

The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement: Background and Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, or U.S. Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, as it is officially called, is a comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA) between the United States and Colombia, which will eventually eliminate tariffs and other barriers in bilateral trade in goods and services. The agreement will enter into force on May 15, 2012. On October 3, 2011, President Barack Obama submitted draft legislation (H.R. 3078/S. 1641) to both houses of Congress to implement the FTA. On October 12, 2011, the House passed H.R. 3078 (262-167) and sent it to the Senate. The Senate passed the implementing legislation (66-33) on the same day. The agreement was signed by both countries almost five years earlier, on November 22, 2006. The Colombian Congress approved it in June 2007 and again in October 2007, after it was modified to include new provisions agreed to in the May 10, 2007 bipartisan understanding between congressional leadership and President George W. Bush. Upon entry into force, the agreement will immediately eliminate duties on 80% of U.S. exports of consumer and industrial products to Colombia. Most remaining tariffs will be eliminated within 10 years of implementation.

The congressional debate surrounding the CFTA mostly centered on violence, labor, and human rights issues in Colombia. Numerous Members of Congress opposed passage of the agreement because of concerns about alleged violence against union members in Colombia, inadequate efforts to bring perpetrators to justice, and weak protection of worker rights. However, other Members of Congress supported the CFTA and took issue with these charges, stating that Colombia had made great progress over the last ten years to curb violence and enhance security. They also argued that U.S. exporters were losing market share of the Colombian market and that the agreement would open the Colombian market for U.S. goods and services. For Colombia, an FTA with the United States is part of its overall economic development strategy.

To address the concerns related to labor rights and violence in Colombia, the United States and Colombia agreed upon an “Action Plan Related to Labor Rights” that includes specific and concrete steps, with specific timelines, most of which took place in 2011. It contains numerous commitments by the Colombian government to protect union members, end impunity, and improve worker rights. The Colombian government submitted documents to the United States in time to meet various target dates listed in the Action Plan. The USTR reviewed the documents and determined that Colombia had met its major commitments.

The U.S. business community generally supports the FTA with Colombia because it sees it as an opportunity to increase U.S. exports to Colombia. U.S. exporters urged U.S. policymakers to move forward with the agreement, arguing that the United States was losing market share of the Colombian market, especially in agriculture, as Colombia entered into FTAs with other countries. Colombia’s FTA with Canada, which was implemented on August 15, 2011, was of particular concern for U.S. agricultural producers.

The United States is Colombia’s leading trade partner. Colombia accounts for a very small percentage of U.S. trade (1.0% in 2011), ranking 22 nd among U.S. export markets and 23 rd as a supplier of U.S. imports. Economic studies on the impact of a U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement (FTA) have found that, upon full implementation of an agreement, the impact on the United States would be positive but very small due to the small size of the Colombian economy when compared to that of the United States (about 2.2%).

Fact Sheet: A Comprehensive Strategy and New Tools to Prevent and Respond to Atrocities

April 23, 2012 Comments off

Fact Sheet: A Comprehensive Strategy and New Tools to Prevent and Respond to Atrocities

Source: White House

Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States. Our security is affected when masses of civilians are slaughtered, refugees flow across borders, and murderers wreak havoc on regional stability and livelihoods. America’s reputation suffers, and our ability to bring about change is constrained, when we are perceived as idle in the face of mass atrocities and genocide. Unfortunately, history has taught us that our pursuit of a world where states do not systematically slaughter civilians will not come to fruition without concerted and coordinated effort.

UK — Human Trafficking: The Government’s Strategy

April 19, 2012 Comments off
Human trafficking destroys lives and its effects damage communities. The transport and exploitation of vulnerable men, women and children by predatory organised criminal groups is something that no civilised country should tolerate. We need to do more to stop this horrific crime.
The UK has a good record in tackling human trafficking. That is something we must build on. Our new strategy for tackling human trafficking has four key aims: international action to stop trafficking happening in the first place; a stronger border at home to stop victims being brought into the UK; tougher law enforcement action to tackle the criminal gangs that orchestrate the crime; and improved identification and care for the victims of trafficking.
Human trafficking is a truly international crime, with potential victims identified from over 80 different countries to date. We are determined to work more closely with our international partners in transit and source countries to stop this terrible crime. By applying to opt in to the EU Directive on human trafficking, we have demonstrated our commitment to working with other countries in Europe to drive up standards across the continent in tackling trafficking. This is particularly important as we head towards the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012. Monitoring intelligence will help us to respond quickly and appropriately to any potential increased risk of trafficking.
After being taken from a source country and transiting third countries, victims of trafficking must then cross the UK border. For too long our response at the border has not been well enough informed or coordinated. Fulfilling a key pledge in the Programme for Government, in June I announced that we would establish a new National Crime Agency (NCA) containing a dedicated Border Policing Command to strengthen our borders and help prevent human trafficking and other serious crimes.
A further aspect of preventing trafficking is to take tough action against the organised criminals who run the abhorrent trade in human beings. Again, the NCA will have a key role by using its enhanced intelligence capabilities and its coordination and tasking functions to target the organised criminal groups involved in human trafficking.
As well as increasing prevention, we are also committed to further improving the level of support for victims. Victims of trafficking have been deceived and exploited. They will undoubtedly be frightened and vulnerable. We must therefore do all we can to support them as they try to rebuild their lives. Recognising the importance of this area, we have protected the level of funding at £2 million per year for the next two years, even at a time when savings have to be made across Government.
The National Referral Mechanism provides a way for all agencies such as the police, the UK Border Agency, local authorities and Non-Governmental Organisations to cooperate, share information about potential victims, identify those victims and facilitate their access to advice, accommodation and support. We are making the National Referral Mechanism more accessible and I am delighted that the NSPCC and Barnardo’s have recently joined and are now able to help child victims of trafficking to get the help they need.
The Government’s commitment to tackling human trafficking is clear and unequivocal. Our strategy will give a renewed focus on prevention overseas, a stronger border at home, tougher action on the perpetrators and better identification and care for the victims. These measures will make a real difference to the lives of those at risk of human trafficking.

Silent Harm: A report assessing the situation of repatriated children’s psycho-social health

April 12, 2012 Comments off
As signatories of the UN Convention of the Right of the Child, EU member states have long been committed to making the best interests of the child a primary consideration for public authorities. The new Treaty of Lisbon further commits the European Union and its member states to protecting the rights of the child in all internal and external policies. In December 2011, the protection of the rights of the child was declared an explicit priority for EU external action and efforts to promote human rights and democracy in the world.
Migrant children constitute a particularly vulnerable group. As children and as migrants they face poverty, social exclusion, exploitation and multiple risks, including risks to health. How to translate Europe’s commitment to protecting the rights of children in the context of migration, irrespective of nationality, legal status or social background, remains a particular challenge. Special attention is required to ensure that the rights and principles laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child apply to migrant children without conditions.
While respect for the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is one key component of EU policies on migration, repatriation and a credible threat of forced return are held to be indispensable tools in Europe’s fight against illegal migration. Prompted by the lack of child-focused migration research, and concerns about a possible impact of repatriation on children’s psychosocial health, UNICEF decided to explore how repatriation and reintegration realities interact with children’s mental health. Focusing on children repatriated from Germany and Austria to Kosovo, this study aims to provide empirical evidence to allow for a more informed discussion aimed at protecting the best interests of children. How to make the rights of children an integral part of migration and repatriation policies thus lies at the heart of this research.
The evidence presented indeed points to an alarming situation: one out of two children describe their return as the worst experience of their lives. Especially foreign-born and minority children experience their repatriation as traumatic. Every third repatriated child suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome; nearly one in two teenagers suffers from depression and one in four reports suicidal ideation. Reintegration realities in Kosovo today are such that key factors that could help these children recover are almost non-existent: many returned children live in abject poverty, 70 percent of minority children drop out of school upon return, and the mental health care system in Kosovo is simply unable to meet the treatment needs identified in repatriated children and parents.
Europe’s commitment to act in the child’s best interests is put to the test in every return decision taken. The responsibility to protect children rights, however, does not end at a country’s border. On the contrary, as this study underlines repatriation practices and reintegration realities greatly impact a child’s wellbeing and psychosocial health. As a child’s health is a sine qua non for the exercise of all other rights, health considerations must take precedence over legal and political concerns in sending and receiving countries.

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