What I first observed at the Human Rights Council (the Council) was that human rights are violated everywhere by everyone. While this may be a slight exaggeration, it’s really not far from the truth. The “human rights fatigue” at the Council forces states to prioritize certain rights, for better or for worse. While some rights are championed by states, others fall by the wayside. Unfortunately, the right to vote, the issue that I worked on at the Council this year, is one of these invisible rights. In an effort to shed light on the issue, Human Rights Advocates (HRA) encouraged the Council to create a separate mandate regarding the right to vote to investigate various aspects of this right, including whether states’ electoral laws are reasonable and proportional, and to promote good practices that encourage free and fair elections. (“The right to vote: Interference by voter registration laws,” A/HRC/25/NGO/8, available at http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/sdpage_e.aspx?b=10&se=152&t=7.)
My topic at the UN was extreme sentencing for juveniles. To give a bit of background on the topic, juveniles require special protections and different treatment from adults while going through the justice system. The purpose of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation, and the rehabilitative goal of punishment is best served through separate juvenile justice systems and penal codes.
International law recognizes the difference between juveniles and adults, and through the Convention on the Rights of the Child  and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights  most every country in the world has agreed to protect juveniles in conflict with the law.
As a Frank C. Newman intern, I had the amazing opportunity to advocate against use of the death penalty at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. Students in the clinic have advocated for abolition of the death penalty in previous years, and have focused on how the death penalty violates international laws that prohibit torture, cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.
Our argument before the Council is that the death penalty violates prohibitions on torture in at least two ways, one because of the death row phenomenon suffered by those on death row, and two because of the pain caused by the methods of executions used to carry out death sentences. Calls for moratoriums have been issued by the Council in the past, but they only exacerbate the torture suffered by those waiting on death row, which is why we advocate for moratoriums on sentencing and complete abolition of the death penalty. (“The Death Penalty Constitutes Torture: The Need for Moratoriums on Sentencing”, A/HRC/25/NGO/111.)
Greg Caso: Private Prisons’ Impact on the Integrity of the Judicial System and Promoting Cultural Rights Through Heritage Laws
The word to describe the Frank C. Newman International Human Rights Clinic in Geneva is unbelievable. Not only were we able to discuss our research with people from all over the world, but we also had the opportunity to address the heads of delegations on an equal footing. Very few law students can say they had such an opportunity to tackle an international human rights issue with global leaders.
The clinic began by selecting a human right to research for submitting a report to the Human Rights Council (HRC). I submitted a report under two topics, integrity of the judicial system (“Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers,” A/HRC/RES/17/2, July 6, 2011) and the right to culture (“Promotion of the enjoyment of the cultural rights of everyone and respect for cultural diversity,” A/HRC/RES/23/10, June 20, 2013).
Rahman Popal: Contested Issues on Human Rights and the Environment at the Council and the International Law Making Process
I was tasked with addressing the topic of human rights and the environment at the 25th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Because of the breadth of the subject matter, I worked closely with Professor de la Vega to simultaneously narrow my focus while preserving my thesis—that the mandate on human rights and the environment must be strengthened to address the full range of human rights implicated by environmental degradation. Considering rapid developments in technology and its increased generation in both developing and developed countries, I chose to focus on the problem of electronic waste (“e-waste”). My work on this topic at the Council was rewarding and I am grateful for the opportunity that I was afforded. I learned both of the intricacies of my subject matter and of the workings of the United Nations Human Rights Council, and more specifically the process of international law making.
I was fortunate to be one of the LLM student selected to represent Human Rights Advocates at the United Nations Human Rights Council, 25th session in Geneva during March 2014.
I had the opportunity to advocate in support of promoting the right to food through food sovereignty. The report that I submitted before the interactive panel discusses the ability of people to control their own food and agricultural systems and how genetically modified crops undermine food sovereignty by forcing farmers to rely on corporations that supply genetically modified seeds. The U.N. Food & Agricultural Organization reported that one in eight people in the world suffered from undernourishment between 2010 and 2012. Global food insecurity persists because food production and distribution does not meet the needs of the world’s population.
The issue I raised on behalf of Human Rights Advocates at the 25th Session of the Human Rights Council was the right to housing during mega-events, such as the FIFA World Cup and Olympics. I thought that this issue was timely in light of the winter Olympics in Sochi and the upcoming FIFA World Cup and Olympics in Brazil. The right to housing is enshrined in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and this right has been violated in almost every Olympic and FIFA event since the 1980s.
Kevin Laporte, a former Frank C. Newman intern, raised this issue in 2012 during the 19th Session and the Human Rights Council passed a resolution on this issue in 2010 during the 13th Session. Despite these developments, there have been reports of housing rights violations in the recent and upcoming mega-events in Sochi and Brazil. (Sergei L. Loiko, Sochi Olympic Winter Games at root of residents’ housing woes, Los Angeles Times, February 6, 2014, available at http://www.latimes.com/world/la-fg-sochi-dark-side-20140207,0,1802689.story#ixzz2swhaR6O1, see also, Brazil: Forced evictions must not mar Rio Olympics, Amnesty International, November 14, 2011, available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/news/brazil-forced-evictions-must-not-mar-rio-olympics-2011-11-14).
As a student at University of San Francisco I had the chance to participate in the Frank C. Newman International Human Rights Law Clinic, which gives law students the chance to work in the United Nations Headquarters at Geneva and New York as a human right’s advocator. I participated at the 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women.
As part of the Clinic I had to write a report advocating a human right—I chose female political participation. In my report I concluded that quotas, that grant a specific percentage of women’s political participation, are only one method for achieving that goal. Quotas have to be done in conjunction with national and UN programs, and pressure from women’s groups to effectively support the political participation of women. This idea is what I spoke about with delegates at the United Nations. This article will go over what I covered in my report. I will then cover my experience going to the United Nations.
The Millennium Development Goals are international development goals that were established in 2000 following the Millennium Summit of the Union Nations. The theme of the 58th session of Commission on the Status of Women was to discuss the challenges and achievements in furtherance of those goals. (United Nations Women, Commission on the Status of Women: 58th Session, http://www.unwomen.org/en/csw/csw58-2014.)
My report for this year’s CSW conference was achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) through a rights-based approach to combatting human trafficking.
Bridget Engle: Promoting Equal Access to Rights and a Consistent Gender Perspective: Best Practices for Eradicating Poverty and Extreme Hunger
As a member of the Frank C. Newman International Human Rights Clinic, I had both the honor and privilege of attending the 58th session of the Commission on the Status Women, which took place at the UN Headquarters in New York City during March 2014. As the anticipation, nerves, and excitement of this life-changing opportunity accrued, rest assured that substantial preparation took place during the months leading up to the session. Many hours of research, writing, and consultation with clinic director and Human Rights Advocates co-founder Professor Connie de la Vega collectively enabled me to produce a report that would ultimately become my advocacy tool at the CSW. Before diving into the details of this extraordinary experience, I’d like to share a small piece of the topic I chose to explore, and in so doing, the vital information I learned about protecting women’s rights.