This past March, I had the honor to participate at the 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) as a delegate of the Human Rights Advocates and as an Edith Coliver Intern of the Human Rights Clinic. While my colleagues focused on substantial issues regarding women’s rights, their protection and promotion, I had the opportunity to work on procedural issues and my main task was to discover the real rationale behind restricting the cooperation between civil society and the CSW.
The CSW platform used to be a place for the NGOs to thrive and to freely and with great success present their work and render support to the Commission. Although the work of NGOs has proved to be a vital element of the discussions and work at CSW, at the last two sessions, NGOs were not even allowed to observe the decision-making processes. Consultations on Agreed Conclusions were held as closed meetings and at the 56th CSW session no Agreed Conclusions were adopted.
Patricia Posada: Addressing Gender Discrimination and Violence Against Women and Girls, the Responsibility of States for Fulfilling the Right to Education
Last March I had the honor to attend and participate in the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. The trip was a turning point in my career as it afforded me the opportunity of seeing a broader picture of gender activism and its impact on the ground. The main thing I took from the whole trip besides gaining a glimpse into the universal suffering of women across the world was the work being done by civil society to influence change at a policy level as well as changing individual perceptions on gender and equality. The 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women took place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York and representatives from Member States, UN entities, and NGOs from all regions of the world attended the session.
Before the session began, I had no inkling of what my experience would be. Upon arrival to New York, it soon became apparent to me that I was surrounded by other dynamic women whose experiences spanned a wide range of areas including women’s rights, human rights, community organizing, public health access, and training, among others. On the first day, as I walked from one session to another, I remember equating my experience to that of a child in a candy store because of all the opportunities available for me to learn about violence against women. Except, there was nothing “sweet” or trivial about the topics that exposed the unimaginable violence that women face, and the structures of violence and power that continue to perpetuate injustice and violence against women and girls everyday all around the world.
Kendall Kozai: Addressing School-Related Gender-Based Violence at the Commission on the Status of Women
School-related gender-based violence, particularly violence against girls in schools, is a pervasive, yet largely invisible problem around the world. School-related gender-based violence refers to acts of sexual, physical, or psychological violence inflicted on children in and around schools because of stereotypes or norms attributed to their sex or gendered identity. It is estimated that at least 246 million boys and girls suffer from school-related gender-based violence every single year. Girls in particular are vulnerable to sexual harassment, rape, coercion, exploitation, and discrimination from teachers, staff, and peers.
Root-causes of such violence include social, cultural, and religious norms, reduced economic opportunities, discrimination and social marginalization, and most importantly, missing legal safeguards and weak institutional capacity at international and national levels. This largely stems from lack of credible data and statistics on instances of gender-based violence in schools, due to states’ reluctance to investigate violence, as well as victims’ fears associated with reporting such violence. This type of violence has detrimental and cyclical effects on the realization of girls’ right to education and to learn in a safe school environment since violence against girls not only presents a barrier to education, but lack of education promotes violence against girls.
Natalie Jones: Creative Human Rights Advocacy at the Commission on the Status of Women in the Name of Eliminating All Forms of Violence Against Women and Girls
It was my privilege to attend the 57th Session on the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and to advocate for increasing access to protection orders and women’s shelters for survivors of intimate partner violence.
I entered the CSW sessions with the knowledge that violence against women and girls is universal and devastating. No continent, country, or culture goes untouched. At least one in three women will be beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in the course of her lifetime. I knew that the most common form of violence experienced by women globally is physical violence inflicted by an intimate partner.
I learned in the opening session that this was the largest meeting ever to focus on the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls. Finally, I learned that the CSW had been clandestinely meeting for a week prior to Human Rights Advocate’s arrival and the official first day of sessions.
Graham D. Douds: Human Rights and the Environment: Implications of Hazardous Waste Disposal on Established International Human Rights
I feel honored to have been a part of this truly enlightening experience of preparing for and ultimately participating in the 22nd Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The most impressionable part for me was being in a room which included a representative from nearly every country agreeing to discuss human rights. It was an electric environment to be exposed to at such an early point in my legal career.
The reason for being there was even more inspiring. My topic was a variation of something I have pursued for the entirety of my, albeit, short career: Human Rights and the Environment.
Unfortunately, at this session there was no resolution to be drafted and adopted, so most of my interactions and lobbying efforts saw little immediate fruition—as I was not able to put language into any resolution. Most of my efforts were aimed to educate delegates unfamiliar with the nuances of my topic and the important connection between the environment and human rights.
Alen Mirza: The Right to Political Participation: Minorities, Conflict and the Need for Special Measures
The issue I focused on at the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council was the right to political participation. I looked at the right to political participation in the context of minorities living in post-conflict situations. In the report I drafted in preparation for our attendance at the Council, I argued how post-conflict situations created de facto barriers that prevent minorities from effectively exercising their right to vote and take part in government (A/HRC/22/NGO/54). As a result, I maintained that special measures (also known as affirmative obligations or affirmative action), are necessary to help ensure that minorities effectively and equally participate at all levels of their state’s decision making processes. Since special measures are commonly used in the context of either higher education or with respect to employment, I came to realize that advocating for the use of special measures in the context of minority political participation was a newer topic. Nevertheless, since international law holds that affirmative measures are necessary, wherever there exists discrimination in fact, it served as an important tool to address the challenges minorities face when attempting to take part in public life in post conflict scenarios (CERD/C/GC/32).
My goal in attending the Human Rights Council in Geneva was to raise awareness about extreme sentencing practices, specifically those related to juvenile offenders, and especially in regards to the United States. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights mandates that sentences must rehabilitate prisoners and cannot serve a merely retributive purpose. In light of this standard, sentencing structures such as life without parole and de facto life without parole are inherently suspect, since they remove any opportunity for reeducation or rehabilitation at the moment of sentencing. As a member of the Frank C. Newman International Human Rights Clinic, I submitted a written statement detailing my project that is available at http://www.humanrightsadvocates.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Extreme-Criminal-Sentences-Violations-of-International-Standards.pdf and as UN document number A/HRC/22/NGO/53.
During the 22nd Session of the Human Rights Council, which we attended, much focus and attention was given to the abolition of the death penalty. While this is certainly an important and critical issue, the possibility of a moratorium on death sentences reiterates significance of analyzing other extreme sentencing practices. As fewer people are sentenced to death, the number of those who are sentenced to life will increase and it is unclear that the latter is any more human than the former.
This past semester, I had the pleasure of being one of six students who participated in the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. Having represented Human Rights Advocates (HRA) at the 56th session of the Commission of the Status of Women last year, I was no stranger to the commitment, dedication, and perseverance it takes to be an effective advocate. However, I was also keenly aware that every new opportunity breeds its own set of challenges and unexpected obstacles. With this in mind, I understood that achieving my advocacy goals this year at the Council hinged on my ability to be patient, persistent, and most importantly, flexible in both my lobbying efforts and the framing of my chosen topic.
Noting that the Council had dedicated an entire day-long session to the right of the child to the highest attainable standards of health, I focused my research on the subject of child malnutrition. Although most of the work in this area has focused on combating child undernutrition, including acute malnutrition (defined by a deficit in caloric intake) and chronic malnutrition (defined by inadequate nutritional variation), I wanted to expand the scope of my project to also cover the issue of overnutrition (observed as either overweight, obesity, or an excess of added sugars and saturated fats in the diet). This facet of child malnutrition is particularly alarming not only because it affects 155 million children worldwide, but also because it creates a double-burden on states that cannot afford the costs associated with high prevalences of both under- and overnutrition. Moreover, given the persistent challenges to nutritional security, such as poverty, conflict and political instability, and natural disasters, developing a comprehensive strategy for eradicating child malnutrition requires an evaluation and understanding of the problem in all its forms.
As a Frank C. Newman intern, I had the opportunity to dedicate my project on the death row phenomenon, and consequently participate at the 22nd session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. So, to clarify, the death row phenomenon occurs when people are sentenced to death, and spend extremely long periods of time on death row. As a result, the permanent stress, the constant fear, and the usually inhumane conditions inmates are subjected to lead to extreme physical, psychological, and emotional harm, amounting to cruel and inhuman treatment or punishment. On behalf of Human Rights Advocates, I submitted a written statement to the UN Human Rights Council, titled “The death row phenomena as torture: The need for moratoriums on death penalty sentences.” (See document: A/HRC/22/NGO/52).
Part of my argument was to also address the lack of current methods of executions used today that are considered humane, as beheading, hanging, stoning, bludgeoning, firing squads, and lethal injection have all been proven to be inhumane. Previously the General Assembly had called for moratoriums on executions, but the solution that we were proposing was to have moratoriums both on sentencing and executions, otherwise, inmates would continue to be subjected to the death row phenomenon.
Years ago I took a tour of the UN, and thought to myself, one day I will rightfully be sitting here. Now, I can officially say dreams come true.
Months of researching and writing about private prisons came to fruition the first day I arrived at the United Nations Human Rights Council, when I gave my oral statement under the Minority Rights Agenda. This was an incredible beginning to my Geneva journey.
Private prisons are a tragic reality that the world is unfamiliar with. My goal was to educate government and NGO delegates from around the world.
When a multi-billion dollar industry runs a prison, the prisoners suffer. They suffer from dismal conditions, scarce security protections, and basic living needs. Permitting a private corporation to engage in incarceration creates an economic incentive to increase the length and frequency of sentences in order to maximize profits. Unlike governments, private prisons are founded on a business model that profits from incarceration and is responsible to its shareholders, not the public, and therefore has less accountability for the treatment of prisoners.