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New Zealand’s Push for Sustainable Development

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Push for Sustainable Development

The International Conference on Sustainable Development provided a forum for academia, government, civil society, UN agencies and the private sector to come together to share discussion on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This year, from September 26 to 28 2018, the Conference took place on multiple campuses around the world, making it a truly global event.

On the second day of the 6th annual International Conference on Sustainable Development, Columbia University had the privilege of hearing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand speak on the SDGs.

Professor Jeffrey Sachs, the Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, introduced Prime Minister Ardern to roaring applause in Alfred Lerner Hall.

To begin her speech, Ardern discussed injustice and the impact of politics around the world. Ardern says, “if there is one thing we hate, it is injustice. We try to do it right by one another. Perhaps it comes from being a thousand miles from anywhere, isolated and completely reliant on one another… but we are acutely aware of the impact we have on the world and the rest of the world has on us.” As a politician, Ardern says that “politics has an increasing duty, but values do not. Values have always been my starting point. I signed up for a political party when I was 17 years old, not because I was looking for a career, but perhaps, naively, I wanted to change the world.”

As one of the youngest world leaders, Ardern’s strive towards social justice, environmentalism and prosperity is unique. Although New Zealand is redefining success related to the sustainability, Ardern agrees that “SDGs haven’t been treated as a given. Even New Zealand has a long way to go.” Nevertheless, she points out New Zealand is establishing new measures of national achievement that goes beyond growth. “We have, for instance, created a tool called the “living standards framework” that puts the notions of sustainable, intergenerational wellbeing in the seat of different decision-making processes we have,” Ardern said. “Our statistics department, at the moment, is working on an ambitious project called “social indicators within New Zealand” that will help create a set of indicators across dimensions that include current picture models of New Zealand: economic, cultural, social and environmental. This will ultimately help us monitor our delivery of the SDGs.”

Ending her speech on a high note, Ardern ties sustainable development, social justice and politics, saying that “as politicians, we all have choices in how we respond. We can work hard, or we can build a response, our choice in New Zealand is action.”

After Ardern’s inspirational speech, Sachs led a 15-minute question panel related to New Zealand’s difficult agricultural emissions, climate change, migration, the US-China trade war, development aid, the happiness index and youth.

Difficult Agricultural Emissions

Nearly half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions comes from agriculture. Entering the first question, Sach asks Ardern about New Zealand’s solution for agricultural emissions. “It is difficult for us on the agricultural side. Our emissions profile is forty eight percent agricultural emissions. That makes us really unique – but one of the points that I am trying to make is that we’ve been doing research with the Global Research Alliance to do what we can to try and literally alter the way we farm to reduce our emissions profile, ” Ardern says, “we all have to address this challenge because it comes at a risk to our food insecurity as well.”

Climate Change

Next, Sachs begins the climate change discussion with Australia’s struggle with fossil fuel emissions. He then asks what advice New Zealand has for Australia. Confidently, Ardern says that “we can all agree about the problem that [climate change] presents, but there are huge interests in maintaining the status quo – that are hard to shift. We recently announced that we will not be issuing offshore oil and gas exploration permits in New Zealand. Those are tough calls, those are industries and jobs. We have a duty of care to those people who have relied on those industries and jobs. So, I understand what Australia is confronting and what others are confronting, but we have a duty as well.”

Identity Politics and Migration

Moving on, Sachs discusses identity politics and migration in New Zealand. In a 2013 consensus, there were approximately 600,000 Indigenous people identifying as Māori in New Zealand, making up roughly fifteen percent of the national population. Sach asks if Ardern could reflect on New Zealand’s special learning about [Indigenous culture]. “Indigenous New Zealand – that relationship dictates that way we look as a government and it is incredibly important to us and it makes us relatively unique… But, I also wanted to discuss the issues of migration. I spoke briefly about the issues of globalization… what I see around the world is a growing sense of insecurity. Whether its financial insecurity, it seems that you are not guaranteed a roof over your head, a stable job or a stable income,” Ardern says, “as progressives, we need to respond to that. And the way progressives respond is we need to be inclusive and we need to offer decent wages and conditions. This needs to apply to issues of migration… The reforms we go through is very much focused on fixing [this]….”

US – China Trade War

On foreign policy, Sachs says that “maybe the biggest divide, politically, is the US trade war on China what should be done about this?” Ardern says that “we should stick to rules, and regardless to whose engaged, rely on predictability, order and rules… we need to recognize our responsibility we have to each other, not just to our people, but to each other as well. Trade wars benefit no one, and they particularly punish our smaller nations with a distinct lack of power. … We base our power on the size of our economies and the size of population and it is really a rejection of multilateralism and I push back on that…”

Lack of Development Aid

According to the World’s Happiness Report, New Zealand ranks #8 in the world. Sachs stated that “New Zealand is on course to achieving all 17 SDGs, which is extremely exciting and one of the happiest places in the world.” However, after much applause, Sachs wanted to critic New Zealand on their lack of development aid, indicating that it was “quite low… something like .2 of one percent.” According to the SDGs, the target for New Zealand’s development aid is 0.7. To counter, Ardern says “in our last budget, we recognized that we had to boost our aid and we need to do our best – so we increased our aid by 700 million dollars…”

From 2015 – 2018, New Zealand’s aid budget is said to include $1B in the Pacific, $600M in economic development and $200M in ASEAN. In addition, issues such as environment, climate change, gender equality, women’s empowerment and human rights issues will be addressed in the aid provided. According to New Zealand’s aid program, “this will help deliver sustainable, inclusive outcomes.”

To Young Women Around the World

Lastly, at 38, Ardern is New Zealand’s youngest ever woman leader. Evidently, she poses as an inspiration and role model to youth around the world. When speaking to, specifically, young women around the world, Ardern says “I do think that globally, we need to make politics a more attractive place to be – we need to make it a more attractive choice. But beyond that, I have noticed, that at least in my country, when I talk to young women about their aspirations, even at a young age, I see that they are opting out. I often make the assumption that it comes down to confidence. I make that assumption because I was exactly the same… There is a tendency for young women to say that you don’t have everything that it takes – to have a tiny little seed of doubt… Yes, we have a huge amount of work to do – we need to make our workplace more flexible, [create] greater options and opportunities to address our conscience minds. Yes, we must do all of that, but we also have to boost our women’s confidence and support them into those roles too – and help them overcome those tiny seeds of doubt because if we don’t, we will be more the poorer.”

The International Conference on Sustainable Development has intersected the SDGs with issues related to migration, human rights, foreign policy and environmentalism. Prime Minister Ardern and New Zealand’s effort to meet the SDGs is a breath of fresh air, challenging the political atmosphere in the U.S. today.

For information on the International Conference on Sustainable Development, check out ICSD’s website.


By Juana Lee

Human Rights Internship Panel

On October 11, graduate and undergraduate students interested in internships related to Human Rights gathered at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights to hear four students speak about their summer internship experiences. The panelists brought different advice from their internship experiences both abroad and in the United States on how to identify the right position, going about the interview process, and learning on the job. They all stressed the importance of staying flexible, and using the internship experience to explore interests cultivated in the classroom in the field.

Tanya Sattar is in her second year of her Masters of Arts in Human Rights Studies at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. She spent her summer in New York and London with Value for Women, a UK based organization that identifies and tests new solutions for women’s empowerment and gender and social inclusion with income generating activities. Tanya helped produce gender market assessments and ecosystem mapping of impact investing sectors in South & South East Asia. She spoke about the benefits of interning at a small organization of 20 people and how she got to meet and work with the founders of the organization.

Aswathi Kizhekalam Puthenveettil is in the second year of a Masters of International Affairs program at the School for International and Policy Affairs, where her concentration is Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy. Through ISHR’s Student Volunteer Program, she spent her summer in Myanmar working with the Peace and Development Initiative (Kintha) helping establish an internal monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system, training an M&E officer, writing and editing reports and grant proposals, designing new programs, and editing content for their soon-to-be-released website. Aswathi reminded the audience of the importance of self-care. Without looking after yourself, she said, you’re not going to be able to be a productive member of a team or realize your full potential.

Oscar Bennett Kohat is a pre-med student majoring in Human Rights. This summer, his second with Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center in New York City, he served as a clinical research intern working on the largest and longest clinical trial on adolescent HPV. He spoke to the audience about the importance of investing in professional relationships with people at your internship, and how those relationships can help in unexpected ways down the line.

Sebastian Torero joins the Columbia community majoring in Human Rights after two years at Sciences Po in France. He spent his summer with Brooklyn Defenders Services in New York City as an investigative assistant intern where he helped criminal defense attorney’s gather facts to build theories for their cases. He spoke about the importance of learning beyond the classroom and how dealing with the application of the law is rarely as clear and concise as it might seem on paper.

After a brief presentation the panelists took questions from the audience. When asked whether their experiences shifted their career goals, they all generally agreed that this past summer helped them solidify their interests and career goals. Towards the end of the session, one student asked about navigating the existential concerns of trying to make this world a better place, and the potential frustrations inherent in not harvesting the fruits of their labor. The panelists thoughtfully reflected that while they did not leave the places they interned having created  monumental change, they felt by helping an organization focused on making the world a better place, they had contributed to the overall goal, and in the process, learned more about how they can best serve humanity.


By James Courtright 

As Spanish Government Turns a New Page, a Chance to Lead EU on Migration

As Spanish Government Turns a New Page, a Chance to Lead EU on Migration

Pedro Sanchez is the new Prime Minister of Spain after a stunning no-confidence vote. The refugee crisis deepens. The people want reform. Spain’s potential as a future EU trailblazer on migration policy rests in his hands.

By Madison Chapman

Street art depicting refugees at La Tabacalera in Embajadores, another diverse and artistic migrant neighborhood in Madrid adjacent to Lavapiés. Photo: Madison Chapman

Part I

 Madrid, Spain—Ndiogou spends the hottest part of the day—when many Spanish people take a siesta— with a group of fellow Senegalese men near the main plaza of Lavapiés, a lively migrant neighborhood in Madrid. When I met him one humid March afternoon, he was eager to chat, casually leaning on the wall of one of many nearby Lycra Mobile shops. Surrounded by the slight waft of tapas, it is hard to imagine that Ndiogou has had a tough life in Spain. Yet he spent his first decade in the country unable to obtain official paperwork—and with it, public assistance. His lack of work authorization forced him to live on a street in Lavapiés, where he both slept and slowly learned Spanish from passerby. He cracked a weary grin as he shared his integration experience, noting that not much had changed. But he continued to hold out hope that it would soon.

Since March, Spain has indeed changed. On June 2, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of the opposition Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE) was sworn in after a no-confidence vote ousted Partido Popular (PP) Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in May. Soon thereafter, Madrid accepted a migrant boat off the coast of Valencia, filled with 629 people from mainly Sub-Saharan Africa, after Italy turned the vessel away. The move attracted global attention and was cheered as a long-awaited political shift, given the previous dismal migrant intake in Spain—despite domestic public support for increased refugee assistance. Yet to make sustained progress toward a more inclusive migration policy, Sanchez has work ahead of him. Reforming the broken Spanish migration system will require not only additional refugee intake but the overhaul of a backlogged and inefficient asylum solicitation system—known as the acogida system. Just as Spain must no longer sideline migration policy, it must also create a more efficient platform for dignified asylum assistance, with broad civil society support.

Ndiogou is a migrant from Senegal who arrived in Spain over a decade ago. For the majority of that time, he lived on the street in Lavapiés as he attempted to secure work authorization and access to public benefits. Photo: Madison Chapman

Ndiogou is not alone, and his journey is significant as Spain grows as a hub for asylum-seeking migrants from Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. Yet the historical relationship between Spain and the rest of the EU on migration has been a fraught one. In 2015, former PM Rajoy called for an EU-wide approach to migration, stating that “Spain will not refuse the right to asylum to those entitled to it.” Yet he refused to commit to accepting more than 2,739 refugees or expand this quota, which was already far below that of Germany and France, without additional funding from the EU. As a result, Rajoy faced swift public pressure and criticism from the Spanish Catholic Church. Some have associated Rajoy’s hesitant border policy with fear of overwhelming public services and a slowly recovering economy after a harsh period of austerity and the most severe economic crisis in Spanish history.

Who Comes, Who Stays—Migration Politics

Graphs representing asylum applications received by Spain, with data from the Spanish Refugee Commission. Asylum applications have increased significantly in the last two years, especially from Venezuelans. Graph: A. Hernandez, El Mundo Gráficos

Within the first six months of 2016, Spain had only accepted 18 refugees—primarily from Eritrea—though it pledged to integrate over 16,000 in September of the same year. According to the Spanish Refugee Commission (CEAR), migration to Spain then skyrocketed to a historic high of 15,755 petitions for asylum at the end of 2016, primarily from Venezuelans, Ukrainians, Syrians, and Algerians. This number created an all-time record for Spain, up 874 from 2015. Yet this still constituted only 1% of total people who requested refugee assistance in the EU. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) notes that between January and August of 2017, over 11,000 migrants attempted to enter Spain by sea– a number it forecasted would grow and eventually surpass even migration to Greece. In addition, the number of attempted coastal arrivals to Spain tripled in 2016, resulting in over 3,000 attempted arrivals and over 50 deaths. The sudden and extreme influx of migrants to Spain by sea left the Rajoy government reeling, unable to effectively respond to new arrivals. Migration to Spain increased from Venezuela and Central America, though only six refugees from Venezuela were accepted between 2012 and 2016—leading popular Spanish newspaper El País to boldly claim that “Spain Does Not Want Venezuelan Refugees.” Meanwhile, Spain began to detain more migrants in North Africa, as migrant men attempted to cross the imposing barbed-wire fence between Morocco and the North African Spanish city of Melilla, a Spanish enclave. With increased arrivals to North Africa came tent cities outside of Melilla and Ceuta, a clamp down on access to ports of entry, and human rights violations that invited widespread international criticism. The urgency of migration reform has arguably never been more palpable and intense.

Why Does Spain Matter? Spain’s Acogida Challenge

 Spain enjoys a strategic location straddling Europe and Africa, which has also posed a unique challenge to its asylum intake and evaluation system. Though more individuals were granted some form of protection in Spain in 2016 than ever before, very few were granted refugee status. Of the 6,855 people who were permitted to stay, only 355 (or 3.4%) received refugee status and 6,500 were given subsidiary protection.. Though migrants seek asylum from other concerning conflicts, political pressure has impacted who stays and who is denied asylum in Spain. The growing rejection of people from Venezuela, who continue to constitute the greatest individual group of those seeking asylum in Spain, is compounded by this issue. Of 12,818 applications pending at the close of 2017, only 16 were granted refugee status and 98.9% rejected.

Sufian is an economic migrant from Bangladesh. He has praised the services available to him as an economic migrant, including language classes and health services. His primary concern is that within Lavapiés, people do not need to learn about Spanish culture or vice versa, because there are so many migrants. But he noted that when he leaves the barrio, or neighborhood, there is somewhat less understanding. Photo: Madison Chapman

The central issues facing the Spanish acogida system are wait times and restrictions on work permits and public assistance that migrants face upon arrival. While municipal governments have taken a more flexible approach to migration, with Madrid even hanging a banner emblazoned with “Refugees Welcome” over the landmark Palacio de Cibeles, the central government has taken a stricter stance. In total, the asylum application process may take up to 3 years. First, an individual submits an asylum application, which may be accepted or denied at the end of an often backlogged, months-long waiting process. During this time, the state does not provide holistic public services or benefits to migrants. In fact, according to William, a staff member at ONG Rescate, “the state does what it can with the acogidas… but then leaves the [rest] to NGOs so that it complies” with international obligations. If the asylum application is accepted, a temporary acogida phase begins, in which some government support arrives. Yet many migrants seek the assistance of municipal governments or civil society, which manage the majority of asylum centers in Spain. Amongst the most active in Spain are Caritas, Accem, CEAR, ONG Rescate, the Spanish Red Cross, and UNHCR, as well as a variety of faith-based organizations such as Protestant Social Action. As told by Juan, a food artisan from Madrid, “madrileños [people from Madrid] are very conscious and want to help… [but] everything is politics with the acogidas, [and] refugees don’t vote so politicians just don’t care.”

Organizations like ONG Rescate and CEAR provide temporary housing, legal and social services, resume and job support, psychological services, and language training. They also permit clients clothing, health services, a small monthly stipend to cover food. However, migrants seeking asylum cannot work during this time, leaving them totally dependent on outside assistance while they await a legal decision. Because the application waitlist is so backlogged—El País recently reported that 41% of people who have applied for asylum since 2010 are still waiting, or 20,000 people—this 6-month process can take up to a year or longer in deemed non-vulnerable cases. It is particularly difficult for groups like ONG Rescate, which works primarily with LGBTQI+ people and women seeking asylum for gender motives. Any NGO must specify their acogida and integration agenda to the individual profiles, and given the extreme vulnerability of their clientele, provide a high standard of attention and care. This can be difficult as the state keeps rapidly changing processes, interfering with and qualifying a long-term endeavor.

Finally, the individual enters the integration stage during which they live independently, but continue to have some financial dependence on the state or an NGO as they build skills and prepare to enter the workforce. 6 months to a year later, they enter the autonomous stage where they can rely on NGO support to search for jobs but are otherwise independent. In its entirety, the process can take up to 3 years for ordinary cases. Yet even after up to 3 years of integration, an asylum application can be denied— meaning that the applicant must return to their country of origin. The slow wait times, low acceptance rates, and inability to work—unlike in other EU countries such as Germany, where the wait to work is only 3 months—during the initial stages of acogida make Spain an uncertain destination for migrants. It also leads to immense stress on already economically strapped civil society organizations, which receive inconsistent government support. This is crucial, as civil society organizations like ONG Rescate often refuse the one size fits all view of refugees that can complicate integration. “We always try to help the person” William added. “[Acogida] has to be transcultural.”

As we will see in Part II, there is a willingness and eagerness amongst Spaniards to realize this important goal—but it is not always clear how to create such a transcultural policy.


 

 

Madison Chapman is a MALD candidate at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. She most recently served as a Fulbright ETA in Madrid, Spain, where she also conducted research and helped to resettle refugee women and LGBTQI+ migrants through ONG Rescate. She has formerly worked with Human Rights Watch, PeaceWomen, and the East Bay Community Law Center on migration and gender research, and is focused on gender-responsive asylum law and resettlement policy. She earned her degree in Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. Ms. Chapman can be contacted at madisonchapman10@gmail.com.

On International Day of Peace, A Celebration of Human Rights

By Ashley E. Chappo, editor of RightsViews and a graduate of Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs and Columbia Journalism School

Human rights, specifically the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), are the focus of this year’s International Day of Peace, or “Peace Day,” which takes place across the world each year on September 21.

This UN-designated day of observance advocates peace action and education in spite of ongoing human conflict through peace-building activities, a global minute of silence, intercultural and interfaith dialogues, vigils, concerts, feasts, and marches. This year’s theme is “The Right to Peace – The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70.”

The timing for the theme is apropos: it comes at a period when the human condition is increasingly vulnerable, beset by global conflict and dependent on world leaders who have turned their backs on international cooperation. During this state of prolonged human suffering, the power and failings of a single document of 30 human rights ideals comes into pronounced focus. Why should we celebrate the UDHR? Now 70 years old, has it made any real difference to peace and the protection of people?

UN Secretary-General António Guterres spoke at UN Headquarters in New York City in Peace Day, September 21, 2018. // UNAMI // Twitter

One lens through which to view these questions: the current state of international affairs, in which we grapple with intractable problems like the Syrian Civil War, ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, crisis in Congo, civil war in Yemen, war in Afghanistan, conflict in Iraq, violence in Venezuela, and a crisis of 68.5 million people forcibly displaced worldwide. Perhaps it’s time we relied less on hope and principles, and a little more on action.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres seemed to openly acknowledge doubts about the ability of international compacts to uphold human rights in the present day as he spoke today at UN Headquarters in New York City. At the same time, he also pushed back against these uncertainties with vigorous optimism.

“When we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we know that human rights are violated in so many parts of the world, we even know that the human rights agenda is losing ground,” Guterres said. “But we don’t give up because respect for human rights and human dignity is a basic condition for peace.”

Forging ahead against challenges was the key sentiment of today’s remarks.

“We are here because we are determined and we do not give up. We see conflicts multiplying everywhere in the world. We see links between conflicts and terrorism. We see insecurity prevailing. We see people suffering. But we don’t give up,” he continued.

Children dressed in white played the violin in the Peace Garden at United Nations Headquarters. Guterres concluded the ceremony by ringing the Peace Bell to commemorate Peace Day.

A violionist during the annual Peace Bell ceremony held at UN headquarters in observance of the International Day of Peace (21 September). // Cia Pak // UN Photo

Overall, the feeling from the ceremony was uplifting. But are words and gatherings anything more than a good sound bite or a symbolic gesture? Why do we need the UDHR in 2018 when it has proven ineffective at preventing human atrocities in its 70-year history?

One good reason: it represents an important milestone in our human rights fight that sets a common standard for all peoples and all nations. Since the UDHR was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948, its words have reverberated across continents. Its 30 articles affirming individual rights have been translated into some 370 languages, making it one of the most translated documents in the world.

Furthermore, although not legally binding or a treaty itself, the UDHR is widely considered the foundational document of international human rights law that has served as inspiration for many of our world’s legally-binding international human rights treaties and resolutions. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1965) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), for example, both came into force as a direct outcome of the UDHR, enshrining in law many of its ideals. Similarly, the Convention Against Torture (1984) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) track their roots to the UDHR. Traces of its articles are also found in the language of many national constitutions.

As of 2018, all UN member States have ratified at least one of the nine international human rights instruments that make up the core body of legally-binding international human rights law, with the majority ratifying four or more of these treaties. Once a State becomes party to any one of these international treaties, it accepts certain obligations to respect and fulfill these rights.

In this regard, Guterres’ optimism has legs. His hopefulness was shared many years ago by Eleanor Roosevelt, chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights and a prominent author of the UDHR. She believed fully “in the force of documents which do express ideals.”

However, she also believed that human rights begin in small places, close to home.

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.” — Eleanor Roosevelt, United Nations, 1958

Eleanor Roosevelt holds up the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. // UN Photo

A key part of upholding the UDHR, she notes, is civic action to ensure these rights; action that demands response from leaders who have either turned a blind eye or who openly defy justice.

“Without concerted citizen action to uphold [rights] close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world,” she said in a speech at the United Nations.

Join RightsViews in honoring the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Peace Day 2018! As part of the global celebration of this important document, which continues into December, you can add your voice in your own language to the Declaration as part of a UN collaborative video project. You can also read an illustrated version of the UDHR, available on the UN’s website.


Ashley E. Chappo is a recent graduate of Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, where she studied human rights and international conflict resolution, and Columbia Journalism School, where she studied multimedia and investigative reporting. You can follow her on Twitter @AshleyChappo. She is editor of RightsViews. 

Columbia Students Stand in Solidarity with Jailed Reuters Journalists

By Ashley E. Chappo, editor of RightsViews and a graduate of Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs and Columbia Journalism School

Walk into Pulitzer Hall lobby at Columbia Journalism School today, and you might notice the students dressed in all black, holding signs that read “#FreeWaLoneKyawSoeOo” and “Journalism is not a crime.”

It’s a moment of advocacy and solidarity on Columbia’s Morningside campus on behalf of Reuters journalists Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, who were sentenced to seven years in prison on September 3, 2018 by a Myanmar judge after being found guilty of violating a decades-old law on state secrets. The Burmese nationals had been investigating military crackdowns and human rights violations in Rakhine state, including the massacre of 10 Rohingya men in Rakhine’s Inn Dinn village on September 2, 2017.

Columbia Journalism students dressed in all black and held signs that read “#FreeWaLoneKyawSoeOo” and “Journalism is not a crime” on behalf of their imprisoned colleagues in Myanmar. // Thor Neureiter

The advocacy effort at the journalism school in New York City was organized mainly by students in professor Ann Cooper’s reporting class. Beginning at 11 a.m. in Pulitzer Hall, the students dressed in black and held up signs, many handwritten in black ink on dry erase boards, with messages of support for the Burmese journalists. The students were inspired by the earlier protest efforts led by the Protection Committee for Myanmar Journalists who began wearing black T-shirts to “signify the dark age of media freedom” and advocate for the release of their colleagues, according to Reuters. The entire journalism school was asked to participate in person or across social media, and students from other professional schools at Columbia were also invited.

The September ruling by the Myanmar judge to jail the journalists for seven years has been widely condemned by world leaders, press freedom organizations, and human rights advocates as an attack on press freedom and human rights, which threatens journalists and human beings everywhere. Following the arrests, the United Nations called for the immediate release of the jailed journalists. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said the court’s recent ruling is a “travesty of justice” and “shocking,” adding that the journalist’s information on the violence in Rakhine state against Rohingya Muslims is “of public interest.”

While advocacy efforts such as the one at Columbia may seem merely symbolic, they hold special significance for the jailed journalists and reporters around the world who face similar risks.

“From my eight years as executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, I know how much it means for journalists and their families to hear messages of support, to know that they are not forgotten,” professor Cooper told RightsViews. “Journalists in many countries work in very challenging press freedom conditions. It’s important for us, no matter where we live and work, to defend the rights of all journalists to report the news independently, without fear of threats or violence.”

A poster for the advocacy efforts at Columbia Journalism School on September 14, 2018. The organizers urged other students and faculty from across Columbia to dress in black and stand in solidarity with the imprisoned Burmese journalists. // Melody Jiang

The Burmese reporters were first detained on December 12, 2017 outside of Yangon. Reuters published the journalists’ special report on the killings of the Rohingya under the title “Massacre in Myanmar” on February 8, 2018 while they awaited trial behind bars. The report notes “the Reuters investigation of the Inn Din massacre was what prompted Myanmar police authorities to arrest two of the news agency’s reporters.”

Efforts to support Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo while in detention began last year at Columbia when journalism students collected books to send to the reporters in prison following a specific request for books by Wa Lone.

“I think we all hoped that would help them pass some weeks or months until they were freed, because the court case against them was so ridiculous. But now they face seven years in prison. So our new students this fall have organized an effort to tell them, once again, you are not forgotten,” Cooper said.

Around seventeen of Cooper’s current reporting students from the Class of 2019 took the lead in organizing the day of advocacy on behalf of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.

“Journalism students, especially those interested in doing international reporting, should be aware that if these types of press restrictions and anti-press actions are not confronted, it will make it harder for them to do their jobs in the future,” said Haleluya Hadero, a student in Cooper’s reporting class this fall, to RightsViews. “As it is commonly said at the J-School, journalism is a public service, and we all need to work hard to protect the integrity and freedom of the press around the world.”

The action at Columbia University follows at the heels of a particularly troubling response from Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi on the court ruling. Speaking on Thursday at the World Economic Forum in Hanoi, Vietnam, she denied claims that the court’s decision violates freedom of expression and said that the journalists are free to appeal the decision

“They were not jailed because they were journalists,” she said. “The sentence has been passed on them because the court has decided that they have broken the Official Secrets Act.”

Students gathered on the steps in front of Columbia Journalism School during a day of advocacy on behalf of the jailed Reuters journalists. // Thor Neureiter

This statement from the once-esteemed Nobel Peace Prize winner has been decried as “shameful” by Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson wrote in The Globe and Mail, “Rarely does an event more clearly embody a country’s human-rights decline than the Myanmar court’s sentencing of two Reuters journalists.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley expressed her own disproval with Myanmar’s leader on Twitter, tweeting, “First in denial about the abuse the Burmese military place on the Rohingya, now justifying the imprisonment of the two Reuters reporters who reported on the ethnic cleansing. Unbelievable.”

The seven-year prison sentence serves as a reminder of the challenges and limitations journalists face in doing their jobs and defending human rights. These realities are particularly pertinent for students of Columbia Journalism School, many of whom dream of future careers in international and conflict reporting.

And now, more than ever, the stakes are especially high. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that for the second year in a row the number of journalists imprisoned for their work has reached a historical high. The advocacy efforts on campus help the students to recognize the importance of the lessons they learn in the classroom on keeping themselves and their sources safe in difficult environments.

“It’s my goal to make sure that all of our students leave journalism school with a healthy appreciation of the risks faced by so many reporters around the world— and with the skills and knowledge to assess and deal with those risks,” Cooper said. The recent case of the Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo hits particularly close to home for some of Cooper’s students. One who graduated this past May worked with Wa Lone at a newspaper in Myanmar, and another had met Wa Lone’s brother while reporting from the country.

“It is important for us— as Americans or even non-citizens living in the United States, and especially as journalists— to advocate for our own who are imprisoned for simply doing their jobs,” Haleluya said. “Journalism is a service not only to the public, but also to our colleagues, wherever they might be.”


Ashley E. Chappo is a recent graduate of Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, where she studied human rights and international conflict resolution, and Columbia Journalism School, where she studied multimedia and investigative reporting. You can follow her on Twitter @AshleyChappo. She is editor of RightsViews. 

Children Languishing Behind Bars: A Grim Reality of Indian Prisons

By Vasudev Singh and Karan Trehan, students of law in India at RML National Law University and NALSAR University of Law, respectively. 

recent revelation by the Government of India concerns the condition of children residing in prisons with their mothers and raises an important question regarding the basic human rights guaranteed to these children. As of 2015, Indian prisons accommodate some 419,623 prisoners (including pre-trial detainees/remand prisoners). Out of them, 4.3 percent— or around 18,000— are women. Women who face trial or who are found guilty of a crime are allowed to keep their children with them during their time in jail. Approximately 1,866 children lived in prison with their mothers at the end of 2015, according to prison statistics. 

According to the Indian constitution, the state governments are assigned to the administration and management of prisons. This means that the state governments can make prison laws according to their own discretion and requirements. However, these state powers remain subject to other centrally-enacted laws such as the Prisons Act, 1894. As a result, there exists a difference in the laws regarding the management of prisons and welfare of the prison population.

To date, the law dealing with the protection of children lodged in prisons with their mothers has not been uniformly codified under any act or statute in India and varies among different states. The Supreme Court of India, in the case of R.D Upadhyay v. State of A.P, AIR 2006 SC 1946, framed several guidelines for the protection and development of these children. The guidelines were framed around key areas requiring urgent intervention such as food, medical facilities, accommodation, age of residence, education and recreation facilities. Pursuant to these guidelines, different states amended their jail manuals and included provisions concerning the welfare of children and mothers in prisons. 

However, various reports have pointed toward the abysmal state of affairs in which these children have been forced to live in Indian prisons. The non-uniform and poor implementation of existing rules and guidelines has further aggravated the condition.

Approximately 1,866 children lived in prison with their mothers at the end of 2015. // Feminisminindia.com

The age up to which children are allowed to stay with their mothers in prisons varies among the states, for example. In states such as Delhi and Assam, the children are allowed to stay with their mothers until they are 6 years old. Whereas, in Bihar, they are allowed to stay only up to 2 years.

The diet, medical and educational facilities provided to children in various states also starkly varies. In many states, children below 5 years old are provided with the same food as other inmates. Furthermore, due to the lack of adequate infrastructure and funding, special medical facilities are not available in every state to look after the children. Reports have found that only the prisons in metropolitan cities such as Delhi, Chandigarh, and Mumbai have medical facilities equipped to cater to the needs of children. In other states, children are sent to nearby centers for education purposes due to the lack of a facility of formal schooling. Moreover, there are no special provisions for food, medical, educational and recreational facilities for women prisoners with children.

These non-uniform laws have left behind major inequality. Several instances of gross human rights violations have also been reported where children have been lodged alongside criminals. Thus, some children are currently living in a state of extreme neglect. Also, due to the absence of any enforcement or grievance mechanism to keep check on the implementation of rules and guidelines, the promise of ensuring a healthy upbringing for children behind bars gets defeated. Thus, the guidelines passed by the Supreme Court and the existing provisions in different states have failed to fulfill their intended purpose, rendering them futile.

Analyzing the laws of various countries, it is clear amended policy should address several important concerns. The first and foremost policy implementation should be the development of infrastructure and facilities, including a necessary increase in funding to prisons across the country. Modernization of the prisons would ensure that children have better living conditions and can lead a more dignified life. In addition, children should be allowed to remain with their mothers until they reach age of 6 years old, with the “best interest” of the child of the utmost importance. Cases involving issues of domestic violence should be taken into consideration, for example.

Special provisions for dietary, educational, medical and recreational facilities should also be made available for children and their mothers in all prisons. These proposed provisions will augment the mental as well as physical growth of children at such a tender age. Maintenance of separate prisons solely for the mothers and their children should be considered by the government. In such prisons, there would be a better atmosphere for parenting, providing more harmonious living conditions for the children and protecting them from violence which could result from living with the general prison population. Regular inspection of prisons should also be carried out. An ombudsman should be appointed for redressal of grievances and an authority should be created to ensure the enforcement of guidelines.

State governments should further endeavor to include the above-mentioned recommendations in jail manuals to better ensure equal treatment of children residing in prisons across the country. 

Article 21 of the Indian constitution guarantees the right to live with human dignity to every person. The Directive Principles enshrined within the Constitution also provide that suitable opportunities be given to children to ensure a healthy manner of development. Furthermore, India has ratified various international conventions, such as the UNCRC, which further obliges the Indian government to work toward the development of conditions beneficial to the well-being of the children. Therefore, the government should recognize the need of the hour and make necessary amendments to policy so as to meet its international as well as constitutional obligations.


Vasudev Singh is a student at RML National Law University, Lucknow. His research interests include health rights, environmental rights and prisoner rights.

Karan Trehan is a student at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad. His research interests include children rights, refugee rights and education rights.

Lives in Limbo: Immigration as a Human Rights Issue

“Trump Zero Tolerance,” artwork by Dan Lacey // Flickr

By Jalileh Garcia, a blog writer for RightsViews and an undergraduate student at Columbia University 

In late June, the event “Lives in Limbo: Immigration as a Human Rights Issue” took place in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The event was a direct response to the current administration’s immigration policies, which were highlighted by the recent and highly controversial separation of children from their parents. In the last couple of months, photographs and voice recordings of children crying “Mami” and “Papa” have overtaken the web. The children, predominantly from Central American countries, some as young as 18 months old, have become the focal point of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy.

Courts set a deadline for July 26 to reunite the children with their families, but the government has stated that hundreds of families were ineligible to be united. In total, 711 children remain in custody, according to the latest tally from the government. Furthermore, many of the children who have been united with their families have likely experienced significant trauma from being separated from their parents and held in detention. In the midst of the country’s ongoing immigration crisis, communities and activists have gathered to try to understand the complex issues facing immigrant children and all of those whose lives remain in limbo. 

The event “Lives in Limbo: Immigration as a Human Rights Issue” took place in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in June 2018. // Jalileh Garcia

“Welcome to a conversation about humanity,” said Geeta Pradhan, president of the Cambridge Community Foundation, who opened the event in Cambridge focused on immigration as a human rights issue. Pradhan introduced the panelists, who included Marc McGovern, mayor of Cambridge, human rights attorneys, legal scholars and professors.

McGovern began the conversation by stating, “I’ve heard people say that this is not the America they know.” However, he continued, “We must recognize that the America we know was one founded on the genocide of Native Americans, slavery, Jim Crow laws, Japanese internment, colonialism, and police brutality.” By acknowledging this history, McGovern believes we can recognize the current state of affairs in the United States as a natural progression of history.

Speaker Daniel Kanstroom, a professor of law and director of the International Human Rights program at Boston College spoke next and expounded on the current state of affairs of immigration in the United States.

“We are experiencing a clever attack on immigrants which is marked by brazenness and masked by national security facades, which have inevitably resulted in a brutal violence against human rights,” he said.  

Asylum seekers have been labeled as criminals, even though they have the right to safety, protection, and fair trials under international law. The U.S. government’s actions to separate children from their families has gone so far as to receive criticism from the United Nations. A spokeswoman of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani stated, “It is never in the best interests of the child [to be detained] and always constitutes a child rights violation.” Meanwhile, private corporations that own and manage detention centers are profiting off of the detainment of people.

These complex issues call for a deep understanding of the root causes, true solidarity with survivors, and the protection of human rights, the panel agreed.

“So, how did we get here?” asked Kanstroom.

The immigration crisis is the culmination of a decades-old deportation system, which has been structurally created, the panel noted. It is the result of reactionary politics starting with nativist movements; the Chinese Exclusion Act, for example, or when Mexican immigrants were suddenly barred from coming to the United States in 1965 unless they received authorization.

Global politics has also played a significant role. Since the Monroe Doctrine was established in 1823, the expansion of the United States’ control has continued to have significant consequences on its neighbors to the south. U.S. private companies have vacated the Latin American region of its resources by creating massive wealth gaps that have for generations perpetuated cycles of poverty. Simultaneously, corrupt governments have risen to power, many with U.S. aid through CIA or military intervention policies in Central and South America and the Caribbean. These governments have often been emboldened to turn against the interests of their people, creating the circumstances that drive many to flee from their native countries, the panel indicated.

Panelists at the event, “Lives in Limbo: Immigration as a Human Rights Issue,” in June 2018.

In the discourse of immigration, the speakers noted the importance of conversations about mental health. Mojdeh Rohani, executive director at Community Legal Services and a mental health practitioner, expounded on the topic. “What is an asylum seeker?” she asked the crowd. “Well, an asylum seeker has a story. They are survivors of domestic violence, gang violence, persecution, and trauma,” she said. The trauma asylum seekers face begins elsewhere, but it becomes heightened during their time at U.S. government-run detention centers. They come to the United States for safety, but they can be subject in inhumane conditions that exacerbate their trauma. Rohani highlighted that if we keep treating asylum seekers without dignity, “we may be responsible for harboring the next generation of gangs.”  

The panelists at the “Lives in Limbo” event endeavored to come up with initiatives that individuals and communities could partake in to help resolve the immigration crisis.

Michael J. Wishnie, a clinical professor of law at Yale Law School, spoke on the matter. “We must come together, stand up, and bear witness to the human experience.” Wishnie also suggested that people engage in policy changes, grassroots movements and electoral processes.

To build upon this, Roberto Gonzales, professor of education at Harvard, asked the people of Cambridge to “focus efforts on the local level, as every policy is carried out in our localities, and could be affecting our very neighbors.”

However, the panelists acknowledged, the real change needs to come from a change of hearts. Policies cannot be grounded in empathy if people do not feel empathy for immigrant populations and a necessity to protect their human rights. Perhaps the most excruciating fact is that changes of attitude do not happen overnight. If future generations come to prioritize human rights, the people in the United States and abroad can begin to see tangible change to immigration policies that threaten the basic rights of fellow humans.


Jalileh Garcia is an undergraduate student at Columbia University pursuing a Human Rights major with a specialization in Latin America. She is originally from Honduras and is interested in transitional justice, intersectionality, and the interchange of immigration and human rights. She is an executive board member of Columbia University’s Alianza, the Baha’i Club, and the Columbia Students for Human Rights (CUSHR). 

Ensuring Healthcare in India by Going Beyond Politics

By Ananye Krishna, a student at Nalsar University of Law, Hyderabad, India

The government of India launched the Ayushman Bharat – National Health Protection Mission in late March 2018 to provide health coverage of Rs. 5 Lakh (or approximately $7,335) per year for all Indian families. This was a much needed reform measure in the Indian healthcare system, but the question remains whether the government made required infrastructural changes in order to ensure the full benefits that would allow the Indian people to access their fundamental human rights to healthcare.

The poor state of healthcare in India was illustrated last year when more than 60 children died in a government hospital because of inadequate infrastructure. This was not an isolated incident. There have been cases of fires breaking out in hospitals and of surgeries being conducted en masse under extremely poor conditions. Such incidents demonstrate that the right to health as guaranteed by the Indian constitution is being violated through lack of adequate reform. Reports suggest that the government made its March decision in haste considering that primary health centers (state-owned rural healthcare facilities) across the country, specifically in North India, are in a deplorable state, rendering the reform inadequate.   

From above, it is clear that the current state of the healthcare system will make it difficult for the people to benefit from the government’s reforms. Some activists have also suggested that this policy might be a political ruse prior to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in order to ensure the victory of the ruling BJP (Bhartiya Janta Party) government. These half-hearted measures are not acceptable; democracy should not only be about winning elections and political patronage. It should be about the welfare of the people. A popularly elected government has a duty to ensure that the constitutionally guaranteed right to healthcare is not violated.

An initiative in a rural health center in India. // Trinity Care Foundation // Flickr

Furthermore, with India a party to International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), it becomes the duty of the government to protect the right to health of its people and provide them with the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health as provided under Article 12 of the ICESCR.  Also, considering that India is a party to the World Health Organization constitution, it is important that the state follows the standards set by the international organization. When WHO states that maximum available resources must be put to use to ensure the right to health, these same standards should be upheld by the Indian government. Thus, it is important that the government focus its attention on the infrastructural and professional development of primary health care centers in India to protect the basic human rights of its people. These reforms are currently absent from the government’s plan to address the poor state of healthcare.

If proper infrastructural development is undertaken, it is possible that doctors wary of working in rural areas and in poorly equipped institutions could be attracted to work in these healthcare centers, for example. The current policy of making it mandatory for doctors to engage in rural service does not work toward any effective benefit because the deplorable state of government hospitals forces most of the people to turn toward private hospitals despite exorbitant rates at these facilities. Thus, the government continues to deny people their right to healthcare and forces them to bear an unnecessary financial burden when their financial state may already be poor. If any mandatory action has to be taken, then that action should be aimed at ensuring that no hospital, clinic or other healthcare institution overcharges it patients.

As mentioned previously, the current policy of the government is to prescribe mandatory rural service for doctors. This policy has been challenged by doctors who naturally find this to be an unnecessary restraint on their professional life. No other profession is subject to similar restraints. This policy even seems constitutionally unsound as it appears to violate Article 19(1)(g) of the Indian constitution, which states the people have the freedom to practice their profession as they wish. It is important for the government to understand that excessive regulation will lead to resentment among the people, harshly impacting the functioning of the whole democracy.

If the government truly seeks improvement in the health of its people and protection of their fundamental human rights to healthcare, then it will have to remove excessive regulations and engage in proper infrastructural development. When properly equipped healthcare institutions are built, doctors are more likely to be attracted to these institutions. To incentivize doctors, policy should consider more adequate compensation, on par with what the doctor would have potentially earned otherwise. Furthermore, if doctors have to serve in remote areas, the government should ensure that they have the necessary amenities to function at their full potential.

Under the current healthcare system in India, the pent up resentment and poor infrastructure negatively impact overall efficiency. Reform, if properly undertaken, can provide a strong base for building the Indian healthcare system and ensuring the rights of both the people and the doctors.


Ananye Krishna is a Year IV student at Nalsar University of Law, Hyderabad, India.

Death Penalty for Child Rapists in India: Populist, Hasty, Counterproductive

by Shardool Kulkarni, a law student at the University of Mumbai

This January, an eight-year-old girl hailing from a minority shepherding family in India was abducted, gang raped and brutally murdered in the Kathua region of Jammu and Kashmir. In the subsequent months, the incident generated polarized reactions in India and around the world, with public outcry juxtaposed against the response from individuals in authority and alleged politicization of rape owing to the victim’s minority status. The ensuing public discourse has placed the ruling dispensation headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi under intense scrutiny, particularly in relation to the government’s stance and policies regarding child rape.

In April 2018, the Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance, 2018 was promulgated. The said ordinance brought in several changes to the existing legal framework pertaining to child rape in India, the most significant being the imposition of the death penalty as punishment for rape of a girl below the age of twelve years. The move, while hailed by some as an example of the government’s toughened stance on child sexual abuse, was criticized by academics, judges, NGOs and legal practitioners as being likely to worsen the plight of victims of child sexual abuse.

Disincentivising Reporting

The Kathua rape case involved the victim being abducted, drugged, gang-raped and brutally murdered by eight persons, including four policemen. However, it is pertinent to note that this is not the norm when it comes to instances of child sexual abuse: according to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, 95.5 percent of rapes are committed by persons known to the victim. The perpetrator of abuse is not the figurative shadowy stranger who strikes fear into the minds of the public, but rather the more closely known devils such as parents, older siblings, teachers, neighbors, or family friends. Victims of rape aged below twelve years are also unlikely to report a crime unless an older family member does so on their behalf. The likelihood of this happening is already low and could be diminished further if the consequence of reporting is the death penalty. As such, the amendment is likely to push the already underreported crime of child sexual abuse deeper into the chasm of unspoken, unacknowledged secrets of Indian society.

A Death Sentence for Victims?

The ordinance seemingly also ignores the possibility that making the act of raping a girl below twelve years punishable by death, a punishment usually reserved for murders, could encourage perpetrators to kill their young victims. Rape is an exceedingly difficult crime to prosecute if the only witness in most cases, the victim, is dead. While it may seem counterintuitive that a rapist would murder his or her victim and increase his or her chances of being sentenced to death, the heightened risk of being caught if the victim survives and thereby receiving the death penalty anyway could, in the opinion of some, prompt more rapists to kill their victims.

Indian students protest against rape in India in 2015. Sexual assault of women has been an ongoing issue in India. // Sajjad Hussain // AFP Photo

Following the enactment of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, the term “rape” has been accorded a wider connotation, including not only the traditional notion of penetrative sex but also other forced sexual acts such as fellatio. Thus, “rape,” as defined by the Indian Penal Code, is unrelated to the risk of death and need not necessarily be an act that may result in the death of the child owing to the sheer physical violence accompanied by it. Placing the punishment for raping a child on the same pedestal as the punishment for murdering a child might simply incentivize more abusers to ensure that their victim does not live to tell the tale.

Gender Bias: An Evidence of Populism and Apathy

Most media outlets in India carried news of the government’s decision on child rape. Interestingly, the ordinance only makes the rape of girls below the age of twelve years punishable by death, casting a blind eye toward male victims who constitute 52.94 percent of the victims of child sexual abuse in India. This sidelining of male victims points to a knee-jerk response to momentary outrage, a clear manifestation of the skewed discourse surrounding sexual violence that too often turns a blind eye to male victims. 

Subsequent to the promulgation of the ordinance, the Central Government announced its intention to amend the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) in order to make the changes brought in by the ordinance apply to male victims as well. While the move is a welcome one, it further highlights the fact that the policy in question was a hasty move.

Death Penalty: An Ineffective Deterrent

In its 262nd report, the Law Commission of India concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that the deterrent effect of the death penalty was any better than that of life imprisonment. In the United States of America, for example, states that did not impose capital punishment for homicide were found to have lower homicide rates than states that did impose capital punishment. As such, the presumption that the death penalty acts as an effective deterrent is fundamentally flawed.

Moreover, presuming that death penalty does indeed deter child sexual abuse, the deterrent effect is watered down significantly in India by poor case disposal and conviction rates. In its 2016 report titled “Crime in India,” the National Crime Records Bureau revealed that the conviction rate under the POCSO Act is an abysmal 28.9 percent. To make matters worse, pendency in cases of child rape was 89.6 percent. Moreover, there are no witness protection programs in place, and no probe has been made into the functioning of Child Welfare Committees set up by the government. Imposing stringent punishments becomes meaningless if the law remains a mere dead letter.

Several persons in authority responsible for the ruling dispensation, including two ministers in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, protested against the arrest of the accused in the horrific Kathua rape case. The apathy of the police authorities, the statements made by persons in power and the communal color that the entire incident acquired created a strong public sentiment against the ruling party on the issue of child rape. In this light, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018 can only be regarded as a hasty and populist move to placate the outraged public without addressing, and moreover possibly aggravating, the plight of the innocent victims of these horrific human rights violations.


Shardool Kulkarni is in his penultimate year as a law student of the five-year law course at the University of Mumbai. He holds the distinction of being the youngest Indian to have deposed before a parliamentary committee in Indian legislative history. In the past, he has worked as a law trainee under Justice F. M. I. Kalifulla, Judge, Supreme Court of India, and as an Attaché to the Office of the Speaker, Lok Sabha, Parliament of India.

Will Brexit Setback Human Rights Protections in the United Kingdom?

Brian Dan is a guest contributor from the University of Strathclyde and a L.L.M. candidate in human rights law

Is Brexit just a snag in European Union integration without accompanying regression in human rights legislation? Of course not. Brexit signals a backsliding in human rights protections and imperils the closest thing to a constitutional framework for human rights in the United Kingdom.

The U.K. has over 40 years of EU law transposed into its own laws. Together, the EU laws, which are supreme to the domestic laws of the EU states; the Common Law system of England and Wales, which is law created by judges in courts; and the legislative directives of the Council of Europe, an international organization comprised of 47 European states, constitute an overarching, legally-binding system for the promotion, respect and protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms.

The human rights protections provided to British citizens by the U.K.’s membership in the EU and Council of Europe are distinct but also complementary. The EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and Council of Europe’s European Convention on Human Rights, which established the European Court of Human Rights as the apex interpretative body of EU law, all contribute to the human rights framework that protects citizens in the U.K. However, it is not the U.K. government’s intention to retain all EU law following Brexit. Instead, it has introduced what is now published as the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which will end the supremacy of EU law in the U.K. legal system when passed.  

For any U.K. electorate, the decision not to transpose the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights— one of the main instruments governing human rights protection in the EU— into domestic law via the withdrawal bill should cause concern. It means British citizens will be stripped of some of the legal protections guaranteed by the Charter if no equivalent legislative interventions are put in place.

This could mean a reduction in human rights and procedural remedies in areas within the scope of EU law. These areas include privacy, data protection and the right to a fair hearing, to name a few. The General Data Protection Regulation of the EU, passed in 2018, hinged on the Charter, for instance. It is currently directly applicable in the U.K. and affords  British citizens an elevated degree of personal data privacy and protection that expands on the protections offered by the UK Data Protection Act of 1998. The introduction of the right to be forgotten, for example, provides an obligation to erase any personal data held by an organization upon request by the right holder, the obligation to ensure that personal data is collected only after explicit consent, and the right to access personal data upon request in a readable and portable format, rights which are some of the data security protections accorded to all EU citizens. There are currently no immediate equivalent protections in U.K. domestic law.

Pro-EU protests in the aftermath of the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, 2016. // ilovetheeu// Creative Commons

It would also mean the loss of a backstop of protection against regression to the national laws in areas such as anti-discrimination, environmental protections, workers’ rights, access to social security, and health care and consumer rights.

Furthermore, an EU exit represents the loss of the oversight role by the European Court of Justice over the U.K. in observance of its human rights obligations under EU laws. The Court of Justice has long protected fundamental rights by interpreting them as general principles of EU law for the last three decades.

It is clear that the elimination of European oversight over the many social gains exposes these guarantees to governmental attack and other mechanisms for dilution post-Brexit. As the situation stands, removal of legal protections may not even involve substantive parliamentary oversight. Historically, the U.K. government has strongly opposed much of Europe’s social rights agenda. So, only time will tell if Brexit will mean the end of many social rights protection in the U.K. The collective right of EU citizens were established at different times and in different ways, and the Charter was designed to summarize all the personal, civic, political, economic and social rights into one binding instrument.

At the moment, the U.K. has several layers of human rights protection frameworks that directly and indirectly impact its legal mechanisms in place to uphold fundamental individual rights. Where common law falls short, the U.K. courts rely on the jurisprudence of its affiliated regional and judicial institutions: The Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights. This means the U.K. courts are obligated to consider the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and act within the case law jurisprudence developed by it, not to regress from it and therefore undermine the level of protection afforded to UK citizens. Equally, the U.K. parliament and the executive are bound by its decisions as a State obligation under international law.

Of importance to note is that while the Charter’s direct applicability in the U.K. ends on “exit day,” the protection derived from the European Convention on Human Rights and the subsidiarity role of the European Court of Human Rights will remain unaffected. The U.K. still remains a member to the Council of Europe whose membership is hinged on ratification of its convention. In fact, the Council’s mandate revolves around the objectives of the Convention, and all 47 members states must be contracting signatories to the law.  

The Debate: Fundamental Rights Protections Post-Brexit

Much of the discussion at this stage is necessarily speculative as “exit day” has yet to arrive; even the provisions of the European Withdrawal Bill, with the amendments from the House of Commons set to be returned to the House of Lords, may not reach the statute book in their final form. The whole decoupling process is a beehive of uncertainties, at least for now. No final negotiation terms have yet been reached, and the stalemate seems not only to be in Brussels, the decoupling negotiation seat, but also at number 10 Downing Street.

At the moment, while the government remains adamant in its response to parliament that there will be no rights regression, the Joint Committee on Human Rights,  a select committee of both the House of Commons and House of Lords, remains unsatisfied with these answers. Some believe the disapplication of the Charter will not only result in a regression in rights protection but also create legal uncertainties. As general principles of EU law, the Charter rights form the anchorage upon which most legislation is established.

Human rights activists are calling for a reevaluation of Brexit, and a recent advisory case by anti-Brexiters in Edinburgh has expressed that the U.K. could still stay in the European Union if, for example, the current withdrawal stalemate continues and the resultant negotiation terms in the European Union Withdrawal Bill are rejected by Parliament. However, at the moment, there are no immediate indications as to when the court of sessions in Edinburgh will set down the case for a full hearing. While the opinion may take a long time to come, it remains worthy for consideration before “exit day” arrives.


Brian Dan is a human rights LLM candidate at the University of Strathclyde in the United Kingdom focusing on the United Nations human rights law system. His research interests lie in economic, social and cultural rights, and international law in general. He is currently a researcher at the Centre for the Study of Human Rights Law at the University of Strathclyde.