Amnesty International Reiterates Demand for Release of Ferrer 

On November 12, Amnesty International reiterated its demand that Cuba release José Daniel Ferrer, the leader of Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).[1]

Its release stated he “has been in detention for 40 days, since Oct 1, for reasons still unknown. As far as we can ascertain, he has not been informed of the charges against him or brought before a judge. In addition, recent alarming reports suggest he may have been tortured or ill-treated while in detention, something Amnesty International has not been able to independently verify in a context where lawyers and the judiciary are largely controlled by the Executive. Mass mobilization is needed to ensure that the Cuban government presents charges against him or release him, and refrains from potentially taking actions that may amount to ill-treatment against him.”

This blog has reported Ferrer’s recent arrest and detention and subsequent developments.[2]

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[1] Amnesty International, Cuba: Opposition Leader at Risk of Torture: José Daniel Ferrer Garcia (Nov. 12, 2019); Amnesty International launches another urgent action for ‘risk of torture’ by José Daniel Ferrer, Diario de Cuba (Nov. 13, 2019).

[2]  U.S. Imposes New Sanctions on Cuba and Denounces Cuba’s Detention of Dissident, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 19, 2019). In addition, these comments have been added to that post: Cuban Court Denies Habeas Corpus for Ferrer (Oct. 21, 2019); Ferrer’s Family Released from Detention (Oct. 26, 2019); More Pressure for Release of Ferrer (Oct. 31, 2019); Cuban Attorneys Say Cuban Regime Frequently Forcibly Disappears Its Citizens (Nov. 2, 2019); No Cuban Government Report on Status of Ferrer (Nov. 2, 2019); Washington Post Editorial Calls for Cuba To Release Ferrer (Nov. 9, 2019); Cuba Allegedly Using Venezuelan Torture Technique on Ferrer (Nov. 11. 2019).

U.S. Senators Oppose U.S. Reduction in Refugee Admissions for Fiscal 2020 

As reported in a prior post. President Trump has reduced the number of refugee admissions to the U.S. for Fiscal 2020 (October 1, 2019 through September 30, 2020) to 18,000.

Now a group of 10 Democratic U.S. senators have voiced opposition to that reduction. They are Senators Amy Klobuchar (MN), Cory Booker (NJ) and Kamala Harris (CA)—all of whom are candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020—plus Senators Richard Blumenthal (CT), Christopher Coons (DE), Richard Durbin (IL), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Mazie Hirono (HI), Patrick Leahy (VT) and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI).[1]

First, they say the new quota “could effectively—and perhaps intentionally—damage our long-term capacity to resettle refugees” in the U.S. The new quota “could effectively end” the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program by “starving the infrastructure built by resettlement agencies” that helps “refugees integrate into U..S. communities.” Already because of previous reductions in this quota by the Trump Administration, “approximately 100 offices operated by “ such agencies (as of April 2019) have closed.

Second, “the administration’s allocation of refugee admissions among particular categories of individuals could render it impossible to meet even the depressed cap of 18,000 refugees.” One example is the 4,000 for Iraqis, where because of lengthy U.S. security checks very few already are being admitted. Another example is the 7,500 allocated for others appears to exclude individuals referred by the U.N.

Third, another threat to the continued operation of refugee resettlement is  the President’s executive order’s stating “that refugees may only be resettled ‘in those jurisdictions in which both the State and local governments have consented to receive refugees. . . . This requirement undoubtedly cause disruptions and disputes in the refugee settlement process—which, incidentally, already includes a consultation process with state and local officials. Moreover, permitting state and local jurisdictions to drive refugee policy subverts over a century of binding Supreme court precedent . . . that immigration policy . . . is uniquely within the purview of the federal government.”

They concluded, “We are facing the most significant displacement and refugee crisis in modern history. Reaffirming our historic role as the world’s humanitarian leader in this moment is not just about promoting our values. It is about protecting our security interests.”

The senators, therefore, requested a briefing about the new, lower quota. in their joint letter to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan.

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[1] Letter, Senators Blumenthal, et al. to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan (Nov. 6, 2019); Senator Feinstein, Feinstein, Harris, Leahy Lead Judiciary Democrats Urging Briefing Following Latest Trump Admin Move to Restrict Refugees (Nov. 6, 2019); Senator Harris, Harris, Leahy Lead Judiciary Democrats Urging Briefing Following Latest Trump Admin Move to Restrict Refugees (Nov. 6, 2019); Rao, Senator Klobuchar, other senators oppose reduction in refugees, StarTribune (Nov. 10, 2019); Senator Leahy, Harris and Leahy Lead Judiciary Democrats Urging Briefing Following Latest Trump Admin Move to Restrict Refugees (Nov. 6, 2019).

 

U.N. General Assembly Again Condemns U.S. Embargo of Cuba

On November 6 and 7, 2019, the U.N. General Assembly debated and adopted Cuba’s annual resolution condemning the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba, 187 to 3 (U.S., Brazil, Israel) with two abstentions (Columbia and Ukraine).[1]

Secretary-General’s Report [2]

Prior to the debate, the U.N. Secretary-General submitted a 167-page Report containing replies from 158 Governments, 33  U.N. organs and agencies and 1 observer.

Cuba’s 36-page Reply, dated July 16, 2019, covering the period April 2018 to March 2019, had the following sections: I. Continuity and tightening of the embargo policy. II. The embargo violates the rights of the Cuban people. III, Impact on the external sector of the Cuban economy. IV. The embargo violates international law. Extraterritorial application. V. Universal rejection of the embargo. Conclusions.

The Resolution [3]

The operative portions of the Resolution stated the following:

  • “2. Reiterates its call upon all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures of the kind referred to in the preamble to the present resolution, in conformity with their obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and international law, which, inter alia, reaffirm the freedom of trade and navigation;”
  • “3. Once again urges States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the steps necessary to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regime.”

 The Debate Over the Resolution[4]

“Through the terms of the text, the Assembly reiterated its call upon all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures of the kind referred to in the text’s preamble, in conformity with their obligations under international law and the Charter of the United Nations, which reaffirm the freedom of trade and navigation.  The Assembly also urged States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the steps necessary to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regime.”

Cuba’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bruno Eduardo Rodríguez Parrilla, said that in the last few months, President Donald Trump’s Administration has begun escalating its aggression against Cuba through non‑conventional measures to prevent the arrival of fuel shipments to the island country through sanctions and threats against vessels as well as shipping and insurance companies.”

The Cuba Foreign Minister added that in April “the United States announced it would allow lawsuits to be filed before United States courts against Cuban and foreign entities under Title III of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996 (Helms‑Burton Act). The blockade has caused incalculable humanitarian damages and qualifies as an act of genocide under 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.”

“For almost six decades, Cuba has been victim to the most unjust, severe and longest‑lasting system of sanctions ever applied against any country,” Mr. Rodriquez said, noting that the accumulated damages as a result of the blockade amount to more than $138.8 billion at current value.”

“The persecution of Cuba’s banking relations with the rest of the world continues,” Rodriguez said. “Remittances sent to Cuban citizens have been further restricted and the granting of visas further reduced.  The United States Government is set on sabotaging Cuba’s international cooperation in healthcare as well.  Cubans have no access to Government or private credit and are required to pay in cash for merchandise upon its arrival in port.”

Also speaking in favor of the Cuba resolution were representatives of 40 U.N. members.

Opposition, or course, came from the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Kelly Craft, who said that the U.S. has a sovereign right to choose which countries with which to trade.  ‘So it is worrying that the international community, in the name of protecting sovereignty, continues to challenge this right,” she said.  “The Assembly continues to entertain the claim, made explicitly and implicitly during the last 24 hours, that the Cuban regime has no other choice than to abuse its own people in response to the embargo.”

Ambassador Craft added, “the Cuban Government has arbitrarily arrested more than 50,000 human rights activists, journalists and others since 2010, she said.  That Government also deprives people of their right to free choice of employment, as well as freedom of opinion and expression.  In Cuba, all political parties besides the Communist Party are outlawed, political activists are silenced, and the country’s media is entirely controlled by the State.  All of these are choices that are not forced upon them by the United States embargo.  The country is also an active contributor to regional instability, collaborating with the former Maduro regime in Venezuela.”

Conclusion [5]

As an U.S. citizen-advocate for ending the embargo as soon as possible, I am not pleased with the U.S. opposition to this resolution.

Moreover, too many in the U.S. believe the Cuban damages claim from the embargo is just a crazy Cuban dream, but I disagree. Given the amount of the claim, Cuba will not someday tell the U.S. to forget it, nor will the U.S. write a check for Cuba in that amount. A prior post, therefore, suggested that the two countries agree to submit this claim and any other damage claims by both countries for resolution by an independent international arbitration panel such as those provided by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in the Netherlands. As a retired attorney who litigated cases involving large alleged damages, I know that attorneys representing the U.S. with the aid of expert accounting witnesses would mount challenging cross-examination of Cuba witnesses and present direct evidence to prove any errors in Cuba’s calculations and assumptions.

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[1] Reuters, Exclusive: Brazil Likely to Vote With U.S. Against Cuba at U.N. Over Embargo (Nov. 6, 2019); U.N., Speakers in General Assembly Urge United States to Repeal Embargo Against Cuba, Criticizing Trump Administration for Intensifying Restrictions over Last Year (Nov, 6, 2019); LIVE: Cuba presents proposed UN resolution condemning U.S. blockade (I), Granma (Nov. 6, 2019); Minute by Minute: UN vote against the US blockade of Cuba, Cubadebate (Nov. 7, 2019); U.N., General Assembly Adopts Annual Resolution Calling on United States to End Embargo against Cuba, Brazil Rejects Text for First Time (Nov. 7, 2019Assoc. Press, UN Votes Overwhelmingly to Condemn US Embargo of Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 7, 2019); LIVE: 187 votes in favor of Cuba leave the United States looking bad before the world, Granma (Nov. 7, 2019); U.N., General Assembly Adopts Annual Resolution Calling on United States to End Embargo against Cuba, Brazil Rejects Text for First Time (Nov. 7, 2019); Assoc. Press, UN Votes Overwhelmingly to Condemn US Embargo of Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 7, 2019); Victory against the UN blockade, triumph of good over evil, Cubadebate (Nov. 8, 2019).

[2]  U.N. General Assembly, Report of the Secretary-General: Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba (Aug. 19, 2019). There were no statements from the U.S., Brazil, Israel and Ukraine while Colombia stated that “in accordance with the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, [it] reiterates that it has neither promulgated nor applied any unilateral laws or measures against Cuba, in keeping with its policy of respect for international law and its commitment to the principles of political independence, self-determination of peoples and non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations. Consequently, Colombia promotes the independent development of the internal policies of every nation and believes that any measure that undermines economic and commercial development and the well-being of the population should cease.”

[3] U.N. General Assembly, Draft Resolution: Necessity of ending the ecdonomic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba (Oct. 8, 2019).

[4] Bruno Rodriguez: ‘There is no Cuban family that does not suffer the consequences of the blockade (+ Video), Cubadebate (Nov. 7, 20MINREX, Rodriguez  Speech at U.N. (Nov. 6, 2019); U.S. Mission to U.N., Remarks at a U.N. General Assembly Meeting on the Cuba Embargo Resolution (Nov. 7, 2019); U.S. Mission to U.N., Remarks at a U.N. General Assembly Press Stakeout Following Vote on the Cuba Embargo Resolution (Nov. 7, 2019).

[5] This blog has commented on previous Cuba embargo resolutions at the U.N. General Assembly, proposed U.S. legislation to end the embargo and related subjects. See the posts listed in the “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

 

Voters Approve  School Bond Referenda in Worthington, Minnesota  

On November 5, the voters  in the Independent School District of Worthington, Minnesota approved, 1,780 to 1,644, a $ 33.7 million school bonding proposal to construct a new intermediate school with additional $5 million funding from the District’s general fund. The voters also approved, 1,760 to 1,662, the district’s proposal to refinance $14 million in debt so that agriculture property becomes eligible for tax credit.[1]

This outcome was attributable, in part, to a get-out-the-vote effort led by a local group, Seeds of Change. It mobilized “immigrant families, whose children sit in the majority of the desks in those crowded schools, . . . door knocking, phone banking, translating ballots into some of the 37 languages their neighbors speak.” One of these volunteers, “Aida Simon, who works several days a week as a translator at the crowded middle school her children attend, . . . said the election result made her feel like she belonged in Worthington. ‘It felt like this is my town, my community. I’m going nowhere,” she said. “This is where I’m going to raise my kids and I’m going to invest all I have.’”

The District’s Superintendent, John Landgaard, said, he was “thrilled” that the vote will allow the needs of the students and staff to be met. “Supporting our kids is important.” Similar thoughts were voiced by the chairperson of the District’s board, Brad Shaffer. These approvals came after four other bonding proposals had been defeated, 2016-2019.

Background on these schools and bonding proposals was set forth in a lengthy article in the Sunday StarTribune before the voting.[2] It noted, “As recently as 20 years ago, more than three-fourths of Worthington’s residents were white. Today, 60% are people of color, as well as 70% of the students in the school district. Much of the shift stems from the rush of immigrants who arrived here seeking work, many of them finding it at JBS Pork, a slaughterhouse on the edge of town that employs 2,400 workers.”

Although some residents had resisted spending more money on the schools for these newcomers, “Many residents praise the new arrivals, noting the economic and cultural vitality they bring to the city. At least 50 local businesses, including restaurants, grocery stores, auto shops and accounting firms, are owned by immigrants. Downtown houses several Mexican restaurants, Asian and Hispanic food markets, and stores selling imported goods. And each day around 4 p.m., after the early shift has let out at JBS, families stream into Panaderia Mi Tierra, a Latino bakery, where they pluck pastries from glass cases.”

“In the downtown, all the storefronts are full and it’s busy,” said Sharon Johnson, a lifelong resident who owns a downtown jewelry store and also serves as director of community education. “The cultures we are exposed to through music and food and art have really made this a wonderful place to live.”

“Bill Keitel owns Buffalo Billfold Co., a leather goods shop, and also owns rental property. “As a landlord, if I didn’t have these immigrants, my property values would plummet — as would everybody’s,” he said. “I look on them as our salvation, not our problem.”

Although many farmers in the school district opposed the bonding, one of them, Matt Widboom, voiced support. He said, ““It’s a lot [of money], but it’s an investment.” The county (Nobles)  and Worthington are among the few places in rural Minnesota that are rapidly growing, and education will be a key to sustaining the growth. “There are two jobs for every person in Nobles County. We don’t have the people to fill the jobs. We need to retain these kids.”

Congratulations to Worthington for welcoming these immigrants. [3]

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[1] Sobotka, All area school referendums approved by voters, The Globe (Nov. 5, 2019); Sobotka, UPDATED, District 518 voters approve all three referendum questions, The Globe (Nov. 5, 2019).Brooks, After all-out push, students get a ‘yes’ vote on Worthington schools, StarTribune (Nov. 6, 2019); Miller, Minn. town split over immigration agrees on sixth try to expand overcrowded schools, Wash. Post (Nov. 6, 2019.

[2] Reinan, Worthington, Minn., schools a test of immigration policy, StarTribune (Nov. 3, 2019).

[3] See also these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Minnesota’s Challenges of Declining, Aging Population (Oct. 2, 2019); Worthington’s Mayor Defends His City (Oct. 3, 2019); Immigrants’ Stories from Worthington Minnesota (Oct. 21, 2019).

 

No Mention of Cuba in New U.S. Report on Terrorism

On November 1, 2019, the U.S. State Department released its latest annual report on terrorism in the world, this for calendar 2018.  It had no mention of Cuba. [1]

For the calendar years, 1981-2014, such reports listed Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.” But the report for 2014 also stated, “on April 14, 2015, President Obama submitted to Congress the statutorily required report and certifications indicating the Administration’s intent to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation, including the certification that Cuba has not provided any support for international terrorism during the previous six-months; and that Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future. The required 45-day Congressional pre-notification period expired, and the Secretary of State made the final decision to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, effective on May 29, 2015.” [2]

Thereafter in the annual reports for 2015, 2016, 2017 and now 2018, Cuba was eliminated from this category. Moreover, for 2016, 2017 and now 2018 there was no mention of Cuba at all. [3]

At the press briefing on the report for 2016, a  journalist asked whether then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson himself had made the decision not to put Cuba back on the list of state sponsors since at his Senate confirmation hearing he had testified that he “wanted to examine the criteria under which Cuba was removed from the list” for the year 2014. [4]

At that briefing, a  State Department official responded: “Cuba was removed, and there is no requirement within the report for an individual chapter on every single country around the world. We produce chapters in the Country Reports based upon material, frankly, to include in the report. So it was assessed that there was not sufficient information there to provide a report this year on Cuba, but it was removed from the state sponsor list previously.”

The continued non-inclusion of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” in this latest report, in this blogger’s opinion, is the proper conclusion and perhaps a sign that the Trump Administration’s rhetoric about Cuba is louder and stronger than its bite. This also is good news in light of calls by some this year for re-designating Cuba as such a “sponsor.”[5]

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[1] State Dep’t, Country Reports on Terrorism 2018 (Nov. 1, 2019)

[2] State Dep’t, Country Reports on Terrorism 2014

[3] State Dep’t, Country Reports on Terrorism 2015 (June 2, 2016); U.S. State Dep’t, Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 (July 19, 2017); U.S. State Dep’t, Press Release: State Department Releases Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 (July 19, 2017); U.S. State Dep’t, Press Briefing: Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism Justin Siberell on the Release of Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 (July 19, 2017); State Dep’t, Country Reports on Terrorism 2017 (Sept. 19, 2018).

[4] Welsh, State Department drops Cuba entirely from annual detail of terrorist activity, McClatchy (July 19, 2017); No Mention of Cuba in U.S. State Department’s Latest Report on Terrorism, dwkcommentareis.com (July 22, 2017).

[5]  U.S. Considering Re-Designating Cuba as “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 26, 2019);Congressmen Reiterate Call for Re-Designation of Cuba as “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 21, 2019).

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U.S.  Sets 18,000 Quota for New Refugee Admissions to U.S.

On November 1, President Trump set 18,000 as the quota for refugee admissions into the U.S. for Fiscal 2020 (October 1, 2019—September 30, 2020).[1] These admissions shall be allocated among refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States in accordance with the following allocations:

Number Category
5,000 Refugees who:have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of religion
4,000 Iraqi refugees
1,500 Refugees who are nationals or habitual residents of El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras:
7,500 Other refugees
18,000 TOTAL

The President also specified that for Fiscal Year 2020, the following persons may, if otherwise qualified, be considered refugees for the purpose of admission to the United States within their countries of nationality or habitual residence: (a.) persons in Cuba; (b.) persons in Eurasia and the Baltics; (c ) persons in Iraq; (d)  persons in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador; and (e) in exceptional circumstances, persons identified by a United States Embassy in any location.

Moreover, President Trump added another potential barrier to refugee entrants with an executive order requiring state and local governments to provide written consent to refugee resettlements.

Reactions [2]

This quota is the lowest since the introduction of the U.S. refugee program in 1980. In Fiscal 2017, the last full year of the Obama Administration, the quota was 85,000 while the Trump Administration’s first two years (Fiscal 2018 and 2019) set the quotas at 53,000 and 30,000.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said, “At a time of record forced displacement in the world, lower admissions constrain UNHCR’s ability to deliver on its refugee protection mandate and diminish our humanitarian negotiating power at the global level. As the agency mandated by the UN General Assembly to lead and coordinate the international response to refugees, UNHCR is naturally troubled by this trend in the United States and elsewhere.”

Similar negative reactions came from international non-governmental organizations concerned with refugees.

The International Rescue Committee said the U.S. decision broke with 40 years or precedent. “This measure completely ignores the welcome that communities have provided to refugees, as well as the important contributions resettled refugees have made to these communities all across the country,” Jennifer Sime, its senior vice president, said.

Church World Service, a resettlement agency, said through Its president, Rev. John L. Mccullough,  “With one final blow, the Trump administration has snuffed out Lady Liberty’s torch and ended our nation’s legacy of compassion and welcome.”

Betsy Fisher, the director of strategy for the International Refugee Assistance Project, said,“The shockingly low refugee admissions goal and the executive order will all but ensure that people in need of safety will be left in dangerous conditions and separated from their families. These policies will prevent refugees from being resettled, even though communities across the nation stand ready to welcome them.”

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[1] White House, Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2020 (Nov. 1, 2019); State Dep’t, Presidential  Determination on Refugee Admissions for Fiscal 2020 (Nov. 2, 2019); Assoc. Press, Trump Approves Plan to Cap Refugees at 18,000 in 2020, N.Y. Times (Nov. 2, 2019); Shear & Kanno-Youngs, Trump Slashes Refugee Cap to 18,000, Curtailing U.S. Role as Haven, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2019).

[2] UNHCR, UNHCR troubled by latest U.S. refugee resettlement cut, UNHCR (Nov. 2, 2019); Reuters, UN ‘troubled’ by Donald Trump’s cut to refugee numbers, Newshub (Nov. 3, 2019).

 

                                                                                                                                 

 

 

 

 

 

Human Rights Commentaries by Mary Ann Glendon, Chair of the Commission on Unalienable Rights

A prior post reviewed the limited public record (to date) of the first meeting on October 23 of the Commission on Unalienable Rights.

To gain a better understanding of what to expect from the Commission, this blog will examine two recent commentaries on human rights by, and an interview of, the Commission’s Chair, Mary Ann Glendon, the Learned Hand Professor of Law at the Harvard Law School, the author of a major book about the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) [1] and a prominent Roman Catholic who was U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican in the George W. Bush Administration. The Conclusion will evaluate her comments and those made by others at the first meeting.

Reclaim Human Rights (August 2016) [2]

Glendon began this article by acknowledging that she had been a participant in the Ramsey Colloquium’s 1998 affirmation of the UDHR as “the most available discourse for cross-cultural deliberation about the dignity of the human person” and as making “possible a truly universal dialogue about our common human future.” [3] She also affirmed she was “a longtime supporter of the cautious use of rights language, and a frequent critic of its misuses.”

Nevertheless, Glendon said that a 2016 criticism of human rights by R.R. Reno, the editor of First Things, [4] caused her to “ponder whether the noble post-World War II universal human rights idea has finally been so manipulated and politicized as to justify its abandonment by men and women of good will.”

According to Glendon, by “1998, governments and human-rights organizations alike were ignoring the fact that the UDHR was constructed as an integrated document whose core fundamental rights were meant to be ‘interdependent and indivisible.’ [However, by 1998, the] sense of the interdependence among rights and the connections between rights and responsibilities was fading.” Moreover, “a host of special-interest groups [were inspired] to capture the moral force and prestige of the human-rights project for their own purposes. . . .[The] core of basic human rights that might be said to be universal was being undermined by ‘multiplying the number of interests, goods, and desires that are elevated to the status of rights.”

As a result, by 2016, she argues, “the post-World War II dream of universal human rights risks dissolving into scattered rights of personal autonomy.”

Reno’s criticism of human rights, Glendon continues, emphasizes “the way that human rights as an ideology detracts from the difficult and demanding work of politics.” This is especially true in the U.S., she says, as “judicially-created rights have displaced political judgements that could and should have been left to the ordinary processes of bargaining, education, persuasion, and voting.” This has damaged “the American democratic experiment” by making it more difficult to correct an unwise judicial decision, intensifying “the politicization of the judicial selection process,” depriving “the country of the benefits of experimentation with different solutions to difficult problems” and accelerating “the flight from politics.”

Glendon concludes by urging “church leaders and people of good will to make every effort to connect the human-rights project to an affirmation of the essential interplay between individual rights and democratic values. We should insist on the connection between rights and responsibilities. And we should foster an appreciation of the ultimate dependence of rights upon the creation of rights-respecting cultures.”

 “Renewing Human Rights” (February 2019) [5]

“When Eleanor Roosevelt and a small group of people gathered at the behest of the U.N. in early 1947 to draft the world’s first ‘international bill of rights’” (the subsequent UDHR), the “idea that some rights could be universal—applicable across all the world’s different societies—was controversial.”

“Yet in the decades that followed, the UDHR . . . successfully challenged the view that sovereignty provided an iron shield behind which states could mistreat their people without outside scrutiny.”

“But now . . . the international human rights idea is in crisis, losing support both at home and abroad. Good intentions, honest mistakes, power politics, and plain old opportunism have all played a role in a growing skepticism, and even a backlash.”

As Glendon sees it, “there were three stages” to this change: [1] a pick-and-choose attitude toward rights initiated by the two superpowers in the Cold War era [U.S. and U.S.S.R.]; [2] an over-extension of the concept once the human rights idea showed its moral force; and [3] a forgetfulness of the hard-won wisdom of the men and women who had lived through two world wars.”

“The end of the Cold War increased the influence of human rights. American predominance, Western ideological ascendancy, a series of atrocities and conflicts, and a growing role for the United Nations and other international actors spurred the rapid growth of human rights activism in the 1990s. By the 2000s, there were many human rights organizations, including specialists, activists, agencies for monitoring and enforcement, and academic journals.”

These changes brought about “an interventionist approach, backed by Western—especially American—power. . . .  The establishment of state-like institutions such as the International Criminal Court (which the United States ultimately did not endorse), and doctrines such as the ‘Responsibility to Protect,’ reflected this shift. They increased the human rights field’s ability to frame the international agenda and set global standards. . . .  This encouraged an expansion in the number of basic rights.”

“Given that individual rights were gaining ascendancy, the role of social institutions and non-­individualistic values were deemphasized. A one-size-fits-all approach triumphed over the idea of a common standard that could be brought to life in a variety of legitimate ways. The indivisibility and inter­dependence of fundamental rights were ­forgotten.”

Some states now object to “uniform methods of interpreting and implementing” human rights treaties and to “supra­national institutions. They are remote from the people whose lives they affect. They lack public scrutiny and accountability, are susceptible to lobbying and political influence, and have no internal checks and balances.”

According to Glendon, the following “four major principles that the UDHR’s framers followed [in 1947-48] can reinvigorate the human rights idea in our own time:”

  • Modesty concerning universality. “The framers wisely confined themselves to a small set of principles so basic that no country or group would openly reject them. This was essential not only in order to gain broad political support within the U.N., but also to ensure that the Declaration would have deep and long-lasting support across vastly different cultures, belief systems, and political ideologies.”
  • Flexible universalism.” The UDHR framers “understood that there would always be different ways of applying human rights to different social and political contexts, and that each country’s circumstances would affect how it would fulfill its requirements.” For example, . . . [UDHR’s] Article 22 provides: ‘Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international cooperation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.’ (Emphasis added.) Another example is Article 14, which states, ‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution,’ but is silent on how that right should be protected.
  • Interdependence of basic rights.” The UDHR makes it clear “that everyone’s rights depend on respect for the rights of others, on the rule of law, and on a healthy civil society. . . . The framers of the [UDHR] did not expect uniform management of tensions or conflicts between rights. . . . [and instead] assumed that communities must balance the weight of claims of one right versus another before determining the best course of action.” Only a few rights do not allow such variation: “protections for freedom of religion and conscience” as well as “prohibitions of torture, enslavement, degrading punishment, . . .retroactive penal measures, and other grave violations of human dignity.”
  • “Subsidiarity.” Emphasis on “the primacy of the lowest level of implementation that can do the job, reserving national or international actors for situations where smaller entitles are incapable.” This principle, as stated in the UDHR’s Proclamation, also calls on “every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms.”

Glendon concludes by arguing for a new human rights goal: “the systematic elimination of a narrow set of evils for which a broad consensus exists across all societies. This would at least include “protections against genocide; slavery; torture; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; retroactive penal measures; deportation or forcible transfer of population; discrimination based on race, color, sex, language, religion, nationality, or social origin; and protection for freedom of conscience and religion.”

Glendon Interview [6]

On August 3, 2019, Glendon was interviewed by Jack Goldsmith, another Harvard Law School professor of international law. Here are her comments that were not already expressed in the above articles.

She said there was confusion and crisis in human rights with roughly half of the world’s population without any rights and exasperated by disappointing performance of international human rights institutions.

Socrates said that definition of terms was the beginning of wisdom, and this is especially important since human rights are now important parts of U.S. foreign policy.

The concept of “unalienable rights,” which the printer of the original Declaration of Independence substituted for Thomas Jefferson’s draft’s use of “inalienable,” has evolved with the U.S. Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution) and the words of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.

While the U.S. Declaration of Independence talked about “laws of nature” or pre-political rights, the UDHR is grounded in the world’s religious and philosophical traditions.

Glendon emphasized the civil and political rights in the UDHR were interdependent with economic and social rights and pointed to the New Deal and the preambles of many U.S. statutes on economic and social issues as expressing this interdependence. This also is stated in Article 22 of the UDHR: ‘Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.’” (Emphasis added.) This provision rejected the Soviet Union’s position that the state was solely responsible for such rights with Eleanor Roosevelt saying during the deliberations over the UDHR that no one had figured out how to do that without loss of freedom.

Another emphasis of Glendon was on the UDHR Proclamation’s words: ‘every individual and every organ of society, Keeping the [UDHR] constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of [U.N.] Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.” Or as Judge Learned Hand said, ‘The spirit of liberty will die if not in the hearts of the people.’

Reactions

 Glendon’s primary focus in these two articles and interview is the UDHR, which is mentioned as one of two  guiding authorities for the Commission on Unalienable Rights, but Glendon has less to say about the U.S. Declaration of Independence, which is the other guiding authority for this Commission.

We all should seek to follow her emphasizing the UDHR’s interdependency of civil and political rights with economic and social rights and the importance of every individual and every organ of society striving by teaching and education to promote respect for human rights and freedoms.

The UDHR indeed is an important international human rights instrument. But it is a declaration adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948. It does not by itself establish legal obligations on any nation state or other person.

In any event, Glendon says nothing about another provision of the UDHR’s Proclamation: “every individual and every organ of society , keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive . . . by progressive measures, national and international, to secure [these rights and freedoms] universal and effective recognition and observance.” (Emphasis added.) In other words, the UDHR itself contemplated that there should be additional measures, including national legislation and international treaties, to secure the rights and freedoms articulated in the UDHR and, by implication, that these other measures will include “rights” language. Moreover, under the principle of “flexible universalism,” a developed and wealthy country like the U.S. could well find ways to secure the rights mentioned in the UDHR that are more complex than those in other countries.

A similar principle for the Commission exists in the U.S. Declaration of Independence.  It says, as the Commission emphasizes, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But the very next sentence of the U.S. Declaration says, but the Glendon and the Commission ignore, “That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” (Emphasis added.) In other words, the U.S. Declaration contemplates that the not yet established U.S. government subsequently will enact statutes that protect the unalienable rights, only three of which are specifically mentioned in the Declaration.[7] These are not “ad hoc” rights as Secretary Pompeo likes to say.

As a result, after the 1948 adoption of the UDHR, various U.N. organizations have drafted and adopted many international human rights treaties,[8] and the U.S. federal and state governments have adopted many human rights statutes and regulations.

This obvious point is surprisingly overlooked by Glendon when she lauds UDHR’s Article 14 on the right to asylum as an example of flexible universalism because it does not say how that right should be protected. But the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees that entered into force on April 22, 1954, defines”refugee” and specifies many conditions for that protection while limiting reservations under Article 42. Presumably she is not arguing that this treaty was a mistake.

Indeed, we should all celebrate, not complain as Secretary Pompeo likes to do, that there has been such proliferation or in Glendon’s words, “too much contemporary emphasis on ‘rights’ language. These arguments by Pompeo and Glendon can be seen as underhanded ways to cut back or eliminate rights that they do not like, which I assume would include abortion and LGBQ rights. Such rights constantly are criticized by her church (Roman Catholic) and by the Commission’s creator, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, and others in the State Department.[9]

Criticism of Glendon’s apparent adherence to traditional Roman Catholic teachings on some of these issues comes from her successor as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican in the Obama Administration, Miguel Diaz, along with 128 Catholic activists and leaders, in a letter opposing the Commission. [10] They said, “Our faith and our commitment to the principles of democracy require us to view every person on earth as a full human being. We staunchly support the fundamental human rights of all people and proudly carry on the long tradition in our country of advocating for expanding human rights around the world. Our concern is that this Commission will undermine these goals by promoting a vision of humanity that is conditional, limiting, and based on a very narrow religious perspective that is inconsistent with the beliefs and practices of billions in this country and around the world. Our faith and our commitment to the principles of democracy require us to view every person on earth as a full human being. We staunchly support the fundamental human rights of all people and proudly carry on the long tradition in our country of advocating for expanding human rights around the world,” they write. “Our concern is that this Commission will undermine these goals by promoting a vision of humanity that is conditional, limiting, and based on a very narrow religious perspective that is inconsistent with the beliefs and practices of billions in this country and around the world. Of most urgent concern is that the composition of the Commission indicates that it will lead our State Department to adopt policies that will harm people who are already vulnerable, especially poor women, children, LGBTI people, immigrants, refugees, and those in need of reproductive health services. This is being done “in the name of a very partial version of Christianity that is being promoted by the current Administration.” “All human beings,” however, “have been created in God’s image and all have been endowed by their Creator with the fundamental right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. No person speaking in the name of government or in the name of God can do so to undermine or to deny this right.”

Nor does Glendon discuss how to resolve conflicts among rights. For example, the U.S. Declaration’s mention of “life” as one of the “unalienable rights” is taken by some, and probably Glendon, as a basis for arguing there should be no right to an abortion. But an abortion may be necessary to protect an expectant woman’s right to “life” or her “pursuit of happiness.”  How are those conflicts resolved? That is why we have federal and state and international courts and agencies to resolve these conflicts or disputes.

The previously cited “four major principles” of the UDHR are worthy of remembering and guiding future human rights, internationally and domestically.

Glendon, however, fails to acknowledge the continued use of the “flexible universalism” principle in human rights treaties that allow for their ratification by nation states with reservations for at least some of the treaty’s provisions. And, of course, a state may chose not to ratify a treaty and thereby not be bound by any of its provisions. [11] Moreover, there are mechanisms for other states and international agencies to address these reservations and non-ratifications. For example, in the U.H. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process, the Council and other states may, and do, make recommendations for states to withdraw reservations or ratify certain treaties. The same was done by the Council’s predecessor, the U.N. Human Rights Committee.[12]

The words of Professor Michael McConnell from the Commission’s first meeting should also be remembered in this evaluation of its ongoing work. He warned that the term “‘unalienable rights,’ which comes to us from our country’s protestant reform traditions, has never had a common or precise definition. The phrase identifies a philosophical concept, rather than a concrete set of rights.  And while the concept often prioritizes freedom of religion, McConnell cautioned that our founders were ultimately more concerned with freedom of conscience, which includes but is not limited to a narrow understanding of religious freedom.”

“McConnell also recognized the implicit failures of this philosophical approach.  While the term ‘unalienable rights’ makes for inspirational prose, the philosophical concept behind it embraced our country’s original sin of slavery and denied women full standing in society. Concepts of equal protection could not, and did not, exist at this time, under this philosophical tradition.”

Andrea Schmitt of the Center for American Progress who attended  the Commission’s first meeting also had words of wisdom for the Commission. She said, “It is simply wrong-headed and ultimately self-defeating to create an artificial human rights hierarchy — one that strips away the universality of human rights and puts a limited number of political and religious rights above all others.  Indeed, this enterprise stands to harm religious freedom itself, as it gives philosophical justification to theocratic governments and religious majority populations who are, by far, the leading persecutors of religious minorities around the world.”

We all should thank Professor Glendon for her expertise and willingness to serve as Chair of the Commission. Those of us interested in international human rights need to carefully follow the Commission’s deliberations and eventual reports and express our agreements and disagreements with respect and reasoned arguments.

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[1] Glendon, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Random House 2001); The Importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, dwkcommentaries.com (July 11, 2019).

[2] Glendon, Reclaim Human Rights, First Things (Aug. 2016).

[3] The Ramsey Colloquium apparently published reflections about early Christianity’s treatment of homosexuality. (Graeser, The Ramsey Colloquium and Other First Things Resources, Mars Hill Audio (June 29, 2001).

[4] Reno, Against Human Rights, First Things (May 2016). Reno is a former professor of theology and ethics at Creighton University, a Jesuit institution until 2010 when he became the editor of First Things. In 2004 at age 45 he left the Episcopal Church to join the Roman Catholic Church and  describes himself as a theological and political conservative. First Things, which describes itself as“America’s most influential journal of religion and public life,” is published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and educational 501(c)(3) organization. The Institute was founded in 1989 by Richard John Neuhaus and his colleagues to confront the ideology of secularism, which insists that the public square must be ‘naked,’ and that faith has no place in shaping the public conversation or in shaping public policy.” The Institute’s mission is to articulate a governing consensus that supports: a religiously pluralistic society that defends human dignity from conception to natural death; a democratic, constitutionally ordered form of government supported by a religiously and morally serious culture; a vision of freedom that encourages a culture of personal and communal responsibility; and loyalty to the Western tradition that provides a basis for responsible global citizenship.”

[5]  Glendon & Kaplan, Renewing Human Rights, First Things (Feb. 2019) The co-author, Seth D. Kaplan, is a professorial lecturer at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University. He is a consultant to organizations such as the World Bank, USAID, State Department, United Nations and African Development Bank.

[6] Howell, The Lawfare Podcast: Mary Ann Glendon on Unalienable Rights, Lawfare (Aug. 3, 2019).

[7] See The U.S. Declaration of Independence’s Relationship to the U.S. Constitution and Statutes, dwkcommentaries.com (July 5, 2019).

[8] As of 2009, there were at least the following significant multilateral human rights treaties: (1) U.N. Charter; (2) International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; (3) First Optional Covenant to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; (4) Covenant on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; (5) Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees; (6) Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees; (7) International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; (8) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; (9) Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; (10) Convention on the Rights of the Child; (11) Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the elimination of the death penalty; (12) International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; (13) Statute of the International Court; and (14) International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities. (Weissbrodt, Ni Aoláin, Fitzpatrick & Newman, International Human Rights: Law, Policy, and Process at 33-35 (Lexis/Nexis 4th edition 2009).)

[9] See, e.g.,  U.S. Opposition to “Abortion” and “Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights” at U.N. High-Level Meeting, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 25, 2019).

[10] White, Former U.S. envoy to Vatican opposes new commission headed by predecessor, Crux (Jul. 23, 2019).

[11] Under international law, “A State may, when signing, ratifying, accepting, approving, or acceding to a treaty, formulate a reservation unless (a) the reservation is prohibited by a treaty; (b) the treaty provides that only specified reservations, which do not include the reservation  in question, may be made; or (c) in cases not falling under sub-paragraphs (a) or (b), the reservation is incompatible with the object and purpose of the treaty.” (Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, arts. 19 (1980); id. Arts. 2(1) (d),20, 21, 22 )  See also,e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Multilateral Treaties Signed, But Not Ratified, by the U.S., dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 12, 2013); Multilateral Human Rights Treaties That Have Not Been Signed and Ratified by the U.S., dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 16, 2013).

[12] See, e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.H. Human Rights Committee’s Review of U.S. Human Rights (April 19, 2014); U.N. Human Rights Committee’s Hearings About U.S. Human Rights (April 21, 2014); U.N. Human Rights Committee‘s Concluding Observations on U.S. Human Rights (April 24, 2014); Cameroon’s Human Rights Record Being Subjected to Universal Periodic Review by U.N. Human Rights Council: Background (June 12, 2018); Cameroon’s Human Rights Record Being Subjected to Universal Periodic Review by U.N. Human Rights Council: The Pre-Hearing Papers (June 12, 2018); Cameroon’s Human Rights Record Being Subjected to Universal Periodic Review by U.N. Human Rights Council: The UPR Hearing (June 16, 2018); U.N. Human Rights Council’s Final Consideration of Cameroon’s Universal Periodic Review (Sept. 20, 2018).