U.S. Resettlement of Refugees and Recent Afghan Evacuees

The U.S. currently is engaged in resettling in this country refugees from around the world under previously established international refugee resettlement processes as well as recent Afghan evacuees under newly modified processes for Afghans.

Here is a summary of the legal requirements and administrative procedures for these important developments.

U.S. Resettlement of Refugees

  1. International Legal Protection of Refuges[1]

In 1951 an international conference of diplomats adopted an international treaty to protect refugees (Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees).

This treaty went into effect or force in April 1954 after its ratification by six states. However, the U.S. did not directly ratify this treaty, but did so indirectly in 1968 when under the leadership of President Lyndon Johnson the U.S. ratified a treaty amendment (Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees).

The U.S., however, did not adopt implementing legislation until 1980, when President Jimmy Carter led the adoption of the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980, which included the treaty’s following definition of “refugee” (with U.S. express addition for “past” persecution):

  • “ (A)ny person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality . . . and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of [past] persecution or a well-founded fear of [future] persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.. . . ”

As of January 20, 2020, there were 146 parties to the Convention and 147 to the Protocol.

  1. International Resettlement of Refugees[2]

After international cooperation on resettlement of specific groups of refugees, 1956-1995, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 1995 organized the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement for the UNHCR, nation states and civil society. By the end of 2019, these consultations had established a global resettlement policy and procedures to attempt to provide locations for such resettlement that can provide the services that refugees need. These procedures have resulted in resettlement of over 1 million refugees: 90 percent of whom came from Myanmar, Syrian Arab Republic, Iraq, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia and were resettled in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

At the end of 2019, the UNHCR estimated there were 26 million refugees in the world, about one half of whom are under the age of 18. This group is part of the 79.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world (the other 53.5 million are forcibly displaced within their own countries and thus not entitled to refugee status).

  1. U.S. Resettlement of Refugees[3]

The U.S. has participated in this international resettlement program under the overall direction of the Departments of State and Homeland Security.

Under U.S. law the U.S. President establishes annual quotas for such resettlements. The largest such quota was 200,000 in 1980 when President Carter led the U.S. adoption of the Refugee Act of 1980. In 1999 under President Clinton the quota was 132,631, and in 2016 under President Obama it was 84,994.

For Fiscal 2019 President Trump reduced the number of refugees for resettlement in U.S. to 15,000 and required cities and counties to file written affirmative consents for such resettlements with the State Department, but a federal court held that requirement was illegal. Nevertheless, many states, including Minnesota, granted such consents along with statements about the many contributions by refugees to their states.

President Biden initially said he would maintain the 15,000 quota set by Trump for this fiscal year, but after strong objections by influential Senators and others, the White House on May 3, 2021, stated the it was revising the quota to 62,500 for this fiscal year although it was unlikely that it would meet that number by that year’s end on 9/30/21. President Biden also said that he intends to increase the quota for the next fiscal year to 125,000.

  1. Refugee Resettlement in Minnesota [4]

From 2005 through 2019 the State of Minnesota had resettled 33,189 refugees. The largest numbers came from Somalia (13,674), Burma (8,604), Ethiopia (2,194), Laos (2,042), Iraq (1,290), Bhutan (1,188) and Liberia (1,171).

For Fiscal 2021 (ending 9/30/21), Minnesota had a resettlement goal of 500, but as of 5/12/21 had received only 30. They came from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia, Ukraine and Republic of Moldova (Eastern European county and former part of USSR). Because of COVID-19, the goal of 500 probably will not be met.

For Fiscal 2022 (before the evacuation of Afghans), Minnesota expected to have a resettlement goal of 1,900 given President Biden’s stated intent to increase the national total to 125,000.

Such resettlements are coordinated by refugee resettlement agencies in the State: Minnesota Council of Churches (Refugee Services), International Institute of Minnesota, Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota and Arrive Ministries.

Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, where this blogger is a member, is launching its Refugee Co-Sponsorship Team of six to twelve individuals under the leadership of three “champions” with guidance of the Minnesota Council of Churches and anticipates receiving its first refugee family this October.

Our Team’s commitment is for four to six months starting with setting up an apartment selected by the Council with furnishings that it and our Team provides; welcoming the family on their arrival at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport and transporting them to their apartment;  helping the family’s orientation to their new neighborhood, city and services; transporting them to various meetings and shopping; assisting school registration for any children and adult ESL enrollment; providing information about various public services and obligations; and helping them find employment. In short, being friends to our new residents. The co-sponsorship ends with a closing ceremony, transitioning the relationship to mutual friendship, rather than a continued helping relationship. [5]

U.S. Resettlement of Recent Afghan Evacuees.

The recent turmoil in Afghanistan has resulted  in the U.S. evacuation from that country of approximately 130,000 people (124,000 Afghans and 6,000 U.S. citizens).

Many of the Afghan allies with U.S. special immigrant visa applications and their families who recently escaped Afghanistan were flown from Kabul to Washington, D.C. for their subsequent transfer to U.S. forts in Virginia (Fort Lee),Texas (Fort Bliss) and western Wisconsin (Fort McCoy, which is about 169 miles southeast of Minneapolis). Others were flown to U.S. military bases in other countries for processing and hoped-for transfers to the U.S.[6]

This summary is based upon the cited sources with recognition that this is a very complex and changing situation and readers’ corrections and amplifications are most welcome.

  1. Legal Status of Afghan Evacuees[7]

Most, if not all, of these Afghans have not been through the previously described procedures for resettlement of refugees and have not been determined to meet the requirements for refugee status. (Some articles erroneously refer to them as “Afghan refugees.”)

Instead, they are being vetted by U.S. agencies for meeting the following requirements for Afghan Special Immigrant Visas (“SIVs”):

  • employment in Afghanistan for at least one year between October 7, 2001, and December 31, 2023, by or on behalf of the U.S. government or by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), or a successor mission in a capacity that required the applicant to serve as an interpreter or translator for U.S. military personnel while traveling off-base with U.S. military personnel stationed at ISAF or to perform activities for U.S. military personnel stationed at ISAF; and
  • Have experienced or be experiencing an ongoing threat as a consequence of their employment.

Alternatively some Afghans might be eligible for Priority 2 (P-2) designation granting U.S. Refugee Admissions Program access for Afghans and their eligible family members by satisfying one of the following conditions:

  • “Afghans who do not meet the minimum time-in-service for a SIV but who work or worked as employees of contractors, locally-employed staff, interpreters/translators for the U.S. government, U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOXRX-A), International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), or Resolute Support;”
  • “Afghans who work or worked for a U.S. government-funded program or project in Afghanistan supported through a U.S. government grant or cooperative agreement;” or
  • “Afghans who are or were employed in Afghistan by a U.S.-based media organization or non-governmental organization.”

Afghans also could be eligible for “the Priority (P-1) program by virtue of their circumstances and apparent need for resettlement who are referred to the P-1 program . . .  by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a U.S. embassy, or a designated NGO.”

However, an Associated Press reporter claims that “the majority will arrive without visas as ‘humanitarian parolees,’ lacking a path to legal U.S. residency and the benefits and services offered to traditional refugees, according to U.S. officials and worried aid groups working closely with the government.” Instead, “Afghan parolees who have arrived at U.S. military bases will be eligible for an ad hoc State Department program that provides limited assistance for up to 90 days, including a one-time $1,250 stipend. But they will not have the full range of medical, counseling and resettlement services available to immigrants who arrive through the U.S. refugee program.”

  1. U.S. Administrative Agencies Involved in “Operation Allies Welcome[8]

On August 19, 56 Senators sent a bipartisan letter to President Biden calling for “the urgent evacuation of Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants and their families, as well as the full and immediate implementation of [the above legislation] to expand the Afghan SIV program and streamline the application process.”

That message was in accord with the Biden Administration’s desires. On August 29, President Biden directed the Department of Homeland Security to be the lead agency coordinating this resettlement effort and that agency’s Secretary (Alejandro N. Mayorkas) simultaneously appointed Robert J. Fenton, Jr. with 29 years of experience in FEMA large-scale response and recovery efforts to lead the interagency Unified Coordination Group in this effort. He will be working with Jack Markell, a former Delaware Governor and now the White House’s coordinator of “Operation Allies Welcome.”

  1. Resettlement of Afghan Evacuees in U.S. [9]

Operation Allies Welcome is asking the nonprofit organizations that have contracted with the U.S. State Department for resettlement of refugees to also handle the resettlement of the Afghan evacuees. This task is made much more difficult by last year’s shrinkage of these agencies caused by President Trump’s reduction of the quota for such resettlement to 15,000 and the associated reduction of federal financial support for same and by the size and unresolved issues about the Afghan evacuees.

  1. Societal Reactions to Afghan Resettlement [10]

There are general reports about positive reactions to such resettlement from U.S. citizens and organizations.

The State of Minnesota did so in an August 19, 2021, letter to President Biden from Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. It stated that Minnesota “in the past . . . has stepped forward to help those who are fleeing desperate situations and need a safe place to call home” while acknowledging, “New Minnesotans strengthen our communities and contribute to the social fabric of our state. They are our neighbors.” Therefore, “we [in Minnesota] stand ready to work with you and your administration to welcome [Afghan] families as this effort to provide safety and refuge continues.”

Minnesota’s U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar has voiced a similar opinion by offering her office’s assistance to American citizens and Afghan allies looking to evacuate that country and by signing a bipartisan letter to the President urging support for evacuation efforts.

In addition, Temple Israel of Minneapolis is embarking on a program to help some of these Afghans to resettle in Minnesota and has enlisted Westminster Presbyterian Church as a co-sponsor for such resettlements. The Temple’s program probably springs from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) as well as a continuous Jewish presence in the territory of Afghanistan from the 8th century CE until the 20th century.[11]

Conclusion[12]

Westminster’s involvement with immigrants is not new in our 160 years. Indeed, the church was established in 1857 by Scottish and Welsh newcomers on land that had been home to the Dakota people for many generations. In 1870 we established our first global mission partnership after our third pastor had visited China and in the 1880s began a formal ministry teaching English and providing support to Chinese immigrants that continued in the 20th century.

Our church also has partnerships with Protestant churches in Cuba, Cameroon and Palestine.

These Westminster ministries are inspired by various Biblical passages.

The book of Leviticus says, “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you. You shall love the sojourner as yourself, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19: 33-34.) (The Hebrew word for “alien” is “ger,”which means stranger in the land, one who sojourns among you.)

Jesus, of course, told stories about heroes who are disliked foreigners, like the good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37) , or when He welcomes those whom others shun as outsiders, like the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4: 1-26) and when He ignores the then current mandate no to pay attention to people living with leprosy or other illnesses (Matthew 8: 1-3).  As our Pastor, Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen said in his recent sermon, “As Christians, our core conviction insists on hospitality to those deemed other by the world around us—and anyone else known to be the most vulnerable in the community.”

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[1] UNHCR, Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of RefugeesRefugee Act of 1980; Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Wikipedia; List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: LAW (REFUGEE & Asylum).

[2]  UNHCR, The History of Resettlement (2019).

[3] U.S. State Dep’t, About Refugee AdmissionsU.S. State Governments Celebrate Refugee Accomplishments, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 2, 2020); U.S. State Dep’t, Report to Congress on Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021 (Oct. 22, 2020); U.S. Reduces Refugee Admissions to 15,000 for Fiscal 2021, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct.  2, 2020); U.S. State Dep’t, Report to Congress on the Proposed Emergency Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021 (Feb. 12, 2021); Joe Biden Raises Trump refugee cap  after backlash, BBC News (May 4, 2021);UNHCR, UNHCR applauds US decision to increase refugee resettlement (May 3, 2001). Minnesota Council of Churches, Refugee Services.

[5]  Minnesota Council of Churches, Refugee Services; Minnesota Council of Churches, Help Afghan Refugees (Aug. 30, 2021); Campbell, Schulze & Krohnke, Our Refugee Family Co-Sponsorship: An Invitation to Love the Sojourner Among Us, Westminster News (Sept. 2021).

[6] U.S. Defense Dep’t, U.S. Seeks to Open More Locations to Aid Evacuation From Kabul, General Says, DOD News (Aug. 21, 2021); Assoc. Press, Afghan refugees arrive, temporarily, in northern Virginia, Wash. Post (Aug. 22, 2021); Assoc. Press, Afghan refugees begin arriving at Fort McCoy in western Wisconsin, StarTribune (Aug. 23, 2021); Musa, The United States Needs an Afghan Refugee Resettlement Act, Foreign Policy (Aug. 19, 2021), ; Baghdassarian & Carney, Special Immigrant Visas for the United States’ Afghan Allies, Lessons Learned from Promises Kept and Broken, Lawfare (Aug. 19, 2021),

[7] State Dep’t, Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans—Who Were Employed by/on behalf of the U.S. Government; State Dep’t, U.S. Refugee Admissions Program Priority Designation 2 for Afghan Nationals (Aug. 2, 2021); Press Release, BREAKING: Senate Passes Shaheen-Ernst Bill to Protect Afghan Allies through SIV Program as Part of Supplemental Spending Bill (July 29, 2021); Emergency Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021, Public Law 117-331, enacted on July 30, 2021; Assoc. Press, For Afghan evacuees arriving to U.S., a tenuous legal status and little financial support, Wash. Post (Sept. 1, 2021).

[8] Shaheen, Ernst Lead Bipartisan Effort Urging the Administration on Immediate Evacuation & Full Implementation of their SIV Legislation Aug. 19, 2021). Homeland Security Dep’t, DHS to Serve as Lead Federal Agency Coordinating Efforts to Resettle Vulnerable Afghans, (Aug. 29, 2021); Sacchetti, Miroff & Demirjian, Biden names former Delaware governor Jack Markell to serve as point person on Afghan resettlement in the United States, Wash. Post (Sept. 3, 2021).

[9] U.S. Refugee Organizations Race to Prepare for Influx of Afghans, W.S.J. (Aug. 31, 2021). Hackman, Afghan Refugees in the U.S.: How They’re Vetted, Where They Are going and How to Help, W.S.J. (Sept. 3, 2021). Assoc. Press, US faith groups unite to help Afghan refugees after war, StarTribune (Sept. 2, 2021).

[10] Office of Governor Walz & Lt. Governor Flanagan, Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan: Minnesota Stands ready to Welcome Afghan Refugee Families (Aug. 19, 2021); Assoc. Press, Walz extends Minnesota’s welcome mat to Afghan refugees (StarTribune (Aug. 20, 2021). News Release, Klobuchar Announces Office Assistance for Americans and Afghan Allies Evacuating Afghanistan (Aug. 18, 2021).

[11] HIAS Statement on Afghanistan Crisis (Aug. 16, 2021); History of the Jews in Afghanistan, Wikipedia; Oreck, Afghanistan Virtual Jewish History Tour, Jewish Virtual Library; The Jews of Afghanistan, Museum of the Jewish People.  Westminster’s Response to Crisis in Afghanistan (Aug. 8, 2021).

[12] Rev. Timothy Hart-Andersen & Rev. David Tsai Shinn, Sermon: Concerning the Sojourner (June 20, 2021). Westminster Presbyterian Church, Global Partners Ministry Team.

 

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.

==================================

[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).

 

 

 

Multilateral Human Rights Treaties Ratified by the U.S.

The U.S. is a party to at least 19 significant multilateral human rights treaties.[1]

Three of them have been reviewed in posts regarding their complex and lengthy U.S. ratification process: the Convention Against Torture, the Genocide Convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Here is a list of the other 16 such treaties (with the dates they generally entered into force and the dates they were ratified by the U.S. or entered into force for the U.S.):

  1. Slavery Convention (3/9/1927 & 3/21/1929);
  2. Protocol Amending the Slavery Convention (12/7/1953 & 3/7/1956);
  3. Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery (4/30/1957 & 12/6/1967);
  4. Abolition of Forced Labour [sic] Convention (1/17/1959 & 9/25/1992);
  5. Convention Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour [sic] (11/17/2000 & 11/17/2000);
  6. United Nations Charter (10/24/1945 & 10/24/1945); [2]
  7. First  Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of Condition of Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field (10/21/1950 & 2/2/1956);
  8. Second Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of Condition of Wounded and Sick and Shipwrecked in Armed Forces at Sea (10/21/1950 & 2/2/1956);
  9. Third Geneva Convention for Treatment of Prisoners of War (10/21/1950 & 2/2/1956);
  10. Fourth Geneva Convention for the Protection of Civilians in Time of War (10/21/1950 & 2/2/1956);
  11. Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (10/4/1967 & 11/1/1968);[3]
  12. Convention on the Political Rights of Women (7/7/1954 & 7/7/1976);[4]
  13. International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1/4/1969 & 11/20/1994);
  14. Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts) (2/12/2002 & 12/23/2002);
  15. Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography) (1/18/2002 & 12/23/2002); and
  16. Charter of the Organization of American States (12/13/1951 & 12/13/1951).[5]

Merely reviewing the list of these treaties shows the variety of their subjects and the U.S. commitment to international human rights.[6]


[1] See David Weissbrodt, Fionnuala Ni Aolain, Joan Fitzpatrick, Frank Newman, International Human Rights: Law, Policy, and Process at 136-38 (4th ed. LexisNexis 2009) [Weissbrodt Book].

[2] The U.N. Charter’s Preamble states that the “Peoples of the United Nations [are determined] to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.” Its Article 55 requires the U.N. to promote, among other things, “universal respect for . . . human rights . . . without discrimination. . . .” Its Article 68 called for the establishment of a Commission on Human Rights. It should also be noted that in 1944 the U.S. prepared the initial plan for what became the U.N., and it included an international bill of rights. (Weissbrodt Book at 11-13.)

[3] The U.S. ratification of the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees implicitly ratified the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees that generally entered into force on April 22, 1954. The substance of the two treaties was discussed in an earlier post.

[4] This Convention’s Article I states,”Women shall be entitled to vote in all elections on equal terms with men,without any discrimination.”

[5] The Charter of the OAS proclaimed “the fundamental rights of the individual without distinction as to race, nationality, creed, or sex” (Art. 3(1) and the responsibility of each state in its development to “respect the rights of the individual and the principles of universal morality” (Art. 17). The Charter also established the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights “to promote the observance and protection of human rights” and to prepare an “Inter-American convention on human rights” (Art. 106).

[6] It would be interesting to review the history of the U.S. ratification of these treaties, especially those with long periods before the U.S. became a party. I would be interested in comments by anyone who has done so or by anyone who finds errors in this summary.

Refugee and Asylum Law: The Modern Era

As previously indicated, the history of refugees and asylum, in my opinion, may be divided into two major periods: the pre-modern era (before the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948) and the modern era (after that adoption).[1] We now examine that Declaration and its implementation in the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The United Nations Charter, which entered into force on October 24, 1945, created the Economic and Social Council in Chapter X. Under Article 68 of the Charter, this Council was to establish a commission for the promotion of human rights.[2]

In early 1946 this Council created a committee to make recommendations on the structure and functions of such a commission. Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and eight others were appointed to this committee, and she was elected its chair. It recommended that the first project of the new commission should be the writing a bill of human rights. Thereafter, in June 1946, the Council created the U.N. Human Rights Commission and directed it to prepare an international bill of human rights.[3]

In January 1947 the Human Rights Commission held its first meeting and elected Eleanor Roosevelt as its chair.[4]

At the Commission’s June 1947 meeting Great Britain proposed preparing a covenant or treaty of human rights, rather than a declaration full of high-sounding generalities. The U.S., however, favored a broad declaration followed by treaties. The U.S. position appears to have been a strategy to avoid the U.S. Senate ratification process that constitutionally was necessary for ratification of treaties, but was not required for U.S. voting in the U.N. General Assembly. Remember that President Truman was heading into the 1948 presidential election and did not want to provoke a Senate vote he might lose. In any event, the Commission decided to work on both a declaration and covenants.[5]

In December 1948 (only one month after Truman won the presidential election), the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration: 48 in favor (including the U.S.); 0 against; 8 abstentions (the USSR and its allies, South Africa and Saudi Arabia); and 2 absences.[6]

Eleanor Roosevelt & UDHR

The Declaration had two important provisions relevant to refugees and asylum. Its Article 13(2) stated, “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” Article  14(1) went on to say, “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” (Emphasis added.)[7]

Even though the Declaration was not a treaty that created legal obligations for subscribing states, its declaring that every individual human being had a right to asylum was a historic departure from the pre-modern era where asylum was a matter of discretion for the protecting state. This provision also set an objective for the treaty on refugees then being formulated. These provisions of the Universal Declaration, in my opinion, also constitute an atonement for the failure of the civilized world in the 1930’s to protect German Jewish refugees.

In any event, ever since its adoption, the Universal Declaration has set the agenda for the subsequent development of international human rights treaties. The Declaration also continues to act as an inspirational and aspirational document throughout the world, as I discovered on my first visit to El Salvador in April 1989.[8]

Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees

 

On July 2, 1951, an international conference in Geneva, Switzerland concluded with the signing of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees by the conference attendees and the opening of the treaty for accession or ratification by nation states.[9] By its Article 43(1) it was to enter into force or become a binding treaty 90 days after the sixth state had acceded or ratified the treaty. That happened on April 22, 1954.[10]

Its preamble noted that the U.N. had “manifested its profound concern for refugees and endeavored to assure refugees the widest possible exercise of . . . fundamental rights and freedoms.” The preamble also stated, “the grant of asylum may place unduly heavy burdens on certain countries, and . . . a satisfactory solution of a problem . . . [of] international scope and nature cannot therefore be achieved without international cooperation.”

This treaty adopted the following definition of “refugee” in Article 1(A)(2) as any person who:

  • “[As a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951] and owing to well- founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

The bracketed phrase [“As a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951”] was the provision that limited the coverage of the Convention to the problems still being faced by many World War II refugees still scattered across Europe. This limiting phrase was eliminated in the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees discussed below.

Excluded from the definition of “refugee” in Article 1(F) was “any person . . . [who] (a) . . . has committed a crime against peace, a war crime or a crime against humanity . . . ; (b) . . . has committed a serious non-political crime outside the country of refuge prior to his admission to that country as a refugee; [and] (c) . . . has been guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the [U.N.].”[11]

The Convention granted refugees certain rights within a country of refuge as well as imposing on them certain obligations. The Convention further stipulates that, subject to specific exceptions, refugees should not be penalized for their “illegal entry or presence.” This recognizes that the seeking of asylum can require refugees to breach immigration rules. Prohibited penalties might include being charged with immigration or criminal offences relating to the seeking of asylum, or being arbitrarily detained purely on the basis of seeking asylum.

Importantly, the Convention contains various safeguards against the expulsion of refugees. Its Article 33(1) states, “No Contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees

By 1966, it had become apparent that new refugee situations had arisen since the Refugee Convention had been adopted and that all refugees should enjoy equal status. As a result, a new treaty was prepared to eliminate the previously mentioned limitation of the Convention to those refugees created by pre-1951 events. This was the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees that went into force on October 4, 1967.[12]

Parties to the Convention or Protocol

As of April 1, 2011, there were 145 nation states (and the Holy See) that were parties to the Convention and Protocol or the latter, including the U.S. That represents 76.2% of the U.N. members (plus the Holy See).[13]

Conclusion

In subsequent posts we will review (a) the work of the principal U.N. agency concerned with refugees (the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees); (b) U.S. law and procedures for refugees; and (c) U.S. law and procedures for asylum.


[1]  See Post: Refugees and Asylum Law: The Pre-Modern Era (July 7, 2011).

[3] See Mary Ann Glendon, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (New York: Random House 2002)(fascinating history of the development of the Universal Declaration).

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6]  Id.

[8]  See Post: My Pilgrimage to El Salvador, April 1989 (May 25, 2011).

[9] UNHCR, 1951 Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Status of Refugees and Stateless Persons, http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/search/?page=&comid=3c07a8642&cid=49aea9390&scid=49aea9398.

[10]  UNHCR, Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, http://www.unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10.html; UNHCR, The 1951 Refugee Convention: Questions and Answers (2007), http://www.unhcr.org/3c0f495f4.html.

[11] There are certain other stated exclusions from the definition of “refugee” in Article 1(C), (D), (E).

[12] Id.

[13]  UNHCR, States Parties to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol,        http://www.unhcr.org/3b73b0d63.html. In addition Madagascar and St. Kitts & Nevis are parties only to the Convention with its now outmoded temporal limitations. (Id.)