Category Archives: U.S. courts

Ten Human Rights Standards Implicated by U.S. Immigration Policy Changes

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at the San Ysidro crossing
Credit: Josh Denmark

Recent changes in the United States’ immigration policies have drawn fresh condemnation from human rights experts and civil society, particularly as news spread that authorities had separated approximately 2,000 children from their parents at the country’s southern border. [IACHR Press Release; OHCHR Press Release; UNHCR Press Release] These changes include automatic criminal prosecution and detention of adults – including asylum seekers – entering the United States without authorization, separation and detention of children who crossed the southern border outside a port of entry with their parents, and a directive instructing immigration officials not to recognize a State’s failure to protect victims of gang violence and domestic violence as grounds for asylum. In response to criticism earlier this month, President Trump signed an Executive Order on June 20, 2018 to detain children and parents together, but that also raised concerns because it did not address the reunification of separated families and proposed modifying time limits on detention of families. [OHCHR Press Release: UN Experts] The policy changes add to long-standing human rights concerns related to U.S. immigration policy. This post reviews 10 of the primary principles implicated. Read more

U.S. Supreme Court Limits Corporate Liability for Human Rights Abuses

Arab Bank, the defendant in Jesner v. Arab Bank
Credit: jo.schz via Flickr

On April 24, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Jesner v. Arab Bank that foreign citizens cannot sue foreign corporations for civil damages in U.S. federal courts for serious violations of international law, such as torture or extrajudicial killings. See Jesner et al. v. Arab Bank, PLC, No. 16–499, slip op. (April 24, 2018). The case was brought against Arab Bank by victims of several terrorist attacks occurring in Israel and the occupied territories. See id. at 1. The plaintiffs alleged that Arab Bank supported numerous terrorist attacks, including those that harmed the victims, by knowingly providing financial services to terrorists, such as accepting deposits it knew were donations used to fund the attacks and pay money to the families of suicide bombers. See id. at 1-3. The plaintiffs brought their case under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which provides that United States federal courts may hear cases, brought by non-nationals, of tort committed in violation of international law. See id. at 1-2. The ATS is an exercise in universal civil jurisdiction, as it extends domestic judicial jurisdiction over actions that occurred abroad to foreign plaintiffs; it has historically been a means for non-U.S. citizens to seek redress for serious human rights violations committed outside of the U.S., although the Jesner decision and previous rulings limit the scope of the statute. See, e.g., Jesner, No. 16–499, slip op. at 1; Filártiga v. Peña-Irala, 630 F.2d 876 (2d Cir. 1980). Notably, the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum limited the scope of the ATS to cases that touch and concern the United States with sufficient force to overcome a presumption against the U.S. extending jurisdiction extraterritorially. See Kiobel et al. v. Royal Dutch Petroleum et al., 569 U.S. 108 (2013); Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 U.S. 692 (2004). International human rights bodies disagree over whether States must exercise universal civil jurisdiction over specific human rights abuses, mainly torture, that occurred abroad and by a foreign defendant. [IJRCSee Naït-Liman v. Switzerland [GC], Judgment of 15 March 2018; CAT, General Comment No. 3 (2012), UN Doc. CAT/C/GC/3, 13 Dec. 2012, paras. 22, 26.

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ILO: Thailand Not Meeting Obligations Under Forced Labour Convention

Thai fishing boat
Credit: SeaDave via Wikimedia Commons

The International Labour Organization (ILO) recently issued recommendations to Thailand to bring it in line with anti-slavery and forced labor provisions in the ILO Forced Labour Convention in response to allegations on the use of forced labor in the fishing industry, which has also been the topic of a lawsuit in the United States and of international pressure. [Guardian: Lawsuit; Guardian: ILO] Specifically, the submission to the ILO – referred to as a representation – alleged the forced labor and trafficking in persons of migrant workers from Myanmar, Cambodia, and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and alleged that fishers are subject to 20-hour work days, non-payment of wages, debt bondage, physical abuse, and murder. See International Labour Office, Sixth Supplementary Report: Report of the Committee set up to examine the representation alleging non-observance by Thailand of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), made under article 24 of the ILO Constitution by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) (2017), paras. 1, 7, 10. Additionally, the representation argues that violations in Thailand are due to a “weak legislative framework, the lack of effective complaints mechanisms, and the ineffectiveness of law enforcement mechanisms.” See id. at para. 9. The ILO committee that was set up to examine the present representation recommended improving labor inspections and legal enforcement of existing legislation, preventing and punishing illegal recruitment processes, and addressing illegal employment practices. See id. at paras. 60-68, 71-77. The ILO Forced Labour Convention requires States parties to “undertake to suppress” forced labor and to enforce penalties for engaging in forced labor. Read more

News Clips- March 10, 2017

Protesters march on International Women’s Day in Barcelona
Credit: Sarahmirk via Wikimedia Commons

Civil Society

  • On Wednesday, to mark International Women’s Day, women demonstrated around the world for equality. [Reuters]
  • On Tuesday, in Argentina tens of thousands joined in a march protesting job cuts and other policies initiated under President Mauricio Macri. [Al Jazeera]
  • On Monday, Israel passed a law denying entry visas to foreign nationals who support boycotts against Israel or its West bank settlements. [Washington Post]

Armed Conflict, Violence, & Humanitarian Crises

  • On Thursday, a human rights organization reported it is likely that a United States-led coalition is responsible for air strikes on an ISIL controlled village in Syria that resulted in 23 civilian deaths. [Al Jazeera]
  • On Wednesday, 21 Guatemalan girls were killed by a fire that occurred amid protests against alleged rights abuses at San Jose Pinula child centre. [Al Jazeera]
  • On Wednesday, gunmen disguised as medical personnel carried out attacks, claimed by ISIL, killing 30 people in a hospital in Afghanistan. [Reuters]
  • On Monday, rebels from Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army initiated an attack against law enforcement officials in the Kokang region near China; 30 people were killed. [Al Jazeera]
  • Last week, government officials in Zimbabwe reported 246 deaths and thousands homeless after recent floods. [Al Jazeera]

Migration, Refugees, & Asylum Seekers

  • This week, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq estimated that 450,000 internally displaced persons are expected to flee to camps as violence in western Mosul, Iraq continues. [Al Jazeera]
  • On Tuesday, Hungary approved a policy of detaining asylum seekers in guarded and enclosed camps as a way of deterring migration. [New York Times]
  • On Tuesday, the International Organization for Migration reported that violence between rival smuggling gangs caused 22 migrant deaths. [Reuters]
  • On Wednesday, the state of Hawaii filed for a temporary restraining order against United States President Trump’s revised executive order that temporarily bans citizens of Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen from securing visas to enter the United States. [Al Jazeera]

Activities of International Bodies & Entities

Rights Protests Continue Across the U.S. as Immigration Ban Implemented

Women’s March participants
Credit: ufcw770 via Wikimedia Commons

Protesters in the United States and around the world demonstrated last week and over the weekend, calling for the protection of the rights of migrants and refugees, women, and other vulnerable groups, as a new administration assumed power in the United States following a bitterly divisive campaign in which now-President Trump denied sexual assault allegations and promised to enact a “Muslim ban.” [Fortune] During the past year and more recently, various universal and regional international human rights monitoring bodies commented on human rights issues relevant to those prioritized in these protests, and called on American authorities to respect fundamental rights and values.

The organizers of the January 21, 2017 Women’s March on Washington, which may be the largest demonstration in U.S. history, specifically called for the protection of women’s right to be free from violence and discrimination, women of color’s right to be free from racial discrimination, migrants’ rights, environmental rights, and LGBTQIA communities’ right to be free from violence and discrimination, among other rights.

Since then, President Trump has taken several steps that civil society and human rights experts warn greatly threaten many of the same human rights championed by the demonstrators. On Friday, President Trump signed an executive order imposing a 90-day suspension on entry into the U.S. for citizens of seven countries (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, and Somalia); a 120-day suspension of all refugee admissions; and an indefinite pause on the admission of refugees from Syria. The order, which was immediately implemented, unleashed chaos and protests in the country’s airports, as civil society and the courts struggled to define its scope and legality. [New York Times; NPR]

The U.S. is a State party to multiple human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), which protect the rights to, among others, non-discrimination and equal protection. It is also a party to the 1967 Protocol to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, commonly referred to as the “Refugee Convention.” Read more

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