Archive for the ‘Cultural Rights’ Category

United States finally backs the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Yesterday, on December 16, 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States is now supporting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the Declaration). After 25 years of development, the Declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 13, 2007. At that time, 144 countries voted in favor of the Declaration, and only four countries opposed- Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.

Currently, there are more than 5,000 distinct indigenous peoples, totaling more than 370 million Indigenous persons in the world. The Declaration seeks to safeguard and promote their collective human rights and treaty rights within their respective nation-states.

The preamble of the Declaration affirms that “all doctrines, policies and practices based on or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust.” Moreover, the Declaration recognizes that “indigenous peoples have suffered from historic injustices as a result of their colonization and dispossession of their lands, territories and resources, thus preventing them from exercising, in particular, their right to development in accordance with their own needs and interests.”

Over the past three years, Australia and New Zealand have since announced their support of the Declaration. Canada announced its support of the Declaration on November 12th, 2010. While the United States is indeed the last of the opposing countries to support the rights of indigenous peoples, President Obama’s announcement is nonetheless being welcomed and applauded by the international human rights community and Native American right groups around the country.


A Woman’s Right to Choose

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

340x_burqas5710There are many choices that, in a democratic country, should be a woman’s right to make—including the choice of what to wear and where to pray. For Muslim citizens of Western countries, however, the right to make these choices is in question. In May, the French government approved a measure to ban full-body veils (burqas, niqabs) in public. According to the leader of the French National Assembly, the ban is both necessary for public safety and a good thing for France and democracy. In response, many women’s rights activists assert that the ban is patronizing and dehumanizing for French Muslim citizens. In the US, the debate is about where Muslim women can pray. A group of Muslim women have begun organizing mosque pray-ins in an attempt to end the gender segregation that occurs in nearly two-thirds of American mosques. (Segregation in mosques is not practiced traditionally and historically in Islam. In the Grand Mosque of Mecca, Islam’s holiest shrine, women and men perform all the hajj rituals, including praying, without segregation.) In a recent Huffington Post article, Jehan Harney asserts that these activists can gain supporters “not necessarily by demanding mosques change their policies to have men and women pray side-by-side, but rather demanding mosques to give women their right to choose where to pray.”

Georgia Senate: English Only Driving Exams are Discriminatory

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Currently making its way through the Georgia State Legislature is Senate Bill 67, or the English-Only for Driver’s License Exams bill. The bill’s proponents argue that the bill will work to keep the roads safe and that it is “tough on illegal immigration.” However, many human rights groups and religious organizations in Atlanta, such as the Georgia Refugee Policy Initiative, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR), and the First Iconium Baptist Church, among others, argue that it is a fallacy to claim that the same language level is needed to take a written exam as to follow clearly marked street signs and warnings. Such a bill, they assert, would make roads less safe by preventing people from taking the exam in their native language, and thus increasing the likelihood that they may not fully understand the rules of the road. Moreover, the bill targets “lawful, documented immigrants who are trying to make a living in the state of Georgia, but whose English may not have yet reached the level of proficiency needed for a full license exam,” as Teodoro Maus, President of GLAHR, points out. Because the bill makes exceptions for illiterate Georgians, many claim the bill is discriminatory against newly arrived Americans, and is reminiscent of the Jim Crow literacy tests of the past. For New Americans unable to pass a full English-only driver’s license exam, the bill would take away their ability to fully participate in their new community- with mounting cuts in public transportation, how do the bill’s sponsors propose that these Americans get to their English classes or buy groceries to feed their families?

Groups such as the Refugee Women’s Network have argued that the bill would be especially detrimental to refugee and immigrant women by keeping them isolated and unable to access jobs or health services, attend domestic violence prevention programs, or engage in parent-teacher conferences or their children’s after school activities. Many of these women are also active entrepreneurs who contribute greatly to the economy by opening up restaurants, day care centers, beauty salons, etc. Such driving restrictions would prevent them from providing for their families and helping to strengthen Georgia’s economy. The test is currently offered in 13 languages, and not only are there no data that prove that people who pass the translated tests are less safe drivers than those who take the test in English, but Americans who travel or live abroad are overwhelmingly given the opportunity to take their driver’s exam in English. For a state that is trying to become an “international destination,” it is hard to understand why it would impose restrictions on people of international origin.

Georgia Capitol

Demolish a City, Eliminate a People: Rights of the Uyghur in China

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

This month’s issue of Smithsonian magazine highlights the systematic demolition of the city of Kashgar in East Turkestan, also known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. Kashgar is a 1,000 year old city that is home to the Uyghur people. Uyghurs are ethnically and culturally a Turkic people who practice a moderate form of Sufi Islam. Heavy-handed repression by the Chinese government has created a dire human rights situation in East Turkestan that includes arbitrary detention, torture, and execution; severe discrimination in the areas of healthcare and employment; religious repression; forced abortion; the removal of Uyghur as a language in schools; and the forcible transfer of young Uyghur women and men to eastern China at the same as government policies bring millions of Chinese migrants to East Turkestan. The systematic demolition of Kashgar is considered yet another sinister attempt “to deprive the Uyghur of their main symbol of cultural identity.” Read this speech by Rebiya Kadeer to learn what the Mother of the Uyghur Nation” had to say after deadly demonstrations killed hundreds of Uyghur in July 2009.

Photo credit: Associated Press  Uyghur women protest

Photo credit: Associated Press Uyghur women protest

Pay for Play: Musicians, Radio, and the Right to Pay for Artistic Production

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Performers are not ‘average’ people but nobody likes to get short-changed, or not paid, for work performed. The fight for the rights of working people led by groups such as musicians was one of the precursors of how unions came into existence. Currently, when you hear a song on the radio, the songwriter is paid for the airplay but the singer is not. This is a form of ‘theft of services’, since the singer is the actual performer to whom the audience responds. World renowned singer, Dionne Warwick recently appeared at a U.S. Congressional hearing to support legislation designed to assure that performers/singers are compensated. Both the Senate (S.379) and the House (H.R.848) have approved similar measures on the issue, but it remains unclear whether either chamber will bring legislation to a vote this year. Opposition to paying performers for their work is primarily led by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) which represents radio station owners. The NAB argues that paying singers will be transferring monies to foreign companies and nations, however, Dionne Warwick is a U.S. citizen, born and raised in New Jersey.

Dionne Warwick-Pay Performers

Columbus Day: A Lesson in Historical Perspectives

Monday, October 12th, 2009

While many of us are enjoying the Columbus Day holiday, it is perhaps appropriate to use such free time to consider the differing perspectives of what this day signifies both to the history of the United States and the world. Consider this passage from Christopher Columbus’s log book: “[The natives] do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance…They would make fine servants… With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” While Columbus’s ‘discovery’ marked the beginning of contact between Europe and the Americas, it also signified the foundations of imperialism that spawned the global slave trade and the genocide (the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, any national, ethnic, racial, or religious group as such) of indigenous peoples in the Americas that has continued for more than 500 years. In Costa Rica, October 12th is celebrated as Día de las Culturas (Day of the Cultures). In Venezuela, it is recognized as Día de la Resistencia Indígena (Day of Indigenous Resistance). For a man who never set foot on what is now U.S. soil, what is at stake in the United States maintaining a day of honor for Christopher Columbus? Whose history does this holiday represent?

Here is a (rather long) excerpt from the first chapter of Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” entitled Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress. A Youtube video entitled “Reconsider Columbus Day” has also been circulating in the human rights/indigenous justice blogosphere.

Enforcing Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Human rights are often framed in the United States in terms of political and civil rights, such as equality before the law, the right to a fair trial, and the right to freedom of opinion and expression. However, the full spectrum of human rights recognizes the indivisibility of all human rights, which includes Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. These rights include the right to adequate housing, safe working conditions, and education, among others. These rights are not protected in the U.S. Bill of Rights, nor has the U.S. ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Some of the most pressing challenges in domestic policy today include the problems of unequal access to public services such as healthcare, abusive labor practices against undocumented workers, and forced evictions for the many who have been hit hardest by the economic recession. How does our understanding of these issues, as well as the possible solutions to them, change when we recognize them as human rights violations, and discard the age-old tactic of blaming the victim? On September 24th, 2009, the newly created Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights will be opened for signature and ratification at a ceremony at the United Nations in New York. How do you think the U.S. will participate, if at all? Should it?

On September 23rd, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at the New York University School of Law will be hosting a panel on the ‘Hope and Challenge of the Optional Protocol.’