“Legal Dimensions of Climate Justice” discussed at 27th Meeting of Legal Advisers, UNGA, NY 25 October 2016

The Sixth Commitee of the UN General Assembly is currently meeting at the UN Headquarters in New York. One of the panel discussions during the informal meetings of chief legal advisors of Ministries of Foreign Affairs on October 25th 2016 focused on the “Legal dimensions of the concept of climate justice”. For the first time, this topic was taken up at the meeting, with about 150 legal advisors present.

Panellists were Prof. Michael Gerrard (Columbia University, Sabin Center for Climate Change Law), Prof. Cymie Payne (Rugter University), Prof. Katrina Kuh (Hofstra Law School) and myself. In my talk, I analysed how the concept of climate justice is reflected in the Paris Agreement (climate-justice-in-the-paris-agreement).

The discussions – informed by the imminent entry into force of the Paris Agreement on 4 November 2016 – aimed at clarifying the content of the concept and at highlightening its various dimensions, such as human rights as a core value of the global order and distributive justice in terms of allocation of burdens and efforts of climate actions.

UN Special Rapporteur issues report on workers’ human rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly

image-of-worker-rights-posterUN Special Rapporteur Maina Kai presented his report on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association in the workplace to the UN General Assembly on October 20, 2016.

The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and association was created in October 2010 by UN Human Rights Council Resolution 15/21 and renewed in September 2013 (UN HRC 24/5) and September 2016 (UN HRC 32/32).  The current Special Rapporteur Maina Kai has been serving since May 2011.

General Assembly Report A/71/385 examines the rights to assembly and association in the workplace with a special focus on the most marginalized – global supply chain workers, informal workers, migrant workers and domestic workers.

In remarks made on October 21, Maina Kai recounted how years before, his human rights NGO in Kenya attempted to assist local workers but encountered friction from the local trade union.  It is thus no surprise that the Special Rapporteur calls for obliteration of “the antiquated and artificial distinction between labour rights and human rights generally.  Labour rights are human rights, and the ability to exercise those rights in the workplace is a prerequisite for workers to enjoy a broad range of other rights, whether economic, social, cultural, political or otherwise.”

The report outlines the international legal framework establishing the principle that Worker Rights are Human Rights.  The rights to peaceful assembly and association are recognized in Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  They are recognized as first generation human rights in Articles 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – with Article 22 specifically including “the right to form and join trade unions” within the right to freedom of assembly.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes the rights to assembly and association as second generation human rights.  Article 8 of ICESCR recognizes the rights for individuals to form and join trade unions and for trade unions to create and join national and international federations.  Article 7 of ICESR recognizes other work-related rights as human rights, including:

  • fair wages that guarantee a decent living for workers and their families;
  • equal pay for work of equal value
  • equitable working conditions for women and men;
  • safe and healthy workplaces;
  • equal opportunity in the workplace;
  • rest, leisure and reasonable limits on working hours; and
  • paid vacation and holidays.

The rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining are also enshrined in ILO Conventions 87 and 99.  They are foundational rights essential to the protection of core labor rights in the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Rights at Work, so States must respect them whether or not they have ratified these 2 conventions.  The Special Rapporteur observes that the Right to Strike has been established in international law for decades and has in fact become customary international law.

States must respect, protect and fulfill the rights to freedom of assembly and association.  States must ensure full enjoyment of these rights for both women and men under Article 4 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  Many women around the world are excluded from protection under national labor rights regimes because they work in the informal economy.  An estimated 60.7% of the world’s workers toil in the informal economy, where employment relationships are not legally regulated.

Others excluded by law from protection in many countries include migrant, domestic and agricultural workers.  Report A/71/385 declares unequivocally that States that discriminate against or exclude certain groups from protective legislation violate their obligations to respect and protect the rights to peaceful assembly and association.

The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families recognizes human rights standards protecting migrant workers.  For both authorized and unauthorized migrant workers, exclusion from legal protection and lack of assembly and association rights are compounded by harsh immigration laws and unscrupulous labor recruitment organizations.  The report points to guest worker programs in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United States, the U.K. and Zimbabwe that legally and structurally deny migrant workers’ rights to assembly and association.  Workers in these programs who attempt to exercise their rights risk being blacklisted, deported, evicted, denied future visas, threatened with violence and physically assaulted.

Violence – including gender- and racial or ethnic-based violence – is frequently used by States and others to deter the exercise of rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.  In 2015, trade unionists were murdered in 11 countries – Chile, Colombia, Egypt, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Iran, Mexico, Peru, South Africa and Turkey.

The Special Rapporteur issued recommendations not only to States, but to Businesses, the ILO, the United Nations and multilateral financial institutions like the World Bank and IMF as well as to trade unions and civil society.

Key among those recommendations to States are:

  • ratification of relevant international and human rights instruments;
  • taking measures to ensure that workers in vulnerable situations have the ability to fully and effectively exercise their rights to freedom of assembly and association;
  • prohibiting companies that fail to respect those rights from bidding on public contracts; and
  • protecting and promoting the assembly and association rights of migrants.

Businesses should:

  • commit to the principle that labor rights are human rights;
  • respect the rights of workers to form and join trade unions and engage in collective action;
  • engage in collective bargaining;
  • refrain from anti-union practices and policies; and
  • implement the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

The ILO should:

  • set standards to extend rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining to informal workers; and
  • focus on governance gaps for workers in global supply chains.

The UN and MFIs should:

  • consult with trade unions and worker organizations to ensure that assembly and association rights are promoted and protected in their policies and programs.

Civil society and trade unions should:

  • create alliances to monitor the effective implementation of the Rapporteur’s recommendations;
  • commit to the principle that labor rights are human rights; and
  • continue to advocate for equal opportunity to present their views to governments and businesses.

Finally, trade unions should:

  • specifically target outreach and advocacy toward the historically disenfranchised, including domestic, migrant and informal workers.



Sojourn stirs questions about policies in China, Cuba and the United States

This month yours truly, IntLawGrrl Kathleen A. Doty, Director of Global Practice Preparation at Georgia Law’s Dean Rusk International Law Center, is a World Affairs Council Young Leaders Fellow just completing a tour of China. Traveling with me have been eleven others, many from globally minded businesses. This is the last dispatch in a series of posts on my travels.

4BEIJING – The people of China are warm. They love babies. I quickly found the best way to make a friend was to coo at the child in her arms. They love long meals and good toasts, and have spent centuries mastering the art of hospitality. Being a guest in China is wonderful.

Beijing is a vastly different city than Shanghai. It is old, gritty, artistic. I heard many people say that Beijing was like Washington, D.C., and Shanghai was like New York. I think that it is a shallow comparison, and having lived in both U.S. cities, I disagree.image1

New York is much more than high rises; Beijing is a city alive and rich in a similar way. Of course, this impression has much to do with the organization of our trip; in Shanghai we were taken primarily to government developments, while in Beijing we were taking primarily to private companies and cultural sites. We visited the sleek showroom of Huawei, the Chinese version of Apple, and iQIYI, the Chinese version of Netflix, which exudes a hip imagestart-up vibe. I sipped exotic tea as I strolled through galleries in the profoundly cool 798 Art District, wandered back alleys in Old World neighborhoods, and saw a palace that has been grand since before my own country was founded. When the lights went out in a restaurant at dinner, the servers calmly brought candles to the table and we kept on with the toasts. Beijing was much more what I image2expected to find in China: a mix of the modern and the historical, of wealth and underdevelopment.

Cultural heritage was a theme I pondered throughout the trip. China is old in a way that I, a woman from Colorado, a place young even in the history of the United States, find mind-blowing. Beijing is a huge city. The several ring roads surrounding it put the Beltway or the Perimeter to shame. The city has been developed and redeveloped countless times, replacing so much of what once was. Walking the Great Wall (which is covered in scratched graffiti, in Chinese characters so foreign to my eye) and seeing the Forbidden City provided just a taste of an incredibly rich history that, little by little, is lost with improvements to modern life. I commented to a friend, an American expat living in China, that I found this sad. He responded that the history in 3China is too long to preserve the physical – you just can’t save every 5,000-year-old building – the cultural heritage of China lives in the language. Having mastered only four words in ten days – “Hello,” “Thank you,” “Cheers,” and “too expensive” – I have to admit that this is lost on me. But it emphasized the importance of intangible cultural heritage work as a means of preserving at least some of an ancient way of life.

Sitting alone in a public park one day, I marveled at how a parent or grandparent needed only to speak a word to a child and he or she behaved. Meeting times were given at strangely precise intervals (for example, 1:25) and taken very seriously. I heard more apologies for tardiness than I thought reasonable given a city of such size and with such congestion. Our guides shared their views that much of Eastern culture derives from Confucius’ thought, and emphasizes hierarchy and respect. This consideration to others was surprising given our pre-trip prepping that people push and don’t stand in line or respect your space, but it just reinforced the cultural difference in the meaning of “consideration.” In so many of my reflections about Communism and the economy, I couldn’t help but wonder how much of the attitudes I picked up on were born of pre-existing Eastern philosophy and culture, or from the current economic and political systems in the country.

I also couldn’t help but wonder about the tension between the incredible feats of the state and human rights. Much has been written about this topic and I am no expert, so I won’t belabor the point. But I found myself reflecting, much as I did during my studies in Cuba, on the tension between the social benefits of a Communist system – universal healthcare, education, and in the case of China, the elevation of an extraordinary number of people out of poverty in a short time frame – with the profound lack of freedoms.

2During our visit to the Great Wall, we were standing in an epically long line to take a shuttle bus from the base of the Wall to the parking lot where our bus was waiting. Our guide, a young man in the employ of the University who spoke nearly perfect English, sighed as we inched forward. He said:

“Thank God for the family planning policy.”

I was surprised because the one-child policy so deeply offends our Western concept of individual choice that I simply expected someone of roughly my age to concur; yet in such a populous country, a limit on the number of people is sometimes welcome. I relayed my surprise at his comment to another young Chinese woman I met, and she said,

“Oh yes. The problem with the family planning is that we now have a China that is out of balance, with too many old people and not enough young ones.”

I was so amazed; again, it was a comment totally focused on the macro. Is that Chinese culture? Is that the effect of a Communist system of government? Is it both?

These are the questions that will for me remain unanswered. After studying in Cuba, my takeaway was that they don’t have it right, but neither do we in the United States. The “right” is somewhere in the middle. My impression of China is that it is inching closer to the right balance than Cuba. I have far more context about Cuba to make that statement; this trip showed me, more than anything else, how much I don’t know about China. But standing in Tiananmen Square in the rain, I couldn’t help but think that an inch is terrifically small.

(Cross-posted from Exchange of Notes)

In politics, East is East and West is West even as economies grow closer

This month yours truly, IntLawGrrl Kathleen A. Doty, Director of Global Practice Preparation at Georgia Law’s Dean Rusk International Law Center, is a World Affairs Council Young Leaders Fellow just completing a tour of China. Traveling with me have been eleven others, many from globally minded businesses. This is another in a series of posts on my travels.

imageSHANGHAI – A Chinese official at the Pilot Free Trade Zone in Shanghai told us:

“The United States is a very different economy than China; it is much more globalized. We are still learning.”

Visiting Shanghai, one would never guess that China is still learning. The city is shockingly modern, with architecture straight out of a sci-fi movie, sparklingly clean public spaces, and every sort of of consumer product available. The brands are recognizable to Americans – from Walmart to most high-end designers. Yet the rhetoric from the officials with which we’ve met has been all about development: how to further open up China’s economy.

The efforts in this regard are impossible to miss. Almost everywhere in the city there are new buildings going up and renovations in progress.

The Chinese are obsessed with space: the first thing they tell you about any project is the number of square kilometers it will occupy and the population of people living or working there. This is understandable given the stress such a high population places on the limited physical space and infrastructure of the city.

image3Perhaps more striking: they are obsessed with showcasing this development. The government has erected entire museums and project-specific showrooms dedicated to urban planning with information tailored to foreign visitors. They are surreal – we saw several unbelievably intricate miniature models of the building projects, complete with lights in the windows of the mini-buildings, and incredibly high resolution 3D video tours set to dramatic symphonic music. At one such display a colleague leaned over and said:

“Wow, it’s propaganda.”

And propaganda it is. Unlike Cuba, which is still brimming with billboards of Fidel and slogans like “¡Patria o Muerte! ¡Venceremos! (Homeland or Death! We Shall Overcome!),” the Chinese version is more subtle. It’s not centered on a leader or on separation from the rest of the world, but on the collective progress: development, innovation, opening up.

I expected Shanghai to be filled with the iconic Soviet concrete-style buildings, but the new Communism is glass and steel. It is rows of narrow, tall apartment buildings shooting out of the ground in perfectly aligned formation. But it still feels cold, a little sterile, and with pollution hanging in the air, eerie.

image1It was also quite clear that the Chinese keep a tight grip on the narrative available to foreign visitors. My trip, sponsored by the Confucius Institute, a division of the government education agency, made sure to show us the best of what China had to offer. We looked up at a major skyscraper in the distance and asked our tour guide if we were going to go there. He looked at us in complete seriousness and said:

“But why would we go there? You saw it in the model.”

I realized then that the propaganda wasn’t just for the foreign visitors, he believed it too. Government control of the narrative affects everyone.

We were told that the farmers who used to be on the land now occupied by the new industrial parks were simply removed from their land. Eminent domain is in full force in China. Here’s a statement of fact about the issue, rather than skepticism, from our same tour guide:

“You can’t bargain with the government.”

Nor can you reason with it. On my way out of the airport, after the security checkpoint where they took large liquids, I bought two waters. These were confiscated in an unexpected secondary screening on the jetway. When I asked the guard why he took them, he explained it was because of TSA rules. When I protested that they had already screened for liquids and that I purchased these past security, he just shook his head and tossed my water in a bin. Perhaps China doesn’t regulate items for purchase after security and therefore doesn’t meet TSA standards, but I find that unlikely. Despite the progress in China, it felt much more like the absurdity of life characteristic of such a strong state government.

image2China is impressive. It is actualizing public works and infrastructure projects at a rate that is unimaginable in the United States. It is developing its cities and offering its people access to a diverse marketplace of consumer goods.

Wandering a mall, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was Cuba’s future. It’s not a bad compromise between the socialist and capitalist models. (Oh, the irony; I wonder if Marx could ever have envisioned a transition back to capitalism.)

I’m not entirely certain whether the official we spoke with at the Free Trade Zone would say that the main difference between the United States and China was the economic model of each country, but I know that I left thinking that no matter how open the Chinese economy becomes, we will always be far apart, even in business, because of our different underlying political systems.

(Cross-posted from Exchange of Notes)

Beyond Trade & Travel: Normalizing US-Cuba Relations

While much attention has been focused on the changes to ease travel and trade between the United States and Cuba, President Obama’s Policy Directive on US-Cuba Normalization lays out a broader vision for normalization of relations and mutual cooperation between the two neighbors. Issued October 14, 2016 (along with other regulatory changes discussed here) the Directive also lays out six priority objectives for normalization and actions to implement them.obama-castro-handshake

Among other things, the vision laid out by President Obama’s Policy Directive includes – travel to Cuba for U.S. persons that is safe and secure from natural and man-made hazards and regional cooperation with Cuba towards these goals, and a strengthened U.S. position in international systems by removing an irritant from its relationships with allies and partners and gaining support for a rules-based order.

The six U.S. medium-term objectives for US-Cuban policy are to:

  1. Continue high-level and technical engagement;
  2. Continue to encourage people-to-people linkages;
  3. Seek to expand opportunities for U.S. companies to engage with Cuba;
  4. Support further economic reforms by the Cuban government;
  5. Expand dialogue with Cuba in international fora; and
  6. Seek greater Cuban government respect for human rights while recognizing that the United States must leave the future of Cuba up to the Cuban people.

To facilitate the effective implementation of this Policy Directive, U.S. departments and agencies will have the following roles and responsibilities:

National Security Council (NSC) staff will provide ongoing policy coordination and oversight of the implementation of overall Cuba strategy and of the Directive.

The Department of State will continue to be responsible for formulating U.S. policy toward and coordinating relations with Cuba. This includes supporting the operations of Embassy Havana and ensuring it has adequate resources and staffing, issuing visas, refugee processing, promoting educational and cultural exchanges, coordinating democracy programs, and political and economic reporting.

The U.S. Mission to the United Nations (USUN) will coordinate with the State Department to oversee multilateral issues involving Cuba at the United Nations.

The Department of the Treasury is responsible for implementation of the economic embargo restrictions and licensing policies.

 The Department of Commerce will continue to support the development of the Cuban private sector, entrepreneurship, commercial law development, and intellectual property rights as well as environmental protection and storm prediction.

The Department of Defense (DOD) will continue to take steps to expand the defense relationship with Cuba where it will advance U.S. interests, with an initial focus on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and counternarcotics in the Caribbean.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will, together with the Department of Justice, engage with the Cuban government to combat terrorism and transnational organized crime.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) will, together with DHS, engage with the Cuban government to combat terrorism and transnational organized crime.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) will support exchanges with the Cuban government in areas of mutual interest, particularly on formalization of small businesses and to spur the growth of new enterprises.

The Office of the United States Trade Representative will provide trade policy coordination in international fora and prepare for negotiations to normalize and expand US-Cuba trade.

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) will work to increase U.S. food and agricultural exports to Cuba.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in accordance with the June 2016 Memorandum of Understanding between HHS and the Cuban Ministry of Public Health, will collaborate with Cuban counterparts in the areas of public health, research, and biomedical sciences, including collaboration to confront the Zika virus, dengue, chikungunya, and other arboviruses.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will coordinate the U.S. response to natural and man-made environmental disasters.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) will continue to develop air and surface transportation links between the United States and Cuba and provide required regulatory and safety oversight of transportation providers and systems.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) will support efforts to normalize relations with Cuba and seek opportunities for engagement with Cuban counterparts on areas of common interest and information exchange on mutual threats.

The Department of the Interior (DOI) will continue to cooperate with Cuba on marine protected areas and to engage Cuban counterparts to finalize arrangements on wildlife conservation, terrestrial national protected areas, and seismic records.

In issuing the Directive, President Obama stated:

This new directive consolidates and builds upon the changes we’ve already made, promotes transparency by being clear about our policy and intentions, and encourages further engagement between our countries and our people.

This clarity and transparency is important given the long and complicated history of US-Cuba relations that dates back to the 1880s. The Directive is also aimed at ensuring the recent changes in US-Cuba policy outlive the Obama Administration. We can hope that the next Directive will implement the lifting of the outdated and ineffectual embargo, the low point in this history.


Job Postings

iCourts – Centre of Excellence for International Courts, University of Copenhagen, is currently looking for a new professor or associate professor of international law.

Call for Papers

Centre for Women, Peace and Security, London School of Economics and Political Science

  • Gender and New Wars Workshop, 9 & 10 March 2017
  • Deadline for abstracts: 11 November 2016

War is a gendered phenomenon. While gender differential impacts of war have been widely studied, there is still a gap in our understanding of how gender is constructed in the context of ‘new wars’ (an analytic approach to understanding present-day conflicts: Kaldor, 1999, 3rd ed. 2012). In ‘old wars’, the battle was between the states, the national interest was the justification for war and uniformed militaries were the main actors. New wars have a different logic, stemming from differences in the actors, the goals, the tactics, and the forms of finance. In new wars, the actors include armed forces, para-military groups, war lords, mercenaries, private security contractors, criminal groups. They are largely fought in the name of identity, such as ethnicity, religion, tribal, rather than for geopolitical goals, and fear and terror are spread via civilian casualties and forced displacement. While old wars tend to be extreme in the sense of maximising and totalising violence, new wars tend to be persistent and difficult to end. Continue reading

Documentary on Akayesu case makes world premiere at UN; reviewers call it “riveting”, “courtroom thriller”


The Uncondemned,” a film about the first prosecution of rape as a war crime, saw its theatrical release over the week-end in New York City, where it will play through October 27, at the Sunshine Cinema, SoHo.  The film, which will play in some 30 major markets through the end of the year, opened to rave reviews in the New York Times, The Village Voice, and the New York Daily News. Michele Mitchell and Nick Louvel co-directed the film.


Witnesses JJ, NN, OO, and Godeliève Mukasarasi at the UN Special Screening on Wednesday

A feature-length documentary, “The Uncondemned” tells the story of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda’s (ICTR) prosecution of Mayor Jean-Paul Akayesu for crimes against humanity and acts of genocide, both including acts of sexual assault against residents of Taba commune, which he governed.  The film actually interweaves two stories.  One is that of the Taba rape survivors—until now known as JJ, NN, and OO—and the social worker and founder of SEVOTA, Godeliève Mukasarasi, who encouraged and empowered them to participate in the prosecution.  The other story is that of the team of young lawyers who worked on the case, including trial counsel Pierre-Richard Prosper (now with Akin Gump) and Sara Darehshori (now with Human Rights Watch, working on issues of sexual assault in the United States).  Also appearing in the film are Patricia Sellers, gender advisor to ICTR and ICTFY at the time the Akayesu case was investigated and tried, Rosette Muzigo-Morrison, a UN investigator from Uganda, and Binaifer Nowrojee, who from her position with Human Rights Watch in East Africa wrote Shattered Lives, a report on Sexual Violence during the Rwandan genocide and campaigned for the prosecution of rape as a war crime.  My own work as gender consultant at ICTR—twenty years ago this fall—is also featured in the film.



Lisa Pruitt, now a professor at UC Davis, worked as a gender consultant at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in 1996.

The October 21 theatrical release followed a special viewing at the United Nations on October 19.  The Rwandan witnesses, along with Mukasarasi, were special guests at the UN event, hosted by Zainab Hawa Bangura Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.  A Yazidi rape survivor previously held captive by ISIS also appeared at the event, speaking on a panel about sexual assault during war that followed the screening.  The UN promoted the hashtag #EndRapeinWar at the screening.     

“The Uncondemned” was screened at several film festivals in the past year, taking the 2015 Brizzolaro Family Foundation Award for the Best Film on Conflict and Resolution at the Hamptons International Film Festival.  The documentary also played at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival and the Napa Valley Film Festival.  Reviewers have called the film a “must see” and “riveting,” and characterized it as a “courtroom thriller.

Following the week-long run in NYC, “The Uncondemned” will open in Los Angeles on October 28, at the Laemmle Royal, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd.   Beginning on November 4, the film will run for one week in Washington DC at the E Street Theatre, 555 11th Street, NW, and for one week in Atlanta’s Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Avenue N.  You can find information on all screenings here.     


Wednesday Night’s Premiere at the UN. Photographed, left to right: Sara Darehshori, Michele Mitchell, Pierre Prosper, and Lisa Pruitt.


Cross-posted on UC Davis faculty blog.