From Global Law to Local Justice

It is now a standard observation: the legal academic, activist, and employment world is globalizing.  U.S.-based law schools are partnering with schools in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and East Asia.  LL.M. And S.J.D. students from around the world have arrived in the U.S. to enrich classroom discussions and practice with their perspectives about the U.S. and about their home countries.  Many well-prepared “domestic” lawyers will, at one time or the other, encounter clients, adversaries, partners, and issues that raise “global law” problems (i.e., International, Comparative, Foreign, National Security, Immigration/Refugee/Asylum, Trade, and Business Transactions).  Many law students and faculty take advantage of international law programs to engage in on-the-job learning around the world.  In addition to the wonderful opportunities for travel and exposure to other cultures, such opportunities offer the chance to hone language skills and to learn innovative problem-solving strategies.  The “Bringing Human Rights Home” movement has once again stimulated U.S. social justice activism on issues as broad-ranging as post-Katrina housing in New Orleans, misuse of force, racial discrimination, and extrajudicial killings of young minority men, and violence and trafficking against girls and women with disabilities.

On this annual Human Rights Day, marking the end of this year’s “16 Day Campaign Against Gender-Based Violence,” let us use our new-found focus on working, traveling, and Skyping across borders as a means to strengthen understanding and let go of violence.  At the very least official and systematic violence, as well as violence in the home, should never be met with impunity.  As the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Rashida Manjoo, recently pointed out during a visit to Northeastern Law School, those responsible must be held to account, educational efforts must begin in early childhood, and survivors compensated through money damages, law reform, apologies, and other community-based public acknowledgments.  Much good has come out of the decades old international human rights movement, but we see how much left there is to do.  Law students will, no doubt, help move that work forward.

Tribute to Madiba: A Smile that Called for Transformation

This post originally appeared on December 10, 2013, and is reposted now with minor editorial changes.

During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.—Nelson R. Mandela, 1964

           Madiba is at peace.  Our thoughts are with those he loved and with the people of South Africa for whom he gave his freedom and mandela votinglife.  Lawyer, revolutionary, civil and human rights advocate, political prisoner, master political strategist, statesman, democratic political leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate–a salute and gratitude to him for having dedicated his life to making positive social change for the people of South Africa and for the world.  Yes, a single individual, working with dedicated social movements, can begin to change the world.  His greatest legacy will be the continuing struggle for justice carried on by its peoples. We are not really ready for him to leave now. But we celebrate his extraordinary life and his singular impact on the world, nevertheless.  Nothing more can be asked of him; a life truly well-lived.

          We remember the violence and racism of the apartheid regime and the many who gave their lives and freedom to end it.  But because of Mandela and other great leaders and activists, there are also all those unforgettable moments of inspiration and hope:

  •  Protests and arrests outside the apartheid regime’s embassies.
  • Shantytowns on university campuses in solidarity with the people of South Africa.
  • Free South Africa movement signs on the lawns of religious institutions across the globe.
  • Artists and Athletes Against Apartheid and millions singing “Free, Nelson Mandela!”
  • The U.S. Senate Override of President Reagan’s veto of the 1986 Anti-Apartheid Act.
  • The Free South Africa Movement organized by TransAfrica and other groups in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.
  • Freed political prisoner Nelson R. Mandela and anti-apartheid activist Winnie Mandela walking hand in hand as Mandela was released from 27 years of imprisonment..
  • The 1994 first democratic elections in South Africa, with miles-long lines of African people who had never previously been allowed to vote.
  • President Mandela taking the oath of office.
  • President Mandela stepping down from his term in office.
  • The recognition and elaboration of social, economic, and cultural rights; the prohibition on the death penalty.
  • The voices of ordinary witnesses testifying before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
  • Mandela advocating for HIV/AIDS prevention and accessible treatment.
  • Madiba and freedom fighter and lawyer Graca Machel finding friendship, political engagement, love, and companionship as he retired from public life.

 Then, there was that smile.  Some commentators interpret Mr. Mandela’s famous light up the room smile as “harmless” or “conciliatory.”  To me it was a smile of joy at finally being able to spend time with his children and grandchildren and a smile at his own wry sense of humor that helped sustain him and his fellow prisoners for so many years.  It was also a smile of expectation and transformation.  For this iron-willed man, that smile challenged his former enemies, comrades, and admirers alike not simply to continue as before, but to transform–to become our best selves.  It was a smile that said, “anything is possible, why don’t you try?”

God bless Madiba. God bless Africa.  Amandla! Awethu!

(photo credit)

The Marrakesh Treaty: Books for All

Forgotten Books

(Photo Credit: Corey Templeton)


Missing Information
Have you ever picked up an exciting book and found that pages are missing or damaged?  Nothing could be more frustrating. Most readers feel the same way when they download a much anticipated book onto a tablet or smartphone, only to find that it is garbled or unreadable.

For blind and print-disabled book lovers, it is even more frustrating to know that a helpful book on a topic of interest exists, but is closed to them because it is not available in accessible format. This is a serious and life-altering issue for the estimated 314 million visually impaired people around the world.  According to the World Health Organization, 90 percent of them live in the Global South.

The Marrakesh Treaty
Now comes word that a Diplomatic Conference of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) hosted by Morocco adopted “the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or otherwise Print Disabled” (Marrakesh Treaty) on June 27, 2013.   The treaty’s adoption was timed to coincide with the birthday of political activist, author, and educator Helen Keller.

Ending “Book Deserts”
Once ratified and implemented by states parties, the Marrakesh Treaty will help end “book deserts” around the world, where persons who are blind or who have print disabilities are denied access to the full range of print materials.  The World Blind Union notes that “of the million or so books published each year …, less than 5 per cent are made available in formats accessible to VIPs [Visually-Impaired People].” The treaty allows for easier and more uniform cross-border access to, and sharing of, reading materials in accessible formats such as Braille, large print, and accessible digital files.

Why was such a treaty necessary?  These days, can’t people with print disabilities just download the books and articles they need or want from the internet?

Not so easy.

Barriers to Access
Among the challenges:

  • Not all online reading materials (such as pdfs) are accessible to screen reading software and other assistive technology.  Some materials appear only as unreadable “images” (i.e., photographs of a page, not identifiable words on a page).  Some materials can be converted into readable text with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, but this requires access to the relevant software, equipment, and training.
  • Conversion of books to Braille, large print, audio, or electronic files requires political will, time, and resources that not all international bodies, governments, and private actors have been willing to support, even though the benefits of including millions in human and social development far outweighs the limited costs.
  •  Access to Education and Technology:  Many visually-impaired persons are poor because of discrimination, lack of access to education and employment, and other domestic and international policies.  If they are also members of minority or marginalized communities, they are even more likely to lack effective access to schools, learning materials, and assistive technology.
  • Gender and Disability Discrimination: Girls and women with disabilities experience compounded forms of discrimination and exclusion from access to education in many societies.  Although accessible materials may be available in their home countries, gender stereotypes and violence may limit their effective access to books. (Check out Malala Yousafzai’s extraordinarily moving speech at UN Headquarters on the right to education of women and girls, an end to poverty, and a commitment to nonviolence.) Continue reading

The Future of Human Rights Fact-Finding

meg satterthwaite

Meg Satterthwaite

Will the human rights movement benefit from innovation, technological improvements, and social media, or will these developments imply new challenges for human rights monitoring and analysis instead?

According to a recent ASIL panel on “The Future of Human Rights Fact-Finding,” the answer, of course, is “both.”

The stimulating panel attracted a standing-room only audience. Today’s international human rights lawyers and advocates still seek the Holy Grail of accurate, reliable, and convincing data on past violations or on ways to prevent emerging threats. Experts and non-experts alike are both intrigued and wary about the implications of these rapidly developing methodologies.

Discussion centered on current developments. Among the methodologies described:

– spatial mapping;

– developments in human rights forensics;

– the growing use of human rights indicators;

– crowd-sourcing data gathered from cellphones, handheld video cameras, and social media.

Philip G. Alston, John Norton Pomeroy Professor at New York University School of Law and an experienced participant in many fact-finding missions, moderated the panel and lively discussion session. He began by noting that the broad human rights community has generally been slow to adopt new fact-finding methods. The panel addressed the need to talk about such developments and their implications in real-world contexts.

The first panelist, Margaret (Meg) L. Satterthwaite, Professor of Clinical Law and Director, Root-Tilden-Kern Program, NYU School of Law, is completing a forthcoming book on the development of human rights measurement and evaluation. She began with a historical overview, discussing the classic “naming and shaming” and “embarrassment effect” strategies used by many NGOs to shed light on violations through international accountability mechanisms or political pressure. She noted that eyewitness and survivor interviews, as well as various forms of forensics have been at the core of such strategies.

Still, the traditional approaches involve significant ethical and practical dilemmas, including limits on eyewitness testimony and physical restrictions on access to investigation sites or witnesses.

Satterthwaite laid the groundwork for the panel’s discussion of the increasing systematization, professionalization, and innovation in fact-finding, presentation, and evaluation in recent years. As an example, Satterthwaite noted recent efforts to use crowd-sourcing methodology to track sexual violence in Syria. “Big data” (large coverage information gathered by governments, financial and development institutions, etc.) can be used to confirm or develop the human rights data. Significantly, she also stressed the importance of using technological advances to monitor the implementation of economic and social rights in context.

Satterthwaite argued that human rights monitors have the responsibility to use data in ethical and human context and therefore sees a continuing need for individual eyewitness testimony and other traditional methods.

Continue reading