Sunday, December 14, 2008

Remarks of the UN Secretary General to the Commemorative Session of the Human Rights Council on the 60th Anniversary of the UDHR

12 December 2008

Following are the remarks delivered by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the high-level segment of the commemorative session held by the Human Rights Council to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:"At the outset, I would like to thank the choir of the International School of Geneva for their beautiful musical performance.

They are the hope of our future, and we must work harder to provide a brighter future protecting and promoting their human rights. It is also very fitting that we celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in this very important and meaningful chamber, the Chamber of Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations, so soon after it was officially opened.

On this sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I have a message to the peoples of the world:Congratulations!Mabrouk!祝贺 Zhùhè!Félicitations!Pozdravlyayu!Felicidades!From Abkhaz to Zulu, the Universal Declaration is the world's most translated document.

It is available in three hundred and sixty languages. Its tenets have been absorbed into the constitutions of many newly independent States and new democracies. Its words ring in every corner of the planet.

The Universal Declaration embodies groundbreaking principles: the universality of human rights, and their indivisibility.It enshrines the interdependence of security, development and respect for human rights.And it places a moral obligation on States not to pick and choose among rights and freedoms, but to uphold them all.

The Declaration's framers proclaimed the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings. They unequivocally linked destitution and exclusion with discrimination. They understood that social and cultural stigma makes it impossible for people to obtain justice or participate fully in public life.The Universal Declaration was born following the utter devastation of the Second World War.

The international community drew ideals, principles and achievements from diverse cultures to form this foundation on which we have built a great tower of human rights law. We are still adding to this edifice. Just two days ago, the General Assembly adopted the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

This past May, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities entered into force. And last year, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance was opened for signature.

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of meeting one of the activists who pushed for the treaty against enforced disappearances. Her name is Estela Barnes de Carlotto. She joined a movement of Argentine grandmothers after her own daughter disappeared. Eventually she became a force for international action.I was deeply moved by her story. She is exceptional – but she is also typical of the human rights defenders on the frontlines of abuse who have risked their lives to ensure that others are protected.

It was the disabled persons who led the process of drafting the treaty on their rights.It was torture victims who stood up against the atrocities they had endured.And it was women who fought gender discrimination.

Today is also their day: a day to pay tribute to all the activists who refused to be silenced by their tormentors. Who knew that right must triumph over might. Who were inspired by the Declaration into elaborating specific laws that now protect countless people around the world.

The world did not adopt such an impressive list of human rights instruments just to put them on a shelf somewhere at the United Nations. These should be living documents that can be wielded by experts who scrutinize country reports or assess individual complaints.

Many delegates meet at the United Nations, but among the most passionate are the human rights experts. I have seen them start early in the morning, work through lunch and turn out the lights late at night. They are making the most of every single opportunity to protect human rights.

Today is their day, too.

Non-governmental organizations carry the banner as well. Whether working with states or in opposition to them, these groups are crucial in pressing for the rule of law and holding governments to their promises. They may be outspoken, but they are not out of line.

Today is also their day.

The press likewise deserves credit for bringing human rights abuses to light. Courageous journalists have risked and lost their lives to report on threats against others. This anniversary is a milestone for them, too -- a day on which to stress again the need for media to be free to do their job, and free fom harassment, intimidation and worse.

We have come a long way since the Declaration's adoption. But the reality is that we have not lived up to its vision – at least not yet. Abject poverty, shameful discrimination and horrific violence continue to plague millions of people. As we mark this milestone, we must also acknowledge the savage inhumanity that too many people in our world must endure.

There is no time to rest.This Council can have a tremendous impact. But you, its members, must rise above partisan posturing and regional divides. One way to do this is with continued vigilance in carrying out the Universal Periodic Review, which assesses the human rights records of all States. The Council must address human rights abuses wherever they occur.

The Council should also press countries to follow the recommendations of the independent experts and treaty bodies monitoring human rights. All Member States share a responsibility to make the Council succeed.

Member States should also do more to support the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Since its creation fifteen years ago, the Office has grown from a fledging mechanism into an engine for change.

It has expanded its global presence, elevated the profile of human rights, and provided expert advice to States and within the UN system. And it has done so while preserving the independence and impartiality that are crucial for human rights work and advocacy.

I urge all Member States to strengthen support for the Office and the leadership of High Commissioner Navi Pillay.The Universal Declaration was created as "a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations".

Today is a day for all peoples in all countries to celebrate.

But it is also a day on which we must pledge that the work of human rights defenders, non-governmental organizations, experts, policy-makers, journalists and all people of conscience must continue until the timeless and universal principles in this Declaration become not just an inspiration or an aspiration, but the foundation of life for all of the world's people".

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The UN Secretary General Message on Human Rights Day

10 December 2008

On this Human Rights Day, we also celebrate the 60 th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Drafted amid utter destruction and destitution following the Second World War, the Declaration reflects humanity’s aspirations for a future of prosperity, dignity and peaceful coexistence.

Its adoption was a landmark. Today, the Declaration remains a core part of the UN’s very identity.

The challenges we face today are as daunting as those that confronted the Declaration’s drafters.

We face a food emergency and a global financial crisis.

Humankind’s assault on the natural environment continues.

There is political repression in too many countries.

And as ever, the most vulnerable continue to be on the frontlines of hardship and abuse.

The luckiest among us, those who are spared the most negative effects of disaster, poverty or instability, cannot turn a blind eye. The cascading effects of abuse and indifference can eventually engulf the entire planet.

Rights, and especially their violation, must hold the whole world in solidarity.

On this Human Rights Day, it is my hope that we will all act on our collective responsibility to uphold the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration.

We can only honour the towering vision of that inspiring document when its principles are fully applied everywhere, for everyone.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Human Rights and the United Nations

Timeline: Human Rights Conventions

Al Jazeera

On December 10, 1948 the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Its 30 articles have been enforced in international treaties, local human rights tools, national bills and constitutions. The following timeline is a review of the most significant conventions and declarations that marked the UN's role in the affirmation of human rights.

June 26, 1945: UN Charter is signed in San Francisco.

December 9, 1948: Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

December 10, 1948: Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

November 4, 1950: European Convention of Human Rights (Council of Europe).

January 12, 1951: Convention on the prevention of the crime of genocide.

July 28, 1951: Convention relating to status of refugees.

December 20, 1952: Convention on the political rights of women.

October 23, 1953: Protocol amending the convention to suppress the slave trade and slavery originally signed in Geneva, Switzerland on September 25, 1926, under the auspices of the League of Nations.

September 28, 1954: Convention relating to stateless persons.

September 7, 1956: Convention on the abolition of slavery, the slave trade, and institutions and practices of slavery.

June 25, 1957: Convention on the abolition of forced labour.

November 20, 1959: Declaration of the right of the child.

December 14, 1960: Declaration on the granting of independence to colonial countries and people.

November 20, 1963: Declaration on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination.

December 21, 1965: International convention on the elimination of all forms of racial
discrimination. A committee on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination established.

December 16, 1966: International covenant on civil and political rights - Human Rights committee established.

November 7, 1967: Declaration of the elimination of discrimination against women. Proclamation of Tehran – International conference on human rights.

November 26, 1968: Convention on the non-applicability of statutory limitations to war crimes against humanity.

December 20, 1971: Declaration of the rights of the elderly.

December 20, 1971: Declaration of the rights of mentally retarded persons.

November 30, 1973: International convention on the suppression and punishment of the crime of apartheid.

December 9, 1975: Declaration on the rights of disabled persons. Declaration on the protection of all persons from being subjected to torture and other cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

December 9, 1978: Convention concerning migrations in abusive conditions and the promotion of equality of opportunity and treatment of migrant workers.

December 18, 1979: Convention on the Elimination of All Kinds of Discrimination against Women. Committee on the Elimination of All Kinds of Discrimination Against Women established.

June 27, 1981: African charter on hand people's rights (African Charter).

November 25, 1981: Declaration on the Elimination of All Intolerance and Discrimination based on Religion or Belief.

December 10, 1984: Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

May 28, 1985: Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural rights established to monitor International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural rights.

December 4, 1986: Declaration on the right to development.

November 20, 1989: Convention on the right of the child. Committee on the right of the child established.

December 15, 1989: Second optional protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – aimed at the abolition of death penalty.

August 5, 1990: Cairo declaration on human rights in Islam.

December 14, 1990: Basic principles for the treatment of prisoners.

December 18, 1990: International convention on the protection of the rights of all migrant workers and members of their families.

December 18, 1992: Declaration on the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance. Declaration on the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic or religious or linguistic minorities.

June 14, 1993: World conference on human rights opens in Vienna.

December 20, 1993: Declaration on the elimination of violence against women.

December 21, 1993: International decade of the world's indegenous peoples proclaimed.

September 15, 1994: Declaration of the Arab charter on human rights.

December 23, 1994: International decade for human rights education proclaimed: 1995 – 2004

September 15, 1995: World conference on womens rights at Beijing.

April 3, 1998: Declaration on the right and responsibility of individuals, groups and organs of society to promote and protect universally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms.

December 7, 2000: Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union.

September 4-8, 2001: World conference against racism, xenophobia and all forms of discrimination in Durban, South Africa.

June 29, 2006: United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.

May 3, 2008: Convention on the rights of people with disabilities came into force

Monday, December 1, 2008

Human Rights and HIV

Police-initiated testing? Let’s return to the rights-based approach!

by Melissa Ditmore

I’m sorry to be the bad fairy while most people feel good about our achievements on World AIDS Day. Sex workers in Mongolia and Macedonia have reported being forced to undergo HIV testing subsequent to being arrested. Sex workers are rightly indignant: forced testing is a human rights violation and has been condemned by the World Health Organization and UNAIDS.

Sex workers are concerned because last week, The Lancet published
a study suggesting that early treatment for HIV may decrease HIV transmission. More research is necessary before this is acted upon, but early treatment requires being tested for HIV and having access to ARV medicines for HIV. Mass testing would be necessary before mass treatment can occur in order to determine to whom to give ARVs. However, mass testing is a very difficult undertaking, as demonstrated by the experiences of sex workers forcibly tested.

Lesotho recently tried to implement HIV testing on a mass scale, and
Human Rights Watch documented many pitfalls, problems and rights violations. Human Rights Watch and ARASA found that the campaign did not provide appropriate training and supervision for counselors conducting the testing, undermining the quality of the services provided, and that it did not adequately link HIV testing to follow-up prevention and treatment services. This presents problems for sensitivity and access to ARVs for those who may need them.

International bodies like WHO and UNAIDS have discussed provider-initiated testing, which should mean that a health care provider discusses the benefits and risks of testing for HIV and offers the test with appropriate counseling. Voluntary counseling and testing has not taken off in places where confidentiality may be compromised; this is one reason for the push toward provider-initiated testing. But sex workers rightfully question whether this will mean ‘police-initiated testing’ as experienced by in Mongolia and Macedonia.

Jonathan Mann promoted a rights-based approach to HIV-programming, which should not be abandoned for anyone least of all the most vulnerable people in our societies, including some sex workers.
Melissa Ditmore, Ph.D.
Sex Workers Project
Urban Justice Center

HIV/AIDS - The Right To Know

The Right to Know:
HIV/AIDS and Health Literacy

It has been more than 27 years since we first learned that a specific virus, HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), was the causative agent of AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) and responsible for causing a worldwide pandemic; recently, Nobel prizes were awarded to French researchers, Luc Montagnier, Françoise Barré Sinoussi and Harald zur Hausen for their seminal work in the discovery of HIV. (Of note: Luc Montagnier has acknowledged the work of American, Robert Gallo for his work on HIV.)

According to the UN, approximately 33 million people are living with HIV and AIDS, and the number of new cases is growing, apparently at a greater rate than previously thought in both developing and the developed countries. For example, up until now it was believed that there were 40,000 new HIV infections annually in the US. But, based upon new blood tests which can differentiate between old and new infections, and more sophisticated statistical methods, current estimates from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) place the number at 55,000 (around 40% higher) and this seems to have been the case for the past several years. Using the new techniques, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC DOHMH) estimates that the number of those newly infected with HIV in New York City has been grossly underestimated; in 2006, the virus was shown to infect 4,800 persons, at a rate three times greater than the national rate.

Black and other ethnic minority members are disproportionately represented in new cases of HIV and AIDS; while only 13% of the US population is African American, they account for 50% of all new HIV cases, several times the rate seen in the white population; sixty-six percent of infants born with HIV in the US are black. Black women now represent 66% of new AIDS cases compared with 17% for white women, and 16% for Hispanic women. This represents a significant increase since 1987 when JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association) reported the incidence of HIV/AIDS in 1986 as 6.7% for all women in the US, 51% of whom were black, and 20% Hispanic.

In large US cities such as NYC, LA and SFA Blacks living with HIV and AIDS in NYC are 2 ½ times more likely to die from their disease than whites. While vulnerable groups of all races/ethnicities including the homeless, injection drug users (IDUs), and those who engage in unprotected sex remain subject to the ravages of HIV and AIDS, being Black puts them at even greater risk than their white counterparts. Moreover, despite the advent of HAART (highly active anti-retroviral therapy) in 1996, a range of co-morbidities continues to plague those living with HIV and AIDS such as liver disease (hepatitis B, and C), non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, TB, mental illness, malignancy, malnutrition and alcoholism. In addition, socio-economic factors such as poverty, unemployment, stigmatization, undocumented immigrant status, language barriers, a history of incarceration, sexual preferences such as men who have sex with men (MSM), and lack of, or failure to access medical care and low health literacy put these populations at even greater risk of HIV and AIDS.

And, while low health literacy re HIV/AIDS is prevalent in vulnerable populations, it is found at all levels of income and education:

In the early 80s, I attempted to recruit a prominent, upper Eastside ob/gyn to speak at a meeting on “Women and AIDS.” Pointing out of his office window to a tree-lined street with its pricey townhouses, and idling limousines he allowed as how his patients ‘don’t get AIDS,’ and questioned why he should speak why at the meeting. At the time, it was erroneously believed that HIV infection was primarily contracted by homosexual men, and male and female sex workers through unprotected sex. We now know that blood and blood products can also carry HIV which can then be transmitted via transfusion or needle-stick injuries, or through maternal transmission, and that income and level of education, race/ethnicity and sexual preference are not barriers to HIV infection.

A decade later, I enrolled in a doctoral level biology course and was asked to write a paper on two ‘viruses’ chosen from a list that did not include HIV. When I questioned my instructor, he opined that ‘not enough’ was known about the virus, and, asked whether ‘HIV would be a more suitable topic for a sociology course.’ I could not understand his naivety, given that the seminal work isolating the HIV as the causative agent of AIDS, and the elucidation of the structure of HIV had already been accomplished.

Just a year ago, a man accused of raping and infecting three women with HIV used as his defense the ridiculous notion that HIV cannot be transmitted through vaginal sex. Though a preeminent scientist supported his claim, the Court ruled in favor of the three victims.

It is therefore a paradox that while NYC has the greatest number of new HIV/AIDS cases in the country, as well as the largest population of those living with HIV and AIDS, basic knowledge of the disease, its causes, diagnosis and remedies seems to elude us at every level of society.

Moreover, the epidemic is disproportionately affecting the black and other ethnic minority community members. In light of this, the take home message for those concerned with human rights, is to pay heed to a disease that is, in the main, preventable, but nonetheless increasing in prevalence, emerging into new geographic areas and populations (in the US, women of color comprise the fastest growing population), and for which there is no vaccine or known cure.

It is simply incomprehensible that almost 30 years into the HIV/AIDS pandemic that not enough has been done to stem the tide of new cases, and properly address the problem through health education on care and prevention of HIV/AIDS. In addition, we need a new national plan to increase awareness of this dreaded disease. However, our taxpayer dollars seem to be headed elsewhere when one considers that the numbers of African Americans in the US living with HIV and AIDS is greater than those living with the disease in seven of the PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) nations; at the 17th International AIDS Conference recently held in Mexico City, black leaders from the US called for the US to create a ‘domestic PEPFAR’ program.

One way to fight HIV/AIDS illiteracy is by keeping abreast of HIV/AIDS related information, and spreading the word through health education and community outreach programs.

Cynthia Racer, MA, MPH,
Past President American Medical Writers Association
(Metro NY Chapter);
Member: American Public Health Association;
Society for Public Health Education.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Petition for the Resignation of Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy

The May 1st Coalition is circulating the following petition in the wake of the murder of Latino worker, Marcello Lucero. Please sign on, circulate and send back to email address:


Long Island November 14, 2008


This publicly elected official has created an atmosphere of separation and hate in the county over which he presides, giving refuge and a type of legitimacy to racists. Steve Levy allied himself with the Minutemen who hounded the Latino day laborers in Farmingville. Under his "watch," racist white youths invaded the home of John White, which led to the death of one of these youths. Steve Levy's human indifference to the conditions of Latinos in his county fed the cowardly reactions of alienated high school youths who were emboldened on November 8, to commit the unspeakably brutal attack and murder of Ecuadoran immigrant Marcello Lucero, a hard working, decent human being who lived and worked in Patchogue. Under Steve Levy's watch, KKK members have recently dropped racist leaflets in different communities in Suffolk.

Other racists in Suffolk County, under Levy's blind eye, feel free to smear anti-Black, anti-Obama and sexist graffiti on Suffolk streets. We demand the resignation of this man who has done such harm to our communities. Steve Levy's regime has contributed nothing to the development of unity and human decency in Suffolk County.


Name __________________________________________________

Address ________________________________________________



Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum on Willets Point

Willets Point Vote
Yesterday, the City Council voted on the development plan for Willets Point. It's no secret that I've had some
serious reservations about this plan since it was introduced.

I have voiced my concerns that the needs of local business owners in the Willets Point must be addressed. For months, I’ve been advocating that the city sit down with local business owners and workout a situation that meets everyone’s needs. And it appears – for the majority of businesses – that this may have happened. This is welcome news.

Many of these business owners have invested considerable amounts time and money improve their community, and many have supplied needed services to New Yorkers for generations. I hope this current plan takes that into account, for we all want an ideal future for Willets Point. I think we can all agree that the best way to move forward is to make sure that all parties - the city, the community, and local business owners - have an equal say in the development plan.
Betsy Gotbaum


Civil Rights Groups Petition California Supreme Court to Stop Enactment of Proposition 8

The Equal Justice Society today joined other civil rights groups in filing a petition (download PDF) with the California Supreme Court to stop the enactment of Proposition 8 because it would mandate discrimination against a minority group and did not follow the process required for fundamental revisions to the California Constitution.

In the petition, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, EJS, California NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. argue that in order to protect the fundamental rights of all Californians, a higher standard is required to overturn the right to marry. Minority communities cannot be stripped of their fundamental rights by a simple majority vote.

"We would be making a grave mistake to view Proposition 8 as just affecting the LGBT community," said Eva Paterson, president of the Equal Justice Society. "If the Supreme Court allows Proposition 8 to take effect, it would represent a threat to the rights of people of color and all minorities."

The petition filed by Raymond C. Marshall of Bingham McCutchen and Prof. Tobias Barrington Wolff of University of Pennsylvania Law School on behalf of leading African American, Latino, and Asian American groups echo the arguments made in the November 5 lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the National Center for Lesbian Rights: Proposition 8 prevents the courts from exercising their essential constitutional role of enforcing the equal protection rights of minorities.

The California Constitution requires that any measure attempting to revise the underlying principles of the constitution must first be approved by a two-thirds vote of the legislature before being submitted to the voters. Proposition 8 was not approved through that constitutionally required process.

"Proposition 8 contradicts the most basic protection guaranteed by the California Constitution, which is the right to equal protection of the laws," said John Trasviña, President and General Counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "We can not allow the Constitution to sanction discrimination against one group of people."

"Direct democracy cannot override the California Constitution, which requires more than a majority vote to deprive a minority group of their fundamental rights," said John A. Payton, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

"We cannot become a society that picks and chooses who is entitled to equal rights," said Alice A. Huffman, president of the California State NAACP. "We should include all people from all walks of life in the entitlement to all freedoms now enjoyed by the majority of our population As a civil rights advocate, we will continue the fight of eliminating roadblocks to freedom."

"Consistent with core equal protection principles, minority communities must not be stripped of their fundamental rights by bare majority rule," said Karin Wang, Vice-President of Programs for the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. "California went down this path before when the majority population chose to bar interracial marriages involving an unpopular minority: Asian immigrants. The state Constitution exists exactly for this reason - to protect the fundamental rights of minority communities."

"Let's not forget the landmark 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia, which allowed two people of different races to marry," said Paterson of the Equal Justice Society. "People then believed it was acceptable to keep Mildred Loving from marrying a white man because of their ideas of who should marry whom. We must not return to those times."

The court has precedent for invalidating an improper voter initiative. In 1990, the court overruled an initiative that would have added a provision to the California Constitution stating that the "Constitution shall not be construed by the courts to afford greater rights to criminal defendants than those afforded by the Constitution of the United States." That measure was invalid because it improperly attempted to strip California's courts of their role as independent interpreters of the state's constitution.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. ( was founded in 1940 under the leadership of Thurgood Marshall. Although LDF's primary purpose was to provide legal assistance to poor African Americans, its work over the years has brought greater justice to all Americans.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF (, the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization, promotes and protects the rights of Latinos through litigation, advocacy, community education and outreach, leadership development, and higher education scholarships.

The Asian Pacific American Legal Center ( is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for civil rights, providing legal services and education, and building coalitions to positively influence and impact Asian Pacific Americans and to create a more equitable and harmonious society. APALC is affiliated with the Asian American Justice Center, the Asian American Institute in Chicago, and the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco.

The Equal Justice Society ( is a national strategy group heightening conscious on race in the law and popular discourse. Using a three-pronged strategy of law and public policy advocacy, cross-disciplinary convenings and strategic public communications, EJS seeks to restore race equity issues to the national consciousness, build effective progressive alliances, and advance the discourse on the positive role of government.

Equal Justice Society is a national strategy group heightening conscious on race in the law and popular discourse. Using strategies including law, public policy, communications, convenings and the arts, EJS seeks to restore race equity issues to the national consciousness, build effective progressive alliances and create a discourse on the positive role of government. Our more than 4,000 supporters throughout the country include advocates, attorneys, jurists, scholars, social scientists and communicators.
Equal Justice Society, 220 Sansome St, 14th Flr, San Francisco, CA 94104, Ph (415) 288-8700

Sunday, November 16, 2008

OFW remittances only for OFWs--advocate

Gov’t hit for ‘wrong’ view

By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez
First Posted 12:45:00 10/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines -- Only the migrant workers, not the government or any institution, are the rightful owners of the billions of dollars in remittances that they have earned in foreign lands, a US-based sociology professor and an advocate of migrants' rights said.

Jorge A. Bustamante, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants and Nobel Peace Prize nominee in 2006, said that it was a "wrong perspective" for governments to put the "responsibility of development on the shoulders of migrants" whose remittances, in the case of the Philippines, have kept the economy afloat amid the financial crunch worldwide.

"I think this is something important to clarify because this lack of appreciation is making the wrong perspective about the nature of remittances because sometimes when migration is associated with dependency some people believe that economic development has to be related with remittances, and that would be a wrong perspective, that would be unfair to the migrants," Bustamante said in his remark at the solidarity dinner of parliamentarians hosted by Senate President Manuel Villar and Representative Cynthia Villar late Monday at the Villa Pacencia Laurel in Mandaluyong City.

However, Bustamante stressed that he delivered his statements as an academician, not as UN rapporteur.

He is a professor of sociology, teaching international migration and human rights at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

The event was organized simultaneous with the opening of the Global Forum on Migration and Development at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City.

Bustamante is scheduled to attend the counterpart forum organized by progressive migrant workers group, the International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees.

"Remittances are the result of the work of migrants and they represent their savings that have the basic objective to support their families at home. Therefore remittances are the property of migrants and nobody else, therefore, this money that belongs to the migrants should not be associated with any claim by any institution, government or private, which might think that remittances should be used for the purposes of economic development," he said.

He said such claims “would be unfair and incongruent with the nature of remittances, and this is something that has to do with the need to clarify some of the problems that we associate with the phenomenon of international migration all over the world."

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo repeatedly boasted that the remittances of the country's eight million overseas Filipino workers (OFW) have kept the economy afloat amid the international financial turmoil.

In 2007, OFW remittances totaled $14.4 billion.

Asked in an interview about the dangers of government treating remittances as its property, Bustamante said, "The danger is that remittances that are the property of migrants are stolen because only the migrants can decide what should be the destination of their own property."
Bustamante said governments should keep in mind that remittances were not touched for other purposes "than those that have been decided by the migrants themselves."
"Migrants are the only persons that could decide on what is the destination of their own money," he added.

John Monterona, coordinator of the group Migrante for Middle East, lamented that government fees and taxes imposed on OFWs were not being used for the benefit of the migrant workers.
The Overseas Welfare Workers Administration (OWWA) charges $25 each as membership fee for departing OFWs and $.015 for documentary stamp, he said.

With about 3,000 Filpinos leaving every day to work abroad, Monterona said the government through the OWWA earned billions in pesos from the OFWs.

"The question is where does OWWA spend its more than P10-billion fund," he said in an interview.

Gary Martinez, Migrante International spokesman, said that despite the contributions of the OFWs, the government has been remiss in its duty to protect the welfare of the workers.
He lamented that thousands of distressed OFWs remained in shelters without assistance from the Philippine embassy or consular offices.

Some of the workers on the death row are also deprived of legal assistance.

Martinez said that 29 Filipinos were facing death sentences in various countries.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Obama Spells New Hope for Human Rights

Monday 10 November 2008
by: Marjorie Cohn, t r u t h o u t Perspective

Celebrations of Barack Obama's election as president of the United States erupted in countries around the world. From Europe to Africa to the Middle East, people were jubilant. After suffering though eight years of an administration that violated more human rights than any other in US history, Obama spells hope for a new day.

While George W. Bush was president, I wrote "Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law," which chronicled his war of aggression, policy of torture, illegal killings, unlawful Guantanamo detentions and secret spying on Americans. When the book was published, it seemed unimaginable that we could elect a president who would turn those policies around. But the election of Obama holds that potential.

This is the first in a series of articles in which I will suggest how the Obama administration can start undoing some of the damage Bush wrought, by ratifying three of the major human rights treaties and the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court.

Although the US government frequently criticizes other countries for their human rights transgressions, the United States has been one of the most flagrant violators. We have refused to ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). And while the United States worked with other countries for 50 years to create the International Criminal Court, it has failed to ratify that treaty as well. When we ratify a treaty, it becomes part of US law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

In this article, I will explain why the United States should ratify the ICESCR, which is particularly relevant now that we are in the midst of the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression.

In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose New Deal helped lift us out of the Depression, gave his famous Four Freedoms speech, focused on freedom of speech and expression, freedom to worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. Roosevelt fleshed out the freedom from want and fear principles in his Economic Bill of Rights. It contained equality of opportunity, the right to a job and a decent wage, the end of special privileges for the few, universal civil liberties, guaranteed old-age pensions, unemployment insurance and medical care.

FDR's Bill of Rights formed the basis for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Eleanor Roosevelt helped draft, and which the UN General Assembly adopted in 1949. The Declaration embraced two types of human rights: civil and political rights on the one hand; and economic, social and cultural rights on the other.

These rights were codified in two binding treaties: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

The United States ratified the ICCPR in 1992. But it has refused to commit itself to the protection of economic, social and cultural rights. Since the Reagan administration, there has been a policy to define human rights in terms of civil and political rights, but to dismiss economic, social and cultural rights as akin to social welfare or socialism.

Indeed, the United States's inhumane policy toward Cuba exemplifies this dichotomy. The US government has criticized civil and political rights in Cuba while disregarding Cubans' superior access to universal housing, health care, education and public accommodations and its guarantee of paid maternity leave and equal pay rates.

The refusal to enshrine rights such as employment, education, food, housing and health care in US law is the reason the United States has not ratified the ICESCR. This treaty contains the right to work in just and favorable conditions, to an adequate standard of living, to the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health, to education, to housing, and to enjoyment of the benefits of cultural freedom and scientific progress. It also guarantees equal rights for men and women, the right to work, the right to form and join trade unions, the right to social security and social insurance and protection and assistance to the family.

In the United States, more than ten million people are unemployed, two to three million families are homeless each year, and 46 million have no health care benefits. Untold numbers lost their retirement savings when the stock market crashed. Obama has pledged to give the rebuilding of our economy top priority after he is sworn in as president. He promised to create jobs and to ensure that all Americans are covered by health insurance. When Obama said he would cut taxes for 95 percent of the people, but end the tax cuts for the rich, he was criticized for wanting to "spread the wealth." But Obama's plan is fully consistent with our progressive income tax system. After the election, 15,000 physicians called for a single-payer health care plan, which Obama and Congress should seriously consider.

The United States's flouting of the United Nations in its unilateral war on Iraq, and torture of prisoners in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Iraq has engendered widespread condemnation in the international community. Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh, citing Professor Louis Henkin, summarized the hypocrisy of the United States in the area of human rights as follows: "In the cathedral of human rights, the US is more like a flying buttress than a pillar - choosing to stand outside the international structure supporting the international human rights system, but without being willing to subject its own conduct to the scrutiny of the system."

We should encourage President-elect Obama to send the ICESCR to the Senate for advice and consent to ratification. Becoming a party to that treaty will help not only the people in this country; it will also engender respect for the United States around the world.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and the president of the National Lawyers Guild. Her new book, "Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent" (with Kathleen Gilberd), will be published this winter by PoliPointPress. Her articles are archived at The next article in this series will explain why the United States should ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Monday, November 10, 2008

CISPES event



Join CISPES in kicking off the campaign to Defend the Right to Free and Fair Elections in El Salvador!
Come to a discussion of the democratic forces at work in the transformation of Latin America.

Tuesday Nov. 11th, 7pm @ the North
American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) 38 Greene St (corner of Grand), 4th floor: 1, A/C/E, N/R/Q/W, J, 6 to Canal St.

Panel Discussion with:

Claudia de Cuellar, former City Councilwoman, Ayutuxtepeque, El Salvador

Jaime Herrida, Vice-Consul, Consulate of Nicaragua, New York (invited)

Greg Wilpert, Journalist and Author,

Just how hard the US government is working to prevent El Salvador from going “left” Impact of elections across Latin America
The next big elections in Latin America— El Salvador 2009!

Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador
NY CISPES • P.O. Box 250762 NY, NY 10025 • (917) 214 – 3479 •

Thursday, November 6, 2008


NYC Peoples Convention2009
Post Election Forum

A New Era of Struggle

Saturday 8 November, 2008
9am to 5pm

--FREE to All--

At CUNY Murphy Labor Institute
25 W. 43rd Street --18th Floor
Manhattan (D, F, B Trains to 42nd St)

Barack Obama is the winner! And yet there is still a lot of work to do for our communities. We have entered a New Era of Struggle!After an historical presidential election; The global Capitalist financial crisis, riddled with ripoffs and Governmental Bailout; State & municipal governmental budget cuts, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of job layoffs; Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Gustave and other signs of racist incompetency and Global Warming; The Jena 6 racist attacks; hundreds of thousands of housing foreclosures; rising Police terror within Black & Latino communities; Our persistent Youth violence; a toxic profit-driven Health Care system; and a public mis-educational system steering our children into prisons or low end jobs...What must we do with a new president in the White House?How can we bring change that will benefit our communities?
3:30-5PM NYC Peoples Convention2009 Planning Meeting -------------------------------------------

9am to 10am- Registration

10am to 3:30pm -- Introductory Remarks & Panels

Sista Suheir Hammad- Poetic Tribute to Our Continued struggle

10am -11:30am-- Local/Regional: Councilmember Charles Barron; Assemblymember-elect Inez Barron; Nellie Bailey-Harlem Tenants Council; Larry Hamm-Peoples Organization for Progress (NJ) Moderator: David Greaves- Publisher, Our Times Press

11:30am -1pm-- National: Herb Boyd-Journalist, The Black World Today & Amsterdam News; Brenda Stokely-Union activist and Katrina activist; Gary Younge-Journalist, The Guardian (London) and the NationModerator: Nayaba- Senior Editor, Amsterdam News
2pm- 3:30pm-- International: Horace Campbell-Professor Africana Studies, Syracuse University; BJ Matthews-Taxi Workers Alliance, economist.

3:30-5PM NYC Peoples Convention2009 Planning Meeting
------------------------------ ----------------

Coordinators of Forum: Sam Anderson-author, professor/activist & Jessica Watson-Crosby, co-chair Black Radical Congress-NY & National Chair, Black Radical Congress.


The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) congratulates President-Elect Barack Obama and welcomes all the new members to the Senate and House of Representatives.

I get emotional when I think about the new opportunities those of us working on behalf of reproductive justice with this monumental election. In my 6 years with NLIRH, I have attempted to push a truly progressive agenda for women's health and rights. Over and over again I have heard: Now is not the time and We have to wait for better a political climate.

Today, we can finally say ADELANTE, our time has come. Now the real questions face us. What does this new era mean? What do we want for our families and communities? What does a Latina agenda for reproductive justice and immigrant rights look like? To begin, we have three top requests of the new administration:

1. Repeal the Hyde Amendment, which denies low-income women access to abortion services;

2. End the discriminatory, militaristic and inhumane immigration enforcement practices that are destroying our communities;

3. Support an equitable and affordable plan for comprehensive health care for all.

I'm not naïve enough to believe that this can all be done quickly. I realize that we are entering immensely challenging times. We are fighting two un-just wars in the midst of serious economic turmoil. However I believe that the issues that face our country are not irrelevant to a reproductive justice, pro-family platform—in fact—they are intimately interconnected. Without economic security we cannot exercise our right to healthy pregnancies or adequately plan our families. Without clean air and quality affordable food options we cannot ensure the health of our children.

Now that we have new leadership in place, we advocates, activists and organizers must rise to the occasion. We must take the momentum of this election to our everyday organizing and activism, placing women's ability to care and provide for their families at the center of our platform. Our Latina sisters at
California Latinas for Reproductive Justice and COLOR each led Latino-specific messaging and movement-building campaigns that resulted in defeating ballot initiatives that could have jeopardized the health and well-being of women and families in Colorado and California.

As we move forward, let us put our principles of dignity and justice to practice and ensure that the most marginalized women and families are at the center of our policymaking, organizing and advocacy efforts.

Thank you to all of our activists, supporters and allies who have been fighting for reproductive justice with us. Let us toast to a new era of salud, dignidad y justicia para tod@s!

Silvia HenriquezExecutive DirectorNational Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Amnesty International USA congratulates elected President Obama

Waking up this morning was like waking up to a new era. That’s because many of us remember a time when activities were segregated by race, whether going to the movies or riding a bus.

And then yesterday, the biggest racial barrier in American politics was annihilated. By record margins, America elected Barack Obama the first African-American president of the United States.

Hope overcame fear. Ordinary citizens mobilized to change the future. This is the heart of Amnesty International. Since 1961, we’ve held out hope for those enduring injustice, when all hope was lost. And through the power of your collective actions, hundreds of thousands now enjoy greater freedom and a safer, more just world.

A record 131 million people cast their vote and exercised one of the most fundamental of human rights. But as Barack Obama said last night,

"This victory alone is not the change we seek--it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.

"We have a great opportunity. The world faces overwhelming human rights crises. But with your help, we can turn this country’s policies on human rights back in the direction of alleviating, and not contributing, to these crises.

President-elect Obama has promised to restore the rule of law, to repair America’s damaged perception in the world, to close Guantánamo, and to renounce torture.

These promises bring hope. In the coming days, we will need you to help make those promises a reality.

Larry Cox,Executive DirectorAmnesty International USA

Sikh Coalition congratulates President-elect Barack Obama

(New York, New York) November 5, 2009 - The Sikh Coalition, the nation's largest Sikh civil rights organization, congratulated President-elect Barack Obama on his election victory and offered its support for meeting the challenges of our time.In a statement, the Coalition said:"The Sikh Coalition offers its congratulations to President-elect Obama on his historic election to our country's highest political office. His victory moves us ever closer to the dream of ensuring America is a land that offers equal opportunity to all.

Many Sikh Americans are inspired by the steadfast determination of those pioneers of the civil rights movement who marched, were arrested, and even died so that we can all be free. Yesterday's images of joyous celebration at Ebenezer Baptist Church deeply motivates our community to strive, to dream, to fight for a better America.

Yet we know that our work is not complete. Bigotry took a historic blow yesterday, but as Sikh Americans know, it remains alive and well in our country. One day the Sikh articles of faith will be the objects of respect and admiration, but that day has not yet arrived. So today, while we rejoice in the opportunity to build a better America, we know that our work must continue on.

The Sikh Coalition offers its good wishes to President-elect Obama. We look forward to working with an Obama administration to safeguard the rights of all Americans."

Monday, November 3, 2008

Common Misconceptions about Immigrant Voting

"Voting is the essence of citizenship."
The right to vote is about political power; not citizenship per se. That is why blacks and women-who were citizens-were historically denied the right to vote. In fact, immigrant voting rights were eliminated during the late 19th and early twentieth centuries at the same time other measures that barred voting were enacted, including literacy tests, poll taxes, felony disenfranchisement laws, restrictive residency requirements and voter registration procedures. Taken together, these "reforms" combined to disenfranchise millions of Blacks, immigrants and working people of all stripes.

Moreover, advocates seek voting rights for immigrants on the local and state level, not nationally. One might agree that people should become U.S. citizens to vote in national elections, but immigrants are already members of their local communities and possess all the other responsibilities and duties of local citizenship. Permanent residents are already, in a clear sense, citizens of the city. Granting newer New Yorkers a vote in local elections will make policy makers more mindful of all residents, which ultimately benefits our democracy.

Far too many Americans think of voting only as a "right" and not also as a responsibility, discouraging people from voting gives the message that the community does not want its members to take a stake in contributing to the betterment of the place where they live and to holding local officials accountable for their behavior. As the social reformer Saul Alinsky has written, "We must recognize that one of the best ways to insure that men will assume obligations to their fellow men and to society is to make them feel that they are definitely a part of society and that society means enough to them so that they actually feel obligated or have obligations."
We should encourage all residents of our cities and towns to participate in the life of their communities regardless of where they come from, whether they come from Delaware or the Dominican Republic. We all have the same interests in good schools, safe streets, affordable health care and housing. We're a stronger society when everyone participates because everyone benefits if decisions are made democratically.

"Americans have fought and died to defend the right to vote. Why should we give it to people who are not citizens?"
From the American Revolution to Iraq, noncitizens have fought to defend American ideals, and even died for them. Today, there are more than 70,000 noncitizens in the U.S. armed forces. The newest New Yorkers have fought in every war and continue to fight and die in Iraq. In fact, one of the first casualties in the war in Iraq was a young Dominican solder, Riayan Tejeda, who was granted citizenship posthumously. The Armed Services actively recruits immigrant communities, especially in Latino communities.

In fact, immigrants may be more likely to fight and die than most Americans. Right now all legal permanent residents must agree to take up arms for the United States; should a draft be reinstated, they would be the first ones called. In 1971, the U.S. voting age was lowered to 18 in acknowledgment of the soldiers under 21 who were required to risk their lives for this country but previously could not vote.

America has a long history of immigrants fighting on our behalf. In the Civil War, the confederates opposed immigrant suffrage (in no small part because many immigrants opposed slavery); a large part of the Union Army was comprised of noncitizens (almost 20%). In both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and countless conflicts around the world, immigrants have been on the front lines.

"Giving immigrants the right to vote discourages them from becoming citizens."
Many immigrants who want to become citizens but because of bureaucratic red tape must wait an average of ten years to naturalize. The naturalization process has become more difficult, costly, and time consuming. Historically, it was much easier and faster to become a citizen. Few by comparison were denied. But, as different immigrant groups came to the U.S., many of whom were not universally seen as "white" at the time and who had different religious and ideological orientations (i.e. were not WASPs), the laws and procedures required to become a citizen changed. More recently, laws passed in 1996 and subsequently have increased the number of rejections and deportations.

During the time it takes to become a citizen, immigrants miss out on an important opportunity to contribute to their new country. Meanwhile, their children miss the chance to learn by the example of seeing their parents vote. Immigrant voting is not a substitute for citizenship, but rather a clear pathway to citizenship. Immigrant voting promotes civic education and political literacy among newcomers.

For many immigrants, the biggest reason to hesitate before applying for citizenship is emotional, not rational; they often do not want to naturalize until they "feel American." Thus, immigrant voting will actually encourage citizenship by encouraging immigrants to become more involved in their new communities.

At a time when one in nine U.S. residents is born abroad and the need to integrate newcomers into our society is so important, this country does far too little to encourage immigrants to learn about and participate in our civic institutions. Local voting rights give immigrants incentives to take a stake in working to understand and better their adopted communities and to prepare themselves for eventual citizenship and national voting rights.

"So if the wait for naturalization is so long, then instead of giving the vote we should just speed up the citizenship process."
Immigrant advocates in New York and around the country have long argued that the United States should speed up the painfully slow citizenship process. Even were the naturalization process shortened to considerably below the current average wait of ten years, however, it would not diminish the reasons to allow residents the local vote regardless of their citizenship. Ask any naturalized immigrant if their pride in being sworn in as a U.S. citizen would at all be diminished by having had the right to vote in local elections beforehand. For many immigrants, applying for citizenship is a confirmation that they have come to feel "American" -- not the other way around.

"This idea is way ahead of its time."
Immigrant voting was important to the Founding Fathers of the United States. From the Founding until 1926, 22 states and federal territories permitted noncitizens to vote in local, state and even federal elections. In New York City, noncitizens voted in school board elections from 1970 to 2002 (when school boards were dissolved). Since 1988, Chicago has allowed noncitizens to vote in school board elections. Six towns in Maryland permit noncitizens to vote in local elections.

Both the historical and contemporary practices come out of the same democratic principles: recognition that members of a community have a stake in decision making that affects that community, embodied in the rallying cry of the American Revolution: "No Taxation without Representation!"

The Constitution allows states to let immigrants vote in local elections; the Supreme Court has upheld states rights to permit noncitizens to vote. Leaders including Jefferson and Lincoln understood that letting noncitizens vote in local elections promoted bonds to their new communities and nation, encouraging active citizenship and naturalization.
In Europe, local voting rights for noncitizens go back as far as 1849 in one Swiss canton. From 1963 through the 1980s, resident voting rights were instituted broadly in 11 European nations; they have been reciprocal among European Union members since 1992. Governments in approximately countries on nearly every continent in the world have approved noncitizen voting rights in some form.

In this global era, we should restore an old idea: civic and voter participation at the local level by all members of a community. In short, democracy for all.

Immigrant Voting Project (Please visit


by Esmeralda Simmons

If the November 4th election is a repeat of the recent April 5th presidential primary election, more than 100,000 votes will be lost once again in New York City. In April, these votes which were actually cast on Election Day and the majority came from predominately black and brown neighborhoods. How can we prevent this electoral hemorrhaging from happening again? How can you prevent your vote from being lost? I have developed some dos and don’ts through helping voters on election days for twenty-eight years. My rules for wise voting can serve as a guide to protecting your ballot. Make you vote count.

First Rule of Voting:
Make sure that you are registered to vote. Every citizen should know whether the Board of Elections considers him/her to be a registered voter. It is not advisable to rely on the fact that you actually completed a voter registration form at some time in the past, or even that you have voted in the past. Confirming your registration is not difficult.

You can definitively confirm your registration either by: calling the Board of Elections Toll Free: 1.866.VOTE-NYC (1.866.868.3692), TDD: 1.212.487.5496; orvisiting the Board of Elections’ office in your borough and asking them to look you up in their voter databank (you may be asked for picture ID).

In addition, your registration should be valid If you voted on a voting machine at any public election this year; or, If you received a mailing this year at your current residence from the Board of Elections (BOE) that announced your polling site and the dates for the primary election and the general election.

If you cannot confirm your registration, don’t take chances, RE-REGISTER by filling out and signing another Voter Registration Form. The highly publicized deadline for the presidential election passed on October 10th, but you need to be registered for next year’s very important elections for mayor and city council seats. You cannot register online, because the law requires that you actually sign the form, but you can download the application at complete it, sign it and then mail it in.

In New York City, a very Democratic town, voting in the local primary elections is pivotal -- the candidate that wins the Democratic Party primary election usually goes on to win the general election. To vote in a primary election, you must be enrolled in the political party having the primary contest, in addition to being registered to vote. It’s easy to enroll in a political party. You simply complete a new Voter Registration Form and complete Question 11 “Choose a Party” on the form by checking the box next to political party in whose primary election you wish to vote.

Second Rule of Voting:
Be at the right polling booth. If you vote at the wrong polling site, your vote will not count even if you are registered! In NYC, most polling sites have more than one polling booth. Make sure that you know your correct ED/AD [Election District/ Assembly District] so you can correctly identify the correct polling booth assigned to your ED/AD within that polling site. The BOE says “You can vote ONLY at your designated polling place. Make sure you are at the correct polling site and Election District/Assembly District (ED/AD) for your address.” The price of going to the wrong polling site or polling booth (ED/AD) is very high. Your name will not be on the list and your vote may be put in jeopardy. Technically, your vote is supposed to count if you vote within the correct AD. But, you will only be able to vote on the machine, if you are at the correct polling booth for your ED.

DO: Far in advance of election day, find out your ED/AD and polling site. According to the BOE’s website, “you can find you poll site location by:Search with the Online Poll Site Address Locator

Call the Voter Phone Bank at 1.866.VOTE.NYCE-mail your complete home address to and we'll e-mail your polling place location back to you. (Please put in the subject line the borough in which you reside.)”

Third rule of voting:
Vote Early on Election Day. Go to the polls as early as possible to vote, especially this year when heavy voter turnout has been predicted. The polls are supposed to be open from 6am to 9pm. The later you vote, the more likely it will be that you run into long lines or broken voting machines. Also, the poll workers work an 18 hour day on Election Day, so they are generally not as fresh or attentive in the evening hours, as they were in the morning. If you run into problems when voting, for example, finding you proper polling site or booth, or getting a court order, you can correct it if it’s not the end of the day. Employers, with few exceptions, are legally required to give their employees two hours during the workday to go and vote.If your poll is not open on time or appears to be inactive, report it! Call the BOE at 1866 Vote NYC. If your poll is not ready for business at 6am, wait for the time it takes, rather than come back in the evening when it’s sure to be crowded. If you can, assist others in getting to the polls.

Fourth rule of voting:
No Candidate Gear at the Polls. The BOE has clearly stated that anyone wearing clothing or carrying signage for a candidate will not be allowed to enter or remain at the polls. This is considered electioneering and is illegal in New York. Please remove or cover your clothing sporting the name or likeness of any candidate, before you enter the poll or you may be escorted out. Definitely do not bring any signage into the polls. However, you can carry in written materials for your personal use, such as palm cards, into the polling site and even into the voting machine booth with you.

Fifth Rule of Voting:
Handle voting problems wisely.
Problem: If the voting machine breaks...
DO NOT: Never leave the poll booth area without voting.
DO NOT: Vote with an Affidavit Ballot envelope

DO: Request to vote on the new AMD machine; the machine will generate a paper ballot which the poll workers will place in a cardboard ballot box. Your vote will definitely count. Or,After the machine has been broken for 15 minutes, demand to vote on an emergency ballot, which is a paper ballot without the Affidavit envelope. Follow the instructions for completing the ballot. If you need help understanding the ballot or completing the paper ballot, ask a poll worker for assistance. Your vote will definitely count.Problem:

If you name is not found any of the books of registered voters
(1) Double check to make sure that you are at the correct ED/AD. You name will only be in the book of voters for your correct ED/AD. (See Second Rule of Voting above on how to find your correct ED/AD.)

(2) There will be two sets of books: the regular books (A-L & M-Z), and the supplemental list. Make sure that the poll worker carefully looks for your name in both sets of alphabetized books. Spell you last name slowly or and repeat it, if necessary; even better write it down and show him/her. Look, without touching the book, make sure that s/he is looking for your name at the right location within the books.

(3) If you are at the correct ED/AD, and your name still cannot be found, (make sure that they looked in the supplemental list)Ask for and accept a paper ballot and Affidavit (“A”) envelope.
Carefully follow the instructions for completing the ballot and the Affidavit envelope. Complete it at the poll. Take your time; mistakes can cost you your vote. If you need help understanding or completing the paper ballot or the envelope, ask a poll worker for assistance. The Affidavit ballot is a provisional vote. Your vote will count only if the BOE can verify that you are a registered voter on their database and that you voted within the correct AD.


Try to get a court order to vote on the machine, if you have the time. (See Lost your Vote by Mistake on the Voting Machine below.)
Explanation: A voter’s name may not be in the book of registered voters because the voter moved and did not re-register, and was legally removed from the book, or the voter had not voted for a “several” years and the BOE “purged” her/him from the book even though they are legally registered. In the latter case, BOE says if the voter is found in the database, the “A” ballot will be counted as valid.Problem:

If you lost your vote by mistake on the Voting Machine
Try to Get a Court Order
The poll worker cannot let you vote twice on a voting machine, even if you lost your vote by mistake. But, you can go to the BOE office in your borough (or in Harlem at the State Office Building) during voting hours and speak to a NYS judge about the problem you had voting. This is a very informal process, neither a lawyer nor knowledge of the law is necessary. Just tell the judge what happened. If the judge feels it is justified, he/she may issue you a court order which will allow you to vote on the machine back at your polling site. However, you must make it back to your polling site and be in line to vote by 9:00 pm.

Technically, you can go to the judge for any voting problem, including not being in the books of registered voters at your polling booth. For problem other than mistakes in voting on the machines, however, you may have to show some evidence that you should be able to vote.

During this historic election, all citizens should be able to exercise their right to vote. More importantly, every vote should count. Be a wise voter. Don’t lose you vote!

If you experience a problem during the election, call the VOTER PROBLEM HOTLINES:
Board of Elections at 1 866 VOTE NYC (1.866.868.3692)
Voting Rights Election Protection at 1 866 OUR VOTE (1.866.687.8683)

Esmerald Simmons is the founder and executive director of the Center for Law and Social Justice in Brooklyn, New York.

Monday, October 27, 2008

New York City Council Voted to Extend Term Limits

Introduction 845-A, to extend term limits for New York City

Yes to Extend Term Limits

1. Maria del Carmen Arroyo of the Bronx
2. Maria Baez of the Bronx
3. G. Comrie Jr. of Queens
4. Inez E. Dickens of Manhattan
5. Erik Martin Dilan of Brooklyn
6. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn
7. Lewis A. Fidler of Brooklyn
8. Helen D. Foster of the Bronx
9. Alan J. Gerson of Manhattan
10. Sara M. Gonzalez of Brooklyn
11. Robert Jackson of Manhattan
12. Melinda R. Katz of Queens
13. Miguel Martinez of Manhattan
14. Darlene Mealy of Brooklyn
15. Michael C. Nelson of Brooklyn
16. G. Oliver Koppell of the Bronx
17. Christine C. Quinn of Manhattan
18. Domenic M. Recchia Jr. of Brooklyn
19. Diana Reyna of Brooklyn
20. Joel Rivera of the Bronx
21. James Sanders Jr. of Queens
22. Larry B. Seabrook of the Bronx
23. Helen Sears of Queens
24. Kendall Stewart of Brooklyn
25. James Vacca of the Bronx
26. Peter F. Vallone Jr. of Queens
27. Albert Vann of Brooklyn
28. Thomas White Jr. of Queens
29. David Yassky of Brooklyn

No to Extend Term Limits

1. Joseph P. Addabbo Jr. of Queens
2. Tony Avella of Queens
3. Charles Barron of Brooklyn
4. Gale A. Brewer of Manhattan
5. Anthony Como of Queens
6. Bill de Blasio of Brooklyn
7. Mathieu Eugene of Brooklyn
8. Daniel R. Garodnick of Manhattan
9. James F. Gennaro of Queens
10. Vincent J. Gentile of Brooklyn
11. Eric N. Gioia of Queens
12. Vincent M. Ignizio of Staten Island
13. Letitia James of Brooklyn
14. John C. Liu of Queens
15. Melissa Mark-Viverito of Manhattan
16. Michael E. McMahon of Staten Island
17. Rosie Mendez of Manhattan
18. Hiram Monserrate of Queens
19. Jessica S. Lappin of Manhattan
20. James S. Oddo of Staten Island
21. Annabel Palma of the Bronx
22. David I. Weprin of Queens

LGBT Rights as Human Rights

By Pauline Park

There was a time not long ago when leading international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) did not recognize lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people as being a part of their organizational mission and would not include LGBT-specific initiatives in their programmatic work. Hence, the formation of Amnesty International Members for Lesbian & Gay Concerns (AIMLGC) in the early 1990s to pressure Amnesty International to add issues of sexual orientation and gender identity and gender expression to AI's mission and work. In the same time period, other LGBT activists decided to establish a stand-alone, LGBT-specific human rights organization, founding the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) in 1990.

Now, in addition to IGLHRC, Amnesty and HRW both have funded full-time staff members working on LGBT issues. Amnesty USA houses the OUTfront! LGBT Human Rights program in New York City and HRW also has an extensive LGBT human rights program based in its New York headquarters, while IGLHRC, also based in New York, continues to pursue the mission for which it was founded. But if leading international human rights organizations such as Amnesty and HRW now incorporate LGBT issues in their human rights work, progress on the ground has been slower, as many human rights organizations in many countries around the world still do not include LGBT issues in their work.

At the same time, the situation in the United States reflects the paradoxes of identity-based rights work. On the one hand, the LGBT movement has made enormous progress since 1969, when LGBT people rioted in response to a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan's Greenwich Village. Now, well over a hundred jurisdictions throughout the United States include gender identity and expression in their non-discrimination laws and even more include sexual orientation. The LGBT community is well-organized in many cities and states and 'gay votes' are eagerly sought by candidates running for office in many of them.

However, despite the fact that so many non-discrimination statutes include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, these 'human rights' ordinances all too often are really only civil rights laws -- limited to protecting individuals from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations, but not extending to social, economic, cultural, and environmental rights. In fact, the common misunderstanding among Americans is that 'civil rights' refers to legal rights in the United States and that 'human rights' refers to other countries around the world. The US Human Rights Network was founded to bring the language and principles of human rights into public discourse in the United States and to broaden the agenda of the civil rights movement in this country.

Unfortunately, some LGBT activists in the United States tend to reinforce the misconception by pursuing on a narrow civil rights agenda that is focused only on juridical rights, while most LGBT activists here all but ignore human rights initiatives -- including even LGBT rights work -- abroad. With the exception of Amnesty OUTfront, HRW's LGBT human rights program, IGLHRC, and Immigration Equality, few LGBT rights organizations in the United States connect with LGBT activists working overseas or attempt to incorporate a broader conception of human rights into their work.

The New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA) is a statewide transgender rights organization founded in 1998. NYAGRA's mission is to advocate on behalf of freedom of gender identity and gender expression for all. At the heart of NYAGRA's work is a broad-based conception that is not limited to juridical rights but also includes the social, economic, cultural, and environmental rights that are crucial to the full enjoyment of human rights by all New Yorkers, including the transgendered and gender-variant. To that end, NYAGRA joined the New York City Human Rights Initiative (NYC HRI) as a founding member as well as the US Human Rights Network and the Equality Federation (formerly the Federation of Statewide LGBT Advocacy Organizations). NYAGRA is also a co-founding member of the New York State Dignity for All Students Coalition that is spearheading safe schools legislation pending in the state legislature and co-founded the New York City Dignity in All Schools Act (DASA) Coalition that succeeded in getting safe schools legislation enacted at the local level. NYAGRA joined the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) in co-founding the New York City Dignity in Action Coalition (the successor to the NYC DASA Coalition) to ensure full implementation of the New York City Dignity in All Schools Act (enacted by the City Council in 2004) and also joined the New York Alliance Against the Real ID Act (NYAARIDA), a statewide coalition of organizations coordinated by the NYCLU and committed to blocking implementation of the real ID Act in New York.

In short, NYAGRA works in coalition with other civil rights, human rights, and social justice organizations to pursue a broader and progressive vision of social justice and social change. NYAGRA's work within the New York City Human Rights Initiative is a crucial component of that agenda.

Pauline Park is chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA); she led the campaign for the transgender rights law enacted by the New York City Council in 2002.

Sex work, poverty and human rights

By Melissa Hope Ditmore

This December marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights .
The right to livelihood is enshrined in the declaration. I mention this because it is one of the rights most often denied to sex workers.

Around the world, people turn to sex work in the hope that it will enable them to earn a living. But authorities and misguided anti-prostitution policies routinely deny them that right.

The Sex Workers Project
at the Urban Justice Center has released two reports highlighting this fact. (See them at here). Sex workers interviewed for these reports described becoming involved in commercial sex for financial reasons, and they described the difficulties faced by unskilled workers, especially transgender workers, in their efforts to earn a living wage.

One of the reports, Behind Closed Doors,
quotes one sex worker on her financial aims: “I have goals that change based on what bills need to be paid, what expenses I’ve had, and what my current ‘improve my situation’ goals are.”

In the report Revolving Door,
a transgender sex worker describes what she faced when looking for mainstream work: “I want to get a job where I’m respected – basically, where I’m not discriminated against.” Sex workers from other countries explain that they came to the United States to pursue economic opportunities not available in their native lands.

Sex workers support themselves and their families with their income. However, their income, personal safety and human rights are jeopardized by attempts to eliminate sex work, including prohibitions on it.

In some places, the rule of law is absent, which leads to violations of everyone’s rights. In other places like the United States, where sex workers are criminalized, it is difficult if not futile for sex workers to report incidents of violence to the police, because the state and its agents – police and military forces – are the groups most involved in violating sex workers’ human rights.

Sex workers who are brave enough to report violent experiences often find that their complaints are not investigated or even rejected outright. Criminals know they can assault sex workers with impunity because such crimes are highly unlikely to be prosecuted.

Economic motives for sex work combine with these abusive police practices to create higher levels of potential violence against women with few economic opportunities.

All people who press forward with sexual assault cases face intense scrutiny, but in New York State, for example, the law makes it more difficult for people charged with a prostitution-related crime to bring such a case. Right now in New York City, the crackdown has expanded to include even legal forms of sex work.

For example, people who work in venues involving bondage and domination are being targeted in vice raids and being charged with prostitution, even though the work involves no sexual contact with clients. Police go after these people because they are already marginalized as sex workers. Many then plead guilty to crimes they did not commit because taking their cases to trial could result in exposure that risks their future ability to get a job in the mainstream sector.

In fact, that is perhaps the worst consequence of prostitution-related arrests: the barrier to finding other work that the arrest record creates – especially work that offers a living wage.

Sex workers around the world use the slogan “Only rights can stop the wrongs.” On the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this statement of fact highlights the urgent need for a rights-based policy approach to sex work, as to other social issues.

Melissa Ditmore is a research and advocacy consultant with the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center.