Monday, October 27, 2008
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
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.
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.
Friday, October 24, 2008
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Major U.S. cities including New York, Washington, Atlanta and New Orleans have levels of economic inequality that rival cities in Africa, according to a U.N. report published on Thursday.
The most balanced city in the world is Beijing, with the most egalitarian cities on average to be found in western Europe, the report said.
"The authors (of the study) find that though the cities in the United States of America have relatively lower levels of poverty than many other cities in the developed world, their levels of income inequality are quite high," the report said.
In the United States and Canada one of the key factors in determining levels of economic inequality is race, the report said.
"The life expectancy of African Americans in the United States is about the same as that of people living in China and some states of India, despite the fact that the United States is far richer than the other two countries," it said.
The report said European countries including Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Slovenia were among those with the lowest levels of inequality.
While Beijing is economically the most egalitarian city in the world, China's special administrative region of Hong Kong, a former British colony, has the highest level of inequality of all cities in Asia, it said.
In Latin America, Brazilian cities "have the greatest disparities in income distribution in the world," the report said, partly because of Brazil's rising unemployment and declining wages.
The U.N. report said that cities in sub-Saharan Africa have the world's highest levels of urban poverty, with more than half of city dwellers living below the poverty line.
The report also said cities in South Africa and Namibia continue to have extremely high levels of income inequality, despite the dismantling of apartheid in the early 1990s.
Source Reuters (Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Vicki Allen)
“The full development of the human personality” implies a broad curriculum in schools, a mission to educate “the whole child” so that children can become their own best selves. In this view education is not just academics but all knowledge that develops us. The UDHR recognizes that education molds our very dispositions, making “respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms” part of its purpose.
In New York City achieving these human rights standards of education has become increasingly remote. The 2002 federal No Child Left Behind law financially penalizes schools for not achieving targets in “educational improvement”. New York State chose to use standardized tests to implement the law, thereby pressuring a “teach to the test” mentality in the classroom. Also in 2002 the Albany legislature gave control of the quasi-independent Board of Education to its billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg as part of a deal to pave the way politically for increased state funding to the city’s schools. The mayor in turn staked his political reputation on raising test scores, instituting a corporate-style regime with rewards and punishments for school principals based on test scores. As the tests in question are narrowly focused on particular mathematical skills and reading comprehension, much of what constitutes State standards in other subjects fell by the wayside. The State, for its part, has been complicitous in the lowering of testing standards as it faces judicial and political pressure for funding equity judgment based in part on NYC’s lower test scores relative to the rest of the state. Neither No Child Left Behind nor mayoral control of the schools has worked to improve education in the city’s school. The children are being fed the educational equivalent of empty calories.
Nor are they being treated very well as human beings. A report by The American Civil Liberties Union, Criminalizing the Classroom, documents the excessive use of police procedures in the public schools and how it works to feed the school to prison pipeline. A report by the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, Deprived of Dignity: Degrading Treatment and Abusive Discipline in New York City and Los Angeles Public Schools, documents how the learning environment is eroded by chronic overcrowding, zero tolerance discipline policies, lack of support for teachers, and everyday racism. Clearly, “strengthening respect for human rights and fundamental liberties” is not a priority of the NYC school system.
It all falls apart by high school. The four year graduation rate for those making it to 9th grade hovers at 50%. Prospects for these children are bleak: a lifetime of poorly paid jobs, the increased possibilities of prison, ill health, and other misfortunes without the solace or empowerment offered by adequate education.
The failure of the New York public school system is part of the larger cycle of poverty at work in the city. It is not just that children from low income and poor households are less well prepared when they enter kindergarten but that their families and communities lack the power to compel the government to work well at all. Part of this is the economic struggle most public school families are facing every day: 77.7% of public school children meet the federal standards for free lunch or reduced lunch. For a family of four this means an annual income of under $38,220, with $27,600 marking the distinction between poverty and low-income. Federal poverty standards do not take into account local variations in living costs like housing, an enormous expense in NYC where 28% of families spend 50% or more of their income on housing alone. The struggle for the basic necessities runs up against racial discrimination, the dislocations of immigration, housing insecurity, lack of affordable medical care, not to mention the depression and anxiety of trying to cope with it all. A report by the Human Rights Project of the Urban Justice Center Race Realities in New York City documents the racism at work in these conditions.
Organizing for change in the public schools has become more difficult than ever. The governance changes of 2002 permitted the mayor to replace publicly elected community school boards with parent panels selected by parent association leaders, resulting in a massive voter disenfranchisement. The parent panels enjoy no popular mandate. Like the community school boards before them, the parent panels are the supervised by the Board of Education. District superintendents and principals are no longer answerable to their communities but to the mayor. There is no one at the community level who is empowered to make a decision or who can be held to account, itself a violation of state education law. Community based organizations which in earlier times might have organized their communities have been enticed by the contracts to the Board of Education and to the city, not to mention the private philanthropies of the mayor and his financial cohort. Probably in Harlem is the issue of divided community loyalties no more evident where the rampant gentrification might have at least brought into the public schools a critical mass of families with the social capital to demand change. Now these families are siphoned off to charter schools which compete with existing public schools for space, resources, and attention from public officials. The corporate model of education has reduced public school families to mere consumers. The public has been taken out of public education altogether.
The values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights challenge us to act. Human dignity permits no compromise on any front. By fulfilling our duty to our community we more fully develop our own individual selves.
Cecilia Blewer (ICOPE)
Independent Commission on Public Education of NYC (ICOPE) is a member of the New York City Initiative (NYCHRI)
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Monday, October 20, 2008
Anti-Discrimination Policy & Action Center - Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund - Citizens Union - Concerned Citizens of Greenwood Heights - Common Cause/NY - Democracy for NYC – Human Rights Project, Urban Justice Center - Jews for Racial and Economic Justice - NYCAACFSU - New York Public Interest Research Group, Inc. - Professional Staff Congress - Queens Civic Congress - South Brooklyn Coalition for Democracy – Street Vendor Project, Urban Justice Center
MEMO IN OPPOSITION TO INTRO 845
Both Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn have been clear in the past in opposing changing term limits by legislation.
Mayor Bloomberg told the Daily News in 2002: "I would oppose any change in the law that a legislative body tries to make. I do think after you’ve asked the public to express their views twice, you don’t try to circumvent the will of the people." And in 2008 you renewed this view, saying: "The public has voted for it twice."
A statement issued by Speaker Quinn on December 3, 2007 said: "After careful consideration and discussions with my colleagues in the Council, I have decided not to pursue a change in New York City's term limit law… I believe that over-ruling the will of New Yorkers - who have voted twice in favor of term limits - would be anti-democratic and anti-reform."
As you know, the City Council considered repealing the term limits law in 2001 by legislation. The bill lost by a vote of five to four in the Governmental Operations Committee.
Now is a highly appropriate time to recall the words of Council Member Stephen Fiala, who was the deciding vote against repeal. On March 15, 2001, on the floor of the City Council, Fiala said:
"As much as I disagree with the outcome of both referenda elections, I nonetheless recognize the importance of respecting the integrity of the electoral process. For if the integrity of the process is questioned then that slow extinction caused by apathy, indifference and undernourishment will only be accelerated. "
For those who are skeptical of term limits, there is a better way to go: a charter commission review and public discussion of issues that includes a broad look at term limits and their impact on city government that could result in presenting a referendum on the issue in 2009.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further information or to sign on (deadline by tomorrow Tuesday, Oct. 21, 11:00am).
Friday, October 17, 2008
International Day for the Eradication of Poverty
17 October 2008
Statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay
On this International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, I would like to pay tribute to those who strive to defend the rights of some 1.4 billion people still living in abject poverty and exclusion around the world. This year marks not only the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but also the 10th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
In 1987, a year after the Declaration on the Right to Development was adopted by the General Assembly, more than 100,000 human rights defenders from all over the world gathered on this day to express their solidarity in the fight against extreme poverty and their commitment to ensure that everyone's dignity and freedom are respected.
Those human rights defenders are at the forefront in sounding the alarm and protecting the rights of the poor. Our collective responsibility is to ensure their efforts are matched with concrete action and accountability.
Poverty and inequality often exacerbate abuse, neglect and discrimination, denying millions the enjoyment of their civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, and ultimately, their right to development. Our efforts to fight poverty and to achieve the Millennium Development Goals must be firmly grounded in the universal values and principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and international human rights instruments.
There have been some significant development gains over the years, but these cannot be sustained, if rights are not anchored in laws and institutions, and if those in power are not aware of their responsibilities to uphold people's rights, and are not held accountable for their failures.
The current financial crisis, and the huge challenges posed by climate change and systemic problems in the global food supply, make it essential for us to act beyond narrow national interests, in the spirit of global cooperation laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the numerous other international laws and guidelines that it spawned. Operationalizing the right to development would offer better prospects for reducing poverty and enhancing accountability at both the national and global levels.
Poverty exists everywhere – as do human rights challenges – and they are often inextricably linked. International days such as this often stimulate fine words, but they need to be backed by deeds. The philosophy and structures for combating poverty at the international level exist. But a true commitment to translate that philosophy into effective action, which will improve the actual day-to-day life of almost one quarter of the world's population who live in poverty, is still far from evident.
Reducing poverty is an achievable goal. What we need is to bring the rights and dignity of those who are suffering most to the centre of our efforts.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Monday, October 13, 2008
It is well documented that Speaker Quinn has joined Mayor Bloomberg in reversing her past position on term limit modification.
It is said that the Mayor promised the Speaker a position on his side of City Hall were she to lose her Council seat or her Speaker's gavel. Though the purported arrangement was mentioned in the City's gossip pages, the Mayor's recent policy proposals and decisions for commission appointments leave it nearly impossible to ascertain where the Mayor's closed-door conversations may lead nowadays.
We are saddened to see this degree of naked ambition seeming to play out so brazenly among the City's elected leaders. Decisions on appointments and City policy should be made on the basis of what is best for the public interest, not based on self-interest.
We would hope that our elected officials would be able to rise above self-interest and weigh public policy on the only acceptable basis - what is best for the people. We are disappointed to see that it appears that the proposal to extend term limits only for those currently in office is having exactly the opposite effect. Horse-trading and arm-twisting are a necessary part of politics and policy, undoubtedly, but self-serving policies must never be.
Friday, October 10, 2008
What's wrong with the Mayor's proposal to rewrite the term limits law? The most obvious answer is that it is self-serving. The bill would circumvent the will of New Yorkers on how long elected officials should be in office so that the Mayor, and over half of the City Council can keep their jobs.
In circumventing a public referendum on the issue, the Mayor, along with Speaker Christine Quinn, demonstrate that they do not respect the democratically expressed will of the people.
The course that Mayor Bloomberg has pursued also indicates that he prioritizes the opinion of the media and economic power brokers in the City over that of the people. In his bid to undo the results of a public referendum, the Mayor did not solicit the opinion of the public but instead held secret meetings with the billionaire and term limits champion, Ronald Lauder, as well as the city's most powerful media men.
This process in not only anti-democratic, but also violates universally accepted human rights principles including article 21 (3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)..the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.
As members of the New York City human rights community kick off a 60-Day campaign to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the UDHR, we have an opportunity to embrace its principles. Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council could start by ensuring that any change on term limits is submitted to a public vote.
Ejim Dike, Director of Human Rights Project at the Urban Justice Center
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Commemorates the 60th Anniversary of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
In commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), we declare our collective commitment to strengthening the human rights movement to achieve social and economic justice.
Inspired by the universal recognition that all human beings are equally entitled to human rights under all circumstances, we join the growing call by communities around the world to defend our collective human rights.
Reaffirming the will of the people as the basis of government authority, we demand more participation of the least powerful among us in the decisions that affect their wellbeing and future.
Recognizing that all human rights are equally essential and that all human beings are equal before the law, we reject and demand redress for governmental and private practices that negatively affect our communities.
Understanding that human rights are protected by the rule of law, we call on elected officials to implement international human rights treaties and universally accepted human rights standards that guarantee the claim on human rights by everyone in New York City regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, sexuality, gender (including gender identity & gender expression), language, immigration status, age, economic condition, disability, religion, family composition, marital status, etc.
Recognizing that human rights connect the struggles of all people, and working to eliminate intolerance that keeps sisters and brothers alienated from the struggles of others, we stand united in defense of the human rights of all New Yorkers to live in dignity, equality and justice.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
We are inviting all NYCHRI members and friends to be active participants in the campaign. There are a number of concrete ways that you can participate, and we welcome other ideas that you have. Please let us know how you plan to participate in this campaign for human rights awareness.
WAYS TO PARTICIPATE: EVERY ACTION WILL BE AN ACTION FOR HUMAN RIGHTS!
1. Blog Entry: We hope that you will participate by posting an entry about your organization’s work framed as a human right.
2. Plan an event: Your organization can host a conversation, debate, lecture, movie, poetry session, demonstration, etc. related to human rights. We encourage a diversity of events. There in no event is too big or too small.
3. Link an existing event to the campaign: If your organization is already planning an event from October 10th to December 10th, please help us by linking your event to the campaign.
4. Talk to others about the campaign: Tell colleagues and friends about the importance of human rights in NYC. Learning about human rights is also a way to fight for equality.
If you are interested in planning, participating, and /or contacting artists and speakers please contact tbejar at urbanjustice.org.
We are looking forward to establishing the NYC human rights movement as a force to be reckoned with, and we need your help!