Monday, December 10, 2012

Human Rights Matter

Last week when I watched Secretary Clinton’s Frontlines and Frontiers: Making Human Rights a Human Reality remarks from Dublin, on more than one occasion I wanted to jump out of my chair. Clinton’s words just hit so close to home.  This is what we’ve been saying for over thirty years.

Human rights matter.

“...because a society can and should be judged, in part, by how it protects the rights of its minorities. Societies are strongest when they deliver justice not just for the powerful, but also for the vulnerable.”

At Global Rights, we advance human rights for some of the most poor, marginalized and vulnerable people around the world.  We believe that empowering people to access justice is an effective mechanism to overcome power imbalances in society.   We open up a range of tools for individuals within formal and informal systems that best fit their context to challenge structures and practices that are barriers to human rights fulfillment. 

“Civil society is important everywhere, including in our countries. But nowhere is it more vital than in those states whose futures are unsure… We know that durable change is most likely to come from within, and that it takes everyone – journalists and activists, business people and teachers, religious leaders and labor leaders – pointing out the need for change, providing the ideas for change...”

What makes Global Rights unique among other human rights actors is that we just don’t “go in and fix the problem.” We believe systemic change to overcome barriers and to achieve full human rights begins with the individual and the community. We believe in the courage, passion and potential civil society has to be change makers in their societies.  That is why we work alongside local partners in Africa, Asia and Latin America and provide them with the tools, skills and education they need in order to make positive, sustainable change in their communities.  This approach works.

“It’s very true that many governments attempt to squeeze civil society in a steel vise, and we are seeing a particular movement against the LGBT community around the world, punishing people, harassing them, beating them, imprisoning them for who they are…”

LGBT rights are human rights. Global Rights’ LGBT Rights program in Sierra Leone is breaking the silence. Our partners, members and nonmembers of the LGBT community, know human rights are universal. They are ensuring that everybody –regardless of gender or sexual orientation— are entitled to the same rights.

“In many places we’re also working with USAID and other donors to help civil society actors build the skills they need to do their work effectively, documenting abuses, storing data, learning how to deal with the media.”

Burundi may look small on the map, but it is a country with big potential.  With our USAID-funded project, Global Rights helped establish the Nongovernmental Organization (NGO) Network on Transitional Justice to increase civil society’s understanding of, support for, and participation in the transitional justice process in Burundi.  To deliver justice, we’re helping civil society monitor and document human rights abuses and store them in a database—the first of its kind in the country.

“I personally have no doubt that if women everywhere were treated as equal to men in rights and dignity, we would see economic and political progress come to places that are now teetering on the edge.”

We believe in women. In all of our programs, Global Rights makes a deliberate effort to promote and protect women’s rights. We believe empowering women so that they can assert and protect their rights is critical in order for societies to thrive.  We work with amazing women day in and day out who are working as agents of positive change throughout the Maghreb region and beyond.

So, on this International Human Rights Day, I leave you with one last quote that I truly believe in and hope you do to:

“And if you are truly representing your citizens, you cannot do so effectively in the 21st century without recognizing that human rights must remain a central goal of those of us who believe in the dignity of every person.”


Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Making Women’s Rights Real, Not Virtual

Our partners in Morocco are truly revolutionary.  Led by and comprised of women, our ten local Moroccan NGO partners are standing up for all women across the country. They are spearheading efforts for a specific violence against women (VAW) law in Morocco. 

Global Rights' Moroccan Partners at the Chamber
of Councillors (Photo Credit:
Last Sunday, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, our partners kicked off four days of advocacy to gain support for legislation to stop violence against women.  Almost 12,000 text messages and 13,510 emails were sent across Morocco with the slogan, “Making our Constitutional Rights Real, not Virtual: Pass a Violence Against Women Law!”

Although the Moroccan constitution says women have equal rights, and the Moroccan government has taken steps to raise awareness about violence against women, women are still subject to discrimination and violence.

During their four days of advocacy, our partner NGOs met with members of the Moroccan Parliament to discuss the necessity of a VAW law.  Unfortunately, domestic violence is prevalent in Morocco and negatively effects family and society. The partners addressed the importance of fostering a human rights culture in Morocco and how specific legislation that criminalizes violence against women will further women’s rights in the country.

The partners also had the opportunity to observe the public Parliamentary session in the Second Chamber of Parliament (the Chamber of Councillors), which is equivalent to the United States Senate. To our surprise, the Vice President of the Chamber opened the session by asking everyone to thank and applaud the work of our local NGOs present advocating for a VAW law! 

This week, the Chamber of Parliament President even wrote about meeting with our partners during the Parliamentary session. Click here to read more. (Arabic)

For the past twelve years, Global Rights’ Maghreb team has been working alongside local women’s groups in Morocco to promote and protect women’s rights and push for gender equality.  They’ve provided partners with the tools and skills they need to make lasting change in their country. Thank you to the Embassy of the Netherlands in Rabat for making our work possible.

If the VAW law is passed, it would be the first of its kind in the Arab world. I look forward to keeping you updated on their progress!


PS: To read more about Global Rights’ work on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, click here.  (French)

Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Breaking the Silence: Ethnic Equality in Uganda

Unraveling the complex issues of ethnicity … a daunting task because of the emotions they stir.  Often silence is easier, but the consequences can be great.  As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said this week at the 5th United Nations Forum on Minority Rights, societies “are judged by how they treat their most vulnerable members.”

Don Rukare (left) presents Global Rights' Desk Study on
Ethnicity and Human Rights in Uganda

This year, Global Rights began a groundbreaking dialogue in Uganda about racial and ethnic equality with members of civil society and the government.  We tailored lessons learned from our 10 years of experience working with Afro-descendent organizations in Latin America to fit the Ugandan context.

Global Rights’ Uganda Country Director, Donald (Don) Rukare, who has been leading this project, was invited to the UN Forum on Minority Rights this week.  He presented our Desk Study on Ethnicity and Human Rights in Uganda to the Forum participants; the UN CERD Committe;  Ms. Rita Izak, the UN Independent expert on Minorities; and Ms. Soyata Maiga, Chairperson of the Committee on Minority Rights in Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights.

The study provides a picture of the nature, patterns and extent of ethnic discrimination in Uganda and who is most affected.  Here are some of the points Don highlighted from the report:
  • There is no definition and conceptual understanding of who constitutes a minority in Uganda.
  • Ethnic minorities are not represented within decision making bodies at national and local government levels in Uganda. In addition, ethnic minorities have limited access to essential services such as health and education, and lack control of productive assets such as land.
  • There is need for a concerted effort by all stakeholders to highlight the plight of ethnic minorities in Uganda.
  • The majority of citizens of Uganda, especially ethnic minorities, have very limited awareness of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities and other related international and regional human rights instruments.
  • Uganda lacks a coherent legal and policy framework to implement international human rights provisions for the protection of minorities.

In the report, Global Rights recommends that:
  • Together with civil society, national human rights and regional bodies such as the Uganda Human Rights Commission, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights should conduct training and awareness programs on the UN Declaration to ensure knowledge and visibility of the declaration and related international, regional human rights instruments. Specific focus should be paid to ethnic minority groups.
  • The Ugandan government should adopt a national policy on ethnic minorities that incorporates the provisions of the UN Declaration.
  • Using the UN Declaration as a guide the government of Uganda should mainstream issues of ethnic minorities in state development programs and policies.

Global Rights would like to thank the Ford Foundation for making this year’s pilot project on ethnicity in Uganda possible and the Institute of International Education (IIE) for supporting Don's trip to the UN Minority Forum.  We are hopeful that the work with civil society and the government, as well as the study can serve as a launching point for further dialogue and action in Uganda to navigate the complex issues of ethnicity in a measured and meaningful way.   


Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

Friday, November 16, 2012

History in the Making: Brazil

Hi there! It’s Adam. I’m currently in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, conducting research for a Global Rights report on the rights of Afro-Brazilian transgender women. Last week, I got to witness history in the making…

The First National Black LGBT Conference
For the first time ever, the Brazilian government officially sponsored a gathering of Afro-LGBT activists in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.  The event was deemed the First National Black LGBT Conference. Activists from diverse parts of the country with deeply unique experiences, including Global Rights’ partner organization, the Rede Afro LGBT (Black LGBT Network), joined together to enter discussions and advocate with the federal government needed to take action to protect and promote their rights.

Afro-trans women were embraced and honored for their outstanding work as community advocates and leaders in the Afro-Brazilian LGBT community. Afro-trans women are constantly threatened by hate crimes, police abuse, economic exclusion and limited access to public health and educational services. Broadly excluded from society, these fearless Afro-trans women enter battles every single day, simply to be treated as equals that so many of us take for granted.

The facts don’t lie:

Despite these challenges, those attending the conference, like so many of the dedicated activists I have met here in Brazil, never despair.

Conference Participants
Faced with the intersecting challenges of homophobia and racism in a culture that often seeks to deny racism’s existence and ignores homophobia, these men and women are relentless in their struggle to combat discrimination and work toward creating a more inclusive and accepting society. They are an inspiration to me and so many others, and should be celebrated for their selfless dedication to improving the lives of others.

Adam Frankel
*A popular Afro-Brazilian spiritual term meaning force or energy.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Getting Down to Business and Human Rights

“Because of what we have learned this week with Global Rights, we will be able to fight more strongly for our rights.”

These feisty words were spoken by Dr. Jennifer Spiff from the Women Initiative for Transparency and Social Justice Organization in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.  She was one of 12 civil society members from nine African nations who participated in our recent workshop on business and human rights in London. 
Participants discuss civil society's critical role in working with governments
and corporations to protect human rights
I knew from the agenda that this was going to be unlike any workshop I’ve ever attended. For one of the first times, our workshop brought together three key constituencies – civil society, government and corporations – to discuss the many elements that make up the intersection of business and human rights.

We primarily focused on two important international mechanisms that when followed, protect communities from dangerous human rights violations: The UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (GPs) and The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPs).

For three day we had civil society, governments and businesses – all with different perspectives – exchanging ideas, suggestions and remedies to protect human rights. It was evident that despite diverse backgrounds, everyone at our workshop had a common goal: to ensure human rights are protected when natural resource extraction takes place.

What also became clear was that civil society has an important role in ensuring that state and business entities fulfill their responsibility to protect human rights.

For example, as we worked on the content of the GPs, participants agreed that civil society can play a critical role in holding governments and businesses accountable for their responsibilities to protect human rights.  By including human rights discussions early in negotiations and assessments with extractive industries and governments, civil society can ensure that the GPs are followed, and communities’ rights are not violated.

The same goes for the Voluntary Principles.  In our discussions with representatives from civil society, government and businesses, we agreed that civil society can keep pressure on governments and companies to improve their security practices and seek solutions to better protect human rights.  Through persistent advocacy and relationship building, civil society must be leaders in protecting their communities.

Flavia Milano, Global Rights' Natural Resources and Human
Rights Initiave Director with Michel Yobue from Cote D'Ivoire
I congratulate my colleague Flavia Milano for organizing such an invigorating three day discussion and for creating the space that facilitated these important conversations.  I would like to also thank the Ford Foundation making this conference possible.

Our colleagues from Africa learned not just from the presenters, but also from each other as they shared their own experiences, challenges and successes. The presenters, representing NGOs, government and corporations shared their knowledge and experience, but, I believe, gained a deeper understanding of how civil society works on these issues and how they can be more supportive of their efforts.

As I noted at the beginning, these three days were filled with energy, passion and commitment to continue the work and to make progress in securing a better world where government, business and civil society can work together to uphold human rights for all.


Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Moving Forward: Protecting Women's Rights

This week our Maghreb Regional Director Stephanie Willman Bordat was quoted in a USA Today article entitled “Arab Spring reforms still leaving women out in the cold.” Stephanie put it more starkly – that women are not just out in the cold, but their rights are slipping backwards in the region.  That deeply concerns me because violence against women persists when the rights of women are denied or not recognized. 

Legal Assistance Training Workshop with our partners Association des
jeunes avocats de Khemisset and La Voix de la femme Amazigh.
Globally, one out of three women will be beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime, with rates of abuse reaching 70% in some countries.

At Global Rights, working to end violence against women (VAW) is one of our top priorities.   Through legal empowerment and human rights education, we provide women with the tools to protect themselves and their families from violence.  

When I read the article I thought back to Zahira’s story.  Zahira was a shy, young woman Stephanie and her team met in Morocco a decade ago.  At that time, Zahira had to convince her very reluctant father to allow her to travel to one or our grassroots legal education trainings.  Now Zahira runs her own women’s rights organizations in Morocco.   

There are so many Zahiras of the world who, when given the opportunity and tools, thrive.  They inspire Global Rights to continue providing innovative tools such as the strategic use of marriage contacts to promote equitable rights to new brides in Morocco and Tunisia.  They inspire us to work with our partners throughout Morocco to build a national movement to adopt a violence against women act, which would be the first-ever VAW law in the Middle East if passed.

Women like Zahira inspire us to provide practical legal education to the next generation of women lawyers in Afghanistan and to train paralegals in Bundibugyo, Uganda who assist women facing domestic violence and land disputes. In Northern Nigeria, they inspire us to train a cadre of paralegals to handled cases from child sexual assault to alimony/child support.

Together we can build powerful partnerships with men and women around the world to continue moving forward to promote and protect women’s rights.

- Susan

P.S.  You may be interested in reading the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) recently released strategy to prevent and respond to gender-based violence (GBV) globally.  We applaud that it clearly states that the advancement of women and girls is at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Coming Up! Diving into the UN’s Business and Human Rights Framework

I have a feeling it’s going to be an extraordinary week. 

Flavia Milano, Global Rights' NRHRI  Director,
with our partners in Tchimbouissi, Congo.
On October 8, 2012, Global Rights’ Natural Resources and Human Rights Initiative is bringing together past and current partner organizations from resource-rich countries in Africa such as Republic of Congo, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Nigeria, Cote D'Ivoire and Uganda. 

I say extraordinary because there is a fascinating conversation that is taking shape between civil society organizations (CSOs), governments and corporations based on a new framework that the United Nations (UN) adopted in 2011 called the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (GPs).

This human rights and business framework highlights that while states have obligations to protect, respect, and remedy human rights violations, businesses also have responsibilities to respect and remedy human rights.  If businesses embrace these principles, they commit to:
  • Develop a high level public statement clearly explaining the company’s policy and declaring it will serve as a roadmap for its behavior;
  • Conduct human rights impact assessments to understand their human rights footprint;
  • Integrate their human rights policies throughout the company, making sure all employees are aware of their human rights responsibilities; and,
  • Track performance through “monitoring and auditing processes.”

The conversation that is taking place and that we want to deepen this October is about the integral role CSOs play in building demand in the developing world for business implementation of the principles and how to go about doing that. 

Human Rights CSOs are key to this process because they know their communities; know local and international law; and know how best to explain to stakeholders the importance of protecting human rights.  But they can only serve as catalysts for change if they have a full understanding of this business and human rights framework. 

At the conference, we seek to provide a solid knowledge base of the principles to our CSO partners.  Our partners will have the opportunity to interact and exchange information with a broad range of peer CSO, government and business experts.  Some of the topics are: 

  • Due Diligence and Corporate Social Responsibility – What do Civil Society Organizations need to know on human rights and due diligence?  Presented by the International Corporate Responsibility Roundtable.
  • How can Civil Society Organizations obtain and share information on Business and Human Rights?  Presented by Business and Human Rights Resource Center.
  • Regulatory gaps and opportunities within national legal systems.  Accountability and challenges.  Presented by Amnesty International.

To add to the conversation, our partners will also hear about lessons learned from other CSOs on the implementation of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPs).  The VPs provide guidance to companies in maintaining the safety and security of their operations that ensures respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. 

As you can see, it’s going to be a full few days.  I will be with Flavia Milano, Director of our NRHRI.  Be sure to follow us on Twitter for my updates from London. 

We gratefully acknowledge the Ford Foundation for making this conference possible.


Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Frontline Justice

What leapt to my mind as I was talking to Mary Wyckoff, Global Rights’ Director of Programs, about our Paralegal Training Workshop in Kampala, Uganda in July was the name of our blog:  Frontline Justice.

I was struck by the “frontline” role that paralegals play in Africa.  With limited numbers of lawyers in many African countries, and fewer still outside of urban areas, community-based paralegals lead the charge in filling the justice gap. 

We see it ourselves every day from our paralegal trainings and mentorships in Morocco, Northern Nigeria and Uganda.

Paralegals not only fill the justice gap, but they also help resolve conflicts – large and small – throughout Africa.  They help people solve family conflicts.  Paralegals assist individuals, especially women and children, seek protection from violence.  They help people navigate confusing criminal justice systems.  They help resolve conflicts over land and natural resources.  They help people access health care and education.  The list goes on and on. 

At this frontline vantage point, paralegals can also often see underlying problems brewing in a community.  In this way paralegals can serve as an early warning and early prevention system to help mitigate a bigger conflict from occurring.  

At the end of our workshop, more than fifty organizations from twenty African countries called on governments to acknowledge the critically important role that paralegals play.  In the Kampala Declaration on Community Paralegals, our partners urged governments to do three things: recognize the role community paralegals play in providing primary justice services, invest more in paralegal efforts, and protect the independence of paralegals. 

We know if governments more actively support paralegals, the return on the investment for their countries will be great. 

I want to thank USAID for their support, and Namati and Open Society Justice Initiative for being such dynamic and forward-thinking co-sponsors of the workshop with Global Rights.  I especially want to thank the eighty-plus paralegals who actively participated in the workshop last month.  But, more importantly, I want to thank them for engaging every day in their communities at the frontline of justice. 


Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

Monday, July 16, 2012

Our Commitment to Afghanistan

I keep hearing it over and over:  "Global Rights' program is so well respected here in Afghanistan." 

I am in Kabul to celebrate Global Rights' ten year anniversary in Afghanistan.  Saturday I walked into our event to be welcomed by a sea of young men and women in caps and gowns.  They were graduating from our Young Lawyers in Training (YLTP) and Family Law Clinical Training (FLC) programs from Al Biruni, Nangarhar and Kabul Universities in Law and Shar'ia.  Their excitement was contagious. 

Female YLTP & FLC Graduates
Joining the students were many of our current and former Legal Fellows and our partner organizations (NGOs and government ministries)  where our Fellows are placed. Participating partners included  Justice for All, Afghan Women's Network, the Ministry of Justice and many more. 

We were  honored that many of the law school deans and faculty joined us, as well as government ministers, members of Parliament, judges and prosecutors, our Human Rights Legal Practitioners who help train our students, leading human and women's rights advocates and our strong US and international supporters.  All in all there were 800 people who celebrated our 10th Anniversary with us!

More than 2,000 young people have graduated from YLTP and FLC over the ten years.  To date, we have placed 236 Legal Fellows (138 females and 98 males).  The Legal Advice Bureau has assisted 3,700 individuals. 

The statistics are impressive, but our work has such a ripple effect.   What I heard from our distinguished speakers again and again is how important rule of law is to a stable Afghanistan.  They highlighted Global Rights role in that critical process. Our work provides the next generation of lawyers with practical legal education that addresses human rights and the established  Legal Advice Bureaus provide legal assistance for the most poor and marginalized, especially women. 

Global Rights' Board Chair, J. Stuart Lemle; U.S. BG Dixie
Morrow; Global Rights Afghanistan Director, Justine Mbabazi;
& Global Rights' partner, Suraya Pakzad

As Brigadier General Dixie Morrow, the U.S. Deputy Coordinating Director for Rule of Law and Law Enforcement, said, "It is the principles that Global Rights and its partners teach and demonstrate that bring us together.  Program graduates use their knowledge to bring transparency, consistency, integrity and fairness to the justice system.  Treating everyone -- men and women, rich and poor, from all regions and every ethnic group, from the most powerful to the humblest -- with respect for their rights is the essence of a commitment to justice and human rights."  

Dr. Obaidullah Obaid, Minister of Higher Education
The Minister of Higher Education, Dr. Obaidullah Obaid, stressed the need for young people in Afghanistan to learn about human rights as part of their education.  He commended Global Rights and our university partners for teaching the importance of human rights as part of our curriculum.

I wish I could convey all of the inspiring words that were spoken on Saturday.  Despite the violence that continues to plague parts of the country,  the day's event filled us all with hope for the future of Afghanistan and the courage to continue Global Rights'  work. 

I want to express my deepest thank you to all of those who participated in our 10th Anniversary celebration, our dedicated staff and to all who have supported us over the years.  We are grateful and proud of what we have done together and what is possible in the future.

- Susan

Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Impact in Burundi

Wow. It is always good to hear that Global Rights is having an impact. So I was particularly pleased when we received an email from Steven Goldberg a volunteer with the International Senior Lawyers Project who co-facilitated our Strategic Litigation workshop in Burundi last week. Here is a bit of what he wrote about the impact of our training:

"I wanted to give you a brief update from Burundi, at least from my perspective.

This is obviously an extraordinarily ambitious program. You are educating people about international law, you are getting them to think about how to apply principles underlying that body of law in their own countries to specific legal problems, and how to do that strategically.

The trainers you've chosen -- all African -- are terrific. Knowledgeable, experienced, and totally committed to this work.

...The skills part of the training has been useful on several levels. It has made people think about the practicalities of doing this work: When working with communities, how do legal issues get defined, how does the lawyer avoid letting his or her own biases define the work as opposed to the people he's representing, who is the client when dealing with groups of people, how do you create trust with your clients to facilitate disclosure of the facts you need to litigate, how can the work be done in such a way that empowers the client. These are not necessarily issues and skills people think about as they train to become lawyers, and then practice law but really are important whether you are doing divorces or large impact cases.

Steven Goldberg at the Strategic Litigation workshop
We've also tried to do this part of the training in a way that gets the participants actively involved, and that's been a success. People have been actively involved, willing to participate in role-plays, filled with questions and comments. We've had to be flexible about how to do this. But my sense from the participants is that they are enjoying the training and finding it valuable.

...Now being home, the impact of this experience on me has been significant -- apart from the training and cases. The participants in the workshop were amazing people: so committed, bright, willing to take significant risks challenging their various governments in cases challenging human rights violations.

I left Africa this time with a sense of perspective that change takes time. I also have optimism about the future given the amazing people I met.

Thanks so much for this experience."

- Steven Goldberg, Attorney at Law

I am glad to know that our USAID-funded program is helping to build lasting legal skills that will have long-term impact on strengthening participation in rule of law.  Click here to read more about our strategic litigation workshop. 

- Susan

Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

Monday, June 11, 2012

"Your Country Needs You”: A General’s Words of Encouragement in Afghanistan

“As a judge I can say, you are the kind of people I would like to see representing someone in the court,” U.S. Brigadier General Dixie Morrow said to 30 of our Legal Fellows in Kabul.

“I know one of the things this program will train you to do is to provide defense services to the people of Afghanistan who need you the most. I have lived my life to serve the public in my country and I am hopeful you will do the same.  Your country needs you."

Global Rights Legal Fellows with BG Morrow
This Global Rights’ training session was special. It’s not every day that a female Brigadier General addresses our Legal Fellows. The U.S. Embassy’s Acting Coordinating Director of Rule of Law and Law Enforcement Brigadier General Dixie Morrow recently shared her legal and public service career with 30 of our Fellows during a training on research in the law.

She discussed the importance of criminal defense and the value of public service.  She then asked the Fellows to tell her about their experiences working at local Afghan organizations.

Some of the Legal Fellows shared their proudest achievements – for example providing legal assistance to women, redrafting bylaws, and helping rural farmers understand their rights. Brigadier General Morrow was impressed by what these young men and women were doing to improve the Afghan justice sector for their fellow citizens fresh out of school.  

We want to thank BG Morrow for taking time out of her busy day to learn more about the good work our Legal Fellows are doing and share her words of encouragement.  We need to continue investing in Afghanistan’s next generation.  Our Legal Fellowship Program gives recent law graduates confidence and skills to support and strengthen justice in their country.  I am confident that one of them one day will be Afghanistan’s General Morrow.

- Susan

If you want to help support our amazing Legal Fellows and their work, you can make a tax deductible contribution here.

Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sleeping Better at Night

She was trapped.  She was desperate. And she did not want to marry a 60-year-old man.

Two years ago, 14 year old Aminat ran 125 kilometers away from home to seek our paralegals’ help in Bauchi State, Nigeria. She heard there were individuals in Bauchi who could help defend her rights. She needed to know that there was some section of some law that would protect her from marrying this man.

Our trained paralegals were able to educate both Aminat and her father on the law that actually gives women the choice of whom they marry and when they marry.

Aminat is currently in school.  She did not have to get married. Aminat now wants to be a lawyer and make a difference in the world.

Abi Baiyewu, Global Rights’ Nigeria Country Director, made our work so real when she told Aminat’s story, at our recent event on April 25, 2012.

Whether it is in Nigeria, Afghanistan or Morocco, Global Rights is making a difference in the lives of young women around the world. We are ensuring that women like Aminat are able to live free of any human rights violations.

This certainly makes me sleep better at night.

-- Susan

P.S.  If you want to help change the lives of young women like Aminat, please make a contribution here

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Paralegal Profile: Eye Opener to Justice

In late March, Megan Chapman spent a short week with Global Rights’ three local partner organizations in Bundibugyo, Uganda – Child Concerns Initiatives Organisation (CCIO), Bundibugyo NGO/CBO Forum, and Bundibugyo Women’s Federation (BUWOFE) – and met a number of paralegals and program beneficiaries in their communities. Earlier blog posts have highlighted success stories from Bundibugyo. This post is the first in a series focused on the paralegals themselves, aiming to give a fuller picture of just a few of these volunteers working on the front lines of justice and legal empowerment in their communities.

Just five days after completing his initial training with 14 other new paralegals working with BUWOFE, Tibamwenda John had already helped to resolve two incidents of domestic violence in his parish within Nyahuka Town Council. John is six years retired from a long career in government service with the Ugandan Prisons Service and nearly a decade as the parish chief.

Although he protests he is too old to ride the bicycle that BUWOFE gave him to assist with his paralegal work, it is evident that retirement is not slowing him down.

With a broad grin and a chuckle, John agrees that we can “foot” to his home once I assure him I can handle the kilometer distance and, yes, even the mud. We exit the one-room Nyahuka Town Council office, where he serves as the Chairman of the Local Council III (LC3) Court, and head up the rutted road toward the DRC border. He points out the main hospital in town where one of his wives works and he serves as a volunteer board member. Up another hillside, he points to a house in a grove of cacao trees and explains with quiet pride how he and one wife have used money earned from cacao – a major local cash crop – to build a permanent structure (made from bricks rather than the more common mud and sticks), complete with a zinc roof and real metal doors, even while managing to send all their children to university.

Along the way, we take a detour via the house of a woman who chairs the 20-person BUWOFE “self-help group” of which John is one of just three male members. The group originally formed a savings and credit cooperative with support from BUWOFE during Bundibugyo’s recovery from years of insurgency and now raises awareness in the community on issues like domestic violence and girl-child education. It is this group that elected John to be trained as a paralegal.

It only takes a few moments of conversation to understand the reasons that John was given this vote of confidence. Hard work and volunteerism seem to run at his core. Sitting under a picture of Barack Obama in the small house that belonged to his first wife (now of late) from which he plans to do his paralegal work, John explains his motivations.

John's paralegal log book where he records the cases
he handles
As the LC3 Chairperson, he is already involved in local dispute resolution (the third level of appeals in the local court system recognized by the Ugandan state the operates side-by-side with judiciary). But, he explains, the LC3 is required to charge fees; as a paralegal, he can help people closer to home and without court fees. Moreover, he hopes to be able to prevent disputes.

In this regard, he is most keen to receive a follow-up training promised by BUWOFE on will-writing: “Once I have received that training, I will be able to help so many to stop fighting in their families!”

Just before we leave John's home, Joshua, the BUWOFE coordinator, takes out a bag of  t-shirts that have just been printed for all the newly trained paralegals. John holds up the shirt that will identify him, although I suspect little identification is needed around here, as “Paralegal – eye opener to justice.” 

- Megan

P.S. Click here to view a photo album from my trip to Uganda!

Posted by Megan Chapman

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

We Must Commit to Protect Women

"The lesson is that we must be committed permanently to the adoption of legislation against violence against women, in all its forms. Once fully enacted, this legislation will provide protection to the woman when she is being abused or threatened. We need the perpetrators of these crimes to be tried for violations of human rights."  – Ambassador Melanne Verveer (translated from French transcript)

Last week, Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, was in Morocco as part of a trip to Morocco and Tunisia to discuss ways to advance women’s empowerment and political and economic participation. Among other leaders in women’s rights, Ambassador Verveer had an opportunity to meet with our Maghreb Regional Director, Stephanie Willman Bordat.  The two were able to discuss the current situation of women’s rights in Morocco and agree that a violence against women (VAW) law in the country must be passed.

Global Rights Maghreb team and local partners at a sit-in at
the Moroccan Parliament for Amina Filali
Ambassador Verveer’s visit occurred while Morocco is still reeling from the tragic suicide of Amina Filali, a 16 year old girl who took her life after being forced to marry her rapist in order to preserve the honor of her family. Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code (yes, the actual law) allows a “kidnapper” to marry his victim if she is a minor, even though legal marriage age in Morocco is 18.

The ability of her rapist to escape responsibility for his crime is not only due to Article 475 but, also because of the lack of strong laws to protect women from violence.   Since 2006, the Moroccan government has been promising a VAW bill but, to date, the Family Ministry has not presented such a bill to the entire cabinet for approval.

Yet, model legislation is ready, crafted as a result of the hard work done by a vast network of women’s organizations that span the breadth and depth of the country.  To see the VAW legislation our local partners drafted, click here for Arabic, and a summary in French and English.

Global Rights has been working with these women’s organizations for over ten years to build their knowledge and skills on women’s legal rights in Morocco.  Coordinated by Global Rights, Moroccan women have come together to draft model legislation to combat violence against women.  Such legislation is needed to prevent more young girls and women, like Amina, from taking their own lives because of violence that has been perpetrated against them, for which they have no recourse. 

In 2009, the Maghreb team and their local partners organized an unprecedented three-week caravan throughout Morocco to mobilize support for a NGO drafted violence against women legislation. The caravan stopped in 33 cities, towns, and villages and had over 2,000 people participating in round table conferences and awareness-raising sessions.  Unlike anything that has been done before, this caravan encouraged women to speak out about domestic violence. At each and every event, participants told Global Rights at least one story of a woman who had committed suicide to escape from violence.

Ambassador Verveer’s remarks noted that the case of Amina Filali was a “wake up call” to take steps to pass a VAW law in Parliament.  I want to thank Ambassador Verveer for making the strong statement she did. We support the repeal of Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code and encourage a strong law that more comprehensively protects women from violence.

- Susan

Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Reports Don't Just Sit on Shelves

In this week’s staff meeting, Carlos Quesada, Director of Global Rights' Racial and Ethnic Equality Program, shared some exciting news.

AMNB at the United Nations in February 2012
Last month, Carlos was with Simone Cruz, Executive Secretary of our partner Articulação de ONGs de Mulheres Negras Brasileiras [The Network of NGOs of Afro-Brazilian Women (AMNB)] when she presented a shadow report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on the destructive discrimination that Afro-Brazilian women face, in particular, in health care and in employment. 

AMNB – with Global Rights’ support and assistance – worked incredibly hard on this report. Critically important to the report are the recommendations it makes to CEDAW on the steps the Brazilian government could take to improve the situation of Afro-Brazilian women. 

So, when Carlos announced that CEDAW included our recommendations to better protect the labor rights of Afro-descendant women in their official report to the Brazilian government, I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment for Global Rights and AMNB.

Why is this important?

Well, according to the 2010 Brazilian census, Afro-descendants now make up 52 percent of the Brazilian population.  The problems that women face – such as domestic violence, maternal mortality, employment, lack of education – are experienced even more acutely by Afro-Brazilian women because of discrimination based on color and gender.

Policies that specifically address discrimination against Afro-Brazilian women would positively impact 50 million women – more than a quarter of the country’s population!

Given this potential impact on so many lives and the degree of discrimination we outlined in the report, I commend CEDAW for addressing this serious issue and using our recommendations to strongly encourage the Brazilian government to take action. 

Now, we hope the Ministry of Women will follow through with their promise to create a committee comprised of civil society organizations, including AMNB, to insure that the Brazilian government adheres to CEDAW’s recommendations.

Ate Logo! (bye in Portuguese)

Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Our Journey to Eliminate Racial Discrimination

Carlos Quesada, our Director of Racial and Ethnic Equality, just wrote the staff a moving email about today being the United Nation’s Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. 
Carlos talked about the incredible journey he and his Latin American partners have been on over the last decade to combat discrimination of Afro-descendants. 

Our partner the Network of Afro-Latino, Caribbean and Diaspora
Women with Former OAS Commissioner María Silvia Guillén
In the year 2000 in Santiago, Chile, Carlos attended the Conference of the Americas to prepare for the World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa in 2001. 

Those two conferences were pivotal in the fight against discrimination – it was there that governments clearly acknowledged that racism existed and was the cause of “suffering, disadvantage and violence, as well as other serious human rights violations.”  Governments committed themselves to take action to end racial discrimination. 

That is when Global Rights hit the ground running in Latin America working closely with local Afro-descendant partners.  We have worked in Colombia, Brazil and Peru to document and monitor human rights violations.  We have helped partners write hard-hitting reports which they have used as advocacy tools based on their human rights monitoring and documentations.  We have accompanied our partners and Afro-descendant regional networks to regional and international bodies such as the Organization of American States and the United Nations to present their reports so that pressure would be put on governments to take action to alleviate discrimination of Afro-descendants. 

Then, a decade after the conference in South Africa, the UN declared 2011 the International Year of African Descent – a huge step in raising the profile of the issue.  In March 2011, we organized a regional conference with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the OAS.  At the conference, we encouraged the IACHR to produce a report on the situation of Afro-descendants.

As a result, the IACHR released the first-ever report on Afro-descendants in Latin America titled The Situation of Persons of African Descent in the Americas.  The report makes recommendations on how States can take action to guarantee the rights of people of African descent.  Carlos and his partners are now using this report as a tool with governments to advocate for change. 

Finally, Carlos wanted to thank our partners who have worked on this issue including the National Association of Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES), GELEDES,  Institute of Black Women from Brazil, the Center for the Development of Afro-Peruvian Women (CEDEMUNEP),  and the regional networks we have been working with in this struggle, the Central American Black Organization (CABO), the Network of Afro-Latino, Caribbean and Diaspora Women, the Network of Afro-Brazilian Women NGOs, Afroamerica XXI, and the Jacques Viau Network (Dominican Republic and Haiti).

Carlos said in his email that over the last decade the situation for Afro-descendants has improved, but there is a great deal of work left to be done to improve lives.  But, he knows that with such courageous partners, the next decade holds great promise. 

- Susan

Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

Empowering Women: Real Tools, Real Change (Part II)

Two weeks ago I wrote about the importance of Global Rights’ groundbreaking online database project in Morocco.  This week, that project was featured in Women’s eNews in the case of Amina Filali's suicide.

Global Rights Maghreb team and local partners at the
Moroccan Parliament for the Amina Filali sit-in
As you may know, Amina was a 16 year old Moroccan girl who was forced to marry her rapist in order to preserve the honor of her family. Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code allows a “kidnapper” to marry his victim if she is a minor, even though legal marriage age in Morocco is 18. Amina ended her life last week because of this outdated law.

The story in Women’s eNews highlights how our public online court decision database will provide valuable information on whether or not cases involving women are being decided and implemented fairly, and can hold judges accountable for how they apply the law.

We hope that our database will help create positive change in the Moroccan judicial system that was too late for Amina Filali.

Click here to read the full article.

- Susan

Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth