New Year’s reflections: Human rights in 2013


I love December.  I love it because it brings some of my favorite things – snow and holidays and celebrations with family.  But I also love the quiet time at the end of December that allows for reflection about the past year.  This time of reflection gives me hope for renewal and inspiration in the coming year. I am using this time to reflect on the human rights successes of 2012 and to gear up for the challenges of 2013.

On the national level, we celebrate moving our country one step closer to achieving universal access to health care. With the Supreme Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of the health care law commonly referred to as “Obamacare,” we can collectively move forward with the plan to expand health care coverage to more people.

And, what a year we’ve had in Minnesota. We are still celebrating the success of the amazing grassroots efforts to defeat two proposed amendments to Minnesota’s constitution. The first was a measure to permanently enshrine discrimination into the Constitution by restricting marriage to heterosexual couples. The second proposed amendment was a cynical attempt to restrict voting disguised as a measure to protect the integrity of the voting process. An amazing group of organizations, companies and individuals came together to defeat these amendments, rejecting discrimination and protecting the fundamental right to vote for all citizens in Minnesota.

We are celebrating other program successes at The Advocates for Human Rights. We published the third edition of our Energy of a Nation curriculum, a comprehensive curriculum designed to educate students about the realities of immigration in the United States and dispel the common myths. This fall, we also published two reports about the implementation of the domestic violence laws in Croatia and Moldova. We trained the legal professionals who implement these laws in several countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and we provided commentary to proposed laws in nearly a dozen other countries. We continue to work with Diaspora communities to bring their human rights concerns to the United Nations and the governments in their home countries. We also work to ensure that Minnesota communities are welcoming to our newest Americans through our One Voice Minnesota Project.

While there is much to celebrate from 2012, we face many challenges going forward. For example, we must hold the United States government accountable for the human rights violations resulting from extra-judicial executions through drone attacks. These attacks violate international law and erode the basic due process protections of the United States Constitution. We must also challenge indefinite detention, with a demand that the most glaring example, Guantanamo, be closed or at a minimum, those held be charged and given the opportunity to present a defense. Prisoners there have now been held for more than ten years without the benefit of even the most basic civil rights protections provided in international law.

It appears that we will have the opportunity to address comprehensive immigration reform in the coming year. We must insist that any fix to the broken immigration system be anchored in human rights and respect the inherent dignity of all individuals living in this country. In addition, we must fight against every attempt to discriminate against human beings in this country based on their immigration status. Attempts to fix due process problems with indefinite detention by limiting the extension of due process protection only to United States citizens or permanent residents violates the spirit if not the letter of the United States Constitution. These same distinctions are being made in the health care, education and access to food and housing. Law and policy related to these fundamental human rights should also acknowledge the shared humanity of all people living in the United States.

We must also continue to work for the elimination of violence against women and girls in the United States and around the world. The recent news of the death of the young medical student who was raped on a bus in India and the shooting of Malala, the young Pakistani girl who spoke out about her right to education, underscore the urgency of this issue. We have made great strides in increasing legal protections and training legal system personnel, but we must work to pass appropriate laws, monitor the implementation of these laws, and fix or improve the laws when they are not working properly.

We are inspired by past successes to meet the human rights challenges in the coming year. At The Advocates for Human Rights, we re-commit to our vision of a world in which all people live with dignity, freedom, justice, equality and peace. In this spirit, we wish you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Robin Phillips is the Executive Director of The Advocates for Human Rights