Human Rights Clinic Hosts Forum and Presents Reports on Human Rights in the U.S.


Charlotte Cassel, a student in the Human Rights Clinic, presenting on domestic violence (Photo: Miami Law) 

To mark the ICCPR National Day of Action (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) where advocates and activists nationwide emphasized the importance of human rights and the importance of the U.S. government protecting these fundamental human rights - Miami Law's Human Rights Clinic and the ACLU of Florida convened a lunchtime forum titled "Human Rights at Home: A Forum on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the United States."

The speakers – which included clinic students and professors, as well as lawyers and activists from the ACLU of Florida, Florida Legal Services, and Dream Defenders – presented reports on a variety of subjects, including domestic violence, "stand your ground" laws; U.S. deportations to Haiti; youth incarcerated in adult facilities; and felon disenfranchisement.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), the monitoring body for the ICCPR, was scheduled to review these reports as part of its review of the United States' compliance with its treaty obligations under the ICCPR in Geneva in October 2013. However, due to the recent federal government shutdown, this review has now been postponed to March 2014.

In advance of the ICCPR review, students from the University of Miami Human Rights and Immigration Clinics, alongside NGO and clinic partners nationwide, prepared "shadow reports," covering topics ranging from juvenile justice, immigrants' rights, and domestic violence and gun violence, to provide the UNHRC with information about rights violations in the United States.

At the ICCPR lunchtime Forum, Nancy Abudu, Legal Director of the ACLU-FL; Meena Jagannath, Attorney at Florida Legal Services; and JoNel Edwards from Dream Defenders presented their organizations' shadow reports on felon disenfranchisement and stand your ground laws. Human Rights Clinic students James Slater, Charlotte Cassel, and Katherine Clemente presented their reports on juvenile justice, immigrants' rights, and domestic violence and gun violence and talked about their experiences in preparing them.

Charlotte Cassel described her experience as "a fast-paced immersion into the world of human rights advocacy." Her Clinic colleague, Maxim Tsoy, said working on the shadow report was "a very valuable and rewarding experience that gave me insight into the world of human rights advocacy, which I learned requires tremendous amount of patience, dedication, and perseverance." The shadow report urging the United States to halt deportations to Haiti arose from a collaboration between the Human Rights Clinic and the Immigration Clinic ("Team Haiti"), along with NGO partners. Haiti has experienced a humanitarian crisis and a continuing cholera outbreak since the catastrophic earthquake in 2010. The shadow report highlights the conditions and hardships that deportees face, including separation from their families in the United States and violence, discrimination and social stigmatization in Haiti. The report emphasizes that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's practices must comply with its human rights standards that require a balancing test to be considered before deporting people to Haiti.

The shadow report on Domestic Violence, Gun Violence, and "Stand Your Ground" laws arose from collaboration between the Human Rights Clinic's "Team Gender Justice" and The Advocates for Human Rights, Legal Momentum, and Women Enabled Inc." The report discussed the cases of Jessica Lenahan and Marissa Alexander as illustrations of systemic gender and race-based discrimination. The shadow report urges the United States to improve its response to violence against women and to re-evaluate "stand your ground" laws to ensure that their application does not perpetuate racial discrimination or re-victimize survivors of domestic violence.

Students from "Team Juvenile Justice," another project group in the Human Rights Clinic, also contributed to a shadow report that was prepared by the ACLU-Michigan and CUNY Law School's International Women's Human Rights Clinic on conditions of juveniles incarcerated in adult jails and prisons.

"Working on the shadow report gave me a broad perspective on the inadequate protections afforded to juveniles nationwide," said Kelsey Hayden, a student on "Team Juvenile Justice." The report highlighted many of the issues at the state level that youth face, including adult criminal sentencing, routine placement in adult prison settings, and subjection to various abuses by inmates and guards. The team urged the United States to implement measures to help thousands of youth in state facilities.