On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, long-time friend of the blog Colin Snider and I talk about the conviction of Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt:
See also Corey Robin’s review of “The Last Colonial Massacre.”
Tag: "human rights"
On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, long-time friend of the blog Colin Snider and I talk about the conviction of Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt:
For the first time, the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) explicitly described family planning as a “universal human right.” In its annual report, the organization said that improved access to contraception and other methods of family planning could greatly improve the lives of women around the world:
“Family planning has a positive multiplier effect on development,” Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the fund, said in a written statement. “Not only does the ability for a couple to choose when and how many children to have help lift nations out of poverty, but it is also one of the most effective means of empowering women. Women who use contraception are generally healthier, better educated, more empowered in their households and communities and more economically productive. Women’s increased labor-force participation boosts nations’ economies.”
The report effectively declares that legal, cultural and financial barriers to accessing contraception and other family planning measures are an infringement of women’s rights.
The Egyptian military has secretly detained hundreds and possibly thousands of suspected government opponents since mass protests against President Hosni Mubarak began, and at least some of these detainees have been tortured, according to testimony gathered by the Guardian.
The military has claimed to be neutral, merely keeping anti-Mubarak protesters and loyalists apart. But human rights campaigners say this is clearly no longer the case, accusing the army of involvement in both disappearances and torture – abuses Egyptians have for years associated with the notorious state security intelligence (SSI) but not the army.
The Guardian has spoken to detainees who say they have suffered extensive beatings and other abuses at the hands of the military in what appears to be an organised campaign of intimidation. Human rights groups have documented the use of electric shocks on some of those held by the army.
Well, yes, but how do we know that the protesters weren’t torturing themselves? Certainly, that seems much more plausible than a regime with an extensive history of torture using torture against dissidents that pose an immediate threat to his regime…[/Althouse]
…in case you were wondering why Althouse would bother to come up with a nutty conspiracy theories in an attempt to discredit anti-Mubarak forces, here you go.
I’ve been using a local coffee bar as my office for parts of this summer when not in the coding lab for my agenda-setting project. Besides some excellent lattes and a new appreciation for white wine, my visits have yielded me a chance to observe and connect a bit with the people who work there.
Something I’ve noticed is the absence of regular shift breaks among the staff, with the exception of those who occasionally duck out for a cigarette during lulls while still keeping an eye on the counter. Thinking back to my earlier days in the service industry, I began wondering why these hardworking baristas were not automatically required to take short breaks when they were on the clock for more than seven hours. Had something changed over the years?
So I checked into the OSHA regulations and the Fair Labor Standards Act and was surprised to learn that in fact, federal law does not require employers to offer breaks of any kind to adult workers. (The standards are different for minors, which explains what has “changed” since the days when I was working in fast food and diners – I grew up. One other exception: as of just this year, the FLSA was updated to mandate breaks for breastfeeding mothers.)
Everyone else? Forget about it. States may pass laws requiring breaks, but as far as I can determine only seven have done so, not including Massachusetts. (MA does require a lunch break.) Some workers receive mandated breaks through collective bargaining agreements, but these are few and far between in the service industry. Employers may of course choose to offer breaks and many do, but this is at their discretion. Meals, snacks, coffee, even bathroom breaks can be limited by employers – the latter having been a significant issue among assembly line workers (just read this Cornell University Press study entitled Void Where Prohibited: Rest Breaks and the Right to Urinate on Company Time).
At a place like Amherst Coffee, when employees sneak breaks I have observed it is often with the excuse of “stepping outside for a cigarette.” Indeed, although the law doesn’t provide for smoke-breaks anymore than it provides for bathroom breaks, many people (not all) seem to feel that their best chance of legitimating a five-minute break from work is to claim they need a cigarette. I have noticed a similar pattern at my workplace – it is smokers in our building who regularly step outside for air and respite.
All this has raised two questions in my mind. First, is there a connection between the lack of mandated employee breaks and smoking patterns? I don’t know about food service workers, but a study has been done among nurses that shows that those who smoke are much likelier to take (be allowed to take?) breaks than those who do not. (There are also some interesting gender dynamics at play when it comes to smoke-breaks.) What an irony if cigarette smoking, known for its ill-health effects, turns out to be the predominant means by which employees can reap the health benefits of regular, short work-day breaks. Perhaps if we want to truly address tobacco addiction in this country we also need to do something about workers’ rights to breaks in general.
Which leads to my second thought: why the heck shouldn’t we have laws mandating shift breaks in this country? It’s true that such breaks are already common in some industries. At Amherst Coffee, for example, there is an informal system in place with which the staff seem pretty happy, judging by their general enthusiasm about their jobs and the sense of family you feel at the coffeeshop. Indeed, one can imagine such an informal system might in fact work to food service employees’ benefit, since my guess is it allows them to split tips between fewer employees per shift than might be required if breaks were regularized into a one-size-fits-all system that did not account for the ebb and flow of traffic into the shop.
Still, the problem with leaving this up to employers’ discretion should be obvious – not all businesses will engage in the kind of employee-friendly practices you find at Amherst Coffee. By not treating this as a basic workers’ rights issue, we are as a nation also missing an opportunity to utilize shift breaks to promote public health more generally.
But it’s not just about regulating businesses. It’s also about creating a culture of respect for labor rights among consumers. In the restaurant business, the incessant demand for speedy service and the disincentive to split tips among additional workers per shift means there would be a minor trade-off between breaks for employees and customer service. Laws to protect employees might help disseminate a sensibility of patience among the consumer population that would make it easier for small businesses to ensure their staff are well-rested.
At any rate, all this has made me realize that I too ought to get out of my office more during the work-day. One of the downsides of academic work where you set your own schedule is that we often don’t allow ourselves breaks (or at least, not breaks that actually take us away from our computers…) I for one can’t recall the last time I stepped outside my office just for five minutes of sunshine or fresh air. But I’d sure be a lot healthier and more productive if I did.
For now, I’ll just keep relying on my friendly neighborhood baristas to make sure I don’t work too hard. And in return, I won’t begrudge them their fresh air / smoke breaks, even if it means I have to wait a little longer for my next drink. I hope many LGM readers follow suit as you frequent local businesses in your communities this summer.
My new book Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond is finally out from Columbia University Press.
Basically, it’s all you never wanted to know about why children born of wartime rape have been overlooked by the human rights movement for the last two decades, and how this could be changed. Here’s what’s on the back cover:
Sexual violence and exploitation occur in many conflict zones, and the children born of such acts face discrimination, stigma, and infanticide. Yet the massive transnational network of organizations working to protect war-affected children has, for two decades, remained curiously silent on the needs of this vulnerable population.
Focusing specifically on the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina, R. Charli Carpenter questions the framing of atrocity by human rights organizations and the limitations these narratives impose on their response. She finds that human rights groups set their agendas according to certain grievances-the claims of female rape victims or the complaints of aggrieved minorities, for example-and that these concerns can overshadow the needs of others. Incorporating her research into a host of other conflict zones, Carpenter shows that the social construction of rights claims is contingent upon the social construction of wrongs. According to Carpenter, this prevents the full protection of children born of war.
The Saudi Gazette reports:
Al-Mubarraz police are investigating a complaint that a Saudi woman in her twenties allegedly punched and beat up a staffer of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (the Hai’a). The staffer had to be taken to a medical center because of the bruises to his face and body. Apparently the Hai’a staffer suspected the young woman of being in the company of an unrelated man in an amusement park because the couple appeared to be acting in an inappropriate manner.
When the Hai’a staffer approached the couple to confirm their identities and the relationship between them, the young man collapsed. It was then the young woman allegedly unleashed a fierce attack on the Hai’a staffer with her fists.
Plenty of “you go girl” accolades like this percolating outside Saudi Arabia. It’s actually kind of serious though: the woman could be penalized with jail time and flogging if she is charged for assaulting a government official, so the human rights movement had better prepare a campaign to protect her from the predictable backlash from the state. But as described in the Jersualem Post, this incident may also be symptomatic of a gradual yet significant shift in Saudi society away from its entrenched culture of gender apartheid.
Gary Haugen and Victor Boutrous have a useful article in the new print version of Foreign Affairs, pointing out that all the human rights standards in the land mean nothing if they’re not translated into practical justice for every human being. Particularly, they point out how the ability to enjoy one’s legal rights is related to wealth.
Efforts by the modern human rights movement over the last 60 years have contributed to the criminalization of [various] abuses in nearly every country. The problem for the poor, however, is that those laws are rarely enforced. Without functioning public justice systems to deliver the protections of the law to the poor, the legal reforms of the modern human rights movement rarely improve the lives of those who need them most…. Helping construct effective public justice systems in the developing world, therefore, must become the new mandate of the human rights movement in the twenty-first century.
An important and timely argument that may constitute a major reframing of human rights discourse and practice. Two minor rejoinders, however: Read more…
I recently suggested LGM readers support a Department of Justice Rule-making process on prison reform. I probably should have added that it’s not enough – not nearly enough - to simply log into the Change.org site and click “send” on the form letter they offer.
In fact, if you did that already, you pretty much wasted your time. That’s because DoJ doesn’t care how many individual constituents support or oppose prison reform per se. They couldn’t care less, in fact. All they care about is how to create the best possible set of rules, so what they want most are informed, carefully thought out, unique comments.
Congress cares about numbers, of course. Congress’s job is to pass laws, and because we elect our congressional leaders they care a great deal about the popularity of those laws.
Federal agencies are pretty much the reverse. They are tasked with implementing laws, and they are staffed by civil servants. Their job is not to get re-elected, it is to figure out how to produce collective goods.
Citizen input in federal rule-makings is not about the popularity of a particular rule. Rather, it’s about more heads being better than few – it’s about tapping the experiential, procedural, scientific and everyday expertise of the American people. The federal rule-making process is one of the truly deliberative mechanisms in our country. What the public comment process is supposed to produce is useful substantive citizen input on what the rule should look like.
What does this have to do with online petitions? Read more…
I see even Huffington Post picked up this ridiculous headline mucking around on the Internets. At Spiked, Brendan O’Neill offered a helpful
hysteriagraphy historiography of the meme a few days back. A report last year debunked the idea that there is a link between mega-sporting-events and sex slavery.
It goes without saying that John Nolte will write something like this:
Annually we are showered with Leftist films created by morally superior beings who lecture us on human rights, civil rights, feminism, lookism, racism and any other “ism” they can conceive, when in real life they’re the very worst in all of these departments.
He honestly believes that because some people on the left are sexist or racist, everyone on the right is morally superior despite, you know, supporting policies designed to protect the interests of white males. In this case, his ire is raised by a New York Post article about the casting call for the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie:
The filmmakers sent out a casting call last week seeking “beautiful female fit models. Must be 5ft7in-5ft8in, size 4 or 6, no bigger or smaller. Age 18-25. Must have a lean dancer body. Must have real breasts. Do not submit if you have implants.” And they warn that there’ll be a “show and tell” day. To make sure LA talent scouts don’t get caught in a “booby trap,” potential lassies will have to undergo a Hollywood-style jiggle-your-jugs test and jog for judges.
Nolte is outraged on behalf of surgically-enhanced women everywhere:
This isn’t some sleazy porn peddler in the valley doing this, this is…Disney. DISNEY is going to subject and exploit young women desperate to be stars to the indignity of a booby ”show and tell.” DISNEY is going to have them jog in place for producers and casting agents in order to keep score of the bounciness of their breasts.
Not only is this a case of discrimination against women whose only crime was undergoing a dangerous surgical procedure in order to enhance their appeal to sexists like Nolte, it involves a particularly dehumanizing “booby ‘show and tell’” in which woman will be asked to “jog in place for producers and casting agents in order to keep score of the bounciness of their breasts.” How does he know this? It says so right in the actual, unexpurgated casting call:
Must be 5’7-5’8, Size four or six – no bigger or smaller. Age 18 to 25. Must have a lean dancer body. Must have real breasts. Do not submit if you have implants. This is a show and tell of costumes with the director and the producers. Plan on an entire day of trying on clothes and being photographed.
Sticklers might insist that the prepositional phrase “of costumes” modifies “show and tell,” and that there’s nothing in the casting call about actresses being asked to “jog in place” so producers and casting agents can “keep score of the bounciness of their breasts.” Since it’s not in the casting call, where did this idea of a “booby ‘show and tell’” in which a parade of topless women jiggle only what the good Lord gave them come from? Where else?
The imagination of John Nolte.
The man can’t even defend hypothetical women without undressing them in his mind. This isn’t to say the casting call isn’t sexist, because like most items relating to Hollywood and the female form, it clearly is. The point here, as usual, is that conservatives who like to think of themselves as morally superior to liberals when it comes to racial or gender equality always reveal themselves to be purveyors of the very ills they decry. In this respect, Nolte is no different than affirmative action opponents who offer, as proof that we live in a post-racial society, the fact that there’s a nigger in the White House.
On March 10, 2010, the Department of Justice opened a 60-day public comment period on national standards addressing sexual abuse in detention. Released last June by a bipartisan federal commission, these common-sense measures have the potential to help end sexual abuse in detention. But the standards are opposed by some powerful corrections leaders. These officials argue that it is too expensive to stop prisoner rape, and they seem to have a great deal of influaence over the Department of Justice.
As I’ve argued before, this is an important one for progressives to weigh in on.
A 2001 Human Rights Watch report showed an epidemic of prison rape in the US; and the final report of Congress’s Congressional National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, released last June, found that nearly 60,000 inmates have suffered sexual abuse in US prisons. It also showed that more prisoners are abused by staff than by other inmates, and that gender minorities are at the greatest risk.
NPREC’s original recommendations were that 5% of federal funding for prisons be contingent on states’ reduction in incidence rates in accordance with standards now being drafted by the Attorney General. I haven’t yet read which provisions made it into the proposed rule, but I would argue that 5% may be much too low a penalty to check such well-entrenched abuse; and at any rate the federal government will also need to consider providing resources for states to implement the standards, which would involve a significant overhauling of prison culture.
When you contact Attorney General Holder with your thoughts, refer to Docket No. OAG-131.