What Makes a Human Rights Success?

Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Inequality, Multimedia, North America, Podcast, TerraViva United Nations

Indigenous Rights

KATHMANDU, Aug 4 2022 (IPS) – The largest ever settlement in Canadian legal history, 40 billion Canadian dollars, occurred in 2022, but it didn’t come from a court – it followed a decision by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. In 2016 the Tribunal affirmed a complaint that the Government of Canada’s child welfare system discriminated against First Nations children. (First Nations are one of three groups of Indigenous people in Canada).

When I heard about that amount and subsequently how the government was negotiating the details of that settlement, I was astounded. Although I’ve had an interest in and reported regularly about human rights in the past three decades, my most intense experience has been here in Nepal, where for a couple of years I worked at the United Nations human rights office.

Nepal’s Human Rights Commission has a long history of having its recommendations virtually ignored by the government of the day. In fact, since 2000, only 12% of the NHRC’s 810 recommendations have been fully implemented. So when I compared the situation in Nepal to the tribunal’s decision and aftermath in Canada, my first question was ‘how’? How could the human rights situation in the two countries be so different that one government was compelled to pay out $40 billion for discrimination while another could virtually ignore recommendations?

First, I have to confess that my understanding of the human rights framework in Canada and Nepal was lacking. As today’s guest, Professor Anne Levesque from the University of Ottawa, explains, Canada, like Nepal, has a federal human rights commission (as well as commissions in its provinces). But Canada also has the tribunal, a quasi-judicial body that hears complaints and can issue orders. Nepal however, lacks a human rights body that has legal teeth.

But is that the whole story, or are there other reasons why the Government of Canada must – and does – pay up when it loses a human rights case while the Government of Nepal basically files away the NHRC’s recommendations for some later date? Nepal, by the way, is not a human rights pariah. It is serving its second consecutive term on the UN Human Rights Council and the NHRC has been given an ‘A’ rating by an independent organization for conforming to international standards.


As a lawyer who’s helped fight for the rights of First Nations children, here’s what you need to know about the $40 billion child welfare agreements – article by Anne Levesque

Ruling of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal

Public advocacy for the First Nations Child Welfare complaint


A Milestone Anniversary Reiterates The Culture of Peace is a Movement, not a Revolution

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, North America, Peace, TerraViva United Nations


Credit: United Nations

NEW YORK, Sep 13 2021 (IPS) – Today, on 13 September 2021, the UN Declaration and Programme of Action adopted by the General Assembly in 1999 will be turning 22.

You would recall that the 20th anniversary of The Culture of Peace of its adoption by the world’s highest multilateral body in 2019 was observed by the United Nations in an appropriate and befitting manner, as called for by the Assembly. It was an occasion for reiteration and recommitment by us all to create the culture of peace in our world, beginning with each one of us.

After the UN Charter, this is the only major document of the UN which focuses on peace in a most comprehensive manner. We need to pay increasingly more attention to this landmark document for its full and effective implementation.

Last week another integrally-connected milestone gathering – the 2021 UN High Level Forum on The Culture of Peace – took place at the UN General Assembly convened by its President of the 75th session.

This day-long event organized on 7 September 2021 attained a special profile and attention as it was the 10th anniversary of the annual UN high level forums which was first initiated in 2012 during the 66th session of the Assembly by its then President, Ambassador Nassir Al-Nasser of Qatar.

His objective was to create a new platform for the culture of peace at the UN to be held on an annual basis for an opportunity to exchange ideas between the Member States and civil society organizations.

I happened to be his senior special advisor involved in conceptualizing and organizing that very first forum on 14 September, the day after the 11th anniversary of The Culture of Peace.

Ambassador Anwarul K Chowdhury

This year’s Forum was held in a hybrid format, both in-person and virtual platforms. With its focus on the theme “The Transformative Role of The Culture of Peace: Promoting Resilience and Inclusion in Post-Covid Recovery”, the Forum provided the opportunity to the participants and all stakeholders to exchange ideas and make suggestions on how to utilize the values of culture of peace in post-Covid recovery efforts, especially to ensure that the recovery, which unfortunately is yet to happen, is durable, resilient and inclusive.

The President of the General Assembly Volkan Bozkir of Turkey, under whose leadership the 2021 Forum took place, earned the grateful tribute of all stakeholders for his guidance, initiative and encouragement in convening and holding this 10th anniversary forum under extremely challenging circumstances very successfully. The Panel Discussion was a fitting conclusion to this remarkable gathering.

As I was preparing for the Panel Discussion, I ran into the historical perspective that this year will reach the quarter century mark of my close association with and advocacy for the culture of peace at the United Nations. In 1997, I took the lead in proposing along with some other Ambassadors in a letter to the newly-elected UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to include a specific, self-standing agenda item of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on The Culture of Peace.

A new agenda item was thus agreed upon after considerable negotiating hurdles and the new item was allocated to the plenary of the General Assembly for discussion on an annual basis. That is the basis for the annual resolutions on The Culture of Peace by the General Assembly from that year.

Under this item, UNGA adopted in 1997 a resolution to declare the year 2000 the “International Year for The Culture of Peace”, and in 1998, a resolution to declare the period from 2001 to 2010 as the “International Decade for The Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World”.

In the year after that the United Nations adopted its Declaration and Programme of Action on The Culture of Peace, a monumental document that transcends boundaries, cultures, societies and nations. It was an honor for me to Chair the nine-month long negotiations that led to the adoption of this historic norm-setting document by consensus.

As I mentioned Secretary-General Kofi Annan earlier, let me quote his thoughts on the culture of peace – I cite this quote often: “Over the years we have come to realize that it is not enough to send peacekeeping forces to separate warring parties. It is not enough to engage in peace-building efforts after societies have been ravaged by conflict. It is not enough to conduct preventive diplomacy. All of this is essential work, but we want enduring results. We need, in short, the culture of peace.”

Absolutely right – we need “enduring results” and for that we need “The Culture of Peace”. The Culture of Peace is not a hollow phrase – or an empty sentiment. It has a transformational opportunity for humanity – it has the energy and enthusiasm of many of us individually and collectively around the world.

These annual forums are very special in their involvement of civil society. These are the only High-Level Forums in the UN which are fully 50-50 gender balanced in their panel compositions. I am proud to say that this was possible as the Global Movement for The Culture of Peace (GMCoP) which is the civil society partner in supporting the Forum has been very diligent in upholding these values.

The concept note of this year’s Forum forcefully reiterated that “…it is an imperative to inculcate the values of The Culture of Peace among nations, societies and communities, with particular attention to the younger generation, through promotion of compassion, tolerance, inclusion, global citizenship and empowerment of all people.”

The theme focusing on the transformative role of the culture of peace in relation to Covid recovery provided a platform to explore and discuss multiple ways and means for empowering all segments of the society, towards a resilient recovery, including by ensuring vaccine equity, asserting universal vaccination as a public good, bridging digital divide, ensuring centrality of women’s equality and empowerment, harnessing the power of youth and highlighting education, health and overall wellbeing of children.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr. AK Abdul Momen in his pre-recorded video presentation at the Forum articulated succinctly that “We must recognize that rebuilding from the COVID pandemic necessitates a renewed commitment and partnership of all stakeholders. Our efforts should be undergirded by the values of “The Culture of Peace’ as instilling these values contribute to building a resilient, inclusive and peaceful society.”

This year’s Forum heard the inspirational keynote speech by Dr. Beatrice Fihn, the Executive Director of 2017 Nobel Peace Prize winning organization ICAN, International Coalition for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons, by calling on all that “On this 10th anniversary of the culture of peace, I am urging you all to continue and strengthen your work to promote education, sustainable and economic developments, human rights, gender equality, democratic participation and international peace and security.

She is the sixth Nobel Peace Prize laureate as the keynote speaker at The Culture of Peace Forums, which also make us proud that all of them are distinguished women Nobel Peace laureates. Complimenting Dr. Fihn for her keynote, I underlined that the essence of her keynote message has now become more pertinent in the midst of the ever-increasing militarism and militarization that is destroying both our planet and our people.

Video message by the activist and globally respected Mayor Kazumi Matsui of Hiroshima, the city which along with Nagasaki bear the scars of nuclear destruction and yearn for global peace, highlighted a major engagement of his world-wide peace organization announcing that “On the 7th of July this year, Mayors for Peace, which I preside over, adopted our new Vision, a set of concrete action guidelines, titled: “Vision for Peaceful Transformation to a Sustainable World.”

One of the objectives set forth by the new Vision is to ‘promote a culture of peace’.” Informing that the foundation of this policy change rests in the ability to build a consensus in favor of the abolition of nuclear weapons, he asserted that “To do this, first cultivating a culture of peace-a culture in which the everyday actions of each person are grounded in thinking about peace-is essential.

It is our belief, that this “bottom-up” approach is the most viable approach to peace, and is in line with the values which prompted the efforts of Ambassador Chowdhury and those in attendance.”

The Mayor’s passionate message included in the Peace Declaration, which he delivered in Hiroshima on 6th of August this year, advocated forcefully that “When like-minded people who seek peace unite for the same purpose, we can bring about a significant change in the world.”

Mayor Matsui encouraged the Forum by informing that “Mayors for Peace consists of over 8,000 member cities in 165 countries and regions around the world. With support from member mayors for our aforementioned cause, we will work to promote a culture of peace by expanding our membership and reaching out to a wider public.”

Often, I am asked how I assess the progress made so far since the Assembly adopted the Programme of Action in 1999. At this year’s High-Level Forum, as the Chair-Moderator of its Panel Discussion, I repeated my concern that lamentably, The Culture of Peace has yet to attain its worth and its due recognition at global and national levels as a universal mandate for the humanity to attain sustainable peace in the true sense.

When people wonder what are my plans to advance the concept in the UN system, my response verges on my advocacy message in general. The Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace adopted without any reservation is a landmark document of United Nations.

The Organization should, therefore, own it and internalize its implementation throughout the UN system. There seems to be lethargy in that direction because, I believe, the Secretary-General needs to make the culture of peace a part of his leadership agenda.

We should get that attention and engagement from him. Also, the UN entities, at least most of them, are preoccupied with what is known as “active agenda” which is a kind of daily problem-solving or problem-shelving.

That means no opportunities to focus on longer term, farsighted objective of sustainable peace with a workable tool that UN possess in the culture of peace programme adopted by its own apex body, the General Assembly. It is like a person who needs a car to go to work and has a car… but with a minimal interest in knowing how to drive it.

Many treat peace and culture of peace synonymously. There is a subtle difference between peace as generally understood and the culture of peace. Actually, when we speak of peace we expect others namely politicians, diplomats or other practitioners to take the initiative while when we speak of The Culture of Peace, we know that initial action begins with each one of us.

For more than two decades, my focus has been on advancing The Culture of Peace which aims at making peace and non-violence a part of our own self, our own personality – a part of our existence as a human being.

I believe The Culture of Peace is not a quick-fix. It is a movement, not a revolution!

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury is Founder of The Global Movement of The Culture of Peace (GMCoP); former Under-Secretary-General of the UN and the Chair of the negotiations which resulted in the consensus adoption of the UN Declaration and Programme of Action on The Culture of Peace in 1999. He was the Chair and Moderator of the virtual Panel Discussion at 2021 UN High Level Forum on The Culture of Peace on 7 September 2021.


Is the USA Fit to Rejoin the UN Human Rights Council?

Civil Society, Democracy, Featured, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, North America, TerraViva United Nations


Emily Standfield is CIVICUS Member and data volunteer.

National civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor, which uses up-to-date information and indicators to assess the state of freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression for all UN Member States. Credit: CIVICUS Monitor

TORONTO, Canada, Feb 24 2021 (IPS) – A month into Joe Biden’s presidency, the U.S. has rejoined nearly all the multilateral institutions and international commitments that it withdrew from under Trump. These include the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Accords.

Most recently, on February 8th, the U.S. announced it would also rejoin the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) as an observer. The U.S.’ role in the human rights forum looks different than it did four years ago in light of its recent track record on civil liberties.

The HRC has two primary functions: to draft and adopt new standards for human rights and to conduct investigations into specific human rights issues. In 2018, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. would be leaving the HRC, claiming that it was a barrier to any genuine global human rights protection. The U.S. had two primary grievances.

First, that the HRC has an “unconscionable” and “chronic bias” against Israel. And second, that the HRC’s membership criteria allows chronic human rights abusers to have a seat on the Council. Neither of which are entirely baseless claims.

Israel remains the only country-specific agenda item covered at every HRC meeting and Russia, China, and Eritrea — to name a few — all currently hold seats on the Council and have some of the worst human rights records in the world.

Emily Standfield. Credit: CIVICUS

On Monday, the HRC’s 47 member states met for its 46th session, it’s third time meeting since the beginning of the pandemic. The further decline of political and civil rights as enshrined in international law will be an unavoidable hot topic.

The CIVICUS Monitor which rates UN member states’ track records of upholding the legal tenets of freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association finds that 30 of the Council’s full member states routinely and severely restrict these rights.

And in the case of its newest observer state, the USA was recently downgraded to the Monitor’s third worst civic space rating of ‘Obstructed’. The body is a long way off from adequately representing its values.

In the case of the USA, the rating change and decline in rights is reflected by the police response to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest movement. During protests in 2020, law enforcement detained thousands of demonstrators, used teargas and projectiles to disperse crowds, and attacked journalists, despite the fact that most wore media credentials.

President Trump and other authority figures encouraged police officers to respond forcefully and, in some cases, requested such violent actions for their own benefit. In a perfect example of this, the Attorney General ordered the use of teargas against peaceful protesters so that President Trump could have a photo-op in front of a church.

While the BLM protests may have made the decline in civic freedoms abundantly clear, this rating change represents a longer deterioration of political and civil rights.

In response, in June the HRC unanimously passed a mandate that called for a report on ‘systemic racism’ targeted at individuals of African descent. Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd, whose murder at the hands of white police officers began the mass protests, called on the human rights body to examine the U.S.’ history of racial injustice and police brutality.

In the end, the final resolution passed by the HRC called for an investigation of systemic racism globally and regrettably did not single out the U.S.

While Biden has rejoined the HRC as an observer, the U.S. must win elections in October 2021 if it wants to regain its seat on the Council. In 2019, Biden said, “American leadership on human rights must begin at home” and — in some ways — it has.

The BLM protests have sparked a degree of state and local level police reform, and Biden has made a commitment to achieving racial equity. While the U.S. should focus on improving freedoms within its borders, it should also not exempt itself from becoming a full member of the HRC again in October.

Former President Barack Obama ran for a seat on the Council because he believed the U.S. could do more to advance human rights as a member of the body. This turned out to be true— the U.S. supported the creation of several important international commissions of inquiry to investigate human rights violations.

If the rationale by Trump was that leaving the council would do more for human rights than holding a seat, it’s clear that this has not come to fruition. Whether it is freedom of speech or the right to peacefully protest, today more of the world’s population lives in ‘Closed’, ‘Repressed’ or ‘Obstructed’ countries as compared to four years ago, finds the CIVICUS Monitor.

Leadership is needed at the UN Human Rights Council on these issues, but it must come from those that have a full seat at the table and have a demonstrated track record of upholding their commitments. The U.S. is currently disqualified on both accounts. Credibility and moral leadership must come from somewhere else.

Instead, the U.S. must support other member states that are leading by example on these issues. Seven members of the HRC — Denmark, Germany, Uruguay, Netherlands, Marshall Islands, and Czechia — are rated ‘Open’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, the highest civic space rating a country can achieve.

These countries are adequately representing the values that the HRC is committed to defending. While there are surely other issues at the HRC that the U.S. will prove influential, the country is far from the inspirational example it often likes to present itself on these world stages.

At the current session of the HRC, which began on February 22nd, the U.S. should champion these members who have made meaningful progress on civil liberties and be prepared to take a backseat on issues that it so obviously falls short on.


Americans By Force

Civil Society, Democracy, Headlines, Human Rights, North America, TerraViva United Nations


The explanation for black Americans endemic discrimination is the contrast between their implantation in the United States and the way the rest of the public settled in the “American dream.” Almost everyone came to this idea that is the United States of free will.

Protests have been taking place in cities across the United States. Credit: UN News/Shirin Yaseen

MIAMI, Sep 4 2020 (IPS) – Why, in the United States, where change is the most pronounced hallmark, do some aspects never change? Why do many bad habits resist giving way to novelties that prove to be the basis of the success of the most developed country on earth and still the leading power?  Why is the explanation for that leadership due to a few factors? Why does Trump profess a visceral opposition to immigration, knowing that it is the key to the country’s success? Because millions of his compatriots interpret the sinew of American DNA as a threat to their comparative social advantage.

Meanwhile, in this drama, blacks continue to bear the brunt of it all. The explanation for their endemic discrimination is the contrast between their implantation in the United States and the way the rest of the public settled in the “American dream.” Almost everyone came to this idea that is the United States of free will.

No one can say that their grandparents were forced to change residence. Although it can be argued that hunger, religious persecution, and the desire for economic improvement were important factors in driving emigration from Europe, Africa, or Asia, it is also true that voluntary americanization is the key to the success of the United States.

Joaquín Roy

This country is the most genuine example of national construction opposed to that based on ethnicity, religion, race. America is the most definite specimen of the nation of choice, based on personal conviction.

It is not by chance that theorists of nationalism call this alternative “liberal.” The “American dream” explains its survival. As long as millions of citizens of other continents answer Ernest Renan’s question with a negative vote every night in his imaginary “daily plebiscite”, and decide to opt for the residency trick, the United States will exist.

The day a majority of Americans vote negative for residency, the country would be deserted. There is nothing that unites Americans, except their desire to be. Their religion is summarized in the offer provided by the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He does not give them a guarantee, but a promise. And it is enough for them.

However, the absence of a residency obligation has two crucial exceptions: black and indigenous minorities. These two sectors contrast in their implementation in what for them is, more than a dream, an “American nightmare.”

Although it can be argued that hunger, religious persecution, and the desire for economic improvement were important factors in driving emigration from Europe, Africa, or Asia, it is also true that voluntary americanization is the key to the success of the United States.

The original owners of the immense territory, although their immemorial ancestors crossed the Straits of Alaska at the dawn of North America, have been reduced to their reservations, marginalized, eaten away by poverty and alcoholism. Even in the sporadic mythos in Hollywood movies, Sitting Bull and his imitators do not overcome the mystique of Buffalo Bill.

The blacks were unfortunately marked by the original sin of not having booked a ticket for the forced trip to the United States. Their implantation has been resisted from the beginning by themselves and by the descendants of the merchants who deposited them in America.

With their emancipation and its disastrous execution, the peculiarity of their residence became more apparent. When they were stripped of the benefits that they had given away to their owners for free, their value was lost in Wall Street.

The successive corrective measures of discrimination and segregation only made the division of society even more evident. Despite the actions of Martin Luther King, who paid for his daring with his life, legal advances supercharged racist resentment from a part of society that resisted reform. “Affirmative Action” and food stamps multiplied the opposition.

Simultaneously, the black community, which had ceased to call itself “colored,” to take a curious journey back to being classified as “African,” watched with amazement as other newcomers from other continents were climbing ranks.

Latin Americans began to outnumber blacks not only in economic resources, but in numbers. As a result of the new census parameters, while whites held 63%, Hispanics (15%) and Asians (10%) cornered blacks (13%).

Internally, the new “African-Americans” decided to opt for a peculiar nationalism: they defended themselves with their signs of “black is beautiful”, they enthroned their peculiar English inherited from their owners, and they monopolized some entertainment professions.

Some were more fortunate and co-opted the rosters of basketball teams. For their part, some managed to settle on the ladders of power as senators and congress people, thanks in part to the restructuring of electoral districts.

Then they even aimed, with the decisive support of white sectors, to opt for the incredible: the presidency of the United States. It was already too much and the opposition to this impudence did not forgive Obama or the rest of the community, and even less the Democrats and liberals.

The mirage of the election of the first black president bypassed the resistance of deep America and the withdrawal of the “silent majority” that Nixon tried to awaken. Now Trump has reinvented it.

It was forgotten that only about a third of the electorate voted for Obama, while another third chose the Republican candidates. Another third stayed home. Among those 60-70% of Americans who abstained from voting on the traditional electoral correction, crouched was the mostly white sector, both high-income and lower-middle-class that followed the sounds of the piper Trump.

Those who rejected the candidate Hillary Clinton believed, and still believe, that their faltering economies have been pierced by the rise of the historically vanquished. They now believe that their pristine suburbs, real or imagined, are threatened by the “socialist” hordes of predominantly Latino origin, and the “terrorists” who insist on protesting against what they consider dangerous interference by the security forces in daily life.

The only thing missing is that the statistical evidence of the black overpopulation of the prisons and the number of crime victims of the same origin is “enriched” with sad deaths of blacks at the hands of white policemen.

Joaquín Roy is Jean Monnet Professor and Director of the European Union Center at the University of Miami


Coronavirus, New Threat for Mexican Migrant Workers in the U.S.

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Global Governance, Globalisation, Headlines, Human Rights, Labour, Latin America & the Caribbean, Migration & Refugees, North America, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Migration & Refugees

Considered essential to the U.S. economy, as Donald Trump himself now acknowledges, Mexico's seasonal farmworkers are exposed to the coronavirus pandemic as they work in U.S. fields, which exacerbates violations of their rights, such as wage theft, fraud, and other abuses. CREDIT: Courtesy of MHP Salud

Considered essential to the U.S. economy, as Donald Trump himself now acknowledges, Mexico’s seasonal farmworkers are exposed to the coronavirus pandemic as they work in U.S. fields, which exacerbates violations of their rights, such as wage theft, fraud, and other abuses. CREDIT: Courtesy of MHP Salud

MEXICO CITY, Apr 21 2020 (IPS) – As the high season for agricultural labour in the United States approaches, tens of thousands of migrant workers from Mexico are getting ready to head to the fields in their northern neighbour to carry out the work that ensures that food makes it to people’s tables.

But the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic, of which the U.S. has become the world’s largest source of infection, threatens to worsen the already precarious conditions in which these workers plant, harvest, process and move fruits and vegetables in the U.S.

Exposed to illegal charges for visa, transport and accommodation costs, labour exploitation, lack of access to basic services and unhealthy housing, Mexican seasonal workers driven from their homes by poverty must also now brave the risk of contagion.

Evy Peña, director of communications and development at the non-governmental Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (Migrant Rights Centre – CDM), told IPS from the city of Monterrey that the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating violations of the rights of migrant workers.

“Temporary visa programmes are rife with abuse, from the moment workers are recruited in their communities. They suffer fraud, they are offered jobs that don’t even exist in the United States. It’s a perverse system in which recruiters and employers have all the control. There are systemic flaws that will become more evident now,” the activist said.

In 1943, the United States created H2 visas for unskilled foreign workers, and in the 1980s it established H-2A categories for farm workers and H-2B categories for other work, such as landscaping, construction and hotel staff.

In 2019, Washington, which had already declared them “essential” to the economy, granted 191,171 H-2A and 73,557 H-2B visas to Mexican workers, and by January and February of this year had issued 27, 058 and 6,238, respectively.

Two emergencies converge

Now, the two countries are negotiating to send thousands of farmworkers within or outside of the H2 programme, starting this month, to ensure this year’s harvest in the U.S. The Mexican government has polled experts to determine the viability of the plan, IPS learned.

The migrant workers would come from Michoacan, Oaxaca, Zacatecas and the border states. The plan would put leftist President Andres Manuel López Obrador in good standing with his right-wing counterpart, Donald Trump; generate employment for rural workers in the midst of an economic crisis; and boost remittances to rural areas.

For his part, Trump, forced by a greater need for rural workers in the face of the pandemic and under pressure from agriculture, abandoned his anti-immigrant policy and on Apr. 1 even issued a call for the arrival of Mexican migrant workers.

“We want them to come in,” he said. “They’ve been there for years and years, and I’ve given the commitment to the farmers: They’re going to continue to come.”

U.S. authorities can extend H-2A visas for up to one year and the maximum period of stay is three years. After that, the holder must remain outside U.S. territory for at least three months to qualify for re-entry with the same permit.

On Apr. 15, Washington announced temporary changes allowing workers to switch employers and to stay longer than three years.

A Mexican migrant worker works at a vineyard in California, one of the U.S. states most dependent on seasonal labour from Mexico in agriculture, and which has now urged President Donald Trump to facilitate the arrival of guest workers from that country so crops are not lost. CREDIT: Kau Sirenio/En el Camino

A Mexican migrant worker works at a vineyard in California, one of the U.S. states most dependent on seasonal labour from Mexico in agriculture, and which has now urged President Donald Trump to facilitate the arrival of guest workers from that country so crops are not lost. CREDIT: Kau Sirenio/En el Camino

The most numerous jobs are in fruit harvesting, general agricultural work such as planting and harvesting, and on tobacco plantations, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Migrant workers traditionally come from Mexican agricultural and border states and their main destinations are agricultural areas where there is a temporary or permanent shortage of labourers.

Jeremy McLean, policy and advocacy manager for the New York-based non-governmental organisation Justice in Motion, expressed concern about the conditions in which migrants work.

The way the system works, “it’s not going to be easy to follow recommendations for social distancing. Hundreds of thousands of people are going to come and won’t be able to follow these recommendations, and they will put themselves at risk. It could spell another wave of infection and transmission,” he warned IPS.

“This population group has no health services and no medical insurance. If they fall ill in a remote area, what help can they get?” he said from New York.

On Mar. 26, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico reported that it would process without a personal interview the applications of those whose visas had expired in the previous two years or who had not received them in that time, under pressure from U.S. agribusiness.

Trapped with no way out

The migrant workers’ odyssey begins in Mexico, where they are recruited by individual contractors – workers or former workers of a U.S. employer, fellow workers, relatives or friends, in their hometowns – or by private U.S. agencies.

Although article 28 of Mexico’s Federal Labour Law, in force since 1970 and overhauled in 2019, regulates the provision of services by workers hired within Mexico for work abroad, it is not enforced.

It requires that contracts be registered with the labour authorities and that a bond be deposited to guarantee compliance. It also holds the foreign contractor responsible for the costs of transport, repatriation, food for the worker and immigration, as well as the payment of full wages, compensation for occupational hazards and access to adequate housing.

In addition, it states that Mexican workers are entitled to social security benefits for foreigners in the country where they are offering their services.

Although the Mexican government could enforce article 28 of the law in order to safeguard the rights of migrant workers who enter and leave the United States under the visa programme, it has failed to do so.

In its recent report “Ripe for Reform: Abuse of Agricultural Workers in the H-2A Visa Program”, the bi-national CDM organisation reveals that migrant workers experience wage theft, health and safety violations, discrimination, and harassment as part of a human trafficking system.

Recruitment without oversight

For Mayela Blanco, a researcher at the non-governmental Centre for Studies in International Cooperation and Public Management, the problem is the lack of monitoring or inspections of recruiters and agencies.

“In Mexico there are still many gaps in the mechanisms for monitoring and inspecting recruitment. There is still fraud,” she told IPS. “How often do they inspect? How do they guarantee that things are working the way they’re supposed to?”

There are 433 registered placement agencies in the country, distributed in different states, according to data from the National Employment Service. For the transfer of labour abroad, there are nine – a small number considering the tens of thousands of visas issued in 2019.

For its part, the U.S. Department of Labor reports 239 licenced recruiters in that nation working for a handful of U.S. companies.

Data obtained by IPS indicates that Mexico’s Ministry of Labour only conducted 91 inspections in nine states from 2009 to 2019 and imposed 12 fines for a total of around 153,000 dollars. Some states with high levels of migrant workers were never visited by inspectors.

Furthermore, the records of the federal labour board do not contain any reports of violations of article 28.

Mexico is a party to the Fee-Charging Employment Agencies Convention 96 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which it violates due to non-compliance with the rights of temporary workers.

Peña stressed that there is still a gap between the U.S. and Mexico in labour protection and said workers are being left behind because of that gap.

“Countries like Mexico see temporary visas as a solution to labour migration and allow the exploitation of their citizens. The H2 programme is about labour migration and governments forget that bilateral solutions are needed,” she said.

In response to the pandemic and its risks, 37 organisations called on the U.S. government on Mar. 25 for adequate housing with quarantine facilities, safe transportation, testing for workers before they arrive in the United States, physical distancing on farms and paid treatment for those infected with COVID-19.

Blanco emphasised the lack of justice and reparation mechanisms. “The more visas issued, the greater the need for oversight. Mexico is perceived as a country of return or transit of migrants, but it should be recognised as a place of origin of temporary workers. And that is why it must comply with international labour laws,” she said.

McLean raised the need for a new U.S. law to guarantee the rights of migrant workers, who are essential to the economy, as underscored by the demand reinforced by the impact of COVID-19.

“We pushed for a law to cover all temporary visa programmes so that there would be more information, to avoid fraud and wage theft. But it is very difficult to get a commitment to immigration dialogue in the United States today,” he said.

But the ordeal that migrant workers face will not end with their work in the U.S. fields, because in October they will have to return to their hometowns, which will be even more impoverished due to the consequences of the health crisis, and with COVID-19 in all likelihood still posing a threat.


NYC Library Ditches Controversial Saudi Royal MBS’ Event

Active Citizens, Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Middle East & North Africa, North America, Peace, Press Freedom, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Human Rights

Protestors rallied outside a library building in Manhattan on Wednesday, carrying placards about Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen and referencing the “bone saw” that was reportedly used to dismember Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent critic of Saudi prince Mohammad bin Salman. Credit: James Reinl/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 19 2019 (IPS) A New York library appeared to bow to pressure this week when it canceled an event that was being co-hosted by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, who is accused of a range of human rights abuses.

On Wednesday, the New York Public Library (NYPL) said it was scrapping the so-called Misk-OSGEY Youth Forum, a workshop on Sept. 23 that was being co-hosted by bin Salman’s Misk Foundation and U.N. youth envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake. 

The event had been blasted by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other campaign groups, who said it served to whitewash bin Salman’s reputation after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October last year — reportedly on the crown prince’s orders. 

Evan Chesler, chairman of the NYPL board, said that dropping the workshop was the “appropriate thing to do” after weeks of protests and an online petition that had garnered more than 7,000 signatures.

In a statement, the library said it had cancelled the “space rental” amid “concerns about possible disruption to library operations as well as the safety of our patrons” amid “public concern around the event and one of its sponsors”. 

It remains unclear whether the Misk Foundation will seek an alternative venue for the workshop at short notice. A U.N. spokesman told IPS it was “up to Misk to provide information on whether the event will take place elsewhere or not”.

Saudi Arabia’s mission to the U.N. and the Misk Foundation declined to comment on the controversy.

Protestors rallied outside a library building in Manhattan on Wednesday, carrying placards about Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen and referencing the “bone saw” that was reportedly used to dismember Khashoggi, a prominent critic of bin Salman. 

“This week’s protests show that the public will not keep quiet while the leadership of the NYPL, a treasured repository of civilisation, hires our library out to the butcherer of Khashoggi,” Matthew Zadrozny, president of the Committee to Save the New York Public Library, told IPS.

“The NYPL leadership must explain to the public it serves who signed the deal with bin Salman’s foundation and why.”

Kenneth Roth, director of HRW, blasted the “repression-whitewashing event” on Twitter and asked U.N. secretary-general Antonio Guterres to scrap the partnership between his youth envoy, Wickramanayake, and the crown prince’s charity. 

Suzanne Nossel, CEO of rights group PEN America, said the library had made the “right choice”, addiing bin Salman’s government had “orchestrated the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi”.

“Hosting this event just days before the anniversary of Jamal’s killing would have been particularly appalling not just for his family, friends, and colleagues, but also for those currently being persecuted in the kingdom.”

Nossel also noted that the library “is the crown jewel of the literary community in New York” and it stands for “free exchange of ideas and free expression, qualities that the crown prince has repeatedly disdained in both words and actions”.

The NYPL event was set to see some 300 budding young entrepreneurs learn about green themes, corporate responsibility and other parts of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda.

Khashoggi, a U.S.-based journalist who frequently criticised the Saudi government, was killed and dismembered on Oct. 2 last year after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he collecting documents for his wedding.

The CIA assessed that bin Salman had ordered Khashoggi’s killing. U.N. expert Agnes Callamard has described the death as a “premeditated execution,” and called for bin Salman and other high-ranking Saudis to be investigated.

Officials in Riyadh, who initially said Khashoggi had left the premises unharmed, now say the journalist was killed by a rogue hit squad that did not involve bin Salman. Activists have since pushed for accountability over the killing.