Rights Wire

The Human Rights Blog of the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice


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Fighting forced labor in Europe

By Miriam Quarticelli

Despite common (mis-)conceptions, forced labor is one of the most urgent issues affecting Europe in recent years. Although forced labor is often seen as a problem in developing countries, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 880,000 women, men and children are victims of forced labor in the European Union. In 2012, an outrageous number of 20.9 million women, men and children were trapped in jobs into which they were coerced or deceived, meaning that around three out of every 1,000 persons worldwide are victims of forced labor, according to the ILO.

THE SITUATION IN EUROPE

Forced labor is defined by the ILO as workers who are “coerced to work through the use of violence or intimidation, or by more subtle means such as accumulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities.” Fifty-eight percent of victims of forced labor in the EU are women, according to the ILO. Data also shows that domestic work, agriculture, manufacturing, construction, hospitality, cleaning, food manufacturing and processing and textiles and clothing are the main sectors employing victims of forced labor. Often, forced labor is accompanied by other forms of labor abuse and exploitation. Victims are coerced or forced to work long hours in dangerous conditions. They face physical, sexual and psychological abuse in the workplace and are unable to leave due to threats of violence, confinement, outstanding debt or other consequences. For example, a report by Human Rights Watch documented how some migrant domestic workers in the United Kingdom were coerced to work through low payments, physical and psychological abuse and the withholding of travel documents such as passports. “In London they just locked me at home … I ate after they finished, the leftovers … When I ran away I was sleeping in the park because I didn’t know anybody here … I felt like a beggar,” one domestic worker told HRW.

In Europe, forced labor is also associated with human trafficking and illegal cross-border migration, as irregular migrants are often vulnerable to forced labor. In some instances, migrants may agree to be trafficked, placing their trust in worker recruitment agencies, only to find themselves with no way to return home and forced to work in sub-standard conditions or in a position they had not agreed to. Migrants from inside the EU (Bulgaria, Poland and Romania) and from outside the EU (China, Morocco and Turkey) are often affected. However, migrants are not the only source of forced labor.

In fact, a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on forced labor in nine European countries documented that many people affected by forced labor are EU citizens. Despite this, EU governments continue to view and tackle forced labor as an immigration, human trafficking and border-control issue. European governments focus mostly on immigration regulation rather than ensuring protections in the workplace because it is easier to believe that tougher border controls will lead to a decrease in forced labor. This narrow conception of how to fight forced labor overlooks how many individuals may be trapped in conditions of forced labor within their own countries or in countries where they are present legally.

LEGAL OBLIGATIONS OF EUROPEAN COUNTRIES

At the international level, Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) establishes that “no one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) prohibit slavery, servitude and forced labor, and guarantees the freedom of movement and the right to determine where to work. This means that all workers have the right to work in favorable conditions which include fair wages, safe and healthy working conditions, rest, reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Furthermore, laws created within the framework of the ILO are of crucial importance, including the Forced Labour Convention of 1930 and the Domestic Workers Convention of 2011, which establishes the rights of domestic workers, including standards for minimum age of employment, protection against abuses and violence, adequate salary and working conditions. At the European level, Article 5 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights prohibits slavery and forced labor. These treaties place an obligation on states to protect people from rights violations. In fact, according to Article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), member states must guarantee the right to move freely within the EU and to be protected from discrimination on the ground of their nationality in labor situations. Moreover, Article 15 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights allows every EU citizen the right to seek employment and to work in any EU Member State without being exploited.

ENSURING FREEDOM AND RIGHTS

Despite international laws and regulations seeking to eliminate forced labor, many labor rights violations still exist in Europe and most responses to forced labor are ad hoc rather than systematic. For example, some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have set up programs to assist victims of forced labor who are also migrants or undocumented workers. While this is beneficial for irregular migrants, such initiatives are less likely to reach and aid EU migrants or citizens who have experienced forced labor. Moreover, once a case of forced labor is identified, there is a high burden of proof for legal action. With this in mind, the practice of pursuing several legal routes at the same time (e.g. employment and criminal cases) may offer the best option for those who have experienced forced labor.

To better prevent forced labor, EU states should work to raise awareness about the indicators of forced labor within government agencies, labor inspectors and civil society. They should also reinforce labor market regulations and associate these regulations with inspection and enforcement powers. Furthermore, it is essential to combat human trafficking and to implement stronger immigration laws to protect migrants who are vulnerable to forced labor. Finally, EU states should sign onto a legally-binding treaty on forced labor, which should include updated standards on preventing forced labor and compensating victims.

As the EU investigates reports of slave labor on Thai fishing vessels that supply seafood in European markets and considers a ban of imports produced by forced labor, the EU should not forget that these same types of violations are occurring within its own borders. Most recently, human rights groups and news organizations have documented forced labor in Poland, Malta and Greece. The EU must practice what is preaches and set a strong example for the elimination of forced labor and in achieving justice for victims of these abuses.

Miriam Quarticelli is a Staff Writer for Rights Wire.

The views expressed in this post remain those of the individual author and are not reflective of the official position of the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice, Fordham Law School, Fordham University or any other organization.

Photo credit: AnaManzar08/Creative Commons


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Combating wildlife crime in Africa

By Nina Decoularé-Delafontaine

In June 2014, Satao, a famous and beloved 45-year-old Kenyan elephant, was shot with a poisoned arrow in Tsavo National Park in Kenya. Poachers cut off his large tusks and left his face and body mutilated almost beyond recognition. His death is one of many examples of the vivid problem of poaching in Africa: elephants for their ivory, lions for sport, rhinoceros for their horns, gorillas for their meat and so forth. The extent of poaching is reaching tragic dimensions. More than 100,000 elephants were slaughtered between 2010 and 2012, according to National Geographic, and wild elephants could very well disappear within 20 years if no urgent measures are taken. Ivory and rhino horns have huge monetary value because of escalated demand in Asian countries. There, ivory is not only carved as an art but is also considered a material with medicinal properties. As highlighted by Foreign Affairs Magazine, “[T]he price of a kilo of rhino horn has surpassed the approximate prices of a kilo of gold, a kilo of platinum, and a kilo of cocaine in the United States”. The ivory trade even funds terrorist groups in some central African countries like Sudan.

Countering the consistent population decline of big wild animals in Africa is an urgent issue. Not only is it an environmental issue, but it is an economic one as well. As reported by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), wildlife watching represents “80 percent of the total annual trip sales to Africa […] with that share only increasing”. As animals disappear, millions of tourists in Africa could potentially disappear with them. Moreover, the process of wildlife extinction already threatens ecosystems by impairing the balance between different types of fauna and their local habitat. For example, the potential extinction of elephants, which are highly important seed dispersers, endangers tree diversity and affects other animals along the food chain.

In order to stop this dramatic evolution, countries have taken a number of steps to combat wildlife crime. During the Fall 2015 semester, the International Law and Development in Africa (ILDA) Clinic at the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice undertook a preliminary assessment of the legislation to address wildlife and forest crime in three East African countries: Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. The purpose of this was to review the countries’ participation in the various international treaty regimes; domestic wildlife and forest offenses and related crimes, such as corruption and money-laundering; and key regional and voluntary initiatives in which they have been involved. The Clinic found that considerable efforts were underway to combat wildlife crime in all three countries, as well as key areas in which additional efforts are necessary to protect vulnerable species in these important range and transit countries.

Let us take Kenya as an example of the status of laws governing wildlife crime in Africa. With the adoption of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act (WCMA) in December 2013, Kenya reaffirmed its commitment to wildlife protection and conservation. This new legislation criminalizes, inter alia, the killing or capture of protected animal species for sport, the killing or capture of protected animals without valid authorization, and the killing or capture of wild animals in protected areas (including game reserves and national parks). Furthermore, the new law introduces a significant increase in both custodial and financial penalties for wildlife crimes. These penalties range from a minimum 30 thousand KES fine (approximately $300) and 6 months imprisonment to a minimum 20 million KES fine (approximately $196,000) and life imprisonment. The new WCMA is a significant step forward, and further efforts are underway to further ensure the effective protection of Kenya’s wildlife.

Further implementation of legislation is needed for Kenya to realize the full potential of the WCMA, including, for instance, for Kenya to fully implement its obligations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which aims to regulate trade in endangered species. The WCMA grants the Kenya Wildlife Service the authority to regulate the import and export of wildlife products and specimens, but a precise regulatory framework for wildlife trade is left for supplementary legislation or regulations to follow.

Aside from focusing on implementation, countries working to curb wildlife crime could also strengthen laws governing related crimes. For example, Kenyan laws on related offences such as money laundering or organized crime do not impose minimum but only maximum penalties. These are relatively low compared to the profit made by poachers. For instance, the tusks of one elephant are worth double the cost of a fine for participating in an organized criminal activity. Strengthening these laws could not only help in the fight against poaching, also bolster the rule of law overall.

Moreover, a successful approach to wildlife crime will be collaborative and inclusive of local communities who interact and live side-by-side with animals at risk of being poached. This includes raising awareness about the issue and the benefits of wildlife, tackling poverty, creating economic opportunities and ensuring that local communities derive benefits from sustainable wildlife management. Community-based conservation and community-based resource management can play an integral role in combating poaching and wildlife trafficking.

The protection of wildlife in Africa is a considerable challenge affecting both the environment and local communities. The road ahead is long and daunting, but we must work to collectively create and sustain momentum. Otherwise, we will have to bear the responsibility and consequences of Africa’s iconic wildlife violently disappearing into the annals of natural history.

Nina Decoularé-Delafontaine is a LL.M. student in International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School. She participated in the International Law and Development in Africa Clinic at the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice in the Fall of 2015.

The views expressed in this post remain those of the individual author and are not reflective of the official position of the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice, Fordham Law School, Fordham University or any other organization.

Photo Credit: Glenna Barlow/Creative Commons


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Hindustan Zindabad: stifling freedom of expression in the world’s largest democracy

By Jennifer Li

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Student members of the left-wing All India Students’ Association (AISA) shouting the slogan “Inquilab Zindabad,” or “long live the revolution.”

“Hindustan Zindabad!” Long live India! I first heard this Hindi phrase as I sat among thousands of Indians under the long shadow of Delhi’s historic Red Fort last August, listening to Prime Minister Narendra Modi deliver his annual Independence Day speech. I have also heard these words chanted at kabbadi tournaments by Indians who seemingly cheered on no particular team and yet every team, impassioned but neutral spectators to the ancient Indian contact sport which, to the untrained eye, demands equal skill in holding one’s breath and playing a more aggressive version of Red Rover. Most recently, I have heard this slogan shouted by students and professors who marched down the streets of central Delhi, condemning the government of a nation in which they have conveyed, in just two words, not merely great pride, but also tremendous expectation.

On Feb. 12, 2016, the president of the student union at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Kanhaiya Kumar, was arrested and charged with sedition under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Section 124A, a colonial-era law originally used by the British government to quell Indian nationalism – and try Gandhi – and IPC Section 120B, a criminal conspiracy statute. The charges were based on anti-national speeches that Kumar had allegedly made during a student event on campus marking the controversial 2013 execution of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri separatist convicted of plotting a deadly 2001 attack on India’s parliament.

The government’s reaction to the arrest has done little to quell accusations that the arrests of Kumar and a former Delhi University professor, S.A.R. Geelani, were politically motivated. The day before Kumar’s arrest, India’s Minister of Home Affairs, Rajnath Singh, warned via Twitter, “If anyone shouts anti India slogan & challenges nation’s sovereignty & integrity while living in India, they will not be tolerated or spared.” Days later, as Kumar was escorted to his first court appearance, a member of the Delhi state legislature and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), OP Sharma, along with some forty lawyers attired in the telltale black and white, were filmed kicking and punching not just Kumar, but also journalists, students and professors. BJP party spokesman Sudhanshu Trivedi has condoned Sharma’s statement that “there is nothing wrong in beating up or even killing someone shouting slogans in favor of Pakistan.”

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Members of the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) joined student protestors in the two kilometer march from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar in central Delhi on February 18, 2016.

To many, the most recent arrests represent just one more example of an alarming trend of government-sanctioned crackdowns on academic freedom and freedom of expression and dissent. Universities, in particular, have been in the crosshairs of the BJP, Modi’s right-wing, Hindu nationalist party. Kumar’s arrest came just weeks after the suicide of Rohith Vemula, a Ph.D. student at the University of Hyderabad (HCU) who hanged himself from a ceiling fan after being discriminated against for his status as a Dalit, one of the lowest castes in Hindu society. As with Kumar’s arrest, Vemula’s death was well-publicized and sparked public outrage at the government and the educational institutions that have become puppets of the political machinations of the current administration.

In the months leading up to Vemula’s suicide, the university had revoked his stipend and housing after he condemned members of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a right-wing student organization, which, like most student unions in India, is affiliated with a powerful political party – in this case, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS is the Hindu nationalist, paramilitary arm of the BJP; together, the two groups have helped align the definition of Hindu nationalism with that of Hindu fundamentalism. In what seemed to be a further demonstration of the BJP’s growing influence on universities, the Vice-Chancellor of HCU, P. Appa Rao, reportedly suspended Vemula and four other students after BJP government officials forwarded him a letter by members of the ABVP, accusing Vemula and others of engaging in “castiest, extremist and anti-national” activities. India’s National Human Rights Commission is now investigating “emergency-like” events at the university during the week of March 21, when student protestors allegedly vandalized Rao’s office upon his return from personal leave. The university administration reportedly responded by shutting down access to food, water and the Internet, and closing campus to journalists and politicians. Meanwhile, university officials allowed the police to raid campus and arrest dozens of students and professors. Video has since emerged online of instances of police brutality against student protestors.

Given the government’s growing intolerance of dissent, it is no surprise that the community at JNU, a prestigious public university that is perhaps as well known for its leftist student activism as it is for its superlative academic scholarship, responded quickly and forcefully in asserting not only its support for Kumar, but also academic freedom and freedom of expression. Students organized demonstrations and protest marches. Professors and guest lecturers held teach-ins to packed audiences, lecturing on the meaning of nationalism, the importance of freedom of expression and the power of dissent. The arrests have also triggered condemnation from international scholars, including Noam Chomsky and Judith Butler, who have expressed their solidarity with JNU students. And at a recent academic conference, I sat frustrated with dozens of other American researchers and scholars as we struggled to find a way to express our support for the students’ fundamental rights to freedom of expression without jeopardizing our own presence in our host country. These fears are perhaps not unfounded. Last week, as she applied to extend her visa, a friend who teaches English to middle school students in Delhi was asked by the Foreigner Regional Registration Office if she had any affiliations with JNU.

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Students expressed support for Umar Khalid, a JNU student who surrendered himself to arrest days later on February 24, 2016, and charged with sedition alongside JNU Student Union President Kanhaiya Kumar.

Reactions from those outside India’s academic circles have been more restrained. “They shouldn’t support terrorism and be against India. It’s their own fault,” one young woman told me when I asked how she felt about Mr. Kumar’s arrest. A friend’s landlord also expressed frustration at the protests, albeit for different reasons. “We [the taxpayers] pay for them to go to school. And this is how they thank us?” he complained, apparently objecting not to the substance of the protests, but to the very fact of the students’ right to protest.

What is clear is that Kumar’s arrest has renewed debate about the preservation of the sedition law, which some argue, in its current form, leaves room for excessive checks on freedom of expression. Even so, India’s Supreme Court has ruled that seditious speech may be punished only if there is an “incitement” to – as distinct from mere advocacy of – violence or public disorder. Incitement to violence or “imminent lawless action” is a necessary element to seditious speech, and, as Lawrence Liang, co-founder of India’s Alternative Law Forum, explained, “[m]ere words and phrases by themselves, no matter how distasteful, do not amount to a criminal offence unless this condition is met.” Given Kumar’s political, rather than incendiary, speech, the charges are construed by many to be without merit.  On March 2, 20 days after his arrest, Kanhaiya Kumar was granted bail by the Delhi High Court, but not before his alleged offense was analogized as an “infected limb.” Of the student activism that give rise to the alleged offenses, Justice Pratibha Rani observed, “I consider this as a kind of infection … which needs to be controlled/cured before it becomes an epidemic. Whenever some infection is spread in a limb, effort is made to cure the same by giving antibiotics orally … [s]ometimes it may require surgical intervention also. However, if the infection results in infecting the limb to the extent that it becomes gangrene, amputation is the only treatment.”

Weeks earlier, shortly after he was kicked and punched outside the courthouse by lawyers and lawmakers, Kumar had said in a statement, “I am an Indian. I have full faith in the Constitution as well as the judiciary of the country.”

Hindustan Zindabad.

 

Above is a short compilation of raw video taken at a protest march in New Delhi on February 18, 2016. The march was attended by thousands of students, professors and other supporters across India protesting the arrest of JNU student Kanhaiya Kumar.

Jennifer Li is a 2015 alumnae of Fordham Law School. She is currently a Fulbright Scholar in India.

The views expressed in this post remain those of the individual author and are not reflective of the official position of the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice, Fordham Law School, Fordham University or any other organization.

Photos and videos courtesy of Jennifer Li.