The Ongoing Struggle to Protect Human Rights

According to Amnesty International, which monitors 160 countries and territories, in 2015 there were 113 countries that arbitrarily restricted freedom of expression; 30 countries that illegally forced refugees to return to their home countries; armed groups committed abuses in 36 countries; 61 countries locked up prisoners of conscience; 122 countries tortured or ill-treated people; war crimes were carried out in 19 countries; and 55 percent of monitored countries conducted unfair trails. While there has been progress made addressing human rights violations, atrocities still occur far too often.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is the basis for international human rights law today. Created by the United Nations in its 1948 General Assembly, the UDHR spelled out in its 30 articles the basic civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all human beings should enjoy, and requires all member governments to uphold these fundamental rights.

UDHR is the foundation for over 80 international human rights treaties and declarations, as well as regional and domestic laws established to enforce human rights. Of the 160 UN member States, each one has ratified one of the nine core international human rights treaties, and 80 percent have ratified four or more. The first two treaties were adopted in 1966 with one concerning civil and political rights, and the other economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR). ESCR includes basic human needs such as healthcare, education, clean water and access to food. Other treaties established the rights of children, the elimination of racial and gender discrimination, as well as the abolishment of torture.

When a country signs a human rights treaty, it assumes the responsibility of creating legislation to uphold those rights. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has a mandate to promote and protect human rights. It assists governments in enforcing human rights laws and treaties via technical training in the administration of justice, legislative reform and the electoral process. When domestic legislation fails to address human rights violations, the UN Human Rights Council, created in 2006, reviews the violations and make recommendations which may include addressing those violations at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Considered a last resort to seek justice for human rights abuses, the ICC, created in 2002 and located at The Hague, will review war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity (large scale attacks against civilian populations) and crimes of aggression (armed forces of one State against the sovereignty or independence of another State). From 2002 to present, The ICC has opened investigations in 10 countries and has issued three verdicts.

In 2013, UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon launched the Human Rights Up Front initiative with the goal of ensuring the UN system takes early and effective action to prevent and respond to large-scale violations of human rights. Large advocacy organizations such as Amnesty International and Human’s Rights Watch monitor human rights abuses and advance the protection of people’s rights all over the world. Global Washington members are also doing their part to advocate for human rights and bring about justice.

iLEAP – iLEAP’s programs are centered around learning themes of social innovation and leadership and balance personal inquiry and reflection with social action and collaboration. An emphasis on relationship-building and hands-on learning connects participants with influential leaders and innovative organizations from a wide range of sectors including: global health, social media, environmental conservation, youth leadership, sustainable agriculture, human rights, technology and education. iLEAP programs are designed to inspire personal growth, deepen a sense of vocation, spark creativity, advance professional development and lead to social transformation.

International Rescue Committee – The International Rescue Committee provides opportunities for refugees, asylees, victims of human trafficking, survivors of torture, and other immigrants to thrive in America. Each year, thousands of people, forced to flee violence and persecution, are welcomed by the people of the United States into the safety and freedom of America. These individuals have survived against incredible odds. The IRC works with government bodies, civil society actors, and local volunteers to help them translate their past experiences into assets that are valuable to their new communities. In Seattle and other offices across the country, the IRC helps them to rebuild their lives.

OutRight Action International – OutRight Action International is a leading international human rights organization dedicated to improving the lives of people who experience discrimination or abuse on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. OutRight Action International strengthens the capacity of the LGBT human rights movement worldwide to effectively conduct documentation of LGBT human rights violations and engages in human rights advocacy with partners around the globe.

Partners Asia – One of the biggest challenges of working in Myanmar is the lack of trust created by five decades of military rule, in which the law was used as a weapon of control.  Lawyers often have limited education, and are not respected in a system in which corruption is not just an add-on, but the very oil that makes the wheels turn. Partners Asia assists local groups in their efforts to fight back and bring fairness back to the justice system. The Rule of Law program works to build capacity and support reform advocacy through both smaller more flexible “action grants” and larger organizational grants, particularly to communities in ethnic and rural areas. In its first two years, the program provided 126 grants to 85 organization.

Seattle International Foundation – Seattle International Foundation (SIF) supports worldwide poverty alleviation efforts through grant-making and other activities, with a strategic focus on Mexico and Central America. SIF was founded in 2008 as a supporting organization to Seattle Foundation for the purpose of increasing and enhancing international philanthropy and development from the Pacific Northwest. In addition to grant-making, SIF convenes and partners with organizations from the non-profit, philanthropic, government, and private sectors to address root causes of poverty by piloting and advocating for innovative approaches to improving lives. Since 2008, SIF has granted more than $19 million to 188 high impact organizations in 68 countries, including $11 million in grants to Central America.

The World Justice Project (WJP) – is an independent, multidisciplinary organization working to advance the rule of law around the world. Effective rule of law reduces corruption, combats poverty and disease, and protects people from injustices large and small. It is the foundation for communities of peace, equity and opportunity – underpinning development, accountable government and respect for fundamental rights. The WJP engages citizens and leaders from across the globe and from multiple work disciplines to advance the rule of law and seeks to increase public awareness about the foundational importance of rule of law, stimulate policy reforms, and develop practical programs at the community level.

Vista Hermosa Foundation – Vista Hermosa Foundation (VHF) was established by Ralph and Cheryl Broetje in 1990 to carry out the mission of “bearing fruit that will last.” In addition to supporting local education programs in the Vista Hermosa community, VHF invests in the development of holistic, sustainable communities in East Africa, India, Haiti, Mexico and the U.S. They focus on community-based initiatives that are people-focused and locally-led. Rather than address needs through projects or inputs, VHF seeks to nurture mindset change. As people are able to embrace their own sense of worth, purpose and agency, build trusting, supportive relationships with those around them, and see available resources differently, they are empowered to affect change in their own lives.