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Promoting Human Rights Through Education and Advocacy

The Coeur D’Alene Human Rights Institute

Located in an historic brick building beside Coeur d’Alene city park, HREI programs and people energize area children, students, businesses, residents and visitors to integrate civil rights into their lives. Rachel Dolezal, curator and director of education, writes curricula and creates artistic exhibits.

Donna Cork, director of operations, manages administration and business issues. Both women are part of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations.

Mission Statement

The Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations has sponsored numerous human rights public rallies and campaigns including a three day “Human Rights Congress” in Coeur d’Alene to counter the first Aryan Nations march in the city in July of 1986. In 1998 the Task Force produced 130,000 car and home display posters and an eight week in-depth newspaper series titled “In It Together”. Marshall Mend, a member of the Task Force and local realtor spearheaded all these advertising projects.

The Task Force has also supported several national and international human rights conferences with a special relationship with the Gonzaga University Institute for Hate Studies. In 1995 the Task Force was a founding sponsor of the “In It Together” anti-bullying program for the Coeur d’Alene and Lake City High School District with nationally known anti-bullying expert Stephen Wessler from Portland, Maine.

The Task Force supports the annual student human rights fundraiser at Coeur d’Alene and Lake Cities High Schools. This student sponsored campaign raises over $1,000 for the Task Force each year.

Programs

In a historic brick building beside Coeur d’Alene’s city park, exhibits and programs energize area children, students, businesses, residents and visitors to integrate awareness of human rights into their lives. The institute provides cultural education, raises awareness of critical issues and honors diversity through community partnerships.

Founded in 1998 by Victoria Keenan, a former Aryan Nations member who won a court victory that bankrupted the neo-Nazi group and gave her the facility, HREI renamed itself the Human Rights Institute in 2001. The institute receives its primary funding from a philanthropist and Idaho native.

The institute has hosted a number of events in recent years including the Anne Frank art exhibit and Young Advocates human rights camp for K-12 students. Other events include a Wednesday evening book club, homeless and transgender vigils in November, a Holocaust essay contest for area students and an annual Human Rights Banquet that features a keynote speaker, awards presentations and the use of a portion of banquet profits to fund minority student scholarships at North Idaho College.

Exhibits

HREI’s exhibit galleries host rotating human rights themes. A recent display chronicled the history of gay rights from the Stonewall riots to the founding of PFLAG in the 1970s and 1980s, AIDS awareness in the 1990s and political movements through today.

The institute opened in 1998 as an educational arm of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations. It took a while to get it up and running, but it now has a historic building in downtown Coeur d’Alene that houses changing displays on topics such as the Constitution of the United States of America and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The institute also hosts human rights speakers. Past events have included a Freedom Ride speaker who recounted her experience with James Meredith during the civil rights movement, and an exhibit on women who pushed for equality in the workplace.

Contact Us

The institute is located in an historic building beside Coeur d’Alene city park. Its exhibit galleries and programs energize area students, businesses, residents and visitors to integrate awareness of human rights into their lives. Founded in 1981 as the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations in response to harassment from Aryan Nations, the task force became a model for Idaho and national efforts against hate. Its lawsuit against Aryan Nations bankrupted the neo-Nazis and enabled the creation of HREI. The institute continues to work to transform hearts and minds by promoting and teaching the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the U.S. Constitution and other legal documents that establish the equal dignity and worth of every person. For more information, call or visit HREI.

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A Closer Look at Human Rights

What Rights Are Human Rights?

Many people today use the phrase human rights to refer to civil, cultural, economic and political norms. These are indivisible, interdependent and interrelated – violating one right makes it harder to enjoy other rights.

Rawls advocated a limited list of these rights, since they would be mainly used for leverage in international politics (and not for domestic legal obligations). Some people argue that this limit has been violated.

Universality

The idea that everyone has fundamental human rights began to gain traction in the 20th century and human rights treaties reflect this. Yet the issue of human rights does not have easy answers and many controversial questions remain. For example, despite a great deal of debate and even fierce argument, slavery has been abolished, female genital mutilation is no longer considered acceptable, and the death penalty has been widely condemned.

One possible explanation is that human rights are not simply a matter of legal enactment but that they exist independently of and prior to law as moral rights. This view of rights is often known as ‘moral rights theory’ and it has attracted a wide range of supporters. However, critics have pointed out that a moral right can be abused just as a legal right can. For this reason, a moral right cannot be considered inviolable. Rather, they are rights that people have a duty to uphold.

Inalienability

Unlike ordinary political claims that depend on promises or guarantees, human rights are super-claims that people are intrinsically entitled to, regardless of whether governments honour those entitlements. For example, a person’s right to life is independent of any government promise not to kill them.

Human rights are inalienable because they derive from the inherent dignity of all persons. This makes it impossible for a person to voluntarily give up their rights or allow others to take them away from them.

Although Gewirth aimed to provide a logically inescapable justification for human rights, many scholars have sought alternative ways to ground them. Griffin provides one such approach, which is based on the unique value of human agency and autonomy. He suggests that this is not just a metaphysical value but also a practical one: “practicalities” shape human rights by prescribing their boundaries, enlarging them a little to allow safety margins and consulting facts about human nature.

Indivisibility

For a human rights holder, the concept of indivisibility means that she or he has a right to her own freedom and well-being. This also means that she or he has a duty to ensure that other people have their rights.

This is a morally grounded view of human rights and, as such, it is opposed to purely political conceptions of them (for challenges to apolitical views see Gilabert 2011, Liao and Etinson 2012, Sangiovanni 2017 and Waldron 2018). The indivisibility of human rights also has practical implications.

The Declaration of Independence claims that everyone is born with ‘natural rights’ based on the fact that they are ‘endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ However, most human rights are more specific than this and presuppose contemporary institutions (for example, the right to a fair trial). This means that, in practice, a person’s human rights can conflict with each other.

Interdependence and Interrelatedness

The enjoyment of one human right depends on the enjoyment of many other rights, and no human right can be fully enjoyed without all of them. This principle of interdependence and interrelatedness means that all rights are equally important – there is no hierarchy of human rights. However, some rights are more important than others, and some are more easily violated than others.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, philosophers like John Locke began to develop the idea that people had natural rights derived from their own ‘normative agency’. These were rights to life, liberty and property that would guarantee them freedom from tyranny.

A human rights approach considers each person as a ‘rights holder’ and an ‘accountable duty bearer’, which enables them to make legitimate claims against other rights holders, governments and other organisations. It also empowers individuals to organise, mobilise and campaign for the realisation of their rights. This requires a high level of participation by communities, women, minorities, indigenous peoples and other groups.

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Various Categories of Human Rights

Types of Human Rights

Human rights belong to every person on the planet. They are inherent to people and cannot be lost, though some may be temporarily suspended in particular circumstances.

People can disagree about what should be included on a list of human rights and about universal moral rights, but almost everyone agrees that not all actions are acceptable.

Freedom of Religion

The freedom of religion is one of the most important human rights and is guaranteed by international law. It protects people from being forced to believe or practise a particular religion and also from being coerced into leaving their own faith.

It is considered to be a fundamental right for all people and is not subject to derogation (an exception allowed in human rights law). However, the freedom of religion does not prevent governments from taking action to protect life or property in cases of emergency or in the interests of national security.

Human rights belong to each individual and are indivisible – meaning that denying a person one right can affect all of their other rights. This is because human rights are interdependent and connected, as outlined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This means that civil and political rights cannot be taken away without affecting other rights such as the right to live with dignity.

Freedom to Love

On the surface, it might seem that love has little to do with human rights. After all, we have a right to freedom of speech, religion and assembly. We also have a right to private property, fair trial and education.

However, the core international human rights treaties – the UDHR and its related Geneva Conventions – make reference to family life and love as part of a person’s fundamental human dignity. For example, the preamble to the Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children should grow up ‘in an atmosphere of love and understanding’.

It is important to remember that while human rights are universal and indivisible, they cannot be taken for granted. Some human rights are contested by proponents of cultural relativism, such as female genital mutilation and the death penalty. Nevertheless, these should not interfere with the broader human rights of all people. For this reason, it is vital to work together to protect all of our rights and freedoms.

Freedom to Assemble

The right to freedom of assembly, which includes the right to protest peacefully, is one of our most fundamental human rights. It’s guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international treaties. Governments can restrict your rights to free assembly and association when action is ‘proportionate to protect national security, public safety, health, ethics or the rights and freedoms of others’.

Effective protection of the right to freedom of assembly strengthens democracies and enables non-violent debate on important issues, such as government policies and actions. It also enables people to hold those with power to account.

As humans, we all share the same basic human rights – they are inalienable, indivisible and interdependent. These rights belong to every person, and are only valid when they’re respected by everyone else. They’re a standard of respect for humanity, and governments have an obligation to uphold them. This means that all citizens have the right to call governments to account when they don’t live up to this standard.

Freedom from Corruption

In the foundational rights theory of John Locke, as in cross-cultural intellectual traditions such as Chinese Confucianism and Islamic Jurisprudence, freedom from official corruption is regarded as a fundamental obligation owed by governments to their citizens. It trumps other policy considerations and its violation is a grave affront to justice.

However, this right is often contested with relativistic arguments – as are others, such as the right to be free of female genital mutilation (defended by some in the name of culture but broadly condemned) and the death penalty.

Many states have made formal commitments to respect human rights by ratifying the major international treaties and conventions – thereby agreeing to be bound by the general principles they set out. Yet, in practice, there are significant obstacles to achieving human rights standards. They range from an impoverished understanding of what rights mean to the deliberate misrepresentation of commitments in order to achieve political goals or gain advantage.

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The Right to Equality and Freedom: Human Rights in the UK

Human Rights in the UK

Everyone is entitled to equality before the law, freedom of expression, access to basic services like education and health and an adequate standard of living. These rights are set out in the international human rights treaties that the UK has ratified.

The HRA requires British courts to interpret laws in a way that is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). It also gives people access to effective remedy when their rights are violated.

International treaties

International treaties impose binding obligations on countries to respect and protect certain rights. Those rights include the right to freedom from discrimination, including on the grounds of race, religion, and sexuality. They also include the right to family life and privacy.

The UK was a founding member of the Council of Europe, which created the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights. This organisation was formed in the aftermath of World War II to help set and enforce high standards of human rights for people across Europe.

Those rights are protected in the UK by the Human Rights Act, which incorporates them into domestic British law. It allows you to challenge actions by public authorities in British courts if they infringe your rights. Judges can issue a declaration that a law infringes your Convention rights if it is found to be unjust or unfair. In such cases, the law may need to be amended or repealed.

Human rights law

Human rights laws define a minimum standard of decent treatment to which everyone is entitled. They include: not being discriminated against because of gender, race, religion or sexuality; freedom of speech and expression; the right to life, liberty and property; not being subjected to torture or inhumane and degrading treatment; and the right to a fair trial.

The UK’s Human Rights Act requires public authorities to interpret legislation so that it complies with the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). If a law does not comply, a court can issue a declaration of incompatibility. This does not invalidate the legislation but encourages Parliament to amend it.

In a limited number of cases, courts will block deportation on human rights grounds. This is done after careful consideration of the potential harm to the person concerned and the impact on society if they are allowed to remain. This is a balanced approach that ensures people’s rights are protected.

The Human Rights Act (HRA)

The HRA incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into UK law. It gives people the right to bring legal action for breaches of ECHR rights before domestic courts without first having to go to Strasbourg.

The Act also requires all courts to interpret legislation so that it is compatible with the ECHR. Where this is not possible, a declaration of incompatibility can be issued. This is an important safeguard to ensure that the UK complies with the human rights obligations it has under international treaties.

However, critics of the HRA argue that it shifts law-making powers away from Parliament and towards the courts. They say it encourages judges to interfere with the policy priorities of elected politicians, creating a ‘democracy deficit’. If a public authority wants to restrict a ‘qualified’ right, it must show that doing so is necessary in the interests of the wider community or to protect the rights of others.

Deportation on human rights grounds

When a person is facing deportation from the UK, they can use a series of exceptions to argue that their removal would be unduly harsh or disproportionate. These exceptions must be weighed carefully by tribunal judges, who have to ensure that they are not being used as a shield against the public interest in deportation.

Human rights experts have raised concerns that the Home Office’s failure to fully consider these issues undermines lawyers and tribunal judges’ willingness or capacity to do so, particularly in light of cuts to legal aid. As a result, these exceptions may be misused and can lead to injustice.

It is important to remember that the deportation of foreign criminals is a matter for the police and the courts, not politicians. Politicians can be held to account for their decisions by human rights laws, which are intended to protect people’s rights and liberties. However, the UK’s record on human rights is mixed. For example, the government continues to fund countries engaged in egregious human rights violations, such as Bahrain; and has voted against a UN resolution on racism, xenophobia, and discrimination.

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Repression and Inequality in Guatemala

Human Rights in Guatemala

Guatemala’s lack of respect for the right to prior free and informed consultation with indigenous peoples in relation to extractive projects, monoculture, hydroelectric plants and other types of initiatives has aggravated their situation of exclusion and inequality.

Judicial independence has been threatened by corruption, delays in appointments and Congress’ refusal to swear in the head judge of the Constitutional Court. Harassment and attacks against human rights defenders remain widespread.

Human rights in Guatemala

In a country as stratified by race and wealth as Guatemala, the very concept of human rights challenges those in power. Those who speak out on behalf of the most vulnerable are subjected to repression.

The indigenous peoples continue to suffer from high levels of exclusion and poverty. They lack access to their ancestral lands and territories. They also experience the negative impacts of development projects, such as mining, monoculture and hydroelectric plants, developed without prior free and informed consultation with them.

In addition, they face high rates of violence and discrimination against them. The police and judiciary are implicated in human rights violations and abuses. Civic space continues to shrink as activists are stigmatized and criminalized. Thousands have been forced to leave the country.

Corruption

Corruption is widespread in Guatemalan society and undermines the effectiveness of public institutions. It is common for businesses to pay bribes to obtain needed permits or avoid retaliation from criminal groups.

In 2018, as CICIG was moving forward with historic corruption investigations and receiving broad support from the broader Guatemalan population, high-level actors led campaigns against the body at both national and international levels. They stigmatized social leaders and justice officials, passed laws to promote impunity, and suffocated the media and business interests that supported the fight against corruption (HRR 2018).

Some judges investigating high-profile cases have faced threats or spurious complaints used to harass them. For example, Judge Erika Aifan, who is investigating allegations of illegal electoral financing, faces more than 70 legal complaints filed by powerful people seeking to obstruct her work (FitW 2015). The process for selecting Supreme Court justices and Appellate Court judges is also susceptible to corruption and manipulation by criminal operators.

Disappearances

As the Cold War drew to a close, leftist union organizers, professors, and students started to disappear in Guatemala. They were abducted and killed by government forces or by right wing paramilitary death squads that the army tolerated.

The families of the disappeared began to organize as El Grupo and demanded justice. They took their case to the Inter-American Court and won a landmark ruling against the state for its forced disappearances.

However, the justice system is under-resourced and a climate of intimidation stifles investigations. Those who work on cases like Bamaca’s face serious obstacles and often suffer harassment. During this forum representatives from civil society organizations integrated by family members of the disappeared shared their experiences in the fight to search for their loved ones and seek justice.

Violence against human rights defenders

Human rights defenders face violence and criminalization for their work. Civil society groups have reported increased intimidation and threats; some have been forced to close. Several human rights defenders have been murdered in recent years. Judicial independence is undermined by corruption and delays in the nomination of judges, a refusal by Congress to swear in the head judge of the Constitutional Court, and spurious complaints against justices and prosecutors investigating high profile cases.

Guatemalans’ freedom to protest is restricted by the high level of insecurity that encourages self-censorship among ordinary citizens. Trade unions face discrimination and harassment. Despite a strong electoral democracy, political parties remain divided and often rely on extrapolitical forces to gain power.

LGBT rights

Although the constitution guarantees equal rights, minorities, including Indigenous communities, face discrimination and poverty. Sexual orientation and gender identity remain major areas of concern, with a reported high level of violence and discrimination against LGBT people. There is no comprehensive civil legislation protecting LGBT persons, and the country has not established a legal procedure for gender recognition.

Judicial independence is under attack, with corruption allegations, delays in appointments of judges, refusal by Congress to swear in the head judge of the Constitutional Court, and spurious complaints against judges and prosecutors investigating high profile cases. Civil space shrank as a result, with human rights defenders and protesters facing repression and unfounded criminal proceedings.

Workers’ rights are protected by a number of international conventions and domestic law, but workers’ organizations have reported pressure, threats, and retaliation from public officials.

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Prisoners’ Human Rights: Dignity, Privacy, Medical Care, Family, Education, Fair Trial, Reintegration

Human Rights For Prisoners

Human dignity is a key concern for prisoners, as well as for the international, regional and national bodies that monitor them.

The Court has published several Case-law Guides which analyse and summarise the important judgments it has delivered in prison-related cases. This particular Guide analyses the Court’s case-law on different articles relating to prisoners’ rights.

Rights of detainees

Prisoners must be able to read, write, practice their religion and communicate with the outside world. These activities are central to their ability to retain their humanity and to provide a form of oversight over prison conditions.

In some countries, prisoners are denied these basic rights in the name of security or health. They may be subjected to discriminatory treatment based on race, sexual orientation and disability and they are often excluded from facilities and programs available to the general population.

They are also at risk of contracting diseases that are easily treatable, including hepatitis and HIV/AIDS. These illnesses are particularly dangerous in a closed environment.

Right to privacy

Many people believe that prisoners lose their rights when they enter prison. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that a person’s rights cannot be taken away simply because they are in custody.

Prisoners have a right to privacy and may not be subjected to searches that violate their dignity. Prisoners also have a right to freedom from cruel and unusual punishments.

They have a right to practice their culture, religion and beliefs, and use their language while in prison, unless there is a good reason for preventing this.

Right to medical care

Like any other person, prisoners can suffer from illnesses and injuries that require medical attention. Those working in prisons and jails need to be familiar with relevant laws, rulings and international standards regarding medical treatment for prisoners.

For instance, the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners states that prisoners have a right to conditions “adequate for the health and well-being of persons deprived of liberty”. This is an absolute right (other rights are ‘limited’ or ‘qualified’) and it applies to all aspects of healthcare in prisons.

Right to family

Prison staff must consider your human rights when making decisions about you or taking actions affecting you. They can only limit your rights if they have a good reason, such as keeping you and other prisoners safe.

Prisoners are entitled to health care that is at least equivalent to that available to people outside of prison. This is set out in many international instruments, including the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

In the case of Polyakova and Others v Russia, the Court found that decisions to relocate applicants to remote penal facilities thousands of miles from their families violated their right to respect for family life.

Right to education

Education is a fundamental right that opens doors for individuals and presents a priceless opportunity for prisoners to change their lives. In fact, although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not explicitly refer to prisoners, their rights are acknowledged in many international and regional non-binding instruments, such as the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (commonly known as the Nelson Mandela rules).

Prisoners should be able to pursue their education and improve their chances of social reintegration. It is crucial to promote prison education as a right.

Right to a fair trial

All prisoners have a right to a fair trial. They must be charged with a crime and given the opportunity to present a defence and be able to consult lawyers and family members before and during their trial.

Prisoners should also be given adequate detention conditions, including an end to prolonged solitary confinement, and rapid and regular access to their families and lawyers. They must not be subjected to torture or any other form of ill treatment, including sexual assault.

They must also be given health care that is at least equivalent to that available in the community and they should have their right to medical confidentiality respected (see Case-Law Guide on Article 6 of the European Convention). We have helped set up windows in prison cells, install heat extractor ventilation and erect internal fences to provide outside space for prisoners.

Right to be reintegrated into society

All prisoners have a right to be reintegrated into society. This includes a right to adequate living standards, health care and education. Prisoners also have a right not to contract disease in prison, especially HIV/AIDS.

Despite the existence of internationally recognised human rights instruments, violations of prisoners’ human rights are common in many countries. The Universal Declaration of 1948 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights explicitly state that people deprived of their liberty have rights.

These include not being detained arbitrarily, not being held incommunicado and not being tortured. They should also have rapid access to lawyers and doctors.

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