In an election year marked by pandemic, massive unemployment, and widespread protest against entrenched racial inequality that has pervaded nearly every aspect of life in the United States, Human Rights Watch and partners provide insight and analysis to make sense of the human rights developments unfolding across the country.
US: 10 Steps for Safe, Credible Elections
- Ensure that all eligible voters are able to exercise their right to vote by effectively communicating about voting procedures, making various voting options readily available and accessible, and adopting additional measures as needed.
- Ensure the right to vote without discrimination or discriminatory effects.
- Protect the right to health while voting and during election-related activities.
- Provide prompt review, appeal, and remedy for voting rights violations.
- Allow unfettered monitoring by impartial, non-partisan election observers.
- Keep the right to vote and the “will of the people” at the center of ballot counting.
- Prevent voter intimidation and violence by extremist and other groups before, during, and after the elections.
- Ensure access to accurate electoral information; act to prevent or mitigate rights abuses.
- Ensure the right of peaceful assembly.
- Minimize arrests and use of force in responding to protests.
For more see here.
UN Warns Earth Could Become 'Uninhabitable Hell' Without Action from Leaders
In past 50 years,11,000+ disasters were linked to weather, water or climate, resulting in 2M deaths & trillions in economic losses.— United Nations (@UN) October 13, 2020
As climate crisis threatens lives & economies, early warning systems & #ClimateAction are vital. https://t.co/yFGDFDIuLMpic.twitter.com/N53N1hkyQM
The world has seen a "staggering rise" in the number of climate-related disasters over the past 20 years, and leaders from government and business haven't done enough to address it, the United Nations said this week. The UN warns that disasters could turn the planet into an "uninhabitable hell for millions of people" unless action is taken to curb the climate crisis.
From the UN report:
In the short-term, disaster management agencies have succeeded in saving many lives through improved preparedness and the dedication of staff and volunteers. But the odds continue to be stacked against them in particular by industrial nations that are failing miserably on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to levels commensurate with the desired goal of keeping global warming at 1.5˚C as set out in the Paris Agreement.
At the same time, almost all nations failed to prepare appropriately to prevent the wave of death and illness unleashed across the globe by the COVID-19 pandemic despite many urgings to do so from a plethora of experts including WHO, UNDRR and others.
It is baffling that we willingly and knowingly continue to sow the seeds of our own destruction, despite the science and evidence that we are turning our only home into an uninhabitable hell for millions of people. It really is all about governance if we want to deliver this planet from the scourge of poverty, further loss of species and biodiversity, the explosion of urban risk and the worst consequences of global warming.
The climate crisis has emerged as a major issue in the 2020 US elections. Candidates for elected office should support policies that protect the human rights of people marginalized or otherwise most affected by climate change and toxic pollution.
Read this list of climate crisis-related questions to pose to candidates who are seeking your vote.
Marginalized Communities Will Pay Highest Price for Pulling Plug on US Census
The US Census Bureau will cease counting for the 2020 census at midnight, two weeks earlier than had previously been announced, a move that will likely leave many of the country’s most marginalized communities undercounted and could undermine rights for the decade to come.
The decision to stop counting comes after the Supreme Court approved the US Department of Commerce’s request to suspend a lower court order that extended counting through the end of October.
The goal of the census, conducted once every 10 years, is to produce an accurate count of all people residing in the country. This decision is the latest in a series of events – including the Covid-19 pandemic, funding slashes, and multiple administrative orders – that experts fear will result in the least accurate modern census count.
A Rundown on Early Voting in the United States
Over 16 million people have already voted in the 2020 US election via a combination of early in-person voting and mail-in absentee voting. But while some states have expanded voting rights – making it possible to vote early and in a myriad of ways – others have put barriers in place. Here is an update on early voting developments in a handful of states across the country:
- Georgia: A federal court ruling on October 11 allowed the state to continue using voting machines known as ballot-making devices rather than limiting votes to hand-marked paper ballots. However, the first day of early in-person was chaotic, with reports of long lines at polling places across the state, including at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, home arena of the National Basketball Association’s Atlanta Hawks, which is being used as a voting center. Voting at the State Farm Arena was delayed for about an hour due to a technical glitch with the electronic pollbooks, which allow election officials to verify voters’ identities. Despite these challenges, voters turned out in record numbers, with 126,876 people casting ballots on Monday.
- California: The California Secretary of State and Department of Justice ordered the California Republican Party on Monday to remove unofficial ballot boxes they had placed in at least three counties – Fresno, Los Angeles, and Orange County. Some of the boxes were marked “official.” State officials warned that the use of unauthorized absentee ballot drop boxes violated state law.
- Texas: A federal appeals court on October 13 issued a ruling that allowed Governor Greg Abbot to proceed with limiting the number of ballot drop-off sites to one per county, even in counties with millions of residents. Texans came out in big numbers on the first day of early voting on Tuesday, but many of them were met with long lines. In Fort Bend County, home to nearly 400,00 registered voters, a programming glitch rendered all voting machines at 30 voting sites unusable.
Early voting began in Texas on Tuesday with long lines in San Antonio and outside of Houston, some the result of increased turnout and others linked to voting machine failures. https://t.co/gBGNGv56df pic.twitter.com/HrrSLELOvs— The New York Times (@nytimes) October 13, 2020
- Florida: Although Floridians voted in 2018 to restore voting rights for people with felony convictions who had completed their sentences, a recent federal appeals court ruling in the state upheld a requirement that they pay all fines, court fees, and restitution before being able to vote legally, which has effectively gutted the landmark law. An estimated 31,000 - 45,000 people with felony convictions registered to vote since the law went into effect, but the majority of them are believed to owe fees. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition – which was behind the ballot initiative to restore the right to vote for people with felony convictions – has been attempting to help them pay their fines. They were recently bolstered by a nearly $16 million donation from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
- Pennsylvania: On Saturday, a federal judge in Pennsylvania dismissed a lawsuit by Donald Trump’s campaign to limit the number of ballot drop boxes across the state and invalidate mail-in ballots if the voter’s signature did not match the one on file. The Trump campaign argued that these rules would prevent voter fraud, but the judge said that the campaign offered no hard evidence that voter fraud would occur.
Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Virginia have already received more early ballots than they did in the entire 2016 presidential election.— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) October 14, 2020
Several other states have topped 2016 numbers for mail ballots returned. https://t.co/dZ50ZiSnNt
- Michigan: Election law in Michigan mandates that clerks wait until election day to begin counting mail-in ballots. However, on October 6, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed into law a bill passed by the state legislature to give clerks 10 extra hours the day before the election to prepare the ballots for counting, which may speed up the tallying on election day. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson called the new law a “small step in the right direction.” Other election reform bills aimed at providing relief to clerks have stalled in the state legislature.
- New Jersey: A federal judge in New Jersey ruled against a Trump campaign motion for a preliminary injunction to stop the state from allowing officials to process mail-in ballots 10 days before the election and those received two days after the election, including those without a postmark.
- Virginia: The Virginia online voter registration portal crashed after a fiber optic cable was cut on Tuesday morning, the final day to register to vote in Virginia. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced that he had filed a brief in federal court to extend the voter registration deadline to make up for time lost while the website was down. Gov. Ralph Northam said he would support an extension of the deadline.
Human Rights Issues Loom as US Senate Holds Hearings for Supreme Court Nominee
Confirmation hearings are underway for US Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump's pick to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Tuesday marked the second day of hearings, with Barrett facing questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee for the first time. Topics discussed ranged from the Affordable Care Act to the landmark case Roe v. Wade, but Barrett declined to say how she would rule on the issues if confirmed.
As day 2 Senate nomination hearings for the next US Supreme Court justice get underway, a reminder of the crucial rights at stake: right to life, due process, free expression, privacy, health, freedom from arbitrary detention & discrimination, just a few: https://t.co/V39EdSPcZv pic.twitter.com/oqnGNbjz29— Laura Pitter (@Laurapitter) October 13, 2020
Senators will continue posing questions to the nominee on Wednesday. The hearings come to a close on Thursday, when outside testimony against and in favor of Barrett will be heard.
The stakes of the decision before US elected officials are tremendous. Voting rights, the right to health, the right to reproductive freedom, and the interaction between religious freedom and other rights are only some of the domains in which Justice Ginsburg’s replacement could either help to protect or weaken basic rights. The decision could have particularly significant ramifications for people of color, women and girls, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
Read more about some key rights at stake in the Supreme Court pick and what senators should keep top of mind when questioning and considering a nominee.
Jonathan Price’s Killing Underscores Need for US Structural Police Reform
The call that came into the Wolfe City Police Department just after 8 p.m. on Saturday, October 3, wasn’t particularly notable in the small Texas town of 1,500 about 70 miles northeast of Dallas. There was a “possible fight in progress” at the Kwik Chek convenience store. Officer Shaun Lucas was dispatched to the scene.
Exactly what the fight was about and who was involved remains unclear, but within minutes of Lucas’s arrival, 31-year-old Jonathan Price, a former high school football star and admired member of the community, was dead – another unarmed Black man shot and killed by police.
Read the full post here
What You Need to Know about Human Rights and the VP Debate: Three Takeaways
Millions tuned into the US Vice Presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris on Wednesday night. The discussion of human rights ranged from reproductive justice to the police killing of Breonna Taylor.
Here are three takeaways from the debate:
The US Government Response to Covid-19 Should Address Racial Disparities
Much of the debate centered around the Trump administration’s response to the Covid-19 crisis and what Joe Biden would do differently. What wasn’t discussed on Wednesday was the disproportionate impact that the pandemic is having on Black and Latinx people, who are three times more likely than their white counterparts to contract the novel coronavirus and nearly twice as likely to die from it.
US policies have directly contributed to racial disparities in health, housing, and criminal law. Candidates should support federal relief packages that focus on helping those hit hardest by Covid-19, such as people of color living in poverty, and do not leave out segments of the population, such as immigrants.
The US Needs a Plan to Reimagine Public Safety
While the candidates sparred about policing, the real focus should be on the structural changes needed to end the police violence and systemic racism that threaten Black and brown communities.
Both VP candidates want to increase funding for policing, but police contribute to widespread harm. What we constitute as real public safety needs to drastically shift. Limit the scope of police immediately & invest in communities. #VPDebate https://t.co/r0ZzelgkXS— Dreisen Heath (@dreisenheath) October 8, 2020
Human Rights Watch recommends that reform efforts address three critical issues in order to be effective: reducing the role of police in addressing societal problems, redirecting funds to initiatives that support people and empower communities, and strengthening independent police oversight and accountability.
Reproductive Rights at Risk
The candidates were queried on the implications of a potential Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.
Reproductive freedom is one of the rights at stake following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The Supreme Court with a new justice could eliminate constitutional protections for women’s right to access abortion by upholding excessive regulation of abortion providers or by abandoning the Roe v. Wade line of precedent, instead leaving it to individual states to determine access to legal abortion. If that happens, many states might criminalize abortion. At least four states already have “trigger laws” on the books that automatically outlaw abortion if Roe is overturned, and dozens of others have laws that put access to abortion at high risk.
Election officials need to ensure that every method of voting allowed in their state is easy to access and use for all voters, so that there can be a credible US general election on November 3, 2020. #VPDebate https://t.co/LAlSaxBzt6— Neela Ghoshal (@NeelaGhoshal) October 8, 2020
Other key human rights issues at stake in the 2020 US elections—including LGBT rights, immigration, and foreign policy—received no or insufficient airtime. Read Human Rights Watch’s guide to the 2020 US elections to learn more about the questions you should ask of the candidates for local, state, and federal office who seek your vote in November.
The conduct of the election itself also implicates a fundamental human right: the right to vote. In September, Human Rights Watch released a report on the measures that election officials should take to protect voting rights amid the pandemic—most importantly by ensuring all methods of voting allowable in each jurisdiction are genuinely accessible to all eligible voters. Read it here.
Human Rights on the Ballot in California
Early voting has begun in California, and over the next month, voters will have the opportunity to protect human rights in the most populous state in the United States. Basic rights are at stake in at least four measures on this year’s ballot. Human Rights Watch has studied each of these four ballot proposals and recommends the following votes:
Yes on Proposition 17, which would restore voting rights to people disenfranchised while serving a prison term as soon as they complete their sentence.
No on Proposition 22, an initiative that would create a third, substandard regulatory category for app-based workers in California, falling between employees and independent contractors.
Protecting Voters from the Threat of White Supremacists During the US Election Period
Fifty-Eight organizations, including Human Rights Watch, and comprising hundreds of national groups, have signed onto a letter asking the United States Department of Justice to protect all people in the US from the threat of white supremacists during this year's election period.
The letter identifies how recent comments by President Trump have emboldened these groups to commit more acts of violence to interfere with the election.
Almost 300 groups including Human Rights Watch @HRW ask United States @TheJusticeDept what action it will take to protect Americans' right to vote from the increasingly real threat of violent white supremacist activity https://t.co/XkCkR39Uf5 pic.twitter.com/LppeQfCWHM— Gerry Simpson (@GerrySimpsonHRW) October 8, 2020
"As civil rights organizations working to protect the rights and lives of people who are targeted by white supremacists on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and disability, we know the terror that they inflict in communities across the country."
Report and Video Expose NYPD’s Planned Assault on Bronx Protesters
BREAKING: Human Rights Watch (@hrw) out with horrifying investigation. The brutal NYPD attack on hundreds of protestors in early June in the Bronx wasn't just criminal & unconstitutional. It was *planned*. NYPD used the curfew to trap, assault, & arrest. https://t.co/jx6QBioxM0— Scott Hechinger (@ScottHech) September 30, 2020
New York City officials are under fire following a Human Rights Watch investigation into the New York Police Department (NYPD)’s assault and mass arrest of more than 250 peaceful protesters in the South Bronx. In Human Rights Watch’s new 99-page report, researchers found that the June 4 operation – targeting demonstrators in a low-income, majority Black and Latinx community – was a violent, deliberately planned trap that could cost taxpayers several million dollars. After the attack, NYPD officials including Police Commissioner Dermot Shea spread misinformation about the protest to justify their abusive tactics, Human Rights Watch concluded.
Based on interviews with 81 protesters and observers and analysis of 155 videos recorded during the protest, the report provides the clearest evidence yet that the police action was intentional and violated international human rights law. It was accompanied by the release of a 12-minute video examining the relationship among the protest, New York City’s 8 p.m. curfew, and the police tactic of “kettling,” produced with the visual investigations firm SITU Research.
This new investigation by @hrw and @situ_nyc is a detailed and essential follow-up on the NYPD's intentional kettling and abuse of peaceful protesters in Mott Haven on June 4, during the height of the protests. https://t.co/51PhIXjLHV— Evan Hill (@evanchill) September 30, 2020
The report drew swift media attention, including headlines in CNN, TIME magazine, Gothamist, the New York Daily News, The Intercept, and The City, along with televised segments on CBS and popular New York stations NY1 and Pix11, which called the report a “bombshell investigation.”
A new Human Rights Watch report claims New York City police officers deliberately assaulted protesters in the Bronx earlier this summer.— CBS News (@CBSNews) October 6, 2020
Human Rights Watch acting director of crisis and conflict @ida_sawyer joins CBSN to explain what happened in Mott Haven. pic.twitter.com/01UvSSjU6B
The findings spurred outrage from New York City taxpayers and advocates of social justice. Some of them took to the radio during The Brian Lehrer show on WNYC on October 2, when Mayor Bill DeBlasio joined for the show’s regular “Ask the Mayor” segment. Listeners called in to ask the mayor for his response to the report. “If things were done wrong, anyone who did something wrong should be held accountable in the appropriate way,” DeBlasio said during the program.
Laura Pitter of Human Rights Watch pointed out on Twitter that despite Mayor DeBlasio’s on-air statement that the NYPD was wrong to arrest legal observers at the protest, his administration has done nothing to hold officers accountable several months after the attack.
On today's #AskTheMayor show with @BrianLehrer @NYCMayor was asked about our new @hrw report/video about the NYPD's crackdown on protesters in the Bronx and the cost of systemic police brutality. https://t.co/hi05NvSu5h— Laura Pitter (@Laurapitter) October 2, 2020
Human Rights Watch will continue pushing the mayor, the NYPD, and other city leaders to take action on our recommendations – including holding abusive officers accountable, making structural changes ot reduce the NYPD’s role in addressing societal problems, and redirecting money from policing toward improving access to health, education, housing, and job opportunities that protesters in Mott Haven and across New York City have been fighting to get for years.