PHRGE in Geneva: Day 5

Today’s video blog is an update from the second and final day of the CERD (Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination) review of the U.S. in Geneva where I am representing PHRGE as part of the U.S. civil society delegation.  Today the Committee again brought up concerns about access to counsel in civil cases, the issue I’ve been focused on here.  The committee also raised concerns about the racially disparate impact of the foreclosure crisis, and the criminalization of homelessness, two issues the housing group I’ve been working with were hoping would get some attention.  Here is some more media coverage and the UN’s press release about the second day of review.  This is my last post, as I am leaving tomorrow.  Thanks for tuning in- I will keep you updated on our follow-up activities, and post the Concluding Observations when they come out!

Unfortunately in this video I am sitting directly in front of the direct sunlight, so apologies for the poor quality.  Here are some better pictures of the Palais de Nations.

Palais de Nations 3Palais de Nations 1 Palais de Nations 2


Media coverage and webcast of CERD review

If you area awake in the states you can tune into the second half of the UN review of the United States under the International Convention on Racial Discrimination (CERD) here.  Also here is some media coverage I forgot to post last night:

UN Experts Grill U.S. on Racial Discrimination (Reuters)
Here is a picture of the CERD Committee from yesterday.

CERD Committee

PHRGE in Geneva: Day 4

Today was an exciting day in Geneva at the review of the U.S.’s compliance with its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).   The Civil Society delegation had an informal briefing with the CERD Committee this morning, and then this afternoon the official review of the United States with the US government delegation began.  Here is a picture of my colleague Erin Smith from Columbia Human Rights Institute and I speaking with CERD Committee member Ion Diaconu at the civil society briefing about access to justice.  Spoiler alert: after this conversation Mr. Diaconu raised the issue of access to counsel in civil cases with the US government in the review this afternoon!  It is important that committee members raise the issue because they are then likely to publish a “concluding observation” on it.  Concluding observations represent the comments and recommendations of an international human rights body on the U.S.’s treaty compliance, and can be used in domestic advocacy and accountability efforts.

CERD advocacy

Also, on a slightly different note, I mentioned in a previous blog entry that Ron Davis (the father of Jordan Davis) is in Geneva advocating against racial gun violence and Stand Your Ground laws- here is an article in Al Jazeera about his advocacy at CERD, in the context of the recent killing of Michael Brown in Furguson, MO.  Today the CERD Committee specifically spoke of Mr. Davis’ testimony in their comments to the United States.

PHRGE in Geneva: Day 3

Here’s a rundown on my third day in Geneva representing PHRGE as part of the civil society delegation to the UN for the review of the U.S.’s compliance with its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).  Today we had our formal briefing with the CERD committee and a consultation with the U.S. government.   Here is a link to the UN press release on the briefing this am.  Hopefully we made an impression!  Also here are some pictures of me and my colleague Erin Smith from the Columbia University School of Law Human Rights Institute at the UN.

UN 1 UN 2

PHRGE in Geneva: Day 2

Here’s the rundown on my second day in Geneva where I am representing PHRGE at the civil society consultation with the Committee overseeing implementation of the International Covenant on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).  In this video post I go over parts of the Convention language and UN commentary we are using in our advocacy about access to justice in civil cases.  If you want to follow along, here is the text of the Convention, and here are the 2008 Concluding Observations.  Also here are some photos of the Palais Wilson, where today’s opening session was held.

 Palais Wilson Opening Session Palais Wilson

PHRGE in Geneva: Day 1

Hannah Adams, a student at Northeastern University School of Law (NUSL).  She is in Geneva representing  NUSL’s Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy (PHRGE) at the United Nations review of U.S. fulfillment of treaty obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).  PHRGE and the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute‘s have collaborated on a shadow report on access to justice in civil cases here.  Such shadow reports provide a civil society perspective on information included in the U.S. government in its report to the CERD Committee. Both PHRGE and the Columbia institute are affiliated with the U.S. Human Rights Network, which is coordinating U.S. civil society participation in the CERD review.

Colombia Part IV – The Final visits

This is Part IV in a series of blogposts about my recent trip to Colombia. Please scroll back to April and May 2014 to read earlier posts.

The following week I flew back to Bogota and met with the president of the flight attendants union. While this work is comparatively white-collar compared to the manual labor of dockworkers or cane cutters, she described many of the same problems with regard to employment contracts. Avianca is the largest airline in Colombia, and they had a long track record of violating the law through fictional sub-contracting companies. Even the regional domestic airline SATENA, which is a state owned and operated enterprise, was guilty of the same types of violations – employing workers doing core functions on short-term temporary contracts through labor intermediaries.


IMG_20130920_133253Maria Crisitina Cadavid is the president of the flight attendants union. She explained how major airlines like Avianca have used informal work agreements to break the union.


One of the first campaigns I worked on in the United States was to organize what was then America West Airlines (now US Air). The employment structures were more elaborate in Colombia, but many of the basic complaints and conditions were the same as the stories I remember hearing as a young organizer visiting customer service agents in Phoenix, Arizona. Compared to the differences I saw between countries with the dock workers, the similarities here were notable.

The last set of workers I interviewed was out near the Venezuelan border in the northeast of the country. I flew from Bogota to Barrancabermeja, where I traveled by taxi from the airport to the city center. Once there, I met up with other unionists and we paid for seats in a small van to take us out to San Alberto, approximately 3 hours north of there. On the way I thought about the interviews I had done with researchers and investigators at ENS in Medellín. I had spent a few days discussing the palm region with one young researcher in particular who shared with me the complex and violent history of the industry in Colombia.


IMG_20130922_124729Palm workers ‘map’ the employment schemes in their region

The palm industry is wrapped up extensively with national politics in Colombia. For example, President Santos recently appointed a new Minister of Agriculture, Rubén Darío Lizarralde. For the past 19 years, Mr. Lizarralde has run one of the largest and well known palm companies – INDUPALMA. During his tenure running the company, more than 100 union members were murdered, by 2003, 6 union presidents had been assassinated, 10 more trade union leaders were “disappeared”, and more than 400 families were forcibly displaced. On top of all this, Mr. Lizarralde oversaw the systematic informalization of his workforce – exactly the kind of measure the LAP sought to reverse. In 1995, just a year after taking over at INDUPALMA, the first organized push for informal subcontracting began. By the time he left, nearly the entire workforce had been outsourced into fake illegal cooperatives. And despite the signing of LAP, the company has done nothing to formalize their workers.

The following day I attended a huge meeting organized in part by the ILO office in Colombia. More than 200 workers filled a giant hall, which was really just a large structure – a cement slab the size of a two tennis courts, with columns supporting a tin roof. It was deathly hot in that room, even without walls and fans blowing throughout the day.

The goal of the meeting was to create an actual map of employment in the industry.  Workers broke into teams depending on who signed their paycheck and who they ultimately worked for. After ‘mapping’ their employment structure on paper, they would come to the front of the room and post their ‘map’ on the wall in front of them. Then another group of workers would come forward and connect their map to the others. Eventually a picture of the industry emerged showing a small handful of actual Palm companies with a host of different informal subcontractors controlling employment for different producers. The number one demand of all workers was formal employment.


For more on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, and the Labor Action Plan, see the report published by the AFL-CIO here.