So what else is new?

I started drafting this before last week. Now it feels a little like “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, …” But anyway:

  • About two months ago, I started working as a legal advocate with the lawyers at the Berks Family Detention Center in Berks County, Pennsylvania. In 2014, the United States government began engaging in a policy of indefinitely detaining women and children in immigration detention. These are refugee women and children fleeing horrific gender, child and sexual violence in Central America. Berks is home to the oldest family detention center for refugee moms and their children in the nation. It is currently holding vulnerable children and mothers for over a year. This no-release policy for mothers and children fails to recognize the deleterious effects detention has on children and victims of trauma. As a result, many mothers and their young children suffer — not only extremely difficult legal cases, but also the physical, psychological, social and emotional effects of detention.

Here’s a recent Nation article on the situation at Berks: “Why Is The Obama Administration Keeping Toddlers Behind Bars?” And here’s a picture of a family that just #gotfree, as well as the 17 families in that story that are still detained, and have been for more than a year. We are going to try everything we can to get them released before Trump gets into office. If you’d like to follow and support our work, like us on Facebook at ALDEA – The People’s Justice Center.

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  • I have been working as a remote coordinator with Advocates Abroad, a network of volunteer attorneys from around the world assisting asylum seekers in the EU and Turkey. We welcome remote and on-the-ground assistance! More here: advocatesabroad.org.
  • On October 21, I spoke on a panel on “Migrants and Refugees” at Penn Law as part of their Journal of International Law “Societies in Transition” symposium. I talked about how Berks violates international human rights law (not to mention the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania!), as well as similarities between family detention in the US and the detention conditions in Greece. Hunger strikes, language access, access to counsel issues… the list goes on.

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If there’s one good thing about this election, it seems like it’s inspiring activism among an unprecedented number of people. Increased support and visibility for human rights defenders can only be a good thing. Despite everything, I’m hopeful.

Exhibition: ‘Looking to the Future: Children of the Amazon and Mexamerica’ in Paris all this month

12705184_10207690382110457_6462740429685922510_nThis month in Paris, some of my photos from Brazil will be exhibited at the Maison des Associations in the 11th Arrondissement as part of a show called “Looking to the Future: Children of Amazonia and Mexamerica” (“Regard sur l’Avenir; enfants de l’amazonie et Méxamérique”). The Facebook event is here. The exhibit will be up through the month of March. On March 22, the documentary Voix d’Amazonie (Amazon Voices — trailer here) will be shown. If you’re in Paris, check it out!

Here’s a blurry pic of the last show in Paris, in December, which I neglected to mention on this blog. Since I happened to be in town reporting on the Tribunal for the Rights of Nature I was able to stop by. The two photos at bottom left are mine:

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Flyer for the last show:

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Ecuador condemned at the new Tribunal for the Rights of Nature in Paris (Mongabay)

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José Gualinga, a Sarayaku leader, testifies at the Tribunal about his people’s successful efforts to halt seismic testing for oil in their territory. Photo by Karen Hoffmann.

Last weekend, while the official COP21 negotiations were going on north of Paris at a site called Le Bourget, leaders of indigenous nations in North and South America were in Paris calling for justice for what they say are ongoing violations of the rights of the earth itself.

The “rights of nature” were recognized in the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 2010, designed as an alternative to the COP meetings. The declaration, which gave rise to the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature, created “a manifesto for earth justice,” in the words of the president of the current tribunal, Cormac Cullinan, author of Wild Law. The book, published in 2003, lays out a case for granting legal rights to communities and ecosystems.

The first such tribunal was held last year in Quito, Ecuador, and its second session was almost a year later in Lima, Peru.

Among the cases heard by this tribunal, several dealt with oil exploitation in Ecuador — a country that, ironically, was the first to include the rights of nature into its 2008 constitution. One of these cases focused on Yasuní National Park.

Yasuní is a UNESCO World Heritage Preserve and a biodiversity hotspot. Nowhere else are there more documented species of mammals, birds, amphibians and vascular plants. As one presenter noted, in one tree in Yasuní, one can find 94 species of ants; one hectare holds more tree species than the US and Canada together.

But Yasuní also sits above the largest oil reserve in Ecuador – 846 million barrels – presenting a threat to the people and animals living in it. More at Mongabay.com>

#FergusonPHL: Philadelphia reacts to Ferguson news

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 1.09.32 PMNBC Philadelphia used one of my shots from last night’s Ferguson solidarity protests in Philly, after the announcement of the decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown.

More of my photos and video from last night on are up on Demotix.

There’s another protest scheduled for 4pm today in North Philadelphia, at Broad and Cecil B. Moore. The march will start at City Hall at 3:30pm and head north. Facebook event link: https://www.facebook.com/events/295619220627789/

Elections in Brazil: a win for Rousseff, and China

It’s become a cliché to liken this Brazilian election to a telenovela. Yet it does seem a fitting analogy for a campaign season that saw one of the candidates die in a plane crash and his vice-presidential candidate — environmentalist Marina Silva — then soar in the polls, only to come down equally suddenly after some of the most negative attack ads in the country’s political history. Pro-business candidate Aécio Neves and incumbent Dilma Rousseff were neck-and-neck going into Sunday’s second round, but in the end, Rousseff claimed victory, albeit by a slim margin.

Of all the candidates, the one with the most dramatic story was Silva, who would have been Brazil’s first black president. The daughter of rubber tappers in the Amazon, illiterate until age 16, she rose through the ranks in Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party (PT) to become his minister of the environment. However, she differed with her party on several key issues, including the building of massive hydroelectric dams in the Amazon region — a major part of the PT’s platform for energy independence. In the current election, she was the running mate of PSB candidate Eduardo Campos, whose sudden passing thrust her into the spotlight.

After Silva was defeated in the first round of elections on October 5, it looked to her supporters as though their hopes of a more environmentally friendly, progressive Brazil were dashed. Worse yet, to many, she shot back at the PT’s negative campaigning by publicly endorsing Neves, a pro-business governor from Brazil’s wealthy, white south.

Neves and Rousseff, who was chief of staff under Lula and has carried forward his policies in her three years as president, faced off in the second round. In the end, slightly more than half of Brazilians preferred the status quo, and Rousseff claimed victory with 51.6% of valid votes.

So what will Rousseff’s win mean for the environment, and for Brazil’s relationship with its number one trading partner, China?

Read more at China Dialogue >

PHOTO/ Mismatch: why are human rights NGOs in emerging powers not emerging? (openDemocracy)

Anti-Belo Monte graffiti in Altamira, Brazil. Karen Hoffmann/Demotix.

My photo of anti-Belo Monte graffiti in Altamira, Brazil, was used in this openDemocracy story by Lucia Nader, who is Executive Director of Conectas Human Rights, a Brazil-based NGO with national and international projects. (“Belo Monstro” and “Eletromorte” are plays on words: The consortium building the mega-dam is called Eletronorte, and “morte” means “death” in Portuguese.)

From Lucia’s piece: “There is a perverse see-saw effect in place within the BRICS countries. In Brazil, as the government grows in prominence and companies become more global and voracious, human rights NGOs face a sustainability crisis and find their budgets shrinking. Are these two developments connected?” More >

PHOTO/ ‘Troubles of a new beginning,’ Wiener Zeitung Online

Just noticed that my photo of Colombia’s Palace of Justice was used to accompany an Austrian story about how, “after half a century of civil war, Colombia is trying to end the conflict. The year 2014 is all about two important ballots and the conclusion of a peace agreement.” More at Wiener Zeitung Online (in German) >

 

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