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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Human Rights

Civil rights and human rights have always been intertwined. At the heart of the civil rights movement is the basic human dignity of all people and their right to live in freedom and with justice and equal opportunity. 

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International Youth Day Highlights Youth Advocacy around the World

August 12, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

In his official statement for International Youth Day, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon praised young people around the world for their advocacy of sustainability issues despite the many challenges they face:

"[Y]oung people have proven themselves to be key partners in sustainable development. They have gotten involved in international forums such as the Commission on Sustainable Development, and have helped their governments and communities to formulate poverty reduction strategies, entrepreneurial schemes and many other policies and initiatives.

"Young people often lead by example: practicing green and healthy lifestyles, or promoting innovative uses of new technologies, such as mobile devices and on-line social networks. They deserve our full commitment -- full access to education, adequate healthcare, employment opportunities, financial services and full participation in public life. On International Youth Day, let us renew our pledge to support young people in their development. Sustainability is the most promising path forward, and youth can lead the way."

The sustainability theme is being incorporated into global and local efforts through an international photo competition entitled "Shoot Nations". A selection of photographs presented to the United Nations are on display at U.N. Headquarters in New York City through August 14.

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U.S. to Sign U.N. Human Rights Treaty on People with Disabilities

July 28, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

People rallying in support of the disability rights

A July 2008 march in support of the Americans With Disabilities Amendments Act

President Obama recently announced that the United States will sign on to the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at a ceremony commemorating the 19th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

"Until every American with a disability can learn in their local public school in the manner best for them, until they can apply for a job without fear of discrimination, and live and work independently in their communities if that's what they choose, we've got more work to do," said Obama.

Under the Convention, signatory nations are required to prohibit discrimination based on disability in employment, education, housing, medical care, and other areas and ensure that mass media like television, newspapers, and the internet is provided in accessible formats for the visually and hearing impaired. Nations are also required to collect data and research on people with disabilities to track and eliminate disparities in opportunity. A U.N. committee will monitor compliance with the treaty and review a comprehensive report to be submitted by signatory nations at least every four years.  

In the fall of 2008, Congress overwhelmingly passed and President Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008, which overturned recent Supreme Court decisions that had reduced protections for certain people with disabilities – including people with diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease, mental disabilities, and cancer – who were intended to be covered by the original ADA. According to the Census Bureau, more than 54 million people in the U.S., or 19 percent of the population, have some level of a disability.

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This Week in Civil Rights History: Birthday of South African Activist Nelson Mandela

July 17, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Bill Clinton with Nelson Mandela

Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pa., July 4, 1993.  

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World Refugee Day: Recession Creates Greater Need for Humanitarian Aid for Refugees

June 19, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

This year to commemorate World Refugee Day, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is urging wealthy nations to contribute more resources to organizations that help refugees around the world, who are facing challenges in their work because of the current global recession.   

"The overwhelming burden of displacement is borne by developing countries," said António Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. "Eighty percent of refugees are in the developing world. Generosity and wealth are not proportional to each other."

A refugee is a person seeking protection in a foreign country out of fear of political persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.  According to UNHCR, there are more than 16 million refugees and asylum seekers worldwide, many of whom are women and children. 

UNHCR works to protect refugee rights, resolve refugee problems worldwide, and ensure that everyone can seek asylum and find safe refuge in another country.  In 2000, UNHCR established June 20 as World Refugee Day, to raise awareness about the plight of refugees and salute their determination and courage.  The date was selected to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, an international U.N. treaty that defined who is a refugee and what their rights are.

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Stronger Laws Are Needed to Combat Violent Hate Crimes in the United States

June 15, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

At a June 5 U.S. government-sponsored human rights panel discussion in Geneva, Switzerland, Wade Henderson, president and CEO of LCCR, called for the adoption of more effective hate crime laws in the United States. In his remarks, Henderson noted that in the U.S. "the number of hate crimes reported has consistently ranged around 7,500 or more annually—that's nearly one every hour of every day."

The number of hate crimes "committed against Hispanics and those perceived to be immigrants has increased each of the past four years for which FBI data is available" and violence against individuals "because of their sexual orientation has increased to its highest level in five years," according to Henderson.  With the well-documented rise in hate crime violence in Europe, especially in the former Soviet Union countries, Henderson argued, the U.S. could demonstrate international leadership by tackling the spread of hate crimes at home.

LCCR supports the passage of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which would give the federal government jurisdiction over prosecuting hate crimes in states where the current law is inadequate. It would also facilitate federal investigations and prosecutions when local authorities are unwilling or do not have the resources to do so themselves.  The bill passed in the House of Representatives in April, but the Senate has yet to vote on it.

Henderson's impassioned plea for stronger hate crime laws came just five days before James W. von Brunn, a white supremacist and prolific writer of anti-Semitic materials, opened fire at the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C., killing Stephen T. Johns, an African-American museum guard.

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U.S. Wins Seat on U.N. Human Rights Council

May 15, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

On Tuesday, the United States won a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council.  

Each of the 47 members of the council is not only responsible for promoting human rights abroad, but they are also responsible for setting a high standard for human rights in their own countries. In support of its candidacy, the U.S. pledged to promote "human rights and fundamental freedoms of all persons within the United States."

Civil and human rights advocates saw the U.S.' decision to join the council as an opportunity for the Obama administration to embrace human rights principles and address certain issues, like racial profiling, life sentences without parole for juveniles, Katrina recovery. Many of those same recommendations were echoed in a recent U.N. report on U.S. race relations and human rights (PDF).  

In 2008, human rights scholar Catherine Powell recommended that the incoming administration put together a working group of experts and senior officials from various federal agencies including the departments of Justice, State, Defense, Homeland Security and others to ensure greater integration of human rights principles in domestic policy. Such a group could be created by an executive order by the president.

Earlier this year, LCCREF issued a report calling for Congress to broaden the mandate of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights so that it could monitor compliance with international human rights treaties on the federal, state, and local level.

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LCCR Meets with Brazilian Leaders to Discuss Civil Rights

May 11, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

LCCR President Wade Henderson speaking with Edson Santos, Brazil's minister of the Special Secretariat for Policies to Promote Racial Equality

Wade Henderson, LCCR president and CEO, speaking with Edson Santos, Brazil's minister of the Special Secretariat for Policies to Promote Racial Equality, after April 29 U.S.-Brazil Joint Action Plan Memorandum on Race and Civil Rights steering committee meeting in Washington, D.C.

On April 29, LCCR met with the U.S. State Department, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Brazilian officials that make up the U.S.-Brazil Joint Action Plan Memorandum on Race and Civil Rights steering committee to discuss ways to further implement the agreement's goals.

As the two largest democracies in the Western Hemisphere, the U.S. and Brazil signed the agreement in 2008, outlining both countries' goals for promoting racial equality and equal opportunity for all their citizens and as an example for the rest of the Americas.

After remarking on the parallels in the U.S. and Brazil regarding race, LCCR President Wade Henderson noted that even though "rampant inequality based on race" still exists, the example of the U.S. civil rights movement demonstrates that "transformational change is possible."

Almost half of Brazil's population - more than 90 million people - are of African descent, making it the second largest Black population in the world, after Nigeria. Millions of Brazilians also have indigenous ancestry, though very few identify as such. 

Although overt discrimination is illegal, employment and housing discrimination is rampant in Brazil. Brazil has one of the largest economic gaps between Whites and people of color. Afro-Brazilians are paid about half of their White counterparts.

The steering committee will work with American and Brazilian universities and youth outreach programs to help Brazil implement equal opportunity initiatives in education and employment.

Listen to audio of the conversation

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U.S. Announces Human Rights Pledges

May 1, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

As part of its pursuit of a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, the United States this week released a document pledging its commitment to advancing human rights in the U.S. and abroad. U.N. member states seeking a seat on the council are encouraged to submit a human rights pledge document as part of their candidacy.

In addition to pledging to help combat human trafficking and help reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, the Obama administration promised to push for Congress to ratify several international human rights treaties, most notably, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The treaty calls for equal pay, maternity benefits, repealing all laws discriminating against women, and establishing institutions dedicated to promoting gender equality. Although President Carter signed the treaty in 1980, ratification requires a two-thirds majority vote by the Senate, which has not yet been achieved.

The administration also pledged to honor existing treaty obligations banning racial discrimination and to vigorously enforce the American with Disabilities Act.

The U.N. General Assembly will elect 47 members to the Human Rights Council on May 15.

The Human Rights Commitments and Pledges of the United States of America (PDF)

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A Day for Protests: Disability Rights, Aid for Darfur, Climate Change

April 27, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

A banner hanging from a crane: Earth, too big to fail. Stop global warming. Rescue the Planet.

Greenpeace members hang a banner from a construction crane across from the State Department in Washington, D.C. © Greenpeace / Taz

This afternoon, police arrested approximately 100 disability rights advocates - many in wheelchairs - at a protest in front of the White House.

The protest, by the disability-rights group ADAPT, is in support of the recently-introduced Community Choice Act, which will give people with disabilities and older Americans who rely on Medicaid the choice to receive long-term care from community-based attendants as an alternative to nursing homes.

Also today, Rep. John Lewis, D. Ga., was one of five members of Congress who were arrested for civil disobedience outside the Sudanese embassy in Washington, D.C. The protesters were calling for Sudan's government to reverse a recent decision to expel international humanitarian agencies - such as Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam - from the Darfur region of Sudan.

Since 2003, more than 300,000 people have died in Darfur in a conflict between ethnic rebel groups and the national government. The United Nations reports that nearly 5 million people in the region currently rely on international humanitarian aid to survive.

And early this morning, Greenpeace activists hung a giant banner protesting global warming from a construction crane near the State Department. The message on the 600-square-foot banner, a photo of the planet earth and the phrase "too big to fail," was intended for government delegates from 17 countries who are attending the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate.

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U.N. Conference Reaches Agreement on Anti-Racism Resolution

April 23, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Delegates from more than 100 United Nations (U.N.) member nations met in Geneva, Switzerland, this week to discuss strategies for eradicating racism. The Durban Review Conference (Durban II) is a follow-up to the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which was held in 2001 in Durban, South Africa.

After months of contentious negotiations, the conference's organizing committee reached an agreement Tuesday on a final resolution outlining how U.N. member states can eradicate racism. The resolution, which represents a broad consensus on how to tackle racism and related forms of intolerance around the world, will be formally adopted by the full conference on Friday.

Recommendations in the resolution include:

  • aggressively investigating hate crimes;
  • affirming the right to organize for native-born and migrant workers alike;
  • encouraging governments to embrace equal opportunity programs;
  • calling for the ratification of other U.N. social justice treaties; and
  • establishing independent national human rights bodies that would launch investigations, make policy proposals, and monitor compliance with human rights treaties and domestic law.

In the weeks leading up to this year's conference, U.N. officials and experts worried that it would be impossible for the conference participants to come to consensus because of sharp disagreements among countries concerning the right to free expression, singling out certain conflicts in the world, and the refusal of some countries to attend the conference.

The U.S. boycotted this year's conference, as it did in 2001, citing objections to provisions prohibiting hate speech and references to Mid-East policies. Eight other countries, mainly from Europe, also withdrew from Durban II.  

But U.N. officials were still encouraged by the level of participation of the countries that did attend the conference. "What we have decided shows the outcome when you remain engaged in the process. It shows that boycotts do not assist," said Amos Wako, president of the conference.  

But not everyone felt that way. Representatives of many countries and human rights advocates were deeply disappointed with how the final resolution failed to recommend compensation regarding the lasting effects of transatlantic slave trade, although that topic was addressed in the 2001 conference.  

Final resolution (PDF) 

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