Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute Symposium Explores Strategies for State and Local Implementation of Human Rights in the United States
June 27, 2017, NEW YORK – The Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute convened more than 100 U.S. lawyers, law students, academics, state and local government representatives, and other international human rights experts in New York on May 19 to explore emerging strategies to strengthen human rights protections at the state and local level in the current political landscape. The full-day event marked the 14th symposium on human rights in the United States, a signature event of the Bringing Human Rights Lawyers’ Network.
“Localizing Human Rights in the New Era: Strategies for State and Local Implementation of Human Rights in the United States,” focused on the significant role that state and local governments play in fostering U.S. compliance with its international human rights commitments. Throughout the United States, officials at the state, city, county, and municipal level are developing tools and techniques to address local problems, influence local, state, and national policy, and generally promote and protect human rights within local communities. While state and local efforts to protect human rights are not new, they have taken on a new urgency in recent months, and the stakes are increasingly high as persistent threats to core human rights continue to emerge on the federal level, alongside targeting of vulnerable communities.
State and local leaders, including Mayors, State Attorneys’ General, and City Councilors are speaking out in support of foundational human rights principles of dignity, equality and non-discrimination, and developing policies to protect them and resist federal encroachment of rights, illustrating the critical role of state and local governments in safeguarding human rights.
“Lawyers and advocates play a vital role initiating, encouraging, and promoting efforts and strategies to ‘bring human rights home’, and this symposium brought together key stakeholders to share concrete examples of rights-based approaches to law and policy, identify opportunities and challenges in these efforts, and to chart a path forward,” said JoAnn Kamuf Ward, director of the Institute’s Human Rights in the U.S. Project.
Symposium panelists discussed topics ranging from domestic and international approaches to promoting and protecting human rights locally; the role of the federal government in facilitating and supporting state and local governments in these efforts; the importance of working in close partnership with impacted communities, and the role of state courts in implementing human rights.
Presenters included human rights advocates, law school academics, policy experts, and a U.S. State Department representative, as well as state and local agency staff and elected officials. Keynote remarks were presented by the Honorable William Bell, Mayor of the City of Birmingham, and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, both of whom have served on U.S. delegations to the United Nations to discuss the U.S. human rights record. The Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti provided remarks by video.
“Human rights are at the root of the most important issues facing our country today,” Attorney General Lisa Madigan said. “State attorneys general are critical to promoting human rights and to preventing against erosion of those rights and the foundations of our democracy.”
This year’s symposium included a timely discussion on progress made towards bringing a gender equality lens to policy initiatives through adoption of local legislation based on the principles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the growth of the Cities for CEDAW Campaign.
The closing roundtable focused on ongoing advocacy for the right to water and sanitation, and advocates working in Detroit, Michigan, California, and rural Alabama, discussed campaigns grounded in human rights principles.
Through the event, the Human Rights Institute sought to develop U.S. lawyers’ understanding of opportunities, strategies, and challenges in strengthening human rights protection at the local level within the United States. State and Local Human Rights implementation is a key component of the Institute’s Human Rights in the U.S. Project.
The law firm of Skadden Arps hosted the event at its Times Square office. Co-sponsors included the Columbia Human Rights Law Review, the Northeastern University School of Law, Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy, and the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative. The full agenda is available here.
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The Human Rights Institute advances international human rights through education, advocacy, fact-finding, research, scholarship, and critical reflection. We work in partnership with advocates, communities, and organizations pushing for social change to develop and strengthen the human rights legal framework and mechanisms, promote justice and accountability for human rights violations, and build and amplify collective power.
Founded in 1998 by the late Professor Louis Henkin as the anchor for human rights within Columbia Law School, the Human Rights Institute promotes engagement and knowledge of human rights within the law school, throughout the University, and around world. Across the many substantive areas of its work, the Institute builds bridges between scholarship and activism, develops capacity within the legal community, engages governments, and models new strategies for progress.
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