Citing Growing Abuses, ACLU Intensifies International Human Rights Advocacy in the United States

December 6, 2004 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – Intensifying its efforts to hold the United States government accountable under universally recognized human rights principles, the American Civil Liberties Union today announced that it has hired three full-time advocates to apply human rights strategies to the ACLU’s work on national security issues, immigrants’ rights, women’s rights, and criminal justice.

“From the grassroots level all the way to the Supreme Court, international human rights law is emerging as an important tool in the struggle for justice here at home,” said ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson, who is heading up the advocacy effort.

“America’s credibility as a beacon of democracy and fairness is steadily diminishing as the Bush administration continues to commit human rights abuses both at home and abroad,” Beeson added. “Given the current climate for human rights in the United States, our human rights advocacy must–and will–continue to grow.”

In conjunction with International Human Rights Week (Dec. 6-10), the ACLU will highlight some of its current human rights advocacy throughout the week. The ACLU is jointly sponsoring a roundtable discussion with the Open Society Institute on the treatment of immigrants after 9/11 and releasing a related report (Dec. 8); issuing a report on how the death penalty weakens U.S. international interests (Dec. 9); and releasing its yearly review of legal developments in the international civil liberties field (Dec. 10).

Tomorrow (Dec. 7) the ACLU will release documents it has recently obtained from the FBI and the Defense Intelligence Agency through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit about detainees held by the United States at military bases and other detention facilities overseas.

Working with coalition partners, the ACLU’s ongoing efforts urge the United States government to respect human rights both at home and abroad, and include:

  • Filing a complaint with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of 13 men who were arbitrarily arrested and detained after the September 11 attacks.
  • Demanding information about the use of torture and other illegal interrogation techniques in U.S. detention facilities abroad, in violation of the Convention Against Torture and other laws.
  • Documenting and challenging the U.S. government’s misuse of the material witness statute to detain Muslim men without charges (in a joint project with Human Rights Watch).
  • Monitoring military commissions in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba and posting daily dispatches about the proceedings (see
  • Promoting groundbreaking New York City legislation that would implement the principles of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
  • Fighting federal legislation that would make it an impeachable offense for federal judges to rely on international law in their decisions.
  • Organizing international pressure to urge the United States to abolish the death penalty.

The new human rights advocates joining the ACLU are:

  • Steven Watt, who comes to the ACLU from the Center for Constitutional Rights, where he coordinated litigation on behalf of detainees at Guantanamo.
  • Jamil Dakwar, most recently from Human Rights Watch, where he worked on torture in Egypt, Morocco and Israel. Dakwar was one of the founding lawyers of Adalah, one of the most prominent human rights groups in Israel focusing on Arab Palestinian minority rights.
  • Chandra Bhatnagar, who comes to the ACLU after two years at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, where he provided legal assistance to low-wage workers from South Asia using a community-based human rights perspective.

Three other recently hired ACLU attorneys will also focus on human rights. Anjana Malhotra, an ACLU/Aryeh Neier Human Rights Fellow, began work this fall at the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project after completing the first year of her joint fellowship at Human Rights Watch. Bassina Farbenblum, an Australian lawyer and human rights advocate, began a fellowship with the Immigrants’ Rights Project last summer. Claudia Flores began work this fall as a staff attorney with the Women’s Rights Project, bringing a strong background in international human rights. LaShawn Warren continues to spearhead the use of human rights strategies at the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office.

The reports and other related materials will be posted on the ACLU’s International Human Rights web page at: /International/InternationalMain.cfm.

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