Implementing the Rights Everyone Has

By Edward Eichler

An impoverished young Cambodian boy attempts to steal a bicycle. He is arrested, tortured by the police, and ends up in prison. Under the law, he has certain rights, including the right to a defender. But in actuality, this boy has no lawyer to advise him and no way to know of his what his rights are.


In 2005, Kofi Annan noted that “the era of declaration is now giving way, as it should, to an era of implementation.” Towards the end of the 20th century, many countries, including Cambodia, passed laws giving their citizens basic rights, such as the right to be free from torture and to have a public defender. It is now the norm to ratify international instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; indeed only 29 states have not ratified the ICCPR to date. The covenant prohibits torture under any circumstances. Cambodia is a party to this treaty.

But having ratified a treaty with a prohibition against torture is utterly meaningless if the implementation of such a principle is lacking—in fact, it may make matters worse, because being a party to such a treaty can give a state that does torture its citizens a veneer of respectability, legitimacy and even prestige. Thus, while the movement towards a widespread recognition of human rights is surely a positive sign, it is only the first step. Actually carrying out the reforms necessary to implement such rights is crucial. But doing so is a long and difficult process.


Published in: on April 2, 2010 at 3:17 pm Comments Off on Implementing the Rights Everyone Has

What About the Poor?

Most everyone can agree that there have been several hot button issues during the course of this presidential debate.  From abortion to the economy, and the environment to the wars, the candidates have battled it out to prove to the American people that they will be best for the country.

However, one major portion of the population has been ignored: the poor.  In the recent presidential campaign, Senators McCain and Obama have focused on how their policies will be beneficial to the middle class.  Even though the candidates agree on very little, they are always able to agree that the middle class has been the hardest hit by the economic recession, and have proposed tax, health care, and energy policies to address their needs.  It makes sense that political candidates would work hard to court the middle class: its members vote at a much higher rate than the lower economic class.

Nevertheless, can’t we all agree that it is not the middle class, but rather America’s poor who suffers the most during hard economic times?  People with adequate resources pick themselves and their families back up when they are knocked down.  People with few or no resources face a completely different struggle.  Members of the middle and upper class take for granted having relatives who can lend money when the bills can’t be paid or having a car to be able to escape the devastation of a hurricane.

While programs that improve health care would surely benefit us all, there is a notable lack of media coverage about programs to assist poor Americans.  It is too easy for the news media to ignore the downtrodden members of society, who are working to change their lives for the better, but often fail in meeting their goals.  Poor Americans are just as patriotic as their wealthier counterparts, but despite putting the values of America first, their efforts to better their own lives are constantly hindered by systemic problems.  Contrary to some negative characterizations, the poor embrace hard work and dedication.


Published in: on October 16, 2008 at 9:43 pm Comments Off on What About the Poor?

U.S. Mayors’ Taskforce on Poverty

In late January 2007, more than 250 mayors nationwide met in Washington, D.C. for the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Although they met to speak about regional and national concerns involving energy, crime, climate change, affordable housing, and education, the most important event of the conference was the unveiling of a new, bipartisan anti-poverty initiative.

The Mayors’ Taskforce on Poverty, Work and Opportunity is available here in pdf format.

The report, chaired by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, noted that in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, mayors across the nation have had a renewed focus on the importance of efforts to alleviate poverty and its attendant ills, such as illiteracy, disease, familial strife.


Published in: on March 22, 2007 at 4:50 pm Comments Off on U.S. Mayors’ Taskforce on Poverty

Honestly, We Don’t Care About Your Credit

It’s been difficult to write this quick blog post about payday loans in Virginia. Every time I perform a simple web search, I’m bombarded with hundreds of links offering me quick, free, money. They “don’t care about my credit.” Luckily, I do.

On Friday, the Virginia House of Delegates passed a series of reforms targeting payday lenders. It’s now been passed by both the Virginia House and Senate, and it’s up to Gov. Kaine to stamp his approval. However, there’s a large contingency of advocates who don’t think that the reforms go far enough to protect consumers. They would like to see Gov. Kaine do more to make sure the compounding interest doesn’t send more Virginians into a never-ending abyss of debt.

According to a panel at UVA’s law school in November of last year:

“The payday loan industry in Virginia has grown from a $165 million business in 2002 to more than $1 billion worth of transactions in 2005.”


Published in: on February 19, 2007 at 10:30 pm Comments Off on Honestly, We Don’t Care About Your Credit

Dorothy Roberts: Child Welfare’s Paradox

Today was the annual Wythe Lecture at William & Mary, which featured Dorothy Roberts, the Kirkland & Ellis Professor of Law at Northwestern Law School. The topic of this year’s lecture was the operation of the foster care system in urban, African-American neighborhoods.

While I do not have a transcript, I jotted down some of the unnerving statistics with which Prof. Roberts began her talk. African-American children account for only 13% of the total child population, but they make up one-third of children in foster care. In some ubran neighborhoods, such as central Harlem, 1 in 10 children is assigned to a foster parent. As a result, foster care agencies have become a pervasive presence in African-American neighborhoods in cities like Chicago, New York and Philadelphia.Chicago According to one Chicago woman with whom Prof. Roberts spoke, DHFS agents were everywhere and residents had to be careful what they said on the streets. This gist, it was clear, was that residents of these neighborhoods were under constant government supervision.  Though neighborhood residents resented this paternalistic government presence, they simultaneously expressed a yearning for more services, more help from the agency. This paradox was at the heart of Prof. Roberts’ lecture.

So why do the residents of such inner-city neighborhoods simultaneously resent and desire a stronger DHFS presence?  The explanation, according to Prof. Roberts, is that poor, inner-city families are using foster care as a means to obtain otherwise unavailable social services. Monthly payments to foster parents provide incentives to poor families to enroll in foster programs, often transferring their children to a relative in what is termed “kinship caregiving.” Because their children are nearby, the trade-off in privacy is worth the benefit of foster payments. Illustrating this sentiment was the Chicagoan who complained that the only way for families to get help was call the Abuse hotline. Even if the help was needed for something other than abuse. And in exchange for this “help,” mothers must give up their children and relinquish significant privacy rights. As Prof. Roberts questioned, why should one segment of the population be forced to make this choce:  a welfare check versus the loss of their children and the invasion of their privacy.  Is this trade-off the purpose for which the foster system was designed?

One reason for the current forced trade-off, which was unmentioned by Prof. Roberts, lies in our government’s choice in the 1990s to essentially dismantle the welfare system. Perhaps the system required the change, but rather than offer a fix, state governments reduced the welfare rolls, took the money the federal government had allotted for welfare and spent it on things that had little to do with solving the systemic problems of urban poverty. So while tax dollars may no longer be bankrolling Aid to Families with Dependent Children, the problems of the urban poor have not changed, and in fact persist. Now it’s worth noting that between 1959 and 1977, the “percentage of people living in poverty was cut in half.” But the problem didn’t solve itself; it took a concentrated effort of government-sponsored social services, designed specifically to address certain neighborhood ailments.  Simply cutting such services and giving up won’t solve our still-persistent problems and they won’t be solved by leaving our foster care agencies, which are supposed to be focused on children’s needs, as the neighborhood’s sole provider of social services.  In fact, as Prof. Roberts’ lecture demonstrated, when no social services exist, desperate families are forced to give up their children and privacy just to get by. This is not only an inefficient use of our tax dollars, but it is a disturbing injustice. Unfortunately, I can’t say I’m hopeful for any change: after all, any kind of spending preceded by the word “domestic” and “discretionary” is destined for the dustbin in this year’s budget. (more…)

Published in: on February 13, 2007 at 12:52 am Comments (1)