Category Archives: Human Rights

Putting Human Rights First

The Foundation was fortunate to host a dynamic speaker straight from the turmoil of Washington, DC this week, with several events featuring Rob Berschinski, Senior Vice President for Policy at Human Rights First, one of the Foundation’s grantees. Rob was most recently serving in the Obama Administration as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. He previously served under Ambassador Samantha Power at the UN.

Current and alumni Fellows Engage with Rob Berschinski

Rob spoke with our Jackson Fellows about his unusual career path, which began as an intelligence officer in the Air Force and subsequently an Iraq War veteran. He came to understand the U.S. role in human rights as integral to America’s national security and fundamental values, a position close to the heart of the Jackson legacy. He spoke to the Fellows of wanting to make a difference in that arena and finding policy making in Washington as the outlet for his convictions. The young professionals were particularly interested as to how Rob tries to be effective in a polarized political environment. In Human Rights First he found an organization – and a role – where he can champion a bipartisan, reasonably centrist viewpoint, crossing both sides of the aisle, “working with folks on a quiet basis.” He acknowledged the challenges: “This is the most fractured U.S. foreign policy in recent memory,” he said.

The Traditional Group Shot with the Fellows

Rob and I also had a discussion in partnership with the World Affairs Council, to a packed room of interested community members, students and retired military leaders. Russia came up a lot — both with the current focus on Russia’s role in Europe and the United States, stirring up trouble and meddling in elections, but also with the influence of Russian President Vladimir Putin on other right-wing leaning states in Europe and elsewhere. “He is empowering and supporting other strongmen who are modeling themselves after him,” Rob said.

The Jackson Foundation and Human Rights First have been working together for several years to bring attention to Russia’s negative influence on a democratic Europe and its efforts to rile up social and political divisions in our own country, something of which we are now well aware. “Russia’s weaponized info-war – disinformation and hate speech – is undercutting values that we thought were well-established in post-War Europe,” he warned.

The Trump Administration, the enfeebled and demoralized State Department, and the lack of American political leadership also came up often, particularly in the questions Rob fielded throughout his two days in Seattle. “This administration doesn’t place a premium on diplomacy,” he lamented.

Rob speaks with students and faculty at the Jackson School

We are grateful that Rob could also meet with students and faculty at the University’s Jackson School, where despite being the first week of classes, the audience was eager to get an overview of pressing human rights concerns such as the Rohingya Muslims killings in Burma and the ensuing refugee crisis, the Saudi bombing in Yemen, and the many other hotspots and humanitarian flashpoints that crowd today’s front pages. In all his appearances, the question of human rights at home came up again and again.

Rob acknowledged a growing activism at the state and local level and urged his audiences, young and old, to stay engaged and committed to American democratic values. “The world has always looked to us for leadership,” he concluded. Let us hope that will continue in these challenging times.

Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director

Uniting Global Funders to Support Women’s Rights and the Rule of Law

On July 10,  2017 Jackson Leadership Fellow Radha Friedman convened funders from around the world in The Hague, The Netherlands, on the eve of the fifth World Justice Forum. It was a historic convening that brought together funders to explore how new Trump administration foreign policy may affect issues including the rights of women and girls, and how funders from other parts of the world can respond. The convening also counted as Radha’s project for the Jackson Leadership Fellows program.

The transition from the Obama era to the Trump administration has brought a host of questions, potential challenges, and many unknowns. In the last few months, as budget priorities have shifted, many bipartisan programs to protect the rights of women and girls and keep them healthy and safe have been defunded.  As gender inequality is highly correlated with military conflict, human rights abuses, and economic stability, several countries are now concerned that the US can no longer be relied upon to champion democracy and fundamental rights.

Radha Friedman at World Justice Forum

Radha co-led the discussion with Julie Broome, Director of ARIADNE, a network of European funders, to explore the challenges that new US foreign policies pose for civil society organizations working to protect human rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights, environmental rights, etc., and opportunities for public and private donors in other nations to step forward. Julie is also an alum of the Jackson Foundation staff!

Saskia Brechenmacher, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, shared her research on the global trend of closing space for civil society. She explained how the US fits into the larger context of governments cracking down on civil society organizations working to protect the rights of women and disadvantaged groups, often by arguing that funds should be spent fighting terrorism instead. Since 2014, more than 60 countries have restricted civil society’s ability to access funding via expansive anti-terrorism laws.

Paige Alexander, a former senior official from the US State Department, provided additional context, including that the current US Cabinet has the fewest women of any administration in 40 years, and funding for women’s rights has been cut sharply since the new administration began. One of the most prominent examples was the US administration’s recent decision to defund the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN’s primary supporter of safe childbirth, gender-based violence response, and advocacy against abusive practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation.

US funding to protect the rights of women and girls has historically been bipartisan, because promoting women’s rights has demonstrated increased global stability, reduced poverty in developing nations and fuels economic growth. Global research confirms that the best predictor of a state’s stability is how it treats women.

The roundtable discussion provided an opportunity for funders to not only share their concerns, but ideas for action. A funder in Hungary shared that shortly after Trump’s election, the Open Society Foundations announced a $10 million rapid response fund to support those targeted by hateful rhetoric, designed to support “human rights, the rule of law, and an inclusive society.”

A funder from The Netherlands noted the creation of a global fund to reduce the funding gap of $600 million left when the US defunded the UNFPA and pledged $10 million, followed by several other countries, as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

While there is still much to do in the months and years to come, this collaborative spirit among funders—despite different funding mandates, laws, and cultures—is a strong step forward. This collaboration embodies the spirit of the late Senator Jackson and his ability to reach across the aisle to gain support for shared goals, and shows both resilience and optimism about our future.

US Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Radha Friedman

The meeting concluded and was followed by remarks from US Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who beautifully encapsulated the sentiment in the room by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King: “The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.”

We are proud of Radha and impressed with her project and the quality of the convening that she pulled together.

Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director

 

A Jackson Fellow Inspires More Young People

Anna Marie Jackson Laurence and I were fortunate to participate in the Holocaust Center for Humanity’s Student Leadership Board meeting last week.  Anna Marie, Senator Jackson’s daughter and an officer of the Foundation, and I spoke to the group of 7th – 11th graders about Senator Jackson’s human rights legacy and achievements and why Senator Jackson was so committed to international human rights, an interest that stemmed in part from Jackson’s post-war visit to the just-liberated Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.

IMG_0411Our discussion with the young people touched on Jackson’s role in the Soviet Jewry movement and the passage of the historic Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which allowed over a million Russian Jews a to leave the USSR and other Eastern Bloc countries.  We also engaged them in a conversation about leadership, distributing copies of “The Nature of Leadership,” a publication that showcases Jackson’s leadership qualities and brings them into focus for today’s younger generations.

IMG_0422
Lara Iglitzin, Anna Marie Jackson Laurence, and Ilana Cone Kennedy

The Student Leadership Board is a new creation of the Holocaust Center for Humanity.  It is the Fellowship project of Ilana Cone Kennedy, one of this year’s Jackson Leadership Fellows. Ilana is being co-mentored by Anna Marie and me.  Ilana wanted to replicate some of the experiences she is having as a Jackson Leadership Fellow and create a youth board where high school students could work as a team, and as individuals, on leadership as well as issues related to the Holocaust Center, and spread the word to their very diverse schools throughout the region.  Here’s how Ilana described the origins of her project:

“In January 2015, the Holocaust Center expanded to a much larger space.  For the first time we could host meetings and events on site, we could display artifacts, and invite student groups.  We realized that while we had great input from teachers, we lacked the direct input from students. The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that this was a huge piece that we were missing  – we were not hearing in any structured way from the very people we wanted most to reach.  The Jackson Leadership Fellowship program served as an excellent model for a meaningful program that could be replicated with students.”

Ilana initially thought she’d create a small group experience – but couldn’t resist the thirty young people who applied to be part of the Student Leadership Board, so she accepted them all!  They range from 13-17 years old, but come together in their caring about the issues that the Holocaust Center focuses on – including learning more about the Holocaust, human rights, and genocide.  The board is meeting monthly, and students will have the opportunity to meet with community leaders, provide feedback to the Center on its programs, and serve as junior ambassadors to their schools and communities.

Student Leadership Board Feb 2016 w Steve Adler cropAnna Marie and I were impressed with the scope of interests of the students – working on projects such as video promotions of the Center; data collection on the Armenian genocide; speaking to their classmates about the Center; and making posters and other graphic materials to illustrate the work of the Center for their peers.

It is exciting to see that the Foundation’s work with the Jackson Leadership Fellows has begun to translate further afield, as Fellows like Ilana take what they’re learning and apply those lessons in the community.  Learn more about the Holocaust Center for Humanities Student Leadership board and about all the wonderful Jackson Fellows.

Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director

 

Spotlight on Russia

This month the Jackson Foundation partnered with the World Affairs Council of Seattle on a program to focus on recent, troubling events in Russia — with a particular emphasis on the murder of Russian politician Boris Nemtsov steps away from the Kremlin.  The event, which was sold out, featured a panel including Jacqueline Miller, President and CEO of the World Affairs Council and a specialist in Russian foreign policy and U.S.-Russia relations; and Dr. Vladimir Raskin, a Seattle attorney who in the early 1990s co-founded Moscow Center for Human Rights; I joined the panel as well. Carol Vipperman, Senior Advisor to the Foundation and formerly president of the Foundation for Russian and American Economic Cooperation, moderated.

Vladimir

The mood was somber, given the recent assassination and its implications for the future of Russian society and political life.  My remarks focused on the diminishing space for civil society and NGOs and described the crackdown on the media in Russia today.  Vladimir reflected on the span of more than twenty years since the hopeful time when the USSR collapsed and civil society emerged.  That spark of energy and excitement about the possibility of a more democratic Russia has largely dissipated in the wake of this murder and all the murders, draconian laws and political aggression that has been evident in President Putin’s Russia of late.  Jackie Miller highlighted the complexity of relations between the U.S. and Russia and spoke about the impact of sanctions on the Russian domestic economy.  She underlined the uncertainty in Russia’s foreign policy in 2015.  “At least during the Cold War, we understood the rules of the game.  Now it’s anyone’s guess.”

Lara

The crowd had many questions, ranging from the prospects for Russia’s opposition politicians after Nemtsov to the rise of nationalism and what role the West should be playing.  The war in Ukraine loomed large, both in panelists’ remarks and in the questions posed.  Panelists differed as to their predictions about what Putin intended next:  where would he stop?  Were the Baltics next? Moldova?  Would he be satisfied with Crimea, or Eastern Ukraine?  The discussion reflected  Putin’s success at surprising his critics and Western observers today.

Audience

In response to a question regarding which Russia specialists to follow to best assess the situation today, Jackie pointed to an op-ed that I authored in Crosscut, the online magazine, on the murder of Nemtsov and implications for Russia’s future.

We plan to monitor events in Russia closely.

Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director

UW Center for Human Rights Brings World to Students

Angelina Snodgrass Godoy, the Helen H. Jackson Chair in Human Rights and Director, the University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights at the Jackson School, has continued to forge links between the Jackson legacy and current human rights concerns.  With Foundation support, the Center has sought to build partnerships with organizations that will extend its reach.

Angelina greatly values what practitioners can add to a student’s education about human rights, so the Center has made it a priority to bring that real-world element into its work.  One delegation sponsored by the U.S. State Department consisted of visiting human rights advocates working in the area of human rights and the environment.  This exposed the students to discussion about environmental sustainability and rights in several different countries, as delegation members interacted with students about using a human rights lens to view environmental injustice and challenges.

Helen Jackson Chair Angelina Godoy (top left) and students at Center
Helen Jackson Chair Angelina Godoy (top left) and students at Center

The Center’s partnership with Landesa, an organization promoting international land rights for the world’s poorest families, is another showcase for on-the-ground human rights activity.  The Center has built an ongoing relationship with Landesa, taking advantage of visiting international land rights practitioners to bring them to the University and talk to students in formal and informal settings.  These events, begun a few years ago, have been so successful that they have been repeated annually, so that Landesa Fellows now routinely visit the Center in the fall.  Other faculty members have taken advantage of the visiting Fellows to bring them to talk to classes that relate to land rights, such as poverty, population, women rights, human rights, and Asian studies.

Visiting Land Rights Advocates from Landesa
Visiting Land Rights Advocates from Landesa

We are proud of our connection with the Human Rights Center and pleased that it has found ways to reflect on Senator Jackson’s legacy by engaging contemporary human rights in innovative and meaningful ways.  I’m certain that the students are benefiting from the links with policymakers and other advocates at the frontlines of human rights work worldwide.

Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director

Russia’s Freedoms in Retreat

Putin the Chessmaster
Putin the Chessmaster

As part of the Foundation’s work with civil society activists in Russia, I recently interviewed leading journalists, human rights advocates and civic leaders in Moscow about current trends and concerns in Russia’s civil society.  Uniformly, people are not hopeful about the direction Russia is heading.  Read my thoughts in today’s op ed piece:

Seattle Times Op Ed on Russia’s Deteriorating Civil Society

Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director