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  • Writer's pictureAlejandra Gonza

We made it through 2021 TOGETHER!

2021 has been another challenging year for human rights globally, in a context of fragile democracies, government abuse of emergency powers, and the evident inequality in which our societies live. Advocacy is and will continue to be pivotal to change our post-pandemic world, and we need to foster innovative leadership of women of color to trigger the change. We have demonstrated once again how critical it is to continue our human rights defense work with creativity and perseverance. Even in a moment of tremendous financial, political and social unrest, our international human rights advocacy has been essential to achieve social justice, to hold governments and corporations accountable, and to support communities in our region. The Washington State Bar Association Civil Rights Law sectioned honored GRA and Alejandra Gonza with the Distinguished Service Award for perseverance and commitment to the expansion or defense of civil rights protections at the local, state or national level. Please find the link to the ceremony here.

In this year in review, we share some highlights of our accomplishments, and deeply appreciate our supporters: Lorenzini Family Foundation, Linksbridge Foundation, the Legal Foundation of Washington, Group Health Foundation, and several individual donors. We can't wait to increase our impact and continue to grow in 2022. On the financial front, we will concentrate our fundraising efforts toward core funding to build our team. Of course, at any time you and your friends can support our critical ongoing work, right here:

Empowering women of color as international human rights leaders

To achieve gender equality and diversity in the practice of international law, we need radical and rapid change in the power structures of influential legal institutions. As a first step, GRA led a successful campaign to appoint a woman as Executive Secretary of the Inter American Commission of Human Rights, after 60 years of mostly male leadership of a mostly female workforce. Our #ItIsTimeForAWomen campaign disrupted the pattern of only trusting men to lead the most important human rights institution in the Americas, by demanding the implementation of gender equality principles in the selection process. We were featured in CNN in Spanish. Now a Mexican feminist and expert in human rights is in charge. Of course, there is a long road ahead, as many international organizations lack sufficient women leadership. We will not take the easy path, and will work to support qualified women candidates who fall outside the usual circle of power and privilege. We will seek to transform the habitual pyramid structure of power in the non-profit sector, towards a shared leadership model that will elevate as many women of color as possible.

Reshaping the conversation on immigrants: freedom and dignity

In 2021, our work with grassroots organizations achieved the release of many migrants trapped in non-criminal detention, and heightened awareness about the many who are still unjustly detained. We helped pass a state law banning for-profit prisons in WA, supported domestic litigation to get workers' rights for immigrants in detention, and shined a spotlight on the dangerous use of pesticides for cleaning at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma (NWDC). Of course, we also continued our cases before the United Nations and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, where we obtained protection orders for numerous endangered immigrants in the United States.

Our Migrant Redress Initiative explores a vision for change from the perspective of undocumented persons who suffered in the Northwest Detention Center. It is a community collaboration between Global Rights Advocacy (GRA), the grassroots organization La Resistencia, Seattle University School of Law's International Human Rights Clinic,

and the University of Washington School of Law's Sustainable International Development Program. We have continuously interviewed detained and released immigrants, in order to document the troubling living conditions at the NWDC and to learn what needs to change on legal and structural levels. In addition, the detained migrant experience will be preserved and conveyed through art and exhibits. We are working with the Wing Luke Museum, the Henry Art Gallery, and other partners to reclaim spaces of memory and reflection for immigrants in WA. Stay tuned for information on our events and exhibits!

Ending "hostage-taking diplomacy" and defending innocent victims kidnapped by authoritarian governments

The taking of hostages is an international crime; at times, governments strategically engage in this crime in order to force other nations to take certain actions. These crimes have affected many families across the globe. We advanced efforts to end this dangerous practice by filing a petition before the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) against Iran, on behalf of British citizen Anoosheh Ashoori and his family. Mr. Ashoori has been detained in Iran since 2017, in order to compel the United Kingdom to pay a debt between the nations. His case was included in the 2021 Reports of the Secretary General and the UN Special Rapporteur in Iran to the United Nations General Assembly, as a case fulfilling the pattern of persecution of individuals for political or economic favors. Our submission to the UNWGAD not only presents the human rights abuses suffered by Mr. Ashoori and his family over more than 4 years, but also urges the UNWGAD to explain the international community's responsibility to prevent, mitigate, recover and redress hostages in this situations. We will work with the Ashoori family until we see them reunited in the UK, as we achieved with Xiyue Wang's case and his Seattle-based family.

Justice for the Zapoteco Community in Oaxaca, México

The Mexican government and the corporation Eólica del Sur built a wind farm in Juchitan de Saragoza (southern Mexico), without the free, prior and informed consent of the Zapoteco indigenous community, causing severe human rights violations. We successfully argued before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that the case should be decided urgently. This case went all the way to the Supreme Court of Mexico, and will constitute a leading case for the Western Hemisphere on indigenous rights and unauthorized corporate projects on ancestral lands. Further, we continued representing the community's leader, Bettina Cruz, who received a protection order from the Inter-American Commission due to several death threats she received.

Where is Iván Torres Millacura? Addressing enforced disappearances by democratic governments in Argentina

In Argentina, the police have been involved in the forced disappearance of numerous young people. This egregious pattern of human rights violations has been overlooked, with attention instead still focused on the forced disappearances occurring years ago during the military dictatorship. In 2021, GRA continued working with María Millacura Llaipén, mother of Iván Torres Millacura, who disappeared in 2003. GRA seeks to end the complete impunity in this case: 18 years after the disappearance, Mr. Torres has not been found and current prosecutions are insufficient. All along, Ms. Millacura has not stopped demanding justice, despite the fact that family members and witnesses in the case have suffered death, death threats and harassment. We will work with her and represent her #UntilWeFindIvan.

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