Humanists for Social Justice and Environmental Action supports Human Rights, Social and Economic Justice, Environmental Activism and Planetary Ethics in North America & Globally, with particular reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other Human Rights UN treaties and conventions listed above.


A World Without the Death Penalty - Yes! Magazine

A World Without the Death Penalty - Yes! Magazine


A veteran activist describes the international movement to abolish capital punishment. In this excerpt from 13 Ways of Looking at the Death Penalty (Seven Stories Press, 2015), Italian activist Mario Marazziti describes the worldwide campaign against capital punishment and lighting up Rome’s Coliseum to mark humanity’s progress.


Human Rights Watch Briefing Note for the Nineteenth Session of the International Criminal Court Assembly of States Parties | Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch Briefing Note for the Nineteenth Session of the International Criminal Court Assembly of States Parties | Human Rights Watch:

This is a decisive moment for the ICC. The court’s mandate has been under extreme pressure from the United States and, at the same time, a number of ongoing processes offer important opportunities to strengthen the court’s performance. These processes are crucial as a strengthened ICC firmly supported by its states parties will be more resilient to efforts to derail its mandate.  

States parties have the opportunity to significantly advance the court’s work through the Assembly. The Assembly is due to elect the next prosecutor and six new judges—a third of the ICC’s 18-member bench. At the same time, states parties are designing the framework to follow-up on the findings and recommendations by the independent experts tasked by the Assembly at its last session to carry out a review of the court and the Rome Statute system. They are also laying out their plans to advance parallel initiatives to strengthen the system.

This briefing note sets out recommendations to states parties for the Assembly session in the following priority areas: 1) enhancing the ICC’s delivery of justice through a process of review and bolstering political and diplomatic support to the court; 2) electing the best possible leadership for the court; and 3) ensuring adequate resources. 

(note: I was present for the FIRST inauguration of the Court in 2003, which was a very moving moment with a former judge from Auschwitz.  Of course it's under great pressure, and we can be proud that several Canadians are involved, including current Justice Kimberly Prost). 


What future for ethical AI after Google scientist firing?

The firing of a prominent scholar and advocate for Black women in tech has raised questions about the sector's commitment to independent ethical AI research. The incident has raised questions about Google's commitment to independent ethical AI research, as accusations of bias in algorithims and the ethics of facial recognition systems are increasingly coming to the fore.
"This episode has cast a pall over what we can say, or how it will be received," said Alex Hanna, a researcher on the Google AI Ethics team who studies potential bias in data informing computer vision in technology such as facial recognition and self-driving cars.  
According to an October study by Harvard Medical School and the University of Toronto, more than half of AI-tenured faculty at four major U.S. universities were receiving funds from from just a handful of tech companies, including Facebook, Microsoft, and Google.  "Dr Gebru's firing is provoking serious questions about to what extent is the business-side informing the ethical AI research being done at Google," Alkhatib said. Several AI scholars and researchers have voiced similar concerns.  
Ameet Rahane, a U.C. Berkeley graduate who studies computational neuroscience, said he'd long hoped to be offered a job at Google to work on AI after he finished a PhD.    "Now ... I would need to think long and hard before accepting it," he said.


Human Rights Day | December 10, United Nations

Human Rights Day | United Nations

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home -- so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. [...] Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger worlld"  Eleanor Roosevelt

Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December — the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). 
The UDHR is a milestone document that proclaims the inalienable rights which everyone is entitled to as a human being - regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Available in more than 500 languages, it is the most translated document in the world. 
 2020 Theme: Recover Better - Stand Up for Human Rights 
This year’s Human Rights Day theme relates to the COVID-19 pandemic and focuses on the need to build back better by ensuring Human Rights are central to recovery efforts. We will reach our common global goals only if we are able to create equal opportunities for all, address the failures exposed and exploited by COVID-19, and apply human rights standards to tackle entrenched, systematic, and intergenerational inequalities, exclusion and discrimination. 
 10 December is an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of human rights in re-building the world we want, the need for global solidarity as well as our interconnectedness and shared humanity. Under UN Human Rights’ generic call to action “Stand Up for Human rights”, we aim to engage the general public, our partners and the UN family to bolster transformative action and showcase practical and inspirational examples that can contribute to recovering better and fostering more resilient and just societies. 
 Human Rights and the Sustainable Development Goals 
Human rights are at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as in the absence of human dignity we cannot hope to drive sustainable development. Human Rights are driven by progress on all SDGs, and the SDGs are driven by advancements on human rights. Find out how UN agencies strive to put human rights at the centre of their work.


The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women

The National Day of Remembrance and action on Violance Against Women

(note: there is usually a vigil at the University of Toronto, but here is information for this Day of Remembrance, if you wish to tweet or note the event.)  

Every year, from November 25 (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) to December 10 (World Human Rights Day), Canadians observe the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. It is an opportunity to come together to call out, speak up and renew our commitment to end gender-based violence.

It has been over 30 years since the murder of 14 young women at Polytechnique Montréal (December 6, 1989). This act of violent misogyny shook our country and led Parliament to designate December 6 as The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women.

On December 6, we remember:

Geneviève Bergeron
Hélène Colgan
Nathalie Croteau
Barbara Daigneault
Anne-Marie Edward
Maud Haviernick
Maryse Laganière
Maryse Leclair
Anne-Marie Lemay
Sonia Pelletier
Michèle Richard
Annie St-Arneault
Annie Turcotte
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz

As we mourn their loss and honour their memory, we reaffirm our commitment to fight the hatred that led to this tragedy, and the misogyny that still exists today. In Canada and around the world, women, girls, LGBTQ2 (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two spirit) and gender diverse individuals face unacceptable violence and discrimination. Gender-based violence in Canada has been magnified and amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been reports from police services, shelters and local organization of an increase in calls related to gender-based violence across Canada during the pandemic.

The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women is about remembering those who have experienced gender-based violence and those who we have lost to it; it is also a time to take action. Working together we can help prevent and address gender-based violence by remembering and learning from our past, listening to survivors, and speaking up against harmful behaviour.

December 6 falls within the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. Add your voice to the conversation between November 25 and December 10 and share the ways you are being part of the solution to end gender-based violence using the hashtag #16Days.rance and Action on Violence against Women


Humans waging 'suicidal war' on nature - UN chief Antonio Guterres

Humans waging 'suicidal war' on nature - UN chief Antonio Guterres - BBC News

"Our planet is broken," the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, has warned.

Humanity is waging what he describes as a "suicidal" war on the natural world.

"Nature always strikes back, and is doing so with gathering force and fury," he told a BBC special event on the environment.

Mr Guterres wants to put tackling climate change at the heart of the UN's global mission.

In a speech entitled State of the Planet, he announced that its "central objective" next year will be to build a global coalition around the need to reduce emissions to net zero.

Net zero refers to cutting greenhouse gas emissions as far as possible and balancing any further releases by removing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere.

Mr Guterres said that every country, city, financial institution and company "should adopt plans for a transition to net zero emissions by 2050". In his view, they will also need to take decisive action now to put themselves on the path towards achieving this vision.

The objective, said the UN secretary general, will be to cut global emissions by 45% by 2030 compared with 2010 levels.


update on Dec 10, Human Rights Day

Every year on 10 December, the world celebrates Human Rights Day, the very day when, in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Declaration consists of a preamble and 30 articles that set out a broad range of fundamental human rights and freedoms to which all of us, everywhere around the world, are entitled. It guarantees our rights without distinction of nationality, place of residence, gender, national or ethnic origin, religion, language, or any other status.

The Declaration was drafted by representatives of all regions and legal traditions. It has over time been accepted as a contract between Governments and their peoples. Virtually all States have accepted the Declaration. It has since served as the foundation for an expanding system of human rights protection that today focuses also on vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and migrants.

See more info at the link above


As cobalt demand booms, companies must do more to protect Congolese miners

As cobalt demand booms, companies must do more to protect Congolese miners

The Democratic Republic of Congo is the major source of some of the minerals used to manufacture components in household appliances, mobile phones, electric vehicles and jewellery.
The mineral extraction industry is the backbone of the Congolese economy. Copper and cobalt, which is a by-product of copper, accounts for 85% of the country’s exports. Because of the huge mineral deposits available in the country, it is often the only sourcing option for companies.
Cobalt is an essential mineral for the lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles, laptops and smart phones. It offers the highest energy density and is key for boosting battery life.
The Katanga region in the south of the Democratic Republic of Congo is home to more than half of the world’s cobalt resources, and over 70% of the current cobalt production worldwide takes place in the country. Demand for cobalt is projected to surge fourfold by 2030 in pace with the electric vehicle boom.
However, mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo is risky because of the prevalence of artisanal small-scale mining. Artisanal mining is often carried out by hand, using basic equipment. It’s a largely informal and labour-intensive activity on which more than two million Congolese miners depend for income.
And this mining method comes with major human rights risks such as child labour and dangerous working conditions. Fatal accidents in unsafe tunnels occur frequently. And there are detailed reports such as the one by Amnesty International on the prevalence of child labour in these operations.
Because artisanal miners frequently extract cobalt illegally on industrial mining sites, human rights issues cannot be excluded from industrial production. Artisanally mined cobalt also often gets mixed with the industrial production when it is sold to intermediaries in the open market. Typically, it is then shipped to refineries in China for further processing and then sold to battery manufacturers around the world. In this complex supply chain, separating, tracking and tracing artisanally mined cobalt is almost impossible.
International human rights organisations have flagged human rights abuses, putting pressure on multinational corporations that buy Congolese cobalt. In response to these pressures, some automotive and electronics companies are currently not sourcing cobalt from the Democratic Republic of the Congo because they want to avoid tainting their brand image.
But that strategy won’t work for long, as no other country will be able to satisfy the rising demand for cobalt. The production of other cobalt-exporting countries such as Russia, Canada, Australia and the Philippines accounts for less than 5% of the global production.
How companies in the cobalt supply chain can source responsible cobalt from the Democratic Republic of the Congo amid these human rights risks is a question worth exploring. We address this question in a recent study, in which we suggest companies should acknowledge the need for common standards for responsibly mined cobalt.

Currently, there is no common understanding of what “responsible” artisanal cobalt should entail. The quest for responsible mineral sourcing is not a cobalt-specific challenge. The Congolese mining code establishes certain basic standards such as the prohibition of miners under the age of 18. There are also requirements to register as an artisanal miner and become a member of a mining cooperative.
One approach towards common standards is to mount “artisanal and small-scale mining formalisation projects”. The few existing projects establish rules for the mining site that are defined and enforced by the project partners. These usually consist of cooperatives, mine operators and buyers.
One of us visited two active formalisation projects in Kolwezi in Katanga province. Based on the observations during the September 2019 visit, we believe that formalisation is a viable path to making artisanal mining safe and fair.
Formalisation works because operational measures are put in place to mitigate safety risks. For example, the extraction is supervised by mining engineers. Also, the project site is fenced off and has exit and entry controls. This ensures that no underage, pregnant or drunk miners can work on site.
But for formalisation projects to yield “responsible” artisanal cobalt, common standards and consistent enforcement are necessary. Currently, formalisation means different things in different sites.
National standards for mine safety exist, but they need to be enforced uniformly. Where current standards fall short of reassuring buyers, further measures need to be developed by a consortium of the key players. This should involve mining cooperatives, concession holders, the government, civil society organisations, and other companies along the battery supply chain.
The 2018 amendments to the mining code introduced a legal basis for the subcontracting of artisanal miners by industrial mining companies. In January 2020, the Congolese government created an entity that will oversee artisanal and small-scale mining activities. These are positive steps.
The development of artisanal mining standards through a process involving key players needs to build on and strengthen these existing national laws and strategies. Furthermore, private actors should support government efforts by identifying parameters and means of evaluation to ensure the consistent enforcement of these standards. A discussion about responsible sourcing strategies and practices is indispensable for all brands that care about the human rights implications of their operations.

To illustrate how a multi-stakeholder discussion over responsible sourcing standards translates into practice, we can examine tunnel construction to extract the ores underground at artisanal and small-scale mining sites.
The first issue is whether tunnels should be allowed at all or whether responsible artisanal cobalt should take place exclusively from open pits. Open pits are considered significantly safer. If only open pits are considered responsible, who will pay for the earth-moving machines needed to create open pits?  If tunnels are allowed, how deep can they be? While relevant mining regulations limit tunnel depth to 30 metres and tunnel inclination to 15%, international buyers of cobalt do not consider this safe.  Given that horizontal tunnel construction is particularly dangerous, should horizontal tunnels be banned entirely from sites? If tunnels are permitted, should miners receive training on construction safety, and if so, who will pay for these programmes?
These processes and regulations must be standardised and widely adopted. Only when this happens will automotive and electronics companies be reassured that they are not contributing to human rights violations. And only then will they feel confident buying Congolese cobalt.


Environmental Defence Canada - Blue box targets too low

Environmental Defence Canada
The Ontario government is proposing amendments to the Blue Box program. But the draft regulation misses the mark – especially when it comes to plastics. Without serious reform, the proposed regulation will mean more of the same: growing amounts of plastic pollution in our landfills, rivers, and parks. We can’t let that happen.
The draft Blue Box regulation proposes to shift the cost and management of the recycling program from municipalities to producers. This policy approach is called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and is a step in the right direction. 
But EPR is only effective when high, material specific recycling targets are established and enforced. Without high targets and strict penalties, companies aren’t incentivized to make the kinds of investments needed to improve recycling in Ontario.
The draft regulation includes dismal plastic recycling targets. In 2030 producers will still be sending 60 per cent of their plastic bags, films, and pouches to landfills and incinerators; and 40 per cent of their plastic bottles, tubs, and jars. This is unacceptable.
Reforming the Blue Box program is a huge opportunity to clean up Ontario’s plastic waste. But the province’s proposal is a miss. Fortunately, you still have a chance to help the province get it right. 


Take action today! Tell Ontario to fix its draft Blue Box regulation and make one that puts the environment first.


Your letter will be sent to: Hon. Jeff Yurek , Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks
CC'd: Jamelia Alleyne, Senior Policy Analyst and your MPP

MZOs: Help stop Ontario from bulldozing nature - David Suzuki Foundation

Help stop Ontario from bulldozing nature - David Suzuki Foundation:

Help stop Ontario from bulldozing nature The Government of Ontario is moving ahead in its frenzy to get rid of environmental protect

The Government of Ontario is moving ahead in its frenzy to get rid of environmental protection rules.

It recently overrode a mechanism to protect provincially significant wetlands (PSWs) in Vaughan by allowing, under a minister’s zoning order (MZO), three PSWs to be destroyed for a new Walmart distribution center. It also approved the destruction of a large, rare coastal PSW in Pickering, to make way for the construction of a warehouse. More than 30 MZOs have been issued this year.

Conservation authorities (CAs) have the mandate to ensure conservation, restoration and responsible management of Ontario’s water, land and natural habitats. They play a critical role at the municipal level as storehouses of in-depth knowledge and data about local watersheds, and by managing ecological services delivered to municipal residents.

The Pickering CA did not agree to the permit needed for the warehouse development. Now the province is taking aim at their ability of CAs to safeguard regional ecosystems.

Stripping conservation authorities’ decision-making ability drastically increases developers’ free rein in the province.

Please take a moment to let the province know that:

  • The use of MZOs to derail protection measures must be stopped; 
  • Recently issued MZOs that do so must be revoked; and 
  • Conservation authorities must maintain their current powers. 
Petition at the link above.


CBC Tandem must be cancelled

The CBC's credibility is not for sale!
A few months ago, the CBC announced the launch of Tandem, its new branded content initiative. "Branded content" is a euphemism for secret advertising: articles, podcasts, and other programming that look and feel like CBC content but are actually bought and paid-for by private companies.

Tandem will hinder Canadians' trust in our public broadcaster. We have to stop it.

Now more than ever, we need a trustworthy, dependable CBC to bring us news and entertainment that serve our interest – that is, the public interest. Big Tech platforms like Facebook sell us out to advertisers all day every day. The CBC should be a citizens' oasis from such predatory commercialization. Tandem puts that oasis at risk.

We know times are tough. The pandemic has hit the CBC hard, and government support for our public broadcaster is woefully insufficient. But sponsored content is not an acceptable answer to the CBC's problems. We can't save the CBC by killing its soul.

Please join us and hundreds of current and past CBC employees by telling the CBC's Board to drop Tandem now. Sign our letter.


Retain the Current Mandate of the Province’s 36 Conservation Authorities | Conservation Authorities Under Fire

Retain the Current Mandate of the Province’s 36 Conservation Authorities | Conservation Authorities Under Fire:
On November 5th, the Government of Ontario revealed its plans to severely curtail the role of Conservation Authorities in watershed planning and management. Schedule 6 of omnibus Budget Bill 229 proposes numerous changes to the Conservation Authorities Act (CAA) that will undermine efforts to conserve biodiversity and build community resilience to climate change.
 The Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) has prepared a preliminary analysis of Schedule 6, outlining the proposed changes and their implications. Among the key concerns identified are: Narrowing of the scope and powers of Conservation Authorities, impeding the achievement of the overall purpose of the CAA, which is to “provide for the organization and delivery of programs and services that further the conservation, restoration, development and management of natural resources in watersheds in Ontario;”
Restricting the duties of Conservation Authorities’ members so that they no longer must act to further the watershed-based mandates of the Conservation Authorities, but rather can act only on behalf of the narrower interests of their respective municipalities; Reducing the ability of Conservation Authorities to act as independent public bodies in land use planning, including removing their ability to seek to appeal municipal planning decisions; Introducing new rights for developers to force fast-tracking of development approvals and to appeal decisions they do not like, without providing the same opportunity to citizens who may wish to challenge decisions that damage the environment; and Giving the Minister new power to overturn a conservation authority’s decision to refuse to issue a permit for development.
Alarmingly, the proposed changes were introduced as part of a budget bill, which means that the public’s right to comment under the Environmental Bill of Rights is over-ridden, as explained in the Environmental Registry of Ontario notice (ERO # 019-2646). Ontario’s Conservation Authorities are a unique and widely respected innovation.
 The vital role of our Conservation Authorities in watershed-based land use planning and permitting must be retained to prevent unchecked development that puts communities at risk from flooding and other climate change impacts through loss of wetlands, woodlands and farmland. Please join Ontario Nature in asking the government to withdraw Schedule 6 in its entirety from Bill 229.