Throughout the book, we have stressed a number of ways in which community-based human rights practice takes place. These actions can also be used in other human rights campaigns at a domestic level.
Carrying out human rights education at the community level is crucial to mobilizing diverse constituencies. Human rights education has long been fostered by the United Nations in countries around the world. Until recently in the United States such educational programs have tended to focus on civil and political rights. Experienced human rights educators note that successful human rights educational efforts at the community level “are designed with the knowledge that people tend to learn best what they feel they need to learn—information which is relevant to their own lives” (Human Rights Resource Center, n.d.). Effective community-based education “begins with soliciting information about the needs, issues of concern and experience of the learners. Many of the immediate concerns of communities and societies relate to economic and social issues.” Community-based education can take place in community centers, through public programming offered by organizations working on advocacy related to housing, food, or health care; in faith-based organizations; or through collaborations between institutions of higher learning and community organizations.
Collect Testimony/Hold Public Hearings
Testifying and holding hearings about the failure to secure human rights is a common process for gathering insights into a given issue. Importantly, this practice can provide an opportunity for community members to express grievances, provide input regarding policy and law, and raise concerns about pressing issues within the community. Some states have established mechanisms to formalize this process, including Tennessee, where the Tennessee Human Rights Commission holds regional hearings and drafts an annual report on the “State of Human Rights in Tennessee” (http://www.state.tn.us/humanrights/). This effort brings together leaders from community organizations, government, advocacy groups, and researchers whose testimony contributes to the Commission reports that can be used in state-level advocacy. Community members can also testify before local human rights commissions, such as the Seattle Human Rights Commission, at regularly scheduled meetings (http://www.seattle.gov/humanrights/). In one innovation for the Universal Periodic Review in 2010, the U.S. Human Rights Network and WITNESS created the Testify! Project to facilitate creating video shorts of human rights testimony to be shared with UN representatives in Geneva. See information on the initiative and videos selected for submission at the United Nations at http://www.witness.org/campaigns/all-campaigns/us-human-rights-network.
Craft a Shadow Report on US Human Rights Record
These reports may be submitted for consideration by UN human rights committees that monitor the United States’ progress on its human rights obligations for treaties it has ratified (Tars, 2009). An excellent resource to consult when planning to research and draft a shadow report is the website for the US Human Rights Network (see US Human Rights Network, n.d.). A powerful example of varied stakeholders engaging in human rights monitoring in the United States has been the civil society (“shadow”) reporting process to end racial discrimination through the Committee on the Elimination Racial Discrimination (see http://www.ushrnetwork.org/icerd-project). The Universal Periodic Review before the Human Rights Council also offers an opportunity for civil society groups to highlight local human rights concerns (see http://www.ushrnetwork.org/our-work/project/upr-universal-periodic-review).
Participate in Community and State-Level Governance
Many communities have their own civil and/or human rights commissions (Kaufman, 2011). Community organizations can partner with such commissions, legal aid organizations, and other coalitions addressing food insecurity, housing, health care, children’s rights, criminal justice, gender-based violence, immigrant rights, etc. Examples of efforts to implement human rights standards at a local level can be explored on the Web site for the US Human Rights Network (http://www.ushrnetwork.org/). Eugene, Oregon, for example, is seeking to implement social, economic, and cultural rights standards in the work of city government (see Eugene’s Human Rights City Project at http://www.humanrightscity.com/).
Bring Human Rights Issues to the Attention of Human Rights Organizations
Social workers and community members can also report human rights concerns or violations to human rights organizations, spurring investigation and potential advocacy in partnership with such groups. Examples of partnerships to address human rights concerns in the United States are increasingly available online through the US Human Rights Network, the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA, and Human Rights Watch. Formal human rights reports once drafted can be used in local, state, and national advocacy. For example, see Human Rights Watch reporting on a range of issues including the problem of homelessness faced by foster youth aging out of care (Human Rights Watch, 2010); the USA’s “offender funded” probation industry (Human Rights Watch, 2014); and the criminalization of not paying rent in Arkansas (Human Rights Watch, 2013). These human rights reports not only document violations of rights, but they also provide useful advocacy steps and policy recommendations.