It is deeply troubling to read such acts of unprovoked hostility aimed at impeding Chutkan, Jackson and President Biden’s ability to judge, legislate and to safely serve within the Executive Office.
When citizens threaten violence against our public officials, they erode foundational principles that underpin the human right to life. Fear and intimidation obstruct the open exchange of ideas, hinder the respectful dialogue needed to address critical issues, and ultimately weaken our ability to focus on collectively building a better future for all.
Today, Journey to the Center wholeheartedly recognizes the immense challenges our public officials face while striving to fulfill their duties and responsibilities. As with the incidents above, the US Government invoked a legitimate ground for restricting freedom of expression, demonstrated the precise nature of the threat, and the necessity and proportionality of the specific action taken. See Shin v. Republic of Korea (CCPR/C/80/D/926/2000), at para. 35. More specifically, the US Government was able to established a direct and immediate connection between the expression and the threats.
“When a State party invokes a legitimate ground for restriction of freedom of expression, it must demonstrate in specific and individualized fashion the precise nature of the threat, and the necessity and proportionality of the specific action taken, in particular by establishing a direct and immediate connection between the expression and the threat.”
Human Rights Committee, General Comment 34 (2011)
Moreover, Journey to the Center calls upon all individuals, irrespective of their political affiliations, to denounce the promotion of violence and intimidation. Let us create an environment that fosters empathy, respect, and understanding, where public servants can perform their vital roles.
In times like these, it is imperative that we reaffirm our unwavering commitment to the principles of democracy, even if we believe she has disappeared. We must safeguard the fundamental right to express differing opinions and engage in robust discourse, as this is the only way the seeds of democratic processes in our nation can blossom.
Our country thrives when citizens hold our elected officials responsible via the media, human rights apparatuses, blogs and the ballot box. It is requested that you exercise your voices there.
From Hero to Villian: The Dark Side of Colorado Springs’ Automotive Repair Industry
Drivers who have been on the road for a considerable period of time can easily identify the evident signal of a vehicle in need of an alignment: the steering wheel is off center when one drives straight; the vehicle pulls to the right or left side, and sometimes the steering wheel vibrates.
For many consumers in the US, taking a motor vehicle to a repair shop for an alignment is relatively cheap and can take all of twenty minutes. Unfortunately, countless consumers across the US consistently find themselves facing an enduring struggle for fair treatment when it comes to car servicing and repairs.
Just ask Mr. Xavier Nunn, who sought services from the Brakes Plus in Colorado Springs earlier this month, only to find that mechanics labored on coercing him into paying for additional services he never anticipated. “If you are in Colorado Springs—do not, I repeat do not—go to Brakes Plus on Eighth Street for an alignment,” warned Mr. Nunn, giving a narrative in frustration and disappointment to viewers on the social media platform TikTok.
Mr. Nunn visited the Brakes Plus on 740 Abbot Lane and sought an alignment and expected to pay no more than the advertised $89.00. He also assumed that Brakes Plus would provide him with accurate information regarding its services and that it would deal fairly with him at all stages of their business relationship.
Yet, the mechanics informed Mr. Nunn that an alignment could not be performed because the lower control arm bushing on his motor vehicle needed to be repaired. “We pride ourselves on quality repairs,” alleges Chad Dreiling, the manager at the Brakes Plus in Colorado Springs.
Dreiling alleges if they performed an alignment on Mr. Nunn’s vehicle without addressing the lower control arm problems first, they “would have been stealing money from him.”
While Mr. Nunn admits that his motor vehicle had axil problems in the past, his TikTok public service announcement discloses that he recently made repairs to the axil boot and other parts of the vehicle. He further disputes the claim that his motor vehicle had lower control arms problems, asserting that stealing his money is exactly what the mechanics at Brakes Plus attempted to do. “If you go off in there and try and get that $89.00 alignment and you’re Black, you gone come out with another problem in your vehicle—trust me,” Mr. Nunn warned to the community.
According to Insider Edition, investigators placed hidden cameras under the hood of the car and an Insider Edition sticker on the oil filter to see if mechanics would changed the filter. Despite a service station in Long Island charging investigators a $130.00 for an oil change and new filter, the mechanic never changed the filter.
While the owner of the shop did refund the investigators, claiming failure to perform the services promised was an honest mistake, footage illustrates the sticker had not been removed from the filter cap. Indeed, the presence of the sticker on cap illustrated that mechanics never replaced the filter.
From Hero to Villian: The Dark Side of Colorado Springs’ Automotive Repair Industry
Further, more than a dozen people in Colorado Springs reported they had lost money to an auto repair shop who didn’t perform the services on their vehicles as promised. Those grievances bring us to Brakes Plus, who is no stranger to the frequent remonstrations of consumers in the state of Colorado.
A Better Business Bureau archive on Brakes Plus reveal a slew of consumer concerns related to the auto repair shop, from deceptive practices to problems with products and services.
It is worth mentioning here that two June 2023 complaints filed with the BBB bears some similarity to Mr. Nunn’s concern. Based on the details of these complaints, the customers went into Brakes Plus for an alignment and left the shop with a host a problems the consumers assert wasn’t there before.
The Federal Trade Commission
When consumers find themselves in this predicament, some turn to the Federal Trade Commission for relief. The Federal Trade Commission’s mission is to enforce civil antitrust law and to promote consumer protection. Howbeit, the US Supreme Court has recently curtailed the powers of the Commission.
For example, in AMG Capital Management, LLC v. Federal Trade Commission, the federal court granted the Commission’s request for relief, finding AMG Capital Management violated § 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act’s prohibition against unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the area of commerce. AMG Capital Management appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit who affirmed the lower court’s decision.
After the Ninth Circuit rendered its decision, AMG Capital Management appealed to the US Supreme Court, who ruled that § 13(b) of the Federal Trade Commission Act does not authorize the Commission to seek, nor allow a court to award equitable monetary relief such as restitution or disgorgement. In other words, § 13(b) does not explicitly authorize the Commission to obtain court-ordered monetary relief on the behalf of consumers.
The decision of the US Supreme Court propagated the 2021 Consumer Protection Recovery Act (H.R. 2668), to which authorizes the Federal Trade Commission to seek monetary relief in federal court from businesses that engage in unlawful commercial practices such as false advertising, consumer fraud, and anti-competitive conduct.
That same year, the Office of Management and Budget for the Executive Office of the President applauded the bill, stating it would “require bad actors to return money earned through illegal activity” and allow the Federal Trade Commission “to seek both injunctive and monetary relief for consumers in Federal courts.” Although the bill gained support in the House, the US Senate has yet to take legislative action on the bill to seal it into law.
The United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection
The purgatory state of H.R.2668 may violate international law. For example, the United Nations guidelines for consumer protection assists countries in maintaining adequate protection for their population as consumers. It also assists countries, like the US, in curbing abusive business practices by all enterprises at the national and international levels which adversely affect consumers.
Under the United Nations’ fair and equitable treatment principle, businesses like Brakes Plus, should deal fairly and honestly with consumers at all stages of their relationship. This principle is especially important for disadvantaged consumers like Mr. Nunn.
More importantly, the United Nations’ commercial behavior principle states businesses, such as Brakes Plus, should not subject consumers to illegal, unethical, discriminatory or deceptive practices, such as improper behavior that may pose unnecessary risks or harm consumers—as witnessed in Mr. Nunn’s TikTok video.
Brakes Plus and its mechanics have a responsibility to uphold consumer protection as an objective and should have due regard for the interests of all consumers, including Mr. Nunn.
Not a Refugee: Safe Country Nationals and the Withholding of International Protection
When we think about asylum-seekers and the countries that are unable or unwilling to protect them, our thoughts may turn to Shia Hazara families fleeing Taliban violence in Afghanistan. We may think about the arbitrary detention of activists in Damascus by the Syrian Democratic Forces. As we think about what drives a decision to flee one’s country, the Eritrean government’s barbaric acts of torture and its imprisonment of Asmara residents, and the Midgan clans use of female genital mutilation as a political tool to control women in Somalia may also spring to mind.
We may turn to lawyers and human rights experts to gain a better understanding of why militant organizations seeking to establish an Islamic state may arouse fear in political activists. Academic journals, country reports, and case law may also highlight how the inundation of terrorist propaganda in rogue nations can grow to be dangerous for the average national.
As we journey away from the transgressions above, imagine that an individual fled their country because members of a criminal organization seek to extort and harm them. Are they entitled to international protection? What if authorities in a country fail to arrest the suspects who repeatedly assault and threaten a member of the LGBTI community? Suppose a student activist fled their country after police racially profiled and assaulted them, and the courts refuse to prosecute. Is this a legitimate claim for international protection? What if a whistleblower wrote an academic piece about the human rights conditions in their country, because they felt disclosure was in the public’s interest; however, had their act of fearless speech — that stands testimony to wrong — chilled by media in their country? Let’s assume mainstream did it to conceal from the public, serious government wrongdoing that ought to be known and deliberated about. Are they entitled to international protection? If the answer is yes, would it still be if we learned the individual fled Oceania, Europe, or North America? Some jurisdictions would argue no, as these nations have a democratic style of leadership. When there is a system of checks and balances, and “constitutional guarantees” of due process in place, a country is considered a safe country of origin. To be sure, the European Union’s Directive 2013/32/EU (Annex I) states:
“A country is considered as a safe country of origin where, on the basis of the legal situation, the application of the law within a democratic system and the general political circumstances, it can be shown that there is generally and consistently no persecution as defined in Article 9 of directive 2011/95/EU, no torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and no threat by reason of indiscriminate violence in situations of international or internal armed conflict.”
One cannot possibly accept this definition, as “consistently” indicates that in every democratic regime case, there is no persecution, torture, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment, nor is there indiscriminate violence in situations of international or internal armed conflict on any occasion. That is a heavy burden for a country to meet, even those with a democratic style of leadership. If a country contends that its behavior is consistent with every citizen, and there are absolutely no forms of persecution on its soil, can we really trust it? Moreover, can we trust the international bodies that believe it too? It is a question that figures prominently in terms of the principle of non-refoulement — the practice of not forcing asylum-seekers and refugees to return to a country in which they are liable to be subjected to persecution.
Not a Refugee: Safe Country Nationals and the Withholding of International Protection – Are States Complicit?
Another question of huge significance is whether the country of asylum participates in wrongdoing committed by the agent of persecution when it imposes an irrebuttable presumption on the claimant not to qualify as a refugee under the Refugee Convention. Miles Jackson explores the idea of attribution in Complicity in International Law, and asserts that countries “cooperate with each other and with non-state actors all the time, often virtuously but sometimes wrongfully.” Indeed, in Goldstein v. Sweden, an American asylum-seeker was subjected to systematic police persecution and surveilled after he actively worked to reveal police brutality and other misconduct by the police in the United States. Non-state actors destroyed Goldstein’s property and attacked him with chemical substances. Even though Goldstein’s reports to the police authorities had been to no avail, the Swedish Migration Board decided there was no evidence to show that the United States police authorities had persecuted Goldstein and found him “not in need of protection in Sweden.” Goldstein appealed the decision to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Although Sweden breached its international obligation to offer protection, the ECtHR decided the United States could obviate the risk of non-state actors by providing appropriate protection.
The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) reached a similar conclusion in X (Re), 2014 CanLII 88897. In that case, applicants of Roma ethnicity in Hungary asserted Commandos forced themselves into their home and assaulted them. Their children were also assaulted on numerous occasions at school and on the bus. Although the applicants emphasized these attacks were racially motivated, the IRB rejected the appeal on grounds that Hungarian “police are being held accountable for their actions if they fail to take Roma complaints seriously or become agents of persecution of Roma citizens themselves.” While the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance encouraged Hungary to make further changes to continue its fight against racism, a recent report shows extensive discriminatory and abusive police practices against Roma still exist. What is more, many of the police officers interviewed in the report admitted to ethnic profiling. If the rule of attribution were applied, Hungary’s inaction would constitute a breach of its positive obligations to take measures to prevent violations committed by non-state actors, an obligation conditioned by a due diligence standard. With regard to Canada, Jackson suggests imposing a correlative duty of non-participation, as it would hold Canada responsible for its own contribution to the wrongdoing.
The presumption that a country is “safe” for all of its citizens has been criticized by NGOs and scholars. EuroMed Rights, AEDH, and FIDH also opposes the notion of “safe countries of origin,” and points to members of minority groups who can face specific discrimination in countries where the rest of the population is generally “safe.” Although the UNHCR likened the presumption to a form of discrimination, when its committees and councils disregard violations committed by state and non-state actors in democratic regimes, and fail to hold these regimes responsible for positive obligation breaches, it acquiesces to such violations.
It is not argued here that an applicant who cannot substantiate a risk regarding the lack of state protection should be bestowed Convention Refugee status. The contention is this: when a country of asylum connivingly uses an irrebuttable presumption to withhold international protection — believing a low rate of convictions before human rights tribunals is proof that there are few rights violations in that country — it should be held accountable for its role in the toleration of the private human rights violations. To be sure, Jackson suggests where complicity is found in an international law matter, accomplices must be held responsible for their own acts of contribution to the principal’s wrong.
Take, for example, the case of A. v. Migrationsverket. In that case, the Swedish authorities relied on the rebuttable presumption in the recast Asylum Procedures Directive for procedures based on the safe country of origin concept to withhold international protection from a Serbian national, despite the fact it did not fully implement the concept in legislation. The Court of Justice for the European Union held when a Member State has not implemented the concept of a safe country of origin into relevant laws, regulations, and administrative provisions, it cannot reject an asylum application as manifestly unfounded on the grounds that the applicant is from a safe country of origin.
Lastly, there is a widely circulated claim that asylum-seekers from democratic regimes are not “real refugees” but are “economic migrants.” However, this is a charge launched against genuine applicants to degrade them and undermine the rights that emerge from obtaining Convention Refugee status. Many of these asylum-seekers bear some of the most powerful passports in the world that enables them to enter countries that have cordially recognized free migration and emigration for purposes of curiosity, trade, or to remain as permanent residents. This observation should demystify the specious argument that asylum-seekers from democratic regimes are leveraging incriminating country of origin evidence and fabricated stories so as to enter and remain in a foreign country.
Immigration and refugee law makes clear that the right to asylum is not a right to abreaction. It is a right to have an application for international protection carried out on an individual basis. The most effective way to exercise this right is for the persecuted to leave their country, and to provide evidence that outweighs a general presumption that their country is safe. The country of asylum must adequately examine and consider such evidence. When countries of asylum adopt and enforce administrative edicts based on nationality, they not only suspend this fundamental right, but they also breach their obligation not to discriminate — a precept widely recognized under international anti-discrimination law. In the words of the late Desmond Tutu, to remain neutral in situations of injustice is to be complicit in that injustice.
Not a Refugee: Safe Country Nationals and the Withholding of International Protection was originally published on 5th January 2022.
Opinion: Why Criminal Mugshot Shaming in the United States is Bad
In January 2022, I launched a campaign on Twitter Ireland against the abuse of power at the Kinsale Road Direct Provision Centre, to which garnered nearly 13.7 K in views. I later found that potential colluders of toxic authority had uploaded my mugshot and tagged it to the campaign video. It was a poor attempt to distract viewers from behavior employed to demean, wound, harm, and damage the International Protection claim of asylum-seekers. Little did they know, there is a specious case of criminal mugshot shaming in America.
I studied the contamination strategy and discovered that it emanated from a ‘suspect close in vicinity,’ whose conscious effort was to spread misinformation about my background, arrests, and what led to my application for asylum. In their view, if they introduced the mugshots into an already existing consensus about ‘who is truly an asylum-seeker’ in a clandestine manner, I would retreat. I did not.
Exploitation Nation: The Specious Case of Criminal Mugshot Shaming in America
The number of Americans with a criminal history has risen sharply over the past three decades. Matthew Friedman, a writer for the Brennan Center for Justice, states “so many Americans have a criminal record that counting them all is nearly impossible.” Furthermore, activists in America are commonly arrested for their political speech. In 2019, U.S. police arrested LGBT activists in front of the Supreme Court. In 2021, the U.S. targeted Black Lives Matter activists in a bid to disrupt the movement. You may be thinking, “that is activism. In your case, the U.S. implicated you in not one, but many crimes. The U.S. cannot be wrong, can it?” Yes, it can, and it often is wrong.
The World Prison Brief puts the U.S. at number one at incarcerating the most people in the world. Based on data from credible news sources, the countries with the most incarcerated are the U.S., China, Brazil, and Russia. Evidence further demonstrates these countries are likely to have the most innocent people convicted and imprisoned. On a list of 15, the U.S. came in at number one as the country with the most police brutality incidents and individuals wrongfully convicted. Indeed, a study found more than half of all wrongful criminal convictions are caused by U.S. government misconduct. With these findings, it should come as no surprise to learn the alleged owners of Mugshots.com, one of dozens of sites that publish booking photos in the U.S. and demand payment for their removal, were arrested on charges of extortion, money laundering and identity theft in 2016. However, the U.S. has allowed these websites to remain accessible online, along with dozens of others like it, despite mugshots not being considered public records at a federal level.
Not only are the publication of mugshots a danger, as Olivia Solon points out, they are also used as a character assassination tool, given the public associates the individual portrayed in the mugshot with some criminal act. Another key point is that the negative image is easily found when vetting a candidate for a job, and thus, damages a person’s professional relationship.While the publication of a mugshot is an unwarranted invasion of privacy, the respect of one’s private life finds no explicit direct protection in the U.S. Federal Constitution. One should note here that Americans are precluded from successfully claiming infringements of our private life against private media reportings, as it relates to our contemporary or past life. To be sure, the U.S. ridiculed the European Court of Justice’s recognition of the right to be forgotten in Google Spain, holding that it remains inapplicable in the State. Nevertheless, it is settled law that even individuals with criminal convictions have a right to privacy, and the right to be left alone.
As for the suspects close in vicinity, they disliked that I owned my rite of passage by drawing public attention to the changes I made in my status and social identity. It is abundantly clear they were using me as a scapegoat for their ignorance, phobias, political ideology, biases, and frustrations. Indeed, evidence demonstrates formerly incarcerated persons are disproportionately the victims of scapegoating.
Taking into consideration that shaming American citizens not only compounds the problem, along with the fact that the U.S. continues to make mugshots public, it is not surprising that countries have started to find the U.S. not to be safe for everyone. As far as rights goes in the U.S., what will the land of the most incarcerated do next?