North America

IACHR Expresses Concern over the Human Rights of U.S. Sex Workers during the COVID-19 Pandemic

By: Rebecca Buchanan

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On November 13, 2020, The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a press release expressing concern over the human rights of U.S. sex workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cat Hollis, Founder of the Haymarket Pole Collective. Photo Courtesy of OPB.

The statement called for the U.S. government to strengthen its guarantees that individuals engaged in sex work would maintain their environmental, economic, social, and cultural rights, particularly during the pandemic’s containment and mitigation measures. The IACHR reiterated its belief that the discrimination and stigma facing sex workers in the United States pose a great risk to human rights and dignity and must be eliminated.

In its press release, the IACHR drew on information from reports indicating that sex workers throughout the United States have experienced increased violence, discrimination, and poverty during the pandemic. The stay-at-home orders and social-distancing measures instituted in most U.S. states have severely decreased opportunities for income through sex work, leaving these workers unable to cover the costs of basic needs and essential services. When reaching out for help, individuals engaged in sex work have been met with dwindling opportunities for housing, a lack of accessible healthcare, and exclusion from many social assistance programs.

Sex work is criminalized in most U.S. states, leaving sex workers dangerously excluded from State registration systems, social services, and necessary healthcare provisions. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these unstable conditions, leaving sex workers especially vulnerable to the virus and its larger effects. Businesses providing sex work were banned from receiving U.S. Small Business Administration Loans, which offered relief to businesses struggling as a result of the pandemic because of a stipulation excluding live performances or services of a “prurient sexual nature.”

Spurned by the U.S. government, sex workers and the businesses that employ them have been forced to turn elsewhere for assistance. The Haymarket Pole Collective, an Oregon based group that advocates for Black and Indigenous strippers and other strippers of color, recently received a grant from the Oregon Health Authority. The $600,000 grant will be used to fund relief and wellness kits which will include mail-in COVID-19 infection test kits, in addition to other necessities.

The work of the Haymarket Pole Collective addresses the impact of sex work discrimination on minorities, which are often disproportionally affected by situations of emergency or social unrest. In its statement, the IACHR expressed fears that minority populations within the sex work community face rapidly increasing prejudice and discrimination during the pandemic. In particular, the IACHR highlighted the uniquely hostile situation of transgender sex workers who often lack government identification documentation aligned with their gender identity or expression. As a result, transgender sex workers “are exposed to the dual denial of various essential services, including health.” The IACHR called on the U.S. to guarantee that transgender individuals receive adequate care policies and health services respectful of their gender identity. 

Finally, the IACHR noted the increased potential for police violence against sex workers as tensions around the pandemic continue to grow. The IACHR urged the U.S. to implement training programs for police officers, medical officials, and social services personnel regarding the social, economic, and human rights of sex workers. If properly implemented, these trainings could provide sex workers with greater access to social welfare systems and allow for more accurate reporting on situations of sexual slavery, labor exploitation, and human trafficking.

For further information, please see:

American Psychological Association – How COVID-19 impacts sexual and gender minorities – 29 June 2020

Amnesty International – Include Sex Workers in the COVID-19 Response – 28 July 2020

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – Press Release: IACHR calls on States to guarantee the human rights of women engaged in sex work in the context of the pandemic – 13 Nov. 2020

Oregon Public Broadcasting – Program providing COVID-19 relief to Oregon sex workers meets overwhelming demand – 14 Nov. 2020

U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health – COVID-19 Prevention and Protecting Sex Workers: A Call to Action – 14 Oct. 2020

Coronavirus Restrictions on Asylum Seekers May Be Pretext to Achieve Broader Immigration Policy in the United States

By: Hannah Gabbard

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor 

WASHINGTON, District of Columbia – As the rapid spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has garnered fear for vulnerable peoples such as individuals with underlying health conditions and the elderly, the United States has implemented measures that place asylum seekers at risk under the guise of coronavirus protections. 

Asylum seekers wear protective masks while they wait in Matamoros, Mexico. Photo Courtesy of Go Nakamura/Reuters.

Citing the need to protect United States customs officials and the general public from the spread of novel coronavirus by potentially infected migrants, President Trump implemented strict immigration controls along the United States-Mexico border. These controls empower Customs and Border Protection officers to “expeditiously expel” asylum seekers encountered between ports of entry and to turn asylum seekers back at the ports of entry despite their expression of credible fear. These measures implicate the United States’ obligations to asylum seekers under domestic and international law.

These measures require asylum seekers to remain in conditions which increase their risk of contracting the coronavirus. In Mexico, many asylum seekers live in overcrowded shelters near the United States border with limited sanitation facilities. As stay at home measures have been the “front-line defense against the coronavirus,” asylum seekers waiting in these conditions are inherently devoid of the opportunity to protect themselves against potentially contracting coronavirus. Human Rights Watch indicates that nearly 92 percent of asylum seekers have family or other close friends living in the United States. Access to these individuals by granting asylum seekers their right to access the United States asylum process would provide asylum seekers the opportunity to adequately self-isolate for the duration of the coronavirus crisis. 

The United States is not the only country to restrict asylum seekers travel through its international borders during the coronavirus crisis. In late March 2020, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that asylum seekers attempting to reach Canada between ports of entry will be automatically repelled.  Similar to the United States, the Canadian government cites the risk of public safety and security as the objectives of this policy. However, unlike the United States, the Canadian government has overtly indicated that these measures are temporary. 

Since President Trump took office, he has pursued policies which impose tough immigration restrictions including restrictions on asylum seekers. Critics of President Trump indicate that recent measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus in the United States may instead be a tool to accomplish the immigration policy objectives the Trump administration has pursued over the past three years of his presidency. Only the administration’s actions after the risks of coronavirus have subdued will indicate the true motives of this policy. 

For further information, please see

The Washington Post – Facing coronavirus pandemic, Trump suspends immigration laws and showcases vision for locked-down border – 3 Apr. 2020

Human Rights Watch – US: COVID-19 Policies Risk Asylum Seekers’ Lives – 2 Apr. 2020

The Guardian – Rapes, murders…and coronavirus: the dangers US asylum seekers in Mexico must face – 23 Mar. 2020

CNN – US is pushing to reject all asylum seekers, citing coronavirus worries – 17 Mar. 2020

Synagogue Shooter in FBI Custody

By: Kylie Mason
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania – On Saturday, October 27th, 2018 the morning services were just beginning at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At around 9:54 am, 46-year old Robert Bowes entered the synagogue with an AR-15 type of assault weapon and three handguns. Bowes began shooting into the crowd of members, spewing anti-Semitic slurs as he did so.

Woman Kneels to place a candle at the Tree of Life Synagogue Memorial. Photo Courtesy of Brendan Smialowski. 

Local police and SWAT team members were dispatched immediately. Two first responding police officers, two SWAT team members and two individuals not associated with the Synagogue were shot when they got to the scene. A total of 11 people are dead as a result of this mass shooting.

Bowes attempted to leave the synagogue but was met with two SWAT team members at the door. Bowes then barricaded himself in a 3rd-floor room of the synagogue as a shoot-out with police commenced. As some point, Bowes was shot, although it is unknown whether it was due to his own gun or from a police officer.

Bowes was then taken into custody and brought to a local hospital where he is reportedly in a stable condition.

The Tree of Life Synagogue has stood in the heart of a majority-Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill in Pittsburg for over 150 years. This event, what some residents are calling one of the worst acts of anti-Semitic violence within the United States, has shaken the community to its core.

Bowes, unknown to the FBI before this event, was discovered to be an avid anti-Semitic. His account on the free speech app, Gab, popular with right-wing individuals, was littered with anti-Jew and Judaism posts. From blaming the Jewish nonprofit HIAS for bringing “killers” into the United States, to stating “Jews are the children of Satan” to even accusing President Donald Trump of not representing the country’s interests by allowing “a kike infestation” into the United States.

The owners of the app Gab have archived, deleted and handed Bowes’ account over to the authorities. Gab has made a statement which says that the app and the company behind it do not support terrorism of any kind through their app. Gab continues to cooperate fully with the authorities on this matter.

The FBI has deemed the crimes committed by Bowes to be hate crimes and revealed that Bowes had 21 guns registered to him. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made comments seeking hate crime charges for Bowes as quickly as possible.

President Trump has made several comments regarding the mass shooting. President Trump had commented to the press that if there had been an armed gunman inside the synagogue, the members would have been able to better protect themselves. President Trump also called for Bowes to receive the death penalty, as it is legal in Pennsylvania, but has not been used in over 20 years. President Trump commented that he would be visiting the community of Squirrel Hill but has not given a statement dictating a date for that visit.

For More Information Please Visit: 

NPR – 11 Killed, 6 Injured In Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting; Suspect Charged With 29 Counts – 27 October 2018

New York Time – 11 Killed in Pittsburgh Synagogue Massacre; Suspect Charged With 29 Counts – 27 October 2018

BBC World News – Pittsburgh Shotting: What We Know So Far – 27 October 2018


Renowned Indigenous Rights Advocate Murdered in Mexico

By: Brianna Ferrante
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

CHIHUAHUA, Mexico – Julián Carillo, long time defender and advocate of Mexico’s indigenous, was killed by a group of unidentified attackers some time after midnight on Wednesday, October 24th.

Julián Carillo in Chihuahua, Mexico. Photo Courtesy of Erica Guevara-Rosas at Amnesty International.

Carillo was a Rarámuri indigenous defender and leader of the indigenous community known as Coloradas de La Virgen, located in Sierra Tarahumara, Mexico. The community has a demonstrated history of turbulent legal battles involving both the Mexican government and private entities. The encroaching forces often threaten infringement on the community’s ancestral territories as well as exploitation of its natural resources.

Three weeks prior to the killing, members of the community had made a formal report to government authorities regarding an intrusive mining coalition in their lands lead by private individuals.

The community exhibits high levels of crime, poor security, and a distinct absence of basic social services. Multiple organized crime groups occupy the region and constitute a steadily growing presence. Carillo frequently met with Amnesty International in recent years and shared concerns about locals being pressured to appropriate lands to criminals, whom utilize it for cultivation of poppy and cannabis. In an attempt to seek assistance from a distant police force, the former landowners were met with threats or for some, assassination.

Reports from Amnesty International demonstrate nine land-reclamation related murders have taken place in the past two years.  Five of these victims have been among Carillo’s own family members.

Approximations from the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders & Journalists, 16 human rights defenders have been killed in Mexico since January. The budget for the mechanism is also scheduled to be defunded in the upcoming year. Carillo and his family have been under the official protection of the government’s ‘Protection Mechanism’ since 2014.

Such efforts have proven to be inadequate, and it is eminent that similar risk may exist for other advocates currently working under the same government granted protective measure both in this region and the country at large.

For more information, please visit:

The Chronicle of Chihuahua – Indigenous leader of Coloradas de La Virgen murdered – 25 October 2018

Amnesty International – Killing of Rarámuri leader highlights lack of state protection for human rights defenders – 25 October 2018 

MNIA – Mexico: Leader of Rarámuri assassinated proves failed protection – 25 October 2018

La Razori – Defender of indigenous rights killed in Chihuahua – 25 October 2018

Hurricane Michael Affects Those Most Vulnerable

By Kylie Mason
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

TALLAHASSEE, Florida– On Wednesday, October 10th, 2018, what has been deemed the worst category 4 hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle area in twenty years, devastated the communities in its path. Hurricane Michael touched down in Mexico Beach, Florida on Wednesday morning and has run to areas in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The 155 mph winds destroyed homes, caused over 900,000 buildings to lose electricity and eliminated all access by road. Massive flooding has damaged homes and displaced property hundreds of miles from the owners.

Hurricane Michael Affects Most Vulnerable. Photo Courtesy of NOAA.

Since the severity of the storm has decreased, the United States Coast Guard have begun the slow process of search and rescue. Overnight, the Coast Guard has performed 10 missions to save 27 different people. As of present, 6 people have been found dead due to the debris that storm has caused. As crews throughout the state attempt to clear the roads blocked with thousands of fallen trees, officials are urging people to stay off the road. Residents of the area were told to stay in their rescue shelters and not return to home, which may not be there any longer.

One group of individuals at the forefront of the search mission are those individuals who were not able to evacuate pursuant to the warnings by public officially of the state. Due to a lack of socioeconomic ability, many residents of the Florida area officials to leave their homes. Additionally, those individuals who cited a lack of anywhere else to go, or lack of ability to go to a rescue shelter also stayed within their homes during the storm.

As of now, there has been no comment by the Florida government concerning the state of these individuals. Additionally, the Trump administration has not commented on the state of those displaced individuals.

No reports have been given regarding the number of residents affected by hurricane Michael, or how many residents have been relocated to temporary shelters. As there has been no solidified estimates of possible trapped, injured, or dead persons, there has been little information regarding the rescue efforts designed to target these specific populations.

As the Coast Guard and local rescue services continue clearing roads for emergency services to enter into more remote areas, the total individuals injured or dead increases.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Monster Storm Mauls US South-East – 11 October 2018

New York Times – Search and Rescue Begins Amid Ruins of Florida Coast – 11 October 2018

New York Times – ‘I Got Stuck’: In Poor, Rural Communities, Fleeing Hurricane Michael was Tough- 11 October 2018

NPR – Recovery Work Begins After Hurricane Michael Carves Through Florida Panhandle –  11 October 2018