Credit: Patience Edet Goanue photo

“It’s a shame that in the richest country in the history of the planet earth, that some people don’t have enough to eat and some people are sleeping on the streets. It is a shame that in this city, we have so many people in need of minimum wage,” said former Council Member Charles Barron.

The term-limited council member was one of 13 city officials to receive certificates from the Urban Justice Center on the steps of City Hall in Manhattan on Thursday, April 3. These council members received passing grades from the annual New York City Council Human Rights Report Card.

The sixth annual report card, released on Tuesday, March 25 during an hour-long webinar, assessed City Council members’ legislative records across a range of human rights areas, including workers’ rights, criminal and juvenile justice and government accountability.

Seven of the 13 City Council members were present to receive the certificates and reaffirmed their commitment to continue fighting for the human rights of New Yorkers. Barron, of Brooklyn’s 42nd District, called for a radical rearrangement of the political and economic order of America and the redistribution of wealth. He received a certificate for his persistence to ensure all districts are treated equally.

The annual assessment of City Council members’ human rights activities is an attempt by the Urban Justice Center to push for a higher standard of government accountability than U.S. legislation typically allows.

Honored for her affordable housing work, former Council representative of Brooklyn 35th District and current Public Advocate Letitia James said elected officials should be graded on the ability to create a better life for New Yorkers.

“I am so proud to serve as the city’s public advocate and to continue working with an increasingly progressive and equitable City Council. I am proud of the wonderful work that the City Council and the administration has done,” James said. “I look forward to doing more together on issues such as pay equity, LGBT rights, workers’ rights and other issues to further universal human rights standards in this great city.”

The human rights project places domestic poverty and discrimination issues within a human rights framework. The human rights standards are to provide an avenue of response to social injustice when national, state and local laws and processes fail, according to the Urban Justice Center. Former City Council Member Robert Jackson, one-time chairperson of the Education Committee and co-chair of the New York City Council Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, was awarded for his work in education. He said that the fight for education is a human right as opposed to just being a civil right.

Jackson disclosed that as part of the achievements made in the educational sector, the City University of New York is putting forward application fee waivers for those who cannot afford to apply in the face of the failure of the New York State Dream Act. The Dream Act was intended to provide access to state financial aid to undocumented immigrant minors. Jackson stressed the importance of education and jobs.

“The education you receive, in the long run, the more money you will earn to support your family, the better off your families will be, for education, health care, housing and the things that we need,” said Jackson.

“Jobs are the most important issues for families today. Without a job, you can’t feed your family, you can’t get them the health care that they need and you can’t house them.”

Although absent at the event, Deborah Rose, representative of the 49th Council District in Staten Island, said in a statement that the Human Rights Report Card has brought a spotlight to how civil and human rights are incorporated in the lawmaking process.

Said Rose, “Priorities of mine this year include ensuring that Superstorm Sandy victims … get relief and access to the funding that was set aside for them to help rebuild their homes and their lives.”

Urban Justice Center said it commends each of the 51 City Council members assessed in the report card for their commitment to public service and New York City, but that the 13 members are applauded for continuing to make New York City a trailblazer in human rights.

“Whether it is Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer’s push for paid sick leave, Council Member Steven Levin’s work for street vendor rights, Council Members Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams’ calls that the NYPD treat each individual as they would treat me, Council Member Van Bramer’s push for the reform of the Board of Standards and Appeals Process or Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez’s efforts to ensure each New Yorker has their human rights fulfilled,” said Nicole Bramstedt, research and policy coordinator with the Human Rights Projects at the Urban Justice Center. “Each of these 13 Council members has gone above and beyond to ensure equality and government accountability.”

Between 2010 and 2013, Urban Justice Center data show that only 20 percent of bills introduced were in line with human rights ideals, 225 out of 1156. Shani Jamila, director of the Human Rights Project, said the organization is working to create a city that preserves and protects the human rights of all New Yorkers.

“It’s a pleasure to spotlight the achievements of the council members whose work leads us in the right direction,” said Jamila.