At our recent Portland conference, about 20 AAJ members held an informal conversation on the topic of ethics, human rights, and justice design. As the convener of the conversation-and an active participant - I offer this summary for those who were unable to attend and I encourage AAJ members who were there and those who were not to join.
To begin the conversation, I introduced a proposed change to the AIA Code of Ethics advanced by Architects / Designers / Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR - an independent non-profit organization where I am currently president). ADPSR's proposal would prohibit the design of execution chambers or spaces intended for torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, including prolonged solitary confinement. In this post, I will summarize the rationale for the change. In the next post, I'll do my best to summarize the conversation that followed.
I started off by applauding AIA for having on our current code the following: Ethics Standard 1.4: Human Rights:
Members should uphold human rights in all their professional endeavors.
This is something we can be proud of. However, it is not an enforceable "Rule" of the Code, and the only enforceable rule related to human rights prohibits discrimination in hiring - a worthy issue, but certainly not the total scope of how human rights relate to architectural practice. In fact, some building projects violate human rights and should be addressed here. I argued that AIA can and should do more for human rights, and that it is an opportunity for AIA to demonstrate leadership in an area of broad public concern, joining other prominent professions. The architectural profession collectively is responsible for the design of the built environment and must use our position to protect the public's health, safety, and wellbeing from buildings that violate human rights.
I shared a handout that included the following points:
Good for Architects and for AIA:
Supports Human Rights:
I also pointed out that ADPSR has received endorsements for our proposal from a large and growing group of human rights and design organizations. Endorsers include Amnesty International and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (which represented over 800 congregations of many faiths concerned about the use of solitary confinement; one Episcopal Reverend joined our conversation as a guest ), and DesignCorps, which runs the Public Interest Design Institute. In addition, ADPSR has organized an online petition that has received over 1,000 signatures, many from architects.
For reference, the specific proposal ADPSR is recommending is the following. I encouraged AAJ members to share thoughts on potential edits that would improve the quality of the proposal.
Proposed Rule 1.402: Members shall not design spaces intended for execution or for torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, including prolonged solitary confinement.
Proposed Commentary:The Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prohibit "torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" (ICCPR Article 7) and ICCPR also requires that "all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person" (Article 10). Prolonged solitary confinement has been identified as a form of torture or prohibited cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the United Nations Human Rights Council, Committee Against Torture, and the Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Complete information on ADPSR's proposal is available at: http://www.adpsr.org/home/ethics_reform
(this reply is Part 2 of my summary of the conversation, see the initial post for Part 1) Following the introduction, other participants shared their thoughts. I encourage you all again to write in here to reinforce what you said at the conference, change your mind, share something that wasn't said, because you couldn't make it, etc. I'm summarizing and paraphrasing what I heard at the conversation out of order and without attribution because I don't want to risk offending anyone, but if you want to take ownership of any comments I am listing here, please go ahead.
(As a note on language, the terms "solitary confinement" and "segregation" are fairly interchangeable in this discussion. U.S. correctional agencies tend to use "segregation" or similar terms, while international human rights observers tend to refer to "solitary confinement" in reference to the same locations and conditions.)
Here's my summary of the discussion:
Towards the end of the conversation, a Canadian attendee commended the group for having the dialogue. While he noted that Canada does not have the death penalty and does not use solitary confinement (or at least not at nearly the rate in the U.S.), he could not think of a group of Canadian architects who had sat down to investigate their ethical obligations about a weighty topic like this as seriously as our AAJ group had done.