America Must Not Falter on Rights of Muslim Americans
Washington, DC – Today as Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) chairs a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights hearing on “Protecting the Civil Rights of American Muslims,” Human Rights First’s Paul LeGendre is calling on the committee to consider a set of concrete recommendations for the U.S. Government to combat anti-Muslim bigotry and hate crime at home while it exerts leadership abroad to reverse discrimination and promote freedom of religion. LeGendre warned that failure to protect the rights of Muslim Americans ultimately undermines America’s foreign policy. “A founding value for the U.S., the promotion of civil rights and religious freedom, is a priority issue in America’s foreign policy. Still, our success abroad will depend on an unfaltering, uncompromising protection of the individual civil and human rights in our own society,” wrote LeGendre in his statement submitted for the record. “Civil rights abuses against American Muslims — or any other group singled out on account of their religion, race or ethnicity — threaten to compromise this fundamental stance, undermine core American values, and weaken the U.S.’s reputation among foreign foes and friends alike.” LeGendre’s statement contained a series of hate crime examples derived from incidents that have been reported in the United States, including a New York City cab driver who was stabbed multiple times by an intoxicated passenger who allegedly asked if the driver was Muslim and a 20-year-old woman who was assaulted in her mosque’s parking lot as the perpetrator shouted ANTI-Muslim slurs at her. In addition, his statement detailed the cases of a number of mosques and other places of worship that were vandalized or burned down amidst an atmosphere of heightened tension following divisive debates over construction of the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” in New York City. To respond to these incidences, LeGendre outlined a series of recommendations for U.S. government officials and political leaders, including:
1. Respond to Hate Crime in the United States
- Senior political leaders and law enforcement officials at all levels of government should publicly condemn violent hate crimes when they occur and ensure a vigorous law enforcement and criminal justice response.
- The Department of Justice should take steps to increase, through training and technical assistance programs, hate crime reporting by local jurisdictions, targeting agencies that have not participated, have underreported, or have reported “zero” hate crimes in the past.
- The Department of Justice and other relevant bodies should enhance outreach to Muslim communities and civil society groups to reduce fear and assist victims, advance police-community relations, and encourage improved reporting of hate crimes to the police.
2. Respond to Intolerant Discourse in the United States Political leaders, government and other officials serving in public office should:
- Pledge to refrain from using rhetoric that incites violence or promotes acts that curtail the enjoyment of the rights of others.
- Speak out publicly and consistently to condemn such speech when it occurs; build political consensus—reaching out across political party lines—to encourage speaking out.
- Use every opportunity to affirm common bonds of humanity and to guarantee equal protection under the law without discrimination for all individuals—citizens and noncitizens—in their jurisdiction. Leaders should take advantage of their positions to promote interreligious and intercultural understanding as well as policies and practices of nondiscrimination.
3. Lead Global Efforts to Combat Hate Crime The United State should:
- Maintain strong and inclusive State Department monitoring and public reporting on racist, xenophobic and other forms of bias-motivated violence in the annual country reports on human rights practices—including by consulting with civil society groups as well as providing appropriate training for human rights officers and other relevant mission staff abroad.
- Raise violent hate crime issues with representatives of foreign governments and encouraging, where appropriate, legal and other policy responses, including those contained in Human Rights First’s ten-point plan for combating violent hate crime.
- Offer appropriate technical assistance, sharing of best practices, and other forms of cooperation, including training of police and prosecutors in investigating, recording, reporting and prosecuting violent hate crimes as well as translation of Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) materials on hate crimes.
- Support action by civil society, including by supporting efforts to build the capacity of civil society groups and other actors to combat hate crime.
- Organize International Visitors Programs on combating bias-motivated violence for representatives of law enforcement, victim communities, human rights groups, and legal advocates.
- Encourage efforts of intergovernmental organizations like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to strengthen their engagement with member states on combating violent hate crime.