Omnibus Bill Fails to Put Human Rights at Center of U.S. Policy

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today said the congressional omnibus budget compromise reached in Congress does little to advance a robust vision of American leadership on human rights. The omnibus bill, announced last night, retains some important programs, but fails to address many of biggest issues in U.S. foreign policy, such as attaching clear human rights and democracy conditions on aid to Egypt.

“While the budget includes some funding for human rights programs, it lacks the vision – and thus the funds – needed to put American action on human rights at the center of our foreign policy,” said Human Rights First’s Robyn Lieberman. “We are looking for bigger steps from Congress in support of human rights that would match the magnitude of the challenges facing U.S. policy around the world.”

For example, Congress has effectively removed human rights and democracy conditions on a $1.5 billion aid package to Egypt. Lieberman notes that this is particularly troublesome as Egypt’s bumpy transition to democracy has suffered severe setbacks in recent months with crackdowns on pro-democracy groups, journalists, and other members of civil society, mass political imprisonment, and the killing of many protesters by security forces. Another example is on Bahrain, where Congress had a chance to help the administration change the course of its policy by directing the Pentagon to prepare “Plan B” scenarios for the Fifth Fleet if the current violence spirals into uncontainable threats against the U.S. base.

The omnibus bill also includes funding for what has become known as the bed quota, calling for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to maintain 34,000 immigration detention beds and thereby encouraging unnecessary spending despite the existence of more cost-effective and humane alternatives.

“There are more sensible, cost-effective, and humane alternatives to detention available, and ICE should have the flexibility to make custody decisions based on individualized assessments, not an arbitrary number.” observed Lieberman.


Published on January 14, 2014


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