President Obama Urged to Prioritize Human Rights at White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies today urged President Obama to make clear at the White House’s upcoming Summit on Countering Violent Extremism that advancing human rights, accountability and the rule of law must be at the heart of any sustainable and effective strategy to combat violent extremism.  Any strategy will require international partners to make progress on protecting human rights and the rule of law in their home countries. The call came in a letter to the president in advance of next week’s Summit, scheduled for February 18-20.

“We applaud your leadership in convening next week’s White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, and we welcome your efforts to include civil society representatives with experience in dealing with these issues in the Summit, ” wrote Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino and Cairo Institute Director Bahey eldin Hassan.  “We know that violent extremists abuse and seek to destroy human rights. We also know that human rights violations perpetrated by governments fuel instability and create a climate in which violent extremism flourishes. Violent extremists and repressive, authoritarian governments feed off of each other in a deadly—and mutually reinforcing—cycle.  We urge you to use the Summit to develop short and long term strategies to break it.”

The Summit will bring together representatives from law enforcement, civil society, and partner nations, including representatives from U.S. military allies in the Middle East involved in the struggle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). They are expected to discuss international efforts to prevent the rise of violent extremism.

“Governments that incite hatred and promote extreme interpretations of religion through their official religious institutions, state-sponsored media, and educational curricula are not part of the solution to violent extremism—they are part of the problem,” noted the letter. “ Any effective strategy to combat violent extremism must call out and condemn these practices. We urge you to speak out clearly against the financial support flowing from the wealthy Gulf monarchies to extremist ideologues and movements, and the extremist incitement from religious leaders based in their countries. Likewise, you should condemn the practice of turning political protests into sectarian conflicts, whether this tactic is employed by the Assad regime in Syria or by authoritarian monarchies, like Bahrain.”

Several of the nations that are a part of the anti-ISIL coalition including Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, have resisted calls by their citizens for inclusive and representative government. These U.S. allies instead restrict the basic rights and freedoms of their citizens by targeting members of civil society and voices of dissent with arrests and trials that flout the rule of law. Human Rights First notes that human rights violations perpetrated by governments fuel instability and create a climate in which violent extremism can flourish.

“Above all, we urge you to make clear that the United States stands against the denial of basic rights and freedoms of speech, assembly, and religion by the governments of its regional allies such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates and recognizes these abuses as part of what fuels violent extremism around the world,” emphasized the letter. “The extreme intolerance of allies like Saudi Arabia, where advocates of non-violent dialogue about religion are lashed in public, emboldens violent extremists who kill satirists and cartoonists in Paris.”


Published on February 13, 2015


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