State of the Union Address Must Tackle Human Rights Challenges

Washington, DC –Human Rights First is urging President Obama to use his State of the Union address to articulate what the United States will do this year to seize the unprecedented opportunities for human rights in the Arab world.  One of the most important steps the President can take is to make clear that U.S. aid to Egypt should be used to promote the nation’s transition to civilian rule and not for Egyptian leaders to support intimidation and harassment of civil society.   The organization is also calling on President Obama to address the ongoing abuses in Bahrain, to reiterate his support for assisting Iraq’s refugees and resettling at-risk Iraqis and the implementation of the Atrocities Prevention Board he announced last year. According to Human Rights First, tomorrow’s speech offers the President an opportunity to spell out that stability and prosperity in Egypt and throughout the Arab world must start with a fundamental respect for human rights and dignity.  “Human rights advocates and democracy leaders in the region with whom we work consistently report that they need the President to articulate U.S. priorities and universal values,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks, who recently published a document detailing suggested U.S. priorities for moving forward in Egypt.  “In a region  that has long been tormented by the false choice between military rule or violence and chaos, the United States now has the opportunity – and responsibility – to demonstrate that stability and prosperity start with the fundamental respect for human rights and dignity.  We have seen a positive impact when the Administration leads and we expect to see that leadership continued in the State of the Union address.” Similarly, the State of the Union address offers the President the opportunity to address the following human rights initiatives and concerns currently facing his administration: BAHRAIN: In Bahrain, Human Rights First notes that President Obama should make clear that he will use the United States’ long standing relationship with the Kingdom to promote the implementation of recommendations made by Bahrain’s own Independent Commission of Inquiry and other reforms. The regime needs to protect instead of attack and harass Bahrain’s human rights defenders and ensure that they can operate freely so that Bahrain can enjoy the benefits of a stable and inclusive society.  Baseless charges against medics and other peaceful protestors should be dropped. PREVENTION OF MASS ATROCITIES: In 2011, Human Rights First welcomed President Obama’s creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board. This group will have the ability to coordinate and implement prompt, comprehensive and effective interagency policies that can prevent mass atrocities, including through the disruption of third part enablers.  Human Rights First calls on President Obama to take the next step in establishing the board by immediately appointing its members and by publishing the findings of the PSD-10 review. PROTECTION OF REFUGEES AND US-AFFILIATED IRAQIS: As the nation continues to reflect on the nine years its military spent in Iraq and the recent end to that operation, the United States should not forget the country it left behind or its people. Single or widowed women, LGBTI individuals, religious minorities, journalists, and others still face threats or violence, as do Iraqis who worked with the United States or the U.S. media. The United States has both a moral and strategic interest in ensuring the protection of displaced Iraqis. The President should reaffirm U.S. commitment to the protection of displaced Iraqis and ensure that vulnerable Iraqi refugees and those who risked their lives to work with the United States are resettled on an expedited basis instead of being left stranded in difficult and dangerous circumstances due to lengthy processing delays.


Published on January 23, 2012


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