Washington Week on Human Rights: April 11, 2016

Top News

Bahrain Ahead of President Obama’s upcoming participation in the Gulf Cooperation Council summit scheduled to take place in Saudi Arabia later this month, Secretary of State John Kerry travelled to Bahrain last week and met with the kingdom’s ruling family, and with a small group of opposition and civil society figures. But he delivered tempered remarks about the country’s troubling rights record while stressing the importance of the kingdom as a security partner of the United States. Bahrain is a long-term Washington military ally and hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet. Since the 2011 violent government crackdown on mass protests calling for democratic reform in Bahrain, the United States has failed to back up rhetoric in support of human rights and civil society with action, and downplayed these priorities in favor of short-term military objectives. A recent Human Rights First blueprint outlines recommendations for the U.S. government to support civil society and strengthen respect for human rights, including publicly reaffirming President Obama’s call to Bahrain in May 2011 that “The only way forward is for the government and the opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.” Human Rights First and others are calling on President Obama to meet with civil society representatives during his upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia.

These issues will be discussed in detail at the upcoming Center for Transatlantic Relations and Human Rights First event “High Stakes at the Gulf Summit: What President Obama Should Get from the GCC Meeting.” Register Here

Global Refugee Crisis This coming weekend the Pope will travel to the Greek island of Lesbos to draw attention to the ongoing global refugee crisis. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have traveled to the island during the past year, many of them fleeing the ongoing violence in Syria. Last week, the State Department released its official resettlement numbers for March, indicating that the United States resettled only 330 Syrian refugees that month. This brings the six month total number of Syrian refugees resettled in the United States to 1,285, far less than is necessary to reach the goal of resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees by September 30, 2016. In conjunction with that announcement, Human Rights First’s released a report, “At Least 10,000” outlining how U.S. processing of resettlement cases, as well as processing of Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applications from individuals who worked with the U.S. military, has been hampered by bottlenecks, backlogs, and staffing gaps, making it difficult for the United States to meet its minimal refugee resettlement commitment. Addressing these backlogs, as detailed in the report, would not undermine the security of the process; rather it would strengthen the integrity of the process which includes extensive security vetting as outlined in an appendix to the report.

Torture This weekend CIA director John Brennan told NBC News he would not allow members of his agency to employ enhanced interrogation techniques under his watch. The comments came amidst increased discussion of waterboarding in this year’s presidential campaign. Last year, Forty-two of the nation’s most respected retired generals and admirals sent a letter to all candidates urging them to publicly reject the use of torture as it is illegal, counterproductive, and detrimental to national security. Prior to that, Senators McCain (R-AZ) and Feinstein (D-CA) sponsored landmark anti-torture legislation that reinforces the United States’ ban on the use of torture, including waterboarding and other so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The legislation—which passed in a 78-21 vote in the Senate and was signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2016 Fiscal Year—remains a historic victory in the fight to reestablish a durable, bipartisan consensus against torture.

Quote of the Week

“Torture is wrong. Americans, all Americans, should know better. That’s what makes us attractive; what makes us attractive is the way we do things, it’s the example that we set. What makes us attractive is not how tough we are or how good we are at extracting information, and anyone who thinks that way I think fails to understand what this country is about. So I’ve left that discussion about whether or not torture is effective or not behind. It simply doesn’t matter.”

-Eric Fair, an Army veteran, who worked as a contract interrogator in Iraq.

We’re Reading

NBC News and Buzzfeed reported on the U.S. government’s lack of progress towards it’s goal of resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year. Halfway towards the deadline, only 1,285 have arrived in the United States.

Reuters writes on Secretary Kerry’s recent trip to Bahrain and the call for him to address human rights concerns in the Gulf kingdom. Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley comments that Kerry’s remarks while there were “disappointingly weak.”

In a piece for Birmingham News, Mayor of Birmingham William Bell and General Charles Krulak (USMC, Ret.) make the case that Congress should appropriate more funding to the Department of Justice’s Human trafficking Prosecution Unit in order to increase the number of prosecutions of labor trafficking cases

Colorado leaders should not shrink from the opportunity to be part of a victory over extremism, writes Katheine Kelaidis in The Denver Post. She calls on leadership to take Guantanamo inmates and aid in the closure of the much-maligned detention facility.

Neil Hicks writes in The Huffington Post about the misplaced faith Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has in Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The Middle East leader’s continued undermining of human rights in the country indicate that the country is moving towards a military-backed dictatorship, not a open democracy as Senator Graham believes.


We’re Listening To


Recently, on NPR’s Fresh Air, host Terry Gross interviewed former Abu Ghraib interrogator Eric Fair. Employed by a private military contractor for the military, Fair now says that so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” are nothing more than torture.


On the Hill

Tuesday, April 12, 2016 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on “The Spread of ISIS and Transnational Terrorism.” 10:00 AM, 419 Dirksen Senate Office Building.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs will hold a hearing on causes and consequences of violent extremism and the role of foreign assistance. 2:00 PM, 192 Dirksen Senate Office Building.


Around Town

Monday, April 11, 2016

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) will  hold a discussion entitled “Europe at a Crossroad: Civil Society Efforts to Counter Religious Hatred and Bigotry in Europe.” 1:00 PM, National Press Club, 14th and F Streets NW, Murrow, White, and Lisagor Rooms, Washington, DC.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Middle East Institute (MEI) will hold a discussion entitled “The Middle East’s Need for Domestic Reform and Regional Statecraft.” The event will feature former Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Fahmy.  12:00 PM, SEIU Conference Center, 1800 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies will host its annual policy summit “Washington Forum 2016 – National Security in the Next Administration: Can America Change Course?” 9:00 AM, The Mayflower Hotel, 1127 Connecticut Ave NW. The summit will feature Elliot Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security at the Department of Justice.

The Southeast Europe Coalition, United Macedonian Diaspora, and Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina will host an event entitled “The Refugee Crisis: Its Impact on the US, Europe, and our Collective Security.” 11:00 AM, One Franklin Square, 1301 K Street NW, East Tower Penthouse, Washington, DC.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) will hold a discussion entitled “The North Caucasus Insurgency and Syria.” 1:00 PM, CSIS, 1616 Rhode Island Ave NW, First Floor Conference Center.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Henry L. Stimson Center will hold a Chairman’s Forum entitled “U.S. Foreign Policy and America’s Military and Diplomatic Engagement Around the World.” The forum will feature House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce.  12:30 PM, Stimson Center, 1211 Connecticut Ave NW, 8th Floor, Washington, DC.

The Center on Global Interests will hold a discussion entitled “The Next Era of U.S.-Russia Relations.” 5:30 PM, City Club of Washington, 555 13th Street NW, Washington Room, Washington, DC.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Center for a New American Security and the Center on Law and Security will hold a conference on US Sanctions and National Security. The conference will feature Acting Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Adam Szubin. 8:45 AM, NYU Washington, 1307 L Street NW, Abramson Family Auditorium (B-1 Level), Washington, DC.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Center for Transatlantic Relations and Human Rights First will host an event entitled “High Stakes at the Gulf Summit: What President Obama Should Get from the GCC Meeting.” The event will feature Ambassador Andras Simonyi, Managing Director of CTR; Hala Aldosari, visiting scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute; Brian Dooley, Director, Human Rights Defenders program, Human Rights First; Matar Ebrahim Matar, former member of the Bahraini Parliament; Mihai Patru, Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations. Rome Auditorium, Johns Hopkins SAIS, The benjamin T. Rome Building, 1619 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington DC.

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Published on April 11, 2016


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