Washington Week on Human Rights: April 6, 2015

Top News

President Obama to Jamaica On Thursday, President Obama will travel to Jamaica en route to participate in the Summit of the Americas in Panama. President Obama’s visit to meet with Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders marks the first time a U.S. president has visited Jamaica since 1992. Human Rights First spearheaded a letter, signed by 20 organizations, urging President Obama to publicly raise concerns about the rights of Jamaica’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and to meet with members of civil society working for equality during this week’s visit. Human Rights First recently returned from Jamaica, where researchers met with local activists, Jamaican officials, and U.S. officials based in Jamaica to discuss challenges for the island’s LGBT community. They often live in a climate of fear of violence, including threats, sexual attacks, and other physical violence. Activists report widespread discrimination against the LGBT community in access to services, including housing, employment, and healthcare. Access to healthcare is of particular concern, and activists report that members of the LGBT community are fearful of seeking treatment, including for HIV, given experiences of mistreatment or discrimination based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. There are also particular concerns, including gender-based violence, faced by women and transgender people.

Bahrain As Washington officials consider whether to lift restrictions on arms sales to Bahrain, the kingdom continues to target human rights defenders. Last week, it arrested prominent Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. Rajab had previously been released pending an appeal to a six-month prison sentence he received in January for a tweet deemed critical of the government. His appeal verdict was scheduled for April 15. As dozens of security forces surrounded his home to take him into custody, Rajab released a video statement declaring that the arrest was “another attempt to suppress the people’s right to freely express their opinions.” He is expected to appear in court again on May 4.

Families in Immigration Detention Over the weekend, more than three dozen women currently held at the U.S. immigration detention facility in Karnes, Texas, reportedly broke a hunger strike they had launched to protest the jailing of their families—including their children—as they await their immigration and asylum hearings. As they launched the strike, the women said they wanted freedom for their children, telling McClatchy reporter Franco Ordonez, “The children don’t eat. The conditions here are not right. They’re not good for children.” They reportedly ended the strike in hopes of release. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has doubled down on efforts to jail women and children who have entered the country in search of asylum, a step it hopes will deter others from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Just last week, U.S. faith leaders and the American Bar Association called on the Obama Administration to end its detention of families and other deterrence-based detention practices aimed at stopping Central American families from seeking refuge in the United States. A recent poll, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies for Human Rights First, found public support for the use of alternatives rather than detention. In a poll of voters in 25 of the most competitive congressional districts, as well as voters in South Carolina and New Hampshire, 62 percent said that rather than holding asylum seekers in jails and detention facilities, the United States should increase the use of alternatives to detention.

Quote of the Week

“We ask you to consider whether you are prepared for your legacy to include the purposeful detention of innocent mothers and babies in furthering an ineffective policy of deterrence that violates fundamental tenants of our faiths and the American ideal of providing freedom and refuge to the persecuted. The incarceration of vulnerable mothers and children fleeing violence in their home countries is a stain on the record of this Administration.”

—Letter from dozens of U.S. faith leaders to President Obama urging him to end the practice of detaining families in immigration detention jails

We’re Reading

The GuardianBBC Newsn, and the Associated Press reported on the arrest of prominent Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, which adds to instability in the kingdom.

As reported by the Financial Times and Al Jazeera America, President Obama told Egyptian President Sisi last week that he is lifting restrictions on military aid, sending a confusing message about U.S. concern over human rights in the country. Find out more here.

The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board called attention to the “morally and legally wrong” practice of locking up mothers and children who are seeking protection from violence or discrimination in immigration detention.

Sputnik News highlighted the U.S. pledge of additional humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees, noting that achieving stability in the region will require the United States and the international community to commit to resettling more refugees.

We’re Watching

CNN’s Vice President Tony Maddox reaffirmed the network’s commitment to highlighting the $150 billion criminal enterprise of human trafficking, noting the need for an international approach to disrupt the business of modern slavery. Learn more about how to combat human trafficking here.

Around Town


The Atlantic will hold a discussion on its April cover story, “Is It Time For the Jews to Leave Europe?” The discussion will feature article author Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for the Atlantic, and James Bennet, Atlantic president and editor-in-chief. 7PM, Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, 600 I Street NW, Washington, D.C.


The Brookings Institution will host a discussion on “U.S. customs and border protection today.” The event will feature Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske, and Darrell West, Brookings chair, vice president and director of government studies. 10AM, Brookings Institution, 1775 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Saul/Zilkha Room, Washington, D.C.

Human Rights First will host a lunch briefing on “The President’s ISIL AUMF Proposal and the Way Forward.” The discussion will feature Jennifer Daskal, Assistant Professor of Law, Washington College of Law, American University; Gene Healy, Vice President, Cato Institute; and moderator Tad Stahnke, Vice President, Research and Analysis, Human Rights First. 11:30AM, Human Rights First, 805 15th Street NW, Suite 900, Washington, DC

The Woodrow Wilson Center’s (WWC) Middle East Program will host a discussion on “Security Policy in Sinai: Common Interests or a Collective Failure?” The event will feature Ismail Alexandrani, visiting Arab journalist at WWC. 12PM, WWC, One Woodrow Wilson Plaza, Ronald Reagan Building, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Fifth Floor, Washington, D.C.


Published on April 6, 2015


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