Washington Week on Human Rights: August 15, 2016

Top Items

Family Detention

Last week a group of nearly two dozen mothers detained at the Berks County Detention Facility in Pennsylvania—many for over one year—announced that they began a hunger strike on August 8 to protest their continued detention and the severe impact it has had on their children’s health and well-being. In an open letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson the women detailed their experiences in detention.

Human Rights First has issued multiple reports on the U.S. policy of sending asylum seeking mothers and children to immigration detention facilities, including a report last year on detention at Berks, and a brief earlier this year documenting Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) failure to respond appropriately to mothers’ requests for assistance regarding their children’s health problems.


On Saturday Ukrainian activists and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community successfully held the Odessa Pride March, following a court decision last week to cancel the event. Authorities had claimed that there was a high probability of conflict, causing the last-minute legal challenge. Organizers, however, did not give up on the crown jewel of Odessa’s multi-day Pride celebration and threatened to repeatedly petition the government until they were granted permission. With additional international pressure, including from the United States Embassy in Kiev, authorities allowed the march to proceed and provided security for it.

This is not the first time the city has prevented LGBT inclusive events from taking place. The city’s 2015 Pride march was similarly banned by a court order. Such action has also extended to other parts of Ukraine. Earlier this year, organizers of Lviv’s Equality Festival were forced to cancel events after venues retracted sponsorship, the local government banned all public events, and masked assailants issued an anonymous bomb threat. That trend did not continue in June, when in the country’s capital, Kiev, authorities took steps to protect Pride participants and prevent verbal and physical assault, giving many hope that the situation for the LGBT community in Ukraine is improving.

Olympic Newsmakers

Over the weekend Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first American athlete to medal while wearing a hijab at an Olympic Games. Muhammad and her fellow U.S. Women’s Fencing Team members won bronze in the team sabre competition.

The Refugee Olympic Team also continue to capture attention in Rio as they competed in Olympic track and field events. Yiech Pur Biel, Anjelina Nadai Lohalith, and James Chiengjiek, all refugees from South Sudan, raced in qualifying events, though none of the three advanced to the final medal races. Read more about these inspiring athletes and how they have inspired their fellow refugees around the world.

These athletes stand for more than sportsmanship, entertainment, or patriotism—they are a reminder of the violent conflicts that have displaced millions worldwide, and a symbol of hope of all that refugees can accomplish when welcomed into a new homeland. You can show your support for welcoming refugees by sharing the Refugee Olympic Team’s virtual “trading cards” that include each member’s photo and refugee story, as well as information about their Olympic event, age, home country, and training base nation. Click here to share these cards on Facebook and Twitter while following the final week of the Rio Games.

Quote of the Week

“This is sport. It doesn’t matter what hair color you have, or what religion you are. The point is to go out there and be the best athlete you can be. We’re the best explanation of what American is. A mix of so many different cultures and races, and everything all together.”

American fencer Dagmara Wozniak speaking about the U.S. Women’s Fencing team that included Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first American athlete to compete in a hijab.

We’re Listening To

NPR’s All Things Considered featured a discussion about religious groups embracing Syrian refugees who are starting new lives in America.

NPR’s Arun Rath traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to get an up close look at camps Five and Six of the U.S. detention facility.

We’re Reading

The New York Times Magazine devotes an entire issue to telling the story of the fracturing of the Middle East.

In the Austin-American Statesman Sara Ramey makes the case that delays in our immigration courts are making a mockery of the U.S. justice system.

The Advocate reports on the groundbreaking decision by Belize’s High Court to strike down the country’s colonial-era antisodomy law.


Published on August 15, 2016


Related Posts

Seeking asylum?

If you do not already have legal representation, cannot afford an attorney, and need help with a claim for asylum or other protection-based form of immigration status, we can help.