Washington Week on Human Rights: August 24, 2015

Top News

Family Detention Federal Judge Dolly Gee ruled late on Friday that the Obama Administration must release children from family detention centers “without unnecessary delay” and that they should be released with their mothers when possible. The ruling also found that children cannot be detained in unlicensed or secure facilities. Gee’s ruling condemned the administration for dragging its feet on reforms announced earlier this month that were designed to reduce the detention times for asylum-seeking families. There are three primary family detention facilities in the United States. The centers in Karnes City and Dilley, Texas hold more than 1,300 women and children combined. A third, smaller facility in Berks County, Pennsylvania, holds about 70 people and plans to expand capacity to around 200 individuals. Last week, Human Rights First issued a report on the Berks County Residential Center in Leesport, Pennsylvania. The report found that despite recent reform announcements from the Department of Homeland Security, children and their parents detained at the facility experience tremendous legal and health challenges, including detrimental effects on their mental health that may begin within days of incarceration.

Guantanamo Last week, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter reiterated his and the administration’s commitment to closing the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by the end of the president’s second term in office. Carter stressed that he intends to work within the law to transfer those detainees who have already been cleared by relevant agencies. He also said that that the administration will soon send to Congress a plan for the remaining detainees who are not eligible for transfer. Carter indicated the plan will include bringing a number of detainees to the United States for continued detention and that assessment teams are currently visiting potential detention sites across the United States. Both the military and the Bureau of Prisons have safely detained safely detained very dangerous criminals, including terrorists and mass murderers, and are well-equipped to continue to do so. Human Rights First has said that any plan to shutter the Guantanamo facility should include: expedited transfers of cleared detainees; an increased pace of Periodic Review Board hearings, which determine whether a detainee still poses a threat to the United States or is cleared for transfer; and stronger engagement with Congress, including vetoing any legislation that prevents Guantanamo from being closed.

Bahrain The trial of prominent Bahraini opposition figure Ibrahim Sharif, a leader of the peaceful secular leftist Waad political group, began today and was adjourned until October 12. Last month, Sharif was arbitrarily arrested for “promoting political change through forceful means and threats and inciting hatred against the regime” after giving a speech calling for reform. The arrest occurred only weeks after he was released from prison after serving nearly all of a five-year sentence for peacefully calling for reform in 2011, and two weeks after the Obama Administration announced it was lifting its ban on arms sales to the Bahraini military, citing “meaningful progress on human rights.” Earlier this month, Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ron Wyden (D-WA) introduced legislation (S.2009) to ban the sale of small arms and ammunition to Bahrain until the government fully implements all 26 recommendations made by the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, a bill Human Rights First strongly supports.

Due Process Last week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) found that the United States violated Bernardo Aban Tercero’s rights to due process and a fair trial that are enshrined in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. Tercero, a Nicaraguan national who has been on death row since 2000, is scheduled for execution in Texas on Wednesday. Tercero had deficient capital counsel at trial, sentencing, and at every stage of his post-conviction proceedings. His trial attorneys never conducted a comprehensive investigation into his social history, as required by the American Bar Association (“ABA”) Guidelines on minimum standards of representation in a capital case. There is also no evidence that Tercero himself was ever evaluated for mental illness or intellectual disability which could make him ineligible for the death penalty, despite significant evidence of risk factors. Human Rights First, which filed a petition in the case, is urging Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to adhere to the IACHR’s recommendations to stay the execution pending review of the trial and sentencing.

Quote of the Week

“(As long as the Guantanamo) detention facility remains open, it will remain a rallying cry for jihadi propaganda. The taxpayers are paying too high a financial price to keep this facility open. And additionally, closing the detention facility at Guantanamo is not something, in my judgment, that we should leave to the next president, whether Republican or Democrat.

“It’s for all of these reasons that I’ve strongly supported President Obama’s commitment to bringing a responsible end to holding detainees at Guantanamo.”

—Secretary of Defense Ash Carter during an August 20 press briefing at the Pentagon

We’re Reading

Writing for The Houston Chronicle, Human Rights First’s Melissa Hooper called on Texas to stay the execution of Bernardo Aban Tercero pending review of his trial and sentence, citing numerous violations of his due process rights.

The New York Times, International Business Times, and The Washington Times reported on an order issued Friday by a federal judge in California ordering the administration to release children from family immigration detention facilities – citing a recent Human Rights First report on the harmful effects of detention on children.

In Defense One, Human Rights First’s Daphne Eviatar discussed the administration’s failure to transfer sickly Guantanamo detainee Ba Odah, calling on President Obama to take action to transfer him and the other detainees who have been cleared for transfer out of the facility.

In a piece for The Providence Journal, Bahraini human rights defender Maryam Al Khawaja urged Senators Whitehouse (D-RI) and Reed (D-RI) to support new legislation to ban the sale of small arms to the repressive Bahraini regime.

NBC News highlighted a new report issued by Human Rights First about the family immigration detention facility in Berks County, PA.

Writing for The Hill, Human Rights First’s Adam Jacobson explained why fears about transferring Gitmo detainees to federal facilities are unfounded.

We’re Listening

Over the weekend, NPR’s Corey Flintoff reported on human rights concerns within Kazakhstan’s LGBT community. There are renewed fears that the government may soon double down on efforts to pass Russia-inspired laws to ban so-called “propaganda about non-traditional sexual relationships to minors.”


Published on August 24, 2015


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