Washington Week on Human Rights: December 1, 2014

Top News

ISIS Overnight, the United States and members of its coalition to defeat ISIS led an air assault that included as many as 30 airstrikes against key targets in and around northeastern Syria. Meanwhile, news sources are reporting that United States and Turkey are close to an agreement that would permit United States and its coalition military partners to use Turkish air bases to launch strikes against ISIS targets in northern Syria. The agreement will establish a safe zone along the Turkey-Syria border, making the territory off limits to the Assad regime while protecting refugees. Turkey is currently hosting more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees.

Torture Last week, seven of the United Nation’s top human rights experts, including U.N. special rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez, urged the Obama Administration to buck CIA demands to redact key pieces of information from the Senate intelligence committee’s report on the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program. In an open letter, the officials called on President Obama to support release of the report “in the most complete and comprehensible form possible, allowing the victims and the public to fully understand the facts.” The letter noted that the United States’ handling of the report will have “far-reaching consequences for victims of rights violations everywhere and for the credibility of the United States.” Senate intelligence committee members have made clear their desire to release the report before the 113th Congress concludes.

Egypt Over the weekend, an Egyptian court dropped all remaining charges against former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The decision means that Mubarak will not be held accountable for human rights abuses that took place during his three decades in power, including the deaths of hundreds of protestors during the 2011 protests that eventually ousted the former president from power. Current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said he will not pursue further legal action against Mubarak, but that he will follow the court’s recommendation to review procedural technicalities that resulted in the decision to dismiss charges. Sisi also said that he has directed Egypt’s prime minister to review the government’s compensation to the families of demonstrators who were killed during the Arab Spring uprising.

Bahrain A Bahrain court today sentenced leading human rights defender Maryam Al Khawaja to one year in prison for an alleged assault on police officers as she returned to Bahrain at the end of August to visit her family, a charge she denies. Following her arrest, Al Khawaja spent three weeks in prison before being released and leaving the country. She boycotted today’s sentencing and issued a public statement criticizing the Kingdom’s lack of due process and judicial independence. Al Khawaja’s sister, Zaianab, is due to be sentenced in separate court hearings later this week. These court actions come just days before Bahrain is slated to host the Manama Dialogue, a security conference that will take place this weekend in the Kingdom’s capital. The United States is set to send a delegation to the gathering, including several U.S. Senators and senior defense officials. Human Rights First is urging U.S. leaders to raise local and regional human rights concerns during discussions about national security interests in the region.

Quotes of the Week

“It’s easy to focus on what separates us. But as we gather with loved ones on this Thanksgiving, let’s remember and be grateful for what binds us together. Our love of country. Our commitment to justice and equality. Our belief that America’s best days are ahead, and that her destiny is ours to shape — and that our inherited ideals must be the birthright of all of our children.”

President Obama’s Weekly Address

We’re Reading

Bob Ortega for The Arizona Republic reported that the majority of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the United States do not have legal representation, which is critical helping asylum seekers navigate an extremely complex immigration court system. Human Rights First is working to expand its pro bono legal representation program to help address this problem. Find out more here.

According to AFP, prominent Bahraini human rights activist Maryam Al Khawaja was sentenced in absentia today to one year in prison on politically-motivated charges. The conviction is part of the U.S. ally’s continued targeting of human rights defenders. In 2012, Maryam accepted the Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty on behalf of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights during Human Rights First’s annual Human Rights Summit in Washington, D.C.

We’re Watching

Last night, CBS’s “60 Minutes” examined the plight of starving Syrian refugees and the lifesaving aid provided by the United Nation’s World Food Program.

On the Hill

December 2, 2014

The House Homeland Security Committee will hold a heaaring on “Open Borders: The Impact of Presidential Amnesty on Border Security.” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will testify. 9AM, 311 Cannon House Office Building

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the nominations of Robert Scher to be assistant Defense secretary for strategy, plans and capabilities; Elissa Slotkin to be assistant Defense secretary for international security affairs; David Berteau to be assistant Defense secretary for logistics and materiel readiness; Alissa Starzak to be general counsel of the Army; and Adm. Harry Harris Jr., for reappointment to the grade of admiral and to be commander of the U.S. Pacific Command. 9:30AM, 216 Hart Senate Office Building

The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on “National Defense Panel Assessment of the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review.” Eric Edelman, former Defense undersecretary for policy and panelist on the National Defense Panel; and Michele Flournoy, former Defense undersecretary for policy and panelist on the National Defense Panel, will testify. 10AM, 2118 Rayburn House Office Building

The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee and Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade Subcommittee will hold a joint hearing on “ISIS and the Threat from Foreign Fighters.” Robert Bradtke, senior adviser for partner engagement on Syria foreign fighters at the State Department; and Tom Warrick, deputy assistant Homeland Security secretary for counterterrorism policy, will testify. 10am, 2172 Rayburn House Office Building

The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on “President Obama’s Executive Overreach on Immigration.” 1pm, 2141 Rayburn House Office Building

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on the nominations of Richard Verma to be U.S. ambassador to India, and Peter McKinley to be U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. 2:30pm, 419 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Around Town

December 3, 2014

The Foreign Policy Initiative will host a forum on “A World in Crisis: The Need for American Leadership.” 9AM, The Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

December 5, 2014

The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and FP Group will hold a discussion on “Peacemaking in an Era of Violent Extremism.” 8am, USIP, 2301 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.


Human Rights First will hold its third annual Human Rights Summit in Washington, DC at the Newseum from December 9-10. The event brings together international civil society activists, American policymakers, military and business leaders to discuss today’s human rights challenges and affirm the importance of U.S. leadership on human rights. Register for this free summit or learn more here .

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Published on December 3, 2014


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