Washington Week on Human Rights: February 8, 2016

Top News

President Obama’s Budget Tomorrow President Obama will release his final budget request, which is expected to contain increased funding to address immigration court case backlogs. Human Rights First has called on the administration to add 75 immigration judge teams in FY2017, a step that would help to address continued growth in the number of pending cases before the court and increasing wait times for cases to come before a judge. There is bipartisan support to decrease the case backlogs that leave many refugees waiting nearly three years to appear before a judge. There are nearly 500,000 removal cases pending in immigration courts.

Global Refugee Crisis Last week during the Syria Donors Conference in London, the United States committed an additional $925 million in humanitarian aid and support for Syrian refugees, double the amount pledged last year. Co-hosted by the United Kingdom, Germany, Kuwait, and the United Nations, the Syrian Donors Conference brought together world leaders to raise new funding and to discuss solutions to address the global refugee crisis and support frontline states. Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, the United States has resettled less than 2,600 Syrian refugees and has committed only to resettle “at least 10,000” Syrian refugees in fiscal year 2016. Syrian border states, including Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, continue to host the majority of the more than 4 million Syrians who have fled horrific violence and conflict in their country. Many of these refugees have been stranded for years without the ability to work to support their families, with little access to education and a lack of basic humanitarian assistance. Faced with insufficient humanitarian, development, and resettlement support, these countries have implemented border restrictions that have effectively closed the border for refugees, leaving many trapped within Syria or forced to take dangerous journeys in search of safety.

Bahrain Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isla Khalifa and Russian President Vladimir Putin met today to strengthen ties between the two nations, including increased military contracts. The leaders met as Bahrain, home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, approaches the fifth anniversary of its uprising in support of democracy and an end to human rights abuses. Since February 14, 2011, prominent opposition leaders and leading human rights activists have continued to be targeted and jailed by the Bahraini regime. The Kingdom has failed to implement recommendations by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which was conducted to develop a factual account of the violent 2011 crackdown on protestors and to provide recommendations on how to constructively address the situation. Human Rights First will issue a new blueprint this week detailing the current situation in Bahrain and steps the United States should take to address the Kingdom’s deteriorating human rights situation.

Egypt This week in Washington, DC, Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, and various congressional leaders will meet with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to discuss, among other topics, concerns related to Egypt’s human rights record. The meetings come as Undersecretary of State for Civil Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Sarah Sewall is in Cairo to learn more about “challenges facing Egypt and the progress the country has made in addressing them.” Human Rights First recently issued a blueprint examining conditions in Egypt, the strengths and shortcomings of the U.S. response, and potential opportunities for the U.S. government to support civil society and strengthen respect for human rights.

Call for Nominations Human Rights First is seeking nominations for the 2016 Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty Award. The 2016 award will go to an individual or organization outside of the United States who has demonstrated an exceptional commitment to human rights advocacy in areas such as human trafficking, religious freedom, LGBT rights, refugee protection, and defense of civil society, among others. The winner will be selected by a distinguished jury and will receive a trip to the United States to engage in advocacy and a $25,000 prize. Nominations for the 2016 award are due by March 10.

Quote of the Week

“We’re one American family. And when any part of our family starts to feel separate or second-class or targeted, it tears at the very fabric of our nation.”

—Remarks by President Obama delivered at the Islamic Society of Baltimore

We’re Reading

Writing for the Washington Blade, Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord argued that human rights advocates should be slow to criticize any progress made in the global struggle for LGBT equality.

Los Angeles Times reported that the Unites States pledged nearly $1 billion in new humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees and support for front-line states during the Syrian Donors Conference held in London last week.

Military Times highlighted the House passage of a bill to combat human trafficking by improving the enforcement of restrictions on the use of recruitment fees by government contractors.

Reuters reported that Representative Chris Smith is working on new provisions for the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPRA) aimed at increasing accountability and oversight for the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report.

We’re Watching

CNN’s Arwa Damon shines a spotlight on the plight of thousands of Syrian refugees who are stranded at the Turkish border.

On the Hill

Monday February 8, 2016

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Government Operations Subcommittee and National Security Subcommittee will hold a hearing on “The President’s Waiver of Restrictions on the Visa Waiver Program.” 2PM, 2154 Rayburn House Office Building

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on worldwide threats. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Jr.; and Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, will testify. 9:30AM, G-50 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on “From Iraq and Syria to Libya and Beyond: The Evolving ISIL Threat.” Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, will testify. 10AM, 2172 Rayburn House Office Building

The House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing on “National Security and Law Enforcement: Breaking the New Visa Waiver Law to Appease Iran.” 11AM, 311 Cannon House Office Building

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The House Appropriations Committee’s State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee will hold a hearing on “United States Engagement in Central America.” Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield; Elizabeth Hogan, acting assistant administrator in the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Latin America and Caribbean Bureau; and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Francisco Palmieri will testify. 10AM, B-308 Rayburn House Office Building

The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee will hold a hearing on “Jordan: A Key U.S. Partner.” Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Gerald Feierstein; Paige Alexander, assistant administrator in the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Bureau for the Middle East; and Fatema Sumar, regional deputy vice president for Europe, Asia, the Pacific and Latin America in the Department of Compact Operations at the Millennium Challenge Corporation, will testify. 2PM, 2172 Rayburn House Office Building

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission will hold a briefing on “Bahrain: Repression and the Consequences for Reconciliation.” The briefing will mark the fifth anniversary of the pro-democracy uprising in Bahrain. Congressman James P. McGovern will provide opening remarks. The panel discussion will feature Brian Dooley, Human Rights First; Maryam Alkhawaja, Co-director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights; and Kate Kizer, U.S. Advocacy Officer at Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain. Cole Bockenfeld, Deputy Director of Policy at the Project on Middle East Democracy, will serve as moderator. 11AM, Location TBD

Around Town

Monday February 8, 2016

The George Washington University (GWU) Elliott School of International Affairs will hold a discussion on “The Disappearing Shadow of Local Democracy in Russia.” The event will feature Ivan Kurilla, professor at the European University at St. Petersburg; and Pavel Konenenko, professor at St. Petersburg State University. 4PM, GWU Elliott School, 1957 E Street NW, Voesar Conference Room, Suite 412, Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) will host a discussion on “Central American Migrant Crisis: Managing Flows.” The event will feature former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff; Salvador Rodezno, deputy chief of mission for the Embassy of Honduras; and Kevin Appleby, international migration policy director for the Center for Migration Studies. 11AM, BPC, 1225 I Street NW, Suite 1000, Washington, D.C.

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Published on February 8, 2016


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