Washington Week on Human Rights: January 19, 2016

Top News

Global Refugee Crisis Tomorrow the Senate will take up the American SAFE Act, legislation that would effectively halt the resettlement of vulnerable refugees from Iraq and Syria to the United States. The legislation would require personal sign-off from the secretary of homeland security, the FBI director, and the director of national intelligence to certify each individual refugee, and require the onerous process of submitting monthly reports to twelve congressional committees on the status of each refugee reviewed. National security experts have said the bill, which passed the House late last year, would exacerbate the current refugee crisis by burdening our already strained allies in the Middle East. Twenty of these leaders, including Henry Kissinger, General David Petraeus (Ret.), Michael Chertoff, Madeleine Albright, and Leon Panetta recently reminded Congress that rejecting refugees “would be contrary to our nation’s traditions of openness and inclusivity, and would undermine our core objective of combating terrorism.” Human Rights First notes that these refugees are already the most stringently vetted group entering the United States, a process detailed here.

Guantanamo Last week, the administration transferred 10 detainees from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a move that brings the facility’s population below 100 for the first time since it opened in January 2002. The transfers came as President Obama used his State of the Union address to reiterate his call to shutter the facility and just days before Secretary of Defense Ash Carter sent the White House a plan outlining steps to carry out that promise. Thirty-four of the remaining 93 detainees are cleared for transfer, and another 44 are eligible for Periodic Review Board (PRB) review. Human Rights First’s plan to close Guantanamo is outlined in its latest Blueprint: How to Close Guantanamo.

Quote of the Week

“America has been through big changes before – wars and depression, the influx of immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, and movements to expand civil rights. Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change, promising to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control. And each time, we overcame those fears. We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the “dogmas of the quiet past.” Instead we thought anew, and acted anew. We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more and more people. And because we did – because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril – we emerged stronger and better than before.”

—President Obama’s State of the Union Address, January 12, 2016

We’re Reading

Ahead of last week’s State of the Union address, Human Rights First’s Sharon Kelly McBride outlined for The Hill human rights issues that President Obama should make a priority in his last year in office.

The Houston Chronicle and USA Today reported on the Obama Administration’s plan to accept an increased number of refugees fleeing violence and persecution in Central America by establishing in-country processing centers.

Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley, in a piece for Al Jazeera America, argued why the United States should press Turkey should allow Syrian activists to cross its border.

Last week the Obama Administration transferred ten detainees out of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, bringing the prison’s population below 100 for the first time since it opened in 2002. The Intercept reported on these transfers, and Christian Science Monitor looked into whether President Obama could act unilaterally to close the prison once and for all.

Following a spate of antisemitic incidents in France, the Catholic News Agency questions whether France is becoming too dangerous for Jews. For more information see Human Rights First’s new major report, “Breaking the Cycle of Violence: Countering Antisemitism and Extremism in France.”

On the Hill

Tuesday, January 20, 2016

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on “U.S. Strategy and Policy in the Middle East.” Retired Army Gen. John Keane, chairman of the Institute for the Study of War and former vice chief of staff of the Army; Ryan Crocker, dean and executive professor in Texas A&M University’s George Bush School of Government and Public Service and former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan; and Philip Gordon, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, will testify.
9:30AM, 216 Hart Senate Office Building

Around Town

Monday January 22, 2016

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) will hold a discussion on “The Middle East at an Inflection Point.” The event will feature United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba; and John Hamre, president and CEO of CSIS. 2PM, CSIS, 1616 Rhode Island Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

Save the Date – Monday, January 25, 2016

On the fifth anniversary of the mass Tahrir Square protests against Egypt’s former President Mubarak that led to his resignation and unleashed a period of continuing political instability, Human Rights First will host a panel to coincide with the release of a new blueprint on how Congress and the Obama Administration should address the persistent human rights crisis in Egypt. The blueprint will set out recommendations for the U.S. government can more effectively use its influence to advance human rights in Egypt. It is rooted in ongoing in-country research and interviews with Egyptian human rights defenders, civil society activists, journalists, academics, lawyers, and government officials. The panel will address current conditions in Egypt, the strengths and shortcomings of the U.S. response, and potential opportunities for the U.S. government to more effectively support civil society and address human rights concerns. It will feature Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks (moderator) and Brian Dooley, POMED’s Amy Hawthorne, and TIMEP’s Nancy Okail. 3 p.m., Human Rights First, 805 15th Street NW, Suite 900, Washington, D.C.

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Published on January 21, 2016

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