Washington Week on Human Rights: January 4, 2016

Top News

Guantanamo A senior U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity confirmed to CNN that 17 detainees cleared for release from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are expected to be transferred this month. The source said that in December Defense Secretary Ash Carter notified Congress of the transfers. Last month, President Obama said Guantanamo “continues to be one of the key magnets for jihadi recruitment.” The transfer of these 17 individuals would bring the detention facility’s population to 90, below 100 detainees for the first time since Guantanamo opened in January 2002. Forty-eight of the remaining detainees are cleared for transfer, and another 46 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.

Antisemitism and Extremism in France On Thursday, Human Rights First will release a major report, “Breaking the Cycle of Violence: Countering Antisemitism and Extremism in France,” on antisemitism and extremism in France. The release comes exactly one year after the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket attacks in Paris and as antisemitism, the rise of the far right, and Islamic extremism are converging in a vicious cycle to fuel intolerance and violence in France. As November’s tragic terrorist attacks in Paris exemplify, indiscriminate and violent acts of extremism pose a threat to the people of France regardless of ethnicity, race, or religious conviction. Human Rights First’s new report will focus on ways that U.S. government officials can work with their French counterparts to prevent future attacks, as well as craft a path forward that upholds our shared commitment to human rights as an integral part of national security.

Saudi Arabia Executes al Nimr Over the weekend, U.S.-ally Saudi Arabia executed 47 prisoners, including leading Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr. Al-Nimr was an important voice during the 2011 demonstrations against repressive regimes in the region. He notably criticized Sunni autocracies such as Bahrain, as well as the Syrian dictatorship of Alawite Bashar al-Assad, who is supported by the Shia hierarchy in Iran. The killing sparked protests across the region and led Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to cut diplomatic ties with Iran. The U.S. State Department issued a statement that raised concerns about Saudi Arabia’s legal system and noted, “We are particularly concerned that the execution of prominent Shia cleric and political activist Nimr al-Nimr risks exacerbating sectarian tensions at a time when they urgently need to be reduced.”

Quote of the Week

“To turn back the threat of terrorism, countries must turn to local communities. Whether in France, Turkey, or here in the United States, militaries and intelligence agencies can protect us from external threats and bring terrorists to justice, but they cannot address the complex motives and hateful ideologies that drive people to terrorism in the first place.

“In the long run, defeating groups like ISIL means not only eliminating terrorists, but also preventing people from becoming terrorists in the first place. We do that not by turning away from our values and our communities, but by embracing them.”

—A Dec. 30 blog from Sarah Sewall, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights

We’re Reading

The New York Times Editorial Board today condemned the tightening of civil liberties in France in the wake of November’s tragic terrorist attacks. Human Rights First has called on the United States and France to advance national security priorities while protecting human rights.

BuzzFeed reports on the first known refugee death in 2016: a toddler trying to enter Europe. So far, the United States has committed to increase its overall refugee resettlement for refugees from all countries for the year only by 15,000, and has committed only to resettle “at least 10,000” Syrian refugees in fiscal year 2016. Human Rights First continues to urge the Obama Administration to lead a global effort to address the situation, including increasing the overall refugee ceiling to 200,000 to support a commitment to resettle at least 100,000 Syrian refugees during the next fiscal year.

Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley questions the U.S. government’s response to the execution of 47 prisoners in Saudi Arabia, including Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, in a piece for the Huffington Post  In it, he urges the U.S. government to “show Saudi that there will be bilateral consequences for continuing human rights violations, including the jailing of human rights activists.”

We’re Listening

NPR’s David Welna examined the case of Guantanamo detainee Mohamedou Slahi, author of Guantanamo Diary. Slahi, who was tortured at Guantanamo, is one of 117 detainees remaining at the facility.

Around Town

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Human Rights First will launch a major report on antisemitism and extremism in France. The report, “Breaking the Cycle of Violence: Countering Antisemitism and Extremism,” comes as antisemitism, the rise of the far right, and Islamic extremism are converging in a vicious cycle to fuel intolerance and violence in France. The event will feature opening remarks from Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino, and an overview of the report from its author, Human Rights First’s Susan Corke. Her presentation will be followed by a discussion moderated by Steve Clemons, Washington editor for The Atlantic, and featuring Floriane Hohenberg, Director of the International Tracing Service; Tad Stahnke, Director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Holocaust Denial and Antisemitism work; Ilan Scialom, Vice President of Coexister; and Michael German, a Brennan Center for Justice fellow.  9-11 AM, The National Press Club, 529 14th Street NW, 13th Floor, Washington, D.C.


Published on January 5, 2016


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