Washington Week on Human Rights: July 27, 2015

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KENYA During his weekend visit to Kenya, President Obama urged government officials to enhance national security by ending government corruption, engaging civil society, and enhancing human rights protections. In addition to meeting with entrepreneurs and government leaders, the president spent time with Kenyan civil society leaders, including those representing the nation’s Muslim community. Human Rights First recently released a new blueprint outlining steps the Obama Administration should take to promote greater stability in Kenya and the region, to advance productive means of countering violent extremism, and to support a robust Kenyan civil society. The blueprint titled “How the United States Can Help Counter Violent Extremism and Support Civil Society in Kenya,” is based on a Human Rights First research trip to Kenya in June and July 2015, and is informed by dozens of discussions with human rights defenders, civil society activists, journalists, academics, lawyers, independent experts, former senior Kenyan security officials, and government officials from the United States and other countries.

TRAFFICKING This morning, Secretary of State John Kerry released the 2015 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. The TIP report rankings are meant to provide an assessment of global efforts to combat human trafficking and serve as a diplomatic tool to encourage foreign governments to improve their anti-trafficking efforts. The TIP Report issues a ranking of Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List, or Tier 3 for each of the 188 countries and territories assessed, including the United States. This year’s rankings have drawn criticism for upgrading Malaysia from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List, a step Human Rights First has warned will undermine the Obama Administration’s efforts to address human trafficking and the credibility of the report as a whole. Malaysia’s ranking upgrade comes as the Obama Administration negotiates the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal between the United States and eleven countries in the Asia Pacific region that includes Malaysia.

IMMIGRATION DETENTION On Friday, a federal court ruling ordered an end to the Obama Administration’s flawed policy of locking up children and their mothers in immigration detention facilities. California District Judge Molly Gee ruled that the administration’s family detention policy violates a nearly two-decade old court settlement regarding the detention, release, and custody of migrant children. Judge Gee’s ruling requires that children be released without unnecessary delay to a family member in order of preference beginning with parents, which may include the accompanying parent detained with the child. In addition, the ruling found that children cannot be detained in unlicensed or secure facilities. The court’s decision makes clear that the family detention facilities are in fact “secure” facilities since the families are not free to leave. The government must also propose standards for ensuring that temporary custody in Customs and Border Patrol facilities complies with the settlement agreement’s provision that they be “safe and sanitary.” As detailed in Human Rights First’s recent report, detention creates many obstacles for asylum-seeking families and negatively impacts the mental health and development of children. Rather than sending women and children seeking asylum into immigration detention, the Obama Administration should expand the use of community-based, case-management focused alternatives to detention and support staffing for the immigration courts and asylum office, as well as legal counsel for asylum seekers and other immigration detainees.

GUANTANAMO White House national security aide Lisa Monaco told attendees at the Aspen Security Conference that the Obama Administration will soon send Congress its plan to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The plan would step up efforts to transfer 52 detainees who have been cleared for resettlement in other countries. It would also bring a number of detainees to the United States, where they will be housed in a supermax or military prison as the United States determines whether they can be tried. Monaco noted that the administration remains committed to closing Guantanamo before the end of the president’s second term, noting, “We are going to whittle down this group to what I refer to as the irreducible minimum, who would have to be brought here to a secure location, held under the laws of war, continuing under military detention. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to close Guantanamo.” About half of the 116 detainees remaining at Guantanamo have been cleared for transfer by U.S. intelligence and security agencies. Human Rights First has issued a blueprint, “How to Close Guantanamo,” detailing steps the administration should take to meet the president’s goal of shuttering the facility.

Quote of the Week

“When you start treating people differently not because of any harm they are doing to anybody, but because they are different, that’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode and bad things happen.”

—President Obama during a July 25 joint press conference with Kenya’s President Kenyatta

We’re Reading

The New York TimesReutersTIME, and Daily Mail highlighted President Obama’s trip to Kenya where he spoke out against the targeting of civil society and minority communities and promoted equal rights for Kenya’s LGBT community.

The Washington Times reported on a U.S. Federal District Court decision ruling against the administration’s practice of holding migrant children and their mothers in family immigration detention.

CNN and Christian Science Monitor reported on today’s release of the 2015 Trafficking in Persons report, highlighting concerns over the politicization of the rankings process.

TIME reported on news that the Obama Administration will soon finalize a plan for closing Gitmo, noting that closing the facility will also require congressional action.

Politico reported on Congressional debates surrounding the administration’s efforts to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

Birmingham News reported on Birmingham Mayor and Human Rights First ambassador William Bell’s participation in last week’s Vatican Conference on combating human trafficking

According to USA Today, a Kenyan lawmaker is calling on the United States to release the remaining Kenyan detainee – Abdul Malik – who is being indefinitely held at Gitmo. Human Rights First’s recent Kenya blueprint recommends that the administration develop a plan to give Malik a Periodic Review Board hearing and develop a plan to transfer Malik back to Kenya.

We’re Watching

During his July 26 speech in Nairobi, Kenya, President Obama urged leaders to strengthen Kenya’s national security and economic development by embracing policies that engage civil society, protect marginalized communities, and fight corruption.

On the Hill

Friday, July 28, 2015

The Congressional Progressive Caucus and Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee will hold a forum on family detention issues. Among those participating are Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz.; Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.; Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.; Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif.; Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.; Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif.; Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Calif.; Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif.; Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash.; Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn.; Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.; Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J.; Luis Zayas, dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin; and Barbara Hines, former clinical professor at the University of Texas School of Law. 2:00 PM, 2226 Rayburn House Office Building

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Published on July 27, 2015

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