Washington Week on Human Rights: July 5, 2016



This week President Obama travels to Poland, where he and other world leaders will attend the July 8-9 NATO summit. Human Rights First is pressing President Obama to use the trip as an opportunity to shore up Poland’s commitment to human rights and civil liberties. The call comes just after the Polish legislature passed a slew of problematic laws, including an anti-terror measure that classifies all foreigners as terror suspects and a law that essentially prevents the Constitutional Tribunal from reviewing any of the legislature’s new policies. While Poland was once considered one of the strongest democracies in Central Europe, recent developments have undermined that reputation. Obama should encourage Poland to recommit to NATO’s shared values.


On Friday the Obama Administration released its estimated number of combatants and noncombatants killed in airstrikes, including by drone, outside of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. The casualty assessments cover January 20, 2009-December 31, 2015 and were accompanied by an executive order that memorializes internal procedures for limiting civilian casualties. The order also requires the annual release of civilian casualty numbers and reiterates the administration’s commitment to complying with its obligations under the law of armed conflict. Human Rights First previously noted that confidence in U.S. counterterrorism operations depends on full clarity about the governing policies and the measures taken to comply with international law and to minimize harm to civilians. The administration is also expected to soon release a redacted version of the Presidential Policy Guidance (PPG), which sets out the administration’s policies for using force outside areas of active hostilities.

Targeted Killing

Last week 60 of the nation’s most respected retired generals and admirals urged the Republican and Democratic Platform Committees to unequivocally reject the use of torture. The call came as terrorism attacks in Turkey, Baghdad, Saudi Arabia, and other locations prompted political candidates to raise the issue. In September of last year a group of retired military leaders and interrogation and intelligence professionals sent a letter to all candidates for president urging them to publicly reject the use of torture as it is illegal, counterproductive, and detrimental to national security.

Human Trafficking

New data in the State Department’s 2016 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report indicates that global prosecutions of human trafficking rose by 88 percent and convictions increased by 49 percent in 2015 over the previous year. The 2016 TIP report, released on Thursday, is an annual accounting of global efforts to combat human trafficking. Some of the increase in prosecutions and convictions were due in part to India and China reporting for the first time. While accountability for human traffickers is moving in the right direction, Human Rights First notes that there remains a significant gap in the number of labor trafficking cases handled. Of the 6,609 convictions last year, only seven percent were labor trafficking cases. This is far from representative of the scale of the crime. According to the International Labor Organization, approximately 68 percent of the world’s estimated 20.9 million trafficking victims are victims of a form of forced labor.


The United Nations Human Rights Council created the position of Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) during its meeting in Geneva last week. Human Rights First supported creating this position, calling it a historic step towards ensuring that human rights for LGBTI people remain a prominent issue within the human rights movement.

Quote of the Week

“When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must — at that moment — become the center of the universe.”

—Elie Wiesel, 1928-2016

We’re Reading

In a July 4th editorial, The New York Times examined the administration’s response to families and young children fleeing to the United States to escape dangers in their home countries.

The Washington Post writes about the U.N. Human Rights Council vote to establish a watchdog for LGBTI rights.

The Guardian writes about the Obama Administration’s release of its targeted killing casualty assessment.

Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley published a piece in Politico analyzing the Obama Administration’s failed policy on Bahrain.

The Hill and Washington Examiner featured articles about retired military leaders calling on political party platform committees to denounce torture.

We’re Watching

As Congress continues to consider legislation to extend the Special Immigration Visa (SIV) program to protect foreign allies who worked directly with American soldiers in Afghanistan, Human Rights First has released a new video featuring two Afghan allies who were able to come to America as refugees.

We’re Listening To

Yesterday, NPR re-aired Elie Wiesel’s moving 2008 “This I Believe” essay about his experience at the Buchenwald concentration camp and the importance of bearing witness to prevent future atrocities.

On The Hill

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The House Appropriations Committee State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee will hold a markup of the FY2017 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill. 10:30 AM, H-140, US Capitol

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on “Demanding Accountability: The Administration’s Reckless Release of Terrorists from Guantanamo.” Lee Wolosky, special envoy for Guantanamo closure in the State Department; and Paul Lewis, special envoy for Guantanamo detention closure at the State Department, will testify. 10:00 AM, 2172 Rayburn House Office Building


Published on July 5, 2016


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