Top News

Ukraine Pride

After the deadliest mass shooting attack in U.S. history targeted LGBT men and women at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, claiming 50 lives and critically injuring dozens more, cities around the United States and the world hosted Pride events. Participants mourned in solidarity and called for an embrace of diversity and equality. In too many nations, Pride activities have been met with violence. Ukraine is a prime example of this problem. In mid-March, Equality Festival Lviv, a celebration of inclusion in a city three hundred miles to Kiev’s east, was forced to cancel its events after venues retracted sponsorship, the local government banned all public events, and masked assailants issued an anonymous bomb threat. Local authorities in Lviv also failed to provide protection after threats against the festival. In the months since, U.S. government officials, including the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, actively engaged with Ukrainian authorities to encourage support and protection of Ukraine’s LGBT community. Last month a bipartisan group of 38 members of Congress wrote a letter to the ambassador of Ukraine expressing support for the protection of the rights of Ukraine’s LGBT community to safely organize. This work has paid off. Despite threats from extremist groups who warned organizers that Kiev’s planned Pride march would be a “bloodbath,” on Sunday an estimated 2000 attendees participated in Kiev Pride. Activists celebrated a largely peaceful march, praising the efforts of lawmakers to protect their freedoms of assembly and free speech. A large presence of police protected the event’s participants, preventing ultra-nationalist and neo-Nazi groups from committing acts of violence.


Defense Authorization

This week the Senate will vote on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and a multitude of amendments. Of special concern are amendments to restrict the transfer of detainees from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to the United States and several other countries, as well as provisions to ban creation of new facilities to house detainees. While Human Rights First has urged defeat of those Guantanamo-related provisions, it has voiced robust support for an amendment to provide additional Afghan Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs). The Afghan SIV program allows Afghans who provided crucial support to the U.S. armed forces and other U.S. government agencies operating in Afghanistan to be resettled in the United States. Many linguists, contractors, and security guards who worked with the U.S. military have found protection by using the visas to escape well-documented threats from the Taliban and other groups hostile to the United States. Currently, ten thousand Afghan applicants are waiting in the SIV application backlog, and the State Department has fewer than four thousand visas remaining.   In its current form, NDAA does not provide any new visa allotments, leaving an insufficient amount of SIVs to afford essential protections to vulnerable individuals who aided the United States in Afghanistan.


Global Refugee Crisis

In advance of World Refugee Day, Human Rights First will host a June 14 event with Deputy National Security Advisor Avril Haines and national security leaders who will discuss the U.S. response to the current global refugee crisis. Haines’ keynote remarks and the discussion that will follow her presentation will address how the United States’ approach toward a responsible refugee policy affects national security. The world now faces the greatest refugee crisis since World War II, with nearly 60 million displaced men, women, and children. Front-line refugee hosting states face substantial strains on their infrastructures, while global displacement challenges, and the lack of effective responsibility-sharing among nations, is impacting U.S. allies in the Middle East and Europe.  The United States has traditionally been a leader in providing humanitarian assistance and refuge to those fleeing violence and persecution. With President Obama set to host a Leaders’ Summit in September around the UN General Assembly, the United States is uniquely placed to play a leadership role in addressing this global crisis while ensure our national security. For more information and to RSVP to the event, visit our website.



Early this morning, prominent Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was arrested following a raid on his home. Police confiscated electronic devices and other items from Rajab’s home and are continuing to question him on unknown charges. Rajab previously served two years in prison between 2012 and 2014 for charges related to his participation in peaceful gatherings advocating for fundamental freedoms and democracy. In late 2014 and early 2015 he was subjected to a series of other charges and arrests including for posts on Twitter critiquing the Bahraini military for provoking extremist ideologies, denouncing the torture of detainees at Jaw Prison, and raising concerns about air strikes in Yemen by the Saudi Arabia–led coalition. In April 2015, Rajab was sentenced to six months in prison, but three months into his sentence he was released 2015 for medical reasons. The arrest comes as the United Nations Human Rights Council meeting opens in Geneva. Last week, several human rights activists from Bahrain were prevented from leaving the Kingdom to attend the meeting, and prominent dissident Zainab Al Khawaja was forced into exile. Human Rights First observes that Rajab’s arrest is a clear signal that the Kingdom plans to continue targeting dissidents, even those with strong international ties. Last week, Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley published an article in The Hill calling on the U.S. State Department to reevaluate its decision to lift holds on selling weapons to the Bahrain military.


Saudi Arabia

This week Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will come to Washington, D.C., where he will meet with President Obama and senior U.S. government officials. Human Rights First is urging U.S. leaders to press theSaudi leadership to stop targeting human rights activists in the kingdom. Over recent years, U.S. leadership has held Saudi Arabia to a different standard on freedom of expression and other human rights. Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record includes jailing prominent human rights defenders such as Mohammed Al Qahtani, an economist with a doctorate from Indiana University, who is serving 10 years in jail for his part in supporting a local human rights organization. There is also activist Raif Badawi, jailed in 2012 for hosting a website devoted to open discussion of religious and political issues, sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes, Waleed Abu al-Khair, a prominent human rights lawyer and NGO leader jailed in 2013 and currently serving a 15 year prison sentence for his human rights advocacy, and Ashraf Fayadh a poet imprisoned and sentenced to 800 lashes. Through its political and financial support for other authoritarian regimes, including Bahrain and Egypt, the Saudi government is enabling a widespread and dangerous repression across large parts of the region. To that point, the administration should press the Saudi government to use their influence with armed groups in Syria to respect human rights and deescalate rhetoric inciting sectarian violence.

Quote of the Week

“So this is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American — regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation — is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country.  And no act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans.”

—President Obama, Sunday, June 12, 2016, in the aftermath of the deadly mass shooting at a LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida.


We’re Reading

The Associated Press reports that prominent Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was detained following an overnight raid by police on his home.

Chicago Tribune, June 6: The Chicago Tribune reports on overwhelming delays and backlogs in U.S. immigration and asylum courts.  Asylum seekers in legal imbo for years: ‘Our court is basically grinding to a halt’.

Brian Dooley writes in The Hill that one year later the State Department’s decision to lift holds on selling arms to Bahrain has proven to be a mistake, as progress on human rights in the Middle East nation has regressed.


We’re Listening to

Last week KCRW’s To the Point featured an hour-long discussion evaluating U.S. efforts in the global refugee crisis. Human Rights First’s Jennifer Quigley was a guest on the program, where she discussed American obligations in the crisis, the benefits of aiding overburdened states, and the important role refugees have played in the history of the United States.


We’re Watching

Last week, Human Rights First released a new video entitled, “National Security Leaders on the Refugee Crisis.” The video shows that how the United States handles the Syrian refugee crisis has major implications for its national security. But contrary to many pundits’ hateful rhetoric, resettling Syrian refugees actually helps advance U.S. national security interests

On the Hill

Tuesday, June 14, 2016
The House Homeland Security Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee will hold a hearing entitled, “Overstaying their Welcome: National Security Risks Posed by Visa Overstays.” The hearing will feature John Wagner, deputy assistant commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection; Craig Healy, assistant director for national security investigators for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; Acting Assistant Homeland Security Secretary for Threat Prevention and Security Policy Kelli Ann Burriesci; and Acting Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency Deputy Director Robert Burns. 10:00 AM, 311 Cannon House Office Building.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a Hearing entitled, “U.S. Policy Toward Putin’s Russia.” The hearing will feature former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, senior fellow and director at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies; Former U.S. Ambassador to the USSR Jack Matlock, fellow at the Rubenstein Fellows Academy, Duke Univeristy; and Leon Aron, resident scholar and director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute. 10:00 AM, 2172 Rayburn House Office Building.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016
The House Foreign Affairs Committee Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee will hold a hearing entitled, “Egypt: Challenges and Opportunities for US Policy.” The hearing will feature Mark Green, president of the International Republican Institute; Mokhtar Awad, research fellow for the Program on Extremism in George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security; and Amy Hawthorne, deputy director for research at the Project on Middle East Democracy. 10:00 AM, 2172 Rayburn House Office Building.

Thursday, June 16, 2016
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will holds a hearing on intelligence matters. The hearing will feature testimony by CIA Director John Brennan. 9:00 AM, 216 Hart Senate Office Buildings.
The House Foreign Affairs Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations Subcommittee will hold a hearing entitled, “The Global Religious Freedom Crisis and Its Challenge to U.S. Foreign Policy.” The hearing will feature State Department Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein; and Robert George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University and former chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. 12:30 PM, 2172 Rayburn House Office Building.

Around Town

Monday, June 13, 2016
The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) will hold a discussion entitled, “Defense Budgeting and National Security.” The discussion will feature Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. 2:00 PM, IISS, 2121 K Street NW, Suite 801, Washington, D.C.

The Brookings Institution will hold a discussion entitled, “American Attitudes on Refugees from the Middle East.” The discussion will feature Shibley Telhami, professor at the University of Maryland and nonresident senior fellow at Brookings; Indira Lakshmanan, contributor to Politico magazine; and Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Brookings Center for Middle East Policy. 2:00 PM, Brookings Institution, 1775 Massachusetts Ave NW, Falk Auditorium, Washington, D.C.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) will hold a discussion entitled “Authoritarian Resilience and Revision after the Arab Uprisings.” The discussion will feature Joseph Sassoon, associate professor at Georgetown University; Robert Worth, author of “Rage for Order: The Middle East in Turmoil from Tahrir Square to ISIS”; and Frederic Wehrey, senior associate in the CEIP Middle East Program. 3:30, CEIP, 1779 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, D.C.

The American Society of International Law (ASIL) will hold a discussion entitled, “Torture, International Tribunals and Universal Jurisdiction: Is the Hissene Habre Case a Model to Ensure the Punishment of Gross Human Rights Violators?” The discussion will feature Jens Modvig of the Committee against Torture, United Nations; Juan Mendez, U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and Frans Viljoen of the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria. 6:00 PM, Tillar House, 2223 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Former Pentagon and Homeland Security Department officials, members of Congress and a former presidential candidate will hold a news conference to “present evidence that the Obama administration, including Hillary Clinton’s State Department, sabotaged national security.” 1:30 PM, National Press Club, 14th and F Streets NW, Zenger Room, Washington, D.C.

Human Rights First will hold a discussion entitled “U.S. Leadership on Refugees: A National Security and Humanitarian Imperative.” The discussion will feature Deputy National Security Advisor Avril Haines. 4:30 PM, Fried Frank, 801 17th Street NW, Washington, D.C