Washington Week on Human Rights: June 8, 2015

Top News

Torture This week in an historic step forward toward ensuring that torture is never again the official policy of the United States, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) are expected to introduce a bipartisan piece of legislation to take torture off the table for any future administration. The legislation will be filed as an amendment to the Senate’s FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act. Some of the nation’s most respected retired military leaders and experienced interrogators are in Washington, DC this week to lobby for passage of the amendment and to make clear that torture is inconsistent with American ideals and harms U.S. national security. For more information visit Human Rights First’s website.

Family Immigration Detention Last week, a 19-year-old asylum seeker who has been detained with her son for nearly eight months at a family detention facility in Karnes City, Texas attempted suicide after being denied parole and asylum. The woman, Lilian Yamileth, journeyed to the United States from Honduras with her four year old son, fleeing sexual violence and death threats. She was detained at the border last October and has been in a detention facility with her child since that time. Yamileth’s attempted suicide came as 33 U.S. Senators and 136 U.S. House Members urged Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to abandon the administration’s misguided policy of detaining families seeking asylum in the United States. Human Rights First has also pressed the Obama Administration to end the practice of putting families seeking asylum in immigration detention facilities. Immigration authorities can use more cost effective and humane alternatives to detention if needed. In addition, the organization has urged that those seeking asylum have access to counsel so that they have the opportunity for a fair consideration of their asylum claim.

Antisemitism Last week, the U.S. Senate passed by unanimous consent a resolution condemning rising antisemitism in Europe. The resolution was authored by Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and co-sponsored by 60 other Senators. It encouraged “greater cooperation with the European governments, in the European Union, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in preventing and responding to antisemitism.” The resolution urges regular meetings with European Jewish community leaders to monitor antisemitic trends and to hear concerns. It also calls for “European countries and the European Union to designate senior-level special envoys to monitor, prevent, and combat antisemitism regionally and domestically.” Human Rights First’s report, “We’re not Nazis, but…The Rise of Hate Parties in Hungary and Greece and Why America Should Care,” details how antisemitic and racist political parties have grown in strength in Hungary and Greece and have had a wide ranging negative impact on protection of the rule of law and human rights in those countries.

Guantanamo This week, as the Senate continues to consider its FY16 National Defense Authorization Act, Human Rights First is following possible amendments on new transfer restrictions on Guantanamo detainees. There are currently 122 detainees at Guantanamo, and about half of those remaining 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 closing the facility by the end of his term.

Quote of the Week

“The United States must work with the European Union and European governments to address the alarming rise of antisemitism in Europe and prevent future affronts to basic human rights and dignity. Increasing violence against Jewish individuals in Europe is evidence that our efforts to keep men and women of all faiths safe from violence must never stop.”

—Senator Mark Kirk during Senate consideration of a resolution condemning rising antisemitism in Europe

We’re Reading

In a piece for TIME, Human Rights First partner and Jamaican human rights activist Angeline Jackson describes how support for the human rights of LGBT people is growing in Jamaica, though there remains much work to be done.

Reporting for Fox News, Elizabeth Llorente described the situation of extreme backlogs in the immigration courts one year after many central american migrant families crossed the Southern border saying, “many seeking political asylum status are being told that their cases have been pushed back to as late as 2019.”

IRIN News investigated the U.S. response to the Syrian refugee crisis, noting that to date the United States has resettled an alarmingly low number of these refugees.

The Bay Area Reporter followed up on U.S. diplomats’ recent visits to Jamaica, noting recommendations for action to be taken by the State Department to promote human rights in the country that are included in Human Rights First’s report on Jamaica. Read the report here.

We’re Watching

This week MSNBC launched a new video web series called Fearless, highlighting important LGBT activists who have been fundamental in the fight for human rights and equality.

On the Hill


The Senate Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee will markup the Defense Appropriations Act for FY2016. 10:30AM, 192 Dirksen Senate Office Building


The Senate Appropriations Committee’s Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee will markup the “Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for FY2016.”10:30AM, 192 Dirksen Senate Office Building


The Senate Appropriations Committee will markup the “Defense Appropriations Act for FY2016”; the “Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for FY2016”; and the “Legislative Branch Appropriations Act for FY2016.” 10AM, 106 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Around Town

FRIDAY, JUNE 12, 2015

The Middle East Institute (MEI) will hold a conference on “Countering Violent Extremism: Local and Global Approaches.”9AM, National Press Club, 14th and F Streets NW, Washington, D.C.

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Published on June 8, 2015


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