Washington Week on Human Rights: March 21, 2016

Top News

Torture Last week National Security Advisor Susan Rice announced that the president will begin the declassification of records from Argentina’s “Dirty War” as he travels to Argentina later this week. The announcement came just days after Human Rights First sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to use his March 23rd visit to Argentina as an opportunity to release the documents pertaining to this bleak time in Argentina’s history. Following Argentina’s 1976 coup, an estimated 30,000 people were killed or “disappeared” by the Argentinian regime. Human Rights First notes that declassifying and releasing these documents from the CIA, FBI, and Department of Defense is a strong gesture of support for Argentina’s new government, for its people, and for the cause of human rights around the world. It also sends a clear message that the United States repudiates any past participation in or support of regimes that torture. The release will build on President Obama’s legacy of supporting the release of information about the United States’ past mistakes in using torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees in the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11.

Guantanamo Over the weekend, President Obama traveled to Cuba, where he is expected to face questions about the future of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The president’s trip comes just weeks after the Pentagon released a plan to Congress detailing how the administration intends to close Gitmo. That plan includes the accelerated transfer of detainees who have been cleared for transfer by the defense, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies. It also mandates expedited review, pursuant to administrative Period Review Board (PRB) hearings, of those remaining detainees who are not facing trial to determine if they can be cleared for transfer. The remaining detainees who will not be transferred in the near term—a number not to exceed 60, according to the plan—will be relocated to one of thirteen stateside detention facilities, pending Congressional approval. This will result in annual operating savings of up to $85 million compared to the cost of detention operations at Guantanamo. There are currently 91 detainees held at Guantanamo, which costs approximately $445 million per year to operate, about $4.8 million per detainee. The administration’s plan is in line with recommendations made in Human Rights First’s blueprint, “How to Close Guantanamo.”

Global Refugee Crisis Last week Representatives Raul Labrador (R-ID) and Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced legislation that would severely hamper the United States’ ability to provide safety for refugees fleeing violence and persecution, and discourage the integration of resettled refugees. The bill would also change the definition of a refugee in ways that could make it harder for victims of mass atrocities to win protection in the United States. In addition, the legislation would delay by three years the ability for a refugee to obtain permanent legal status and citizenship, during which they would have no assurance that they will be allowed to remain in the United States. It would also require the termination of protection for any refugee who returns to his or her home country for any amount of time, give state and local jurisdictions the power to veto resettlement of refugees at any time, and would bar from refugee protection any person fleeing violence in his or her country “if that violence is not specifically directed at that person.” Human Rights First is among the leading human rights and national security voices urging members of Congress to reject the legislation and honor the U.S. commitment to resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees this year.  Human Rights First recently released “The Syrian Refugee Crisis and the Need for U.S. Leadership,” a report that details the deteriorating conditions facing Syrian refugees across the region, the backlogs hampering U.S. progress toward meeting its commitment to resettle Syrian refugees, and the impact of the failure to effectively address the refugees crisis on the stability of front-line refugee hosting states.

On Wednesday, March 23, Eleanor Acer, senior director of Refugee Protection at Human Rights First, will testify at the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Joint Government Operations and National Security hearing, “National Security: Threats at our Borders.” 9:00 AM, 2154 Rayburn House Office Building.

Ukraine Over the weekend, Ukrainian human rights activists reported that at least two individuals hoping to attend the cancelled Equality Festival in Lviv were severely beaten by a group of young men, and many other would-be attendees experienced threats and intimidation by groups of masked protesters. The event was created to promote tolerance, equality, and anti-discrimination towards various social groups, including the LGBT community. In response to threats of violence prior to the event, the festival venue refused to host the event and a pre-booked hotel denied accommodations for the festival organizers claiming that they had received a warning from city officials. Festival organizers wrote a letter to Lviv Mayor Andrij Sadovyj asking for his public support and participation in the event. Activists did not receive a response from the mayor, and on the eve of the festival a local court banned all public events from March 19-21. Last week, Human Rights First issued a letter to the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, calling on him to raise concerns with his Ukrainian counterparts over the possible cancellation of the Equality Festival. Ambassador Pyatt spoke out in support of Ukraine’s LGBT community prior to the event and in the aftermath of the weekend’s violence.

Quote of the Week

“The United States will continue to stand strongly for democracy and human rights in the hemisphere.  This is and always will be central to our foreign policy—not only in the Americas, but around the world.  That means free and fair elections, a free press, robust civil society, and an independent judiciary.  It means government that is transparent and accountable to the people.  It means respecting the universal human rights and dignity of every man, woman, and child—including the descendants of indigenous people and immigrants—no matter what they look like, what gender they are, or who they love.
-United States National Security Advisor Susan Rice

We’re Reading

The Washington Post reported on progress made towards resettlement goals set out in the administration’s Syrian refugee plan, noting that the goal to resettle 10,000 refugees will be difficult to meet given procedural backlogs and a lack of appropriate resources.

Agence France-Presse reported that Bahraini authorities jailed peaceful dissident Zainab al-Khawaja along with her one-year old son. Al-Khawaja was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for a series of nonviolent protests against the country’s dictatorship.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the case backlog in immigration courts in the United States could surpass one million with the Texas court’s caseload having increased by 460% between 2010 and 2016, a number that could double in three years if resources aren’t increased.

CNN reported that a widely criticized court case in the United Arab Emirates against two U.S. Citizens is set to begin this week. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has cited “credible information” that Kamal and Mohamed Eldarat, the father and son accused of supporting terrorist groups, were tortured and forced to sign confessions.

We’re Watching

NBC News featured the story of 17-year-old Yusra Mardini, a Syrian refugee hoping to swim in the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She represented her former country at the 2012 World Championships, but now she hopes to compete on the Refugee Olympic Athletes team.

We’re Listening To

NPR’s Michele Keleman reports on the recent visit by the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees to the United States. The visit was part of efforts to press the administration to speed action to aid in the Syrian refugee crisis.

On the Hill

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The House Armed Services Full Committee will hold a hearing entitled “The FY2017 National Defense Authorization Budget Request from the Department of Defense.” The hearing will feature Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter 10:00 AM, 2118 Rayburn House Office Building

The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations will hold a hearing entitled “Get It Right This Time: A Victims-Centered Trafficking in Persons Report.” The hearing will feature Mark Lagon, president of Freedom House. 2:00 PM, 2167 Rayburn House Office Building

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Joint Government Operations and National Security will hold a hearing entitled “National Security: Threats at our Borders.” The hearing will feature Eleanor Acer, senior director of Refugee Protection at Human Rights First. 9:00 AM, 2154 Rayburn House Office Building

The House Foreign Affairs Full Committee will hold a hearing entitled “The Administration’s Plan to Close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility: At What Foreign Policy and National Security Cost?” The hearing will feature Lee Wolosky, special envoy for Guantanamo closure in the Department of State. 9:30 AM, 2172 Rayburn House Office Building

First Focus will hold a briefing entitled “The Impact of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Raids and Deportations on US Born Children, Unaccompanied Children and Families.” The briefing will feature Representative Linda Sanchez (D-CA). 10:00 AM, 234 Cannon House Office Building

Around Town

Monday, March 21, 2016

Georgetown University’s Global Futures Initiative will hold a discussion on “The Global Future of Security.” The discussion will feature former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. 4:00 PM, Georgetown University, 37th and O Streets NW, Copley Formal Lounge

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Atlantic Council will hold a discussion entitled “Confronting Far-Right Extremism in Europe.” The discussion will feature Susan Corke, director for anti-semitism and extremism at Human Rights First. 4:00 PM, Atlantic Council, 1030 15th Street NW, 12th Floor, Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) will hold a discussion entitled “Journey into Europe: Conflict, Migration and Religion.” The discussion will feature Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic Studies at American University. 2:30 PM, USIP, 2301 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, D.C.

The World Affairs Council (WAC) will hold a book discussion on “Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror.” The discussion will feature the author, former NSA and CIA Director General Michael Hayden. 6:30 PM, Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Horizon Ballroom, Washington, D.C.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) will hold a book discussion on “Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror.” The discussion will feature the author, former NSA and CIA Director General Michael Hayden. 12:00 PM, AEI, 1150 17th Street NW, Wohlstetter Conference Center, 12th Floor, Washington, D.C.


Published on March 21, 2016


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