Washington Week on Human Rights: March 7, 2016

Top News

Baby Barristers Last week, The Washington Post  reported that Judge John H. Weil, a senior-immigration judge responsible for training other judges, claimed in a deposition that he can train 3 and 4 year-old children to understand immigration law well enough to defend themselves in court. In his sworn statement, Judge Weil stated, “I’ve taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of patience. They get it. It’s not the most efficient, but it can be done.” Weil later claimed the statement was taken out of context. Even so, his remarks come at a time when less than half of unaccompanied immigrant children seeking refuge in the United States are represented by a lawyer. Those who are unrepresented are ordered deported 90% of the time, while those with a lawyer are five times more likely to be granted relief by an immigration judge. Having a lawyer can mean the difference between life and death for those fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries. Human Rights First continues to push for increased access to representation for children appearing before immigration judges across the country, including passage of the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act, legislation introduced by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) that would, in part, require the Attorney General to appoint counsel for unaccompanied children and particularly vulnerable individuals.

Guantanamo Last week, Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS), Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Steve Daines (R-MT) visited the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Their visit comes ahead of anticipated Congressional hearings on the Pentagon’s plan to close the facility. That plan includes the accelerated transfer of Guantanamo detainees who have been cleared for transfer by defense, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies. It also mandates an 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—will be relocated to one of thirteen stateside detention facilities. 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. Thirty-six of the remaining detainees are cleared for transfer, and another 41 are eligible for PRB review. The administration’s plan is in line with recommendations made in Human Rights First’s blueprint, “How to Close Guantanamo.” 

Join us at SXSW On Sunday at 5 p.m. in Austin, Human Rights First will host a SXSW panel examining how data analysis can be used to combat modern slavery. Human Rights First President & CEO Elisa Massimino will host the session featuring Western Union’s Jacqueline Molnar, Palantir’s Courtney Bowman, and the Attorney-in-Charge of the Human Trafficking Program for New York John Temple. Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world, a booming $150 billion industry that entraps an estimated 20.9 people worldwide. Many of its victims hide in plain sight—but hard evidence of trafficking can be difficult to pin down. The key to bankrupting this business may be buried online, hiding amongst the data captured by many companies every day. Panel experts will discuss how they have discovered small indicators lurking in big data to help identify human traffickers and how tech firms, financial companies, and law enforcement can work together to bring them to justice. If you’re in Austin, please plan to join us! You can also learn more by watching our bankrupt slavery video.

Final Call for Nominations Human Rights First is seeking nominations for the 2016 Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty Award. The 2016 award will go to an individual or organization outside of the United States who has demonstrated an exceptional commitment to human rights advocacy in areas such as human trafficking, religious freedom, LGBT rights, refugee protection, and defense of civil society, among others. The winner will be selected by a distinguished jury and will receive a trip to the United States to engage in advocacy and a $25,000 prize. Nominations for the 2016 award are due by March 10.

Quote of the Week

“Guantanamo was a mistake. History will reflect that. It was created in the early days as a consequence of fear, anger, and political expediency. It ignored centuries of rule of law and international agreements. It does not make us safer and it sullies who we are as a nation. That in over a decade we’ve failed to acknowledge this mistake and change course is unforgivable and ignorant.”

—Major General Michael R. Lehnert, USMC (ret.)

We’re Reading

Following the release of the Obama Administration’s plan to shutter the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, the Associated Press writes about where future detainees will be sent, who will hold them, and where they will be tried.

Agence France-Presse reported growing pressure on the United States to play more of a prominent role in addressing the Syrian refugee crisis.

U.S. News & World Report writes that a small, but growing number of refugees are choosing to return home instead of remain in Europe where they face increasing hostilities from local populations.

Writing for The Atlantic, Krishnadev Calamur remarked on the slow progress of the global community to adequately address the global refugee crisis since the world was outraged by the death of the Syrian toddler who washed up on the beach in September, noting that the United States resettled only 114 Syrian refugees in February.

The Washington Blade featured an article about two human rights defenders from Kyrgyzstan who came to the United States to meet with U.S. government officials about increasing levels of violence and discrimination against the Kyrgyz lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community and a looming anti-LGBT bill currently under consideration in the country’s parliament.

We’re Listening to

NPR’s “For the Record” featured an examination of the administration’s plan to close Guantanamo, including a defense of the plan from Lee Wolosky, U.S. Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure, who called for restoration of the bipartisan consensus to close the facility.

On the Hill

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a full Committee hearing on oversight of the Justice Department, featuring testimony by Attorney General Loretta Lynch. 9:30 AM, 226 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Around Town

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) will hold a discussion on “threats to U.S. homeland security and the counterterrorism strategy against the self-declared Islamic State.” The event will feature Lisa Monaco, White House Assistant to the President for Homeland Security. 12:30 PM, CFR, 1777 F Street NW, Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The RAND Corporation will hold a discussion on “The Future of ISIS,” featuring Seth Jones, director of RAND’s International Security and Defense Polkicy Center.  6:30 PM, Metropolitan Club of the City of Washington, 1700 H Street NW, Washington, D.C.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

New America will hold its second annual “Future of War Conference 2016.” 8:45 AM, New America, 740 15th Street NW, Suite 900

The George Washington University (GWU) Elliot School of International Affairs will convene a discussion entitled “Under Fire: Humanitarian Aid in Besieged Syria.” The talk will feature remarks by Sonia Khush, acting country director on Syria at Save the Children, and Jida Haddad, a humanitarian aid worker. 9:45 AM EST, 1957 E Street NW, Lindner Family Commons, Room 602, Washington, D.C.

The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies will hold a discussion on “Egypt: Sex, Rights, Politics and US Foreign Policy,” focusing on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights amidst Egyptian human rights violations. 5:00 PM, Bernstein-Offit Building, 1717 Massachusetts Ave NW, Room 500, Washington, D.C.


Published on March 7, 2016


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