Washington Week on Human Rights: May 16, 2016



This week as the military commission proceedings in the case against Abdul Hadi al Iraqi continue at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the House will consider the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The version of the NDAA going to the House floor would make it impossible for President Obama to close the facility by banning all transfers of Guantanamo detainees to the United States for any reason, including trial in federal court. The provisions also ban transfers to Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, and impose onerous certification requirements on transfers to other overseas locations. Last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) passed its version of the NDAA. While retaining the same U.S. and country-specific transfer bans as the bill going to the House floor, the SASC bill allows temporary transfers to the United States for emergency medical care. The SASC NDAA also allows Guantanamo detainees to plead guilty to federal charges in Article III courts via teleconference and authorizes the administration to transfer these detainees overseas to serve out their sentences. Earlier this year, the Pentagon released the administration’s plan for closing Guantanamo, which includes the accelerated transfer of detainees at Guantanamo who have been cleared by defense, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies. It also mandates expedited review, pursuant to administrative Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearings, of the 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—would be relocated to one of thirteen stateside detention facilities, pending Congressional approval. This would result in annual operating savings of up to $85 million compared to the cost of detention operations at Guantanamo. There are currently 80 detainees held at Guantanamo, which costs approximately $445 million per year to operate–about $5.5 million per detainee.


Tomorrow, Human Rights First will honor International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia during a Capitol Hill reception featuring Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino, State Department Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry, and activists from Jamaica and Ukraine. The activists, Angeline Jackson, Executive Director of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, and Olena Shevchenko, chair of the Ukrainian-based group Insight, will speak about their recent successes and the ongoing challenges they face in advancing the rights of LGBT people in their communities. The reception will also feature remarks from members of Congress who strongly support international efforts to fight homophobia and transphobia. Click here to learn more or RSVP for this event.

Global Refugee Crisis

Tomorrow, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing titled, “War in Syria: Next Steps to Mitigate the Crisis.” The hearing comes as Syrian refugees continue to be used as scapegoats for much of Americans’ anxieties about terrorism, despite the fact that they are rigorously vetted. In fact, experts—including former national security advisors, CIA directors, and secretaries of state, defense, and homeland security from both Republican and Democratic administrations—attest that resettling Syrian refugees benefits U.S. national security interests. Nonetheless, many state governors, including Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R), have expressed opposition to resettling refugees in their states. But officials such as Hogan do not stand unopposed. Last week 76 state legislators sent a letter to Governor Hogan urging him to welcome refugees in their state. Additionally, over the last four months, there has also been an outpouring of public support for refugee resettlement from many Maryland county governments and local officials. Human Rights First notes that anti-refugee rhetoric represents a counterproductive trend, sending the wrong message to U.S. allies who need help, as well as a rejection of American values and the longstanding U.S. tradition of welcoming the persecuted. Hopefully other states will follow Maryland legislators’ example and start seeing refugees as an asset rather than a threat. Earlier this month the State Department released its official resettlement numbers for April, indicating that it resettled 451 Syrian refugees last month. This brings the seven-month total so far this fiscal year to 1,736 Syrian refugees, amounting to 17.4 percent of the 10,000 Syrian refugees the U.S. government has pledged to resettle by September 30, 2016.

Foreign Agents Law Defeated

Last week, legislators in Kyrgyzstan’s parliament rejected a long-gestating bill to place severe restrictions on civil society groups hoping to access funding from international sources. Kyrgyz civil society mounted strong opposition to the legislation throughout its consideration. The bill, commonly known as the “foreign agents” bill, was one of two pieces of legislation under consideration by the legislature that were modeled after constrictive laws in Russia. The other, which remains active, emulates Russia’s 2013 law banning “homosexual propaganda” and poses a direct threat to the human rights of the LGBT community in the country and the region at large. Strong opposition to the foreign agents bill, however, could signal a pushback against Russian influence in the country, and ultimately, rejection of the propaganda bill.


“The media is an ally when it comes to showing the truth about terrorist groups. Attacking the media will not produce a more compliant citizenry. It will produce a more alienated, suspicious and disenfranchised public, one more likely to chafe under a government’s attempts at control, all to the benefit of terrorist groups.”
-United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power


The New York Times reports that seven months into FY2016, the United States is less than a fifth of the way towards its goal of resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees.

Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley writes in the Huffington Post about Bahrain’s ruling family’s false claims of achieving a human rights milestone in the kingdom.

The New York Times and Buzzfeed both discuss the confusion over what will be done with ISIS detainees. Detention and interrogation policies for those captured remain unclear.

Ryan Crocker, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, writes in The Washington Post of the need to protect Afghan interpreters and translators who worked with the United States. Under current provisions in the NDAA, special immigrant visas will no longer be available for men and women who placed themselves in danger to help the United States.

Vice reports on the alarming rates of homelessness among asylum seekers in the United States.


On This Week with George Stephanopoulos we are offered a rare view into the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. The video discusses conditions at the facility and issues concerning its closure.


Monday, May 16, 2016

The House Rules Committee will hold a full hearing on HR 4909, the “National Defense Authorization Act for FY2017” for general debate. 5:00 PM, H-313, U.S. Capitol

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Human Rights First will hold an International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia Reception. The event will feature Elisa Massimino, President & CEO, Human Rights First; Randy Berry, Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons; Angeline Jackson, Executive Director, Quality of Citizenship Jamaica; Olena Shevchenko, Chair, Insight (Ukraine). 6:00 PM, 2200 Rayburn House Office Building.

The House Appropriations Committee will hold a markup of the FY2017 Defense Appropriations bill. 10:30 AM, 2359 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a full hearing entitled, “War in Syria: Next Steps to Mitigate the Crisis.” The hearing will feature remarks by Robert Ford, senior fellow at the Middle East Institute; Nancy Lindborg, president of USIP; and Tamara Coffman Wittes, director and senior fellow at Brookings’ Center for Middle East Policy. 11:00 AM, 419 Dirksen Senate Office Building.

The Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding’s Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees (MFA) will hold a briefing entitled, “They Have Faces and Names: Fresh Approaches to the Syrian Refugee Crisis.”  Sen. Edward Markey, D-MA; Rep. David Cicilline, D-RI; Syrian-American actor F. Murray Abraham; Shadi Martini, senior Syrian adviser to MFA; and Georgette Bennett, founder of MFA and the Tanenbaum Center. 1:00 PM, SVC-203, U.S. Capitol.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a markup of House Resolution 650, providing for the safety and security of Iranian dissidents living in Camp Liberty/Hurriya in Iraq and awaiting resettlement by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees; and S. 284, the “Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.” 10:00 AM, 2172 Rayburn House Office Building.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a markup of S.247, the “Expatriate Terrorist Act.” 10:00 AM, 226 Dirksen Senate Office Building

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “Declining Deportations and Increasing Criminal Alien Releases –  The Lawless Immigration Policies of the Obama Administration.” 2:30 PM, 226 Dirksen Senate Office Building


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Henry L. Stimson Center will hold a discussion entitled “Drone Proliferation: Impacts on Security, Strategy and Policy.” The discussion will feature Dan De Luce, chief national security correspondent for Foreign Policy; Michael Horowitz, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania; Sarah Kreps, associate professor at Cornell University; and Rachel Stohl, senior associate at the Stimson Center. 9:30 AM, Stimson Center, 1211 Connecticut Ave NW, Eighth Floor, Washington, D.C.

The Center for Global Development will hold a discussion entitled “Refugees, Displacement, and Development: What Should the World Do?”  The discussion will feature World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim; David Milliband, president and CEO of IRC; and Rajesh Mirchandani, vice president for communications and policy outreach at CGD. 11:00 AM, CGD, 2055 L Street NW, Fifth Floor, Washington, D.C.

The Brookings Institution will hold a discussion entitled, “Human Rights in a Turbulent World.” The discussion will feature U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein; Bruce Jones, director of foreign policy at Brookings; and Ted Piccone, senior fellow in the Brookings Project on International Order and Strategy. 12:15 PM, Brookings Institution, 1775 Massachusetts Ave NW, Saul/Zilkha Room, Washington, D.C.

The Washington D.C. Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA-DC) will hold a news conference entitled, “Current Immigration Issues Relating to Youth in the United States.” The conference will feature Peter Asaad, former chair of AILA-DC; and Cynthia Groomes Katz, member, AILA-DC. 1:00 PM, National Press Club, 14th and F Streets NW, Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Center for Migration Studies will hold a  discussion on the resettlement of Middle Eastern refugees in the United States. The discussion will feature Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Anne Ricahrd; Robert Carey, director of the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement; William Canny, executive director of migration and refugee services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Shelley Pitterman, regional representative at the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees; Naomi Steinberg, director of Refugee Council USA; Melanie Nezer, vice president of policy and advocacy at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society; Donald Kerwin, executive director of the Center for Migration Studies; Mark Franken of the Center for Migration Studies; Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies; Omar Al-Muqdad, refugee from Syria; and Mazin Abdulmajeed Hadi Kamuona, refugee from Iraq. 8:15 AM, Casa Italiana, 595 ½ Third Street NW, Washington, D.C.

The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington (AGSIW) will hold a discussion entitled, “The End of the US-Saudi Special Relationship?” The discussion will feature F. Gregory Gause III, professor of international affairs at Texas A&M University; and Kristin Smith Diwan, senior resident scholar at AGSIW. 12:00 PM, Arab Gulf States Institute, 1050 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite 1060, Washington, D.C.

The McCain Institute will hold a discussion on human trafficking in the United States. The discussion will feature Kurt Volker, executive director of the McCain Institute; and Cindy McCain, advisory council chair in human trafficking at the McCain Institute. 5:30 PM, McCain Institute, 1777 F Street NW, Suite 600, Washington, D.C.


Published on May 16, 2016


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