Washington Week on Human Rights: May 2, 2016

Top News 


As the administration works toward its goal of closing the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, it has scheduled two more Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearings this week and seven additional PRB hearings for the coming weeks. The PRB process was created by Executive Order in March 2011, “to determine whether certain individuals detained at [Guantanamo] represent a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States such that their continued detention is warranted.” Today, 80 detainees remain at Guantanamo, 38 of whom are eligible for PRB review (and six more are awaiting decisions). The administration’s plan to close the detention facility commits to “accelerating the review of those detainees who have not had an initial PRB review and are neither currently designated for transfer nor charged or convicted by military commission.” Human Rights First notes that the administration should continue to regularly schedule and hold hearings to meet its goal of completing all initial PRBs by the fall of 2016.The administration’s plan is in line with recommendations made in Human Rights First’s blueprint, “How to Close Guantanamo.”


Last week, a bipartisan coalition of members of Congress expressed concern for human rights abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Saudi Arabia. Their concern was expressed in a bipartisan sign-on letter led by Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), who was joined by 34 members of Congress.  The bipartisan letter was addressed to Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Abdullah Al Saud and cited recent reports that a task force has been established to conduct sting operations targeting LGBT Saudis, particularly gay men, on social media. Monitoring of social media platforms to target and entrap LGBT individuals has increased throughout the Middle East. In their letter, the bipartisan coalition stressed respect for Saudi cultural traditions but warned that persecution of LGBT Saudis would directly impact bilateral relations between the kingdom and the United States. The letter also noted that there have been repeated calls for capital punishment for any citizen who identifies as a member of the LGBT community. In Saudi Arabia, under interpretation of sharia law, homosexuality can be punishable by the death penalty.

Mother’s Day and Detention

As Mother’s Day approaches, Human Rights First is renewing calls for the Obama Administration to end its policy of detaining asylum-seeking parents and their children. In the summer of 2014, the administration announced its intention to detain large numbers of asylum-seeking families from Central America as part of a deterrence-based strategy to stop other children and families from migrating to the United States. In February Human Rights First released a summary of communications sent to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by some of the mothers detained at the Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania, where public actions are expected to take place this weekend. Many of the women featured in the report expressed concerns regarding the physical and mental wellbeing of their children. Their letters were published along with the troubling and inadequate responses they received from ICE officials, who showed little regard for the women’s concerns. Earlier this year Pennsylvania authorities responded to the pleas of mothers, their lawyers, and advocates, and did not renew the Berks detention center’s license. Pennsylvania should now take the next step and seek an emergency removal order—which is within its authority—to free the asylum-seeking children and families detained at Berks. If and when Pennsylvania acts, ICE should allow the families to pursue their asylum claims in the community in the care of relatives who have been waiting to receive them.

Quote of the Week

“I am carrying the flame for myself but also for Syrians, for refugees everywhere, for Greece, for sports, for my swimming and basketball teams…My goal is to never give up. But to go on, to always go forward. And that I can achieve through sports.”

-Ibrahim al-Hussein, Syrian refugee who carried the Olympic flame through an Athens refugee camp.

We’re Reading

CNN’s “Freedom Project” featured a piece by General Charles C. Krulak (ret.), who stressed that the next president must make human trafficking a priority. Krulak’s piece highlights the importance of a sufficient financial investment in the fight against modern day slavery.

Dominican LGBT activist Rosanna Marzan writes in the Washington Blade about the recent backlash against U.S. Ambassador Wally Brewster in Santo Domingo. Marzan argues that an attack on an official of as high standing as Brewster, who lives in the Dominican Republic with his husband, is an attack on every LGBT Dominican.

Human Rights First’s recent report on backlogs in the asylum and immigration systems was featured in The Washington Post’s profile of Thomas Homan, the executive associate director of enforcement and removal operations for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

We’re Watching 

CBS Evening News takes viewers inside the small town of Lewiston, Maine, where six thousand refugees have resettled. Despite initial resentment, the residents welcomed the immigrants and saw their town thrive because of it.

We’re Listening To

Raha Wala explained on KCRW’s To the Point how a new legal case filed by victims of the CIA’s torture program is different than any that has come before. Last week a judge ruled the case may move forward, surprising many.

Around Town 

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Johns Hopkins University SAIS will hold a discussion with Lana Nusseibeh, permanent representative of the United Arab Emirates to the United Nations. 4:30 PM, SAIS, Nitze Building, 1740 Massachusetts Ave, Kenney Auditorium, Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security will hold its annual conference. The event will feature Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas; former director of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair; former State Department coordinator for counterterrorism Cofer Black; and former National Counterterrorism Center director Matthew Olsen. 9:00 AM, GWU School of Media and Public Affairs, 805 21st Street NW, Morton Auditorium, Washington, D.C.

Politics and Prose will hold a book discussion on “The Rage for Order: The Middle East in Turmoil, from Tahrir Square to ISIS.” The discussion will feature author Robert Worth. 7:00 PM, Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, D.C.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Intelligence and National Security Alliance will hold a discussion on “the current state of defense intelligence.” The event will feature Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Marcel Lettre. 8:00 PM, Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City, 1250 South Hayes Street, Arlington, VA.


Published on May 2, 2016


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