Washington Week on Human Rights: May 23, 2016

Top News


On Tuesday, the House Oversight and Government Reform National Security Subcommittee will hold a hearing examining the remaining detainees at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Among those slated to testify is Alberto Mora, a member of Human Rights First’s Board of Directors and former general counsel of the Navy who led efforts in the Department of Defense to oppose post-9/11 human rights abuses authorized under the Bush Administration. Tuesday’s hearing comes as Congress continues to craft a final 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) bill, legislation that currently contains provisions that undermine the United States’ ability to lead globally on human rights. Among other troubling provisions on issues such as equality and refugee protection, the most recent version of the NDAA includes language that would make it impossible for President Obama to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, a step supported by national security leaders from across the political spectrum who have urged the president and Congress to make shuttering the facility a top priority. Both the Senate and House versions of the NDAA would extend unnecessary bans on transferring detainees to the United States until after President Obama leaves office and extend country-specific transfer bans, with the Senate version expanding the number of prohibited locations. Both bills also include cumbersome overseas transfer restrictions that make it more difficult, but not impossible, for the administration to transfer detainees. Earlier this year 36 retired generals and admirals urged Congress to work with President Obama to close the detention facility and send a signal to other countries that human rights are at the core of U.S. domestic and foreign policy decisions. The administration’s plan is in line with recommendations made in Human Rights First’s blueprint, “How to Close Guantanamo.”

Immigration Backlogs

This week, as the House Appropriations Committee holds its markup of the FY2017 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Bill that includes immigration court funding, Human Rights First will hold events in Washington, D.C., and  Houston, Texas to bring awareness to how chronic underfunding, hiring challenges, and shifting enforcement strategies have led to alarming backlogs in the U.S. asylum and immigration systems. In its new report “In the Balance,” Human Rights First notes that the two systems combined currently have more than 620,000 pending removal and asylum cases, exposing vulnerable asylum seekers and their families to combined wait times of up to six years for resolution of their claims. These delays also undermine the recruitment of pro bono legal counsel and prolong the separation of refugee families. The organization’s report includes recommendations for the U.S. government to address these backlogs by providing adequate staffing levels and resources to lessen wait times that hurt asylum seekers and threaten to undermine the integrity of the system. These advocacy events in Washington, D.C. and beyond the beltway come as the world faces the greatest refugee crisis since World War II, and the need for effective, timely and fair U.S. processing of asylum claims could not be greater.


President Obama travels to Vietnam this week to discuss economic, trade, and security concerns with the Southeastern Asian nation. On his docket is the pending Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal between the United States and 11 partner-countries, including Vietnam. The TPP has serious implications for human trafficking. Vietnam is ranked on Tier 2 of the 2015 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which means its government needs to do more to fully comply with minimum standards laid out in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). Nearly 70 percent of the 21 million people enslaved worldwide are victims of forced labor, many of whom are in countries that would be party to the TPP. While the United States has made public commitments to fight human trafficking, this trip offers a chance for President Obama to press for strong enforcement of labor protections in the TPP, and more broadly, work to integrate strong protections into all U.S. trade deals.

Quote of the Week

“For us, the human rights of LGBTI persons are not ‘special’ rights. Rather, precisely because they are persons, LGBTI persons have the same human rights as other persons. As human persons, they are entitled to these universal rights by birth. It is an affront to human rights when a person is beaten or killed, or denied access to justice due to their religious belief, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

“…All of us have a responsibility to push back against violence and discrimination. A failure to deal effectively with violence and discrimination against LGBTI persons can serve to legitimize violence and discrimination on other bases against other persons.”

– Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael G. Kozak’s May 18 remarks before the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C.

We’re Reading

Human Rights First’s Raha Wala comments in The Hill that a Senate defense bill that would allow Guantanamo Bay detainees to plead guilty in civilian court in order to get medical care in the United States is a step in the right direction, but argues that a complete removal of the ban on transfers ultimately is in the interest of national security.

Doyle Hodges, a retired naval officer and partner with Vets for American Ideals, writes in the Newark Star-Ledger that Governor Chris Christie’s decision to not participate in refugee resettlement not only doesn’t make the United States more secure, but aids ISIS.

Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley writes in The Cipher Brief about the lackluster response of the United States to widespread reports of the use of torture by its Gulf ally Bahrain.

We’re Watching

Last week, Human Rights First held a reception celebrating International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT). At the event, we showed a video honoring the work of advocates from around the globe. The event featured remarks by activists from Ukraine and Jamaica, State Department Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry, and Representatives David Cicilline (D-RI), Barbara Lee (D-NY), and Alan Lowenthal (D-CA).

On the Hill

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee will hold a markup of the FY2017 Department of Defense Appropriations Act. 10:00 AM, 192 Dirksen Senate Office Building.

The House Appropriations Committee will hold a markup of the FY2017 Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Bill. 10:30 AM, 2359 Rayburn House Office Building.

The House Oversight and Government National Security Subcommittee will hold a hearing entitled, “Guantanamo Bay: The Remaining Detainees.” 2:00 PM, 2154 Rayburn House Office Building.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Senate Foreign Relations committee will hold a closed briefing on “Trafficking in Persons: Preparing the 2016 Annual Report.” The briefing will feature Susan Coppedge, ambassador-at-large in the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; William Todd, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs; Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs D. Bruce Wharton; Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton; and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs John Creamer. 4:30 PM, S-116 U.S. Capitol.

Around Town

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Association of Pro Bono Counsel and Human Rights First host “The Asylum and Immigration Court System Backlogs – The Impact on Refugee Protection and Access to Counsel.” The event will feature Eleanor Acer, senior director of Refugee Protection at Human Rights First; B. Shaw Drake, Equal Justice Works fellow at Human Rights First; Doris Meissner, senior fellow and director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute; Julie Myers Wood, chief executive officer at Guidepost Solutions LLC; Steven Schulman, partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP; Barbara Leen, counsel to the director at the Executive Office for Immigration Review at the Department of Justice; Print Maggard, deputy chief immigration judge at the Executive Office for Immigration Review at the Department of Justice; Ted Kim, deputy chief of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Asylum Division at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 8:45 AM, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP,  900 G Street NW, Washington, D.C.

National Geographic Documentary Films and Ronin Refugee Project will host a screening of “The Captain’s Story: A Bond of Brotherhood Forged In War” with a panel discussion on America’s veterans and their wartime allies. The discussion will feature Lt. Col. (Ret.) Scott Cooper, director of National Security Outreach at Human Rights First; Colonel (Ret.) Steve Miska, former director for Iraq, National Security staff; Jessica Ashooh, deputy director of the Middle East Strategy Task Force, Atlantic Council; Matt Zeller, co-founder No One Left Behind; Janis Shinwari, Afghan interpreter; Chase Millsap, co-founder Ronin Refugee Project. 6:00-8:00 p.m. United States Capitol Visitor Center, First Street NE, Washington, D.C.

The Newseum’s Religions Freedom Center will hold the “International Religious Liberty Summit: Effective Advocacy During the 2016 Election and Beyond.” The event will feature former Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., senior fellow at the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative; E.J. Dionne, op-ed columnist at the Washington Post; Lynn Sweet, Washington, D.C. bureau chief at the Chicago Sun-Times; Knox Thames, senior adviser for religious minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia office at the State Department; Michael Wear, founder of Public Square Strategies LLC; Erastus Mwencha, deputy chairperson of the African Union; Chris Semple, chairman of the Institute for Global Engagement; and Elizabeth Cassidy, co-director for policy and research at USCIRF. 8:30 AM, The Newseum,  555 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, D.C.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Hudson Institute and the Foreign Policy Initiative will hold a discussion entitled, “Ongoing turmoil in the Middle East, including ISIS and the resulting refugee crisis, the U.S. exit strategy for Afghanistan, terrorist safe havens in North Africa, the Iran nuclear deal, and a way forward in Syria.” The discussion will feature Representative Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill.; and Josh Rogin, journalist at Bloomberg View. 11:45 AM, Hudson Institute, 1201 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Suite 400, Washington, D.C.

The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington (AGSIW) will hold a discussion entitled, “Gulf Rising: The Emerging International Role of the Gulf States.” The discussion will feature David Roberts, lecturer in defense at King’s College London; Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute; and Hussein Ibish, senior resident scholar at AGSIW. 4:30 PM, AGSIW, 1050 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite 1060, Washington, D.C.


Published on May 23, 2016


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