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Senator John McCain (R-AZ), while speaking at the Halifax International Security Forum on Saturday, delivered strong remarks against any return to the use of torture by the United States.

Senator McCain, a victim of torture during his 5 ½ years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, along with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) led a successful bipartisan landmark anti-torture legislation that reinforces the United States’ ban on the use of torture, including waterboarding and other so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The legislation—which passed in a 78-21 vote in the Senate and was signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2016 Fiscal Year—was an historic victory in the fight to reestablish a durable, bipartisan consensus against torture.

Human Rights First awarded its 2014 Beacon Prize to Senators John McCain and Dianne Feinstein for their leadership to end the use of torture and other cruel treatment of prisoners by the United States. Learn more about the widespread consensus against torture.


Reports indicate that when Congress is back in session next week, the National Defense Authorization Act will be one of its first orders of business. With President-elect Trump promising to overturn President Obama’s executive actions during his first 100 days in office, Congress has ceased negotiations on several related provisions. This includes the Russell Amendment, which Democrats feared would overturn President Obama’s executive action that provided workplace protections for LGBT individuals.

Immigration Detention 

A new Human Rights First report details high rates of detention of asylum seekers in New Jersey, finding that asylum seekers are often detained for months or longer in New Jersey detention centers, despite a national directive from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) setting out clear criteria for release. Asylum seekers and other immigrants detained in New Jersey are also often required to pay bond amounts they cannot afford as a condition of their release.

Last month Human Rights First, along with 230 organizations, wrote to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson expressing serious concerns over reports that the number of individuals held in immigration detention facilities has reached an all-time high. The letter urged the Obama Administration to immediately end its policy of detaining families as well as the prolonged detention of asylum seekers by implementing rights-respecting release policies.


This week Americans across our nation will come together to give thanks. At Human Rights First, we’ll be offering a special thanks for you and all who support our important mission.

Our team is hard at work planning to meet the challenges that lie ahead. Standing with you, we will not let our nation turn away from vulnerable refugees who look to us for protection. We will stand firm against torture and for the rule of law. We will stand up against bigotry and hatred. And we will work to ensure that our foreign policy reflects our values.

Our work has never been easy, and we know that we will face unique challenges in the days ahead. But we also know that you have our back. We are not alone, and for that we give thanks.

Quote of the Week

“If [any agency of government] started waterboarding, I swear to you, there’s a whole bunch of us that would have them in court in a New York minute. And there’s no judge in America that wouldn’t say they’re in violation of the law because it’s specifically, in law, now prohibited…we will not waterboard, we will not torture, we will not torture people … it doesn’t work, my friends, it doesn’t work.”

Senator John McCain at the Halifax International Security Forum

We’re Listening To

On National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, Human Rights First’s Jennifer Quigley and a refugee named Mohammed discuss how waiting for clarity on President-Elect Trump’s refugee resettlement policy is causing anxiety.

We’re Watching

Yesterday we commemorated Transgender Day of Remembrance by honoring the memories of the the many transgender people who lost their lives to bias-motivated acts of violence. Last year we sat down with human rights defender Nicole Santamaria to learn more about the transgender community in El Salvador.

We’re Reading

National Public Radio sits down with Veterans for American Ideals’ Scott Cooper and two Human Rights First refugee clients.

Vox reports on what the next administration can and cannot do when it comes to torture and drone strikes.

The Associated Press writes about whether the next administration will increase the size and population of Guantanamo.

New Jersey Spotlight reports on why some asylum seekers find themselves in immigration detention instead of achieving asylum.

News Deeply examines private sponsorship of refugees as a possible missed opportunity in the effort to resettle displaced populations.

USA Today writes on how the next administration can increase deportations.

Around Town

Monday, November 21, 2016

Brookings Institution will hold an event entitled, “Real Security: Governance and Stability in the Arab World.” The event will feature Tamara Coffman Wittes; Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; Former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley; Amr Hamzawy, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 3:00 PM, Brookings Institution, Falk Auditorium, 1775 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, D.C.

The Council on Foreign Relations will hold a discussion entitled, “Navigating the US Presidential Transition.” The discussion will feature Joshua Bolten, former White House Chief of Staff to President George W. Bush; William Daley, Former White House Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama; Thomas McLarty III, former White House Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton; Amy Davidson, New Yorker staff writer. 6:30 PM, livestreamed at

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Woodrow Wilson Center will hold an event entitled, “The 86 Percent: Opinion Polling in Russia.” The event will feature Lev Gudkov, Russian sociologist and director of the Levada Center. 11:00 AM, Woodrow Wilson Center, Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, One Woodrow Wilson Plaza, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW, 5th Floor, Washington, D.C.

2016 Human Rights Summit

On December 13 Human Rights First will hold its annual Human Rights Summit. The high-profile event brings together activists and leaders from government, business, the military, and faith communities to discuss today’s most pressing human rights problems and challenges for American leadership. Timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Summit has become Washington’s premier celebration of Human Rights Day—a call to action for American leadership in defense of freedom and democracy, at home and around the world. We hope you will join the conversation in person or online via our live stream.

This year’s program will also feature the awarding of the Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty to Janvier Murairi Bakihanaye of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

To register for the 2016 Human Rights Summit visit

Advocates and Allies in the Global Equality Movement: A Celebration of Human Rights Day

Join Human Rights First and Human Rights Campaign on December 12 to honor advocates and allies from around the world as we celebrate advances and mark continuing challenges facing LGBTQ communities globally. This year we will honor Caleb Orozco, executive director of United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM) and lead plaintiff in the landmark case that overturned Belize’s sodomy law, and Olena Hloba, co-founder of Parents Initiative Tergo, an ally organization of parents of LGBT people, Ukraine.

December 12, 2016 from 6:00-8:00 PM, Law Offices of Baker & McKenzie, 815 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

Please RSVP here