Washington Week on Human Rights: November 23, 2015

Top News

Global Refugee Crisis Last week, the House of Representatives passed the American Safe Act, legislation that would effectively shut down the resettlement of refugees from Syria and Iraq and severely handicap the future ability of the United States to provide protection to vulnerable refugees fleeing horrific violence in the Middle East. Human Rights First urges the Senate to reject the proposal and any other bills that would halt or pause the already slow and thorough process for resettlement of vulnerable Syrian refugee families who are fleeing violence and terrorism. The White House has said that the president would veto the bill. Human Rights First notes that under the current system, Syrian refugees are more closely vetted than any other group allowed entrance to the United States and undergo a multi-step series of background checks and security screening. Last week, former Secretaries of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Michael Chertoff sent a letter to President Obama making clear that the current process for vetting refugees for resettlement in the United States is “thorough and robust and, so long as it if fully implemented and not diluted, it will allow us to safely admit the most vulnerable refugees while protection the American people.” The White House detailed that process in an infographic released late last week.

Defense Authorization In the coming days, President Obama is expected to sign into law the defense authorization bill for Fiscal Year 2016. The bill contains a landmark amendment to ensure that the use of torture or cruel treatment is never again the official policy of the United States. The provision, introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and John McCain (R-AZ), passed the Senate in June by a vote of 78-21. It restricts the intelligence community—and the CIA in particular—to interrogation methods articulated in the Army Field Manual. It also requires that the International Committee of the Red Cross be provided notification of and access to detainees held in U.S. custody. Human Rights First worked closely with retired military officers, interrogators and intelligence professionals to secure passage of the amendment and applauds Congress and the administration for working together to enhance national security by reinforcing the ban on torture.

Human Rights Summit Human Rights First’s 4th annual Human Rights Summit is fast approaching. The December 9 gathering will take place on the 7th floor of the Knight Conference Center at the Newseum in Washington, DC. The Summit will tackle some of the most challenging human rights issues of our day, including the global refugee crisis, countering violent extremism, authoritarianism, combating human trafficking, and more. Among this year’s speakers are Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner Alexander Aleinikoff, USAID’s Bama Athreya, and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Eric Schwartz. We hope you will join the conversation and register today.

Quote of the Week

“It’s clear what ISIL wants. They want to manufacture a clash between civilizations. They want frightened people to think in terms of ‘us versus them.’ They want us to turn our backs on Muslims victimized by terrorism. But this gang of thugs peddling a warped ideology, they will never prevail. The world is united in our resolve to end their evil. And the only thing ISIL can do is spread terror in hopes that we will in turn, turn on ourselves. We will betray our ideals and take actions, actions motivated by fear that will drive more recruits into the arms of ISIL. That’s how they win. We win by prioritizing our security as we’ve been doing. Refusing to compromise our fundamental American values: freedom, openness, tolerance. That’s who we are. That’s how we win.”

–Vice President Joe Biden’s White House Weekly Address on November 21, 2015

We’re Reading

Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Kuwait Ryan Crocker wrote for The Wall Street Journal making the case for accepting Syrian refugees, writing, “This is not an unmanageable security risk to U.S. citizens, as the governors and others have alleged. The U.S.’s vigorous screening process involves vetting from multiple security agencies.”

The Hill explores why the United States should redouble its efforts to resettle Syrian refugees, particularly in light of the terrorist attacks in Paris.

The New York Times Editorial Board pushed back on “reaction and overreaction to terrorism [that] comes with the risk that society will lose its way,” and argues against fear-mongering efforts to block refugees, abandon the rule of law in the fight against terrorism, and expand the surveillance apparatus.

In a piece this weekend the The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board urges Congress to discontinue its efforts to pass legislation that would bar refugees from entry into the United States.

We’re Watching

Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer spoke with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes about the rigorous security checks already in place to vet Syrian refugees.

Around Town

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Brookings Institution will host a discussion on “France and Europe After the Terrorist Attacks.” The event will feature Joseph Bahout, visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Middle East Program; Laure Mandeville, U.S. bureau chief at Le Figaro; and Brookings Fellows Philippe Le Corre, Kemal Kirisci, and Jeremy Shapiro. 2:30 p.m., Brookings Institution, 1775 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Falk Auditorium, Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, HIAS, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and World Relief will host a briefing on “Refugee Vetting and Resettlement.” The event will feature Tiffany Lynch, senior policy analyst for USCIRF; Melanie Nezer, vice president for policy and advocacy at HIAS; Kevin Appleby, director of migration and public affairs for migration and refugee services at USCCB; and Jenny Yang, vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief. 11: 30 a.m., 441 Cannon House Office Building, Washington, D.C.

Published on November 24, 2015


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