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United Nations

Last week the U.N. Security Council voted to elect former prime minister of Portugal António Guterres as the next Secretary-General of the United Nations. Guterres served from 2005-2015 as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), overseeing the agency’s work to address the plight of refugees and displaced people.

The world is facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II, with over 65 million people worldwide displaced by conflict and persecution. This crisis underscores the need for nations to work together—and for experienced and principled leadership at the United Nations. Humanitarian crises increasingly expose the willingness of powerful states—including permanent members of the U.N. Security Council—to violate international law in pursuit of political and strategic objectives with impunity. Additionally, governments around the world are systematically restricting the activities of independent human rights activists in violation of international law, weakening implementation and accountability mechanisms for human rights standards developed through the United Nations over decades and thereby endangering international peace and security.

Human Rights First urges Guterres to usher in a new multilateral effort to reaffirm the primacy of universal human rights principles, and set in motion ambitious new initiatives to address the root causes of the world’s greatest human rights problems.

Targeted Killing

Human Rights First along with 11 human rights, civil liberties, and faith organizations urged President Obama to take steps to implement an executive order issued this summer that aims to increase transparency and limit harm to civilians when the United States uses force during armed conflict or self-defense. The call came in a letter highlighting ten drone strikes between 2009-2014, urging the administration to investigate these strikes—as well as any others where there are credible allegations of harm to civilians.

Human Rights First notes that it is essential that the public be given the necessary information to assess the harm to civilians, the legality of individual strikes, and the overall effectiveness of the targeted killing program. Confidence in U.S. counterterrorism operations depends on full clarity about the governing policies and the measures taken to minimize harm to civilians.

The Obama Administration should commit to ensuring that the U.S. targeted killing program is consistent with U.S. obligations under international law and should increase transparency and oversight of the program by releasing Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinions and other legal analysis on the use of lethal force with minimal redactions. The administration should also transfer authority for conducting strikes from the Central Intelligence Agency to the Department of Defense, and conduct a comprehensive strategic review of the impact of lethal strikes on national security and human rights.


On Thursday Nabeel Rajab, the jailed Bahraini human rights defender in jail for speaking out against the kingdom, was to receive sentencing in his case, but the court postponed the hearing until October 31st. Prior to the announcement, Human Rights First urged the U.S. government to link the proposed sale of F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain to Rajab’s acquittal. Obama Administration officials recently indicated that the sale of 19 F-16 aircrafts to the regime would come with human rights requirements of the Bahraini government, but did not detail the specifics of these conditions.

Rajab, a prominent critic of the Bahraini regime’s repression, was arrested in June and charged with a series of free speech-related offenses, including “insulting a neighboring country.” From prison last month, Rajab wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times describing how he had met Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this year. After the article appeared he was further charged with undermining the kingdom’s prestige.

The State Department called for his immediate release following the publication of the opinion piece, but he remains in prison. Rajab faces more than ten years in prison if convicted.

We’re Reading

Former ambassador Ryan Crocker writes in the Houston Chronicle that welcoming refugees is what a proud nation does.

The Hill reports on the call from human rights civil liberties groups urging for robust implementation of President Obama’s executive order on drones.

The Daily Caller and Bloomberg write that President Obama’s adopt-a-refugee program will let Americans support Syrian immigrants as they build new lives in the United States.

Brian Dooley writes in the Middle East Monitor that new polling data shows that Syrians don’t have confidence in the international community.

The New York Times writes about Nadia Murad, the Yazidi woman who survived capture by ISIS, winning the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize.

We’re Watching

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver takes on Guantanamo in a funny, and insightful, segment.

Quote of the Week

“The UN Secretary-General has an essential leadership role to play on the global stage. If appointed by the General Assembly, Mr. Guterres would inherit some of the most complicated challenges to peace, security, human rights, and development that the world has known, including the catastrophic attacks against civilians in Syria, violent horrors perpetrated by ISIL, advances in DPRK’s illegal nuclear and ballistic missile programs, a warming planet, severe breakdowns in governance in many parts of the world, and the displacement of more than 65 million people – the highest number since World War II. As the world’s conflicts become increasingly complex, Mr. Guterres will have to mobilize UN officials and member states alike to ensure that the UN invests in preventing and mediating the end of conflicts, and that UN peacekeeping missions actually protect the at-risk civilians who depend upon them.”

 —Ambassador Samantha Power on the recent vote by the U.N. Security Council to elect former prime minister of Portugal António Guterres as the next Secretary-General of the United Nations

Around Town

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) holds a discussion on “The Arab World at a Crossroad.” The discussion will feature Former Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy. 11:00 AM, CSIS, 1616 Rhode Island Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

The Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) holds a discussion on “The Current State of US-Russia Relations.” The discussion will feature Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak. 4:30 PM, SAIS, Nitze Building, 1740 Massachusetts Ave NW, Kenney Herter Auditorium, Washington, D.C.

Thursday, October 13, 2016    

Georgetown University holds a discussion on “Russian Foreign Policy, US Elections and the Future of US-Russia Relations.” The discussion will feature Sergey Rogov, academic director of the Institute for the USA and Canadian Studies; Valery Garbuzov, director of the Institute for the USA and Canadian Studies; and Andrew Kuchins, senior fellow at Georgetown. 5:00 PM, Georgetown University, 3700 O Street NW, Intercultural Center, McGhee Library, Room 301, Washington, D.C.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Arab Center Washington DC and the University of Denver School of International Studies hold a conference on “Democracy in the Arab World: The Obama Legacy & Beyond.” 8:30 AM, JW Marriott, 1331 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs and the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies will hold a discussion entitled, “Paranoid in Poland? The Alternative Reality of the Law and Justice Party.” 12:30 PM, GWU Elliott School, 1957 E Street NW, Washington, D.C.

On the Hill

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Middle East Policy Council holds a discussion on “The Middle East and the Next Administration.” The discussion will feature Former Assistant Defense Secretary Chas Freeman Jr., chairman of Projects International Inc.; James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute; and Ilan Goldberg, senior fellow and director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security and former special adviser on the Middle East in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy. 1:00 PM, 485 Russell Senate Office Building.