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Human Rights First today praised the repatriation of Guantanamo detainee Mohamedou Slahi to Mauritania, and encourages the Obama Administration to keep up the pace of transfers so that the facility may close by the end of President Obama’s term in office. Slahi had been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay since 2002, and was tortured while in custody. In 2015, Guantanamo Diary, a memoir of Slahi’s time at the detention facility, was released.

The transfer comes as Congress prepares to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) following this year’s presidential election. The bill includes language that would make it nearly impossible for President Obama to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, despite the fact that national security leaders from across the political spectrum, including thirty-six retired generals and admirals of the U.S. Armed Forces, have urged the president and Congress to make shuttering this facility a top priority.


President’s Last 100 Days

As President Obama enters the last one hundred days of his term in office, Human Rights First urged him to take specific actions to secure his legacy on human rights. The call came in a letter from Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino outlining specific policy actions that are within the president’s executive authority to implement by the end of his term, including ramping up leadership to address the global refugee crisis, bringing counterterrorism practices in line with human rights norms, and maximizing the potential of a political solution to the conflict in Syria. These moves would ensure that the United States is seen as a leader in the fight for universal human rights, and serve our national interest.


Today marks the nine hundredth day since Aya Hijazi, a U.S. citizen and human rights defender, was arrested in Cairo. Hijazi was arrested in May 2014 along with her husband and four others working at an NGO for homeless children in Cairo. They were caught in President Sisi’s widespread crackdown on Egyptian civil society.

Educated at George Mason University in Virginia, Hijazi is now in Egypt’s Qanater prison, accused of sexually abusing the children she had rescued— fabricated accusations aimed at intimidating those who work for Egypt’s nonprofit organizations. After her arrest experts at local Egyptian rights groups examined the sexual abuse accusations and found them to be false.

In September Hijazi’s family traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with congressional offices about her case. They urged Congress to push the State Department to meet its responsibilities, noting that with increased pressure from the United States Hijazi may be released.

Hijazi’s next court date is set for November 19.

2016 Human Rights First Award Dinner

This Wednesday, October 19th, Human Rights First will honor Iraqi human rights activists Khaleel Aldakhi and Ameena Saeed Hasan with its 2016 Human Rights First Award. The husband and wife activists are being recognized for their courageous work rescuing Yazidi women and girls enslaved by ISIS. The organization will present the Human Rights First Award to Aldakhi and Hasan at its annual gala at Chelsea Piers in New York City.

Human Rights First will also present its 2016 Sidney Lumet Award for Integrity in Entertainment to the film Eye in the Sky for its powerful portrayal of the ethical dilemmas posed by drone warfare, including how political and military leaders assess “collateral damage”—a term for which the film provides much-needed humanity. Helen Mirren and John D. Hutson RADM JAGC USN (ret) will present the award to director Gavin Hood.

The gala will also recognize this year’s winners of the Marvin Frankel Award for extraordinary commitment to providing pro bono legal representation to individuals who have fled persecution and seek asylum in the United States. Human Right First will honor Blank Rome LLP in Washington, D.C., Latham & Watkins LLP in Houston, and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP in New York City for their dedication to human rights and commitment to pro bono service.

Quote of the Week

“We cannot have terrorist groups, barbarians, massacring whole peoples, destroying civilizations and cultures, because all people must be able to determine their own lives and nobody should seek to impose their ideas on anyone else…

“We need to have religious freedom, we must accept difference wherever it arises and we must make sure that all parliaments are aware of what happened to us.”

—Nadia Murad, Yazidi woman who survived ISIS captivity. Murad was awarded the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize last week.

We’re Reading

Pennsylvania’s WITF reports on advocates urging Governor Tom Wolf to close immigration detention facilities in the state.

Harvard Political Review writes on the immensity of the Syrian refugee crisis and how the burden of the humanitarian crisis falls on Syria’s neighboring states.

The Washington Post features a direct appeal from Alaa Hijazi, sister of imprisoned U.S. citizen and human rights defender Aya Hijazi.

We’re Watching

CBS’ 60 Minutes reports on the global refugee crisis, following Syrian families from Jordan as they move through the vetting process to try to build new lives in the United States.

Around Town

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Woodrow Wilson Center (WWC) Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies will hold a conference entitled, “Protecting Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law in the Age of Terrorism,” focusing on the U.S., E.U., Russia, and Turkey. 8:45 AM, WWC, One Woodrow Wilson Plaza, Ronald Reagan Building, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Fifth Floor, Auditorium, Washington, D.C.

The Institute of World Politics (IWP) will host a lecture entitled, “National Security Law and the Legal Challenges of Terrorism.” The lecture will be led by Andrew McCarthy, contributing editor at the National Review, senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and former assistant US attorney for the Southern District of New York. 4:00 PM, IWP, 1521 16th Street NW, Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) will hold a discussion on “The Future of Global Jihadism.” The discussion will feature Peter Bergen, vice president of New America. 9:00 AM, SAIS, Nitze Building, 1740 Massachusetts Ave NW, Kenney Herter Auditorium, Washington, D.C.

The Johns Hopkins University SAIS will host a lecture entitled, “Turkey and the Syrian War.” The lecture will be led by Soner Cagaptay, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Studies’ Turkish Research Program. 6:00 PM, SAIS, Rome Building, 1619 Massachusetts Ave NW, Room 806, Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

New America, The McCain Institute, and Arizona State University’s College of Law will hold a conference entitled, “The Next President’s Fight Against Terror.” 8:30 AM, New America, 740 15th Street NW, Suite 900, Washington, D.C.

The Middle East Institute (MEI) will hold a discussion entitled, “The Art of Immigration: How Immigrant Artists Enrich America.” The discussion will feature UN High Commissioner for Refugee Resettlement Officer Anne-Marie McGranghan; Devon Akmon, director of the Arab American National Museum-Dearborn; Huda Asfour, musician and composer and co-founder of the DC Palestinian Film and Arts Festival; and James Witte, director of the Center for Social Science Research and research director of the Institute for Immigration Research at George Mason University. 12:00 PM, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1779 Massachusetts Ave NW, Root Room, Washington, D.C.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) will hold a discussion entitled, “US Strategy in the Middle East.” The discussion will feature Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of USCENTCOMM; Derek Chollet, senior adviser for security and defense policy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States; Linda Robinson, senior international policy analyst at the RAND Corporatoin; Michael Singh, managing director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and CAP Senior Fellows Brian Katulis and Rudy deLeon. 12:00 PM, CAP, 1333 H Street NW, 10th Floor, Washington, D.C.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding’s Bridge Initiative will hold a discussion entitled, “Islamophobia as Ideology of Empire,” focusing on Islamophobia as a form of racism. The discussion will feature Arun Kundnani, author of “The Muslims are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror. 12:15 PM, Georgetown University, 37th and O Streets NW, Intercultural Center, Room 241, Washington, D.C.

The Brookings Institution will hold a discussion entitled, “Is armed conflict with Russia a real possibility?” The discussion will feature retired British Gen. Richard Shirreff, former deputy supreme allied commander Europe; and Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow at Brookings. 2:00 PM, Brookings Institution, 1775 Massachusetts Ave NW, Falk Auditorium, Washington, D.C.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Atlantic Council will hold a discussion entitled, “Islamophobia: Overcoming Myths and Engaging in a Better Conversation.” The discussion will feature Vuslat Dogan Sabanci, chairwoman of Hurriyet; Karen Armstrong, author and commentator on comparative religion; Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies; Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International; and Frederick Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. 11:00 AM, Atlantic Council, 1030 15th Street NW, 12th Floor, Washington, D.C.

The Institute of World Politics (IWP) will hold a lecture entitled, “Immigration, National Security, and Foreign Policy.” Matthew O’Brien, director of research at the Federation of American Immigration Reform. 4:00 PM, IWP, 1521 16th Street NW, Washington, D.C.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ (CSIS) Project on Prosperity and Development will hold a discussion entitled, “The Refugee Crisis and International Organizations.” The discussion will feature Matthew McGuire, executive director of the World Bank; and Daniel Runde, director of the CSIS Project on Prosperity and Development. 1:00 PM, CSIS, 1616 Rhode Island Ave NW, Washington, D.C.