Washington Week on Human Rights: October 27, 2014

Top News

TORTURE Twelve Nobel Peace Prize laureates are calling on President Obama to release the Senate intelligence committee’s long-anticipated CIA torture report and make “full disclosure to the American people of the extent and use of torture” by the United States. The call came in a letter to President Obama, who they also urged to adopt “firm policy and oversight restating and upholding international law related to conflict, including the Geneva Convention and the U.N. Convention Against Torture.” That call is particularly timely as the Obama Administration is now making its final decision on how it interprets the U.N. Convention Against Torture before the United States appears next month before the United Nations Committee Against Torture, which monitors compliance with the torture treaty. The George W. Bush Administration interpreted the treaty, which bans “cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment” of prisoners, as not applying to CIA and military prisons overseas. That position drew bipartisan ire and was opposed by then-Senator Barack Obama.

EGYPT This morning, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew was in Cairo urging Egypt to put in place economic and political changes – including an open political environment in which individual rights are fully respected – to attract new outside investors. Lew’s visit comes just one day after 23 Egyptian activists were sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of approximately $1,400 each for violating Egypt’s restrictive anti-protest laws. In recent months, the Egyptian government has led a campaign to quash political dissent through excessive use of force against protesters, imprisonment of thousands of political dissidents and several journalists, and unfair trials leading to harsh sentences. The crackdown has left more than 2000 protesters dead while tens of thousands more are in prison, many detained without charge for extended periods and subjected to torture and inhumane conditions. In September of this year, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi signed into law harsh new penalties targeting human rights activists and civil society groups that accept foreign funds for activities deemed to “harm the national interest.”

UKRAINE Ukrainians went to the polls over the weekend to cast their votes in what many hope will be a crucial turning point for the nation. Exit polls indicate that pro-Western parties –including Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s party, which has reportedly won approximately 23% of the vote – performed well in the election and are expected to push the country toward Europe and away from Russia. In a post-election address, Poroshenko noted that “more than three-quarters of voters who took part in the election powerfully and irreversibly supported Ukraine’s course toward Europe.” Around 52.5% of voters participated in the election and the new parliament will have to address major problems including chronic corruption, and that pro-Russian fighters continue to hold territories in eastern Ukraine.

Quote of the Week

“In recent decades, by accepting the flagrant use of torture and other violations of international law in the name of combating terrorism, American leaders have eroded the very freedoms and rights that generations of their young gave their lives to defend. They have again set an example that will be followed by others; only now, it is one that will be used to justify the use of torture by regimes around the world, including against American soldiers in foreign lands. In losing their way, they have made us all vulnerable.

“From around the world, we will watch in the coming weeks as the release of the Senate findings on the United States torture program brings the country to a crossroads. It remains to be seen whether the United States will turn a blind eye to the effects of its actions on its own people and on the rest of the world, or if it will take the necessary steps to recover the standards on which the country was founded, and to once again adhere to the international conventions it helped to bring into being.”

A letter to President Obama from 12 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates

We’re Reading

The New York Times’ Charlie Savage reported that a dozen Nobel Peace Prize laureates urged President Obama in a letter to publicly release the Senate intelligence committee’s report on the post-9/11 CIA torture program. For more information, see Human Rights First’s work to release the report .

New York Times editorial discusses how the decision by the Carter Center to close its Cairo office sends a strong statement about the failure of the Egyptian regime to respect democracy and the rule of law, highlighting the government crackdown on civil society and urging Secretary Kerry to pressure Egyptian President Sisi to change course.

In a piece for The Hill, Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord makes the case for the appointment of a State Department special envoy to promote and protect the human rights of LGBT people. Learn more here.

In an interview with Human Rights First Award Winner Ryan Boyette, Amanda Taub from Vox explores the power of citizen journalism to disrupt the brutal Sudanese regime.

We’re Watching

Last week, at Human Rights First’s annual award dinner in New York City, acclaimed actress Alfre Woodard accepted the Sidney Lumet Award for Excellence in Entertainment on behalf of the film 12 Years a Slave for depicting the devastating effect of slavery on the human soul. During the program, she presented a moving performance of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech, which you can watch here. To learn more about the dinner and this year’s Human Rights Award winner Ryan Boyette, founder of Nuba Reports, read this recap.

Around Town

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Eurasia Center’s International Security Program will host a book discussion on “Victory Undone: The Defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq and Its Resurrection as ISIS.” The vent will feature author Carter Andress, former Airborne Ranger-qualified Army infantry officer and principal owner and president of the American-Iraqi Solutions Group; and former Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen Jr. 12PM, National Press Club, 14th and F Streets NW, Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations (NCUSAR) will hold its 23rd annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference with the theme “Framing and Charting the Region’s Issues, Interests, Challenges, and Opportunities: Implications for Arab and U.S. Policies,” October 28-29. 9AM, Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Atrium Hall, Washington, D.C.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) will host a discussion on “The Islamic State and the Middle East’s Shifting Geopolitical Landscape.” 9:30AM, CEIP, 1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Woodrow Wilson Center’s (WWC) Latin American Program will hold a discussion on “Are Crime and Violence Prevention Programs Working in Central America?” The event will feature Mitch Seligson, founder and senior adviser at the Latin America Public Opinion Project; Mark Feierstein, associate administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development; Joan Serra Hoffman, violence prevention specialist at the World Bank; Roseanna Ander, founding executive director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab; Erik Esteban Escobar Albores, founder of Youth Against Violence (Central America); and Eric Olson, associate director of the Latin American Program at WWC. 9AM, WWC, One Woodrow Wilson Plaza, Ronald Reagan Building, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Fifth Floor, Washington, D.C.

The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) will host a discussion on “By the Numbers: What the Midterms Mean for a Polarized America.” The event will feature Whit Ayres, founder and president of North Star Opinion Research; Mark Mellman, founder and president of The Mellman Group; Amy Walter, national editor of The Cook Political Report; and John Fortier, director of the Democracy Project at BPC. 9AM, BPC, 1225 I Street NW, Suite 1000, Washington, D.C.

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) will host a discussion on “Is Democracy Possible in Russia?” The event will feature Lilia Shevtsova, chair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center; Leon Aron, director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute; Denis Volkov, sociologist at the Levada Center; Leonid Gozman, president of the Union of Right Forces; Miriam Lanskoy, director for Russia and Eurasia at NED; and Carl Gershman, NED president. 9:30AM, NED, 1025 F Street NW, Suite 800, Washington, D.C.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) will host a book discussion on “National Insecurity.” The event will feature Author David Rothkopf, CEO and editor of the FP Group; Sandy Berger, chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group and former national security adviser to President Bill Clinton; Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter; Brent Scowcroft, president of the Scowcroft Group and former national security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. 5PM, CEIP, 1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

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Published on October 27, 2014

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