Washington Week on Human Rights: October 5, 2015

Top News

Guantanamo This week, the Senate will take up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2016, legislation that contains provisions that would make it difficult to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Last week the House of Representatives passed the bill by a vote of 270-156. The provisions contained in the NDAA would extend the absolute ban on transfers from Guantanamo to the United States—even for trial—until December 31, 2016. The bill also includes unprecedented transfer bans to certain countries and reinstates a modified version of the old onerous overseas transfer certification requirements that made it extremely difficult for the president to transfer anyone out of the facility, even those unanimously cleared by all relevant national security and intelligence agencies. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has said President Obama will veto the legislation in its current form. Human Rights First has urged the administration to take that step so that the president can keep his promise to shutter the facility by the end of his second term. There are currently 114 detainees remaining at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, and Shaker Aamer, a British national, is expected to be transferred soon. Fifty-three of the remaining detainees are cleared for transfer and another 48 are eligible for Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearings. Human Rights First’s plan to close Guantanamo is outlined in its blueprint How to Close Guantanamo.

Global Refugee Crisis On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will examine the refugee crisis stemming from the conflict in Syria and the U.S. response. On Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa will hold a hearing on the global humanitarian crisis resulting from the same conflict. According to the United Nations, 7.6 million people are currently displaced in Syria and need immediate humanitarian assistance, and over 4 million have fled due to conflict and persecution. The U.N. global humanitarian appeal for Syrian refugees is only 38 percent funded, and food assistance has been cut. Without meaningful access to resettlement in other safe countries, many are turning to more dangerous routes to reach places of safety where they can rebuild their lives. So far, the United States has committed to increase its overall refugee resettlement for refugees from all countries for the year only by 15,000, and has committed only to resettle “at least 10,000” Syrian refugees in fiscal year 2016. Human Rights First continues to urge the Obama Administration to lead a global effort to address the situation, including increasing the overall refugee ceiling to 200,000 to support a commitment to resettle at least 100,000 Syrian refugees during the next fiscal year.

Quote of the Week

“The very idea of a people governing themselves depends upon government giving expression to their unique culture, their unique history, their unique experiences. But some universal truths are self-evident. No person wants to be imprisoned for peaceful worship. No woman should ever be abused with impunity, or a girl barred from going to school. The freedom to peacefully petition those in power without fear of arbitrary laws — these are not ideas of one country or one culture. They are fundamental to human progress. They are a cornerstone of this institution.”

-President Obama’s September 28th Address before the United Nations General Assembly)

We’re Reading

In a piece for MSNBC, Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino and Anti-Defamation League National Director Jonathan Greenblatt explain that the largest refugee crisis since World War II demands a coordinated global response requiring American leadership.

Writing for USA Today, jailed Bahraini medic Ali Al Ekri described the torture and mistreatment he has experienced, and pleaded for U.S. lawmakers to pressure the oppressive Bahraini government to reform.

The Huffington Post and the Los Angeles Times discussed the Obama Administration’s new numbers for refugee resettlement in 2016, noting that the increase in the total refugee ceiling will not impact the number of Syrian refugees the the United States plans to bring in.

According the The Hill, advocates are urging President Obama to veto the defense authorization bill, which includes provisions that would impose new obstacles to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

In a piece for Al Jazeera America, Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley made the case for Congress to support a new bill that would re-instate the ban on the sale of small arms to Bahrain.

On the Hill

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on “The U.S. Role and Strategy in the Middle East: Yemen and the Countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council.” Mary Beth Long, founder and CEO of Metis Solutions; Stephen Seche, executive vice president of the Arab Gulf States Institute, will testify. 2:30PM, 419 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing hearing on “The Syrian Refugee Crisis and Its Impact on the Security of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.” 10:30AM, 2141 Rayburn House Office Building


Thursday, October 8, 2015

The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee hearing on “Examining the Syrian Humanitarian Crisis from the Ground (Part I).” Bernice Romero, senior director for humanitarian public policy and advocacy at Save the Children; Mark Smith, senior director for humanitarian emergencies at World Vision; David Ray, vice president for advocacy at Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere; and Andrea Koppel, vice president for global engagement and policy at Mercy Corps, will testify. 2PM, 2172 Rayburn House Office Building

Around Town


Monday, October 5, 2015

Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Contemporary Arab Studies will hold a discussion on “In the News: Refugee Crisis,” focusing on “the current state of the migration and refugee crisis in Europe.” The event will feature Daniel Keleman, professor at Rutgers University; Kathleen McNamara, director of the Georgetown Mortara Center for International Studies; Susan Martin, director of the Georgetown Institute for the Study of International Migration; and Rochelle Davis, associate professor at Georgetown. 4PM, Georgetown University, 37th and O Streets NW, Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) will host a discussion on “Open or Closed Borders? Understanding Europe’s Migration Challenge.” The program will feature Liechtenstein Deputy Prime Minister Thomas Zwiefelhofer; United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Regional Representative for the USA and Caribbean Shelly Pitterman; and Heather Conley, director of the CSIS Europe Program. 11AM, CSIS, 1616 Rhode Island Avenue NW, First Floor Conference Center, Washington, D.C.

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Published on October 5, 2015


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