The stunning protests that began three months ago in Egypt captured world attention and sparked hope that democracy could take hold in the heart of the Middle East. In a mere 18 days, the Egyptian people forced an end to Hosni Mubarak’s repressive 30-year rule. But that was only the beginning of a transition; the forces of the status quo are powerful, and there will be many hurdles in the path towards democratic government.
We’ve been working with Egyptian activists for many years, and now we’re supporting them as they attempt to build a new Egypt based on respect for human rights and the rule of law. As part of this effort, we recently brought Esraa Abdel Fattah to the United States. An online organizer, known as “Facebook Girl” after she was imprisoned by Mubarak’s regime, Esraa spent a week in Washington meeting with U.S. officials and tech execs to promote policies to protect Internet freedom, a key issue we’re working on in Egypt and around the world. She also spoke to students at a technology high school, with a local television news crew in tow.
Our work with Esraa is a good example of the partnerships we form with those on the frontlines of change in their own societies. Their lived experience and firsthand knowledge informs our advocacy, and we connect them directly to the corridors of power so their voices are heard in the policy debates that affect their cause. We work to ensure that they can operate freely without harassment and threat, and when they are targeted for persecution because of their work, we defend them.
Thank you for supporting us in this important work.
President and CEO
Human Rights First
We’re working to support democratic transformation not just in Egypt but across the Middle East. To that end, we’re urging the United States to put human rights at the center of its policy toward the region.
For decades the U.S. has backed “friendly” dictators in the name of stability. Now at this crucial moment, as protestors across the region rise up to demand what already belongs to them—their human rights—will the U.S. get on the right side of history?
Only by championing human rights will the U.S. help bring peace and stability to the Middle East. Our blueprint, Seizing the Moment, details specific steps the U.S. government should take to defend human rights in the Middle East.
Recently, two political leaders in Pakistan were murdered because they defended freedom of religion. Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian member of parliament, and Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, were killed for speaking out against the law banning blasphemy. It was under this law that a Christian woman, Asiya Bibi, was sentenced to death for allegedly criticizing Mohammed. The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for Bhatti’s murder; Governor Taseer was killed by his own bodyguard.
At the recent U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, we teamed up with Taseer’s daughter Shehrbano, who is carrying on her father’s fight for freedom of expression and religion. At an event we organized, Taseer spoke eloquently against a pending U.N. resolution backing a global anti-blasphemy code.
Diplomats in Geneva lauded our event as the best they’d ever seen at the Human Rights Council and, more importantly, it worked. In a critical vote, all references to “defaming” a religion—the root of blasphemy laws—were stripped from the U.N. resolution that passed in March.
Listen to our podcast on the Pakistani case—and read our report about other cases of how blasphemy laws are abused (including that of a man who was charged with “blasphemy” for throwing out the business card of a salesman whose name was Mohammed.)
The Obama administration announced it was withdrawing the federal indictment against alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and abandoning plans to try him in federal court. Instead, KSM and his co-conspirators will face trial in a military commission at Gitmo.
Attorney General Eric Holder blasted Congress for choking off funding for civilian trials. He’s right. But the truth is, the Obama administration had two years before their hands were tied to put the alleged mastermind of the 9-11 attacks on trial and make the case that trying terrorism suspects in federal court is not just right, but wise. They didn’t even try.
But the political battle about terrorism trials is not over. The funding restrictions are temporary, and the President has said he supports using the courts to try some Gitmo detainees. We’ll keep pushing for civilian trials and for the President to fulfill his commitment to closing one of al Qaeda’s best recruiting tools: Gitmo.
Read Elisa Massimino’s op-ed on this subject in the New York Daily News.
Our team of investigators recently returned from Afghanistan where they were looking into the trials of detainees at the infamous Bagram prison in Afghanistan. Daphne Eviatar and Gabor Rona found that detainees at Bagram—which now houses almost 1700 prisoners, nearly ten times the number at Guantanamo—still have no right to challenge their detention in court or to be represented by a lawyer. We’ll soon release a report detaining our full findings.
Daphne and Gabor recently held a web chat to discuss trials in Bagram. If you couldn’t join us, don’t worry! We recorded it—watch it now.
And Daphne was interviewed for this AP exclusive.
One of our long-time pro bono attorneys is hitting the road—by bike—at the end of April to raise money for Human Rights First and our work helping refugees win asylum in the United States. Jeffrey Heller will be riding 1400 miles from New York City to Iowa!
Our asylum work saves lives. A refugee with a lawyer is three times more likely to win asylum than one without representation. Yet most refugees go without this vital assistance. Our network of pro bono attorneys provides high quality legal help, for free.
Make your pledge to help victims of persecution find safety and build a new life—100% of the proceeds will go to support our refugee protection work.
Gitmo: Politics trumps U.S. security — Daphne Eviatar in Politico
Associated Press — UN Rights Body Ditches Religious ‘Defamation’ Idea