Chen Guangcheng’s daring defiance of a brutal regime is giving courage to those in China and beyond who struggle for human rights. We commend the American diplomats who helped Mr. Chen get to the American embassy, sheltered him there, and negotiated on his behalf with Chinese authorities. It is a credit to the United States that Mr. Chen looked to American diplomats for help and protection. We now owe him our best efforts to ensure his safety.
When mass atrocities are committed, the world community tends to focus attention on the perpetrators. But genocide and other crimes against humanity are complex, organized crimes. They require infrastructure, planning, and resources. A few years ago, we developed an innovative strategy to focus on “enablers”—the countries, companies, and individuals that provide money and weapons that make mass atrocities possible. Our idea is to disrupt the supply chain for slaughter.
The crisis in Syria has highlighted the importance of this approach. The Assad regime is getting weapons from Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state arms dealer. Unfortunately, instead of cracking down on Rosoboronexport, the United States government is doing business with it.
Thanks to our efforts, a bipartisan group of group of 17 senators led by John Cornyn (R-TX), Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) is pressing the Department of Defense to cancel its contract with Rosoboronexport. We think the U.S. government should go even further. We’re urging the Obama administration to level sanctions on Rosoboronexport and the other companies providing material support to Syria.
The crisis in Syria is complex, and targeting enablers alone will not stop the violence. But going after companies like Rosoboronexport will increase pressure on the Assad regime and signal to the world that the United States is serious about protecting Syrian civilians.
President and CEO
Human Rights First
Dr. Nada Dhaif is an accidental activist. When democracy protests broke out in her home country of Bahrain last year, she was more of an interested observer than a revolutionary. But as part of its brutal crackdown on the democratic uprising, the Bahraini monarchy is persecuting medics—including Dr. Dhaif—who treated injured protestors. It arrested, tortured, and convicted in sham military trials a group of 20 doctors and nurses. In April, we brought Dr. Dhaif, the only one of the medics allowed to travel, to the United States to tell her story directly to policymakers in the U.S. government.
Brian Dooley, who leads our work with human rights activists abroad, has reported on the human rights situation in Bahrain and, in particular, the regime’s persecution of the medics. When he met Dr. Dhaif, he knew how important it would be to ensure that American officials hear directly from this articulate champion of democracy.
During her visit to Washington, Dr. Dhaif urged members of Congress and the Obama administration to speak out against the monarchy’s abuses and to quash a proposed $53 million U.S arms sale to Bahrain. She also appeared on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show, where she criticized the double standard in the U.S. response to the Arab Spring. “They’re going really soft with the [Bahraini] government, unlike the way they’re responding to Syria and Libya,” she said. “Bahrain is the forgotten part in the Arab Spring.” Nada Dhaif is now back in Bahrain, where she is appealing her 15 year prison sentence.
The Fair Labor Association (FLA), an organization Human Rights First helped to create, recently issued an important report on conditions at Foxconn, a group of Chinese factories that make products for Apple and other companies. The report and the related agreement with Foxconn could change the lives of its 1.2 million employees; implementation is the key. “Talk is cheap,” said Meg Roggensack, as quoted in Time Magazine. “The steps needed to protect workers in Apple’s supply chain may not be.”
Under the agreement, Foxconn employees will work no more than 49 hours a week, and their take pay will remain the same; that is, they’ll work many fewer hours for the same amount. They’ll also work in improved conditions—conditions that will be monitored by FLA’s team of independent inspectors.
Apple has announced that it fully supports the FLA’s recommendations. But other major companies, including Hewlett, Dell, Amazon, and Microsoft—also contract with Foxconn. They should follow Apple’s lead.
At the end of March, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing dubbed “Holiday on ICE: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s New Immigration Detention Standards” designed to put the brakes on plans by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to implement much-needed reforms to the immigration detention system. Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) aimed to depict as cushy the conditions in immigration detention centers. In other words, he sought to obscure the truth.
As we explained in our testimony, asylum seekers and other non-criminal immigrants—the vast majority held in jails and jail-like facilities—often face harsh, even brutal, treatment in detention. Our 2011 report, Jails and Jumpsuits, documented the costs—in dollars and in human dignity—of this unjust system, and urged the Department of Homeland Security to switch from a penal model to one appropriate for civil detainees.
In an op-ed for the D.C. newspaper The Hill, Human Rights First’s Annie Sovcik took Chairman Smith to task for playing politics with this important issue. “The House Judiciary Committee should spend less time trying to sensationalize and belittle what is a difficult problem, and get down to the real business of figuring out how to implement the changes that can make immigration detention facilities safer and more humane,” she wrote.
The Obama administration’s decision to waive human rights conditions and release some $1.5 billion to Egypt is damaging both to the democratic transition there and to the United States. “This decision will undermine the United States’ credibility as an advocate for human rights and democracy in the Middle East and around the world for years to come,” says Neil Hicks of Human Rights First.
In December, Congress made funding contingent on progress in the democratic transition, as certified by the State Department. But the Obama administration, citing national security, decided to bypass the restrictions. Egypt’s transitional military government has largely resisted democratic reform and continues to crack down on activists. The unconditional financial aid from the United States recalls the many years of American support for the brutal Mubarak regime.
Instead, the Obama administration should have released a portion of the funds, in recognition of limited but genuine progress in Egypt, and pegged further funding to specific benchmarks: passage of a new constitution that protects the rights of all Egyptians, handover of power to elected civilian rulers, and reform of other repressive laws. We are continuing to work with our colleagues in Egypt to support their efforts to advance human rights and democracy, despite this unhelpful signal from the U.S. government.
If US loses the faith of people like me, it loses the Mideast
Nada Dhaif, Christian Science Monitor, May 1, 2012
Free the torture report
Editorial, LA Times, April 27, 2012
Labor Audit on Foxconn Is Thorough, Experts Say
Steven Greenhouse, New York Times, March 31, 2012
Obama unveils Syria, Iran technology sanctions
AFP, April 24, 2012