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January 28, 2014

Human Rights Priorities at Core of Strong State of the Union

Washington, D.C. – As President Obama prepares to deliver his State of the Union address tonight, Human Rights First is urging him to articulate policies that reflect the human rights priorities of the United States. The president has the opportunity to promote issues of  social and economic equality, to renew the American commitment to protect refugees fleeing persecution and danger, and to establish a comprehensive counterterrorism policy that addresses threats while reducing the risk of war.

“The strength   of our union depends on a universal respect for human rights,” said Human Rights First’s Robyn Lieberman. “Economic and national security priorities can only  be achieved if the United States implements its commitments in its domestic policies, and it must do that if is to credibly assume its leadership on human rights and rule of law on the world stage.”

The following are human rights priorities President Obama should address during tomorrow’s speech:

IMMIGRATION:  The president and  Congress have a common interest in passing meaningful immigration reform this year.  One area of common ground is upholding America’s commitment to protecting  vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees seeking safety in the United States. Refugees fleeing religious, ethnic, and other forms of persecution deserve a system free of an arbitrary filing deadline and with strengthened due process protections.  Last year, the Senate passed immigration reform legislation that would improve the asylum system, including elimination of the wasteful and unfair asylum filing deadline that contributes to the immigration court backlogs . President Obama should make elimination of the filing deadline a priority as he works with Congress to pass immigration reform in 2014.

EQUALITY: President Obama has made equality a hallmark issue, and he should continue his leadership to protect LGBT people from violence around the world.  The Sochi Olympics are a key international moment to press Russia to abandon its dangerous anti-LGBT laws, statutes that have resulted in escalating violence and fear based on their ambiguity.  As he has done by appointing an appropriate delegation to the Olympics, he should stand with Russian activists fighting to root out these statutes and prevent additional laws that unfairly target LGBT people during and after the Olympics. President Obama should understand that how the U.S. responds to the Russian crackdown has ramifications for the governments of Uganda, Nigeria, Ukraine, where criminalization of homosexuality is expanding and the violent targeting of LGBT people is commonplace.

ENDING PERPETUAL WAR: President Obama should use this year to begin to realize what he recognized in his May 2013 National Defense University speech on the war in Afghanistan against the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and associated forces that “this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.”  He should begin to lay out  a comprehensive  counterterrorism strategy that will make us safer over the long term, rather than rely on an outdated war authority that offers quick military responses but no real solutions.  President Obama should rein in the use of lethal targeting by drones outside of armed conflict. He should build on progress toward closing Guantanamo, notifying Congress that he will use the increased flexibility to transfer Guantanamo detainees home or to third countries. All detainees who have not been cleared for release or charged with a crime should have an opportunity for their cases to be reviewed by our security and intelligence agencies by the end of this year, which means increasing the frequency of Periodic Review Boards.

“President Obama will surely tackle some of our nation’s most difficult domestic issues tomorrow night, but he cannot do so without addressing challenges that lie at the heart of our nation’s ability to lead around the world,” concluded Lieberman. “Perpetual war, equality, and immigration reform are all issues rooted in respect for the rule of law and human dignity. The Obama Administration should prioritize these  issues as legacy issues  in its remaining time in office.”

For more information or to speak with Lieberman, please contact Brenda Bowser Soder atbowsersoderb@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3323.

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