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June 06, 2016

Washington Week on Human Rights: June 6, 2016

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Human Trafficking

This week Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit the United States. In advance of the visit, Human Rights First is urging the State Department to press the Indian government to strengthen anti-trafficking laws and promote consistent enforcement on all government levels. Additionally, many U.S. corporations and financial institutions are significantly invested in India and have a substantial stake in ensuring their supply chains are free from forced labor. These companies should also implement policies and practices to prevent worker exploitation and ensure that their supply chains are protected from forced labor. Last year, Human Rights First's President and CEO Elisa Massimino wrote to President Obama to urge him to raise human rights concerns with Prime Minister Modi when he traveled to India. Modi's trip to the United States is a renewed opportunity to advance key foreign policy goals while ensuring that the U.S.-India relationship is grounded in respect for human dignity and fundamental rights.

Defense Authorization 

The Senate will turn its attention this week to considerating amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Senators are expected to move methodically through more than 300 proposed amendments, including several that Human Rights First notes could impact U.S. human rights-related policy. Of special concern are amendments relating to restricting the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United States or several other countries and building other facilities to house detainees, Human Rights First is urging support for an amendment to provide four thousand more Afghan Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs). In its current form, NDAA does not provide any new visa allotments; an insufficient amount of SIVs would undermine efforts to afford essential protections to vulnerable individuals who aided the United States in Afghanistan. The Afghan SIV program allows Afghans who provided crucial support to the U.S. armed forces and other U.S. government agencies operating in Afghanistan to be resettled in the United States. Many linguists, contractors, and security guards who worked with the U.S. military have found protection by using the visas to escape well-documented threats from the Taliban and other groups hostile to the United States. Currently, ten thousand Afghan applicants are waiting in the SIV application backlog, and the State Department has fewer than four thousand visas remaining.  

World Refugee Crisis

This week the State Department will release its official resettlement numbers of Syrian refugees for May. Last month, the DOS indicated that it resettled 451 Syrian refugees in April, bringing the seven-month total so far this fiscal year to 1,736 Syrian refugees, amounting to 17.4 percent of the ten thousand Syrian refugees the U.S. government has pledged to resettle by September 30, 2016. In April, Human Rights First released a new report detailing the slow progress the Obama Administration has made toward its resettlement goal. The report outlines how U.S. processing of resettlement cases, as well as processing of Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applications from individuals who worked with the U.S. military, have been hampered by bottlenecks, backlogs, and staffing gaps. Addressing these backlogs, would not undermine the security of the process; rather it would strengthen the integrity of the process which includes extensive security vetting. A bipartisan group of former humanitarian and national security officials has recommendedthat the United States resettle one hundred thousand Syrian refugees, and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has also recommended that the United States resettle on hundred thousand vulnerable Syrian refugees.

Quote of the Week

"And perhaps no element of our power is more enduring than the example that we set ourselves -- the values we live as a nation and as individuals.  That’s how we won the Cold War — not just with the strength of our arms, but with the power of our ideas, the power of our example.  It’s how we defend our nation — including our refusal to torture — because America doesn’t just insist that other countries respect human rights, we have to uphold them, as well, and lead the way.  It’s how we treat those we capture.  It’s one of the reasons we have to close the prison at Guantanamo — because America has to stand for rule of law."

- President Obama's Commencement Address to the United States Air Force Academy, June 2, 2016 

We're Reading

Scott Speelman writes in the News and Observer that there is no justification for a bill under consideration in North Carolina’s legislature severely restricting resettlement of refugees in the state. Speelman is a retired Marine officer and member of Veterans for American Ideals.

The Chicago Tribune reports on backlogs in immigration courts that keep asylum seekers in limbo for years.

The Wall Street Journal reports on a Bahraini court’s ruling that doubled the jail term of Shiite opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman. Salman was convicted last year of incitement and insulting the Interior Ministry.

Voice of America writes on the renewed calls for transparency and accountability around the U.S. targeted killing program in the aftermath of drone strike in Pakistan. An accompanying video to the article features an interview with Rita Siemion of Human RIghts First.

The Middle East Eye writes about the United Arab Emirates court ruling acquitting two U.S. citizens of providing supplies to militants and raising funds for their activities. The father and son spent two years in prison, claiming that they were beaten and tortured repeatedly.

We're Watching

Last week, Human Rights First released a new video entitled, "Meet Sana, a Syrian Refugee," telling the story of Sana, who was on a summer exchange program in the United States when her father was disappeared by Syria’s Assad regime. Fearing they were next, her mother and sister fled to Turkey with nothing. Overnight, Sana no longer had a home to return to. She was a refugee. And an activist.

We're Listening To

NPR's Morning Edition featured a segment on the continuing saga of journalists under attack in Egypt. Several prominent advocates for freedom of expression face jail time for allegedly harboring fugitives and publishing false news.

On the Hill

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold hearing entitled, “Russian Violations of Borders, Treaties, and Human Rights.” The hearing will feature testimony by Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland; Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia Michael Carpenter; David Satter, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute; and Vladimir Kara-Murza, national coordinator of the Open Russia Movement, Moscow, Russia Federation. 2:15 PM, 419 Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a markup of S. 247, the “Expatriate Terrorist Act.” 10:00 AM, 226 Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Around Town

Thursday, June 9, 2016 

Human Rights Campaign will host a half-day summit focusing on the plight of LGBT people fleeing violence from ISIL and other actors in the Middle East entitled, "Helping LGBT Refugees in the Age of ISIL." The event will feature remarks by Jennifer Quigley, advocacy strategist for Human Rights First's Refugee Protection program.

Friday, June 10, 2016 

The Jackson Foundation, Free Russia Foundation, and Movements.org will host a day-long event entitled, "Ensuring a Future for Democratic Civil Society in Russia." The event will feature Melissa Hooper, director of Human Rights First's Pillar Project.