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May 20, 2016

Defense Authorization Provisions Undermine U.S. Leadership on Human Rights

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today urged members of the Senate to reject provisions in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would undermine the United States’ ability to lead globally on human rights. The provisions included in the bill, released today by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), send a signal to other countries that human rights are not at the core of its domestic or foreign policy decisions. 

“To lead by example, the United States needs to put human rights at the heart of its policies, whether it be military assistance for other countries, or discrimination policies in our own hiring,” said Human Rights First’s Sharon McBride. “Instead, the Senate has crafted a bill that undermines our ability to advance human rights around the world.” 

The NDAA includes language that would make it impossible for President Obama to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, despite the fact that national security leaders from across the political spectrum have urged the president and Congress to make shuttering this facility a top priority. Both the SASC and House versions of the NDAA would extend unnecessary bans on transferring detainees to the United States until after President Obama leaves office. The bills also extend country-specific transfer bans, with the SASC version expanding the number of prohibited locations. Both bills include cumbersome overseas transfer restrictions that make it more difficult, but not impossible, for the administration to transfer detainees.

The appropriations bill also sends a weak message on human rights to Egypt. Broad human rights conditions are attached to just 15 percent of the $1.3 billion in annual military assistance to the highly-repressive government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and even those conditions may be waived by the secretary of state on national security grounds.

One provision in the House version NDAA undermines President Obama’s Executive Order prohibiting discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals by federal contractors. Including this anti-LGBT language in this year’s defense authorization would make it more difficult for the United States to hold accountable other nations who routinely discriminate against their own LGBT populations.

This year’s NDAA also fails to include any language that would extend the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, which would allow Afghans who provided crucial support to the U.S. armed forces and other U.S. government agencies operating in Afghanistan to be eligible for visas. Many linguists, contractors, and security guards who worked with the United States military have come under well-documented threats from the Taliban and other groups hostile to the United States. Currently, 10,000 Afghan applicants are waiting in the SIV application backlog, and the State Department has fewer than 4,000 visas remaining—a shortfall of more than 6,000 visas. The State Department requested 4,000 additional visas so that it can continue processing applications and issuing visas but this request was not granted in the NDAA.

For more information or to speak with McBride, contact Corinne Duffy at DuffyC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3319