AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL WELCOMES BIDEN EXECUTIVE ACTIONS ON IMMIGRATION, BUT CONGRESS MUST PASS LEGISLATION TO GUARD AGAINST FUTURE DISCRIMINATORY IMMIGRATION BANS
Amnesty International welcomes the Jan. 20 Biden executive actions on termination of the southwest border wall construction, rescission of interior enforcement policies, and repeal of the xenophobic Muslim and African bans. While these executive actions are a necessary first step, they do not suffice. In order to ensure that future presidents do not impose similar bans, Congress must pass NO BAN Act to check any President’s ability to discriminate on the basis of religion.
AMNESTY’S TOP PRIORITY FOR BIDEN’S FIRST 100 DAYS: FREE PEOPLE FROM IMMIGRATION DETENTION
Amnesty International welcomes the Jan. 20 Homeland Security (“DHS”) directive imposing a temporary moratorium on immigration enforcement actions including deportations. However, DHS also needs to release people locked up in immigration detention facilities. DHS must free people from immigration detention, release all families together, and end family detention.
Congress should press the Biden administration to free detained immigrants, including all families and children, within the first 100 days. Immigrants have long faced abuse in detention facilities, documented as overcrowded and lacking adequate medical care and basic hygiene.
Amnesty urges Congress to swiftly pass the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act, sponsored by Reps. Jayapal (D-WA) and Smith (D-WA) and Sen. Booker (D-NJ). The Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act would protect vulnerable groups from detention, promote community-based alternatives to detention, and eliminate for-profit immigration detention.
International COVID-19 Response
On Jan. 22, Amnesty International USA wrote to Dr. Elizabeth Cameron, Senior Director for Global Health Security and Biodefense at the National Security Council, to urge the Biden administration to ensure its response to the pandemic respects human rights. The letter advised the U.S. government to rescind the March 2020 CDC order restricting asylum access, join global initiatives to ensure equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, support debt relief for lower income countries, and increase support to refugees and displaced peoples worldwide.
AMNESTY WELCOMES U.S. JOINING WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION’S COVAX PILLAR, BUT U.S. ALSO NEEDS TO JOIN COVID TECHNOLOGY ACCESS POOL
Amnesty welcomes the Jan. 21 executive actions announcing the administration’s plans to join WHO’s Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (“ACT”) and COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility. However, this will not be enough to ensure equitable vaccine distribution globally. The U.S. government must also join the WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (“C-TAP”), a voluntary sharing platform created to foster greater collaboration around intellectual property rights, thereby increasing availability and affordability of COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines. India and South Africa have led a push at the WHO to waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, which could significantly increase supplies by allowing any qualified manufacturer to produce them without fear of being sued or prosecuted. To date, the U.S. has opposed the intellectual property waiver.
Amnesty urges the Biden administration adopt an international human rights-centered approach to the pandemic and support global initiatives that aim to ensure fair vaccine access for all countries, such as the WHO COVAX pillar. For more information, read Joanne Lin’s Jan. 7 InterAction blog and listen to this Jan. 22 podcast.
Intensification of Human Rights Crackdowns Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic
In a December 2020 report titled “COVID-19 Crackdowns: Police Abuse and the Global Pandemic”, Amnesty International documented cases in 60 countries where law enforcement agencies have committed human rights abuses in the name of tackling the pandemic. Across the world, governments have employed abusive policing practices and relied excessively on law enforcement to implement COVID-19 response measures, in violation of human rights.
In 2020 many governments used the COVID-19 pandemic to crack down on human rights. Amnesty urges Congress to pass the Protecting Human Rights During Pandemic Act which would enable the U.S. government to take meaningful action in the face of egregious laws and policies enacted by some foreign governments to centralize power, censor their citizens, and curb human rights and fundamental freedoms under the guise of addressing the pandemic.
In January, Amnesty International USA sent this letter to all Congressional offices outlining our top international human rights legislative priorities for the 117th Congress. Amnesty’s top foreign policy legislative priorities include:
- NO BAN Act (to restrict any president’s ability to impose travel bans that discriminate on the basis of religion);
- Protecting Human Rights During Pandemic Act (to establish foreign assistance programs to support civil society and human rights defenders in nations where abuse of emergency measures has resulted in violation of human rights);
- Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act (to block arms sales to the Saudi Arabia-UAE-led coalition in Yemen);
- Burma Unified through Rigorous Military Accountability Act (to hold senior Myanmar military officials accountable for human rights abuses against the Rohingya);
- Burma Political Prisoners Assistance Act (to assist civil society in Myanmar working to free prisoners of conscience);
- Global HER Act (to permanently end the Global Gag Rule which prohibits foreign NGOs that receive U.S. foreign aid from using their own money to educate communities on safe abortion services);
- Abortion Is Health Care Everywhere Act (to repeal the Helms amendment which prevents U.S. foreign aid from going toward abortion services).
A Dec. 2020 Amnesty International report “Let us Breathe!” documents how Facebook is complicit in censorship and repression in Viet Nam on an industrial scale. In 2020 Facebook complied with 95 percent of the Viet Nam government’s censorship requests. Facebook’s actions have direct human rights impact. Vietnamese authorities often harass, intimidate, prosecute, and jail people for their social media use. Of the 170 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, 69 prisoners—nearly 40 percent—have been jailed solely for their social media activity.
Amnesty International submitted a statement for the Dec. 16 Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on “Supporting Hong Kong’s Pro-Democracy Movement Through U.S. Refugee Policy.” Amnesty is urging the U.S. government to closely monitor the treatment of individuals who are criminally prosecuted, detained, or imprisoned on the basis of the National Security Law and to demand that Chinese authorities comply with the right to fair trial and due process, and the right to remain free from torture and other ill-treatment.
A Jan. 2021 Amnesty report, titled In the Line of Fire: Civilian casualties from unlawful strikes in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, concluded that Armenian and Azerbaijani forces’ repeatedly used notoriously inaccurate and indiscriminate weapons—including cluster munitions and explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated civilian areas—killing scores of civilians, injuring hundreds, and destroying homes and infrastructure.
Turkey’s new social media law functionally outsources the business of censoring the internet to tech companies in Silicon Valley. The provisions were rushed through the Turkish legislature in July 2020, despite overwhelming criticism from human rights groups and free speech advocates. Amnesty’s Dec. 2020 Lawfare blog urges Silicon Valley tech companies not to play along.
In Case You Missed it
In commemoration of Human Rights Day, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations held a Dec. 9 hearing on International Human Rights and the Closing Civic Space. Amnesty International USA’s National Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs Joanne Lin testified about three disturbing global trends: (1) increasing use of internet shutdowns and restrictions; (2) Big Tech complicity in online censorship; and (3) growing government attacks against civil society and NGOs. Amnesty’s testimony can be found here, and the full recording of the hearing can be found here.
Amnesty International organized a Dec. 8 briefing marking Human Rights Day and focusing on the crisis in Tigray, Ethiopia. The event featured experts from the UN Refugee Agency, State Department Human Rights Bureau, and Amnesty International. Almost 60,000 people have fled into Sudan, and there are at least two million people in need of humanitarian assistance with relief still struggling to reach them. Amnesty is urging Congress to press the Abiy government to facilitate unrestricted humanitarian access in the Tigray region and to support an independent investigation into human rights abuses linked to the Tigray conflict.
Nearly 20 years after its opening, 40 detainees remain at the detention center at Guantánamo Bay. Most have never been charged with a crime, and many were tortured. In a Jan. 2021 report Amnesty urges Congress to work with the Biden administration to shut down the detention center, by lifting all restrictions on transferring detainees to the U.S. or to other countries where their rights will be respected. Amnesty also co-hosted a virtual conversation and online vigil.
What’s Coming Down the Pike?
On Jan. 28 at 10:30 AM EST, Amnesty International USA Africa Advocacy Director Adotei Akwei will participate in a webinar organized by the Advocacy Network for Africa (“AdNA”) entitled “U.S. Africa Policy Recommendations in a Time of Crisis and Opportunity.” Register here.
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