HUMAN RIGHTS ON CAPITOL HILL
september 2020 NEWSLETTER
Police Violence & Violations of Protesters’ Rights
Comprehensive Policing Legislation Must include Eight Legislative Measures
After the killing of George Floyd, the nation erupted in protest against police use of excessive force, which has disproportionally impacted Black people. In August alone, the country has borne witness to multiple police shootings of Black people in Wisconsin and California, with crowds across the country continuing to protest against police violence. Before recess, in June the Senate voted to against advancing the JUSTICE Act, a bill that seeks to create task forces, commissions, best practices, and incentive grants – which will do virtually nothing to reform mechanisms of accountability in policing; while the House passed the, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (H.R. 7120) with bipartisan support. As the Congress returns from recess, we urge legislators to oppose the JUSTICE Act and focus on a suite of policies that can truly help stop these unnecessary killings at the hands of law enforcement. Meaningful reform must include this full list of policing recommendations supported by over 400 organizations in a letter to Congress on June 1. For additional information please contact Krissy Roth [email protected].
The World Is Watching: Mass Violations by Police of Black Lives Matter (BLM) Protesters’ Rights
On August 4, Amnesty International USA released the report, The World is Watching, on police use of lethal force and human rights violations against protesters, street medics, journalists and legal observers during BLM protests. Violations included beatings, misuse of tear gas and pepper spray, and inappropriate firing of rubber bullets, and abuses during arrests and detention of individuals. They were committed by a range of police officers across federal agencies, state and local police departments, as well as military forces. Amnesty International has published a best practices for law enforcement policing demonstrations, detailing what law enforcement’s responsibilities are to ensure that everyone can exercise their right to peaceful assembly. Amnesty urges Congress to pass the Protect our Protestors Act of 2020 (H.R. 7315).
U.S. Sanctions Against ICC Staff Create Chilling Effect for International Justice
Amnesty International USA strongly objected to the Trump Administration’s decision to sanction senior staff of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on September 2. In a public statement, AIUSA’s advocacy director for Europe & Central Asia Daniel Balson said that the announcement amounts to a demand that the U.S. government be granted a political carve out of impunity for its actions in Afghanistan. The ICC has pressed forward with an investigation of grave human rights violations committed in Afghanistan, which is a state party to the Rome statute governing the court. AIUSA is calling on Congress to stand up for international justice and object to this transparent abuse of the executive’s congressionally mandated sanctions power by speaking out forcefully against this decision and modifying the powers it grants to the executive so that they can no longer be abused in pursuit of impunity.
europe and central ASIA
Natalia Fedosenko\TASS via Getty Images
The August 9 presidential elections awarded an 80% victory and a sixth term to President Alyaksandr Lukashenko. The results were condemned as fabricated by the U.S. Department of State, the European Union, and numerous activists across Belarus. Activists and civil society took to the streets across Belarus in unprecedented numbers with over 300,000 people out in the capital city Minsk. Amnesty International researchers were on the ground documenting the government’s human rights violations including a widespread campaign of torture launched by auth
orities against peaceful protestors in their custody. Amnesty has also documented how authorities have launched a sweeping crackdown on journalists and suppressed peaceful protests through violence. Amnesty urges every member of Congress to join the bipartisan chorus of condemnation of Lukashenko’s violent crackdown.
Middle East and North Africa
On September 2, Amnesty International released a report that documents the accounts of protesters, bystanders and others who were violently arrested, forcibly disappeared or held incommunicado, systemically denied access to their lawyers during interrogations, and repeatedly tortured to “confess”. Read more on Iran here.
Lebanese security forces confront protesters during clashes in downtown Beirut on August 8, 2020, following a demonstration against the political leadership © AFP via Getty Images
On August 4, a catastrophic blast in Beirut plummeted Lebanon – already reeling from protests, economic collapse, and COVID-19 – into a deeper crisis with famine now as an increased threat to Lebanon’s population. During protests following the blast, the Lebanese Armed Forces, who receive substantial U.S. funds, along with police forces were seen abusing demonstrators, prompting Amnesty to demand a halt to the human rights abuses. Amnesty International calls for an independent, international-led investigation into the cause of the explosion and reasons for storing almost 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate in densely populated Beirut, and calls on the Lebanese government to allow for such an independent investigation to occur.
Unknown people uses mobile phone while travelling by subway in Bangkok © Settawat Udom/Shutterstock
On August 25, Facebook admitted that they reluctantly complied with a request from Thai authorities to restrict access to content. Amnesty International blasted Facebook for caving to the whims of the Thai government, setting another dangerous precedent for freedom of expression online. In April 2020 Amnesty International published “They are always watching”: Restricting Freedom of Expression Online in Thailand, a report documenting how the Thai authorities have prosecuted social media users who criticize the government and monarchy in a systematic campaign to crush dissent.
The February 2020 riots in Delhi claimed the lives of more than 50 people and injured more than 500 people, the majority of whom were Muslims. A new Amnesty International India field investigative briefing reveals a disturbing pattern of serious human rights violations committed by the Delhi police during the riots. Police were complicit and actively participated in violence including use of excessive force on protesters, denial of medical services to victims, and torturing people in custody. Six months later, Indian authorities have not opened a single investigation into the abuses committed by the Delhi police. By failing to investigate these human rights violations, Indian authorities have allowed the Delhi police to enjoy impunity and evade accountability. Amnesty International calls on Congress and the U.S. government to press India’s Ministry of Home Affairs to conduct a prompt, thorough, transparent, independent and impartial investigation into all allegations of human rights violations committed by Delhi police. Such investigation is essential to holding police officers accountable and bringing justice to victims and their families.
© K M Asad/LightRocket/Getty Images
August 25 was the three-year anniversary of the Myanmar military operations that led to 740,000 Rohingya people fleeing their homes for neighboring Bangladesh. To mark this anniversary, Amnesty International published this post explaining how we verified the location of some of the video footage Amnesty International recently received (warning: some of the footage is disturbing) and how it shows the extent to which human rights abuses continue against the Rohingya today.
OTHER INTERNATIONAL NEWS
Amnesty International Denounces State Department Report on Unalienable Rights
Amnesty joined 230 human rights, social justice, and faith-based organizations in rejecting Secretary of State Pompeo’s Commission on Unalienable Rights” report, calling the report a “race to the bottom” by human rights-abusing governments. The report seeks to create a hierarchy of human rights, focusing on the right to property and religion and explicitly subjugating such rights as LGBTI rights and sexual and reproductive rights as “divisive social and political controversies.” Instead of ignoring decades of human rights agreements to which the U.S. is a party, the U.S. government should instead halt its own heinous violations of human rights and re-engage with the international community through the United Nations and regional human rights institutions.
U.S. Air Strikes
Recent Defense Department releases and news reports underscore that the military’s policy for distributing condolence payments to civilians harmed by U.S. actions is short-sighted and incoherent. Amnesty International USA urges Congress to include provisions in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act that would mandate a more rational, consistent and humane policy of making payments to injured civilians and the survivors of civilians killed, by U.S. military actions.
Federal Executions Raise Human Rights Concerns
On July 14, Daniel Lee was the first person executed by the Federal Government in 17 years. His was the first of three that week, with four more scheduled as of this writing. The relentless pursuit of executions by the United States Department of Justice as displayed in recent weeks has not only put the spotlight on the flaws and arbitrariness that have long affected the U.S. death penalty system, but has also shown cruel contempt on the part of the Trump administration for safeguards and restrictions established under international law and standards to guarantee protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty. Amnesty International calls on Congress to immediately carry out an independent and impartial investigation into the July executions and to take all necessary steps to abolish the death penalty in law for all offences, and at minimum commute all death sentences to terms of imprisonment.
Technology and Human Rights
On July 23 Amnesty International submitted a Statement for the Record for the House Subcommittee on Antitrust hearing on Online Platforms and Market Power: Examining the Dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. Amnesty highlighted concerns about the surveillance-based business model of companies like Facebook and Google, which relies on gathering as much personal information on users as possible, in order to send users targeted advertisements. This surveillance-based business model undermines the right to privacy and threatens the rights to freedom of expression and opinion, freedom of thought, and the right to equality and non-discrimination. This analysis is based on Amnesty International’s 2019 report Surveillance Giants: How the Business Model of Google and Facebook Threatens Human Rights. Amnesty International calls on Congress to enact legislation that enables consumers to choose privacy-respecting alternatives to surveillance-based business models. Click here for more recommendations for Congress.
covid-19 and human rights
New COVID-19 asylum ban could eviscerate the right to seek asylum
A proposed rule published on July 15 would disqualify for asylum or withholding of removal anyone who was potentially exposed to a communicable disease of public health significance, including COVID-19. The rule squarely violates U.S. obligations to asylum-seekers and, if implemented, would foreclose asylum for people who have been exposed to the virus in U.S. detention facilities, therefore punishing them for dangers created by U.S. policies. Amnesty International’s comment opposing this cruel and unlawful new measure is available here.
Members of Congress take action to #FreePastorSteven
On August 18, 44 Members of Congress, led by Congressman Jim McGovern, wrote to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) urging it to release Pastor Steven, an asylum-seeker and human rights activist at risk of death if deported to Uganda. He is currently detained in Arizona, despite his serious medical condition and risk of contracting COVID-19. Amnesty calls on Congress to put pressure on the agency to immediately release Pastor Steven.
No Ban Act Passage A Critical Step
On July 22 Amnesty International USA applauded the House passage of the NO BAN Act (H.R. 2214). Amnesty has written numerous statements to Congress including in oversight hearings of the Trump Administration’s numerous bans. On July 17 Amnesty joined over 400 organizations in a letter to Congress urging passage of this critical legislation. Amnesty urges the Senate to quickly pass this critical legislation.
Families still detained during COVID-19
Judge Gee – who ordered the release of all children in immigration detention in June – excoriated the government’s inaction in an August 7 hearing as children in nearly 100 families remain in detention, in facilities she described as “on fire” due to COVID-19. Amnesty joined a request for information about ICE’s custody decision-making process in these families’ cases. Amnesty renews its calls to Congress to demand that ICE release all families like Ana and Victoria together immediately.
Update on U.S. Immigration Detention
On August 31, Amnesty International posted an update to our April 2020 report, ‘We Are Adrift, About to Sink’ on COVID-19 in U.S. immigration detention facilities. As of August 28, the number of people who have contracted confirmed cases of COVID-19 in U.S. immigration detention facilities has skyrocketed more than 200-fold, to 5,300 cases.
Around the world, refugee-led organizations are desperately underfunded, and face bureaucratic hurdles to gain recognition and access sustainable resources. In many environments, especially those deemed too dangerous, remote or complex for international NGOs to access, refugee-led organizations offer the only COVID-19 response services available for refugees. To address this resource gap, Asylum Access has convened a global coalition, which Amnesty International supports, to launch a campaign called “Refugees Lead,” drawing attention to the role of refugees as essential responders. The “Refugees Lead” campaign is hosted by NeedsList, an online platform where individuals and institutions can directly support grassroots refugee-led organizations.
Missed our September 1st Briefing?
On September 1, AIUSA led a briefing on the on the U.S./Canada “Safe Third Country” Agreement and the future of asylum in the United States. You can access the webinar recording, featuring opening remarks from Congressman Joaquin Castro, here. Some of the measures we urge Congress to support to address this include supporting The Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act (H.R. 2415 / S. 1243), the Federal Immigrant Release for Safety and Security Together (FIRST) Act (H.R. 6537 / S. 3645), and The Refugee Protection Act (S. 2936 / H.R. 5210), which would restore and revitalize the U.S. asylum system.
LOOKING TO 2021
Amnesty International’s policy recommendations for the presidential campaigns
2020 has turned into a year of racial reckoning as communities across the country wrestle with our long legacy of systemic racism. Meanwhile, human rights crises are rocking every region of the globe at a time when the international community’s resolve to tackle these crises is on the decline. Amnesty International has published 77 policy briefs for the presidential campaigns and calls on U.S. leaders, present and future, to adopt these policy recommendations to protect and advance human rights. Our recommendations range from ending both police and gun violence, releasing immigration detainees, to ending U.S. arms sales that fuel war crimes abroad, to building a humanitarian protection system that addresses the needs of people at the U.S. border as well as those seeking safety around the world. Our policy recommendations are informed by firsthand documentation conducted by Amnesty researchers worldwide as well as the policy expertise of Amnesty’s national advocates and specialists.
Amnesty International USA has also sent to the House Foreign Affairs Committee our top foreign policy recommendations that the next Congress must tackle starting in 2021.
WELCOME NEW STAFF
In July, Deniz Yuksel joined Amnesty International USA as Turkey Advocacy Specialist. She is leading Amnesty’s advocacy regarding human rights abuses in Turkey including the government’s crackdown on civil society activists. Prior to joining Amnesty International USA, Deniz conducted research on Turkish foreign policy at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Deniz holds a bachelor’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic from Georgetown University. She can be reached at [email protected].
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