Washington – Today the Obama administration will begin its three-day summit on “Countering Violent Extremism.” Tomorrow will consist of meetings with civil society focusing on domestic, international and private companies’ roles and on Thursday the State Department is scheduled to meet with both civil society groups and government representatives, with government representatives from as many as 67 countries expected.
Amnesty International USA expressed its concern that the Obama administration is positioning itself as a world leader in promotion of global counter-radicalization efforts but failing to encourage human rights protections.
“The administration has a responsibility to prevent counter-radicalization from becoming a pretext for the targeting of human rights defenders and repression of peaceful dissent. The end result of this summit must include guidelines for ensuring U.S. support to foreign governments does not facilitate human rights abuses,” said Amnesty International USA executive director Steven W. Hawkins.
Amnesty International USA pointed to the fact that many U.S. partners, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are governments with records of using anti-terrorism laws to intimidate internal critics and repress peaceful dissent. By inviting representatives of these governments to DC this week, the administration is sending a troubling message of tolerance for their records of human rights abuses.
The White House and State Department should be clear on whether, as part of global Countering Violent Extremism efforts, the U.S. will fund foreign governments, provide security assistance or increase intelligence sharing with abusive governments.
Amnesty International USA remains deeply concerned that U.S. funding and support will be used by foreign governments to commit human rights violations against dissidents and human rights defenders, including disappearances, incommunicado detention and torture. The U.S. needs to commit to a set of rules and due diligence to ensure this doesn’t happen. Given the array of foreign governments that will be attending, the White House must also condemn the post-Charlie Hebdo crackdowns on freedom of expression in Europe.
The administration has yet to respond to a December 2014 letter Amnesty International USA signed along with two dozen other human rights, civil liberties and community-based groups, explaining that without safeguards, Countering Violent Extremism programs in U.S. cities may produce a climate of fear where people must watch what they say, lest it be reported by their neighbors to police as vaguely “suspicious.”
The Obama administration must also do far more to rein in the FBI’s abusive practices in American Muslim communities, including expansive surveillance and aggressive use of informants.
Editor's Note: An earlier version stated that the administration has yet to respond to a December 2015 coalition letter. The letter was sent in December 2014.