Obama Administration’s Leadership on International Human Rights (Part 3)

armed drones and lethal force

Source: The Guardian

“Advancing democracy and respect for human rights is central to our foreign policy.  It is what our history and our values demand, but it’s also profoundly in our interests.  That is why the United States remains firmly committed to promoting freedom, opportunity and prosperity everywhere.  We stand proudly for the rights of women, the LGBT community and ethnic minorities.  We defend the freedom for all people to worship as they choose, and we champion open government and civil society, freedom of assembly and a free press.” – Ambassador Susan E. Rice, December 4, 2013

Ambassador Rice outlines great concepts and values. The US has made excellent progress with the LGBT community and with women’s rights, but hasn’t done so well with national security and human rights. The third part in these series focuses on those issues, and the Obama administration has a lot more leading that it needs to do with this aspect of human rights. Guantanamo Bay is still open, with Shaker Aamer still held indefinitely, and with a continuing hunger strike. It may take time to close it, but more can be done to improve conditions and to get people like Shaker Aamer out of there.

Although the administration phrases it as “standards for taking legal action,” it’s really a euphemism for unmanned drones and lethal force. Even though the proper officials may be briefed on every single strike, there isn’t any explanation or investigation into drone strikes gone awry, such as the one that killed Mamana Bibi. President Obama is the only president with a hit list and people should not be killed without trial or due process. We’ll let you read the rest below to understand what the administration has to say.

National Security and Human Rights

Closing Guantanamo

President Obama remains determined to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and erase this blemish on our international credibility.  At the President’s direction, the Departments of State and Defense have brought on new envoys dedicated to this cause, and in August we completed the first successful detainee transfers that were certified under the restrictions that Congress began enacting in 2011.  We are committed to transferring as many detainees as possible under these restrictive provisions, consistent with our security and humane treatment standards, and we expect to be able to announce other transfers in the near future.  We have also begun the periodic review process to carefully evaluate whether the continued detention of certain detainees remains necessary.  As we continue to press to responsibly reduce the detainee population at Guantanamo and ultimately close the facility, we have urged to remove the unnecessary, onerous restrictions that have hampered our efforts to do so.

Standards for Taking Lethal Action

Earlier this year, during his comprehensive address at the National Defense University, President Obama announced that he had approved written policy standards and procedures  that formalize and strengthen the Administration’s rigorous process for reviewing and approving operations to capture or employ lethal force against terrorist targets outside the United States and outside areas of active hostilities.  In that speech the President explained that, beyond the Afghan war theater, the United States only takes strikes against terrorists who pose a “continuing and imminent threat” to the American people, where capture is not feasible, and where there is near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured — the highest standard we can set.  Congress is briefed on every strike taken as part of these operations, and we are committed to sharing as much information about these activities as possible with the American people and the international community, consistent with our national security needs.  Over time, continued progress against al Qa’ida and associated terrorist groups should reduce the need for such actions.

Intelligence Gathering

In August, President Obama directed a review of the scope of our surveillance capabilities.  Intelligence saves lives—American lives and those of our partners and allies.  While we are committed to continuing to collect such information to meet our critical security needs, we remain mindful of the unprecedented power that technology affords us, and give full consideration to the values of privacy, government transparency, and accountability that we strongly support.

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Obama Administration Leadership on International Human Rights (Part I)

President Barack ObamaEarlier this month, Ambassador Susan Rice delivered an address regarding the Obama administration’s leadership on international human rights. In this speech, Rice specifically criticized the human rights records of Russia and China while also highlighting what the US has to improve international human rights.

“We support these rights and freedoms with a wide range of tools, because history shows that nations that respect the rights of all their citizens are more just, more prosperous and more secure.” – Ambassador Susan E. Rice, December 4, 2013

Over the course of the final two weeks of the 2013, we’re going to cover in a series of blog posts what the Obama administration has worked on, and hasn’t worked on, during its tenure in the Oval Office. The administration has done well on some issues, while others could use much more work. Today, we’re covering LGBT rights in the US and around the world. This is an issue where the presidency has made great progress, but not every issue will show as much progress and attention.

Advancing LGBT Rights at Home and Abroad

Domestically Advancing LGBT Equality:

In his first term, President Obama and his Administration took significant steps toward equality for the LGBT community. The President signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that included important new protections for the LGBT community.  The Obama Administration also issued important guidance to ensure visitation rights for LGBT patients and their loved ones at hospitals receiving Medicare or Medicaid payments, implemented the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, and prohibited discrimination against LGBT people in federally funded housing programs.  Finally, the President also ended the legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act and has directed his Department of Justice to work with other departments and agencies to ensure the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor is swiftly implemented, including its implications for Federal benefits and obligations.

International Initiatives to Advance LGBT Rights and Nondiscrimination

In December 2011, President Obama signed the first-ever Presidential Memorandum on International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of LGBT Persons, requiring that federal agencies work together to meet common goals in support of the human rights of LGBT persons globally.  Consistent with these goals, the United States assists activists and individuals under threat around the world through public statements, quiet diplomatic engagement, and targeted programs.  Through the Global Equality Fund and the LGBT Global Development Partnership, the United States works with government and private sector partners to support programs that combat discriminatory legislation; protect human rights defenders; train LGBT leaders on how to participate more effectively in democratic processes; and increase civil society capacity to document human rights violations.  Additional programs and research focus on protecting vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.

Combating Criminalization of LGBT Status or Conduct Abroad

Working with our embassies overseas and civil society on the ground, the United States has developed strategies to combat criminalization of LGBT status or conduct in countries around the world.

Engaging International Organizations in the Fight against LGBT Discrimination

The United States works with our partners to defend the human rights of LGBT persons through the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and in other multilateral fora.  In addition to supporting resolutions specific to LGBT issues, such as cosponsoring the historic June 2011 UN Human Rights Council resolution on the human rights of LGBT persons, the United States works to ensure that LGBT persons are included in broader human rights resolutions and statements.

Promoting Action and Coordination

The United States will host in 2014 a global gathering of donors and activists to pursue ways we can work together to strengthen protections for LGBT persons around the world, including by ensuring assistance in this area is strategic and coordinated with our like-minded partners.

Amnesty’s New Executive Director, and Other Human Rights News

human rights newsSeptember has quickly come and gone, and a lot has happened in the past month. Here are the latest and greatest human rights news articles from the past month.

Bringing Human Rights Home: A Message from Amnesty USA Executive Director Steven W. Hawkins – Human Rights Now – “We have to view human rights abuses as a call to action to do everything in our power to improve the world,” as Hawkins said. Amnesty International has a new leader, and so far, things seem hopeful. We, as Americans part of Amnesty International, are in a unique place to connect human rights abuses in our country with abuses around the world. We are in a unique place to use our voices and to fight injustice in ways that others can’t.

Where There’s No Emergency Phone Number, Kenya Tweets for Help – Global Voices – This is a neat article on how social media facilitates human rights advocacy. It’s also a nice reminder on how we can take things, like calling 911, for granted. In Kenya, since there isn’t such a number, people can tweet the Kenyan Red Cross with information about an incident. The Kenyan Red Cross gathers additional information, such as location, and then sends security forces or first responders to the scene. Because the recent shooting in Nairobi, the Twitter account now reaches over 50 million people around the world.

Does the US Meet Its Own International Human Rights Standards? – MSNBC – The U.S Human Rights Network says it’s doesn’t, and has filed a joint submission to the United Nations to ask the Obama administration to meet it’s own international human rights standards. The filing particularly details concerns regarding racial profiling, gun violence, and stop-and-frisk policies, although it includes information on a series of issues, and that these concerning laws violate international treaties such as the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights.

Snowden Among Nominees for a European Human Rights Prize – The New York Times – Edward Snowden, along with Malala Yousafzai,  Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, Erdem Gunduz, and others, has been nominated for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Previous winners of this prize include Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi. The winner will be announced later on this month, and is meant to honor to individuals or organizations who have dedicated their lives to the defense of human rights and freedom of thought. The CNN Freedom Project: Ending Modern-Day Slavery is the only other American, and the only organization, nominated this year.