On Thursday, February 7th, John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee to head the CIA, will face a confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The hearing comes on the heels of yesterday’s release of troubling information about the Obama administration’s use of lethal force.
John Brennan has served in important leadership roles in the Bush and Obama administrations, including at the CIA. The Senate and the U.S. public have a right to know the truth about his involvement, if any, in human rights violations. Brennan should also be asked what he will do to make sure human rights violations are never committed again.
Amnesty International does not currently take a position on whether or not John Brennan should head the CIA. However, all government officials—including Brennan—have an obligation to ensure that the U.S. meets its responsibilities under international law to respect, protect and fulfill human rights.
Amnesty International has long feared that the failure of the Morsi government to hold security forces and military accountable for their past human rights abuses ensured that those abuses would be repeated when the government called on those institutions to respond to the popular protests.
Sure enough, reporting from Egypt, Amnesty International researcher Diana Eltahawy documented evidence that points to the use of excessive force by Egyptian security officials.
Indian soldiers patrol through about five feet snow in Churunda village on January 12, 2013. The village has been bearing the brunt of cross-fire between India and Pakistan. People living along the Line of Control have continually been at risk due to hostility between the armies of the two rival nations. (Photo by Yawar Nazir/Getty Images)
In recent weeks tensions have flared up between between India and Pakistan over recent killings of soldiers on the Line of Control dividing Kashmir. Historically, the neighboring countries have fought three wars over Kashmir (although recent years have seen a peace process).
Whenever there is a clash between the countries’ armed forces, Kashmiris themselves tend to be ignored while sabers rattle. So it’s a good time to tout some of the activists and ordinary people on the ground who are living their lives and seeking justice for the decades of brutal war in their homeland. In particular, what of Kashmiris economic, social and cultural rights?
For one perspective, I had a chance to talk with two Indian activists who are helping to bring the lives of Kashmiris to the foreground. For the filmmakers Madhuri Mohindar and Vaishali Sinha,
Amnesty notes that, among those detained, were fifteen “human rights lawyers known for defending individuals’ right to freedom of speech and victims of police violence.” Some of those arrested had previously voiced to Amnesty their fear of arrest due to their work defending those standing trial under Turkish anti-terrorism laws.
Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s researcher on Turkey, notes:
“The detention of prominent human rights lawyers and the apparent illegal search of their offices add to a pattern of prosecutions apparently cracking down on dissenting voices. Human rights lawyers have been just some of the victims in the widespread abuse of anti-terrorism laws in Turkey. The question to ask is: who will be left to defend the victims of alleged human rights violations?”
At the local level, Americans are demonstrating a strong commitment to advancing human rights. In recent elections, voters legalized marriage equality in nine states and passed the DREAM Act to expand educational opportunities for undocumented residents in Maryland. In addition, legislators in four states abolished the death penalty. The message to the nation’s leaders seems to be this: human rights still matter, and the task of “perfecting our union” remains incomplete.
As President Obama prepares to give his second inaugural address, he should embrace an ambitious rights agenda: enhancing our security without trampling on human rights; implementing a foreign policy that hold friends and foes alike accountable for human rights violations; and ensuring human rights for all in the United States without discrimination.
Measured against international norms and his own aspirations, President Obama’s first term record on human rights merits an “incomplete.” While he made the bold move of issuing an executive order to close Guantánamo on his second day in office, he has yet to fulfill that promise. The U.S. government’s reliance on lethal drone strikes is growing steadily, but the administration has provided no clear legal justification for the program. Congress has abrogated its responsibility to exercise meaningful oversight of this most ubiquitous element of the “global war on terror,” a paradigm which is in and of itself problematic. Although President Obama has on occasion stood up for human rights defenders abroad — in China, Iran, Russia and Libya — his administration has often muted criticism when it comes to U.S. allies, in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
We still don’t have the outcome we all want — President Obama hasn’t ended human rights violations and hasn’t kept his long-standing promise to close Guantanamo prison. But we are making progress. We know it will be a long fight, but history shows that change can happen through sustained activism. Just last week the infamous Tamms “supermax” prison in Illinois closed after years of campaigning. Guantanamo will be next!
We can’t do it without you. Here are 4 things we can do to close Guantanamo and promote human rights in 2013:
A woman of Kurdish origin holds a sign reading “Sakine Cansiz, Fidan Dogan, Leyla Soylemez – 3 women militants of the Kurdish cause” during a demonstration and commemoration in honor of the three Kurdish women activists killed in Paris on January 10, 2013. (FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images)
All of the three women, Sakine Cansız, Fidan Doğan and Leyla Söylemez, were activists, with ties to the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK, and Cansız, the eldest of the group, is one of the founders and leading figures within that organization.
Late last night, President Obama signed the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law with provisions that restrict the transfer of Guantanamo detainees and further impede closure of the prison. Furthermore, nothing was done to correct provisions in last year’s NDAA that further entrench indefinite military detention, unfair trials, and the U.S. government’s “global war” framework, in U.S. law.
The “global war” framework— which holds that the U.S. government is engaged in a global, pervasive, never-ending “war” with al-Qaeda and other vaguely defined groups and individuals—was first articulated by the Bush administration and has been embraced by the Obama administration.
Kurdish people hold pictures of victims killed in a Turkish air raid during a demonstration on May 26, 2012, in Istanbul. (Photo credit BULENT KILIC/AFP/GettyImages)
On December 28, 2011, the Turkish militarykilled thirty-four of its own citizens, all civilians, most of them children in the Uludere/Qileban district, in Eastern Turkey. The youngest was twelve. A year has now passed and the families of these innocent people still wait for justice.
Today, Congress again failed to uphold the U.S. government’s obligation to respect, protect and fulfill human rights. It passed the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with provisions that would gravely hinder the effort to close Guantanamo prison, and would further entrench indefinite detention.