Five things Obama should do to promote human rights

Time is running out on Obama’s administration, but there are five things he could do before he leaves office that would both help individuals fighting for their rights around the world and position the United States to exert stronger leadership on the world stage.

I.     Accept Syrian refugees for resettlement in the United States.

The outburst of xenophobia that followed the Paris attacks was a poor reflection on the home of the brave, but with principled leadership Obama should be able to make the case that any long-term resolution to the global refugee crisis will require the United States to do its share. And doing our share means doing more than accepting 2,557 refugees from Syria.

The U.S. should be able to resettle refugees who have been vetted first by the U.N. and then by the FBI, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Counterterrorism Center, the Department of Defense, and U.S. intelligence agencies. Many of the nations top national security experts agree.

II.    End the disgraceful treatment of families fleeing Central American violence.

We also face a refugee crisis in our own hemisphere. Individuals facing violence in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are presenting themselves at our border asking for refuge.  The administration’s response has been to jail them, prevent them from accessing adequate legal counsel and, now, to target them for deportation raids. Making sure that individuals have their day in court, with appropriate legal assistance to navigate our complex legal system, is a matter of basic fairness.  We should assist them in finding lawyers who ultimately encourage people to appear for their hearings and comply with decisions.

III.   Close Guantanamo.

14 years after opening, the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay remains in operation.  Despite President George W. Bush wanting to close it. Despite the fact that it costs American taxpayers $397 million each year to operate.  Despite the fact that America’s national security experts are nearly unanimous that its operation undermines the ability of the United States to pursue its strategic interests in cooperation with allies.

With clear leadership from the president it can be done.  The administration should continue to transfer cleared prisoners to countries willing to take them. Then, the president should move swiftly to deliver a plan to Congress on how he’ll close Guantanamo, and do the legwork necessary to win support for it.

At a time when the United States is engaged in a fight with ISIS, a terrorist organization willing to engage in acts of horrific barbarity while dressing its victims in orange jumpsuits, it makes sense to take this liability off the table and move to the high ground.


IV.  Counter anti-Semitism and extremism in Europe

The rise of far-right extremist parties in Europe is provoking hate violence and threatening the stability of regional governance systems. Across the continent there has been a resurgence of anti-Semitism, which threatens Jewish communities, social cohesion, and regional and transatlantic systems of human rights protections. Human Rights First’s recent report on France highlights how combating anti-Semitism requires deeper engagement with civil society and a commitment to addressing root causes.

Obama should direct the influence of the United States toward defending democratic values and institutions. In its bilateral relationships with European countries and its work through multilateral bodies the United States must lend its support to leaders committed to fighting anti-Semitic, xenophobic, and extremist movements.

V. Helping Africa to develop democracy

McBride is Human Rights First’s vice president for advocacy.




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