Human Rights Watch: Just the Facts

Trump Policies Roll Back Rights
After one full week in office, there is no longer room for doubt: the disturbing proposals that marked President Trump’s campaign are swiftly becoming reality.

Top members of Trump’s administration wasted no time this week baptizing lies with a new name: “alternative facts.” But in this dark new era of “post-truth,” you can count on Human Rights Watch to stand as a collective force for principle, fact, and reason.

Here are a few facts we’d like to share:

  • Fact #1: Two days after some 5 million people marched demanding respect for women’s rights across the globe, Trump signed an executive order that will threaten women’s lives.
    The “Global Gag Rule” prohibits international aid to groups that in any way engage with abortion. It will restrict women’s choices and censor critical health options in clinics worldwide. This destructive policy will contribute to unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and more women dying around the world.
  • Fact #2: Trump signed executive orders on immigration and border policy that could severely harm millions of immigrants and US citizens.
    These actions not only put in motion the construction of a proposed border wall extension between the US and Mexico, but set the stage for the expansion of abusive fast-track deportation procedures and overly-broad enforcement laws that could terrorize communities and break families apart.
  • Fact #3: Just yesterday, Trump approved an executive order to temporarily ban nationals of some Muslim-majority countries from entering the US that could intensify xenophobia.
    Not only will the executive order heighten discrimination against affected communities and fail to address national security threats, but Trump’s plan is sure to alienate US allies and wrongly send a message to autocratic regimes that policies like this are acceptable. They are not.
This new wave of attacks threatens our core rights values. But we will not stay silent. We will continue to expose and defend the truth.

Today — and every day — Human Rights Watch will stand up for truth, analyze impacts of harmful policies, and hold President Trump to account.

We’re all in this together. Thank you for standing with us when it’s needed most.

Grace Meng
Senior Researcher, US Program
Human Rights Watch

ICTJ: Human Rights Movement Must Come Together to Resist Trump’s Agenda

Human Rights Movement Must Come Together to Resist Trump’s Agenda

By David Tolbert, ICTJ President
Donald Trump’s inaugural speech has fittingly been described, as “dystopian,” as “dark,” as “a declaration of war.” The new president made no call for unity, did not reach out to a soul not already in his camp — despite losing the popular vote by almost 3 million votes — nor uttered a word to bring together a fractured nation or address a world deeply nervous at his ascension to the most powerful of offices.

In the first few days as president, his actions mirrored his words. Trump has rushed headlong into creating further divisions and has begun an assault on human rights and basic decency — including a de facto ban on many Muslim refugees from entering the United States and the resurrection of CIA “black sites“ — and promises more to come.

The new president exalts torture, mocks the disabled, casts aspersions on those who defend human rights, appeals to racist sentiments through coded and not-so-coded language and denigrates women in both word and deed. He shows no regard for the Geneva Conventions or the painstaking work of generations of human rights activists, many of them American, to ensure that civilians are not abused in times of conflict and that the vulnerable are protected.

For good measure, he seems to demean virtually every restraint that protects the citizen from the state. His first call as president to a foreign leader was to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, who crushed the protests against army rule, devastated Egypt’s civil society with draconian laws targeting human rights defenders and turned Egypt’s legal institutions into “kangaroo courts.” A chilling signal indeed.

Say what you will, Trump has clearly laid down the gauntlet that places the most powerful of nations on the side of the privileged and signals that human rights will be honored only in the breach. This can hardly be a surprise, given his campaign rhetoric that called openly for torture and other serious crimes that violate international and domestic law.

For me, the nadir of Trump’s remarks in front of the Capitol echoed his campaign: “From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.” This phrase — “American First” — is a term loaded with historical meaning, dating back to Charles Lindbergh and the “America First” movement of the 1930s. At first blush it indicates a withdrawal from the world, but that movement is also strongly associated with anti-Semitism, racism and the white nationalism that is espoused by some of Trump’s closest advisers.

The new president’s inaugural speech was encased in other nationalistic slogans, most prominently “Make America Great Again,” harkening back, at least rhetorically, to what many minorities, women and marginalized people remember as days stained by segregation, hate and discrimination on the basis of race, gender and sexual orientation.

I started my life in segregated schools in North Carolina and have seen up close the country’s failure to protect an array of minorities and to implement the promises of the 14th Amendment and the Bill of Rights. Racial injustice continues to be a heavy burden on this country, as the events of Ferguson and elsewhere have shown. Much needs to be done to address the still-open sore of mass incarceration of African-Americans, police violence and a litany of other abuses of police power, as so well-articulated by the Black Lives Matter movement and other activists. Trump has no answer to this problem; instead, he demonizes minorities and callously rejects their legitimate demands.

Trump is on a road to undermine the progress that has been achieved. His appointment to the Supreme Court will certainly aim to undercut the steps that the court has taken over the past 60 years to, haltingly, make the Bill of Rights not simply a promise but gradually more of a reality. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the promissory note of the Bill of Rights has gradually been paid down, but in Trump’s vision this will stop now: One must have “total allegiance to the United States of America,” presumably as he interprets it. The whiff of McCarthyism is in the air for those of us who do not define ourselves as allegiant to Trump’s vision of America.

The inaugural speech and Trump’s first actions also send powerful messages regarding the struggle for human rights across the planet. The consequences of his dark vision will be dire. The record of the United States is patchy at best in terms of promoting human rights abroad, but it has played an important role in a number of areas, commencing with Eleanor Roosevelt’s work on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

While its record in Latin America and the Middle East has been particularly deplorable, this country has supported civil society groups in a number of countries and other international initiatives that have promoted accountability for human rights violations. It has worked with other countries and the United Nations to advance the normative agenda that has enshrined human rights in international law and broadly supported the human rights movement in areas such as individual liberties and women’s rights. Mr. Trump will end these efforts in an obvious return to the old adage: “Governments can boil their own people in oil for all we care, as long as they support us.”

This abdication of American support for human rights will not only undermine those countries that respect human rights but will also embolden those who seek to undermine the United Nations and other institutions that have advocated for and protected those rights. The emerging Trump-Putin partnership will mean that victims of human rights abuses around the world will have nowhere to turn to, as avenues to redress, accountability and acknowledgement of the violations close down.

The question is, what can we do? What is our responsibility as human rights defenders, but also as citizens of the United States and the world at large?

I was in New York City on Saturday, participating in the Women’s March, and was heartened by the tremendous crowd and the energy to resist Trump’s dystopian agenda. This is an encouraging sign, which indicates that vast segments of American society do not support Trump’s agenda. But the concern has to be expressed that these marches may be like “Occupy Wall Street,” a burst of energy but with little organization to follow up. We will need to think harder and deeper about how to resist an agenda that would erode the gains that have been achieved.

While there is not a single “silver bullet” to take on what we will face ahead, we need to move past “conversations” and start organizing. It is hard to imagine — in this diverse and app-based world of today — that a single organization can take the lead in such a movement, like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (with lots of allies and competition, of course) did for the Civil Rights Movement. However, it is clear that a coalition of forces must emerge in American civil society to provide the backbone of resistance to the Trump agenda.

We cannot afford atomization along the lines of our specific causes, be they accountability for human rights violations, racial injustice, inequality, LGBTI rights, indigenous rights or other human rights causes we support. If we are to have a chance to stop Trump’s destructive agenda, we must unite and act as a movement as strongly against the Dakota Access Pipeline as against a registry for Muslims or systemic police violence against African-Americans. Our goals in protecting human rights in the United States must be as clearly defined as our actions must be coordinated.

There also must be a revitalization of the Democratic party, which should take a page or two from the Republican playbook and be a genuine party of opposition and (when needed) of obstruction. Building on the energy of a progressive agenda, as illustrated by Bernie Sanders’ campaign, needs to replace the Clinton approach of the 1990s that is responsible, in part, for the disaster of last November.

The time for action and resistance is now. I and the organization that I lead, the International Center for Transitional Justice, have over the years had a great deal of experience in addressing the abuses of regimes across the world that disregard human rights and commit abuses. Once rights and the institutions built to protect them are pushed to the side and the strong man reigns, the path to violations becomes real and the difficulties of re-establishing the rule of law become very steep indeed. The warning signs here in the United States are now laid bare. They should be a call to action for us all.

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Syria Deeply: Weekly Update: Renewed Cease-Fire Agreement Amid Rebel Fighting

January 27, 2017

Dear Readers,Welcome to the weekly Syria Deeply newsletter. We’ve rounded up the most important stories and developments about Syria and the Syrians in order to bring you valuable news and analysis. But first, here is a brief overview of what happened this week:Delegates from the Syrian government and the opposition met in the Kazakh capital of Astana on Monday for peace talks organized by Russia and Turkey. After less than two days of negotiations, Russia, Turkey and Iran announced that they had reached an agreement to enforce the nationwide cease-fire in Syria that has somewhat been in place since the fall of eastern Aleppo last month.The statement given on the Astana agreement gave little indication of how the cease-fire would be maintained and monitored. It called on opposition groups to distance themselves from the so-called Islamic State and the former al-Qaida affiliate, but did not specify what measures would be taken to ensure this.Following the Astana talks, Russia said it presented the opposition with a new draft of the Syrian constitution, which rebel groups later said they rejected. The talks were expected to be a precursor to United Nations-backed negotiations in Geneva early next month for a political settlement. However, on Friday, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said that the Geneva talks would be postponed.As the rebel delegation engaged in negotiations this week, armed opposition groups on the ground clashed with the former al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS). On Wednesday, JFS accused rebels – some of whom were attending peace talks in Astana – of conspiring against it and attacked their positions in the western Aleppo countryside and in Idlib. After the initial attack, five rebel factions in northern Syria joined forces with major faction Ahrar al-Sham to fight against JFS.

After Astana, Many Obstacles Remain to Maintain the Cease-Fire in Syria

Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed to enforce a nationwide truce in Syria, in the hopes of paving the way for a future political solution to the crisis, but both the Syrian government and opposition have their doubts about the truce.

Chief opposition negotiator Mohammed Alloush (center) of the Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) rebel group attends the first session of Syria peace talks at Astana’s Rixos President Hotel on Jan. 23, 2017. AFP/Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV

The Flawed Aftermath of a Damascus Suburb Truce

In the Damascus suburbs, local truces are becoming more common and usually follow long periods of siege and fighting. Though the truce rarely restores normalcy, residents are forced to accept the situation to avoid renewed fighting.

A picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on January 25, 2014, shows Syrians who had fled their homes due to fighting returning to their houses in the Barzeh neighbourhood of the capital Damascus. AFP/HO/SANA

Analysis: Why Jabhat Fatah al-Sham Is Lashing Out at Syrian Rebels

The former al-Qaida affiliate in Syria said it has struck out at a “conspiracy” to undermine the group, but analysts say infighting among factions will further undermine Syrian opposition, writes Middle East reporter Alex MacDonald.

Rebel fighters from Jaish al-Fatah sit in the back of a truck as they take part in a major assault on Syrian government forces west of Aleppo city on October 28, 2016. AFP/Omar haj kadour
Top image: A Syrian boy runs while carrying bread following a reported airstrike by government forces in the Syrian town of Binnish, on the outskirts of Idlib, on January 12, 2017. AFP/Omar haj kadour

United Nations News Centre: Syria: UN chief Guterres clarifies tasks of panel laying groundwork for possible war crimes probe

A damaged building in Aleppo City, Syria. Photo: OCHA/Gemma Connell (file)

26 January 2017 – Following the approval late last year of an independent panel to assist in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for war crimes or crimes against humanity in Syria, the United Nations today announced that the mechanism will be headed by a senior judge or prosecutor with extensive criminal investigations and prosecutions experience.

According to a note from a UN spokesperson, the mechanism will be established in phases until it is fully functioning and the Secretary-General will announce the person leading it by the end of February.

The head of the mechanism, which is formally called the ‘International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011,’ will be assisted by a deputy and a secretariat.

The two primary tasks assigned to the mechanism include:

  • Collecting, consolidating, preserving and analyzing evidence of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights violations and abuses; and
  • Preparing files in order to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings, in accordance with international law standards, in national, regional or international courts or tribunals that have or may in the future have jurisdiction over these crimes, in accordance with international law.

In discharging its responsibilities, the mechanism will closely cooperate and coordinate with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria (Syria CoI) and the two panels will be complementary to each other.

“However, there is a clear distinction between the Syria CoI and the mechanism in terms of functions. The Syria CoI focuses on information collection, publicly reporting and making recommendations notably to Member States,” explained the spokesperson.

The mechanism will build on the information collected by others, by collecting, consolidating, preserving and analysing evidence and information. It will also prepare files to assist in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the most serious crimes under international law.

The resolution approving the mechanism was adopted by the General Assembly – the universal body comprising all 193 UN Members States – on 21 December by a recorded vote of 105 in favour and 15 against, with 52 abstentions.

See also: Syria: UN approves mechanism to lay groundwork for investigations into possible war crimes

Trump Expected to Sign Refugee Ban Executive Order

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe


WASHINGTON D.C., United States — Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order (EO) which would restrict immigration from several countries in the Middle East and Africa, five of which are countries that the U.S. bombed under the Obama administration.  The EO would also deny visas from applicants from countries the Trump administration deems high-risk.

A newly-built section of the border wall between the US and Mexico (Photo Courtesy of RT)
A newly-built section of the border wall between the US and Mexico (Photo Courtesy of RT)

According to sources within the administration, the EO is suspected to block Syrian refugees from entering the U.S. indefinitely, suspend all refugee admissions for 120 days while the Trump administration decides which countries are high and low risk, temporarily suspend visa issuances to applicants from countries with security screening that the Trump administration deems inadequate, and cap the total refugee admissions for 2017 at 50,000 (as opposed to the 11,000 recommended by the Obama administration).

Though the list of countries included in the EO is not yet finalized, however some of the countries that are under consideration include Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.

Trump’s proposed EO has been subject to criticism due to its possible implications on U.S. foreign policy.  Stephen Legomsky, previous chief counsel of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under the Obama administration, explained that while the president has the legal authority to limit refugee admissions into the U.S., doing so would be a “terrible idea” from a policy standpoint because of the immediate humanitarian need for refugees.

This EO threatens a deal made with Australia in late 2016, in which the U.S. agreed to resettle over 1,000 refugees who are currently residing in Papua New Guinea and South Pacific nation Nauru on Australia’s behalf.  Though Australia will not comment on the nationalities of these refugees, sources working for the refugees told reporters that about one third of the asylum-seekers originate from countries that would be covered by the EO if it is put into place.

This move comes as part of a concerted effort on the part of the Trump administration to reduce the number if illegal immigrants who live in the U.S.  As part of this plan, Trump is also expected to direct the construction of a border wall along the U.S. Mexico border in the near future.


For more information, please see:

International Business Times — Donald Trump Muslim Immigration Ban: US Bombs Most Countries on Restricted Refugee List — 25 January 2017

Reuters — Trump Expected to Order Temporary Ban on Refugees — 25 January 2017

RT — Trump to Order Mexican Border Wall, Ban Refugees from 7 Muslim Countries —  25 January 2017

The Huffington Post — Trump Prepares to Halt Syrian Refugee Admissions, Limit Muslim Entry — 24 January 2017