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  • Publication Date: 01-2016
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Human Rights First
  • Abstract: On the fifth anniversary of the mass Tahrir Square protests that ousted former President Mubarak, Egyptians are suffering severe repression and political instability. As this crisis deepens, Washington continues to send troubling mixed messages about its commitment to trying to resolve it. The U.S. government should, at long last, use its considerable influence to support civil society and advance human rights in Egypt. Such an approach would both help Egyptians and serve U.S interests. This blueprint draws on dozens of interviews with Egyptian human rights defenders, civil society activists, journalists, academics, families of detainees, lawyers, government officials, and others, conducted during a research trip in January 2016. It examines conditions in Egypt, the strengths and shortcomings of the U.S. response, and potential opportunities for the U.S. government to support civil society and strengthen respect for human rights. This year will be a defining one as violent extremism, regional conflicts, and political and economic mismanagement threaten Egypt—and as President Obama shapes his legacy in the Middle East. In 2009, he delivered a message of hope in Cairo: “America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere.” Much has changed in the intervening years. In his speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September 2015, President Obama opted for analysis rather than exhortation, noting that: “repression cannot forge the social cohesion for nations to succeed. The history of the last two decades proves that in today’s world, dictatorships are unstable. The strongmen of today become the spark of revolution tomorrow.” He continued: “I believe a government that suppresses peaceful dissent is not showing strength; it is showing weakness and it is showing fear. History shows that regimes who fear their own people will eventually crumble, but strong institutions built on the consent of the governed endure long after any one individual is gone.” Yet the U.S. government’s handling of the enduring crisis in Egypt has too often failed to draw obvious conclusions from the Administration’s analysis of the detrimental impact of human rights violations on stability and progress. As a result, many Egyptians view the Obama Administration as supportive of the repressive leadership in Cairo. This support for the dictatorship will render Egypt less stable, undermine U.S. efforts to prevent violent extremism, and further damage Washington’s credibility in the region.
  • Topic: Civil Society, Human Rights, United Nations, Social Movement, Protests
  • Political Geography: Africa, United States, North Africa, Egypt, Cairo
  • Publication Date: 07-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Human Rights First
  • Abstract: “First, for civil society to continue to succeed it must have open, free, democratic space. I have followed closely the ongoing debate in Kenya around civil society and its regulation…. [A]ccountability and transparency are important for civil society organizations, just as they are for all others. But there are ways to achieve accountability and transparency that do not restrict or impede the vital work of civil society.… Regulation should embrace diversity. Regulation must not be used to silence opinions or stifle views that the powerful do not share…. We carry out extensive due diligence on all the organizations we partner with, to ensure that they are not being used for illicit purposes, such as terrorist financing. We have not seen any evidence to suggest Haki Africa’s activities pose a threat to national security or jeopardize Kenya’s efforts at combating terrorism.” –U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Robert F. Godec, June 5, 2015 The visit of President Obama to Kenya in July 2015—the first by a sitting U.S. president—is much anticipated in the country, which faces serious challenges, including poverty, terrorism, corruption, and abuses by state security forces. Kenya has yet to fully recover from large-scale violence following the 2008 election, when around 1,300 people were killed—including hundreds by the police—and half a million were displaced during a six-week period. Kenya also hosts around half a million refugees fleeing war in Somalia. The U.S. government has sought to help Kenya address its human rights problem with humanitarian, good governance, and security initiatives. Kenya is routinely among the top seven recipients of U.S. aid, getting hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Yet the United States should strengthen and sharpen its efforts to support Kenya. A reinvigorated approach, initiated by the President’s visit, would both improve the lives of Kenyans and serve U.S. interests by combating violent extremism. This report recommends actions the U.S. government should take to promote greater stability in Kenya and the region, and outlines in particular how the U.S. government should support Kenyan civil society. In 2010 Kenyan voters approved a new constitution, which contains strong human rights safeguards, protections for civil society, and judicial reforms. And it is in many ways a model of legal protection for human rights. It provides for the creation of several important bodies, including the National Gender Equality Commission—which is pushing for the implementation of article 81b of the constitution: “not more than two thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender”—and the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights. Unfortunately, these and other official entities set up under the constitution to protect rights are insufficiently resourced and politically weak. The government’s implementation of the constitution has generally not matched the promise of its text. It has attacked civil society groups and attempted to muzzle dissent, often in the name of counterterrorism. The 2013 Public Benefit Organizations (PBO) Act, a law designed to regulate and protect civil society, has yet to be implemented. On the positive side, parts of the Kenyan judiciary remain defiantly independent of government interference, something President Obama should praise during his trip. The Kenya section in the U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014 states: “The most serious human rights problems were security force abuses, including alleged unlawful killings, forced disappearances, torture, and use of excessive force; interethnic violence; and widespread corruption and impunity throughout the government…. Widespread impunity at all levels of government was a serious problem, despite public statements by the president and deputy president and police and judicial reforms. The government took only limited steps to address cases of unlawful killings by security force members.” That crackdown runs counter to President Obama’s insistence that stability and security require “freedom for civil society groups.” During his visit, President Obama should discuss the crackdown on civil society along with other pressing and sensitive issues: security cooperation, corruption, refugee protection, and the human rights of LGBT people.
  • Topic: Civil Society, Human Rights, Violent Extremism, Counter-terrorism, Transparency
  • Political Geography: Kenya, Africa, United States, Nairobi, East Africa
  • Publication Date: 05-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Human Rights First
  • Abstract: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) refugees are often among the most vulnerable and isolated of refugees. This is especially true in places where they are at heightened risk due to violent attacks, discrimination, and laws that criminalize same-sex relations. In addition, in many countries around the world, LGBTI refugees are targets of bias-motivated attacks and sexual and gender-based violence. Around seventy-six countries criminalize consensual same-sex conduct.
  • Topic: Gender Issues, Human Rights
  • Political Geography: Uganda, Kenya, Africa