USA: Obama's State of Union address should deal with human rights as well as economy

Call for action on Guantánamo, Middle East protests and Burma

Ahead of tomorrow’s US State of the Union address from President Barack Obama tomorrow, Amnesty International USA Executive Director Suzanne Nossel said:

“Although economic issues may dominate President Obama’s last State of the Union address of this term, he has the opportunity to solidify US human rights leadership both at home and abroad.

“At the start of his presidency, the US foreign policy agenda was marred by the war on terror and a retreat from fundamental human rights protections, including those against torture. Now the president can help ensure that his first term is remembered for restoring the place of US values in the fight against terrorism, and for unwavering leadership to help ensure that the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa fulfil their promise of greater freedoms and respect for human rights.    

“Human rights have surged to the fore in the Middle East over the last year and must not return to the backseat of US policy toward the region.

“In keeping with its commitment to principled leadership in the region, Amnesty International urges the United States to suspend sales of US arms and equipment to governments, including Bahrain and Egypt, that use force to suppress peaceful protests and commit other human rights abuses. US policy should support all citizens in the region. The president should redouble current U.S. efforts to support the rights and empowerment of Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights by demanding that they have an equal voice in political and public life.

“President Obama should make clear that further progress toward the historic restoration of full US diplomatic ties with Burma is contingent upon continuous, tangible progress toward ending the government’s human rights abuses. Specifically, AI calls for the release of all prisoners of conscience, an end to violence directed at ethnic groups and accountability for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

The president’s speech comes just after the tenth anniversary of the first transfer of war on terror detainees to Guantánamo. Amnesty is set to deliver more than 160,000 signatures to the Obama administration urging the president to make good on his promise to close the detention centre through measures that respect international human rights standards.

Suzanne Nossel added:

“More than three years since that promise was made, 171 detainees remain there, other terrorism suspects are subject to trials by unlawful military commissions, and the newly enacted National Defense Authorization Act has codified indefinite military detention without trial. President Obama must reassert his commitment to ensuring that the abuses justified in the name of the war on terror do not become permanent features of US law and policy.”

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