For Immediate Release
Following today’s release of draft executive orders under consideration by U.S. President Donald J. Trump, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) warned that any attempts to undermine the absolute prohibition against torture, the ban on secret and unlawful detention, and U.S. obligations to protect refugees, particularly those from Syria and the greater Middle East, would be illegal, immoral, and harmful.
“These proposed executive orders would be a clear violation of U.S. laws and values,” said Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director. “The draft directives circulated today could very well deny safe haven to courageous people fleeing violence and persecution; blatantly discriminate against refugees based on national origin; reintroduce the brutal and unlawful interrogation and detention practices of the post-9/11 period; and keep the illegal prison at Guantánamo Bay open.”
Among the proposed executive orders, one would direct the country’s military and national security services to review interrogation practices, potentially resume CIA secret “black site” prisons, and reverse the previous administration’s pledge to close Guantánamo. Throughout the post-9/11 period, PHR has demonstrated how policies of torture, ill-treatment, and indefinite detention have undermined the rule of law and caused lasting physical and psychological harm to detainees.
“Torture is absolutely prohibited, and no executive order can change that,” said PHR’s McKay. “We urge President Trump to uphold bipartisan anti-torture legislation, as well as the position of members of his own cabinet who firmly reject policies of torture and secret detention. The draft executive orders that circulated today would direct the review of practices that were not just illegal, but wholly immoral and ineffective. Attempting to revive a debate around the use of torture and other such crimes only harms the moral standing and national security of the United States.”
In addition, the president is also considering an order that would temporarily halt all refugee admissions, as well as an order that would impose a temporary ban on entry to the United States from a list of majority-Muslim nations, including Syria. PHR has long advocated for the rights of people displaced from war and conflict, in particular highlighting the plight of Syrians who have faced an ongoing assault on the country’s civilian and medical infrastructure. Since 2011, PHR has documented 400 attacks on 276 medical facilities, as well as the killing of 768 medical personnel.
PHR affirmed today that regardless of government preferences, international law places a legal obligation on the United States to process all asylum claims without discrimination, and not to send individuals back to countries where they may face persecution.
“Wholesale branding of everyone from war-torn countries in the Middle East as potential security threats is unconscionable, and it flies in the face of U.S. treaty and legal obligations,” said PHR’s McKay. “Across the Middle East, and in Syria perhaps most acutely, years of war and conflict have brought profound suffering, countless preventable deaths, and the displacement of millions. For the United States to shut its doors to refugees – those in most critical need of security and stability – is a violation of international law and an act that is wholly without compassion.”
McKay continued: “This week is a reminder that vigilance is crucial, and human rights defenders will not stand down. The Trump Administration, in its flurry of first-week activity, would like us to be so distracted that we lose sight of what’s important: our shared humanity. These proposed orders must be challenged by those both inside and outside the administration. And we at PHR, along with our friends in the human rights and medical communities, will continue to use the powerful voice of science and medicine to defend the humanity of others.”
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.