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For Immediate Release

PHR Strongly Urges President Obama to use State of the Union Message to Reestablish United States as Leader on Human Rights, Zero Tolerance for Torture

Cambridge, MA - 02/12/2013

PHR strongly urges President Obama to take the opportunity of tonight’s State of the Union address to lay out his human rights agenda.

While the president in his inaugural address last month made a clear commitment to the rule of law internationally, the State of the Union presents a crucial opportunity for him to detail his human rights agenda for his second term. He should explain how he will uphold these core values of the United States and insure that his policies will extend beyond his administration so that the US once again becomes a beacon for human rights around the world.

In particular, PHR calls on President Obama to address the immoral practice of torture by US officials and surrogates. While the president upon first taking office issued executive orders to abolish the use of torture, they did not address practices that in their extreme form can constitute torture. Such practices include, but are not limited to, indefinite detention, prolonged isolation, and sleep deprivation. During his second term, President Obama should prioritize accountability for torture, including a full accounting of possible crimes committed under previous administrations, and should explicitly ban the participation by medical personnel in interrogations.

The president also must promote the prevention of mass atrocities worldwide, including crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. He should clearly outline his strategy for monitoring systematic violence against civilians and holding perpetrators accountable. His recent expansion of the Rewards for Justice program to help capture war criminals is a welcome development, but he now must also ensure that important mechanisms such as the Atrocities Prevention Board (APB) receive the necessary resources they need to fulfill their important mission.

Said PHR Executive Director Donna McKay: “The State of the Union is an important national and international venue to highlight President Obama’s human rights agenda for his second term. While our nation clearly faces many significant challenges, the president needs to unequivocally state his unwavering commitment to zero tolerance for torture, both domestically and internationally. In the face of horrific atrocities occurring around the world, he needs to prioritize accountability for perpetrators of grave human rights violations and build a legacy of promoting justice over violence.”

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is an independent organization that uses medicine and science to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. We are supported by the expertise and passion of health professionals and concerned citizens alike.

Since 1986, PHR has conducted investigations in more than 40 countries around the world, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe.

  • 1986 — Led investigations of torture in Chile gaining freedom for heroic doctors there
  • 1988 — First to document the Iraqi use of chemical weapons on Kurds providing               evidence for prosecution of war criminals
  • 1996 — Exhumed mass graves in the Balkans and Rwanda to provide evidence for               International Criminal Tribunals
  • 1997 — Shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
  • 2003 — Warned US Policymakers on health and human rights conditions prior to and               during the invasion of Iraq
  • 2004 — Documented genocide and sexual violence in Darfur in support of international               prosecutions
  • 2010 — Investigated the epidemic of violence spread by Burma’s military junta
  • 2011 — Championed the principle of noninterference with medical services in times of               armed conflict and civil unrest during the Arab Spring
  • 2012 — Trained doctors, lawyers, police, and judges in the Democratic Republic of the               Congo, Kenya, and Syria on the proper collection of evidence in sexual               violence cases
  • 2013 — Won first prize in the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention with MediCapt, our               mobile app that documents evidence of torture and sexual violence

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