Dear President-elect Trump, Your Proposals are an Attack on Human Rights

By Margaret Huang

This letter originally appeared on Medium

Dear President-elect Trump:

Amnesty International is deeply alarmed by recent reports that your transition team is considering proposals to establish a registry for immigrants from countries with primarily Muslim populations. We are likewise concerned by suggestions during your campaign that you would support a “total and complete ban” on Muslims entering the United States.[1] We urge you to repudiate these proposals, and commit to human rights — including religious freedom and freedom of expression — as a cornerstone of your national security policy.

Simply put, these proposals are a direct attack on human rights. Throughout history, Amnesty International has documented the implications of this kind of discrimination in China, Iran, and other countries, and we will not sit by and watch it happen in the United States.

We are writing today to request that you and relevant transition team advisers meet with individuals who have survived the kind of religious discrimination you are proposing. Amnesty International can facilitate such a meeting at a time and place of your choosing. We believe it is imperative that you hear these chilling firsthand experiences from the people who lived them, and from the experts who have documented them around the world.

Since its founding in 1961, Amnesty International has worked for religious freedom and against religious persecution. We have called for the unconditional release of any person imprisoned solely for the peaceful expression of their conscience or religion. Today, Amnesty International continues to advocate for the rights of individuals who face harassment and persecution on account of their faith, beliefs or identity.

AI USA staff outside Trump Towers in NYC
On November 17, 2016, Amnesty International USA staff delivered this letter to the Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan, New York City, NY.

Amnesty International believes that U.S. government programs to counter terrorism and other forms of violence should not target a particular religious community; nor should they explicitly or implicitly advance a particular set of religious beliefs while suppressing others. Framing and targeting such programs on the basis of religion would be a blow to U.S. commitments on religious freedom and freedom of expression, carry global implications, and undermine the goal of preventing violence.

If federal agencies were to explicitly single out a religion or subset of religious beliefs for law enforcement, immigration and counterterrorism practices, they would taint these practices with blatant religious discrimination. Such a decision would not only raise serious constitutional issues[1] and concerns about U.S. compliance with its international legal obligations,[2] it would fly in the face of U.S. commitments to support religious freedom at home and around the world.

The U.S. should not join the dubious company of governments and armed groups that single out religious minorities for discriminatory treatment — including on the grounds of security. Examples include China, where Zhang Kai, a lawyer supporting churches resisting the removal of crosses, was placed under “residential surveillance” and accused of endangering national security in August 2015[3]; and Iran, where in 2013 an Iranian-American Christian pastor was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment for “forming house churches with intent to harm national security.”[4]

Our experience in regions across the world is that, regardless of intention, the effect of religious persecution is always the same: One group of people, usually a minority, is not permitted to practice their faith and participate fully in public life — not without risking law enforcement scrutiny, harassment or even their lives. The U.S. should never endorse, implicitly or explicitly, the harmful premise that members of religious minorities are not entitled to the same rights as those of the majority. It is this same horrific logic that, for example, the armed group calling itself the Islamic State uses in justifying discrimination and human rights abuses against Iraq’s Yezidi minority, including the rape and sexual violence suffered by hundreds and possibly thousands of Yezidi women and girls.

AI USA staff delivering a letter inside Trump Towers NYC
On November 17, 2016, Amnesty International USA staff delivered this letter to the Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan, New York City, NY.

The U.S. government should always stand against the persecution of religious minorities; it should never step backward from the principle — enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as in other international standards and laws the U.S. has long embraced — that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the right to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. A person’s religion is a deeply personal and private matter of individual conscience — that is not the concern of the state. Religion should not be the basis for U.S. counterterrorism or law enforcement policy.

We strongly encourage your administration to avoid changes in U.S. law or policy that will have the effect of targeting a particular religious or ethnic community, or advancing a particular set of religious beliefs while suppressing others in the name of countering terrorism. U.S. commitments and legal obligations to uphold religious freedom and freedom of expression require nothing less.


Margaret Huang, Executive Director, Amnesty International USA

Margaret Huang is the Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, follow her on Twitter @MargaretLHuang