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U.S. Government Must Heed Call of Human Rights Experts Worldwide to Respect Snowden's Right to Seek Asylum

Chandra Bhatnagar,
Senior Staff Attorney,
ACLU Human Rights Program
Jamil Dakwar,
Director, ACLU Human Rights Program
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July 16, 2013

For those following the saga of Edward Snowden, it has been a remarkable week, with major human rights actors all over the world lining up to call on the United States to respect his right, enshrined in international law, to seek asylum. Mr. Snowden, who applied for temporary asylum in Russia today, on Friday held a highly publicized meeting with several human rights groups and asked for their assistance. He accused the U.S. government of engaging in actions threating “the basic rights shared by every person, every nation, to live free from persecution, and to seek and enjoy asylum.” Following the meeting, Human Rights Watch released a statement critical of U.S. actions as appearing to be “aimed at preventing Snowden from gaining an opportunity to claim refuge, in violation of his right to seek asylum under international law.” Amnesty International also released a statement condemning U.S. actions regarding Mr. Snowden, stating, “Attempts to pressure governments to block his efforts to seek asylum are deplorable.”

In a welcome step, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights addressed Mr. Snowden’s case, stating that it “has shown the need to protect persons disclosing information on matters that have implications for human rights” and, “Without prejudging the validity of any asylum claim by Snowden, I appeal to all States to respect the internationally guaranteed right to seek asylum, in accordance with Article 14 of the Universal Declaration and Article 1 of the UN Convention relating to the status of refugees, and to make any such determination in accordance with their international legal obligations.” (Earlier last week, the ACLU also called on the U.S. government to respect Mr. Snowden’s right to seek asylum.)

In 2009, the United States government sought membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council and issued a list of commitments, stating, “As the United States seeks to advance human rights and fundamental freedoms around the world, we do so cognizant of our own commitment to live up to our ideals at home and to meet our international human rights obligations.”

Notwithstanding the actions that the United States has taken thus far pertaining to Mr. Snowden, there is still time to make things right. Moving forward, it is vital that U.S. government actions to secure his extradition take place within an acceptable legal framework that first enables a fair consideration of his asylum claims. The United States has a long history of supporting asylum rights and calling attention to the plight of asylum seekers around the world. In fact, in 2010, the U.S. government cited the rights of Somali refugees who were stranded in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetevo airport without travel documents for more than a year after being denied entry into Russia. This is the same airport where Mr. Snowden remains in limbo.

When it comes to respecting human rights and the rule of law, the U.S. government must practice what it preaches.

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