The UW Center for Human Rights uses the Freedom of Information Act and state public records laws to investigate local and international human rights issues, in partnership with human rights organizations working for justice and accountability. Through targeted research and strategic litigation, we’re fighting for access to information as a human right.
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On Tuesday, April 2, 2019, the University of Washington Center for Human Rights celebrated the success of a hearing in federal district court regarding its ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the US Department of Defense and Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). At the hearing SOUTHCOM agreed to release relevant portions of two previously unseen collections
UW Ph.D. student Emily Willard represented the University of Washington Center for Human Rights during an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hearing regarding the “Situation of Human Rights Defenders of Migrants in the United States.”
Newly declassified U.S. Government documents show American Embassy’s support for the El Mozote massacre trial and other cases of wartime abuses, and provide new insight into wartime dynamics and atrocities such as the assassination of Archbishop Óscar Romero, UN involvement in El Salvador, and the alleged corruption and crimes against humanity committed by U.S.-trained Salvadoran Armed Forces and former Defense Minister García.
Report on barriers to access to information regarding immigration enforcement, presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C. on December 5, 2018 during the Commission’s session on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders of Migrants in the United States.
The University of Washington Center for Human Rights has received the first major cache of newly-declassified documents from our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the US Department of Defense, filed in December 2017. The documents, which are publicly accessible via UW Libraries, reveal key operational details about military operations, deeply relevant to many families’ ongoing search for basic information about the context in which loved ones were victimized or abducted. Sadly, they also reveal frustrating limitations to agencies’ compliance with FOIA, underscoring the need for greater transparency across the board.
On September 21, 2018, the University of Washington Center for Human Rights filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its two sub-agencies, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The lawsuit aims to hold ICE and CBP accountable for failing to respond lawfully to twelve requests for public information filed by Center researchers since 2017.
Documents released to the UW Center for Human Rights by Customs and Border Protection suggest that asylum seekers are being arbitrarily denied the right to make credible fear claims on the northern U.S. border, predating Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ “zero tolerance” policies.
UW Center for Human Rights research intern Grace Sorenson reflects on a trip to El Salvador, where she observed workshops in which survivors of the El Mozote massacre presented their interpretations of declassified U.S. government documents about the U.S.-backed counterinsurgency in their country.
In May of 2018, after more than two years of discussions, the University of Washington settled its 2015 Freedom of Information lawsuit brought by the UWCHR against the CIA. The UWCHR’s lawsuit resulted in the declassification of 139 documents regarding Sigifredo Ochoa Pérez, a former Salvadoran Army officer implicated in human rights violations, including the 1981 Santa Cruz massacre and the 1982 El Calabozo massacre. We are pleased with this outcome, and are continuing our work to further struggles for truth, justice, and accountability through access to information.
On May 1, 2018, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal wrote a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen stating her support for the UWCHR’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) research: “As an organization established by the Washington State Legislature, CHR relies on data collection and research to achieve their mission… I support this educational pursuit as well as the need for research and data collected by CHR. I urge the timely release of the FOIA information to the extent that the law permits.”