At this Christmas season, tolerance is a disappearing value in our politics and at the White House.
Even as the United States virtually abandons America’s longtime role as a promoter of human rights, authoritarian governments are promoting their value system as an alternative to democracies that they paint as in decline. Autocrats in Russia, China, the Philippines, Egypt, Turkey, and elsewhere feel freer than ever to crush human rights activists, journalists, ethnic minorities, and political opposition groups.
So the role of nongovernmental organizations — in promoting human rights, including refugees, and in exposing the rise of domestic hate groups — becomes ever more important. Their pressure, along with media coverage and (hopefully) congressional action, is vital to fill the vacuum left by the White House retreat.
For this season, here are some nongovernmental organizations that are working to expose hate groups and human rights atrocities here and abroad, and to aid refugees in an era when the West is closing its doors. There are other groups doing great work as well, but these are groups I respect and think worthy of support.
The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) organizes law students and lawyers (working pro bono) to pursue legal and human rights for refugees and displaced persons. I got to know IRAP’s work because of their vital legal help to Iraqi and Afghan translators whose lives were endangered because they had worked for the U.S. military or government but weren’t receiving the visas Congress had authorized.
IRAP has broadened its mandate to help resettle the most at-risk refugees, including religious minorities, victims of sexual and gender-based violence, and sick children. When the Trump administration imposed a travel ban on Muslim refugees in early 2017, IRAP volunteers flooded the airports to provide legal defense and then pursued cases in the courts.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) sends medical, food, and other aid into the toughest conflict zones. That includes Yemen, where 12 million people are on the brink of famine because of a Saudi-led air campaign that has destroyed the country’s infrastructure and has been aided by the United States.
The IRC is working with 100 Central American migrant families to reunite children who were separated from their parents. It is also providing emergency support in El Salvador to families affected by violence that is driving them to flee north and to families separated from their children at the border.
If you are looking for more groups doing work in Yemen, go to PRI’s guide to helping people survive the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Human Rights Watch. This venerable organization exposes violations on every continent from Saudi torture of women activists to repression of Christians and Muslims in China. from barriers to girls’ education in Pakistan, to the rising numbers of journalists imprisoned in Turkey and elsewhere. And oh yes, to the ripping children away from their parents on the U.S.-Mexican border.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has long been the leading U.S. nonprofit organization monitoring the activities of domestic hate groups and other extremists, most of whom used to be regarded as fringe groups but have now pushed closer to the mainstream, helped by the rising popularity of conspiratorial websites (some favored by the White House) and the huge influence of the far right on the GOP.
The SPLC says it now tracks more than 1,600 groups across the country that vilify others because of their race, religion, ethnicity, or gender identity, “prejudices that strike at the heart of our democratic values.” These groups include the Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Nazi movement, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, and antigovernment militias.
While we are worrying about Russia exacerbating the fault line in U.S. society, we need to watch out for American groups, some with dog whistles from Washington, that are actually doing this job.
You may also want to check out the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which is the leading U.S. organization in monitoring anti-Semitism, which is on the rise in this country and in Europe.