Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Nour thanks supporters in rare interview from prison

In a rare interview on July 26, imprisoned Egyptian dissident Ayman Nour spoke to reporters with Abu Dhabi’s The National about his ongoing detention and international efforts on his behalf.

Nour was jailed in 2005 on dubious forgery charges after challenging President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt’s first – and last – contested presidential election.

President Bush earlier this month called for Nour’s release.

“Bush’s initiative is kind and very important in its, as it came just 24 hours after Mubarak decided to keep me in prison,” Nour said, referring to the Egyptian president’s pardon of 1,500 prisoners on July 23. “But I can’t say that the American administration has always been serious in pushing for my release. Sometimes it gave priority to principles, but more often interests prevailed.”

Nour also commented on attempts by Egypt’s state-run media to tarnish his image.

“Despite grave losses to my health, my family, my party and finances, I feel prison has earned me more credibility among the youth and average Egyptian, despite the state’s tarnishing campaigns against me,” he said. “The enlightened people, and those who hate the regime, and they are many, know that they are lying.”

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Iran must ban death penalty for juvenile offenders, human rights groups say

A group of human rights organizations on Tuesday urged Iran to ban executions of juvenile offenders, Human Rights Watch said in a press release the same day.

The coalition included Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Iran last week executed Hassan Mozafari and Rahman Shahidi, who were both under 18 when they committed their crimes.

As HRW notes, “Iran leads the world in executing persons for crimes committed under the age of 18. As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Iran is obligated to abolish such executions.”

The group adds: “The situation of juvenile offenders facing execution in Iran has reached crisis levels, making Iran’s violation of international standards much greater than any other country. There are at least 132 juvenile offenders known to be on death row in Iran, although the true number could be much higher.”

For the full release, click here.

Friedman derides ‘bumper sticker’ views towards Afghanistan, offshore drilling

In a New York Times op-ed Wednesday, Thomas Friedman chastises Republicans and Democrats for narrow-mindedness in their views towards offshore drilling and Afghanistan, respectively.

“Republicans, by mindlessly repeating their offshore-drilling mantra, focusing on a 19th century fuel, remind me of someone back in 1980 arguing that we should be putting all our money into making more and cheaper IBM Selectric typewriters – and forget about these things called the ‘PC’ and ‘the Internet,’” Friedman writes. “It is a strategy for making America a second-rate power and economy.”

On Afghanistan, Friedman maintains that bringing in more U.S. troops is not the answer, saying that “producing islands of decent and consensual government in Baghdad or Kabul or Islamabad would be a much more meaningful and lasting contribution to the war on terrorism than even killing bin Laden in his cave.”

He adds: “The truth is that Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Pakistan are just different fronts in the same war. The core problem is that the Arab-Muslim world in too many places has been failing at modernity, and were it not for $120-a-barrel oil, that failure would be even more obvious.”

For the full op-ed, click here.

Iran not protecting Kurdish minority from widespread discrimination, Amnesty says

Iranian Kurds endure widespread discrimination and Tehran is doing little to prevent the abuses, Amnesty International said in a report released Wednesday, according to Reuters.

The rights group said the suffering has been particularly acute of late, as Kurds have been sentenced to death or long prison terms after unfair trials.

“Iran’s government is failing in its duty to prevent discrimination and human rights abuses against its Kurdish citizens, particularly women,” Amnesty said. “We urge the Iranian authorities to take concrete measures to end any discrimination and associated human rights violations that Kurds, indeed all minorities in Iran, face.”

According to the article, the report “also cited abuses against Kurdish women and girls, and cultural and religious discrimination against the group in areas such as housing, education and employment.”

For the full article, click here.
For the Amnesty report, click here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

U.N. says Afghanistan getting help in heroin production process

The United Nations said Monday that Afghanistan should not shoulder all of the blame for the global heroin problem, Agence France-Presse reported the same day.

While over 93 percent of the world’s opium comes from the war-torn nation, the chemicals used to turn the crop into heroin are smuggled from China, South Korea, the Russian Federation, Europe and other nations, according to U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Afghanistan representative Christina Oguz. She said the chemicals are produced for industrial purposes and in most cases legally exported, only to be diverted and smuggled once they reach their destination point.

Oguz also noted that government corruption in Afghanistan is undermining efforts to punish drug lords.

“They are people with power and people with powerful friends who can use their mobile phones to release a suspect from detention without a fair trial,” she said of the drug lords. “I would call it telephone justice.”

For the full article, click here.

Indigenous Guatemalans hit hard by expansion of agrofuels

Efforts to enhance the production of agrofuels have caused displacement and deforestation in Guatemala, according the World Rainforest Movement’s July bulletin.

According to the article, Guatemalan indigenous communities have been hit hard in particular, as companies deforest their land “to plant sugar-cane for ethanol production.”

It adds that paramilitary forces associated with the ethanol company Ingenio Guadalupe have violently suppressed recent attempts to protest the confiscations and reclaim indigenous land, shooting and wounding one man, arresting two women, and issuing death threats.

For the full article, click here.

Peruvian protestors call for respect for indigenous rights

A large coalition of Peruvian indigenous and peasant groups held a nation-wide protest from July 8 to 10 to demand respect for indigenous rights, according to the World Rainforest Movement’s July bulletin.

The protestors lashed out at the government for proposed policies that would promote private industry in the Amazon region, but negatively impact the environment and violate communal property rights and other collective rights of indigenous inhabitants.

According to the article, the protest “coincided on July 9 with a national general strike called by the General Confederation of Workers of Peru (CGTP).”

Some 200 people were arrested during the strike.

For the full article, click here.

Thousands of Kurds protest election law

Thousands of Iraqi Kurdish protestors rallying against a controversial provincial elections law took to the streets of Erbil Tuesday, Reuters reported the same day.

The demonstration came in the wake of a suicide bombing that struck a similar protest in the disputed city of Kirkuk Monday, killing 23 people.

As the article notes, the elections law “would have delayed voting in Kirkuk, assigned fixed seat allocations to each ethnic group and replaced Kurdish Peshmerga security forces in the city with troops form other parts of Iraq, all measures Kurdish parliamentarians rejected.”

For the full article, click here.

EU drops initiative to admit more Iraqi refugees

The European Union last week heeded the recommendation of Iraq’s prime minister and abandoned calls to take in more Iraqi refugees, Reuters reported on July 24.

The initiative to take in more displaced Christians was spearheaded by Germany, but Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki convinced the government to drop its calls after visiting Berlin last week. Maliki cited improved security and the need for help in the reconstruction effort.

According to the article, “An EU statement agreed on [July 24] said the priority was to create the conditions allowing refugees to go back home and noted that some EU countries have taken in refugees, without calling other countries to do the same.”

For the full article, click here.

Vietnamese protestors detained over farmland disputes

Vietnamese authorities have arrested three people for protesting the government’s seizure of village farmland, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Hanoi on Tuesday acknowledged the arrest of elderly war veteran Pham Trung Phon, who camped out for two months inside a local government building. According to the article, the other two individuals were arrested in June for protesting the seizure “of rice fields in northern Thai Binh province to be used for industrial parks and residential areas.”

As the article notes, “The unrest began a year ago when villagers became enraged with the government’s offer of 21,600 dong (US$1.30) per square meter of land confiscated…They demanded payment of 135,000 dong (US$8) per square meter, arguing that the seizure was affecting more than 1,000 families.”

For the full article, click here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Rights group calls for release of Egyptian Facebook activists

The Egyptian government should immediately release 16 activists involved in a peaceful protest last week that was organized on the social networking site Facebook, Amnesty International said on July 27, according to Agence France-Presse.

The protests occurred on a beach in Alexandria on July 23. Those detained were ordered jailed for 15 days for “threatening national security.” The protestors were members of the ‘6 April Youth’ Facebook group, which, as the article notes, “earlier this year called for a day of protest at rising prices.”

Amnesty voiced particular concern for two activists, Ahmed Afifi and Mohammed Taher, saying: “It is not known where they are held and Amnesty International fears they are at risk of torture of ill-treatment.”

For the full article, click here.

Egypt bans book critical of president

The Egyptian government has banned a book critical of President Hosni Mubarak, The Associated Press reported on July 25.

Government censors imposed the ban, according to the publisher of the book in question, “Inside Egypt: Land of the Pharaohs on the Brink of a Revolution” by John Bradley.

The publisher says the book describes Mubarak’s regime as a “ruthless military dictatorship.”

For the full article, click here.

Mass execution draws ire of Iranian Nobel laureate’s group

Iran’s mass execution of 29 men Sunday was denounced the next day by a human rights group led by Iranian Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, Agence France-Presse reported.

In addition to lashing out against capital punishment in general, the Defenders of Human Rights Center claimed that the hanged men – convicted of crimes including drug trafficking, murder, and rape – were “deprived of a fair judicial procedure.”

As the article notes, “The latest hangings brought to at least, 155 the number of people executed in Iran this year, according to an AFP count.”

Iran is said to be considering a bill that would designate as capital offenses crimes such as corruption, prostitution and apostasy on the Internet.

For the full article, click here.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Afghan religious leaders encouraged to raise awareness about new anti-trafficking law

With their government last week enacting historic anti-trafficking in persons legislation, Afghan religious leaders met Tuesday for a roundtable on the matter, ReliefWeb reported the same day.

The meeting, convened by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Afghan government, was designed to encourage the leaders to raise awareness in their communities through discussion and prayer. It dovetails with IOM information campaigns targeting schoolchildren.

As the piece notes, “Afghanistan faces serious problems as a country of origin, transit and destination for human trafficking.”

For the full piece, click here.

Nearly half of Egyptian women sexually harassed on daily basis

Sexual harassment is pervasive and on the rise in Egypt, with almost half of women harassed on a daily basis, Agence France-Presse reported on July 17, citing a recent survey by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights.

Eighty-three percent of the Egyptian women polled reported being harassed at some point, and 46 percent said they were harassed daily.

The article adds that 62 percent of Egyptian men “admitted harassing women, including those wearing Islamic headscarves.”

“This shows that the belief that harassment is linked to women who wear indecent clothing is false,” said Nihad Abul Qomsan the center’s director, denouncing the idea that women should feel responsible for the abuse.

According to the center, only 12 percent of Egyptian women filed a harassment complaint with the police last year.

For the full article, click here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Reporter recounts horrors of Bosnian war

As former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic prepares to stand trial in The Hague on charges of genocide, Roger Cohen describes his experiences covering the war in Bosnia in a New York Times op-ed Thursday.

“You talked of your ‘love’ for Sarajevo, the ethnically mixed city your boozy forces kept shelling,” Cohen says of Karadzic. “You told me, 32 months into the fighting that you were ready ‘to declare a state of war.’

Cohen also writes of those he met during the war and the tragedy they endured, remembering the words of a wounded Sarajevo resident: “If I remain a paraplegic, I will be better, anyhow, than the Serb who shot me. I will be clean in my mind, clean with respect to others, and clean with respect to this dirty world.”

For the full piece, click here.

China continues to violate human rights as Olympics approach, Berman says

China has reneged on its commitment to improve its human rights situation in advance of the Olympics, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) said Wednesday in his opening statement for the hearing “China on the Eve of the Olympics.”

Among the transgressions Berman highlights are the recent crackdowns in Tibet; Beijing’s support of Burma, Sudan, and Zimbabwe; and widespread restrictions on press freedoms.

Berman notes that the committee will on Thursday “mark up a resolution that calls China to account for its actions.”

For the full statement, click here.

Eight Vietnamese dissident writers among recipients of human rights award

Pro-democracy leader Father Nguyen Van Ly and seven other Vietnamese dissidents have been recognized as 2008 recipients of Human Rights Watch’s Hellman/Hammett award for writers displaying courage in the face of political persecution, the group said Tuesday.

According to Human Rights Watch, Vietnamese “dissident writers have been harassed, assaulted, indicted, jailed on trumped-up charges, dismissed from their jobs, socially isolated, detained and interrogated by police, publicly humiliated in officially orchestrated ‘Peoples’ Tribunals,’ and injured by officially sanctioned mobs or targeted traffic ‘accidents.’”

This year’s awards went to 34 writers from 19 countries.

For the full press release, click here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mideast rethinking agricultural policies in light of global food crisis

Amid rising food prices and declining water availability, countries in the Middle East and North Africa are struggling to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population, The New York Times reported Monday.

“For decades nations in this region have drained aquifers, sucked the salt from seawater and diverted the mighty Nile to make the deserts bloom,” the article notes. “But those projects were so costly and used so much water that it remained far more practical to import food than to produce it. Today, some countries import 90 percent or more of their staples.”

However, The Times says that the global food crisis is prompting a regional reassessment, as countries are “turning anew to expensive schemes to maintain their food supply.”

For the full article, click here.

Prominent Iranian activists granted asylum

LCHR has learned that high-profile Arab-Iranian human rights activists Imad and Mohsen Bawi were released last week from a Basra, Iraq detention center and have been granted refugee status by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) and transferred to camps on the Jordan-Iraq border.

The Bawi brothers were in 2006 convicted after an unfair trial of hiding explosives, establishing an illegal group and propaganda against the Iranian government. Both men were serving lengthy prison sentences in Iran, but earlier this year were given leave to spend time with their family following the execution of their brother, Zamel. In February, Imad and Mohsen fled to Iraq and were subsequently arrested in Basra.

Rights group calls for investigation into Syrian prison deaths

In the wake of a shooting two weeks ago at Syria’s Sednaya prison that left inmates dead at the hands of military police, Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called for an independent investigation into the incident.

Police opened fire on the inmates to quell a riot that began after an aggressive search at the prison. During the search, prisoners were insulted and copies of the Qur’an were thrown on the floor and trampled upon. After the shooting, several security guards were taken hostage by the prisoners. In response, the authorities sent army troops and tanks as reinforcements.

Since July 8, three days after the shooting, families of inmates have been unable to obtain any information on their relatives.

Human Rights Watch has previously documented torture of Sednaya detainees.

“The bloodshed at Sednaya highlights the need to improve the treatment of prisoners there,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Torture should immediately be halted and all detainees properly charged should get a fair trial.”

For the full article, click here.