Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, February 17, 2006

Vietnam News Update

US could soon normalize trade ties with Vietnam

February 17, 2006

Thanhnien News reported that the US Senate is willing to grant Permanent Normal Trade status to Vietnam before August this year, according to Montana Senator Max Baucus. Baucus made the remark during a presentation to Congress on US Trade Policy in 2006.
The report adds, “Congress is scheduled to discuss and fix a time for voting on the proposal sometime after the two governments complete negotiations on Vietnam’s accession to the WTO.”

Click here to read the full story.

Grave concerns for health of imprisoned Internet writer Pham Hong Son

February 15, 2006

International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX) reported this week on imprisoned internet publisher and dissident Pham Hong Son, who urgently needs medical attention.

According to IFEX:
“Son was arrested on 27 March 2002 and sentenced to thirteen years in prison and three years' house arrest. He was convicted on espionage charges for his pro-democracy activities, including using email to "translate and send anti-Party documents and anti-government documents" to colleagues abroad.”

The report added:

“According to reports, Son's health has been deteriorating since August 2004. Requests from his family for him to be given a medical examination to determine the nature of his illness have not been granted. His symptoms include coughing up blood. He is also believed to require an operation for a hernia.”

Click here to read the full story.

Salesian Fathers help Daklak Central Highlanders

February 9, 2006

According to Asia News, The Salesian Fathers are helping women to get an education and are also developing a project to benefit the Central Highlanders in Vietnam.

Asia News reported:

“A group of Vietnamese Salesian Fathers have been involved for some time in a development project to benefit ethnic Montagnards in central Vietnam. Father Peter from the Da Lat Salesian community is in charge of the project. It involves primarily Hmong and Kho women from the village of K’rongo, 500 kilometres north of Ho Chi Minh City, which is located in the country’s central plateau, and area largely inhabited by tribal groups who are not ethnically Vietnamese. Their life in the forest tends to be very poor and in K’rongo, about a thousand people manage to survive on less than 50 cents US a day (four times below Vietnam’s rate of poverty). Local families tend to be big, averaging four to five children.”

The project includes Microenterprise in the form of weaving co-ops, as well as a sustainable farming initiative.

Click here to read the full story.

Congressional Briefing on Human Trafficking Explores Implications of Modern Day Slavery

February 17, 2006

Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald and the Humpty Dumpty Institute hosted “Human Trafficking: A Global Challenge,” Friday to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of trafficking. Simone Monasebian, Chief of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and Wenchi Yu Perkins, Director of Anti-Trafficking and Human Rights Program at Vital Voices Global Partnership, gave testimony to the far-reaching tentacles of the human trafficking network.

Fast Facts about Trafficking:
*Human trafficking is a $7 Billion a year business for organized crime, making it the second largest transnational crime in the world.
* UNODC estimates that 700,000 people are trafficked each year.
*Human trafficking encompasses more than just sex slavery. Other forms of trafficking include child labor and child soldiers, domestic servitude, forced marriage, camel jockeys, and organ trafficking. Any use of force, fraud or coercion to exploit people is considered to be trafficking.
*Trafficking doesn’t just happen in developing countries. Between 14,500 and 17,500 cases of trafficking occur within the US each year.
*Though trafficking victims are predominantly poor, some come from a middle class background and have a college education.
*Because human trafficking touches on so many areas – human rights, immigration, public health, crime, and national security, to name a few – many agencies deal with cases of trafficking. They include the Department of Homeland Security (Immigrations and Customs Enforcements), Department of Health and Human Services, State Department (Trafficking in Persons), Department of Labor, as well as UNODC, UNIFEM and UNICEF.

Christians targeted for persecution in Palestine, Pakistan and Kosovo

February 16, 2006

At the Congressional Working Group on Religious Freedom this week, experts gave testimony on three regions where Christians are victims of religious persecution.

Justus Reid Weiner, author of Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society, said that “finding religious freedom where I come from is like a blind man finding a black cat in a dark room when the cat isn’t there.” He spoke about how the election of Hamas has stoked fears among non-Muslim Palestinians, who have been victimized by “trigger happy thugs” who burn their churches and harass them in many ways. According to Weiner, Hamas is seeking a “dhimmi tax,” or a tax for all non-Muslims living in Palestinian territory. The implementation of Shari’a law as the paramount source of legislation is another major concern for non-Muslims there. Weiner showed posters taken from the region exulting suicide bombers, some of them clearly minors.

“[Palestinian] Christians have received little protection from anyone since the Oslo peace process,” Weiner said. “We [the West] are abandoning Christians to radical Islam.” He added, “This is not only a Christian issue, but a human rights issue.”

Cecil Chaudry, Board Director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, echoed Weiner's sentiments about religious minorities living in Pakistan, specifically focusing on blasphemy laws. Chaudry said that while Pakistan was formed as a secular country, religious parties have since risen to power, allowing for the creation of discriminatory laws. Pakistan’s blasphemy law in particular targets non-Muslims; anyone who is not a follower of Islam is under threat of being targeted by it. Now, Chaudry said, Muslims are using the blasphemy law against each other as well as against non-Muslims, which makes him hopeful that it will be repealed.

Chaudry also addressed the injustice of Hadoud laws, which mandate that rape victims must produce five male Muslim witnesses to verify their testimony. If a victim cannot do this, she goes to jail for immoral behavior. These laws are particularly punitive to non-Muslim rape victims.

The Bishop of Kosovo, Artemije Radosavljevic, spoke last, testifying that giving the Kosovo region of Serbia independence would create a Muslim dominated state and be a “sentence of extinction” for Christians living there. He called Kosovo a “black hole of corruption,” and said that in addition to the persecution of non-Muslims that continues to occur there, the area is also a hub for organized crime and human trafficking.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Insurgents Burn Schools

Loya Waila, Afghanistan
February 7, 2006
An article from The Middle East Times reported last week that four men armed with pistols had entered the school in Loya Waila village just outside the southern city of Kandahar - the former stronghold of the ousted Taliban regime - and locked three janitors into a classroom, igniting it. The janitors were later rescued by local villagers.
Officials of this attack on the Qabial co-ed primary school is believed to be an attack on “peace and stability.” The violence has seen more than a dozen schools set ablaze over the past two months in Kandahar and its neighboring provinces, and several teachers and educational workers killed, including a headmaster who was beheaded in Zabul on January 14.

Kandahar education Chief Hayatullah Rafiqi, said burning schools is another way for insurgents to build fear and attack the government at the same time. Since 2002, the development of education was on a rise. Now, with the burnings, more than 150 schools have shut in the last four months. Parents are scared to send their kids off to school, and teachers are afraid to do their job. Back in Qabial, a couple of weeks after the incident, only 8 of the 35 students reported on the first day of the semester. Click here for the full story.

Sunnis and Shias Engage in Violent Scuffle

Herat, Afghanistan
February 10, 2006

An article in The Middle East Times reported that the two sects clashed in Herat, leaving four dead and 90 injured. Hundreds of troops came to break up the violence, which consisted of hand-grenade attacks, hand-to-hand fighting and stabbings. Energy minister Ismail Khan said that it was unclear what had sparked the violence in the normally peaceful Herat but ‘foreign elements’ appeared to have had played a role, an opinion echoed by other officials including President Karzai. The Taliban appeared to have been involved. Click here for the full story.

Parliamentary Women’s Freedoms in Jeopardy

Kabul, Afghanistan
February 15, 2006

The Christian Science Monitor reported on a conservative member of Afghan parliament’s desire to implement Shari’a law by requiring women traveling for more than three days to be accompanied by a male escort. The request came after the member, Al-Hajj Abdul Jabbar Shalgarai, saw two women members of parliament without their husbands at the recent donor conference in London.

"We have given women the right to educate themselves, to take part in government, to participate in political life. But there are special rules," said Haji Ahmed Fareid, a parliamentarian and Islamic religious scholar.

For female parliamentarians hoping to improve the lot of women in this conservative Islamic country, the return of Shari’a rules - even if they are not specifically stated in the Constitution - is a troubling sign. After all, it was this same Shari’a principle that the Taliban regime used to prevent women from going to school, to market, and to work.
Many women feel that strict interpretations of the Islamic law are not appropriate for the modern lifestyle of women. Sahera Sharif, a female parliamentarian from Khost, said, “Islam is a social religion, it is good, and broad, and it covers everything in our lives, but unfortunately, when there are rules that affect men and women equally, the men in our society only address these rules toward women." Click here for the full story.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Iraq and Middle East News Update

Bird Flu Inspections Complete in Iraq

February 13, 2006

According to The Associated Press – “A team of U.N. health experts left Iraq on Monday after completing an inspection of areas in northern Iraq where the country's only confirmed bird flu case in a human was found. Health authorities believe one other suspect case, the dead uncle of the 15-year-old girl confirmed as having the deadly H5N1 strain, may also have contracted the disease, but final tissue sample results have not yet been obtained.”

About nine other people have been hospitalized with bird flu-like symptoms, but tests have not yet confirmed they carry the disease.

Click here to read the full story

Facts about Bird Flu from the World Health Organization

According to WHO:
Only four viruses cause the infection in humans:


In general, human infection with these viruses has resulted in mild symptoms and very little severe illness. H5N1 virus is the exception, and is highly pathogenic.

Of all influenza viruses that circulate in birds, the H5N1 virus is of greatest present concern for human health for two main reasons.
First, the H5N1 virus has caused by far the greatest number of human cases of very severe disease and the greatest number of deaths.
A second implication for human health, of far greater concern, is the risk that the H5N1 virus – if given enough opportunities – will develop the characteristics it needs to start influenza pandemic. The virus has met all prerequisites for the start of a pandemic save one: an ability to spread efficiently and sustain ably among humans. While H5N1 is presently the virus of greatest concern, the possibility that other avian influenza viruses, known to infect humans, might cause a pandemic cannot be ruled out.

Incubation and Symptoms

The incubation period for H5N1 avian influenza may be longer than that for normal seasonal influenza, which is around 2 to 3 days. Current data for H5N1 infection indicate an incubation period ranging from 2 to 8 days and possibly as long as 17 days. However, the possibility of multiple exposures to the virus makes it difficult to define the incubation period precisely. WHO currently recommends that an incubation period of 7 days be used for field investigations and the monitoring of patient contacts.
Initial symptoms include a high fever, usually with a temperature higher than 38oC, and influenza-like symptoms. Diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, chest pain, and bleeding from the nose and gums have also been reported as early symptoms in some patients. Watery diarrhea without blood appears to be more common in H5N1 avian influenza than in normal seasonal influenza. The spectrum of clinical symptoms may, however, be broader, and not all confirmed patients have presented with respiratory symptoms.

Click here to read more facts from WHO on bird flu.

‘Women’s Rights Is a Key to Solving Social Problems’

February 13, 2006

Arab News reported yesterday on a women’s conference in Saudi Arabia, the Seventh Jeddah Economic Forum. Speaker Cherie Booth, also known as Cherie Blair, a lawyer and member of the Queen Council, addressed issues of human rights and women’s development.
“Women’s rights is a key to solving social problems,” Booth told conference participants.
According to Arab News:
“Consistent with the forum’s theme of honoring identity and celebrating common grounds, she said that these rights are not a Western concept that is being forced on other cultures as some think. Instead, she said, these rights are shared by all religions, including Islam, which has given women a special status. She spoke highly of the recent meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Makkah and the declaration made putting reform and development as a priority and its inclusion of women in that plan.”

Click here to read the full story.
Human Rights Watch Hosts International Film Festival 2006

Human Rights Watch will host its annual International Film Festival February 19-26 in Berkeley, California.

According to the organization’s website, “The festival is only one tool that Human Rights Watch uses to engage concerned individuals and encourage action on human rights issues. The organization is best known for its decades-long history of timely investigations, informed policy recommendations, and ability to generate intense pressure to confront human rights abusers and defend basic freedoms.”

Click here to read this year’s lineup, which includes five human rights oriented films.

Congressional Briefing on Proposed UN Changes

February 7, 2006 Remarks on Proposed UN Human Rights Council

Last week the Congressional Human Rights Council held a briefing on the revision of the UN. Over the years, the current Commission for Human Rights (CHR) has become a safe haven for many human rights violators. Other nations have joined the United States to demand repair of the UN.

William K. Davis, from the UN Information Center, gave a brief history of the Commission of Human Rights, started in 1946. The UN has agreed it is in need of repair, but it has made few changes, Davis said. The proposed new council will meet more often in Geneva, focusing on more states, and invite more participation of NGOs. Davis said there should be a responsibility of countries to not just protect themselves from outside aggressors, but to protect their citizens within. Other countries, he said, realize the nest the UN has ended up creating for human rights saboteurs.

The goal of the allies is “dramatic qualitative change, said Mark Lagon, Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs. He said countries should express their endorsement plans, although that was not in the draft. He also said governments under sanctions should be disqualified. The UN needs something tangible and some governments are beyond repair. The UN should also condemn any government that has no effort to improve its stability, he said. Technical assistance should be given to governments that do want to improve. Other revision plans include hosting a smaller body of the CHR, which will be beneficial to repressed nations, and to speak out at hearings.

Amnesty International’s Asia and the Pacific Advocacy Director, T. Kumar, said the vibe of the UN today is that countries are not protecting humanity- they are protecting themselves. He followed up to say, “If we fail to build nations, massacres will occur.” The UN system needs to be improved structurally and pointing fingers will only slow down the improvement.

Iain Levine, Program Director of the Human Rights Commission, said there needs to be NGO access to the CHR. Like all the panelists, she said she favored the 2/3 voting requirements, adding the importance of focusing on opinions of councils and holding a strong mandate. She addressed a major problem facing the UN, the case of the silent majority. People who are not for this council are some of the most vocal countries. The African group opposed the 2/3 vote and favored keeping existing membership, which she said would continue to weaken the UN. Asia and Cuba are trying to weaken the council also, said Levine.

Jennifer L. Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House, explained the position of EcoSoft, an international software development company. According to Windsor, they choose which organization should participate in the commission but because repressive governments are working with EcoSoft, they have been pushing out Freedom House and other organizations wishing to aid with the UN’s revision. In conclusion Windsor said the 2 billion people that live under repressive regimes need to be heard.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Egypt Eyes Improvements to Education

February 9, 2006

The Christian Science Monitor last week reported that test-based grades and rote memorization will no longer be the hallmarks of Egypt’s education system, as the country aims to get its students more equipped for a global society. Education reformers are pushing for more arts education, along with more schools and more teachers in existing schools to reduce class sizes.

According to the Monitor’s report, "The door for human development and improving competitiveness is education," says Hossam Badrawy, the education committee chair of Egypt's ruling party. "The core of tolerance and democracy is education. This is the most important way to change the life of this country."

Last year alone, funding from the USAID allowed Egypt to expand the number of pilot schools from 30 to 245. Now, Egypt is concentrating on specific areas of education, such as problem solving and critical thinking, that are crucial to a better democracy.

Click here to read the full story.

Egyptian Local Polls Set To Be Delayed

February 12, 2006

Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Sunday that Egypt’s consultative council has agreed to a two-year postponement of municipal elections, which were scheduled to take place in two months. In order to take effect, the measure must also be passed by parliament.
According to AFP’s report, “The country's Islamists, who achieved spectacular gains in parliamentary elections last year, charged the move was aimed at undermining their rise and preventing them from fielding a candidate in the next presidential poll.”
Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood has led the political opposition against President Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party, and it picked up 20 percent of the country’s parliament seats following the 2005 elections.
AFP writes:
“According to a constitutional amendment proposed by Mubarak and approved by referendum in May 2005, a legal party must control five percent of parliament to field a candidate in a presidential election. The same amendment stipulates that an independent candidate must gather signatures from 250 elected officials, including 65 members of the People's Assembly, 25 Shura members and 10 municipal council members from at least 14 out of Egypt's 26 provinces.”

Click here to read the full story.