Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, March 03, 2006

Vietnam News Update

Vietnam ends talks with Australia one step closer to WTO

March 2, 2006

Vietnam has ended talks with Australia and is now closer to becoming a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). After the Vietnamese Deputy Trade Minister Luong Van Tu and his Australian counterpart, David Spencer, signed an agreement yesterday in Hanoi, Vietnam took a big step in the direction of gaining WTO member status.

According to a report on Forbes.com via AFX:

“Analysts say the hardest part now for Vietnam is to convince Washington to sign a deal.”

“Vietnam wanted to join the WTO during its last ministerial meeting in Hong Kong in December but could not finalise deals with its outstanding trade partners in time, especially with the United States.”

”Analysts have said the two countries would have to sign an agreement very soon to make it possible for the US Congress to vote early in the year and so avoid a potentially sensitive vote just a few months before November elections.”

Click here to read the article.

House Moves Human Rights, Democracy Legislation

March 1, 2006

The House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Human Rights moved ahead with legislation concerning human rights in Africa, East and Central Asia this week, considering measures on each region.

According to Voice of America:

“Action to advance the measures toward full House consideration reflects congressional concern about democracy and stability in Central Asia, human rights in Vietnam, and unhappiness about continuing suffering in Sudan's Darfur region.”

“[Republican] Congressman Chris Smith, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Human Rights, says Central Asian countries are moving in the wrong direction. "The bill provides for democracy and human rights programming and would require an annual presidential determination for assistance to each government that would examine five categories: democratization, free speech, freedom of religion, torture and the rule of law," he said.”
To read the full story click here.

Red Cross to Help Agent Orange Victims

March 2, 2006

VietNamNet reported that the Red Cross is working with Agent Orange/dioxin victims in the Central Highlands and southern Tay Ninh province. The project is scheduled to last from 2006 through 2010.

According to the report:

“The 16.3 billion VND project will help cover the expense of orthopedic surgeries and functional rehabilitation therapies for 1,520 poor AO victims, improve living conditions for 1,440 AO-affected families and provide wheelchairs for 1,550 disabled people.”

“Around 200 medical practitioners and Red Cross volunteers of the two beneficiary regions and patients' relatives will be trained on orthopedic and rehabilitation techniques needed to help the AO victims recover after surgeries.”

Click here for the full story.

Two Vietnamese Arrested at an Internet Café

March 1, 2006

Two Vietnamese men were interrogated for 6 hours because they where reading a banned Vietnamese-language website on democracy one of the men said on Wednesday. According to the men, police tied their hands and took pictures and filmed them to document their actions. They had to stay in the café for 3 hours before they were brought to the police station where the questioning continued.

According to Deutsche Presse-Agentur:

“Public security police moved in to the Internet cafe after Nguyen Khac Toan, who was released from prison in January, and his friend Do Nam Hai had successfully broken through the public Internet firewall for the Free Vietnam Alliance (Lien Minh Viet Nam Tu Do) website on Monday.”

“Toan, 50, was granted amnesty in January after serving three years of a 12-year prison sentence for espionage after he posted articles on the internet about public protests against the government seizing land for development. He remains under police surveillance for the next three years.”

”The chief of the Ngo Thi Nham municipal police station, Nguyen Viet Cuong, would not comment on the case and refused to confirm or deny whether the two dissidents had been at his station for questioning.”

Citizenship, Ethnicity, and the Nation-State – Perceptions of Identity Explored

March 2, 2006

The Woodrow Wilson Center – Co-author the new book Citizenship and Ethnic Conflict: Challenging the nation-state and Turkish scholar Haldun Gulalp, along with Irish scholar John Coakley, discussed conflicts between national and ethnic identity, using Turkey, the European Union and Iraq as three case studies.

Gulalp addressed the need of state authorities to simplify complex identity factors within a society by forcing every facet into a cohesive national identity. While Gulalp said that “nation-states aim to create a coincidence between nationality and state sovereignty,” not all citizens are tied together by an ethnic, racial and religious core. As a result, this trend by governments toward assimilation has fomented the rise of identity movements throughout the world.

According to Gulalp, “Citizenship is universal and inclusive – but that is only a partial picture.” National communities, he continued are bounded and based upon homogeneity, which conflicts with the reality of ethnic diversity within them. This creates a fundamental tension and an uneasy marriage, or “cultural straightjacket,” between multiculturalism and assimilation.

The European Union, Gulalp said has moved toward “liberating citizenship from nationality,” providing a “super national” model.

Coakley examined the changing notions of citizenship in the countries profiled in Gulalp’s book, comparing Germany’s transitional definition of a citizen as stemming from right of blood to one of right of birth; Greece’s move from a religious to secular definition of citizenship and doing away with ID cards listing religious affiliation; Turkey’s concept of citizenship being tied to a ‘shared Turkish culture’ of religion and language; and Iraq’s troubled legacy of the Baathist regime, with its power base built on ethnic divisions.

Gulalp, Coakley and members of the audience debated various issues tied to citizenship, including the idea of a state based on a social contract and the right to self-determination. Coakley quoted political scientist Dankwart Rustow, saying that in regard to self-determination, “The people cannot decide until somebody decides who are the people.”

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Afghan citizens to NGOs: Your help brings Taliban's wrath to our villages

March 2, 2006

The New York Times published a piece today about the Taliban's still strong presence in Afghanistan, especially in the southern part of the country.

Disturbingly, according to the Times' account:

"In the villages, people are asking foreigners and nongovernmental organizations not to come around anymore, not because they do not need the aid, but for fear of reprisals from the Taliban, aid workers and villagers said."

As LCHR has previously reported on its blog, one method used by the Taliban as retribution is school burning, and 200 schools remain closed in Afghanistan out of fear.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Muslim Brotherhood’s Appeal Lies in Group’s Social Programs

February 22, 2006
Cairo – Reuters reported last week that Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has “built considerable grass-roots support by providing much needed social services in impoverished areas. Such activities have earned it a reputation for competence and honesty, often in contrast to the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), popularly perceived as self-serving and corrupt.”

In addition to running shelters for widows and orphans, the Muslim Brotherhood runs 22 hospitals and has schools in every governorate in the country.

In Egypt’s recent parliamentary elections, the Muslim Brotherhood garnered 88 seats in the People’s Assembly. But despite its growing popularity and political influence, the Muslim Brotherhood has also raised suspicions among religious freedom and women’s rights advocates.

Reuters explored some of these concerns:
According to Abul Futouh, the brotherhood's goal is simply to establish "a participatory, democratic country, based on the principles of Islamic law". Some observers, however, express concern about the group's social agenda, elements of which remain unclear.
"The positions of the brotherhood-affiliated parliamentary bloc are mixed, and this applies to social issues as well," noted Hossam Bahgat, programme director at the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
The group had "been careful to stay away from women's issues and issues of freedom of expression", he said. During the 2000 parliamentary elections, it pressured the government to seize books deemed morally offensive. A year later, it did not support the passage of legislation aimed at bolstering the legal status of women. "Now that they have a parliamentary presence, we don't expect [the brotherhood] to support amendments to the personals status law, which would give more rights to women in areas of child custody and divorce," he added.
Amin expressed concern about the movement's religious affiliations: "The fact that the brotherhood mixes religion and politics is, in itself, very dangerous," he said, "particularly among a population as religiously charged as Egypt's".
"While Egypt, on the whole, can't be considered a secular country, whether and how one chooses to practice religion should be a wholly personal choice," he added.
Nevertheless, the movement has drawn praise on other issues relating to civil and human rights. "We were pleasantly surprised by its support for a new unified law for the building of places of worship," Bahgat noted. Egyptian Christians have long complained that legislation has traditionally favoured the building of mosques over churches.

Click here for the full story.

UN News

March 1, 2006
Since the opening of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York on Monday, the emphasis has been on increasing the women’s perspective through the reformations ongoing at the UN, better representation of women in decision-making positions, and the importance of non-governmental organizations. The Chairperson of the Commission, Carmen Maria Gallardo (El Salvador), opened the CSW with emphasis on increasing the role of women in decision-making as well as providing a gender dimension of international migration to the Economic and Social Council. These goals of the Commission are lofty, but they are guided towards action and implementation of important changes and policies for governments and the United Nations as well. As the Economic and Social Council reforms itself, the Commission will play an important part in this transformation, which will undoubtedly lead to more emphasis on gender issues and equality.

The 50th Commission on the Status of Women has produced two documents of Agreed Conclusions. These agreements lay the groundwork for increasing the roles of women in major areas, including, peacebuilding, politics, and UN reform. They have reaffirmed the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which calls for “women’s empowerment and their full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society, including participation in the decision-making process and access to power, are fundamental for the achievement of equality, development and peace." The CSW has, so far in the opening days, emphasized the history and the future of the commission and plans on moving on to the in-depth discussions on how to improve women’s roles in decision-making and UN reform. To read statements, agreed conclusions, and press releases from the Commission, click here.

As the main goal of the CSW is to emphasize and increase the number of women in decision-making positions, it is important to note that according to an article in today’s Guardian, that women’s representation in governments worldwide is the highest ever, at around 16%. Though well below where it ought to be, this number has been steadily increasing over the years, and the number of parliaments with more than 30% women has grown to over 20% worldwide. Countries that were recognized by the report include: Iraq, Afghanistan, Burundi, and Liberia.

For the full text of the article, click here.

Also in UN news, the United States has announced that it will oppose the UN’s plan to create a new human rights panel because it does not meet the requirements demanded by the Bush administration. The new panel would make election to the panel based on an absolute majority, while the US has been pushing for a 2/3 requirement. This plan was a compromise that would overhaul the current human rights council, which has been embroiled in scandals based on the elected members of the council, such as Sudan. To read the entire story from The Washington Post, click here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Outbreak of sectarian violence leaves over 1,300 Iraqis dead

February 28, 2006

Baghdad – Continued sectarian violence around Iraq has spiraled out of control since last Wednesday when the Shiite Samarra mosque was attacked. According to morgue officials throughout Iraq, the number of Iraqis killed during this renewed violence, has climbed to over 1,300, mostly Sunni. This number is over three times higher than the reports given by the United States military and media. This violence has widened the already existing divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims in Iraq.

According to The Washington Post:

The bulk of the previously known deaths were caused by bombings and other large-scale attacks. But the scene at the morgue and accounts related by relatives indicated that most of the bloodletting came at the hands of self-styled executioners. Sunni leaders charged that more than 100 Sunni mosques were burned, fired upon or bombed in the retaliatory violence after the attack on the Samarra mosque.

"And they say there is no sectarian war?" demanded one man. "What do you call this?"

To read the full story, click here.

50th Session for the UN Commission on the Status of Women

February 28, 2006

New York – The 50th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) opened Monday, and will remain in session through March 10. Created in 1946, this Commission advocates that men and women shall have equal rights. CSW reports on pressing women’s rights issues to the UN. This year’s themes include the following, according to the UN’s website:
“Enhanced participation of women in development: an enabling environment for achieving gender equality and the advancement of women, taking into account, inter alia, the fields of education, health and work.”
“Equal participation of women and men in decision-making processes at all levels.”

Following the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, the General Assembly mandated that CSW integrate into its programme a follow-up process to the Conference, regularly reviewing the critical areas of concern in the Platform for Action and to develop its catalytic role in mainstreaming a gender perspective in United Nations activities.
Since then, the assembly has been modified, adopting a Political Declaration and Further Actions and Initiatives to Implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (the Outcome Document). Forty-five members from Africa, Asia, Eastern and Western Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean will be joining in this annual session to discuss the Platform for Action and the Outcome document, as well as other various women’s rights issues.

For complete details of the session, including all themes and emerging issues, visit the UN’s website on CSW. Check back to the Leadership Council’s blog for more UN news, coming soon.

Monday, February 27, 2006

UN to Taliban: Stop School Attacks

February 27, 2006
Kabul – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported last week on an increase of Taliban attacks on schools and teachers, condemned by the United Nations special representative to Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs. According to the article, dozens of schools have been burned by members of the Taliban, which maintains that sending girls to school violates Islam.

Koenigs called the violence a “denial of the human rights to education” for Afghan children.

Many other schools that have not been attacked have been forced to close due to security concerns.

Click here to the full story.

In related news, RFE reported based on Afghan news sources that a girls’ school that was under construction was blown up Sunday in Khost. Four school guards were being questioned in regards to the explosion. Local residents have formed a volunteer guard unit to protect schools from attack.

Leadership Council for Human Rights Supports Letter by Members of Congress Urging State Department Action on North Korea

WASHINGTON, DC – The Leadership Council for Human Rights applauds Sen. Sam Brownback, Sen. Evan Bayh, Sen. James Leach, Sen. Joseph Pitts, Rep. Frank Wolf, Rep. Henry Hyde, Rep. Tom Lantos, Rep. Chris Smith and Rep. Eni Faleomavaega for their stand against egregious human rights violations in North Korea. This bi-partisan group of Senators and Members of Congress submitted a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Tuesday expressing their concern for the lack of progress in funding and implementing the North Korean Human Rights Act, which President Bush signed into law in October, 2004.

The letter, inspired by the testimony of North Korean defectors Ma Soon-Hee, Cha Kyeong-Sook and Kim Seung-Min during a Congressional hearing last fall, focuses on the problems facing asylum seekers. The letter states:

“Foremost among our concerns, we note that despite the fact that the act calls for the Department of State to facilitate the submission of North Korean refugee applications, not one North Korean has been offered asylum or refugee status in the 16 months since the unanimous passage of the legislation. Even worse, according to the congressional testimony delivered by Helping Hands Korea, some State Department employees at our embassies in China, Vietnam and Thailand have actually refused to assist North Korean refugees who were at terrible risk.”

To address this problem, the letter continues, the State Department should “play a leadership role…to establish a first asylum policy for North Koreans, as was done in the 1970’s for thousands of Vietnamese ‘boat people.’” The Members urge Rice to act quickly as “deplorable human rights conditions and continuing starvation” plaguing North Koreans.

LCHR is working with the indigenous people of Vietnam’s Central Highlands, many of whom are seeking asylum like their counterparts in North Korea. LCHR is one of many groups participating in the North Korea Freedom Week, scheduled to take place April 22-30, 2006. Show solidarity with those suffering human rights abuses at the Freedom Week rally on April 28, 2006 at 11:30 a.m.