Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

International Women’s Day: Moving toward Gender Equality

March 8, 2006

Voice of America reported today that women all over the world are engaging in rallies to mark International Women’s Day as they continue to press for equal rights and freedoms on many levels. Of special note this year is increasing women’s representation in government.

As many as 5,000 women marched in the eastern Pakistani city of Multan, while in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai called for an end to violence against women.

In France, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the newly elected first woman president of any African nation, said more women need to take on leadership roles in poor countries. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a statement on the importance of women in decision making roles, saying, “women are still not making adequate progress” in the political realm.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

In related news, Agence France-Presse, (via Khaleej Times) reported that a conference of Arab human rights groups, which convened from Saturday to Monday in Doha, Qatar concluded that women’s participation in civil society is vital within the Middle East.

According to the report, UN human rights chief Louise Arbor issued a call to action:

“I would like to stress the necessity of encouraging greater participation of women in the public sphere. This can be achieved by ensuring that women occupy key leadership positions within parliaments, governments, national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations.” She added that women must also be respected at home.

In addition to stressing women’s rights, Boutros Boutros Ghali, former UN secretary-general and current head of Egypt’s national human rights council, said the education curricula in Arab schools must be changed to eliminate material that “goes against the grain of human rights.” Click here to read the full story.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Controversy arises over proposed UN Human Rights Council

The draft resolution aimed at creating a new and better arm of the United Nations for dealing with human rights has met with opposition from many groups and governments as well as support. The new United Nations Human Rights Council would include many improvements over the current Commission on Human Rights, but opponents argue that this compromise is not enough. New policies that the draft includes are: a majority (96) UN member states have to elect the country to the Council, states on the council can be removed by a 2/3 vote of the General Assembly, more sessions throughout the year, and periodic reviews of human rights in 191 member countries. But these proposals do leave loopholes and do not solve all of the problems that the current council has. The current body meets for six weeks a year, while this proposal would increase it to only ten weeks.

In a recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, former Nobel Peace Prize laureates Jimmy Carter, Oscar Arias, Kim Dae Jung, Shirin Ebadi, and Desmond Tutu, have voiced their support for the resolution. To read this Op-Ed, click here. Amnesty International has called upon the United States to support the new UN council, calling it, “the best chance in decades to establish a more effective UN human rights body.” You can click here to read their press release.

Conversely, Freedom House strongly criticizes this new resolution as too weak to correct the problems that the current human rights body faces. To read the press release from Freedom House, click here. The United States government has taken a similar stance over the new Human Rights Council, refusing to support it at the UN.

These two recent reactions to the draft resolution epitomize the most common reactions to the proposals for strengthening and distancing itself from the scandals that have plagued the Commission on Human Rights in the past. The United Nations’ current reformation process is focused on how best to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been in existence for almost 60 years. The fear is this: any more negotiations could lead to regression on the issue, setting the UN’s reform goals back many years. The new council is a step in the right direction for the UN; the only question now, is it big enough?

Iraq, News Update

Iraqi Women’s Delegation Visits U.S. to Share Stories of Life During War

March 6, 2006

A delegation of Iraqi women arrived in New York City this weekend to begin a speaking tour during which they’ll share stories of everyday realities back home. The delegation includes:

Faiza Al-Araji, a civil engineer and blogger, whose blog can be viewed at afamilyinbaghdad.blogspot.com

Eman Ahmad Khamas, journalist, translator and activist. She is a member of the Women's Will organization, which focuses on defining and defending women's rights.

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Global Exchange and Code Pink that organized the delegation of Iraqi women.

UN Has Great Concerns about Human Rights in Iraq

March 6, 2006

Associated Press reported this week that human rights abuses are a growing problem in Iraq, and that many of these violations are being carried out at the hands of insurgents.

According to the report:

“Abuses in Iraq are as bad now as they were under Saddam Hussein, John Pace, the United Nation’s recently departed human rights chief said last week.”

“Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed since the start of the war in March 2003, many of them in the relentless bombings, mortar fire and other attacks unleashed by the Sunni-driven insurgency.”

“The country is also plagued by sectarian killing, which surged after the February 22 bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in the central city of Samarra.”“Pace blamed soaring lawlessness and sectarian violence, which he said created a "chaotic situation where anybody can do anything they want to anyone".”

Click here to read the full story.

Human Trafficking in Iraq

March 7, 2006

Jim Couri, vice president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, today published a piece on human trafficking in Iraq for webcommentary.com. As the new Iraqi government takes shape, Kouri wrote, there are hopes that the constitution and the government policies will contain anti-human trafficking and sex slavery policies in order to avoid future exploitation of mostly women and children, although men are often forced into slave labor.

According to Kouri:

“Iraq is a country of origin for women and girls trafficked to Yemen, Syria, Jordan, and Gulf countries for the purposes of sexual and labor exploitation, say State Department officials. Some Iraqi women and underage girls are reportedly trafficked from rural areas to cities within Iraq itself.”

“In 2004, Iraq investigated major crimes against women, some involving activities related to trafficking. Earlier versions of the 2004 Basic Police Course for Iraqi officers included a section on trafficking. However, this course was substituted with additional security training in order to address the ongoing insurgency and foreign terrorists.”

To view the article, click here.

Beyond the Al-Jazeera: The Social and Political Impact of Arab Entertainment Television

March 6, 2006

The Woodrow Wilson Center – American University professor Marwan Kraidy spoke at the Wilson Center Monday on “hypermedia space” and the political impact reality TV shows have on Arab society.

Reality TV draw an audience made up predominantly of women and youth, Kraidy said. Reality shows act as a catalyst to excite interest in public events but they are also controversial. Arab entertainment television has spawned a “swallowing of time,” in Kraidy’s view. People sit for hours in front of their TVs, but what they are taking in are state competitions and political battles played out through reality shows.

Hypermedia space, or the seamless integration of big and small media, is both interactive and mobile. Kraidy explained an example of hypermedia space, using cell phones to vote for candidates from the TV shows. Hypermedia space is based on TV’s “transformative narratives of social and political mobility.” Kraidy also stated that “it is a catalyst for debating sensitive topics and provides an idiom of contention.”

The three top reality television shows of the Arab world are Superstar, Big Brother, and Star Academy. After Superstar 2 (An American Idol equivalent) aired, a Lebanese candidate on the show was welcomed by the country’s highest government officials. Governments of Arab states are heavily involved in these shows, Kraidy says, because if the contestant from Syria wins, then Syria has won - period. Governments have asked their citizens not to vote for other countries or not to vote at all.

Kraidy hinted that Star Academy’s theme song (to the tune of “Let the Sun Shine”) is itself political. The song, about truth and freedom, brings youth together in quest for democracy. Kraidy said tools like this “provide a language in which to aid democracy” in the Arab world. But in regards to the shows’ political impact on the Arab world, Kraidy stated, “I don’t think it is democratizing it, but it’s chipping away at the structure.”

Monday, March 06, 2006

Afghan Women Worshiping in Mosques

March 4, 2006

Kabul –The Gulf Times reported that Women’s Minister Masooda Jalal has started a movement encouraging Afghan women to worship at mosques, something not traditionally done in the country. According to The Times, “Women in Afghanistan, whom the previous Taliban government banned from leaving their homes without a male escort, do not traditionally pray in mosques even though this is not specifically against Islam.”

Jalal took a group of 40 women to pray at Kabul’s Hazrat Ali mosque Friday, saying, “Some believe that the mosque should belong only to men but we want to make it gender sensitive.”

Afghan women have a long way to go in order to achieve gender sensitivity, much less gender equality. The report continued that “A UN rights report last year said women were still generally viewed as the property of men in Afghanistan and suffered widespread and persistent rights violations, including forced marriages, murder in the name of honor, and sexual and domestic violence.”

Click here to read the full story.

Nationwide Polio Immunization Drive Begins

March 5, 2006
Kabul –
A massive vaccination effort began Sunday to end polio in Afghanistan, Agence France-Presse reported.

“Tens of thousands of health workers and volunteers across the country kicked off a three-day campaign expected to immunize more than 7.2 million children under the age of five against the crippling disease, officials said.”

Taliban violence has previously interfered with such immunization programs. In the last two years, the immunization effort has been able to reach every province. Since 1997, when the program began, the number of polio cases has dropped, but in the last year that number has started to creep back up again.

Health ministry advisor Abdullah Fahim told AFP, he hopes Afghanistan will be the first among Nigeria, India, and Pakistan (the other three countries where polio is endemic) to be polio free. Click here to read the rest of the story.

Afghan Women’s Aid Cut

March 6, 2006

Kabul – AP reported on a peaceful demonstration Monday by Afghan war widows, who called for the continuation of food distribution at a CARE International food distribution center. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), a main CARE donor, has announced funding cuts for over 7,200 women who receive monthly rations.

Click here for the full story.