Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, March 17, 2006

Vietnam News Update

US could strike Vietnam off Religious Oppressor List: Ambassador

March 16, 2006

Agence France-Presse reports that “The United States is considering dropping Vietnam this year from a list of countries it accuses of severely violating religious freedoms, the US ambassador said Thursday.”
According to the report, even if Vietnam has to work on improving various human rights issues, the country is heading in the right direction. There are indications of progress in the Central Highlands, where many of the region’s indigenous tribes practice Christianity.

According to Agence France-Presse:

“Michael Marine said communist Vietnam was making steady progress on human and religious rights, meaning the US administration may lift the label of Country of Particular Concern (CPC) it has applied for the past two years.”"We are exploring conditions under which CPC could be lifted," Marine told a media briefing. "I think that's a possibility for this year if certain things were to happen, but a decision hasn't been made."

“Marine acknowledged that striking Vietnam off the list of worst religious offenders may help convince some Congress members to support granting the country Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status this summer.”

Hard for Vietnam to Enter WTO this Year

In related news, Vietnam has to move rapidly in forging a bilateral agreement with the United States in order to join the World Trade Organization. If this does not happen, the country may risk being excluded from WTO membership for another year or two.

According to the Deutsche Presse-Agentur:

“Myron Brilliant, vice president for Asia with the chamber, met Tuesday with government officials including Trade Minister Truong Dinh Tuyen to stress the "urgency" of negotiations later this month in Geneva if Vietnam hopes to join this year.”

“Even outside the WTO, Vietnam boasts one of the world's fastest- growing economies. Since the landmark bilateral trade agreement with the US in 2001, exports have more than doubled, reaching 32 billion dollars last year.”“However, Brilliant warned that unless Vietnam agrees to open its markets to competition, foreign investment and interest in the country could slow down.”

Nun Harassed and Expelled from her Pagoda for Membership of the Khanh Hoa UBCV representative board

March 14, 2006

The International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) has received an urgent appeal for assistance from members of the provincial representative board of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) in the central province of Khanh Hoa.
Thich Nu Thong Man, a Buddhist nun, has been expelled by local officials and police. She has been superior nun for 10 years. The reason for the expulsion order is because she has "committed wrongful acts by being a member of the Unified Buddhist Church, in violation of the [State-sponsored] Vietnam Buddhist Sangha's Charter and the laws of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”

According to VNCOL, a Vietnam news listserv:

“Since July 2005, the UBCV has set up 13 representative boards to defend the fundamental rights of local people in the provinces of Quang Nam-Danang, Thua Thien-Hue, Binh Dinh, Khanh Hoa, Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Dong Nai, An Giang, Bac Lieu, the Hau Giang region, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and the 4th, 11th and Binh Thanh districts of Saigon. The government has declared these boards "illegal" and subjected all their members to harassments and continuous Police interrogations, where they are accused of "engaging in political activities", "plotting to overthrow the government" and "advocating democracy and pluralism". The creation of these provincial boards, despite the government's ban on the UBCV, is a significant challenge to the government, for it affirms de facto existence of the outlawed UBCV. Their formation has been carried out with complete transparency by Venerable Thich Quang Do, Deputy UBCV leader and Head of the UBCV's Executive Institute "Vien Hoa Dao", who has sent letters to thecommunist authorities informing them of the creation of each new representative board.”

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Gilly to serve as member of Iraqi National Assembly

March 16, 2006

Washington, DC – Tanya Gilly, longtime champion of a democratic Iraq, and friend of Leadership Council president Kathryn Cameron Porter, has been elected to the new Iraqi National Assembly. Until being elected to parliament, Gilly worked as the director of Democracy Programs and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. She is an Iraqi Kurd whose family was forced to flee their homeland in 1981, and while living in the U.S. she has played an integral role in helping Iraqi women to build leadership skills and to learn about democracy.

According to a press release by FDD:

“Tanya has long believed that Iraq can be a free, democratic, pluralistic society,” said FDD President Clifford May. “She has worked hard for that goal here at FDD for the past several years. Now she will have the opportunity to help shape Iraq's future from the inside. We are proud to have worked with her in the past. We look forward to working with her in the future. This is not a farewell. It is a send-off and the beginning of a new chapter.”

LCHR congratulates Gilly on this new chapter not only for her, but for all Iraqi people. We will continue to work with Gilly and other women members of parliament to help them to be as effective as possible in their new roles.

18 years later, Halabja still bears scars from Saddam's gas attacks

March 16, 2006

Halabja – Eighteen years ago today, Saddam Hussein’s army launched a genocidal chemical attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja, killing 5,000 and injuring 10,000. Thousands of Kurds still suffer from cancer, respiratory illnesses and other diseases as a result of the attack.

Halabja has become a symbol of Kurdish suffering under Hussein’s regime, but some residents of the devastated town say that even today little has been done to repair the decades old damage.

At a Halabja commemoration ceremony held today, Kurds protested the ongoing poor conditions there, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and Radio Free Iraq reported. According to IWPR, 500 Kurds had planned a sit-in during the ceremony to protest a lack of services and compensation on the part of the Kurdistan government. The protest turned violent, though, and at least one person has died as a result, according to RFI.

IWPR reported that Halabja residents planned the protest to “complain about poor healthcare and roads, as well as houses that remain damaged.”

The report continued:

“Politicians from the two leading parties in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, have honoured Halabja’s victims and promised to help rebuild the town at its annual memorials.”

The Leadership Council for Human Rights stands in solidarity with the international human rights community as victims of the Halabja chemical attack are remembered today. In light of the deadly protest, LCHR condemns this kind of violence, while recognizing the urgent need for increased humanitarian assistance in Halabja. The international community, including the United States, bears responsibility for the remediation of this situation.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

UN Human Rights Council to Replace Human Rights Commission

Breaking UN news from the BBC:

The UN General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to create a new human rights organisation for the world body, despite United States criticism.

The 47-nation UN Human Rights Council will replace the current 53-country UN Human Rights Commission.

The existing body has been heavily criticised for having countries with poor human rights records as members.

Read the full story here.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

UN Assisting in Formation of Iraq Human Rights Commission

March 14, 2006

NEW YORK – The United Nations' Human Rights Office held a workshop with Iraqi government officials, parliamentarians, and non-governmental organizations aimed at assisting the establishment of an Iraqi human rights commission, Radio Free Europe reported Tuesday.

According to RFE:
Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said details of the planned commission are still in the process of being worked out.

In a message addressed to the workshop, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, said the establishment of an Iraqi commission would help expose human rights violations and help Iraqis build a culture of human rights.
Equality Now Calls for Woman Leader of United Nations

There are growing speculations and hopes that a woman will be the next secretary-general of the United Nations. After 60 years of male leadership, Equality Now and other groups are advocating for a woman to take the helm of the UN after Kofi Annan’s term ends in December.

According to Radio Free Europe:

“An international effort is afoot to encourage the selection of a woman to serve as the next secretary-general of the United Nations. Equality Now, a public-awareness group to combat violence and discrimination against women, is behind the campaign.”

“The United Nations is losing out by not really embracing the fact that there are several qualified women around the world -- it might be missing out on huge potential," [Equality Now’s Executive Director, Jackie] Hunt says. "What we are saying is, 'Let’s have a transparent process' -- which there isn’t at the moment -- 'Let’s see what qualified candidates are around the world' -- including women -- and, 'Let’s make the best choice.'”

“I think it would be wonderful if it were [a woman elected], and it would send a very powerful message to the world," [Carne] Ross [UN affairs expert] says. "And my experience with women diplomats and women statepersons is that they are extremely good, but unfortunately I think it’s unlikely to happen. I think it’s going to be very, very difficult to select the next UN secretary-general in the very charged and divided world that we have today. It [will] be very hard to find any figure who carries the support of all the main powers in the UN.”

Click here to read the whole story.

Vietnam News Update

Trade partners push Vietnam's WTO bid

March 12, 2006

Bloomberg News reported Sunday that Vietnam’s entry into the World Trade Organization would reduce state control of the economy and also cut the official poverty rate in half, while doubling per-capita income within Vietnam.

According to the report:

“Vietnam's top trading partners will meet this month in Geneva to try to push forward the country's bid to join the World Trade Organization, a move that Vietnam hopes will bolster its exports and further reduce poverty.”

“The working party will meet for the first time since September to try to resolve concerns about Vietnam's investment regime, state subsidies and trading rights. The meeting comes as an American business delegation in Hanoi on Saturday urged the United States and Vietnam to conclude talks that are a prerequisite for the Southeast Asian nation to join the global trading club.”

Click here to read the article.

US Ambassador Visits Central Highlands Kon Tum province

March 11, 2006

According to Vietnam News Agency:

“US Ambassador to Vietnam Michael W. Marine said that the US embassy in Vietnam will try its best to urge American non-governmental organizations to work out humanitarian assistance projects for Kon Tum province, and is willing to serve as a bridge to help US businesses inquire into investment opportunities there.”

“Ha Ban, Chairman of the People's Committee of Kon Tum, introduced to the US Ambassador the province's economic, cultural and social achievements, which helped improve the people's living conditions to an average annual income of US $290 per person in 2005.”

“He spoke about Kon Tum province's great potential, saying that the province is calling for foreign investment in forest planting, construction of hydro-power projects, livestock breeding and eco-tourism.”

Afghanistan's Progress

March 9, 2006
Washington D.C. - The House International Relations Committee met Thursday to discuss progress and problems in Afghanistan.

Chairs Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Dana Rohrabacher opened up the panel to discuss improvements in Afghanistan since 9-11. Panelists included Rear Admiral Robert T. Moeller, USN Director, Plans and Policy U.S. Central Command; James Kunder, Assistant Administrator for Asia and the Near East; Maureen Quinn, Ambassador and coordinator for Afghanistan; Thomas Schweich, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Department of State; Barnett Rubin, director of studies and senior fellow, Center on International Cooperation New York University.

Topics discussed included the issue of narcotics (90 percent of the global supply of opiates comes from Afghanistan), terrorism, and human rights violations. The recent push for more police has helped, but there is a need for tight border security, an effort which requires donors’ aid money.

Those present agreed that an aid effectiveness plan is needed. At the end of the fiscal year, the U.S. will have spent $10.3 billion on Afghanistan. Afghanistan has many donors willing to help it, but the countries’ money must go to the right place and be distributed with quickly and effectively.

The most progress within Afghanistan has been in advances in education. There was an increase of schools being built which should benefit the next generation, especially due to the fact that many see education as a key toward democracy.

Kunder described four focuses of continued assistance: sustainable economic growth, expanding the economy through investment in infrastructure, creating democratic systems and citizen participation, and education and health.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Link between Terrorism and Narcotics
March 13, 2006

Lashkar Gah - "Terrorists and narcotics are very close, they're supporting each other," said Helmand province governor Mohammed Daoud. "When narcotics production is up, terrorism automatically goes up."
Agence France-Presse reported that last week a campaign to destroy opium poppy fields was launched in Southern Helmand, where almost 90 percent of the world’s total opium is grown and the Taliban frequently conducts raids.
"Taliban and smugglers work together because they have a common interest to destabilize the government -- Taliban to feed the people's anger against authorities, smugglers to carry on their business," Haji Mohammed Qasem, head of Helmand's Nad Ali district, told AFP.
Despite anonymous letters threatening farmers to continue growing opium or face Taliban attacks, the poppy eradication campaign has continued. The Helmand governor promised to stop the opium production in the short span of two months. Increased police presence has been built up, as the city is expecting some insurgent attacks.
Click here for the full story.

Tourism: An Investment for Afghanistan
March 13, 2006
Berlin – There are not many people lined up to visit Afghanistan, but the few people that are interested in traveling there could make a big difference to its economy. Ulf Amann, a German consultant working on a concept to develop tourism in the central Asian nation, told The Middle East Times that it will be some time before Afghanistan produces the level of tourism it had three decades ago.
The Times reported that although the Taliban has destroyed some of Afghanistan’s most prized relics, such as its ancient Buddha statues, restoration efforts are underway. Other plans for creating a sustainable tourism industry include securing “safe and attractive” havens for visitors.
"For the moment, there are few real sources of income other than from drugs," Amann said, referring to the booming poppy industry used to produce heroin. Tourism should be a clean and healthy investment for the country.
Click here to read more the full story.
Woodrow Wilson Center Event Report: Turkey’s Turbulent Road to the EU
March 13, 2006

Washington, DC – The Wilson Center welcomed four panelists Monday to discuss Turkey’s quest for EU member status. Panelists included: Zehra Arat, Professor of Political Science and Women’s Studies, Purchase College, State University of New York; recent IREX fellowship recipient focusing on human rights in Turkey; Lenore Martin, Professor and Chair of Political Science at Emmanuel College, and Research Associate at Harvard University; coeditor and coauthor of The Future of Turkish Foreign Policy; John Sitilides, Chairman, Board of Advisors, Southeast Europe Project, Woodrow Wilson Center; Mario Zucconi, Visiting Professor of Public and International Affairs, Wilson School, Princeton University; Professor of International Relations, University of Urbino, Italy; Scholar at the Ethnobarometer in Rome, Italy.

Professor Arat spoke first, addressing human rights issues in Turkey. She said that while the country has improved a great deal in the last few years, it still has a long way to go. Historically, Turkish men have been in charge of the household, but today men view their wives as partners, which is a huge improvement for the country, Professor Arat said. She added, however, that Turkey must improve by allowing greater freedom of both speech and press; in the 1990s Turkey was on the list countries holding the most journalists in prison. In addition, Turkey’s Kurdish population still suffers a lot as an ethnic minority in the country, she said. Arat ended by positing the idea that Turkey may not be improving its human rights record for the right reasons. The number one motive may be the prospect of EU membership, she said.

“Does the EU want a country from the Middle East as a member of the European Union?” Professor Martin asked as she addressed the panel. She said that while Turkey has always seen itself as a European country, it has played an active role in the Middle East, trading with Iraq and negotiating with Iran on nuclear energy. Security is an aspect that Professor Martin pointed out as a major threat for the country not to be accepted as a member into the EU. It is going to be hard for Turkey to get EU member status since the country is still dealing with many problems, she said.

Both Professor Mario Zucconi and John Sitilides talked about Turkey’s relations to its neighbors, particularly Greece. The longstanding rivalry between Turkey and Greece has improved within recent years but still is not settled. Greece wants Turkey to open the ports of Cyprus, John Sitilides said.

In conclusion, Turkey is on the right track for joining European Union, but it still has to improve not only on national but also international issues.

Round Up of International Women's Day News and Views

Washington, D.C. – Last Wednesday marked International Women’s Day, a celebration of the world’s women which has been observed annually since 1911. LCHR has compiled a round-up of news stories on women’s rights to commemorate International Women’s Day, 2006. The compilation is merely a small sampling of stories describing women’s triumphs and struggles in various parts of the world. Join LCHR in standing up for women’s rights today and every day.

1) Head of UNICEF Addresses Human Rights Community on Importance of Gender Equality
2) Karzai Speaks Out Against Forced Marriages
3) Afghanistan to Track Violence Against Women
4) UN Commission on the Status of Women: Empowering Women Key to Development
5) International Women’s Day Message of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan

1) Head of UNICEF Addresses Human Rights Community on Importance of Gender Equality

Ann Veneman, Executive Director of UNICEF, gave the keynote address at the International Women’s Day forum, “Women Around the World: Recognizing Inequity, Promoting Opportunity,” about the progress women have made and the long road that remains to achieving true gender equality. The following is a selection of remarks from her poignant speech:

We are all benefactors of the Western world’s embrace, however imperfect, of equality and dignity for all people, and we have indeed “come a long way.”

But around the globe today, especially in developing countries, girls and women suffer in silence, out of range of the cameras, and off society’s radar. In too many nations and regions, they are still devalued and denied, or treated as second-class citizens. They are the victims of gross inequity, or all too often, much worse.

It is long past time that countries, cultures and communities everywhere, and particularly their men, accept that it is in their own best interests to treat women as equals.

Common sense and economics alike tell us that a society cannot possibly marginalize half its population and expect positive outcomes.

As Secretary-General Kofi Annan said:
“Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.”

Or as a woman in developing country recently put it, a country’s development is like a cart with two wheels, man and woman. If one of those wheels is not moving, the cart will not get very far.

Equality must be viewed through a prism that will benefit not just half our population, but all of the world. The empowerment of women is not just an issue for women, it is an issue for everyone.

When one woman suffers, we all suffer.

When one woman is abused, exploited or denied, all of humanity is debased.

LCHR President Kathryn Cameron Porter wholeheartedly supports Ms. Veneman’s sentiments and urges women to stand in solidarity with their sisters across the globe to make sure that no woman suffers.

Source: UNICEF (Please note: Quotes were derived from Veneman’s prepared remarks.)

2) Karzai Speaks Out Against Forced Marriages

Agence France-Presse reported on Afghanistan’s push to end forced marriages, especially the practice of taking “child brides.” President Hamid Karzai on March 8 called for an end to the practice of forced marriages, saying, "Girls are still being married off to pay for the crimes of others; they are married off to settle enmity; they are forced to marry at a young age.” Karzai made the remarks at an International Women's Day event. Women in Afghanistan "are forced to marry against their will, [and] in many cases they are forced to marry for cash their parents receive," Karzai added.

According to AFP:
An estimated 60-80 percent of all marriages in Afghanistan are imposed under such circumstances, and more than half of all girls are married before the age of 16, the statutory minimum for marriage in Afghanistan.

Karzai appealed to "tribal chiefs, ulemas [mullahs], the influential -- anyone who has a voice in the communities -- to speak against the violence against women, against the marriages of women to settle enmities, against forced marriages in villages, in provinces, in cities."

3) Afghanistan to Track Violence Against Women

In other news from Afghanistan, Xinhua news agency reported that the country’s Ministry for Women’s Affairs has started a database designed to track acts of violence against women. The project was announced on International Women’s Day. The United Nations Development Fund for Women will offer field trainings on how to interview victims of gender-related violence and will also help law enforcement officials prosecute abusers. According to the report, more than 100 Afghan women have committed self-immolation since 2005 due to domestic violence or forced marriage.

4) UN Commission on the Status of Women: Empowering Women Key to Development

From UN News:

Opening the 50th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, UN Deputy-Secretary General Louise Fréchette said today [February 27] the international community is finally comprehending that empowering women and girls around the globe is the most effective tool for a country's development.

Studies have repeatedly shown that by giving women equal education and work opportunities and access to a society's decision-making processes, a country can boost its economic productivity, reduce infant and maternal mortality rates and improve the general population's nutrition and health, Ms. Fréchette told representatives gathered during the first day of the two-week meeting at UN headquarters in New York.

More than a decade after the Fourth World Conference on Women was held in 1995 in Beijing, the Commission will focus on two themes that it believes are crucial to women's progress around the world: their participation in development and their role in decision-making in all areas of society, from politics to business to media. More than 2,000 representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were expected to attend the session.

"Ten years after the Beijing declaration, we still have far to go on actual representation of women at the highest levels of national and international leadership," Ms. Fréchette said. "That includes the United Nations itself, the Charter of which proclaims the equal rights of men and women."

Rachel N. Mayanja, Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said the Outcome Document hammered out by global leaders at the 2005 World Summit as well as the UN's ongoing reform offer fresh opportunities to speed up the implementation of global commitments to women.

"A fully implemented and engendered Summit Outcome will usher in a new era for the empowerment and advancement of women," said Ms. Mayanja, noting that the Summit called for the increased representation of women in Government decision-making bodies.

5) International Women’s Day Message of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day -- the role of women in decision-making -- is central to the advancement of women around the world, and to the progress of humankind as a whole. As the Beijing Declaration tells us, “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 international community is finally beginning to understand a fundamental principle: women are every bit as affected as any man by the challenges facing humanity in the 21st century -- in economic and social development, as well as in peace and security. Often, they are more affected. It is, therefore, right and indeed necessary that women should be engaged in the decision-making processes in all areas, with equal strength and in equal numbers.
The world is also starting to grasp that there is no policy more effective in promoting development, health and education than the empowerment of women and girls. And I would venture that no policy is more important in preventing conflict, or in achieving reconciliation after a conflict has ended.
We do have achievements to celebrate in women’s representation around the world. In January of this year, the proportion of women in national parliaments reached a new global high. There are now 11 women Heads of State or Government, in countries on every continent. And three countries – Chile, Spain and Sweden – now have gender parity in Government.
But we have far, far more to do. The rate of progress overall is slow. Let us remember that in individual countries, the increase in the number of women in decision-making has not happened by itself. Rather, it is often the result of institutional and electoral initiatives, such as the adoption of goals and quotas, political party commitment and sustained mobilization. It is also the result of targeted and concerted measures to improve the balance between life and work. Those are lessons every nation -- and the United Nations -- need to take very seriously.
At the 2005 World Summit, world leaders declared that “progress for women is progress for all”. On this International Women’s Day, let us rededicate ourselves to demonstrating the truth behind those words. Let us ensure that half the world’s population takes up its rightful place in the world’s decision-making.