Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, March 24, 2006

News Update Vietnam

Asia-Pacific HIV/AIDS Conference Adopts Call to Action to Stem Epidemic Among Children

March 24, 2006

Hanoi - Health experts from 19 countries and about 30 international agencies met on Wednesday in Hanoi to attend the three-day East Asia and Pacific Conference on HIV/AIDS and Children and resources on protecting children from the epidemic.

According to kaisernetwork.org:

“According to UNAIDS figures from 2004, an estimated 1.5 million children in the Asia-Pacific region have lost one or both parents to AIDS-related complications and an additional 121,000 children are HIV-positive. About 35,000 children in the region are in need of antiretroviral treatment.”

“Increased efforts to improve HIV testing among pregnant women in the Asia-Pacific region are needed to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the virus, officials at the Regional Conference said on Thursday, Associated Press reports.”

Click here to read the whole article.

The Human Rights Dialogue with Vietnam: Hearing Notice

Washington - Please note this upcoming hearing on Vietnam’s human rights:

Asia and the Pacific Subcommittee and Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations Subcommittee joint hearing on "The Human Rights Dialogue with Vietnam: Is Vietnam Making Significant Progress?” on March 29, 2006 in 2172 Rayburn House Office Building at 2:00 p.m.

PARTICIPANTS: Barry Lowenkron, assistant secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, State Department; John Hanford III, ambassador-at-large, Office of International Religious Freedom, State Department; Eric John, deputy assistant secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, State Department; Michael Cromartie, chairman, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; Kay Reibold, project development specialist, Montagnard Human Rights Organization; Nguyen Dinh Thang, executive director, Boat People SOS, Inc.; and Doan Viet Hoat, president, International Institute for Vietnam, testify.

Development and Deforestation Threaten Central Highlands

March 20, 2006

Vietnam - During the Central Highlands Culture Festival (March 16-30) writer Nguyen Ngoc spoke about threats to Vietnam’s indigenous peoples and the land they inhabit. He said that while the government has issued policies to protect cultures in the Central Highlands, problems remain. The disappearing forest is one primary concern for indigenous peoples. For the Central Highlanders the forest sustains every aspect of their lives – they build their houses, get their food and make their musical instruments from forest and also build their spiritual life on it.

Nguyen Ngoc said that “The Central Highlanders forest is disappearing day by day and this means that the environment for local people and their culture is also shrinking.”

According to VietNamNet’s report, “Anthropologists worry that rare folk cultures of the Vietnam mountain areas are disappearing with development and modernisation.”

Click here to read the full article.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Iraq: Worth the Effort

Fareed Zakaria, a Newsweek International Editor, wrote in a Washington Post editorial today that in spite of all that has gone wrong, “Iraq is still worth the effort.”

Zakaria began:
“Three years ago this week, I watched the invasion of Iraq apprehensively. I had supported military intervention to rid the country of Saddam Hussein's tyranny, but I had also been appalled by the crude and unilateral manner in which the Bush administration handled the issue. In the first weeks after the invasion, I was critical of several of the administration's decisions -- crucially, invading with a light force and dismantling the governing structures of Iraq (including the bureaucracy and army). My criticisms grew over the first 18 months of the invasion, a period that offered a depressing display of American weakness and incompetence. And yet, for all my misgivings about the way the administration has handled this policy, I've never been able to join the antiwar crowd. Nor am I convinced that Iraq is a hopeless cause that should be abandoned.”

During his trips to Iraq, Zakaria wrote that he has seen “remarkable patience, courage and statesmanship” by Iraqi leaders. He praised the role of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Kurds, and Ayad Allawi. In spite of sectarian power struggles, he added, “all three communities – Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds – are sitting down at the table, trying to construct a workable bargain they can all live with.”

Read Zakaria’s piece here.
Pope, Egyptian President Meet on Mid-East Peace
March 13, 2006

VATICAN CITY- Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Pope Benedict XVI met at the Vatican last Tuesday to discuss peace issues for the Middle East. It was the last of the visits for Mubarak’s European tour. Among other concerns, he had been talking with European leaders about the impact of Hamas’ recent political victory.

Recent regional developments in Egypt and respect for religious differences was also discussed. AP reported that earlier this year, a Copt died from injuries sustained in clashes between Muslims, Copts and police in southern Egypt. The clashes erupted when Muslims objected to the erection of an altar and cross in a Christian-owned guest house.
Click here for the full story.

Egyptian Coptic Church Rejects Remarrying Divorcees

March 17, 2006

CAIRO - The head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Shenuda III, has rejected a court order obliging the church to allow previously divorced Copts to get remarried, Middle East Online reported last week. The Pope said that only the church has the authority to make such a decision.

Shenuda said he was "implementing the teachings of the Holy Bible with regard to the issue of marriage. And the Bible does not approve divorce except in the case of adultery or change of religion."

Many Copts, who account for 10 percent of Egypt’s 73 million citizens, are faced with a dilemma as a result of the church’s stance on divorce and remarriage. Although they wish to remain loyal to their religion, some are converting in order to escape disastrous marriages.

Click here for the full story.

Coptic Christian Fears a Return to Egypt
March 17, 2006

CANADA – An Egyptian Copt (who wishes his name not to be used for security reasons) who came to Canada in 2003 as an asylum seeker, fears what will happen if he is deported back to Egypt. CTV News reported on the man’s case last week.

He says that as a young man in Egypt, he was beaten by Muslims because of his religion. His case was heard and decided by a Muslim member of Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). The ruling stated that the Copt’s claim was not credible, and he may subject to deportation, although he has been granted another refugee determination hearing.

CTV News says it is likely that Christians sent back to Egypt, after making refugee claims in the west, will be detained and possibly tortured in Egypt.

"For sure I'm going to go back to jail and I'll be in jail and that's it," said the claimant. "Believe me; I will not be able to talk. I will not be able to even open my mouth if I am in Egypt."

Majed El Shafie, an Egyptian-born Christian, who now lives in Canada and runs a Christian organization called One Free World International, said the West will not continue to support Egypt, “Until they are sure there is complete human rights for everyone.”

Click here for the full story.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Update Iraq [women]

Iraqi woman shares her story while in U.S.

March 21, 2006

Corvallis, Oregon – Since the war started three years ago, Iraqis who worked as teachers, journalists or attorneys are now working with things that are relevant for the situation within the country. Eman Ahmad Khamas, who was a writer and a teacher at a Baghdad university, as well as a translator of English literature, is now a human rights activist working with women and refugees. Khamas is in the United States together with a delegation of six other Iraqi women hosted by Global Exchange. The women have been in the U.S. for two weeks to talk about women’s issues in Iraq.

According to the article in the Corvallis Gazette-Times:

“Khamas also works for a human rights organization, documenting abuses of Iraqis under U.S. occupation. Using her skills as a journalist and as a women’s activist, she works for Women’s Will, an organization focused on defending women’s rights and opposing the use of women as hostages.”

“Khamas spends much of her time working with refugees of the fighting who are without food, clothing and medicine. She said economic and social insecurity is affecting everyone, but especially women, because of the poverty created by the occupation.”
“She also hopes to see room made for international organizations, including the United Nations and representatives from other Arab and Muslim groups to come together with a plan to run Iraq until the home government is stable.”“Khamas believes by sharing photos and stories about life in Iraq, she’s helping spread understanding about the situation for the most vulnerable of Iraq’s citizens.”

Click here to read the full story.

Delegation of Iraqi women to visit Washington

March 21, 2006

Next week 20 Iraqi women from different backgrounds will speak to the media and government officials in Washington about the situation on the ground in Iraq. All the women are decision makers involved in rebuilding a democratic Iraq.

During the women’s three-day stay in Washington (March 29-31) they will present a briefing at the U.S. House of Representatives hosted by the bipartisan Congressional Women's Caucus and Rep. Marcy Kaptur, and they will also meet with State Department officials.

During their U.S. visit, members of the delegation will also speak at the National Press Club about their experiences here and the current situation in Iraq.

One of the goals of the trip is to get U.S women involved and teach them how they can support the goals and needs for Iraqi women.

National Press Club event details are as follows:

WHO: Iraqi women delegation, with Sister Simone Campbell, NETWORK national coordinator
WHAT: Press conference concerning just-completed visits with official Washington and what is happening in Iraq today
WHERE: Murrow Room, National Press Club, 529 14th St. NW, Washington, D.C.
WHEN: Friday, March 31, 9:30 a.m.

To read more about this delegation click here.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Afghan Women Living in U.S. Find Support at Dialogue Group

March 18, 2006

Every month, a group of Afghan women émigrés comes to the Fremont Family Resource Center in California to participate in the Afghan Women’s Dialogue Group, the Contra Costa Times reported Saturday. They practice English, debate politics, discuss religion, and take part in traditional dance at the end of each meeting.

“The women come to heal," Shahla Arsala, the group’s founder, told Contra Costa Times. Arsala started the group two years ago to help women -- many fleeing the Taliban -- having almost the same experiences she did when she came to the United States 25 years ago. "They come for emotional support. They want to know they're not alone, that this lady sitting next to you has problems worse than you."

Sometimes discussions become heated when politics and homeland issues are argued. Although she tries to keep the peace, Arsala said, "At least we can talk about things; in Afghanistan, many women would just sit there and be quiet."

Click here to read the full story.

Afghan Woman Parliamentarian Tours U.S. and Canada

March 18, 2006

Afghan Parliamentarian Malalai Joya, currently on a speaking tour in the U.S. and Canada to represent the women of Afghanistan, received cheers and jeers from a divided Afghan crowd in Fremont, California, on Thursday. InsideBayArea.com reported that while some applauded Joya, others in the audience heckled her and accused her of holding a sectarian viewpoint. Responding to one man who questioned her, according to the report, Joya said:

“‘I have come here to speak for the women and success of Afghanistan,’ Joya responded nervously. ‘You can come up here and beat me if you like. (I suggest) if you're going to do it then do it, but I ask you to take your seats and let me speak my voice, then you can respond when I am finished.’”

Joya also spoke of her safety, frightened that many government members in Afghanistan do not agree with her views. She has been critical on the electoral process, accusing warlords of using force and bribery to get people to vote for them.

In closing, Joya stated, “I am against corruption, whether it is from a communist, Islamist, former Mujahideen or drug dealers. I don't favor anything except for the success of our country by ridding it of corruption."

Click here to read the full story.

Afghan Christian Man May Be Put to Death for Religious Conversion

March 20, 2006

Abdul Rahman converted from Islam 16 years ago, while working with refuges in Pakistan. Now on trial under Afghanistan’s Sharia Law for his religious conversion - unless he recants - he could face the death penalty, the BBC reported today.

Although the government under Karzai is striving toward a more liberal, secular court system, the present constitution still allows for religious law to be used.

As for Rahman’s future, the judge declared, “We will invite him again because the religion of Islam is one of tolerance. We will ask him if he has changed his mind. If so we will forgive him." If Rahman does not recant, his mental state will be evaluated before he is sentenced to death.

According to the BBC, President Karzai will not intervene in the case, though it is likely that sentencing Rahman to death for his faith will upset Western nations who currently supply the country with billions of support dollars.

The Afghan Human Rights Commission has called for a better balance in the judiciary, with fewer judges advocating Sharia law and more judges with a wider legal background.

Click here to read the full story.

Media Stereotypes Do Not Reflect Real Afghan Women

March 16, 2006

The Epoch Times reported on Afghan women’s increasing role in civil society and Canada’s support for their cause last week. The story notes that Western media portrayals of Afghan women have not told the whole story, relying on stereotypes instead of on-the-ground realities.

According to the report:

“At twenty six years of age, Khatera Akbari, an accountant, is frustrated with the western media image of Afghan women. Her family left Afghanistan when she was two years old. She spent all her school years in Canada showing her friends where Afghanistan was on a map. After 9/11 even though the Afghan community was thrilled that the western media ‘discovered’ Afghanistan, they were disturbed by the media coverage of Afghan women as passive victims.”

“‘All we heard was about women being oppressed and who didn't mind being oppressed,’ Akbari said. She grew up admiring the strength and courage of Afghan women.”

For the full story click here.

The Silence of Bystanders: NY Times Op-Ed Page Asks Why Apathy Continues on Darfur Genocide

Nicholas Kristof, who has become the most vocal member of the media to report on Darfur, wants to know why the world has remained silent on the continuing genocide which has now spilled across the border from Sudan into Chad. In his Sunday New York Times column, “The Silence of Bystanders,” Kristof uses an Elie Wiesel quote about genocide: “Let us remember: what hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander.”
Kristof continues:
“In Darfur, we have even less excuse than in past genocides. We have known about this for more than two years, we have photos and eyewitnesses, our president has even described it as genocide, and yet we're still paralyzed. Part of the problem is that President Bush hasn't made it a top priority, but at least he is now showing signs of stirring — and in fact he's done more than most other world leaders, and more than many Democrats. Our failure in Darfur is utterly bipartisan.”

Kristof proposes the establishment of a no-fly zone, a peace initiative supported by regional sheiks, a well-equipped U.N. peacekeeping force, a pledge by France to use its troops in Chad to stop an invasion from Sudan, and strong voices from Arab leaders like Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak condemning the genocide.

“With those measures,” Kristof writes, “Darfur might again be a place where children play, rather than one in which they are thrown into bonfires.”

A related piece in today’s New York Times op-ed page, “Spreading Genocide to Chad,” echoes Kristof’s dismay at the “pitifully inadequate” reaction of the world “when it comes to standing up to stop the slaughter of entire peoples.”

The Times aims criticism at the United Nations, which, according to the piece, “has described the carnage in Darfur as the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis but continues to prove itself completely useless at doing anything to stop it,” along with China, for protecting Sudan in the Security Council, and Europe, for being “inert.”

Credit is given to Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick for working to get the UN to supplement or replace the African Union peacekeeping force.

These pieces, combined with Kristof’s long-running series of editorials on Darfur, underline the need for a strong, multi-national coalition to stop genocide there.

To learn more about this critical human rights issue, visit savedarfur.org, an alliance of 100 organizations working to end the crisis in Darfur. Save Darfur.org will hold a Rally to Stop Genocide in Washington, DC on April 30

Law experts examine women's rights around the world

George Washington University Law School--

Human rights law experts came to GWU Law School Thursday to discuss advancing women’s rights through countries’ legal systems, using Ethiopia, Taiwan, Pakistan and Kosovo as case studies.

The distinguished panel included Sarah Craven, Chief of the Washington office of the United Nations Population Fund; Hon. Hui-Fang Huang, a judge on the Taiwan High Court; Mazna Hussain, a Pakistani women’s rights activist; and Martina Vandenberg, a lawyer with Jenner and Block LLP and a former Human Rights Watch staff member. Susan Karamanian, the Associate Dean for International and Comparative Legal Studies at GWU, moderated.

Craven talked about the challenges of fulfilling the “visionary blueprint” of the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, both of which she attended. During a recent trip to Ethiopia, Craven visited a region where half of all girls are forcibly married off by the age of 15, the vast majority of them to men they have never met. Although Ethiopia has declared 18 the minimum marriage age, there is no civil registration to keep track of births and marriages, making it impossible to enforce the law. In addition, there are three types of marriage in Ethiopia – civil, traditional, and religious – the latter two types do not enforce the minimum age requirement to marry. Craven says that “traditions are often stronger than the law.” In response, the UN Population fund has started girls’ clubs to empower adolescent girls in Ethiopia and to teach them their rights.

Judge Huang, a former sex crimes prosecutor, talked about the protections Taiwanese courts have set up for victims, and also the importance of having evidence in sexual assault cases in order to get a conviction. Huang herself experienced gender discrimination at work when she couldn’t get a promotion due to a one-month maternity leave she had taken. Her ongoing mission is to make sure that women get equal treatment under the law by demanding it.

Hussain told the story of Muhktar Mai, the Pakistani woman who was sentenced to be gang-raped by the local tribal council over false allegations against her brother. Mai gained international media attention after taking her case to court and becoming an activist for women’s rights within the legal system. Hussain says that Mai and women like her must deal with huge obstacles to justice, including a corrupt police force that is known to assault women, a biased court system and prosecutors who “don’t believe in rape,” and the possibility of being imprisoned themselves if they cannot prove the rape. Hussain said that increased media attention has raised public awareness of this atrocious legal system, which is important to fixing these fundamental flaws in how women are treated under the law.

Vandenberg talked about her work on Milosevic’s indictment and the great significance of establishing rape as a war crime. She was part of the Human Rights Watch team that interviewed rape victims, including one woman who was pregnant when she and many others were locked in a barn, gang-raped, and tortured one by one. Many of the other women were killed and thrown in a well by Serbian soldiers, but she was spared, and went on to give her testimony. Vandenberg said that witness protection remains a major problem in getting victims to testify against perpetrators. She added that the same things that happened in Kosovo are now taking place in Darfur, and that most women who experience such atrocities will never have access to justice or a court room.