Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, April 28, 2006

Numbers of Widows Rise in Wake of Violence

April 26, 2006

Around 90 women in Iraq become widows every day because of the continuing violence in the country, Reuters reported this week. These women have the added hardship of providing for their families’ alone, and they do not get much help from the government. Many of the men that get killed are police officers. Up to 15 officers die a day, leaving their wives behind to fend for themselves amid ongoing sectarian violence.

According to Reuters:

“Officials point out that at least 15 police officers' wives become widows every day because police constitute major targets for the insurgency. ‘Every married police officer is concerned about what he will bequeath his family,’ said senior police officer Major Khalid Maruf. ‘They fear that death is around the corner.’”

“Local NGOs say the situation has become even more critical since the 2003 US-led invasion of the country, which has given rise to increasing violence and sectarian killing. ‘Saddam Hussein was responsible for killing thousands of men during his 25 years of brutal rule,’ said Ibtissam Kamal, a member of a local organization that works on the issue but which prefers anonymity for security reasons. ‘But more people have died during the past three years, most of them men whose families are now without support.’”

“The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is also looking into ways of helping widows who have lost husbands as a result of violence. According to a senior ministry official, projects currently being studied include the creation of more job opportunities and the establishment of free day-care centres.”

“Under the Saddam Hussein regime, widows of "martyrs", particularly during the Iran-Iraq war, were provided with compensation and free education for their children. In some cases, they were provided with free homes.”

“Under the current system, however, no such safety net exists, and widows have few resources at their disposal. ‘I lost my husband six months ago, and don't have parents to help me, because they died in the Iran-Iraq war,’ said recently-widowed Yousra Ibraheem, 38. "My late husband supported me, but left me with no means of sustenance."”

Click here for the whole story.

Coptic Christians to U.S.: Stop Sending Funds to Egypt

The New York Sun reported on Coptic demonstrators, who marched in front of the UN Monday demanding that the U.S. stops funding Egypt.

“We don't want our tax money going to kill our people in Egypt,” the president of the International Christian Union, Monir Dawoud, said.

After Iraq and Israel, Egypt is gets the most aid money from the United States; $1.87 billion in 2004.

The march was organized in the wake of recent attacks on four Coptic churches in Egypt on Good Friday. One Christian worshipper was stabbed to death during the attacks, which the government labeled the work of a single, deranged man. Rania Hanna said the government has used similar excuses in the past to make attacks appear to be isolated incidents.
According to The Sun, “A member of the International Christian Union, Hanna said she was granted asylum in America after someone threw acid on her because her face and body were not covered according to Muslim law. She told stories of young girls being kidnapped and raped because they were Christian.”
Protestors hope their efforts will influence the U.S. government to stop the funding to Egypt until President Mubarak protects Copts’ rights. Click here for the full story.
Ethnic Cultural village to open in Central Highlands resort

April 28, 2006

Lam Dong (VNA) - A cultural village of Central Highlands ethnic minority groups will open in Da Lat, Central Highlands Lam Dong province, on April 30.
The cultural village, covering 2 ha, will include an area for "gong" performances, and traditional long houses where demonstrations of brocade weaving, exhibitions and performance of traditional musical instrument will be held.
The village aims to preserve the cultures of local ethnic minority groups and attract more visitors to the Central Highlands.-Enditem

Fighting corruption, an urgent task: President

April 28, 2006

President Tran Duc Luong, underlined April 27th that there is a need to solve the systematic mistakes in the Party's personnel work to fight corruption which became an urgent task, more effective.

According to Nhan Dan:

“"It is not only to strictly punish those who are corrupted and those who give a shield to corrupt acts, but also to draw lessons in order to thwart the menace from the root," President Luong emphasised during his meeting with voters in the northern port city of Hai Phong.”

“He referred to the necessity to re-examine mechanisms, policies and implementation so as to strengthen the fight against corruption, which, in his words, is a challenge threatening the country's stability.”

“President Luong also noted at the meeting recent labour strikes in industrial zones, saying the Labour Code would be revised in the coming time to ensure protection of the rights and benefits of Vietnamese labourers, especially their salaries and insurance policies.”

Click here to read the article

International tourists to Vietnam likely up 20% in April

April 28, 2006

The number is remarkable with its estimated 320,000 international tourists in April. That means an increase with 20% with a year-on-year rise.

According to VietNamNet;

“The figure will bring the total number of foreign holidaymakers to Vietnam to 1.3 million in the first four months of this year, most of whom were from the Republic of Korea, Japan, France and Thailand.”

“Additionally, the demand for in- and out-bound tours of both local and foreign tourists during the upcoming national reunification anniversary (April 30) and May Day holidays has risen sharply.”

Click here to read the article.

Vietnam seeks Vatican ties, vows to punish religious persecution

April 24, 2006

Vietnam's top official on religion said Monday that they called for a "road map" to diplomatic ties with the Vatican; they also said that they will punish any officials who persecute people for their religious belief.

According to Deutsche Presse-Agentur:

“Vietnam, which requires all religion be regulated by the state, has been lobbying to be removed from the United States' list of Countries of Particular Concern for religious freedom, which also includes such countries as North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and China. Vietnam has an estimated 6 million Catholics but has no diplomatic ties with the Vatican. However, Ngo Yen Thi [head of the government Committee on Religion] said the Roman Catholic governing body has sent several missions in past years - including the unprecedented visit of a top Vatican official last December to ordain 57 new Catholic priests.”

“Hanoi last year granted permission for prominent Buddhist exile Thich Nhat Hanh - one of the most famed Buddhist teachers after the Dalai Lam - to return to Vietnam for the first time in 40 years to conduct four months of teaching around the country.”

“However, smaller sects like the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) and various Protestant Christian groups still complain that church members are harassed by local authorities.”

“Earlier this year, a group of Protestants in northern Ha Giang province wrote to Prime Minister Phan Van Khai complaining that police broke into a home-based prayer service, seized their prayer books and beat them.”

USCIRF Announces Recommendations to Secretary of State Rice on Concerned Countries

April 26, 2006
Washington –

On May 3, The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) will also release its 2006 Annual Report and discuss its findings and recommendations for U.S. policy for the President, the Secretary of State, and the Congress. The Commission will be joined at the press conference by Tibetan Nun Phuntsog Nyidron, who was recently released from China in advance of the visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao.

The USCIRF is mandated by Congress to make recommendations to the Secretary of State on countries violated the right to freedom of religion, among other violations. Under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IFRA), those countries may be designated by the Secretary of State as “countries of particular concern,” or CPCs. IRFA also requires that the U.S. government take follow on policy actions to CPC designation, says Anne Johnson with the USCIRF. The 2006 Annual Report includes the Commission’s findings and policy recommendations for Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Vietnam, as well as China, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, among others. Please click here to view the 2006 Annual Report.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Kurds, safety valve of new Iraq

By Barham Salih (reprinted from SOMA, An Iraqi-Kurdish Digest)
No one in Iraq today has the majority. No one parliamentary group can form a government on its own. Whoever wants to form a government has to enter into an alliance with other parliamentary groups.
The Kurdish leadership is actively engaged in shaping the future of Iraq on the basis of a national unity whereby all are equal and their rights are respected. Largely unnoticed by the media and many of the observers, it is the first time in the history of the modern Iraqi state that the leadership of the Kurdish movement has spent so much time in Baghdad actively engaged in the formation of the government.

In the past, the Kurdish public opinion surrounded most talks in Baghdad with the question: “What are we going to get from them?” This time round, the question should be: “What are we going to build?” The Kurds with their other Iraqi partners are working to build a government of national unity within which all are equal and the right balance is struck between the electoral weight of every group and its national political weight. The December elections have, more or less, showed a representative picture of the demographic make-up of the country. It also emphasized a political reality. No one in Iraq today has the majority.

No one parliamentary group can form a government on its own. Whoever wants to form a government has to enter into an alliance with other parliamentary groups. But it is not an issue of numbers. Unfortunately, we do not live in a healthy environment where we have an established democracy. We are still trying to recover from the aftermath of the brutal sectarian and oppressive policies of Saddam Hussein’s era. As a result, all groups of Iraqi society who are also in parliament have their fears and want assurances for their future.

At the same time, they face the challenge of building a healthy model of a democratic, pluralistic, federal and secure state that is at peace with itself and with its neighbors. For decades, Iraq was characterized by the rule of an oppressive supremacist minority that believed they had a God-given right to rule the country. That part of Iraq’s history showed that the rule of minority can only be done by dictatorship, fear and repression. Iraq can never be governed by one group. The experience of the post-Saddam governments also proves that Iraq can only be run by a government that is representative of all segments of its society and through a democratic system that strikes the balance between electoral and national merits.

To implement this, consensus is the key principle that brings the various components to the table and enables them to deal with the grand challenges that are facing all Iraqis. In addition to the task of rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure, economy and public services as a modern state, the challenge of restoring security is great. Regardless of their gender, creed, religious sect or ethnicity, all Iraqis are facing one enemy. Abu Musab Al Zarqawi’s network of terror and Saddam’s orphans who want to bring nothing but death and destruction to all. The terrorists’ track record proves that they target us all, in Baghdad, Najaf, Arbil, Basra, and anywhere else they can reach. The Kurds realize the danger of the enemy and its tactics.

They realize that their agenda is to impose dictatorship and take Iraq back to the dark days of oppression and brutality. The best answer for them is to form a government of national unity that rallies all Iraqis behind it and gives every one a sense of ownership of their country and of the political process. In this respect, the Kurds enjoy a very good position in the Iraqi political map that enables them to play a key role in the formation of the government of national unity in order to bring about a prosperous, safe and secure Iraq for all its citizens.

The Kurdish negotiators in Baghdad stand at an almost equal distance from all other groups. This has enabled them to talk to all sides and have been able to break many deadlocks in the process over the past year during the constitutional process and during and after the elections in December last year. More recently, the Kurdish role in containing the Samarra shrines crisis was also remarkable. They have almost become the safety valve for the new Iraq. For this reason, the Kurds cannot be excluded from the government of national unity nor should they be excluded from any future political arrangement in the country. The same applies to all other groups of Iraq. This reality can only be translated into practice by adopting the principle of consensus among the various groups in the decision-making process.

Furthermore, this principle should also be reflected in key appointments in the desired government of national unity. President Jalal Talabani has articulated this by introducing a new doctrine to Iraqi politics. He has repeatedly said: “If the two other lists object to my nomination for the presidency, I will happily leave the post for someone else.” To be able to govern in a diverse country like Iraq, and implement change, one needs the support of all the components of this ethnic and religious mosaic. In other words, the Talabani Doctrine should be applied in all key government posts.

Barham Salih is Minister of Planning in the transitional Iraqi government.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

UN Reform Hearing

Committee on International Relations
U.S. House of Representatives
Henry J. Hyde, Chairman
CONTACT: Sam Stratman, (202) 226-7875, April 26, 2006
Improving UN Oversight, Procurement
Hyde Schedules Thursday Oversight Hearing with GAO;
Long-Awaited GAO Audit Reports to be Released

BACKGROUND: On Thursday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) will make public long-awaited reports assessing UN procurement procedures and internal oversight controls. The reports are expected to be highly critical. Plagued by an avalanche of scandals that have swirled around UN management, the Oil-for-Food Program, procurement and UN peacekeeping operations worldwide, 150 world leaders gathered in New York in September, 2005 to approve a comprehensive reform proposal. Designed to address a host of issues including development goals, terrorism, peacekeeping, human rights, disarmament and nonproliferation, in addition to UN management and structures, the efforts have been denounced by some as an agreement which sank to the lowest common denominator needed for approval by the UN’s 191 member nations. That observation was reinforced by serious weaknesses in the structure of the new Human Rights Council which was approved last month by the U.N. General Assembly. Following the September reform summit Secretary-General Kofi Annan on March 7th issued his own reform recommendations report, Investing in the United Nations: for a Stronger Organization Worldwide. Spurred on by the UN's serious structural and management failures, U.S. Reps. Henry J. Hyde (R-IL) and Tom Lantos (D-CA) announced their intention in March to craft a bipartisan initiative giving the Secretary of State the discretionary authority to withhold a portion of the U.S. dues to the UN if specific reform targets are not met by the UN.

WHAT: Full Committee Oversight Hearing: United Nations Reform: Improving Internal Oversight Within the UN
U.S. Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-IL), Chairman
WHEN: 1 p.m., Thursday, April 27, 2006
WHERE: 2172 Rayburn House Office Building
WITNESS: The Honorable David M. Walker, Comptroller General of the United States, U.S. Government Accountability Office.

EU External Relations Commissioner Visits Vietnam

April 26, 2006
The Commissioner of External Relations for the European Union, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, recently visited Vietnam on a trip to solidify the relationship between the EU and Vietnam. The EU is Vietnam’s largest trading partner, and the Commissioner had nothing but praise for the country. She commented on the reform going on in Vietnam, and praised the improving economy as well. Ferrero-Waldner said of Vietnam, “Vietnam should also be commended for its great efforts and achievements in developing its economy and fighting poverty in recent years. The European Commission is fully committed to continue to support the country’s reform process to ensure that development benefits all parts of Vietnamese society.” The main purpose of the visit is to strengthen ties, increase trade and development support. The press release also refers to addressing human rights concerns, as well as the reduction of poverty, as a strategic priority. The press release in its entirety can be found online by clicking here.


Egyptian President Addresses CoptsApril 23, 2006

Cairo – In reference to the recent attacks on Coptic churches, President Mubarak addressed Copts, Agence France-Presse reported.

“Egypt is strong... and nobody can harm the unity that exists between Muslims and Christians,” Mubarak said.

One man was charged for the attacks and later deemed to be “mentally unstable,” which angered Copts. Some members of the Coptic community see religious discrimination, rather than mental instability, as the cause, and feel the government has failed to protect them.

Mubarak’s message was a reply to these concerns. “We will punish the culprits, acting with determination and the strength of law,” Mubarak said, condemning the attacks as “individual actions... seeking to sow discord between the sons of the nation.”

Click here for the full story.

Call for the US to Help Egyptian Christians

Jerusalem – The Coptic communities in Egypt and other places, including the U.S., are tired of the way they have been targeted, Christian news source CNSN News reports in the wake of recent violence. After the Alexandria church attacks, Copts are beginning to reflect just how upset they are. “The Copts in Egypt are fed up with the situation,” said Dr. Helmy Guirguis, president of the U.K. Coptic Association. “The Coptic clergy decided to stand up and not to bow their heads down anymore,” he said.

Coptic Christian leaders have called attention to the persecution of their people in Egypt. American Jewish leaders have also condemned the recent violence. Yet, they are abused and treated like second class citizens, says CNSN News. The prominent Egyptian Human Rights advocate Saad Eddin Ibrahim has documented 55 major attacks on Copts since President Mubarak came to power in 1981.

As the second highest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, Egypt should be pressured by the U.S. to treat its citizens equally, says Guirguis. Click here for the full story.

Roadblocks to Reform

April 26, 2006
According to a New York Times article, a group of small developing countries is trying to block Kofi Annan’s latest attempts to reform the outdated rules and procedures of the UN. The process of reform at the United Nations has been constantly met by resistance from different international factions. This most recent attempt comes from the Group of 77, representing 132 developing nations, as they believe the proposed reforms take too much power away from the General Assembly. Developing countries hold the vast majority of the power in the General Assembly and therefore are fighting to maintain that power, rather than have it transferred to the office of the Secretary General. The biggest issue at hand is the ability to make budgetary choices, which under Annan’s proposal would now become a power of his office. Very few countries disagree that there needs to be drastic management changes throughout the United Nations, but the developing countries see this as the beginning of the end for any power and say they may have in the decision-making process in the UN. The United States has long advocated reforms at the United Nations, and sees this potential for scrapping important reforms as a major setback in the attempt to retool the aging organization. And this time, they hope that the Group of 77 does not bring their proposal of scrapping these reforms to a vote by the entire General Assembly.
To read the entire article, click here.
To read an editorial from the New York Times on this issue, click here.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

New Information Minister Proposed for Afghanistan

April 25, 2006
Kabul –

Radio Free Europe reports that this week the Afghan Independent Journalists Union proposed Sayyed Hosayn Sancharaki to be the new minister of information, culture, and tourism. On April 20 the lower house of the national assembly rejected the president’s nominee, Sayyed Makhdum Rahin; the current information minister. Rahin has had conflicts with the conservative clergy over media limits. It is believed by the journalists union that Sancharaki for minister will be a leap towards democratization.

Iraq News Update

Iraqi Lawmakers End Months of Deadlock

April 22, 2006

Iraq's president formally designated Shiite politician Jawad Al-Maliki to form a new government Saturday after months of deadlock. Now there is a process of healing all of the wounds in Iraq, especially the ethnic and religious wounds. Violence continues, however and stabilizing the security situation remains the first priority.

According to AP and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports, that in addition to the appointment of Al-Maliki,

“Parliament elected President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, to a second term and gave the post of parliament speaker to Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a Sunni Arab. Al-Mashhadani's two deputies were to be Khalid al-Attiyah, a Shiite, and Aref Tayfour, a Kurd.”

“‘Those who will join the new government should realize that they are the ministers of the people and the homeland, and not the party. Second, ministers should have great efficiency, sincerity, and honesty in order to work as part of a team that will confront the developments and challenges’ of the government, [Al-Maliki] said. Al-Maliki added that he will choose ministers according to their relevant qualifications and professionalism.”

Human Rights Threats against Assyrians in Iraq

Dutch Parliamentarian Attiya Gamri was in Iraq two years ago to survey the human rights situation for Assyrians there; this year she went back with the hope of an improvement. However, she reports that the human rights situation has worsened.

According to the Women’s Alliance for a Democratic Iraq (WAFDI):

“A delegation of five Assyrians from the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands visited North Iraq last week in a fact finding mission to ascertain the condition of the Assyrian community. Spearheaded by Attiya Gamri, a member of the Dutch Parliament, and coming two years after her last visit, Gamri desired to see what the regional parliament of Kurdistan has done since the elections and to hear from Assyrians about their human rights situation in the region where the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has political power.”

“Gamri, an Assyrian from Turkey, met with officials of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, the principal Assyrian political party in Iraq, as well as 21 NGO's in the province of Nineveh, and asked them to collect facts about the human rights of the Assyrians in the province of Nineveh. She said, ‘I need a letter from every Assyrian village in Nineveh province about how many, where, why and whom has been discriminated against; we need this every year.’”

“In a meeting with Fuad M. Hussein, the KDP presidential chief of staff in Arbel, she communicated what she has seen and heard from the Assyrians. A few of the issues Ms Gamri discussed with Mr Hussein were:
  • Land problems in Sarsang, Dohuk and Arbil
  • Membership in the KDP required to secure government services
  • Assyrians are fearful of openly speaking or writing
  • Administrative rights of the Assyrians denied
  • Coercive and illegal treatment during the elections
  • A perception that a "new Saddam" in the person of Barzani is rising in Northern Iraq

Ms. Gamri asked Mr. Hussein how the KDP would address these issues; Mr. Hussein promised that he would bring them to the attention of President Barzani.”

New York Times: Iraq “In Search of a Secular, Nonsectarian Time”

April 23, 2006

Paradises in bloom inside high walls of Baghdad, a garden where people can socialize, dance, listen to music and have fun. The men and women are dressed in Western clothing, smiling, laughing and having fun while their children play. Outside of the walls more than 200 people have been killed in the city in the last week, mostly by suicide bombers. But inside of the gates of the Hunting Club there is love and happiness. And it was going to be like that forever, so they thought…

Robert F. Worth weaves an incredible story of two Iraq’s in the New York Times magazine. Below is an excerpt:

“In a sense, it is the members of these clubs — the residuum of Iraq's well-educated, relatively secular, Western-leaning professionals — on whose leadership the American invasion of 2003 was premised. These people did not identify themselves as Sunni or Shiite. They would re-emerge to form the core of a new Iraqi civil society, propelling the country toward democracy and away from religious extremism. Or so the theory went.”

“What has happened over the past three years is very nearly the opposite. To spend time at the clubs today is to witness the slow disintegration of Iraq's secular class. Energized at first by the fall of Hussein's police state, the clubs expelled their Baathist members and began luring back the old, aristocratic Baghdadi families who once dominated them. But now, with sectarian killings growing worse, the old all-night parties end at dusk. Some members have started defying the ban on carrying guns inside. More and more of them are fleeing the country for the safety of Jordan or the Persian Gulf states or Europe. Those who remain complain that the clubs — once the preserve of Baghdad's proudly cosmopolitan culture — are being taken over by a thuggish new generation of war profiteers. At the same time, the clubs are facing a new threat from Islamist politicians who see them as sinks of alcohol-fueled decadence and are trying to put them under strict state control.”

“It was Muala who led the effort to reclaim the club after the American invasion. In the first month after the Americans arrived, Ahmad Chalabi, the Pentagon-backed Iraqi exile, commandeered the grounds as a base for his political party. But he relinquished it after Muala and his friends, all of them longtime club members, showed up. (In December, Muala ran for Parliament with Chalabi's political party but failed, like Chalabi, to win a seat)”

“The club has already spent more than a billion dinars, or about $700,000, on rebuilding, money raised mostly through membership fees (about $700 a year per member). Muala is now planning to build a new outdoor restaurant, to replant all the gardens and to replace with something more tasteful the gaudy salons where Uday Hussein and his henchmen once partied. He is also hoping to expand the row of shops that already stand at the edge of the main lawn and add a bank branch. In the end, the club could become almost a self-sufficient world, sealed off from the madness in the streets outside.”

“To its members, the club is a unique refuge, a walled fortress with 22 armed guards in Mansour, Baghdad's wealthiest and best-protected area. To help insulate it from the violent currents of Iraqi life, Muala has applied strict rules. ‘No politics, no religion,’ he said. ‘We are not associated with anyone.’ It is one of the very few places in Iraq where sect really seems not to matter. The one thing the members all share is a more or less secular outlook.”

Click here for the full piece.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Attacks in Egypt Resort Town Coincide with Coptic Easter Holiday

Three explosions went off in the Egyptian resort town of Dahab, on the Sinai Peninsula, killing and wounding more than 100 casualties. The blasts took place at 7:15 p.m. in two cafeterias and a supermarket, CNN reported.

According to CNN's account, "Because of the Coptic Easter holiday, the resort town is crowded with tourists."

An AP report said that "the streets would have been jammed with tourists, mainly with Europeans, Israelis and expatriates living in Egypt."

Eyewitnesses reported seeing a bright light and hearing an explosion, then seeing people fleeing.

The town has long attracted foreign tourists. According to AP: "For years, Dahab was popular, low-key haven for young Western backpackers - including Israelis - drawn by prime scuba diving sites and cheap hotels, which mainly consisted of huts set up along the beach. In recent years, a number of more upscale hotels have been built, including a five-star Hilton resort."

Reuters reported that a local ambulance service official said many of the dead appeared to be foreigners.

For more on the attacks, follow the following links:




Washington Post Columnist: Bush Befriends Corrupt Governments

April 24, 2006

Soon President Bush will be welcoming someone who Washington Post writer Jackson Diehl dubbed in an editorial “the autocratic and corrupt but friendly ruler,” Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan.

Diehl called this welcome a tipping point, writing:

“At the heart of Bush's democracy doctrine was the principle that the United States would abandon its Cold War-era practice of propping up dictators -- especially in the Muslim world -- in exchange for easy access to their energy resources and military cooperation. That bargain, we now know, played a major role in the emergence of al-Qaeda and other extremist anti-Western movements.”

“To his credit, the reelected Bush made a genuine stab at a different strategy last year in Azerbaijan and another Muslim country, Kazakhstan. Both resemble Iran or Iraq half a century ago. They are rapidly modernizing, politically unsettled, and about to become very, very rich from oil and gas.”

Diehl continued:

“Both Aliyev and [Kazakhstan’s Nursultan] Nazarbayev made token efforts to please Bush. But both dismally failed to demonstrate that they were willing to liberalize their countries rather than using oil wealth to consolidate dictatorship. The State Department said of Aliyev's parliamentary elections, ‘there were major irregularities and fraud.’ Nazarbayev's election was worse. Since then, two of Nazarbayev's opponents have died or been murdered in suspicious circumstances. Three of Aliyev's foes are being tried this month on treason charges, and his biggest rival has been jailed.”
“Aliyev is nevertheless getting everything he might have hoped for from Bush. Aid is being boosted, the Pentagon is drawing up plans for extensive military cooperation -- and there is the White House visit, which the 44-year-old Azeri president has craved ever since he took over from his dad three years ago. If Nazarbayev chooses, he will be next. He has been offered not just a Washington tour but a reciprocal visit by Bush to Kazakhstan.”
Click here for the full story.

No Country Immune to Scourge of Trafficking

April 24, 2006

The United Nations reported today that no country is immune to human trafficking – virtually every nation is in some way affected by modern day slavery. All around the world people are affected by the horrifying crimes of human trafficking; millions of people are sold for sexual purposes and forced labor, with women and children at the greatest risk. The UN says governments need to do more to counter this global crisis.

“Governments need to get serious about identifying the full extent of the problem so they can get serious about eliminating it,” said UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa, noting that organized criminal gangs behind the trafficking are often multi-national in their membership and operations.

According to the UN:
“The UNODC report identifies 127 countries of origin, 98 transit countries and 137 destination countries. It shows that global efforts to combat trafficking are being hampered by a lack of accurate data, reflecting the unwillingness of some countries to acknowledge that the problem affects them.”
“The fact that this form of slavery still exists in the 21st century shames us all,” UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said in the report.
“He outlined three main challenges for governments:
• to reduce demand, whether for cheap goods manufactured in sweatshops, under-priced commodities produced by bonded people in farms and mines, or services provided by sex slaves;
• to target the criminals who profit from the vulnerability of people trying to escape from poverty, unemployment, hunger and oppression;
• to protect trafficking victims, especially women and children.”
“‘Protecting the victims may sound obvious, but in practice they are all too often treated as criminals who may face charges for violating immigration or anti-prostitution laws. Humane and sensitive treatment is not just a moral imperative - it also increases the likelihood that victims will overcome their understandable fear and testify against their abusers,’ he declared.”
Click here for the full article and for access to the Trafficking In Persons: Global Patterns report.


Not one woman nominated to Supreme Court
April 24, 2006
New York and Cambridge, Mass. –

Last month, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced his nominations for his cabinet and the Supreme Court. This was the first time that his nominations would be scrutinized by Parliament; last Thursday, the Parliament approved 20 of the 25 candidates for his cabinet, reports Christian Science Monitor.

Approval hearings are a supposed to be the beginning of a more democratic Afghanistan. However, Karzai failed to elect a single woman to the Supreme Court. Furthermore, he dropped all three female ministers from the last cabinet and nominated only one woman to the new cabinet, who was later rejected Thursday.

An aide to Karzai said women had won their place in parliament and provincial councils and no longer needed special appointments to the council. Sidelining qualified female candidates from the highest positions in government and the courts is discriminatory and fundamentally undemocratic, says CSMonitor, adding that, by excluding 50 percent of the population from decision making positions, Afghanistan is undermining its ability to capitalize on the full potential of its society. The role of women in government is actually regressing now. Click here for more information.

Maternal Death Rates Still High
April 20, 2006
Kabul –

Afghanistan is second in the world for the number of women who die in childbirth. 600 infants and 50 mothers die on an average day. AP reported that Karzai has called this his nation’s “great tragedy.”

Child mortality is also a big problem. 135 children die out of every 1,000.

“Our country is rebuilding itself with the help of the international community after almost three decades of conflict, war and infighting, and in every sector we have problems and challenges, particularly health,” said Dr. Abdul Salam, director of Indira Gandhi Hospital.

Most births are not attended by trained medical staffers. Many women will remain in their village, even during complications. And because most women are illiterate, pediatrician Dr. Hamid Mazin, says it poses a problem in which women do not know how to care for their children.

The goal of the Health Ministry is to train 12,000 health workers and 6,000 midwives by 2010. Click here to read more.

The Beauty Academy of Kabul
April 23, 2006

Detroit Free Press reported yesterday on the film “The Beauty Academy of Kabul,” which played in Detroit Sunday and Monday after it appeared at the Detroit Docs Film Festival.

Filmmaker Liz Mermin ("On Hostile Ground") was first attracted to the story because of its obvious clash of cultures. The movie documents the stories of the first graduating class of the beauty academy; students risked arrest by simply operating secret beauty parlors under the Taliban. There are interviews with the women, which focus on their desire to marry men they love and to someday become entrepreneurs. Click here to read more.

‘Progress in Afghanistan,’ says Defense Secretary
April 24, 2006
Ministry of Defense –

The Government News Network reports on the Secretary of State for Defense, John Reids and his current trip in Afghanistan. He has stated that “real and exciting progress has been made in Kabul.”

He visited the Officer Cadet School to talk to UK trainers. “The future of the country is in the hands of these young Afghans and I am proud of the UK's funding and support of these crucial projects,” he said.

Among other statistics, the report cites economic growth: “From a very low base after 2001, growth of 29% in 2002, 16% in 2003 and 8% in 2004.” Click here for the full story and more facts.

Leaving Islam is not Apostasy
April 2, 2006

M. Cherif Bassiouni of the Chicago Tribune gave evidence on why it is wrong to punish people for leaving Islam.

The Koran refers to religious conversions in the following passage: "And whoever of you turns [away] from his religion [Islam] and dies disbelieving, their works have failed in this world and the next [world]. Those are the inhabitants of fire: therein they shall dwell forever." Surat (chapter) Al-Ma'eda, verse 35. This verse does not criminalize the turning away from Islam, nor does it establish a penalty, Bassiouni argues.

The Koran is the last of God's divine revelations and it is specifically stated therein that Islam is the continuation of Judaism and Christianity. "We believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, and that which has been bestowed upon Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their descendants, and that which has been vouchsafed to Moses and Jesus; and that which has been vouchsafed to all the [other] prophets by their Sustainer: we make no distinction between any of them. And it is unto Him that we surrender ourselves." Surat Al-Baqarah, verse 136.

Bassiouni says Muslim scholars must respond to the negative press Islam is receiving and make a point to denounce foul actions in the name of Islam. Click here for the full story.