Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, June 23, 2006

Kurdish Students Believe There is Hope for the Future of Iraq

As reported by Margaret Besheer on KurdMedia.com, students at Salaheddin University in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq say they are “hopeful about their futures.” Besheer reports that Sumaya, a 22-year-old student living in a girls-only dormitory, “believes she will have a brighter future than her parents,” who were among the thousands of Kurds who fled to Iran, Turkey and Syria under Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Besheer reports that Sumaya believes she has seen great changes in Kurdistan since the fall of Saddam’s regime. “They [Kurds] have come back to their country, and they use their money here and make buildings,” says Sumaya. She also describes how people are free to move between cities, something that was not allowed under Saddam’s regime.

The students do express concerns, however, about the quality of their education and their ability to find jobs after they graduate, Besheer says. “Many of the students do not speak Iraq’s principal language, Arabic, because they were raised in neighboring countries,” Besheer reports and this is why there is a cause for concern. “Many say they are likely to go abroad to complete their educations and work.”

To read this article in full click here.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

DoD Zero Tolerance on Prostitution/Trafficking Hearing

House Armed Services Committee and House International Relations Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations and Subcommittee on Military Personnel

Joint hearing on the Department of Defense Implementation of Zero-Tolerance for Human Trafficking

This hearing was co-chaired by Congressmen John McHugh (R-New York) and Chris Smith (R-New Jersey).

The military and prostitution share a long history, and no country's armed services are exempt. Women, children, and men have long been trafficking victims, forced into prostitution for the gratification and “comfort” of soldiers during times of peace and war. Since 2002, the United States military worked initially to stop American soldiers from creating a demand for trafficking persons, and now to end all engagement in sexual exploitation of any kind.
In 2002 Congressman Chris Smith began talking about issues of prostitution and trafficked women surrounding American military bases in South Korea. Through the efforts of Congressman Smith, high-ranking officers in South Korea, and the Bush Administration, great strides were made to keep American servicemen from encouraging the human trade. After sowing the seeds of success there, the U.S. military had to deal with military contractors in Bosnia purchasing women and children for sexual exploitation. This past spring issues of private contractors in Iraq using trafficked laborers surfaced when twelve trafficked Nepalese men died while working for private contractors.
The panel for the hearing included Ambassador John Miller, director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking at the State Department, Thomas Gimble, Inspector General, Gail McGinn, Acting Principle Deputy Under Secretary of Defense of Personnel and Readiness, and USAF Colonel Robert Boyle, former Principle Assistant Responsible for Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, all from the Department of Defense.
Ambassador Miller's opening statement touched on some of the issues that are raised by the crime of trafficking: human rights, health and safety, security. He insisted on strict policies by the Defense Department because of the long history of prostitution connected with military deployments. While the military made a big step when it made participation in trafficking a crime, it is not reasonable to expect a soldier or sailor to be able to distinguish a trafficked prostitute from a “legal” participant. Ambassador Miller applauded the newest step by the DOD in criminalizing any participation in sexual exploitation, thus removing the onus of recognizing trafficking victims. With upwards of ninety percent of prostitutes preferring another vocation, even “willing” workers in the flesh trade are likely victims in some form. The military recognized this, Ambassador Miller said, and made a powerful statement to our troops and militaries across the globe.
Ms. McGinn spoke to the new training modules that are used with members of the U.S. military to recognize and help trafficking victims. The next step includes human trafficking-specific training for commanders and criminal investigation personnel. These and other new tools will help stop abuses by private contractors in places like Iraq as well as with servicemen and women. In a powerful statement about how serious they are about trafficking and prostitution, the Unified Code of Military Justice has been updated to include the act of patronizing a prostitute as a chargeable offense.
Mr. Gimble spoke a little about the efforts of the past four years to curb military involvement and support of human trafficking in South Korea, Bosnia, and Kosovo. It has been necessary to “foster behavioral changes” in military personnel and contractors because of the long held belief that “boys will be boys.”
Both Mr. Gimble and Colonel Boyle spoke to the new requirements in all private contracts paid for by U.S. taxpayers. Third country nationals (TCN) employed by private contractors must be allowed to hold their own passports (common practice is to collect and hold them for “safe-keeping”), may terminate their work contracts with no penalty, be given a copy of employment contracts which include compensation, and, in an unprecedented step, be housed in quarters with no less than fifty square feet per person. Additionally, all contractors must comply with the host country's entry and exit rules for foreign nationals. While these may sound like rudimentary requirements, many TCN's are not given any of these things when they work in foreign lands.
Not only do all new contracts include these requirements, but many existing ones have been modified to do so. When contractors fail to meet these requirements or do not agree to the new conditions, the Defense Department has threatened to terminate existing projects and not use specific contractors again. These threats have encouraged private contractors to comply, at least in writing, to the DOD's new rules.
The key to enforcement of all contracts is constant inspection. It is necessary to check up on contractors in order to make sure of compliance. While no one went so far as to say that our contractors are “bad actors” (as called by Congressman Snyder (D-Arkansas) in his question), the witnesses acknowledged the need to force contractors to look out for TCN workers' rights.
Although the witnesses from the Defense Department were commended for their new policies, the Congressmen and women at the hearing pointed out holes in the current systems. Many questions about exact numbers of prosecutions and the ability to prosecute were left unanswered due to a lack of knowledge. Congressman McHugh said that a strong message must be sent through prosecutions of infractions; Colonel Boyle acknowledged that contractors in Iraq have not been prosecuted, only threatened with termination of contracts, and there are no numbers available for prosecutions of military personnel for consortium with prostitutes. Congressman Smith pointed out that new laws make offenders eligible for life sentences if convicted of trafficking offenses, but again there has not been any kind of prosecution despite the DOD's supposedly hardline stance.
Everyone present commented on the groundbreaking changes that the U.S. military is making in combating trafficking. Many other militaries around the world have only laughed at such changes; U.N. Peacekeepers have been at the heart of trafficking and prostitution scandals for a few years with little change made due to bureaucracy. Congressman Smith asked directly for help form the Pentagon in encouraging other militaries to take a stronger stance against prostitution and the natural byproduct, human trafficking.
Congresswoman Davis (California) asked hard questions about the new training modules for military personnel. As of now, Ms. McGinn reported, only troops preparing to deploy are receiving training in anti-trafficking/anti-prostitution sensitivity. Considering the problems within this country and that Mexico is a Tier 2 (watch list) country in the State Department's 2006 Trafficking In Persons Report, Congresswoman Davis pushed for a shorter time line in implementing training for all troops.
All Representatives at the hearing congratulated the Defense Department for their strides in stopping modern-day slavery. There is no doubt that our military is years ahead of most of the rest of the world, but there are still many holes to patch. Reporting mechanisms are not in place and, despite the sincere new laws, there seems to be a hesitation to aggressively prosecute under them.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

World Refugee Day

Today, June 20, is World Refugee Day. The United Nation (UN) reports that many countries and regions have been holding their own Refugee Days, in some cases, lasting for weeks. The African Refugee Day, one of the most prominent and widespread, is celebrated on June 20. As an expression if solidarity with Africa, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution relating to refugees in Africa and was decided then, that “from 2001, June 20 would be celebrated as World Refugee Day.”

Jeff Koinange, CNN Senior Africa Correspondent, who has spent years covering events from Africa, gave his reflections on working with refugees in Africa. Mr. Koinange shared the story of a Liberian refugee named Marcus Sawyer who was “once a wealthy attorney in Monrovia,” and “owned holiday homes in South Africa, an apartment in the south of France, and real estate in Dubai.” Mr. Koinange described the day when Mr. Sawyer lost his wealth: “One day rebels invaded the capital and Sawyer, his family and thousands of Liberians were forced to flee and seek refuge in the city’s soccer stadium. Suddenly it was home to more than 50,000 internally displaced people and would be Sawyer’s new residence for the next six months.” Mr. Koinange said that the last time he saw Mr. Sawyer, “he had become a shell of his old self—dejected, depressed and despondent.”

Christiane Amanpour, CNN Chief International Correspondent and former refugee, has devoted her life to covering war, crisis, poverty, famine and, as she states, “their inevitable byproduct: refugees.” Amanpour discussed the ongoing crisis in Darfur, describing it as “appalling and getting worse.” The Janjaweed, a Sudanese government-backed Arab militia, “has kept a reign of terror in the Western region of Darfur.” According to Amanpour, “nearly 2 million people are crowded into camps where health and food crises are rampant.” Amanpour, however, is encouraged by some good news: “The number of refugee’s around the world has dropped to a 36-year low. But the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is caring for more people—21 million, mostly because of the worlds internally placed refugees, such as in Sudan.”

According to the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, Egypt is a host to refugees from over 35 other nationalities. While the exact number here is unknown, Palestinians are estimated to number 50,000 and 60% of the refugee population is the Sudanese.
The United States Committee for Refugees reports that in Iraq, as of 2000, there were more than 127,700 refugees and about 700,000 internally displaced persons. Many of the refugees in Iraq include roughly 23,900 from Iran and 12,600 from Turkey – in both cases, mostly Kurds. There were also some 90,000 Palestinians and 1,200 refugees of other nationalities.
The Human Rights Watch reports that as of September 2005 there were close to a million Afghans in Afghanistan alone who are displaced. 3.7 million refugees who have fled the conflict in Afghanistan over the past two decades are currently living in neighboring countries – 1.5 million in Iran and more than 2 million in Pakistan.
The U.N. High Commission for Refugees estimates that in Vietnam there is a population of 349,800 refugees.

To read more about World Refugee Day and how you can help click here.

2006 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report Briefing and Hearing

As Chairman, Chris Smith (R-New Jersey) began the briefing by speaking about the efforts of the US Congress and State Department to not only end human trafficking abroad but also to curd its growth inside of this country. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act, first passed in 2000, was updated again in 2005 with an emphasis on reducing the demand for trafficked persons, mainly women and children. The renewal also offers an additional $361 million over the next two years to aid in international human trafficking prevention and prosecution.
Chairman Smith happily introduced the importance in the 2006 Trafficking In Persons Report on forced labor and modern-day slavery. This issue was the deciding factor for many countries' Tier 3 or Tier 2 (watch list) ranking. Despite this new emphasis, India received a better rating than it should have in light of the number issues with bonded labor within her borders. Chairman Smith, referencing India's Tier 2 (watch list) ranking, decried the introduction of politics into the ranking system, calling the “watch list” a place to “hide our friends.”
Germany's behavior prior to the FIFA World Cup is another example of Chairman Smith's political rankings. Germany has legalized prostitution with the intention of regulating it. According to statistics, over seventy-five percent of the “legal” prostitutes are induced into sexual exploitation and abused in their “jobs.” An estimated 40,000 women will be brought into Germany's large cities for the World Cup games, a number that can in no way claim to all be legal, willful participants. During the questioning of Ambassador Miller of the State Department, the issue of German prostitution became a hot topic of discussion.
After the introductions, Ms. Julia Ormond, an actress and human rights activist, spoke as the United Nations Goodwill ambassador for Human Trafficking. Ambassador Ormond thanked the United States for its recent contribution of $2 million to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime for the pursuit of traffickers. With this international law enforcement effort that has recently gained the world's attention, there is a great need to stop trafficking without disregard for cultural history and diversity, she emphasized.
The majority of Ambassador Ormond's speech revolved around adding a new “P” to the three “P’s” of the effort against trafficking in persons. Joining prosecution, protection, and prevention, she argued, must be prioritization. Only governments are able to really change the tide, because only they have the ability to prosecute the traffickers and change the situations that contribute to the growth of the industry. One example of the positive changes brought about by proper government priorities can be seen in Thailand. In an effort to slow the trafficking of poor, rural, uneducated girls, the Thai government has reached out and begun a better system of schooling for these girls. The results were almost immediate; trafficking numbers not only ceased to rise but began to fall as a result.
Ambassador Ormond emphasized the need to have a solid system to prosecute the traffickers that does not rely wholly on the survivors. There is a great amount of danger in such reliance, as the victims are intimidated and threatened into silence. Many countries also have a history of persecuting the victims for their role in prostitution or using forged documents, the result of which is only more severe damage to the survivors and no steps to end the real crime of human trafficking.
The education of both potential victims and survivors is a key issue in the battle against human trafficking. Secular and faith-based organizations have taken initiative in this field with good results stemming from both. Because of the circular pattern of victim-hood, outreach and rehabilitation for survivors is of the utmost important. There are many examples of formerly trafficked women returning to their homes only to “recruit” new girls for bonded work or prostitution.
Hagar, a Cambodian anti-trafficking NGO, is an example of a group that is making significant headway against trafficking in people. Ambassador Ormond praised their holistic approach to the issue. The NGO not only educates potential victims but also potential traffickers; for both segments of the population the introduction of other options is where a promising change is made. Hagar does not make recommendations and then move on; they visit and re-visit villages building and maintaining a relationship with both sides of the potential crime.
Ambassador Ormond finished her statements with a pointed request to the US government, saying that that UN wanted to work with the United States on the trafficking issue.
After Ambassador Ormond's testimony, Ambassador John Miller, the State Department's Ambassador at large for Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery, spoke and answered questions. In his introduction to the 2006 report, Ambassador Miller acknowledged the problem of human trafficking inside the US and focused on the issue of bonded labor, or modern-day slavery. He reiterated the point made by Chairman Smith that a few countries received lower ranking this year because of the new emphasis on bonded labor issues. Countries like the Czech Republic, who have worked on their anti-trafficking laws, did not make much progress at all in the bonded labor issue, and according to some reports, actually exacerbated the problem through a partnership with the North Korean government.
Another important aspect of the bonded labor issue involves trafficking of persons within a single country's borders. While it does not receive the same level of attention, countries like India and Jordan have very high rates of internal trafficking affecting tens of thousands of individuals. In India, generation after generation is often held in bonded servitude with no possibility of release. While there are laws against such confinement, there has been little prosecution of the slave masters.
The concern about forced labor was later echoed by Sharon Cohn of the International Justice Mission in her discussion of the manipulation of many trafficking victims. An overhauling of laws is not necessary, Ms. Cohn argued, because slavery is illegal in all forms. Unlike the abolitionist movements of two hundred years ago, there is not a legal change but a new level of enforcement necessary to help the victims around the world.
In order to properly rank countries, the ambassador went on, it is necessary to look not just at laws but at the rate of prosecution and the nature of sentences. Many countries have made progress in their written codes, but many traffickers who appear in court receive very light or suspended sentences for their severe crimes. Human trafficking, Ambassador Miller explained, is essentially just a euphemism for kidnapping, beating, false imprisonment, and rape, and these charges all deserve harsh judgments passed on the perpetrators.
Acknowledging the involvement of militaries in sexual exploitation and human trafficking, Ambassador Miller discussed the commitment made recently by the US military to a zero tolerance policy of involvement in prostitution. This change comes as there is significant evidence that the UN Peacekeepers are not only complacent but are actually encouraging and aiding in human trafficking. Prince Said of Jordan, who wrote an extensive report for the UN Secretary-General, is quoted saying that there is “zero compliance with [the] zero tolerance” policy in place for Peacekeepers. The Department of Defense is hoping to keep the same from being true of US forces and independent contractors through changes in the military codes of conduct and close policing.
The ambassador pointed out that the purpose of the TIP Report is not to punish those countries that are not doing enough in the modern day abolitionist movement but to bring about action. The threat of imposing sanctions is made intending to bring attention to the subject of human trafficking not in the hopes of following through with the sanctions. In some cases the threat of decreased economic aid has worked; the 2006 TIP Report shows that twenty-eight countries improved their rankings through stronger laws and policing efforts. On the other side, twenty-three countries fell in their rankings some of whom likely suffered from the stronger emphasis placed on bonded labor issues. As the issue of human trafficking is better understood, it is reasonable to expect greater levels of compliance and action.
The hearing next hears the stories of two educated Russian women who survived being trafficked for prostitution in Germany. Both women were lured to Western Europe by the offer of better-paying jobs; once there they were forced to prostitute themselves. One of the survivors escaped her imprisonment only to be detained by Dutch authorities for having a falsified passport. Both women escaped their ordeals and returned to Russia through the help of the Angel Coalition, a Russian NGO dedicated to aiding women who were victimized by human traffickers. Both women spoke strongly against legalized prostitution as it encourages trafficking of women and children. They also decried the on-going victimization of trafficked persons in the legal system that is ill-equipped to help survivors prosecute their abductors and then rehabilitate.

U.S. Competes With China for Vietnam’s Allegiance

As reported by Jane Perlez of the New York Times, Vietnam’s fast paced emergence as an economic power in East Asia has sparked the interest of two major world players: China and the United States.

The Vietnamese leaders have expressed that although they are ideologically aligned with Beijing, they fear that developing close economic ties with China may lead to uncontrollable Chinese influence within the country.

United States leaders are aware of Vietnam’s worry. Recent visits by Donald Rumsfeld and Bill Gates indicate that the US is actively seeking close economic ties with Veitnam so that they can contain Chinese economic power together.

Beyond the economic ties, the relationship between the US and Vietnam still has its fair share of obstacles. Many in Washington are still troubled by the poor human rights record in Vietnam and there are numerous Vietnamese-Americans who strongly oppose the Hanoi government.

According to this piece,

“Two-way trade between the United States and Vietnam rose to nearly $8 billion last year — from less than $1 billion in 2001 — most of it shrimp, clothes and shoes exports for American shoppers.

“Not to be outdone, the Chinese commerce minister, Bo Xilai, said in a visit here this month that trade between Vietnam and China could reach $10 billion in 2006, an increase of almost 40 percent from 2005.

“In one of the most significant new American investments, Intel chose Ho Chi Minh City as the site of a $600 million microchip plant that will begin production in 2008. With Vietnam's membership in the World Trade Organization expected in the fall, scouts for American banks, and insurance and telecommunications companies are knocking on doors here, poised to invest.

“China's investments have been mostly in raw materials like coal and bauxite, and in building roads and rails that will connect the long coast of Vietnam to southern China.

“One of the nation's best known new entrepreneurs, Ly Qui Trung, 40, opened a noodle soup store three years ago and now has 33 outlets with distinctive décor and polite service, all modeled on McDonald's.

“Called Pho 24, after the national dish of noodles, beef, spices and greens served in an aromatic broth, the stores earn their franchisees up to $40,000 a year, Mr. Trung says, a handsome income in Vietnam.

“ ‘I use the method of McDonald's: everything is standardized, everything is uniform,’ he said. ‘It's nine steps from taking the order to serving the food to saying goodbye.’ ”

To read the article in full, click here

Monday, June 19, 2006

Human Rights Council a “new chance” for UN, Annan says

BBC News reported today on the opening session of the UN Human Rights Council, the replacement body for the Human Rights Commission. Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan addressed HRC’s members, saying, “I implore you not to let the opportunity be squandered.”

He continued:

“The eyes of the world – especially the eyes of those whose human rights are denied, threatened or infringed – are turned towards this chamber and this council.”

According to Imogen Foulkes, a correspondent for BBC in Geneva, “the hope is that the new council will be more democratic, less politicized, and more effective in upholding human rights.”

The article notes that “many human rights groups believe it has the potential to be much more effective than the old 53-member commission, which had members whose own rights records were suspect.” Countries that have a poor human rights record tried for election and succeeded. These include China, Cuba, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.

BBC notes that the United States was against the council’s creation, “arguing it did not go far enough to prevent countries with bad rights records from winning seats.” However, it did not rule out joining in the future.

To read this article in full click here.

Talabany Touts Positive Developments in Iraq

In a speech given last week at the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) by Qubad Talabany, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) Representative to the U.S. in Washington, Talabany “assessed current developments in Iraq, most notably Iraq’s new government and the challenges it faces.” In his speech Talabany gave analysis and offered the Kurdish view on the situation.

In his speech Talabany also discussed the formation of Iraq’s national unity government, which he said, is “as inclusive as it possibly could be.” He believes “the process of forming the unity government was both important to Iraq’s fledgling democracy and productive in that the government includes all the major Iraqi players and political movements.”

He added that positive developments, politically and economically, are evident in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. The Kurdish National Assembly “will soon pass a liberal business and investment law, which should encourage outside investment and promote sustainable economic growth in the near future.”

Talabany also discussed how “the unification of the two Kurdish administrations in Iraqi Kurdistan has greatly impacted the moral of Iraq’s Kurdish community,” and that the KRG is “working hard to continue developing the Kurdish region, politically and economically.”

In his speech Talabany also gave warnings about a post-war Iraq. He says that “post-war Iraq is polarized and split along sectarian and ethnic lines,” and as such, “the chance of creating a strong central government is looking less and less likely each day.” Talabany went on to call for the “institutionalization of the federalist structure outlined in the country’s constitution.”

Tackling corruption in Iraq is also going to be a major task of the new government, Talabany believes. He says that it “must be a priority because the problem is deep and wide.” Talabany says “the people deserve better,” and the “government must be institutionalized and accountable with the mechanisms that impose checks and balances.”

In his closing remarks, Talabany “expressed hope that the new national unity government will work in a cohesive way to bring stability and prosperity to Iraq.”

To read this article in full click here.