Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Gertrude Bell, a Masterful Spy and Diplomat

As reported by Jamie Tarabay for National Public Radio, today marks 80 years since one of Great Britain’s leading diplomats and spies, Gertrude Bell, was buried in Iraq. Bell was the first woman to receive a history degree at Oxford University and many consider her to be one of the most influential figures contributing to the founding of modern Iraq after World War I.

To read Bell’s written observations of Iraq and its people, click here

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Custody Over Artwork, A Threat to Freedom of Creation

As reported by the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) on July 5th , the Egyptian Parliament went beyond its assigned jurisdiction when it issued a statement demanding the removal of specific scenes from a film with political overtones.

The film, “Yacoubian Building,” was previously approved for viewing by the Egyptian Censorship, yet the Peoples Assembly (Parliament) decided to act as another censorship office and demanded the Culture and Media Committee to examine the film.

According to this piece,

“EOHR believes that this statement constitutes a drawback for freedom of expression and opinion, which contradicts with Article 47 of the Egyptian Constitution, which permits freedom of expression, and Article 49, which permits freedom of art and literature. This statement also contradicts with Egypt's international obligations, which is binding according to Article 151 of the Constitution, such as the ICCPR which furnished the freedoms of opinion, expression, thought and belief. This attitude makes the Parliament acts as a censorship on art, which is not one of the Parliaments jurisdictions.

“The Peoples Assembly should be viewing other issues which fall under its jurisdiction rather than acting as a censorship office. The role of the Parliament is to question the government when it restricts freedom of creativity and art, in stead of attacking these freedoms. Its worth-mentioning that in last June the Egyptian Parliament banned the American film " The Da Vinci Code", and the Minister of Culture ordered to confiscate the novel on which the film is based on baring the same title and written by Dan Brawn.

“EOHR reaffirms that putting artworks on trial from a political or a religious perspective is an omen for further political and religious restrictions on human thoughts, especially that politics and religion are always subjected to misinterpretation from those who enforce such restrictions, which are also human.”

To read this article in full, click here

Madeleine Albright: ‘Empowering Women is Crucial Step in Eradicating Terrorism’

In an article written by Tanya Goudsouzian for the Soma-Digest, Goudsouzian reports that women are the key to “eradicating the seeds of terrorism.” According to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, “the young men most susceptible to the call of terrorist groups are those who have no education and no sense of identity or dignity and who feel they have no future.”

“In many ways, if women are educated and empowered, they can impart this sense of identity and dignity to their children,” Albright says. Goudsouzian reports that Albright believes “that if developing countries put more emphasis on educating and economically empowering women, terrorism would find less fertile ground on which to flourish.”

On 11 June, “prominent women leaders from around the globe gathered to open the first conference of the Global Women’s Action Network for Children,” Goudsouzian reports. “The goal of the conference was to identify effective strategies to turn the tide on maternal and newborn mortality and ensure that girls everywhere have access to education.”

To read this article in full click here.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Egypt: Government Launches New Daily

As reported by Adnki online, Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) released the first issue of a new daily newspaper, the Al-Watani Al-Yom. A letter from Hosni Mubarak, published in this first edition, confirmed that the new daily will aid in the growth of freedom of expression.

The launching of Mubarak’s party sponsored newspaper comes one day after parliament passed a new press freedom law, which many independent journalist have been protesting the past couple of weeks. The law legalizes the imprisonment of journalists who write insults of public officials.

According to this piece,

“Top rights group Human Rights Watch on Tuesday criticised the newly amended press law ‘which mandates prison sentences for insulting public officials in the media, and still has numerous restrictions on press freedom that clearly violate international standards.’

“HRW also slated remaining provisions in the law that criminalise insults to the resident of a foreign heads of states - punishable by 6-60 months in prison or fines ranging form 870-5,220 dollars.

“Ibrahim Issa, editor of the popular opposition weekly al-Dustur, who was last month sentenced to one year in jail for “insulting the president” and “spreading false or tendentious rumours,” described Egypt''s Penal Code as ‘a minefield for journalists.’”

“In 2004, Mubarak pledged that no journalist in Egypt would go to prison solely for what they write.”

To read this article in full, click here

Strike Shuts 25 Egyptian Newspapers; Law at Issue

As reported by the Associated Press, twenty-five Egyptian newspapers went on strike on Sunday to protest Mubarak’s and the legislature’s support to renew a law that fines and imprisons journalists on counts of defamation. This law will punish journalists who publish articles that cite “the finances of public figures, criticism of public institutions, and ‘offending’ Egypt’s leadership,” the AP reported. In addition to going on strike, 200 Egyptian journalists convened in front of the parliament building to draw attention to the issue of renewing this law.

Expressing his concern in front of the parliament building, Sahar Ramadan was quoted in the article stating that ‘[the law] will shut mouths and break pens…Criminals will remain on the streets, while journalists go to jail.’

To read this article in full, click here

50 Buddhist Clergy Demonstrate in Hanoi

As reported by International Buddhist Information Bureau, on July 6th over fifty monks and nuns participated in a protest held outside the People’s Supreme Organ of Supervision and Control in Hanoi. The demonstration was the first time members of the Buddhist clergy have protested in the capital over human rights concerns.

The recent death of the Buddhist monk, Very Venerable Thich Duc Chinh, was the main issue that sparked the demonstration; Chinh was beaten to death while in prison. In addition, the protest was held to draw attention to the unfair arrests and subsequent mistreatment of other Buddhist monks and Buddhist followers that have been occurring since 2003.

According to this piece,

“Venerable Thich Tam Thuong, 33, told foreign media correspondents that nine Buddhists (four monks, four lay-men and one lay-woman) were arrested by Police in Bac Giang province in late 2003 and early 2004 on false accusations of stealing 27 Buddhist statues. Police brutally tortured the men to extract “confessions.” 70-year-old Very Venerable Thich Duc Chinh (secular name Phan Huu Huong) died in Xa Prison, Bac Giang as a result of severe beatings. ‘We eight people were beaten in different ways,’ said Thich Tam Thuong. ‘They hung me up and beat me on the chest, in the stomach and even the genitals.’ Thich Nguyen Kien, 44, was stripped naked and beaten on the genitals. He was also suspended by his feet, and Police smashed his head against the wall. Lay-Buddhist Pham Manh Hung, 37, was handcuffed and suspended, and showed media correspondents the scars on his wrists. ‘They forced us to plead guilty’ said lay-Buddhist Duong Phuc Thinh.

“These recent acts of religious persecution, as well as on-going harassment of members of 13 UBCV Provincial Representative Boards justifies Vietnam’s designation by the US State Department’s as a “Country of Particular Concern” for violations of religious freedom.”

To read this article in full, click here

Turkey is Encouraged by UNICEF to Teach in Kurdish

As reported by Emma Ross-Thomas for the Turkish Daily News, “the United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) deputy chief urged Turkey to try out teaching its Kurdish children in Kurdish.” Thomas reports that “speaking Kurdish in public used to be forbidden in Turkey and although bans on broadcasting have been eased in line with demands from the European Union, it remains a highly charged political issue.”

“International examples have indicated that it would improve educational standards if children were taught in their mother tongue,” Thomas reports. Turkey has a “primary education enrolment ratio of 90 percent, which slumps to 55 percent in secondary school,” Thomas reports, and “literacy rates stand at 95 percent for men and 80 percent for women.” However, “those figures hide a huge divide between prosperous western Turkey and the poor mainly Kurdish southeast,” reports Thomas.

In her report Thomas says that “for decades Ankara denied the existence of the Kurds as an ethnic group.” The European Union, which started accession talks with Turkey last year, has “criticized Turkey for not doing enough for Kurdish cultural rights,” she says.

To read this article in full click here.

Majority of Afghan Girls Are Not in School

Paul McGeough reports for The Sydney Morning Herald that “more than 200 schools have been attacked since early last year,” and that “the attacks have left entire districts without schools, teachers and educational aid groups.” He reports that “Taliban brutality is forcing thousands of children to stay at home in fear for their lives or to face years in front of a blackboard in dilapidated tents.”

According to the report, “a senior education official in Kabul named three establishment members among ‘influential figures’ whose involvement in land grabs around the capital had blocked the building of 20 schools for which international funds had been allocated.”

McGeough says that “the media has reported extensively on educational advances in Afghanistan,” but that “the majority of girls in the country are still not at school and one-third of districts do not have girls’ schools.” In his article McGeough reports that “insecurity, social resistance and insufficient resources are partly to blame for the crisis.”

McGeough says that in Qualala Pushta, one of Kabul’s wealthier suburbs, “hundreds of girls are being schooled under canvas because housing developers associated with Qayum Karzai, a brother of the President, had commandeered the land on which their school was to be built.”

To read this article in full click here.

Children Become Brides in Afghanistan

In an article written by Barry Bearak for the New York Times, Bearak describes a tradition in Afghanistan that uses the term ‘child bride’ in the most literal sense. He reports that “a child bride is very often just that: a child, even a preteen, her innocence betrothed to someone older, even much, much older.”

Bearak describes the marriage as a “transaction between families rather than a willing union between a man and a woman.” A girl is very valuable in the Afghan society. “In her parents’ home, a girl can till fields, tend livestock and cook meals,” Bearak reports. However, “she is more useful in her husband’s home because she can bear children.”

“The practice of early marriage stems as much from entrenched culture as from financial need,” Bearak reports. “Bridal virginity is a matter of honor. Afghan men want to marry virgins, and their parents prefer to yield their daughters before misbehavior or abduction has brought the family shame and made any wedding impossible.”

Bearak reports that “husbands are not ordinarily old enough to be their wives’ fathers or grandfathers, but such couples are hardly rare.” He says that “in such marriages, the man is likely to view the age difference as a fair bargain, his years of experience in exchange for her years of fecundity.” For these young brides, “marriage will end her opportunities for schooling and independent work.”

To read this article and see pictures of child brides click here.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Iraqi Woman Enters Army

A recent Newsweek article written by Sarah Childress describes a young woman, Shahla, who has always wanted to enter the Iraqi army, however, under Saddam Hussein’s regime, was never able to do so. When Saddam was overthrown in 2003, Shahla registered with the army and is now a first lieutenant.

Excerpts from Childress’s interview with Shahla:

Childress: Why did you decide to join the Army?
Shahla: I like the army, and I like my country. I've been through many dangerous situations, but everybody must make sacrifices. It's hard, because in our community, it's very difficult for women to prove themselves in the army. You hear that the army's only for men. Before, during Saddam's time, women in the army could only be doctors. They didn't recognize their rank. Now, we see the difference. Now, they respect us. Now they call us by our ranks.

How does your family feel about your enlistment?
I've never been in the army without family support. It's often difficult to convince families in this situation.

Is sectarianism a problem in the army?
At the beginning, no. But it's increasing. I've seen conflicts. Things happen, and you're supposed to act out against a mosque or husseiniya [another name for a Shiite mosque]. You have to, because bad people use these places for kidnapping and torture. But [a few soldiers may] refuse. We talk with them, and tell them that it's not the end of the world. It's for Iraq, for security and freedom.

What do you like about being in the army?
We're chasing the terrorists. It makes me proud of myself. [My commanders] trust me. They trust my judgment.

To read more of the interview click here.

The Value of an Iraqi Life

In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, Andrew J. Bacevich says that an Iraqi’s life has a different value than that of an American. Bacevich believes that the U.S. has an “aversion to body counts.” He says that “we tally every U.S. service member who falls in Iraq, but only in recent months have military leaders finally begun to count—for internal use only—some of the very large numbers of Iraqi noncombatants whom American bullets and bombs have killed.”

In his piece, Bacevich wonders “how many innocent Iraqi’s have died at American hands…because of accidents and errors?” He believes that “the military does not know,” and “until recently, has publicly professed no interest in knowing.” Bacevich then wonders “who bears the responsibility of these Iraqi deaths?” He admits that there are “no easy answers,” but that we “ought to acknowledge that in launching a war advertised as a high-minded expression on U.S. idealism, we have waded into a swamp of moral ambiguity.”

“The insurance payout to the beneficiaries of an American soldier who dies in the line of duty in $400,000,” Bacevich says, “while in the eyes of the U.S. government, a dead Iraqi civilian is reportedly worth up to $2,500.” He writes that “our actions in Iraq continue to convey the impression that civilian lives are not worth all that much.”

Bacevich believes “that impression urgently needs to change.” He says that “the Pentagon must get over its aversion to counting all bodies,” and that “it needs to measure in painstaking detail the mayhem we are causing as a byproduct of what we call liberation.” Bacevich adds that “unless we demonstrate by our actions that we value their lives as much as the lives of our own troops, our failure is certain.”

To read this op-ed piece in full click here.

Misconceptions on the Insurgency in Iraq

Lori Mylroie of the New York Sun reports that there are a variety of misconceptions that the American public have about the Iraqi insurgency. “Americans generally see the enemy in religious terms, dominated by Islamic militants, such as the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,” she says. For Iraqis “the principal enemy is the former regime, and the central issue is not so much religion, but power and authority.”

In her article, Mylroie reports that the new Iraqi government has just released a list of the top 41 individuals involved in the insurgency there. “Iraq’s most wanted list is dominated by Baathists,” Mylroie reports. An Iraqi intelligence officer confirmed this report, saying that “Baathists were responsible for the violence, whether directly or indirectly, through their penetration of al Qaeda.”

“Iraqi officials—who know their own society far better than Americans—maintain that if they can defeat the Baathists, the jihadis will be relatively easy to deal with.” Mylroie says that “Americans need to pay attention to what Iraqi officials say and do, not only for the consequences inside Iraq, but also for the implications of the broader war on terrorism.”

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