Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Thursday, July 20, 2006

“We are here today to say ‘enough’”: The U.S. Reaction to the Horrors Faced by North Korean Refugees

July 19, 2006

North Korean refugees appeared at a Senate press conference sponsored by Senator Sam Brownback on Wednesday, describing to members of the press the horrors they endured while imprisoned or after trying to escape North Korea. Kim Jong-Il’s catastrophic reign of terror was discussed in relation to basic human rights concerning North Koreans. Brownback and Representative Joseph Pitts began by introducing the issues at hand and talking about how the United States wishes to get involved.

Because so many millions of North Koreans are starving, suffering, and dying, Brownback discussed a multi-lateral framework in which a Bipartisan coalition can be formed in order to meet to address human rights, and to achieve the U.S. government’s long-term goal of spreading democracy all over the world, specifically within the South Korean Peninsula.

When the North Korean refugees entered the room, they were limiting their identities as much as possible by wearing hats and sunglasses and some even covering their faces with their hands. They spoke of their imprisonments and the torture they experienced and answered questions about the violations of their basic human rights. One crucial fact that was discussed was the two identified sins in North Korea which were defined as 1). trying to flee the nation, and 2). believing in God.

One refugee, “Joseph”, briefly discussed his experiences. He was sent to prison in China as a North Korean refugee and found no protection under the laws there. He was brutally tortured—“they twisted my fingers with pliers”—and starved. Another refugee spoke of how many went so hungry they resorted to cannibalism.

Without the courage of those refugees to describe the unbearable atrocities they underwent, the U.S. would not have as much knowledge to initiate a mission of protection for the North Koreans in need.

Representative Joseph Pitts reiterated the horrors faced by North Koreans: the women who are trafficked, sold as sex slaves, raped, and abused, and the men who go to prison camps, who are starved and tortured, and who are oppressed. The United States has come to accept those persecuted and in need of help. Thus, Pitts articulated his innermost thoughts in support of those in danger: “We are here today to stand in solidarity. We are here today to say ‘enough’. ‘Enough’.”

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Fundamentalism fears: Egyptian artists worry about growing Islamic fervor in Egypt

As reported by Jack Epstein for the San Francisco Chronicle, film-makers, writers and other artists in Egypt are noticing new trends in restrictions on their freedom of artistic expression. According to Epstein, while most would assume the majority of the censorship is coming from Mubarak’s government, there is also strong opposition coming from the Egyptian people themselves—specifically, the Egyptian Islamic Fundamentalists.

According to this piece,

“She found the death threat pinned to her car. The words ‘Your destiny’ were scrawled near guns pointed at a photo of Anwar Sadat, Egypt's assassinated president.

“It wasn't the first time Egyptian fundamentalists had tried to intimidate Inas al-Degheidy, Egypt's first female movie director, whose films typically depict heroines struggling against social discrimination and sexual exploitation.

“‘When I began making films in the 1980s, I didn't have many problems,’ she says. ‘Fundamentalism hadn't taken hold yet. Now, 10 percent of Egyptians like me. The other 90 percent want to kill me.’

“Degheidy, 52, and many other Egyptian artists say they worry about growing Islamic fundamentalism in a nation long known for being a cultural and secular center in the Arab world.
“In recent years, hundreds of plays, films, novels and academic works have come under scrutiny by religious authorities, who have been given increasing authority over schools, radio, television and publishing houses by President Hosni Mubarak with the understanding that they will support him against the rising influence of militant Islam, many observers say.

“Indeed, an Islamic revival is sweeping across Egypt.”

To read this article in full, click here

Did Bush’s Democracy Plan go Poof? His Drive to Remake the Middle East is taking a U-turn in Egypt

The following editorial was written by Max Boot, a Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Boot is also a weekly foreign- affairs columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

In his editorial, Boot discusses the shift in Bush’s attitude towards Egypt’s administration since 2002. Boot writes that currently the US administration has not called upon Mubarak to justify his political opposition’s, Ayman Nour, imprisonment. Yet back in 2002 the US administration threatened to take away $130 million worth of aid set aside for Egypt unless the government freed Saad Eddin Ibrahim—another liberal oppositional force to Mubarak—from jail.

Boot wonders why the tactic to free Ibrahim is not also being employed by the US to free Ayman Nour.

Boot writes,

“…the administration has blocked any attempt to tie U.S. aid to improvements in Egypt's dismal human rights record. When Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) tried earlier this year to withhold $200 million of Egypt's $1.8-billion aid package, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch went to Capitol Hill to lobby against the measure. ‘Our strategic partnership with Egypt is in many ways a cornerstone of our foreign policy in the Middle East,’ Welch asserted. ‘The United States and Egypt share a common vision of a Middle East that is at peace and free of the scourge of terror.’

“This sort of claptrap has been emanating from Foggy Bottom Arabists for decades. Bush seemingly repudiated this policy of uncritical support in a 2003 speech to the National Endowment for Democracy in which he called on Egypt to ‘show the way toward democracy in the Middle East.’ After making a few genuflections in that direction, Mubarak is now back to his wicked old ways. And yet he suffers no consequences - none! - for defying the wishes of the United States and, more important, of his own people.”

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

Interfaith Summit on Africa: "Listen to us; we live in the problem".

July 18, 2006

Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC)

Task Force for International Religious Freedom (TIRF) Briefing: "Africa -- Social and Economic Development from a Faith Perspective."

Interfaith Summit on Africa

Six guest speakers from various parts of Africa were present at this gathering to join a discussion on the challenges Africa faces and their relation to the function of religion in society. The panelists addressed Representative Congresswoman Diane Watson and Representative Congressman Donald Payne.

The first speaker was Dr. Nandini Patel, the chairwoman of the Hindu council of Malawi. She first went into detail about the challenges Malawi faces despite the fact that it is a peaceful nation currently experiencing no war. The main challenges include poverty, HIV and AIDS, and democratic governments. She explained that in times of doubt, it is the faith communities that are called upon to guide and to mediate. Therefore, at this time of incredible need, Patel assumed her role as a religious chairperson to lead the process of facing Malawi’s challenges and in doing so she asked for the support of the United States. If only more of Malawi’s people were educated, Patel noted, challenges would be fewer. She then asked for help regarding more universities and financial support for the great number of students who cannot afford to be educated past high school.

The second speaker was Reverend John McCullough, the Executive Director of Church World Services. McCullough put emphasis on recognizing religious leaders as political leaders. Again, poverty was one of the foremost concerns as a statistic was alluded to: “More than 300,000,000 African children are living below the poverty line”. McCullough put stress on recognizing the fundamental rights of humans, like that of food security and access to water: “Their needs are so basic” he reiterated. In reference to Warren E. Buffett’s recent financial donation to the Gates Foundation, McCullough said that it is not how much one gives, but that we work together to use any donation effectively and to resolve the most critical issues that Africa faces.

Rt. Rev. Dr. Nyansako-ni-NKU, president of All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), was the next to present his view. He represented those in Africa who have no voice and emphasized how critical the role of the church is in working toward justice. A spokesperson from Zimbabwe took the microphone as well to discuss the harsh reality of Zimbabwe, including the violence, uprooted people, lack of food, and constant struggle for justice. “With justice”, he said, “will come peace and reconciliation. [We] just need to put our faith in the right things”.

Mrs. Tahirih Matthee, a member of the Council of the Baháí's of the Western Africa, spoke of the challenges of the Baháí in Africa, one of which is religious intolerance. In asking the United States for help, she requested that we help to educate ourselves and others, correctly, in order to become more tolerant of and helpful toward one another. Matthee expressed sorrow and anger regarding how some countries place others at a subordinate level in order to take the position of power. She articulated her feelings as best as she could: “We were all created from the same substance and to the same substance we will return, so why would one want to dominate the other?”

Next, Sheikh Kafumba F. Konneh, the chairperson for the National Muslim Council of Liberia, expressed his mission. He suggested to the United States representatives that he would like to see the formation of an international peace keeping force. Konneh made two main requests: one, that he would like support from the United States because the U.S. has a moral obligation to make sure democracy is not only going to sustain in Liberia but is going to spread all over Africa; and two, that Liberia needs more means to facilitate democracy and peace in order to address human rights. He made a wise statement to sum up his thoughts: “when all people come together void of opinions and emotions, they can reach a destiny”.

The last speaker on the panel was a delegate from the AACC and a representative for Kenya named Agnes Abuom. She spoke of the Great Lakes region including Sudan, Somalia, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda and the challenges each nation is currently faced with. Abuom spoke of the help that faith-based communities thankfully provide such as providing shelters for many displaced people nationwide. She emphasized solidarity among not only the African people but worldwide as well. Abuom asked that the U.S. offer assistance with the following: that the U.S. provides support in a peace process in Uganda, that the U.S. government helps with peace building in Sudan, that we advocate for the strengthening of the Somalian government, that we ensure a peaceful transition in the Great Lakes region including in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and that we provide support for Burundi disarmament.

His Holiness, the Patriarch of Ethiopa, Abune Paulos, was also graciously welcomed and recognized. He was asked to say a few words and he agreed to conclude the briefing. The problem today, he asserted, is a divided spirit. Africa is a place of all problems, he explained, Africa is poverty, Africa is a lack of access to modern technology and communication, Africa is an absence of democracy, Africa is HIV, AIDS, and Malaria, and surely Africa is war and political instability. “You are to listen to us” he declared, “because we live in the problem”. So when the two U.S. representatives, six African panelists, and entire audience gave His Holiness their attention, he concluded, “We should walk together as members of a single planet. We should use the mandate God has given us”.

To learn more about this issue, click here.

Unification Discussed by Kurdish Region President

As reported by KurdSat on 18 July, the Kurdistan Region President Mas’ud Barzani “discussed the progress being made toward the unification of the Kurdish administrations.” Barzani discussed this topic at a meeting with Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) officials in Al-Sulaymaniyah.

“Barzani believes that the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) should act as pioneers in unifying their administrations,” the report says. “There must be one authority, one government—a government functioning under the rule of law,” he said.

The report says that, in regards to the ongoing efforts to unify the ministries of the two administrations, Barzani feels that “the officials are close to reaching agreement on the establishment of a joint Supreme Court and Judiciary Council for Kurdistan.” The “issue of merging the peshmerga, police and, security departments are still being discussed,” the report states.

Click on the links to learn more about the PUK and KDP.

Launch of Economic Recovery Program Delayed in Iraq

As reported on Radio Free Europe, “the UN and Iraqi government postponed the launch of a major economic recovery program on July 18.” According to Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, the five-year program, called the International Compact for Iraq, was postponed “because of difficulties in getting high-level participants into Baghdad and because of the situation in Lebanon.”

To read more from Radio Free Europe click here.

6,000 Iraqis Die in Last Two Months of Violence

As reported in the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq’s (UNAMI) bimonthly human rights report for May-June, “5,818 civilians were reportedly killed and 5,762 wounded during those two months”.

The report says that “killings, kidnappings and torture remain widespread and fear resulting from these and other crimes continue to increase internal displacement and outflows of Iraqis to neighboring countries.” The report also stated that “the Health Ministry publicly acknowledged that at least 50,000 people have been killed violently since 2003.” The Ministry added that “the Baghdad morgue received 30,204 bodies from 2003 to mid-2006.”

To read more from UNAMI click here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Aid Agencies Retreat Due to Violence

As reported by Jeremy Laurence for Reuters, many aid agencies are reducing their activities in the southern province of Helmand, Afghanistan due to increasing violence. “In the past six weeks, militants and their drug gangs have launched almost daily attacks against U.S.-led coalition troops in the south,” Laurence reports.

“NATO will undertake what is set to be the alliance’s toughest ground mission in its history when it takes over in the south from a U.S.-led coalition force at the end of the month,” says Laurence. In his report Laurence says that “Helmand has been the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in past weeks and 14 foreign troops have been killed since March.”

“We are pushing the Taliban extremists out of their safe havens, out of places the government has never been before. They are failing,” said Colonel Tom Collins, a coalition spokesman.

A Western security source told Reuters that the “Taliban controlled vast areas in the south and that there was no end in sight to the insurgency,” reports Laurence. “The source said the Taliban were ordering local farmers not to irrigate crops because this impeded their movements.” According to Laurence, the source also revealed that “the occasional suicide bomb attacks they are getting at the moment are just the tip of the iceberg.”

To read this article in full click here.

Small Budget Hinders Women’s Ministry

In an article written by Zaineb Naji for Kurdish Media, Naji reports that the “Iraqi government is not giving the moral and financial support the women’s affairs ministry needs to make real changes in Iraq.” In her article she says that the government has only paid “symbolic attention to women’s issues,” and that “politicians have not delivered on pledges they made to promote women’s rights in their election campaigns.”

According to Saweba Nasraddin, the Ministry’s executive director-general, “the department receives an allocation of $2,000 a month to carry out its programs, whereas other ministries have budgets running into the hundreds of millions of dollars.” Nasraddin goes on to say that, as a result of this small budget, “the ministry has never been able to carry through its agenda for women’s political, social and cultural issues.”

Naji reports that “this year has been particularly tough for women’s activists.” This is because “the issue of female and political power and representation took a backseat to efforts to bring Iraq’s main religious and ethnic groups in the government,” Naji says. “The ongoing violence has forced many families to flee their homes and has created high unemployment, leaving women more vulnerable than ever,” reports Naji. “This has also increased the number of widows.”

Although the ministry has faced a shortage of funding, they have been able to carry out some projects. Such projects include “supporting women’s groups and offering micro-finance schemes to allow women to start up businesses that will support their families,” Naji says. “There are also projects to tackle female illiteracy and provide health services, including sending mobile medical centres to remote rural area.”

To read this article in full click here.

Brookings Panel on the Gaza/Lebanon Crisis

July 17, 2006

Brookings Panel on the Gaza/Lebanon Crisis

Four leading panelists appeared at the Brookings Institution Monday to discuss and debate the current violence in Israel and Lebanon and the conflict between Hamas and Hizbollah. Martin Indyk, a Middle East expert and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Nahum Barnea, the leading political columnist with Israel’s Yediot Aharonot, Hisham Melhem, the Washington correspondent for Al-Nahar, and Shibley Telhami, the nonresident Senior Fellow for the Saban Center and professor of Peace and Development studies at the University of Maryland were featured at the event.

Their dialogue focused on the current developments in the region, including the presence of armed forces in Southern Lebanon and the recent raid in which two Israeli soldiers were captured, which has led to open warfare. The Gaza/Lebanon crisis was also argued at length and the United States’ role in it was discussed.

Barnea, who represented the Israeli side of the conflict, argued that every crisis is an opportunity and in this crisis, there must be an opportunity to diminish the power of Hizbollah. He added that Israel’s main objective is to retrieve the kidnapped soldiers and to remove Hizbollah from the South.

Melhem, who described the Lebanese side of the conflict, said that the Lebanese reaction to the destruction and ongoing battle was one of “horror, disgust, and anger at the Israelis”. Melhem added that President Bush’s attempt to spread democracy has essentially reached a dead end. He concluded by saying that Lebanon will be going through a very ugly period in the next few weeks and/or months as a result of this crisis.

Telhami raised two main points in regards to the strategic goals in the region: one, that democracy should not be on the agenda right now and should merely be forgotten about; and two, that we should think about the gap between established states and non-state actors on the issue of deterrence. “Our world,” Telhami noted, “is not a perfect world of states,” and we must consider all who are affected and their many identities, including the cultural, ethical, and religious elements of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan as well as the states most directly involved.

Last, Indyk, who previously served President Clinton, spoke of the wrongdoings of the Bush administration in this matter. Indyk said Bush’s plan to push democracy in Lebanon was not an effective way to intervene and as a result, the United States lost its stabilizing force there. In addition, Indyk emphasized that Bush’s stress on elections as a vehicle to promote democracy was erroneous based on politicians using elections merely to gain power.

To conclude, it is noteworthy to sum up Indyk’s idea for a diplomatic initiative in the Gaza/Lebanon region: first, that a cease-fire must occur, second, that a return to the armistice agreement of 1949 between Lebanon and Israel is necessary, third, that a disbanding of all militias included Hizbollah must occur, and fourth, that the Israeli soldiers must be returned. Alas, although many intelligent strategies were raised, Melhem underscored that there is no way to fix this ongoing crisis without inevitable escalation.

For further information on this matter, click here.