Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Sarah Chayes on The Punishment of Virtue

Washington, D.C. – Sarah Chayes, the NPR foreign correspondent who quit her reporting job in 2002 to help rebuild Afghanistan after covering the fall of the Taliban, addressed an audience at the Wilson Center Thursday to discuss her experiences. Chayes authored the recently released account of her four years in Kandahar, The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan after the Taliban, available here. She calls her relationship with the country a “complex love affair” and described to the crowd how she was moved to stay by President Karzai’s uncle, who implored her prior to her intended departure to come back and help. It was a request she could not refuse.

Through her firsthand knowledge of circumstances on the ground, Chayes has become a vocal critic of policymakers who emphasized a “security first, governance later” approach, thus entrenching warlords and giving them greater legitimacy. In reality, says Chayes, “the warlords are creating instability and disillusioning the Afghan public.” She says that in the first six months of the Afghanistan “experiment” following the fall of the Taliban, there was real hope among the people, who want the same things as Americans want from their government. What they’ve gotten, Chayes says, is “predatory behavior…whenever they interface with the government.” She points to “fantastically rigged elections” and “ludicrously un-transparent” public officials.” An Afghan acquaintance described the dilemma of the people this way: “It’s like a man standing on two watermelons. The Taliban is preying on us at night, and the government is preying on us during the daytime.”

Chayes adds that the current “insurgence” in southern Afghanistan, where she lived, is more of a “low grade invasion by Pakistan, with help from other neighbors.” She says that the regional power dynamics and opium industry have fueled an “ugly triangle” comprised of farmers trying to make a living, traffickers and Taliban members, and local officials.

When asked by a member of the audience where she found hope in what she painted as a bleak picture of the future, Chayes replied, “Even if you know you’re not going to succeed, you have to try.” She hopes to break down lines of social inclusion/exclusion and to end the perception that there is a clash of civilizations.

Does Khatami's appeal to religious tolerance extend to the Iranian people?

September 7, 2006- At a press conference held at the National Press Club today, former political prisoners and survivors of torture in Iran, and activists working in opposition to the Iranian regime, and members of the United States Congress comprised the panel, expressing their disapproval of the State Department’s decision to grant Mohammad Khatami, president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a visa to enter the United States. Mr. Khatami’s visit culminates in a lecture scheduled at the National Cathedral on how understanding and communication among the Abrahamic faiths can facilitate the peace process in the world today. Mr. Khatami is often seen as a moderate who is sympathetic to establishing friendly ties with the West.

However, at the press conference several panelists testified to the persistence of grave human rights violations throughout Mr. Khatami’s term of office from 1997 to 2005. Despite Mr. Khatami’s reformist discourse promising the expansion of civil freedoms, the regime continued to imprison, torture, and carry out extrajudicial executions of political and religious dissidents, women’s rights activists, students and ethnic minorities. It was the panelists’ concern that while Mr. Khatami was allowed to preach a message of international religious tolerance and cooperation, the Iranian people would not be subject to the same treatment on a national level.

Discussion of the current security threat posed by the Iranian government pointed to the regime’s unrelenting record as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and its refusal to comply with the international community’s nuclear non-proliferation efforts. Senator Sam Brownback, using language borrowed from the current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, accused President Bush and his administration of adopting a “bow down and surrender” policy towards Iran. He attributed the failure to fully address and resolve Iranian nuclear proliferation issue to a soft policy of “making concession after concession without asking for anything in return.” Along with Rep. Brad Sherman, Brownback called for a more hard-line approach through the UN Security Council’s full implementation of sanctions against Iran.

Reza Pahlavi, son of the former Iranian ruler Mohammad Reza Shah and an active leader in the opposition effort, appealed to all Iranians to put aside their political and ideological differences in order to stand united against the Islamic Regime in Iran. He denounced Khatami and his rhetoric as “double-talk and deception” used as a method to buy the regime more time to accomplish their nuclear aspirations. While many panelists, themselves victims of arbitrary imprisonment and torture, expressed the need for a unified Iranian effort bulwarked by international financial and political support, they were firm to condemn any attempts for regime change by use of a foreign military force. On the issue of sanctions, however, they remained divided about whether such tactics are necessary and effective.

Mubarak's cabinet shuffle concerns opposition

President Hosni Mubarak’s recent, minor cabinet shuffle has surprised political commentators and made opposition groups suspicious.

With the fourth annual conference of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) less than three weeks away, political commentators predicted a major overhaul of the cabinet. Instead, the shuffle seemed to be more in response to the recent train crashes, as it mainly affected ministries providing public services.

Opposition groups believe that former justice minister, Mahmoud Abul-Leil, was replaced because of his failure to contain the crisis between the government and the Judges’ Club, which is demanding judicial reforms. Mamdouh Marie, who is the former chairman of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC), is his replacement and is expected to adopt a more aggressive attitude towards the Judges’ Club.

According to Diaaeddin Dawoud, chairman of the Arab Nasserist Party, Marie’s main job “will be to tailor forthcoming constitutional amendments in a way that ensures the regime remains unchallenged.

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Iraqi Journalists Under Fire

New York Times op-ed contributor Ali Fadhil is an Iraqi who holds one of the most dangerous jobs in his country - he is a journalist. The perils of his occupation come from all sides.

Fadhil writes:

"Today journalists in Iraq face death threats from all sides. The most substantial menace comes from the insurgency and from Islamic extremists who regard journalists as infidels doing the bidding of Jews and Zionists. Many Sunnis think that we are collaborating with the Americans or working as spies for them. So do members of the Shiite militias like Moktada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.

"As for the government, many of its employees, who come from the old regime, deny us access, rightly fearing that they will be punished by their superiors for anything they say to us.

"Finally, the American soldiers who were so helpful to us in the early days of the occupation now have a different attitude. By 2005, if an Iraqi journalist aimed a camera at a United States Army convoy, the soldiers' rules of engagement allowed them to shoot. American soldiers have been responsible for the deaths of about 14 journalists in Iraq, the majority of them Iraqis."

Fadhil himself has been seized by insurgents in Falluja, Iraqi police officers in Najaf, the Mahdi Army in Sadr City, Baghdad, and finally by American forces, who raided his home (later giving him $1,500 and an apology for their mistake).

Fadhil concludes that "If our government continues to be dominated by militias and to draw closer to the insurgency and Islamic extremists, then in just a few months, no news will be reported from Iraq at all.

"The Iraq people, however, will continue to suffer."

To read Fadhil's full account, click here.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Cairo Group Campaigns for Cancellation of the Camp David Accords

Last week, the slogan “Together for the cancellation of the Camp David [peace] treaty” was added to the campaign of the Kefaya (enough) movement, a Cairo-based group that has demonstrated for two years under the slogans “No for renewal [of President Mubarak’s rule] and no for succession [of power to his son, Gamal Mubarak].”

The new campaign aims to collect one million signatures to open discussion and hold a general referendum on the treaty. According to Abdel Halim Qandeel, the official spokesperson for the movement, “Fighting the American and Israeli occupation and fighting oppression are two sides of the same coin.” He says the referendum that was held during Sadat’s time was rigged, “just like the rest of the referendums.”

But adding the cancellation of the treaty to Kefaya’s campaign has been controversial within the movement itself. Some members of the group, which is comprised of people from the entire Egyptian political spectrum including Islamists, Liberals, Leftists and Pan Arabists, believe that the movement will distract from their local agenda, which is about democratic change.

For the full story click here.