Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, September 29, 2006

Baha'i case postponed by the Egyptian courts again

Since April, when a lower court upheld the right of a Baha’i couple to include their true religious identity on government documents, the case has been challenged and postponed for seven months.

The Egyptian government appealed the ruling in May, and a court hearing was scheduled for June 19th. However, the Court commissioner’s advisory report was not submitted in time for the hearing, resulting in a delay of the case until September 16th.

Then, in a brief hearing on September 16th, the case was yet again postponed until November 20th, still citing the need to await the completion of the advisory report.

The government’s policy before the April ruling allowed people to choose only from three recognized religions—Islam, Christianity and Judaism—on state documents. Baha’i who are unwilling to lie about their religion on government documents are increasingly unable to gain access to basic citizenship rights, including employment, education, medical and financial services.

For the full story, click here.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Egypt's revived nuclear program

Egypt’s Supreme Council for Energy met Sunday for the first time in eighteen years to discuss the alternative energy sources including the nuclear option. Officials cite increased energy consumption and inadequate supply as the impetus for exploring the development of alternative sources. Addressing delegates at the close of his party’s annual conference, President Mubarak said, “the future of energy is a central element in the building of the nation's own future", the Daily Star reported.
Egypt will build a 1,000- megawatt nuclear power plant on the Mediterranean coast at a cost of $1.5 and $2 billion, Hassan Yunes, the Minister of Electricity, told the state owned publication, Al-Ahram.
Egypt is a key regional US ally and is not expected to suffer the same degree of criticism faced by Iran. Egypt, a signatory to the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty, has repeatedly advocated a nuclear free zone in the Middle East.

For full article, click here.

Iraqis flea their homes in search of security

According to the New York Times, the number of Iraqis who have fled their homes and registered as refugees is growing rapidly, reaching a quarter of a million in just the past seven months. Iraqis are seeking to escape the escalating level of sectarian violence, which has peaked in the last two weeks, in accordance with the observance of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Sectarian death squads have ravaged Baghdad as US forces scramble to reduce the number of killings by targeting neighborhoods. The killers, however, seem to simply move into other neighborhoods, and US military efforts, however, have achieved little to suppress violence throughout the city as a whole. According to a US military official, speaking under the condition of anonymity, death squads use list of targets, sanctioned by religious leaders, to carry out mass kidnappings, torture, and murder.

For full article, click here.

Violence against women continues in Afghanistan

According to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), a UN-backed watchdog organization, violence against women and girls in Afghanistan is astonishingly prevalent today. Numerous reports of honor killings in the country have raised concern that, despite the fall of the Taliban whose brutal treatment of women relegated them to second class citizenship, the state has inadequately dealt with upholding women’s rights and equal status in society. In instances of so called honor killings, women and girls are murdered, often by a family member, such as their fathers, brothers, or uncles in order to preserve the family’s honor. Most cases include women who were murdered for refusing to enter into a forced marriage, escaping repeated harrying a situation at home, or committing adultery. A woman who has been accused of adultery without any material evidence against her and victims of rape are also often killed.

Political and judicial authorities rarely deal with the problem, and most cases of honor killings are go unreported. The perpetrators are seldom prosecuted.

Due to increased information flow to a growing media and changing attitudes among women, more cases are reported today. However, there is still a long way to go in strengthening the institutions to adequately prosecute and convict perpetrators and to uphold women’s human rights.

For full article, click here.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

CSID Lecture: Islamists in Muslim Democracies

Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy
Can we have Arab Democracy without the Islamists?
September 27, 2006

The overwhelming answer to the question posed at the discussion was, “no.” Both speakers, Neil Hicks (Director of the Human Rights Defenders Program at Human Rights First) and Amir Hamzawi, agreed that the Islamists are forever going to be a part of any democracy in the Muslim world. Each however focused on different aspects of the Islamist movements around the world, with Hicks focusing on implementation of safeguards against the threat of popularly elected leaders becoming authoritarian, and Hamzawi discussed the problems with implementing democratic reforms in the Muslim world.

According to Hicks, there are two types of safeguards, internal (free and independent press, strong state institutions, and an independent civil society) and external (regional and intergovernmental bodies). He said that the major problem with internal safeguards is there are no incentives for a government already in power to implement them. This is where the external safeguards come into play, i.e. dangling membership into organizations in front of countries (EU and Turkey) in order to elicit the desired reforms. The most powerful of external safeguards comes from regional organizations, however the Arab League has done a poor job, and need significant amount of work, perhaps by establishing an Arab Charter like that found in Africa. Hicks cited a poll in which the majority of Islamists do not even want Shari’a law to be the law of the government, whereas the word tends to have a negative connotation in the Untied States (and the West as a whole) of being extremists.

Hamzawi spoke of the impediments to democracy, stating that they are not from the Islamist movement, but from the authoritarian and autocratic rulers. He gives the three key problems: 1) there is a clear penetration of state institutions by the ruling parties 2) the role of the security apparatus in enforcement and oppression and 3) a lack of a culture of democracy in the Muslim world. He also broke down the Islamist movements into two categories 1) those that participate in legal politics and 2) those that participate in unstable ways. He puts Egypt into the second group, claiming that since the Muslim Brotherhood is outlawed (even though they unofficially hold seats in the parliament) they have an unstable role in the politics of Egypt. On the subject of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamzawi classifies their relations with the government in two possible ways, at times the Muslim Brotherhood attempts to reach out to the regime, and at other times they seek direct confrontation with the Mubarak regime (which is where they currently are).

Democracy in the Muslim world will always bring along Islamists, the key is integrating any armed factions into the legal process. Since the recent outbreak of war in Lebanon, there has been an unfortunate shift from domestic politics (the platform that Hamas ran and won on in Palestine) to regional politics (such as the Arab-Israeli Conflict or Iraq). This is the most dangerous impediment to the process of democratization in the Islamic world.

The website for the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy is www.csidonline.org

Political uncertainties unleash Iranian government's offense against the news media

Recent crackdowns on Iranian newspapers critical of the current administration and its policies suggest that the government considers unconditional espousal of its policies to be an official duty of the media. As reported by "Farhang-i Ashti", presidential press adviser Ali AkbarJavanfekr describes venerable media as those who "consider themselves the supporters and defenders of the serving government and voice support for its policies and strategies." News agencies affiliated with the reformist movement are deemed by the regime as conspiratorial and subversive. "The nature and essence of these media are based on the objective of sabotaging the government," Javanfekr said. The adminstration has even prompted to ensure cooperation by advising publications on what materials can be discussed. Even the sources that publications can use in their reporting are restricted. According to a report by "Radio Farda", the government is also apt to intervene in publications regarding its dubious policies in dealing with students and political activists.
Several publications have been shut down in recent months for failing to comply with strict government regulations on the way the news media carries out its reporting. In August, Issa Saharkhiz, managing editor of the monthly "Aftab", was found guilty of publishing anti-constitutional articles and spreading propaganda against the Islamic regime. He was sentenced to four year in prison and banned from press-related activities for five years.
In light of the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West, the current government offensive against open media, indicates efforts to rally support by controlling the way people perceive this delicate situation.
Managing all information about the December elections for members of the Assembly of experts and municipal councils, the government seeks to maintain power within its own ideological alliance and avert any criticism of the current administration.

For full article see RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 10, No. 179, Part III, 27 September 2006, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

2006 OSCE human rights conference to be held in Poland

The 2006 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Europe’s largest human rights and democratization conference, will be held in Warsaw from October 3 to 12. The two-week meeting will review the progress made by the OSCE's 56 participating States in implementing their commitments in the field of human rights and democratization, including respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms such as freedom of expression and religion, conduct of democratic elections and prevention of torture.
In addition, 60 side-events organized by non-governmental organizations addressing human rights concerns in certain regions or countries and persecution of specific groups.
Anti-trafficking and non-discrimination will be topics of special concern on agenda at the conference.

For full article, click here.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Kurdish mayors on trial in Turkey

Fifty-six Kurdish mayors have gone on trial in Turkey, charged with aiding and abetting a terrorist organisation. They were indicted after writing to the Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, asking him not to close down the Denmark-based, Kurdish Roj TV station. The mayors, all members of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Social Party (DTP), are charged by state prosecutors with "knowingly and willingly" helping Kurdish rebels.

Mr. Rasmussen has expressed his shock that such a trial could take place in a country seeking EU membership, "I find it rather shocking... that because you write a letter to me, you are being accused of violating the law..." Despite strong pressure from Ankara to revoke Roj TV's licence, the Danish government has refused to do so, citing freedom of speech. In November 2005, Turkey's prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, walked out of a press conference in Copenhagen because Roj-TV had been allowed to cover it.

Full text from the BBC

Iran and Turkey Prepare for War in Iraqi Kurdistan

There have been continued reports of both Turkish and Iranian military units operating offensives on their borders with Iraqi Kurdistan. Now, it seems, they may be coordinating an invasion of this autonomous province of Iraq. The Iranian ambassador to Turkey explained the historical precendent, adding, "History has it that whenever Iran and the Ottoman Emperor had good relations, we would witness good developments in the region."

Targeting Quandil Mountain, the base for Kurdish rebels from Turkey and Iran, both countries have strategic gains to be made from a strong foothold in northern Iraq. Just as issues such as who controls oil-rich Kirkuk have raised the stakes for competing parties within Iraq, so too do Iraq's neighbors have an interest. Mistrust over Israel's alleged activity in Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as the U.S. Government's appointment of Gen. Joseph Ralston as special U.S. coordinator for the PKK issue, only add fuel to the fire.

For the full article, click here.

Provincial Director of Afghan Women's Affairs Ministry Killed

The Associated Press reported yesterday that Safia Ama Jan, provincial director for the Ministry of Women's Affairs in Afghanistan, was murdered on her way to work by the Taliban. She ran a secret school for girls during Taliban times, and was "an active proponent of women's rights" in Kandahar. Female parliamentarian Fariba Ahmedi told the AP: "The enemy of Afghanistan killed her, but they should know it will not derail women from the path we are on."

For the full story of Safia's tragic death, click here.

Ricky Martin addresses Congress on Human Trafficking

Ricky Martin delivered a passionate address to members of the House International Relations Committee today. The hearing was chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ) and also included testimony from Ambassador John Miller, Director of the Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the State Department, and Dr. Wade Horn, Assistant Secretary at HHS.

Referring to his work as Goodwill Ambassador to UNICEF, as well as his foundation, The Ricky Martin Foundation, Ricky voiced a plea for more action from the United States against the sex and labor trafficking of children across the globe. He made several policy recommendations, including universal standards for birth certification to help document all children, and U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Offering examples of his own efforts to combat trafficking, he described some of the projects of his foundation as well as their alliances with corporations such as Microsoft on internet education. Ricky also gave great credit to NGOs working at the grassroots level.

Ricky captured the admiration of the Committee Members for his eloquence and devotion to the issue. There was some focus on his interaction with Latin American governments as well as the Hispanic-Latino community in the United States, however it was clear that Ricky's advocacy and funding of programs is not limited by region or ethnicity. The Members thanked Ricky for bringing greater media attention to the subject of human trafficking, admitting their inability to do so to the same degree.