Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, October 20, 2006

Iraqi Human Rights Commission in the works

Plans for the first Human Rights Commission in Iraq will be submitted to the Iraqi parliament within the next month. The proposed commission will include nine members selected by parliament, and, while it will be independent in its operational scope, its activities will be monitored by the legislative body.
The Human Rights Commission will be charged with investigating and providing remedy for pervasive human rights violations against the people of Iraq by members of the insurgency movement and by foreign bodies currently operating in the country.
In March 2006, the UN Human Rights Office held a workshop with government leaders and members of Iraq’s civil society to assist with the drafting the details of the human rights commission. According to Radio Free Europe, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, expressed her optimism regarding the Iraqi commission saying that its establishment would “expose human rights violations and help Iraqis build a culture of human rights.”

Full article provided by Washington Kurdish Institute through Agence France Presse.
For article on the UN, click here.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Afghanistan restabilization efforts misguided

Reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan are largely impeded by the growing menace of insurgent violence. The likelihood that the government will succeed in its stabilization efforts strongly hinges on harnessing Afghan support, thus discouraging popular backing of the neo-Taliban insurrectionary forces. Development policies which include the Afghan population in the rebuilding of their own country go a long way to promote not only a sense of pride and ownership in the process, but also provide a means to improve individual livelihoods and increasing trust in the government’s ability to care for its citizens. Current reconstruction and development projects have widely focused on short-term projects, predominantly implemented by foreign contractors, which largely bypass the infrastructural development crucial to sustaining the new state. The result has been the Afghan population’s escalating dissatisfaction with the current political and economic situation in Afghanistan. Involving Afghans in reconstruction efforts could help redirect the booming narcotic industry’s labor supply into legal employment sectors, and to quell frustrations that compel Afghans to join violent opposition groups.

Full report appeared in RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 10, No. 189, Part III, 13 October 2006, which can be found here.

Nobel Peace & Civil Society:

The following is an opinion piece by Naim A. Sherbiny, Senior Representative of Ibn Khaldun Center for Development- US.

Nobel Peace & Civil Society:
The Importance of Being Unimportant
Naiem A. Sherbiny

In announcing the Peace Prize for 2006 to Grameen Bank and its founder Mohammad Yunus, the Nobel Committee distinguished itself for fair-mindedness and vision, underlining the importance of micro credit to poverty reduction in the world, and for linking social development to peace. The Committee cited the recipients for creating economic and social development from below.

Yunus’ ideas of trusting the poor and lending them ran counter intuitive to bankers’ conventional wisdom. Banks lend to the well-to-do because they offer ‘collateral’ and can repay; they do not lend to the poor who have neither collateral nor capacity to repay. Yunus ended up standing that principle on its head, by intelligently using human dignity of the poor as their collateral. What earned him and his brain-child the Nobel Peace prize are a mix of humanitarianism and financial savvy, an uncommon combination. He was able to translate his vision into a successful operational mode, patiently and consistently over more than 30 years.

Recognizing an acute need for financial resources in one of the world’s poorest nations (Bangladesh) is one thing; many recognize that. Doing something about it, especially out of own pocket is commendable, though not uncommon, especially in Muslim cultures where giving alms (Zakat) is a fundamental tenet of Islam. Yet that does not transform lives of the poor. For many reasons, numerous good-will schemes to benefit the poor flounder and eventually frizzle out.

Not in the case of Yunus and his village bank, where he started from the premise that it is better to teach someone to catch fish than to hand him one. So he set out to teach the poor how to invest and change their lives, one day at a time, year in and year out. The most responsive segment to micro credit opportunities (loans of $100-500) turned out to be women not men, especially the most vulnerable among them: the widowed and divorced. By working with small groups of poor women at a time as a collective borrowing unit, Yunus trained them to watch for each other relying on positive peer pressure, both in producing tangible results with borrowed money and in paying off the micro credit the bank provides. The secret formula was two-fold: (a) dispensing expert investment advice to the poor along with disbursing money; and (b) the end-of-loan requirement to save as much as was initially borrowed. If a poor woman borrows $150 and produces $500 worth of product, she would be required thereafter to pay off the loan and start a saving account in her name with Grameen for $150. The formula worked.

Thirty years ago, who could have imagined that $27 out of a university lecturer’s pocket to a group of village fishermen could start a widespread social change using savvy financial management? Though the initial modest sums came from Yunus himself, the rest of the money came first from the poor and later from international donors. As borrowers performed, they were eligible for repeat loans, and were able to expand their savings at the bank. By demonstrating the credit worthiness of the poor, the bank’s membership and pool of lending funds expanded significantly. From 20 fishermen when Yunus started in 1976, membership is now estimated at 6.6 million, 97% of which is women. The bank’s total assets were estimated at $680 millions. Cumulative funds lent to members reached $5.7 billion this year. That by itself is a miracle; a social innovation that gave genuine hopes to millions: hard work, creativity and integrity inspire the poor to climb out of the poverty pit. This is the ‘audacity of hope’, in the words of a rising African-American senator from Illinois.

Though the innovation came from a poor Muslim nation, it spread to the rest of the world in the last 20 years, even to rich countries including the US. As nothing succeeds like success, micro credit institutions (modeled along Grameen) reportedly exceed 10,000 serving the poor in many countries. This success must be humbling for many large banks whose performing loans do not exceed 95%. Grameen’s is above 98%. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), that famous icon of Western capitalism, recently invited Yunus to write an opinion piece on the relevance of his experience to the American South, following the devastation caused by hurricane Katrina. The entire US was shocked by the extent of poverty in Louisiana. Yunus reminded WSJ readers that Bangladesh is frequently visited by nature’s fury, yet that has not stopped its poor from going forward to climb out of poverty.

If the contribution Yunus made is micro-economic, how come it ends up earning a Nobel Peace Prize? That is the importance of being unimportant. The correlation between poverty and socio-political instability, including violence, is well established. By providing hope through micro credit, the poor realize they have a stake in making things work, in guarding the stability of their environment, and in avoiding violence as a means of resolving poverty-driven conflicts.

What Yunus and his bank have done is a fete of human tenacity and faith. He earned his place as a social reformer at the world stage. Nothing less could be more worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

USIP hosts panel on Iraqi identity politics

On October 17th the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) hosted a panel on the topic of identity politics in Iraq. Speakers included Eric Davis, Director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University; Reidar Vissar, Research Fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs; Phebe Marr, Former Senior Fellow at USIP; Michel Rubin, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; and Nabil Al-Tikriti, Assistant Professor at the University of Mary Washington.

A primary point of emphasis throughout the meeting was the historical roots of Iraqi nationalism, which the speakers generally maintained, run deeper than are often portrayed. Additionally, Iraqi nationalism among the populace was characterized as being underestimated by both the media and the US government, while sectarianism has been exaggerated. Indeed, Davis noted that recent polls such as the World Values Surveys, have revealed a trend away from sectarian thinking amongst Iraqis and have indicated that there is a significant desire for a strong central state. According to Al-Tikriti, this nationalistic sentiment is especially prominent amongst urban and middle class citizens.

The current state of sectarianism in Iraq, according to Davis, has been facilitated not so much by sectarian differences, but more so by the “opportunity structures” created by the collapse of the government infrastructure. Davis also argued that sectarian groups use religion as a cover for crime, as they co-opt religious symbols to further their political agendas. Similarly, Marr explained that Iraqi sectarian identity is driven by politics and political leaders and is not “primordial”, as new political leaders are calling attention to different myths and narratives in an effort to emphasize sectarian identity. Rubin furthered this by arguing that politicians, due to the nature of the election system currently in place, benefit from emphasizing ethnic differences and playing the “populous card”.

The speakers, in addressing the crucial concerns that should be prioritized in Iraq, called attention to different issues. Marr stressed that Iraq needs to attempt to foster cross-ethnic cooperation by tackling important matters across sectarian lines. Marr also argued that economic development, human rights, and the environment should be prioritized. Rubin on the other hand, emphasized the need to focus on the rule of law in the nation and indicated that improvements need to be made to the Iraqi police force, as it is not embedded with US troops like Iraqi security forces are. Al-Tikriti sided with Rubin, and asserted that enhancing security in the country is critical and should be given priority over economic development.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Divisions deepen within Iraq's government

As Iraqi leaders scramble to reach an agreement on the political structure of their government, inexorable sectarian violence has made the realization of a unified government coalition increasingly unlikely. Despite popular opposition, the Shiite majority in parliament approved a measure to partition the country into Kurd, Shiite and Sunni regions with substantial self-rule powers. Sunnis are afraid that carving up the country in this manner will leave them in the mostly barren lands of central and western Iraq, while other groups take control of oil rich regions.
However, without a strong central government with the capacity to curb sectarian violence and restore civil order, Iraq’s descent into civil war is certain. The Associated Press quoted Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies as saying “Iraq is already in a state of serious civil war.” Entrenched divisions within the Iraqi leadership weaken the government’s ability to take control of the deteriorating security situation in Iraq.

For full story, click here.

Iraq's national reconciliation conference is posponed

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s hopes to build wider political consensus in the Iraqi parliament have been thwarted once more by the indefinite postponement of the national reconciliation conference planned for Saturday, October 21. The Associated Press reported that the Ministry of State for National Dialogue cited “emergency reasons” for delaying the event. Mounting levels of sectarian and insurgent-led violence have plagued the Iraqi people since the adoption of the new Constitution exactly a year ago.

For full article, click here.

Orhan Pamuk’s Nobel Prize

The following opinion piece appeared in the New York Times on Monday, October 16th:

Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish novelist who has won this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature, is not an overtly political writer. But like every serious artist, Mr. Pamuk lives in a world where the freedom to speak the truth has to be reasserted every day against political forces that would rather not hear it.
Mr. Pamuk’s prize is richly deserved. It was awarded for a body of work, fiction and nonfiction, that is driven by the conscience of imagination as well as the conscience of memory. In books like “Snow,” “My Name Is Red” and “Istanbul,” he has made Turkey, past and present, a vital part of the modern reader’s literary atlas. And in turn, it is Turkey that has given Mr. Pamuk his political edge.
Islamists and Turkish nationalists tend to think of Mr. Pamuk as a literary provocateur, especially for his brief but candid remarks about the Armenian genocide quoted in a Swiss magazine last year. But we think Mr. Pamuk was speaking the truth. For the sake of art and conscience, he has resisted any effort to quiet his literary voice.
Some of those efforts, like the offer to become a Turkish “state artist,” which he declined, were flattering. Others, like the recent prosecution against him, since dropped, for anti-Turkish remarks, were not so flattering.
Mr. Pamuk’s Nobel will be a popular one, except, of course, among people who believe that artists should be allowed to work only under political or religious supervision. His prize is also a reminder of how often the Nobel has been given to a writer whose work exposes the tension between the state and the artist.
We read Mr. Pamuk’s books as they should be read — for the imaginative and linguistic pleasure in them — seldom remembering that every artist’s freedom to speak is our freedom, too. This prize helps us remember that.