Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, November 03, 2006

A Call to Humanitarianism

The following is a letter to the editor by LCHR President, Kathryn Porter, which appeared in today’s Washington Times.

A Call to Humanitarianism
The news coming out of the world's conflict zones grows increasingly dire. In Sudan, we see a human rights catastrophe spinning out of control; in Iraq, insurgents and militias perpetrate the torture and murder of countless civilians. In North Korea, an entire nation is held captive by state-sponsored oppression. In Afghanistan, corruption at the highest levels has allowed the Taliban to regain power and terrorize the Afghan people who do not comply with their moblike tactics. The list goes on. Atrocities are being committed everywhere we look.

Meanwhile, with midterm elections a few days away, many candidates are focusing their campaigns around negative ads and rallying their bases on wedge issues. Partisan pandering may win elections, but it does not solve the global human rights crisis unfolding around us.

Most Americans have seen images of the atrocities in Darfur broadcast into their living rooms on CNN. Genocide in real time — we can read all about it on Anderson Cooper's 360 Blog. Not as prominently reported are the accounts of human rights abuses against Egypt's Copts and Baha'is, China's Uyghurs, Iraq's Chaldo-Assyrians and other minority groups. The overarching themes of sectarian violence and ethnic and gender discrimination, though, are common knowledge.

Without having seen or experienced these atrocities firsthand, Americans become anesthetized to the ongoing evil in faraway places. Compassion fatigue plagues the U.S. public and policy-makers. Americans need a wake-up call and a reminder that average people can make a real difference in the lives of those whose rights are being trampled by appealing to their elected decision-makers.

Thankfully there are strong leaders in Congress to shake us out of our collective inaction, foremost among them Congressional Human Rights Caucus co-chairmen Tom Lantos, California Democrat, and Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican. Earlier this month, hundreds of advocates from nongovernmental organizations both large and small gathered to recognize Mr. Wolf's outstanding work to end persecution, specifically his commitment to religious freedom ("Re-elect Frank Wolf," Editorial, Oct. 20).

Mr. Wolf had a message for those present: Things are getting worse, not better. In response, the human rights community must collaborate to find a common cause and solve the most urgent problems of our day. We must show the world that the U.S. is serious about ensuring fundamental freedoms and that protecting human rights is our top priority.

The human rights community should pay attention to Mr. Wolf's wise words, heeding his call to build solidarity and speaking with one powerful voice. Now more than ever, leaders of nongovernmental organizations must join forces to promote human rights on Capitol Hill and around the world. The desperate headlines underscore the critical importance of human rights groups working together, presenting a united front at a time when fundamental freedoms have reached an all-time low.

Uttering platitudes in the face of humanitarian crises is not enough; circumstances demand creative solutions with political legs. If we supply the ideas, our human rights champions in Congress and in the field will pave the way for new and meaningful action.

Partisanship is rampant in Washington, but by shifting the dialogue away from the issues that divide us to something everyone can agree upon — protecting the freedoms we hold dear on a global scale — we can harness the vast supply of energy on both sides of the aisle to elevate the human rights agenda.

All Americans are stakeholders in this debate. Who among us will stand up and be counted?

To access the letter online, click here

Thursday, November 02, 2006

David Brooks on Iraq

In an op-ed article titled “Same Old Demons,” published in the November 2 New York Times, columnist David Brooks examines the often overlooked historical continuity of sectarian conflict and instability in Iraq. Brooks exemplifies the 1970 essay, “The Kingdom of Iraq: A Retrospect,” by Elie Kedourie, an Iraqi Jewish historian, to demonstrate how in the early half of the twentieth century, the British were boggled by the persistence of Iraq’s dysfunctional political and institutional frameworks just as the Americans are today. The treatise also explains that the country’s relentless incapacity to institute a self-sufficient and effective state is due to irrepressible nationalist ardor and sectarian egotism.

Brooks’ admonition is directed towards contemporary US forces in Iraq, whom he urges to recognize that Iraq’s problems are much older and entrenched than the three year old war. According to Brooks, these hostilities embedded in the cultural and historical legacy of Iraq, require what he calls “a muscular U.S. military presence… to deter neighboring powers and contain bloodshed.” He further recommends that the current strategy to maintain a unified Iraq despite sectarian tensions may have to be modified in order to effect “civilized democratic societies that reject extremism and terror.”

The full article can be accessed through the New York TimesSelect, here.

NATO chief urges the EU and the UN to step up efforts in Afghanistan

Agence France Presse reported that in an interview with the German daily, Tagesspiegel, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, secretary general of NATO, asserted that the declining security situation in Afghanistan calls for improved coordination and consolidation of efforts among international organizations, especially the UN and the European Union. Action on the development and state-building front, he said, is as crucial as the military effort to counter the related rise in insurgency and drug problems in the country. De Hoop Scheffer pointed out that international interest dictates action be taken in order to prevent Afghanistan from, yet again, becoming a hub for terrorism and to protect critical infrastructure in the energy sector.

For full article, click here.

Nephew of assassinated president Sadat sent to prison

Talaat Sadat, nephew of the assassinated Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, was stripped of his immunity as an MP and sentenced to one year in prison for charging the armed forces of complicity in his uncle’s murder. Mr. Sadat maintained that his conviction was based on his opposition to the government.

The US, Egypt’s ally, has expressed concern over the lack of freedom of speech in Egypt.

For full story, click here.

Assaults on women in Cairo shock Egyptians

Reports of assaults against women by hordes of young men in the center of Cairo have horrified and confounded the Egyptian population. The government has, however, made light of the incident by failing to respond. Police were not available to protect the women and the state media has not provided coverage of the events. News of the incident was picked up by a private television channel after it was first dispersed through the internet by Egyptian bloggers.

Although the assaults took place over the Eid al-Fitr period starting on 23 October, religious fanaticism does not seem to be fitting explanation for the assaults. Women who were on their own were assaulted regardless of whether they were wearing the veil.

Commentators offered competing analyses of the incident blaming the young men’s shocking behavior on the collapse of law and order in Egypt, lack of economic opportunity and therefore the inability to pin down marriage prospects and the breakdown of traditional values.

For full article, click here.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Protecting Iraqi religious minorities

The following is a letter by Bishop Thomas G. Wenski to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Bishop Wenski is the chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Policy.

Dear Madame Secretary:

On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I am writing to you to express our deep concern and growing alarm at the rapidly deteriorating situation of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq.

We deplore the sectarian violence engulfing the Shia and Sunni communities in Iraq. We are especially and acutely aware of the deliberate violence perpetrated against Christians and other vulnerable minorities. Christians continue to decline from a pre-war population of over 1.2 million to a current estimate of about 600,000. The growing and deliberate targeting of Christians is an ominous sign of the breakdown in Iraqi society of civil order and inter-religious respect and represents a grave violation of human rights and religious liberty.

The recent beheading of a Syriac Orthodox priest in Mosul, the crucifixion of a Christian teenager in Albasra, the frequent kidnappings for ransom of Christians including four priests--one of whom was the secretary of Patriarch Delly, the rape of Christian women and teenage girls, and the bombings of churches are all indicators that the situation has reached a crisis point. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimates that approximately 44% of Iraqi refugees are Christian, even though they represent only about 4% of the total population of Iraq.

While thousands have fled to Syria, Jordan and Turkey, the remainder in Iraq are increasingly leading lives of desperation. Many no longer feel safe gathering in churches and Christian institutions, resulting in the closing of parishes, seminaries and convents. Others are fleeing to the north of Iraq in search of some measure of safety and sanctuary.

The vulnerability of Christians and other religious minorities is dramatic evidence of the serious and growing security challenges facing the entire nation of Iraq. Efforts must continue to end all sectarian violence and to make Iraq secure for everyone. At the same time, we also urge you to take several specific measures to improve the particular security situation of Christians and other minorities in Iraq. First, we hope that the U.S. government will consider the creation of a new "Administrative Region" in the Nineveh Plain Area that would be directly related to the central government in Baghdad This could provide Christians and other minorities with greater safety and offer more opportunity to control their own affairs with assistance from the central government. Since the Kurds are key to any real efforts to stabilize Iraq and many Christians and other minorities are fleeing to the north of Iraq, we ask that the U.S. government work with Kurdish authorities to ensure the safety of Christians in the Plain of Nineveh and to provide adequate protection and assistance for religious minorities in areas controlled directly by the Kurds.

We also believe that an urgent review of economic reconstruction aid programs is needed to make sure that the aid is distributed fairly so that all elements of Iraqi society are able to rebuild their communities. Finally, we urge the U.S. government to adopt a more generous refugee and asylum policy, including the possible resettlement of at-risk cases to the United States, and to work with the governments of Turkey, Jordan and Syria to grant visas to allow Iraqi Christians and others compelled to leave Iraq access to economic, health and other necessary assistance and help until they are able to stabilize their own situation, return to Iraq or make other plans for their future.

Thank you for your attention to this important concern. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss this urgent and dangerous situation further.

Sincerely yours,

Most Reverend Thomas G. Wenski
Bishop of Orlando
Chairman, Committee on International Policy

Sending mixed messages: US foreign policy on democracy and stability

In an op-ed column in the October 31st edition of The Washington Post, Anne Applebaum writes about the United States government’s sometimes contradictory endorsement of both democracy and “status quo stability” globally, in light of the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Applebaum argues that despite the disastrous outcome of the 1956 rebellion, in which hundreds of Hungarians died at the hands of the Soviets, the US has done little to ensure that future democratic uprisings will be better supported. In 1956, after spending years using the media to spread anti-communist messages in the Eastern Bloc, the US failed to come to the aid of the Hungarians because, as John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State at the time, said, they were not seen as “potential allies.” Applebaum suggests that this same failure to act would be repeated today if a similar situation arose. In the case of a hypothetical democratic uprising in Saudi Arabia, for example, Applebaum postulates that while the “new democrats” would be praised, the Bush administration would still end up backing the Saudi royal family in an attempt to maintain stability and protect vested economic interests. This support of the status quo at the expense of furthering democracy is misguided, Applebaum writes, and continuing to espouse pro-democracy rhetoric while failing to come to the aid of those who rise up, threatens to further damage our national image in the Middle East and throughout the world.

For full article, click here

Vietnamese government to change detainment procedures

With just weeks left until President Bush visits Hanoi for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in November, the Vietnamese government has hinted that it will abolish the administrative detention decree 31/cp, according to an Agence France-Presse article. The decree, signed into power in 1997, gives the government the right to detain people for two years without bringing charges for the cause of “protecting national security.” Michael Orona, the State Department’s deputy director of the bureau of democracy, human rights and labor, said of the decision, “This would mean that the government cannot use this decree to detain an individual any longer and that they would have to actually provide a rule-of-law access and due process.” Orona also said that only two political prisoners now remain in prison, because ahead of Bush’s visit, the Vietnamese government has released three prisoners of concern already. The two still in prison are Nguyen Vu Binh and Phan Van Ban.

To read the article, click here.

Talabani asks for French support of a democratic Iraq

In an interview with Le Figaro, Iraqi president Jalal Talabani spoke on the situation in his country and asked that France be supportive of efforts to establish a democracy in Iraq in the face of terrorism. Talibani, currently in France on an official visit, addressed various topics including the threat of civil war, the prospect of US withdrawal, the right of the Kurds to self-rule, and al Qaeda’s fading influence in the nation.

Talabani highlighted the need to better train and equip Iraqi security forces to ensure their preparedness once the US withdraws. However, he emphasized that an abrupt withdrawal at the present time would be “disastrous”, and said that the focus should be on establishing goals for the security forces rather than on setting a timetable for withdrawal.

For full article, click here

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Ibrahim calls on US to renew commitment to democracy in Middle East

In a speech today, Dr. Saad Ibrahim called on the United States to do more to support democracy in the Middle East. The presentation, “America’s Betrayal of Arab Democrats”, was hosted by the George Mason University Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Ibrahim, a leading voice for democratic reform in Egypt and head of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies in Cairo, argued that the US has backed off on its support of democracy in the Arab world of late because of the ascendance to power of Islamist groups like Hamas through free and open elections. According to Ibrahim, the growing status of groups like Hamas in Palestine and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has fed into post-9/11 “Islamophobia” and caused the Bush administration to curtail its efforts in the region.

Prior to the events of September 11th, the US had supported autocratic regimes in an attempt to maintain stability in the Middle East. However, post-9/11 sentiment dictated a heightened promotion of democracy so that the threat of hostile political dissidence would be lessened. To this end, in late 2001, the US began to seek out Arab interlocutors such as Ibrahim. By 2005, the push for democracy in the Arab world seemed to reach a new high as President Bush stressed in his Inaugural Address that the US would support those who stood up for freedom under tyrannical governments, and uprisings for free and fair elections took place throughout the Middle East. Additionally, there was evidence that the administrations in the region were beginning to change their tune. In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak, who had previously called on Egyptians to stage election boycotts, signed a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to multi-party elections. In Kuwait, women were granted the right to vote. These were causes for hope, however, the Western support need to nurture this fledgling democratic movement is now lacking.

Ibrahim called on the US to renew its commitment in the Arab world and use its leverage to advance democratic reforms, as it did in the Eastern Bloc in the 1970’s with the Helsinki Accords. He also emphasized that the Bush administration should show moral and political clarity and seek to embolden those who support democratic ideals around the world by promoting the principle of democracy in the Middle East. According to Ibrahim, the current US policy only endorses democracy selectively as it befits the national interest, and this needs to change. The notion that Islamists who come to power through free elections will return their countries to autocracies is mistaken and baseless. Roughly two-thirds of the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims are living under democratically-elected governments, and there have been no incidents of these administrations reneging on their commitments. Ibrahim would like the US to recognize the growing tide of democratic sentiment in the Middle East and work to maintain it by supporting all parties who come to power legitimately as a result, regardless of their affiliation.

Monday, October 30, 2006

In his Ramadan Speech, Mubarak holds Muslims responsible for their faith's image

In a speech in observance of the holy month of Ramadan, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak told senior officials and Muslim clerics that the tainted image of Islam is in part perpetuated by Muslim inaction against terrorism. According to a report by the Associated Press, he called on all followers of the Islamic faith to return to its fundamental principles of “forgiveness, righteousness, and reform”, and to renounce terrorist activities as counter to the teachings of Islam.

For full story, click here.

Iraqi Kurdistan distinguished by peace

As sectarian violence continues to ravage Baghdad, the Kurdish provinces to the north enjoy peace and growing prosperity. Anti-American sentiment may be rampant elsewhere in the country, but in Kurdistan, American forces are deemed as “liberators” who removed Saddam Hussein’s repressive regime. However, the US- backed policy to establish a strong and unified central government in Iraq has not gained support among Kurdish officials, who are reluctant to relinquish their region’s extensive powers of autonomy, confirmed in the new Iraqi Constitution.

For more information, see Judith Miller’s article published on Saturday, October 28, 2006, Wall Street Journal Online.