Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, November 17, 2006

President Bush visits Viet Nam; Hopes to Minimize Iraq Ties

In his visit to Viet Nam, the second of any U.S. President since the end of the Viet Nam War, President Bush was met with both waves and scornful gazes, according to CNN. Throughout his trip, President Bush will look to exude poise, demonstrating that he is comfortable with the situation in Viet Nam, as well as the considerable parallels that have been made between the ongoing conflict in Iraq and the Viet Nam War.

President Bush did not receive as warm a welcome as his predecessor, former President Bill Clinton, who stabilized relations with Viet Nam. Although it has been 31 years since the last helicopter left the country, the wounds of the conflict are still fresh, both for Americans and Vietnamese.

If anything, the Viet Nam War proved that the main factor in war is the will of the people; making parallels between the Viet Nam War and the Iraq War even easier to cast. While recognizing that there is much to be learned from the Iraq conflict, Bush stated that mission in Iraq cannot end until the country is able to remain stable on its own. However, similarities to the Viet Nam War such as a determined insurgency and a death toll that has drained public support, beg the question as to the benefits of prolonging the war in Iraq.

Bush has a difficult task in his trip to the Asian nation, as he attempts to promote greater economic ties while also calling for democratic reforms.

The full article can be found here.

Threats could lead to university shut down

Since the US led occupation in Iraq in 2003, academics and university professors have been targets of assassinations, leaving the Education and Higher Education Ministries battling to provide their students with the needed course materials, according to CNN. In fact, many professors have already fled and students have requested to study at home and only attend university when it was necessary for them to take their exams.

This is a problem throughout all education levels. In the city of Baquba, primary and secondary school have already shut down for a month as a result of threats and civil disobedience. Abed Dhiyab Al-Ajili, the Higher Education Minister, said that he will consider taking similar action for universities if things continue as they are.

As of yet, the perpetrators are unknown, but some linked the crimes to sectarian violence, while others believe that rebellious students are to blame.

For the full story, click here.

Former Iranian Political Prisoner Speaks at Freedom House

Speaking before members of the media at a press conference hosted by Freedom House on November 16th, Manouchehr Mohammadi recounted the abuse that he and his brother, Akbar Mohammadi, endured at the hands of the Iranian government for their roles as political activists. Apprehended in 1999 in response to large-scale student protests and charged with attempting to overthrow the administration, the two were kept in prison for seven years. During this time they remained committed to the promise of a fully democratic Iran, even as they were subjected to unrelenting physical and psychological torture that was described as “medieval” in nature. During the harshest periods, the two were bound, gagged and beaten on a regular basis. Akbar Mohammadi, who angered prison guards by constantly crying out, “long live freedom and death to oppression!” while being beaten, staged multiple hunger strikes over the course of his detainment, and eventually succumbed to the abuse, dying from a heart attack earlier this year.

Manouchehr Mohammadi aspires to carry on the legacy of his brother, whose life was commemorated recently in his home country with a National University Student Resistance Day. Mohammadi has been awarded a fellowship by the National Endowment for Democracy to continue his efforts to promote reform in Iran, and is looking to collaborate with the international human rights community to pursue this goal. However, for change in his country to occur, Mohammadi stressed that a stronger, more united Iranian opposition movement, free of internal political fissures, is needed. Additionally, the United States and Europe need to prioritize the long-term welfare of the Iranian people over immediate economic interests in the nation, through financial support of the reform movement. Mohammadi hopes that this is possible, as he would like to see the widespread democratic aspirations of his countrymen fully realized.

Muslim Brotherhood calls for the resignation of Egypt's Cultural Minister

Egypt, which is considered to be one of more liberal societies in the Middle East, has seen an influx in conservatism. Accordingly, it came as no surprise when the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group, called for the resignation of the Cultural Minister Faroq Hosni for stating that wearing veils is a “regression trend,” Independent Online reported.

In the independent Al Masri Al Yom daily, Hosni stated, “There was an age when our mothers went to university and worked without the veil. It is in that spirit that we grew up. So why this regression?” However, Hamdi Hassan, leader of this movement believes that the Cultural Minister should not use his position to impose his opinion. Furthermore, Hassan demanded for a minister who respects their culture, constitution, Sharia (Islamic law) and values.

On Thursday the appeal was presented to parliament, of which one-fifth are members of the Muslin Brotherhood, and will examined over the next few days.

For the full article click here.

Achievements and Challenges for Arab Women

November 13, 2006 marked the beginning of the Arab Women’s Conference entitled “Six Years after the First Arab Women’s Conference: Achievement and Challenges”, the Khaleej Times reported. The three-day conference, held in Manama, Bahrain, focused on the relationship between economic development and women’s issues in the Arab world.

The conference, which included delegates from 17 Arab nations, as well as representatives from regional and international agencies, embarked upon a stronger women’s partnership throughout the Arab world.

In hopes of granting rights to all women in the Arab world, the conference addressed creating a skilled Arab workforce as well as the steps needed to provide women the opportunity for higher education. In her address, First Lady of Tunisia, Leila Ben Ali, offered strategic ideas to empower women, according to allAfrica.com. She believes that improvement of society is conditional on the improvement of women’s situation.

First Lady Ali presented realistic and tangible goals for Arab women. First, creating a legal observatory, in which the status of Arab women could be monitored. The observatory would act as catalyst for women-oriented legislation. This legal observatory would mirror the Code of Personal Status, a law passed in Tunisia that grants women their rights. Since its induction, over half of those enrolled in higher education have been women, and currently almost a third of the members of the Chamber of Duties and the municipal council in Tunisia are women. Additionally, First Lady Ali spoke of creating an International Arab prize for the best woman-led company among Arab countries that strive to ensure economic advancement.

The creation of tools such as these would allow for a tangible view of Arab women’s economic situation. Additionally, the legal observatory would engender further integration of men and women.

Other first ladies attending the conference were Egypt’s Suzanne Mubarak, Sudan’s Midad Babaker, and Lebanon’s Andrea Lahoud, amongst others.

For the Khaleej Times article click here.
For the allAfrica.com article click here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

U.S. sending mixed signals to Viet Nam

While the Department of State recently removed Viet Nam from its list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC), the U.S. House of Representatives sent a strong rebuke to the Vietnamese government, according to an article from AsiaNews. Ahead of President Bush’s travel to Hanoi for the APEC summit, the State Department announced that Viet Nam no longer falls onto the CPC list for religious freedom concerns. This being said, many still believe that religious freedom remains non-existent in the country. Although the removal of CPC designation was a gesture the Vietnamese were pleased with, the fact that Congress voted against implementing Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status could complicate Viet Nam’s entry into the World Trade Organization, as achieving PNTR is a requirement for maintaining a position in the WTO.

The entire article can be found by clicking here.

Bin Laden not the driving force behind Islamic terrorism

The Daily Standard recently published a report that a man by the name of Abu Muhammed al-Maqdisi has been one of the largest forces for Islamic terrorists. His writings, which include his most famous and most violent work Clear Evidence of the Infidel Nature of the Saudi State, have been cited by many terrorists as their reasons. Interestingly, according to the author Dan Wilson, Osama Bin Laden would not even distribute the book, calling it too violent. Writing since 1980, Maqdisi has undoubtedly inspired many, including those who carried out the bombing against American military advisers in 1995, before Bin Laden began his war against America. Maqdisi’s writings have even filtered into Al Qaeda.

The full text of the article can be found here.

CSW claims document is leaked manual for dealing with Protestants

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which has reportedly obtained a copy, the Vietnamese government has produced a manual that details the policies to be taken against the Protestant communities in Northwest Viet Nam. CSW provides an analysis of the document on their website as well as a copy of the purported manual. In the analysis section, CSW states that the manual is broken into three parts, with the first part giving the policies and laws for the Communist Party and the State. The second discusses the tenets of Protestantism and its history within the country. It is the third section that is worrisome, according to the analysis by CSW. The third section focuses on the plan for “managing the Protestant religion.” The third section sets forth the goals for the management and containment of the religion. The document seemingly allows the use of force against Protestants so that they will abandon their faith. It also permits oppression based solely on their religious beliefs, according to the analysis provided by Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
For the article, or links to the manual and analysis, click here.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Afghanistan Hosts Conference on Self-Immolation

Today marks the beginning of a three-day conference on self-immolation in Afghanistan hosted by Medica Monaiale, a German human rights organization whose focus is violence against women, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports. The conference, which will showcase recent research findings, brings together government, parliament, and private-sector representatives, as well as religious leaders and mental-health experts from countries including Iraq, Iran, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and India. The aim of the conference is to create a healthy forum for discussion that will enable the development of realistic response strategies.

Medica Monaiale and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission conducted research throughout eight provinces of Afghanistan. However, the conference organizer, Ancil Adrian-Paul, stated that there were instances of self-immolation in at least 22 provinces. Adrian-Paul hopes that bringing together various nations will prove to Afghans that this is a problem in other countries as well.

The collection of such a diverse group of people who are affected by this problem will hopefully engender a greater understanding for the rationale behind these actions. Previous literature linked self-immolation to sexual abuse and forced marriage. Although most of those that participated in the study were illiterate rural woman, ranging from 30 to 60 years old, Medican Monaiale found that 28% of their research demographic was male. This is a problem that affects both males and females, from varying classes and ethnicities. As of yet, it is believed that domestic violence (both physical and sexual abuse) and an incompetent justice system lead some to believe that self-immolation is their only alternative.

For the full story, click here.

One Step Forward, One Step Back

Monday, the trade bill that was to grant PNTR, “permanent normal trade relations”, to Viet Nam fell short of the required two-third majority in the House, Agence France Presse reported. For any communist or ex-communist country, PNTR is subject to certain US provisions. However, typically, whenever a country is granted a place in the WTO, PNTR is also granted.

This bill, which was supported by many Republicans and businessman looking to invest in the recent influx in the Vietnamese economy, was expected to pass. However, legislation to allow Viet Nam this status had been held up in Congress for months.

Additionally, on Monday, the US State Department lifted Viet Nam’s designation as one of the worst violators of religious freedom. The move came in the wake of the release of Thuong Nguyen “Cuc” Foshee, a US National who had been in jail for over a year. A senator from Florida, where Foshee resides, threatened to delay the passage of the bill until Foshee was released.

Monday’s events, as well as President Bush’s upcoming attendance at the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference, demonstrate the gradual improvement of US-Viet Nam relations.

For full story, click here

Monday, November 13, 2006

Rep. Wolf Honored for Human Rights Initiatives

he following article appeared in the November 13, 2006 issue of Sun Gazette:

The Leadership Council for Human Rights, together with a dozen co-sponsoring human rights groups, recently held a reception to honor the work of U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-10th.

Wolf is co-chairman, with U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, a bipartisan coalition of more than 250 members of Congress.

The caucus identifies and works to alleviate human rights abuses worldwide.

The reception was co-hosted by Leadership Council President Kathryn Cameron Porter and Institute on Religion and Public Policy President Joseph Grieboski. Hundreds of human-rights advocates attended, many representing ethnic communities and wearing native dress.

Speakers included Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy; Lodi Gyari, special envoy to the Dalai Lama; and John Hanford, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

Participants in the evening's festivities performed a traditional Uyghur dance and a Tibetan circle dance.

Porter, who had been approached by many in the human-rights community who expressed a desire to honor Rep. Wolf for his work on behalf of oppressed peoples around the world, praised the congressman for “his willingness to stand up against all odds, his tenaciousness.”

“He doesn't take no for an answer,” Porter said.

“Frank Wolf has made it his life's work to care for the downtrodden, the persecuted, and the voiceless around the world, while at the same time fully, dutifully and effectively representing his constituents in the United States Congress,” said Grieboski.

In reference to Wolf's remarks at the reception, Grieboski said, “Mr. Wolf gave us a charge that cannot and must not go unheeded: we must work in unison to carry on the struggle against injustice, indignity and maltreatment globally.”

“Congressman Frank Wolf is the heart and soul in the U.S. Congress of the effort to support people around the world who are struggling for freedom,” Gershman said. “He's never wavered, even during the period after the end of the Cold War when Americans felt that the world had become a more benign place and that it was time to turn inward. He knew better.”

“Americans now realize that we continue to live in a dangerous world, and this offers an opportunity to fulfill Congressman Wolf's vision of developing a new generation of congressional leaders engaged in the global struggle for human rights,” Gershman said.

Gyari said, “Rep. Frank Wolf is a precious public servant whose kind is becoming rarer and rarer in these times. I applaud Rep. Wolf's extraordinary leadership in helping Tibetans and other disenfranchised peoples.”

Wolf, in his 25 years in Congress, has assisted a great number of persecuted peoples worldwide, including Bosnians, Cubans, Darfurians, Kurds, Iraqis, North Koreans, Tibetans and Vietnamese.

Religious tolerance movement gains momentum worldwide

A panel of prominent scholars, politicians and religious leaders convened in Istanbul on Sunday to take part in the UN-backed “Alliance of Civilizations” initiative, which is co-sponsored by the prime ministers of Spain and Turkey. The group, whose membership includes former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami and South African Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, is expected to present its findings and proposals to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at a ceremony on Monday.

In line with the movement to promote cross-cultural and inter-faith understanding, Algerian scholar Mustapha Sharif met with Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday to discuss ways in which a dialogue between the faiths can be encouraged. Later this month, the Pope plans a four-day visit to Turkey, the first Muslim country he visits on official capacity. In his meeting with the Pope, Sharif proposed an international Islamo-Christian conference aimed at eradicating racial and religious hatred. The Associated Press reported that Sharif said the Pope “considers Islam as a great religion” and that “we must witness together the religious dimensions of existence.”

For full article, click here.

Thirty years after the fall of Saigon, repercussions ensue

More than thirty years since the end of the Vietnam War, the repercussions are still felt throughout the now prospering country. Many of the victims of the lingering effects of this devastating war were not born until many years after the fall of Saigon. Children born with severe physical deformities comprise a new generation of US-made Agent Orange victims. Dioxin, the toxic component of Agent Orange, is one of the most noxious in the world. According to a Washington Post article, “during the war, American forces sprayed about 12 million gallons of Agent Orange over the jungle canopies and jade-green highlands of Vietnam.” As a result, Vietnamese medical authorities estimate that there are more than 4 million potential victims of dioxin in the country, and in some areas dioxin levels in the soil are as much as 100 times above acceptable international standards. Dioxin’s side effects can be genetically passed on from generation to generation. Direct exposure to the toxin is not necessary as officials believe that couples can genetically pass its harmful effects after eating fish from contaminated canals.

The subject of funding to clean up dioxin residues in Vietnamese soil has caused much contention between the US and its former foe. Recently, the prospect of economic cooperation has brought new plans for collaboration on a jointly funded project to remove massive amounts of the chemical from the soil. Accepting responsibility and direct compensation for victims are, however, snubbed by the United States, which maintains that there are “no conclusive scientific links between Agent Orange and the severe health problems and birth defects that the Vietnamese attribute to dioxin.”

For full article, click here.

Iranian government places restrictions on internet use

Recent severe crackdowns on the Iranian press may have illustrated the Islamic regime’s zeal for inhibiting any kind of criticism against their institutions and policies, but a new governmental order poses further restrictions on a less easily monitored medium. A law under decree of the Communications Ministry restricts Iran’s Internet service providers from supplying internet connections faster than 128 kilobytes per second (Kbps), although the international standard is 512 Kbps or higher. Higher speeds are required for more advanced internet applications such as VOIP communication which would diminish the government's strict control of the Iranian telecommunication system. Due to slower internet speeds, researchers and students will be hindered in their work as well.

The Iranian government’s rhetoric on certain civil liberties bears more resonances of Orwellian doublespeak than what the government practices in reality. According to a Washington Times report, government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham told IRNA, Iran’s state sponsored news agency, "the government welcomes criticism and assessment of its work by the media" and "defends the free circulation of information and opposes censorship, self-censorship and government pressure on the media," while he urged the Tehran Public Prosecutor Mr. Elham that “those who spread lies against the government should be prosecuted."

Iranian doublespeak also seems to have reaped benefits for the government internationally. Former president Khatami received an honorary PhD from St. Andrews in recognition of his pursuit of interfaith communication and understanding. Hossein Maleki, Iran's Representative to the Special Political Committee of the UN General Assembly spoke out against wealthy countries, which use their monopoly of the new media to “inflict damage” on the poorer countries.

Meanwhile Reporters without Borders ranked Iran 162 out of 168 countries surveyed in the 2006 World Press Freedom Index for its staunch oppression of the press.

For full story, click here.

Vietnam dropped from state violators of religious freedom list

Reuters recently reported that Vietnam has been dropped from the State Department’s “list of nations that severely violate religious freedom.” The announcement was made by US officials on condition of anonymity only a week before President Bush is scheduled to visit Vietnam.

For full report, click here.

Bush to pray in support of religious freedom

Agence France Presse reported that in public support of religious freedom, President Bush will attend a joint Catholic and Protestant church service during his visit to Hanoi for an APEC forum summit on November 18-19. Vietnam is among the State Department’s list of countries “of particular concern” for state oppression of religious freedom. Freedom of religion is stipulated in Vietnam’s constitution, but organized religious practices are only permitted after registration and approval by the government. According to the State Department’s 2006 International Religious Freedom Report, religious activities deemed by the Vietnamese government as subversive are officially prohibited.

For full article, click here.

Blogger arrested, Egypt named to list of world’s worst suppressors of free expression online

Prominent Egyptian blogger, Abdel Kareem Nabil was arrested on November 6th in Alexandria, purportedly for a recent article on Islam, the International Herald Tribune reported. The arrest comes in the wake of the recent addition of Egypt to Reporters Without Borders’ list of the 13 worst perpetrators of online censorship. Nabil is a former law student who has been punished for speaking out in the past.

Nabil’s arrest is the latest example of the government’s heightened efforts to suppress free speech online, in light of a recent court decision allowing internet sites to be shut down if they are considered a national security threat. Several pro-democracy bloggers were detained for two months this past summer, and in October the government leveled charges of defamation at a group of bloggers for reporting an incident where Cairo police failed to come to the aid of a group of nearby women who were being sexually harassed.

For full article, click here