Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Cardinals and Bishops meet to discuss relationship between the Church and Islam

In preparation for the Asian Synod, 16 cardinals and bishops met to discuss way to improve the Church’s daily relationship with Islam. Cardinals from South Korea, Indonesia, Holy Land, as well as the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Mgr. Michel Sabbeh, and the secretary general of the Synod of Bishop, Mgr. Nikola Eterovic listened to prelates living in “direct contact with Muslims”. The advice and concerns expressed, over the course of the two-day meeting, were given in a final report to Benedict XVI.

For the full article, click here.

Air Force study finds exposure to Agent Orange may limit growth of prostate gland

A recent study by the Air Force, establishes that exposure to Agent Orange can suppress male reproductive hormones, reports the Express News. The study, which began in 1982 and tracked almost 1,000 soldiers, found those who have high levels of the dioxin from Agent Orange had a lower incidence of benign prostatic hyperplasia, BHP, which causes enlargement of the prostate gland. Although, a lower incidence of BHP is advantageous, it is believed that the dioxin is hindering the growth of the prostate, and therefore directly affecting the reproductive system, and even causing infertility. Additionally, the study found that high levels of dioxin were associated with low levels of testosterone.

For the full article, click here.

Victims of Agent Orange

In his recent visit to Viet Nam, President Bush, in a joint statement, said that the US should be a part of the collective effort to deal with the environmental contamination caused by the herbicide, Agent Orange, used throughout the Viet Nam War. According to The Mercury News, only recently has there been discussion of services offered for those that are victims of Agent Orange.

According to statistics from the Columbia School of Public Heath, 21 million gallons of Agent Orange were dumped throughout at least 3,000 villages in Viet Nam in order to defoliate the jungle and root out communist guerillas. Additionally, it is believed that 4.8 million Vietnamese were exposed. Since its usage, it has been determined that Agent Orange contains a dioxin, which is a carcinogen and is linked to birth defects.

Throughout Viet Nam, orphanages are filled with abandoned children affected by Agent Orange; their afflictions range from misshapen eyes, over-sized heads, fused fingers, and mental retardation. Some are even born without eyes and limbs. Women have seen a large number of miscarriages and stillborns, and there has been high incidences of cancer and illness in both men and women.

As of yet, little has been done to clean-up those areas where Agent Orange has leached into the ground and still remains a threat. However, recently, the Ford Foundation announced a $2.2 million dollar grant for clean-up efforts as well as research and assistance to those that have been exposed to the dioxin. Additionally, the United States has granted $300,000 for clean-up efforts. However, beyond clean-up efforts, measures that help the victims of Agent Orange have proven to be difficult. In an artful balance, the US believes that it is important to assist those that have been affected by the dioxin, however, the government and manufactures of Agent Orange are not willing to fully accept blame; only perpetuating the political tension between the two nations.

For the full article, click here.

Newly formed Human Rights Council receives a mid-term grade

In its editorial, “A Discredit to the United Nations” the New York Times criticized the newly-formed Human Rights Council, stating “[if] this is the best the UN can do at reforming itself, it isn’t worth the effort.” Not even a year after its instatement, the body has already fallen into a “shameful pattern.” The Council has chosen to focus on broader issues, economic and social reform, instead of individual nations that are consistently violators of human rights, nations such as China, Iran, North Korean, Myanmar, and Sudan. In opposition to the position of the editorial, an ad-hoc group of human rights activists believes the Council should continue to focus on broader issues, instead of criticizing specific countries. However, claiming that this is a step backward, the editorial believes the critical reports and their follow-ups with single nations, measures that were inherent to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, are the Human Rights Council most effective course of action.

See the full editorial here.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Viet Nam's reality masked by economic summit

Viet Nam’s annual GNP growth stands at an astounding 7.5 percent. This extraordinary record, second only to China’s, has won Viet Nam widespread praise, membership in the WTO, and fortified trade relations with the US, along with the increased investment this will bring. However, as New America Media editor, Andrew Lam, puts it, the image of Viet Nam as a burgeoning global economic power belies the social and environmental problems that constitute reality for the population at large.

Lam laments the erosion of time-honored values such as modesty, frugality, and respect as the culture of capitalism and consumerism takes hold. What ensues, he warns, is the breakdown of the traditional social fabric leading to the rise in HIV infection, prostitution, and sex-trafficking. In its “Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000,” the US State Department classified Viet Nam as a “tier two” country, meaning that the government does not take full measure to protect its citizens from falling victim to trafficking rings.

Unprecedented population growth rates and overall disinformation about the environment has instigated rapid environmental degradation. Forest depletion is so drastic that annual floods turn deadly as a result of fewer trees in the central mountains absorbing the monsoon rain. According to the United Nations Development Program, one in three Vietnamese depend solely on forest products for their living. Mass deforestation casts doubt on whether the robust economic growth currently enjoyed by Viet Nam is indeed sustainable.

In order to bolster the misleading image of the “new and improved” Viet Nam, the government has toiled for weeks to prepare for the arrival of the international community at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Hanoi. The official policy decrees zero-tolerance of popular protests, and the military keeps consistent patrol of the homes of well-known political dissidents under house arrest. Unfortunately for Viet Nam, this curtails any democratic and citizen participation in the discussions to map out the future of the country.

For full article, click here.

LCHR President rallies for Armenia

LCHR President, Kathryn Cameron Porter, was featured in an article by the Armenian weekly Armenia Now, spotlighting the human rights activist’s efforts to bring global awareness to the archeological wealth in the Armenian region of Karabakh, site of contemporary Artsakh. Ms. Porter told the Armenia Now reporter of her mission to galvanize interest in the excavation and protection of this great archeological ground, where “you can hardly take a step without walking over history.” The proper utilization of Armenia’s treasures could yield immeasurable benefit for all mankind and bring special attention and support to the nascent republic known as Armenia.

For full story, click here.

Afghani women find self-immolation as their only escape

While Afghanistan after the Taliban offered hope for gravely needed rectification in terms of women’s human rights, legal reforms have yet to render real improvements in women’s lives. The Associated Press reports the growing incidences of women in Afghanistan who, finding no other recourse, turn to self-immolation in a desperate attempt “to escape violence, forced marriage, and hardship.”

According to Raoufa Niazi, public health director for the Herat province, women do not feel they can appeal to existing institutions to redress their abusive environment at home because the government does nothing to appease their plight. Despite legal sanctioning of women’s education and political participation, there have been no legislative measures to hinder the alarmingly high rates of forces marriage. The majority of women are married before they are sixteen to men several decades their senior. Women are still treated as chattel readily exchanged to resolve a debt, a dispute, or a crime.

Due to official reluctance to take on this important issue, statistics on self-immolation are hardly accurate and underreporting is common. However, it is know that 70 percent of women treated for self-immolation die, while girls as young as 9 have been reported to have resorted to the horrific practice.

For full story, click here.

Christians no longer feel safe in Iraq

The disappearance of Fr Doglas Yousef Al Bazy, an Iraqi Chaldean priest, has triggered fears that he may have been kidnapped. Religious fanaticism and sectarian insurgency are blamed for the recent surge in the abductions of Christian leaders. Although the Chaldean church community is not the sole target for attacks, many Christians fear that the escalating violence along religious lines undermines their security in their homeland, and they will be forced to leave. The Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad expressed concern that radical groups “target those people who are most involved in the Christian community, the younger and more courageous ones, almost as if to give a warning to those who persist in hoping that they will be able to continue living in the country.”

For full story, click here.

LCHR President calls for bolstering human rights, as well as business relations, in Vietnam

For Immediate Release Please Contact:
Thursday, November 20, 2006 Nadine Hoffman 202 638 0066

LCHR President calls for bolstering human rights, as well as business relations, in Vietnam

(Washington, DC) The following editorial piece by Kathryn Cameron Porter, president of Leadership Council for Human Rights, was published in the Washington Post on Saturday, November 18.

Bringing Business, and Rights, to Vietnam
Washington Post
By Kathryn Cameron Porter
Saturday, November 18, 2006
The American president who has spoken more forcefully and persistently about the world's need for democracy than perhaps any other elected leader in U.S. history finds himself this weekend in one of the few remaining communist capitals: Hanoi. With the weight of last week's election outcome and a string of security concerns glowing like lights on a Christmas tree, his main preoccupation at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum is likely to be boosting U.S.-led consensus on North Korea's and Iran's nuclear adventures and terrorism, and assuring friends and foes alike that nothing will change.
But this is also a state visit, the second to unified Vietnam by a sitting U.S. president (Bill Clinton was the first, in 2000), and the full menu of concerns is presumably on the table. Accompanying President Bush are more than 200 leaders of American corporations, many of them Fortune 500 companies -- and zero representatives of American organizations working to raise the bottom line on human rights and religious freedom in Vietnam.
After several months' anticipation, and against the recommendations of congressional human rights leaders and the nonpartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the administration announced Monday that it was ending Vietnam's designation as a "country of particular concern" for its lack of religious freedom. In a textbook case of bad timing, the announcement was made just four hours before the House of Representatives' scheduled vote to grant Vietnam permanent normal trade relations, the top-tier trade status given to foreign countries.
The trade measure failed spectacularly, falling more than 60 votes short and putting Bush in the embarrassing position of arriving in Hanoi without the desired trade status intended as the final glaze on a 20-year rapprochement. Vietnam recently completed technical procedures to enter the World Trade Organization, and the U.S. failure to grant it permanent normal trade relations could deny American companies doing business with Vietnam the full benefits of that membership.
Two days later, perhaps hoping to cool tempers inflamed by the administration's claim that religious freedom is enjoying a renaissance in Vietnam, senior officials met at the State Department with representatives of Vietnamese American human rights and political groups, who have pressed hard for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to meet with homegrown dissidents during her stay in Vietnam. Whether such a meeting will be held or would even be useful is questionable, and as regards the president's profile on such issues, advocates will apparently have to be satisfied with a joint Protestant-Catholic prayer meeting that the president's staff has announced he will attend in Hanoi.
Similar high-profile outreach by U.S. officials to opposition leaders in Cuba has made for great headlines but has failed thus far to produce any real change. As good as it might make activists here at home feel, the United States needs something more substantive in Vietnam. For the long term, it should make firm commitments of material resources and political support in a cooperative effort to harmonize relevant Vietnamese laws and standards, including the criminal code, with that country's obligations under international law.
More immediately, and again in a context of cooperation, the United States should use all means available to encourage Vietnam to provide access for international and humanitarian relief and development organizations to the vulnerable native peoples of the Central Highlands, who by the Vietnamese government's own statistics on poverty and mortality have not shared in the Vietnamese economic miracle.
Last week Intel committed $1 billion to build a major computer chip manufacturing and testing facility in Ho Chi Minh City. What will this American administration (or the next one) commit to ensure that Vietnam's remarkable economic progress is matched by equal progress in establishing the rule of law and human development in other aspects of the country's life?
In the words of a famous Vietnamese proverb, "One seeing is worth a thousand hearings."

Montagnards' rights belong at the summit

The following opinion piece by Kay Reibold appeared in The News & Observer on November 19, 2006:

RALEIGH--Make new friends, but keep the old" goes the saying. We hope President Bush keeps the Montagnards in mind this weekend during talks with Vietnam at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Hanoi.

The event includes world leaders and business representatives from more than 20 Asia-Pacific countries. They are to discuss free trade,Vietnam's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), cooperation on terrorism, bird flu, global warming and the challenge of North Korea.

On this stage of world economics and strategic geopolitics, we hope the president will affirm the U.S. commitment to freedom, democracy, therule of law and human rights. We hope he will also remember the loyal Montagnard tribes people who died side by side with American soldiers in the Central Highlands during the Vietnam War.

Why is this significant at the summit? Because it's an opportunity to publicly acknowledge that the U.S. stands by its allies. That's is a foreign policy message which needs to resonate now and in the future. Our government will stand by its friends. Or do we? And does Congress?

The Montagnards lost over 85 percent of their villages during the war,and close to 100,000 highlanders perished. Thousands of "Mountain People" were executed after 1975 by the Communist government because of their allegiance to the U.S. Thousands more suffered cruelly and died in"re-education" prison camps. The Montagnards lost their beloved Central Highlands during the war years, and many of their kinfolk died who had only wanted to be left alone to govern themselves in peace on their ancestral lands. The Hanoi government has lodged a brutal campaign against the indigenous people to the present day.

The Montagnards believed in loyalty, freedom and their Christian faith. They continue to suffer for their beliefs, as have the Hmong people living in Vietnam's northwest territory.

Vietnam's human rights record is deeply disturbing. The U.S. Committee on International Religious Freedom recently recommended to Secretary ofState Condoleezza Rice that the "Country of Particular Concern"designation be retained for Vietnam because of its continuing persecution of Montagnards and Hmong Christians, Buddhists, the Cao Dai, Hoa Hao and others of faith in Vietnam. However, the State Departmentl ifted the CPC designation just before Bush's trip to Hanoi, citing"significant progress" in religious freedom. The State Department insisted there was no connection between lifting CPC and theU.S.-Vietnam Trade Agreement.

Yet hundreds of Montagnard Christians suffer in Vietnam's prisons, arrested since 2001 for merely gathering to pray or protesting for their right to practice their faith. Forced renunciations of Christianity continue, as well as arrests of those meeting in house churches. Otherpeople of faith continue to suffer.

Congress will soon be voting again on PNTR, Permanent Normal Trade Relations with Vietnam. This past week the House of Representatives rejected PNTR, though another vote will be forthcoming in December.

Congress should include benchmarks in the legislation to measureVietnam's progress in human rights. This can be an opportunity for Vietnam to make an authentic commitment to reform, transparency and the basic rights of citizens. With improvement in such rights, there may eventually be progress toward the rule of law. Before the agreement is ratified there should be a provision to promote freedom of religion inVietnam, freedom of movement, free emigration, media freedom, freedom of assembly and free expression. These are fundamental political, civic and religious rights that should not be denied to Vietnam's citizens, including the Montagnard people.

North Carolina has the largest population of Montagnards, more than 6,000, outside of Vietnam's Central Highlands. They live principally in Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro and New Bern. Many members of Congress have taken a stand on behalf of human rights in Vietnam, including North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole. She has spoken out on behalf of religious freedom in Vietnam and has sponsored the first ever-foreign operations funding intended to provide development assistance to Montagnards suffering in extreme poverty in Vietnam.

It remains to be seen if actual benefits will reach the Montagnards. Vietnam complained about humanitarian aid focused on Montagnards as soon as it was announced in the Congressional Record last year -- a revealing commentary on how the government views its indigenous people and their rights for survival.

The Montagnards earned the trust of our country and paid a heavy price. With all the agreements for trade and defense at the Hanoi summit andbeyond, the United States should now do all it can to protect the rightof the Montagnard people to survive.

(Kay Reibold is a recipient of the presidential "Point of Light" award and has been to Vietnam 17 times since 1988. She is a project development specialist for the Montagnard Human Rights Organization in Raleigh.)

Cutline(s): Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai discussed trade issues with President Bush on a visit to Washington in June 2005.