Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, December 01, 2006

Police address their role in human trafficking

Today marks the beginning of a two-day roundtable meeting focusing on the role that local law enforcement officials can play in combating human trafficking, The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) reports. The meeting, which occurred in Kyiv, was attended by experts from OSCE, EUROPOL, the Interior Ministry, and non-governmental organizations. Speakers addressed: the need to increase the visibility of trafficking at the local level, victim-support measures, and the role of the police in the prosecution of trafficking crimes.

For the full article, click here.

International Committee of the Red Cross demands civilian protection in Iraq

The Swiss-run International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which protects civilians in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, is looking to reduce unnecessary violence in Iraq, NZZ reported on Friday. At a news conference in Geneva on Thursday, the organization demanded that the deliberate attacks on Iraqi civilians end – calling these actions an “appalling lack of respect for human life and dignity.” ICRC is seeking greater support from non-state actors, both within Iraq as well as within neighboring countries. They have already linked up with Iraqi and U.S. authorities.

This week ICRC also announced that, despite security conditions, it would continue to expand its work in Iraq. The organization has been working with Iraqi officials for permission to visit all prisoners held in detention centers, where Sunni prisoners are reportedly being tortured. Currently, the ICRC regularly visits prisoners held by U.S. and British forces, and the Kurdish authorities. The governments are required to allow all interviews with prisoners by the ICRC to occur in private. Although no specific timetable was mentioned, the organization believes that it will gain access to the Iraqi prisoners soon.

For the full article, click here.

Vietnamese arrest couple for watching DVD

According to the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization and the Khmer Krom Network, Vietnamese police officers arrested a Khmer-Krom couple for allegedly watching a video. The video supposedly highlights the actions of the Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation (KKF) at the United Nations Forums for the Indigenous Issues in May of 2005. The Vietnamese are also planning on searching other Khmer communes in Tinh Bien. They have threatened to use violence in order to achieve cooperation. These actions by the Vietnamese violate Articles 17-19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Viewing the United Nations Forum has been outlawed by the Vietnamese government. The KKF is attempting to secure the release of Mr. Chau Kim Sot and his wife, and has asked the government to cease arresting Khmer in this recent crackdown.

For the full article, click here.

Norway to help improve gender equality in Viet Nam

On the coattails of an economic Memorandum of Understanding between Norway and Viet Nam, the Norwegian government has pledged its support for promoting more gender equality in Viet Nam, according to Viet Nam News. The National Committee for the Advancement of Women in Viet Nam, a United Sates project, will receive $62,000 from Norway to add to its current $90,000. The Gender Equality law was recently approved by the National Assembly and the chairwoman of the committee sees 2007 as an important year for women, as there are still pockets within Vietnamese society fixated on the old concepts of gender.

For the full article, click here.

Women make strides in Kurdistan

Despite the situation of women throughout Iraq, women in the Kurdish region have experienced greater freedom, according to Suzan Akrawi of Kurdistan News. Women in Iraqi Kurdistan hold many high level positions within government, including ministers, judges, and elected representatives. In fact, women make up a full 27 percent of the Kurdistan National Assembly, while the number of women in many western parliaments is substantially lower (including the United Kingdom and the United States). The number of organizations devoted to women’s issues has reached 13, while 25 newspapers and magazines are owned and written by women. Women are playing an ever larger role in the justice system as lawyers and judges. Kurdish women are leading the way for their counterparts in the rest of Iraq, where now women are almost 20 percent of the Iraqi parliament and make up 20 percent of the Iraqi workforce.

For the full article, click here.

Afghanistan forced to face growing drug problem with insufficient international support

“Look at me and you will know what has happened to Afghanistan,” an Afghani heroin-addict stated in a recent Belfast Telegraph article. Afghanistan, the world’s largest heroin supplier, is experiencing a substantial increase in heroin addicts. Although probably an underestimate, figures from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime indicate that roughly four percent of Afghans are drug addicts of some kind. Many Afghans began their relationship with heroin in foreign refugee camps, and continue use even after their return to Afghanistan.

Equally as troubling are the high number of reported AIDS cases – many, a direct result of a heroin addiction. In fact, many of the drug users have received no education about the potential problems of sharing needles. Even those that know the risks of needle sharing choose to continue in order to avoid the cost of new needles.

Hospitals in Afghanistan are drastically under funded; some only working with a fourth of the budget needed to minimally run their facilities. While Afghanistan is the main topic at the current NATO summit in Riga and billions of dollars are delegated for reconstruction, there is minimal funding marked for drug treatment and fighting AIDS.

For the full article, click here.

Times deems upcoming foreign aid budget worrisome

The delineation in the upcoming foreign aid budget is troubling, according to an editorial in Saturday’s New York Times. While no numbers have been officially released, there are signs that the amount designated for democratic programs will rise drastically, leaving approximately $3.7 billion for anti-poverty programs. This year, democracy programs, which include “training legislative staffs, helping reform courts, and working with women’s and business organizations,” received $1 billion of the $24 billion that the State Department requested for foreign aid. Anti-poverty programs include “fighting disease, promoting education, and providing microcredit loans.”

Although foreign spending has risen, allotments are designated primarily to a few key areas: assistance to Afghanistan and Iraq, international AIDS programs, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation; whereas areas such as youth and maternal health, and development aid to Africa and Latin America and Africa have been sidelined.

The Times is skeptical of the outcome of democratic programs and America’s ability to institute them. Although democracy programs are eminent, it is argued that the itemization in the new budget is flawed, as anti-poverty programs should be prioritized in addition to the goals of promoting democracy and fighting terrorism.

For the full article, click here.

Curtailing the decline of Christianity in the Middle East

Curbing the growing marginalization of non-Muslims in the Middle East can help to stem the rising tide of dangerous Islamic radicalism in the Arab World, according to Lebanese scholar Habib Malik. Malik, who spoke Thurday evening at the Hudson Institute, indicated that bolstering dwindling communities of religious minorities, particularly Christians, in the Middle East, can serve U.S. interests and help to stabilize the region.

Christians, the largest non-Muslim religious group in the Arab world, are disappearing in the Middle East for a number of reasons including: poor socio-economic prospects, regional political instability, and heightened restrictions on political and religious freedom. Additionally, many are trapped between oppressive regimes and militant Islamists. Consequently, numerous Christians have emigrated to the West in search of greater tolerance and economic opportunity.

According to Malik, halting the Christian decline in the region entails promotion of three key principles: “moderation, mediation, and mutuality.” Moderation constitutes enabling the existence of stable and prosperous indigenous Christian communities that can temper sentiments of radicalism among neighboring Muslims and promote regional pluralism, creating a new breed of more tolerant Muslim. In mediation, Christians can serve as intermediaries between the West and the Middle East, disseminating beneficial Western democratic values within the region. Lebanon’s French-style liberal democracy exemplifies the benefits of mediation, and Malik argues that the principle must be built upon. Mutuality or reciprocity, which has been a key point of emphasis throughout the Turkish tour of Pope Benedict XVI, entails ensuring that Christians in the Middle East are afforded the same right to worship as Muslims in the West.

Former CIA Director R. James Woolsey also spoke at the event, and noted the utility of drawing on “institutions of reasons” such as the Loya Jirga in Afghanistan, for democracy promotion in the Arab world. Woolsey also noted the severe brutality of the Syrian regime and warned that both it and Iran pose a major threat in the region.

Hudson Institute hosts panel discussion on the current and future state of Iraq

Last week, The Hudson Institute, hosted the discussion “Iraq After 3 Years: What’s Next?.” The panel of speakers included Abdel-Aziz al Wandawi, Director General of Information at Higher National Commission, and Nibras Kazimi, a scholar at the Hudson Institute and weekly contributor to The New York Sun.

While al Wandawl spoke of the necessity of a long-term de-ba’athification commission, Nibras Kazimi addressed the implication of the leaked Baker Report, claiming that the perception of Iraq in America is “deeply flawed.”

“If America is failing,” he stated, “who is wining?”

Kazimi addressed: the claim that democracy will not work in Iraq, working with the insurgency, and the possibility of a strong man option. However, the topic that sparked the most interest was the opinion shared by both speakers that Americans lack a clear understanding of the composition of the Iraqi society, and that currently there is no civil war.

According to the panelists, insurgents understand that violence makes America restless. In addition to their aversion for American support, the insurgency is unique in that it is also not interested in gaining popular support. Instead, they are only interested in propagating fear. However, despite the increasing violence, the glue that has held the Shiites and the Sunnis together remains, and the government remains functional and united under one party, Kazimi explained. Steadfast in his opinion, Kazimi stated, “What is missing from the Iraq debate is cause and effect.” Both speakers recognized that the violence has gotten worse and that civil war is a plausible outcome; however, depending on the actions of all invested parties, civil war could be a dubious assumption.

The insurgency is not maintaining territory. People are fighting back. The state has survived. Loyalty has developed; characteristics which both speakers thought were clear examples that a civil war has not arisen.

Instead of culturally dividing Iraq, both speakers believed that the more important division lies politically, between Ba’athist and non-Ba’athist. For example, neither the Iraqi government, nor the invested US government has cut aid to Ba’athist party members – money that is directly funding the ongoing violence.

Several days after the panel, the US media made the benchmark decision to refer to the state of Iraq as a civil war. However, both the Bush Administration and Kofi Annan maintain that the situation has not escalated to that degree. Whether or not the situation in Iraq is referred to as a civil war, Kazimi and al Wandawi believe that now is an opportune time to hinder ensuing civil violence by addressing the triggers attempting to exacerbate the cultural divide.

For more information on the Iraq Study Group and the Baker Report, click here.

Member of United Workers-Farmers Organization (UWFO) arrested in Viet Nam

According to the Voice of Freedom and Democracy for Vietnam, there have been arrests of leading members of the United Workers-Farmers Organization (UWFO) in Viet Nam. This is yet another indication that, despite Viet Nam’s commitment to a free market, the country still has much to do in the way of protection of political freedoms. The arrests, which occurred throughout mid-November included: Mr. Doan Van Dien, a father who voiced his concerns about his children’s location over US-based Radio Free Asia; co-founders of UWFO, Mr. Nguyen Tan Hoanh, and Ms. Nguyen Thi Le Hong; and Mr. Doan Huy Chuong, member of UWFO, as well as his two younger brothers.

For the full article, click here.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Egypt targets opposition press

According to an editorial published by Middle East Online, Wael El-Abrashi, executive editor of the Sawt Al-Umma newspaper and journalist Hoda Abu Bakr are likely to be the next set of political prisoners taken as part of the Egyptian President Mubarak’s anti-opposition campaign. El-Abrashi and Abu Bakr incited the government’s retribution when they published a blacklist with the initials of judges who failed to act against the ruling regime’s systematic interventions into recent parliamentary elections.

El-Abrashi urged journalists to stand steadfast in the face of official censure programs and publish the truth despite imminent penalties. Meanwhile, following the fraudulent elections, Mubarak has postponed municipal elections for two years. Despite their staunch pro-democracy rhetoric, the United States and European countries have opted to remain reticent about the El-Abrashi and Abu Bakr trials, as Sawt Al-Umma has repeatedly condemned the war in Iraq and the Israeli assaults against Lebanon.

For the full editorial, click here.

In Afghanistan, girls' education provides incentive to kill

The Independent reported that increased insurgency by the Taliban Islamist zealots has led to a surge in civilian casualties. Mohammad Halim, a 46-year-old schoolteacher, was dragged away by gunmen in the night, as his family watched helplessly. He was later partly-disemboweled, tied to motorbikes and torn apart. His remains were put on display as a warning to others, who like Halim, refuse to keep girls at home and out of schools. Four teachers persisting in the education of girls have been killed so far in Ghazni, Halim’s home province. Fatima Mushtaq, director of education at Ghazni, was beaten by the Taliban during their rule for running secret schools at her home. Now the Taliban taunts her and her family with repeated death threats, known notoriously by those who dare resist the radical Islamist group as “night letters.”

For full article, click here.

Egyptian government cracksdown on opposition

A recent bloody confrontation between members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group, and pro-government students is the latest indication that the Egyptian government may not be serious about its alleged reform program, according to Turkish Daily News. Plainclothes security personnel assisted government sympathizers in suppressing the anti-government protest. Despite expectations of more political freedom, subsequent to Egypt’s first multi-candidate presidential elections in 2005, government crackdowns on all forms of opposition are rampant.

According to some analysts, Egypt’s reluctance to instigate democratic reform is partly founded on its position as an uncommon US ally in the Middle East. Others contend that the opposition lacks sufficient public support for its democratic movement.

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Campaign against the Taliban must be people-centered, panel says

A US Institute of Peace briefing on Afghanistan in the aftermath of the Taliban’s US-led ouster details “alarming conclusions” drawn by a panel of top experts on terrorism and the Afghan insurgency. The resurgence of the Taliban’s influence in Afghanistan, the panelists warn, is aggravated by al-Qaeda’s growing involvement to reinstate the former regime. Suicide terrorism and a successful media campaign are among the indicators pointing to Taliban links with al-Qaeda. However, the panel asserted the need for the campaign to counter the resurgence of the reactionary regime to focus not on the Taliban or al-Qaeda, but on the Afghan people. Security and development will help to eradicate the emergent support base for the Taliban and to earn back popular espousal of the new government.

For full article, click here.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Egypt hosts conference on female circumcision

Cairo hosted a conference on the subject of female genital mutilation, BBC News reported on November 24th. The conference, which followed statements by Egypt’s leading religious officials denouncing the procedure, was organized by the German human rights group, Target. Muslim scholars and religious leaders from around the world discussed bringing an end to the practice. Some of the attendees emphasized that female circumcision was not consonant with Islamic beliefs that prohibit inflicting pain on others. Others stressed that although the act is not required by religious law, it is also not prohibited. Other attendees argued that the government should enforce laws against the practice.

Female genital mutilation is widespread in parts of the Middle East and Africa. It is supported by parents who believe that the practice helps to prevent their daughters from engaging in licentious acts.

For the full article, click here.

Human trafficking on the rise throughout Middle East

As the socio-economic conditions in Iraq plummet, families are gravitating towards any opportunity to make extra money simply to feed their families. Parents are selling their children for what they believe to be domestic work abroad. However, in many cases, the children are sold into sex trafficking rings, according to a recent IRIN report.

Members of the rings tell the families that the girls will be domestic workers on a one-year contract, and promise to return them. However, in many cases, the girls simply go missing. The Organization for Women’s Freedom, a local NGO, has estimated that roughly 3,500 Iraqi women have disappeared since the U.S.-led occupation, and 25% of those are believed to be involved in sex trafficking.

Both local and international NGOs are demanding that more action be taken in order to ensure the safety of these women. The Iraqi government claims that it is attempting to investigate the cases of the missing women, but the persistent internal strife in the country has sidelined the issue. Other countries must also take a stronger stance on this problem. It is simple economics; as long as there is demand, there will be supply.

Countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Syria are the newest players in the burgeoning Middle East sex trafficking ring. In the UAE, it is believed that most victims of sex-trafficking operate within organized gangs out of hotels. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2006 Trafficking in Persons report, the UAE government is failing to act adequately to address this problem, with a significant portion of the small number of individuals detained in connection with human trafficking being the victims themselves. The UAE recently established a human-trafficking division, but more needs to be done. Since the problem of human trafficking has gone largely unnoticed, there are still not sufficient resources, legislation, or facilities to adequately assist victims or even to gather accurate statistics.

For the full article, click here.

Turkey bans Kurdish children’s books

Despite Turkey’s repeal of the ban on the Kurdish language, a recent restriction on Kurdish books for children demonstrates that the government is not willing to truly recognize the Kurdish language, The Kurdish Globe reported on Tuesday. The books in question were written in half Kurdish and half Turkish and were to be distributed by Kurdish teachers and parents, in hopes of educating Kurdish children in their own language. The books were not intended to be used in school or school-related programs.

For the full article, click here.

Political Landscape of Northern Iraq

The fates of Turkey, Northern Iraq, and Iraqi Kurdistan are woven together in a geopolitical tapestry, according to History News Network. Turkey fears that Iraqi Kurds are working with the U.S. and the Coalition Powers in the creation of a Kurdish state. Turkey believes that the creation of a Kurdish state would not only threaten the “territorial integrity” of Turkey, but also, give rise to the secession of the Kurdish people within Turkish boundaries. Kurds, on the other hand, believe that any Turkish intervention is a direct threat to the prospects of a Kurdish state.

Assuming that their national security is not jeopardized, Turkey has agreed to not intervene militarily in Northern Iraq. However, current escalation between Turkish security forces and the PKK, a Kurdish militant organization fighting for independent Kurdistan in Turkey, has caused a bout of apprehension on the Turkish side – “as the Iraqi Kurds are suspicious of Turkey's intent in such a cross-border military operation to target PKK bases, the Turks do not trust the political will and military might of the Iraqi Kurds to shut down PKK bases in Iraqi Kurdistan.” Although the President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd himself, has asked that Turkey not engage in conflict with the PKK, the Turks remain fearful of the loss of their geopolitical leverage.

Turkey’s geopolitical power has been volatile since what is referred to by the Turks as the War of Independence during the early- to mid 1920’s. In the final stages of WWI, both Britain and France promised the Kurds liberation from Turkish rule; however, no such promise was kept, and since then the Kurds became a major destabilizing force in the Middle East to which the Western Powers tapped in times of need.” Similarly, Turkey lost the oil-rich province, Mosul, to Iraq in the WWI treaties. Due to this still-resonant memory, Turks remain skeptical about geographic boundaries granted to them. Consequently, “it would be naïve to think that in an era of ‘preemptive strikes’ and ‘liberation wars’ seizure of Northern Iraq has not been pondered by some Turks who resent the 1926 loss of Mosul.”

As surrounding nations voice their opinion on the potential post-war atmosphere in Iraq, Turkey must find a balance between dealing with “unexpected political developments” and its own interest in the region. It is probable that Turkey will send troops into Northern Iraq, however with so many variables, it is difficult to determine the future of this afflicted region.

For the full article, click here.

Burma: The Fight for Freedom, discussion hosted by McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum

The McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum, located in Chicago, Illinois, will host Burma: The Fight for Freedom. Speakers, including Tim Heinemann, Retired Colonel; Jeremy Woodrum, Director of the US Campaign for Burma; Brian Joseph, Director of the South and Southeast Asia division of the National Endowment for Democracy; and Kathryn Cameron Porter, President of the Leadership Council for Human Rights, will speak on the current civil war in Burma.

Burma has long struggled to bring democratic stability to its people. After gaining independence from both Britain and Japan after World War II, General Ne Win became the leader of a democratic Burma. However, in 1962, a military coup d’état led by a faction of military generals ended the democratic control. Since then, this faction has maintained a stronghold over the people, practicing brutal genocide and imprisoning pro-democracy activists such as Nobel Peace Prize laureate and leader of the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi.

The event, which will be held on December 4th, 2006 at 8pm, is intended to educate and foster a discussion on this international freedom crisis. A dinner, which will highlight the ancient culture of Burma, will be served.

For more information on this event, click here.