Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, December 08, 2006

Will envisions America’s future in Iraq

In a Washington Post op-ed on Monday, George Will, warned that the outcome of keeping American troops in Iraq will be grave. Citing recent statements from Senator John McCain, Senator John Warner, and Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations, Will makes it clear that if anything, America has been more of a nuisance than an effective player in Iraq. According to Will, “not even the word ‘success’ seems elastic enough to cover any attainable outcome.” Will wrote that America failed to act when necessary - ignoring McCain’s suggestions of adding more troops – and consequently their current attempts to act responsibly are unfeasible

For the full article, click here.

UN Security Council official apprehensive of Afghanistan’s future

According to the UN Security Council, Afghanistan must make and meet both its short term and long term goals, The Associated Press reported today. While the prospects of development in Afghanistan look increasingly hopeful, the resurgence of the Taliban that has given international bodies a cause for concern. In addition to the Taliban, the drug trade and widespread corruption continue to be major impediments to the reconstruction effort.

Hatched at the formation of the Afghan National Assembly last December, realistic goals were set for Afghanistan that included a functional court system, a reduction in the amount of people living in extreme poverty, a viable police force. While members of the UN believe that these goals are still attainable, some worry about how a potential border conflict could hurt this process. In addition, Kenzo Oshima, Japan’s UN ambassador and the head of the recent UN Security Council mission in Afghanistan, indicated that “perpetuation of a culture of impunity” lies at the root of the problem in Afghanistan.

The rate at which reforms are implemented continues to be a major concern in Afghanistan. Farmers continue to turn to poppy production as a main source of income and local governments, which are often controlled by warlords, do not appropriately deal with those involved in drug trafficking.

For the full article, click here.

Barham Salih speaks on CNN

In an interview with Wolf Blitzer, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, spoke about the situation in Iraq and the recently leaked memo from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Salih told Blitzer that Iraq needs to show progress at a faster rate, both for the United States and for the Iraqi people. He said a major priority was shifting security responsibilities to Iraqi forces, indicating that this could be the solution to the sectarian violence that is now engulfing the country. Although he stated that the solution needs to have an Iraqi face, Salih reiterated the continued need for United States assistance. Salih emphasized that the Iraqis want to take control of the security of their country, and that the Iraqi Prime Minister and President Bush spoke about this at their last meeting. At the meeting, they agreed to expedite the transfer into Iraqi hands, which would start next year with the United States still present in a supporting role.

On the issue of the illegal militias, and how Prime Minister Al-Maliki plans to solve the problem, Salih responded that the government has come out strongly against these forces and will attempt to disarm and immobilize them. Salih spoke of a crackdown where those who fail to comply with the government will face the full letter of the law, while those who do comply will be able to return to public life. The government sees this as a vital step towards improving their image and showing that they are capable of running Iraq. There is no set timetable as to when this crackdown will begin, but Salih said that the government is well aware of the need to initiate the program as soon as possible.

Viet Nam to try out new U.N. consolidation plan

Viet Nam has been chosen as the first test site for the new “One U.N. Initiative” plan, Reuters reported today. The plan was developed in an attempt to streamline the processes of the United Nations by bringing all of the agencies working within a country under one roof. In Viet Nam, there are 11 U.N. agencies working out of 10 buildings throughout Hanoi. The U.N. believes that consolidating the agencies in one building will create more unity within the organizations and lead to enhanced programmatic and budgetary efficiency. The first multi-agency program is expected to begin in late January, with more to follow. The U.N. is expected to name another six countries as test sites for the pilot program later this month. Any savings garnered through the new, streamlined programs will go towards helping to bolster U.N. efficiency.

To read the article, click here.

Iraqi refugees find difficulties where they settle

Since the beginning of the American-led invasion of Iraq, almost 2 million Iraqis, or 7 percent of Iraq’s population, have fled the country seeking exile, mainly to Syria and Jordan, according to The New York Times. Those seeking refuge are leaving Iraq at a startling 3,000 a day, making their way to not only Jordan and Syria but also Egypt and Lebanon. In Jordan, much is being done to stem the flow of refugees by blocking them at the border or cracking down on those in the country illegally. With over 750,000 refugees in and around Amman, coupled with the 1.5 million registered Palestinian refugees, the Jordanian infrastructure is unable to handle this influx of almost 30,000 new refugees a month. The housing costs around Amman have nearly tripled, as a result of the huge numbers of Iraqis. The only Iraqis in Jordan guaranteed housing are those with over $150,000 dollars to put into the bank there. The situation in Syria, though not as dire, is worsening with approximately 60,000 new Iraqis showing up each month. Cairo is also seeing large numbers of Iraqi refugees, approximately 150,000 already. Because of the strain that refugees place on an economy, backlash is beginning to occur. This will leave no easy solution for the Iraqis who have no little choice but to leave their homes and resettle elsewhere.

To read the entire article, click here.

UNICEF report addresses trafficking of women in Viet Nam

UNICEF is working with the governments of Viet Nam and China to help return some of the women and girls who have been trafficked from Viet Nam, according to a December 7th UNICEF press release. The joint program aims at clamping down on the trafficking between the countries of both women and children. UNICEF has given several suggestions to help relieve this problem, such as establishing centers for the victims of trafficking. These centers would include women’s clubs, aimed at educating young women and girls about the dangers of trafficking through sharing common experiences.
To read the entire press release, click here.

Japanese grant from Asian Development Bank to help ethnic minorities in VN

A $1.5 million grant from the ADB is going towards education among the ethnic minority youth of Viet Nam, according to a December 7th Asian Development Bank press release. The grant is funded by the Japanese government. The miserable enrollment rate of 19.3 percent among ethnic minorities is significantly lower than the Kinh (ethnic Vietnamese) rates. In addition, high repetition and drop-out rates are severely hurting ethnic minorities. According to an ADB official, “As solid education is a significant factor in lifting households out of poverty, it is important to address the specific educational disadvantages faced by ethnic minority youth, who will be key bread-winners of the family and community.” The grant will target 18 small ethnic groups whose total population is less than 15,000. The grant will construct dormitories and jumpstart a scholarship fund designed to help ethnic minorities obtain secondary and post-secondary education.

For the full report, click here.

Ayman Nour appears in court on additional charges on Tuesday

Ayman Nour, a former Egyptian presidential candidate, appeared in court on Tuesday, IRIN reported on Friday. While currently serving a five-year sentence for fraud, Nour’s recent charges pertain to a supposed encounter with a member of the ruling party during the previous presidential election.

While the results of the trial have not been released, Nour was transferred to a hospital following the adjournment of the trial. He suffers from heart disease, and has been awaiting proper and necessary treatment since May.

For the full article, click here.

A deplorable setback: declaration demanding rights for the world’s indigenous people denied

The following opinion piece was written by Ellen Lutz of Cultural Survival:

350 million people ought to be hard to sideline. But that is precisely what the United Nations General Assembly did on Tuesday November 28 to the world's indigenous peoples. In an assault dressed up to look like a harmless procedural measure, the General Assembly's Third Committee made it clear that indigenous peoples' human rights, abused for centuries, will have to wait for another day.

Called Indians, First Peoples, Aborigines, Eskimos, or the names they call themselves - Wampanoag, Pokomam, Batwa, or MakMak - indigenous peoples are among the poorest and most marginalized peoples on our planet today. Living in over 70 countries, they have their own cultures, languages, and unique connections to their lands.

Historically, genocide, disease, and forced assimilation destroyed indigenous peoples. Today their ways-of-life fall victim to national and international resource extractors, poorly considered development policies, and other aspects of economic globalization. Under the pretext that their cultures, which often differ radically from those of the dominant populations, are barriers to development, indigenous peoples are easy targets for discrimination and wholesale theft of their lands and resources.

If anyone on this planet needs international protection for their human rights, it is the indigenous. In 1982, indigenous leaders successfully appealed to the United Nations to form a working group to consider the human rights of indigenous peoples. The working group, which included states' representatives and indigenous organizations, spent the next 24 years wrestling over the concepts and language of a draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The text, which finally was presented to the new Human Rights Council last spring, includes indigenous peoples' rights to their traditional collective lands and resources, languages, religions, and cultures. Despite ardent objections by a handful of states, most notably the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the Human Rights Council adopted the declaration by a wide margin and forwarded it to the General Assembly for final approval.

Given the Human Rights Council's strong endorsement, approval should have been a matter of course at Tuesday's meeting of the General Assembly's Third Committee. But over the course of the fall, the declaration's opponents lobbied small states to vote against it. That effort paid off when Namibia presented a procedural amendment calling for a delay in voting on the declaration until the end of the current session of the General Assembly. That amendment, which was backed by the entire bloc of African states, passed by a vote of 82 to 67 with 25 abstentions.

Packaged as a mere delay, the vote received no press coverage or wider attention. In fact, the tactic was designed to kill the declaration. No regular sessions of the General Assembly are scheduled after mid-December, and there is no budget authorized for a special session. Moreover, there is nothing in the resolution that would ensure indigenous peoples' participation in the committee's deliberations.

Why was the declaration shot down? At least some African states are concerned that it does not define "indigenous" and that it supports "self-determination" for indigenous peoples. Those states take the view that all Africans are indigenous, and that self-determination - one of the key points of the declaration - only applies to nations trying to free themselves from the yoke of colonialism. While fair concerns, the declaration, which is not legally binding, is clear that the meaning of these terms must be defined in context and negotiated between indigenous peoples and the state in which they live.

But the real impetus behind the initiative came from the same very powerful states that have objected all along. What they don't like is the language in the declaration that gives indigenous peoples rights to their lands and resources, and ensures their free, prior, and informed consent before those rights are impeded upon.

After the vote, the mood in the office of the Indigenous Peoples Caucus was despondent. Some called it a deplorable setback. Others remarked that it was a huge insult to the newly established Human Rights Council. After 24 patient years of hard work and playing by the rules, they felt angry and humiliated.

This is a very sad time for the world's indigenous peoples. Once again, the governments of the world have made it clear that indigenous peoples' rights are not as important as the interests of the world's most powerful states.

Shame on them!

To be connected to the Cultural Survival website, click here.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Relationship between democracy and human development addressed at UNDP roundtable

On Tuesday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) held a roundtable discussion on the relationship between democratic governance and socioeconomic development. Several development specialists were on hand to comment on an upcoming UNDP report on the subject.

Pippa Norris, Director of UNDP’s Democratic Governance Group, discussed the findings of the upcoming report. According to Norris, the link between democracy and social and economic development is a conditional one; dependent on both the ability of the poor to effectively voice their demands and the government’s capacity to supply adequate resources to meet those demands. If these two conditions are met, socioeconomic progress is expected and can be measured by indicators in line with the UN’s Millennium Development Goals such as poverty reduction, greater respect for human and women’s rights, and improved education.

After addressing the findings of the UNDP study with respect to several key questions on the ability of democratic governance to promote greater social and economic growth and equity, Norris concluded that while no finite linkage between democracy and development exists, proven strategies for affecting change have been enacted in developing nations. According to Norris, these strategies, which are outlined in case studies in the report, need to be drawn on to identify “best practices” for state-capacity building and empowerment of the poor. While Norris acknowledged that these strategies are imperfect, she indicated that the focus in the development industry should be on furthering proven policies and not attempting to develop perfect approaches that ask too much of governments in developing nations.

Melissa Thomas, an associate professor of international development at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced Studies, commented on Norris’s presentation and the topic in general, cautioning that exorbitant claims made on behalf of democracy need to be reeled in. Thomas argued that while studies have indicated that the world’s poor are strongly committed to political equality, they tend to perceive democracy not as an intrinsic good, but more in terms of how well it can contribute to fulfilling their basic needs. To support this, Thomas drew attention to the fact that poor individuals in developing nations have been known to participate in vote-buying, where political power is traded for food and money. Practices like this typify the distinct challenges of “channeling the preferences of the poor” in developing nations. According to Thomas, development professionals must acknowledge these unique circumstances, and not attempt to impose a universal democratic model based on Western political tradition.

Joel Siegle, a senior advisor for democratic governance at DAI, lauded the way that the UNDP report conveyed the detail and “richness” of the process of democratic reform in various countries, but was critical of the study for its narrow interpretation of relevant data. Siegle argued that insufficient attention in the study was given to the recent post-Cold War progress of many democracies, and indicated that the fact that low levels of transparency exist in most autocracies skews some of the data. According to Siegle, excluding the unique success of some East Asian autocracies, the advantages of democracy for socioeconomic development are proven, as it has been shown that poor democracies outperform poor autocracies with respect to socioeconomic indicators. In light of this, Siegle argued that more relevant questions, such as how growing democracies can better address inherited inequalities, must be addressed.

Saddam’s victims in Iran

According to a recent article from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, many Iranians exposed to chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War are looking towards the trial of Saddam Hussein for justice. Often called the “forgotten victims,” it is believed that roughly one million Iranians were exposed, with some 100,000 surviving the gas attacks. The Iranian government estimates that some 50,000 of those exposed need special medical attention. Attacks on cities and towns in Iran not only caused immediate health effects, but many who seemed fine after the attacks developed related health problems later in life. Many have even died from long-term complications, including collapsed lungs. The victims of Hussein’s gas attacks are beginning to feel neglected now that global attention is so focused on the current sectarian struggle in Iraq, and the prospect of Hussein being persecuted for his use of chemical weapons against innocent Iranians continue to appear dim.

For the full article, click here.

Indigenous rights sidelined by General Assembly

In a move that dampens the spirits of indigenous groups throughout the world, the United Nations has delayed voting on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, according to a press release from Human Rights Education Associates on Monday. The resolution was adopted by the new Human Rights Council before being voted on by the General Assembly. Once in the General Assembly, those countries in opposition, including the entire African bloc and New Zealand, among others, had the final vote on the resolution delayed. This resolution has undergone years of negotiation before this final version was created. Despite this setback, the Human Rights Council can still act on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in a show of continued support.

For the full article, click here.

Afghan police highly incapable

A recent report from the United States government claims that Afghan police are incapable of doing even the most the basic aspects of their jobs, BBC News reported on Monday. The U.S. report blames the shortcomings of the police force on corruption, low pay, training issues, illiteracy, and poor equipment. The remedy, according to the Pentagon and the State Department, is continued long-term assistance and another $600 million in aid per year. The Afghan people are losing faith in the police and, in turn, are beginning to lose faith in the national government. The reformation of the police structure is now a top U.S. priority. There have been reports that members of the Afghan police are among those involved in abductions around the country.

For the full article, click

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Suggestion for international conference rejected by top Iraqi officials

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has rejected Kofi Annan’s suggestion of an international conference on violence in Iraq, the Canadian Press reported on Monday. Opposition by the President as well as other prominent Shiite members stems from a variety of reasons including the belief that the fate of Iraq should be left up to the Iraqi government. Others believe that the promise made by foreign governments to assist Iraq and the Iraqi people should be upheld. While the conference would address the future in Iraq, the escalating sectarian violence and growing number of foreign casualties beg the questions – would Iraq be the only nation to benefit from such a discussion?

For the full article, click here.

Egyptian parliament critical of Hosni’s anti-veil statements

Tension between the conservative majority and secular minority in Egypt has only grown since cultural minister Farouk Hosni’s remarks that wearing veils was a digression in Egyptian society. On Sunday, the Egyptian parliament announced that Hosni’s statement did not reflect the opinion of the Egyptian government, and was a personal viewpoint, 24 News reported yesterday.

The statement from the parliament comes after many women protested outside a Sunni Muslim institution. While Hosni has refused to apologize for his comments, he stated that he respects women’s ability to choose whether or not to wear a veil.

For the full article, click here.

Afghanistan looks forward to more changes in the new year

This December marks the fifth anniversary of the Bonn conference, which examined prospects for reconstruction in Afghanistan. On Monday, BBC News examined the progress that the nation has made over the past five years. Accomplishments such as presidential and parliamentary elections are only the first steps in the process of implementing large-scale reforms. According to Nader Nadery of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, while substantial achievements have been made with respect to the quantity of reform objectives, “the quality is still missing.”

Indeed, the daily lives of Afghans haven’t been greatly altered. Unemployment is still rampant, widespread violence persists, and local officials continue to rule provinces with little regulation. These failures directly fuel the power of the opposition forces, such as the Taliban, which has risen to power in the southern provinces.

While international aid and support has poured into Afghanistan since the establishment of the new government, there are thoughts that these resources weren’t used appropriately. For example, new judiciary bodies and law enforcement forces that were instituted were never given the proper tools to truly maintain control. However, the country continues to move forward. NATO-led forces are determined to change Afghanistan for the better, with creating jobs a major point of focus in the reconstruction

For the full article, click here.

Nazif announces changes to Egyptian constitution

In a statement on Monday at the Arab Strategy Forum, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, announced new ratifications to the Egyptian constitution, according to Reuters. These changes, which are expected to take 18 months to establish, will replace the current emergency law with new anti-terrorism laws and amend the Egyptian power structure. In addition to giving more freedom to political parties, the amended constitution would also have provisions for presidential term limits. However, other constitutional provisions, notably stringent endorsement requirements for prospective independent presidential candidates, will not be changed. Regulations such as these have prevented opposition parties like the Muslim Brotherhood from nominating any potential candidates.

For the full article, click here.

Work of women’s shelters a contentious issue in Afghanistan

Tales of beatings, forced marriage, and spousal infidelity, and thoughts of self-immolation are all commonly reported by women in Afghanistan. Since the implementation of democracy in Afghanistan, shelters have opened for women fleeing menacing conditions, The Washington Post reported today.

Since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, new government and civil society bodies dedicated to the protection of women’s rights have cropped up in Afghanistan. Coinciding with these developments, shelters for women seeking refuge have opened. However, these shelters remain controversial in Afghan society. While civil laws provide sufficient protection for women, it is the conservative Afghan culture that takes precedence, as both powerful families and men hold much influence in the court of law. Additionally, while many women have found the strength to flee abusive relationships, they cannot bring themselves to openly speak out against the conditions they were forced to live under.

Medica Mondiale, a German human rights group, defends Afghan women charged with infidelity and other offenses. Since 2003, they have assisted in 750 cases. However, these types of services are limited in rural areas.

For the full article, click here.