Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, December 15, 2006

Sharansky calls Baker Report an ‘appeasement’

Former Israeli deputy minister, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and author of The Case for Democracy, Natan Sharansky, called the suggestions of the Baker Report conciliatory efforts in a conference call with reporters this week, according to a article by prominent author, Joel Rosenberg. Sharansky believes that the Baker report is a fallacious account of the current environment in the Middle East. He is critical of the prospective relationship with Iran and Syria called for by the report, saying that the US shouldn’t be interested in appeasing dictators in these nations or expect their assistance in stabilizing Iraq.

Rosenberg also noted that Arab states are calling for economic sanctions against Israel after it was revealed that they had acquired nuclear weapons. While apprehension over Iran’s nuclear weapons program ensues, Iranian government spokesperson, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, has called upon the US to take stronger measures in response to Israel’s attainment of nuclear weapons.

For the full article, click here.

Ethnic Burmese children forced to flee to Thailand

Large numbers of ethnic Burmese have sought asylum recently in refugee camps in neighboring Thailand, The American Spectator reported on Tuesday. Many members of ethnic groups who practice Christianity live in fear of persecution and are forced to worship in private. There has been a recent revival in the ongoing military offensive against these ethnic minorities by the ruling junta military. The junta has been known to burn and loot villages, and slaughter residents. Children who survive the attacks are often left parentless. Family members who have taken up for the children and fled to Thai camps have encountered problems with Thai authorities. Additionally, sickness spreads very easily throughout the camps.

International groups like Christian Freedom International have done their best to help secure a variety of necessities for the refugee camps including shelter, education, and medical services. Despite this, the camps offer little chance for growth and opportunity.

For the full article, click here.

Asia America Initiative makes recommendations for Afghan reconstruction

In a report released this week by the Asia America Initiative, the organization gives suggestions for resolving the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan. The organization lays out the major problems facing the nation, including the resurgence of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, opium trafficking, and government instability. The following are excerpts from the report:

“It is necessary that the Afghan people of all tribes work together to defeat the return of the Pakistan-based Taliban. For the West to assist this urgent task, a more effective community-based approach to provide the practical hope for the social and economic recovery of the Afghan people of all tribes is desperately needed before Spring. Beginning in March or April, the snow-covered high mountain logistics routes between Pakistan and Afghanistan reopen and the Taliban will intensify resupply of weapons and ammunition for intensified military campaigns. Counter measures through strengthening communities, as the means to building trust with supportive security and developmental teams is an urgent imperative during the next six months.”

To read the entire report, click here.

Vietnamese and French archeologists to cooperate on joint project

The Viet Nam Institute of Archaeology has joined forces with the National Guimet Museum of Asian Arts of France, Nhan Dan reported on Friday. Thousands of Vietnamese artifacts were donated to the Guimet Museum following the death of historian Henri Maspero. The two institutions are working together to determine the age and significance of the artifacts, which include tiles, bricks, ceramic, porcelain, and steel objects. In addition to those artifacts found in Viet Nam, the archaeologists at the two museums will also be examining other objects from Maspero that were collected in China, Egypt, and Sri Lanka in hopes of discovering more about the trade patterns of the Vietnamese, especially with Middle Eastern countries, between the 13th and 15th centuries. The two institutions hope to publish a joint report on their findings in 2009.

To read the entire article, click here.

University protest results in suspensions and arrests

The Egyptian government has arrested more than a hundred students, as well as members of the opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, for protesting at Al-Azhar Univeristy, the San Francisco Chronicle reported today. When students were denied an opportunity to vocalize their choices for student government elections, they held their own elections and formed an independent student council, which they deemed “The Free Union.” A larger protest occurred on Thursday, after the university suspended several students for these actions.

Many of the students dressed in clothing that resembled military attire and performed various military-style exercises. However, the arrival of members of the Muslim Brotherhood in clothing that resembled the Palestinian group Hamas, drew the strongest ire from officials. While leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood released statements, which indicated that the actions were a mistake, and several of the students apologized, the government continued to arrest many of the participants.

For the full article, click here.

Study shows that negative opinions of America have increased in Arab countries

An annual study conducted by the Arab American Institute indicates that negative attitudes towards American culture have increased among Arabs, Reuters reported on Thursday. Prior surveys had indicated that Americans were viewed positively throughout much of the Middle East. However, this year, in addition to already highly negative sentiments in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, antipathy towards American people, culture and governance increased in Morocco, Jordan, and Lebanon. U.S. policy in Iraq and the Palestinian conflict are believed to be the major root causes for the growing aversion.

According to James Zogby, head of the Arab American Institute, this study is a call for change in America’s Middle Eastern policy. He indicated that the suggestions put forth in the Baker report signal a step in the right direction, as looking to promote greater cooperation with Middle Eastern states and will go a long way towards improving America’s image throughout the region.

For the full article, click here.

UNHCR and HRW propose resettlement plans for Iranian Kurds at the Iraq-Jordan border

As temperatures dip below freezing, the status of Iranian Kurdish refugees on the Jordan-Iraq border is becoming a major cause of concern for Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the IRIN reported on Tuesday. The refugees, who fled their Anbar refugee camp in January of 2005 as insurgent-led violence there escalated, have remained on the Iraqi side of the border. Despite the help of UNHCR, they have been denied entrance into Jordan.

HRW has even considered resettlement opportunities in Sweden, New Zealand, and Ireland. However a large number of refugees have resettled into these countries following the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. Recently, HRW drafted a proposal, which suggested moving the refugees to an officially recognized camp, Kawa, in northern Iraq, where other Iranian Kurdish refugees have previously settled. However, the refugees, intent on resettling in an independent Kurdistan, have rejected HRW’s proposal. Although UNHCR have explicated the third-country resettlement is not a right, representatives have also explained to the refugees that they will have greater prospects once they reach Kawa. Documentation of their plight, necessary supplies, and family reunification will all be foreseeable once they reach the official camp.

UNHRC and Iraqi NGOs have set up tents for the refugees along the Iraq-Jordan border, but it remains difficult for independent parties, such as UNHCR representatives, to access these regions. The area, referred to as “no man’s land” is quite isolated; the people are forced to rely on passing trucks on a daily basis for food, water, and generators to supply heat.

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Taliban rejects invitation to participate in jirgas

The requests of the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan for Taliban participation in proposed jirgas, or tribal councils, were denied on Monday, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The jirgas are aimed at ending the violence that has been spreading throughout the region - even crossing the border into Pakistan. A spokesperson for the Taliban has said that his group’s participation will not be forthcoming as long as there are foreign troops in the country – a reference to the over 40,000 American and NATO led soldiers currently patrolling Afghanistan. The leaders of the two countries hoped that progress could be made by bringing more moderate facets of the Taliban to the table.

To read the article, click here.

Win Tin named “Journalist of the Year” by Reporters Without Borders

The Leadership Council for Human Rights wishes to announce that reporter, U Win Tin has been named 2006 “Journalist of the Year” by Reporters Without Borders for his commitment to freedom of the press. Award recipients were announced Tuesday in Paris. U Win Tin was “adopted” by the Leadership Council for Human Rights through a program that pairs organizations with journalists throughout the world that have been imprisoned for political dissent. This program was created by the organization, Reporters Without Borders, which seeks to promote freedom of the press. Reporters Without Borders estimates that there are currently over 130 journalists worldwide in jail on unfair charges.

U Win Tin, a 76 year old Burmese journalist, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for "subversion" and "anti-government propaganda" in 1989. After more than 17 years in prison and despite faltering health and extremely poor prison conditions, the country's most renowned journalist will not give way. In his special cell at Insein jail, near Rangoon, Saya, "The Sage", as his comrades call him, refuses to renounce his commitment to the National League for Democracy (despite being offered his freedom for doing so), robbed by the military junta of a landslide electoral victory in 1990. He continues to call for the unconditional release of thousands of prisoners of opinion held in the country's prisons. U Win Tin was one of the political mentors of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who also remains deprived of her freedom. U Win Tin has been physically weakened by a urinary infection and two heart attacks, but he has not been mentally weakened as he continues to fight from his prison cell.

Because of the conditions under which Win Tin is being held, it is very possible that he remains unaware that he has even received this prestigious honor. LCHR will continue to provide updates on U Win Tin and his condition.
To sign a petition for the release of U Win Tin, click here.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Use of internet becomes a daily routine for many Vietnamese

It is estimated that roughly one fifth of the Vietnamese population uses the internet, according to a BBC News report today. Many Vietnamese have assimilated internet usage into their daily routine, and while popular support for the medium is significant, the prospect of heightened censorship remains. In the late nineties, when the internet first reached Viet Nam, the government was skeptical about the implications, and enforced stern limitations. Unlike neighboring China, the Vietnamese government has since lifted many of the sanctions restricting internet usage.

Nonetheless, the government continues to block anti-government sites. Additionally, anti-government activists have complained that the government carefully observes emails and internet usage. Some citizens, fearing government repercussion, seek out communication options other than email that are less traceable - for example, Skype, which allows for vocal conversations between computers.

While the government recognizes the benefits of the internet for the Vietnamese people, it grapples with its authoritarian instincts. It will have to reconcile these contrasting beliefs. Technological advancement and internet freedom can expose citizens to a variety of viewpoints, including those of dissidents.

For the full article, click here.

Pakistan and Afghanistan work towards the eradication of polio

Pakistan and Afghanistan are believed to be in the final stages of polio eradication in the region, Reuters reported today. While polio has been completely eliminated from all developed countries, it continues to plague various developing countries, including Pakistan and Afghanistan. Vaccination teams will attempt to reach children in the region by distributing vaccination injections door-to-door. While the two nations will work individually to eradicate the disease, it is also crucial that they work together. As people continue to move between Pakistan and Afghanistan, it is easy for the disease to continue to pass between the neighboring countries. Therefore, in addition to the vaccination house calls, the health ministries will also set up five vaccinations centers along the border, as it is estimated that half a million children pass through the Afghanistan/Pakistan border each year.

For the full article, click here.

Congress grants Viet Nam PNTR status

US Congress approved “permanent normal trade relations” status with Viet Nam on December 9th, according to the AFP. The vote, which occurred on the previous night, was originally intended to coincide with President Bush’s recent visit to Viet Nam. However, prior to the President’s trip it did not receive the two-thirds majority that was needed for passage.

The bill was condemned by some lawmakers who professed that Viet Nam’s human rights abuses should not be fiscally rewarded. In response, Republican Representative from California, David Dreier stated “PNTR will not be a panacea for instantaneous eradication of the challenges of human rights violations.”

While US law prohibits most communist or ex-communist countries from obtaining PNTR status, it typically revokes this clause once a country joins the WTO, which Viet Nam will do in early 2007.

Viet Nam is not the only body that will benefit from PNTR designation. The bill is seen as an early Christmas present to the many American companies that will benefit from enhanced trade between the two nations.

For the full article, click here.

UNICEF study illustrates connection between empowerment of women and health of children

Children’s health is directly affected by the representation of women in household decisions, the BBC reported Monday. However, throughout most of the world, women have minimal input. A recent study by UNICEF found that children in families where women hold little to no sway in decisions tend to be malnourished.

Neutralizing the authority between men and women in families, particularly in developing countries, is vital to improving health and reducing poverty. The study indicated that if women had an equal say in their family’s health decisions, the number of malnourished children could decrease by 13 million in South East Asia alone.

Opportunities for women in the work-force are essential to this process. Employed women have a fiscal responsibility to the family, and consequently, hold more authority. The study found that in countries such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast when women make more money, their spending choices tend to directly affect the livelihood of their family. Whereas when men’s income rises, increased spending on these same resources is not apparent. Finally, women who hold positions in government tend to focus on issues regarding families and children.

However, in many places women do not receive these opportunities due to either lack of resources, such as education, or social stigmas. According to UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, “there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.”

For the full article, click here.