Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, January 05, 2007

Viet Nam shows signs of increased religious freedoms

As Viet Nam enters into a period of greater economic and political liberalization, it remains unclear whether or not the government will maintain its firm control over religious practices, the Journal Chretien, reported this week. Described as an act of liberty, the government has stated that it allows house churches to register with the government. However, many view this as a way for the government to monitor the activities of worshipers. In fact, many religious groups are pressured to join communist-backed churches and it is believed that hundreds of persecuted Christians remain in prison.

Recently, Open Doors, an international organization that assists persecuted Christians, distributed children’s bibles throughout Viet Nam. Unique in their production, the bibles were written and illustrated by the Vietnamese people.

For the full article, click here.

Outbursts in gallows typify unrestrained factionalism in Iraq

In an Op-Ed in Thursday’s Washington Post, Jim Hoagland denounced the behavior of onlookers during the execution of Saddam Hussein last week.

Hoagland stated that Hussein’s executioners – some of whom shouted out in praise of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr during the hanging – turned the event “into an occasion for settling 30-year-old scores”. Hoagland argued that the behavior in the gallows was indicative of the Bush administration’s failure to get Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to sever ties between his Dawa Party and Sadr. More broadly, the outbursts were also emblematic of the inability of both the U.S. and the Iraqi administration to engender national unity in the war-torn and fragmented country.

Bringing 30,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq is not the solution, Hoagland said. Iraq must be allowed greater autonomy. In this vein, Hoagland supports turning over control of the protected Green Zone to Iraqi authorities.

For the full article, click here.

Priests ordained in Viet Nam

The Society of Mission and Annunciation in Viet Nam ordained four priests in late December, AsiaNews.it reported today. While Viet Nam is slowly loosening its strong grip on religious freedoms - now regularly appointing bishops - this event was unprecedented; for the first time, the priests were ordained in a parish and not a cathedral or a seminary. The ceremony was attended by members of Viet Nam’s Buddhist and Protestant communities as well as members of the Vietnamese government.

For the full article, click here.

Inquiry regarding Hussein’s execution arises from Kurdish community

As a grand representation of the end of the Hussein regime, the execution of Saddam Hussein was succeeded by an alloy of emotion, the Guardian Unlimited reported on Monday. While satisfied and relieved, many Kurds questioned the timing of the execution. In a statement, a spokesperson for the Kurdish president, Massoud Barzani, explained, “We also wish that the execution not be used as an excuse to ignore the documentation of the enormous crimes committed against the Kurds.” At the time of his death, Saddam Hussein had yet to be tried for a series of crimes occurring in the late 1980s including genocide against the Kurdish people as well as a gas attack on Halabja, which killed thousands of Kurds.

Trials will resume in January against other members of the Hussein regime. However, according to Iraqi law, any remaining charges following an execution must be extinguished.

A trial and conviction for additional crimes against Hussein would have served as a way to honor those Kurds that were killed, and also acted as a medium to educate the Iraqi people and the international community as to the heinous crimes against humanity that the Kurdish people have had to endure.

For the full article, click here.

U.N. looks to tourism to help developing countries

A greater emphasis on tourism in international development efforts in 2007 will do much to help alleviate poverty in developing nations, the United Nations said, as reported by UPI on Thursday.

With global tourism expected to increase by 4 percent in 2007, according to U.N. World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimates, UNWTO Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli is enthusiastic about prospects for the industry. “The tourism sector is the largest common area of export income and foreign direct investment across the world’s poorest countries,” Frangialli said. “Tourism to these countries is growing at twice the rate of industrialized markets. No sector spreads wealth and jobs across poor economies in the same way as tourism.”

This year, the UNWTO plans to hold a “Tourism and Religion” world summit in Spain and expand their “eTourism” projects in collaboration with Microsoft.

For the full article, click here.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Mubarak remains unreceptive to opposition agendas

With a new session of Parliament and imminent local elections looming on the horizon, it appears that the hopes of Egypt’s political opposition for significant democratic reforms will be dashed once again, Mail & Guardian reported last week. Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), led by President Hosni Mubarak, had pledged forthcoming constitutional reforms, but recent statements by Mubarak seem to indicate that the recommendations for amendments brought forth by opposition members of Parliament will be dismissed.

The refusal of the NDP to disclose the particulars of the proposed amendments has drawn the ire of leading opposition members of Parliament like Hamdi Hassan, a representative of the controversial Muslim Brotherhood. “For some reason the details of the upcoming constitutional changes remain secret and only the NDP knows their specifics. This is utter manipulation. But then again, eliminating others has always been the philosophy of this regime,” Hassan said.

The growing influence of Gamal Mubarak, the president’s son and a leading candidate to take over for his father, and continued U.S. support for the NDP do not bode well for opposition groups already stifled by internal tensions and an unresponsive Egyptian regime.

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Iraqi women’s rights have regressed during U.S. occupation

In an op-ed in yesterday’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Kavita Ramdas, President and CEO of The Global Fund for Women, decried the back-sliding of women’s rights in Iraq under U.S. occupation.

According to Ramdas, the Baathists – while politically repressive – afforded Iraqi women greater freedoms than most other women in the Middle East. Under the Baathist regime, female activists advocated for, and secured, passage of a law gaurenteeing women the same rights as men in matters of inheritance, divorce, and child custody. The U.S. government, however, didn’t allow for input from prominent Iraqi women leaders during the development of the new Iraqi constitution, and consequently these gains have been rescinded.

Additionally, under U.S. occupation Iraqi citizens have reverted to religious factionalism that has often manifested itself in the form of brutal, female-targeted acts of violence, as evidenced by the increasing number of public executions of women carried out by Shiite and Sunni radicals.

Ramdas argues that the Bush administration’s failure to uphold women’s rights in Iraq constitutes a human rights abuse on the scale of the atrocities committed at Abu Ghraib, and looks to the incoming U.N. Secretary-General to help atone for this chronic error.

For the full article, click here.

Confronting Western misconceptions of Afghan society

The following opinion piece appeared in the PostGlobal section of WashingtonPost.com on December 19th, 2006. The writer, Sima Wali, is the President of Refugee Women in Development (RefWID). She is also LCHR’s Afghanistan consultant.

The West Quiets Afghan Women
Sima Wali - Although women have made major strides towards equality in the 21st century, we also see a lingering tendency in the West to restrain these advances around the world. Let's turn to history for a moment.

Often dismissed as an anomaly, Afghan civil society blossomed under King Amanullah from 1919 to 1929. Declaring his independence from Britain in his inaugural address, Amanullah's sought to abolish slavery, discourage the veil, empower women, and introduce secular education for girls. Afghanis generally accepted these reforms as in keeping with Islamic law.

But Britain's colonial gatekeepers opposed a secular, democratic Afghanistan. They, in the words of former U.S. Ambassador Leon Poullada, "saw a modernizing of Afghanistan as a threat to British rule in India since it offered an example of the kind of progress free Asians could achieve..."

Afghanistan is still viewed through a colonial lens. Despite real changes that have occurred during the last two centuries, the Victorian mentality -- immortalized by story-tellers like Rudyard Kipling -- obscures the many ways Afghanistan citizens strive for modernity.

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, America's journalists reconstituted the old British myths of "fierce tribal Afghan warriors," and today this faux mythologizing is reaching new heights, burying the real yearnings of Afghanistan's people. The movie Charlie Wilson's War now being filmed in Morocco may well further engrain these powerful misconceptions in the psyche of Americans and the world.

Governments and civil society must work to overcome such false image making. We must demand a genuine, honest 21st century mythology from our storytellers. We must stretch our imaginations and construct images of a future that we can all live within. We must appreciate that most of Afghanistan's men and women yearn for modernity, not tribal war.

To access the full article on WashingtonPost.com, click here.

Tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians seek refuge in Syria

The unrelenting civil strife in Iraq has led to the displacement of roughly half of the country’s Christian residents, ANS reported on Monday.

Iraqi Christians continue to be targeted in their homeland. Many have received death threats, and women and girls have endured harassment for not abiding by strict Islamic dress codes. Additionally, a substantial number of places of worship in the Al Dora district, once known as “the Vatican of Iraq”, have been forced to shut down.

The international charity Aid to the Church in Need has collaborated with Bishop Antoine Audo of Syria to provide refuge and humanitarian assistance to the some 35,000 Christians who have fled to Syria.

“Of course the people are frightened,” Audo said. “But there is something stronger than the fear – it is their faith.”

For the full article, click here.

WKI President comments on Hussein execution

The following opinion piece appeared in The New York Times last week. The writer, Dr. Najmaldin Karim, a neurosurgeon, is the president of the Washington Kurdish Institute.

Justice, but No Reckoning

December 30, 2006

MY personal battle with Saddam Hussein - which began in 1972 when I abandoned my medical career in Mosul, Iraq, and joined the Kurdish armed resistance - is at an end. To execute such a criminal, a man who reveled in
his atrocities, is an act of justice.

The only issue for me is the timing - executing him now is both too late and too early. Too late, because had Saddam Hussein been removed from the scene many years ago, many lives would have been saved.

Killing Saddam now, however, for ordering the massacre at Dujail in 1982, means that he will not face justice for his greatest crimes: the so-called Anfal campaign against the Kurds in the late 1980s, the genocidal assault on the Marsh Arabs in the 1990s, and the slaughtering of the Shiite Arabs and Kurds who rose up against him, with American encouragement, in 1991.

The sight of a tyrant held to account, if only briefly, has been an important precedent for the Middle East. The shabby diplomacy that has allowed dictators to thrive is now discredited.

Sadly, however, we have not had full justice. Saddam Hussein did not confront the full horror of his crimes. Building on previous initiatives by Arab nationalist governments to persecute the Kurds, he turned ethnic engineering and murder into an industry in the 1970s. Hundreds of thousands were evicted from their homes and murdered. Swaths of Kurdish countryside were emptied of their population, men, women and children taken to shallow graves and shot.

Initially, the United States backed those of us who took to the hills to save our lives and freedom, but in 1975 (and here is an irony) Gerald Ford agreed to stop financing us in order to settle a border dispute between Iraq and Iran. As so many times since, human rights were no match for a desire to keep the oil flowing.

During the 1980s, entire towns, including Qala Diza in Iraqi Kurdistan and
Qasr-i-Shirin in neighboring Iranian Kurdistan, were destroyed. To ensure that survivors would never return to their homes, the mountains were laced with land mines. The widows and children were detained in settlements lacking fresh water and sewage disposal; these were called "mujammat" in Arabic, which translates, with all the dreadful implications, as "concentration areas."

While I escaped to America, my family was not so lucky. My brother-in-law and nephew were summarily executed. They never had anything remotely approaching a fair trial, never got to write a will, never got to say goodbye to my sister.

Saddam Hussein's trial shed new light on these tragic years. Documents came to light revealing that his regime coordinated with Turkey in its efforts to isolate Kurdish villages in 1988, in which he used chemical weapons. This should lead to some important soul searching in Turkey.

But the failure to put Saddam Hussein on trial for the Anfal offensive itself will cheat us of learning the full details - of investigating whether the Turks suppressed evidence of Iraq's use of chemical weapons by preventing foreign doctors from seeing Kurdish refugees; of knowing the extent to which Saudi Arabia and Egypt may have aided Saddam Hussein's weapons production.

Kurds aren't the only ones who will be cheated out of full reckoning. In 1991, as we all know, the retreating Iraqi army massacred Shiite Arabs as well as Kurds who had heeded President George H. W. Bush's call to overthrow the Baathist regime. According to the 2004 report of the Iraq Survey Group, the dictator used chemical weapons against Shiite Arab civilians in 1991. Without putting Saddam Hussein on trial for these offenses, or for his campaigns against the Marsh Arabs of the south, will we ever know what really happened?

For all the mistakes that the United States has made in Iraq - and I feel the betrayal of 1975 was the worst - I am a proud (naturalized) American because this country brought the murderous despot to trial. Still, it is a great shame that he will not be held accountable for all of his crimes, and a far greater tragedy that he was allowed, sometimes with American complicity, to commit them in the first place.

To access the article on NYTimes.com, click here.