Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, January 12, 2007

U.N. Human Rights Committee to begin Burma initiative

The Bush administration is pressuring the United Nations Security Council to draft a resolution that denounces the military regime of Burma, The Washington Post wrote in an editorial today. Burma, a clear dictatorship, is the world’s most offensive human rights abuser. In the early 1990’s, its attempts to hold a free election were thwarted when the winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, was put under house arrest, where she currently remains. The junta military regime in Burma has victimized and waged war on many of the nation’s indigenous groups, which has led to the displacement of more than one million citizens.

A commissioned report, released in 2005 by retired archbishop Desmond Tutu and Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, detailed the effects of the Burmese military on neighboring nations. The abuses against the Burmese people and neighboring communities have been overlooked to a large extent and speaking out against such atrocities would be an ideal inaugural initiative for the new United Nations Human Rights Committee. As of now, the proposed U.N. resolution would have no disciplinary measures; it will simply gauge the interest of nations to work together. However, The Washington Post expresses hope that the resolution will spark an international campaign, with the combination of the two resulting in concrete reform in the Burmese government. However, both China and Russia have stated that they will veto such a resolution.

For the full article, click here.

Five student protestors released from Burmese jail

In what is thought to be a ploy to appease the international community, Burma released five protestors from prison this week, the U.S. Campaign for Burma said in a press release Wednesday. The five activists were arrested in the late 1980’s during a major student uprising, at which thousands of students were killed. Aside from a brief release in 2004, the activists have been in prison since the uprising. Meanwhile, there has been a strong push for a United Nations Security Council resolution on Burma this week. The slated resolution would be a binding resolution from the Security Council, unlike previous U.N.-Burma initiatives.

For the full article, click here.

U.S. no longer a legitimate human rights defender, watchdog group declares

Human Rights Watch has taken the U.S. government to task for significant backsliding in its defense of human rights, The Washington Post reported today. The accusations were made yesterday by Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth upon release of the watchdog group’s World Report 2007. Roth was critical of the Bush administration’s post-September 11th counterterrorism efforts – citing acts of torture, questionable methods of interrogation by the CIA, mistreatment of alleged enemy combatants, and capricious detentions – and their implications.

“This catastrophic path has left the United States incapable of defending some of the most basic rights,” Roth wrote in the report.

Roth called on the new Democratic-controlled Congress and the European Union to help redress past wrongs, saying that the “trend is bleak, but not irreversible.”

The report also cited the governments of Burma, Ethiopia, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkmenistan as being among the worst oppressors of human rights.

For the full article, click here.

Local Church and Vietnamese authorities dispute over school grounds

In the Vinh Hung village, in the city of Hue, Vietnam, the Vietnamese government has threatened to permanently confiscate a Catholic school, BosNewsLife reported on Friday. The school, which was established in the late 1930’s by the archdiocese of Hue, was taken over in 1975 by the Viet Cong and has remained under state control since.

While a local priest, Dominique Truong Van Quy, would like to reclaim control of the school, it is believed that local authorities unaffiliated are interested in destroying the current building and constructing a Communist-run school. Although the building sits on archdiocese land and is technically controlled by the archdiocese, it is thought that outside local parties are interested in maintaining control of the lucrative property.

Local members of the archdiocese have said that they will undertake any measures in order to secure ownership of the building. Recently, they sent a letter to the U.S. Embassy pleading for their assistance in this matter.

For the full article, click here.

Egyptian torture victim sentenced to three months in jail

The victim of a widely-publicized torture case has been sentenced to three months in a Cairo jail for “resisting authority”, BBC News reported on Wednesday.

Imad Kabir was detained and sexually assaulted by Egyptian police in January 2006 after he attempted to come to the aid of a family member who had been involved in a dispute with the officers. The incident was videotaped by one of the officers involved in the assault. The footage eventually became public several months later and was widely circulated. Kabir pursued charges for the officers, who are scheduled to be tried in March, and his case has been supported by the global human rights community and Egyptian bloggers.

Kabir’s attorneys allege that their client is unsafe in prison. Kabir has received threats aimed at him and his family.

Meanwhile, more footage of alleged torture in Egyptian jails has again surfaced on the internet.

For the full article, click here.

Egyptian granted asylum in South Korea

Persecuted in his native Egypt after converting to Christianity, South Korea has granted Ibrahim (only surname released) refugee status, AsiaNews reported on Thursday. Ibrahim fled Egypt after he was physically harassed by a group of Egyptians that demanded he abandon his new religious beliefs. Upon arrival, the South Korean Ministry of Justice denied his refugee status. However, the decision was recently overturned by the South Korean Administrative Court. The court has affirmed Ibrahim refugee status, arguing that if he returns to Egypt it is doubtful whether he will receive sufficient protection against similar persecution.

For the full article, click here.

UN rejects proposal to place land mines along the Afghan-Pakistan border

While the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan remains tense, mostly due to cross-border militancy, the United Nations is calling “upon both governments to strengthen their commitment to find cooperative solutions to the security problems that [the Pakistan-Afghan] region faces”, the IRIN reported on Tuesday. The UN has also rejected Pakistan’s appeal to seed the Pakistan-Afghan border with land mines. The land mines are intended to divert increased Taliban activity between the bordering nations. However, these land mines are a particular threat to the Pashtun people, a majority ethnic group that resides along the border in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

For the full article, click here.

Relationship between Viet Nam and the Vatican continue to improve

The ameliorative relationship between the Vietnamese government and the Catholic Church will be furthered at the end of January when the Prime Minister of Viet Nam, Nguyễn Tấn Dũng, visits the Vatican for the first time, AsiaNews reported on Thursday. In a meeting in mid-2005, delegates from the Vietnamese government and the Vatican expressed their desire to elevate their relationship. Meetings such as these have become more frequent over the last few years.

Viet Nam has made strides to confront past international stigmas. Following the death of Pope John Paul I, the Vietnamese government expressed their solitude in a note to the Vatican.

While the government has been slow to allow real religious freedom, it does recognize the benefits of an improved relationship with the Church. Religious groups are key players in the revitalization of the country, particularly in the poorer regions where health and education are leading priorities.

For the full article, click here.

Exodus of Iraqis exceeds expectations

The multitude of internally displaced Iraqi refugees has escalated to unavoidable numbers, the IRIN reported today. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) recently announced that the number of internally displaced persons has strained the capacity of many humanitarian organizations. Unrelenting violence in Iraq’s central and southern regions has forced tens of thousands of citizens to flee. The amount of displaced persons has surpassed UNCHR’S 2003 initial estimates. With such large numbers, many areas are running out of the appropriate resources to accommodate the refugees. Additionally, there is fear that some will attempt to find permanent settlement elsewhere; many of those are skilled professionals essential to the Iraqi rebuilding process.

However, in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf, local authorities have allocated pieces of land to displaced families. Since 2003, many local people and displaced Iraqis have been living in abandoned government buildings and tents in the area. The local authorities, who are supplying the construction materials and covering any additional costs, are allowing local residents to build permanent housing, and displaced residents to build temporary housing.

For the article on the UNHCR, click here.
For the article on the reconstruction efforts in Najaf, click here.

Whereabouts of Afghan girl kidnapped, exchanged for dog, remain unknown

The case of an eleven year-old Afghan girl who was kidnapped and allegedly exchanged for a fighting dog has drawn international attention of late, highlighting the grave inadequacies of the Afghan government and the sway of warlords in the region, IWPR reported on Thursday.

In August, the girl disappeared from her home in Kunduz in northeastern Afghanistan - reportedly taken by armed intruders in the middle of the night. The identity of her kidnappers is unknown, however, and remains a contentious issue. The girl’s mother has accused Mullah Nazar, a powerful former militia leader, of the crime. Others have claimed the act was the work of forty year-old, mentally ill man whom the girl had been promised to for marriage when she was just an infant, or the man’s father, as the girl’s family had refused to honor the marriage agreement.

The whereabouts of the girl are still unknown, with her mother believing that she is being held across the border in Pakistan. Neither the provincial governor in Kunduz nor the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission has provided much assistance in the investigation, with the Commission claiming that its work has been hamstrung by the involvement of influential regional warlords. The warlords, despite being officially disarmed by the United Nations, apparently still hold much sway in the area.

"The warlords may have been disarmed technically, but their power has quadrupled," said one Kunduz resident. "They have found other sources of influence such as drug trafficking. They control the whole country, and if they want a girl, they take her. Anyone who opposes them is killed, and no one from the government or from human rights organizations will investigate."

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

UNHCR calls for $60 million in aid for displaced Iraqis

The following story was reported by AsiaNews yesterday.

UN: $60 million more needed for Iraqi refugees
The supplementary funds requested by UNHCR are earmarked for projects for internally displaced people (1.7 million) and refugees in neighbouring countries (2 million). But the problem is more widespread than that and seriously affects Europe and the United States too.

New York (AsiaNews) – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has called for another 60 million dollars for aid for Iraqi refugees whose numbers have been swelling since the beginning of the war. It is estimated that there are around 1.7 million internally displaced people while two million people have already fled to other countries in the region, especially Syria and Jordan and also Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey. The sum requested will top up one billion dollars already allocated by the UN agency for 2007. However, as denounced recently by AsiaNews, the tragedy of these people in flight is not limited to the Middle East – it assumes ever more serious proportions in western countries too, especially in Europe and the US.

Funds will cover UNHCR programmes for Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey, as well as internally displaced people within Iraq itself. UNHCR said there could be as many as 2.7 million people displaced within Iraq. Its statistics also reveal that 12% of refugees fled after the 2003 war while others fled even before the conflict started.

The request for extra funds indicates a review of the UN project for displaced people in Iraq. Previously UNHCR was concentrating on refugee return and integration, going by the assumption that stability in Iraq was increasing. But the escalation of violence in the country is leading to an increase in internal and external displacement. The current flow of people is the largest long-term flux in the Middle East since the time when a Palestinian exodus followed the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Currently one out of every eight Iraqis is displaced.

The appeal notes that most of the international aid will be necessary to ensure that neighbouring states keep their borders open to asylum seekers. In 2006 alone, UNHCR estimated that nearly 500,000 Iraqis fled to other areas inside the country and that 40,000 to 50,000 continue to flee their homes every month. Estimates of Iraqis displaced in neighbouring states include from 500,000 to 1 million in Syria; up to 700,000 in Jordan; up to 80,000 in Egypt; and up to 40,000 in Lebanon. Turkey has an unknown number of Iraqis.

AsiaNews has already denounced the tragedy of this people on the move and has interviewed several people close to the Iraqi Christian community abroad. They have called on agencies and the international community to be more committed to alleviating this underreported tragedy. But the problem is not restricted to the Middle East alone: it also deeply affects Europe and the United States that are ever less willing to grant asylum to increasingly desperate Iraqi refugees.

To access the full article, click here.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

House Committee on Foreign Affairs will host a series of meetings on Iraq

Chairman Tom Lantos (D-CA) announced yesterday that the House Committee on Foreign Affairs will host meetings that will examine the conditions in Iraq using a top-down approach, according to a PRNewswire report on the same day. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and Co-Chairman of the Iraq Study Group, Lee Hamilton, are all expected to provide insight into the current situation at the meetings, which begin on Thursday, January 10. Lantos hopes to unite the international community in stabilizing the region, which as of yet, has been a failed effort. Following this initiation of meetings, various other hearings, which will continue to examine the rebuilding process in the war-torn nation, are slated to take place.

For the full article, click here.

Kurdish Democratic Alliance advises against the use of the Baker-Hamilton report

In their recent address, The Kurdish Democratic Alliance (KDA) denounced the Baker-Hamilton report and its potential influence on the Iraqi conflict, Kurdish Media reported. KDA claims the Baker-Hamilton report’s solution to remove U.S. troops from Iraq appeases adversaries and essentially portends U.S. defeat. Although the U.S. initially promised to prioritize the promotion of democracy in Iraq, KDA refers to the Baker-Hamilton solution as a “pragmatic approach.” KDA argues that the only strategy that Baker-Hamilton values is the removal of U.S. troops in Iraq; the report is willing to sacrifice U.S. strategic interest for this cause by giving key stakeholders whatever they desire. While, U.S. troops would be removed, the troubles of the Kurdish people will be sidelined, the Ba’athists would be reinstated, and Iran and Turkey will be conciliated by the centralization of Iraq and the elimination of any hopes for the creation of a Kurdish nation.

It is the wish of the Kurdish Democratic Alliance that the Baker-Hamilton report not dominate in the development of the new approach in Iraq. The Alliance believes that the report does not properly reflect the new and ever-changing situation in the Middle East. Instead KDA warns that anti-American sentiment will only increase if the suggestions in Baker-Hamilton report are followed, which would ultimately make an independent Kurdish nation unlikely.

For the full article, click here.

Conservatives seek to broaden the context of anti-terrorism laws

Many conservatives will be working with the Democrat-dominated Congress on broadening the context of the anti-terrorism laws, The Washington Post reported on Monday. Although laws such as the Patriot Act are typically congruent with conservative values, many conservatives believe that these laws are too strict. In fact, under the current provisions, legal status is continually denied to foreigners who fought alongside American troops in conflicts such as the Vietnam War. Gary L. Bauer, president of the conservative organization, American Values, explained, “The enforcement of [anti-terrorism laws] has lapsed in ludicrousy. The concept of material support is being distorted, and even the definition of the term ‘terrorism’ is being turned on its ear.”

The number of people granted asylum from religious, ethnic, and political persecution has drastically dropped since September 11. It is believed that many are denied legal status because of affiliation with various groups prior to their arrival in the U.S. Under such broad context, even those that are forced against their will to aid terrorist groups are denied status.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has refused to broaden the context of the anti-terrorism laws to allow applicants in clear cases of asylum into the U.S. Additionally, communication from DHS has been minimal. Recently various Justice and State Department advocates met with members of the Homeland Security Department; however, without pressure from governing bodies critics are doubtful that DHS will make any changes.

For the full article, click here.

Former Undersecretary of Defense calls for U.S. to prevent Turkish invasion in Iraq

In a recent Financial Times article, former U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Dov Zakheim campaigned for greater U.S. troop deployment in Iraq, the Zaman Daily Newspaper reported. Recognizing that the United States government is currently reconsidering their strategy in Iraq, Zakheim argued that troops are necessary to maintain stability in the region. Not only would these troops help to prevent terrorist infiltration into neighboring nations, but additional troops would also circumvent potential actions that could lead to a Turkish invasion into the northern region.

For the full article, click here.