Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, January 19, 2007

OSCE Representative outraged over recent murder of Turkish journalist

Miklos Haraszti, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Representative on Freedom of the Media, spoke out against the murder of Turkish journalist Hrant Dink in a Today.AZ article today. Dink, the editor of an American-Turkish weekly, was shot in front of his Istanbul office. Haraszti demanded the Turkish government respond firmly as violence against journalists jeopardizes freedom of expression and should not be tolerated.

For the full article, click here.

Kurdish reluctance towards Bush’s new plan in Iraq

In his recent editorial Howrie Kirkuki of the Kurdish Aspect called the new U.S. deployment plan in Iraq “the biggest gamble yet for both President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki”. The plan, referred to as the Baghdad Security Plan, which moves troops from Kurdistan into Iraq, is ostensibly advantageous for security in Iraq in general, but may not as beneficial to the Kurdish region, Kirkuki said.

The Kurdish Regional Government has been able to avoid direct involvement in the Shia-Sunni conflict; however, fear has arisen that this will not be the case if the two Kurdish brigades set to be deployed by the plan fail. In preparation for such an event, Kirkuki suggests that Kurdish forces need to be deployed to other areas such as the Kurdish regions around Mosul.

If the Baghdad security plan fails the Kurdish government fears that attacks from Turkey, Iran, and Sunnis might ensue - battles which the Kurdish government is not prepared to fight.

For the full article, click here.

Christians in Iraq

Stefan De Groot, employee of the organization Open Doors, which assists Christians living under persecution, addressed the plight of Christians living in Iraq in a recent Journal Chretien article. De Groot, who regulary visits Iraq, stated that violence against Christians continues to worsen in the country. A series of Muslim extremist groups have matured and many are attacking small Christian businesses. While these radicals are interested in ridding the region of Christian believers, De Groot believes they are attacking business owners in particular in order to fund their continuing violence.

Since the early 1990s, the numbers of Christians living in Iraq has been cut in half. However, De Groot is hopeful that the Christians remaining in Iraq will stay strong. The fact that there was an increase in bible sales in Iraq in the past year is a cause for hope. Additionally, Open Doors plans to provide training to converts and earmark a significant amount of funds for socio-economic development that will benefit Christian communties.

For the full article, click here.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Holistic approach used to draw out benefits of reduced poverty

One of the world’s best known economists, Jeffery Sachs, has been active in addressing the holistic approach the United Nations has in place right now to help reduce poverty in developing countries. Sachs, a special adviser to the United Nations on the Millennium Development Goals, told gathered members of the media at a news conference in Nairobi, "Whether it's Darfur or Somalia or other conflict regions, people are in conflict because they're so poor they cannot stay alive -- that's what needs to be addressed for security for rich countries," Reuters reported on Wednesday.

Before that security can be reached, a plan to actually reduce poverty must prove successful. That is precisely what a U.N. experiment is setting out to do. The “Millennium Village Project” will target 78 villages across Malawi, Senegal, Mali, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda are receiving “targeted investments” such as mosquito nets, medicines and fertilizers, along with improved crops and other assistance as part of an effort to help cut the world’s extreme poverty in half by the year 2015. The project is expected to have a positive impact on 400,000 people and is slated to cost just $50 per villager annually for the next five years.

Sachs also stressed that security around the world should be prioritized.

For the full article, click here.

Increasing access to safe water in rural mountainous regions of Viet Nam

UNICEF, in cooperation with the Vietnamese government, is attempting to bring better sanitation practices into the rural areas in the mountainous northern region of Viet Nam through access to safe running water, UNICEF reported in a press release yesterday. The program targets school-aged children by installing the necessary infrastructure, toilets and sinks, and teaching them proper techniques for sanitation. The hope is to reach the children at a young age - specifically kindergarten - so that they can learn to be healthy. At the schools where the equipment has been installed, hygiene classes will be implemented that cover the correct procedures for hand washing and teach students to refrain from throwing trash into the rivers. UNICEF hopes this program will encourage better sanitation practices among those in Viet Nam’s rural communities.

To read the entire release, click here.

Hanoi reaffirms commitment to women’s rights

The Chairwoman of the National Committee for the Advancement of Women in Viet Nam (NCFAW), Ha Thi Khiet, has reaffirmed the commitment of the Vietnamese government to the implementation of the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), according to VietNamNet Bridge. In a speech in front of the CEDAW Committee in New York yesterday, Khiet emphasized the progress made in Viet Nam, where advocates continue to press for the elimination of any inequality between men and women, both in the family and socially.

Khiet said, “In the past five years, Viet Nam has deployed various policies and measures in the legislative, executive and judicial fields to promote the equality between men and women and ensure the full development of women so as to enhance women’s role and position in all areas.”

Among the steps taken to promote women’s rights in Viet Nam is the recent adoption of the Law of Gender Equality.

To read the entire article, click here.

New attempt to promote bilingual education in northern Viet Nam

A new attempt is being made in the northern region of Viet Nam - inhabited by many Hmong - to promote a bilingual education aimed at giving the Hmong an equal opportunity for education, UNICEF reported on Monday. The program begins at the elementary school level, with instruction in both the traditional language of the region and Vietnamese. UNICEF sees this as a way to level the playing field for education for all Vietnamese. This program is part of a larger program under UNICEF which attempts to prepare all children in every way (mentally, physically and emotionally) for primary schooling.

To read the entire article, click here.

Scholar proposes regional approach to the rise of Shiite power in the Middle East

At a Woodrow Wilson Center program today, Yitzhak Nakash, a professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at Brandeis University, proposed a regional approach to the rise of the Shiites in the Middle East. Though the oil-rich Persian region is comprised of an 80% native Shiite population, Nakash said that the fear of the Sunni governments in the region - and perhaps around the world - is overblown, since each Shiite group is organized differently.

Emboldened by the Iranian Revolution of 1978-1979, the Shiites started down a path of activism. For some terrorist groups that path has involved radicalism supported by extremist groups such as Al Qaeda. However, the recent trend of Shiites on the whole is towards accommodation. The next few months, Nakash noted, will be critical in determining whether that trend will continue with accommodation or return to radicalism on the whole.

In terms of success in Iraq, Nakash believes the best government structure is a Shiite-led “unified Iraq with a decent and representative government.” Though not specifying which, he also stated that the ideal structure should reflect aspects of Lebanon’s government. Nakash advocated aspects of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s model of government, noting that it offers a decent alternative that could help pull Iraq from ties with Iran and build bridges to the West.

The reinforced sectarian struggle between Shiites and Sunnis is primarily political. In both sects’ eyes the definition of national identity is at stake. Iraqis and their neighbors alike, however, dread the consequences of partition, according to Nakash.

As for the role of the U.S. in Iraq, the U.S. invasion enforced the already strongly religious dimension of the political situation, leading clerics to assume the role of community leaders. At this point in the conflict, however, the U.S. “can’t just cut and run,” insisted Nakash, leaving the conflict to escalate to a civil war between the two sects. Doing so would unleash a new level of violence that would lead to the reshaping of the Middle East, possibly allowing states such as Iran, Turkey and Syria to step in militarily over the creation of new states.

Instead, Nakash urged, “we reached a point where we have to think beyond the Iraq box.” Part of this regional thinking involves the U.S. politically engaging Tehran. Nakash’s proposal included the U.S. settling for no regime change in Iran, so long as Iran would maintain a promised termination of their nuclear program and terrorist backing.

Regional thinking in the Middle East seems to be the trend of the week, as Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, in her testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, January 17th, advocated a need for dialogue with Iran as a means of bringing stability to Iraq as well.

Increasing numbers of Iraqi refugees leaves Congress with difficult decisions

On Tuesday a U.S. Senate Judiciary subcommittee heard testimony regarding the plight of refugees in Iraq, NPR reported January 17th.

The current situation is spiraling out of control, with approximately 100,000 individuals per month fleeing Iraq. Refugees International’s Kenneth Bacon estimates that the total number of internally displaced Iraqis is 1.7 million, with an additional 2 million Iraqis seeking asylum elsewhere – usually in neighboring countries such as Jordan and Syria.

The U.S. has granted asylum to only 466 Iraqi refugees. Ellen Sauerbrey, the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, claimed at the hearing that the low number is due to tightened entry restrictions that have been imposed on Iraqis for security purposes. In response, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland stated, “The fact that only 400 have been able to make it through our process to be able to come to America... speaks volumes as to the need for us to find a policy that will be more accommodating, so that we can accomplish some of our responsibility here to help those that are in need.”

Currently, the U.S. is focused on assisting those refugees targeted because of their work as translators, or in other capacities, with the U.S. Military. Sami (a pseudonym), an Iraqi translator for the military, testified at the hearing from behind a screen for fear of revealing his identity. At this point, only 50 translators have been granted visas.

Only a small portion of the Iraqi refugees are fleeing because of a connection with the U.S. military. Most flee to escape the unrelenting sectarian violence that has ravaged the nation. Hesitancy to help is a major concern, with the economies of Jordan and Syria already strained by the large influx, leaving most refugees unable to adequately support their families and in a state of uncertainty.

Despite the obvious need for additional assistance, some Democrats are critical of the administration’s request for $20 million for refugee aid. Others, such as Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, believe that a larger amount should be requested as part of next month’s budget submission. As the number of Iraqi refugees increases and more time elapses, Congress’s decision only grows more difficult.

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Albright addresses Foreign Affairs Committee on controversial new Iraq strategy

U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Tom Lantos welcomed Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright to address the committee with her opinions of President Bush's proposed U.S. troop increase in Iraq on Wednesday.

Rep. Lantos agreed with Former Secretary Albright that, at this point,there are no good options. He stated that many of the measures that have been proposed "could have been useful four years ago, but no longer are."

Former Secretary Albright testified that a "solution will only come from political means" of the Iraqi leadership. She then made five recommendations to Congress of factors that should be considered in the decision-making process. First, she emphasized a need to recognize that U.S. credibility internationally is at a low point. To bring about a change, Albright suggested a renewed focus on Middle East diplomacy -first between Israel and Palestine, followed by Golan Heights.

Second, Albright stressed the importance of avoiding taking sides in the Sunni-Shiite split. To do this the administration must honor human rights, obey the rule of law, and respect holy places.

Third, Albright recommended that Congress continue to support efforts to build democratic institutions in Iraq - including provincial elections. Per Rep. Lantos' request for further explanation, Albright expanded her statement, describing democracy as a process with a long timeline, rather than an event.

The administration should make another effort to expand training assistance in Iraq through the help of other NATO member states, according to Albright's fourth point. She also stated that NATO countries should realize the war in Iraq affects their own national interests - especially in regards to energy - and, therefore, should be willing to help.

The Former Secretary's last recommendation was to consider involving the assistance of religious leaders in the area with conflict resolution. As her proposal for a solution was political, not military - yet had deep religious ties - leaders such as the Grand Mufti of Sarajevo,President Badawi of Malaysia, or Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, could be instrumental.

As Congress must soon make a decision as to whether additional funding should be granted for an increase in U.S. troops in Iraq, Albright made clear that she does not agree with the current proposal, but re-iterated that we have a "moral obligation to support current troops there." She asked Congress to consider, perhaps, implementing a cap on the funding for additional troops and repeatedly urged that they continue to ask alot of questions.

The Committee heard Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's testimony last week.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Rice visits Egypt; U.S. intentions in the region unclear

While previously, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice criticized the Egyptian government and populace for its lack of respect for the law, Rice’s recent visit occurred under very different terms, the New York Times reported today. In fact, Rice praised Egypt for their support of U.S. efforts in the Middle East.

While it is now unclear how the U.S. intends to benefit from its close relationship with Egypt, it is clear that this relationship could serve to weaken the already-faltering international support for United States. Although the U.S. has made a strong vocal commitment to democracy, various advocates have agreed that priorities in the region have shifted from democracy promotion to maintenance of stability.

The United States has done very little in the way of speaking out against the various human rights atrocities that have occurred in Egypt over the past several years. The Egyptian government has tampered with elections and actively repressed opposition parties –as evidenced by the imprisonment of former presidential candidate Ayman Nour. These are only some of the lengthy number of human rights abuses that continue to be overlooked.

For the full article, click here.

Department of Homeland Security to create new provisions to anti-terrorist laws

In the past, laws administered by the Department of Homeland Security made the process of obtaining asylum in the U.S. nearly impossible for foreigners who were forced to aid rebel groups. New provisions, set to begin this week, seek a balance that will provide assistance to refugees in the most need without threatening national security, the International Herald Tribune reported late last week.

Under current legislation, women who are kidnapped, raped, and then forced into domestic servitude by groups deemed terrorists are denied refugee status simply because of their affiliation with such groups. The new provisions seek to assist asylum-seekers in such clear cases.

In addition to extensive intelligence and background checks, the new process will require applicants to show that they were forced to aid rogue groups. Such legislation would specifically help vulnerable groups in Tibet, Burma, and Viet Nam. However, any person who has aided a member of Al Qaeda will still not be allowed refugee status.

While the new provisions augment the number of ethnic groups allowed to apply for refugee status, they may not allow certain members of these groups to apply - particularly any person that has participated in armed combat - potentially dividing families. Critics believe that these types of restrictions adversely affect vulnerable refugees at the greatest risk in their home countries.

For the full article, click here.

Institute Celebrates Religious Freedom Day

Washington, DC – In recognition of January 16 as National Religious Freedom Day, Institute on Religion and Public Policy President Joseph K. Grieboski released the following statement:

“Religious Freedom Day commemorates the Virginia General Assembly’s passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, authored by Thomas Jefferson and made into law on January 16, 1786.

The document was a precursor for the protection of religious freedom nationally, later embodied in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Jefferson argued in this 793-word decree that compulsion in religion, especially by one’s government, is fundamentally flawed and interferes with ‘the natural rights of mankind.’

Religious Freedom Day should act as a significant reminder of the great liberties that are enjoyed by all Americans each day. Freedom of religion is the first freedom that our Constitution guarantees, as it is the foundation of all other freedoms. We as a people must work to ensure that these liberties remain woven into the fabric of human society both at home and abroad.”