Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, February 09, 2007

Rice calls on Mubarak to release jailed opposition leader; later denied by committee

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for the release of Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nour, before meeting with Egypt’s foreign minister this week, Reuters reported on Wednesday. Nour is currently serving a five-year sentence for reportedly submitting forged documents to establish his political party.

Last month, a series of Egyptian human rights groups urged the government to release Nour due to his rapidly diminishing health conditions. Nour, who is diabetic, has had health problems since his cardiac catheterization procedure last December. According to members of Nour’s family, prison authorities have prohibited doctors and lawyers from visiting him; a violation of international rights, as well as the Egyptian constitution.

For the full article, click here.

An Egyptian governmental medical committee has ruled that Ayman Nour’s health conditions are not grave enough to grant his release from prison. While Ayman Nour’s initial prison sentence was politically motivated, Nour’s wife, Gameela Ismail, was shocked at the decision of the committee – citing this decision to be politically motivated as well.

For the full article, click here.

Proposed relocations could inflame Kurd-Arab tensions in Kirkuk

The Iraqi Higher Committee for the Normalization of Kirkuk announced a plan to pass legislation that would require any remaining descendents from Arab families that moved to the city under Ba’athist rule to return to their original homes, Spero News reported today. While Kirkuk has had a long tradition of mixed ethnicities and coexistence, there has been a recent housing crisis, and at its core, ethnic tension.

After the fall of the Ba’athist regime many Kirkuk natives who had fled the violence and oppression returned to their homes, only to find that they had already been resettled.

Arab residents facing the prospect of forced removal are to receive land and monetary compensation upon return to their original homes. Similarly, the Kurdistan Regional Government is hoping to attract those who were forced out of the area during under the Hussein regime with land and financial compensation.

However, some worry about the effects of such legislation. Deportation could exacerbate ethnic divisions. Additionally, the use of Iraqi troops to carry out the campaign could sour relations with the U.S.

For the full article, click here.

Human rights group criticizes decision to transfer civilians to military court

The Arab Organization for Human Rights has accused Egypt of violating international fair trial standards, Reuters reported today. Earlier this week, an Egyptian court authorized the transfer of more than forty opposition Islamists – including prominent Muslim Brotherhood official Khairat el-Shater - to a military court, where they face charges of terrorism and money-laundering. The ruling marks the first time in five years that civilian detainees in Egypt have been transferred to a military court.

For the full article, click here.

Violence in Iraq causes psychological damage on children

As a result of the ongoing violence, signs of psychological stress and damage to Iraqi children have surfaced, The Guardian Unlimited reported on Tuesday.

Violence directed at students and teachers has become so common that mothers are refusing to allow their children to attend school. In one case, a group of students witnessed their teacher removed from his car, and then murdered. School attendance has dropped to nearly half its normal rate.

Children are displaying symptoms of stress such as bedwetting, nightmares, and panic attacks, amongst others. According to psychological and aid organizations, many of these cases continue to go unmonitored and untreated. The Association of Iraqi Psychologists (API) has asked the international community to assist them in establishing a care-unit where children can receive psychological therapy. API hopes to treat potentially chronic emotional damage and curb the cycle of violence. Currently, local hospitals do no have the resources necessary to care for all of the afflicted. Previously, international aid organizations were assisting in this process; however, due to the continued violence, many organizations have been forced to leave.

Previous cases of childhood psychological trauma in war-torn areas have demonstrated that many of the stress symptoms dissipate once the violence ends. However, some say that the fact that Iraqi children continue to mirror the real violence that surrounds them in play-games - playing with toy guns, pretending to be a member of the insurgency, etc. – does not bode well for the future. Yet, amongst the psychological community, such caricatures are thought to be a healthy outlet. According to eminent Iraqi psychologist, Harith Hassan, “We must now learn instead about dialogue and compromise. Otherwise, we will continue to produce psychopathic personalities for whom violence is simply a means of negotiating daily life.” The key is to foster a healthy home and school environment in which violence does not appear to be a necessary means, Hassan said.

For the full article, click here.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Egyptian insight into Middle East turmoil

In an informally-structured dialogue, Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, H.E. Ahmed Aboul Gheit addressed a small crowd at The Brookings Institution yesterday before appointments with U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, and National Security Advisor, Stephen Hadley. Simultaneously, leaders of the Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, met for negotiations of Palestinian unity in Saudi Arabia, having come together in part due to Egypt’s intensive preparations. Optimism regarding these negotiations kicked off Mr. Gheit’s address.

The Palestinian problem needs to be addressed, Mr. Gheit claimed as his personal conviction, because it is “responsible for at least fifty percent of the tension within the Middle East” and between the West and the Middle East. An agreement, he believes, can be reached. “In order to ensure quiet, calm and stability, we have to ensure that Hamas is still in government,” Mr. Gheit said. Therefore, we must deal with Hamas, because they are “a fact of life,” he also commented. According to Mr. Gheit, once the Palestinians have united, the U.S.- with patience and vision- can facilitate negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Egypt calls for the end result of these negotiations to be an agreement on the “end game”- decisions on what to do with the borders, refugees, etc.- since the parameters for such an agreement are already known.

With sustained optimism, Mr. Gheit proceeded on to the situation in Iraq. Beginning by saying that “a true friend tells you the truth,” Mr. Gheit said that the current situation in Iraq is not limited to Iraq alone, rather threatens to expand to the region as whole. The problem is one of sectarian violence, insurgent fighting against foreign forces, and neighbors intervening or displaying their sensitivity to and personal interest in the future of Iraq, he said.

As to whether Egypt supports the U.S. Administration’s recently proposed policy for Iraq, Mr. Gheit said, “If the goal of increased troops is aimed at ending sectarian fighting, to dismantle the militia, we support it.” He continued that if the objective opens the political process and calls for amendments of the constitution, Egypt will endorse it. He further clarified, “I don’t endorse a plan; I endorse results.”

In order to see those results come to fruition, Mr. Gheit proposed some additional points: Sunnis need to be included in the political process; the Iraqi army should be re-established, as they are nationalists eager to serve their country; de-Baathification needs to come to an end, since a whole nation should not be penalized for belonging to a party; and Iraq’s neighbors need to be convinced that keeping Iraq unified is within the best interest of the region. He also added that the U.S. should be careful “not to create dynamics that help extremists.”

When questioned about political reform within his own country, Mr. Gheit’s only response was that Egypt is changing and moving forward. He explained that the “wisdom of Egypt” is to clearly state an objective and move toward it. “A stable democracy appears when the stage is right,” said Mr. Gheit, which includes education and a vibrant middle class. Egypt, he explained, has 13 parties, 450-500 newspapers, and a government that is liberalizing internally. Mr. Gheit then diplomatically transitioned topics.

Petition to promote women’s rights in Iran

Much to the dismay of the Iranian government, one Iranian woman is working to gather one million signatures from her fellow Iranian women to protest their lack of rights, including divorce and custody, according to a New York Times editorial yesterday.

Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and 2003 Nobel Peace Prize Winner, has brought together multiple organizations and publications to educate women on their rights. The movement, which started last year, has no official leadership to avoid retaliation. However, about 400 women have been trained to educate other women, obtain signatures for the petition, and hand out leaflets describing how Iran’s interpretation of Islamic law denies women their full rights.

“By getting one million signatures, the world will know we object to these conditions,” Ebadi said.

In an effort to bring Ebadi’s peaceful protest to an end, the Iranian government recently blocked access to the campaign’s website. However, the women were unfazed, and re-launched their site with a different web address just hours later.

The exceedingly repressive stance of the Iranian regime illustrates the importance of Ebadi’s work. The Iranian Council of Guardians, which has greater authority than President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has vetoed legislation that would have advanced civil liberties and, in 2004, essentially banned moderate parliamentary candidates from running for office.

Despite the obstacles, the women push forward. More than 30,000 Iranian women have already signed the petition, and the editorial’s writer, Maura J. Casey, is hopeful that the campaign will inspire like-minded action from other reformers. As Casey puts it, “If Iran’s women start questioning their lack of rights, perhaps Iran’s men will have the courage to speak out, too.”

For the full article, click here.

New Afghan bill concerns human rights organizations

Last week, the lower house of parliament in Afghanistan approved a bill that could provide amnesty to all individuals involved in combat in the country over the past twenty-five years, the PakTribune reported on Tuesday. The bill states that those who fought in Afghanistan over the last two and a half decades "should not be dealt with through legal and judicial channels."

The bill has United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbor concerned that human rights violations may be permitted to slip through the cracks without those who committed the crimes being brought to justice.

The approval of the bill seemingly contradicts the Action Plan on Peace Reconciliation and Justice, launched by Afghan President Hamid Karzai last December to ensure that war criminals were not given amnesty.

For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

UNFPA commemorates International Day against Female Genital Mutilation

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) commemorated an International Day against Female Genital Mutilation today. The announcement, written by UNFPA executive director Thoraya Ahmed Obiad, was published on the UNFPA website. Millions of women around the world have been subjected to this practice; moreover, 3 million girls are potential victims of female genital mutilation each year.

While widely accepted under the pretense of religious practice, the act is not required by any religion. While religious leaders have called for an injunction against female genital mutilation and the practice has been on the decline in several African countries, UNFPA hopes to engender stronger governmental commitment to the eradication of the practice. In her address, Ahmed Obiad stated, “we are guided by the knowledge that social change cannot be imposed from the outside.”

In addition to calling for the abolishment of FGM, UNFPA also recognizes that governments and organizations should aid those women in girls already affected by the practice.

Additionally, while there has been an increase in doctor-performed cuttings, the age at which the act is being performed is slowly becoming younger and younger in order to avoid any refusal from the participant.

For the full statement, click here.

Vietnamese refugees return home; U.S. believe that religious persecution not a threat

Between 2001 and 2004, thousands of Vietnamese Protestant Christian Montagnards fled to Cambodia during heightened times of religious persecution and land appropriation. However, many of these refugees have been denied permanent relocation in Cambodia and will be forced to return to Viet Nam, the AFP reported on Monday.

While Viet Nam has been internationally known for its lack of religious tolerance, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Ellen Sauerbrey said that she had no reason to believe that the Vietnamese refugees would be harmed in any way upon their return. She spoke with a small group of refugees who had already returned to their native Central Highlands in Viet Nam; they affirmed that they received no maltreatment. Human rights groups, however, are skeptical of this claim. In January of 2005, when the U.S., Viet Nam, and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees signed an agreement which allowed refugees to return to Viet Nam, Human Rights Watch accused the Vietnamese government of persecuting and detaining some of the returnees.

Sauerbrey also argued that persecution of Protestant Montagnards would be better remedied if it was addressed internally by the Vietnamese government.

“I think that our government and the government of Vietnam share a belief that it is far better for people who fear persecution, oppression for political reasons or ethnic reasons, whatever, for that problem to be addressed inside the country rather than them having to flee to Cambodia,” Sauerbrey said.

For the full article, click here.

Monday, February 05, 2007

British, U.S. military officials at odds over Afghan policy

According to an article from today’s Christian Science Monitor, there is growing tension between British military commanders and their American counterparts. Several recent occurrences have caused the tension, and the British claim these incidents have compromised their autonomy. One such instance was the handover of Helmand province to the British. The British had planned on focusing on reconstruction projects in Helmand, but were practically forced to take part in a U.S.-led offensive. Other worries include the new commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan, who is an American. His predecessor was a British military commander who sought inroads with some of the more violent factions throughout the country.

For the full article, click here.

New path needed to stem Afghan opium production

Ninety percent of the world’s opium came directly from Afghanistan last year, according to The New York Times. An editorial in Sunday’s Times, argues that the current policy in place to combat the opium trade in Afghanistan is strikingly similar to the failed policies in Colombia, and this is reflected by the fact that the next U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan was formerly the U.S. Ambassador to Colombia.

The Times argues that the focus in opium eradication efforts needs to be on giving farmers another way to make money. As long as poverty remains a major problem, the drug trade will continue to flourish, providing money to pro-Taliban warlords, as well as pro-government warlords. Currently, the drug trade represents an estimated 35 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP, and if the shortsighted policies in place, which focus on security and short-term projects, are not transformed, there will not be any hope of fixing the situation.

To read the article, click here.

Refugee crisis detrimental to Iraq’s future

In the four years since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, approximately 2 million Iraqis have fled the country, The Washington Post reported on Sunday. In addition, approximately 1.7 million Iraqis are considered internally displaced persons (IDPs). The total number of refugees constitutes roughly16 percent of the prewar population of Iraq.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 50,000 Iraqis are fleeing their homes every month. Many are fleeing to Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, where they are unable to find jobs and must conceal their true identity for fear of being expelled. Many of the refugees are doctors, academics, and others vital to the reconstruction effort in their homeland. Initially, it was primarily the rich Iraqis who fled, some even before the war, but now more and more poor Iraqis are seeking asylum elsewhere. ‘

Less than 500 refugees have been resettled in the United States since 2003. In Jordan, a nation where Palestinian refugees comprise one-third of the total population, there are officially Iraqi 500,000-700,000 refugees, though many estimates put the figure closer to 1 million. Jordan’s economy has become increasingly strained by the massive influx and officials are now turning Iraqis away at the borders. In response, many Iraqis have looked to Syria for asylum, though the journey is dangerous, and the risk of attack from Sunni insurgents along the way is high.

To read the article, click here.

Freedom House holds panel on democracy and human rights in Iran

At the Gozaar Panel Discussion: “The Prospects for Democracy in Iran” at Freedom House on Friday, February 2, three Iranian activists discussed their struggles for freedom and what can be done to promote democracy and human rights in Iran.

Akbar Atri, one of Iran’s leading student activists, initiated the panel discussion by vividly describing the Iranian student movement’s constant struggle for freedom, as they are seeing their political and civil liberties deteriorate and the imprisonment, torture, and murder of fellow student activists. Atri believes supporting and truly implementing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Iran is crucial for several reasons, including the need to secure freedom of speech in all corners of the Iranian society – he regards upholding this declaration as an opportunity to see change in a society where dissent is fiercely repressed. At the same time Atri hopes to see greater collaboration between new NGOs from all layers of society - giving them a common platform. Atri also said that in order to prevent prolonging the status quo and give Iranians a prosperous outlook for the future, the international community needs to help to end the current suppression of the press and the detention of civil activists within Iran.

Mohsen Sazegara, a Harvard University scholar and democracy activist, is one of the leading proponents of democracy in Iran. He stated that the prospect of a military intervention and the current deflation in Iran are of great concern to the entire Iranian civil society. As such, the current regime is under severe pressure both internationally and domestically, and have consequently intensified pressure on Iranian freedom-seekers.

Sazegara also discussed several scenarios concerning the future of Iran; however he believes that establishing further sanctions, with demands on improving human rights, could be the Achilles heel of the Iranian regime. Currently he is seeing a zero-sum relationship between the regime’s quest to become a world power and work on a covert nuclear weapons program, and this is putting Iranian civil society at risk. Sazegara recognized that the international community will be more likely to provide meaningful assistance when they realize that Iranian civil society does not support the regime’s aggressive tactics. In communicating this important message, internal fissures between different civil society groups need to be brought together, and he believes dialogue amongst Iranian intellectuals can make this happen.

Roya Toloueee, a feminist and Kurdish rights advocate who fled Iran for the U.S., took a different angle on the prospects for democracy in Iran. Her biggest concern is not the suppression of the press but the intrastate national conflicts in Kurdish areas of Iran. Tolouee believes that where conflicts like this remains unresolved, there exists the potential for human rights violations, as well as the resumption of violence. Her main focus in the debate would be the new intellectual movement within the Kurdish communities – this new movement is really keen on discussing nationalism and criticizing the Islamic republic to provoke change. Freedom and democracy for the Kurds are cast aside under the theocratic Iranian regime and all opposition violently “removed”. Thus, freedom and democracy are as much at the core of Kurdish hope, as they are with the majority of the Iranians.

According to Tolouee, human rights is a “fashionable” term today amongst Kurds and young Iranians and she is seeing a growth and flowering of NGOs. Therefore, Tolouee asserts that now is the time for everyone to look beyond old way and internal debates to promote dialogue and compromise so that a common goal can be reached.

The systematic violation of human rights, confronting the international community and combating internal strife has truly left Iran in a precarious position, where it must be prepared for any type of offensive action from the international community. Fear and mistrust run deep, and because of this the outlook for a successful outcome must be viewed with cautious optimism.