Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, March 16, 2007

Scholars call on U.S. to promote democratic reform in Pakistan

At a Hudson Institute forum today on stability and democracy in Pakistan, leading regional experts argued that seemingly uncritical U.S. support of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and the military-backed government that he oversees in Pakistan – a key ally in the war on terror – has both bolstered anti-American sentiments and undermined prospects for genuine democracy in the nation.

Marvin G. Weinbaum, a Middle East Center scholar and a former State Department analyst for Pakistan and Afghanistan, led off the panel by outlining the unsound nature of the U.S.-Pakistani alliance. According to Weinbaum, the U.S. continues to alter its policy towards Pakistan to appease Musharraf, despite simmering impatience with, what are generally considered, incomplete and insincere counterterrorism efforts. U.S. praise of Musharraf, Weinbaum said, only reinforces a commonly-held view among Pakistanis that their president is serving American interests at the expense of the needs of his people. It also has the added effect, according to Weinbaum, of endorsing inadequate democratic progress and marginalizing the political moderates that offer the best hope for realization of that progress. To counteract this, Weinbaum says that the U.S. needs to make clear to ordinary Pakistanis that they have a sustained commitment to their welfare. This can be achieved through greater U.S. funding for social programs and reduced funding for the Pakistani military, he said.

Husain Haqqani, a Hudson Institute scholar and the editor of the Hudson journal ‘Current Trends in Islamist Ideology’, recounted the circumstances of Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent visit to Pakistan – which coincided with suicide bomber attacks and the testing of a missile capable of reaching, according to Islamabad, “every Indian city” – as a way of illustrating the dysfunctional nature of the Pakistani state. This dysfunction is rooted squarely in military rule – and the billions in U.S. aid that sustain it – which makes the country a “one-legged stool” that stands entirely on the army, Haqqani said. The Pakistani military, he maintained, holds contempt for, and deliberately undermines and stifles other branches of government. A narrow emphasis on military might has also compromised technological innovation and basic service delivery. Haqqani later went on to admonish the U.S. government for their tendency to think in black and white terms in foreign policy, namely “Who can we shoot or who can we go to bed with?” According to Haqqani, the U.S. needs to do neither with Musharraf, as promoting meaningful, open discourse will produce better results for both sides in the end.

Dr. Hasan-Askari Rizvi, one of Pakistan’s most esteemed political scientists and a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, expressed his apprehension as to the fairness of the forthcoming presidential, parliamentary, and provincial elections that are slated to take place in Pakistan later this year. Rizvi acknowledged that these elections don’t necessarily offer the Pakistani people a real choice, as it is likely that the Musharraf administration will severely repress, or completely exclude, legitimate opposition challengers. Indeed, instead of being committed to progress, the Pakistani government is simply attempting to sustain their power and cultivate a false image of effectiveness, Rizvi said.

Rice raises human rights concerns in meeting with Vietnamese official

During Thursday’s meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Viet Nam’s Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem, Rice urged Khiem to work to improve the current human rights situation in his country, Reuters reported the same day.

According to State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, human rights are a priority for the U.S. in their relationship with Viet Nam.

Four Republican congressmen introduced a resolution this week demanding that Viet Nam “immediately end their ongoing, unbridled human rights abuses and free all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.”

For the full article, click here.

State Department denounces conviction of Egyptian blogger

The U.S. State Department on Thursday decried the recent conviction of Egyptian blogger Abdel-Karim Suleiman, Reuters reported the same day. Suleiman was indicted for offensive comments towards Islam and President Hosni Mubarak. He was recently sentenced to four years in prison.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack expressed his concerns, saying “His conviction is a setback for human rights in Egypt.” McCormack also emphasized the integral role that freedom of expression plays in a democratic and prosperous society.

Egypt receives nearly $2 billion in U.S. aid each year.

For full article, click here

Egypt appoints 31 female judges in landmark move

Egypt has approved the appointment of 31 female judges for judge or chief justice positions, The Associated Press reported Thursday. This is seen as a move towards a new era for Egypt's judiciary, despite resignations from many of the country's Islamic groups. The appointments by Supreme Judicial Council Chairman Mukbil Shaker, announced by state television Wednesday, are Egypt’s first for female judges.

Analysts say the move is also intended to boost President Hosni Mubarak’s standing as provider of social and political reforms. However, others like Fatima Lashin, an Egyptian lawyer, say that the appointments are only cosmetic since Mubarak, according to the article “intends to send the female judges to family status tribunals and not criminal courts.”

For the full article, click here.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

U.S.-Turkish relations could impact Iraq war

In his opening remarks this morning as chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Europe, Congressman Robert Wexler, of Florida, emphasized the importance of U.S.-Turkish relations, particularly in regards to military operations. The witnesses, who further addressed the relational components and the challenges related thereto included the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, Ambassador Daniel Fried; the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO, Mr. Dan Fata; and General Joseph Ralston, the Special Envoy Countering the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK).

Turkey, a secular, democratic majority Muslim country, is of strategic importance to the U.S. According to Ambassador Fried’s statement, 74 percent of the air cargo sent into Iraq, goes through Incirlik Airbase in Turkey. Relations between the two countries, however, may not remain the same depending on the affects of continued PKK violence and the proposed Armenian Genocide Resolution currently before the House of Representatives.

The continued presence of the PKK in southern Turkey and northern Iraq is the single greatest challenge to U.S.-Turkish relations, according to Mr. Fata. “Since 1975, there have been over 30,000 deaths as a result of PKK violence, with some 600 civilian and military deaths in 2006 alone,” he said.

General Ralston expanded on the complexity of the situation, citing northern Iraq as the PKK operational and training grounds. He also offered a few steps to help counter the PKK: “the Iraqi government’s public condemnation of the presence of armed PKK militias in Iraq, the order to close PKK offices in the Iraqi Kurdish region, the facilitation of a PKK declaration of a cessation of hostilities that has lasted for almost six months,” and the recent closure of the Makhmour refugee camp, where PKK fighters were hiding.

An Armenian Genocide Resolution bill is soon to be decided upon by the House of Representatives. The resolution calls for the Turkish atrocities against Armenians in 1915 to be officially recognized by the U.S. government as genocide. In response to the proposed bill, Ambassador Fried said, “The [Turkish] Administration has never denied – nor does it dispute or minimize – the historical facts of these mass murders and ethnic cleansing. Each year, the President issues a solemn statement on April 24, Armenian Remembrance Day, recognizing these atrocities and the suffering inflicted on Armenians. The Administration’s goal is to stimulate a candid exploration within Turkish society of these horrific events in an effort to help Turkey reconcile with its painful past and with Armenia.”

However, the passage of the U.S. bill, he continued, “would undercut those voices emerging in Turkey who call for a truthful exploration of these events in pursuit of Turkey’s reconciliation with its own past and with Armenia. Our goal is an opening of the Turkish mind and the Turkish heart. Our fear is that passage of any such resolution would close minds and harden hearts.”

Congressman Wexler further questioned the Ambassador about the precise impact the bill would have on U.S. forces in Iraq, if passed. Ambassador Fried responded that the Turkish government would be under tremendous public and parliamentary pressure to react- likely harming relations with the U.S. and having “an immediate and damaging impact on our troops.” Additionally, Turkish anti-American sentiments- which, as of now, is “broad, but shallow”- would likely deepen. Turkey would be left to believe that their “best friend in the West turned against them,” commented the Ambassador. Both other witnesses held similar views.

As the hearing adjourned, the atmosphere in the room was a seemingly firm indication that, in order to uphold U.S.-Turkish relations and not further complicate the current U.S. military strategy in Iraq, the U.S. should avoid passing the resolution but still use diplomatic relations with Turkey, Iraq, and the government of Kurdistan to pressure the PKK into halting its terrorist activities.

For the complete text of each witness testimony, click here.

Michael Rubin vs. Kurdistan

Thursday, March 15, 2007 KurdishMedia.com - By Vahal Abdulrahman

It pains me to pen a single word against American Enterprise Institute’s resident scholar, Michael Rubin, because he is a friend of the Iraqi people and his employer provided the Iraqi opposition with an enormous amount of assistance during the years leading up to the liberation of Iraq. However, his latest piece, “Enabling Kurdish Illusions,” has compelled me to write this response, in a way to clarify what might have gone wrong with a man who once took time off to go teach at Kurdistan’s universities and now complains about Secretary Rice daring to utter the word “Kurdistan.”

Undoubtedly Kurdistan is the only success story of a war that has cost thousands of American lives and billions of American taxpayer dollars, a war that Michael Rubin and his colleagues at AEI wholeheartedly supported. Yet instead of celebrating this success, Rubin, writes, for Turkey’s benefit, a carefully crafted blend of half-truths and accusations called, “Enabling Kurdish Illusions.” Is Michael Rubin not mindful of Turkey’s sentiments concerning the liberation of Iraq? Turkey is, after Israel and Egypt, the third largest recipient of US foreign aid, yet when the US requested Turkey’s assistance in launching its attack against Saddam’s regime, the Turkish government gave Uncle Sam a “No” as firm as that which was received from the Arab Street.

In his very first paragraph, Rubin justifies Turkish officials’ anger over Condi Rice’s utterance of the word, “Kurdistan,” an unsubtle way of showing for whom he was writing this article. Some suspect that Michael Rubin is a paid agent of the Turkish authorities, though I disagree. However, if Rubin’s disgust over how things are being managed in Iraqi Kurdistan stems from his conviction that federal structures should not be based on ethnic and sectarian divisions, then the Iraqi Kurdistan model is not what should be criticized.

Iraqi Kurdistan is a community of Assyrians, Chaldeans, Turkmens, Yezidis, Shabaks, Arabs and Kurds who live together in peace, a fact of which Michael Rubin is well aware having spent time living there while he taught classes at both Dohuk and Sileimani universities. Turkey cannot teach Iraq’s Kurds a single thing about tolerance, recognition of ethnic groups or respect for the rights of others as the Turkish regime and military establishment has yet to recognize the most shameful chapter of Anatolia’s history, the Armenian Genocide, and has yet to accept the fact that not everyone living within Turkey’s current borders is an ethnic Turk.

Rubin goes on to criticize the State Department for not making its $1.4 billion to the Kurdistan Regional Government conditional. The hypocrisy there is amusing considering the fact that Turkey receives far larger amounts from Foggy Bottom without the enforcement of any conditions, even elementary ethical considerations.

Some US military personnel stationed in Iraqi Kurdistan, Rubin says, printed business cards with Kurdish flags on them. What Rubin fails to mention is that to date, there has been not one American death in the three provinces that are administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government - Dohuk, Hewler (Erbil) and Sileimani. That fact, perhaps more than allegations of corruption, explains why the US military is Kurdish friendly.

Michael Rubin has a habit of calling the Kurds “clients” of Peter Galbraith, hence implying that Galbraith is President Barzani’s lobbyist in Washington. In doing so, he forgets two principal facts: (1) Galbraith’s friendship with the Kurds predates the time when the Kurdistan region or its political leaders had any money to pay advisors, and (2) this talk of backing a side for money can easily backfire in light of Rubin’s own support for the Turkish government.

From the safety of his comfortable office in Washington, Rubin says that the US would not bless a Turkish invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan, but would understand it. Whatever the outcome, such unnecessary action would result in many Turkish and Kurdish deaths, the destabilization of Iraq’s only success story, and a deterioration in the ongoing vibrant economic relations between the Turks and the Kurds of Iraq. If we wish to speak of clients and wages paid, perhaps Rubin should think of the hundreds of active Turkish contractors in the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq. Rhetoric aside, some of Michael Rubin’s clients may have monetary reasons not to promote a large-scale Turkish violation of the sovereignty of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Vahal Abdulrahman is an Iraqi Kurdish observer, he can be reached at Vahal101@gmail.com

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

U.S. lawmakers, activists call for human rights accountability in Viet Nam

At a press conference earlier today on Capitol Hill, several members of Congress and leading Vietnamese-American human rights activists urged the U.S. to do more to hold the Vietnamese government accountable for persistent abuses. The conference, called on the eve of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s meeting with the Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem, sought to specifically address the recent arrests of prominent Vietnamese dissidents.

Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), who revealed that he would be introducing a resolution calling for the immediate release of three of the dissidents affected by the crackdown, said that Hanoi was reverting back to form after recently securing World Trade Organization (WTO) membership and Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status with the U.S. This sentiment was widely echoed by the other speakers. Smith noted that he had met previously with Father Nguyen Van Ly and Nguyen Van Dai, two of the pro-democracy activists detained in recent weeks on charges of carrying out propaganda against the government under what Smith called a “bogus, Soviet-era” law, and said that Rice must address the arrests in tomorrow’s meeting.

Representative Ed Royce (R-CA) demanded that Hanoi issue a response to what he called an “intolerable” crackdown that “runs counter to American values and universal values on human rights.” And Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA) said that the U.S. ambassador to Viet Nam should be fired if Ly isn’t released.

Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) issued a stern message to the Vietnamese government, saying, “You have exposed yourself as the tyrannical, gangster regime that you are.” He also called out both the current Bush administration and the previous administration under President Clinton for putting business interests above the welfare of the Vietnamese people. “It is about time that the people running our government quit doing the bidding of business interests that oppress people in Viet Nam,” he said.

Helen Ngo, of the Committee for Religious Freedom in Viet Nam, and several Vietnamese-American scholars similarly decried, what one speaker called, Viet Nam’s “worst wave of oppression in twenty years,” and called on the U.S. to address Hanoi’s pattern of loosening it’s political grip before important diplomatic negotiations, but tightening it once suitable outcomes are achieved – a pattern that Smith likened to the practices of the former Soviet Union. One scholar said of the Vietnamese government, “If they have the opportunity to make a dollar they forget about human rights.” It was also noted that President Bush’s failure to speak out forcefully against rights abuses in his most recent visit to the country has bolstered the resolve of Vietnamese authorities in the crackdown, as it has been reported that police have taunted dissidents with claims that they are “forgotten”.

Dr. Nguyen Dinh Thang of Boat People SOS, a U.S.-based group that assists Vietnamese refugees and immigrants, brought up the likely cause for Dai’s arrest. According to Thang, Dai had exposed hidden restrictions in a church registration law that authorizes the arrests of worshippers who fail to hold mass during officially-sanctioned times, and whose names are not on pre-approved government lists. Thang urged the U.S. to investigate both Hanoi’s “scheme of deception”, as evidenced by Dai’s discovery, and the recent crackdown – which speakers called a premeditated move planned months in advance in order to keep the country’s leading voices for democracy behind bars at least until late May, when the upcoming Vietnamese elections are slated to take place.

Regional steps toward Iraqi success

The much anticipated regional conference hosted by the Iraqi government took place in Baghdad over the weekend. According to the Christian Science Monitor on Monday, there were two immediate outcomes. The conference enabled the Iraqi government to appear as legitimate in front of its neighbors and, according to the article, “heralded the Bush administration’s evolving conversion from unilateralism to hard-nosed diplomacy under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.”

Though officials at the conference continually blamed each other’s governments for the current situation in Iraq, working groups were also formed to tackle important issues, such as border security. “[The conference] has a lot of symbolic value for the Iraqis, because it puts them out there at least on the surface as in the driver’s seat of their own affairs in the region,” said Wayne White, a former State Department expert on Iraq.

Additional dialogue between Iran and the U.S., in part to discuss Iraq, is anticipated to take place as soon as next month. “Iran is looking for a strategic opening to be treated as an equal player in the region,” said Mohammed Hadi Semati, a Tehran University professor who recently worked for various Washington think tanks. Additionally, Semati noted that the U.S. “feels its pressure on Iran has worked, and so is in a better position, and Iran feels it has significant influence in Iraq.”

A larger, second, ministerial-level regional conference is planned for upcoming weeks.

For the full article, click here.

Looking to Kurdistan for model of success in Iraq

As the Iraqi government continually seeks ways to resolve the ongoing conflict, Qubad Talabani, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) representative to the U.S., proposed in an op-ed in The Tennessean Sunday, that Iraq should look to Kurdistan as an example of success. Talabani believes there are three key issues on which success hinges: federalism, Kirkuk, and natural resources.

No long-term, sustainable political settlement is possible without federalism, Talabani says, as a centralized system will fail due to insecurities, lack of trust, and sectarian tensions. “Iraqi Kurdistan, which today stands as a secure and peaceful federal region with its own government, security structure and development plan, is Iraq’s success story,” he said.

Delaying the proposed referendum on Kirkuk will only increase tensions, he said, adding, “It would be prudent to allow the process established by the Iraqis themselves to rectify the injustices committed by the former regime to advance naturally.” Regardless of whether Kirkuk becomes part of Kurdistan, Talabani says that the KRG has confirmed that they do not have any unilateral claims on the Kirkuk oil fields, rather management will be shared by the Iraqi central government and profits shared throughout the country.

Natural resources are one area in which progress is being made. A cooperative agreement between federal and regional authorities has been established. Two different laws (hydrocarbons and revenue-sharing) are already drafted.

“The Kurdistan Regional Government will continue to do all that it can to ensure a viable political solution for Iraq. While it is not fully clear what the future will bring and how Iraq will look, in the success of the Kurdistan region there remains hope for a federal democracy for all of Iraq,” Talabani claimed.

For the full article, click here.

The path to Iraqi Kurdistan’s future

An autonomous region geographically located between Tehran and Ankara, and north of Baghdad, Kurdistan suffered a brutal fate under Saddam Hussein. Thousands of residents were poisoned by gas. Millions were forcibly removed from their homes. Over 3,000 villages were burned to the ground. “Now, in the midst of war, history should pay careful attention to what may happen next. The danger Kurdistan faces is overwhelming,” said Ashley Bommer, chief of staff to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, in her MaximsNews column last week.

Bommer’s article provides three recommendations to help reduce the risk of danger. First, Kurdistan must protect its security by creating a “Rapid Reaction Force” in northern Iraq, comprised of Kurdish “peshmergas” (Army Special Forces), as opposed to fighting sectarian violence in Baghdad at the instruction of the U.S. Commanding General in Baghdad.

Additionally, an established and maintained political dialogue with Ankara would contribute greatly to stability in the region, by reaching an agreement on trade, the status of the Iraqi city of Kirkuk, and the PKK.

Lastly, the promotion of foreign direct investment and trade with the rest of the world would help generate economic growth. A free economic zone would also need to be established.

“The road ahead won’t be easy. Kurdistan’s long term strategy lies upon the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi Kurds’ willingness to focus on the future, rather than the past,” said Bommer.

For the full article, click here.

Egypt arrests Muslim Brothers after rejection of amendments

Egyptian security forces reportedly arrested nine members of the Muslim Brotherhood soon after members of parliament rejected constitutional amendments allegedly aimed at limiting the Islamist group’s political clout, BBC News reported yesterday.

The Brotherhood claims that the amendments are aimed at keeping them out of politics. While the Islamist group poses the greatest threat to President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party, the Brotherhood is not legally recognized as a political party and candidates must run as independents.
The proposed constitutional amendments would, according to the article, “weaken the role of judges in monitoring elections.” An anti-terrorism clause would also give police sweeping powers of arrest and broad. The amendments would also ban political activity based on religion.

For the full article, click here.

Fading hope in Iraq

In the latest edition of Newsweek, featured online on MSNBC, Lorraine Ali reflected on the story of her Iraqi family members still in Baghdad. “Baghdad was once home to one of the most educated populaces in the Middle East,” Ali claimed. However, due to the violence, the middle class, which is considered the least-sectarian slice of society, is quickly draining out of the country at an alarming rate, she said

“Those cousins who have made it out of Iraq alive are part of the fastest growing refugee crises in the world,” Ali said. An estimated 2.3 million Iraqis have fled since the 2003 invasion. About 500,000 flee Baghdad each month. There are also an estimated 1.7 million internally displaced persons in Iraq.

Though fear of the violence keeps families indoors, often without much food for extended periods, the cost of leaving is more than many families can handle. To obtain the new travel passports, bribes of around $2,000 would need to be paid. And the cost of a driver ranges from $250-600 per passenger. Even those who are fortunate enough to cross the border must live in loneliness among a disgruntled host community, without the majority of their possessions and often without work, with an increasingly higher cost of living.

For Ali’s family, and others, some hope remains. “U.S. and Iraqi troops have set up more bases throughout Baghdad to quell sectarian fighting, and the number of anonymous bodies found each morning with gunshot wounds, drill holes and missing limbs has declined drastically in recent weeks,” Ali said. Continuing violence and atrocious living conditions might suggest otherwise though. Ali’s uncle commented, “Saddam was bad, but this? There is no clean water, people are killing each other like the animal, and I can’t even go to the mosque to discuss this with God.”

For the full article, click here.

Afghan court looks to end child and forced marriages

The Supreme Court of Afghanistan has approved a new marriage contract aimed at combating child marriages, IRIN reported today. The contract is expected to help empower Afghan girls and women, who have long suffered under discriminating traditions and practices.

The contract stipulates that marriage certificates will no longer be issued for underage brides. According to the article, “In Afghanistan, the legal age for marriage is16 for girls and 18 for boys, but human rights groups say every year thousands of Afghan girls are forced to marry at a younger age.”

The article also says that “the Ministry of Women’s Affairs has launched a marriage registration awareness campaign to boost the number of legally registered couples.”

The next step will be for Afghan women to be granted the right to divorce their husbands. As, according to the article, “Under current Afghan civil law, the right to divorce is the prerogative of men.”

For the full article, click here.

U.N. calls for ban on FGM and forced marriages

A United Nations women’s forum in South Africa last week addressed the importance of ending violence and discrimination against girls and also called for a ban on female genital mutilation and forced marriages, Reuters reported Saturday.

Approximately 6,000 women from governments and grassroots groups attended the forum.

The Commission on the Status of Women passed two resolutions after two weeks of debate. The drafted resolution on circumcision “urges states to take all necessary measures to protect girls and women from female genital mutilation, including by enacting and enforcing legislation to prohibit this form of violence and to end impunity” U.N. agencies estimate that 3 million girls are subjected to the practice each year. Female genital mutilation is usually associated with African countries, but, according to the article, “it also takes place in some Middle Eastern nations, like Saudi Arabia, among immigrant communities in Europe and North America, and parts of Asia, including Indonesia.”

The resolution on forced marriage “urges states to enact and strictly enforce laws to ensure that marriage is entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.” Patricia Prister, a U.S. representative at the forum, spoke on this issue saying, “Forced marriage of the girl child is a form of discrimination and violence that has negative consequences in terms of health, education, economic opportunities and subjection to violence.”

For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Status of the Sino-Tibetan dialogue

During a full committee hearing Tuesday, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs addressed the status of the Sino-Tibetan dialogue. Witnesses included Paula J. Dobrianksy, undersecretary for democracy and global affairs at the State Department; Lodi G. Gyari, the special envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama; and Richard Gere, the chairman of the board of directors at the International Campaign for Tibet.

Committee Chairman Tom Lantos opened the discussion, stating that the Tibetans’ heroic and nonviolent struggle should be a powerful source of inspiration for all of us. As an old friend of the Dalai Lama, Lantos is proud to see that the Congress finally recognizes His Holiness’s many years of struggle to obtain general autonomy for the region. In October of this year, His Holiness will be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

Lantos has “hope for a bright future different from recent past,” but he said that Beijing must realize that “It takes two to tango, and the Tibetans have been dancing alone.” According to Lantos, China must understand that the current situation in Tibet is considered a serious stain on their moral status and credibility in the international community. They will not be considered a great world power until they address serious concerns of human rights violations and religious suppression, he said. Lantos also referred to a recent incident close to the Nepal border, where Chinese officials opened fire against 77 Tibetans – including a 17 year old nun – who had been walking for 22 days on a dangerous route to seek religious exile. Many of the asylum seekers were imprisoned.

Dobrianksy followed Lantos and underlined the responsibility of the United States to work to safeguard the unique identity and culture of the Tibetans. She also believes it is time to strongly encourage China to meet directly with the Dalai Lama. However, the U.S. administration has been contending with harsh Chinese rhetoric of late, as the two sides struggle to find common ground on the future of Tibet. This is startling, Dobrianksy said, considering the fact that the 2008 Olympics will be held in China, and this would consequently be a good time for China to attempt to prove their dignity.

Finally, Dobriansky mentioned the Tibet section of the just-released State Department human rights report, which states that, in 2006, Chinese “authorities continued to commit serious human rights abuses, including torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, house arrest and surveillance of dissidents, and arbitrary restrictions on free movement.”

Gyari mainly discussed the process of dialogue with China. As a true Tibetan, he reassured the Committee that Tibetans are dedicated to obtaining autonomy and he encouraged everyone to stay optimistic. Since 2002, Gyari has met with the Chinese authorities five times. However, nothing has come from the meetings thus far.

Gere, known as a dedicated philanthropist, gave a thoughtful testimony in which he passionately advocated for human rights in Tibet. Gere argued for an intensified public discussion on China’s policies on religious persecution, and said that we should all call for talks between Chinese and Tibetan diplomats, which he said can indeed result in a positive outcome.

Finally, Gere stressed the importance of maintaining full funding levels in order to secure the welfare of Tibetans living within their own borders and those in exile. Gere also expressed his disappointment in learning that the U.S. is planning to make cuts to radio broadcasting programs within Tibet as part of the proposed fiscal year 2008 budget unveiled last month, as radio is the only life-line to the outside world for many illiterate Tibetans living under repressive Chinese rule.

Steps toward peace and justice in Afghanistan

In an op-ed in today’s Christian Science Monitor, J Alexander Thier and Scott Worden, two advisors on the rule of law at the United States Institute of Peace, discuss the steps that should be taken to manage Afghan reconstruction so that both peace and prosperity can be achieved.

Thier and Worden believe Afghanistan is currently under pressure to live up to lofty political goals despite rampant instability. Accordingly, the Afghan government is, as said by the writers, “struggling to balance the need for peace and stability with demands for justice and accountability.”

Recently, debate arose after a hastily drafted “Charter on National Reconcilation” passed by the parliament last month. The contentious amnesty bill that came out of the charter elicited a public outcry in the international rights community, as it was widely considered to be an attempt by the country’s warlords-cum-politicians to escape prosecution. While Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently amended the amnesty bill, Thier and Worden still consider the revised version to be controversial, confusing, and detrimental to the cause of uniting a divided Afghan society.

For the full article, click here.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Blogger’s appeal rejected

The appeal filed by the lawyers of convicted Egyptian blogger Adbel Kareem Nabil was rejected today, The Associated Press reported. In spite of condemnation from local and international rights groups an Egyptian appeals court upheld Nabil’s four-year prison sentence, which was handed down last month after he was charged with insulting Islam and President Hosni Mubarak.

For the full article, click here.

Modified amnesty bill passes

The Washington Post reported Sunday that Afghan lawmakers passed a new bill granting limited amnesty to suspected war criminals who have committed serious atrocities in Afghanistan.

The total amnesty bill initially approved by the parliament sparked uproar, both within the country, and in the international human rights community. President Hamid Karzai consequently made changes to the bill, inserting measures allowing victims to seek some form of justice.

Even though Karzai has attempted to find middle ground with his new wording, human rights advocates still maintain that punishing those guilty of war crimes is essential to bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan.

For the full article, click here.